The Essentials of Math (back in 2006)
Reviewed by Susan Mielechowsky
If you’re looking for a book that gives a general overview of curriculum development, The Essentials of Mathematics K-6: Effective Curriculum, Instruction, andAssessment may be a good choice. It reads more like a textbook than a classroom resource, without being overly technical.
The short narratives included give a glimpse of real-world practice; several are interviews with leading mathematics educators, including Marilyn Burns. Each chapter provides a three-point bulleted summary (“Reflections”) at the end.
This book does frequently reference its publisher ASCD, as well as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Given the copyright of 2006, however, I found it difficult to digest many of the examples in the context of the current Common Core environment. Many of the references cited are from the early 2000’s.
This may be problematic for a novice undergraduate student because the book does not give a complete picture of the current landscape in education. I also felt this book was quite superficial; veteran teachers may find validation of their practice with just a quick skim over morning coffee, but they will gain limited new knowledge.
The book opens with an introduction and history lesson of “needs” in mathematics curriculum and follows with an outline of trends. The trends are general enough to be fairly timeless, but the emphasis on NCTM’s Standards is not as relevant given the current focus on Common Core standards in much of the country. Such trends as thinking algebraically, problem solving, communication, computation, and research are discussed.
Next is a section labeled “wise decisions,” intended to guide the process of writing curriculum, where the author shares important ideas to consider regarding content and materials. There is a spotlight on backward design, specifically addressing the work of Grant Wiggins & Jay McTighe.
In perhaps one of the few areas that defines this book specifically for grades K-5, three of the prominent programs are outlined: Investigations, Everyday Math, and Trailblazers. Again, the copyright date of the book is a cause for concern, as many districts implemented these programs in the past and have already abandoned them for others which better meet the Common Core Standards. While the information provided for each of these may drive the discussion of a curriculum team, for a school that has already used one of these programs, this will not be beneficial.
Following a short section on available software was what I found to be the most interesting section, titled “Bringing Curriculum to Life in the Classroom.” Here, the author gives short anecdotes of real-life situations for each standard, showing how they can be implemented in classrooms across the country. Assessment is also addressed in this section, differentiating between formative, diagnostic, and summative. While this section is one of the better parts of the book, it might make the most sense to search out this book in a reference library and skim it for useful content.
The author concludes with sections on positive attitudes about math (how to build community and differentiate instruction) and the role of professional development in curriculum and instruction.
Susan Mielechowsky is a “new” 6th grade mathematics teacher in Blackwood, NJ, having taught grades 7 and 8 for much of her career. As the mom of two young children, Susan is (re)discovering the importance of quality early education—and how much fun it can be! She is very interested in technology in the classroom and occasionally tweets @mskymath.