Bernard Zell’s Math Program and the MAP Assessment

by Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader

Why does Bernard Zell use the Measures of Academic Progress assessment (MAP)? One reason is because it is a norm-referenced quantitative way to look at students’ math skills growth over time. Another reason is it helps us look on a macro level at our school’s math program. But how does our school’s philosophy on math instruction and the MAP relate to each other? To better understand the relationship, let’s start by better understanding each of them individually.

Our school’s philosophy on math teaching and learning is based on current research. Bernard Zell’s balanced math program provides the combination of factual/procedural fluency, conceptual depth, and problem solving skills that allows our students to succeed at high levels in school and beyond. We believe factual/procedural fluency (facts and skills) should stem from conceptual understanding rather than rote memorization.  In the 21st century, it is important for our students to develop number sense and be thinkers and problem solvers on top of mastering certain factual and procedural fluency.

Bernard Zell’s Balanced Math Program



            Procedural and     Conceptual          Problem

            Factual Fluency    Understanding     Solving

The MAP assessment, created by NWEA, is a norm-referenced, computer-adaptive assessment that is aligned with the Common Core State Standards. The assessment is focused on skill growth over time. Students receive a RIT score: A number designed to measure student skill achievement and growth over time. The RIT (Rasch Unit) scale is a stable equal-interval scale (like inches to measure your child’s height). It can compare a child’s skill proficiency relative to national proficiency and growth norms.

So, how do our math program and MAP fit together? What is their relationship? Consider our math program’s three-pronged focus on procedural and factual knowledge, conceptual understanding and problem solving. The MAP assessment is one snapshot in time focusing on one of those three components - procedural and factual knowledge or skills. Is this important to us? Yes, of course! We want our students to master necessary math skills and make steady progress in this area. To this end, we have increased the amount of distributive review and skills-focused work in all grades.

But the MAP assessment does not provide us with a full picture of our students’ math thinking and understanding. For insight into our students’ conceptual understanding and problem solving, we need to look at classroom work and assessments. Math educators nationwide lament the lack of a large norm-referenced assessment to do this. At Bernard Zell, we are continually seeking to improve our formative and summative assessment use in these areas. We are using a number of resources with greater consistency across classrooms such as “The Problem Solver curriculum,” “Formative Assessment Lessons,” “Problems of the Month,” and “MARS Tasks.” (For  more information on any of these tools, please reach out to Jen Levy.)

Another important element to note is our school’s belief that skills should stem from conceptual understanding rather than rote memorization. Our MAP scores in the younger grades typically reflect this belief. Instead of covering a lot of material quickly and superficially, we work to develop strong understanding of the mathematical big ideas. One example is the work we put into helping Lower School students understand the process of regrouping in subtraction, rather than immediately teaching them the steps to the traditional algorithm. In Middle School, instead of going right to memorization of procedures for operations with fractions, we seek to first develop students’ reasonable thinking.

At Bernard Zell, our philosophy on math assessment must reflect our beliefs about math teaching and learning. We must seek to understand our students’ growth in all three areas - conceptual understanding, facts and skills, and problem solving.  The MAP assessment is one piece of the puzzle we have to help us understand our students’ growth and needs as well as reflect on our program and instruction.

Research to Support Bernard Zell’s Philosophy on Mathematics Teaching and Learning

Posted on: 11/27/2017 4:28 PM Comments (0)

