For many teachers working with a new math curriculum presents some challenges, especially if they were already working with students to think through the problem and apply hands on problem solving techniques.
In Natrona County, Wyoming, John Bolender pulled a teacher workbook rife with sticky notes from a shelf in his classroom at Woods Learning Center one recent morning.
Each student opened a workbook, but not the book the Natrona County School District purchased for them during a district-wide adoption of new math materials the year before. Bolender reminded his sixth-graders which problems they were assigned for homework and pulled names from a jar to call on students to share their answers.
Bolender, a teacher for 26 years, has taught students how to find the area of a circle the same way for nearly a decade. Students who know how to find the area of a square can figure out the area of a circle using the concept of pi, he said, a number representing the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter.
For Bolender, that lesson involves colored graph paper, scissors, glue and lots of trial and error.
But that hands-on lesson is not the way a new set of district-wide math materials suggests he teach, he said.
The new math textbooks, purchased for $1.2 million by the Natrona County School District board of trustees last year, take a more direct approach to learning and more often suggest teachers tell students a formula and then have them practice, Bolender said. Bolender favors a hands-on, constructivist method, where students are “constructing their own knowledge,” he said.
“Everybody does it a different way,” Bolender said of his students. “And then they’re able to share.”
Bolender and other math teachers around the district are settling in to the new materials, which include textbooks, worksheets and an online storehouse of lessons. And reactions from teachers on the materials are mixed after a year of use.
The materials, written by education publishing company Glencoe/McGraw Hill, were among the first advertised as aligned with new learning expectations under the Common Core State Standards in math. The materials present lessons in a variety of ways, said Sandy Lever, an instructional facilitator for the school district.
“We had [math] programs in the district last year that were almost exclusively conceptual,” Lever said. “We also had schools prior to the adoption that were the other side of the spectrum, pretty much all you ever saw was worksheets. To teachers who used to do all conceptual, it feels like a lot of worksheets.”
The district says it will take a while for the materials to sink in, for teachers to know all that’s available. A group will collect feedback on the new materials this fall, she said.
“It takes a while to digest all the opportunity that’s available inside that new set of materials,” said Mark Mathern, NCSD’s associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
A committee of teachers and principals will revisit language arts programs throughout the district starting this fall to determine whether common language arts materials should be adopted, he said.
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