Building Racial Equity into Grantmaking

By Derek Lin

Equity is at the core of our work at EdVestors and essential to our mission to: Advance equitable, meaningful education that prepares every Boston student to activate their power and shape their future. 

Over the last year, EdVestors’ staff and board engaged in a remote Strategic Planning process to build a path for the future of our work. 

Through our many conversations around our core values, strategic goals and strategies, equity rose to the top. Our first strategic goal in our new five year plan is Explicit about Equity: Equity is explicitly at the core of our decision-making and actions in pursuit of every young person in Boston having access to meaningful education. 

Key strategies toward this goal include:

  • Commit explicit resources toward our internal and external commitments to equity
  • Articulate and share our equity commitments in our partnerships and to our broader audiences
  • Make decisions with the voices, interests, and needs of those most impacted by our work at the center
  • Continuously refine and evolve our goals, approach, and commitments related to equity

With our renewed and sharper focus on equity, we began pushing forward on actionable steps, particularly around racial equity. Adapting resources from Center for Assessment and Policy Development, Race Forward/Center for Social Inclusion, and Equity in the Center, we define racial equity as a combination of:

  1. Equitable opportunities and outcomes for everyone regardless of race or ethnicity; 
  2. Meaningful involvement of those most impacted by racial inequity and racism in decision making and implementation; 
  3. Addressing root causes of inequities and systemic oppression, where we perpetuate them, and how we can work to eliminate them, leading to racial justice.

A first step for the organization was reimagining our strategic philanthropy by incorporating a more explicit racial equity lens into our grantmaking processes and goals related to several of our focus areas: BPS Arts Expansion, the School Solutions Seed Fund, and Zeroing in on Math.

With BPS Arts Expansion, we streamlined the application and modified criteria to explicitly state Culturally Responsive Instruction and Racial Equity as grantmaking criteria. Culturally Responsive Instruction aligns the proposed arts instruction with BPS’ Culturally and Linguistically Sustaining Practices (CLSP), reflecting multiple backgrounds and traditions that affirm students’ cultures and respond to their interests. The instruction can center on curriculum specifically curated for students with disabilities, English Learners, or students who have been otherwise marginalized educationally. Grants focused on Racial Equity will support projects that amplify Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) voices and narratives or entail student-driven projects that utilize the arts to advance anti-racism and racial justice.

The newly renamed Racial Equity Seed Fund is the reimagined School Solutions Seed Fund, focusing on tackling racial injustices within education structures. In Boston’s current education system, students of color, particularly Black and Latinx students, are disproportionately impacted by gaps in opportunity and outcomes. Through stakeholder conversations, partnership development, and desire to enact change, the Racial Equity Seed Fund is building an action-based learning community to implement, test, and scale solutions developed by those most impacted in schools to advance racial equity. The pillars of the learning community are to illuminate and be responsive to students’ individual backgrounds, communities, and strengths, while addressing the root causes of systemic oppression in our schools.

For Zeroing in on Math (ZioM), the newly released Request For Proposals seeks to create a cohort of schools that focus on increasing equitable enrollment and student success in math so that all students, especially Black and Latinx students, receive a meaningful math education that is affirming, relevant, and prepares them for postsecondary opportunities. Selected schools can focus on equitable math pathways, culturally responsive instruction and pedagogy, or math cultures as one of their goals.

Through our grantmaking, we hope to learn alongside our partners and communities who inspire us to drive toward racial equity and justice. There is much to do in the work ahead but we look forward to the learning we can do with peers and partners.


Derek Lin is the Manager of Communications and Programs at EdVestors.

Learn more about each application through the following links: BPS ArtsRacial Equity Seed FundZeroing in on Math

To Create a Better Education System, Teachers Must Become Learners

By Kayla Morse Higgs

This article is featured on Education Post.

As we all anxiously await a return to normal, the worst thing that could happen for schools is just that—return to normal. If we do not emerge from the situation COVID-19 has placed us in with lessons learned in how to think, teach and learn differently, we have failed.

This is a vulnerable time for anyone, especially for those who are struggling to adjust the way they do a job that has always been understood as a face-to-face interaction. One of the realities of being forced into a remote environment is that we all have a learning curve—nearly every educator has had to become a learner again. It is also a powerful opportunity to learn and unlearn who gets to provide knowledge and who gets to gain knowledge.

The structure of our traditional classrooms heavily relies on the teacher as the giver of knowledge and our students as the recipients. A virtual environment quickly taught us the difficulty of replicating that structure. There is not the same level of engagement, and students have an element of choice. Where the teacher becomes the learner is whether or not we are paying attention to the choices our students are making, and why.

