Episode #56 Authoring Our Math Identities – An Interview with Lauren Baucom
That there is the highly respected math educator Lauren Baucom. Lauren is from North Carolina and we chat with her today about her powerful and eye opening 2019 NCTM presentation “Whose Mathematics Is It anyways? (De)Tracking of Teachers & Students”
Stick around to hear how you can help students author their identities in math class; How math class should be like the Lauren’s Favourite TV show Great British Bake Off; Why we should consider how we track (stream) students in our schools, and three de-tracking stages Lauren helped put into place to help reduce inequities in her school.
- How to help students author their identities in math class;
- That math is a social experience;
- How math class should be like the Great British Bake Off;
- Why we should consider how we track (stream) students in our schools;
- Three stages to help de-tracking in your schools.
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Lauren Baucom: Access and equity in and of itself is a huge buzz word that people, they want to be a part, but it’s also being taken up by the mainstream in a way that is not critical, right, that is actually not addressing issues of power, issues of identity for students. So then what is it’s purpose if it does nothing? It is bland, right. It’s like having no salt on your food. You can’t taste, what is the point of equity if it does nothing for the people who are lacking in power and are needing a space for their voices to be amplified are needing a space for their voices to be amplified. To have those people who are in power and who do have identity in those spaces to be able to come back-
Jon Orr: That there is the highly respected math educator Lauren Baucom. Lauren is from North Carolina and we chat with her today about her powerful eye opening 2019 NCTM presentation Whose Mathematics is it Anyways? Detracking of teachers and students.
Kyle Pearce: Stick around to hear how you can help students author their identities in math class, how math class should be like Lauren’s favorite TV show The Great British Bake Off, why we should consider how we track or stream students in our schools, and three detracking stages Lauren helped to put into place to help reduce inequities in her school. Cue up that music.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I’m Kyle Pearce from tapintoteenminds.com.
Jon Orr: And I’m on Jon Orr from mrorr-isageek.com. We are two math teachers who together …
Kyle Pearce: With you the community of educators worldwide who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark engagement, fuel learning …
Jon Orr: And ignite teacher action.
Kyle Pearce: Jon, I’m really excited to dive into this great conversation with Lauren. Are you ready to get going?
Jon Orr: Oh yeah, oh yeah, of course. We are honored to bring you this episode with Lauren. You’ll hear so many powerful insights into our profession that you’ll want to listen to this one twice.
Kyle Pearce: Before we dive in and get to our talk with Lauren we want to thank you for listening to us wherever you are. In the car, at the gym, in the kitchen washing dishes, or maybe on your prep time. If you’ve listened to us before and have enjoyed the episodes or have received some value out of it-
Jon Orr: We’d love to hear about it.
Kyle Pearce: We read all of the reviews of this podcast and right now we want to share one of those reviews with you. This one here is from SheepdogTess on Apple Podcasts.
Jon Orr: SheepdogTess says, “First class of the year was a hit. A huge thanks for making these podcasts. I listened to many as I trained this summer and became sold on the idea of changing up my senior math classes. No more boring first classes for me. The activities were a hit and I was very happy with the engagement. After 16 years I feel keen for a change.”
Kyle Pearce: We absolutely get super charged when we read a review like this one. It’s amazing to us that we’re helping teachers here like Tess change her classroom routines. So where are you listening from around the world? We’d love to hear from you. We’ve got lots of people chiming in from Canada and the United States, but only handfuls from other countries. So dive in there and get those reviews flowing. We’d love to hear from and it helps to keep us pushing forward to keep these podcast episodes coming.
Jon Orr: Before we get to our chat with Lauren, how do you create a culture of engagement and participation in your math class to ensure students are leaning in to learn? Then once students are leaning in, how are we going to tackle new mathematical ideas in ways that build the necessary conceptual and developing procedural fluency over time?
Kyle Pearce: Finally how can we craft our lessons in such a way that every single student can access the mathematical content and they don’t just throw their arms in frustration? We believe that all of these above ideas are important parts of an effective mathematics lesson. But successfully delivering lessons that deliver on all of these ideas is not always an easy task. That’s why we came up with the 3-Part Framework, our Make Math Moments 3-Part Framework to deliver math lessons that students will not only love but will also learn from.
Jon Orr: You can learn more about why we created the 3-Part Framework and what are the necessary pieces that you need to know about so that you can run your classroom lessons without a hitch. Head over to makemathmoments.com/framework. That is makemathmoments.com/framework.
Kyle Pearce: Well that’s enough from us. Here is our chat with Lauren.
Kyle Pearce: Hey there, Lauren, welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. We are so excited to have you on the show today. How are you doing this evening?
Lauren Baucom: I’m doing great, Jon and Kyle. I’m really excited and honored to be with you guys. Thank you so much for inviting me to be with you.
Kyle Pearce: Fantastic. We are so excited. Ever since we had the opportunity to see you present at NCTM last spring we’re really eager to get you on to share your story. So for those who may not know a whole lot of Lauren’s backstory, why don’t you take us a little bit of a journey. Let folks who are listening understand a little about yourself. Fill us in on your role, where you’re from, and maybe a little bit about your teaching story. How did you get into teaching mathematics?
Lauren Baucom: Sure. So I am a military brat and that means that I traveled a lot as a young child. My father was in the Army for 28 years. That meant my first exposure to formal public school and education was very different than the large traditional mainstream. I moved 22 times before I turned 18 so I experienced many, many different versions of school. That also meant that I experienced a lot of gaps in what some people would consider a gap in my learning, well it meant that I gained and garnered different things from different regions as I moved around.
Lauren Baucom: My sisters, I have three sisters, and so the four of us were kind of a tight knit unit and I watched as some of us struggled going through those different pipelines because they were so unique and different and how some of us excelled. And it really just kind of depended on where we lived and how the system was able to take us in and how they were able to see what we brought as profitable and usable. So I went to UNC Chapel Hill here in North Carolina. I got there and I was like, well I have been really successful in math classes most of my life, maybe I should try on being a math major. I kind of went down that path for a long way, ended up graduating with a math degree and then got out and said, “Well what exactly do I do with this except more math?” So kind of got stuck there with this idea of how do I define myself if what I got a degree in was what some would call a peer field where you’re not applying that thing specifically.
