Based on interest in Complex Instruction (CI) and group-worthy tasks (GWTs), and how they might be applied in college dev ed math classrooms, the RPM Project featured CI at a recent day-long workshop.

Prior to the RPM interest in this work, the Transition Math Project had shared CI and GWTs with its local project teams through the work of Ruth Tsu, Stanford's Jo Boaler and the UW's Lani Horn, all of whom had a connection to the Railside High School CI Study. And this session's presenter, UW's Dr. Lisa Jilk, was a member of the Railside math department during the Boaler study. Dr. Jilk is currently a Research Associate in the College of Education and an Instructional Coach with Seattle Public Schools. She taught high school mathematics for ten years before pursuing doctoral studies at Michigan State University. She supports math teachers to use Complex Instruction strategies to create classroom communities that promote equitable student participation.

On October 1, at Highline Community College, Lisa Jilk spent a day working with about twenty-five interested RPM team members and partners (CTC faculty) to lay out the theoretical foundations of CI, and current applications based partly on her work at the University of Washington, her experiences at Railside High School, and CI work she has underway at high schools in Washington and California.

The 10/1 training allowed RPM members and partners to experience CI up close as they worked in groups with Lisa modeling CI facilitation of teams of math faculty using a rich, group-worthy task. Why was this task group-worthy? It allowed for each member of each team to use any number of ways and strategies to enter (make sense of) the task, such as geometry, algebra, square roots, measurement and units, guess and check, etc. The task: Find and represent the square root of each whole number between 1 - 10 by folding a square piece of origami paper. Lisa explained that while this particular task is more general for the purposes of this workshop, she'd typically work to ensure that any task used in her classroom represents important math and that her approach to teaching a task and using CI is guided by knowledge of her students' strengths. She stated, "Students bring different ways of being mathematically smart, you need to know how they are smart."

Participants were randomly placed into teams of about four and given roles: team captain, recorder, facilitator and resource manager, each with its own unique set of behaviors and tasks. Non-negotiable classroom and team norms were discussed including staying on task, no cross-talk (team to team), think and work together as a team (don't divide up the work), no one is done until everyone is done within each team, etc.

The teams were abuzz with talk! And they worked intently for some time with Lisa strategically using CI skills to monitor and address status issues within the groups, and ensuring that the number of ways group members could contribute to the problem were being tapped.

The day ended by watching a video produced by the UW that demonstrated CI in a school classroom. Participants seemed struck by the level of engagement of the students and by how active (involved, monitoring, engaging, attentive) the teacher appeared.

As we were wrapping up, the question was raised about what's next with CI and its application to the RPM work. While there's not a clear answer as to how it can be applied to dev ed math at this time, there is a clear next step, namely to meet as a group to brainstorm ways we can design uses of this, even if on a very small scale, in select dev ed classes. A follow up conference call is being arranged for later October, 2010.

If you're interested in learning more about CI, you can visit the Stanford School of Education's page on CI for a nice overview: [May 2011: removed link referenced here as the page seems to be gone; my guess is it's being spun off to a quasi-private enterprise by Rachel Lotan (, who appears to own the domain name "" but the site isn't built yet...]

The approach has been used with some success in California and Washington, among other places, and Jo Boaler from the University of Sussex in England ( ) has done some solid research on how it influences student success in and positive attitudes about math. Below is some material about CI provided by Ruth Tsu, who like Lisa is an exceptional trainer for the model and has worked with a number of school districts in Washington as well as the Transition Math Project. You can check out some CI-related resources from presentations by Ruth Tsu and Lani Horn below and from the 2008 Transition Math Project Summer Institute).

NOTE: Every project leader should alreadyu have a copy of Cohen's book describing the core of the CI approach ( ); it's written for a K-12 audience but there are lots of good and practical ideas for the college classroom as well if you're interested in using group work effectively to promote meaningful engagement and understanding in math.