Interview | Jim Ryan Shares Key Math Wisdom

In 1971, brothers Peter and Steven Rasmussen drew from their teaching experience to create workbooks that would help students who were struggling in mathematics learn the basics and build a foundation for success. With those first Key to…® workbooks, they launched Key Curriculum Press. “Our goal today remains the same—to give teachers the very best tools for helping all students reach their potential in mathematics and science,” says Jim Ryan, VP, Educational Services, Key Math Strategists with Key Curriculum Press.

Like its founders, Key staff includes many former classroom teachers. They understand the challenges teachers face and are passionate about their work. “We take great pride in providing engaging, dynamic classroom materials that help teachers engage every student, providing a platform for addressing mathematical concepts in a way that is meaningful and easily retrieved,” says Jim. For example, their award-winning software, The Geometer’s Sketchpad®, allows students to build and investigate their own constructions and models. “By putting students at the center of the discovery, they become much more engaged and are better able to retain what they learn,” he says. “We’re driven to help students and teachers succeed in the classroom. On a personal level, we want to instill a life-long passion for learning and discovery.”

Victor: How has Key Curriculum Press evolved over time?

Jim: In 1996, Key Curriculum Press became affiliated with Springer, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious scientific publishers, strengthening the breadth and depth of our publishing resources. KCP Technologies, created by Key in 1998, conducts educational technology research and is the developer of The Geometer’s Sketchpad® and Fathom® Dynamic Data software.

In 2003, we expanded our scope to encompass science education with the publication of Living By Chemistry—a groundbreaking high school chemistry curriculum designed to engage and retain more students in the study of chemistry. In 2007, we partnered with the Museum of Science, Boston, and added Engineering the Future to our science offerings. Engineering the Future is a project-based curriculum that exposes students to how engineers work and think, explores the basis of physical science, and provides a strong foundation in physics.

Over the years, virtually everything in math education has changed—our technology, our curriculum, our textbooks, and our standards documents. What hasn’t changed is our pedagogical approach to education. When the Common Core State Standards were introduced, we wanted to help administrators and teachers rise to the challenges they could face during adoption and implementation. Because the principles that are central to the Common Core State Standards—modeling in mathematics, problem-based instruction, and the development of mathematical reasoning—echo the pedagogical approach Key has championed for decades, we felt uniquely suited to help bridge that transition. That spawned Key Math StrategistsTM, a new division of Key dedicated to comprehensive professional development that helps administrators and teacher leaders bring the Common Core State Standards into districts and classrooms in a way that benefits both teachers and students.

Key Math Strategists is an extension of our partnership with the math education community to a pedagogical approach that engages and challenges students by presenting math concepts in the context of real-world problems. Modeling real-world problems not only builds a strong foundation of conceptual understanding, but also develops a depth of knowledge—and an ability to apply that knowledge—across a range of subjects and situations. Key Math Strategists’ team of education specialist help teachers in rural, urban, suburban districts adapt their teaching strategies and approach to mathematics curriculum to achieve the Standards for Mathematical Practice for the Common Core.

Victor: What are a few of the company’s most popular products?

Jim: The Geometer’s Sketchpad and its associated curriculum are in use in over half the high schools in the United States. Instructors have named it the “Best Educational Software of all Time.” Our dynamic visualization and exploration software programs have won awards from a range of educational organizations. In fact, Sketchpad Sketch ExchangeTM, an online community for sharing Sketchpad activities, tips, questions, and ideas, was recently named a finalist in the Association of Education Publishers 2011 Distinguished Achievement Awards for Excellence in Educational Resources.

Key’s Discovering Mathematics textbooks are the most widely used inquiry-based textbooks in American high schools. Our engaging textbooks and supplemental materials are proven effective. They span the mathematics curriculum, from middle school arithmetic through AP® Calculus and Statistics.

Victor: Do your products align with the Common Core State Standards?

Jim: The more appropriate question is, “Do the Common Core State Standards align with Key’s philosophy, mission, and products?” The answer is, YES. The Common Core State Standards are based upon the same foundational works that are the foundation of Key’s materials: the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) process standards from 2000, and the strands of mathematical proficiency specified in the National Research Council’s report Adding It Up, published in 2001. Therefore, the adoption of the Common Core State Standards has moved the math teaching community toward the teaching strategies and mathematical development already embodied in the Key’s products.

For instance, the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice calls out the use of “Dynamic Geometry Software” which is term that is trademarked by Key Curriculum Press as The Geometer’s Sketchpad defined this entire genre of software. We’re also excited about the potential for our latest version of TinkerPlotsTM Dynamic Data Exploration, which meets every middle school statistics and probability standard in the Common Core.

There are a number of substantial changes in the content that students will be asked to learn as compared to practices.  At the high school level, the primary differences include the emphasis on mathematical modeling, a central role for functions, and the approach of investigating and experimenting to understand geometric relationships. Because this content emphasis stems from the same foundational works and pedagogy that we have embraced for years, it plays to the strengths of our Discovering Mathematics textbooks and related curriculum tools.

