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New edition of Math Trailblazers is stronger than ever before

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When most of the University of Illinois at Chicago campus was quiet during the summer break the offices of Teaching Integrated Mathematics and Science Project were bustling with activity as staff anticipated the delivery of the newest edition of Math Trailblazers. This revision punctuated the success of one of the country’s most popular and effective mathematics curricula for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, which had been used in classrooms for 15 years.

The revised curriculum is based on several research studies and aligned the program with the Common Core State Standards. Researchers revised lessons to help students make connections among representations and provided more support for teachers by improving the embedded assessment for individual progress.  It also offers new strategies to help teachers with diverse learners in their classrooms.

“The assessment system of this edition is designed to give teachers better information about where they are going, what students know, and how to make instructional decisions to meet students’ needs,” said Jennifer Leimberer, TIMS director and lead writer.

The instruction is focused on developing strategic and quantitative reasoning which is one of the reasons Math Trailblazers is a success across the board, thousands of students from Chicago to Venezuela use the lessons every day.

The curriculum was designed under a $5.8 million-project with UIC’s Learning Sciences Research Institute, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, published by KendallHunt. Based on more than 25 years of research from experts who worked with what is known as the TIMS project, a predecessor to LSRI, founded by former UIC researchers Howard Goldberg and Philip Wagreich. Their work showed that children learn best when they engage in problem-solving exercises that use real-world contexts to help them make sense of mathematics.

Math Trailblazers integrates mathematics, science and language arts into its teaching strategy. What’s more, it emphasizes the use of embedded assessment tools, or little tasks throughout a given unit that offer feedback right away so that teachers can adjust their lessons according to what students need. This feedback is critical in impacting the development of effective strategies in problem solving.

Embedded assessment is a signature research area for LSRI. For example, James W. Pellegrino, LSRI co-director and one of the country’s leading experts on assessment, evaluates the fourth-grade Math Trailblazers curriculum for his NSF-funded Evaluation of the Cognitive, Psychometric, and Instructional Affordances of Curriculum Embedded Assessment. The grant studies the effectiveness of assessment tools for both teachers and students.

One of the strengths of Math Trailblazers, Leimberer said, is that it is developed not only by researchers, but also by teachers “We’ve all been in the trenches,” said Elizabeth Cape, a former fourth-grade teacher who writes for TIMS. “We’ve taught this material and were part of the field tests. We know what works and we’ve worked hard to put professional development into teachers’ hands.”

— Andrew Krzak