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Group photo“She thought I was capable of doing a lot in math. That’s what really motivated me. She lets me know I can be cool and smart at the same time.” (Middle School Student)

When I talk with teachers from across Iowa, I am often asked how they can effectively teach students of color. When I get this question, I trust teachers want to do the very best for their students yet they are experiencing the same kind of achievement disparities in their classrooms that we see across the state and the nation (see, for example, the student achievement section of Iowa’s Annual Condition of Education report). The state legislature’s Closing the Achievement Gaps report (page 7, 8 & 9) further highlights the state’s equity status as it relates to students. Teachers see these gaps in achievement in their own classrooms and they desperately want to know how to help.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) acknowledges these realities.  In their 2014 publication Principles to Action, the very first essential element for effective school mathematics programs is Access and Equity: “An excellent mathematics program requires that all students have access to a high-quality mathematics curriculum, effective teaching and learning, high expectations, and the support and resources needed to maximize their learning potential.” (p. 59). I believe the teachers who approach me believe this, but they are struggling with understanding what to actually do to enact these principles.

This is certainly a complex question that requires a complex set of solutions. This spring, I had the opportunity to hear NCTM President Robert Berry at the State Mathematics Leadership Team meeting. I was reminded of one particular aspect of the challenge that I think is worth highlighting: Effective teachers affirm positive mathematical identities among all of their students, especially students of color.

During his presentation, he talked about the importance of students’ mathematical identities. “Mathematical identity has to do with how one sees themselves as doers of, or learners of mathematics, the knowledge, skills, habits, attitudes, beliefs, and relationships that students need to develop as successful mathematics learners (Aguirre, Mayfield-Ingram, and Martin 2013; Anderson 2007; Boaler 2002; Grootenboer and Zevenbergen 2007).” One’s mathematical identity is comprised of beliefs about one’s self as a mathematics learner, one’s perceptions of how others perceive them as a mathematics learner, beliefs about the nature of mathematics, engagement in mathematics, and perception of self as a potential participant in mathematics (Solomon, 2009). Identity affects student success. Positive identity traits are part of the goals for mathematics programs. Mathematical identity influences life-long decision making (Williams, 2018).

Through work we have done in the Waterloo school district, I was encouraged to think about how my own identity impacted me as a mathematics educator and learner. Those of you who know me know I am from Cameroon. I grew up in a culture where at the time, women did not pursue education, let alone mathematics. Because I went to a missionary school, I was encouraged to excel in school and mathematics and my father reinforced the idea that I could become and accomplish anything I wanted. I grew up believing that I could not only do mathematics, but I could do mathematics really well.

I continue to think about how my mathematics identity might have been different under different circumstances. If I were a student who had just immigrated to the United States today, what do you suppose my teachers might assume about my previous educational background? With that, what might their expectations be about my mathematical identity? How might their assumptions and expectations affect me?

While teachers truly want the best for their students, and many teachers do hold high expectations for students as an explicit value, there are myriad ways that implicit or unconscious expectations we hold are getting in the way of our craft. I truly believe that those of us who want to more effectively teach students of color must start by looking within ourselves. I am realizing that teachers have been asking me for different instructional strategies, but what I need them to do is first start by building or deepening their awareness of race, disparities, and the potential for implicit bias and unhelpful stories about students and their families to trip them up.

The good news is that, we can work together to overcome this!  I invite you to join us as we work to deepen our awareness of equity!  Here are just a few ideas:

  • Read NCTM’s The Impact of Identity in K-8 Mathematics and check out its five equity-based teaching practices. Educators can find a great deal of insight and ideas in this book. They offer that “access to rigorous, high-quality mathematics, taught by teachers who not only understand mathematics but also understand and appreciate learners’ social and cultural contexts in meaningful ways” is critical. They further describe the importance of “classroom environments that foster a sense of community that allows students to express their mathematical ideas.”

    Within this highly readable book are five equity-based teaching practices that I believe every teacher can access: going deep; leveraging multiple competencies; affirming mathematics learners' identities; challenging spaces of marginality; and drawing on multiple resources of knowledge.

  • Find an organization that will help you think about equity, implicit bias, and cultural competency (I can help you find one if you need help).

