CNS: Why did the Needham Schools decide to introduce a new elementary mathematics program?
NPS: Needham regularly evaluates existing curriculum to ensure that it continues to meet the educational needs of our students. After several years with the prior elementary mathematics program, it became clear there were significant gaps in the existing materials, and teachers were filling those gaps in ways that were inconsistent across the District. In response, a math task force was created to evaluate alternative programs.
CNS: What is the philosophy behind Think Math?
NPS: One of our goals when introducing the new math curriculum was to help students engage and feel more confident about their mathematical abilities. We wanted to adopt a balanced program that combined problem solving, critical thinking and skill building in a way that was engaging for students. Some of the core features of Think Math! that support these over-arching goals include:
- multi-level instruction that is built into the program and accessible for children at different aptitude levels
- ample opportunity for students to practice and reinforce basic math skills
- guided support for teachers with effective strategies to achieve a deeper understanding of the program
- emphasis on math vocabulary
- instruction in both concrete representations and the conceptual underpinnings of mathematics
Based on feedback from parents, teachers and students we feel Think Math! is exceeding all of our expectations!
CNS: What are some of the key features of the Think Math! program?
NPS: What really sold us on Think Math! was the "Headline Story." These are open-ended questions teachers pose to students every day that help them develop their problem-solving abilities and learn to speak the language of math. There are multiple entry points into the story that can accommodate all different types of learners. For example, one child may answer a question involving money with "2 dimes," while other children may answer "they are all round coins" or "27 cents." Needham also provides all students with a Think Math! "Lesson Activity Book" (referred to as a "LAB" book) - similar to a math workbook parents might be familiar with - as well as manipulatives, teacher guides, review and extension exercises, assessments and parent communications.
CNS: The current 3rd grade class has been using Think Math! since first grade. What have teachers noticed about this class's mathematical knowledge relative to prior classes that didn't use Think Math!?
NPS: In general, Think Math! appears to be raising the overall level of math learning and discourse in the Needham Public Schools. The program has been helping students become more agile learners who can think outside of the box and engage in verbal communications about math. In particular, because Think Math! utilizes similar vocabulary, concepts, and tools across grade levels, students are familiar with the different components of math lessons, instructional materials and the language of math being used in the classroom. Thus, teachers can rely on a consistent platform of experiences and build on existing knowledge rather than re-introducing concepts that were already taught.
CNS: Now that Think Math! has been implemented across Needham's elementary schools, are you providing teachers with any ongoing support for math instruction?
NPS: Yes! When Think Math! was first introduced, all teachers participated in a full day of professional development and received a full complement materials to work with over the summer. In addition, we provide substitute teachers during the year so that classroom teachers have an opportunity for additional professional development training and to work together to share best practices. We also host a full day of training for new elementary teachers each fall.
This year we created a math specialist position at Broadmeadow Elementary School that will be expanded to all five elementary schools next year so that Needham has three full-time equivalent math specialists. The addition of these positions will really help us sustain Think Math! in the schools and give us greater capacity to provide direct services to students and also work with teachers to improve their math instruction.
CNS: How is Think Math! different from they way many Needham parents learned math?
NPS: Many parents of school-aged children learned mathematics through fact memorization. Think Math! provides a more balanced combination of critical thinking and skills practice with an emphasis on mathematical language. In addition, the Think Math! program provides informational materials to complement each lesson that are sent home with the students. These materials provide both an explanation of the concept being taught in the classroom and some examples.