For example, we had a middle school math teacher share that one of their students had not been completing any of the skills practice assignments, but maxing out the time on a puzzle-based math program that is aligned with the skills practice. Could it be that the puzzles created a novel learning process that motivated the student? Was the puzzle program more accessible?

One of the realities of being forced into a remote environment is that we all have a learning curve—nearly every educator has had to become a learner again.

Educators must be asking themselves these questions as they see the choices their students are making when it comes to completing assignments in a remote learning environment. Our students’ choices tell us something: Whether or not they watch an instruction video, complete practice problems, or log-in to small group lessons—or, whether they are choosing project-based learning or open-ended tasks. Thinking about ourselves as not just teachers, but also learners, allows us to wonder about what students know and want to know, how they are making sense of things and what motivates and engages them. Who are our students now as readers, mathematicians, scientists, theorists or historians? This is an opportunity to look deeper than just whether or not students are completing assignments, but rather to look and discuss the why behind their choices.

The virtual environment has offered us time and space to have 1:1 meaningful, affirming, and inquisitive conferences with students about what they are thinking. Physical proximity pre-COVID-19 did not guarantee these interactions were happening. Often our pursuit of content mastery took priority and diminished these opportunities to judgment, adjustment and intervention. We now have until the beginning of the next school year to enhance our own inquiry skills as teacher-learners—our listening, observation, and study skills that push us to interrogate, communicate and provide forward-moving feedback as a means to learning. In a virtual setting, where we are spending less face time with students, we are providing them more opportunities to showcase and guide their own learning. This structure gifts us time and space to communicate with students and families in a more intimate and personalized way to drive ownership of learning.

Blended Learning Can Shift Our Practice

Over the past five years, the Zeroing in on Math Initiative, a partnership between nonprofit school improvement organization EdVestors and the Boston Public Schools, has exemplified how blended learning can shift our practice, perspective and approach to learning using technology. One major lesson this initiative has taught us is the importance of teacher facilitation of learning with a digital interface. To apply that to the current situation, it is important we remember that online learning does not replace the teacher; but rather, it is a tool that gives students the space to exercise choice in a personalized learning path and teachers the opportunity to focus on facilitating this learning environment.

Online learning is not about task completion—it should free up the teacher to observe what students can do when they are given independence. We now have the space to make curious inquiry of student thinking, ask clarifying and probing questions of our learners and give thoughtful forward-moving feedback to students. This is an opportunity to relearn and lay a path for a new way of educating that is affirming, responsive and growth-focused for all.

The world has changed, and our schools must change, too. In this new era, we must engage students to think deeply, and position teachers as learners of students’ strengths, assets, needs and growth areas. Measuring engagement by accuracy and completion makes us information processors and taskmasters, not learners. Let us use this time to be, and do, different.

Our classrooms must shift to encompass this dual path of learning and re-invention. We must create more experiences where educators are the learners, too, just as much as the students. Learning drives teaching, not the other way around.

Online learning is not about task completion—it should free up the teacher to observe what students can do when they are given independence.

If we as educators commit ourselves to learning the motivations and strengths of students, we will be better equipped to teach them at their point of understanding. This idea is not novel, but often underutilized as a learning and teaching tool for educators. We must adjust our affinity for a banking model of education to a more communicative and inventive medium for inquiry for both students and teachers. That is where knowledge and progress is found.


Kayla Morse Higgs is the Manager of Teaching and Learning of Zeroing in on Math.

6 Strategies for Success in the Virtual Classroom

By Karen Levin and Marinell Rousmaniere

This article is featured on Education Post.

Like an uninvited guest, the COVID-19 pandemic swept into town, upending the school year and our very way of life. As we reinforce the need for social distancing and hand washing, school closures are affecting around 55 million public school students nationwide, with schools shuttering for the remainder of the year including here in Massachusetts. But just because the schools are closed doesn’t mean that school is out. Thousands of educators around the country have had to quickly shift from the familiarity of their classrooms to the uncharted terrain of distance learning in a crisis.

Many teachers are navigating distance learning for the first time, asking questions like, “How do I ensure my students are still receiving high-quality education?” and “Will I be able to track the learning that is taking place?” Educators understand it will be crucial to keep students engaged in the virtual classroom to prevent residual learning loss. Research shows that students across all socioeconomic backgrounds experience nearly three months of learning loss in math over the summer, and new research based on summer slide is predicting a “COVID slide” of half a school year or more.  These losses will be particularly acute for low-income students, as they are for summer learning loss.

existing technology-based interventions can be part of the solution for closing knowledge and skill gaps when school is closed

However, what we have learned from efforts to stem summer learning loss in math can guide educators, districts and parents as they transition their education plans to the virtual realm. For the past three summers, EdVestors has partnered with several public schools in Boston to pilot a virtual learning model as part of our “Zeroing in on Math” blended learning work. The initiative has helped us better understand how existing technology-based interventions can be part of the solution for closing knowledge and skill gaps when school is closed.

