Raising the Bar, Part 1
Levine Academy

Levine's Math Program: Challenge for All: On-Level, Above Average, Advanced

Introduction to "Raising the Bar": At Ann and Nate Levine Academy, we are so proud of our academic program, how the curriculum has progressed substantially, and how the instruction across the board is taking significant steps forward. While our target is to meet the needs of all of our students, we know that meeting those needs requires constant vigilance, flexibility, continuous movement toward best practices, and a growth mindset among our teachers that is always striving to keep students growing and learning. Success for a school is not only about excellence in teaching and learning in the classroom, but it is about communicating our story to our current and prospective parents. In this series, Raising the Bar, our eNews will be devoting several articles in the coming weeks about how Levine Academy has been raising our academic standards so that each child experiences the appropriate level of challenge, whether one receives guidance from our learning specialists, or is well above average, or is among our many highly capable students. 

Math at Levine has taken substantial steps forward in recent years. Following the completion of Levine's last Strategic Plan in January 2015, the school set about to research the very best curricula across the country. Our program leaders met with several math department leaders in the area's top private schools, including Greenhill and St. Mark's. Once we determined our core math curriculum, we set about to add layers of enrichment resources, digital curricula, and supplemental materials to outfit our teachers with the right stuff to help students soar with their learning.

 

Our K8 math instructional approach changed as well. Using standardized testing scores (ERB and MAP) and pre-assessment for every math unit, we assess students' levels of math readiness, to not only provide support for struggling learners, but also for advanced learners. Our University of Chicago EM4 math program (K thru 6) provides differentiated activities for students of all levels of readiness. We acknowledge that the EM4 does not adequately provide for some of our exceptionally advanced math students, and for this reason we have adopted various tools for these students. We have invested in Mentoring Minds (grades 1-7) which many students are using to advance their math skills. Several of our students are working up to three grade levels ahead with this program. We also use the Edward Zaccaro Challenge Math Series which encourages mathematical thinking and critical analysis of math.

Our aim is to develop in-depth mathematical thinking. In other words, our teachers go much farther than just pure computational skills. Teachers aren't merely teaching an algorithm. They are also teaching the quantitative reasoning behind whatever computational strategy students are using. Students are understanding how to visualize the problems, how to decipher what is being asked in a word problem, and they are frequently asked to guesstimate up front, based on available data and information, in order to reason through and understand the nature of the problem.

When it comes to enrichment resources, Levine has invested in some of the leading programs available. We have acquired SRA Mathematics for our Fifth and Sixth Grade students. We also use IXL, Ten Marks and Khan Academy. The classroom strategy is to close all gaps of time that would otherwise be wasted, so that our students are being immersed in math challenge or furthering their math understanding even following the proverbial "I'm done!" moment. Student ownership of which math strategy to use helps to build confidence, instill a spirit of discovery, and deepens their understanding of the problem. For example, our Fifth and Sixth Grade math teacher uses a self-paced math model in his classroom. All students are taught a mini-lesson on the current standard and then are free to work through the activities at their own pace with support provided by two teachers. Students are responsible for completing all activities and achieving a level of mastery before taking the post-assessment. When necessary, we will reformat classes to accommodate highly capable groups. For example, some students in Seventh Grade have been combined with an Eighth Grade math class and are studying Algebra 1. These Seventh Graders will be in a dedicated Geometry class next year in Eighth Grade, a first for Levine.

And in summertime? Levine does not slow down in the summer. Our biggest investment takes place in the summer as we equip so many of our teachers with professional development around the country so that we are ready to go with yet again in August as we launch another excellent year of math at Levine Academy.