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MISD adopts new math for K-5

The Mercer Island School District introduced a new K-5 math curriculum this fall: Math Expressions. - Megan Managan/Mercer Island Reporter
The Mercer Island School District introduced a new K-5 math curriculum this fall: Math Expressions.
— image credit: Megan Managan/Mercer Island Reporter

This September, when elementary students went back to the classroom around Mercer Island, they found a new math book awaiting them.

The Mercer Island School District researched and approved the implementation of a new kindergarten through fifth-grade math curriculum last spring: Math Expressions. The district’s review, which fell in step as the state updated math standards for all students, found that the program, recommended by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, also fit the new standards.

“We did a full study and examined all the available curricula, and Math Expressions rose to the top,” said Kathy Morrison, the district’s director of elementary learning services. She said Math Expressions was also a good match for students moving over from the Investigations program.

“The new standards changed dramatically, and this helps students achieve mastery, which really is a big part of [the new standards],” Morrison said.

Morrison said the district outlined four key areas that they wanted to be able to focus student learning on, which became the basis for the decision.

Over the summer, Morrison, elementary principals and teachers worked to make sure that the program could be implemented before school started, working closely with teachers from the Bellevue School District who also recently started using Math Expressions.

“The work over the summer was tremendous,” said Morrison. The teachers have been busy learning the new curriculum, which was approved this spring. In many ways, it is more demanding than Investigations was.

“It hasn’t been easy, but I think the teachers are doing an excellent job,” said Morrison.

Math Expressions is considered a blend of teaching styles, putting the traditional and reform styles together. Typically, traditional math curriculums involve teachers teaching specific solution methods to problems, whereas in reform styles, students are encouraged to discuss and invent ways for solving problems. Investigations, Morrison said, was considered a reform curriculum, which is why a switch to teaching more specific problem-solving techniques can take some getting used to.

“There is definitely a core structure to it that is very specific to learn,” she said. “In Investigations, kids came up with multiple strategies for solving, but Math Expressions narrows it down to the most logical.”

The first year of Math Expressions is focusing on getting students caught up, as students are expected to know things they haven’t been taught yet because of a gap between where they left off with Investigations and where Math Expressions picks up. To make sure no one — teacher or student — gets lost, the district, along with help from Amy MacDonald and Kirsten Pickering, the K-5 elementary math implementation coaches from the Bellevue School District, has created pacing guides to help teachers know where they should be during the first year.

The district was able to purchase the new curriculum, which came with a price tag somewhere in the neighborhood of $190,000, according to Morrison, through the Mercer Island Schools Foundation, which paid for the math program in full.

This week, the district is hosting a K-5 Math Fair at West Mercer Elementary to formally introduce parents to the new math program.

“We want to let them know what to expect,” said Morrison, who said that while she hasn’t gotten much parent feedback yet, she expects to hear positive things on Wednesday night. During the fair, the district will also be showing parents how they can get online through the Math Expressions Web site to access not only the student activity book, but to see the available resources designed to help parents when their child has questions.

“That will be a huge help,” said Morrison.

Another part of Math Expressions that is a departure from the way in which math has been previously taught on the Island is the Math Talk element. The curriculum uses a specific classroom structure of solve, explain, question and justify, and encourages students to lead discussions and even the class once they have mastered a skill. This component, Morrison said, fits very strongly with MISD’s 2020 Vision.

The state’s new math standards require students to have not only conceptual and procedural understandings of various math skills, but also mastery of those skills. Under the new standards, third-grade students are expected to have mastered whole number addition and subtraction; by fifth-grade, have a solid understanding of whole number division; and by seventh-grade, have a mastery of positive and negative rational numbers.

This year, the district will be doing a review of the middle school and high school math curriculum, something Morrison said will be getting underway very soon.

Tonight’s Math Fair will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at West Mercer Elementary School. During this time, the district will present a PowerPoint presentation outlining the curriculum, and the lead teachers will be on hand with the various grade level materials to answer questions from parents.

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