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Shelby County Expands Eureka math District-wide

"I never thought they would get it, but they did."

Confronted with changes in state mathematics standards, educators in Shelby County Schools, Tennessee’s largest district, leapt at the opportunity to introduce a more rigorous and high-quality curriculum. This led them to pilot Eureka Math in 18 of the district’s schools during the 2016–2017 academic year. Following the pilot’s success, they are now implementing Eureka Math district-wide.  

As district staff, Thomasena Stuckett, instructional support manager, and Christine Bingham, K–12 math curriculum and instruction advisor, had a front-row seat to the pilot. They spearheaded the pilot and could correct course as needed, giving them invaluable insight on implementing Eureka Math, from GreatMinds.

Reach High and Focus on Long-Term Goals

After merging with the Memphis school system and shifting to the more challenging TNReady test, the administration wanted to ensure its students were prepared. “At the outset, improving overall curriculum rigor was a primary consideration,” Stuckett said. “Our superintendent was really intent on and outspoken about making sure we had challenging content in front of our students. Part of that is making sure the materials are rigorous, and we believe Eureka Math provides that.” 

District educators who led the implementation also emphasized the importance of teachers having the ability to properly prepare and customize the curriculum to plan lessons that would accommodate the shift to Eureka.

Support for Teachers and Parents is Essential

During the pilot, the district learned how critical professional development (PD) was for Eureka Math implementation. In the summer of 2016, Shelby County Schools offered more than 800 PD sessions in the district, increasing the number to over 1,000 sessions the following summer. “I suggest really thinking through how you roll out your PD,” Stuckett said. “Focus on what teachers need and when they need it.” 

Initially, both teachers and parents were concerned about Eureka Math’s unique approach with “This isn’t how we learned math” regularly being expressed. But the Great Minds teacher–writers facilitated relevant PD, provided online resources, and coached Shelby County teachers to help them understand how to best prepare and deliver the curriculum. Shelby County participated in module studies and the “Preparation and Customization” PD session to refine teachers’ focus and empower them to alter the lessons to meet their students’ needs and time constraints. And to ease parents’ concerns, the district sent home newsletters, provided Homework Helpers, and even hosted voluntary Eureka Math tutoring sessions for parents.

Student Engagement and Problem-Solving Skills Improve

The key shift from teacher-focused to student-focused learning almost immediately improved students’ engagement. Bingham said, “This new curriculum’s emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving takes time to reveal the improvement in student learning. Some teachers need to be reassured that it’s fine if students don’t show mastery at first because of Eureka Math’s cyclic nature that revisits topics and concepts. Just because you don’t see the light bulb come on right away doesn’t mean it won’t come on later!” 

Bingham also pointed out the interdisciplinary benefits of Eureka Math, which gives students additional opportunities to practice writing skills and improve reading comprehension through word problems and strategies such as the Read, Draw, Write strategy for problem-solving.

Increasingly, students speak enthusiastically among themselves about strategies to solve math problems and are more inclined to stick with difficult problems than giving up on them. 

I started seeing a lot of 'aha' moments while working with and observing teachers,” Stuckett said. “I particularly remember a teacher who taught at a lower-performing school and, like some colleagues, feared that her students just couldn’t do it. When asked how they were doing, she said, ‘I never thought they would get it, but they did.’ I love those moments!