Developing Math Vision and Practices at STEM K-8

Thanks to “What Parents Should Know” (, “Advice for Parents from Professor Jo Boaler” (, and Joe Roicki for significant contributions to this article.

STEM K-8 staff undertook a lengthy evaluation of the way we deliver math instruction to students this year.  We were driven by an ongoing struggle to achieve high levels of success with all students in mastering common core standards, and also providing opportunities for challenge and acceleration across a range of skill levels.

The way we were teaching students was not preparing them for the higher demands of college and careers today and in the future. Our staff is committed to improving teaching and learning to ensure that all children will graduate high school with the skills they need to be successful.

In mathematics, this means major changes. Teachers will concentrate on teaching a more focused set of major math ideas and skills. This allows students greater time to master key math concepts and skills in a more organized way throughout the year and from one grade to the next. It will also call for teachers to use rich and challenging math content and to engage students in solving real-world problems in order to inspire greater interest in mathematics.

The major changes – greater focus on fewer major topics, coherence within a school year and across grade levels, and rigor in the form of challenging, complex, and real-world problem solving – align with the philosophy behind Singapore math, which served as a model in the construction of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M). This three-dimensional framework provides the structure for teachers to provide higher-quality math instruction for all students.

In order to meet the goals of the framework, teachers must have access to high quality, standards-aligned instructional materials. The Primary Mathematics series of textbooks we have been utilizing have not met these new requirements, causing teachers to spend too much planning time finding or creating materials. The Primary Mathematics series is based on the California State Standards, predating the CCSS-M.  This contributes to a lack of alignment across grade levels, widening learning gaps and decreasing school achievement in mathematics.

As we worked to refine a vision for mathematics at STEM K-8, staff identified a need for supplemental instructional and assessment materials that a) support differentiation and multiple math pathways that build conceptual understanding and elicit student thinking b) support baseline, formative, and summative assessments aligned to standards, and c) support efficient teacher preparation and student learning.

While no single set of instructional materials will address all the challenges inherent in teaching mathematics, we believe that the Eureka Math provides an important supplement and large step towards meeting the expectations set by the CCSS-M. With materials based on the CCSS-M, teachers can spend more time developing best practices in teaching mathematics, including engaging students in rich tasks, conducting class discussions about strategies, and helping students communicate mathematical reasoning.

Our next steps include defining a clear professional development sequence to achieve our goals in mathematics, and identifying multiple measures of success that we can use as checkpoints.

As we continue this work at STEM K-8, do not hesitate to reach out to your child’s teacher if you have concerns or questions. You are a vital part of your child’s education. Ask to see samples of your child’s work, or bring samples with you. One of the most important things parents can do for their children with regards to math learning is to model a growth mindset – that learning math is about making sense and working hard. Making mistakes means that their brains are growing and learning, not that they are not “smart.” Ask questions like:

  • Is my child making adequate progress at this point of the year?
  • Where is my child excelling? How can I support this success?
  • What do you think is giving my child the most trouble? How can I help my child improve in this area?
  • What can I do to help my child with upcoming work?

Thank you all for your support as we continue to strive to provide the best education possible for your children!


STEM K-8 Math Program Vision and Goals

STEM teachers talk regularly about math instruction.  Teachers are grappling with how to challenge and support the wide range of learners in classrooms, best practices in math instruction, and mastering common core standards.  On April 26 staff discussed our vision and goals for STEM’s math program. The outcome of that conversation is pasted below. At Wednesday, May 3rd’s 6:30-8:00 pm PTA meeting parents will have an opportunity to discuss and respond to this draft statement about our vision for math at STEM.

Vision and Goals for STEM K-8’s Math Program 

  • Built on strong depth of knowledge regarding common core standards, both at and across grade levels.
    1. Content and Practice standards.
    2. Based on grade level progression documents that incorporate developmental and mathematical readiness.
    3. Balances needs for acceleration, challenge, and support (how, why, and when).
      1. Middle school students need to meet requirements for Algebra and beyond.
  • Supports ongoing development of instructional best practices
    1. Provides a clear professional development sequence.
    2. Emphasizes differentiation and rigor.
      1. Recognizes differences between and provides opportunities for challenge and acceleration.
    3. Develops formative assessments to monitor student learning and build further understanding.
    4. Addresses the widening range in student skills partly connected to changes in student population.
    5. Takes advantage of STEM math opportunities in PBL and other disciplines.
  • Instructional and assessment materials support efficient teacher preparation and student learning.
    1. Includes supports for differentiation and multiple math pathways that build conceptual understanding and elicit student thinking.
    2. Supports baseline, formative, and summative assessments aligned to standards.
  • Clear criteria for student success
    1. Historically was mastery of standardized tests, opportunities for acceleration and challenge.
    2. SBA performance tasks require deep knowledge and application of skills, and are based on common core standards.
      1. There are debates around whether test format is fair for all students.
    3. Includes common assessment practices within and across grade levels.
    4. Communicates skill and performance levels as students transition between grade levels.
    5. It’s important to our community that Middle school students meet requirements for Algebra and beyond.

Celebrate STEM

Sometimes the clouds break and sun shines in! I want to send some love to all the families and staff whose amazing contributions powered the Steampunk Auction on Saturday night!  It was an amazing celebration of STEM community that provides critical support for the programs that  empower our vision. Special thanks to Robin Graham for her auction leadership and all the other volunteers who helped secure donations, produce class art projects, and organize an astounding event.  Your work makes a difference!

Thanks everyone!


A first glance at STEM K-8’s 2017-18 budget

Spring is sniffing its way past the various freezes and snows. In Seattle Public Schools that means preparations for staffing and budget for next fall are underway.  WA State’s failure to address school funding and the school levy cliff (see Seattle Public Schools budget update) is wreaking havoc on school districts throughout the state.