Amid this unprecedented public health crisis and recent guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), there is an opportunity to explore what works with these tools in this remote learning environment. Some of the lessons we learned over the past three years through “Zeroing in on Math” may be useful when putting any tech-based remote learning into practice including:

  • Set clear and reasonable expectations for students, teachers, and families.Teachers and leaders set clear expectations, as best as one can in this uncertain time. Educators can use data provided by various tools to monitor student progress and use the information to celebrate students, provide more challenging work to students and identify areas of focus.
  • Maintain relationships. Teachers and leaders set up structures for active communication with students and families to both create spaces for student discussion and as a way to check-in with students who may not be logging in. Connecting via phone or text was more effective than email in many cases, especially for younger students. Tools like Google Classroom or Class Dojo can help drive this communication, adding other helpful resources such as dedicated spaces for questions.
  • Use student incentives to drive engagement. With relationships and community maintained, the most important incentive is always a relevant and engaging learning task. Additionally, teachers and leaders can use a variety of other incentives to drive student engagement on the Ed Tech tools. They can show students working from home and celebrate student independence, ownership and resourcefulness. Some educators also provide an easy-to-use tracker for students to use throughout the week as a Google Doc so they can see their progress and have more ownership.
  • Encourage distributive leadership around technology troubleshooting. Have a school-level point person who can field technology concerns from staff members, while also encouraging staff to reach out to tech support on their own, so that all staff members have ownership and agency around their use of the tools. This is a learning opportunity for students and for their teachers.
  • Give grace: to students, families, teachers—and yourself. This is a transition and a learning moment for all. To start, know that virtual learning is not the same as in-person learning. It won’t be without its kinks.

Finally, see the opportunity. Although putting a system in place for distance learning may seem challenging, these investments will be worth it as they will get us through this pandemic and provide lessons for the future. Not only is it an effective way to connect with students and meet their educational needs, but these approaches will also advance educators’ ability to connect with students, their families, and our world in a time that is reassigning the role of school to be a collective effort.


Karen Levin is the Director of Zeroing in on Math.

Marinell Rousmaniere is the President & CEO of EdVestors.

Live from the Café Podcast: The Missing ‘M’ in STEM Education

By Marinell Rousmaniere


During the Social Impact Connect conference at Venture Café, I had the opportunity to moderate the conversation around the Missing ‘M’ in STEM Education. The discussion goes to the core of mathematics education and proficiency that drives achievement in Science, Technology, and Engineering careers. I was joined by a cross sectional panel that dove into the nuts and bolts of math teaching and learning through their years of experience and research. The panel included Julia Bott, Principal at the Ellis Mendell School in Boston Public Schools, Aparna Rayasam, Vice President of Engineering at Akamai Technologies, and Justin Reich, Assistant Professor & Director at MIT Teaching Systems Lab.

The following are a few highlights from the discussion, the full conversation is available here. Portions have been edited for clarity.


Marinell: Mathematics is often an overlooked aspect of STEM yet is instrumental to unlocking potential in S, T, E – Science, Technology, and Engineering careers. What gets lost when math is overlooked? Why do you think giving math education more attention is so important?

Aparna: This is a multi-dimensional problem that manifests in different ways. When I compare notes with peers in other industries, we are seeing that more and more things we do rely on machine learning, data science, AI, and other technological tools to assist with our solutions. When you scratch the surface and remove the buzzwords, all these things stand for advanced math. A phrase industries don’t use enough is “true math experts”. Twenty years ago, complex techniques including neural network and applying mathematical models was in the domain of academia and educational experts. Large enterprises like Google and Facebook have democratized these techniques, so they are widely available now; the difficulty is finding the correct application which requires a knowledge of mathematical theory. Enterprises like ours, who want to move faster, want individuals who have this mathematic foundation. There is a supply and pipeline problem for experts who can truly understand this data.

Julia: When you look the data, a third of students are proficient in Math by 8th grade within Boston, which reflects the national average. That has grave implications for the future success of our students. Through a college and career readiness lens, if students come in thinking of themselves as mathematicians, learners and thinkers, someone who gets the answer quickly in the elementary grades but begins to struggle as they move up grade levels as problems become more complex that has terrible implications for college and their future careers. Students who are already marginalized by race, social economic factors, and other barriers experience these implications at a higher magnitude.

“Having an adaptive teacher with skills, knowledge and pedagogy and even thinking that math is not about getting the right problem but about productive struggle with problem solving and perseverance is groundbreaking”

Justin: An alternative to the student who is ‘good’ at math – as someone who gets the right answer quickly – is the student who sticks with it or struggles and perseveres. Studying math learning across the world, this is the case in other countries. Being ‘good’ at math is being at the board and struggling with something and not getting the answer quickly. These issues as Julia points out are identity issues, how do you get students to feel good about themselves as they persist when with struggling against these puzzles?