    Seek professional development that is ongoing (one-shot experiences are not sufficient to address this complicated learning task); offers ways to examine your own knowledge, habits, and beliefs rather than starting with exercises to understand “the other”; and skillfully facilitated (poorly handled conversations about race can lead to misunderstandings, bitterness, hurt feelings, and blocked learning, while well-facilitated conversations can help participants to better understand the history and function of race in society, contemplate their own values, beliefs, and emotions, and practice strategies to overcome the influence of implicit bias and to proactively engage students of color).

  • Join the Iowa Department of Educations' statewide mathematics leader this summer by June 7 at for a book study. As a community of mathematics leaders in Iowa, we are collectively committing to reading/re-reading Principles to Actions through an Access and Equity lens. Every two weeks we will gather virtually to discuss NCTM’s Reflection Guide questions in the Principles to Actions Toolkit. Times, dates, and platform will be determined by those who sign up.

Teachers, school leaders, policymakers, and those of us who implement policy all can help students – in both subtle and explicit ways – as they navigate their paths. I would suggest empowering students to realize their mathematical identities is as important as helping them to learn key mathematical concepts. To do this, we must spend time understanding how our own and our students’ multiple identities intersect. How we all are susceptible to unhelpful assumptions about students’ identities and what that means about their potential. Just like the teacher whose student is quoted in the opening statement. We all can play a role in empowering students to see themselves as mathematicians and to develop agency around their mathematical identities.

Thank you for engaging in this work; I trust you will experience joy as you continue to deepen your own work on equity in the years to come.


  • Aguirre, J. M., Mayfield-Ingram, K., & Martin, D. B. (2013). The impact of identity in K-8 mathematics learning and teaching: Rethinking equity-based practices. Reston, VA: NCTM.
  • Anderson, R., 2007. Being a mathematics learner: Four faces of identity. The Mathematics Educator, 17(1): 7–14.
  • Boaler, J. (2002). The development of disciplinary relationships: Knowledge, practice and identity in mathematics classrooms. For the Learning of Mathematics, 22(1), 42–47.
  • Grootenboer, P., & Zevenbergen, R. (2007). Identity and mathematics: Towards a theory of agency in coming to learn mathematics. In J. Watson & K. Beswick (Eds.), Mathematics: Essential research, essential practice (Proceedings of the 30th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, Tasmania, Vol. 1, pp. 335-344). Adelaide: MERGA.
  • NCTM. (2014). Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
  • Solomon, Y. (2009). Mathematical literacy: Developing identities of inclusion. New York, NY: Routledge.



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Posted by : Dr. Comfort Akw...

A Path We Need to Navigate

We all know how curious children are about their world and how natural phenomena fascinates them. Testing ideas and observing the world to try to figure out how it works is something our children begin to do as infants.  Unfortunately, our children’s innate curiosity and drive for learning are not always supported in elementary schools. Science in elementary school is often considered unimportant and only included if there is extra time in the day. That needs to change. High-quality science education in elementary schools is necessary for building a strong foundation for learning science as well as supporting children’s fascination and natural drive for learning. Being in a classroom where students are encouraged to share their ideas and investigate things they find fascinating is inspiring.

Stellar Questions: The Beginning

Space Science is something that many people find fascinating and young children are no exception. Children question: How far away is the sun? How big is the sun? Who turns on the sun? Who turns on the stars? All of these questions present possibilities for helping students develop a strong foundation in space science. They are full of questions and this curiosity drives their learning.

Curiosity Leads to Infinite Possibilities: An Elementary Framework

In our elementary classrooms, students are encouraged to ask questions and share ideas. After generating a list of questions on a given topic, the class holds a discussion to determine which questions are testable in our learning environment and which questions require learning from an expert. As the teacher, I use questioning to help guide their thinking. Once the class chooses a testable question, we begin a discussion on how the investigation could be designed to test the question. It is important for me to give them opportunities to figure things out for themselves rather than just telling them how they must design their investigation. This is an important part of the learning process. As they proceed with their experiment, they begin to notice some students coming up with very different results. At that time, we stop and students share observations of things they noticed about how different groups are doing the investigation in different ways. Over time, in this student-centered, inquiry-based environment, students’ observation and communication skills grow.

Elementary Science: Specific Examples That Shine

Kindergarten students begin to learn about sunlight warming the Earth’s surface. The students decide they want to measure the temperature of the playground surface every day for a week. We record the data on a class chart. At the end of the week, students look at the data we collected and notice the playground surface temperature changed day by day. As I guide them with open-ended questions, the whole class engages in the discussion to explain the changes in temperature. One student comments that grass feels cool in the summer even when the sidewalk is hot. They wonder if the surface temperature is different at different times of the year and on different surfaces. The class agrees there are more questions they need to investigate.

