That hasn’t always been the case, according to her mother, Stephanie. Lauren and other Mahomet Seymour Junior High sixth graders describe math as “fun” this year as compared to years past. And the way the subject is taught has a lot to do with it.
Last school year, Mahomet Seymour Junior High School piloted a new math curriculum. Now in its first year of full implementation, the College Preparatory Mathematics, or CPM, curriculum is showing teachers and administrators higher tests scores and students say they are enjoying math class.
“We adopted CPM at the end of last year,” said Heather Landrus, MSJH principal. She added a new math curriculum was needed because of Illinois’ shift to the Common Core Curriculum and Illinois State Standards in testing.
“CPM met our needs,” she said, adding “Last year was our pilot year.”
Because the curriculum was being piloted last year, teachers and administrators were interested to see if there was any change in test scores from a class being taught using a “traditional” format and one using the CPM curriculum. Academic growth was measured using MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) testing, which is administered to students three times a year. A student’s progress is tracked throughout his or her academic career at Mahomet Seymour schools by way of MAP testing.
Students learning with the traditional math curriculum gained 7 points from the fall benchmark test to the spring test, according to Landrus. Students learning with CPM gained 13.5 points from fall to spring.
Landrus calls that “amazing.”
MAP testing was created by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA). According to information on their web site, typical mathematics growth norms for a sixth grader in the United States would be a 6 point increase over the course of a school year. This data was established in 2011 Mathematical Growth Norms and verified with 2015 mathematical growth norms. (https://www.nwea.org/content/uploads/2015/06/2015-MAP-Normative-Data-AUG15.pdf).
While the information gathered at MSJH last year showed students in traditional math exceeded the expected national growth, students in the class where CPM was used doubled what the National norms say is typical growth.
But what is different about CPM?
The CPM curriculum approach focuses on group work, problem solving and critical thinking, according to Landrus. There no longer are desks in the math classrooms, she added, only tables and chairs so students can work collaboratively.
“There is a common misconception with Common Core that math is different now than it was before,” said Priscilla Hart, 6th grade orange team math teacher. That is not the case, she said, adding, “All the Common Core language was in our curriculum before.”
Hart and fellow sixth grade teacher, Nichole Jessup, said they agree the CPM curriculum is more like how they were taught in college.
“It reminds me of what I learned in college. I had to apply what I learned,” said Jessup.
Hart said she agreed. “It’s more than just ‘are you good at memorizing’ or not,” she said. Students need to be able to explain the concept. The final step in a lot of CPM problems is “Explain how you know.”
Part of being able to explain a process comes in to play during group work.
“If a student is not understanding a concept,” Hart said “he or she can turn to the group. One member may explain how to do it one way, and another member may explain how to do it another way.” By hearing various explanations, hopefully the student will be able to understand how to complete a problem based on peer explanation.
While group work is a key in CPM, teachers said they realize not all students favor working in groups.
Landrus said she realizes not all kids enjoy working in groups for a variety of reasons. But, as eighth grader Tim Glumac, student in Algebra I, said, working in groups is a necessary skill.
“In my opinion, group work is great. It is a great skill to have,” Glumac said. He also commented being able to work with others will be a necessity once he enters the work force.
There are drawbacks to working in groups, students said.
“I have had some bad groups,” Glumac added. “But that has been the exception. Most of the time I have at least one friend in my group.”
Klein Powell, sixth grader, agreed sometimes group work isn’t for the best. “Some group members don’t really participate,” she said.
But within those groups, Glumac said, learning takes place. “The students are allowed to figure something out without the teacher telling us.” Glumac also said having to explain what your problem solving logic was to a group helps take a student “a little more deep” into the subject matter.
Sixth grade, Elizabeth Sims, said she likes how the groups switch after every chapter, and she enjoys working with different students. She and fellow sixth grader, Taylor Remus, said they also enjoy how they can use their notes on chapter tests, called their “toolkit.”
Glumac said he last encountered “traditional” curriculum in 6th grade. Last year, the district began to pilot CPM and they also moved to longer math periods, known as double blocking. Instead of the typical 40 minute class period, Math and Language Arts are double blocked and take up two periods or 83 minutes. This is a change Glumac said he really enjoys.
“The double math block is a great change,” he said. “I can mostly get my homework done in class. It lightens the stress load,” he said. He also mentioned he has access to his teacher and group members during class time and they can work together to understand how to solve a problem.
CPM is used at the Junior High and with a group of fifth grade students whose MAP test scores show they can use an additional challenge in Math. , The curriculum itself, according to Landrus, was developed by math teachers and professors, not a publishing company trying to sell books. MSJH teachers also have access to educators throughout Central Illinois who also are using the curriculum.
Hart said CPM uses teachers as trainers and those trainers use the same strategies they use to teach students to teach teachers about the curriculum. And while Hart has taught using the CPM curriculum for several years, Jessup said this is her first year with the curriculum. She went through training during the summer and is enjoying the curriculum.
She noted the concepts the students are learning now can be applied all the way through the math curriculum. Jessup added she was tutoring a student in Algebra II and used a concept she taught in her sixth grade class.
Landrus said she thinks CPM will be a part of Mahomet Seymour’s math curriculum for a while. And between higher tests scores and students using words like “fun” to describe their math class, the change seems to be a good one.