I threw my line out and I got a nibble…subtitle: MVP may help me improve my Math 2 instruction next year

I am the first to admit, I am no expert on curriculum. I taught 8thgrade math for 10 years with no curriculum. I taught algebra 1 for 8 with no curriculum including my very first year in the classroom. Also, I taught Geometry for a couple years without any curriculum. Algebra 2 (the best ever!!!) I was without, but I did have access to a textbook, so maybe not truly without, it was just not aligned. Then there was Math 2, 1 and Math 8 under Common Core for several years with zero curriculum. I had to have the difference between standards and curriculum explained to me because I had no clue what curriculum actually was because I had never seen such. Standards are not curriculum. Resources are not curriculum. When you spend 20 hours preparing for 12 hours of class, you do not have a curriculum. Having multiple preps without any curriculum is nearly impossible. I did that the first year I taught geometry. I had Math 8 as well as algebra 1 that year. Once school was out, I went to bed and didn’t wake up until I heard fireworks on the fourth of July. I didn’t know there was a different/better way.

Finally, in late August of 2017, my school was asked to pilot the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math Curriculum authored by the geniuses at Illustrative Mathematics. I was amazed…and pissed. Why had I been put through 10 years of hell having to do everything myself via trial and error as I cobbled together resources to teach the standards for my classes. I knew I had found the silver bullet that educators have been looking for, or at least, I was much closer to it than ever before.

After using the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum for almost two years coupled with hearing noise about the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP) partnering with Open Up Resources to deliver a high school curriculum, it dawned on me that there had to be some Math 2 stuff hanging in a cloud somewhere so I went hunting. I knew I had limited time after spring break to cover the probability unit for Math 2. I found Module 9 for Math 2 from MVP. I looked it over. Checked it for alignment. Worked through the lessons then checked again for alignment. I decided to give it a try. I like it and here’s why.

Though I had no detailed how-to guide or training on how to actually implement this curriculum, I could see it was designed around a learning cycle that made sense. The first thing that made sense is that, unlike me, the authors of the curriculum realize that students actually come into the course with prior knowledge. Students are immediately held accountable for that knowledge. As students are working on the “ready” portion of their independent work, they are actually expected to go out and reacquire concepts on their own if they don’t recall them. I had spent weeks in the past reteaching prerequisite concepts rather than holding students accountable for regaining any lost knowledge themselves. With the MVP module, if students struggled, we spent a little time, but not a significant amount. I would then throw in a drill and kill exercise from my stash to make sure student understandings were solid a day later. We kept moving.

The next thing that sold me was the problem-based learning approach. It was clear that the five practices were part of the design from the page and a half alignment/teacher support page per lesson included in my find. It was also clear that discovery learning and collaboration were part of the process and those are my jam!

I realize through training with Open Up Resources and Illustrative Mathematics that I had to “launch” each lesson by laying down groundwork and making expectations clear up-front. I also circulate and prompt students who are stuck during the task of the day with instructional moves. What do you notice? What do you already know? What are you actually being asked? Can you use a different display to make the data more clear to you? The key is that the students are prompted to take action rather than waiting me or the rest of the class out.

I also like that the classroom projects/tasks are complex enough that students need to talk through what they are about and what learners are really being asked to do. The synergistic learning experience that students have is by design, not by accident. Students genuinely need one another more and me less.

Once students are mostly through with the problem or task, I choose students to present, always looking for varying approaches and insights. Because I am still learning to implement the five practices, I don’t always make the best choices and sometimes I revert to old habits of cold-calling that I get burned by, but we carry on. My students support my learning as much as I do theirs. It’s a wonderful relationship. I am very open with them about the fact that I am trying something new and they are very forgiving when I need a do-over and we rewind and try again.

My students have been frustrated for years about not having a curriculum—almost as much as their parents have been. They crave structure and who could blame them? What I want is quality structure. I’ve only tried this one module from MVP. I’ve not tried any other curriculums other than plucking lesson ideas from various places over the years with no sort of cohesive plan. So far, I see that the MVP curriculum adds both efficiency as well as depth to the learning that goes on in my classroom. Next year, I plan to experiment with MVP for Math 2 as my district launches MVP only for Math 1. I guess I am pre-piloting for Math 2 on my own. Since I am on my own, I can make adjustments as I go. I do wish I had access to some of the for-fee resources such as assessments and training, but I draw the line at having to pay for that sort of thing myself. I may attend the district MVP Math 1 summer training just to get a better understanding of the design.

