Bethlehem Press

Friday, March 23, 2018

BASD--First In Math Program adding up to success

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 by Heather Nigrone Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

It is no secret that BASD has been very focused on improving reading skills throughout the district, with programs such as Reading by third grade, and new Spanish literacy initiatives. So it was with great pleasure that Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Dr. Jack Silva addressed the curriculum committee March 5 with an update on elementary math skills, and the numbers are encouraging.

The district was one of the first in the area to partner with First In Math, to adopt an intense revision of traditional math learning, designed to focus on developing critical math thinking skills, and move away from traditional memorization.

For decades, the method to teach addition, subtraction, and beyond, was to memorize a table of 100 math “facts” starting with 0+0 and ending with 9+9. Under this new program, the students are tasked with only memorizing sixteen “Very Important Facts”, and three critical rules. The rules pertain to adding ZERO, adding ONE, and being able to recognize “mirrored” facts, for example, that 7+5 is the same as 5+7.

The second piece of the curriculum is a restructuring of how the content is delivered. The research behind the First in Math program indicated, that by making math into a game, students are more likely to remain engaged in the process, and it makes learning more fun.

It is the hope of the district that by reducing the amount of memorization required and encouraging math to be fun, students will flourish, and the results so far indicate that they are on the right path.

For the 2017-18 school year, the goal is to have 80% of third graders mastering addition and subtraction, and 70% of fourth graders mastering addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. By the end of the first semester, the numbers were more than halfway to that goal in almost every subject. Dr. Silva is confident that at the end of the school year, those numbers will at least meet, if not exceed the current goals, and that the program will continue to grow.

Board member Eugene McKeon asked if the program had any ability to continue to track progress of students beyond elementary grades. Silva indicated that the program, once cemented in place in the elementary grades, would continue on to higher math, with content that focuses on algebraic thinking, and mathematics in computer programming.

This topic segued into another important topic, middle school program development. With so much emphasis on elementary and high school programs, the district has decided to re-evaluate middle school programming. The focus will include areas recently discussed at other grade levels, including literacy, world languages and digital transformation, and will be designed to have consistent and articulated programming, to help students better transition from elementary to high school programming.