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Guardians of Atlanta’s Future Thought Leadership

How can middle school math be more engaging? Authentic business partnerships

By Rebecca Parshall

Do you remember your 8th grade math class? Was learning math easy for you, or did you struggle? Did that class prepare you for high school math? How did your parents and teachers make you feel about math? For too many adults, both the middle school years and math class evoke painful memories. Unfortunately, these challenges persist with today’s children – just 45% of metro Atlanta students demonstrate proficiency in math by the end of 8th grade, with unconscionable gaps across racial and socioeconomic groups. 

In search of strategies to support math learning across our region, L4L’s 8th Grade Math Network engaged in rigorous process of data and factor analysis to identify “Bright Spots,” that are proving it’s possible to ensure all kids reach their potential. To understand what the best schools are doing, L4L’s Network visited middle schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students scoring proficiently in 8th grade math. One Bright Spot that emerged is the Georgia Department of Education’s process for a school to become STEM/STEAM certified

STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education is an integrated curriculum that is driven by exploratory project-based learning and student-centered development of ideas and solutions. Schools seeking state certification demonstrate implementation of project-based learning, curriculum integration, community partnerships and more. 

What happens to a middle school that undergoes this multi-year process to become STEM certified? Among other positive outcomes, STEM certified schools show significant gains in 8th grade math proficiency, with an average increase of 12% over three years.

STEM certified schools are required to develop STEM partnerships to support school goals and improve student outcomes. Business, community, and higher education partners can take on a number of supporting roles, including hosting student and teacher internships, judging competitions, and co-developing STEM curriculum for teachers to use.  

While good partnerships can transform a school, these partnerships are not always easy to form; schools and businesses don’t interface often. L4L’s 8th Grade Math Network heard this challenge when it surveyed metro Atlanta middle schools seeking STEM certification, with many responding that they would benefit from help in forming partnerships. 

In response to this call, and with generous grant funding from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, L4L is partnering with  to provide free coaching between identified middle schools and businesses to develop partnerships designed to close math equity gaps in metro Atlanta. This project will help schools form sustainable STEM business partnerships in alignment with school needs, goals, and STEM certification plans. 

If we want to transform the middle school math experience, we need to make it relevant and engaging. Partners do just that. They show how math applications shape our world: how statistics frame our health, social, and environmental outcomes; how geometry and trigonometry create the structures we live and move in; how number sense influences our understanding of money management. There is no better way to teach a 13 year old math than to tell her the story of where math knowledge can take her. 

If you’d like to learn more about how your business can support schools, we’d love to connect. Drop us a note at [email protected]

If you’re a parent, or from a school, nonprofit, community organization, or business, and you’d like to join our collective impact work to support schools build math proficiency, let us know here. We’d love to have your voice at the table.


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