Great Math News from City Springs School In Baltimore

For the last year, I’ve been working with City Springs Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore. Here’s a short description from the school’s website:

City Springs Elementary/Middle School is a neighborhood charter school operated by the Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP). We are a conversion charter school, which means we were an already existing Baltimore City Public School that was taken over by an outside operator to bring innovative and research-based curriculum and other programs to enhance the school. To learn more about BCP, click here.

City Springs logoInitially, the school was seeking help with its Middle School math. After I made a pair of on-site visits at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, Dr. Rhonda Richetta, Principal of City Springs, decided to adopt Singapore’s Primary Mathematics Common Core Edition.

I’ve returned to City Springs periodically this year to provide continuing support as the school’s teachers and coaches adopted a Singapore Math® curriculum. The school is making remarkable progress, and I want to share stories written by some of City Springs’ dedicated teachers about the students’ growth during the year.

I’ve clipped an excerpt from each story with teachers’ observations and very valuable insights about the program and why it is working so well for their students. Please click on the links to read complete stories from the school’s website. I love the photos of students showing off their skills and having fun with math!

Ms. Schoenleber: Introducing Singapore Math  (November 2015) “Classroom manipulatives have helped our kids get better at problem solving and justifying their answers for tough math problems.”

Ms. Hagemann: It’s More than Just a Game (November 2015) “One way to get stronger in mental math is by use math-based games to reinforce basic concepts and encourage mathematical thinking…Students in Ms. Hageman’s class love mental math games!”

Ms. Smith: Moving Ahead in Math (February 2016) “Singapore Math has been very challenging but it has also been very rewarding, and they have especially loved the use of manipulatives in class.”

Ms. Barry: Stepping Up to the Ratio Challenge (February 2016) “Ratio problems can be really tricky. Sometimes these multi-step problems are so challenging that we spend 15, 30, or even 45 minutes on one problem! Our students love to rise to the challenge, and have grown so much in their math skills with these complex problems.”

Ms. Barry’s also class wanted to challenge readers to solve a ratio problem they worked on. How did you do?

Ms. Lineberry:  Introducing Fractions  (May 2016) “At first, we struggled to figure fractions out. Trying to wrap our minds around halves and fourths proved difficult at first. Things became a little clearer after we started using “manipulatives,” hands-on objects used to illustrate math concepts.”

Ms. Williams: Knowing All the Angles (May 2016) “Students began their geometrical journey by learning how to measure angles…Later, they will start learning to measure geometric angles made by two lines emanating out of the center of a circle, and eventually beginning exploring the complex world of geometry formulas.”

Working with City Springs has been one of the most rewarding and enjoyable assignments of my career. Teachers have embraced the challenge of adopting a new program and students are making wonderful progress. I can’t wait to see their growth in Year Two! Thank You, City Springs!

[Full disclosure: My work assignment at City Springs is contracted through Staff Development for Educators.] Scridb filter

How can I fit it all in?

In 2015, Beth wrote about the Primary Mathematics adoption process at St. Anne’s-Belfield School. Here’s an update on the school’s progress.


stab_logoAs the year winds down and I look back at all that my students have learned this past year, I still feel panicked at what’s left to be covered.  This is the end of a 3-year adoption cycle of Primary Mathematics and while I’ve been able to cover more curriculum than in the previous 2 years, I am still left wondering, “How can I fit it all in?”

In the fall of 2013, we adopted the Primary Mathematics curriculum in Kindergarten through sixth grades.  We knew this would come with its challenges but felt strongly that if we were going to offer our students the “world’s best mathematics curriculum,” then we needed to offer it to all, not just those who made the K, 1, 2 cut.

With this plan, we knew there would be time spent filling in holes in our first year, teaching skills and concepts that the students were missing, and building a solid foundation in number sense and place value.  We accepted the fact that we would not cover all of the curriculum that first year, and worked with Cassy Turner to develop a sequence for each grade level that included teaching critical lessons from prior grade levels.

Year 2Beth with grade 4 student

In the second year, teachers were feeling a sense of relief.  We’d made it through that challenging first year.  We experienced the curriculum from start to finish, well – at least our version of it, and we felt confident.  We weren’t faced with the need to back-teach (as much). Our students entered the year having learned and retained a deeper understanding of those critical math concepts.

With Cassy’s advice, we created a new plan for our second year.  We knew the lessons that had been skipped the previous year and teachers worked together to map out a Kindergarten through sixth-grade sequence that allowed us to get further through the content, and more importantly, accounted for previously omitted lessons.  If we didn’t teach a lesson on geometry to our third graders our first year, we made sure those students would get those lessons in fourth grade our second year.

The year ended, and our standardized test scores showed slight increases in problem solving and algebra readiness, both areas of statistical concern with our previous curriculum.

Year 3

Entering year three, we felt confident in our abilities to deliver lessons.  Along with our students, our staff had developed a deeper, conceptual understanding of math.  We were able to effortlessly explain new concepts, differentiate on the fly, and anticipate misconceptions.  We incorporated anchor tasks, journaling and finally had a grasp on how to effectively use all of the materials.

