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When Teachers Help Choose the Curriculum, Students Win

Editor’s note: The following blog by elementary-school teacher Rebecca Bedard shows how the process of introducing Eureka Math to schools can be smoother when teachers are involved at the front end.

In the spring of 2015 our district, made up of three schools in rural New Hampshire, decided we needed one math program for grades K-8. A small team of administrators narrowed the seemingly limitless choices of math programs to two. My colleagues and I discussed our top “wants” in a math program: rigor, the integration of technology, and inclusion of differentiated resources that would both extend and support our learners. Our principal split each of our grade-level teams in half in the fall of 2015. Each team was asked to pilot the two math programs. In our neighboring middle school, a similar experience got under way. I was lucky enough to pilot Eureka Math and immerse myself in the rigor Eureka has to offer for a full year.

As the school year started, my colleagues and I spent a lot of time discussing the pros and cons of each program and comparing resources and student work. We met weekly to discuss how each program performed against our evaluation criteria: content, assessment, materials, grade-span alignment, and structure. A Google survey of all teachers piloting the curricula also helped clarify our preferences across both schools. Based on these survey results, it was decided that all classrooms would adopt Eureka, beginning in January of 2016, as it was ranked the clear winner relative to the other program.

Starting in January, all of our staff moved to Eureka if they weren’t already in the group using it.

The challenges of transitioning to Eureka last year paid off this school year as we’ve all started on the same page and are all using great material. The work we put in evaluating the alternatives and gaining teacher feedback was worth it. Our teachers understand why we’re using Eureka and are working hard to implement it well, and our learners are making deep connections in math and showing joy in the subject.

My own class of fourth-graders started the year off studying place value, and their understanding of this concept soared with Eureka as our guide. When looking at the number 5,000, for example, they know immediately that the “5” is in the thousands place and that 5,000 is ten times as much as 500 — they can break numbers down without any problem and have a deeper understanding of the value of numbers. Before, that just wasn’t so easy for them.

Student work from Rebecca’s classroom.

Another thing I’ve noticed since we became a Eureka school is the math conversations in our classrooms are much more lively than before. Children do application problems in class with partners, and there is a lot of conversation that goes into this exercise. They talk about what to highlight in a word problem and discuss what they need to solve. Then, they walk through the steps together and discuss what strategies might work best. Kids just didn’t have the chance to converse about math to this degree in the past.

While we don’t have assessment data yet, the work our students are turning out is exceptional. You can see their thinking in the work they hand in. They often show the step-by-step way they solved a problem. That allows me to see their mental process and helps me feel confident they understand the math on a deep level. Without a doubt, our students are gaining a clear understanding of the why’s of math and are also showing success and enjoyment in the subject.

Our teachers, too, have a new excitement about a program that helps give children a much deeper understanding of numbers and math concepts than anything we’ve used in the past. I feel fortunate we found Eureka Math and look forward to the years to come and seeing what the data will show as time goes on. It’s already abundantly clear, though, that students and teachers benefit from a strong curriculum and strong implementation of that curriculum.

Rebecca Bedard teaches fourth grade at Gilford Elementary School in Gilford, New Hampshire.