On the surface math classes may be about numbers and their relationships, but the Parker math curriculum goes much deeper. Math at Parker allows students to flex and grow their critical reasoning, problem-solving, and creative exploration skills. The skills students learn in progressively challenging math studies translate into wins in science class, connections made during English class, discoveries in the art studio, and successes in many other fields.  

In line with the School’s emphasis on the pursuit of academic excellence, our math curriculum considers each student’s understanding of math and provides appropriate support, challenges, and instruction to carry the student to the next level. Division heads and math department leaders weigh in on the School’s aligned math curriculum and how every student is encouraged to take their math studies “as far as the mind can see.”

Lower School

What’s the key to preparing Lower School students for Middle School math and beyond? On the Parker Mission Hills Campus, the answer is a combination of a robust curriculum, opportunities for differentiated learning, and finding joy in mathematical discovery and connections. 

The introduction of the Singapore math approach in 2009 shifted Parker’s Lower School math program from something that felt a mile wide and an inch deep into a carefully sequenced method that emphasizes deep mastery, concept application, and problem-solving skills. When combined with differentiated learning opportunities and project-based experiences that deepen understanding, this approach helps ensure that the youngest Parker students seamlessly transition from grade level to grade level and into Middle and Upper School. 

Expected outcomes by grade level

In line with the intentional sequencing behind Singapore math, each grade level focuses on specific skills and outcomes that build on each other year after year. The primary grades focus on developing a solid sense of ten. Visually-oriented Ten Frames with dots and spaces help students internalize the idea of ten and, in doing so, students gain a strong foundation for other numbers, decimals, and fractions. 

Grade 4 builds upon the mastery of the lower grades by bringing in more complex fractions and decimals. By the end of Lower School, Grade 5 Lancers are working with and applying the concepts of fractions, decimals, and percents with ease and understanding. A thread of geometry and measurement is also included at each grade level to round out the experience. 

Regarding concept application, the primary grades include basic problem-solving, often utilizing manipulatives and visual elements. Grade 2 introduces one-step problem-solving. Grade 3 steps it up a notch with two-step problem-solving and an introduction to bar modeling. By Grade 5, students are regularly working creatively through multi-step exercises. 

“Singapore math prepares students to deeply know and understand the concepts, build on them, and be able to explain their mathematical thinking while remaining flexible,” emphasizes Heather Gray, the Dr. Robert Gillingham Head of Lower School and former Grade 5 teacher.

Math studies are not strictly confined to math classes at the Lower School—a great emphasis is placed on applying relevant math concepts within grade-level pillar projects. These opportunities for project-based learning contribute to students’ deep understanding of math concepts by requiring strategic evaluation and application to memorable real-world scenarios. Projects like the Grade 1 marketplace and The Stock Market game in Grades 4 and 5 reinforce and ingrain concepts in students’ minds and prepare them for higher-level math at Parker.

Differentiated learning for advanced students

We offer a Mathletes program for students in Grades 2 through 5 who excel beyond the strategically planned Singapore math curriculum. It is perfect for kids who enjoy tackling intricate word problems and puzzles using logic and mathematical expertise. Lancers in Grades 2 and 3 are eligible to participate in online Mathletes. In Grades 4 and 5, Mathletes meet in person with the Lower School’s dedicated math specialist.

Transitioning from Lower to Middle School Math

One of the most important goals of the Lower School math program is ensuring that Lancers are adequately prepared and ready to transition into Middle School math in Grade 6. In support of this goal, Grade 5 teachers meet with the Grade 6 team and visit the Middle School to vertically align learning outcomes and approaches to teaching and assessment. This experience helps Grade 5 teachers pass on the skills and concepts their Grade 5 students will need to transition into Middle School seamlessly. 

For example, Grade 5 math teachers walk students through best practices for taking effective math notes and applying these notes during homework sessions. This critical exercise has helped Lower School Lancers successfully transition to higher-level math studies. In addition, the Grade 5 team introduces a few Grade 6 units to ensure our Lower School Lancers are prepared for the pace of the Middle School program.

Lower School math as the foundation for higher learning

The Singapore math approach, combined with differentiated instruction, math specialist support, and memorable project-based learning opportunities, have transformed the Lower School Math program. By Grade 5 Promotion, Lower School Lancers have the math skills they need to adjust to academic life on the Linda Vista Campus in Grade 6 and continue through advanced math and AP courses in the Upper School.

Middle School

Middle School Mathematics aims to challenge each of our students while respecting their individual developmental needs. At Parker, we focus on specific learning targets that prepare our students to tackle mathematical challenges in Middle School, Upper School, and beyond while often exceeding the difficulty of math programs at other California schools. For example, most California schools prescribe Algebra 1 for Grade 9 students, but at Parker, this is the basic expectation for Grade 8. 