Lauren Baucom: I didn’t want to become a mathematician so I started looking towards billing analyst positions and I joined a Fortune 500 company and started climbing the corporate ladder. I found myself there for about a year and a half. It was then, probably that was my first experience in realizing that I believe at my core that mathematics is social, that it’s done in community, and that it’s done with people around you, that it involves the society, the community of practice you’re engaged in. And without that it feels lacking. So doing math in a cubicle just didn’t do it for me the way I thought it would. At that point I looked back over my life in mathematics and I realized my sisters were a part of my journey in mathematics because I loved helping them as they were learning and it changed my trajectory. So I decided to become a teacher. I went to get a master’s degree in mathematics education and that’s kind of where my jumping off point became for becoming a teacher.
Jon Orr: When I hear people’s story here on the podcast things jog in my memory that relates to your story. But something that was interesting to me for sure that I want to be more curious about with you for a moment is this idea that you said math is social and you learned that as you went. I’m curious to hear more about your math experience as a student. Like you said you were successful in math despite bumping around all these different places. Could you fill us in a little bit about what math looked like in those places? What did the classroom environments look like in there? Was it social? Did you get that while you were in school? Or was that something you learned much later? Like I’m wondering that backstory about what school looked like for you and how you experienced math.
Lauren Baucom: So I’ll trace back far enough to go back to 5th grade to say I had a wonderful teacher in the 5th grade. Her name was Mrs. Sturgies. And it was the first teacher of color that I had. That is an important marker I think in my math journey because I saw that math was social, but I also saw that I was capable. She spoke a lot of truth into me about my capabilities in mathematics. She honored what I was bringing to the table. And so she helped to define and author me and my identity as a math learner by somebody who was successful with that. That didn’t mean that her classroom looked social, I think it was still very traditional, but she had a very kind way of authoring students’ identities and speaking mathematics ability into them just through the authoring of their own identities.
Lauren Baucom: And so my education experience was pretty typical, I would say. It was the traditional experience of seeing math down in rows, doing it along side other peers. The speed issue was always there of who could do it the fastest. I didn’t really study at home, which of course became an issue when I went to college and was challenged. I do have a couple of interesting stories that I kind of go back to. One of which is when I was a junior in high school my parents got stationed actually here in North Carolina in Fayetteville and I attended a private school mainly because of the stereotype and the derogatory way that often post kids are looked at and typified when they enter into public school. So while there were public schools that we could go to here in Fayetteville often the kids on post get told, “You’re not going to fit in here. You’re never going to be able to play a sport, so you might as well go try somewhere else.” And so a lot of military families end up doing private school in some neighborhoods where that’s the persona and that’s the way the kids get treated.
Lauren Baucom: I went to a private school and I was in an Algebra II class. I was in a class where the school was small enough that the honor’s kids and the standard level kids were in the same classroom. My sister was also in my class and she’s a year older than me. So that kind of of course created tension. We were high school girls, right, we’re a year apart and even though she’s my best friend now she was not then. So we didn’t really get along well. That also portrayed itself in lots of classroom experiences, one of which was math class where I got things right often and she often struggled to make sense of what was going on. Anytime that I got something right and she did not the teacher would kind of play that off of each other, like the “Why can’t you be more like your sister? I don’t understand why this is so hard for you.”
Lauren Baucom: To the point that there was one memory that I have that’s actually very distinct when the teacher said, “You have to be the smartest black girl I’ve ever met in mathematics.” And I was like, wow, that’s a really strong statement. Especially to think about that she said that in front of my sister, who looks exactly like me. And so I watched my sister’s head the desk in front of her.
Jon Orr: Another knife in.
Lauren Baucom: Right, exactly. So not only did she struggle to make sense of the instruction that was given, which was traditional in nature, then she was compared to her sister in the class, and then she was colorized and typified for not being intelligent. So I can only imagine why she still to this day, despite many, many years of me telling her, “You also are a math person,” that she does not, at her core, believe that is part of her identity.
Kyle Pearce: I really appreciate you sharing those math moments. We also ask guests to roll back into their memory and bring those memory forward and while sometimes they can be positive, others can maybe not be so positive. But it’s really interesting how they stick with us so clearly. We’re definitely going to be diving deeper into this piece and really your presentation I thought was excellent at NCTM. So for those listening we are going to dive deeper into that and specifically with tracking and the pieces around demographics and all of these ideas that are really hindering the access and equity around mathematics. We are going to go back there, but before we get too far away from it, I know Jon he kind of had the angle of going back and thinking back to your experience in the math classroom around this idea of math being social.
Kyle Pearce: In my mind what really popped out when you referenced you experience in a Fortune 500 company and you sort of referenced or at least sort of suggested that at that point you realized for certain that mathematics was social. Did you find that you were in isolation a lot in that role or did you find the opposite? Did you find that in that Fortune 500 company you felt like or you had to engage in mathematics with other people? I’m really curious to hear that because I know myself having never worked outside of education it’s really hard for me when I’m working with students, especially students who are getting closer to their post secondary education, trying to help them understand how mathematics could be in the real world when I myself haven’t actually experienced that. So I’m really curious to get your perspective on that.
Lauren Baucom: Sure. We should tie a bow on those two experiences together and let’s see if we can do that. Going back to this idea that I think these different moments that we go back and we look at that they author our identities in a way that help us know who we are becoming. And so you have in my past several different math moments, one of which like you’re talking about, Kyle, is this one that happened outside of an education frame, it was more of in a corporate world, and one that happened that inside of an education frame. But both of them are authoring something to me about mathematics being social.
Lauren Baucom: One if you watch my experience in that Algebra II classroom I have no doubt now that when I look back I can see that my sister’s identity in mathematics and her relationship with mathematics was derived out of that very, very important moment, right. There’s this moment of isolation that occurs for her and that occurred socially. It happened in a large classroom, in connection with other people, through the mode of communication from the teacher to me, not even directed at her, it was indirect. So all of that happened in this really social way and it authored who she was becoming as far as who she believes she is as a math person. I used air quotes there which you can’t see.
Kyle Pearce: The pause helped me picture it.
