This Math Curriculum Created by Teachers Is Raising Standards for Students Across the Country

This week we learned that a free math curriculum developed by classroom teachers around the country and rolled out just three years ago is now the most popular with educators nationwide, far surpassing the traditional textbook industry. That’s the finding of a new RAND study showing 57 percent of U.S. elementary teachers and 47 percent of secondary teachers use EngageNY/Eureka Math materials. This free online curriculum, known as an open educational resource, is aligned to new college- and career-ready standards. It was developed by the nonprofit Great Minds initially for New York State and has since been enhanced as Eureka Math . I was one of the teachers tapped to write the curriculum three years ago, and it’s so gratifying to hear that the materials are helping others. Teachers have typically been handed instructional materials and told to use them, regardless of their depth or quality. So I’m thrilled to learn from the study that most teachers now have more freedom in choosing their resources. They know the difference between materials written by practicing teachers and those written by traditional textbook publishers.

Here’s How It Worked

A group of classroom teachers and math experts from higher education worked in grade-level teams to review the new Common Core State Standards. We then wrote units, problem sets and sample lessons directly related to each standard. We also collaborated with K-12 colleagues so that the curriculum was cohesive and progressed logically from grade to grade. We seized the opportunity to raise expectations for our students and bring more balance to math instruction. We wanted to push our kids, helping them both compute efficiently and accurately— and acquire deep conceptual understanding of math, something I saw was lacking in my own third-and fourth-grade students. Too many didn’t have basic number sense and couldn’t grasp place value. If I gave them a three-digit number, they had difficulty seeing that 422 is the same as 422 ones, or 42 tens and 2 ones. At the elementary level, for example, teaching multiplication and division is not just about memorizing facts. Children have to know what it means to multiply and divide to be able to do it well, tackle more complex math, and apply what they’re learning toward solving real-world problems.

Seeing Progress

This week’s RAND study follows a review of the EngageNY/Eureka Math materials by the independent  EdReports.org which gave the curriculum the highest scores among all new K-8 instructional materials for their alignment to the standards, focus, coherence and usability in the classroom. Taken together, these studies show that empowering teachers to help write instructional resources makes sense. The changes to math education come at a critical time, given how poorly most American students perform in math. Early data show we are seeing  progress in districts that are using some combination of Eureka Math and/or EngageNY . Those success stories mirror what I am seeing in my own school. A small group of first-graders that I started working with in mid-October of this school year was having difficulty counting to 100, which is a kindergarten standard. I pulled resources from the EngageNY/Eureka Math curriculum to help them learn, including counting the “Say 10 way,” in which you count the place value of a number. So when you get to 11, for example, you’d say it as “ten one.” We also used visual models such as beaded counters and grids. These resources helped my students gain confidence in their counting and number sense. In fact, the group has long since progressed to counting to 120, which is a first-grade standard. I have no doubt these children will continue to grow as math scholars, and I’m more hopeful than ever that they won’t be alone but part of a new generation of American schoolchildren truly prepared to meet the demands of the future.
Saffron VanGalder lives and teaches in Van Etten, a rural community in upstate New York. She works full time as an elementary school math coach and continues to work part time as a writer for Eureka Math, published by the nonprofit Great Minds.

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