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Small Steps, Big Changes

  • Title:Small Steps, Big Changes: Eight Essential Practices for Transforming Schools Through Mathematics
  • Author:Chris Confer, Marco Ramirez
  • Publication Date:February 2012
  • Grade Level:K-8
  • ISBN:9781571108135
  • Publisher:Stenhouse

During the past two decades, Chris Confer and Marco Ramirez have worked to deepen and improve mathematics instruction at schools around the country. Wherever they go, they find the raw ingredients for success already present: "The potential for positive change lies within each school. Abundance is present in the form of capable children, teachers, coaches, and principals. Potential energy -- what can be -- transforms into kinetic energy—what will be—only when a force is accurately applied to move a school in the right direction."

In Small Steps, Big Changes: Eight Essential Practices for Transforming Schools Through Mathematics, the authors identify eight tested principles that transform what can be an overwhelming process into a set of comprehensible and concrete steps. Each phase of the change process is brought to life through the stories and perspectives of teachers, coaches, and principals—stories that will strike familiar chords for every educator.

When teachers make sense of math, students learn to make sense of math, and that can profoundly change the entire culture of a school. In one vivid illustration, the authors tell the story of Pueblo Gardens Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, where Marco, as principal, and Chris, as instructional coach, worked alongside a group of dedicated teachers. A few years into the change process, Pueblo Gardens -- a school with 96 percent of its students at the poverty level and a high percentage of English language learners -- had 94 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards in third-grade mathematics. Over time, other grades achieved similarly high scores. And once the test scores rose, they were sustained at high levels.

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Author Bio

Chris Confer has a passion for both mathematics and teaching children. As a beginning third-grade teacher in a bilingual classroom, a student asked her on the first day, “Does the world look the same through your blue eyes as it does through my brown eyes?” The question reminded Chris why she chose this profession: to see the world through the eyes of children, and to help them have every possible choice as they grow up. Chris and Marco’s book, Small Steps, Big Changes: Eight Essential Practices for Transforming Schools Through Mathematics (Stenhouse 2012), outlines their approach that they continue to use; and as cofounders of Associates for Educational Success, they are currently working in fifty-four schools in five states. Whether in Los Angeles, San Jose, Houston, Phoenix, or on the Navajo Nation reservation (Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona), teachers and school leaders research their own practice, and students grow in ways teachers could never have imagined. Success for all is the goal: that all students can think and reason, solve problems, and communicate their math learning—and show their competence on standardized tests. In addition to her work with schools researching math and literacy success, Chris is a popular presenter at national conferences. She is especially interested in professional development for districts and schools interested in transforming their instructional programs to build their own unique system of practice.

Marco Ramirez is an award-winning educator who has successfully transformed schools using mathematics as leverage for change. After working eighteen-hour days as a buyer and broker, Marco did some soul searching and realized that he wanted to have more time for family and a life outside of work. His wife, Julie, suggested that he work as a substitute teacher while returning to college. "What I never expected was that working with students would be so fulfilling. I became fascinated with the thoughtful process that needs to occur in order for children to construct meaning." Marco's work is practical and rooted in the classroom: “Modeling the ideas and structures we wrote about is a powerful way for teachers and schools to make sense of the small steps they need to take that lead to success.” He has taught multiple grade levels, has served on state and national committees, and has won the Milken Educator of the Year Award as a principal.

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