Northwest NEWS

January 18, 1999


Northshore School District adopts new math curriculum

math help

Third grade teacher Ann Mitchell at East Ridge Elementary helps students Steven Jeung and Marissa George with multiplication grids in Everyday Math.
Photo by Deborah Stone.

by Deborah Stone

   The Northshore School District recently adopted a new math curriculum at the elementary level. According to Aaron Feik, District Assistant Director of Curriculum for Math and Science, math reform was necessary because of the changing demands and requirements of today's workplace. Students need more sophisticated math skills that emphasize problem-solving and logical reasoning abilities with the growing use of technology.

   "The world is two to three years ahead of where we are in math in this district," says Feik. "We knew we needed to make changes quickly and also be able to meet state standards and essential learnings."

   For the past two years, Northshore has piloted two different math programs, Mathland and Everyday Mathematics, in twenty elementary classes. Finally, last April, the decision was made to adopt Everyday Math and implement it for the 1998-99 school year.

   Everyday Mathematics was designed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project. The Project, funded by grants from major corporations including GTE, Ford Motor, and Exxon, sought to develop a program that would produce the kinds of math skills businesses are seeking.

   Researchers studied math texts around the U.S. and compared them with those used by the Japanese. Results indicated that the emphasis in America's programs is mostly on numbers, and that textbooks are overly repetitive from year to year. The Japanese, on the other hand, emphasize words and various problem-solving techniques, building on concepts each year.

   Everyday Mathematics is based on spiral levels of understanding from basic to more advanced concepts. The program utilizes discussion, daily routines, year-long projects, small group activities, games, and manipulative and home-school partnerships. Students are asked to explain processes and find different ways to get the same answer.

   East Ridge Elementary Principal Sylvia Lesser says, "Everyday Math acknowledges children's own experiences and intuitions about math and teaches that there's more than one way to get an answer. It gives practice through meaningful activities and fun games that involve the students and make them active participants in their own learning. Tasks relate to real life, and children are given learning tools for everyday use."

   According to Lesser, the tight spiral curriculum introduces and reintroduces concepts in different ways. Various strategies are taught and revisited many times which both broaden and deepen children's understanding of math.

   The curriculum covers a wide range of mathematic content areas. In addition to emphasizing mastery of the basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts, the curriculum covers graphing, geometry and spatial sense, sequences, patterns and rules, time, measurement, money, algebraic functions, algorithms, coordinate systems, and data collection and analysis, among other areas. Students have the opportunity to record their mathematical discoveries and experiences, as well as work problems in their own math journals.

   Home Links (for grades K-3) and Study Links (for grades 4-6) support the program and communicate to parents about what their children are learning in class. The activities in these Links usually require students to interact with someone at home and provide a chance for parents to interact with their kids about the material discussed. As students learn the new math vocabulary and terms inherent in the curriculum, so do their parents.

   "The parent involvement component is definitely important in this program," comments Lesser. "It provides a great backup and lends further support and reiteration of the material."

   According to Lesser, educators in other places who have used Everyday Mathematics have favorable comments about the curriculum. "They say the first year or two are the hardest until the system and its routines are in place and expectations clear, but that kids over time demonstrate they can think mathematically," explains Lesser. "The program stretches their minds, expands limits, and encourages children to love math. Efforts are paying off, and children are excited about math as they are really using it in their day-to-day lives."

   Other principals around the district are reporting a positive response to the program from children, teachers, and parents. Andrea Pope, principal at Bear Creek Elementary, says, "Everyday Mathematics has been well-received here. Teachers say that it is challenging to teach the program, but that it's much more interesting. Parents seem to like it because of the Home Link connection which keeps them involved and current on what their children are learning."

   At Arrowhead Elementary, principal Ann Paunch comments, "The greatest PR for the program has been that the kids say they like doing math and they're really enjoying the subject. The real-world application is an important component and one that makes so much sense."

   There's definitely more teacher time involved in Everyday Math, according to Ann Mitchell, third grade teacher at East Ridge Elementary. She says, "I feel that the preparation is definitely a time commitment, but it's worth it. I love it because it's hands-on and practical, and I can bring in things that relate. Kids get to look for and use items that they find at home and in their community which tie right in to the concepts. They really seem to like it because it stretches them in ways they haven't been stretched before, and although this sometimes causes frustration, for the most part, the challenge is exciting to them. They are encouraged to make more decisions and show their work in a variety of ways."

   Mitchell does admit that this first year is a bit of a struggle for many children because they're seeing math in a different way and trying to learn the language of the program.

   Paunch agrees with this assessment and says, "Especially at the higher grades, 5th and 6th, we're seeing some gaps in learning because of the lack of background when introducing new terms and concepts. Students get frustrated at times due to not being able to master the knowledge immediately. Maybe they are used to getting 100% on their assignments and now their scores are lower. We all knew that this would happen and it's inherent in adopting a new curriculum, particularly one that is totally different from our old program."

   No curriculum is perfect, however, and Everyday Mathematics has its flaws, too. "Teachers still need to supplement in places and enhance the curriculum further," states Lesser. "They also realize that it is not a direct match to the learning required in the WASL. The amount of communication needed or demanded for the WASL is not completely filled by this program."

   One unique aspect of Northshore's implementation of Everyday Math is the cooperative effort between the district and the University of Washington Department of Applied Mathematics.

   "We have seventeen doctoral students in Applied Mathematics spending one day a week in our elementary schools helping to implement this curriculum," explains Feik. "This is a very special relationship and something that's not been done before around the nation, to my knowledge. These students are some of the brightest minds around, and they are spending time with elementary grade children. I really feel that Northshore has the ability to be a true leader in math with the adoption of this curriculum and the cooperative efforts of the U.W."