students pointing at math drawing

The schools of Chicago Heights School District 170 have completed a district-wide “Problem of the Month” (POM) as an essential component of their participation in the South Cook Math Initiative (SCMI).

The South Cook Math Initiative is a partnership among 32 high-needs school districts in Cook County committed to improving the teaching and learning of Mathematics.

The initiative promotes a comprehensive strategy for improving mathematics teaching and learning, with an emphasis on strong instructional leadership that supports high-quality instruction that leads to improved student achievement.

“The SCMI process has been in place in Chicago Heights School District 170 for seven years and has been an essential part of the district’s math curriculum,” said Toni Ledbetter, the district’s Math Curriculum Specialist.

According to Ledbetter, the district-wide Problem of the Month (POM) promotes a community of problem solvers and develops perseverance throughout the school.

“All of our math teachers at all grade levels are involved in implementing the Problem of the Month, and the Teacher Leaders at each building orchestrated the activity,” she explained.

The District Math Focus Team Teacher Leaders from each building are: Garfield School: Diane Kostovski, Jill Taylor, and Elizabeth Scott; Grant School: Rachel Grill; Greenbriar School: Alecia Hoefler; Jefferson School: Chrissy Redlin; Kennedy School: Jessie Tanis; Lincoln/Gavin School: Joe Koenig; Roosevelt School: Stacy Jacobi; Washington/McKinley School: Amanda Gaby, and Tangerly Parker; and Wilson School: Keli Burgess.

The Problem of the Month is structured to provide cognitive tasks for all students in grades K-12. The goal of the exercise is for the students to experience attacking and solving non-routine problems while developing mathematical reasoning skills.

“The POM isn’t designed to be a race through levels,” Ledbetter noted. “It is designed so that the learner stays at a particular level and thoroughly investigates and understands that level before moving on.”

During the process, a learner should be able to explain answers and justify solutions before advancing to the next level.

Following the initial step in the POM process student work is posted throughout the school and all classes engage in a “Gallery Walk” so that they become an integral part of the procedure. During the walk, students review the work, share their thought processes, relate their ideas regarding the problem, ask questions, make comments, and discuss the mathematical concepts being studied before returning to their classrooms and grappling with the problem for the remainder of the month.

Ledbetter said that the District Teacher Leaders, teachers, students, and staff are unanimous in embracing the POM concept.

“All of the Teacher Leaders agree that the Problem of the Month promotes school and classroom spirit, introduces a variety of strategies for problem-solving, and shifts the focus from 'answer getting' to collaborative problem solving and productive mathematical conversations," she stated.

“It is exciting to see our students embrace the POM process with such commitment and enthusiasm,” Ledbetter continued.

The Problem of the Month integrates Illinois’ Math Practice Standards and requires students to make sense of problems, persevere in solving them, and construct viable arguments in critiquing the reasoning of others.

School District 170 conducted two Problems of the Month events this school year and will continue the process each year.