TechCHAT: ORIGO Stepping Stones Review

Stepping Stones Review by Cristina Charney – as featured in TechCHAT

Cristina Charney, elementary instructional specialist at North Thurston Public Schools in Washington, provides support and professional development for Common Core math instruction, often through the Stepping Stones Curriculum from ORIGO Education. She also acts as a K-5 math coach and mentor to incoming teachers. Before joing North Thurston in 2009, she taught grades 1-4 in multigrade and single grade settings for 17 years in the Olympia School District.

Charney kindly provided a Stepping Stones review through sharing experience using the program in detail for this edition of TechCHAT.

TechCHAT: Instructional Specialist on Using Stepping Stones Math Curriculum

Cristina Charney, elementary instructional specialist at North Thurston Public Schools in Washington, provides support and professional development for Common Core math instruction, often through the Stepping Stones Curriculum from ORIGO Education. She also acts as a K-5 math coach and mentor to incoming teachers. Before joining North Thurston in 2009, she taught grades 1-4 in multigrade and single grade settings for 17 years in the Olympia School District.

Stepping Stones is a Common Core aligned comprehensive mathematics curriculum for grades K-5, and a cornerstone in Charney’s math intervention strategy. Recently, Stepping Stones earned a District Administration Magazine Readers’ Choice Top Products Award, an award selected by superintendents and K-12 school leaders across the country. Based online, Stepping Stones provides access to diverse sets of content, from lessons and assessments to printables and problem solving activities.

Charney went over her experience using Stepping Stones in detail with EdWorld for this edition of TechCHAT.

How does the Stepping Stones elementary mathematics curriculum enhance learning in the classroom?

Since launching ORIGO Stepping Stones four years ago, learning in our district has been enhanced by the resource’s emphasis on making connections. Math concepts are developed, practiced, and performed fluently over time through an intentional sequence of modules that build and connect concepts as intended by the CCSSM. Consequently, as students construct mathematical understanding and practices, they develop a strong ability to reason verbally and quantitatively; using models to make their thinking visible. Students develop flexible thinking strategies regarding numbers by decomposing and composing quantities expressed as whole numbers and, later, as fractions. It used to be that these skills were reserved for the few who came to school already confident in mental math; for the rest, it was often procedural learning and practice. With Common Core as its foundation, Stepping Stones gives every child the opportunity to think like a mathematician, dispelling the misconception that there are only some who are “math people.”

Are you able to describe examples of results from other classrooms within the district? 

In the primary grades, students gain a strong understanding of place value. Throughout the curriculum, we work with students to construct an understanding of how the base-10 system works and how we develop strategies to perform operations within it. For example, in a Grade 2 classroom, a teacher may use the differentiation suggestions from the curriculum to design differentiated, independently-driven partner work. A pair may generate two numbers using dice and subtract them. Students fluently share with partners their thinking using base-ten blocks, a hundreds chart, or a number line to make the connections between the models visible; thus deepening the understanding of base-10 operations.

In the intermediate grades, our work in Stepping Stones has resulted in a much deeper understanding of fractions as number and quantity. For example, several years ago, it was only some students in Grade 5 who could confidently say that 3/5 was closer to 1 than 0 and explain why. The Grade 3 lessons reflecting the importance of unit fractions, as suggested by the CCSSM standards, have created a very strong foundation for students to have more facility with fractions as numbers—a stark difference from the past. Now, it is not uncommon to witness a spirited conversation sparked by a comparing the size of two fractions where students use strategies and visual models to show proof.

These shifts have benefited our students tremendously. In the first administering of the SBA last school year, our district outscored the state in grades 4 and 5 and outscored 12 other SBA states in grades 3, 4, and 5.

Stepping Stones was voted “Readers’ Choice Top Product for 2015” by District Administration Magazine. In your experience as an educator, can you describe products that bring the same level of quality into the classroom? 

Stepping Stones’ framework reflects the balance of rigor as defined by the CCSSM: development of conceptual understanding, followed by procedural fluency and application using problem-solving.

This framework supports the mathematical pedagogy I have been drawn to over the years encouraged by Burns, Van de Walle, Fosnot, and Carpenter, to name a few. Two of the senior authors, Calvin and Rosemary Irons, are peers with these innovators in mathematics education. This brand of expertise emanates throughout all of ORIGO’s work and vision.

The difference is that, in the past, I had to piece together all of the thinking of great math pedagogues. I had to figure out my own scope and sequence of lessons and figure out how to differentiate using the materials and tasks I found in books. While it became my passion, I did not have the time or the expertise to build concepts as methodically as a resource like ORIGO Stepping Stones. Because the resource provides a reliable math sequence of content and practice, teachers can now spend their time and energy making instructional decisions about how to engage students in the learning and how to target instruction using the provided differentiation in the ways that make the most sense.

Unlike larger publishers, the authors at ORIGO have a keen focus only on math, and it this is evident in each product they create, their emphasis on professional development, and their interest in receiving and responding to teacher feedback.

How are student struggles determined within the context of the curriculum? 

Stepping Stones provides formative and summative assessments that support teachers in an RTI problem-solving process. Using these assessments and performance tasks, teachers can analyze student strengths and weaknesses within the content and make instructional decisions about what targeted instruction small groups or individuals may require to keep moving forward.

We are also beginning to use ORIGO Gauge, an online assessment tool designed by ORIGO that is separate from Stepping Stones, but aligns with each module’s learning targets.

How does a tool like Stepping Stones assist in managing learning objectives throughout the year, and in what ways can these types of curricula help improve classroom management and behavior through the structure they provide? 

We approach our core program with both integrity and innovation. We encourage teacher teams to study the scope and sequence and collaborate to understand the progression of learning objectives presented. The math is there and it is our job to make connections for ourselves and promote that connection-making in our students. Nonetheless, while the lesson notes provide the framework, it is by no means, a script. Curricula like Stepping Stones provide the guidance for what to teach and sound suggestions for how to teach it. The lesson notes provide frameworks for engagement and routines, which support behavior management, but the teacher is ultimately the professional in charge of creating a flow to the lesson and responding to the feedback of his/her students when making instructional decisions. That is the art of teaching that a resource supports, but by no means replaces. A teacher should not serve the resource, the resource should serve a teacher. The authors of Stepping Stones set out to create a program that does just that.

Does Stepping Stones attend to diverse learning sets? How does it tune into the unique ways that ASD students learn?

Within each module, each lesson provides differentiation suggestions for Extra Help, Extra Practice, and Extra Challenge. These suggestions reflect the familiar continuum of concrete, representational, and symbolic, providing appropriate reinforcement, practice, and extension for all levels of learners. Also, since Stepping Stones K-5 is visible to all subscribers, all teachers have access to foundational lessons that can be utilized in a strategic intervention context.

Our district also uses the ORIGOmath series for strategic intervention at Tier 2 to build on computational strategies and fluency.

While ASD students can cover a wide spectrum of unique needs, I understand that the authors are currently working on a resource to provide support for students with various special needs.


Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor

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