Then They Came for Me: Lessons Learned from History

by Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning

This week our 4th graders visited the Alphawood Gallery in Chicago to learn and explore the meaning of an exhibition called: Then They Came for Me. The subject of the exhibition was the United States government’s establishment of internment camps for Japanese Americans following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The title comes from a famous quote by Pastor Martin Niemuller, a German, anti-Nazi theologian and Protestant pastor, who wrote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
As the students examined the photographs in the exhibition, guided by gallery docents as well as their own teachers, they began to recognize the injustice and the inhumane treatment of 120,000 Japanese Americans carried out by the U.S. government. The students asked questions in an attempt to understand a time when this shocking practice was official. They were stunned to think their country could once have acted in this way.
Learning along with our students, I realized that I had an additional layer of history attending my vision. It was one that assaulted my self-understanding as an American citizen. It seemed to me that America had absorbed Nazi practices and made them American in this regard. A series of stages were created that were designed to: (1) identify; (2) limit civil rights; (3) deny education and occupation; (4) isolate; (5) gather; and (6) relocate and incarcerate Japanese Americans in controlled areas. Thankfully, it was not with the ultimate intention of mass murder. But the strategies leading to camps like Manzanar could have been taken directly from a Nazi playbook.
I am writing this today, November 9, 2017, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. On November 9 - 11, 1938, a massive pogrom took place which escalated the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis. It is called Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” because of the immense destruction of synagogues, homes, and businesses that resulted in broken glass in cities all over Germany. This video gives a brief introduction to the significance of Kristallnacht.
As Americans, as Jews, as educators, as people who care, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and challenge injustice whenever we encounter it. This too, is an expression of our commitment to Tikkun Olam.

Posted on: 11/9/2017 3:06 PM Comments (0)

Lech Lecha! Setting Out On a Jewish Journey

by Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning

How fitting it was that a recent fall morning began with a Tiyul meeting whose message was: Lech Lecha! Take yourself - and set out to the land that we will show you. This Bernard Zell tradition began in 1996, but the “lech lecha” tradition really began with Abram and Sarai. For two weeks, our students do leave their land, the place of their birth, their parents’ home, and go to the Land. They set out and travel north, south, east and west and in this way they continue the narrative of the Jewish people. And during the time they are in the Land, they find a second home that is also theirs.
We can see where it all began in B’reisheet/Genesis, Chapter 12. For the first eleven chapters of the book of B’reisheet, there are a series of universal stories. Creation of the world. Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve. Snake. First sin. First forgiveness. First murder. Life goes on. Ten generations pass. Noah. Ark. Flood. Dove looks for dry land. Rainbow. Fresh start of civilization. Tower of Babel. Human hubris. Dispersion over the face of the earth.
And then, we turn the page and we read a brief genealogy that introduces two names: Abram and Sarai. From that transitional moment, it’s much more than simply a new page. It’s the starting point of the narrative of the Jewish people.
It opens with the words: “Lech lecha” - take yourself and start walking! God talks to Abram and gives him a set of instructions. Abram listens and acts. With these first words, God offers the terms of a “brit” or covenant between God and the first family of the Jewish people.
Leave your land, the place of your birth, your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you...I will assign this land to your offspring...
And later the text goes on:
Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west, for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever...UP, walk about the land, through its length and its breadth, for I give it to you.
One of the standards that guides our study of Tanakh, the Hebrew bible, at Bernard Zell is this: to recognize the Tanakh as the formative narrative of the Jewish people, past, present and future. We teach toward this in our classrooms, and we live it in our journey. We look forward to yet another Bernard Zell 8th-grade class traveling to Israel this spring as their Jewish journey continues.

Posted on: 11/9/2017 2:59 PM Comments (0)

