Idaho Falls School District 91 is implementing a new K-6 math curriculum in 2014 called Math in Focus. Based on the principles of Singapore Math, the curriculum is designed to give students a deeper, richer understanding of mathematics. It will encourage students to solve problems, think critically and develop a mathematical mindset.

Mathematics instruction in the United States traditionally has focused on showing students how to "get the answer" and then providing practice opportunities so students can develop speed and accuracy. Recent research shows that instruction emphasizing mathematical meaning or a deeper understanding of the mathematical principles can also result in speed and accuracy.  In addition, this kind of instructions helps students better retain what they have learned and apply the concepts and principles to other situations and problems. 

To help students develop that deeper understanding of mathematics, Math in Focus emphasizes: *

  • Conceptual Understanding: Singapore math emphasizes a concrete to pictorial to abstract pedagogy. Students are first introduced to concepts with manipulatives, which allow them to experience and understand the math they are learning. They visually represent concepts using tools such as number bonds and bar models.
  • Visualization: Math in Focus teaches students several consistent models they can use to make sense of mathematical relationships such as bar models, place value charts, number bonds and array models.
  • Problem Solving: Each chapter contains numerous embedded problem-solving situations so students learn to flexibly apply their mathematical knowledge. These problem situations require students to extend the concepts they have learned to non-routine situations to demonstrate mastery.

In addition, Math in Focus emphasizes number and operation in every grade. With multi-day lessons and little repetition from grade to grade, students learn concepts in depth to mastery. Textbooks are organized so students first learn number and operation and then practice, connect and apply these concepts in later chapters on geometry and measurement, which is demonstrated through consistent opportunities to explain why mathematical concepts work.

Finally the Common Core Mathematical Practice Standards require a higher level of thinking for students. These Practice Standards focus on developing a mathematical mindset and a focus on problem solving. It is through these standards that students will be challenged in ways that they may not be used to. Math in Focus utilizes strategies to support students to see struggle as a necessary part of learning.

Math instruction in classrooms will look a little different with Math In Focus but students will still be learning the same important concepts they always have. They will just be learning with an added emphasis on problem solving, mathematical reasoning and algebraic thinking.

This new curriculum and changing math instruction is part of Idaho Falls School District 91's emphasis on Numeracy, the idea that students will have the ability to confidently and effectively use mathematics to meet the everyday demands of life. The district's ultimate goal is to ensure its graduates have the knowledge, skills and attributes they will need to be successful beyond high school.

The district's new Math In Focus curriculum is designed to help children develop a deep, rich understanding of mathematics. It includes new strategies to help children learn about mathematical concepts. Those strategies include things like number bonds, mental math and sorting and classifying numbers in new ways. This video library should provide parents with the information and tips they need to help their children at home with these new ideas.

Math in Focus Videos

We understand the critical role parents play in their children’s education and we want to make sure parents have the resources they need to help their children be successful in math. Here are some tips:

  • Attend Parent Meetings or Math Nights scheduled at your school: These events provide opportunities for parents to learn more about what students are working on in class, as well as provide tools for parents to help their children at home.

  • Ask your children to explain what they did in math today: Can they show you what they learned with toys or blocks? Can they draw an example of what they did? Can they compute accurately and check their work?

  • Engage in mathematical talk*.  Look for opportunities to have mathematically-oriented conversations with your child that connect to the world around us. For example, if your son notices some workers putting a new roof on a neighbor’s house and wonders how long a new roof lasts, turn the conversation into a story problem. Tell them roofs are replaced every 20 years and then ask him how old he will be when you have to replace your 8-year-old roof. Listen as he reasons through the problem.

  • Play math games at home.

  • Question rather than “tell”*.  It is often tempting to simply tell or explain a math problem – particularly if your child has arrived at the wrong answer. In order to help your daughter gain a deeper understanding of math ask her questions instead. Begin with “how” and “why” questions about the math problem, which will help you understand how she is thinking. In many instances, with this kind of reflection, a child will reconsider the strategies they used to solve the problem.

  • Suggest rather than “compel”*.  At times, even after some questioning and reflection, a child may remain at an impasse – uncertain on how to proceed with a particular problem. In these instances, avoid “compelling” the child to solve a problem a particular way. Instead, share your strategies for solving those kinds of problems. For example, if your 4-year-old is struggling to count a pile of crayons, offer your strategy. “Do you know how I like to count things? When I count one crayon, I like to pull it away from the others to know I have to know I have counted it."  You do not require her to count a particular way, but she may decide to adopt your strategy. If she does her choice signifies the beginnings of a deeper understanding of the mathematics at hand.

  • Stay involved: Check your child’s homework each night and make sure they are ready for the independent work that is often sent home.

  • Ask for help: If you’re struggling to understand a new approach, check websites and other resources available to parents. Or, ask your child’s teacher to answer some questions so you can work together to build a strong foundation for mathematics.

*Excerpts from “Towards Meaning-Driven Math Fluency”, by Dr. Jonathan Thomas, Kentucky Center for Mathematics Faculty Associate