Heidi Strate is a middle school teacher and an instructional coach in the Balsz School District, a low-income district with four K-8 schools in Phoenix, Arizona. After she and a few other teachers piloted EngageNY Math (Eureka Math) in spring 2014, the district formally adopted it in the 2014-15 school year.
WHY DID YOU BECOME A TEACHER? I didn’t plan on becoming a teacher, but I was working at a nonprofit and volunteering in schools, and saw a great social need, especially around educational equality and social justice. I thought this is where I could have the biggest impact on addressing poverty and closing the achievement gap. I majored in literature in college but passed the math test for teaching. It’s in my DNA. My father is a Ph.D. in math and is very happy I’ve made this choice. I really love it.
WHY DID YOU BECOME A EUREKA CURRICULUM FELLOW? The idea of writing and revising curriculum on a more global level was really appealing. Right now, I’m working with a small group examining volume in Eureka Math and its coherence from grades 5 through 10.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF BEING A CURRICULUM FELLOW? To see the intentionality and deep conceptual reasoning in the curriculum is really eye-opening. I love being able to take it back to my school and district and say, “See, this is why that concept is here.”
Back in my district, I’m still working with teachers, having grade-level meetings and illuminating a problem set and sharing resources. I’m having deep conversations on fluency and rigor with principals and the administrative team, and it has really helped me refresh my own practice in the classroom.
WHY IS CURRICULUM SO IMPORTANT? Because the standards are so much more complex, you need a curriculum to have coherence from the lower grades through grade 12, to guide teachers and students in a structured way.
Eureka Math has real empathy for teachers and learners. You can’t just throw complex, rigorous problems at them without understanding how brains develop, how to provide scaffolding, and create pathways that go from the concrete to the pictorial to the abstract.
WHY SHOULD TEACHERS HELP DEVELOP CURRICULA? Getting together to have grade-level conversations about lessons allows teachers to be so much more intentional and prepared in their instruction, and to really understand the “why” of certain concepts before they present them to students.
The major textbook publishers are so disconnected from the actual work in classrooms. Eureka is so committed to its teacher-writers, which is so admirable. Having them involved from the beginning sends a powerful statement of where educational improvement really comes from — the teachers.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE USING ENGAGENY/ EUREKA MATH? It was a huge learning curve for me and others at first. The rigor was a lot to handle. We previously didn’t have a curriculum and I liked my autonomy in designing lessons, but we saw tremendous benefits for students.
Before the new standards, students could show how they got to the answer. Now they can also show the "why." “I saw this because of this.” “I used this model because…” They have a much deeper sense of the connections of concepts, and a more robust vocabulary to explain their reasoning.
We noticed an overall increase at my school in math proficiency in all grade levels except 8th grade in the percentage of students passing from our first to our third year of implementing EngageNY Math (Eureka Math) as our curriculum. The most significant gains were in Grade 6 (13% overall increase from Year 1 to Year 3) and Grade 7 (5% overall increase).
Over half of our staff turned over between the 2015 and 2017 tests, but for the three teachers who worked at the school and taught EngageNY Math (Eureka Math) consistently there was significant score improvement, which speaks to the power of learning the curriculum deeply over several years, and implementing faithfully/consistently over time.