Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Rigors of Math

Conferences are behind us and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Before we know it we will be halfway through the year! Now that we have really gotten deep into the school year, and you have had an opportunity to visit with your child's teacher a few questions have emerged about our new math curriculum. We really appreciate the fact that you are reaching out to your child's teacher with insight and feedback. Rich conversations are continuing with building level administration as this implementation continues. Some of the questions that have surfaced have surrounded the rigor of the curriculum, how curriculum is selected, and why we found it necessary to change curriculum in the first place. 

All are fantastic questions and the answers are somewhat related. First, there is no mistaking the fact that the curriculum is more difficult and rigorous than we have had in the past. Why? Well, the curriculum that we have adopted is aligned to the Iowa Core. All school districts in Iowa are required to adopt the Iowa Core Curriculum so this was a necessary consideration when evaluating curriculum resources. This is also a partial answer to the other question; why we found it necessary to change in the first place. The simple answer is that what we were using wasn't aligned to the Core very well.

Another important consideration was the fact that the District had not done a major curriculum adoption in more than a decade. The teaching resources predated the Core (a primary reason for the misalignment with the Core), were not in very good shape, and did not provide the necessary rigor. One common comment that has been shared by the faculty over the past several years is that there is a need for updated teaching material. Until recently the district was not in a financial position to update those resources. Furthermore, the new curriculum uses proven research based strategies and a methodology that is proven to be effective. For example, you may notice that there is much more reading in this curriculum, which is by design. This helps the students to develop their critical thinking skills and to solve real life mathematical problems that are more indicative of what it means to live in a 21st Century environment.

The next question has to be, how is the curriculum selected? Well, first we do a bit of legwork to see what other districts are using and what the strengths and weaknesses are of the different options. Our administrators spent a lot of time talking with their colleagues and it was narrowed down to two options, of which we selected Envision Math. We contacted vendors of both companies and had the opportunity to examine the curriculum and to test some of the lessons out to see how they worked. At the end of the process, the teachers rated the two programs and they rated Envison the highest. Mr. Schlatter presented his findings to me, and I asked a bunch of questions. Once I was satisfied, I recommended the Board adopt this curriculum. After they asked a bunch of questions they voted to adopt the curriculum that is now in your child's backpack. 

So here we are! Our implementation has not been without hiccups and will continue to present challenges through the remainder of the year. This is very normal and expected during any curriculum adoption. Neighboring districts that have adopted this curriculum (and others) are experiencing the same growing pains as us. The good news is that we have supports with these districts and the AEA, and we have a built in system of support with our PLC initiative. In addition to that, we are visiting with our faculty and gathering data on what types of implementation challenges they are experiencing so we can make adjustments as the adoption unfolds. Some of these adjustments include such things as the pacing of the material and additional professional development on some of the methodology embedded throughout.

Is it harder? You bet it is--but we certainly wouldn't want it to be easier now, would we?

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