 

 

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Wish me luck as I venture onward. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears!!

year two–take two

Happy Saturday all! I’m supposed to be getting ready for a couple PD sessions that I am presenting over the next two weekends, but I can’t get a comment from @SAMSDrSapsara at @mrsstipemath’s Thursday night 7th grade zoom (time stamp 00:27:14) collaboration out of my mind. Dr. Jessica Sapsara said, “I feel like when I’m making my anchor charts for the things, it’s really coming…way…after the unit has passed and I’m like, alright, let’s get something up so when we’re referencing it later as units come through…let’s look at that one again…so we have better working language…visuals…” And I thought to myself, “self, that’s where you were last year, if you made them at all!” That got me thinking about even more exciting differences between years 1 and 2 of implementing Open Up Resources 6-8 Math Curriculum. I know I reflected on this earlier,  but there’s more. Here’s my summary so far:

  • Anchor charts—Like I said, year 1 I was lucky to make them at all. In fact, I did not understand their usefulness until it was too late. Year two, I am deliberate in their creation as well as in pointing to them during lessons and even as students present, intentionally connecting student ideas to the charts.
  • Lesson preparation—I was so tired last year that I would fall asleep as I was reading the lessons. I’d get up in the morning and get about half-way through the teacher guide and then my room was filled with kids that needed support for the other course I teach, so there went my preparation time for Math 8. Year two, I am seeing so much exciting mathematics and even more brilliance in the authoring of this curriculum. I am excited about reading it and doing it and energized by it, so much so, that I read it before I even go home the day or even two days before the lesson. I am copying and cutting my cool downs and black line masters for an entire unit at one time rather than daily. I am importing my slides for an entire unit into one Google slides presentation. I just edit daily to remove what was covered that day in preparation for the next. (Note to self…hide the slides rather than deleting them, thereby making the file useful for next year! Yep, here I am, learning through reflection!)
  • Student copies/student workbooks—Year 1 saw me rushing around daily or all day Sunday editing and copying student pages for the week ahead. Year 2, my district purchased student workbooks. That in and of itself has given me back part of my life. I am so fortunate that my district cared enough about its teachers and time and copying costs to purchase student workbooks.IMG_3565
  • Attention on student learning—this was a luxury rarely afforded in year 1 because I was so intent on my own learning. In year 2, student learning is what fuels me. Seeing the lesson by lesson progress and retention is reassuring that I am actually helping students become mathematicians.
  • Student engagement—what an improvement!. In year one, I had three students per class I felt were really with the program. In year two, I have all but three students demonstrating understanding and actively owning their learning. I need to remember that when I am beating myself up about those three students, but still, that’s 3 students too many.
  • Student results—What a difference! They are truly remarkable. When I review cool-downs I can see student thinking and reasoning and catch misconceptions so they can be addressed timely. Year one, I was lucky to get a cool-down in the same day as the lesson. Now when I pass out the cool-downs, I hear students say, “we’re done already?” Students self-assess daily as they turn their cool-down into the basket based on their level of understanding, thanks to @mrsstipemath.understanding
  • Supplemental activities—Year 1 had virtually zero supplemental activities for students. Year 2, they are actually part of the game plan. They include Desmos activities to further student learning and assess student understanding; Quizziz games so students can self-assess and develop fluency with concepts; Desmos graphing calculator sessions to quickly and easily make math visible; practice problems from the curriculum; review sessions using practice problems for unit assessment preparation. I am still trying to get to Khan Academy  exercises, but haven’t managed to get them worked in—yet.
  • Pacing—This is a non-issue in year 2. I attribute this to not over-teaching as well as to keeping moving even without 100% buy-in from students. I know the material and concepts are coming around again and both the students and I will get another crack at nailing down the standards. I also understand the learning goals more clearly and know that keeping them bite-sized is essential to student success. That my students were successful at all last year was truly a miracle.sample matrix for blog
  • Community support—In year 1, I felt like my blog was my only companion as I learned this new curriculum and relearned how to teach—or perhaps, finally learned how to teach. This year, there is so much community support. There are the organized supports such as the face book groups and Monday night twitter chats (#OpenUpMath) as well as monthly zoom sessions by the Gurus of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math. My district is also providing monthly professional development specifically for users of the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum. I also have a network of users across the country as my personal Professional Learning Community. I find it hard to believe I made it through last year without these committed educators.Chat.png
  • School-life balance—This did not exist in year one. I worked very hard, but not very smart and it took a physical toll on me. This year, I am more rested even though I am doing more each day. I manage to eat healthier, sleep more, exercise regularly, read for pleasure, find time to support my learning community and even spend time with my husband. These activities have all improved my mood and attitude and help me recover from slumps and meltdowns more quickly.Selfcareisnotselfish

