*In this first installment of TeachOntario Talks we are profiling and celebrating the U.P. (Ultimate Potential) Math program from the Mathematics department at Oshawa’s Monsignor Pereyma Catholic Secondary School.*

Faced with low and declining EQAO Mathematics scores for its Applied stream students, the Math department at Monsignor Pereyma Catholic Secondary School decided in 2010 it was time to try something new.

After acquiring funding from the TLLP, teachers Leanne Oliver and Kevin Hoadley started by focusing on pedagogical research and reviewing data about how their kids were doing using Continuum Based Math (CBM) diagnostic testing.

The result was what they call Ultimate Potential Math or U.P. Math, an approach that has combined with a change in teaching practice to result in shocking improvements in their Grade 9 Applied Mathematics students’ EQAO scores.

In 2009/2010, the school year before the program began, just 17 percent of the school’s students were meeting Level 3 or Level 4 on the provincial assessments. But after working to improve teaching practice and implementing U.P. Math, that number rose to 71 percent of students meeting the provincial standard.

Finding out from the students themselves about how they learn best, then using research-based strategies to target students’ numeracy gaps, has been central to the U.P. Math program, the teachers say. The program is a compilation of best teaching practices, including open and parallel tasks (and the work of Dr. Marion Small, a long-time Canadian professor of education), mathematic inquiry, technology-supported (iPad, Moodle, Edmodo and D2L) learning and traditional pedagogical techniques.

U.P. Math teachers observe their students working on a task, then reflect upon and modify the task as necessary to help the student be successful.

"One of the greatest challenges that Grade 9 Applied Math teachers face, the team says, is to foster our students’ growth mindset, and to convince our students that with hard work, they too can succeed," says Hoadley.

But with U.P. Math they have achieved that.

“U.P. Math graduates become Math class leaders who exude increased confidence and a new-found love of Mathematics,” Oliver says.

"Celebrating student successes with them is a key to this," says Hoadley. “They know that we are proud of their accomplishments, and they, in turn, develop a sense of pride in themselves,” he says.

Before U.P. Math, EQAO results showed Pereyma students had difficulty progressing from Level 2 in Grade 6 EQAO assessment to Level 3 in Grade 9 EQAO. So, Oliver and Hoadley used those results to target specific question types and strands of curriculum and expectations where the students were most having trouble.

Pedagogical research directed the development of the program, including diverse learning needs theory (Allsopp, 2004) and differentiated instruction (Small, 2005). Diverse learning needs theory suggests the task must be within the student’s proximal zone of development, while differentiated instruction is aimed at efficiently meeting the needs of students with varying ability levels.

And while CBM testing was a starting point, Hoadley notes the team has since developed a specific U.P. Math diagnostic tool that more fully reveals individual student numeracy gaps. The team is set to share that tool when it launches its U.P. Math course on iTunes U in the spring.

The EQAO results improvements are particularly impressive given the number of challenges the school faces as a whole. Approximately 26% of the student population has an IEP, historically about 40% of Grade 9 students have attended 3 or more elementary schools and approximately 19% of students live in poverty.

These factors increase the importance of getting the students engaged in their Math learning. “One of our greatest assets is our relationship with our students,” says Oliver. “While working to improve our students’ numeracy, we remember that our first calling is to empower students to comprehend and then reach their full potential.”

Questions? Ideas? Comments? Ontario educators can register on TeachOntario and join in more in-depth conversation about this school in Share under TeachOntario Talks Discussion: Math Scores Soar with U.P. Math