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(Note: Several weeks ago the Town Tribune printed an article on the new Big Ideas math program being used at the Middle and High Schools in New Fairfield; this is a companion article to inform the public about the District’s complete math curriculum.)

Beginning four years ago, Consolidated School, then Meeting House Hill School (MHHS), began implementing a new math program called Stepping Stones.  Described as a “progressive program” by several teachers interviewed for this article, Stepping Stones builds upon itself from year to year, and helps the students understand math concepts better than previous math instructional programs.

According to Robin Welton and Kristy Labet, Math Instructional Coaches, and Ryan Ragan, MHHS Math Teacher, one of the most important things about Stepping Stones math instruction is that it teaches students sound mental strategies, including reinforcing and building mental comprehension strategies vs. just rote memorization; it helps students to do computations in their heads instead of relying on “paper and pencil.”

“I liked the philosophy of this program, so I took the training and then piloted it for a year,” said Ms. Welton.  “It is a very sound program in that it teaches concepts very deeply, encouraging a deeper understanding of math; is teacher and parent friendly, and offers an on-line component,” she noted.

Stepping Stones was designed to be more kid-friendly and better engage the students; according to Ms. Welton, the program uses many games related to problem solving. And Ms. Labet noted that the program “encourages student discourse, providing them with opportunities to work together, which builds a stronger classroom community and motivates students to take risks, which you need to do to in mathematics.”

One strength of the program is that it better allows the teacher to differentiate the learners in their classrooms and provide the appropriate techniques for individual learning needs.

“With Stepping Stones a teacher can quickly see which students have mastered the subject and can move on, and which students need remediation first,” said Ms. Labet.  “It allows us to identify and provide for all students on the math spectrum,” she added.

According to these specialists, Stepping Stones provides tools that allow the student to find the most efficient way to get to a math problem’s answer and makes them think about what strategies they used to arrive at the answer.  This program reportedly gives students a “deeper understanding” of math concepts than math programs used in the past at the schools. It is also a curriculum that provides a strong base for the Big Ideas math curriculum recently implemented at New Fairfield’s Middle and High Schools.  Stepping Stones math is also Common Core aligned. It is designed by St. Louis-Australia Origo Education.

Stepping Stones curriculum also includes parents like past ones have not. Module information and parent newsletters provide highlights of the components and strategies currently being taught. Parents are also provided with information on how to help their children with math at home.

“A goal of Stepping Stones is to allow parents to be better able to help their children with math, and to understand what and how their children are learning in our schools,” said Mr. Ragan.

In grades K-2 at Consolidated School, children learn counting, the concept of and early stage addition and subtraction, place values, greater than/less than, shapes and measurement units.  By second grade children are learning strategies, not just memorization, that allow them to place value to 1,000 and double-digit add and subtract.

At Meeting House Hill School, students in grades 3-5 build on those skills and learn more complicated place value, multiplication and division, fractions, reinforced addition/subtraction skills and advanced measurement and data collection.

Regardless of the grade, Stepping Stones focuses on “beyond memorization” by asking students WHY did you get that answer.  According to Ms. Welton, Ms. Labet and Mr. Ragan, students are asked to become “problem solvers not calculators” by learning more efficient strategies and the various ways to get the same answer, as well as thinking “deeply” about the answer by being able to break it up and see it in different ways. This approach, they say, will better help students to understand algebra and other higher math in the future.

Since the program offers an on-line data-collecting component, teachers can better identify “trouble areas” in student learning. “Teachers can go back a grade to pinpoint where the misconception (of a math strategy) started, identify the lessons and recall activities and lessons to reinforce or reteach that area,” said  Mr. Ragan.  Students are also provided with math journals.

The Stepping Stones curriculum is proving to be a success; recent scores in the Smarter Balance (SBAC) tests for current third grade students show a higher percentage of them meeting benchmark levels, and on the STAR assessments the third grade median score rank was 84%, meaning that the middle-scored third grade student was 84% ahead of the national comparison group.

The New Fairfield School District’s approach to math now focuses on getting all the supports and interventions needed for students who are falling behind or struggling, while also providing critical-thinking math instruction to all students at all levels, grades and courses.  Stepping Stones is a path to the Big Ideas program used in the upper grades, according to the teachers, and both programs provide consistency in approach, instruction and philosophy all through students’ academic lives at all New Fairfield Schools

(Instructional Mathematics Coaches provide instructional support and offer professional development in and out of the classroom, model teaching strategies, work with teachers to use a variety of assessments to monitor student understanding and use the data for classroom planning, instruct intervention groups in the Math Lab and write math curriculum, among other things.

Robin Welton was a first grade teacher for 17 years and a second grade teacher for eight years. This is her fifth year as an Instructional Math Coach; she was K-5 Coach for three years and is currently a Coach at the K-2 level.  Ms. Welton has completed leadership training through the Connecticut Association of Schools (CAS) Leadership Academy and trained for 16 hours as an Origo Coach.

Kristy Labet taught fifth grade math at MHHS from 2001-2015, and since 2015 has been the grade 3-5 Math Instructional Coach.  She was 2015-16 MHHS Teacher of the Year, and has also completed the CAS Leadership Academy.

Ryan Ragan was a third grade teacher for five years, a fourth grade teacher for two years, and since 2013 has served as the Math Teacher for grades 3-5. He too has completed the CAS Leadership Academy, and in 2014 helped train Texas teachers on Origo Education math programs.)


By J.U. Azzi