Lauren Baucom: But then you jump forward and I have this moment. To give it more color I can say I walked in one day and I looked across a very large sea of cubicles in this corporate world and I’m carrying a polka dot briefcase and a really beautiful mug, and I look out over the sea and I see this one cubicle that is sitting out that has been wallpapered with fabric of numbers. It’s got my beta fish with my flower hanging out, my beta fish plant. I’m like, “Oh my goodness, I don’t know that I belong here.” And belonging has become something that I keep going back to when we look at these math moments as it draws fences, it creates inclusion and exclusion, and that all happens inside of a social world.
Lauren Baucom: That cubicle I decorated that way because part of my identity when I graduated from college was that mathematics was something that I enjoyed and I loved doing. And then finding it in the billing world I was often doing collection calls, I ran the billing’s software for a program that just allowed me to look for discrepancies, consolidation reports, things of that nature, I sent out invoices. And oftentimes one of my biggest goals was to find big dollar mistakes. At one point in time I was doing some credit issues and so I was looking at different balances to see if there was any issues where somebody had paid anything that was outstanding from a long point at time, or if there was a decimal point error or something of that nature. I remember getting really excited because I found one that was quite large, to me, right. I’m just a beginning billings analyst and I found a $100,000 mistake and I’m like, holy cow, this is awesome, right.
Kyle Pearce: That’s a big deal to me.
Lauren Baucom: I should get a raise for this. I’m like this is amazing. I found $100,000, that’s going to save this company a lot of money. I went to my superior and was like, “Look at what I found.” And the response that I got was, “Great, now do it again.” And I was like so fascinated by the difference there between the conceptual nature of math in society and the procedural nature of math in society. That job was very procedural. And like you said, Kyle, it’s very isolated, right. I did all of that by myself. And then when I went to go communicate my success it was, “Okay, great. That is now a practice for you and it is a procedure and that’s the expectation for you to find those things. So we’re not going to celebrate that, we’re just going to mark it as the first one and we’re going to continue to move.” It’s a really interesting way when you look at mathematics as social and you look at the interactions that happen between people and how that authors who we know we have become.
Jon Orr: Yeah. And I really like how you just pointed that out because so much of what we talk about and what’s going on in the classrooms today and what’s being shared in social media about what good classrooms look like is that we’re all saying that it’s social, it’s the interactions, it’s the conversations. But like you’ve just said author that identity, it can be detrimental like it happened to your sister in social environment. Whereas when you go to the isolation you’ve also got these negative kind of things coming out to give you something that makes a memorable moment but not necessarily one that you really enjoy, right, like something that’s giving you this negative taste about mathematics. Like there’s two different sides. It makes me really think and I think it’s something that all teachers we really need to think about if we’re going to have these social environments in our room. What are we saying to our students? How are we talking to them? I always want to reflect back on the way I used to teach because I think I would fire myself because I didn’t think about this kind of stuff.
Lauren Baucom: Yeah. Same, right, yeah.
Jon Orr: I was the math teacher that was like, “I’m just going to in and teach my math lesson,” and I didn’t think about the social interactions, I didn’t have kids talk to each other. And even then I was probably the teacher that might’ve even talked to your sister like that. It didn’t even occur to me sometimes what I was saying to kids and how what I was saying was impacting their beliefs about mathematics because I just thought we were just doing math problems. It’s such an interesting and important thing to think about as teachers. I think there’s so many teachers that still don’t think about it that are just handing these kids these ideas about what math is and what math isn’t.
Lauren Baucom: The best metaphor that I have for this right now that is helping me make sense of this world, I have discussed this one with my baking friend, Jen White, so much because I think to both of us this makes perfect sense. We are both deep into The Great British Baking Show. You guys watch that at all?
Jon Orr: No.
Kyle Pearce: I’ll keep an eye.
Lauren Baucom: Oh, you got to. I’ll say Paul Hollywood, it’s so good. It just keeps me up at night. That’s my guilty pleasure show. But one of my favorite things that happens in that show is they discuss baking with such joy and zeal. One of the things they discuss in there is the concept of lamination. Lamination happens as you’re folding, as you’re making phyllo dough or you’re making these different doughs and you’re trying to fold the butter into the dough so that it has these really beautiful layers. And the goal of The Great British Baking Show is that Paul Hollywood would somehow come around to your station and be like, “That’s a good bake.” That’s the goal.
Lauren Baucom: And so this idea of authoring our math identities is kind of like the process of laminating butter into the dough that is our kids, right. It’s this idea that we’re folding in butter over time, and it takes work. It takes work on our part, it takes work on the doughs part to be able to absorb that butter. And it is like pushed in, these good math social moments that get pushed into the bread and you’re hoping that at the end of this 13 year experiment in society the kid goes, “Yeah, that was a good bake.” You know? They completely get that their identity is strong enough in mathematics and that it’s been laminated in across time. That takes a lot of time to prove. Just all of the different metaphors that come out with baking with that is so helpful for me in thinking about that.
Kyle Pearce: I love that. I love that. You know what pops into my mind when you say that is just, and it reference what Jon just reiterated in some of the connections he made, but just thinking about our day to day, and he was talking about what we say to students or what we don’t say, but then also just in our actions. Students can tell when you’re happy, right. And if we’re coming into class each day and it’s just class, it’s just math class. Think of the impact that that has on students over time. If we can’t even show passion about what we do for a living, which is educating the future, like how exciting is that? I’m going to be honest and say that for a time in my career I wasn’t happy teaching because things weren’t going so hot in my classroom and I’m just picturing that baking show. I have never seen it. I don’t watch a lot of cooking shows. But I’m just picturing like they’re doing it because they love it, right, and there just probably using the most interesting words to describe, right. The most wonderful adjectives.
Kyle Pearce: The mathematician who popped into my mind as I was thinking and reflecting as well was James Tanton. Because if you listen to James Tanton speak, about anything in life, but mathematics in particular I’m picturing him with a baker’s cap on right now. So for me that really resonated.
