By Steve Koppes
Photo by Loren Santow

... There’s still a demand for print textbooks, but there is a growing and loud demand for digital-based textbooks.”
—Martin Gartzman
Executive director of the Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education

Prof. Zalman Usiskin made an audacious promise in the mid-1980s while recruiting a high school math teacher to manage editorial content for the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project.

“Come work with me, and you will impact the world,” said Usiskin, the Mathematics Project director and now a professor emeritus.

Wide-ranging impact has been a hallmark of the Mathematics Project and its most widely used product, Everyday Mathematics. Each year approximately 4.3 million students in 220,000 U.S. classrooms learn with Everyday Mathematics, a comprehensive pre-K through grade 6 mathematics program that was first published in 1996.

Now in its fourth edition, Everyday Mathematics continues to break new ground, recently becoming the first in the industry to add a fully digital version of its curriculum—sure to relegate “the dog ate my homework” excuse to oblivion.

“We’re creating a wall-to-wall digital version that can completely replace the print, so in theory, a teacher could do without the print books entirely,” says Andy Isaacs, MST’77, director of UChicago’s Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education.

The new digital dimension of Everyday Mathematics holds potential for instantly gathering data from the students and feeding it into an assessment system that could analyze their knowledge, identify issues, and make suggestions about how to proceed more productively in the classroom.

“It’s a transition period now, where there’s still a demand for print textbooks, but there is a growing and loud demand for digital-based textbooks,” says Martin Gartzman, the center's executive director. Many school districts have purchased tablets, iPads or Chromebooks, he says, “and they’re looking for content to fill out their technology.”

Approximately 80,000 students nationwide are using the K-2 print version this year, along with the beta version of the digital materials. The version for grades 3-6 will be available beginning in fall 2015.

Isaacs estimates that most classrooms probably rely heavily on the print version, but the center is organizing field tests “to see how this actually works with real students.”

‘Engineering cycle’ of curricula

Everyday Mathematics has been based on such field testing and related educational research ever since the first edition’s publication in 1996. First appearing with the third edition were online games, online tools for tracking assessment data, and PDFs for teachers. But now the center is developing material native to the iPad and to the web environment to take better advantage of their technological capabilities.

“We think of it as an engineering cycle,” Isaacs says. “There’s a problem that you start with, namely, how do we provide high-quality instructional materials that help students learn math and that teachers can use well? Then we look at the science to help us develop the materials.” Finally, they test the materials and iteratively improve them.

Recognizing the commercial and educational potential of Everyday Mathematics, the University in 1988 started the Everyday Learning company to distribute its products. The royalties generated by the first edition of Everyday Mathematics funded the creation in 2002 of the Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education, which conducts research and evaluation, develops educational tools, and provides school support services—all essential elements of improving math and science education. Royalties and fees for writing subsequent editions continue to provide key support for the center’s operations.

“The University is investing significant resources into innovation and entrepreneurship as a vehicle for dissemination of faculty research,” says Tim Honaker, chief operating officer of UChicagoTech, the University’s Center for Technology Development & Ventures. “There is no better example of how commercial success and University research can be self-reinforcing and generate significant social and financial impact than the long-term USCMP/CEMSE partnership with UChicagoTech.”

Technology provides individualized feedback

The fourth edition of Everyday Mathematics was developed partly in response to the new Common Core State Standards that came out in 2010. Most states, including Illinois, have voluntarily adopted these standards in mathematics and other subjects to outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade.

The EM4 field tests will involve five to 10 classrooms per grade, with each student using her own device. Hundreds of other teachers are providing ongoing feedback about the digital materials through the Everyday Mathematics Virtual Learning Community, an online networking environment developed at the Center for Elementary Math and Science Education that now has more than 26,000 subscribers. The test results and teacher feedback will provide a basis for revising the digital program and also possibly guide the development of the digital program for grades 3 through 6.

Surging interest in how technology impacts schools led to a recent conference on campus titled “Mathematics Curriculum Development, Delivery, and Enactment in a Digital World,” which attracted nearly 200 attendees from 32 states and six countries.

“The future is going to be digital,” Isaacs says of mathematics curricula. “Whether it’s now or five years from now, at some point it will be.”

Originally published on April 6, 2015.