Why All the Excitement?

I was shocked by the responses from the good people at Open Up Resources (OUR), Illustrative Mathematics and my comrades in twitterdom regarding my reflection blog which boldly sang the praises of OUR. I tried to understand what motivated this excitement and was told teachers just don’t normally cheerlead for curriculum resources. I explained to my husband why I was so zealous about OUR and I thought, perhaps, I should be explicit in my explanation to you as well. I am confident my experience is similar to many teachers’ experiences across the country.

I just finished my 12thyear of teaching 8thgraders mathematics in North Carolina. I had at least one standard math 8 class (in addition to algebras 1 & 2 and geometry) for each of the last 11 years. Each year, I was given a one-page summary of state standards to be covered, written in code on a calendar type matrix, directing me what to teach and when. I looked for textbooks at my school, but only found about twelve for 8th grade math and no teacher’s edition. The books were not very rigorous anyway, so I just used problems and worksheets offered up by colleagues as well as smelly, dusty binders left behind by former teachers. Even back then, I didn’t give homework in math 8 so I got along fine without textbooks and my students learned well as measured by those pesky end-of-year state assessments.sample matrix for blog

A few years into teaching math 8, along came Common Core. Halleluiah! I love Common Core. It makes so much sense and kids are able to make connections that never occurred to me which serves to confirm CCs awesomeness. The actual standards got more explicit with CC, but I still received only the one page summary of references to state standards. No curriculum resources were provided. The state provided no funding for curriculum even though all of the standards were updated and changed. Like teachers all over the country, I was left to find, recycle, invent, design, write, steal, borrow and beg for rigorous resources so I had something to use with my students. (Purely anecdotal, but the rest of the teachers in the country must have been in the same boat because, I think, MTBoS was born, in part, in response to the curriculum dessert in which we all found ourselves.) The quality of peer-shared and harvested resources was high, but they were exhausting to vet because there were so many!

Couple this quest for resources with the aspiration to provide quality instruction complete with high engagement, real-life application, improved mathematical discourse, deeper levels of learner understanding, all the while making daily learning experiential and sticky, left me defeated some days and tired every day. I tried to do my very best each day for ten years and failed on hundreds of occasions. Then a miracle happened. Open Up Resources was developed and available to teachers. Finally something an ever-shrinking budget could get behind. It checks nearly every box. It is high quality curriculum that is full of rich tasks. It is deeply rooted in conceptual understanding. Concepts are continuously reviewed, previewed and connected. Instructional routines designed to increase student participation and understanding, which I already use, such as, Which One Doesn’t Belong and Number Talks, are already part of the lessons.

It is finally possible to devote appropriate time to understanding and supporting student learning because I am not overwhelmed preparing my own curriculum each and every day. I can now focus on students because the curriculum piece is solved. This is why I am so excited and grateful.IMG_2778

For educators trying to convince colleagues, supervisors and the district-level decision makers that OUR is the solution to the curriculum problem they face, the following points may help.

  • One-to-one was a solution looking for a problem. OUR is a solution to a problem that already exists.
  • OUR makes instructional-consistency a reality across classrooms throughout the school and within the district.
  • Teacher expertise is required to lead, coach, interpret, monitor, sequence, direct, and challenge learners. Teachers are the professionals in the classrooms. This curriculum frees teachers to better support student learning.
  • OUR incorporates best-practices at each and every turn. Units as well as lessons are designed with low floors and high ceilings. Struggling learners as well as high-flyers deserve quality curriculum and instruction. OUR makes that possible for all learners, creating equity that has been lacking in our classrooms.
  • The professional expertise of educators in the classroom is essential for delivery of the OUR curriculum. The teacher’s role in the classroom is elevated, not diminished, through the use of OUR.
  • Making connections is essential to the learning process. With OUR, mathematics is connected daily to real life, addressing that question, “when are we going to use this?”
  • Learners are connected to one another through the use of instructional routines that promote collaborative problem solving and communication skills.
  • Learners are challenged through the rigorous tasks in OUR.
  • Conceptual understanding is essential for success in higher mathematics. OUR is rooted in conceptual understanding. Learners know why mathematical algorithms work before they are formalized and learners have the freedom to decide how to go about solving problems.
  • Creativity and varied approaches are expected and celebrated. Learning mathematics through OUR is fun for students and teachers alike.

