See how the Texas Math Solution has brought inquiry and collaboration to Debra’s middle school math classroom.
Enthusiastic. Invigorating. Ready to take on new challenges.
Those are just a few things that come to mind when we think about Debra Dunham, sixth-grade math teacher at Aldine Independent School District in Houston, Texas and 2021 Houston Area Alliance of Black School Educators (HAABSE) Teacher of the Year recipient.
Ms. Dunham has been teaching math for 39 years (Yes, you read that right! Kudos to Debra!). But even this far into the game, she’s open to embracing new opportunities and continually improving her craft.
“I was going to retire at the end of last year. But Carnegie Learning just keeps my feet planted,” she says.
Read on to see how Ms. Dunham has shifted away from traditional methods such as rote memorization and skill-and-drill, and increased her students’ conceptual understanding of math through investigation and collaboration.
You’ve been teaching for 39 years, and you said the Texas Math Solution was a big change for you and your students. What did you think when you first saw the materials?
When I got the opportunity to see the textbook, I automatically loved it! I could totally connect to it because I saw that this was exactly what the students of Aldine ISD, as well as the state of Texas, needed.
What my students and our instruction really needed was a paradigm shift. We needed to move away from the typical set-up of teacher instruction, modeling, and independent practice. Now with Carnegie Learning, there’s excitement when the students come in. The atmosphere is set and there are engaging lessons that they really connect to.
Can you give us an example of how your students have connected to a lesson?
My students really connect with the characters in the lessons. One of them was Nick, a peanut seller at a baseball game. I gave them some background about Nick, like a little story, and they really loved that. They became invested in him. I even had a student teacher who came in dressed as Nick!
We were teaching dependent and independent quantities and they did so well with that skill, mainly because they made a connection with the character from the lesson. Students need a connection, and that connection can’t just be the teacher standing and giving a lecture and then expecting the kids to be involved.
It sounds like your students enjoyed that active involvement! How has Carnegie Learning helped encourage active learning?
Carnegie Learning starts by establishing a background and connecting to what students already know; then we move into investigations. My students are were able to analyze math concepts together. They love getting into a lesson and talking about it! It just really gives them such a connection and keeps them involved and motivated in the learning.
With Carnegie Learning they also become critical thinkers. Before, I would use Bloom’s Taxonomy and find a couple of questions to increase higher-order thinking. But with the Texas Math Solution, that’s all embedded into the curriculum and laid out for every lesson.
Now I’m able to support critical thinking skills. I can guide them to think outside of the box. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Carnegie Learning is giving Texas students what they need to be able to do that.
It sounds like using the Texas Math Solution really changed your instruction. What did your teaching look like before Carnegie Learning, versus what it looks like now?
I’m 39 years into the game, and I’ve always taught math. In those 39 years, I did a lot of rote memorization in order for my students to learn a skill, concept, or operation. But now, with Carnegie, they’re introduced to math through analysis and investigation.
I used to help my students learn things through a rap or chant to encourage memorization. Sometimes I’ll throw that in for fun, but for the most part, I don’t have to. Once they investigate something and create their own rule or understanding, there’s no need to memorize.
I’m no longer the sage on the stage; I’m the facilitator. I see my students sit together and be engaged with each other. They collaborate and work together. It makes me feel so good!
What impacts have you seen on student performance?
My students are scoring really high on every end-of-unit test! I strongly believe that this is because the Texas Math Solution encourages them to investigate math, analyze what they’ve learned, and then communicate and collaborate with each other to strengthen their learning.
I also didn’t have any failures last year, which was our first year with the Texas Math Solution. Not a one! That’s very rare. But Carnegie Learning helps them to be actively involved every day, from the time they walk into the classroom until the time they walk out. They aren’t bored because they don’t have to learn passively everyday. With Carnegie, there’s excitement. They’re at my door all the time, saying, “Ms. Dunham, what are we doing today? What’s going to happen?” They’re just as excited as I am about this great Texas Math Solution.
That’s amazing to hear about the enthusiasm and positive outcomes for your students. Have you seen any of them have aha! moments while using the Texas Math Solution?
A big aha! moment for my students came when we were learning the rules for integer operations. This is something that’s introduced in sixth grade, so it’s brand new to them, and they were able to tell me the rules for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing integers based on the investigations in the Texas Math Solution.
All on their own, they were able to say, “Oh! Ms. Dunham, when you add integers with different signs, it seems like you have to take away the zero pair. So it’s like you subtract!” Every class, across the board, was able to figure that process out on their own without me teaching them a chant or a rhyme. I don’t have to do that anymore! Carnegie Learning gives us exactly what we need.
It sounds like your students have had so many great learning experiences with the Texas Math Solution. What has your experience been as a teacher?
The Texas Math Solution has had a huge impact on me! At the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, I said to myself, “38 years is enough, Debra.” And I was going to retire at the end of last year. But Carnegie Learning just keeps my feet planted. It’s priceless to know that you’re going to walk into a classroom where your students will always be excited to learn and involved in the lesson.
The Texas Math Solution is just so exciting to me, and I can’t help but pass that excitement on to my colleagues. When the math department sits down together to internalize the lessons, we all just love it! Everyone is excited to show off what they have planned for each lesson.
That’s amazing to hear. And before this interview, you mentioned that you even convinced some teachers to come out of retirement to use the Texas Math Solution?
Yes! I have a friend who had been retired for nine years. She is certified to teach all subjects and all grade levels, and although she had always been an English teacher, she loved math. I convinced her to come back and fill a math position, using the Carnegie Learning Texas Math Solution.
Now she says, “This is the best thing that ever happened to me! Everything I need to teach is provided for me, everything is laid out and so easy to use. And I don’t have the discipline problems I used to have. My students are actually sitting up and they want to be part of this!”
That’s amazing! Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. To wrap up, what are you looking forward to in the future?
To put it simply, I’m looking forward to a future with Carnegie Learning. Not only do I want it to be Texas’s Math Solution, but Wyoming’s Math Solution, Tennessee’s Math Solution, and so on. I believe in it so much that I want it to be everyone’s math solution across the United States. That’s what I’m looking forward to in the future.
What a ringing endorsement! Congratulations to Ms. Dunham on her enduring career. We can’t wait to hear how she continues to impact Texas students and math education in the years to come!
Before joining Carnegie Learning's marketing team in 2022, Karen spent 16 years teaching mathematics and social studies in Ohio classrooms. She has a passion for inclusive education and believes that all learners can be meaningfully included in academic settings from day one. As a former math and special education teacher, she is excited to provide educators with the latest in best-practices content so that they can set all students on the path to becoming confident "math people."Explore more related to this author
Students need a connection, and that connection can’t just be the teacher standing and giving a lecture and then expecting the kids to be involved.
Debra Dunham, Math Teacher of 39 Years