Building Robots and Skills: Local Teacher Participates in Math and Science Training

Sitting near containers filled with assorted plastic K’Nex and Lego Mindstorm pieces, two seventh grade girls laugh as they put the finishing touches on their robot creation, and joke about what to name it. Nearby, other students concentrate on working with the program software and syncing it to correctly control their robot.

Working in teams around the spacious classroom, students appear engrossed in the building, programming and testing of small multi-colored robots – that in most instances resemble animal-like creatures or race cars. Middle school mathematics and science teacher James PD Rohan smiles as he observes his students’ progress, and moves from group to group asking questions to check his students understanding.

A newly-revised robotics engineering curriculum is just one advanced content unit that middle school math and science students will benefit from as a result of Rohan’s participation in the California Math and Science Partnership. The Partnership is a two-year program with a mandate of bringing teachers up-to-speed on the recently-adopted Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in mathematics. The Core Standards were adopted by California’s State Board of Education in 2010.

In early 2011 Rohan was invited by Pajaro Valley educator and local Project Director Frances Whitney to attend a seminar about the Partnership training.

“This training seemed like it had possibilities to be a top-notch program that could actually work,” says Rohan, “as it had both funding and research to support its implementation.” Sixty teachers from the Pajaro area were selected to participate in the local training, which is being hosted and coordinated through San Jose State University; similar trainings are underway across the state. Rohan is the only non-public school teacher participating in the program from the Pajaro area.

Last summer Rohan spent one week completing an in-service workshop held at Watsonville High School and will participate in another this summer. During the summer session, the group is broken down into smaller working groups charged with researching and designing a lesson and teaching the lesson to students in each teacher’s classroom, along with filming the teaching in one of the classrooms and critiquing the videotaped lesson as a group.

Rohan’s subgroup, which also included three Pajaro Valley educators, worked on a lesson about the “rate of change,” a key concept in calculus that students are first introduced to in algebra.

“It’s pretty cool,” remarks Rohan. “Most of the other teachers who will be working with this are teaching high school; I am going to do this lesson with seventh graders.”

One other significant component of the Partnership is that each participating teacher is given 12 hours of classroom/curriculum support with a qualified math coach each year. Rohan’s coach, Denise Henry, came to MMS last fall and worked with Rohan on rewrite the robotics curriculum the seventh grade is now studying.

“The project is unique in that it models what teachers of mathematics have known for years,” adds Rohan. “That is, that deep mathematical learning is conceptually-based, and engendered by fewer topics in a setting that allows students to spend significant time developing understanding and making mathematical connections. Juxtaposed to this curriculum approach, is the typical mathematics classroom that is ‘a kilometer wide but only a centimeter deep’.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Marketing and Communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.