Across all 17 elementary schools, the district is in the process of selecting a long-term solution for math. Though administration is still another year or two away from formally adopting a curriculum, a change was made this year to pilot Engage NY – a curriculum that more closely aligns with the new Common Core State Standards.
Engage NY is a comprehensive math curriculum that was developed with the support of the New York State Education Department. Lessons allow for teacher flexibility so that what is happening in the classroom can meet both the standards and the students' needs. Math modules, or lessons, include a significant number of problems, which gives students lots of opportunities to practice and apply their knowledge. Rubrics allow teachers to evaluate the quality, rigor, and alignment of their lessons.
Principal on Special Assignment Mary Sewright says elementary teachers are working very, very hard to implement the program. “It calls for really good instruction and we have had some good professional development with it. We are bringing in more resources for teachers because [Engage NY] is much different than what our teachers are used to,” Sewright said.
The program is new at most schools and there is a clear benefit. By better aligning to the new standards, teachers can tailor their instruction to meet the needs of their students and improve their understanding of the material.
“We are preparing our students to meet more rigorous standards and that is good for our students. We used to have math standards that covered more math at each grade level, but we didn’t get as deep as we should have,” said teacher on special assignment Katherine Hansen.
Now that teachers don’t have to introduce as many concepts, they are able to be more focused with their instruction and cover the material in greater depth. “Common Core truly did narrow what we teach at each grade level,” said Hansen. “We are seeing new models for doing things. The models are good and they are helping kids understand math in different ways but [these models] are unfamiliar to us as adults and that includes the teachers. So, students, parents and teachers are now experiencing math in ways we haven’t before - and that’s what makes it hard.” said Hansen.
Students and parents will see some similar concepts between Everyday Math and Engage NY, such as partial products, partial sums and partial quotients that support algorithms and concepts like place value. At primary grades one area that has been tricky is the number bond, which is similar to factoring in algebra. A number bond identifies the ‘factors’ that when added or subtracted, results in a number. Using a number bond strategy can simplify a math problem. “So, you might take the number 5 and break it into two parts a 2 and a 3,” said Hansen. “It is a written way to show what a lot of us do as adults… it is explicitly teaching a mental strategy.”
The move to new standards can initially be rough because students have not had the same standards since kindergarten. “All this work in grades K-2 is laying the groundwork for algorithms later on. It is not about just memorizing facts, but it is about really being able to manipulate numbers in a variety of different ways so that students are prepared for more complex thinking with numbers,” said Hansen.
Already, a few disconnects have surfaced between what is being taught and what is expected on the end of unit assessments. So, teachers, leadership teams and principals have worked collaboratively to identify gaps and make sure that lessons reflect what students need to know to be successful.
Sewright says the district will review data and other materials before adopting a long-term solution for elementary math.