STEM K-8 will not experience losses as large as some other schools.  We continue to grow with strong enrollment demand, which helps absorb the effect of funding reductions.  At this point I see two clear impacts from 2017-18 STEM budget/staffing projections: 1) larger class sizes (26 students/class K-3rd grade, 28 students/class 4th-5th grade, 32 students/class middle school), and 2) the loss of anticipated staffing support previously allocated to K-8’s with 3 grades (another 1.0 fte office assistant, .5 fte additional certificated support).  Some major challenges we are trying to address at this juncture include Middle School instrumental music instruction, planning support for Project Based Learning and pre K-8 expansion, and the final round of iPad purchases for the middle school 1:1 program.  The 2017-18 staffing package included new allocations for two additional Access programs, two 8th grade classroom, and additional specialist time to meet PE requirements.  As our planning for 2017-18 moves forward, we will partner with families and the STEM K-8 PTA to meet our community’s top priorities.

Be clear for our children and country

Our nation’s future requires tearing down walls, not building them.  We must embrace diversity, not hide from it.  At STEM K-8 we will stand up to support our students and families in opposing deportations, xenophobia, and racism. We don’t allow excluding on our playground, and oppose it in our country too.

We are living a civil rights lesson.   Not in recent memory have citizens stood up so clearly for equity, multiculturalism, and civil rights.  Our students can see and join the fight against prejudice and discrimination first hand; the failings of history need not be repeated!  The Constitution, the balance of powers between legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government, and civil disobedience are parading past as a living civics curriculum.  We will not fail this test!

My Commitment to Democracy

Many of us are struggling with visceral responses to an election that validated bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, and disrespect as American values.  Swirling horror, grief, fear, and shame knot our stomachs and chests.  As we search for grounding, try to figure out what we need to learn, and plot a course forward, I make these commitments to STEM K-8 students and families:

  1. At STEM K-8 you will be safe. I reaffirm my commitment to searching out bias and fighting bigotry.  I will stand by our Muslim families, black families, Mexican families, Native families, Asian families, immigrant families, gay families, white families, female students, students with disabilities, male students, transgender students—all students.  No one will hurt, threaten, or deport you without having to deal with me.  We will face bigotry and fear by working to create a school where we all belong.
  2. Your voices are important. I will listen.  I will work with staff and students to understand one another, solve conflicts, live with diverse and conflicting beliefs, listen, and interact respectfully.  Respect means acting in a way that shows care about others’ feelings and well-being. I will work with staff to help students voice their fears, anxieties, and hopes, and build inclusivity.
  3. I am committed to teaching students to become responsible members of a democratic society. We will participate in discussions that build knowledge and understanding.  We will learn to think critically about facts and opinions, weigh sources, question assumptions, examine our own biases, receive feedback, and challenge one another respectfully.
  4. I will love and respect each and every one of you. I will stand by you, learn from mistakes, challenge you to learn more and become even better human beings.  Together we will have experiences that prove love and understanding overcome fear and hatred.


Benjamin Ostrom

STEM K-8 Principal

Eliminating Opportunity Gaps

STEM K-8 Families,

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) just made an ambitious commitment.  In the words of Superintendent Nyland: “Eliminating opportunity gaps and ensuring educational excellence for each and every student is the issue of our time.  While Seattle Public Schools outperforms like districts academically….We have the 5th largest academic achievement gap in the nation between black and white students. While we are making progress, we are also committed to doing better.”

Seattle Public Schools kicks off a new campaign to eliminate opportunity gaps called #CloseTheGaps this week. Seattle Education Association is promoting October 19 as a day of solidarity to bring focus to racial equity and affirming the lives of SPS students – specifically our students of color. In support of this focus, some staff will choose to wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts, stickers or other symbols of their commitment to students.

In tackling racism, Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Education Association, and STEM K-8 are not promoting Black Lives Matter as a political movement.  Our goal is to raise awareness about the struggle to address educational inequality in our country and school system. Staff wearing Black Lives Matter t-shirts are not saying that All Lives Don’t Matter.  They are making a statement about visible and violent racism in the treatment of African Americans in this country; one that aims to start conversations about creating a more equitable school with our students and families

We grow our capacity to create equity through dialogue that starts with listening.  In the words of African American educator Lisa Delpit, “…a very special kind of listening, listening that requires not only open eyes and ears, but open hearts and minds.  We do not really see through our eyes or hear through our ears, but through our beliefs.  To put our beliefs on hold is to cease to exist as ourselves for a moment, and that is not easy…. I contend that it is those with the most power, those in the majority, who must take the greater responsibility for initiating the process.”

Some resources for learning about racism and Black Lives Matter, and addressing those topics with children are pasted below. Resources on this list are not being endorsed by SPS, but are offered to further learning and dialogue.

  1. Teaching Tolerance
    1. Talking Race (any level)
    2. What’s Fair (elementary school)
    3. Toolkit for Ferguson, U.S.A. (preparing yourself to teach about race and racism; any level)
    4. Teaching Ferguson, USA (middle and high)
    5. Teaching about Race, Racism, and Police Violence:  (middle and high)
  1. New York Times Book list on Race
  2. Ben & Jerry’s (yes that Ben and Jerry’s) 7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism is Real
  3. San Francisco Unified School District Library Guide on BlackLivesMatter

Undoubtedly this week’s activities will produce mixed feelings at STEM K-8. Conflicting viewpoints provide opportunities to grow community.  I look forward to conversations with staff and families in the coming months as we work to provide equal opportunities for all students.


Ben Ostrom

Principal, STEM K-8