Ron Larson Introduces New Focal Points Curriculum

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I was thrilled earlier this year when we were asked to be the Ohio representatives for Ron Larson’s new Focal Points curriculum for middle BIM Overview Smallschool. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, Dr. Ron Larson is a rock star in the math education world. Introduce him to a math geek and they will be as gaga as the uninitiated would be when meeting Lebron James, Tiger Woods or Simon Cowell. And deservedly so, Ron Larson is the real deal. He’s a professor at Penn State University in Erie and author of numerous math textbooks published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Ron has teamed with his long time writing partner Laurie Boswell, to publish their own series, Big Ideas Math for middle school. Laurie is also the real deal. She’s a mathematics teacher at Riverside School in Vermont and is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematic Teaching. Additionally Laurie was a Tandy Technology Scholar and recently served on the NCTM Board.

Together Larson and Boswell have created Big Ideas Learning which is an answer to every educator’s complaint about the current ‘mile wide and inch deep’ nature of today’s mathematics curriculum. Big Ideas supports the new world-class NCTM Focal Points. The middle school program focuses on fewer topics at each grade level to provide a narrower and deeper course of study so that students can master each benchmark as they move forward.

Focal Points were developed over a period of two years. Part of the research included an examination of state standards and curriculum that was published as A View from the Nation . The analysis included a study of curriculum frameworks in 49 states plus high-achieving countries like Japan, Singapore, Finland, China and Korea. For more information click HERE to visit the NCTM web site Focal Points page.

Although Larson and Boswell are math people, they’re far from dry. Their approach is challenging, exciting and fun. For example Larson created a Cartoon 1pair of cartoon characters, Newton and Descartes, to help middle schoolers grasp many of the abstract concepts of math. Ron wrote the cartoons himself and they were drawn by his nephew, a cartoonist. These cartoons are more than fun, they help students make the connection between abstracts concepts and the concrete. Real middle school students participating in focus groups loved the characters.

The Big Ideas program is rich and deep in resources. The hard bound student books, one each for sixth, seventh and eighth grades appear small’no more than 500 pages. But the entire book is taught. When you look at the table of contents you are also looking at the pacing guide. There is ample time for every concept. The student book is available in print, as an interactive online book or in digital format as a PDF. This is music to many educators’ ears.

In their wisdom, Larson has made a PDF of each text available to view online. I think it’s great that they have made it so easy for potential customers to evaluate the product. However the site is password protected so please e-mail me at if you would like one issued to your district. Just include your name, school and/or district and I’ll send it back as soon as it’s issued.

In addition to the student books the program includes a Teacher Edition, Record and Practice Journal (available in print or online), Assessment Book (also available in print or online) and Resources by Chapter.

Big Ideas Math is also rich in technology. They have teamed with ExamView to utilize their assessment suite specifically created for this program. It also includes their LessonView, PuzzleVie and QuizShow.

For more detailed information visit the Big Idea Learning web site or e-mail me for an online text review password.

Dealing with the people at Big Ideas Learning is like a breath of fresh air. Everyone is totally dedicated to this program and their enthusiasm is infectious. Even if you’re not studying math for a few years I highly recommend you take a look at this program and get to meet the people. You’ll be a Larson groupie in no time.