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Building Bridges in Lower School Math

By Marsha Poh, Lower School dean of faculty and students, and Andrea Barraugh, Ed.D., math consultant
The math curriculum offers a hands-on, inquiry-based approach.
Instilling enthusiasm in math in the early years of a child’s education is critical for their long-term journey in math education. The Lower School strives to foster a curiosity about mathematics, where students pursue mathematical wonderings and find joy in discovery. Students experience rigorous mathematics through a balance of highly engaging tasks and foundational practice. The math-learning experiences are custom-designed to meet every student’s needs.

The recent adoption of the Bridges in Mathematics curriculum has enhanced the math experiences for students by offering an inquiry-based approach. The program provides a comprehensive set of materials that creates an engaging learning environment. By seeing, touching and sketching ideas, students create pictures in their minds, helping them construct, understand and apply mathematical concepts. Bridges incorporates increasingly complex visual models, including the Number Line and the Array models, in a coherent framework across the curriculum.

The curriculum focuses on developing students’ deep understanding of mathematical concepts, proficiency with key skills, and ability to solve complex and novel problems. Bridges blends direct instruction, structured investigation and open exploration. It taps into the intelligence and strengths of all students by presenting material that is as linguistically, visually and kinesthetically rich as it is mathematically powerful.

Walking into a third-grade classroom, one might see:

Students Learning from One Another’s Thinking
  • The teacher is leading a Number Talk and poses the problem 12 x 5. All students solve it mentally and share their strategies. One student says, “I solved 12 x 5 by decomposing 12 into 6 + 6. Then I multiplied 6 x 5 to get 30. I doubled 30 to get 60 since there were two groups of 6 x 5.” 
  • Another student says, “I broke 12 into 10 and 2. Then I multiplied 10 x 5 = 50 and 2 x 5 = 10. 50 + 10 = 60.” 
  • Yet another student offers, “I also decomposed the 12, but I did it differently. I broke 12 into 4 + 4 + 4. Then I did 4 x 5 = 20 and tripled it to get 60.” A classmate responds, “I really like the tripling strategy. I didn’t think of that but I’m going to explore it with other problems.”

Students Actively Exploring Mathematics
  • The class divides into small groups, and students begin their math rotations. Students engage in rich math experiences at each table, including a balance of games, practice and explorations.  
  • At one table, two students play a game from the Bridges curriculum with a spinner and cubes. They are trying to be the first person to get to 1,000. One student spins a 2 and says, “I will multiply the 2 by 100 because this is my last roll, and I’m at 830. That will get me to 1,030. I will be 30 away from 1,000.” Next to them, two students have chosen to play the same game but they are trying to get close to 500.  
  • At another table, the teacher is working with four students as they use base ten blocks to model subtraction strategies. The teacher asks, “How can we use the blocks to model 325 minus 64?”
  • On the far side of the classroom, students are kneeling on the carpet, working collaboratively to measure the perimeter of giant shapes outlined on the floor with tape.

Across all grade levels, students at La Jolla Country Day School actively explore mathematics. The school is committed to meeting every student’s needs and inspiring them to enjoy mathematics. By cultivating the minds of young mathematicians, we are opening gateways to their futures.
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