Part 9 of Teacher Perspectives

Eureka Math – A View from Second Grade

An honest reflection on Eureka Math's strengths and challenges

Whitney Haynes teaches at a Title One school that is part of the Daviess County Public School System, which has 58% of its student population qualified for free or reduced lunch. She recently taught at a suburban, Title One school within the Owensboro Public School system.

Eureka Math has totally changed the caliber of my math instruction. I have been teaching Eureka Math for four years. I recently switched schools and this was the first year of implementation for my new school, Deer Park Elementary in Owensboro, Kentucky. I knew the implementation of this program would come with both teacher reservations and some struggles because I had already experienced those myself in my previous school; however, I also knew that what students gain from a strong standards-aligned curriculum like Eureka is worth the extra work!

Eureka Math is a rigorous program that promotes deep and creative thinking among students. Specifically in primary grades, Eureka challenges students to manipulate and work with numbers on a much deeper level than before, and this is really challenging for students. Within my current school, there has been discussion about the effectiveness of the program in the intermediate grades. It has been a struggle for students to start the program in the intermediate grades not having had a background with the specific vocabulary, strategies, and routines Eureka calls for in its instruction. The lack of familiarity with the structure of the program posed additional challenges for students on top of an already academically rigorous curriculum. My school has addressed this issue by encouraging teachers to stick with the program and offering before- and after-school tutoring for students. I believe if Eureka is implemented well over the next couple of years, students in the intermediate grades will start to have more success. I saw this in my previous school. Eureka encourages a lot of new ways of thinking, and challenges students in ways they have never been challenged. In my opinion, the true effects of Eureka–stamina, perseverance when working on difficult problems, the implementation of place value strategies, and the use of higher level vocabulary–take a few years to really kick in.

Eureka Math focuses on “going deeper, not wider.” Eureka certainly concentrates on fewer topics and forces teachers to deeply teach content that represents the Major Work of the Grade. The textbook does a great job of slowing down learning but keeping critical thinking high. For example, the 2nd grade Eureka Math curriculum spends the whole year teaching deeply only number sense, geometry, and measurement. When doing assessments, such as Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), I’ve found it this to be a real challenge, because students will be asked questions about money, time, and other topics we may have taught in the past instead of tightly aligning to the Major Work of the Grade as the Eureka curriculum does. It is very difficult to supplement Eureka due to the timeline of the modules and lessons. Fortunately, within the Eureka guide there are suggested lessons to exempt. This has helped with pacing, as well as providing more time to insert additional lessons on skills that will be assessed on MAP. However, because the Eureka pacing has been difficult for our school to follow, there have been sections of Eureka that we have had to skip for time reasons.

In second grade, where I currently teach, as well as other primary grades, there is a huge focus on number sense. Students progress through the Eureka program learning the true meaning of numbers and how they work together. Within a normal day, students practice fluency, develop concrete understanding of abstract concepts such as bundling and regrouping,engage in independent practice (called the problem set), and then are presented with an exit ticket. In my opinion, some problem sets, homework, and/or exit tickets tend to be a bit redundant. After joining the EQuIP Summit this May, we found, according to student work, some of the tasks asked of students were redundant and do not always fully meet the standards they were attempting to show. However, overall Eureka is considered an exemplary curriculum.

My favorite parts of the curriculum are concept development and application problems. These are times when I can can hear genuine conversations among my students, and work out any misconceptions. I use these times as my most poignant and most effective teaching times. Number talks using the Eureka application problems are perfect for this type of conversation. Students are presented with a word problem that’s correlated to a strategy from a previous lesson. These application problems are great for bell ringers, and have a tendency to create conversations that linger throughout the lesson. Students have the opportunity to read over the problem themselves or sometimes I read it to them. They have time to work out the problem alone, jotting their ideas in a journal or even sometimes on a post-it note. When the students have had time to work out their problem, we write down possible answers on the board, discuss strategies, converse with each other, then determine the best answer. One of the most vital parts of Eureka is the time students have to share their own creative strategies and methods.

The most difficult part of Eureka, in my opinion, is to implement is the fluency section, more specifically, the sprints. The sprints included in Eureka (worksheets where students are asked to complete as many math facts as they can within a set time period) follow a specific pattern or rule — for example, adding a tens. I believe the skills are very important, but due to pacing, I find myself cutting out this portion of the daily lesson to spend more time on concept development or application problems. In talking with other teachers at my school, I have found that there are differing opinions on the sprints: some say the students love the sprints and others say, like me, have trouble implementing them. Many students are made uncomfortable by the timed aspect of the sprints. While I believe math fact fluency is vital, I am still working to find a way to use these fluency sprints effectively in the classroom.

In order to address math fact fluency, my school has adopted Reflex Math, which is a web-based math fact fluency program that provides math fact practice to students through the use of gaming. I began using this program, because I was awarded a one year grant. I saw significant improvement in the area of math fact fluency with my students. My students were able to connect the knowledge gained from this program to the strategies and skills I taught through Eureka. This was super important. My students were able to identify, through the use of Reflex Math, how basic addition and subtraction facts connect to adding and subtracting larger numbers. Eureka and Reflex Math differ greatly in their approach to math fluency. The sprints included in Eureka are based on patterns. Students use those pattern to complete a worksheet that is timed. They complete “set A” and “set B.” Between sets, the students make observations about patterns they saw, discuss with partners, and prepare for “set B” by thinking about how the pattern they observed with help them improve on the next set. Reflex Math is not based on patterns, but does monitor math fact fluency–addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division–through their web-based program. The students practice these facts through games that are at their own pace. The program begins with an assessment, then tracks individual students’ progress. Students earn rewards and “Milestone Rewards” as they progress through Reflex. It is recommended students use Reflex Math 15-20 minutes, three times a week. Because of the impact this program had on my students math fact fluency growth, my school has adopted this program for students grades 2-5 for the 2017-2018 school year.

There will be struggles starting a new curriculum in any subject. Eureka Math is a program worth investing the time. It is a rigorous, deep-thinking program that challenges students to be creative problem solvers. As our school continues to implement this program, I know the impacts of Eureka will be seen within the vocabulary the students use, the way students attack difficult problems, and their ability to persevere. As always, the best resources at any school are only as good as the teachers teaching it. Teachers must be willing to devote time to learning how to effectively teach the lessons–and why they’re teaching them–in order for Eureka to be truly successful. There must also be strong support for the program within the school administration, and willingness to stick with the program for several years to see the full impact. Even though Eureka Math is an exemplary curriculum, it is not perfect. As teachers, we must meet our students’ needs with the best programs available, and strive to make those even better in the interest of our students without compromising the integrity and goal of the program. Eureka Math strives to address all Common Core Shifts, and does it well. In my opinion, Eureka is a strong curriculum that fluidly and effectively teaches the Common Core, and promotes high-level thinking among students and teachers.

Click here to see the full EdReports review for Eureka Math.

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About the Author: Whitney Haynes is a National Board and Google Certified Educator. She teaches at a Title One school that is part of the Daviess County Public School system that is 58% free and reduced. She recently taught at a suburban, Title One school within the Owensboro Public School system. She is also part of the LearnZillion Math Dream Team, and participated in the EQuIP Summit, May 2017.