Skokie School District 68 takes on new math curriculum
Skokie School District 68 math teacher Elizabeth Bottanari last week prepares for student demonstrations of a new math curriculum, Math In Focus. Students impressed the District 68 School Board in solving problems. | Mike Isaacs~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2012 9:32AM
“What does it look like and feel like to be a proficient student in mathematics?”
Perhaps no question better explains Skokie School District 68’s significant change to a new math curriculum this year that, by all accounts, has been a big hit. One thing is for sure: District 68’s program isn’t how you or your parents learned math.
Math In Focus, explained Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Laurie Heinz, de-emphasizes the kind of rote memorizing that was part of learning math in the classroom for decades.
“Kids didn’t learn why, only how,” Heinz said. “This program teaches children to think beyond the how.”
Math In Focus is largely connected to real-life problem solving and visualization, providing students with a richer understanding of the problems they are tackling.
Under the guidance of their teachers, District 68 first-, second- and fifth-graders last week demonstrated impressively just how the program works.
Using a white board in front of the District 68 School Board, they tackled different levels of problems from adding and subtracting to fractions, sharing new methods for deriving at the answers.
District 68 math scores have been solid for a long time, but the district has a regular curriculum review process. When math came up, the district assembled a hard-working Math Learning Team to research Math In Focus.
The year proved challenging for students and teachers alike, Heinz said.
Learning all of the program’s components, the team visited with national consultants four times. The program also had to align with state Common Core Standards in math.
“It’s important to have a great aligned curriculum but it’s even more important to have well trained teachers who know how to deliver the curriculum,” Heinz said.
Every lesson begins with direct instruction, Heinz said.
“That’s where you have that well-trained teacher in front of the room delivering targeted lessons to the students,” she said.
The next step is “guided practice,” which is more individualized instruction to meet students’ needs.
“We make sure not to ask the children to do anything that we haven’t really spent time modeling and making sure they have mastered,” she said.
A single problem-solving lesson is no longer delivered to all of the classroom’s students who then have the same “math experience.”
“This program takes into account that children are coming into mathematics at different grade levels with varied levels of ability,” Heinz said.
Students struggling with a concept may need to spend more time with a teacher before moving on, she explained.
Teachers are working hard to create a system where there are different lessons and levels of activity in a classroom, Heinz said. But the payoff has been well worth it.