Math is central and a gatekeeper to all other STEM activities. In the absence of a fundamental understand of Algebra I, it’s hard to comprehend biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, and all these other STEM-related areas.

Aparna: That’s a great point. Productive struggle in the industry is lacking as well. You have to respect the problem. If the problem was solvable in a couple of days, we wouldn’t need the individual to think through it. We need to cherish patience and perseverance.

Marinell: Math proves to be one of the strongest indicators of long-term success. Getting those foundations early in school matters a lot as you move up through concepts and formulas to more advanced courses. When you look deeper in the data, math achievement becomes a significant indicator of future earnings.

Julia, as an educator and school leader, why has moving the needle on this issue has been so hard? What has been participating challenging with teaching and learning in math?

Julia: The problem has never been and never will be the children. All children are intellectuals. They all come to school as sense makers, as problem solvers, as thinkers. They have natural abilities to figure things out.

The really hard question then becomes whose problem is it? At schools, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ask hard questions about our beliefs in students in front of us, our own content knowledge, mathematical thinking, productive struggle, and perseverance; what is a worthy task and what does it look like to put one in front of children to create this space for them to showcase their ability to make sense and grapple with problems?

What does it look like to train teachers? It was always procedure, procedure, procedure. You had to memorize things. When the upper grades required conceptual learning about numbers, kids fell apart as their mathematical thinking had to be more flexible and the gaps become wider and wider. It became clear we needed support to think differently about how we approach the content and structure of learning so kids can build the skills and competencies to be successful.

“Math is central and a gatekeeper to all other STEM activities”

Justin: As Julia mentioned, teachers doing more math thinking themselves will help them teach it to their students. Moreover, some form of discreetly individualized coaching is proven to help math teaching. One of our observations is that when teachers learn, they have insufficient opportunities to practice that learning. Teachers listen and talk with each other about teaching but very rarely are they able to practice. A stark contrast to other ‘helping’ careers, like social workers – they practice on each other and talk about it practically. Teachers have less of that opportunity.

Our team is always wrestling with innovative approaches to these problems and right now we are wrestling with ways to create practice spaces for teachers to rehearse and reflect on important decisions for teaching. In the fall, we’ve been working with 20 third grade math teachers on a tool we call Eliciting Learner Knowledge, a paired synchronous chat-based game where one individual is given the role of a teacher and the other is the student. A transcript is generated from all these chats and we are able to reflect upon strategies we use to better communicate with students. In the spring, we will be working on “Teacher Moments”, a digital simulation tool meant for individual play on a handheld device that immerses you with vignettes of classroom life.

Marinell: Thank you so much for all of your thoughts, it echoes the way we think of leveling the playing field in math achievement. Our leverage point is largely with teachers – the individuals that have the most impact on student outcomes. Having an adaptive teacher with skills, knowledge and pedagogy and even thinking that math is not about getting the right problem but about productive struggle with problem solving and perseverance is groundbreaking. To be able to bring this kind of thinking to teachers and have them teach math in a different way for their students is a scalable action and advocacy plan to reduce skills and knowledge gaps.


The entire conversation is available here.


Marinell Rousmaniere is the President & CEO of EdVestors.

By Teachers For Teachers: What made teachers’ practice change?

This blog post is the third in a series of blogs written by a group of teachers who designed and led a five-session course for Boston math teachers. Please check out part one and part two of this series.

By Heidi Fessenden (District Elementary Math Coach, Cambridge Public Schools), Maggie Roth (Second grade teacher, Match Community Day Public Charter School), and Michelle Sirois (Fourth grade teacher, Perry Elementary School)

What made teachers’ practice change?

We were curious to find out more about which parts of our teacher-led math course, Bridging Classrooms, had led to such deep changes in teachers’ practice. To find out more, we interviewed some of the course participants in pairs. A few themes emerged as to why this professional development had such an impact on their teaching.

Safety for Adults, Safety for Kids

A few teachers, particularly early-career teachers, spoke about how safe they felt in this group. “I could take my shoes off there, literally and figuratively,” Shona Daye, a 4th grade teacher at the King School, said. The first day, she said, she was worried that she wouldn’t solve the math task correctly. “I was looking around, trying to see if I was using the ‘right’ strategy,” she recalled. She soon realized that getting the “right” answer or using the correct strategy was not the focus of the course. Instead, the focus was on the many ways we can arrive at solutions and on the depth and variety of thinking in the group.

