Last week, I was able to experience the EnCoMPASS Summer Institute with the Math Forum and members from the School of Education at Drexel University. What is EnCoMPASS you ask? Well, I didn’t really know what it was either until I walked in on the first day with the Math Forum Staff, Drexel Staff, and 24 teachers from all over the United States. I was told that it was a project used for “developing an online professional teaching community of mathematics educators focused on understanding and improving mathematical thinking through work with formative assessment rubrics and feedback to student problem solving.” After hearing this, I still wasn’t too sure what would be happening over the next three days, but it turned out to be an amazing learning experience.

On the first day, I began by walking around and listening to the different teachers notice and wonder about rubrics they each had submitted prior to the institute beginning. I noticed they each had a different style of grading students and had many opinions to share with one another. What I found most interesting was how all the teachers seemed to click with one another. A few hours ago they were all strangers, but they were not afraid to talk to each other about their ideas and teaching styles. It was a real friendly group!

Later that day, I was given my task for the rest of the week of making sure Sue, one of the teachers who was unable to make it to the institute, was able to video chat with the rest of the group. I made sure everyone could hear her, got her some speakers, carried her around the room, I was Sue’s personal chauffeur for the rest of the week! It was pretty funny and also awesome how she was able to be a part of the EnCoMPASS Institute without physically being there. It was a successful experiment! I think the funniest part about the whole thing was that Sue’s luggage managed to make the trip to Philly twice without her!

Over the next few days, I listened in to the different teachers conversations as they discussed rubrics, student work, video scenarios, using iPads in the classroom, and more. The Math Forum even introduced a new software program where teachers can upload student work to the site and tag or highlight the work they think will be most useful for them later, whether its for grading or showing other teachers. While the software consisted of a few bugs at first, it’s slowly becoming this huge project that the Math Forum staff and the EnCoMPASS teachers are working on together as a collaborative effort. They’ve been sharing ideas and building connections over Facebook, Twitter, Email, and blogging to stay in touch with one other. It’ amazing how many online resources there are for teachers to use to share their ideas and I think this new software the Math Forum is creating will be an excellent addition!

One of the most interesting aspects of the Institute was that many people didn’t know what they were exactly doing until the very last hours they were there. During connections, each person was allowed to say one thing without anyone interrupting or responding to them and I could sense some confusion from around the room. That’s when Suzanne told them that it’s okay to not know exactly what they should be doing. She went through the same experience many years ago at a professional development seminar. What I got out of the whole institute was that they were bringing these teachers together to build relationships and connections between everyone to bring better math practices to schools. They were there to help develop this new EnCoMPASS software and bring their ideas to the table. I can see now that sharing feedback between teachers is so crucial to developing good math teaching practices. One person can not simply do it alone. I think by the end of the week, everyone gained something from the EnCoMPASS Institute, even Sue who was all the way in Chicago. I know I did.

Here is a picture of Suzanne and I from the EnCoMPASS Institute in front of the Math Forum!