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Math Initiative Builds Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Big Shoulders Fund Math Initiative raises scores, brings “a new joy” to math teaching and learning Tweet This

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“I’m thinking about it differently. I’m able to share with my students a new joy, or even love, of math that I didn’t have when I was younger.”

Teacher Deana Dixon discovered this new passion in her pre-K classroom at St. Margaret of Scotland School, part of the The Big Shoulders Fund Math Initiative. In 2011, Big Shoulders launched a partnership with the Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science at the University of Chicago to provide professional development for elementary teachers to implement “Everyday Mathematics,” a research-based curriculum.

Big Shoulders Fund supports Catholic schools in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods with funding to support student effort and achievement. The Math Initiative delivers high-quality math learning for over 3,100 students at 13 schools.

Over the past four years, participating students have steadily increased their score by over 12 percentage points on the Terra Nova, a test given in grades 3, 5 and 7 at Archdiocese of Chicago schools.

Everyday Math reimagines math education, introducing an inquiry-based curriculum. Teachers and their principals receive supportive professional development, and participating schools put sustainable structures in place so that the advances remain embedded in practice beyond any funding initiative.

The new math learning also integrates:

  • Digital tools that supplement classroom activity, customized to students’ proficiency levels for extra support where it’s needed
  • Small group activities and discussion, where students build and demonstrate understanding of the concepts underlying math problems
  • Professional development for math teachers—including a full-time instructional coach–and for administrators so that they can best support teachers
  • Peer networks where teachers across schools can learn from each others’ challenges and successes

“It really transforms the classroom into a place were maths is the most exciting thing they do all day,” says Pat Landry, principal of Maternity BVM School.

The Math Initiative was launched in alignment with The Chicago Community Trust’s education strategy to elevate teaching and learning to world-class standards at a systemic level. The majority of the Initiative’s funding has been provided by the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust. Over the past five years, the Searle Funds have contributed more than $1.1 million—support that has also helped to leverage an additional $200,000 from other funders.

Gudelia Lopez, senior program officer in education for the Trust, explains that a formal evaluation is underway to provide an understanding of how teacher practices have changed and quantify the impact on student learning.

Meanwhile, in the wake of early successes, Big Shoulders Fund expanded the program from an initial seven schools into thirteen schools. They are now looking to extend the program into middle and high schools, to sustain students’ improvement.