Sullivan elementary teachers drive switch to Eureka Math

Rick Wagner • Oct 14, 2019 at 10:33 AM

BLOUNTVILLE —Sullivan County elementary teachers and a school administrator have had a “Eureka” moment.

The moment has become a teacher-led movement to use a new online program for elementary math that better matches Tennessee standards than the current textbook. It is called Eureka Math and is a packaged version of Engage New York Math and can be downloaded by teachers for free.

Given that Sullivan County Schools got a 1 on a scale of 1 to 5 on elementary numeracy on the recently released Tennessee Report Card for 2018-19, teachers and administrators knew something needed to change.

So Robin McClellan, supervisor of elementary education, said teachers came to her with a potential solution, something she said would keep them from spending nights and weekends working on putting together programs that would help students improve in numeracy and spend more time helping students learn with a better program.

“A level 1 in numeracy is just not enough,” McClellan said at a recent Board of Education meeting.

Eureka is a “stronger curriculum that more aligns with our standards” than the Pearson textbooks adopted in 2016, McClellan told the BOE. She also spoke to the board about the issue during its Sept. 26 work session. “They’re not changing the content. They’re changing how it gets done,” McClellan said. “They’re (teachers) rising up and saying we need more.”

Director of Schools David Cox, at the board meeting, said he’s visited schools where teachers and students are using Eureka and was walked through a problem by a student using Eureka. At the work session, he said the new system emphasizes, among other things, different methods of getting the answer to a problem and for students to do more critical thinking. Examples McClellan gave the board were students breaking down the number eight into components and writing out the reasoning.

McClellan told the BOE that she’s spent 66 hours visiting all county elementary schools, finishing up the last school visit earlier that day. She said teachers are not only on board with Eureka but suggested it. 

She said another change is that math classes no longer “jet plane” over standards until students master them, responding to a question by board member Paul Robinson during the work session and referencing it again at the meeting. At the work session, she said students review past lessons in math since those are the foundation for current and future lessons, much as a house must have a good foundation before floors, walls and a roof can be properly supported.

“We’re not going to jet plane through curriculum anymore,” McClellan said.