Bernard Zell is More than Just a School – It’s a Community

By Emma Weiss ‘14, Presented at the 2017 Admissions Open House

I love coming back to Bernard Zell because this school is truly my second home. When I was asked to speak today I said, “Of course!” Then I realized I would only have 3-5 minutes – and I thought, “Oh no, how can I speak for three to five minutes when I have hours-worth of amazing things to say and stories to tell about my experiences here?” I will do my best!
I’m currently a senior at the Latin School. Because I’m applying to college now, I’ve been thinking a lot about who I am as a student and as a person and what I will bring with me to the next school I attend. My high school years were great, but I know that I learned all the basics here. Work hard, love learning, do your best, be kind, respect others, give back to the community – be a mensch. That’s how I would sum up what I took away from Bernard Zell.
Bernard Zell is more than just a school – it’s a community. It’s a place where the teachers and administrators really know you and care about you. Everything about being a student here is geared towards preparing you for high school and for life. It’s a really special combination of strong academics, and Jewish learning and values. I can’t imagine a place that could have done more for me.
When I got to Latin, I felt extremely prepared academically and personally. The Middle School experience here was extremely challenging, but 8th grade classes were very similar to the high school classes I encountered. In 8th grade, I wrote a 20-page term paper. It’s still the longest paper I’ve ever written.
One of my favorite things about Bernard Zell are all of the traditions. Two of my favorites are Shabbat Lunch and the 8th-grade trip to Israel. Every Friday, starting in 3rd grade, the whole school gathers in the lunchroom. You are assigned a Shabbat table—I was table 19— and stay with that table until you graduate, again building that Bernard Zell community. And the trip goes without saying, what an amazing opportunity. I had never been to Israel prior to 8th grade, I had just been learning about it for 10 years. When I saw the Western Wall for the first time, I started to cry— it was the culmination of everything I had learned at Bernard Zell.
Standing here on this bimah reminds me of so many Bernard Zell experiences, but one stands out. At 1st grade consecration, my whole grade stood together under a cloth chupah we made with all of our little handprints on it and said the shehecheyanu. At 8th-grade graduation we all stood together under that same chupah, only our hands a lot bigger, and said the shehecheyanu one last time as a group. I won’t ever forget that.
Many of you have very little kids and it’s hard to imagine them when they’re my age. But Bernard Zell really teaches your kids to be smart, collaborative, open-minded, and really kind people. I’m 17 and don’t even know where I’m going to college, but I do know that I want my kids to attend this school because I know what an impact it made on my life and who I am today.

Posted on: 11/8/2017 1:54 PM Comments (0)

Grateful for the Friendships, Love and Learning at Bernard Zell

by Carrie Lampert ‘17, Presented at the 2017 Admissions Open House

I graduated from Bernard Zell in June of 2017 and am in my first semester at Lane Tech. Believe it or not, this is not my first time back since I graduated. The Chicago Public Schools had a day off two weeks ago and some friends and I chose to spend that day here. It was a great day. Coming back to my old stomping grounds and connecting with my old teachers reminded me that I will always have a home here. My friends and I chatted with several teachers who were eager to hear about our transitions to our new schools. Ms. Matalon, our 8th grade Hebrew teacher, happened to be in the lounge at the time, heard our voices, and popped out excitedly to hug us and say hi.
I first came to Bernard Zell when I was three years old and stayed for the next 11 years. I have a few vague memories from my first year, like playing with dolls, being scared of the toy cars, and bonding with one of my teachers whom I adored and still remember, even though she stopped teaching at the school years ago. Most importantly, I made many friends at the age of 3, some of whom are still my best friends today, even though we are all now at different schools.
When I first started thinking about what I wanted to say today to prospective parents, I thought about three major topics: academics, social life, and citizenship. First are the academics. There is a very strong focus on academics at Bernard Zell, and the teachers work hard to keep the students engaged by finding creative approaches to learning, including lots of hands-on work. Even when a class was more of a lecture format, my teachers always asked questions and encouraged us to engage in the conversation. They used different strategies, like “fishbowl talks” and “socratic seminars” to facilitate communication, discussion, and movement around the classroom. In science, we did a lot of hands-on experiments and labs and in 8th-grade science, we even built model roller coasters and rockets! We also did quite a bit of group work along with our individual work. With group work, you either love it or hate it depending on your group. But we did learn a lot about getting along with others, negotiating, and compromising. I definitely can say that the transition to a Selective Enrollment high school has been very manageable because of the academic training and study skills I learned here at Bernard Zell.
Along with the academics, I was able to make some truly amazing friends throughout my time at Bernard Zell. The school helps facilitate strong friendships because we do so many group projects and activities where we are able to interact with peers throughout the day. Starting in Middle School, we went on trips as a grade. In 5th grade, we went on the Shabbaton, which was a one night trip on Shabbat that took place at camp Chi. In 6th and 7th grade, we went on two overnight trips where we were able to bond as a grade and with our teachers. And to top it off, at the end of 8th grade, we went to Israel for two weeks. This was an amazing experience that I know brought everyone closer. I shared a room with almost every in the grade girl during the trip and we had the chance to see so many amazing people and places as a group. It was as if all the years and all the little steps along the way led to our trip to Israel. That is how in many ways, Bernard Zell creates incredible friendships.
The last aspect that comes to mind when I think of Bernard Zell is how the school teaches its students to be good people (mensches). Throughout my education at Bernard Zell, there was always an underlying emphasis on being a good person and being humane. In classes, we discussed the importance of being an upstander while talking about the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, or caring for someone we know. We also saw the idea of being an upstander through the novels we read. For example, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch doesn't only take on a big case, he teaches his children to treat Boo Radley with respect. In addition, we also were taught to serve our community. In 5th grade, we participated in service learning called Project Dorot. During this program, we visited with the elderly residents at the Selfelp Home. Making small talk with these residents was not a big deal, but it just might have made someone's day, including my own. This taught us the idea that small mitzvot matter. Talking to someone is not a huge deal and does not require much effort, but the residents were happy knowing someone cared about what they had to say.
Also, once a year we had something called the Day of Service. Each grade would do different activities and you would either go somewhere to volunteer or help a cause within the school building. All of these projects and little acts that we did over the years and the messages that were woven into our curriculum taught us how to be good people. Bernard Zell does not only care about having highly educated students, but students who are good citizens.
At this point, it may seem hard to believe, but I have actually spent a little more than three quarters of my life at Bernard Zell! And I can say that moving from a class of 50 people to a high school class of 1200 is certainly a big change. But the truth is, Bernard Zell prepared me for it, so the transition was not nearly as difficult as you might think. When I look back at my time at Bernard Zell, though, I can say that I am grateful for the education I received, the friends I made, and the lessons I learned.

