The goal of The Willow School mathematics curriculum is to develop mathematicians that are not only competent in their computational skills, but also demonstrate clear, creative, and flexible mathematical thinking. This is accomplished through rigorous attention to instructional strategies that encourage students to think through mathematical problems and construct their own meaning. Conceptual understanding is followed by constant practice in the computational skills necessary to apply that understanding.
The Willow Math Program is student-centered and constructivist in its approach. Students progress from concrete materials to symbolic representations. Teachers observe how students learn and guide them in building upon what they know. Students are asked to explain their thinking orally, in pictures, writing, numerals, and symbolic representation. Demonstrating mathematical literacy is a crucial component of a Willow student’s math experience and takes place regularly within the framework of the Math Congress, a forum that fosters both mathematical literacy and respectful dialogue. During the Math Congress, students work independently or in small groups to brainstorm and discuss their mathematical thinking and strategies. While all students strive for accuracy, they are encouraged to view errors as opportunities to develop greater understanding. Time is provided for students to share their thoughts and ideas with one another, fostering respect for differing perspectives.
Students at The Willow School are given opportunities to apply mathematical concepts in place-based contexts. Second graders participate in yearly pond studies in which they investigate and record Willow’s pond population. Third graders measure and record the amount of compost material collected from the daily lunches. Each year, kindergartners and fourth graders participate in Cornell University’s bird-watch program and are presented with numerous opportunities to record, analyze, and compare data. In addition to exploring the many uses of math in the scientific world, Willow students also use math to enhance their learning in social studies. Fourth graders collect and record data to help them understand underlying causes of world hunger. Most importantly, the goal is for Willow students to become mathematicians with practical and authentic problem solving skills.
The Singapore Mathematics, which insures familiarity with algorithms and practice with word problems, is provided for Kindergarten through fifth grades. Pearson/Prentice Mathematics is provided for the sixth through eighth grades. Recognizing that no math program is all-inclusive and suitable for all learning styles, the Willow faculty has access to, and supplements these programs with Terc/Investigations Math, Montessori materials, Catherine Fosnot’s Contexts for Learning Mathematics series, Groundworks series, and activities from Marilyn Burns. Through these core programs and supplemental materials and methods, students develop an understanding of the fundamental mathematical concepts: (i) numeration and number theory, (ii) the four operations using whole numbers, fractions, and decimals, (iii) measurement, data, and probability, (iv) plane and solid geometry, (v) pre-algebra, and (vi) algebra. Students demonstrate mastery of basic math facts and the ability to perform routine computations and symbolic manipulation and are encouraged to value mathematics and appreciate the quantitative aspect of our world through concrete and abstract thinking.