Case Studies

Case Study: Making Math Meaningful

Using the Fluencies, and one powerful question, Desirae Matthew helped make math meaningful again for her students.

The GEMS Dubai American Academy is a vibrant international community rooted in a culture of kindness that creates and empowers leaders and independent thinkers. DAA prepares students to lead successful lives through the diversity of its community and the extra-curricular experiences that contribute to the development of the whole person.

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Students must be able to connect to learning for it to be meaningful. GEMS DAA math teacher Desirae Matthew conquered this challenge with a simple essential question: What do my students feel is important?

Their heartfelt responses helped Desirae align her own goals to theirs. Using the Fluencies, she helped them take responsibility for their learning and made math meaningful once more. This is their story.

How to we inspire lasting and meaningful change

Without relevance, there can be no learning. No matter how relevant the content is or the skills it builds are, our students won’t connect to what we teach if it isn’t somehow meaningful to them. Desirae Matthew, a math teacher at GEMS Dubai American Academy, knows this reality all too well.

“I’ve taught math at many levels throughout my career,” Desirae explains. “While our topics have real-life applications, there is somewhat of a disconnect in finding the applications that are relevant and meaningful to the students.”

Students must be able to connect to learning for it to be meaningful.

To get her learners excited and engaged, Desirae knew something had to change. Her exploration of the possibilities began with the ultimate tool for fostering authentic learning adventures: an essential question. She asked her students, “What is most important to you?” From here, some compelling learning would begin to happen. 

How do we plot a path to sucess

The students’ responses to the question of importance included things like family, health, their futures, and more. “I was impressed with how forward-focused their list was and how it included things such as understanding and balance,” recalls Desirae. This allowed her to realign her goals to better connect to those of her learners. 

The next step was one that would help them take ownership of their learning. Desirae separated the class and gave each group a standard on which to focus. Elements of both Solution Fluency and Collaboration Fluency took center stage in the challenge.

GEMS meaningful math
GEMS students help each other along the way with the curricular standards

"They were able to define what the standard was asking for and also create their examples of how they may see the standard in problem-solving situations," says Desirae. "They were responsible for delegating their tasks and organizing their roles to both create and present their examples."

Desirae's learners also took initiatives to discover the most effective ways to teach the content to others. They learned that a concept you can demonstrate is one you thoroughly understand. In the process, they gave the gift of understanding to others.

How best can we measure growth and progress

Here are some of the most important transformations taking place for the learners, staff, and school.


The Fluencies place learning where it belongs—directly into the hands of the learners themselves. The energy in the classroom has changed completely, and Desirae's learners now celebrate victories big and small.

  • Students are collaborating, sharing ideas, and exploring different options.
  • They are truly engaged and excited about the next step in the class.
  • Students are acquiring skills for public speaking, teaching, collaboration, accountability, and more.
  • Students have greater responsibility for what they learn and how they learn it.


With Solution Fluency, teachers have a powerful tool to give to their learners, and to make their own practice both easier and more enjoyable. Here are some of the new revelations teachers have enjoyed working with Solution Fluency.

  • The Fluencies provide a framework for teachers to act as facilitators of student learning, allowing the students themselves to take the lead.
  • Teachers are seeing the lessons stick with their learners as they take ownership of learning.
  • The Fluencies processes allow teachers to connect content topics to students’ interests and increase student engagement.

    School Culture

    The learning landscape at GEMS DAA has shifted dramatically since working with the Wabisabi Team. What is happening school-wide with Solution Fluency as part of the new school culture?

    • There is an incredible amount of learning happening for the students and teachers, which extends beyond the content-related material.
    • There is a more rooted culture of collaboration between students and teachers as well as between the teachers themselves.
    • Students are more empowered to adjust their lifestyles to develop solutions for real-world problems that matter.

    How do we ensure learning continues to improve and excel

    As Desirae and her learners debriefed their experiences, she marvels at the transformation happening in her students and herself. “Initially there was some push-back from the students. The changes were new for all of us, and they were dubious about this new process,” she says. “I have witnessed students begin asking higher-order questions more frequently and interacting with each other in positive and supportive ways.”

    The Fluencies let teachers connect content to students’ interests and increase student engagement.

    Desirae is also thrilled about the collaborative aspect of learning that a genuinely interactive classroom provides. “When presented with a challenge, we now figure out how to overcome it as a class,” she claims. “We work as one unit where each member contributes uniquely.”

    Moving forward is an even more exciting prospect for Desirae and her learners. “My students and I will continue to roll out the Fluencies and look for more ways to develop our learning in the classroom,” she says. “We are growing individually and together.”

    Case Study: Making Math Meaningful—GEMS DAACase Study: Making Math Meaningful—GEMS DAA

    Case Study: Making Math Meaningful—GEMS DAA
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