Jillian Mendoza: How did you get into teaching math?
Josh Manansala: Growing up I always loved school. As an elementary student, I told my parents I’d rather go to school than Disneyland–that’s how much I loved learning. In my house there was an emphasis on education; my dad is a county superintendent in California, and when I was younger he was a high school principal. I always knew the power of education and that I wanted to be involved in it somehow.
I also loved business strategy and entrepreneurship, and at UCLA I majored in Economics. After graduating, I worked in management consulting for about two years. Now, I get to combine my experiences with problem-solving, industry exposure, and continuous learning as a high school math teacher.
I found Teach for America and decided to venture into education after consulting for a variety of reasons. When I was consulting I did work with higher education organizations and performed due diligence on LMSs and MOOCs. As I worked, I realized I didn’t want to just analyze student data, I wanted to be on the ground developing relationships with students. So I found myself teaching and I love it.
Currently, I teach 10th-grade Algebra 2 at Waianae High School in Oahu. Already in my first year, the instructional experience and relationships with my students have been invaluable.
Jillian Mendoza: Does building relationships help you to support diverse student needs in the math classroom?
Josh Manansala: Absolutely. When it comes to developing relationships, you learn about the backgrounds of students and where they come from. It goes hand-in-hand to learn about the personal and academic backgrounds of your kids. You can get a sense of what's going on at home, which schools they came from, and how they learn best. Through relationship building, you can learn about their gaps and what needs filling, and sometimes you need to learn which gaps to prioritize. Relationships play a key role in determining how to differentiate instruction.
One activity I like to do to get to know my students is to have students graph their weekends, or quantify charts that let you know how they are doing. As a former associate in consulting, I love charts and graphs; it’s one of the best ways to communicate math in the real world. So almost every Monday I have students graph their weekend. They will pick a metric and label the y-axis (e.g., from 1-10 as a scale of how much fun they had, etc.), and they’ll label the x-axis as time (i.e., Friday, Saturday, Sunday). As students are graphing they need to consider axes labeling, chart titles, and at least three key points or “callouts,” which are descriptions of key points in the chart. In the beginning, I started by teaching them simple line charts, but over time I’ve introduced more complex charts. I’ve also noticed that my students have opened up a bit more throughout the year as we develop trust and strengthen our teacher-student relationship.
Jillian Mendoza: How do you incorporate your professional experience as a consultant into teaching?
Josh Manansala: I’d say there are two ways that I share my professional experience, the first is reactive and the second is proactive. I share reactively when students ask me, ‘why do we need to know how to do this?’ In this first way, I give general connections between math and the real world, such as the power of problem-solving and taking multiple given data points to find important metrics.
I save my proactive sharing for lessons where there is a direct real-world application. For example, when we are creating or interpreting visual representations of data (i.e., graphing). In these cases, I share that I used these skills in my last job often and that companies actually pay a lot of money for these skills. This can encourage students to pay attention. I also like to tweak my word problems to involve money. As soon as I put a dollar sign in the problem they seem to try a bit more.
Jillian Mendoza: When and how do you differentiate?
Josh Manansala: Differentiation is my greatest challenge; I have 61 students of greatly varying abilities, no co-teacher, and no aide. I gave my students a diagnostic assessment at the beginning of the year, and the data shows ~67% of my students are well below grade level, ~24% are below grade level, ~7% are on grade level, and ~2% above grade level. So ~91% of my students require extra support to access grade-level material. A lot of my students still struggle to add and subtract positive and negative integers. Sometimes when I give students practice, I prepare leveled problems: easy (~mild), medium, and hard (~spicy). The students get to choose which problems they try.
I’m also intentional and strategic with my seating charts so that students can support one another in class (i.e., partner students of similar capabilities together). For my students who finish their work early, I’ll sometimes ask them to create their own problems to show their creativity and understanding of the standards.
Jillian Mendoza: That's so great, especially when you are such a new teacher!
Josh Manansala: Thank you! It’s been tough to help all students to be challenged and supported appropriately. That's what I’ve been doing, as I want my kids to be challenged and pushed accordingly. I think technology can play a big part in supporting teachers to differentiate.
Jillian Mendoza: In what ways does technology help with this?
Joshua Manansala: Technology can open up options for collaboration so that students can group together and tackle more difficult problems. By allowing students to work alone and in groups, technology can assess students’ strengths and weaknesses and help teachers group students in ways that maximize their peer-to-peer support.
For example, if five students are struggling on the same topic, they have way more capability to wrestle with an advanced topic together versus going at it alone. If I can group my students this way, then I can circulate the classroom and provide more personalized support.
Another feature of edtech products that helps students is the ability to show their work. I polled my students earlier this year and found that a lot of them actually prefer doing math by hand. They like old-school writing because they are burnt out on technology from COVID. Students like to be expressive and a lot of edTech doesn’t allow them to show their thinking.
Jillian Mendoza: How else do you see technology helping math teachers?
Josh Manansala: It is very useful when educational technology has quick data visualizations that support in-the-moment decisions we make during class. I love charts and graphs, and having a dashboard that shows me how my students are doing on a particular activity or assessment would be invaluable. When I give my diagnostics, I like to be able to filter performance by skill and decide how to support my students based on their most recent assessments. Technology can make it easier to identify and address gaps in student understanding.
Jillian Mendoza: What's one of your favorite recent moments in the classroom?
Josh Manansala: It’s most rewarding for me when students finally ‘get it.’ It all goes back to developing a growth mindset. Seeing their mindsets change is the most valuable thing. Once they get a problem correct they are even more motivated to try another, more challenging problem. I see my students' faces light up, they’ll say, “wow Mr., this is what happens when I pay attention”.
I tell my students all the time that they are smart and capable. I had one student chronically absent or tardy about 70% of the time. Even when he is at school, he is distracted and needs quite a bit of attention from me. So the other day I got to sit with him, and I told him he could do really well in the unit we’re working on. He asked me, “do you think I can pass?” and I told him, “no, I think you can actually get a B or an A.” He was motivated by that, and I think a lot of it comes down to how we motivate our students and instill a growth mindset when it comes to learning math.
Jillian Mendoza: That's so inspiring! Any parting thoughts for our fellow educators?
Josh Manansala: Data is so important in the classroom, especially for being able to differentiate. Not just summative data, but also formative data. Gather as much of it as you can. There are so many great resources you can use to analyze class data and make decisions that support each student individually. The better data you have, the better you can help students. If you’re pressed for time, it can be as simple as a Google form. Use it to gain a quick sense check of how the students are doing and use it to inform your instruction.