Getting Real—the Five Practices

Sitting in a MVP (Mathematics Vision Project) Integrated Math 1 professional development (PD) class early this week, minding my own business, probably checking Twitter for any knowledge nuggets or notifications leading to that dopamine rush, when I hear a teacher proclaim her recommitment to popsicle sticks as a means to improve participation in her class come fall. I winced. I remember being praised by my principal for having a cup of popsicle sticks on my desk and the nod of approval he gave me when I used this revolutionary technique to call randomly on unsuspecting students.  About this time each summer I started eating popsicles with abandon hoping to have enough sticks saved by the end of August. Oh my goodness. How far we’ve come!

kari pops
Kari Vaughn, now FCAS; former princess popsicle eater

A dominant theme from PD a couple summers ago was the practice of acting intentionally in instruction and planning and assessment and in each and every teacher move except in calling on students. We were still rolling the roulette wheel hoping fate would carry us the rest of the way. We were upping participation, but not steering the learning ship in any particular direction.  At the close of many a class, we found ourselves on education’s version of Gilligan’s Island, floundering hopelessly for a solution to the wreck that just occurred in class. It never occurred to me there was a better way because fate served me well, much of the time. But not every time and my luck ran out.

How many times have you been burned by a student who boldly states the exact misconception you were saying to dispel; or a student who confidently states something totally and completely wrong? Having no idea what a student is going to say is a rookie mistake. What keeps sticking with me is a scene from L.A. Law  (1986-1994) where Corbin Bernsen, starring as divorce attorney Arnie Becker, has a woman, claiming abuse, on the witness stand. He pushes her to the breaking point about why she did not seek help from a neighbor on a particular occasion when she had been locked out of her house. She explains that she could not seek help from a neighbor because she was naked.  At that point, his whole case fell apart right before him. He was reminded that a divorce lawyer never asks a question to which he or she does not already know the answer. And so it is two decades into the 21stcentury in the mathematics classroom.

Now, at long last, the Five Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions by Smith and Stein, affectionately referred to as “the five practices’’ is gaining traction and getting real.  When we, as teachers, invite a student to share insights with the class, we already know what they are going to say. It’s still organic, it’s just that we are sorting and selecting student insights in a planned way. And when I say we, I assume every teacher is now doing this or at least striving to take steps toward orchestrating classroom discussions in such a way. Just when I think that, I over hear the popsicle stick comment and I know, the work here is just starting.  I know I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the training and experiences I have had using Open Up Resources 6-8 Math authored by Illustrative Mathematics.

At HIVE19 in Atlanta, Brooke Powers (@LBrookePowers) introduced us (Martin Joyce (@martinsean), Morgan Stipe (@mrsstipemath) and Jen Arberg (@JenArberg) to a video that we then showed during our Five Practices 6-8 breakout groups in session 3 in the Community Track. This video created by and starring Dr. K. Childs, set the stage nicely as we dug into a lesson specifically on the five practices. I am sharing it further by linking it here. I hope this makes an appearance in your back to school training sessions. I also hope this practice extends to other content areas because good practice is good practice.

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.

 

 

fishing
credit

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

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