If you’ve walked into an elementary math classroom in a Dallas ISD school lately, it might look and sound a little different from the past.
You might see kids pouring water into a cylinder to see whether it filled more than halfway or less than halfway for a lesson on rounding on the vertical number line. You’ll also likely hear kids talking about math, making connections across topics and working together rather than working silently on their own. And they might be using classroom objects called manipulatives, drawing pictures or representing a math problem pictorially before they write it out as an equation.
The school district has moved to a new math curriculum that shifts instruction from older approaches that emphasized memorization and teacher-led instruction toward building deep conceptual understanding of topics and placing more emphasis on student-directed learning.
That’s not to say kids don’t have to learn their math facts, like their multiplication tables. They do. And, of course, teachers still teach from the front of the room and in small groups. But students are taking a more active approach toward learning and are developing an understanding of the whys behind what they do and how to apply math toward solving real-world problems.
The change comes after the district successfully launched a pilot program in which dozens of schools tried the new curriculum. And it comes as schools nationwide face major math learning gaps due to the disruption to education caused by the pandemic. In Dallas, like in most places, math scores lag behind pre-pandemic levels.
So what to expect from the changes? I’ve been working with Dallas ISD schools and others in the state to adopt the new curriculum, which is freely available to Texas educators and families. Anything new takes a little time to get used to, and that’s the case for educators who’ve been using other approaches and were themselves taught math differently. And it’s true for parents who may be unfamiliar with the homework kids are bringing home. I’m a mom. I get it. I recommend checking out family resources embedded in the curriculum, like tip sheets and student-assigned lesson videos, which help with concepts and vocabulary that may be unfamiliar.
I’ve seen the impact of the change in Dallas schools that participated in a pilot, especially when it comes to the consistent use of strong mathematical models and strategies that build off one another and deepen student knowledge of key concepts.
For example, last spring, I was in a third-grade classroom in which students were using area models, which are used for solving multiplication problems. One boy piped up and said, “Hey, these are like the arrays [an arrangement of a set of objects into equal groups in rows and columns] we worked with last year in second grade. These look just like the arrays, but now we’re multiplying instead of adding.” I love that, even without prompting, students are making connections across topics, sharing their discoveries, and having rich conversations about math, a big shift from traditional math curricula.
Dallas ISD is not the only district in the state of Texas who has adopted this new math program in partnership with TEA. In other districts, we have seen improvements and gains in math scores given post pandemic learning gaps.
The joy I felt that day wasn’t always there when I was a classroom teacher. The truth is I loved teaching reading but was initially scared of teaching math. I became a kindergarten teacher early in my career because I figured the math lessons would be relatively easy. Later, as I received strong professional development and gained access to the resources and approaches now in place in Dallas schools, I came to love teaching math, too. Math makes sense when we teach it in a way that makes sense, when we build conceptual understanding with procedural skills and fluency.
I know I’ve passed along this confidence I acquired along to my students and that Dallas teachers will do the same. That’s vital. After all, we’re preparing students for success in the classroom and beyond, including in careers we haven’t even yet imagined and which will likely require a strong foundation in math.
Change can be hard and, in the case of our math classrooms, even noisy and messy, but Dallas families and educators should take heart knowing this shift is one that will better prepare young people for the bright futures that lie ahead for them.
Brittany duPont is a math implementation leader in Texas for Great Minds PBC, where she supports the use of Eureka Math TEKS Edition. She previously was an elementary classroom teacher in North Carolina and Nevada. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.