Benchmark School is unique for an elementary and middle school in that it features a distinct math department comprised of math specialists. Math instruction is tailored to students' individual needs, as students are regrouped for math based on their strengths, challenges, and level of performance.
The math department provides a program that is research-based, conceptual, and inquiry driven. The focus is on helping students develop the conceptual and strategic knowledge that will enable them to be efficient and effective mathematical thinkers and problem solvers.
In designing this program, the math teachers have found that no single published series fits all of our students' needs. Consequently, our teachers have created an instructional program that draws on the strengths of a wide range of programs while being grounded in the standards set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) as well as the Pennsylvania Common Core and the Mathematical Practices of the Common Core. The result is a program that develops students' confidence and competence in math and prepares them to be mathematical thinkers for life.
Following these guidelines, the lower school students focus on operations and algebraic thinking, numbers and operations in base 10, measurement and data, and geometry, while middle school students focus on ratio and proportional relationships, number systems, expressions and equations, geometry, statistics, and probability.
To maintain consistency among subjects, the metacognitive strategies that students are taught in math are similar to the strategies taught in language arts.
Just as in language arts class, “…in math class, students are coached to access background knowledge and use it to help them understand new content,” said Head of Math Department Rosanne Crowe. “They are consistently encouraged to monitor for understanding when visualizing problems and explaining how they solved a problem.” Encouraging students to look for and use patterns enables them to understand the concepts or “big ideas” in math (e.g., equivalency, numbers, and patterns) and how mathematical concepts are connected.
Teachers use a variety of resources to help prepare daily lessons that incorporate the big ideas, the content standards, and the metacognitive strategies. “We are able to teach concepts using methods that best fit each student’s needs,” Head Math Teacher Phil Ruth said. “I love that there is not just one book or resource that is followed. We often change the order of the lessons [from the order in a textbook] to have the concepts make better sense to our students.”
In 15 years of working with mathematics teachers, I have never seen a group as skilled and dedicated to each student's success as those at Benchmark. These teachers excel at all the best practices and then strive for more. They serve as a model of all who are inspired to teach.
Kristie Jones Newton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Temple University