Whether you have kids or work with kids, you are probably noticing the anticipation-for-summer-vacation energy, which is normal and understandable.

But before we get too far down the path of putting this year behind us, I’d like to share a reflection on some exciting and important work that has been happening in all 22 of our schools this year around math.

Last year, we approved a substantial investment in new math curriculum to align our instruction to our new state standards. The rollout began last August with many teachers attending professional development workshops and conferences to help process all the new material and offer tools to help their teaching practice. And the rollout continued every day, every week and every month of school. Teachers were learning the new material right alongside their students, which can be challenging – and feel a little odd, especially to a veteran teacher who has been teaching the same material for years. We offered more support to teachers on our “Staff Learning Fridays” (no school Fridays) throughout the year, as well.

Any time we update our standards and materials, we face a range of emotions from staff, students and families from anticipation and excitement to some anxiety of the unknown. I believe our staff and students have handled these challenges with intentionality and grace– and I know that the new math curriculum has been positive for our system. We’ve received many encouraging comments and emails from staff throughout the year. Here are a couple to share:

I just wanted to share that I received an abundance of positive feedback from parents during conferences about the Bridges math curriculum. All the families that mentioned it had only positive things to say; they are happy with how well it’s organized and that it seems to provide multiple ways to look at numbers and solve problems.  – fifth grade teacher

The children asked if they could play the butterfly race game today during work time! This speaks highly of this program because work time is when they can choose anything (within reason) in the room to do. They are asking to do more math! It’s pretty neat. – kindergarten teacher

I believe we are moving in the right direction as a district for math… It will take some time for this better curriculum to settle in, but with the K-12 math adoption throughout the entire district is good. The curriculum is a lot better than what we had.  – high school math teacher

I want to thank all our incredible teachers and staff who have a hand in this big shift – from elementary to secondary teachers who attended many days of professional development to our administrators, TOSAs, secretaries and everyone else who helped support our students and staff during this transitional year.

And check out this video about math at Bellingham Public Schools.

Comments (12)

  • I really do hate to say this but, for our family, the newl math curriculum could not possibly be any worse! The program chosen by the district has been widely criticized in academic journals and very poorly reviewed also. We know and appreciate the efforts that went into choosing this curriculum, but it really is not very good and might actually be worse than what you had in place previously.

    • Hi, and thank you for your feedback. I’m sorry that you feel that the new math curriculum is not working for your family. Thank you for acknowledging the efforts made to choose our current materials; we did a comprehensive yearlong review of math materials that involved a 33-person committee, including teachers at all levels, administrators, parents and community members. We are confident we have chosen high quality materials. That said, it’s hard to find consensus around the country on what constitutes “perfect” math materials. We chose our materials (Bridges in Math, CMP3 and Agile Mind ) because of their strong alignment with the new state standards, greater focus on fewer topics, the materials’ general coherence and rigor. We were seeking curriculum materials that supported critical thinking and problem-solving in math, as well as high student engagement and connections to real world applications. Thanks again for your comment, and we encourage families to work with their child’s teachers and principal for additional help or information.

      • I hope you won’t simply brush off constructive criticism. We are big fans of the public schools but not fans of the current middle school math curriculum. No books, no parent materials, ill informed and trained teachers (which is not their fault). It is hard to be a student in the first cohort of a curriculum this poorly designed. How about teaching basic math skills, bring back math books and stop all the estimating and intermediate problem solving. You can always differentiate learning for those kids who need something different but I suspect that the majority of the the kids, at least in middle school, are benefiting from this change. Only time will tell when they get to high school and beyond. We too are spending time and money supplementing. We think the district should spend more time and money to get the teachers trained and up to speed. There is nothing wrong with making a bad decision, that is how you get to the right one and this curriculum will likely turn out to be the wrong decision. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

        • Thank you for your blog comment, and please know that I read and appreciate all comments – constructive or positive – about any aspect of our school system. I’m sorry that your middle school student didn’t have a more positive experience with the new math materials. While I believe these new materials are a good decision for our district, rolling out new materials can be a bumpy process, and I’m sorry our first year wasn’t smoother for your family. It sounds like your middle student was in Algebra 1, which is Agile Mind and you’re correct, it does not utilize a traditional text book. Many (though not all) teachers are excited about this curriculum shift, which allows students (and families) to be able to easily access classroom materials digitally.
          And I completely agree with you on training and supporting our teachers; our Staff Learning Days (monthly No School Fridays) are for just that purpose. For the 2014-15 school year, teachers attended an Agile Mind 2.5 day summer institute and received six half days of support, as well as classroom visits from a consultant. Our plan next year is very similar with additional support from our Math Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA); professional development in math will remain a high priority for elementary and secondary math teachers next year. We realize it can be a steep learning curve, and we hope this level of support will help our teachers, which will in turn help our students and families. Thanks again for your comment.