Year two just keeps getting better too. I actually feel valued and appreciated by my colleagues across the country. I feel confident in my classroom and I am excited about the future. My community members experiencing year one now who are taking advantage of the support of the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math community are doing so many wonderful things for their students. I am grateful for them and want to support them as we move forward together, as a community of learners.

Here I Stand

I’ve heard it. I’ve said it. I’ve lived it. The equations section of Unit 4 of 8thgrade Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum is a beast. It ramps up so quickly with little to no practice and students are lost. They are frustrated and giving up. So are teachers. So was I, until I got my head around it. Sheer conjecture, but this is my take on the whole thing.

This curriculum is designed for 8thgraders. All 8thgraders. We have three distinct levels of math classes in 8thgrade at my school. The Open Up curriculum is only being used for students who are currently at, barely at or below grade level. There is a narrow group of learners using this wide-ranging 8thgrade curriculum. Most of these learners have never truly been asked to perform work that is on-grade-level. This is the first time. They are lost and struggling and giving up.

We are taking a curriculum intended for acceleration, remediation and everything in between and using it exclusively for corrective and remedial instruction with enough access for on grade-level students to make progress. We are working hard to deliver the curriculum with fidelity. Our students are being challenged with grade-level material for, perhaps, the first time. They, in all likelihood, will not get it all. That’s ok. For many, this is their first exposure to grade-level material. Maybe they’ll get it the next time. We need to focus on the fact that students finally have access to grade-level material. We, as teachers, need to be careful not to let our well-intentioned actions take that away from them. When we take the opportunity for students to solve equations containing distribution and fractions and negative numbers and variables on both side and exchange it for 6thgrade-level equations, we are cheating our students.

And there I am, taking work that is at grade-level and breaking it down into bits and pieces that my students can understand and taking it off grade-level. I’m reading to them rather than having them read the problems themselves. I’m giving in. I’m using a curriculum designed to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners with a group of learners who, for the most part, don’t want to be there. I have got to do better so my students have a chance to do better. I’ve started giving out Life Savers to students for getting a good start on activities. Hopefully, only I catch the connection there.

Students do not know how to put in the sustained work required to do the learning that needs to be done to get on grade-level. They do not know how to reach longer-term goals on their own.  Rather than getting frustrated with the students and the curriculum, we as teachers, need to rise to the challenge and be the bridge that finally gets these students access to grade level work. Yes. It will take multiple years, but I would rather be the start of their access to grade-level work rather than the continuation of subpar standards.

There is so much immediate gratification in the lives of students that gets in the way of the time it takes to do the work required to reach longer-term goals.  None of these students fell behind in the last year or two. Fact is they were never caught up to start with. This is just the first time they have ever even had the chance to see and do work that is on grade-level. They are 13 and 14. Yes, they are going to struggle. Yes, we are going to struggle right along with them.  We owe it to them to finally challenge them with what they deserve. All students deserve access to grade level content. Period. Taking Martin Luther out of context, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

martin luther at luther college

Tracking is the start of all this below grade-level activity. We say we want all students to succeed, but how can they? There is no way to “jump the track” they are assigned to if they do not have a crack at the actual expectations of the grade. At-grade-level progress needs to be accessed and assessed for all learners. Watering down standards and short-changing learners who have historically struggled will never get them where they should be. Please honor our students by honoring their access to grade-level material. It is probable that many may not get it, but some will. Chances are, the ones that don’t get it weren’t going to get the watered-down version either. At grade level material gives all students a chance to meet and exceed expectations. Expect great things from yourself and your students.

A Tale of Two Years

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Thanks to Charles Dickens for igniting my thought process.

