New math method is on the way
July 6, 2009 · 5:44 PM
Mostly in response to new standards set out by the state in July of last year, the Northshore School District will have new math curricula in place at many of its grade levels when school begins in the fall.
Newly named director of K-12 education, Gretchen Schaefer said the new standards are decidedly more rigorous, but she didn’t seem to think that was a bad thing.
“Kids will learn much more at every grade level,” Schaefer said.
District officials hit upon new math guidelines at lower grades levels, namely K-5, first. Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education Kathleen Poole said even without the changes mandated by the state, the time probably had come to redesign how Northshore teaches math. She said the outgoing K-5 curriculum, known as “Everyday Math,” was 11 years old.
Poole added the “Everyday Math” model did not meet the new state standards.
With the goal of replacing “Everyday Math” in mind, Poole said the district piloted two newer math curricula last year. With what Poole called an overwhelming response, teachers favored a program dubbed “Math Expressions.” Poole described the new curriculum as a “stair-step” approach to teaching.
Under the new guidelines, students in grades K-5 will learn a math concept — say, addition — and be expected to master that concept before moving on to a new idea — say, subtraction. The earliest learnings clearly feed into later lessons, Poole added.
Poole contrasted the newer method with “Everyday Math,” which had teachers introducing various concepts, then moving on, but eventually revisiting earlier concepts. Poole said the new method seems more practical and saves time as teachers and students won’t be returning to ideas studied earlier. It seems the new methodology allows for more depth in terms of what students study, as well. Poole said the hope is students won’t just memorize formulas, but pick up on the ideas and theories behind those formulas.
“Flexibility, accuracy and efficiency are built into the system,” she stated.
As for higher grades, Schaefer said officials began by looking at only a few grade levels. But in studying the new state standards and, as with the lower grade levels, the age of the outgoing curriculum, Schaefer said starting from scratch across the board just seemed to make sense.
Come the fall, some students will find they have one of either of two new textbooks, both receiving test runs from the district. Schaefer said both teach concepts in line with the new state requirements and came highly recommended by the state education officials.
In addition to eventually gaining new textbooks, as in the earlier grades, upper-level students may find their math instructors taking a slightly different tact in teaching math.
In past years, Schaefer said the district intermixed algebra and geometry, but will be phasing out that approach. In the future, students will learn basic algebra, move on to geometry and then revisit algebra to study more advanced concepts.
Schaefer noted the change will have to be implemented over time. Students who started learning the integrated approach likely will finish their high-school careers with that approach. In any case, Schaefer reiterated students will be able to meet state standards.
“It’s always our responsibility to teach to state standards,” she said.
Schaefer also stated the district wants to go one step further. The Northshore district is part of a consortium of school systems looking to increase math skills to the point that graduating students are college-ready, hopefully eliminating the need for students to take remedial math classes if they go on to higher education.
“We know our kids are going to be competing against the world,” Schaefer said.