PA Coalition for World Class Math

                     "Investigations" creating controversy in Waterloo (IO) )1/26/2012

New math curriculum gives some Waterloo teachers problems

By ANDREW WIND, andrew.wind@wcfcourier.com | Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 7:00 am

WCF Courrier

WATERLOO, Iowa --- Waterloo Community Schools officials admit a new elementary math curriculum has been a struggle for some teachers to implement.

But they say a growing number of teachers are becoming comfortable with "Investigations in Number, Data and Space" since the school year started.

"We're definitely gaining ground, that's the good news," Jane Lindaman, associate superintendent for educational services, told the Board of Education Monday during a work session. "The bad news is we're not there yet."

Administrators describe the curriculum, published by Pearson Education, as providing rich, problem-based, student-centered lessons that foster inquiry and develop critical thinking skills. They believe the result of developing those skills will be increasing student achievement.

"This is good for all learners to be critical thinkers," said Superintendent Gary Norris. "By and large, the way we have up until now done our delivery is rote memorization."

He said that approach doesn't cut it anymore as the district strives to meet the needs of businesses that will hire its graduates after high school or college. That old approach is also incompatible with the mandates of Iowa's core curriculum, which have recently been put into place.

Pam Argotsinger, a district math coach, said the "Investigations" curriculum is one piece of elementary math. Another focus is on daily practice, including memorization of math facts so students can quickly compute answers to age-appropriate problems in their head. Teachers also have manipulatives --- objects that students can use to visualize and work through math problems --- and computer software in their lessons.

Artgotsinger said there is a reason the transition has been difficult for some educators.

"We are not just adopting a new curriculum," she said. "We are changing what teachers teach. We are changing what teachers know."

"I've heard from a few teachers that are frustrated," said board member Sue Flynn. She noted that it is important to provide those teachers with the support needed to effectively use the curriculum.

Administrators said they have offered professional development on the curriculum and are continuing to look at ways to better support teacher instruction. Lindaman said the biggest challenge has been for teachers with students in upper elementary grades, who have spent years learning a different approach to math.

The board adopted the elementary curriculum last April. In October, the board adopted "Connected Mathematics Project 2" for middle school and "Center for Mathematics Education Project" for high school. Both are Pearson Education products that take a similar approach to "Investigations."

Middle schools could start implementing the curriculum during third quarter, but must have it in place by fourth quarter. High school implementation is targeted for next fall.

"This has been a dramatic change for everyone involved with the elementary schools," said board president Mike Young. "And it seems to be more well-received by teachers, especially recently. But there's still questions from parents."

He noted conversations with parents who believe their children's learning is not progressing because of the new curriculum. Young said the district's emphasis has to be to help educate parents about the new curriculum "and also correct problems in the implementation."

Norris said schools are beginning to hold meetings to explain the curriculum to parents. Materials are also being developed to share on the district's website.