Posted on: 11/8/2017 1:50 PM Comments (0)

Challenging Students in Mathematics Part 1

by Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader

Many parents understandably wonder “is my child being challenged appropriately in math?” Parents wonder this for many good reasons: the way their children are learning math seems different than how they learned, there is tremendous pressure on students to do well on MAP testing, and sometimes children report that math is “too easy” or “too challenging.” How can parents and students better understand how teachers ensure students are appropriately challenged? In this post, we will look at the nature of mathematics to understand what appropriate challenge in math looks like. In the next post, we will explore how teachers differentiate instruction to meet students’ varying levels of understanding and need.
First, let’s take a quick look at the nature of mathematics itself. Many people mistakenly think of math as the accumulation of discrete concepts and skills. Actually, mathematics is made up of several “big ideas.” A mathematical big idea, as defined by Randall I. Charles, “is a statement of an idea that is central to the learning of mathematics, one that links numerous mathematical understandings into a coherent whole.” An example of a big idea is: “Equivalence: Any number, measure, numerical expression, algebraic expression, or equation can be represented in an infinite number of ways that have the same value.” *
Teachers support students through continuous development and deepening of their understandings of big ideas. Looking at the example above, this big idea of equivalence is explored in early grades in many ways such as the use of different strategies for whole number operations. You can “make ten” in a number of ways or even solve 37+25 using multiple strategies. As students’ understanding of equivalence grows, they begin to work more with algebraic equations and expressions.
For many elementary and middle school students, being challenged means learning something new. First and second grade students excitedly report they “know” multiplication because they see it as “advanced.” Middle school students are eager to move into and beyond algebra (even though algebraic thinking is embedded in all grades beginning in Kindergarten.) Math leaders often describe this as seeing “breadth” in mathematics as the sign of progress.
While breadth certainly plays a role in mathematics education, equally if not more important is “depth.” Students spend many years, at least from SK through fifth grade, working on whole number operations. Each year, expectations are raised for understanding, flexibility, accuracy and efficiency. Students also move from concrete models to more abstract models. In Middle School, proportional reasoning is of major importance and students explore this big idea in every grade. As with whole number operations, there is a developmental progression that spans many years.
So, what does this mean about appropriate challenge levels? The next time your child comes home and says they are not doing anything new in math or you look at a work sample and wonder about the appropriateness for your child, think about the nature of mathematical big ideas. Teachers are very thoughtful in the tasks they provide students. They are working to build strong foundations and build connections between concepts and skills. If it is unclear, you or your child should reach out to the teacher to better understand how the work fits into the developmental progression or what foundational big idea is being worked on and why.
*Big Ideas and Understandings as the Foundation for Elementary and Middle School Mathematics, Randall I. Charles, NCSM Journal, SPRING - SUMMER, 2005.