First grade students begin to learn about patterns in our universe. They have questions such as: Does the sun always rise from the same side? Does it always set on the same side? What direction does the sun rise and set? We make a list of questions and decide which are testable. The class decides to make observations about the location of the sun at certain times of the day and to record the data. At the beginning of each day for a week, students look outside to see where the sun is and we record the direction on a class data sheet. At the end of the school day, students do the same. They begin to notice a pattern that the sun is in the east when school starts and is in the west at the end of the school day. As they continue to make observations of the sun, someone notices the moon is also in the sky. This generates additional questions for the class to investigate and the study of science continues.

Fifth grade begins to learn about shadows and how they change throughout the day. They decide to work with partners to photograph their shadows at different times of day. One student notices people are taking photographs from different spots and wonders if that will make the shadows look different. Through discussion, students come to consensus that the photographs need to be taken from the same direction by everyone. As they share their photographs, they begin to notice patterns. This inspires new questions: What causes shadows? Why do their shadows change during the day? The next sunny day, students go out to look at their shadows while also noting where the sun is located in the sky. This activity inspires a discussion about the sun being a star and why it is so much bigger than the other stars.  They wonder about the planets and how scientists investigate the planets. Their curiosity leads to investigation questions which leads to more questions and the foundation for science continues to be strengthened.

Here are some resources:

Posted by : lisa.chizek

If your district is like many others, “equity” may be a buzzword that you’re starting to hear more and more frequently. What is equity, why is it the focus of so many initiatives right now, and how does it relate to social studies?

Equity-oriented classrooms and schools are ones in which educators work to ensure fairness and justice for all students. Kids and families who have not historically been served well by public schools (e.g., the differently abled, girls, people of color, working class families, non-Christians, and LGBTQ students, for example) have long known about and struggled against inequitable education – schools that are segregated, that discriminate against them, that forcibly assimilate them, that denigrate their home cultures and traditions, that impose deficit beliefs of their worth or abilities. Because of these families’ activism over generations, conversations about how to ensure equity have become more common among administrators and classroom teachers today.

To some degree, these conversations have also picked up steam because of policies and legislation like No Child Left Behind that have forced districts to disaggregate achievement data by different “sub-groups.” In most districts across the country and in Iowa, there are clear and troubling gaps showing that kids from marginalized groups are at higher risk for disciplinary action, not graduating, not matriculating, scoring poorly on standardized tests, not engaging in advanced coursework, and not participating in extracurricular activities.

While some people may see these gaps as proof that some kids or families are simply not smart, lazy, apathetic towards school, etc., decades of research not only debunk those theories but show that the gaps are actually evidence of deep and systemic inequities that both intentionally and unintentionally reproduce social inequalities.

Quite simply, equity-oriented educators see it as their professional obligation to disrupt that.

Unfortunately, districts’ responses to these gaps have often been to try to “fix the kid” with no attempts to examine how the school systems themselves are producing these outcomes through policies, classroom practices, and curriculum. It is very common for administrators to ditch or downplay “non-essential” content areas (like social studies!) to focus exclusively on test prep in reading and math. Again, decades of research shows that this is absolutely, no doubt about it, the wrong response. In fact, a rich and rigorous social studies curriculum is what has the best potential to connect kids from all backgrounds to schools, to engage them in interesting and relevant critical thinking, and to result in better test scores, graduation rates, and all the other data that districts feel so much pressure to improve. As one example, check out the documentary “Precious Knowledge” for a fantastic story of how a high school ethnic studies program in Tucson did just that.

It is worth noting that this approach to social studies is beneficial not just for kids from marginalized backgrounds, but for kids from dominant backgrounds, too (e.g., boys, white students, straight students, Christians, able-bodied children, wealthy kids, etc.). These young people need to be cognizant of historical and contemporary social inequalities, demonstrate empathy towards people from non-dominant communities, be self-aware, and have the ability to engage in their community in non-oppressive, thoughtful, and inclusive ways. These kids need social studies rooted in equity just as much as kids from marginalized backgrounds. Frustratingly, what is more common are social studies that teaches them (whether implicitly or explicitly) that their voices are the only ones that matter, that their experiences are “the norm,” that oppression is in the past, or that they have been the sole and/or most valuable contributors to our communities.

