“I’ve seen phenomenal math growth in my students this year.”
That statement from second-grade teacher Nicole Larson is echoed by other teachers at Mountain Vista Elementary.
“My students are actually thinking about math, not just doing math,” said fifth-grade teacher Robert Niebecker.
Teachers at Mountain Vista attribute that improvement in math understanding and growth to the new Bridges math program. The comprehensive, standards-based, K-5 curriculum was implemented at Mountain Vista when the school opened last August and will be used at all elementary schools in the district starting next year. Bridges will replace the Everyday Math program, which has been used in elementary schools since 2002.
“Bridges is math instruction that’s best for kids,” said Chris Smith, Cherry Creek Schools executive director of elementary education. He says the program has a better balance between the procedural (“the how”) and the conceptual (“the why”) aspects of math. “We’re still going to teach kids to add and subtract and multiply and divide, but we’re also going to teach them the concepts behind the algorithms.”
“Instead of just using flashcards and memorizing facts, we’re helping our students develop a deeper conceptual understanding of math,” said Lana Hansen, the district’s Bridges implementation math coach. She says that will allow students to “make meaning of the numbers” and use that knowledge in other contexts and at higher levels.
Larson says that’s happening in her second grade classroom. “I’ve had to change the way I teach,” she said. “It’s not based so much on the book but more on the kids and the questions they ask. I can say to them “Prove it!” or “How do you know?” or “Because why?” and they can explain the strategies they used to solve the problem.”
The Bridges program features manipulatives or “hands-on materials” for students to use, as well as both open-ended problems (where there is more than one way to get the correct answer) and parallel tasks, where students work on the same type of activity but with different levels of difficulty to meet their individual needs.
“All students will experience rigor and challenge with this program,” said Hansen.
Smith said the district has been thorough and thoughtful in implementing the program. All elementary teachers have had eight hours of training on the shift in math standards. Teachers at four track schools (which start the new school year in July) will receive two days of training on the Bridges program this spring, while all other elementary teachers will take that training during the summer.
The district will also provide opportunities for parents to learn about the Bridges program, and if the parent reaction at Mountain Vista is any indication, they will be impressed.
“I really, really like the program,” said Sherrie Clark, whose son is a second-grader at Mountain Vista. “Bridges does a great job of teaching the concepts of math and they can apply what learn in other areas and in real life. It allows the kids to solve problems in their own way, which I really like because kids are so different. The kids seem so much more excited because they can own it.”