Skip To Main Content
students at board

Each year, Emma Willard School hosts professional development days full of inspiration for our faculty and staff. This year, rather than bringing in a guest speaker, we leaned into our own resident experts and held a series of fascinating presentations by various teachers and staff.

Mathematics Instructors Laszlo Bardos and Kate Robbins took inspiration for their professional development presentation from Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, Grades K–12 by Peter Liljedahl. Both Kate and Laszlo were introduced to this book during their interviews at Emma, with Kate mentioning, “Something that was really appealing to me about Emma was that the department was looking at research and trying to improve pedagogy.” This book is based on Liljedahl’s fifteen years of research compiled into a succinct list of strategies to transform a classroom into a deeper learning state. “I was at this point in my career where I was frustrated. I was doing more thinking than a lot of my students were,” Laszlo recalls. “We had fallen into a routine of me showing them how to do something and then them doing it rather than them figuring out how to do it or why to do it.”

After implementing methods from the book, both Kate and Laszlo immediately started seeing improvements in their students’ performance. They were thinking more, diving into the deep end rather than waiting for instruction, and using multiple strategies to arrive at the same answer.

During their professional development session, Kate and Laszlo wanted to demonstrate how the methods from Liljedahl’s book worked. As faculty and staff entered the room, they were randomly partnered with others in the classroom and asked to find a spot on the whiteboard to work. Laszlo then proceeded with the question to be answered: He loves dehydrated fruits, so he started with some watermelon that is 99% water and let it dehydrate for a while, so now it's 98% water. If he started with 100 kilograms of watermelon, how many kilograms does he have now?

Some participants dove right in with different strategies, while some debated with their partners about what methods to use. Each group took a different approach: ratios, sketching, graphing, equations, and more. Kate and Laszlo patrolled the room, asking each group to explain their reasoning, and asking open-ended questions to further their deliberations. They allowed the groups to work for about 15 minutes, and then the room came back together and discussed what they had experienced. One of the largest takeaways for the faculty was doing work up on a wall where other groups could find inspiration if they were stuck, and work could easily be erased and rethought multiple times if needed. The right answer was never discussed, as that was the least important part of the exercise—thinking through a problem creatively with a team was the goal.

This teaching strategy can be implemented in many other subjects besides math, as long as those key components are utilized. Laszlo gave an example of how this can be done in the humanities: “Let's say you’re reading a book and a challenging question could be, ‘How is this character's journey related to their identities?’ That's a wonderful deep-thinking question. You can either sit there and as a teacher, lead a discussion where three people might be the primary contributors, or you send them all to the board and say, draw a map. I want to see arrows and all this stuff showing how these concepts are related. So that's the idea, is that everyone gets to wrestle with something good.” 

Teachers and staff walked out of their presentation buzzing with excitement on how they could implement this in their own classrooms. Teachers like Kate and Laszlo are consistently researching innovative ways to advance their classrooms, and all Emma students will benefit for years to come.


Find more interesting stories about Emma Willard School on our Newsroom page.