How a blended program can change Common Core math

By Gina Piero
October 16th, 2015

One district looks at the changes a new blended math program for K-5 has brought

math-blendedIn the past few years, the Common Core has significantly altered the landscape in terms of mathematics education. For starters, it has demanded more focus, coherence, and rigor in the ways we teach math.

As a result, our district, Worthington City Schools in Ohio, has narrowed the amount of topics we cover at each grade level, diving deeper into each topic in order to gain solid conceptual understanding, a high degree of procedural skill and fluency, and the ability to apply math to solve problems inside and outside the classroom.

The Common Core has also required more coherence in our curriculum. This means the ability to think across grades and connect major topics within grades. The curriculum is carefully connected across grades so that students can build new understanding onto foundations built in previous years. In this way, each standard is more like an extension of previous learning than a totally new event.

Recently, we’ve added greater emphasis on exploration, giving students time to come up with multiple strategies on how to solve a problem, as well as the time to explain their mathematical reasoning. Math is not a “quiet” or a solo endeavor. Our students are encouraged and expected to work in pairs and small groups as they engage in math problems that build a deep conceptual understanding instead of basic memorization of algorithms. Teachers are expected to plan and create lessons based on the eight mathematical practices. They must also guide students with probing questions that encourage them to problem solve and use multiple attempts and strategies to come to a solution, instead of simply telling them answers.

A push for deeper learning

As an instructional coach, I’m often asked about the role of technology in math education. In response, I typically turn to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, whose official position on the subject makes it clear that both students and teachers must have regular access to technology that supports “sense making, reasoning, problem solving, and communication.” The goal is so that “Effective teachers optimize the potential of technology to develop students’ understanding, stimulate their interest, and increase their proficiency in mathematics.”

As part of our push toward integrating technology and the Common Core, we adopted a new curriculum in grades K-5, called Stepping Stones, which combines print books with online student activities and a central portal for teachers. The program, we felt, enabled our educators to integrate technology into our classrooms and gain access to the resources they need to assist students in engaging in higher order thinking to achieve deep understanding and mastery of math skills and concepts that are at the heart of the Common Core.

One of the biggest advantages it provides is preparing our educators for Common Core instruction through professional development, training, and information sessions. They are given the strategies they need to utilize the online portal’s resources, such as lesson plans, student activity pages, and teaching tools.

It also allows us to take a blended learning approach to our Common Core math instruction. Blended learning at the elementary level is different than the traditional definition. In the elementary classroom, we typically think of incorporating multiple instructional strategies, instead of the “sit and get” instructional model of long ago. In our classrooms, educator-direct instruction is minimal and there is much more student exploration and interaction, as well as some type of technology incorporated in most lessons.

It’s an approach that seems to be working. A joint study with Johns Hopkins University and ORIGO Education, the company behind the curriculum, recently measured the difference in growth and achievement of our students who received their core math instruction through the Stepping Stones math program compared to students who did not use the program, analyzing results of the NWEA Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) exam. The study, conducted in the first year of implementation, revealed some demonstrated gains from students using the program on standardized tests (namely, that 53 percent of tested students improved as much or more than their virtual control group, while 59 percent met or exceeded individual progress goals).

Although the study showed mixed results for some grade levels—who underperformed their control groups—the biggest gains were seen in first grade students, with nearly 80 percent meeting or exceeding their individual progress goals.

Beyond the MAP assessment scores, we’ve seen students further develop their thinking and reasoning skills. Educators have been able to differentiate classroom instruction and utilize methods to assess deep understanding of math concepts and skills to help achieve the goals on Common Core math instruction. And teachers have noted an increase in the demonstration of strong number sense in primary students.

Since this was only the first year students and teachers were using the program, there is the potential for even greater gains as both teachers and students continue to familiarize themselves with the program. It is simply the first step in providing all our students with a deeper, more meaningful math experience.

Gina Piero is student achievement coach at Worthington School District in Ohio.