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Q&A with a Curriculum Fellow: Jessica Noh

Jessica Noh is a Grade 1 teacher at Porter Ranch Community School, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District. This is her fourth year of teaching in Los Angeles. She has also taught in South Korea as a Fulbright teaching grant recipient and taught writing to middle-school students as a college student in Baltimore City.

Curriculum Fellow Jessica Noh

When did you first start using the Eureka Math curriculum, and how did that come about?
During my first year of teaching at Porter Ranch, my school’s curriculum coordinator presented me with the opportunity to pilot Eureka Math in my Grade 3 classroom. She knew that the math curriculum I was using did not offer as much challenge or rigor for my students. I was eager to try something different and excited to partner with a curriculum writer! That year, I worked closely with one of the Eureka Math Grade 3 writers, Susan Lee, and learned a great deal from watching her teach demo lessons. She also gave me good feedback on my teaching and implementation.

How is the Eureka Math curriculum different from others you’ve used?
This is my fourth year of teaching, but I have worked with three different math curricula. Of the three, Eureka Math is most aligned with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. It is rigorous and challenging, and it operates at a quick pace that my students appreciate. Yet it dives deep into number sense—it empowers students to work with numbers in a variety of ways and challenges them to reflect on the relationships between numbers. Though it is challenging, I know my students will emerge from their mathematical experience with confidence and flexibility in thinking. 

How has using Eureka Math influenced your teaching? 
I wish I had learned math the Eureka Math way when I was in school! I know that teaching in this way has challenged my approach to math. I used to view math as just a series of computations and formulas that existed for the sole purpose of being memorized and applied—“plug and chug.” But as I began teaching Eureka Math, I experienced a complete paradigm shift.

 It was also rewarding and gratifying to see my students learn so much. Some definitely struggled with the curriculum in the beginning, but all were enthusiastic about mathematics by the end of the year. The biggest challenge was convincing parents of the program’s merits. So many of them were not accustomed to seeing mathematics presented in this way, and they were highly skeptical—just as I was at first. With time, however, my students became the greatest testament to the effectiveness of the curriculum and their parents were won over. 

Why did you apply to become a Eureka Math Curriculum Fellow?
I wanted to inform the curriculum writing process with my practical knowledge of the classroom setting and my work with Grade 1 students. I also wanted to help my colleagues who are trying to implement the curriculum with fidelity. I also hope this experience will help me become a better math teacher. I would love for every one of my students to move on to Grade 2—and beyond—with confidence in their math skills and a passion for mathematics in general.

What will you work on as a Fellow?
I will participate in some coherence studies and write blog entries about the curriculum. At my school, I will also work with my grade-level team to field questions, feedback, and concerns about Eureka Math. I hope to host a Eureka Math Night for Grade 1 parents. I want to learn as much as possible from other Fellows and writers and help in any way I can!

Why is it so important to have teachers involved in vetting and improving curriculum?
I think we often view teachers as practitioners of a curriculum that has been designed by a distant company. But teachers are the ones who can attest to daily instructional outcomes. As we incorporate teachers’ feedback and ideas into the curriculum, we can keep the curriculum relevant and teachers’ skills sharp.

Curriculum is the heart and soul of our practice. Sound and rigorous curriculum has the potential to shape the quality of student thinking, reasoning, and questioning, which are essential components of the Common Core State Standards.

Why do you think curriculum receives so little attention compared to other educational issues?
Recent conversations about education have revolved around results and metrics, all of which are connected to evaluations and testing. I believe that evaluations, testing, and parent involvement are all key elements of our educational system, but we need to examine and invest deeply in the type of curriculum we are implementing before we can even begin talking about evaluations and testing.

In my opinion, people find grades, performance results, and outcomes more compelling. But shouldn’t the question be: “What materials and teaching methods are guiding student learning?” I believe that curriculum should be the starting point of any dialogue about student evaluations, testing, and even parent involvement. 

What are your aspirations as an educator?
I hope to stay in the classroom for a few more years. I am still in the early stages of my career, so I am interested in honing my craft as a traditional classroom teacher. Eventually, I would like to work with both students and teachers—doing focused intervention for students who are struggling in math and mentoring new teachers who need guidance as they navigate the tricky terrain of classroom management and curriculum.

My ultimate aspiration is to witness students grow deeper in their understanding and passion for mathematics. As a Curriculum Fellow, I’ve learned so much just from being a part of the weekly meetings. When I recently told my Grade 1 class that I regularly speak with the writers of their math problems, jaws dropped all around the classroom. They were impressed!