Summer Staircase Retrospective Part 1

August 16, 2016

We recently wrapped up our most ambitious project ever, and as data on it starts to roll in, I thought I’d take a moment to share.

Summer Staircase stats:
—19 schools
—57 teachers
—2500 students (plus or minus)

This summer, we produced a math curriculum for Seattle Public Schools Summer Staircase, a six-week program in Seattle to prevent summer slide and, ambitiously, help kids like school.

Our job was to write a 6-week math curriculum for three grade bands: Kindergarten, 1st/2nd grade, and 3rd/4th grade (these are the grades the students completed in 2015-2016). We also trained the teachers in the spring, and provided support during the summer.

The curriculum was built on the idea that play is the engine of learning. We featured games, explorations, and story problems that were actually stories. Our goals were high engagement, differentiation, critical thinking, and productive disposition. This last one was maybe the most important goal. We wanted students to leave the program believing in the project of education, especially mathematical education.

I’ll share more about the details of the program soon, especially as we begin to parse the data. Browsing through the teacher feedback, I feel like we’re onto something incredibly exciting. The overwhelming response from teachers and site leaders—the summer “principals”— was that something great was happening in these classes.

For example, of the 30 out of 57 teachers who have so far filled out a survey:
100% would recommend teaching math in summer staircase to a colleague
97% would recommend our curriculum to other schools or districts

At first glance, the students seemed to improve on every measure—pre/post assessments, teacher observations of their math understanding, perseverance, sense-making, and argument skills, and even their enjoyment and engagement in math. I’m deeply excited about how using a play-based curriculum can engage an enormous range of students in an experience of mathematics that is both more fun and more rigorous. I’ll be sharing more about the details of the program, the types of lessons we wrote for the curriculum, and the outcomes as we crunch the numbers.

But for now, I wanted to share some of the less tangible growth that teachers reported seeing this summer:

“In their pre-tests students were only writing the answer to each question. I didn’t see any work or thought on their papers. In the post-tests, every students showed thinking and pictures or used counters. They were excited to show their strategies. That’s really exciting to see as a teacher!”

“I think they all (or most of them) learned that they could love school and learning could be fun. This was awesome.”

“For many of them, the enjoyment of math was the single best growth they could have had. They definitely deepened their math understanding of certain concepts. Learning how to win and lose games graciously was huge for them.”

“They all shared a valuable experience in learning with each other (and the teaching staff- we, too learned a great deal), and being a part of the collective and individual student growth!”

“They grew in confidence, grew in their ability to talk about math and share ideas, and growth was evident as they played games and treated one another with respect.”

“[This program] renewed my faith and love in learning and teaching.”

And this from a site leader:

“The kids were so happy and had fun, and LOVED telling me how they figured something out. So even if the scores didn’t move that much, I know that the kids will return to school with a greater acceptance of math, and without that, “I hate math,” attitude.”

Will the scores move? We’ll find out. But I’m very, very hopeful. I think we’re on the cusp of something big.

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