Recently, Doctor Karen Barry, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Millstone Township Schools, joined us for an insightful conversation. She dived into the district’s past struggles with traditional math curricula, its journey through the piloting stage with the Innovamat program, and the transformative effects it had on both the teaching staff and the students.
Below is a summarized version of the interview. Hope you enjoy!
Hello, Karen. Would you mind introducing yourself to begin?
I am Doctor Karen Barry. I am the Director of Curriculum and Instruction at Millstone Township Schools, which is a K-8 district in Monmouth County, New Jersey. I’m also the acting superintendent of a small district, called Roosevelt Borough Public School District and that is a Pre-K to fifth grade.
We've known each other for more than a year, and I'd like to just go back to the first time we met. Could you share what was happening with math specifically back in the day?
[…] We had been using the Go Math program since before COVID, and had piloted it alongside two other programs seven years ago.
While our teachers might have had teaching experience from other districts, the common practice in math, especially since many elementary teachers aren’t extensively trained, was to rely on just the textbook and the teachers manual. Following the teacher’s manual can be intuitive, but often the tendency is to simply turn the page. They are usually 5 or 6 pages so it’s hard to follow all the resources. […]
Our next take was to initiate training, bringing in an expert from Fairfield University, but there was nobody pushing teachers and insisting that there was a lot more to math than just reading the textbook. We lacked that coaching part. […]
This approach lasted for a couple years following the adoption of the program, until COVID introduced challenges like virtual learning and maintaining a 3 ft distance, complicating group sessions. […] It became really complicated. So then we fell back into using traditional teaching methods.
What happened after COVID?
Over the summer of 2022, I got an email about a new math program. […] When I saw this email, I forwarded it to my principal, who was going to co-lead the math committee with me. He took the initiative and soon, he informed me two Innovamat representatives would be coming to discuss their math program. As a curriculum director, you notice the big names like Mcgraw Hill, HMH… but this time it was different.
I decided to join the meeting and met the two gentlemen: one was a company rep, and the other was a math specialist.
I’ve never been excited about math until that moment, but just seeing these two people talk about Innovamat and describing math in a different way than just turning a page was a breath of fresh air for us. I’m not used to getting excited about math. I was an English major […] and I never really liked math, but this moment was one I’ll never forget: having people talk to us about math and get me excited was a huge step for me.
What do you think was behind that excitement? I mean, what was different from what you had previously seen?
So, Innovamat was smart because they didn’t just send a sales rep to us. They sent someone who was getting so excited about the math that he couldn’t sit in his seat without shaking as he talked.
When any other company sends you a representative, it’s a salesman. Even if they have a science background, they do not really care about math and the product itself. But this time was different because this was actually a person […] that actually loves math and was excited about the reason why it was created: kids are just sitting in their seats doing drill-and-kill activities and teachers were just turning a page.
I really wanted them to dive into the critical thinking part of math and really understand what they’re teaching and why kids need to understand it.
So after that, we met in person several times with the math committee, and we then decided to go through a pilot. What was that piloting experience for you?
Getting teachers to want to pilot in the middle of the year was challenging, which was something the math specialists from Innovamat noticed. […] We pulled a few teachers that showed interest from 1st and 2nd grade.
[Innovamat’s] passion for math resonated with the teachers. They realized this would be a big shift, but they shared the enthusiasm I felt, as well as Doctor Baker’s, seeing the Innovamat team’s dedication. It wasn’t me saying: “I’m gonna give you a shiny new text book in a box, and I’m gonna make your life easier. They fell in love with Innovamat from the beginning.”[…]
Again, you weren’t sales people, you were people who loved math and wanted kids to learn the way you have discovered. So since then, the professional development has been amazing. The teachers fell in love with Innovamat from the start, although they knew it was going to be a lot of work. Within a week, the teachers were having fun teaching math. Shortly after, Innovamat conducted a presentation for the district’s parents whose kids participated in the pilot, and even though I was scared of their reactions, they all ended up raising their hands […] and they even told us that their kids were bringing up math topics like “lines of symmetry” at home. Kids brought their excitement about new math topics when going to places! It was great to see that parents were excited.
The pilot went well, and as the year progressed, those teachers spoke highly of Innovamat during K-5 math committee meetings, highlighting its advantages over our existing program. As a result, we chose to adopt Innovamat, and the training quality continued to rise. During the pilot, teachers had virtual sessions every Monday and Friday, in which Innovamat addressed their questions, and the teachers gained a lot of confidence. We have never experienced this level of support was unparalleled compared to other companies.
What happened after the pilot besides the decision to adopt the program?
After the pilot, the ask from the teachers was if they could continue with Innovamat for the rest of the year. They did not want to stop. Once you start and you’re having fun with math, you don’t want to stop and go back to the “page-turner” program. We told them they could do aspects of it for the rest of the year, as we had already told the parents it was for eight weeks.
Now that you've implemented this, do you feel like the reality has changed and how satisfied are you with that change?
So, I went into a classroom the other day, one of the pilot classrooms in third grade. Years ago, I’d see a typical math lesson. But last week, I walked into a classroom: the kids were on the floor, the teacher was passing things around for the kids to feel the difference between a kilogram and a pound. The kids were smiling. It was so refreshing to see. They weren’t sitting there with just a worksheet or a textbook in their hands. So that’s the difference I’m seeing.
From our discussion with Dr. Karen Barry, it’s clear that the right educational pedagogy can make a big difference in the way our kids learn. At Innovamat, we have devoted our whole careers to math research, and now we are glad to bring our expertise to districts’ math instruction.
To learn more about our approach, check our most recent articles below.
Also, feel free to contact Bernat Portell, our Global Director of Schools, at email@example.com for any further inquiries.