The Tyrone Area School District has implemented a new math program for its students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The program is called “Everyday Math,” and its methods and innovative ways of encouragement plans to enrich and develop students to achieve greater success in mathematics.

The basic philosophy of Everyday Math is to provide students a math curriculum that is both rigorous and balanced. It emphasizes conceptual understanding while building a mastery of basic skills, explores the full mathematics spectrum (not just basic arithmetic), and is based on how children learn, what they’re interested in, and the future for which they must be prepared.

Everyday Math was developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project, and it is based on research about how children learn and develop mathematical power. It provides the broad mathematical background needed in the 21st century.

The program allows children to learn math through hands-on activities that build on their interests and connect to their experiences. Children learn math skills while solving problems that interest them, and they are encouraged to solve problems in multiple ways, creating flexibility of thinking. It allows children to explain solutions and strategies to each other.

Everyday Math incorporates frequent practice through math games, in school and as homework, so that families can be involved. Children record, organize and demonstrate their learning in a math journal, not a textbook, focusing on the learning process using a variety of math tools.

Children receive instruction in all major areas of math: number sense, data analysis, geometry, measurement, algebra and probability – all interwoven in a “real world” way. The program moves briskly and revisits key ideas and skills in slightly different contexts throughout the year, and lessons are adapted to meet the individual needs of each student.

Acting elementary school principal Melissa Russell is excited about Everyday Math because it’s based on building on the students everyday experiences, so they see how math relates to everyday life.

“Traditionally we just expected children to memorize a bunch of facts and now we want children to understand why they get the answers they get,” said Russell. “It’s a different approach, having children going through many more steps, but those steps are based on their own thinking of how to solve a problem, instead of a text book version of how to solve a problem.”

She added, “We’re encouraging children to think about math and use their words to explain why they’re getting what they’re getting.”

This new math curriculum creates more conversation in math class. A teacher will introduce a concept and then ask and challenge the students to figure out how to get an answer. Then, the teachers and students will talk about how they got the answer they got. The difference is the students are thinking about the math, where before a student was simply told that this is the problem and this is how the answer is found.

“Now the teacher is giving you the answer and how many different ways you can get it, and through that we’re gaining an understanding instead of just a memorization of a formula,” said Russell.

Russell said that parents are starting to see the difference as well as the teachers. Kids aren’t bringing home the typical sheets of math problems, but now the kids are practicing through math boxes that have a different problem in each box, or the math games where the kids are starting to memorize their addition and multiplication facts in a new way.

“We’re starting to get some really good feedback,” said Russell. “The teachers are totally amazed, some of the concepts the kids are doing the teachers were afraid they wouldn’t be able to grasp, but they do, and the kids spend five minutes a day doing mental math in their heads, and their starting to see the kids do mental math at times when it’s not math class.”

Everyday Math exposes students to higher level math concepts at an earlier age, and the kids are understanding them. And according to Russell, the change in the math curriculum was needed in order for the students at Tyrone to be able to be prepared for the global economy and competitiveness that exists. It mirrors the curriculum in countries like Singapore and Japan who excel in math at all levels.

“Our math scores are okay, but we weren’t making the rapid enough gain where we would meet AYP when it was 100 percent. We just needed to change the way we teach math so we can start making a more upward gain in our math scores,” said Russell.

Other school districts that use the program are seeing that quicker gain through Everyday Math, and Tyrone hopes to start seeing a difference in test scores by next year. According to national standards, Pennsylvania has only 38 percent of its math students scoring proficient or advanced, and Russell felt that it was time for a change.

“If we do what we’ve always done, we’re going to get the results we’ve always had,” said Russell. “Our results are not acceptable, so we changed the way we were doing it.”

Russell and the school district’s ultimate goal is to have students love math so they continue to go through twelfth grade and want to do something beyond high school in math. But if not beyond high school, students will regardless be prepared and have learned math in a relative and innovative way for today’s society.

“It’s much more engaging than it used to be,” said Russell. “It’s engaging students to think, engaging them to work with their neighbor, giving them different manipulations to work with, so the kids are not sitting by and doing passive math.”

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