The Lebanon R-3 School District covers approximately 250 square miles in south central Missouri. The county population is approximately 32,000 and the most recent census in 2000 reported nearly 12,000 residents inside the city limits. Currently more than 4,000 students attend Lebanon schools, with 300 students in a 6th grade school and 1000 students in one junior high (grades 7-9) building. This places Lebanon Public Schools in the top 10% of school districts in Missouri in terms of size. Tourism, agriculture, industry, and retail sales are the major sources of income in the area.
The Middle School Mathematics Curriculum
In 1995, Lebanon changed from homogeneous grouping of students for mathematics instruction to heterogeneous grouping and began a middle school teaming strategy. Prior to 1996, the mathematics curriculum was lacking in real-life applications, and not preparing students well for continued mathematics studies. There was too much repetition in content across grades, especially on basic skills. Under the leadership of veteran 6th & 7th grade math teachers and the district technology coordinator, the teachers decided to explore alternative curricula better aligned to the NCTM Standards. They were invited to join a statewide NSF-funded teacher enhancement project (Missouri Middle school Mathematics - M3) which involved investigating and piloting standards-based curricula.
Our primary goal in seeking a curriculum change was to improve student achievement in mathematics by using common instructional methods and materials in grades 6-8. We liked the denseness and connectedness of the STEM materials (now Math Thematics). Students were required to read, reason, conjecture, discover, and demonstrate their thinking. We were able to visit Jefferson City,MO, where they were implementing STEM, and felt that the involvement of the students and the role of the teacher were well aligned to what we were seeking for our students in Lebanon.
Strategy for Implementation
First and foremost, parental concerns were a hurdle for us during the first semester of piloting. The parents' major concerns were not being able to help their children with their math homework and the frustration their students were experiencing. The math was different from what parents had experienced in school. Because of this, we decided to do 3 things:
In the future, parents will receive information about STEM during the registration period in August.
Getting students to read and think.
Since the problems assigned, required students to construct their own algorithms and meanings with the new curriculum, we had to allow students more time to think. The intense reading required continues to be a challenge for some students. However, we feel this is justified as it will help prepare students for required performance assessments.
Changing teaching practices.
Methods of teaching were adapted. How to budget instructional time with a new program was a challenge. For example, the E2 problems, required time for students to explore and conjecture. Grading the E2 projects required the use of scoring guides, assessing student thinking and communication. This was different than with traditional mathematics materials that focus more on content than processes. With the heavy emphasis on group work it became necessary to implement cooperative learning structures to insure individual accountability and equal participation.
Setting an implementation schedule.
Looking back, we would have changed our implementation schedule. Because of the sequential nature of the Math Thematics curriculum, we would have started the first year with 6th grade only. Year 2, we would have followed up with the 7th grade, and in the third year we would have included the 8th grade. We tried to do too much too quickly because we were eager for change.
As a result of participating in the M3 Project, collaboration with teachers in our own district as well as with teachers from other districts during M3 meetings became routine. We broke a long tradition of not knowing what our fellow teachers were doing in their classrooms, especially between buildings. We supported one another by planning together at grade levels and dividing the workload.
Advice from experienced users..
We had the entire set of pilot materials to explore. When we had questions concerning the pilot materials, we were able to contact the writers and other schools who were implementing STEM with our questions. This contact was very helpful.
The key component for adopting an innovative curriculum is to have administrative support. At the beginning of the project we (the teachers and the technology cordinator) informed the principals and the central office personnel of what we were doing. Because of this, we received the necessary support.
Acknowledgement: The Show-Me Center is indebted to Carol Bauer of the Lebanon School District for assistance in developing this story.