Virtual Math Mentorship Project: Partnering Elementary Math Methods Course with Rural Title 1 School
Ed Prep Matters features the “Revolutionizing Education” column to spotlight the many ways AACTE, member institutions, and partners are pioneering leading-edge research, models, strategies and programs that focus on the three core values outlined in the current AACTE strategic plan: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Quality and impact; and Inquiry and Innovation.
This article was written by Jennie M. Carr of Bridgewater College and Tammy T. May of Rockingham County Public Schools.
Educator preparators are often seeking unique and meaningful experiences for their teacher candidates. With the knowledge that high quality mentoring relationships can demonstrate positive improvements in academic performance, attendance, feelings of self-confidence, resilience, perceived social acceptance, and relationships with others, we began working collaboratively to create a mutually beneficial math mentorship partnership between Bridgwater College and an elementary school in the Rockingham County Public School District (Coller & Kuo, 2014; Masters & Kreeger, 2017). The logistics of managing a traditional face-to-face mentoring experience was too difficult and there is no required field experience in the college’s elementary math methods course. Because online tools are typically utilized on college campuses and with the school district’s recent 1:1 Chromebook adoption, we crafted the virtual math mentorship (Hartun & Harvey, 2015).
Connecting the virtual math mentorship to teacher candidates’ capstone project in the math methods course was vital to its success. The eight-week project consisted of a teacher candidate field trip to the elementary school, two virtual Google Hangout sessions, four virtual Seesaw pen pal exchanges, and the creation of a personalized and interest-based differentiated math lesson for a fifth grade mentee, which was implemented during the students field trip to Bridgewater College.
A successful mentorship program requires careful planning, clear expectations, intentional effort, and monitoring (Coller & Kuo, 2014). The two of us meet multiple times to craft the multi-faceted experience. In order to help teacher candidates navigate their virtual conversations, they read scholarly articles related to building relationships, math anxiety, self-esteem, motivation, and encouragement throughout the semester
During the initial elementary school field trip, teacher candidates and mentees got to know each other, ate lunch together, and completed an initial pre-test that focused on mentees’ perceptions of school, math, and involvement in the mentorship project. Building trust and friendship are paramount to any mentorship (Sipe, 2002).
A detailed list of expectations for each teacher candidate was developed to provide structure and guidance during the Google Hangout sessions. Teacher candidates also prepared a discussion outline prior to each 15-minute virtual session and implemented Seesaw pen pal activities related to building relationships, growth mindset, and feelings toward school. The virtual Seesaw pen pal exchanges, used throughout the partnership, began with the teacher candidates on Mondays and completed by the mentees on Fridays. These virtual sessions had three purposes: (1) for teacher candidates and mentees to get to know each other, (2) to develop a relationship in which trust and friendships were built, and (3) to identify mentee’s mathematical proficiency and readiness for their math experience.
To assist the teacher candidates with the development of their lesson plans, classroom teachers provided specific math content from state standards for each mentoring pair. Mentees were selected based on not only having deficits in learning but also having issues with self-esteem, motivation, and a lack of interest in school. Using Tomlinson’s (2014) differentiation framework, teacher candidates created interactive engaging lessons and integrated hands-on manipulatives tailored to their mentee’s personal interest. For example, one mentee expressed interest in the Fortnite game, so the teacher candidate built a multiplication review game using each level of Fortnite.
Another mentee’s favorite football team is the Dallas Cowboys, so the teacher candidate created a board game so that when the mentee got a basic fact question correct they could throw a “Hail Mary” for a touchdown. Since one mentee’s favorite movie is Ratatouille, the teacher candidate created an input/output table using the characters from the movie. Tomlinson (2017) explains that “taking an interest-based approach does not mean diverting attention away from the required understanding and skills; on the contrary, it tends to make the content more accessible, relevant, and memorable.”
The final component of the project was the face-to-face on campus visit and lesson plan implementation. Developing mentees’ interest in future college attendance was an integral part of bringing mentees to campus. College preparation traditionally takes place in middle and high schools, but recent research has shown the importance of developing a college attendance mindset in the elementary setting (Knight, 2015; Mariani, Berger, Koerner & Sandlin, 2016). For students whose families did not attend college, the National Center for Educational Statistics recommends scaffolding this mindset in elementary schools through experiences like the virtual math mentorship partnership.
Many of the mentees have never been on a college campus and were immediately curious and enthusiastic about their collegiate future. While on campus, teacher candidates led their mentees through their personalized math experiences, enjoyed lunch, participated in a campus tour, and completed a math post-test. Mentees left smiling, with Bridgewater College branded mementos from their mentors.
At the end of the partnership, encouraging statements, upbeat attitudes, and deeper engagements with math were recognized and documented:
- “.. ..[Mentees] saw this experience as a privilege and realized that not everyone got to spend time with a college mentor. This made the experience seem less like “work/tutoring” and more like a fun experience! …. [they] were excited about math, and in my book, that is a win!” – Classroom teacher
- “Being able to create a lesson plan, present it to my mentee and observe their reaction of the project that I had designed for them – It was awesome!… It’s a nice reassurance that all my hard work is paying off and I’m growing as a future teacher” – Teacher candidate mentor
- “I was impressed to see how engaged and interested students are when you focus the lesson on their specific learning styles and hobbies outside of school” – Teacher candidate mentor
This partnership confirms Garcia & Cohen (2012) research that even one experience can change a child’s attitude toward school. While we predicted the partnership’s positivity, we discovered memories and student trajectory are also impacted, and have proceeded with a similar project — collecting data to determine the impact of the virtual partnership.
Coller, R.J. & Kuo, A.A. (2014). Youth development through mentorship: a Los Angeles school-based mentorship program among Latino children. Journal of Community Health. 316-321.
Garcia, J., Cohen, G. L. (2012). A social psychological approach to educational intervention. In Shafir, E. (Ed.), Behavioral foundations of policy (pp. 329-350). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Hartung, K., & Harvey, T. (2015). Social media as a professional support system for educational leaders: Our google+ hangout journey. Planning for Higher Education, 43(4), 40.
Mariani, M., Berger, C., Koerner, K., & Sandlin, C. (2016). Operation occupation: A college and career readiness intervention for elementary students (Practitioner-focused research). Professional School Counseling, 20(1), 65-76. doi:10.5330/1096-2409- 20.1.65
National Center for Educational Statistics (2001). Students whose parents did not go to college: Postsecondary access, persistence, and attainment. Retrieved on July 24, 2019 from: https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/2001126.pdf
Sipe, C. (2002). Mentoring programs for adolescents: A research summary. Journal of Adolescent Health, 31(6), 251–260.
Tomlinson, C.A. (2017). How to differentiate instruction in an academic diverse classroom. (3rd Ed.). ASCD: Alexandria, VA.