We entered the year with the goal of teaching the entire curriculum.  Halfway through the year we were teaching material nearly a month ahead of our previous two years and felt really good about it.  Then came…

  • rehearsals for performances
  • grandparents’ day presentations
  • spring field trips…
  • field day…
  • and all sorts of other school commitments.

By April, we had just about lost the scheduling lead that we had enjoyed in December.

So, here I find myself once again faced with the task of choosing one lesson over another and prioritizing the importance of skills and concepts that I may or may not have the time to teach.  Fortunately, the list to choose from is smaller than in the years before. I’ve been able to cover almost all of the material, nearly reaching the goal.

I consider myself lucky to have been in a situation of specializing in math in the lower grades over the past 3 years.  I have been able to experience the strengths of the sequence, which in my mind, is one of the pillars of success of a Singapore Math curriculum.  Going forward, I know it will be easier to thoughtfully prioritize content to eliminate the risk of creating gaps or holes in student learning that could potentially weaken their foundation.

As I leave the school, I look forward to bringing this wealth of knowledge that I gained over the past 3 years to Math Champions and look forward to assisting other schools that are facing the question of, “How can I fit it all in?”

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Meet Beth Curran, Singapore Math® Trainer

In 2008, I left teaching in the classroom to champion Singapore Mathematics and expand its reach to elementary schools and children everywhere. Looking back on the past eight years, I am amazed by the incredible opportunities I’ve had to help schools and teachers make math from Singapore work for every child in every classroom.

graphDemand for my training and coaching services has grown every year; recently, it has become impossible to accommodate all the schools looking for help with their math instruction.

Expanding has been on my radar for several years, but I did not want growth to affect the quality of professional development services. To take this important step, I needed a candidate who has stellar credentials as a teacher/trainer/coach AND who shares my passion for elementary math.

I’m delighted to share some exciting news. After eight years as a one-person consultancy, I am hiring my first employee.

Introducing Beth Curran

Beth Curran Preschool – 6th Grade Math Department Chair, St. Anne’s-Belfield School Singapore Math Teacher and Trainer

In a 13-year career, Beth Curran has taught mathematics in Kindergarten through 4th Grade as both a classroom teacher and a Singapore Math® specialist. Beth is currently the Lead Math Teacher and Math Department Chair at St. Anne’s-Belfield School, an independent Pre-K-12 school in Charlottesville, Virginia. At St. Anne’s, she oversaw the successful adoption of Primary Mathematics, guiding a team of teachers and partnering with administrators and parents.

Beth wrote about the St. Anne’s implementation here.

What do Beth’s Colleagues say about her impact?

The transition for our faculty to Singapore Math was daunting at first.  The unknown can always challenge teachers and schools.  Yet, Beth, as a member of a team of newly-minted math specialists, provided key expertise and wise counsel to her colleagues.  The result was a palatable sense of relief as the new math vision was manifested daily by strong instruction.  She enabled our teachers and school to move confidently in this new direction.
– Fred Chandler, Associate Head of School for Academics, St. Anne’s – Belfield School

There is a depth to Beth Curran’s teaching, and–through her example and through many discussions–she has helped me deepen my own teaching.  She prioritizes true mastery of worthy concepts.
– Karen LeMaire, Kindergarten through 4th Grade Math Specialist, St. Anne’s – Belfield School

Beth has provided professional development and ongoing support services to other Virginia schools that have implemented Singapore Math curricula, as well as hosting several informational sessions to schools interested in the Singapore approach. In addition, she has presented at State and regional math educator conferences. Beth is a dedicated, award-winning teacher, presenter, mentor and advocate of making quality mathematics education accessible to all students.

Beth says, “I’m so excited to share all that I’ve learned on my own Singapore Math journey with educators throughout the country, and beyond.”

I’m thrilled that Beth will be joining me in June. Welcome to the team, Beth!

P.S. In addition to hiring Beth, I’ve also formed a new company, Math Champions Professional Development, LLC. More on that development coming soon.

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4,000 Teachers, 100,000 Students: Celebrating 7 Years with BER

DSC_0797 (2)In 2008, I left teaching in the classroom to champion Singapore Mathematics and expand its reach to elementary schools and children everywhere. The following year, the Bureau of Education and Research (BER) gave me an amazing opportunity to pursue this goal by presenting Singapore Math workshops throughout North America.

Some attendees at my BER seminars came with prior knowledge about the Singapore curriculum, but a bigger number were being introduced to Math from Singapore for the first time.

