The best curriculum

Our math curriculum was developed in Spring 2019 in collaboration with staff from San Pascual STEAM Magnet (SPSM) in Highland Park. The approach was called Math as a Second Language. Students were introduced to expressions and equations as if it were a new language they were learning.

SPSM students from 3rd to 5th grade learned using the new curriculum for one hour each day, over a period of twelve weeks. Then they took state standardized tests. The results were dramatic: the largest passing rate increase that year among all public schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

YearSBAC met or exceeds, 3rd to 5th grade
201626%
201726%
201828%
201950% (implementation of new curriculum)

The following year, the curriculum was adopted and refined by Estrella Elementary School in South Los Angeles. The twelve 3rd-5th grade teachers found a large number of their students able to reach a high level of proficiency with algebra — and to be engaged in the learning process. “They didn’t want to go to recess,” said one teacher. “They wanted to work straight through.”

S3 lesson topics in math include:

  • What is a variable?
  • Positive and negative numbers
  • Expressions including parentheses
  • Words to expressions
  • Word problems with expressions
  • Commutative, associative, and distributive principles
  • Solving single-step and multi-step equations
  • Word problems with equations
  • Word problems with arithmetic and geometric sequences

Problems the students will be able to solve:

Simplify:
X + X + 5 – X – 3 – 5
Simplify:
2 + 2 * (2 + (1 + 2) * 2))
Solve for X:
5 * 4 – X = 5 * 2 + 3
Solve for Y:
10 + 9 * Y = (4 + 4) * (5 + 3)
Solve:
Jasmine had a goldfish that produced money, depending on what it ate: peanuts (2 coins), chips (3 coins), or bananas (X coins). The goldfish ate 2 peanuts, 3 chips, and 4 bananas, and produced 33 coins. Write an equation for X, and solve for X.
Solve:
Monica and Melanie are raising racing chickens. Monica has 10 chickens, and every day, another one joins his flock. Melanie has 40 chickens, and every day, two get eaten by foxes. How many days does it take until Monica and Melanie have the same number of chickens?

Our writing curriculum is based on the Hochman method, a set of explicit and systematic strategies detailing how to write clear sentences, then paragraphs, then compositions. Articles about Dr. Hochman’s work:

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-writing-revolution/309090/

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/education/edlife/writing-education-grammar-students-children.html

Great writing draws from deep content. Our writing lessons draw from knowledge-rich readings in science, history, and literature taken from the Core Knowledge foundation. We tested the lessons out in Spring 2020 with students from San Pascual STEAM Magnet, and observed improvements in their ability to write good sentences.

8:30 to 10 amMath (includes 10 min break)
10 to 10:30 amRecess break
10:30 to noonPeer teaching and small group instruction
Alternates between math and writing
Noon to 1 pmLunch break
1 to 2:30 pmWriting (includes 10 min break)

S3 lesson topics in writing include:

  • Sentences versus fragments
  • Correcting run-on sentences
  • Varying sentence types and developing questions
  • Coordinating conjunctions (e.g. and, but, so, because)
  • Subordinating conjunctions (e.g. before, if, when, although)
  • Combining sentences
  • Expanding sentences from a kernel
  • Taking good notes
  • Turning notes into sentences

Examples of the types of sentences students may write before and after taking S3:

BeforeAfter
wanted a new houseThe fisherman’s wife wanted a new house.
a fisherman who lived in a hut by the seaA fisherman who lived in a hut by the sea went down to the sea every day to fish.
the beast had been right things were not as bad as she had feared the palace was actually quite lovelyThe beast had been right. Things were not as bad as she had feared. The palace was actually quite lovely.
Beauty ran through the rooms of the castle, calling for the beast and there was no answer and then she remembered her dream and she ran to the garden and there she found the beast stretched out on the groundBeauty ran through the rooms of the castle, calling for the beast. There was no answer. Then she remembered her dream, and she ran to the garden. There she found the beast stretched out on the ground.
I went outsideI went outside, but it was hot so I went back inside.
I went outsideI went outside, so I got a sunburn.
I went outsideI went outside because I was bored with being inside all day.
Snakes are boringEven though snakes are boring, they are still very dangerous animals.
Julius liked french fries from McDonalds. Julius did not like waiting in traffic. Julius made a one hour drive to McDonalds.Julius did not like waiting in traffic, but he made a one-hour drive to McDonalds because he liked their french fries.