That’s what the more than 55,000 PreK-12 students at San Francisco’s 121 public schools will learn beginning this school year, when district officials say math classes are taught in a more hands-on, collaborative way than ever before.
It will mark the first time all 1,800 math teachers in The City will implement the Common Core State Standards curriculum, the first significant change to the San Francisco Unified School District’s math curriculum since 1997, said Lizzy Hull Barnes, the district’s mathematics program administrator.
“For a very long time we have been reinforcing that math is getting the right answer quickly,” Barnes said. “Kids associate being good with math with speed [and] computation, and mathematical reasoning is much broader and deeper than that.”
About 300 math teachers in The City have already begun using the more balanced approach of conceptual understanding and problem solving since California became one of more than 40 states to adopt the Common Core standards in 2010. SFUSD implemented its new core curriculum for English Language Arts this past school year, which is also based on the Common Core State Standards.
The curriculum seeks to correct the widely-held belief that not all students can do well at math, a contributing factor of a nationwide math crisis in which two-thirds of students in Kindergarten through college are failing in math, said Jo Boaler, a professor of mathematics education at Stanford University.
“A very large number of kids in the U.S. believe that you can either do math or you can’t,” Boaler said. “It’s very important to shift those beliefs, which we know to be incorrect” through neurological research, among other evidence, she added.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘math person’ or math gene or math gift.”
Math programs in The City will aim to shift from an emphasis on getting answers quickly to making sense of open-ended problems; and from students working alone to collaborating and critiquing each other’s mathematical arguments.
For instance, elementary students learning how to multiply length times width to find the area or perimeter of an object might decorate their desks with Post-it notes to reach the conclusion.
“Kids have learned by memorizing a formula…but they don’t realize that it’s really talking about what’s inside that figure,” Barnes said.
Presidio Middle School Principal Tony Payne said behavior issues have virtually disappeared after the school’s sixth grade math classes implemented heterogeneous grouping, part of the district’s greater movement to advocate for “rich” mathematics for all students in which the breakdown of honors, general education, remedial and special education students is eliminated..
“When you label one classroom ‘honors,’ you’re saying to the other classrooms by default, ‘Well, you’re not quite as bright as those kids,’” Payne explained. “I think by taking that away, [we’re] saying that ‘You’re all Presidio students to us, you’re all essentially honors students capable of great things.’”