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Last year, Sally Todorow shared her experiences as the Math Instructional Coach at Kuumba Academy Charter School in Wilmington, DE. This year, she switched back to the classroom, teaching 5th graders at Carrcroft Elementary in the nearby Brandywine School District. She shared her observations about the changes she’s seeing.

What’s new for you this year?

I’m back in the classroom for the first time in five years in the school district where I started. I’m trying out all the things I’ve been telling people to do as a Math Specialist and Instructional Coach. Many teachers were telling me that teaching all of the Common Core grade level standards is too much; you can’t teach it all in one year. I wanted to see if that’s true.

I joined Carrcroft Elementary because, as a “Focus School” (a school receiving targeted state funds to increase performance) they were making changes to the curriculum and instruction that really intrigue me. As a classroom teacher, I am working directly with curriculum writers and researchers, and the professional development team from the University of Delaware.

The changes began with reading and writing at this school. This staff is very open to learning. The administrators are understanding and supportive and ready to add mathematics as a focus. I hope to be a support to my colleagues through sharing materials and assisting with the trainings planned. I am excited to be starting with a Parent Night this November. The school leaders understand the demands of the Common Core State Standards and they’re much more aware change can be messy, and that math classes might be noisy these days!

How is it going?

Each year students are so much more ready. My 5th graders came this year knowing number bonds, area models, and place value charts. It kind of blew my mind. Five years ago, kids just didn’t know these models and resisted focusing on “strategies.” They’ve now had two years of Eureka Math (fourth year of implementation in middle schools) and Singapore Math before that. You can see the difference.

I’m also seeing a lot more support in general, tools like Homework Helpers, Module Tip Sheets, tons of teacher materials created by educators all over the United States. Our district has been busy with teacher support, providing and creating materials including assessments.

How has your instruction changed?

When I last taught in 2010–11, I was using EngageNY materials, but I was still doing primarily all direct instruction, using the suggested “dialogues” in the material. Now, I am able to more easily target the material for the students in front of me. I’m doing much more small group time and incorporating technology, when possible. I try not to do more than 15–20 minutes of direct instruction at the beginning of the (60 minute) class. I enjoy it more and the kids are more motivated.

You also are teaching a new generation of teacher candidates at a local university. Tell us about that.

This is my 6th year of teaching Math Concepts for Teachers — the content part of their training — at Wilmington University, using Scott Baldridge’s textbook, Elementary Math for Teachers [Note: Scott serves as the lead writer/mathematician for Eureka Math/EngageNY.] Each semester, I have two sections of 22 candidates each. It used to be an elective but now it’s a requirement. Teacher prep is a passion.

I’m very proud this course. It’s fun to show adults the advantages of Common Core! They’re re-learning math. A lot of them are parents, too. They say, “This will help me so much with my kids’ homework. Thank you.” Or on discussion boards they say, “I used mental math at the store this weekend.” They’re so proud. I look forward to the new teachers carrying an enthusiasm for math into their future classrooms.