Collab Lab with middle school math teachers!

Hi Friends,

Milwaukee Succeeds is fortunate to work with so many organizations with parallel educational goals for our city. One of our newest partners discovered by Audrey Borland, School Success Manager, is Learn Deep, an independent initiative with the aim to accelerate the adoption of teaching practices that are effective in developing 21st century skills within Milwaukee area schools. One of the strategies Learn Deep created to accomplish this goal is what they term “Collab Labs”. This past year they have hosted over a dozen of these labs addressing various topics surrounding education.

After participating in one, Milwaukee Succeeds staff members quickly realized that it would be a great addition to our School Success Goal 2 area. Together with Learn Deep they created a monthly lab that explores promising methods in middle school math education. The goal is to provide a platform and sounding board for educators to examine how students are taught and learn math in order to improve student outcomes and equity in math education. This Middle School Math Collab Lab cohort is just the beginning in building a critical mass of educators and schools in the area using innovative practices to teach math.

Laura, our Community Engagement VISTA, joined the cohort on their deep dive in collaborative math education and reported back on her experience. Take it away Laura!

See you soon,


It’s 5:30 pm on Monday evening, school is done for the day but 16 educators are gathered around dinner working on a math problem. First, they are asked to look at the problem and just think about the answer. Next, they break into small groups of 2-3 to start discussing it. For the next 30 minutes, they struggle through the problem; talk it out, offer ideas on how to solve it, try, fail and finally come up with a solution.

This group is participating in what Learn Deep calls a Collab Lab, where educators connect and share innovative practices in education. Each gathering has as different focus and the last two have been about middle school math. Milwaukee Succeeds partnered with Learn Deep because school success is greatly impacted by 8th grade math test scores. We measure this milestone because proficiency on state exams directly correlates to high school graduation rates, college completion, and workforce performance. In 2016-17, only 13% of Milwaukee 8th graders scored proficient or higher on the Wisconsin Forward exam. And though black students make up far more of the 8th grade population in Milwaukee, only 11% scored proficient or higher compared to the 24% of white students who scored proficient or higher.*

Realizing the urgency of the matter, Learn Deep and Milwaukee Succeeds are connecting middle school math teachers from across the city to learn new teaching skills, gain resources, experiment with tools, and connect over shared experiences. Gone are the days of quiet rooms with rows of students. As we live in this creative and dynamic world that demands teamwork and problem solving, we must find ways for our classrooms to foster the same spirit. Professor Kevin McLeod from UWM demonstrated that math doesn’t have to be taught just one way; in fact it shouldn’t! Math should be discussed and wrestled with, so students can learn there are many ways to solve a problem.

Milwaukee Succeeds Data Coordinator VISTA, LaQuan McMahan, participated in one of the demonstrated new teaching techniques called “math discourse” and shared his experience:

“In small groups we were asked to look at a math word problem both as educators and as students. We discussed the solution, along with ways to get to the answer. This process was interesting because each person in the group had a different way of going about the problem, as did each small group. Ultimately, this was the key point of this exercise: problem-solving and reasoning were not the same between each group. Allowing students to learn through reasoning and problem solving rather than method memorization, illustrates the importance and value of critical thinking in students’ learning process. Most students struggle at one time or another on how to go about solving a difficult problem; this exercise makes all the difference in developing the necessary reasoning and analytical skills to be successful.”

Improving tests results won’t happen overnight. The nature of the Collab Lab initiative operates on a multi-year perspective that takes into consideration the scaling and reach needed to hit a critical mass of teachers and see a positive impact on math scores. In this first year, Learn Deep and Milwaukee Succeeds plan to keep hosting these math labs. The current cohort will meet regularly for more learning experiences and continue to try out what they learned in their own classrooms. This is a crucial step towards improving math outcomes for students in Milwaukee because it gives educators a chance to hear what other schools are working on and how they’ve overcome hurdles to implement innovative practices.

*Racial demographic data available from Public and Charter schools only.

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