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Darien Schools Adjust Math Curriculum

DARIEN, Conn. – For kids in Darien, this is not their parents' math lesson. Darien elementary schools are adjusting the math curriculum, putting a bigger emphasis on deeper conceptual understanding of math strategies and getting kids to work together to learn how to solve problems, school officials say.

Rather than practicing drills and teaching equations, teachers might send students into groups to solve problems with real-world applications. The teachers would confer with the groups, track their progress and bring them together for a “math congress.” Students would explain their strategies, starting with the least sophisticated and moving up to the most elegant.

This will get students moving forward with their mathematical thinking, according to Mathematics Coordinator Stephanie Furman. Afterward, students would create a gallery of posters outlining their strategies and would be able to ask each other questions about how they arrived at answers.

“It’s really rich, because they’re critiquing the thinking of others, and it’s a nice way for students at the elementary level to prove their mathematical thinking,” Furman said.

“We want children to be able to not just tell you the answer, but explain how they got it and why it makes sense,” Assistant Superintendent Judith Pandolfo said. “We were never taught that way. We were never asked why, we just needed to get the right answer.”

Students will also be using a math software program called Dreambox. The program not only reads students’ answers to problems but also how they arrived at the answer. It adjusts the difficulty of the questions based on how students respond and helps identify areas where they need help.

Students will eventually be able to use Dreambox from home. The program is so calibrated to students’ individual capabilities, it is important for parents to avoid helping their kids with the homework, Pandolfo says.

Math educator Cathy Fosnot has been working with Darien teachers on this new method. The district has also had workshops with parents. Furman will give presentations to the Royle PTO on Oct. 22 and the Ox Ridge PTO on Nov. 7.

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