Math Expressions is the Mercer Island School District’s new K-5 math curriculum. Last year, a team of teachers and parents worked together to review the state’s new math standards and examine 9 different programs before choosing Math Expressions, a combination of reform and traditional math teaching.

On the evening of October 7, parents and community members filled the gym at West Mercer to listen to elementary principals, teachers and administrators explain the new curriculum. They learned about Washington State’s more rigorous math standards and the MISD commitment to provide a quality math learning experience that directs students to meet or exceeds state standards through a balanced math curriculum. Principals Rich Mellish, Fred Rundle and Nancy Loorem explained some of the new elements of Math Expressions, including “Math Talk”, a frequent exchange of ideas in small groups where students solve problems, explain their answers, justify and question strategies. Unlike the previous Investigations curriculum, there is a limit to the number of “algorithms” or problem-solving strategies students learn. ‘This program teaches procedural fluency and approaches conceptual understanding in many different ways,” said Rich Mellish, “but the range of strategies is much narrower.” The program also comes with extensive online resources where families can work together on the students’ actual daily workbook and homework.

The principals praised their teachers for the hard work of “learning through the journey” of implementing a new curriculum. Here is a brief glimpse inside one of our elementary school classrooms as teachers and students journey through math together.

Julie Langley has been teaching at West Mercer Elementary for 10 years. When she first came, the district was introducing the Investigations curriculum, which was at that time closely aligned with the state’s first round of math standards. But now, what we know about teaching math has changed and so have the standards. “5th grade math is a lot harder now,” said Ms. Langley. “The standards are very rigorous.”

On September 29, only 3 weeks into the school year, Langley is working with her students on “Functions.” Right away she says to them, “I know most of you have never seen this before. The math is harder because the state has set higher standards. But I know you can do it.” In teaching Functions, she refers to a section in the text called “Mental Math.” Example: Find the rule for each set of input and output pairs. (49,7) (21,3) (35,5) (56,8). The students were quick with the answer – all are divided by 7. “How then do you write the rule?” said Langley. Answer: Input divided by 7 = output. The text then has several examples of real world application of functions such as: number of wheels per bicycle or tricycle, number of legs on an insect, or cost of tickets to a show.

“The hardest part of bringing in a new curriculum at 5th grade is we don’t really know what the students can do. But so far I am excited because my students are excited and challenged by the harder math. This is really pre-Algebra, there is no review and yet at math time they take out their spiral notebooks and can’t wait to get started.”

How does Math Expressions fit into the district’s 2020 Vision? “Certainly it is “cognitive,” said Ms. Langley, “because it requires higher level thinking skills. It is also global because the lessons are universal. “Math Talk “ promotes collaboration and personalized learning, and digital is built into the program through the many online resources. Come back next month and we will have our ActivBoard (a digital blackboard connected to a computer and document camera) up and working. Then the students will demonstrate how we share strategies for problem solving together.”