          • Sorry for my confusion. When you said “no books,” I assumed you meant our high school math offerings (which are all digital). Connected Mathematics Projects 3 is our middle school curriculum materials which include student textbooks for each unit (softcover and kept in student notebooks/binders). I can’t say for sure if teachers send the notebooks/binders home, but they should be available to students and families. That said, the books don’t show step-by-step procedures that you may be looking for. There is an online component called Math XL that is skill-based, which some teachers have dabbled with this year. We will work on being more effective users of this next year.

            Again, I’m sorry that you and your family didn’t have a better experience this year. I talked with one of our Directors of Teaching and Learning, Charisse Berner, and she said she’d be happy to talk to you about your concerns and thoughts on ways to improve our system and support to math teachers. Feel free to call her office: 676-6545. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

          • We are moving from Seattle to Bellingham this Fall. I am concerned about the math curricula. These comments indicate that kids are struggling. Obviously implementing a new program can present challenges, but it should not jeopardize the success of even one child in Bellingham. A year of falling behind will impact a child’s entire career, starting with potential college enrollment choices. Please don’t disregard the few parents who took the time to post and suggest they speak with the child’s teacher, for it is apparent that these teachers have a poor grasp of math and the materials. This requires quick repair.

          • Thanks for your comment. I am sorry you had the impression that I’m disregarding parents’ criticisms; I’m not. I value parent feedback.

            Many of our elementary teachers and math teachers are attending conferences and classes this summer and throughout this upcoming school year to continue and expand upon their professional learning. Another reason to look forward with more confidence is that all our teachers now have a year under their belts, as do our students and families. As we all get more comfortable with the new standards and new materials, our learning curves become less severe. We are all improving this system as we go.

            I’d also add that what is missing from this thread are comments about our old math materials. There was universal support in our district to update our materials in 2014 – not to mention the fact that our old materials were not aligned to our state standards. Also absent from this conversation are the people who like (even love!) our new math materials. Of course, that’s not the nature of blogging!

            Unfortunately, there is no perfect math curriculum. That said, we feel we’re in a better position overall to provide great math instruction, and we believe our students will become better mathematicians as a result of great teaching and strong materials. Thanks again for the comment.

  • The new math curriculum & use of web based technology at the Algebra 1 level for high schoolers was not without casualties. Our A-B student received very little instruction, and was then given “worksheets” to complete while the teacher sat at her desk. The teacher was clearly not “on board” from the parent orientation and throughout the year. We were lucky to be able to afford tutoring from Sylvan. PLEASE make a system of teacher evaluation possible to help you weed out the “bad apples” including long term employees who clearly no longer want to teach.

    • Hi Julie, thank you for your comment. It’s important that we have outstanding teachers and excellent materials in every classroom. But if/when you (or any parent/guardian) have concerns or feedback about either (staff or materials), I encourage you to meet with your child’s teacher and/or principal so we can work on always being better. We do annual evaluations of all our staff, including teachers. We are in the midst of working with a new robust system (called TPEP, which stands for Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project) that increases our focus on helping teachers grow. We have passionate staff and we want to support all of them. I’d also add that because this was the first year of this math implementation, all teachers will continue to learn and adapt their practice modeling what we want from our students.

  • I don’t know if comments are still open on this topic, but I’m afraid I have to agree with the other parents on this string, we also had a teacher unable to complete the required units. I’ve come here on the district site looking for summer support resources for my child, as our family also struggled with the new math program at the high school level. My child attended Algebra Strategies as well as the Algebra I class and neither her primary teacher or the Strategies teacher were able to articulate the program effectively. Last year, my child did Pre-Algebra and was A-B student all year. This year she barely passed the class, among a great deal of other students in her class that barely passed. We also opted for private tutoring at home the last part of the year to get her through. Please, please please give the teachers more training on the new program, they clearly don’t have enough time or resources and/or are equally frustrated.
    Our deepest gratitude.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I’m so sorry that you’ve had this experience. I would appreciate having one of our staff members contact you to discuss this further. I also encourage you to reach out to child’s teacher or principal if you have concerns about classroom instruction. Please know that we will continue to focus on math professional development for all teachers in the coming year.