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Fairfield Schools Hope to Teach Kids to Love Math

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Math classes at Fairfield’s elementary schools will take on a whole new look next year. The district plans to bring in a new curriculum for grades 3 to 5 that administrators believe will get kids more excited about math while preparing them better for middle school and beyond.

“When I was a student at Sherman School, I used to hate math class,” said Ryan Carroll, a fifth-grade teacher at Dwight School , one of the four chosen to run the curriculum as a pilot program for the last three years. “My students now … they hate to miss math class. That’s remarkable.”

The new curriculum is based heavily on the Common Core State Standards, which are being adopted by many states. The new standards set benchmarks for what kids should know at each grade level, most of which are higher than before.

For example, third-graders previously needed to know how to multiply and divide by numbers 1 through 5 and 10. Under the new system, students will learn to multiply and divide 1 through 10 and to find missing numbers in an equation. More examples are available in the district’s summary of the program on its website.

“We want students to automatically know their basic facts, so that a bigger, higher level thinking is easier for them,” elementary education director Ana Cutaia-Leonard said.

The new curriculum also allows kids to advance more quickly, if they can handle it. Some topics formerly not reached until middle school are now included in grades 3 to 5. Kids who show that they can go even further will be given work and instruction in higher levels.

The system will also teach kids multiple methods for solving math problems, such as the traditional grid model, splitting up numbers into easily handled parts or estimating with round numbers and then adjusting. Students will learn all of the strategies and will be encouraged to choose the ways that work best for them.

“The balanced math instructional model eliminates that one-size-fits-all approach to math,” said Rana Hilinksi, a fourth-grade teacher at Dwight. “Each child learns differently, and the workshop model supports that.”

Some parents spoke out against the new curriculum before the Board of Education adopted it Tuesday night. Some wanted the district to replace its outdated textbooks. A few said the district should look more into Singapore Math, a system based on the Asian nation’s methods.

“These same resources that we’ve been using have failed us the past seven years,” said parent Trisha Donovan. “Districts around us have already moved to other resources that align to common core, such as Singapore Math.”

School board member Perry Liu proposed waiting a month for more data on the pilot program and to find answers for parents’ concerns. But the board voted to go ahead with the curriculum as written Tuesday night. The new system will be implemented in Fairfield’s schools next September.

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