Victor: How does Key Math Strategists work with schools and districts?

Jim: Key Math Strategists has assembled an impressive cadre of some of the most well regarded professional development providers in our field with expertise in thoughtfully integrating technology into math instruction, and engaging even the highest risk students. This team will work hand-in-hand with administrators, schools, and teachers to make sense of, and gain maximum benefit from, their integration of the Common Core State Standards. Key Math Strategists creates tailor-made professional development programs that work with school leadership, teachers, and curriculum, working toward Common Core implementation in three steps:

  •  A complimentary and thorough assessment of the math program using quantitative and qualitative data to assess specific strengths and areas for improvement
  • A comprehensive, integrated, and strategic professional development package designed to deliver results
  • Valuable resources for teachers and administrators to use during and after the implementation

Readers can download sample evaluation forms and learn more about our process at www.keymathstrategists.com/tools.

Victor: In what ways is Key Math Strategists unique or different from competitors?

Jim: Key Math Strategists offers a comprehensive list of services and assets to schools and districts that is distinct among Professional Development providers. Our partnership with schools can take the form of face-to-face workshops, on-site and virtual coaching, classroom observations, student curriculum, and moderated online courses. Many districts take advantage of a combination of all of these services and formats, which are described in detail at www.keymathstrategists.com/services. No matter the format, all professional development is grounded in the Common Core State Standards and will help teachers implement the Standards for Mathematical Practice as well as the new learning trajectories. Additionally, our professional development training covers education’s most pertinent topics, such as differentiated instruction, intervention, formative assessment, and reflective lesson planning.

  • Face-to-face workshops utilize student work and classroom videos to provide teachers and teacher leaders an opportunity to assess their current challenges and respond with a tailored approach to implementing both the content and mathematical practice standards of the Common Core State Standards. This comprehensive approach motivates behavioral change in teachers and promotes greater equity in the classroom.
  • On-site and virtual coaching provides teachers and teacher leaders with hands-on support to change instructional practices through leadership consultation, classroom observations, and facilitating collaboration between campus and district instructional leaders.
  • Student curriculum provides teachers with student materials and teacher resources to enable a successful and immediate integration of the Common Core State Standards into their classrooms. This alleviates the frustration teachers frequently experience when their instructional materials do not easily support the lessons learned during professional development.
  • Moderated online courses help high school teachers learn, internalize, and implement the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Teachers will (1) gain a deeper understanding of the mathematical content standards for Algebra, Functions, Geometry, and Statistics and Probability, and the relationship of the Standards for Mathematical Practice to that content, (2) appreciate how the design and structure of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics leads to a focused, coherent curriculum, and (3) learn methods for incorporating the Standards for Mathematical Practice into lesson planning.

Victor: What challenges do districts face when implementing the Common Core State Standards?

Jim: There are a number of stumbling blocks that teachers and schools can trip up upon, most of which will diminish the impact of implementing the Common Core State Standards and serve to entrench current practices.  I will highlight just three:

  • First among them is interpreting the new standards as a re-expression of their current standards with minor reorganization. Schools and districts should start their evaluation of the standards with an examination of the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice and compare these practices to their students’ current practices.
  • Second, is the rush to evaluate and adopt materials that state they are aligned to the new standards. Classroom practices should be the basis for determining whether new materials are necessary. In the Standards for Mathematical Practice, the Common Core State Standards writers have provided schools the foundation for this evaluation of whether they are implementing the new standards. New materials should only be considered if the current materials do no support teachers in this change.
  • Third, is the challenge that never goes away: Schools and teachers need to be ready to fail and learn from their mistakes.  Teachers, myself included, struggle when trying something new because there is a risk that it may not work.  No change will come without failures along the way.  The easy route is to retreat to tried and true practices; but that will never lead to progress.  Schools and teachers need to be adept at failing quickly, learning from the failure, and adapting those learning’s into the next iteration.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of math education?

Jim: I am forever an optimist. I see the changes being brought forward through the adoption of the Common Core State Standards and the influx of technology into our schools as disruptive forces that will lead to better results for students. The adoption of the Common Core State Standards will allow us to better identify best practices and scale up those traits to serve more students. Meaningful use of technology will allow students access to learning content everywhere and anytime; good use of technology will present students with the ability to create, not just absorb, the math they are learning.

Victor: What else can you tell us about Key Math Strategists?

Jim: Readers can learn more about our team, as well as strategies for the Common Core, by visiting our blog, Sine of the Times. Our team of bloggers—comprised of Key’s in-house staff of former teachers, curriculum directors, and high school principals—post thoughts about the Standards, Key’s expertise in Standards-based educational materials, and other issues in education. I invite everyone to visit www.keymathstrategists.com to learn more.

The Geometer’s Sketchpad and Fathom are registered trademarks of KCP Technologies, Inc.
Fathom Dynamic Data is a trademark of KCP Technologies.
Sketch Exchange is a trademark of Key Curriculum Press.
Discovering Mathematics is a registered trademark of Key Curriculum Press.

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Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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