Expected outcomes by grade level and differentiated learning for advanced students

Middle School students begin in Math 6, but we also provide pathways for particularly advanced students to move into Pre-Algebra. Math 6 integrates a prior foundation of number sense and basic operations with more complex problem-solving. Students learn and relearn concepts at a greater depth of understanding, and under the umbrella of the Grade 6 theme of self-awareness, students learn to reflect on, self-assess, and revise homework. Students take ownership of their learning and develop study skills by completing homework that expects them to make connections between their daily performance and assessment review work.

Beyond basic computation or algorithmic skills, math in the Middle School is presented as a powerful tool for discovery and solving real-world challenges. Parker’s math teachers know that studying math helps sharpen logical and deductive reasoning, build problem-solving and analytical abilities, and grow an appreciation for logical and precise thinking among students. For example, Math 6 explores the essential question: “Can mathematics be used as a tool to discover the unknown?” 

In the Middle School math sequence, the Math 6 course is followed by Pre-Algebra. Most Grade 7 students take Pre-Algebra, but as noted above, we do have students in Grade 6 who are holistically ready for this course and allowed to move into this more advanced class. Once a student has arrived in Grade 8, their prior studies have prepared them for one of three levels of Algebra: our expected placement, Algebra 1; Algebra 1 Honors; or Algebra 1A. Algebra 1A includes half of Algebra 1, with the other half completed in Grade 9. 

Middle School math as the foundation for Upper School progression

After many years of program analysis, we found that some of our students significantly benefit from having more time to achieve a solid understanding of algebra. Algebra 1A is specifically designed for them. By changing the variable of time, our students typically find success in this foundational course and then proceed to higher-level courses with great success. 

By choosing Parker, most students will be a full year ahead in mathematics compared with other California schools just by following our standard sequence of courses. For students who have found math to be their area of strength and passion, our Upper School offers three different levels of calculus and Advanced Placement electives.

Upper School

The math program in the Upper School builds on the foundation of concepts, understandings, and coursework from the Lower and Middle School sequences. Guided by our School’s mission and vision, the primary goal of the Upper School math program is to offer coursework that best supports each and every student at the most appropriate level. Creating opportunities for appropriate challenges helps ensure deep learning and challenge while also allowing for exploration as the student grows and develops. We believe that students can explore the world through the discipline of math, and that the diligent study of math creates frameworks for problem-solving that extend beyond the classroom. The focused study of math at Francis Parker provides students with essential skills like discernment and critical thinking.

We offer a wide range of courses in the Upper School to meet students’ needs and ensure that engaging experiences are accessible to all students. Each course is built to focus on the core concepts, skills, and practices appropriate to each level. The essential understandings from each class provide the basis for more advanced problem-solving throughout the year. All students have a path to calculus by Grade 12, and our STEM-focused students have the opportunity to take more than one math course in Grade 12 in order to explore multiple areas of math.

Cross-curricular impact and course placement

Teachers communicate across courses and the department to ensure learning targets are vertically aligned throughout the program and are supported by the curriculum. Additionally, the math curriculum supports the science coursework, as well as external standardized testing. We seek to place students in coursework where they are best challenged. We do this in accordance with graduation requirements, which ensure a comprehensive experience in math for all students.

Application of concepts serves as preparation for learning beyond Parker

Instructional practice is essential to shaping student learning in all subject areas. This is especially true in Upper School math courses. Our school vision statement encapsulates the goal well: “Our vision is to build engaging learning environments that nurture and prepare students with the skills and knowledge they need to embrace purposeful opportunities and live joyful lives.” In the Math Department, teachers balance foundational skill building with opportunities to apply these skills in novel ways. In doing so, students understand mathematical concepts both from a structural perspective and conceptually. 

As students advance in the course sequence, opportunities to play with mathematical ideas increase. Upper-level courses are routinely focused on applying strategies to solve novel problems. Students increase their critical thinking skills through the process of problem-solving, using a range of strategies. These experiences define our learning environments and help prepare our students to, in the words of our vision statement, embrace purposeful opportunities and live joyful lives.

The Parker math curriculum aims to meet students where they are and then provide appropriate levels of instruction and challenge to lead them to academic excellence. A special emphasis is placed on cultivating the joy of discovery, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking abilities. Whether our students pursue a STEM career after graduation or something else, the patterns of learning and thought gained through the Parker math curriculum make a tangible difference. 

True to the School’s vision, our math curriculum aligns across divisions to create an engaging learning environment for all students—one that nurtures their natural curiosity and instills them with the skills and knowledge to move comfortably to apply mathematical concepts and logic in daily life while joyfully pursuing their purpose now and in the future.