Intensified Algebra I: An Interview with Amber McCoy

July 30, 2014

Amber-McCoy-Headshot-768x1024.jpgName: Amber McCoy
Title/Courses Covered: Intensified Algebra I
School/District: Tegeler Career Center, Pasadena Independent School District (TX)
Years at School: 4 years; 18 years in education
Teaching Philosophy: “Love your content, love your kids and you can do anything.”
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Q. What initially drew you to the field of education?

A. My initial draw to education was through deaf education. I was a substitute teacher right out of college. One day I substituted for a deaf education class and absolutely fell in love with that culture, so I went back to college for sign language and started interpreting. I was a deaf education interpreter for 11 years. It was the experiences I had in those classrooms that made me pursue my master's degree in mathematics. I always knew I wanted to work with “at-risk” students—with them, I knew I could affect the most change.

Q. In your opinion, what is the best part of teaching?

A. I love the kids! Algebra is a tough course to teach, but I love my content, and I love my students. They don’t want to miss school because they don’t want to miss me and the things they know they’re going to learn. My students are predominantly ESL with major learning gaps, but watching them succeed keeps me excited and proud to be their teacher.

Q. How has the use of Agile Mind changed your instructional practices?

A. When I first started teaching, even though I had been in education for a number of years, I had no idea about the shifts that were essential in teaching struggling students. I, myself, struggled my first four years before using Agile Mind. I was that teacher who was constantly asking for help. My students’ scores were okay but not great. To be honest, when I was told that I was going to teach Agile Mind Intensified Algebra, I was a bit offended because I knew I always worked hard.

After my first day of training at the Summer Professional Development Institute, I said, “Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe I’ve been teaching without this, but I never will again!” Agile Mind helps me push my students toward discussing, explaining, and sharing math concepts and practices every single day.

“Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe I’ve been teaching without this, but I never will again."

Q. How has Agile Mind’s embedded professional support influenced or supported your lesson planning strategies?

A. The embedded professional support—the Advice for Instruction (AFI)—is phenomenal! During my Summer PD Institute, I remember being told, “This will work when you use it with fidelity,” and it has! In my first year, the Advice for Instruction was my lifeline, and I followed it to the letter. I made notes of what worked well and what I should do more of—and the additional framing questions really helped for deeper learning.

My lesson planning time is significantly shorter, and now, in my second year, I’ve been able to add in my own personal touches. The best part is that I’m not creating something from scratch; I’m building on what is already there. I still review the Advice for Instruction every day, but now everything works like clockwork!

Q. What difference have you seen in your students since transitioning to Agile Mind curriculum?

A. Comparing my students at the beginning of the year and watching them transition to success at the end of the year is almost not fair. It’s like comparing apples and oranges! My students come to me with major learning gaps. They’ve never been good at math, and they don’t want to do homework. Some of them have never passed a test. They aren’t engaged and often think they’ve failed before they’ve even taken my class.

With Agile Mind, I end up with a completely different classroom culture. I’m on the computer; we’re using my Smart Board; they bring in their homework and are excited to talk about it. They love taking the online tests. My students know they can make mistakes, but they are still going to do well. They cannot help but be engaged. They leave thinking, “I did this. I can do this. If I can do Algebra, I can do Geometry. If I can do this, I can graduate.”

They leave thinking, “I did this. I can do this. If I can do Algebra, I can do Geometry. If I can do this, I can graduate."

Q. In what ways have the dynamics of your classroom culture changed?

A. Last year I taught 8th grade as well as Intensified Algebra, so this year I had some of those 8th graders come into my IA class. It was so amazing to watch the quiet student become my superstar! This student would get up in front of the class and teach the rest of the students when we were processing homework. My students are now incredibly comfortable asking for help. They understand the importance of clarity, and I often hear, “Go back! Play that [animation] again please!” They feel empowered to take responsibility--to teach with their partners and to ask questions. My classroom culture has changed because my students’ confidence soars in just a few weeks!

Q. If you had to give one piece of advice to a new Agile Mind math teacher, what would it be?

A. If you are working with at-risk or struggling students, the “Staying Sharp” section with the spiraled review in the workbook will be your saving grace because you can see what’s coming and where students’ weaknesses are—before you even get to the content.

Follow the program, it’s hard, but follow it and do not give up. You WILL see results. Trust it!

We invite you to learn about other districts and their success using Intensified Algebra I. Click here to access: Intensified Algebra I: 2014 Program and Research Update