At a Seattle workshop earlier this year, BER’s Mark Ita surprised me (and other attendees) by presenting me with a handsome plaque, which read, in part:

In Recognition of Your Distinguished Teaching and Your Outstanding Contribution to the Education Profession

4,000 Teachers, 100,000 Students

DSC_0800 (1)The stats scribbled on a Post-It Note on the back of the plaque included some tangible data to support this statement:

  • 165 Seminars
  • 4,000 Teachers
  • Over 100,000 Students
2016-05-12 (1)

Cassy with BER’s Mark Ita

It is highly satisfying to know that I have impacted this number of teachers and students through my BER presentations. On the other hand, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that there are about 35.2 million Pre-K to Grade 8 students in the United States. Clearly, there is much more work to be done!

I am very grateful to BER for giving me the opportunity to present Singapore Math workshops on their behalf over the past seven years. Sincere thanks to Rich, Boyce, Mark, Nargis, Lisa and the entire travel logistics team, and the dozens of project managers who have provided encouragement and support along the way. Thank you so much!

 

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Assessing Bar Model Solutions

It’s important in a Singapore style program for students to understand bar model drawing as a tool to help visualize relationships between the known and unknown in a word problem. It helps students see the algebraic structure in problems in a more concrete manner.  Developed by a Primary Mathematics Project team of the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore in the 1980’s, the Model Method for problem solving (as it’s known in Singapore) was designed as a pictorial stage to help students learn abstract mathematics.

The model method has been incorporated into the Progressions documents for the Common Core State Standards for Math (CCSSM) as a “tape diagram”. The CCSSM glossary defines a tape diagram as:

“A drawing that looks like a segment of tape, used to illustrate number relationships. Also known as a strip diagram, bar model, fraction strip, or length model.”

As such, bar models are becoming ubiquitous in elementary schools. Books have been written about Singapore’s model method, my favorite being  The Singapore Model Method for Learning Mathematics:

Model Method


There’s plenty to be covered with bar models, and I thought I’d share answers to the most commonly asked questions I get from teachers on model drawing:

How do you get kids to draw models when they already know the math?
How do you assess them?

When models are introduced in Singapore textbooks, the problems are very simple and students will typically know what operation to use. The first part whole models in Primary Mathematics, Common Core Edition are in the 3A textbook:
Sum and difference

And the first part-whole model lessons in Math in Focus are in 2A:
MiF 2A models

Those are pretty easy word problems and most kids are waving their hands, with that “I KNOW the answer” look on their faces. It’s important to reiterate to students, “I’m sure you know the answer and even the equation to get there. What we’re learning today is a new way of drawing a model for our word problem so that we can work with more challenging problems in third grade. Problems like”:

A father shares $60 among his three sons and one daughter. If the daughter gets twice the amount that each son gets, how much money does his daughter receive?

or from 4A
Number of boy and girls in school

We’ll come back to that one.

When assessing word problems, the solution method is a significant part of the answer. Students should expect to show their work to get full credit for a problem. As a teacher, it’s important to keep in mind that there is no one-way to draw a bar model.

A word problem might consist of points for the method of solving as well as points for correct computation and answers. To encourage students to draw and become proficient with bar models, I have used a rubric for assessment:

  • 1 point for a representative diagram – Does the model make mathematical sense?
  • 1 point for correct labeling, including the “?”  to represent what is unknown.
  • 1 point for computation on the first step and, if more than one step…
  • 1 point for computation on the second or more steps
  • 1 point for a correct answer in a complete sentence

Let’s look at an example. This is a student-written two-step word problem from third grade:

Natasha and Analisa Meatballs

Does the bar model make sense? +1 point

Are the bars labeled? Are question marks in the correct places? +1 point

Is the computation to figure out the value of one unit correct? 384 ÷ 6 = 64 +1 point

How about the computation on the second step? 64 x 5 = 320 +1 point

Is the answer in a complete sentence? +1 point

So, what’s the deal with the 64 ÷ 6 equation? A byproduct of requiring students to show their work is that oftentimes, they will leave work on the paper, just in case. As a teacher, I love that this provides me with some insight into this student’s thought process:

I’m pretty sure I know what I’m doing, but I still am a little confused.

Which is exactly what the student said when I asked her about the extra equation. She realized her answer couldn’t be right because:

I ended up with 14 remainder 4 meatballs, and how could that happen?

Without a system to evaluate, you end up with:
Cassidy deposits moeny in the bank

I’m drawing boxes because I’m supposed to… I don’t get it.

This model doesn’t make sense. The student’s computation is slightly off, but she knows she needs to add. A teacher can also see from this model that more re-teaching and practice is necessary for this student and probably others in the class.

As students progress, the rubric may change. At the end of a unit/school year, the same problem might be worth three points; one apiece for diagram, computation, solution. I often tell students, “You don’t need to draw the model if you feel you understand the problem, however, you will be graded either all correct or all incorrect. Without the models I can’t give you partial credit for your thinking.”

Most students draw them anyway as a way to check their work. Some just start to see them in their heads. Here are a couple of examples from the end of a fractions unit in 5A

rice 3-001

rice 6-001

How would drawing a model have helped this student?

Number of boy and girls in school

 

 

 

 

 

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