Again, equity-oriented educators see it as their professional obligation to disrupt that.

Hopefully you’re on board and asking yourself, “How do I do that?” Consider a conveyer belt of sorts with four “stops” on a factory floor that you have at least some control over. First, equity-oriented educators ask themselves about access – do all kids have genuine access to materials, opportunities, spaces, etc.? In social studies, this means we differentiate or scaffold or offer support services to students who may need it (e.g., include lots of images as primary sources for students struggling to read or who are learning English). We look for ways to de-track or remove barriers to advanced placement coursework – and then work hard to actively recruit kids who may not believe that they are truly welcome in those spaces. And we make sure that our physical space is as inclusive as possible (e.g., posters and artwork that reflect the diversity of the school and broader community). This is especially important in schools that are more or less homogeneous. Check out the wonderful “What If All the Kids Are White?” for more ideas.

The next step is the curriculum itself. What is it that we are giving kids access to? If it’s oppressive (e.g., racist, sexist, classist, etc.) curriculum, then forget it. As social studies educators, we must constantly scrutinize our materials and lessons to make sure they are as inclusive as possible. If we teach a U.S. history survey course, for example, are we focused on a chronological march through wars and presidents? If so, talking about women or people of color will always seem like something “extra” that we tack on or read about on the literal margins of a textbook. Equity-oriented educators reframe their courses so that fundamental issues, social movements, and diverse communities are at the center of the curriculum (e.g., units about immigration, women’s rights, and foreign policy throughout US history). This is important at the elementary level, too. At the most basic level, we must ensure there are windows and mirrors in the books we read our students. Are we only reading about “white boys and dogs” as young educational activist Marley Dias asks, or are we including stories about people from all backgrounds and walks of life? Are we making space for kids’ questions and curiosities about the world, including current events and “hot topics”? Are we teaching kids about active citizens who are identifying problems and working to make change? If so, then we are equity-oriented. Check out this website for more ideas about how to integrate this content with specific Iowa connections.

Next up is our teaching practices or pedagogy. We could have the most equitable curriculum ever that is inclusive and thoughtful and multicultural, but if we teach it to students through lecture, popcorn reads, or worksheets, then we are not being equity-oriented. Instead, the National Council of Social Studies calls for teaching that is “powerful and purposeful”. This means using strategies that are constructivist and student-centered (“active”), connected to other disciplines (“integrated”), responsive to students’ questions (“meaningful”), tapped into students’ critical thinking rather than rote memorization (“challenging”), and rooted in dialogue that is inclusive of multiple perspectives (“value-based”). If all the desks are facing the teacher and students are discouraged from asking questions, discussing topics with their peers, and challenging each others’ ideas, then our classroom organization and pedagogical strategies are implicitly conveying the message that good citizens are compliant, uncritical, and obedient. Of course, a healthy democracy demands the opposite and classrooms K-12 must provide students opportunities to engage with ideas and each other. It may take some time to help acclimate students to a classroom with the expectations that their voice, ideas, and questions matter – that’s OK. Equity-oriented educators help students practice these skills and hold high expectations for all members of the class.

Last, but not least, equity-oriented educators pay attention to outcomes. They use kids’ scores on tests, summative assessments, formative assessments, comments in class, conversations outside of class, and even many different forms of resistance to reflect on what might need adjusting in the first three categories: access, curriculum, and pedagogy. Rather than “fixing the kid,” they look first to making adjustments in these three areas and consider how their actions may be contributing to inequitable outcomes. It’s not that every student will get an A+ in every class or exceed every standard and benchmark – but, at the very least, equity-oriented educators are watchful of patterns and trends that make it all-too-easy to predict who will fail and who will succeed.

As you commit to being an equity-oriented social studies educator, keep in mind the fundamental value of public schools in a democracy: to prepare citizens who can and want to engage in their communities in order to improve them. If we lived in a monarchy or a dictatorship, having educated citizens would be less of a concern other than for economic reasons – in those types of societies, the voice of “the people” is irrelevant in decision-making. In our collective efforts to build and sustain a healthy democracy, however, it is vitally important that young people learn how to identify and solve social problems, think critically about multiple perspectives, analyze evidence, and engage in constructive dialogue across difference. What better place to do this than public schools? And what better discipline than social studies? As equity-oriented social studies educators, we must commit to ensuring access to rich and rigorous curriculum and instruction that will equip all students with the necessary commitment, skills, and knowledge to be the kind of citizens that our democracy needs.

