Math Class 2.0

Four years in, I.S. 228 hits its stride with high-tech math program

I.S. 288 students in a math program called Teach to One, which features teacher-led, small-group and computer activities.
I.S. 288 students in a math program called Teach to One, which features teacher-led, small-group and computer activities.

Teach to One, a high-tech math program meant to precisely customize each student’s learning, often uses airport terminology to describe its model – inside I.S. 228 Monday, it was clear why.

About 180 6th graders buzzed around a vast terminal-like space made out of several combined classrooms on the left side of a hallway, while more than 120 7th graders filled a long open room on the right side.

The students had found their names and stations on large monitors – like those that list departure gates at airports – then headed to 35-minute sessions that included teacher-led lessons at smart boards, small group activities over workbooks and individual tasks on laptops.

“This is a game changer,” said Dominick D’Angelo, principal of the south Brooklyn middle school.

Now in its second year, with six schools in New York City and 9 others nationwide, the nonprofit-run program grew out of School of One, a city Department of Education-incubated project under Joel Klein that attracted national attention and outside funding but produced mixed results in its first year.

Teach to One announced the results of a Teachers College report Monday that found students overall in the program’s first year made above-average math gains. But results varied among the seven schools that used the program last year, with several showing less progress than the national norm on an optional math test taken in the fall and spring.

Critics, such as teacher Gary Rubinstein who visited I.S. 228 in 2010, have said School of One seemed more focused on test prep and game playing than critical thinking and note that two New York schools dropped out of the program after its first year. The creators say Teach to One made many improvements to the original model, noting that it is aligned to the Common Core standards, includes traditional teaching along with digital learning, and features applied math projects that require critical thinking.

I.S. 228 is the lone school to have piloted both the School of One model and now the Teach to One program, which the creators operate for free in New York in exchange for the early DOE incubation. All of its more than 1,000 students now use the program for math, except for 35 students with severe disabilities.

At the end of the 2011 school year, when I.S. 228 first knocked down several classroom walls and tried School of One, the share of sixth-graders in the program who passed the state math test was roughly equal to the city average. Last year, the share of those same students who passed was more than 40 percent above the city average.

On the seventh-grade side Monday, a veteran teacher led a lesson on fractions for six students, while another teacher oversaw small groups of students rolling dice for a probability project and a student teacher monitored children on laptops.

Seventh-grade student Shelly Barkan takes notes during a computer lesson about probability.
Seventh-grade student Shelly Barkan takes notes during a computer lesson about probability.

Student Shelly Barkan had just started a two-week unit, or “round,” centered on probability that had been specially designed for her based on a diagnostic test and other data. Another algorithm sets her class schedule using the results of a daily online quiz, or “exit slip.”

Shelly, 12, had sat through a teacher-led lesson for the first 35 minutes of the math class, and now was clicking through an animated laptop lesson starring outer-space characters for the second half.

“It’s much, much cooler than sitting in math class and taking regular tests,” she said, adding that she found the daily computer quizzes helpful.

Students on laptops are required to take notes and do computations in their notebooks, which forces students not to guess at answers and allows teachers to check their work. Students who ace their daily exit slips earn stickers.

Teachers said the program automatically managed some of the more labor-intensive parts of the job: grading daily assessments, tracking data and planning and differentiating lessons. (Teach to One’s system automatically draws from a bank of 15,000 lessons bought from the major publishers and offers them to teachers based on student needs.)

But teachers still have their work cut out for them. They must keep tabs on students as they move at their own pace through customized units, urge on less motivated students and answer to parents who can check each student’s daily progress online.

Teacher Oleg Leocumovich leads a small-group lesson on fractions.
Teacher Oleg Leocumovich leads a small-group lesson on fractions.

“We have to be on top of our game,” said teacher Oleg Leocumovich.

As the school day came to a landing Monday, the nearly 200 sixth-graders spread around the long room gathered their belongings as a school staffer with a microphone issued instructions – sort of like a flight attendant.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”