“…After we shared out, you know, that fear just dissipated, and looking at different perspectives, I had all these epiphanies. And I wanted my students to feel the same way.”

Shona realized that if this safe environment to explore thinking made her feel safer, it would do the same for her students. “Allowing the children to explore and not give right answers, but just explore — That is phenomenal, that is huge, and totally engages everybody. Everybody was willing to take a risk. Nobody had a right or wrong answer. And that was exciting. That was really exciting.”

Experiencing Math as Learners

Shona and Emily Kmetz, a Tech Boston math teacher, both talked about how important it was to acknowledge they struggled with the same math problems they gave to their students. “My students loved hearing that I had trouble with the same problem they were solving,” Emily said. It also provided insights into how it feels to take on a challenging problem, learn and understand someone else’s strategy, and a window into the different strategies their students might use.

Teachers had experiences of being stuck, of struggling to collaborate with a partner, of feeling frustrated because someone else solved the problem faster than they did — all of which helped them remember the challenges of being a math student.


In written reflections and interviews, many of the participants in the course mentioned that their curiosity was piqued by the idea of teacher-led PD. “These are teachers who are in the classroom every day, like me,” Retha Reynolds, a 5th grade teacher at the Sumner, said. “They know.”

When teachers had questions about the reality of implementing something in the classroom, or a challenge they face daily, the facilitators had ideas because they face the same challenges. Teachers experienced the course as more practical and useful than a class led by an “expert” who is not a teacher.

Expertise in supporting students with special needs to talk, struggle, and achieve more

Several participating teachers work primarily with students with special needs. They expressed frustration with the number of professional development sessions they have attended that don’t speak to the specific needs of their students. Although this course was not billed as a course directed toward special educators, the facilitators were all teachers who often teach students with special needs. The focus on making math a more visual, creative, and discussion-oriented subject appealed to the special educators in the group. They enthusiastically tried out new instructional routines and protocols they learned in Bridging Classrooms, such as number talk images (see image, right).

Retha enthusiastically adopted Three Act Tasks as her pedagogy of choice after doing the Toothpick Task in class. (Read a summary of the structure of a Three Act Task here, and see how Dan Meyer breaks one down here.) After our course was over, she reflected on how well the visual and storytelling aspects of many of the tasks she did in our course worked for her students.

When she started to use Three Act Tasks and have her students notice and wonder, she noted that, “The kids [were] answering the questions and talking to each other about what they saw happening in the picture before I could even present what the problem was.”

For Retha, getting her students talking about a visual or a story was the key to both increasing conversation and engagement, and strengthening her students’ ability to persevere and struggle.

“I felt like before I was kind of guiding them too much. I was doing too much for them…. I began getting them to really talk about the math [first] which gets them to thinkabout what it is they’re doing. I felt like I was able to just step back and let them struggle with it.”

With these reflections, we are continuing to share our learning with partners and leaders in the math community. Recently, Heidi and Michelle fpresented to leaders in math education at the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) conference in San Diego. In doing so, they asked participants – and we ask you – “What allows teachers and students to feel safe taking risks doing math in your setting?” and “How can you increase opportunities for teachers to feel safe and take risks as learners?”


Melissa Frascella (Math Dept Chair / Eighth grade math teacher, Boston Collegiate Charter School), Meredith Hart (Sixth grade teacher, Haley Pilot School), and Alia Verner (Math Director / Instructional Coach, TechBoston Academy) also contributed to this blog post.

To learn more about Zeroing in on Math, click here.

Part One – By Teachers for Teachers: Learning and Growing as Math Educators

Part Two – By Teachers For Teachers: Changing the Culture of Math Class

Math Fellows Forum – Targeted solutions to improve math outcomes

The 2018 Math Fellows invite you to learn about the solutions they’re pursuing to improve access to high quality math education across Boston. Connect with educators who are passionate about supporting all students, creating a culture of math in schools and wider communities, and breaking down barriers to professional learning among peers. Specifically, you’ll learn about:

  • A helpful resource sharing best practices for implementing interventions in classrooms,
  • A project currently underway in several Boston schools to combat the commonly-heard phrases: “I’m not good at math” and “It’s too hard”
  • A low-cost coverage approach allowing teachers to attend professional development with their teams during the school day while ensuring students don’t miss valuable math learning opportunities


Attention Attention: Math-ervention!!

