The EMPower series is appropriate for all levels of math students, including English language learners. It is designed to address foundational math concepts and to connect those concepts to everyday math experiences and often-misunderstood mathematical procedures. EMPower helps students to become more independent, to test multiple solution paths, and to feel more confident in being flexible with numbers. EMPower provides excellent support for students who are anxious or who shut down when they see equations or new problems that look complicated.
For example, beginner-level math students who have some familiarity with basic operations and know some number facts may struggle to retain how and when to apply that knowledge. These students also might be unable to retain some procedures or perform them accurately or reliably. EMPower addresses each of those needs and helps students to gain confidence in their math ability, which ultimately helps them to become proficient in math and numeracy. Likewise, students at a higher math level who struggle to understand how to begin solving a problem on their own or do not have a strong conceptual foundation also can benefit from the series.
The National Center for Education and the Economy (2013) launched an intense study of the mathematics students need to be college and career ready. They determined that middle school math is vital for success in nine different programs offered at community colleges. They based their assessment on texts and exams from programs including nursing, accounting, and criminal justice. Though middle school math—fractions, decimals, percents, ratio, and proportion—are taught in most adult ed classrooms, the learning often is not retained over time. Teaching these concepts so that learners have a true foundation rather than a shaky, passing familiarity with a number of topics and procedures will enable students to meet their long-term goals.
Change is unsettling, especially for students who are accustomed to math classes where their job is to work silently on a worksheet solving problems by following a straightforward example. Be clear about the reasons why you have chosen to de-emphasize some of the traditional ways of teaching in favor of this approach. Ultimately, you may need to introduce things slowly, trying out a warm-up and one activity before connecting it to some more familiar procedural skill and fluency practice on resources you already use.
For example, you could gradually introduce the use of EMPower with one of the frequently used tasks such as “Number of the Day.” These types of activities help students to feel safe as they engage in the conversations that will take place with EMPower activities later on. These tasks also help students to see the variety of ways a problem can be solved, which opens the door to seeing math as more than getting one right answer. Ultimately, gradually introducing one activity over time helps students to experience the ways in which the EMPower lessons help strengthen their problem-solving skills with non-routine problems, cover multiple math content within a single lesson, and encourage reasoning problems through rather than jumping to apply a formula or calculations that may not prove useful (or correct).
For a classroom with a wide range of levels, we recommend that teachers focus on students’ representations and reasoning behind their solutions. This gives everyone the chance to see that answers emerge in several ways. Slowing down deepens understanding and avoids simplistic responses. Having calculators available can level the playing field. Choose lessons that have activities with a hands-on component. EMPower also includes recommendations for making lessons easier and harder within each lesson so that teachers with multi-level classes can provide more differentiated support.
For those who are used to math classrooms being quiet spaces where students are working independently on books or worksheets, then the sound and energy coming from an EMPower lesson can come as a surprise. For that reason, it’s important for administrators and program staff to understand that you’ll be introducing some new ways of learning math. Sharing all the benefits of the EMPower series can help explain how and why the classroom might look and feel different than before. You also might remind them that students typically score lowest in math compared to other subjects and that doing more of the same thing when students have failed in the past doesn’t make sense. New approaches are needed to bring misunderstandings to the surface and address them. And, you might highlight some of the CCR Math Practices which students begin to develop as they engage in the various EMPower activities the encourage productive struggle.
Uneven attendance can be disruptive. Students who miss class may feel disoriented if the classroom discussion is focused on an activity completed in a past class; however, EMPower lessons spiral back to the most important concepts. When the material circles back, students will have a chance to revisit concepts and get a toehold. Teachers also might recommend all students have a class “buddy” who can help review any missed material or activities before the next class. This enhances accountability to fellow classmates and understanding of the content, especially for those who must explain what they learned using their own words and comprehension.
Each activity is important, but reviewing it is equally important. It is better to cut the activity short so there is time to talk with students about what they noticed. Maximize the time by selecting a student or group whose work you feel will add to the class’s understanding and invite them to report their findings. Be conscious of when you are letting an activity go on too long because the energy is high. Fun is good, but be sure important learning is happening. If you like to give time in class to review homework, and you want to hear from everyone in discussions, you will run out of time. Schedule a catch-up session every three or four lessons.
Yes! Most teachers tend to teach the way they were taught. Adopting a different stance requires support, and the more types of support, the better. EMPower offers support in a few ways. The teacher books for each unit list open-ended questions designed to keep the math on track. In the Lesson Commentary sections, Math Background helps teachers deepen their understanding of a concept. In addition, the Lesson in Action sections provide examples of student work with comments that illuminate the underlying mathematics.
The best support often comes from a colleague. If no one at your site is currently teaching EMPower, contact us!
Still have questions or need support?