I have mentioned Project LEAP several times on Twitter and in my first blog post, so I will explain it in more detail here. Project LEAP stands for Learning through an Early Algebra Progression. The project is part of an ongoing research project from the United States Department of Education research grant. The research study started in 2009 at The University of Wisconsin with the help of TERC.
Orange County Schools started this project in 2014. This district has seven elementary schools. Three of these schools were chosen to be the treatment schools and the other four were control schools. All schools gave the assessment at the beginning and end of the school year, and only the treatment schools taught the LEAP lessons. My school was chosen to be a treatment school, so we attended monthly professional development on Project LEAP. There are 18 total lessons for the project, so I teach one about once every two weeks. At first, we were not happy about being a treatment school, as we had to write monthly substitute plans and write reflections after teaching each lesson for the researchers. However, it ended up being one of the best professional development programs I’ve ever attended. The program started in third grade with us in the 2014-2015 school year, then the fourth grade teachers at our school attended the training in the 2015-2016 school year, and now the fifth grade teachers are attending the training this school year. The same group of students have been with the program since 2014, and the schools that were originally control schools are now using the program as well.
Why am I talking about math on a literacy blog? Project LEAP incorporates a LOT of writing and makes the students have some great conversations about math. It is a perfect example of disciplinary literacy. Many of the questions ask students to explain their thinking, and it is a type of writing with which students do not have a lot of experience. Project LEAP also uses high-level vocabulary (e.g. conjecture, develop, represent this situation) that we were worried would overwhelm and confuse our students. However, our students did really well with it and learned to speak and write like mathematicians. We saw our students begin to gain confidence using the vocabulary, writing, and solving the math problems. We saw this transfer to other math lessons as well. It wasn’t something that we only did once every two weeks because it was required by our district, it became a large part of how we discussed and taught math with our students.
The following school year, fourth grade teachers noticed immediately that our students could think and solve algebraically and discuss math in a way that they hadn’t seen before. I remember one of my coworkers asking, “Did you teach them how to use variables last year?!” This excited them to attend their monthly professional development and implement Project LEAP with their fourth grade students. If you are an elementary school teacher, ask your county or school to sign up for Project LEAP!