FLEMINGTON, NJ - Flemington-Raritan Regional School District teacher Kristen DeLorenzo – who has taught third, fourth and fifth grade math for about 20 years – is one of 30 teachers around the state working with the New Jersey STEM Innovation Fellowship to implement a new program for elementary mathematics teachers to collaborate and learn from each other.
Now, DeLorenzo and the other educators across 29 districts in the state participating in the program are learning to teach others to do the same.
DeLorenzo said she learned about the fellowship from Kristen Wolff, supervisor of mathematics and science for the district.
“She encouraged me to apply, and I was happy to be accepted into the first cohort of the NJ STEM Innovation Fellowship,” she said. “I had heard of Math for America and was familiar with the work they were doing in New York City, providing opportunities for master teachers to learn from each other.”
Math for America had originally partnered with Montclair State University, Princeton University and Rowan University to launch the fellowship, based on a proven teacher fellowship program in New York City where teachers are selected through a rigorous application process, and then meet outside of school hours to explore innovative teaching practices.
DeLorenzo said she was intrigued by the idea that teachers could collaborate around the shared goal of improving mathematics instruction.
The fellowship gives accepted educators a $5,000 stipend and allows them to join a supportive network where they learn together about an innovative research-based math teaching practice called Number Strings.
Teachers in the fellowship, DeLorenzo said, use Number Strings in their math classes and record videos of their lessons.
To use a number string, teachers gather their students and write a sequence of problems vertically on the board for all students to see. The teacher then leads a class discussion of the problems, one at a time.
They are designed to help students develop computational skills built on understanding the underlying math.
“We get together monthly to review the videos and provide feedback and support to each other,” DeLorenzo said. “We reflect on what goes well with implementation and lean on each other for solutions to our problems of practice.”
Every month, DeLorenzo said, is a new chance to learn and grow as a teacher.
“When we all suddenly switched to remote teaching in March 2020,” she said. “The fellowship discussions continued to center around effective mathematics teaching, albeit virtually.”
“This group has supported each other in implementing math lessons in whatever setting we are working in this year, whether it be virtual, hybrid or in-person,” she added.
DeLorenzo said the fellowship has provided a space for her to collaborate with teachers in different districts and at different grade levels.
“It is a wonderful mix of dedicated, experienced, K-5 teachers who are excited to try new ways of teaching mathematics,” she said. “I am inspired by the other fellows in this group. I learn so many things from them and from the facilitators, from quick classroom management techniques, to new technology applications, to ways to provide effective feedback.”
As a teacher experienced in grades third through fifth, DeLorenzo said, she is learning about content taught in kindergarten, first and second grades.
“Understanding the mathematics that students learn at younger grades improves my knowledge of how students grow as mathematicians,” she said.
DeLorenzo said the program is helping her students as well, because the Number Strings provide a routine that allows students to be part of the discussion.
“When we are working on a string together, we are a community of math learners with a singular goal, to solve the problems,” she said. “The strings are an engaging way to practice skills.”
“Another benefit in using the strings is watching students become more confident mathematicians who are eager to discuss solution methods, and just as eager to listen to their classmates’ solutions,” she added. “Over the course of a year, my students learn to make their thinking visible while explaining their reasoning.”
DeLorenzo began her teaching career in grade four at Robert Hunter before transferring to Reading Fleming Intermediate School as a math support teacher in 2006. This year is her first at Francis A. Desmares School, where she is teaching student support and gifted and talented mathematics.
“I knew that this fellowship would offer excellent training for me that I could then share with teachers in Flemington,” DeLorenzo said. “I have been part of other national teacher fellowships, and am very excited to now be part of a fellowship that is focused on New Jersey’s teachers and students.”