Facet of elementary math curriculum fractions some Mt. Lebanon parents

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A petition asking Mt. Lebanon School District to review a facet of its mathematics curriculum has drawn more than its stated goal of 250 signatures.

The request specifically addresses the merits of a resource used in developing the elementary curriculum: "Investigations in Number, Data and Space," an educational offering of Cambridge, Mass.-based TERC, a nonprofit research and development organization.

Some Mt. Lebanon parents are concerned that the curriculum doesn't adequately address basic mathematical concepts such as fractions and long division.

From the district's standpoint, the curriculum provides students with a variety of problem-solving skills they can apply to real-world situations.

"They're getting a deep conceptual understanding of mathematics," elementary math teacher Kim Robbins told the school board at Monday's meeting. "Why did you get the right answer? They know the mathematical process behind it."

Ms. Robbins was one of four teachers who presented the board with a comprehensive overview of the curriculum. She said she has received encouraging feedback from her students.

"They're debating. They're using that literate mathematical language. They're challenging each other. They're having fun," said Ms. Robbins, a 1996 Mt. Lebanon High School graduate. "Their test scores say they're learning, and I'm learning with them."

Kristin Malok, another elementary teacher, mentioned positive experiences with her second-graders.

"They give me a way to solve the problem that I didn't even think of," she said. "They seem so engaged, and they're eager to have math class. I wish I would have been a student who really benefited from a program like this."

Addressing the presentation, some audience members took a different perspective.

Jeff Woods of Longridge Drive, who said he represented a group of parents of elementary students, told the board about concerns that the curriculum should include "a balance of teaching all tools that are available in math," including "traditional algorithms."

Parents have questioned whether concepts taught to younger students adequately prepare them for higher grades. Lori Knox, co-chairwoman of the secondary mathematics department and middle school teacher, said that has not been an issue.

"We're seeing a nice transition with students coming from the elementary schools," she told the school board.

Deborah Allen, assistant superintendent of elementary education, said a group of administrators and teachers constantly reviews the mathematics curriculum and revises it accordingly.

"We start by asking: why? Why do we do this?" she explained.

"It's good for us to process and not just assume that what we wrote a few years ago still is adequate."

School board Vice President Lawrence Lebowitz said he was encouraged by Monday's discussion about the curriculum's review process.

"If there are gaps, they're going to be recognized," he said.

Among audience members, Ellen Giarrusso of Midway Road told the board she agrees that the math curriculum needs to be balanced.

"Where I think the district has fallen short is in educating the parents," she said.

David Huston of Sleepy Hollow Road had a different kind of suggestion.

"It needs to be scrapped," he said. "Math is no different now than when we went to school."

Board President Elaine Cappucci, though, said "Investigations" would remain a key resource, as recommended by those who develop the curriculum.

"I do not see any changes being made to that in the near future."

education - neigh_south

Harry Funk, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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