By Aadina Balti, Mason Pilot School; Katy Briggs, McKay K-8 School; Kayla Hoff, Henderson K-12 Inclusion School; Caitlin O’Brien, Edison K-8 School; Jara Richards, Conservatory Lab Charter School; Jeremy Scott, UP Academy Holland; Gina Sheehan, Fenway High School

As educators, it is our ultimate goal to watch all students be successful. Many teachers have found that the time we have in our math classrooms is not enough to provide the opportunity for all students to succeed, particularly those who need the most support. More schools are providing additional time for teachers to support our highest-needs students through intervention periods. However, many teachers struggle to incorporate intervention in the busy day. Some schools have intervention blocks built into the schedule, while others do not. Some teachers have additional support staff in their classrooms, while others do not. Even with the schools that are fortunate to have intervention blocks built in, teachers may not know what to do with that time. There is no one size fits all intervention.

Our website provides support for how to best implement an intervention in your classroom, based on your needs. Depending on what your structure looks like, our site provides guidance for physical layout, how to best utilize other teachers/staff, how to keep all students engaged, and resources to best help your interventions reach all students. For each model, find sample lesson plans, pros and cons to consider, and helpful hints. Our hope is that this site can be a resource to help you structure and implement your interventions, to best support all students in your math classrooms.

Everybody Does Math

By Cleata Brown, Mission Hill K-8 School; Viergeline Felix, KIPP Academy Boston; Enkeleda Gjoni, Boston International High School

Educators, here is your problem: You frequently hear the words, “It’s too hard” or “I am not good at math” in your classroom. You struggle to find problems that are both engaging and accessible. You think to yourself, “I have no time to make math fun for my students,” Families, you often think “This new math is different from how I learned it in school, and I don’t want to confuse my kid.”  We have your solution: EVERYBODY DOES MATH. Everybody Does Math is a 3-step approach providing tasks that :

  1. engage through visuals with minimal text
  2. widen accessibility to students at varying grade levels
  3. optimize teachers’ planning time

Our math tasks encourage everyone, everywhere to approach math with ease and find ways to solve problems and encourage perseverance! Our mission is to get selected math tasks posted on a monthly basis in schools and around the community in areas such as bus stops, libraries, and barber shops. Everybody Does Math tasks encourage collaborative learning among families, teachers, students, and anyone who wants to bring math into their communities without the added pressure. You never hear people say, “I’m just not a reading person”, so it is time we normalize math. We hope teachers, families, and community members will share in the process of problem solving and show that EVERYBODY, including you, CAN DO MATH.

Math Brigade: A New Approach to Job Embedded Vertical Professional Development

By Jenna Hadley Goss, Mission Hill K-8 School; Amy Kiley, McCormack Middle School; Carla Zils, Edison K-8 School

Are you a teacher who wants to attend professional development with a colleague?

Do you want to see what’s happening in math classrooms or spend some quality math time with students?

Do you want to help teachers achieve their professional goals?

If so, the Math Brigade is for you! There are numerous professional development opportunities for teachers that they are unable to utilize because it is challenging for principals to arrange substitute coverage for many teachers at a time. With the Math Brigade, we will bring in volunteers to provide substitute coverage for a team of teachers so that they can participate in professional learning activities together during the school day. We will recruit former math teachers and BPS employees to become “Math Brigadiers” to provide this coverage; we will provide tailored substitute plans to make this process as easy and enjoyable as possible. With this coverage, we are hoping that teachers will be able to hold vertical alignment meetings with other grade levels, participate in “math labs”, attend professional development seminars, or access other types of learning that will enhance our instruction.

Learn more about the Math Teaching Fellowship by watching the video below: 





To learn more about Zeroing in on Math, click here.

A math classroom full of “sweaty brains”

By Michelle Sirois

A classroom teacher currently engaged in Zeroing in on Math’s Deeper Learning work and former EdVestors’ Math Fellow.

Over the past few weeks, my fourth-grade math class at the Oliver Hazard Perry Elementary School worked together on multiplication. We tackled word problems that challenge students to connect relevant components of questions, apply mathematical thinking and knowledge to their approach, and prove their answers through alternative solutions. The curriculum recommends a lesson plan that first presents a problem to the students, then allows the students to solve the problem, and finally provides more problems for students to work on.

We often tell students to take risks and make mistakes because they lead to learning. Yesterday, my own mistake led to lots of learning, excitement, challenges, and opportunities for more learning.

We recently encountered our first word problem that involved division and I decided to slightly alter the introduction of the problem. I did this by removing the questions, to see what students would notice and wonder about the problem. However, in doing so, I accidentally removed the total numbers of apples too.

The question read:

Mrs. Santos owns a neighborhood grocery store. She has some apples to arrange in rows for her window display. She has room for 4 rows in her window.

(The scenario I meant to give them read that Mrs. Santos had 52 apples to arrange in 4 rows.)

Productive curiosity

Upon hearing the lively chatter around the room, I decided not to share the original problem with the total number of apples.  I challenged my fourth graders to think about how many apples there might be in total and how they might go about representing the situation. In our classroom, we have a range of math proficiency from one student working at a first-grade level to students far above grade-level. Students played with various approaches to a solution: some worked with cubes, some tried factors of 16, others pushed themselves to multiply with larger and larger numbers they haven’t multiplied before!

