MTSU-led K-8 math workshop tackles value of taking...

MTSU-led K-8 math workshop tackles value of taking risks

Renee Crowder called it “the best professional development” she has ever been a part of — and it was quite a “risky” proposition for her and the 150 K-8 math teachers attending the two-week workshop.

Most found the MTSU-led K-8 Summer Institute at Coffee County Middle School challenging. Teachers from Bedford, Cannon, Coffee, Grundy, Rutherford and Franklin counties gained confidence.

Explaining the math process with the group

Amanda Murdock, second from left, explains a process her group considered June 14 during the K-8 Summer Institute Project Impact math workshop at Coffee County Middle School in Manchester, Tenn. Murdock teaches fifth-graders at Stewarts Creek Elementary School in Smyrna, Tenn. (MTSU photos by Randy Weiler)

The Tennessee Department of Education grant-funded 10-day session featured the teachers working in small groups to tackle risks they know their students will encounter. This marks the fifth year for the workshop, called Project Impact, in Manchester, Tennessee.

“We’re working on better understanding mathematics and how to teach mathematics so that we can support the learning of our students,” said Angela Barlow, a professor and director of the MTSU Mathematics and Science Education Ph.D. program.

Part of that “better understanding mathematics” involves taking risks. As Barlow explained, “we encourage students to take a risk in the classroom to positively influence their academic achievement.”

“It’s risky to offer up your answers if you’re not sure if you’re right or wrong,” said Crowder of Shelbyville, Tennessee. The second-year workshop attendee is a kindergarten teacher at East Side Elementary School.

The children “will share their answer and defend it all the way,” Crowder added. “You don’t need to squash their creativity.”

This method has made her “feel more confident in the math I need to teach. It’s more facilitating and letting them come up with the solution.”

They received daily risk statements from Barlow and her leadership team.

While challenging, Amanda Murdock, who teaches fifth-graders at Stewarts Creek Elementary in Smyrna, Tennessee, has kept “an open mind to receiving ideas, learning new strategy and seeing things from the perspective of a learner.”

Year 6, the final year, will find the teachers gravitating to Project Impact-L, with the “L” standing for legacy during a short miniconference.

“We’re excited about this opportunity to see them take ownership of this project as they engage with peers in their school-based teams,” Barlow said of the 2018 session. “They get to showcase their work to other teachers in our area, highlighting the mathematical achievements of their students.”

Barlow has accepted a position as dean of the University of Central Arkansas Graduate School and director of the school’s Office of Sponsored Programs in Conway, Arkansas. She plans to direct the final year of the K-8 Summer Institute.

— Randy Weiler (

K-8 math teachers enjoy activities

Wendy Barnes, right, of Winchester, Tenn., and Maleah Gasser enjoy the activities surrounding the K-8 Summer Institute for math teachers June 5-16 at Coffee County Middle School in Manchester, Tenn. Barnes teaches first-graders at Decherd Elementary School. Gasser teaches kindergarteners at Smyrna (Tenn.) Elementary in Rutherford County.

Day 8 risk statement for K-8 math teachers

The Day 8 risk statement for teachers includes encouraging reminders for students in their classrooms.