The Derry School Board somewhat reluctantly approved a new math curriculum for grades Kindergarten-5, but expressed concern that changing the textbooks and workbooks won’t necessarily result in better math grades or test scores.
Members of the Math Curriculum Committee presented their findings and their recommended choice of program to the School Board and television audience at the April 12 School Board meeting.
MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian, assistant superintendent in charge of curriculum, presented the program, enVisionmath2.0, along with Lisa Long, assistant principal at South Range Elementary School; Pam McDonald, a kindergarten teacher at Grinnell Elementary School; and Amy Landry, a fourth-grade teacher at Derry Village Elementary School.
Long reminded the board that the committee asked for approval for new curriculum maps in October 2013. The maps would be aligned with the new state standards and Common Core. “At that time, we did not ask for programs or materials,” Long said.
Instead, they researched programs and methods. In 2014-15 they piloted three programs, enVision, Go Math and Eureka, at all five elementary schools and at every grade level. They had meetings for feedback, analyzed NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) test results, and recommended enVisionmath2.0, published by Pearson.
“It is child-friendly and teacher-friendly,” Landry said.
The children are guided through the various facets of math by cartoon characters, whom they meet at the beginning of the year. In grades K-2, children focus on addition and subtraction, while in grades 3-5, the focus is on multiplication, division and fractions.
There is a wealth of materials and resources, Landry said. “Teachers can never say there is not enough.”
While Landry is a self-styled math person, the subject doesn’t come easily to other elementary teachers, but enVision gives the teacher guidance on how to ask the questions, Landry said. “You can be a math person with this program,” she said.
McDonald guided the board through a typical lesson. The first part is a “solve and share,” where they talk about a concept. This is accompanied by an “I can” statement, so student and parent will be clear on expectations.
The second part is a visual learning piece, usually done with a video, McDonald said. This further explores the concept, and students and teacher talk about it.
The third piece is independent practice, according to McDonald.
Landry explained a three-section video. First, a girl has to divide a pizza. “This makes fractions real,” Landry said. The second part of the video explains “equivalent fractions,” followed by a prompt and a chance to try it themselves.
The program comes with intensive professional development, both in special workshops and embedded in the curriculum, according to Connors-Krikorian. “Professional development is crucial to any program we want to see succeed,” she said.
The team is planning visits to school districts that have successfully implemented enVision2.0, Connors-Krikorian said. “We can learn from their successes, and also learn what doesn’t work,” she told the board.
Connors-Krikorian added, “Predicated on your approval, we will have some of the materials ready for teachers this spring. That will ease teachers’ anxiety before they leave for the summer.”
Superintendent Laura Nelson observed that as a former math teacher, she would like to see the materials accessible in May. The week before classes begin will be too late to absorb it, she said.
Connors-Krikorian said that while the manipulative kits won’t be in, the resource materials and teacher guide should be available before school lets out.
Member Michelle McKinnon asked if there would be issues for children transitioning to this program. Long said, “We are all following the same standards.” The curriculum committee will meet over the summer, Long said, and address any potential transition issues.
Connors-Krikorian said the order in which the units are taught may be different, but the core material is the same.
Landry said that for students who were in the Go Math pilot, the transition won’t be too difficult. “The structure is similar and the language is similar,” she said.
A “Bounce App” is accessible online and can help parents understand the concepts.
Board member Lynn Perkins asked what would happen if the Common Core standard were eliminated on a national level, and committee members said the curriculum would still be relevant.
“The standards are high, and it is our belief as a committee that we need consistency,” Connors-Krikorian said.
Regardless of who’s in Washington, the program is “good math material,” Long said. “It goes deep into the concepts.”
Perkins pressed, “What would you do if Common Core went away?” and Nelson said, “These concepts are recognized as exemplary by the National Council of Teachers of Math. There is problem-solving, critical thinking, concrete skills. It will carry us into 21st century math.”
Chairman Dan McKenna added that Common Core is still the standard in New Hampshire, regardless of what happens on a Federal level.
If the basic principles of math have not changed, what benefit is a new curriculum, McKenna asked.
Landry said the method of teaching and learning is different, with today’s children focusing on the “how” behind achieving an answer. “They need to know why a concept works, how it was developed,” she said. “There are no more ‘math robots.’”
“Math hasn’t changed,” Long said. “How to be a ‘math thinker’ has changed.”
The initial cost of $95,384 is within what was included in the 2016 budget as a place-holder, Connors-Krikorian said.
But members expressed concern that a program won’t fix the problem of lower scores and struggling kids. Member Brenda Willis said, “I looked at the graphic of the pizza, and it’s the same exercise my kids did 20 years ago.
“I’ve seen us make a lot of changes over the years, over and over,” she added. “I hear from a lot of parents that their students are crying at home over their homework. A lot of them struggled with the pilot programs.” And, she said, students not in the enVision2.0 pilot are already behind.
“It’s hard to try something new when you’re 6, 8, 10 – or a parent,” Willis observed. “I’m not sure we need a new curriculum. What we need is more and better professional development.”
Landry said the enVision2.0 program is structured to do that. “It gives teachers what they need to teach,” she said.
“Do we need professional development? Yes, but we need it connected to the program,” Landry said. “The concepts haven’t changed, but the methods of teaching have.”
Willis noted, “Some things we’ve tried in the past haven’t worked.”
Nelson observed that it is also a matter of equity, and of standardizing the curriculum across five elementary schools.
Perkins said he would like to see goals established for student learning, and to see the Smarter Balanced test scores before school begins. Nelson said she had expressed that desire in a recent meeting with the Commissioner of Education.
While students tuitioned out-of-district took the test with paper and pencil, most Derry students took it online and she thinks the results can be in the district by August, she said.
“I would like to see more goals established,” new member Derick Anderson agreed.
McKinnon said she supported the program. Her daughter, now in fifth grade, “personally benefited” from the enVision2.0 pilot and is in good shape for math when she goes to middle school this fall, McKinnon said.
The board voted unanimously to approve the purchase and implementation of the program.