Through its partnership with JASON Learning, teachers and students would receive access to a vast library of interactive, real-world lessons with a focus on Algebra I and Geometry. The learning experience, which included a digital curriculum and exposure to real-world role models, empowered students to envision mathematics applied to future career opportunities.
Despite excitement around the curriculum, Sterling and her team knew success would hinge on teachers’ willingness and ability to do things differently. It would come down to training.
“In August, JASON Learning came in with their team and trained all of our curriculum specialists. We have a train-the-trainer model,” explains Burkhalter. “Throughout the school year, we host weekly PLCs, where curriculum specialists and teachers map out the specific objective that will be taught weekly and ensure that they’re aligned with what’s taught and tested.”
When the pandemic hit, administrators added professional development for parents as well. Teachers spent three weeks training parents and showing them how to help using the JASON STEM curriculum from home. Administrators say the curriculum, coupled with thoughtful training, encourages instructors to innovate and apply different strategies to reach the district’s most underserved students.
Sterling said the district focused on Algebra I and, later, on Geometry, because the data showed that those mathematics disciplines were “gatekeepers” to student performance. The more Algebra I and Geometry classes the district opened, and the earlier students started developing an interest in advanced mathematics, the better they performed overall.
“That was our first ‘a-ha’ moment,” says Sterling. “My first year, we agreed, from the board on to the principals and in our community, that we would open up our first pre-Algebra class.”
Momentum has only grown from there. Now, in many cases, eighth graders enrolled in pre-Algebra are taking and passing the same exam delivered to ninth graders. By pushing access to advanced mathematics down to middle school level, and empowering students and teachers to embrace the power of math, FCPS is able to provide more opportunities for students as they matriculate into and eventually graduate from high school and enter the workforce.