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TNTP Re-imagine Teaching

Marlo Warburton

8th Grade Math, Longfellow Arts and Technology Middle School Berkeley, CA

In Marlo Warburton’s eighth-grade math classroom at Longfellow Middle School in Berkeley, California, students experience a delicate balance of love and order, kindness and discipline.

“I want my students to have freedom of thought,” she says, “but they don’t have freedom of tasks, or the freedom to chew gum or be on the phone.” That’s because they have a lot of math concepts to explore, making their way from linear equations  to multiple equations, understanding how they all relate so that they’re prepared for success in high school and beyond.

“A lot of students come into my class thinking that math doesn’t make sense,” she says. “By the end of the year, I want them to feel that math is amazing. I want them to see that all these concepts fit together, that it’s consistent, that math isn’t this big, hairy, scary thing.”

She wants the same for the parents in her school community. “Ms. Warburton is a community leader,” says Vice Principal Chris Harrell. “Common Core math standards are different from what most adults have learned, so she has taught workshops and created more than 30 videos for our parents on how to help their children succeed in math. She’s a motivator to our students and families, in and out of the classroom.”

When Ms. Warburton arrived at her school, only 10 percent of eighth graders there were proficient on the state algebra test, largely because many were placed in remedial classes instead. Six years later, 75 percent of her school’s eighth-grade students are proficient.

That’s because Ms. Warburton doesn’t strive for lessons that make math seem amazing—she wants to show students that math is amazing. It begins the first week of school when she introduces her students to a hailstone number sequence. Begin with any positive integer. If the current number is even, divide it by two; else if it is odd, multiply it by three and add one. No matter where students start, eventually their sequence will end in 1. It’s the sort of astonishing mathematical process that opens the door for numbers to be cool, setting the table for new and more complex concepts throughout the year.

Warburton introduces the same hailstone sequence to her education students at nearby UC-Berkeley. For these aspiring teachers, content mastery isn’t enough. They need to learn to think like students. “I show them student work,” Warburton says. “What is this student thinking? What does this student know? What does this student need to learn? You have to know the content well enough to think about it in every way that the kids are thinking about it. It’s about joining the student in their thinking about a problem and helping them on their path.”