Jon Orr: And I’m picturing when you said, Lauren, “That’s a good bake,” I’m picturing the kids just sitting back like feet crossed out in front of them, arms crossed too, and just nodding their head like, “That was a good math idea that just happened,” you know. That’s the ultimate compliment for sure too. Lauren, let’s dive a little bit into your presentation at the NCTM in San Diego this past year, which was titled Whose Mathematics is it Anyway? Detracking of teachers and students. I know this presentation for both Kyle and I opened our eyes to how tracking, we call it actually streaming here in Ontario, how it leads to systemic inequities in our math class. I know that you and your colleagues embarked on this mission to address this tracking that’s happening in your school. What were seeing in your school and maybe other schools that set you off on this journey? And then we can get into how you did it.
Lauren Baucom: Sure. I think what I saw when I got to the school that I was at in this particular case, I had just come a large inner city school that was a magnet school, and I don’t know if that’s the same terminology that you all use.
Jon Orr: No. Can you let us know what that means?
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, help us out.
Lauren Baucom: Sure, yeah. If it is a true magnet, they place magnet schools in places of poverty and the goal is to, like a magnet, draw in the populations that are outside these areas of poverty that come from areas of wealth in hopes of drawing in the money and resources and capital by putting specific programs in these schools that allow specialization for students for their experiences. So dance, art, automotive, different certifications that you can get, International Baccalaureate programs. And so I had just come from this magnet school-
Jon Orr: And it’s a high school?
Lauren Baucom: Yeah, it’s a high school. One of the major issues that happens in magnet schools is you get kind of this bifurcation between groups. You have a 40% population of the kids that come from the neighborhood and you have the 60% population that is drawn in from these outside sources that are expecting excellence in programming. You look in your classes and you go, “How do we get the 40% base students to experience these excellence opportunity classrooms that are drawing in all these other students?”
Lauren Baucom: And so while I was at the school in the capital city that I was at here in North Carolina I saw as a staff, recognize it, and really struggle to think through how do we work through this? This is a system and we are creating this educational violence against our own kids. We are actors in that because we are at this magnet school, how do we transfer that so that we can help students eliminate some of the barriers that exist just because the name of the school, the type of school it is. We made a lot of hedge way to try to make some moves there.
Lauren Baucom: So when I moved to this rural school I had just come out of thinking about all of that and the training that I received to think through how do we get rid of some of these systemic barriers for students. And I walked in and I looked at some of the classes and my honor’s classes were white, majorly male, and my AP Calculus class that year had 30 kids in it and it was majorly male and white. If it wasn’t white and male it was white and female. And then after white and female, maybe there were a couple of students of color and they were generally male. And so I was like wow this is so fascinating because our school was really closer to 40% white, 40% black, and 20% Latin X students. And so when you know the populations of the school don’t match the courses, you got to start asking questions about what are the barriers that are keeping kids entering into these course pathways so that this is our end result? Because the kids in the classroom, once they’re there, that’s the end result of all the systemic issues that are occurring to keep them from getting there.
Jon Orr: And the other school, the demographics of the neighborhoods and the people that drew in, the 40% and 60%, you were seeing that reflection in classes and you had been working towards making that true. And then when you went to this other school it was not that. It was like the dynamic of the school was made up of these percentages, but they were not being shown in say the Calculus class.
Lauren Baucom: I’ll go back and just say the school that I was at, the magnet school, it was definitely still had this bifurcation going on, but there was work going on to address the issues. It was not an equitable situation either, but I think it was one that was at least aware of.
Kyle Pearce: Right. Now I’m wondering, just out of curiosity, so for that magnet school would it be basically like if you’re in the boundaries then all students are welcome, or is like application process or? I’m not sure if you mentioned that or if I missed it, but just to kind of clarify on who comes into that school and what’s that process look like or sound like?
Lauren Baucom: Sure. So to go to a magnet school if you’re not in the base population, or the students that live in that neighborhood, then you apply to go to that magnet. And then there’s generally either a lottery or there’s a system that allows students to be placed and picked to be able to go to that magnet.
Jon Orr: In your presentation I think you outlined kind of three stages of detracking and kind of like how you went, like you saw this, what was going on in your school, and then you and your staff and your colleagues tried to figure out what was going on there, but also how do we fix this. Would you mind for our listeners who were not in your presentation sharing what were those three stages of detracking and then we can go through them one at a time?
Lauren Baucom: Absolutely. So our first stage was to try to use data to make metric based recommendations. So we’re discussing there how do we recommend students for the next level course? And we chose to figure out how do we use data to make those decisions be metric based rather than opinion based. So that was stage one. State two was to try to eliminate any remedial level courses that were barriers for students getting into some of those upper level courses. And then the last stage was to eliminate teacher tracking, was to look at our system, to look at the way we were placing teachers into classes and to have a conversation as a department about what was equitable and what was fair.
Kyle Pearce: I’m wondering, can we go to number one there in talking about data to make metric based recommendations? And Jon and I are always very curious, especially when we’re speaking with educators from different parts, like outside of Ontario. Here in Canada we don’t have like a common core across the entire country, so even going to different provinces things happen in slightly different ways. However, there is this underlying consistency in how certain things are happening. So I’m wondering when this tracking sort of occurs, help us understand why this first stage is necessary. What did you feel or what did you observe happening around you that made you think that, no, we need data here, we need to stop, my guess is, is going with just what someone’s thinking off the top of their head, right? Those unconscious biases come out and all of these things are going on. Help us understand what does that look like or sound like? Or what did it look like, sound like?
Lauren Baucom: Right. So I can kind of paint the image there for you to say I asked a question in one of our department meetings and I said, “How do we decide where a student is going to go next?” The answer was, “Well they just move on to the next class.” And I was lik that’s so interesting. So if a student originally gets placed in let’s say a double tracked year long math class, which is a slower version than the course is offered for other students, then they will always be double track year long math classes.
Jon Orr: And there’s no possibility of moving say to a different track?
Lauren Baucom: That was my question was, “How do we know when a student has been misplaced and could possibly do well on a different track? How do we know when that student had been rutted?”
Kyle Pearce: And isn’t the point to try to help push them forward, right? It’s not that like okay now they go down there and they’ll pop out at the other end, or at least that’s what we’re hoping is not going on, but it sounds like is what was sort of happening. Unless someone maybe came in and made a case for it, right? Maybe parents came in and said, “Hey, we want to do something about this.” Or is that even possible? Is that even something that happens?
