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New middle school math curriculum to develop critical thinking skills

Photo of teacher in front of classroom

Teacher Amy Ungaro guides 7th graders through the new Math Techbook currlculum


Raising the bar for mathematics instruction is an elusive equation for many teachers, but  Woodstock Community Unit School District 200 officials and educators expect that new rigorous middle school math curriculum will provide solutions.

One of the teaching challenges in mathematics is making math concepts practical for students, which is also one of the strengths of the Math Techbook curriculum by Discovery Education.

The 21st Century take on the word problem includes videos and real-life examples such as using math equations to determine the best deal on a mobile phone contract, something many middle school parents know is very relevant.

“It provides a balanced approach to mathematics instruction, combing conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and real-world application through the discover, practice, and apply cycle of learning within each concept,” said Susan White, middle school math and technology coach for Creekside and Northwood Middle Schools.

White said the Math Techbook program is challenging for students but also highly engaging.

Another video shows a roller coaster ride and challenges students on how to measure the ride’s velocity according to a mathematics formula. The videos and small group discussions on solving problems is also a change from traditional classroom instruction.

Michael Wheatley, principal of Creekside Middle School, said they piloted Math Techbooks last year, and the feedback he heard most from teachers was the positive benefit of the classroom discussions.

“We’ve seen a lot more collaboration between groups of kids working with each other on real world applications,” Wheatley said.

White and Justin Smith, assistant superintendent for middle and high school education, said teachers worked hard over the summer developing lessons to match the curriculum they selected after investigating several others.

Smith said Math Techbook is excellent at developing critical thinking skills in students and that the math fluency students will develop in middle school means students can be challenged further by the time they reach high school.

District 200 was among the early adopters of the curriculum along with North Shore School District 112 in Highland Park. It fit well this year, because current eighth-graders are chronologically at the top of District 200’s one-to-one technology program where all students use Chromebooks in their classrooms as opposed to textbooks.

Following an April demonstration for the District 200 Board of Education, the Board approved the $193,940 purchase of the new curriculum at its May 29 meeting. The District purchased a six-year license for the program and will pay $4,680 annually for streaming videos that are a critical part of the lessons.

Smith, a former math teacher, said students often skipped word problems for last because they found them difficult. But those are also the kind of problems that teach them to think critically, and the way Math Techbook presents those problems through videos and questions posed by them is a great way to reach modern students.

“The application piece is key because students often question why they’re learning something without knowing where they’ll apply it,” Smith said. “They’re going to be challenged more than they’re used to,” Smith said. “But we believe that struggle is going to pay off with better aptitude and better test scores as a side benefit.”