HARVARD -- Following a spirited presentation, the School Committee voted unanimously to approve a new math curriculum for Hildreth Elementary School. Assembled and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, the Go Math curriculum will launch this fall.
Assistant Principal Gretchen Henry and third-grade teacher Rob Cullinane pitched the product, which was the singular choice forwarded for consideration following review of competitive products by the vertical teams that teach math for grades kindergarten through grade 5.
"Common Core standards are coming our way," said Henry of the national initiative to standardize subject matter taught in key areas. "Over the next couple of years, we'll be fully assessing students in 2014 on these new Common Core standards."
Two approaches were considered: retool the existing math program, or select a "fully aligned" textbook series that gives the district a jump on the Common Core standards.
There were two other finalists that made in-person, daylong presentations to the math team: Addison Wesley's "enVisionMATH" and Houghton Mifflin's "Math Expressions." The visits included appearances by some of the book's authors and sample kits for the teachers.
Go Math was "written directly for the Common Core," said Cullinane. Go Math materials were used in the third grade at the end of this school year as a mini-pilot program. Cullinane said the Go Math program is loaded with enrichment materials and many opportunities for
Beyond learning the math formula, Go Math helps students "verbalize how to solve problems," said Cullinane. Students learn "computations based around mathematical thinking as opposed to just compute, compute, compute."
Go Math also has aspects that link course work to the Smart Board technology present in each classroom. "Lessons can be directly brought up on the Smart Board," said Cullinane.
Teacher feedback was positive, said Henry. To aide in evaluating the Go Math curriculum, Henry said a national evaluation tool was employed to rate each company's offerings and the ratings were performed by the Hildreth teachers. "The process was very collaborative," said Henry.
Cullinane said one company's textbook pushed third-grade students to compute and comprehend up to the number 300,000 "and that was one of the fist lessons in the book!" Meanwhile, Go Math worked on the Common Core's target number -- 9,999.
In addition to manipulative materials for breakout sessions in class, Henry said the Go Math program also includes components that serve each level of learner, as well as English language learners.
Materials are available online. "So you as a parent can support your children if you have questions," said Henry.
Each chapter begins with a short statement of what the standard and objective is in the new section.
"You want to know why you're there and what you're supposed to be learning and what the teacher has planned for you," said Henry. Lessons going forward reinforce units from earlier in the school year, too.
"They have a lot of talk of 'math language' and 'How are you thinking, share your strategy, how did you solve this problem?'" said Henry.
Curious George is an aide for younger students, and then adventures involving the character Carmen Sandiego are used starting in third grade.
The quick launch was of concern to School Committee member Kirsten Wright, who is herself a teacher.
"Starting out, it seems exciting and a little overwhelming at the same time. "With professional development offerings afoot this summer for the coming school year, Wright wondered "Are teachers going to have time to talk to one another about what's working with this new initiative? Because its big."
Yes, said Henry. Other districts in the Northeast have employed the curriculum this year.
"Everyone gave me the same advice -- exactly what you're saying," said Henry. "Roll this out gradually. Make sure teachers have the core material first" before the math vertical team meets in November to compare working notes via professional development seminars.
"It was so positive, so supportive" in talks with the Tewksbury, Norwalk, Connecticut, Lenox and Quabbin school districts in Western Massachusetts.
Hildreth teachers were likewise excited about the "potential of not having to wait" until fiscal 2014 to launch Go Math. "We're feeling hugely positive," said Henry.
School Committee member Keith Cheveralls wondered how the Go Math curriculum would tie into the "transition of our children across the street" when the grade-school students graduate to the Bromfield Middle School. "Does Bromfield have plans for related material? Keeping in mind that the Common Core is all around us."
Henry said last year, the schools spent professional development time to "make sure their units were aligned."
Cullinane said after many years, this fall he'll move from teaching a third-grade to a fifth-grade class. He said he'd rather launch the program in September "versus learning the current program then change." The start of the school year is a "nice time for people to pick up and start a new program."
Hildreth Principal Linda Dwight added, "The school is ready." When drafting out their learning focus goals for the coming year, teachers were talking in terms of the Go Math program being in place even without knowing if the funding would be approved by the School Committee.
With sample materials provided during pitch seminars, Dwight said teachers already have some materials in circulation and are "willing to make a change."
The curriculum is the same regardless because it must be "aligned to the Common Core, but teachers didn't have a great set of materials. A lot of time was used gathering materials to teach those lessons." Go Math will provide materials in several formats.
It will be a 180-degree turn from when Dwight first arrived in Harvard last year when she discovered "that each grade level was sharing one set of textbooks. This really gives the materials to them to do a great job. They're already doing a great job (but) there's no one in the building that's not eager to get the materials."
Go Math is a bargain compared to what the committee was bracing for. Last fall, ballpark estimates were that $100,000 would be needed in fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015 for math and English as a second language materials. Hildreth was "aggressive" in testing materials to meet the need. To Superintendent Joseph Connelly's surprise, "they were really ready a year earlier to make a decision."
Connelly suggested purchasing the five years worth of Go Math materials, worth $60,000, with $31,272 left unspent in the fiscal 2012 budget.
"The timing is perfect," said Connelly, as the school department has until mid-July to close out the books for the fiscal year that just ended on June 30.
"There's no better way to spend this," said Connelly of the non-recurring cost.
In the new fiscal year, Connelly said further savings are being eyeballed that could cover the balance of the Go Math price. There was money built in for a fifth fourth-grade section, which Connelly said may not be necessary.
The shifting financial landscape provided the welcome relief because "that was hanging over our head, 'How are we going to find $100,000?' I think it's a win-win."
Teaching in contemplation of the Common Core is "my top priority," said Connelly. Harvard has good teachers, but without synching the curriculum, "scores suffer."
With a vote to move on Go Math, Connelly dared to "go out on a limb," opining that "our HES math scores will improve." Math scores in standardized testing at Hildreth have languished in recent years.
The committee voted 4-0 (with Chairwoman SusanMary Redinger absent) to use the surplus fiscal 2012 money to purchase the Go Math program. Applause broke out in the room immediately following the vote.