Math Minds: An Innovative Early Math Learning Partnership

By Jocelyne Daw



Math Minds_logo_CMYK

Math Minds_logo_CMYK

This past April, I was proud to present at the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations Conference with Laureen DuBois of Canadian Oil Sands and Mary Jane Moreau of JUMP Math. We shared the story of Math Minds and what we have learned along the way. Please check out the summary of the presentation, which can be accessed at the end of this article, and enjoy reading a brief case study of this unique three-way collective impact partnership for early math learning! BackgroundMath quiz-- How many $5000 donations can you make with $3 million? A lot … right? What if instead of just skimming the surface and contributing a relatively small amount of money to a large number of charities and non-profits, you used the entire $3 million to make a deep, meaningful, and significantly positive social impact related to a single cause or issue?With the guidance and support of JS Daw & Associates, that’s how Laureen Dubois, Director of Human Resources & Community Investment at Canadian Oil Sands, decided to focus a major part of the company’s community investment budget. And if the model the company helped to create had been around when you were in elementary school, that math quiz probably would have been much easier for you!Discovering the Cause FocusMath Minds is a 5 year initiative that was spearheaded and funded by Canadian Oil Sands, but carefully co-created with their valued partners. The shared goal is to enhance elementary numeracy in students and teachers, and establish Calgary, Alberta as a centre of excellence for math education. What makes Math Minds unique is that it is an innovative three-way partnership, which involves different sectors coming together around a shared commitment and a higher purpose, tied by shared values.Math Minds began to take shape after a period of internal discussion and interviews. It was determined that the employees and leadership at Canadian Oil Sands (COS) were interested in making a difference in the education sector because it was seen to align strongly with both the COS brand and staff interests. In order to discover where there was a clear community need, extensive community interviews and research was undertaken. Over 30 organizations and individuals were interviewed in order to gain a deep understanding of education trends, gaps and opportunities. Early math literacy was identified as an area of critical importance. COS found this cause particularly importance since math is foundational to innovation and technological advancements, which are required in order for both Canada and oil sands companies to remain globally competitive.Engaging Aligned PartnersOnce the intentions for the initiative were clarified, carefully identified partners were brought together to collectively co-create this initiative, rather than keeping those partners working in silos independent of each other. Jocelyne played the role of “partner broker,” a neutral intermediary between COS and the other partners. An extremely important part of the process was building trust between the partners, leaving egos and hidden agendas behind.Measurement and evaluation were embedded into each of the components of Math Minds right from the outset. Starting with the end in mind will be key in determining if Math Minds achieves the agreed upon desired outcomes.Establishing the Math Minds InitiativesThe tangible element of Math Minds is a partnership research school in Calgary. The Calgary Catholic School District identified St.Rita’s within their board to be the first school to adopt the Math Minds program. The vision of the partnership school is four-fold: To be a “hothouse” of early math education and learning, a site of mathematics teaching excellence, a centre of rigorous and intense research facilitated by the U of C’s Faculty of Education, and a showcase for innovation in math education.Working with the Calgary Public Library and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, a weekly Math Minds afterschool program was devised. The programs are initially being offered at three branches of the Calgary Public Library, eventually expanding to all 17 branches across the city. The program is also offered at all Boys & Girls Clubs locations in Calgary to children who are looking for help with math and don’t have access to other math support.Learning to DateSeveral learnings emerged out of the process of putting together this collective impact initiative. The “Five key conditions to drive collective impact” were important in guiding the partners toward success by were adapted for the initiative:1. A shared agenda with common goals and shared values2. Mutually reinforced activities that supported and enhanced the overall initiative3. A coordinating body and clear governance structure to support the success of the initiative4. Continuous communication, on-going planning and mutual respect and trustCOS and JS Daw & Associates approached the problem of Math Literacy through the following perspectives:

  • Systems thinking: We looked across systems to find potential connections and collaborators and ways to link them together to drive positive social change. This meant not just looking at traditional education institutions, but also including social service agencies like Boys and Girls Club who have a strong education mandate as part of their approach to social change. The collaboration across different organizations will be critical to the success of Math Minds and its goal of having a significant collective impact.

  • Integrated approach: We developed an integrated approach by looking for organizations with shared values, that could bring and receive value from this initiative. With the financial support of COS, partners were able to come together to help make a difference to the community and themselves.

  • Leverage points: Finally, based on our research we recommended leverage points where small change could make measurable change: Specially, we recommended focusing on teacher training and mentoring, student learning and deep evidence based research.

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