colorado district's tips for eureka math implementation
Invest in Teachers, Be Persistent, and Lean In to High Standards
Encompassing part of Colorado Springs and several surrounding areas, Colorado’s Sand Creek Zone in District 49 has taught Eureka Math in Grades K–5 for four years and recently started implementing the curriculum in Grades 9–12. We sat down with a group of educators from the district to discuss how they approached Eureka Math implementation and their advice for other districts just getting started with the curriculum.
Investing in Teachers
The key to the Sand Creek Zone’s success with Eureka Math is professional development, according to Carolyn Merritt. Merritt transitioned from a high school mathematics teacher in District 49 to be the Sand Creek Zone's instructional coach during its second year of implementation and immediately got to work supporting teachers by offering professional development opportunities. She started by selecting a cohort of 18 elementary teachers representing various grades to receive intensive training in Eureka Math. Merritt said the group quickly saw how the training would provide the help teachers needed with lesson preparation and customization, fluency activities, and module studies.
Jessica Cole, who recently switched from teaching Grade 1 to Grade 2 at Evans Elementary, agreed that the training was invaluable. She said the curriculum was a big change for teachers, but that she and her peers quickly warmed up to it. “I really love the visual aspects of the program. I like that there are models like number bonds and tape diagrams. These make sense from a teacher perspective,” she said. “I find myself thinking, ‘Oh, why have I never taught this way before?’”
High Standards for All
Sand Creek Zone educators say Eureka Math is by far the most rigorous curriculum they have used, and everyone—parents, teachers, and students alike—needed time to adjust. Jennifer Palazzolo, a Grade 3 teacher at Remington Elementary, said that parents pushed back after seeing some of the lower grades their children were bringing home. “We ended up having math nights at our school where we had to educate parents and explain that it’s not about getting a certain score—it’s about seeing growth. We explained that it’s a journey and that by the end of the year we expect students to be at a certain point,” Palazzolo said.
She continued: “This curriculum is not an easy curriculum. But because the students are held to such high standards, they’re rising to those standards. I sometimes catch myself thinking, ‘This is too hard. They’re not going to get this.’ And then they do.”
Merritt, the instructional coach, said Eureka Math is giving elementary students the foundation to thrive in middle school and high school. “It’s amazing what I’m seeing our students do with math, and it’s exciting for me to know that we’re going to be getting these students up at the high school level in a few years. I see so much in Algebra I that I’ve seen down in second and third grade,” Merritt said, citing work on commutative properties, associative properties, and variables as examples. “It’s so exciting to see how the coherence really works throughout the entire curriculum.”
Sand Creek Zone teachers are also enthusiastic about a new Eureka Math digital assessment tool, Affirm, they are piloting.
“If we have time to build our own topic quizzes with it, that will be fantastic. But the ones that are there are great,” said Bianca Rimbach, a Grade 5 teacher at Evans Elementary. “I was also really impressed with the live data you get. For example, you could see students just spending a second on one problem. And then right away, you could go to them and say, ‘You really just spent a second—you should go back and check it.’ Right away you could intervene.”
Advice for Those New to Eureka Math
Asked what advice she has for schools just getting started with Eureka Math, Merritt returned to the idea that you have to invest in teachers. “The biggest thing that we did that really helped teachers was to bring in top quality professional development,” she said. “I’m on some Facebook groups, and I see people complaining about how hard the assessments are. And I think, ‘Well, if you just had the training, you would know that the assessments were purposely written with that level of rigor because it’s hard for teachers to write hard questions.’ I would highly encourage districts to bring in training to address issues like that.”
And what about advice for helping struggling students? Daily Exit Tickets are vital, Palazzolo said. “We try to do them every single day. I grade them immediately and put them into piles: got it, almost got it, don’t got it. I’ll pair up the kids that got it and kind of got it, and they’ll go through those Exit Tickets together. I always have a handful of kids who don’t get it. I’ll pull them aside and set up a similar math problem, restructure it, and then have them go back and do their Exit Ticket.”
Cole, the Grade 2 teacher, suggests that teachers spend a little extra time reviewing the vocabulary in Eureka Math, since terms such as tape diagram—a model Eureka Math uses often—are new to students. “A lot of us have anchor charts up with a picture representation of a tape diagram. If students are not sure, they look to that,” she said. In my first year I thought, ‘I don't know what in the world a tape diagram is.’ But luckily, I previously taught second grade, so my kids coming from first grade knew what it was and were able to help me understand it,” Cole added.
Rita Morris, a Kindergarten teacher at Evans Elementary, added, “I’ve taught many different math curricula: Saxon Math, Everyday Mathematics, and Envision Math. By far, I’ve enjoyed Eureka Math the most because of the higher expectations it has for students. If I’d give any piece of advice, it’s to be open minded.
Encouraging a growth mind-set—one that rewards persistence and sees mistakes as learning experiences—is critical, Rimbach said. “If you can make it exciting and celebrate when students grow even a little bit, they will enjoy it and won’t mind making mistakes anymore. If you can change mind-sets in your class, kids will have a much more positive outlook. I would definitely work on that and recommend working on changing parent mind-sets too.”
Morris agreed, adding that student engagement is one of the best ways to evaluate the curriculum. “My kids love it,” she said. “They look forward to math. It’s one of their favorite times of the day.”