Lauren Baucom: Sure. Well you know in North Carolina we’re in a really interesting phase of being a teacher. And one of those things is that parents often can come in and carte blanche change what is going on for a student’s pathway. And in some ways that’s extremely beneficial because a student has an advocate and their pathway can change. In other cases that’s extremely lacking in benefit because it means that a student could often be placed on a track that maybe a teacher didn’t think they were ready for. And so there’s a tension there between just those two realities.
Lauren Baucom: And also just calling out there that it shouldn’t be fair that a parent is able to come in and change their kids track just because they have the ability to make it to the school building between the hours when the school is open and ready to listen to them. So if a parent cannot physically go to advocate for their student, then that track for that kid is cemented and sedentary from the moment they walk in the door. And that doesn’t mean that the parent doesn’t care, it doesn’t mean the parent isn’t aware, it doesn’t mean that the parent doesn’t want something better for their child, it’s just that the physical hours of when the school building is open it privileges those who are working at home, from home, and have the capability of making it to the school to advocate for their kids in that particular way.
Jon Orr: I find this very interesting because it sounds like when you are setting off on this path too that you have the power to change also the way those paths go at your school. From your presentation you had outlined those changes you made because when we reflect here in Ontario is that each school would not have that power. Like even each district here does not have that choice of changing our pathways, we call them pathways instead of streams or tracking. And so a student would chose when they come into the 9th grade which kind of class that would take in the 9th grade, but then they have, it’s almost like a map that they could get to, but also crisscrosses. But that’s true for every high school, like that same map exists for every high school in Ontario. And when I remember sitting in your presentation and you were outlining that you were going to make these changes I was just kind of in awe and kind of shocked that your school or even your district had the power to just make those changes. So I just found that super interesting.
Lauren Baucom: Yeah. I think that goes to show, one, that my principal supported me and treated me like a professional and an expert in my field. He was an excellent leader and he was based out of social studies, but he saw himself as a generalist. He understood that as a principal his greatest job was to empower his teachers and he knew that if he could do that then the school overall experience for his students would get better. And so he trusted me. That was really important. So he was willing to give up power to allow me to have some power in making some of those decisions. And I think we were both better for it.
Kyle Pearce: I’m sort of like it wrestling in my mind as to the situation that makes most sense or would provide the best opportunity for students. I think what I’m realizing as I’m thinking here and reflecting live with you folks on podcast is obviously tracking at all it’d be great to just remove it completely and obviously there’s a huge amount of work to be done around that here in Ontario and obviously in the U.S. Having that ability, that power, to be able to change the structure of how students are tracked given the system that you’re currently working in, seems like a benefit in the scenario that you’re in, but I could see how that could be maybe a really bad thing in a school where maybe the administrator isn’t as supportive as yours or aware of what’s actually going on, particularly in mathematics which is commonly called that gatekeeper subject. So there’s a lot of weight and a lot of implication to either doing some of those changes, or making those changes and putting that effort in, or not.
Kyle Pearce: When I look here in Ontario part of me wonders if maybe we’re in a at least there’s a consistency there and our pathway system at least it does have places like you said, Jon, where it kind of comes together so that the doors aren’t permanently shut for students, however, we still have work to do here in Ontario. So I find that really interesting. I don’t know, what are your thoughts on that, Lauren? Obviously in your scenario I think it worked out well, but when you look at the big picture, the global picture, what are your thoughts on that just how districts and even school have that ability to change the way that looks like, sounds like? Do you think there’s more of a pro or a con? Or is it just a bit of both?
Lauren Baucom: I think a couple things there, Kyle, so I’m going to try to make sure I hit all of them. Number one, I want to make sure that it’s clear that I didn’t just make up these three stages. I didn’t make up the metrics that we used. I did a significant amount of research prior to that and I also knew that I was working on something at a local level that was really local and global at the same time. This is the local manifestation of a systemic issue of tracking that affects students of color specifically, right. So this is an issue of dominant culture creating a system of status quo that says, “Oh, if you don’t fix it we’ll just continue doing the same thing over and over and over again.” Which ends up harming those people who come from marginalized communities more than anybody because they are the ones that are waiting for the change to happen.
Lauren Baucom: And without that change and that power, we as a system of education continue to commit educational violence, that’s what Mustafa talks about in one of his articles, this educational violence against students that is limiting any opportunity for them in moving forward. So if you can define tracking as a really easy example of educational violence because it limit the opportunities of that student moving forward in life and what that are capable of becoming. This kind of goes back to our conversation about becoming. So that is really important. I wasn’t just kind of delving into this as a social experiment to see if could change it, right. This is bigger than that. This is from, like I said, I had experience in kind of understanding these systemic issues and why it was important to engage in this change. I did have a very supportive principal, but I convinced him with research that I knew what I was talking about and he knew what I was talking about.
Lauren Baucom: I think what you’re talking about too, Kyle, is this issue of you’re calling it streams is knowing that they crisscross and allow students to change. The question is are they changing? Do people change streams? And who changes streams? How do we know that those streams are serving all of our students well? Specifically our marginalized populations because those are the students that typically get pushed into the streams where those streams are committing education violence against our students, they’re limiting their opportunities. So we look backwards for that gate, right. Where did that gate first happen that pushed them into the lowest stream so that now they have to wait for an interchange for them to be able to change over into a different stream to advocate for themself to get out of that stream? That’s all work that people who are in the highest stream don’t have to do.
Kyle Pearce: Right. Just those barriers, right. You know one barrier after another.
Lauren Baucom: Right.
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely.
Jon Orr: Definitely a good point that just because there’s crossovers doesn’t eliminate these inequities that you’re trying to fix at your school.
Lauren Baucom: Right. And so I think that was kind of what I saw. And this is often true. Equity is now becoming a huge buzz word. Access and equity in and of itself is a huge buzz word that people, they want to be a part of, but it’s also being taken up by the mainstream in a way that is not critical, that is actually not addressing issues of power, issues of identity for students. So then what is it’s purpose if it does nothing, it is bland? It’s like having no salt on your food. You can’t taste what is the point of equity if it does nothing for the people who are lacking in power and are needing a space for their voices to be amplified. To have those people who are in power and who do have identity in those spaces to be able to come back and help those voices be amplified that don’t. So it’s just kind of important as a marker to make sure that we realize that equity right now, too, is a buzz word and if it’s not actually disrupting power structures then it really has no purpose, it’s just a fad.
