Gwinnett math teachers get hands-on training in summer institute

June 4, 2019 - Norcross - While Sophia Kim, 2nd Grade Cluster Trainer, teaches students, teachers (in rear) are observing her. Teachers participate in Gwinnett County’s Math Institute at Baldwin Elementary School in Norcross. Master teachers demonstrated instruction techniques in classroom situations with real students . Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

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June 4, 2019 - Norcross - While Sophia Kim, 2nd Grade Cluster Trainer, teaches students, teachers (in rear) are observing her. Teachers participate in Gwinnett County’s Math Institute at Baldwin Elementary School in Norcross. Master teachers demonstrated instruction techniques in classroom situations with real students . Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

With curriculum changes, technology advancements and evolving teaching methods, many teachers use the summer break for professional development.

Additionally, just about every state requires continuous training for educators to maintain their teaching certification.

Gwinnett County Public Schools Math Institute has gone beyond simple lectures to actual hands-on learning. For two weeks, trainers show proven methods for teaching elementary and middle school students of all skill levels.

VIDEO: More on Gwinnett

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VIDEO: Learn more about this metro Atlanta county in the AJC's "5 things to know" series.

For a decade Gwinnett has invited a cross-section of students to get four days of enrichment while “master trainers” demonstrate how to reach kids who are struggling, keep kids in the middle of the pack from falling behind and to make sure the brightest students are still being challenged. And all this is done while explaining to adults the best practices.

The teachers spend a week with trainers before the students arrive. They are given materials to study and engage in discussions about curriculum, learning styles, etc. But many say putting that material into an actual class setting brings the lessons home.

“The classes are mini lessons where the teachers can best learn several possible issues students may have with the curriculum,” said Janet Lewis, interim director of mathematics for kindergarten to fifth grade. “The teachers and trainers work together to see best practices from a whole perspective.”

Michelle Bellamy has been involved for several years with the program and said feedback from participating teachers and students show that it’s working.

“In a class with 30 kids, it’s hard to explain specific techniques,” she said. “These mini-classes allow better observation, discussion and feedback.”

There’s a debriefing every day so teachers can ask questions about what happened in the sessions.

“It’s intense, but it’s also effective,” said Bellamy.

This year 13 elementary schools, one middle school, 730 teachers and 1,600 students are part of the program. Instructors are vetted through a process that requires recommendation by a supervisor, observing teaching styles and certain levels of experience. A year-round department is dedicated to setting up the institute.

“We compile data from the summer sessions and begin the process all over again in August,” said Catherine K. Smith, Math Institute content director and math instructional specialist. “It’s a huge undertaking with several moving parts that are altered every year.”

The participants are a mix of new teachers, those transferring to a different grade, veterans who’d like a refresher and everything in between.

“We get many teachers who come back again because they’ve learned so much,” said Lewis.

Even picking out the location is strategic. This year Baldwin Elementary hosted for the first time.

“There’s a waiting list,” added Lewis. “It’s quite an honor.”

The model has shown to be so effective that a Reading Institute began this summer. In the inaugural year, it’s teachers only, but will invite students next summer. And a Science Institute will follow after that. But the proof of the program’s success is the improved quality of teaching that translates to improved student achievement.

Even the students realize that something out of the ordinary is taking place.

“The way Ms. Todd teached (sic) us math made things that were confusing easy for me,” wrote one student in the evaluation.

“That makes all this worth it,” said Lewis.

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