Why Santa Fe Broke the K-12 Model and Chose a Different Curriculum for the Middle Grades

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Choosing a new curriculum for New Mexico public school districts is no small task. Each content area goes through a six-year adoption cycle. So, before committing, districts solicit input from teachers, parents, administrators and even community members, in an effort to make the best choices for their kids.

When the Santa Fe Public School system had to select a new math curriculum last year, they went in search of something that met their pedagogical needs and best served their unique school population. And they found MidSchoolMath—much to the delight of Erica Wheeler, Lead Instructional Materials Coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools.

EdSurge recently chatted with Wheeler, as well as some of her colleagues across the district, to learn more about why they chose MidSchoolMath, how it fits into their evolving needs and how teachers and students have responded to the changes so far.

EdSurge: Why did you decide to adopt MidSchoolMath’s core curriculum?

Wheeler: One reason we chose MidSchoolMath is that the middle grades represent the critical time in a student’s academic career. We thought about elementary, middle and high school. Certainly, one model is to have one solution for K through 12 that we have implemented in the past. This time, we chose something different for the middle grades because middle school students are kind of a different band of learners. We knew we needed high engagement that would capture their attention and foster learning in a different way. So, it was that, as well as the big shift in pedagogy that we were looking for.

In terms of pedagogy, MidSchoolMath fosters a need in students to figure out the skills required to solve the problems that are posed. That’s the beauty of story-based learning. It’s not just, “Jane has a room that’s 30 feet by 10 feet. How much carpet would you need?” These are high engagement stories that inspire kids to ask, for example, “OK, how would I build a new corral for my sheep? What are the dimensions? How many sheep do I want to fit in? So, how big a corral would I need? How much building material do I need?”



“I love the layout and the storylines, which help the kids remember the steps of a concept. I use it in a very structured way. Middle schoolers need this kind of structure for familiarity.”

-Lana Wimberly, Milagro Middle School

How have teachers responded to the change in pedagogy?

One teacher said that she was going to retire this year. But we finally have MidSchoolMath, which is the way she has been wanting to teach for 20 years. So, she is going to do another year to experience teaching math the way she has always known it should be taught.

By and large, the teachers are making the shift and seeing the value in this way of teaching. It aligns with our goal of having less [top-down] direct instruction. Of course, you have to have direct instruction, but we want to have it sprinkled throughout a lesson that has activated student interest and sparked questions. If you have a question in your mind, and you get it answered, chances are, you’re going to remember it better than just viewing a standard algorithm on the board. We’re trying to shift away from the old “sage on the stage, skill and drill them” approach. This definitely fits into that.


Ms. Wimberly’s class at Milagro Middle School [image]
Students in Ms. Wimberly’s class at Milagro Middle School (MidSchoolMath)

“It allows students to “own” the content in a way that I haven’t seen from another curriculum. Its pedagogy really emphasizes students taking control of their own learning. I’m excited to use it in a face-to-face classroom. I think it will really shine.”

-Hansen Bergamini, El Dorado Community School

How has MidSchoolMath helped you navigate instructional shifts during the pandemic?

One of the things that we looked at when we moved to fully remote learning was a flipped classroom. Kids would watch an instructional video at home and then get one-on-one or group support from the teacher in the virtual room. We had to maximize a small amount of time. With MidSchoolMath, kids watch and generate questions about the information they think they need to solve the problem. Then, they collaborate, and the teacher facilitates.

The materials have been super helpful because the high engagement videos are built in, and so is the individual practice. Teachers can closely monitor who’s doing the work and who isn’t. They can also use the Test Trainer Pro tool for asynchronous practice. MidSchoolMath is a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning. That helps teachers maximize their instruction time.



“Students love the immersion videos and are willing to work through thorny questions to solve problems. The major difference is that it’s okay to be wrong. It’s going through and figuring out WHY you’re wrong that matters. The Simulation Trainer might be my favorite component. It demonstrates proficiency, but also teaches perseverance. With the Progress Monitoring function, I can see the kids working in real time and intervene when necessary. I also started using pairs in breakout rooms for the Practice Printable. Kids not only support each other, I can jump in and catch misconceptions as they are happening. It’s a GREAT program.”

-Terri Blackman, Wood Gormley Elementary School

How does MidSchoolMath foster a growth mindset in students?

Kids need to understand that their success in learning is about their investment and hard work. It’s not just heaven-sent talent. When kids start feeling successful, they’re more engaged, and when they’re more engaged, they’re more successful. And so, in the process of the small group discussions, what you can often see—depending on how you group your kids—are the quiet kids becoming leaders. They begin to feel empowered in their learning.

You need a teacher who knows how to facilitate that, but these materials are really designed for it. The goal is definitely individual learning, but MidSchoolMath is very clear about how and when you do whole-group discussion, small-group discussion, small collaborative groups and individual work. The materials are built to support all of those models.

MidSchoolMath also helps teachers shift their pedagogy so that they’re not just talking at kids. They’re in a conversation that is all about solving the problem. It’s less about the right answer.

“I have seen students be able to apply mathematical skills to real world scenarios with much more ease. Students appear to build better problem-solving skills using MidSchoolMath.”

-Philip Andrew Boyd, Milagro Middle School
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