Jon Orr: For sure, for sure. And such an important point to make. And I think there’s lots of people talking about like access to stuff, but not talking about specifically like you’ve just said, how we making identity in our math classes and who has the power in our math classes and those choices.
Jon Orr: I was curious in, I guess I’m still on the metric based recommendations that you were thinking about in your work here. I’m really interested in the metrics you chose to look up, but maybe even more interested in the metrics you didn’t choose to look at. Like which ones you’re like, “I don’t want to look at that. I think that’s something that we want to eliminate for helping us make decisions.” I’m just thinking like if I’m an administrator listening to this right now, or if I’m a teacher who’s like you, Lauren, who has this power can help make these changes in their schools, what should they be looking at? What should they not be looking at?
Lauren Baucom: One, I would say we are in a data saturated society. And so we love data and statistics even without making inference, so that’s my little statistical moment there. I have fallen in love with statistics mainly because I see us as a society truly loving the numbers, but not actually going back to make inferential reasoning about what the numbers actually tell us. So I will go ahead and throw in at the end of this presentation I talked about caveats and cautions. One of them was compromise is really, really important when you’re trying to address things that are systemic because you’re trying to enroll a large body of people, in this case it was only nine people in the department, but still that is nine opinions that you have to try to win over in order to disrupt these power structures that exists and these inequities that exist for your students.
Lauren Baucom: So some of these metrics I don’t know that I would’ve chosen period. This was a set of metrics that we chose as a department. And so your question is what metrics should we be looking at? I don’t know that the statistics that we get from end of course data, which is that one time shot, is a bad metric. I think it’s a good metric to look at. The problem is when we compound that, so when we like to say, “Oh I want to look at the end of course test exam or the final exam for a course and then also I want to look at the student’s GPA.” Well those two things are tied together aren’t they? Isn’t the student’s GPA, in North Carolina at least, the end of course test counts as part of their overall grade. Well that counts into their GPA so now it’s kind of compounding that test score as being something and privileging something in the way that we place students. And it’s a four hour exam. It’s this one four hour period.
Lauren Baucom: I mean I can’t even tell you the number of catastrophic events I’ve had happen during four hours exams. I’ve had a kid throw up, I had a kid with a broken arm. I mean I had a kid come in on a skateboard that he lost, he was absolutely terrified. I mean just all the different stories that you can tell about kids and the anxiety that testing produces for four hours. And then we use that as a compounding effect to determine how we place students? So some of those metrics, I’m not saying that they’re bad, but I think it’s important to ask ourselves, “How many times are we counting this thing against them? How many times are we counting it for them?”
Lauren Baucom: I had a different principal at one point in time that instead of asking me to do my yearly teaching evaluation by bringing in a portfolio or bringing in all of my metrics that showed I was an effective teacher, she said just bring me evidence, you could pick one student, three times a year that shows that they grew and learned something. It was one of the most powerful things that I had. That was actually something that we ended up having a discussion about for a long time. It was difficult to quantify, that was the hardest part. So we were using metrics that we could quantify.
Lauren Baucom: And so kind of circling back, part of that compromise in choosing those metrics was what is something that we all could agree upon? Well we were math teachers and most of us wanted something that was quantitative in nature. So things that were qualitative in nature, which would’ve been verifiable for demonstrating a student’s mastery, sometimes got thrown out because we didn’t feel like we could quantify it in a way that would do service to the kids that we felt like would be fair. And I think we went back several times later and said, “You know I think we could maybe put in a qualitative measure, or to think about that.”
Lauren Baucom: But the ones that we chose not to put in at the end specifically were overall performance and benchmark performance. We have benchmarks that are scheduled by our county or sometimes by the state in North Carolina and those are intended to be formative assessments that allow us to inform our instruction to know where students are learning and help us to know how we can change our practice to make sure kids are learning and achieving their growth across the year. So using that as a metric for whether or not a student has learned something to know whether or not they should move on to the next level when they are demonstrating their current mastery at a partial place during the year felt unfair.
Kyle Pearce: So it sounds like there is no one way to go here. And it sounds like you’re kind of probably always thinking about what data should we be using and which data shouldn’t we be using. It’s not a clear cut sort of decision is what we’re hearing.
Lauren Baucom: Well and so I’ll give you another one that’s really problematic. Attendance or absences for students is one that we ended up including in our list because again like I said I would never have included that in my list because I know that attendance and absence is effective for communities in different ways. And so I think that that already is an inequity and so now we’re going to compound that on to the student who is making it to school, physically making it to school and now we’re going to say well because you weren’t here consistently enough we’re going to not let you go into a higher math class? Those two things don’t align for me.
Kyle Pearce: And despite not being here you were able to achieve this, this, and that.
Lauren Baucom: Right.
Kyle Pearce: To me is almost like the opposite. It’s like, wow, you were able to do some really, really strong work despite the challenges that you’ve been facing.
Lauren Baucom: I mean we can be practical too in knowing that when kids aren’t physically present it does affect their learning of what we were instructing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t learning about mathematics. They definitely could be learning about mathematics outside of my classroom space. And me not honoring that and pretending like the absence and the attendance issues are actually what’s deterring them from learning math, I think there’s a big jump there.
Jon Orr: And what they’re bringing in. They could have a huge background in math and just because they’re not there with you in that couple months span or half a year span doesn’t mean that they necessarily don’t know the curriculum content or the standards. I had a student like that and I remember he would come three days a week, two days a week, and he was smart as a whip. He caught on so quick. And I think the old me would’ve written him off. The old me would’ve greeted him at the door saying, “Oh, you’re here today. Here’s a whole bunch of work to catch up on.” Instead of saying like, “Welcome,” and then picking up where he is. I remember a kid who had becoming every day and who had been struggling. He wasn’t like top of the class, had struggled with some concepts and he was so surprised that this other student was doing better than him as a mark. He’s like, “But he doesn’t he come all the time.” I said, “Well, when he does come he shows me such great thinking. He’s proving he knows the curriculum content.” And I know that some teachers would hold that attendance against them.
