In response to the need for quality math professional development that is available anytime and anywhere, TERC’s Investigations Workshops team has gone to the web. In 2012, they launched their online program to great success, with a full-house first group of participants completing a 6-week online course. On January 23rd, they debuted their second online course offering. I had the opportunity to sit down with Myriam Steinback, Project Director of the Workshops, and Cynthia Garland Dore, Sr. Research Associate on the project and a veteran Investigations Workshops leader, to chat about the history of the Workshops, their current ruminations on online models for delivering targeted PD, and their hopes for the future of elementary math professional development.
TERCTalks: Myriam, can you tell me how you got started with the Investigations Workshops?
Myriam: When I first began leading elementary math PD workshops back in 1996, the typical programs available to teachers were one-time, less-than-half-a-day sessions. Many teachers wanted more from their professional development, but for a variety of reasons, districts were not as focused on providing in-depth PD offerings. We established the Investigations Workshops with the goal of providing intensive programs focused on augmenting mathematical content knowledge. We really wanted to develop a resource for continuous improvement in math teaching and teacher learning.
Our first offerings were summer institutes in Massachusetts and Michigan but that soon expanded. We have provided support to schools and districts in 48 states and we run our programs throughout the year. We offer several content-specific workshops; targeted PD Institutes for district leaders and school administrators; and an institute for stakeholders who are designing Investigations-focused PD sessions themselves. Recently, we’ve started offering a blended Common Core Institute (including face-to-face work and follow-up webinars) to help leaders with the implementation of the CCSS. We also create customized programs for districts.
TERCTalks: It has been a busy year for you with the launch of the online course. Could you tell me about the first class of teachers, and any observations and findings you have from the first iteration of the course?
Myriam: I have to say we hesitated going online for a while, mainly because we wanted to do it right. A real strength of our face-to-face program is the collaborative inquiry into the math. You just can’t deny the incredible collective impact of a group of math educators fully engaged and excited about solving math problems together! We wanted to make sure we didn’t lose the kinds of meaningful interactions we saw in our face-to-face workshops.
Fortunately, we had the right development team that included the curriculum authors and ETLO (EdTech Leaders Online). In the fall of 2012, we offered our first course—we ran five full sections—and the feedback was very gratifying. One participant told us that this course was the 8th online course she had taken and she had never had one that was so interactive and well set-up. She specifically mentioned loving the way she could view and interact with student work. Others mentioned how they appreciated being able to take the course with other teachers from their schools and how the time to reflect allowed them to get a better understanding of Common Core standards.
Q: What have you been able to incorporate from what you learned in this course about Investigations and about the Common Core, into your classroom? Wordled responses from course participants…
TERCTalks: You have now both led face-to-face workshops and the online course. Can you talk about how they compare?
Myriam: For those of us facilitating the course, comparisons with our face-to-face experiences were inevitable. Surprisingly, we realized that interactions among participants were not only possible, but also very reflective, engaging, and, in some cases—eloquently articulated. The asynchronous nature of the course prompted some participants to say, “I love that I can do this in my PJs whenever I want!” We even had a participant in one of our sections say—upon introducing herself—that she was due to give birth “any time now”, and would continue the course to completion, which is exactly what she did.
Cynthia: While some participants ‘came’ to the course alone, some administrators registered groups of teachers from their schools and had them meet weekly to go through the week’s session together and discuss and debrief. We realize that this situation is not one that all schools can do, and we are in fact happy to have people from schools across the country in attendance.—however, the model of registering multiple teachers from the same school is a nice way to add a blended, face-to-face aspect to the programming. So we definitely can say it was a big success—the interactions among participating educators across grade levels, backgrounds, and differing geographic regions were powerful.
TERCTalks: Can you elaborate on some of the cool tools and features of the online course?
Myriam: The online course has ‘Voice Threads’, video, a sorting feature that allows participants to search and sort student work, and also ‘Key Learnings’ e-guides for each session. And the Discussion Forum includes prompts so that participants can address and respond to issues pertinent to each course session.
Cynthia: I think the way we can archive the course experience is a wonderful feature. The course sections will be available for participants to return to for up to a year after they complete the course. The first course finished up in December, and already, I am impressed with the number of participants who have returned to the resources and conversations.
TERCTalks: What’s next on the horizon for Investigations Workshops?
Myriam: We are committed to offering a full suite of online programs to complement our face-to-face programs. New courses will be rolled out this spring. Our online course offerings allow us to strengthen a professional learning community of math educators that—in many ways—grew out of our institutes throughout the years. We’re able to continue the mission we established when we began—to provide resources that support continuous learning in mathematics education—and we couldn’t be happier that the response to our online program has been so enthusiastic.
Thanks Myriam and Cynthia!
For more information about the Investigations Workshops PD offerings or to register, please visit: http://investigations-workshops.terc.edu/.