These are just a few points that occurred to me. Pick and choose what suites your audience. If you have additional reasons you have used to persuade your colleagues to pursue OUR, please add them to the comments!

Reflecting on My First Year Experience with Open Up Resources

Please let me disclose up front that I am a user/fan/evangelist of Open Up Resources (OUR) and have absolutely no affiliation with them whatsoever. I do, however, have enormous respect and gratitude. Statements here are opinions and reflections on my experiences. Your mileage may vary.

2017/2018 was the best school year in a long time. I learned a lot; I was organized; I felt prepared; I tried several new things; and most importantly, I left school June 14thexcited to return eight weeks later to build on the year’s successes and improve any mediocrity and shortcomings.

My school dove into OUR headfirst and didn’t come up for air until at least Christmas. My district provided training all along, but given my course load, I was not able to attend the large majority of training as desired. I wrote about my initial experiences here. I finally got into a groove and became much more efficient in preparing for my Open Up classes. Rather than preparing daily as I had done September through January, in February I started batching my lesson preps. By April, I built my PowerPoint for an entire week in one file. At the close of each day, I deleted the slides covered and saved the rest of the file for the next day. Because I used Variable Random Grouping each day, I needed a new seating chart slide anyway. I finally began importing the pre-made slides provided by Open Up. I imported the slides I wanted and just edited my student sheets using textboxes for more efficient printing rather than duplicating them into my homemade ppt. Send me a message and I am happy to grant you access to my files. Samples may also Files may be accessed through the PowerPoint I am preparing prepared and edited for TMC18.

Here is a simple graphic of the way I think OUR looks. Move clockwise, beginning with the Warm-up.

OURgraphic

The job of synthesis is to connect every aspect of the portion within the lesson as well as to connect new learning to prior learning. If there is ever any ambiguity about connections throughout the lesson, they are hammered home during the final synthesis. If the final synthesis is skipped, there is an obvious hole in the lesson. Each portion of the lesson is also synthesized as one lesson phase transitions to the next. The relative sizes of the circles in my graphic are indicative of the amount of time allocated to each portion of the lesson. Lessons follow this consistent pattern throughout the course.

I like how the Cool-down bleeds into the Warm-up in the graphic. Fairly early on through the year, I began reviewing the Cool-down at the beginning of the next class. This allowed learners to review my feedback on the Cool-downs as well as to access newly acquired knowledge for the prior day’s learning experiences. That is a example of how I made OUR my own.

Another example of making OUR our own at my school is a sixth grade math teacher came up with the idea to have learners place completed Cool-downs in green, yellow or red folders depending on their individual confidence levels. The information gleaned from the placements was telling in a couple ways. It was easy to spot false confidence. It was also helpful to see at a glance how students were evaluating their own learning. We still sorted and wrote meaningful feedback on the Cool-downs each day.

Here are errors that I made this year that I want to spare anyone else from making.

  • Notice the graphic. Without the synthesis, the lesson has a big hole in it. Don’t shortcut that, rush it or heaven forbid, skip it. Be explicit as you make connections. What we as teachers think is obvious, may not be to learners and frequently, they just need that small nudge forward to make the desired connections.
  • Give at least 5 minutes for the Cool-down. Some kids can demonstrate understanding with more time. If they don’t nail it, you need to figure out what you missed along the way. This is valuable information and not a step that you can afford to skip.
  • Keep the pace up from the very beginning. Trust the curriculum. Concepts will come around multiple times from multiple angles. It works well. The authors are geniuses. Respect and trust it.
  • Focus on student work and having students share their perspectives on your cue. Sequencing student responses is an art that I am far from mastering, but it is valuable to student learning.
  • Allow enough time for assessments. Learners are actually excited about showing what they have mastered.
  • Score assessments with an open mind and an open heart. Learning is a process and you are looking for progress toward mastery. This material is challenging in a whole new way. Don’t defeat learners before they get a fair chance. Fairly recognize progress.
  • Stay organized. The curriculum makes that easy. Follow the OUR sequence even if your district thinks they know better. They don’t.

I am most excited about the improvements I plan to make this coming school year.