Lauren Baucom: Yeah. Too, Jon, just kind of thinking through that. They may have really great adult interactions at home, but ones that may not necessarily put school as the biggest priority because for some it’s just something different. And so I think all of us have mentioned in this conversation that at one point in time in our educational career that we had different set mindsets about the way students came into our spaces. And I think that is a process of humanizing the students that we work with, right. It’s not just exposing them to who we are and being vulnerable with our experiences with them, but it’s also being vulnerable to accept their experiences with us, acknowledging the experiences that they have, and also taking them as a human and recognizing that that is what we were talking about the beginning is math is social so we also are in these defining moments with them. If we define their excellence based on their attendance and their absences, then that’s what’s being laminated into their identity as math people. And so we just have to be conscious and aware that that is what we are sowing.
Kyle Pearce: That makes a ton of sense. I’m wondering as well because like you’d said, yeah if you want people to come on board then yeah we have to throw our ideas together and we really have to make sure that everyone’s voice is being heard regardless of whether we agree or disagree with some of their reasoning. That segues nicely into stage number two when we talk about eliminating remedial level courses. I can only imagine that a lot of department members, so a lot of math teachers, might really struggle with this idea as it might be scary for some to think like, “Well what do I do?” I know Jon and I both have philosophies on how we try to teach in order to ensure that all students can access the mathematics in the classroom. What were your thoughts on that? Like when you were trying to get your team to consider this idea of trying to remove remedial level courses, what did that look like, sound like? And what did it look like after? Like once you get that stage and you actually do that, how do you ensure that you’re setting yourself up for the greatest success for the students and then also for the teachers to feel like they’re prepared to actually deliver effective math curriculum?
Lauren Baucom: Sure. So I think, too, you just hit it right on the head. Eliminating remedial classes is really the shallow version of recognizing that rigorous instruction is important. And so step one was introducing rigorous instruction. So then it’s really hard to differentiate between, and here we call them standards versus honors level tracks or streams. So if every student is receiving rigorous instruction and the instruction isn’t watered down, then how do you tell a difference between the courses? And if you can’t answer that question after you’ve done that work of introducing rigorous instruction then maybe those remedial courses are really a barrier and inequity to the students that are in them. So that was one.
Lauren Baucom: Two, I think when we employed step one with the metrics based recommendations what we realized is that all of our students were prepared based on the metrics that everyone chose and decided on. It’s recognizing sometimes that these metrics actually just erase the need for these remedial classes. So one of the teachers that was predominantly teaching some of these foundations level classes, what we called them here at this school, said, “You know what? The content, when you slow it down that much and you’re still teaching rigorously, it also creates too much behavior, too many issues for classroom management.” Because they realize, the students realize why are we doing this same thing again? I mastered it yesterday. Why am I having to do this again when everybody else has moved forward?
Lauren Baucom: And so those were some issues that we started to have a conversation about. Until you can begin to see how this is a compounding affect of systemic, we keep having more behavioral write ups out of foundations classes than anywhere else. Is that because the kids that are in there? Is that because the nature of the instruction that is in that class? Right? And we ended up going back and going, “Oh, look it’s the instruction.” So if we eliminated this, are those kids, I’m using air quotes again, bad kids? Absolutely not they weren’t bad kids, they were excellent kids who were got mathematical thinkers who had been placed in a track that did not serve them and it caused them to act behaviorally in a way that they were bored, they didn’t understand why there were placed at a track that made them feel less than their peers. And so we received actions from them that said they understood that, which often looked like misbehavior.
Jon Orr: Yeah, and I think a lot of teachers right now can imagine that. So many kids are misbehaving because of those reasons and wish that this magic wand could eliminate that and go to eliminating this remedial level courses. And I really like that you’ve brought up like you’re not eliminating remedial level courses, we’re introducing rigor into the classes that were labeled easy or labeled easier tracks. So a remedial. So I really like that stage two, it’s so important to think about if we want to say detrack our classes.
Jon Orr: The last stage was really eye opening to me and I never really thought about detracking teachers. But when you were talking about this and I wouldn’t mind you explaining this a little bit for people. But it made complete sense because when I started teaching, like my first year you’re told like you got to put your dues in. You’re not going to teach Calculus for a while. You’re not going to teach the senior level classes for a while because you got to put your dues in to get up to those ranks. Can you talk a little bit about that teacher tracking and why you thought this was necessary to change?
Lauren Baucom: Sure. One I’ll just kind of throw out a book for people who are thinking about this as a resource. Catalyzing Change is a book at NCTM put out in 2017 and they kind of walk through some of these same things. It just so happens we did this work in like 2015. After I read that book and I was like, “Yeah, that’s exactly what that is.” It gave some grammar and some language to some of the things that we were experiencing. At the school that I was at we were predominantly first, second, and third year teachers and I had more experience than most of the body of our department combined. So that was an awkward interchange because it’s like well does my experience beget that I should teach these upper level courses? And here, in North Carolina at least, sometimes upper level means honor’s level and sometimes upper level means juniors and seniors. And so it kind of is a balance between.
Lauren Baucom: Most teachers want to teach some honor’s level and some juniors and seniors and they want to kind of have a mix bag in their repertoire. I often remember people being like, again here it comes back to stage two, “Nobody wants to teach all foundations or remedial courses all day long.” And I’m like, “Well then why do we have them?” If we don’t want to teach them it’s not necessarily just because we don’t want to teach them that we shouldn’t have them, but like if they’re not serving the teachers and now we already know they’re not serving the students, then why do they exist? Part of the thing that was the most difficult is when we realized what courses we were going to eliminate out of the remedial courses that we had where we placed the students using metrics and then those classes basically disappeared because we realized no kids were being placed in there based off of the metrics we had. Well there were still teachers that were siloed into teaching those courses.
Lauren Baucom: So I’m not sure what your course names are there, but maybe it would be like if you have an Algebra II teacher as a teacher who defines themselves as the one content area course content that they teach. And so prior to the common sore state standards, here in North Carolina we had a lot of people who identified as Geometry teachers and Algebra teachers or Algebra II teachers or Pre Calculus teachers. And again flipping that on the head, I don’t know that our job is to teach them mathematics as much as it is to teach the students in the mathematics classroom. Mathematics is the vehicle to help our students become better citizens in society. It is not necessarily the end all be all. The goal is not necessarily for them to leave and become mathematicians. So if that’s not the goal, then what is the point of their 13 year experience with mathematics?
