Systems Leadership for Math Improvement

Math Labs

Math Labs involve small teams of teachers in full- or half-day, job-embedded experiences multiple times throughout the school year. The experience is facilitated by a school-based math coach, or sometimes a principal, district instructional leader, or university-based teacher educator. The central activity of a Math Lab is one or two classroom visits in which teachers experiment together with new teaching practices and learn together about students’ mathematical thinking. In this way, Math Labs are similar to Lesson Study (Fernandez, 2002) in that teachers plan, teach, and reflect together. However, in a Math Lab, the drafted lesson plans and resulting instruction are less polished than in Lesson Study, so that teachers can regularly confer with one another during instruction as they experience how students respond to the lesson. To support learning from the classroom experience, the Lab is organized using the following learning cycle:

Introduce: The Lab begins with some collective learning about an aspect of practice that the group wants to investigate: particular mathematics content, a particular instructional activity, or “talk moves” that can help elicit student ideas, for example. The facilitator may engage teachers in learning through a brief reading, investigating the related content standards, watching video of classroom practice, leading a model lesson with students, or engaging with teachers as learners in an instructional activity.

Prepare: Next, the group plans and practices a lesson collaboratively, anticipating student thinking, considering the benefits and challenges of particular moves, and developing shared goals for the lesson. They may identify particular moments in the lesson they are curious or unsure about to focus their noticing in the classroom visit.

Enact: Then teachers go into a classroom together and teach the lesson. There might be one lead teacher or teachers might “pass the chalk,” sharing the teaching role. The intent of this time is for all educators to share in the decision-making of live teaching. One way teachers all participate in the moment is through “Teacher Time Out.” This is when a teacher calls time out, or pauses the lesson, to think aloud about what they are noticing, share decision making with one another, and determine where to steer instruction. Typically, the team will do two classroom visits in one day so that multiple teachers can try leading the activity and plans can be revised between visits.

Analyze: After the classroom visit, teachers analyze how the lesson went, consider what was learned about student thinking in relation to the content, and how decisions played out in the classroom. Teachers also decide on common instructional activities they will try in their own classrooms before the next lab. Through these common commitments, the learning cycle continues as teachers try common practices and learn from one another about how these plans play out in their various classrooms.

[Text and image adapted from]

Readings and Resources on Math Labs

Math Labs: Teachers, Teacher Educators, and School Leaders Learning Together With and From Their Own Students Math Lab Resources

Teaching Channel Video on Math Labs