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Interview with Laura Roma

Laura Roma

Laura Roma is a teacher and member of the Innovamat Trainers team. And what does this team do? It is responsible for accompanying, training and guiding schools that decide to work with Innovamat, helping them fall in love with the program and math.

Laura, how did you end up at Innovamat?

I have always loved the world of education. I am a teacher by training: I studied a double degree of Elementary and Kindergarten Education. During my studies, I got to know a classmate, Alba, who worked on an after-school education project… At that point, it wasn’t even Innovamat; it was called Brain Art. Alba suggested that I get involved with the project as a monitor, but first I wanted to finish my studies and finish a few afternoon-jobs I had at the time. My desire to enter the educational world of work was so strong that, knowing myself, I would have focused on work and put my studies aside.

Later, having finished my degrees, I became interested in the project again. By then, it was no longer an after-school program: it was focused on teaching math as a curriculum-based project in schools. To be honest, if it hadn’t been math-related, I’m not sure that it would’ve caught my eye as much. It was the summer after finishing my studies when I started, and I have been in the company for four years now.

You started working as a writer of the Adventures Guides for the 5th and 6th grade Challenges. How was that experience?

Well, it was a very enriching experience. I worked closely with mathematics teaching experts such as Laura Morera, Cecilia Calvo and Albert Vilalta. At the time, I had a ‘fair’ idea of all that teaching math entails. I knew what I had learned in university, everything being very focused on content and mechanization. But thanks to my work at that time, in collaboration with Laura Morera, I learned a lot about teaching and my view of mathematics changed completely.

Did you study math-teaching in university?

Yes, we did a little, in fact it was one of the subjects I enjoyed the most. But later I realized that I didn’t really learn until I had the amazing opportunity to work with experts in this field. And I keep learning from them every day.

Could you explain a little bit about what you're currently working on?

Sure! Currently, I’m working in the Revenue department of Innovamat, the area that is most in contact with schools. Specifically, I’m on the Training team. My main task is to accompany and guide schools that decide to work with Innovamat, to ensure that the program is used properly. The aim is to ensure that schools can appreciate the richness of the program and that students learn in a meaningful way. We work closely with teachers to help them fall in love with math, just as we have.

What prompted the introduction of the trainer position in Innovamat?

Well, as I said, I was on the writing team beforehand. Although I was quite comfortable with the work I was doing, I needed to be in the classroom more. I wanted to apply everything I wrote when we thought of the guides, and to be in touch with teachers and students to better understand their day-to-day reality and help them.

At the time, the role of a trainer as such did not exist. But within the writing team you could start to see that there were profiles like mine that wanted to be in the classroom. As a result of this need, the role of trainer emerged, a role that I and other colleagues fit into very well, and that responds to the need of providing value and experiencing constant growth.

Before you were a trainer, you had been in the classroom... Would you say that experience has helped in your current role?

Without a doubt, the classroom experience has been one of the things that has been most present and has allowed me to apply everything I had developed as a copywriter. When I visit a school, I try to really connect with teachers to better understand their reality. The role of trainer gives me the opportunity to visit several schools and go into classrooms to see specific realities. Observing and teaching classes allows us to empathize with teachers and understand what’s going on in classrooms to improve the program.

How does a trainer help teachers in the classroom? What are the specific tasks you do?

The task of the trainer is to accompany and assist teachers in the implementation of the Innovamat program in the classroom, to help them own it according to their day-to-day reality and, for both students and teachers to enjoy it and learn from it. This goal is very abstract, but we try to build on the fieldwork and get to know, communicate and empathize with different realities to achieve it.

For example, if a teacher has difficulty imagining what an Innovamat session looks like because they usually have a different approach, but they want to learn, we sit down with them and prepare a session together. In some cases, we even go to the class with them and get to know their daily reality by observing or even taking a session. Then we hand over to them to help them implement the program. We try to adapt as much as possible to the context of each school. The goal is for teachers to love math and teaching. We not only want them to trust us, but also to understand the ‘why’ of each activity and how to adapt it to transmit it to students. It is essential to answer all the ‘Why?’s that may arise.

How do teachers react to this?

In general, they are very grateful; everyone wants to accompany their students on the learning journey. As we share this common idea, which is crucial, and they feel that we listen and help them, the response is usually very positive. When the reaction is less so, however, there are often other factors at play that do not depend on us exclusively.

Let’s move towards teaching. We always say we want math classes to be competency-based. Can you explain what it means to work in a competency-based way and how it has influenced your teaching approach?

Working in a competency-based way implies changing the traditional paradigm of mathematics teaching. Previously, the focus was only on content. Exaggerating it a bit, the goal was to solve as many operations as possible in the fastest way possible. Now, this approach has changed, in a way because it responds to a need. What good is memorizing algorithms to gain speed, if we have a calculator that does it in less than a second? We do not say that content, algorithms, are not important, but what we look for above all is that they are understandable and meaningful to students. We want students to develop mathematical competencies that go beyond mechanizing: that they reason, that they are critical, that they ask questions, that they connect concepts, etc. We work on competencies because we want students to be mathematically competent. We do not want mathematics to be based on dictation or an encyclopedia of isolated theoretical knowledge, we want students to be able to apply everything they learn in their day-to-day life. It’s a change in the way we approach math teaching.

And how do we generate good practices to work in a competency-based way?

On the one hand, as teachers, you have to be open to change. It is important to recognize that there will be many things that we will not master and that we will have to relearn. We have to step back and be open to getting to know math differently than how we learned it. That means changing the way we work. It is also essential to really believe in the importance of having a competency-based approach in the classroom.

On the other hand, it is important to understand what it means to work in a competency-based way and what the processes are that we must develop, as well as having a clear vision of the curriculum and how to approach classes. Some teachers may need training to understand problem solving skills, For example. Therefore, as a training team, we try to accompany them in this training process with the aim of applying this approach to their teaching practice.

Any tips for those teachers who want to change the focus in their classroom?

The first tip is to be open to change. As teachers, we must recognize that there will be times when things will not go as planned, and we must persevere.

You also have to fall in love with mathematics and give this competency-based approach a chance, as it allows you to see life with a different perspective.

Finally, I encourage teachers to empower themselves. Let’s train ourselves in this new way of working. If we want our students to learn meaningful mathematics, we must prepare the sessions well, dedicate time to it. I understand that resources and time are limited, but it is important to prepare enriching activities for the classroom. Rich questions will be key to learning mathematics in a meaningful way.

Finally, I think it’s important to remember that the focus is no longer the teacher, but the students, and this is achieved by encouraging conversation in the classroom. This dialogue may create a little chaos, but it will be mathematical chaos with one goal. The 10 Practices can be a good ally!

Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us, Laura!

Thank you! I am sure that this change of approach in teaching practices will have a positive impact on our students’ learning.

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