Lauren Baucom: So that’s hard because there is tension when a teacher silos themselves and they identify as a course. And so part of teacher tracking is saying, “No, that course content belongs to the students. That course content belongs to the kids who are taking that class, not necessarily to the teacher who is, even though they have maybe mastered teaching that class.” And since our job is to teach students, how do we make sure that we as teachers have a well rounded background on teaching all of the kids in our repertoire and not necessarily a particular type of course? When we did eliminate those remedial courses, one of the teachers was predominantly teaching just that one course that got eliminated and there was a lot of tension for a while. They were like, “Who am I if I’m not this teacher? Not teaching this content.”
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, that’s that identity you were referencing earlier, but now for the teacher, right?
Lauren Baucom: Right. Again, exactly what you said, Kyle, is this is all about identity formation. Is who are we becoming? And so what we saw with that teacher was that she realized that she was becoming a math teacher, not a specialized content course named teacher. And so teacher tracking doesn’t show up that way as the way we silo ourselves, it also happens exactly as you said, Jon, when we tell our beginning teachers they shouldn’t have access to seniors or upper level classrooms or honor’s classrooms or AP, advanced placement, classes because of their youth or inexperience with teaching. So that often is another way that we track teachers. So our goal was to look at who was being assigned what courses and how could we make sure that that was an equitable experience for people.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah I think that’s such a great point to make. You know there’s part of me where balance is always key I think in pretty much everything in life, right, balance. And I always advocate to not shuffle teachers around too much just for the sake of shuffling them around. I always like them to gain some experience, some expertise. But not to the point, like you had said, where now it’s like this is who I am, this is all I do. I love how you’ve referenced like we are teaching these students. Jon and I have said this on the podcast before, we’ll bump into students that we taught five years ago, sometimes 10 years ago, and a question we often ask is what’s a memorable moment for you? Like we ask all our guests the same question we ask our former students that and we say, “What was a memorable moment from math class?” They never talk about the content. So if you’re the Geometry teacher, they’re not remembering that. We’re trying to prepare them, as you said, to be ready to be great citizens, to be great people and do great things. I think that is so important.
Kyle Pearce: The other piece I think is really if you don’t get outside of one particular course, like let’s say Algebra II, how can you ever know and understand where students are coming from? Like both content wise also in their own development as human beings. And where they’re going. So when students are struggling in my Algebra II class what do I do? If I don’t understand the math content because I have no experience teaching Algebra I or have no experience teaching anything prior to that or after that. That really poses some challenges when you had mentioned like some teachers feel like they’ve mastered that course. I might argue that you might have that confidence like you’ve mastered it, but you’re probably not reaching the needs of every single student in your classroom. So I really like this idea of making sure that we’re not just teaching a course or the content, we’re actually teaching the students. That means we need to have a little bit more experience outside of one particular course.
Lauren Baucom: Right. And I think too, exactly what you said, Kyle, is this idea that each course is bookended on both sides, right, until they get to their senior year, and even then for some of our students that is still bookended by college courses. So to try to really think about … This is almost an elitist position that I have mastered teaching a course without ever having teaching the course that has come before it or the course that has come after it within the last three years of my teaching is a falsity, right? It’s a myth that we’re telling ourselves because we haven’t been able … Even if we say, “Well I know what was in that course, I’ve been able to bridge that gap.” If we believe that mathematics as a field is constantly changing then should we not also act that way in the way that we teach our courses?
Lauren Baucom: If we’re teaching math classes, if we believe that mathematics … When we talk to mathematicians these days, right, those people who are currently mathematicians, they don’t talk about mathematics as static and fixed. They talk about it as dynamic, something that is social, something that is moving, something that is fuzzy, right. We have this whole branch of mathematics that’s like fuzzy mathematics topics, fuzzy logic. I love it. How in the world could we say that we have cornered, like we have mastered teaching a course when that is what the nature of our course content is? That is something that still baffles me.
Jon Orr: Yeah for sure, for sure. Like we’ve said, and both of you have said, that it’s more about teaching the kids anyway, teaching the kids you have in front of you. And they change, all the time. You’ve got new kids every single year, or every single half year, or you’re teaching three, four different classes a day. This teaching gig we have is so complex and I think we could keep talking about this forever and we’re looking at the time here and we’ve been chatting for a while. We’ve got more questions to ask Lauren and I don’t think we’re going to be able to get to them tonight.
Jon Orr: Lauren, thanks so much for speaking with us about your presentation and so many other ideas which I’m kind of summarizing as like authoring identities. It’s been a truly rich experience for both Kyle and I and the listeners that are listening to this right now. So thank you so much.
Lauren Baucom: Thank you. I’ve so enjoyed our conversation and I look forward to many more conversations online and on Twitter too.
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely. Thanks so much, Lauren, we’ll talk to you soon. We want to thank Lauren again for spending some time with us to share her ideas and insights with us. And you, the Math Moment Maker community.
Jon Orr: How do you create a culture of engagement and participation in your math class to ensure students are leaning into learn? And once students are leaning in, how are we going to tackle new mathematical ideas in the ways to build necessary conceptual understanding and developing procedural fluency over time?
Kyle Pearce: Finally, how can we craft lessons in such a way that every student can access the mathematical content and they don’t just throw their arms up in frustration? We believe that all of the above are important parts of an effective math lesson, but successfully implementing all of them can be a challenge. That’s why we came up with with the Make Math Moments 3-Part Framework to deliver math lessons that students will not only love but will learn from.
Jon Orr: You can learn more about why we created the 3-Part Framework and what are the necessary pieces that you need to know about so you can run your classroom lessons without a hitch. Head over to makemathmoments.com/framework to learn more. Head to makemathmoments.com/framework.
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Kyle Pearce: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode56. That’s makemathmoments.com/episode56.
Jon Orr: We release a new episode every Monday morning. Keep an eye out for our next episode.
Kyle Pearce: Well until next time my friends I’m Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.
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