In 2007, Egg Harbor City School District was awarded a three-year grant from the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning (NJCTL), with the goal of ensuring all students were proficient in Algebra I by the end of eighth grade.
Five middle school teachers involved in the initiative immediately identified gaps in student learning and as they dug deeper, discovered that preparation for eighth-grade algebra needed to start in the earliest grades.
This realization led the middle school teachers to become part of a district-wide K–8 math professional learning community (PLC). The teachers indentified what skills students needed to have mastered by the end of each grade level and developed end-of-the-year skills assessments for each of the skills.
“We did a lot of backwards planning,” explains middle school teacher Mary O’Sullivan. “We broke down what students needed to know at each grade level and used data to identify those skills where our students demonstrated weaknesses.”
The result was the creation of a K–5 mathematics curriculum that has the added benefit of being aligned to the new Common Core standards. The open-source, digital content has since been refined by other teachers based on student and teacher feedback, is free, and is housed on NJCTL’s website, www.njctl.org, for teachers to download and use in their classrooms immediately.
“These materials are easy to use and adaptable so that each teacher can differentiate instruction,” O’Sullivan added. “If we send an idea to the NJCTL staff, they review it and upload it so that other teachers can use it.”
Addressing the shortage of Common Core materials
Common Core was developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare children for college and the workforce. The standards have been adopted by 47 states.
In New Jersey, grades K-2 were required to implement the Common Core standards during the 2011–12 school year, with grades 3–5 and high school math following this school year and grades 6–8 in 2013–14.
But finding resources to teach to the Common Core standards is a problem for educators in New Jersey and beyond.
Organizations, such as the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) are in the process of collecting resources and providing websites to fill the large gap that exists between the need for Common Core materials and their availability.
Still, teachers face the immediate problem of sifting through materials on various sites to try to prepare a comprehensive plan of instruction to meet the needs of their students.
Textbooks, a resource teachers often relied on in the past, are becoming increasingly obsolete. Most textbooks are outdated, not aligned to the new Common Core and fail to provide the necessary common core resources for students and teachers. NJCTL materials allow districts to use their textbook budgets to purchase the technology for the transition beyond textbooks.
Through its Progressive Math Initiative (PMI), NJCTL has developed an all digital mathematics curriculum and unit plans for grades K–12 that are aligned to the Common Core. These materials have been developed and tested over time, by teachers, like those in Egg Harbor. In addition, educators in Egg Harbor have collaborated with K–8 teachers across the state, meeting regularly to analyze student data and revise units based on student and teacher feedback.
While there is a shortage of viable resources, educators need to facilitate a smooth, successful transition for students to be engaged in thoughtful practice designed around Common Core standards, NJCTL can serve as the one-stop shop for free open source K–12 materials.
The results speak for themselves
“The children truly enjoy math,” says Kristin DeAngelis, a first-grade teacher at the Charles L. Spragg Elementary School in Egg Harbor City. “They loved interacting with the SMART board and using the responders. This program has a purposeful use of technology, where the technology really impacts the learning. The program also allowed me to really target the individual needs of the students.”
Tara Macchione, a second-grade teacher at Spragg, has witnessed an improvement in her student’s math skills since she began using the PMI materials last year.
“The style of teaching and learning through this program is different than what the students are used to,” notes Macchione, who served as a curriculum writer for NJCTL. “And I saw growth in almost all of my students’ math skills as the year progressed. The students’ confidence in themselves also grew tremendously throughout the year.”
The results from the new curriculum have been dramatic for Egg Harbor, where 81 percent of the students are receiving free and reduced lunch. The overall student math scores in the district went from 25 percent proficient on GEPA in 2007 to 75 percent proficient on NJASK in 2009. The students scored statistically higher in math on NJASK than other New Jersey schools in the same socio-economic group.
“These materials and the PLC have made a difference,” O’Sullivan concludes. “The teachers talk about everything—strategies, lesson plans, successes, failures. I have definitely seen a difference in my students.”