We reconvened as a class after fifteen minutes to discuss what different groups tried. I began the conversation with the notion that many groups wrestled with: that Mrs. Santos only had 16 apples. Half of the class was convinced 2 rows of 8 apples was possible until their classmates pointed out the problem stated she had 4 rows to work with. Group after group presented their work around multiplication until one student came to the revolution that “this is a division problem!” He explained his reasoning and I saw light bulbs go off in their heads and hands shot up with excitement!

One group who placed 98 apples on each row shared their work and found 98 x 4 = 392. Their classmates were intrigued by the large numbers and mentioned how large the windows must be to fit all the apples,

I promised the class more time to work on the problem after lunch and cheers erupted across the classroom, “My head is exploding with ideas!” One student who often confuses mathematical concepts whispered, “This is the best math class ever – it’s starting to make sense now!”

 “Sweaty Brains”

At the Perry, we celebrate “sweaty brains”. A sweaty brain happens when students challenge themselves with harder problems than what is asked of them. Exercising their brains furthers their conceptual knowledge.

After lunch, I wrote out key questions: How many apples are in each row? How many apples does Mrs. Santos have in all? Where does this concept show up in their work? Where does this show up when writing both the multiplication and division equations of this situation?

Students challenged themselves with more and more 3-digit numbers and checked in with me to see if they were right. I asked them to prove their work by using another strategy, so they kept multiplying and dividing with more and more large numbers!

Engaged and joyful learning

When it was time to wrap up, the students groaned and wished they had more time – I was ecstatic to hear it!  Before leaving class, each student had to solve the original problem that stated Mrs. Santos had 52 apples to arrange equally in 4 rows. I was impressed that all but 5 students correctly solved the problem using multiplication and division concepts they learned and retained. For the 5 students who didn’t solve the problem correctly, I now have a targeted approach to talk through their misconceptions.

As any teacher will tell you, teaching can be mentally, emotionally, and physically. But yesterday, it was just pure joy. Every kid stayed engaged with one problem for over an hour – one problem! This lesson reminded me that kids don’t need to do ten, twenty, or hundreds of problems to learn. They just need the right context and questions to explore – and with that, learning is engaging, invigorating, and joy-filled.


To learn more about Zeroing in on Math, click here.

The Oliver Hazard Perry K-8 School was a 2018 School on the Move Finalist, click below to learn more about the Perry K-8.

Apply to the 2020 Zeroing in on Math Fellowship!

Applications are now open to join the Math Fellows – a cohort of math teachers and coaches with a commitment to improving access to effective math instruction and a willingness to dream big, think creatively, and implement practically. Find more details on the Fellowship and application here. Applications are due Tuesday, January 7 at 4pm.


Getting a taste of Boston’s innovation economy: sixth graders apply math skills to create and pitch their ideas for new LEGO® product

By Karen Levin

Last week during Massachusetts STEM week, 23 sixth graders from Gardner Pilot Academy were invited to experience a hands-on, immersive STEM day, generously hosted by LEGO® Education. There was much fun and focus as teams of students designed “the next new and exciting” spinning top ahead of the holiday season! Students applied tools from their math curriculum, discussing market research, sales forecasts, and calculating unit costs to assemble business plans to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. Volunteers from LEGO Education and the Zeroing in on Math Advisory Board joined EdVestors’ staff to provide mentorship and expertise to the students as they worked through the project.

“I really liked the amount of teamwork we did and how much math we did!” – Student, Gardner Pilot Academy

Connecting math to the real world

As an official event of Massachusetts STEM Week, KICKStart Ma+h was uniquely structured to give students a real-world view into what a career in STEM entails and encourage students to consider pursuing a STEM-oriented field.

KICKStart Ma+h is part of our Zeroing in on Math (ZioM) initiative which builds math content knowledge, deepens understanding of grade-level standards, and expands student-centered pedagogical skills. Through partnership with local companies and organizations, KICKStart Ma+h provides students with real-world applications of math, illustrates the opportunities of math-based careers, and builds a citywide community of math advocates.

The results of a post-event survey found most students said they were either likely or very likely to pursue a career using math.

 “This has been the best school day ever!” – Student, Gardner Pilot Academy


And the award goes to…

The panel of judges deliberated, and students waited with growing anticipation. Then, results at last!

Students cheered with excitement and encouragement for each other as teams were recognized for…

Best Pitch:  Team Squirt with their spin-launcher that was priced perfectly to generate parent interest.

Most Profitable Idea: Team Bruce with Hulk Tornado, a low-cost production spinner that garnered a premium price tag.

