north dakota district turns to eureka math after pilot

A need for more rigor in the classroom leads to widespread change

After three years of studying math resources and piloting Eureka Math in 24 classrooms during the 2016-2017 school year, North Dakota’s Dickinson Public Schools implemented the curriculum for elementary schools district-wide in 2017–2018. 

Recognizing A Need for Change

The district used Pearson’s Investigations math program for a decade, but the district’s curriculum committee felt they needed to look for something more closely aligned with college- and career-ready standards following North Dakota’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics in 2011. Specifically, they wanted more rigor and a greater focus on conceptual understanding and math fluency.

At first, a district math committee started writing lessons to fill the gaps between what the new standards called for and the material in the old curriculum. It eventually became apparent they needed a more substantive change.

The committee used an online rubric to evaluate curricular resources and found Eureka Math did the best job of meeting the district’s criteria. They also liked that math teachers, working with experts from higher education, wrote Eureka Math. They felt that if math teachers wrote it, the curriculum would be practical to use in the classroom, and the review from the independent nonprofit confirmed their assessment. During the 2015–2016 school year, the group visited Sweetwater Elementary School in the Devils Lake School District, which had recently switched to Eureka Math.

What we saw when we got there was that the teachers were so excited about what their students were doing in mathematics,” said Melanie Kathrein, Dickinson’s director of instruction. “It didn’t matter which classroom we went to or which teacher we talked to. We didn’t see any students hanging back. They really were engaged. It was contagious for our teachers, and after that they just decided they were certain that’s what they wanted to do.”

The committee decided to first launch a Eureka Math pilot in 24 classrooms during the 2016–2017 school year. Teachers from Sweetwater helped provide coaching during the Dickinson pilot.

Feedback from the Pilot Schools

The pilot teachers were very honest in providing feedback,” Melanie said. “In the first quarter of our 2016-17 school year, they found Eureka Math challenging both for the students as well as themselves. But thankfully, we had been to Sweetwater, and we reminded them what we saw and heard there. We urged them not to give up, and sure enough, by second quarter, they started to say ‘Wow, I can’t believe students can do this in math. It’s so amazing. They have never been able to do this before.’”

An experienced teacher who participated in the pilot was particularly reluctant at first, but she became one of the strongest supporters of Eureka Math, most memorably during a district math night for parents. “I’ll never forget what she said to a group of parents,” Melanie recalled. “She said, ‘I’ve been teaching for a long time, and the concept of place value is something that generally is really challenging for students. This is the first time in my life I’ve taught place value and have really felt that my students understand it and can use it.’ That was a powerful statement from a veteran teacher.”

The teachers piloting Eureka Math would meet quarterly to discuss various components of the curriculum including the vertical and horizontal alignment of skills, models for instruction, and how to properly prepare and plan module lessons. These meetings along with using the Teach Eureka video series allowed for the pilot teachers to deliver professional development to their peers who are new to the curriculum this year.

Teaching Their Peers

In one instance, teachers from the pilot modeled for their colleagues a Eureka Math Sprint, a classroom exercise designed to develop mathematical fluency in students and help them master math facts. The pilot teachers have also helped grade-level teams study Module Overviews and discuss the nuts and bolts of lessons. They are also planning to facilitate discussions about math assessments.

Our pilot teachers have been amazing,” said Melanie, “They’ve given a lot of their time to make sure that this is off to a good start.”

One key piece of advice pilot teachers routinely share with their peers is not to worry if some students don’t master a concept during a single module or unit of instruction. Eureka Math is cohesive, and concepts are presented repeatedly throughout the year from module to module.

When asked what advice she would give another district considering Eureka Math, Melanie was clear: “I honestly think the most important advice we received when we tried this was not to give up,” said Melanie. “Students are capable of more rigorous thinking. And if you are given the right tools as an educator, you can get them there, but you have to trust the curriculum.”