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A veteran educator with 18 years of teaching, Kari Fiutak serves as an instructional coach in Kenmore-Tonawanda, a district outside Buffalo, NY, that serves about 7,300 students. She recently shared some of her experiences using Eureka Math.

How did you get started with Eureka Math?

Nine teachers piloted the curriculum last year. I was the only 4th grade teacher. We were very eager because we knew our current resources weren’t rigorous enough. Our principal was very supportive, and as chair of the Elementary Math Committee, he and the entire team were quite interested in the pilot. After a month, the grade 3 team in my school decided to get on board with the pilot as well. As it became clear that this resource was a compelling choice for our needs, our math team decided to begin implementation in all grade 2–5 classrooms during the May/June segment of the year and launch full K-5 implementation for the fall of 2015.

What were some of your experiences and results?

It was rough at times, for me and for my students and families. I liken the challenge to walking into a movie in the middle. A Story of Units is built on a strong understanding of unit language, so it was challenging for my fourth graders to catch up on what they had missed in previous years. Families struggled some with homework and new ideas about how to learn math.

I had a class meeting after a couple [of] months and asked students how they thought things were going. I remember how surprised I was by their feedback. They said that even though the math was harder, they enjoyed it more. To my astonishment, they pointed to the daily exit tickets and explained that this year, they could see clearly where they were successful and where they might have gaps. They really loved the daily exit tickets and believed they could continue to improve with such frequent feedback.

Did your students make progress?

One area of growth that was exciting to see was on Eureka’s mid- and end-of-module assessments. The last question on these assessments is always very rigorous, involving many steps and a novel application of the learning from that module. Many students got low scores on these questions early in the year, but over time they improved. They could really feel their perseverance and problem solving strengthen. This was very powerful for many of my students. They also definitely made clear progress on their STAR assessments, with more students on grade level at the end of the year.

What help did you provide to parents?

There was definitely some resistance [from parents]. In many cases, when parents had more information, they could see the strength of the approach. This was math that went beneath the surface of a procedural approach. The Lafayette Parish website was a huge help, especially in grade 4. They had terrific videos and newsletters that provided great support for families. It was very interesting to see that by the spring parent conferences, several families volunteered that their child had never been so excited about learning math. They could see the stamina and perseverance growing in their child at home as well as at school.

This summer, we developed more detailed parent packets to offer stronger support for home. We are hosting a series of family math nights this fall that have been well-attended. We actually made problem sets for parents to try some of the newer strategies, such as number bonds or computation with place value disks, and they have participated with enthusiasm. Parents have asked good and productive questions and we’ve gotten very positive feedback from these events.

So what’s next for your classrooms?

All of our teachers worked hard this summer, formally studying modules, fluency, and tape diagrams at our summer math institute, which featured Eureka Math teacher-writers from grades K–5. Our district has put two teachers on special assignment to support the implementation, and training continues through the school year. We are networking with neighboring districts and teachers to try and cross-pollinate best practices for instruction and coaching.

It’s a pleasure to work with the folks at Great Minds. This summer, when we were revising our report cards, we knew there might be some concerns with potential revisions to the modules. I reached out to Adam Baker, one of the writers we had trained with. Within six hours, he’d networked with writers in all grades. That was so refreshing. That just doesn’t happen with publishers.

Want to read more from Kari? Check out her blog post “Starting Somewhere: Updating Report Cards to Support Implementation of Eureka Math” here.

© Great Minds 2016