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MAKING SENSE OF MATH, NOT JUST FINDING THE ANSWER: A FIELD REPORT FROM BERKELEY, CA


Lori MacDonald is a K–5 math coach in the Berkeley (CA) Unified School District. She answers some of our questions and talks about how Eureka Math is affecting teaching and learning in the Northern California district, which serves nearly 10,000 students.

“It’s taking some time to get students, teachers, and parents to understand that our goal is about making sense of math, not in just finding the right answer.”


How is Eureka Math implementation going in Berkeley schools?

Student learning has been impacted in two areas: One, students have a better conceptual understanding of what’s going on when they’re performing operations or considering numbers. This sounds like a simple assertion, but it’s large and profound — students understand the math they are doing across the board much more than they have in the past. Two, students are more able to solve complex problems, explain their reasoning, and learn from their own and others’ errors. The tape diagram is one of the most useful models we’ve used; it’s helping us all, teachers and students alike, to reason abstractly and quantitatively before we start applying algorithms. Students are more likely to wonder, “What’s going on here and how can I represent it?” than to just start adding or dividing.

You’ve been working to help Berkeley parents understand the shifts in math instruction under new college- and career-ready standards and the aligned Eureka Math curriculum. Why do you see that as critical, and how has that been going?

Some of the models and methods for developing deep conceptual understanding in students seem laborious — you can get the right answer by doing a more simple procedure. So it’s taking some time to get students, teachers, and parents to understand that our goal is about making sense of math, not in just finding the right answer. This means we need to give students time to learn the models, however clunky they might seem in any given week. And we need to encourage our students and children to explain their thinking, explain what they know about the models they’re using.

How have teachers in your district shifted their instructional practices under Eureka Math?

The instruction is definitely more focused and coherent. The teachers are less confused about the math they’re learning. It’s also been a big stretch with the rigor in many grades (depending on the module), so we are all building our capacity to persevere in problem solving.