Posted on: 10/30/2017 11:40 AM Comments (0)

Challenging Students in Mathematics Part 2

by Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader

This blog continues our look at appropriately challenging students in mathematics. we explore the many resources and strategies Bernard Zell teachers use to ensure every student is engaged in “productive struggle.”
First, our teachers have many resources to help guide them in understanding what and when to teach in mathematics. Our math curriculum is aligned with the Common Core State Standards which outlines specific grade level outcomes. For each major topic or concept, we have developmental progressions to help guide teachers’ reasonable expectations for below, at, and and above grade level work. All of the published materials we use are aligned with the Common Core and follow the developmental progressions.
The teachers also use a variety of strategies to ensure students are appropriately challenged. Most differentiation techniques fall under one of three categories: content, process and product. Teachers are thoughtful about which strategies to use for different students and for different concepts and skills.
Modifications to content include changes to the material being learned. For example, for problems involving the four operations, teachers can adapt the numbers involved. Teachers can also adapt the degree of complexity, such as by increasing or decreasing the number of steps in word problems. Yet a third modification is exploring the level of thinking being asked of students in the mathematical task from understanding through to creating (Bloom’s Taxonomy).
Differentiating the process means making changes to the ways students access the content. One type of modification in this category is altering the settings in which students learn within the range of whole class to one-on-one instruction. Another strategy is providing differing amounts of scaffolding through teacher questioning and modeling. Teachers can also vary the pace in which students access mathematical content. Another strategy that teachers are using more involves “low-floor/high-ceiling tasks.” These types of tasks allow students to enter and work on the content at multiple levels of understanding.
When teachers differentiate the product, they are altering how students share their mathematical understanding. Teachers use their knowledge of the students and their various learning styles to help set students up for success. For example, some students have an easier time explaining their thinking visually rather than verbally. Some students are more comfortable sharing in smaller groups or having the opportunity to work with a partner to make sense of and share their thinking.
A final note about challenging students appropriately in mathematics: Students need to play an active role. First, students need to learn to be objective about their skill and understanding levels and be less quick to judge if a task is “too easy” or “too challenging.” Second, students need to be self-advocates. Communicating to their math teachers about their thoughts and feelings in appropriate and respectful ways helps ensure everyone is working together as a team for success.

Posted on: 10/25/2017 3:51 PM Comments (0)

The Simcha (Joy) of Sukkot

by Tzivia Garfinkel, Director of Jewish Life and Learning

Most of the time, Jewish holidays invite us to remember, perform rituals, tell stories, recite blessings and prayers, commemorate history. One of the striking things about Sukkot is that we are literally told to rejoice in the holiday - v’samachta b’chagecha ושמחת בחגיך. In fact Sukkot is referred to as Z’man Simchateynu - the season of our rejoicing in the kiddush said at the festive meals, as well as in the additions to certain core tefilot (prayers) that are included in holiday prayer services.
So, where does Sukkot fit into the annual holiday cycle? At first glance, it seems to be part of the fall holidays: Rosh HaShana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot. But did you ever consider Sukkot's connection to Pesach/Passover? Sukkot rounds out a different holiday cycle. Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot are three holidays linked in three significant ways.
They are linked in a historical cycle:
  • On Passover the Israelites are liberated from slavery in Egypt
  • On Shavuot the Israelites get to Mt. Sinai where they receive the Torah and hear the Ten Commandments
  • On Sukkot after receiving the Torah, they wander for forty years in the desert
There's also an agricultural cycle:
  • Passover always takes place in the spring and is the beginning of the planting season
  • Shavuot falls seven weeks after Passover, in early summer and marks the harvest of first fruits (bikurim)
  • Sukkot always occurs in autumn and is the final ingathering/harvest festival
And then there's a God cycle that points to the relationship between God and the emerging Jewish people/nation:
  • On Passover, God redeems the Jewish people from slavery
  • On Shavuot, God reveals God’s self to the nation at Sinai
  • On Sukkot, God provides for the Jewish people as they wander in the desert
It always seemed to me that if we lived in a perfect world, the final link in these cycles would have Sukkot celebrate the entry into the Land of Israel. After all, that is the ultimate objective of the process. But instead, Sukkot is the holiday that marks not-yet- arriving!
We celebrate the process - not reaching the goal.
So why are we specifically instructed to “rejoice” in this holiday? Is it because we’re joyful to have successfully been written in the Book of Life? Is it to celebrate the benefits of an abundant harvest? Or is it to present us with the challenge to find joy in our lives even when we have not yet reached our ultimate goal?
For more information about Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, try my favorite Jewish website: My Jewish Learning  