For more information about orienting towards equity as an educator, check out “Equity Literacy for All” by Paul Gorski and Katy Swalwell.

Posted by : katy.swalwell

Future Ready and Iowa Core are critical components within the Sioux City Community School District – components that work together and impact student outcomes.

The Sioux City Community School District has been designated a #FutureReady district by the U.S. Department of Education. The characteristics of #FutureReady districts include:

  • Building the right infrastructure;
  • Imagining the classrooms of the future;
  • Ensuring teachers are ready to utilize and benefit from technology;
  • Preparing administrators to lead and support teachers as they utilize technology; and
  • Including parents, community members, school board members, and others in discussions.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education’s #FutureReady program.

We know that the future for our current students will include technology. There is a great demand within the United States for skilled workers with degrees in computer science. Gary Beach, in CIO, recently reported that there are 120,000 new jobs created each year in the United States that require a computer science degree and there are 49,000 individuals acquiring the degree annually. There are three programs in the Sioux City Community School District that address technology skills for students (and teachers) and prepare students to be Future Ready.

We took what we learned from the U.S. Department of Education about being #FutureReady, combined that with industry needs to prepare students to be Future Ready when entering the workforce and purposefully integrated quality instruction rooted in the Iowa Core standards.

Career Academy

Sioux City Career Academy offers 30 pathways for students. Each pathway is a career-focused sequence of high school courses that integrates core academic knowledge with technical and occupational skills to provide students with a pathway to post-secondary education and careers. Students can follow a pathway from start to finish or can explore a variety of possible career opportunities. Visit our Sioux City Career Academy website.

Computer Programming Specialty Elementary School

Students at Loess Hills Computer Programming Specialty Elementary School learn, beginning in kindergarten, fundamentals of computer programming. Core subject material taught while infusing learning with technology skills, concepts and tools, prepares students to be productive citizens in an ever-increasing technological world. Teachers incorporate interdisciplinary teaching and daily technology instruction emphasizing programming (the process of writing and maintaining the source code of a computer), offering students opportunities to develop creativity, analytical thinking, and problem-solving. Students master the Iowa Core standards in a collaborative, multi-disciplined approach, with technology continuously woven into every aspect of a child’s learning. Recently Loess Hills Computer Programming Specialty School developed a Blueprint for the State explaining the steps taken to become a Computer Programming Specialty Elementary School.

The “Computer Science is Elementary” grant through the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council plans to replicate the success of Loess Hills Computer Programming Specialty Elementary School. Six high-poverty elementary schools will be transformed and showcased as they develop computer science education. The Loess Hills Blueprint serves as a resource for Iowa educators to use as they develop an application.

#FutureReady Cohort Program

Since 2017, the #FutureReady Cohort program provides teachers from elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the Sioux City Community School District with training on instructional approaches that highlight the use of technology to personalize student learning. Selected teams of teachers participate in intensive summer training where they work in teams to outline tangible ways of incorporating digital tools with instructional units they create and/or revise. At the end of the summer, the teachers have new lesson plans and instructional materials aligned with the Iowa Core standards.

At the elementary level, teachers have created lessons on sequencing, estimation, foundational reading skills and problem solving that incorporate robots. Using a grid with numbers, pictures or text, the teacher creates the basis for problem-solving challenges. Students then use coding to program a robot known as a Bee-Bot to hover over the cell in the grid they think correctly solves the given problem. At the high school level, geometry and physics are merged in one course. To expand students’ learning beyond the classroom and engage the community, teachers offer authentic project-based learning opportunities to the students based on their interests. One of the learning experiences culminated in the students developing proposals for local businesses on ways to save energy and reduce costs to their businesses based on an energy audit that was completed.

The Sioux City Career Academy, Loess Hills Computer Programming Specialty School and #FutureReady Cohort program start with an understanding of the Iowa Core standards. The skills and concepts contained in the Iowa Core standards form the foundation for instruction. Tools, such as Bee-Bots, and instructional strategies, like inquiry-based learning, engage students in a new way. Students are taking charge of their own learning. Because students are engaged in more meaningful learning, it is leading to deeper learning outcomes. Sioux City Community School District students will enter college and/or careers a step ahead of the competition and Future Ready.

Posted by : kim.buryanek