In 2013, ACDS was one of the first schools in the DC area to implement Math in Focus. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, an educational publishing company, interviewed then Head of Lower School, Melissa Davis about our experience with the curriculum. Read the full text of the article below.
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How Math in Focus is reshaping the classroom at Alexandria Country Day School
A conversation with the Head of Lower School, Melissa Davis
Alexandria Country Day School was one of the first schools in the D.C. area to adopt Math in Focus and recently Melissa Davis sat down with HMH to discuss what led them to this choice and what results they have seen over the last two years.
“Our curriculum review process included a number of different programs and covered the spectrum of approaches. Math in Focus appealed to us for two main reasons. First was the inclusion of pictorial models. Most of the programs we considered either do not have this piece at all or do not develop it to the degree found in Math in Focus.” Melissa explained, “The ability to visualize math problems is an essential skill, just as it is in reading instruction. The explicit instruction and the scaffolding for students to develop pictorial models really stood out. Second was the emphasis on word problems. Word problems start in the earliest grades, and even in first grade, students are working on two step problems. Word problems are presented to students in every lesson, putting math operations and algorithms into a meaningful context for students to help them transfer skills past a rote worksheet.”
Additionally, “Math in Focus in particular appealed to us because of the resources that were available within the program for differentiation and individualization. The variety of manipulatives, hands-on activities, explorations, games, as well as the reteach and enrichment options are a great support for teachers.”
And so far the implementation process has been going well. “We worked diligently to ensure that it would. Parents received a lot of information about the review process so they could feel confident that we had taken the right steps to find the best program for our students. We hosted information sessions to help parents better understand the Math in Focus approach, teachers ran a Math Night that was just for parents, and we communicate tips on a regular basis through our classroom websites.”
Professional development was a priority for the teachers. “Most important to our successful implementation, we provided extensive training for our teachers. In our first year, we had trainers from Math in Focus visit with us four times. They helped us plan, demonstrated lessons, and coached teachers. In our second year, we had the trainers back once more, and our specialists supported teachers on an ongoing basis throughout the year. This summer, before we entered our third year in the program, we sent all new math teachers to the Math in Focus Summer Institute. We hope to bring a trainer back again in late fall.”
According to Melissa, “Professional development has been the single best thing we did for a successful implementation!”
There have been challenges along the way and, “honestly, this program was far more challenging than the program we used before, so it was a heavy lift for some of our upper elementary students to jump into Math in Focus – it assumed they had a lot of prerequisite knowledge that they simply didn’t have. So, we worked really hard to keep them moving forward while making sure they were simultaneously strengthening and solidifying the skills acquired in earlier years.
Alexandria Country Day Schools’ students are now capable of tackling and persevering through far more challenging problems than ever before. “Teachers and students are modeling real-life problem-solving skills on a daily basis–sure we are learning lots of math skills, but the problem-solving skills and perseverance our students need in math class every day to find success is a huge growth opportunity that extends into all curricular areas.”
For the most part, feedback from parents and educators has been all positive. “We have parents occasionally who will ask us if a problem might be too challenging for their child’s grade level, but that’s a great conversation starter!” This gives Melissa and her team the chance to engage with parents and discuss the Math in Focus curriculum and what the parent’s role should be with regards to homework. Melissa’s advice to school leaders who are considering adopting MIF, “provide ongoing, high-quality professional development and participate in it yourself.”