Most Creative Design: Team Dory with the Halloween-themed Pump-Spin, a great alternative to candy.

Most Interesting Challenge to Solve: Team Nemo with a unicorn-themed top that was compact, easy to build and spun a long time.

“This was a mutually beneficial experience; seeing the students work with each other and the product to solve the challenge was exciting.” – KICKStart Ma+h Judge

Sparking the curiosity of creative minds

Christine Beggan, a 6th Grade Learning Specialist, at Gardner Pilot Academy shared this after the event:

The experience at LEGO Education was incredible! It was inspiring to students, their families, and Gardner Pilot Academy staff that we had the opportunity to visit the local office of a company so central to families right here in Boston. We are fortunate to live in a city with a wealth of opportunities to learn in real-world settings.

At LEGO Education’s state-of-the-art facility, students collaborated in small teams to work through the entire toy design process. Students were engaged, excited, and inquisitive throughout the entire process, and applied math skills to a real-world problem. On the bus ride back to school, when asked who might want to work at LEGO someday, over half the class raised their hands.

Thank you to LEGO Education and EdVestors for this incredible opportunity!

Karen Levin is the Director of Zeroing in on Math at EdVestors. To learn more about Zeroing in on Math, click here.

Collaboration & Consistency: Using Technology & Data Analysis Can Support the Growth of our Most Vulnerable Students

Christina Kostaras, an SEI 7th grade teacher and Steve Mook, an SEI 8th grade teacher both teach Math and ESL to English Learners at the Lilla G. Frederick Middle School in Dorchester and have been colleagues for the last three years. Their students are new to the country and come with varying levels of math skills. Some are behind on grade-level curriculum while others may be ahead of their grade-level but need support tackling complex math tasks in English. Meeting these diverse needs is a challenge in the classroom, but both Christina and Steve have been extremely successful. On average, their students demonstrated growth of two or more grade levels in one year. Because of this, students who had Christina as a 7th grade teacher and Steve for 8th grade, demonstrated averaged 4 years of growth![1] Christina and Steve decided to reflect together this summer on the reasons behind their success.

Steve: Christina – you wrote the grant proposal to EdVestors Blended Learning Cohort two years ago to utilize blended learning in the math classrooms at the Frederick. What was the impetus behind the proposal? What were you hoping would come out of the grant?

Christina: I wanted to help expand what I had learned from you about incorporating technology and share it with our entire math department. I had also been a Zeroing in on Math Fellow and was really impressed by EdVestors as an organization and wanted to partner with them. I knew that you had already been using blended learning for a number of years, especially Khan Academy – did anything change for you when you started teaching at the Frederick?

Steve:  Well, I still use Khan Academy. It is a great platform for assigning both grade-level skills and for more foundational skills, or even for practicing basic math fluency. Depending on the student’s math ability, each student must complete a certain number of skills each quarter; this counts as ? of their grade. With the EdVestors grant, I was able to use the information from the STAR Math diagnostic screening to more precisely create additional groupings during class – I had never had that type of data before. Prior to the STAR assessment there were only two groups: students below grade-level and students at or near grade-level. Now I’m able to create three different groups based on levels of understanding to work together on classwork from Study Island, TenMarks, Khan Academy or sometimes on paper. Also most importantly, all the students are still taught 8th grade standards on top of these interventions.

Steve: You also have different groupings in your class. How did you make your groupings and what results did you see?

Christina: I would say that the most important part of implementing any sort of technology regardless of content area is setting aside the time to look at the program’s data and make a plan for individual students and groups. I’ve found that conferencing with students about their progress on a bi-weekly basis has been a real motivator for students. They enjoy hearing feedback one-on-one from a teacher. Any time we change groupings, students know it’s based on trends in their data. Students spend time in homogeneous and heterogeneous groups based on math skill level or, sometimes on native language depending on the language rigor of the task. Making the grouping process transparent helps mitigate some of the social anxiety students have around how they are perceived in the classroom (which is especially hard to navigate with middle schoolers!) and create an environment where students support each other.

Steve: What do you think has been the secret to our students’ success?

Christina:  It’s a combination of being really consistent with the implementation of blended learning and using student data to drive instructional decision making.

Steve: I would add that our collaborative relationship has contributed to our success as well. Our first year working together when we met weekly outside of regular meeting times really set the tone for us being able to discuss student results as well as the nuances and language components of teaching math to English Learners.

Christina: That’s true. It’s helpful that we have been able to collaborate both formally in meetings and informally since you’re right across the hall. Having supportive colleagues in this work is everything. Students thrive when they have a team behind them – can’t wait to see how our students do as they go into high school and beyond!

[1] According to STAR Math assessment


To learn more about Zeroing in on Math, click here.