Posted on: 10/11/2017 1:49 PM Comments (0)

What are the Standards for Mathematical Practice?

by Jen Levy, Math Instructional Leader

The Standards for Mathematical Practice are part of the Common Core State Standards for all grades. These eight Mathematical Practices go hand in hand with the content standards mapped out for each grade level. The Mathematical Practices describe varieties of expertise or habits of mind that mathematics educators at all levels seek to develop in their students. For more information on the Common Core State Standards for content and practices please see this website.
Here is a brief description of each of the Mathematical Practices:



Make sense of problems and

persevere in solving them

Student plans, persists, monitors and checks work in problems

Reason abstractly and quantitatively

Student makes sense and thinks reasonably about the quantities and their relationships in problems

Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others

Student explains thinking to other people, and discusses other people’s thinking

Model with mathematics

Student sees math in the world around us and uses various models to solve problems

Use appropriate tools strategically

Student selects and uses math tools carefully and knows limitations/benefits

Attend to precision

Student speaks and solves problems with exactness and meticulousness and reviews work

Look for and make use of structure

Student looks for patterns, repeated reasoning and structure to solve problems

Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

Student notices if calculations are repeated and looks both for general methods and shortcuts to solve problems


For more information on how to support the development of these Mathematical Practices at home, please see this helpful website.


Posted on: 9/13/2017 1:41 PM Comments (0)

Educating Students to be Thoughtful, Empathic Citizens

by Noah S. Hartman, Head of School

This past weekend we witnessed deeply troubling events in Charlottesville that can’t go without acknowledgment and condemnation. At the root of so much evil that exists in the world is ignorance, and the most potent weapon against ignorance is education. Our mission at Bernard Zell, indeed our raison d’etre, is to educate students to be intelligent, thoughtful, independent-thinking, and empathic citizens who create a world that will be better tomorrow than it is today. 
There is an important combination of nature and nurture—the environment in which we raise our children and the education that we provide them—that leads our students to become who we all want them to be, which in turn creates the world in which we want them to live. No one is born a racist, a bigot, or an anti-Semite, but unfortunately there are people whose minds are so poisoned that they actually preach these horrible things. Human beings are all created b’tzelem elohim, in the image of God, and we respect and celebrate the diversity that makes the world what it is. But we vigorously reject those who pervert the freedoms we have and use them as tools of hatred and violence.
The Jewish community has always stood against discrimination, and we do so at Bernard Zell in the absolute strongest terms. Events such as those in Charlottesville remind us how important it is that we remain focused on raising great kids who can think critically, behave compassionately, and reject evil. One organization with which Bernard Zell has partnered in this effort for several years is Facing History and Ourselves, a non-profit that trains teachers to confront racism and bigotry. In a recent interview with NPR, the organization’s CEO, Roger Brooks, says they seek to “empower students to work against bigotry and injustice or improper uses of power,” and that, "people make choices and choices make history."
We will continue to do the same and to teach our students to make choices that will make the future brighter, kinder, and safer for generations to come.

Posted on: 8/16/2017 2:22 PM Comments (0)
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