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Red Lake teachers undergo professional training

RED LAKE -- Students can memorize math basics and ace tests, but a higher goal is for them to understand the concepts and their practical applications.

With this in mind, teachers from all five schools on the Red Lake Reservation -- Red Lake High School, Red Lake Middle School, Red Lake Elementary School, Ponemah School and St. Mary's Mission School -- took part with student volunteers in training for Cognitive Guided Instruction on Thursday.

The program for improving math achievement was designed and the outcomes tested by the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

CGI is a professional development program for teachers that explicitly shows what kind of knowledge students bring to the math learning process and how they connect that knowledge with formal concepts and operations. The researchers have shown that children bring an intuitive knowledge of math to school with them and that this knowledge should serve as the basis for developing the formal math instruction in primary school.

The emphasis is on assessing the processes that students use to solve problems and that math instruction should be based on the relationship between skills and problem solving.

Consequently, the teaching strategies involve problem solving, rather than repetition of facts.

For example, the Red Lake High School student volunteers from Project Challenge and teachers worked on the geometry of circles in a project dubbed "wigwametry." They built models of traditional Ojibwe wigwam frames as a way of thinking about such concepts as radius and circumference. The models also provide a cultural context for the math concepts, said RunningHorse Livingston, a Ponemah native and CGI instructor.

"It's certainly better than sitting through a lecture on pi R squared," he said.

Livingston said achievement has been proven to be better because the teaching is more responsive to the needs of the students.

"Math is important, but we as teachers don't necessarily get that across," Livingston said.

He said the CGI method tells students the math concepts they need to know and what they would actually use them for, besides passing a test.

"Putting these concepts in a real-life situation, not just memorizing an abstract formula," he said.

According to the UW-Madison program, CGI provides a basis for identifying what is difficult and what is easy for students to comprehend in their study of math.

Red Lake teachers practiced Thursday interviewing and posing problems to elementary students to gauge their level of understanding of the mathematical process, not just the mechanics.

Younger students used counting blocks to demonstrate their understanding of such concepts as how a large number, such as 683, is made up of six hundreds, eight tens and three ones.

The interview process also shows teachers the students' thought processes as they solve problems.

"It's a very interesting program," said Jennifer Bauer, a St. Mary's Mission School third-grade teacher. She will be among the teachers employing the CGI math strategies when school opens next month.