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This is year two for me teaching 8thgrade math using Illustrative Mathematics’ curriculum published and distributed by Open Up Resources 6-8 Math. Year two is everything I had hoped it would be. I marked my Unit 3 assessments Wednesday and was pretty pleased with the understandings my learners demonstrated. I tallied the individual scores just to get a macro feeling of how the classes were doing this year on the Unit 3 formal assessment. I felt pretty good about student work, but mildly disappointed in myself. As I was marking, I wish I had some student copies from last year’s assessment to compare similarly situated learners’ progressions. (Year one people—make and save a couple student copies to look at next year for each assessment. I thought I was going to remember, but I didn’t.) I did find my teacher copy with the tally marks of last years’ results. Drum roll please…the scores are better. And more students are able to put their understandings on display on the assessment. And, dig this, I am a month ahead of last years’ pace. And the results are significant. [Timeline correction…Last year, I started Unit 4 on February 2nd. February 2nd!!!! This year, I started Unit 4 December 7th. That’s almost 2 months ahead and we have already had 7 or 8 days out of school due to weather issues. And my learners understand more and perform better.] This is all because it is year two. My class sizes are a bit larger than last year, but the mix of historical performance measures (skills, abilities, levels—all horrible words to describe children’s current placement) is about the same. This year-two teaching experience with this curriculum is a wonderful feeling. I attribute improvements to the following changes, in no particular order.

  • Focusing on not over-teaching is a giant change affecting pace issues of the past. This revelation came during summer PD sessions with the good people of Illustrative Mathematics fame.
  • I am also better at formative assessment on the spot so I am not waiting until I can look at a stack of cool-downs to know if students got the intended learning or not. I have better interventions, earlier.
  • This year I made a commitment to move along regardless of stragglers. If I have learned one thing comparing last year to this year it is that you are going to have stragglers no matter how slow and thoroughly you go. Slowing down only harms the learners who are ready to move. It’s like walking in a line with a class of students. No matter how slowly you walk, the end of the line gets further and further from the front. Continually stopping so they can catch up is necessary, but holds everyone back. I need to work at incentivizing the back of the line, aka the stragglers, so they want to keep up and be part of the learning group.
  • This year I am using the practice problems whenever I can. This may be as filler at the end of class or as a pre-class activity to review the prior day’s concepts. I also assign targeted practice problems as Unit reviews before a Unit test. I’ve also put in a Quizizz activity once in a while. I’m going to give the Kahn Academy practice problems a shot next. That retrieval/practice routine must be played out regularly.
  • The launch for each activity is better year 2 because I know where I am going. I know what the focus of the activity truly is and I know where the stumbling blocks are. I am not removing the productive struggle, but I am better with my instructions and communication to learners of the expected outcomes.
  • Both activity and lesson syntheses are better than last year in that they exist, usually. They are focused and tight. They tie to the lesson summary or they come with a note or a highlight on the activity page in the workbook to seal the deal. I am still working to improve all of this and it’s not nearly as good and tight as it reads here.
  • The professional development, I am receiving on the unit materials and elements, is better this year since I can actually attend the sessions. Last year they were not held at a time when I could make it without missing one class of each of my two courses during the day, plus I was sooooo far behind I was afraid to be gone.
  • This year I have the support of my nationwide PLC. I am also supporting other users of the curriculum so I get better and think more carefully as I respond to inquiries and participate in twitter chats. I also feel a sense of accountability to my nationwide PLC and this makes me prepare and research at a much higher level than I otherwise would.
  • I spend more quality time reflecting as I prepare Guru Zoom chats and draft the weekly #OpenUpMath Twitter chat questions. Nothing sharpens skills like leadership.
  • Taking some of the preparation off of me and putting it on students, by having student workbooks, is a positive change for which I am grateful. I am not certain learners took the copied version of the activities last year as serious as they do the official workbooks this year. I am also able to invest in better preparation because I am not making copies of the materials. Workbooks also save valuable class time not having to pass out papers.

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Just look at the understanding that is demonstrated here. This learner is testing algebraically as well as graphically to determine if the ordered pairs are indeed solutions to the given equation. And look! Going beyond what was given, she tests a point not provided (4, 3) that works in the equation to see that it is on the line. I cried–in the best possible way.

Not everything is rosy, however. Horizontal and vertical lines as well at the shifting of proportional lines (y=kx from 7thgrade) was horrible last year and no better this year for the most part. Why??? I know I did a better, more explicit job connecting points and coordinates and lines. I did better, but the students weren’t doing enough. I need to beef that up and I am going to go back through those lessons again and see what it is I am NOT doing. The lessons are good in the moment, but they are not sticking with learners. I have got to make them stick. There needs to be struggling retrieval and spaced practice. All those sticky things must happen more and better than I have been doing. I will also check with my Tweople and see what their experiences and remedies are This is one area that did not improve from last year, yet.

