Math curriculum proves challenging

By Pat Sunderland


Math curriculum proves challenging | School, Math, Delta,Common Core

Photo by Pat Sunderland Although she finds the new GO! Math program very challenging, Regann Alsdorf says math is her favorite school subject. She takes her workbook home every night to complete the problems assigned in class. If she hits a roadblock, she

The school district's new math curriculum is experiencing some "growing pains," assistant superintendent Kurt Clay says, but he believes the long-term results will help the district meet its goals for student achievement.

The new curriculum more closely matches state standards, which are aligned with Common Core standards, and will hopefully address gaps in student learning that have shown up on state assessments, particularly for Delta County's middle school students.

"There's a buzz out there that we're force feeding kids a new Common Core math," Clay said, but as a math major and former math teacher, he sees the value behind teaching concepts, versus simply memorizing math facts.

"Does there still need to be memorization? Absolutely. Kids need to know their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts, but we feel if they know the concept behind those facts, they can retain the information at a much higher rate than they have in the past."

K-8 students are using the GO Math! program, which was chosen after months of research and month-long pilots at different grade levels across the district.

High school algebra and geometry texts are from Glencoe. At advanced math levels, students use college and AP texts.

The GO Math! program consists of a workbook for each chapter of study, plus online resources for both parents and teachers. Each school's website contains a GO Math! link for use at home. Parents and students can go online any time and get a follow-up lesson if the student did not grasp the concept in the classroom. Individual instruction is built in with a personal math trainer, which makes it easy for students to go back a step or two to master the concept with easier problems, or to challenge their math knowledge with more complex problems.

Students who forgot to take their workbooks home can pull up the lesson on their cell phone or home computer. Kids do their homework with paper and pencil, Clay said; the online resources simply enhance the lesson.

Video lessons can be reviewed by teachers beforehand or used by substitutes to continue with the math program.

The biggest difference parents notice is the expectation that students visually demonstrate concepts. Where older generations simply understood that 3+3+3=9, students are expected to "model" the concept on graphs or number lines.

"We want them to understand the rationale behind the problem," Clay said. "It expands their mathematical thinking tenfold and when they get to eighth grade and need the concept again, it comes easily to mind.

Carol Phelps, an early childhood instructor and former kindergarten teacher, agrees. "The more children are required to do the critical thinking, rather than just rote learning, the more they'll understand and learn in a lasting way."

Some parents admit it can be challenging to keep up with their children's lessons. "I spend as much time trying to check her homework as she did doing it," said Kami Collins, the mother of a second grader. It's not simply a matter of verifying the student's addition, but also assessing if they correctly explained how they arrived at the answer.

The transition has also been difficult for both Kirsten Alsdorf and her daughter Regann, who is in the fourth grade.

Regann's frustration, Kirsten said, comes from switching from four years of Saxon math to a challenging new curriculum with different terminology and skill expectations. "I know kids in middle school who are really struggling. The older you are, the harder it is to catch up, because you haven't had the foundation they would have if they'd started in kindergarten or first grade," Kirsten said. "And it was frustrating for me because I couldn't help her with it."

Understanding has increased for both of them, and by January Kirsten expects the curriculum will still be challenging, "but we'll know where they're coming from."

"If this curriculum helps her to be successful in math and science, we're going to make it work," Kirsten said. "Hopefully she will be a great math student." In the meantime, she assures Regann she only expects her to do her best.

"It's a very different approach, but in my opinion it's the correct approach," Clay said. "During our research, we found that the better the student understands the concept, the more successful they are when they reach Algebra II and higher math classes.

"When students bring their workbooks home, I hope parents are seeing that the homework is more challenging. We really encourage families to sit down and ask the questions -- How? Why? What makes it that way? What does the graph represent?"

To ease the transition for parents, Garnet Mesa Elementary School is hosting a parents' night this Thursday at 6 p.m.

For staff members, the school district has engaged two veteran educators. Tammy Shelton is working with K-5 teachers in the Delta community, and Ronda Pinckard is meeting with North Fork and Cedaredge teachers, going over math data and instructional strategies to help teachers become better teachers of math.

That's been a "huge plus," Clay said. Teachers also report they're seeing a higher level of student engagement.

And while the words "Common Core" can evoke strong political opinions, Clay said the standards themselves are rigorous, grade level appropriate, and designed to ensure our students can compete nationally and globally.