  • My district is getting student workbooks, so I will not have nearly as much copying to do. I will still copy the Cool-downs, but I have those all set.
  • I am going to take my own advice and focus on sequencing student responses more deliberately and improve my process here.
  • I am also going to improve my syntheses. I really didn’t help my students make the connections and recap the concepts the way I should have last year.
  • I am going to keep my pace up in the beginning so I do not have to condense and shortchange my learners at the end.
  • I am going to use VNPS (Vertical Non-permanent Surfaces) every chance I get. Learners did far too much sitting last year.
  • I want to adapt some student tasks to Desmos so students have the opportunity to dialogue with other learners and critique their work. Desmos is well suited for this.
  • I have to work calculator use into the lessons. No calculators for learners at first for sure, but after my students have conceptual understanding, I need to teach them to use the tools at their disposal. I totally dropped the ball on that one and need to figure it out.

I could write for days about how jazzed I was each day as we learned math in an entirely different way this year. I could tell you how I learned something new each and everyday, not only about student learning, but also about math. You need to experience that for yourself though. Please be smart enough to do that the week or at least day before your students do. It will make you so much more efficient and effective than I was. I eventually got ahead of them, but not far. I am excited for next year for sure!

OUR made me love, adore, and treasure teaching Math 8 for the first time ever. It was fun. It was meaningful. It was amazing. I cannot thank OUR enough for bringing joy into my classes through quality curriculum. I would have never thought that possible, but I lived it.

After finishing the year, I am incredibly in love with OUR. I hate myself a bit, but that is true every year. No matter what I do, I feel like I could have, should have done more. However, OUR helped me give my learners more conceptual understanding than they have ever had. The stage is set for explosive learning in high school. This is both my prediction and prayer.

Best Review Day Ever

Today my intern planned a review for my OpenUp classes. (Gosh, that sounds so much better than my Math 8 classes.) I attended our vertical math PLC yesterday and @BethSize shared a review game they do in 6th grade where the kids play connect 4 with post-it-notes, earning them as they solve sets of problems as a group. When my intern had all these review sheets I thought, “what the heck? Let’s do this.” I checked with my next door 8th grade teacher neighbor to see how big the board was supposed to be. She didn’t recall, so we made up our own rules. Three teams of four. A 6×6 grid on a white board. Different post-it-notes for each team. No building from the bottom. Put your mark anywhere on the board. Teams solve a sheet of OpenUp problems harvested from problem sets and elsewhere in the OpenUp resources (goosing some up by adding solve or show or prove directions.) They are checked by me or my intern. If there is an error or two, we say something like, 3 of those are correct. Learners then return to find their own errors. Once all are correct for each member of the team and we ensure all members are on-board doing the learning, the team earns a sticky note. (High tech can be over rated.) A member of the team places the note on the board. We played three groups of 4 per board. We called it Connect 4, but once teams got four, they challenged themselves to get a whole column or simply the most stickies on the board. I teach middle school. We are very flexible.

The conversations and teaching, one learner to another learner, were out of this world!! Now, true confessions, we had two adults in the room so groups got quick attention and directions. That cannot be under emphasized. More adults is better. Period. Done. Who doesn’t get that? Oh, yes. The state of North Carolina.

The second OpenUp class was even better. We had time to reflect and resequence the problem sets for that delicate balance of success, challenge and learning. Intentional sequencing is so important and yields amazing results. Getting good at it is a work-in-progress.

This activity went so well with my OpenUp classes that I tried a variation on this with my Math 2 classes. They too have a Unit Test soon. I created MC problem sets off of SchoolNet and made a packet of questions for each of the 8 groups. Some packets were 12 questions, some were 4 and everything in between. It all depended on where the nice page breaks occurred in the printed versions rather than planned sequencing. This is designed for online, so the printout isn’t pretty. It’s easy to harvest–by–standard though, so vetting time is minimized. Because they got many more problems per packet than my OpenUp classes, I decided to do two groups per tic-tac-toe board rather than Connect 4. It worked. It wasn’t perfect, but for the seven out of the eight groups that worked, it was great. I told teams which if the questions were incorrect so they could go back since there were many more problems and they were all MC. (Easy to check, but still challenging/standard aligned questions.)

Unit 4 Practice Problems my intern compiled are here, though the ideal sequencing is not in the order the problems are presented here. This is Unit 4 of the Open Up 8 grade curriculum.

Everyone in room 209 has been working like crazy since we got back from winter break. Today we had fun showing off our learning.