I am going to continue to tweak and ponder, reflect and revise. I pledge that to my self and to my PLC.

Look Who’s Learning

It’s no secret I am an Open Up Resources 6-8 Math junkie. I love what the curriculum does for learners. Today, I want to expand my definition of learners. I am a teacher, but I am also a learner. I have learned more about teaching, learning and math in the past twelve months than I learned in the prior 14 years. I have Open Up Resources 6-8 Math, Illustrative Mathematics and my international PLC to thank for that.

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It’s not just that I have quality material with insights spelled out for me. It’s not that my students are challenged and required to think differently than they ever have. All those things are good. And true. The fact of the matter is that this curriculum makes me a better teacher. I teach better than I ever have. I am more prepared and I have greater insights. I am a better listener. I want to hear how my students are interpreting the math. I want students to share their interpretations. As prepared as I feel each day, I seem to always see and hear and feel something new about the math my students are doing. I am learning. I am the learner and I LOVE IT. Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum makes me a better teacher and learner. Every. Day.

I was starved for quality professional development ever since Common Core was rolled out. The minimal training received on Common Core was ill-conceived and not informative. I remember building fences with posts that were the supporting standards and rails that were supplemental or connecting standards. But I didn’t learn how what I was to teach was better for my students. Everything was theoretical. There was no comparison of how students were expected to learn differently or how I was expected to teach differently. I didn’t practice teaching anything. I was also not given resources with which to teach other than an outline. I learned much more about Common Core as I was teaching seeing my students make connections I had not previously considered. Because North Carolina gutted education funding on the heels of Common Core’s implementation, teachers were left to find and develop their own resources in order to teach and learn the standards. That took a while and I learned much through the school of hard-knocks. Eventually, I was seeing the connections and the wisdom of the sequencing. I was excited. Unsupported, but excited.

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Then Common Core got killed in the court of public opinion. Had Common Core had extensive, quality public relations communications, I like to think the educated public would have bought into the sequencing dictated by the standards. But they didn’t. The only public communication was parents posting homework problems without a context and calling the whole thing folly. There were even teachers that ignored the adoption of the standards and taught what and as they always had. Perfect strangers would come up to me in the grocery store line and see my teacher ID and say something like, “What do you think about Common Core?” expecting me to bash it. I wouldn’t bat an eye. I just said, “ I love it. The connections that students make all throughout the standards are solid. The insights that both students and teachers are gaining are profound. I hope the state has to courage to do the right thing for our schools and ignore the ignorant neigh-saying public. Why do you ask?” I typically didn’t get a response.

I want a do-over on the release of the Common Core Standards. I would start by rolling it out to the elementary schools for three years. Move to the middle schools for a year or two and then finally get to the high schools. Changing horses in the middle of the stream and then providing little to no professional development for teachers and no quality public relations education killed Common Core. Teachers were asked to implement without understanding. Teachers don’t do that. Teachers demand and deserve to understand why. That is a sad fact that was disregarded. We are now getting a do-over, of sorts, via Open Up Resources 6-8 Math, but better. It’s the third word…RESOURCES.

I am fortunate that my district is investing in teacher professional development with the implementation of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math. It seems the phrase Common Core is now somehow forbidden by the state. What we teach are the Common Core standards, but they are simply rebranded. Clever. But the standards are better than solid and it’s working so let’s just keep that little secret to ourselves. Open Up Resources 6-8 Math and the professional development I am receiving through Illustrative Mathematics are helping me connect my teaching to the standards with better understanding and execution than ever before.

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Now for the real purpose of this post. I am concerned there are teachers reluctant to change their ways regarding what they teach and how they teach it and some of these teachers are merely going through the motions as they roll out the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum. Teachers are learners too. Remember, you can’t get more out of something than you put into it. Just because something is good and nationally acclaimed doesn’t mean it will work without effort. Teaching is work. Teaching with Open Up Resources 6-8 Math is a lot of work. It is this work that is making me a better teacher and it’s hard. But my students are worth it. I am worth it. I am grateful that my district sees that we are all worth it.

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