Connecting Math to the Real World
Connecting Math to the Real World

LSU Professor Helps Create Innovative PK-12 Math Curriculum

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Scott Baldridge, distinguished professor of mathematicsApril Buffington

 

When Scott Baldridge set out to change the way we view and do math, he had an in-house test subject that not only proved that math could be easily understood, but that it could also be pleasurable to learn. Baldridge’s six-year old daughter Autumn was learning mathematics while he was leading a ground-breaking initiative that is changing the way math is taught is the U.S.

“I always treated children using Eureka Math as future adults,” said Scott Baldridge as he looked back on his creation of the Eureka math program.

Baldridge, distinguished professor of mathematics at LSU, is the lead author and mathematician for Eureka Math/Engage NY, a national mathematics curriculum based on common core state standards designed for Pre-K through 12th grade. The curriculum was established two years ago to help students engaged in and get excited about mathematics. This unique program is the first complete curriculum that meets all of the common core state standards in every single grade.

“It includes teacher lesson plans, student textbooks, homework sets and student assessments,” said Baldridge.

But, Baldridge never set out to just meet the standards for the curriculum. His goal was always to develop a great mathematics curriculum that was uniform from grade-to-grade and easy to understand for students and parents alike.

The curriculum was officially implemented two and a half years ago and is used widely across many states, including Louisiana and New York. It has proved to be successful as statistics showed that standardized testing scores went up with the curriculum change.

Baldridge stressed that Eureka is one of the first curricula to be rigorously designed to be completely coherent—presenting mathematics as a single “unfolding story” through out all ages and grades. This coherent approach helps teachers to know what skills incoming students learned and ensures that students are always prepared for the next level.

“This coherence is incredibly important for learning: it makes it easier to build fluency with mathematics over time while simultaneously reducing math anxiety,” said Baldridge.

Over 100 teachers and mathematicians contributed to writing the Eureka curriculum. These experts travelled all over the country asking teachers about their issues with past and current curricula. Many of the parents and teachers around the country had the same thoughts about curricula as people in Louisiana did.

“What we found,” said Baldridge, “was that a few privileged students were getting decent curricula that would prepare them for life while the rest were getting a watered-down, shallow, recipe-driven version of mathematics.  One of our goals in writing Eureka Math was to try to give every student access to a high quality curriculum.”

Baldridge's daughter has been a constant companion in his journey to develop a better mathematics curriculum. She even occupies a significant amount of virtual real estate on Baldridge's web site (www.ScottBaldridge.net). His “Growing up with Eureka” channel on his site contains a catalog of videos documenting Autumn's mathematical moxie. The six-year old explains variables, powers of two, skip counting with fractions and even substraction problems with kittens. In the videos, Autumn definitely brings the cute factor, but her mastery of mathematics concepts is quite impressive for a six-year old.

Overall, the Eureka program has made a tremendous impact on mathematics education. According to Baldridge, an important part of the curriculum is getting students to understand and fluently do mathematics in a way that generates a positive connotation toward the subject.

“There is so much in the curriculum for our students to explore mathematically. What we are trying to do is open the doors to science, technology, and engineering careers. For example, how do you build a rocket that can reach the moon? One of the first steps is to calculate the distance to the moon.  In the curriculum, students estimate that distance using a few simple geometry concepts, and in the process of doing that calculation, they see that they don’t have to be a `rocket scientist’ to get a reasonable answer.  This brings the career of `rocket scientist’ back down to Earth and into students’ imaginations of future career possibilities.  Every high school modeling problem in Eureka was designed to open doors into our high-tech world in this way.”

EdReports.org, an independent nonprofit established to analyze and report on K-12 curricula, found Eureka Math a clear leader for its focus/coherence, rigor and usability. Currently, 61 of the 69 districts in Louisiana have self reported that they are using the curriculum in some form, varying from complete implementation to implementation in select grades. The curriculum has had a great impact on the districts it has reached and the Eureka team is gearing up to further expand the curriculum to classrooms throughout the U.S.

 

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