Good-Enough-for-Now Curriculum

I did my first webinar last week as a precursor to my talk at NCTM’s Innov8 Conference next month. I thought it went okay — or horribly — just tough to be the only person with the mic and not being able to actually see the attendees. It was weird.

There are a few slides from the webinar that I’d like to share here mainly because I’m still thinking about them and writing anything down helps me set the wobbly gelatin.

Two weeks ago I presented at an independent school that’s Preschool through Grade 8. Afterward, I was given a quick tour of the school — the 33-acre campus gleamed with pride in its thoughtful architecture, manicured grounds, state-of-the-art this and that, and a smorgasbord of elective offerings, including Mandarin and photography.

My school is Kindergarten through Grade 8, and the similarity between my school and this independent school pretty much ends there. I teach four classes, my smallest class has 23 8th graders, the other three, all 6th graders, have 32, 35, and 36 students.We’re a Title 1 public school.

I bring up the private school and my public school because, like apples and pomegranates, they are quite different. So, when we do PD and share whatever it is that we share about education and serving children, we need to be mindful about the space that each teacher occupies in her building and be mindful about the children who come into that space.

When someone shares something with me, one or more of these thoughts cross my mind: 1) I can see how that would work with my students, 2) I can see how I might adapt this to fit my kids, 3) This person is afraid of children or unaware that children are people, 4) Nobody cares.

Likewise, when I have the stage to share, I’m assuming you have similar thoughts of my work. But I beg you to think about the space that I share with my students.

Below is a quasi rating scale of “critical thinking demand” that I’d created to place the types of tasks that I regularly give to my students. And this scale is only possible because I’m mindful of the tasks’ contents and my own pedagogical content knowledge to facilitate these tasks.

What are these six things?

 1 & 2.  Assessment and Textbook

We’re using CPM

3.  Warm-up

Due to our new block schedule, we’ve only been doing number talks and visual patternsI’ve used and would recommend any and all of the sites below for warm-up.
open middle
fraction talks
would you rather
math mistakes
math arguments

4.  PoW

Problem of the Week, mostly from

5.  Task

My go-to resources:

Illustrative Mathematics

6.  PS (Problem Solving)

I’m secretly working on starting a math circle for young students in my county, like the ones they have at Stanford. I just need funding, time, and people. Yes, one of those secret plans that will never happen.

I get the PS from:

Math Teachers’ Circle — (I use problems that I’ve actually experienced working through at the Circles.)
Joy of Creative Problem Solving
math workshops
a lifetime love of solving puzzles

Do these 6 things align to the curriculum?

The slide below shows the 4 types of tasks that are aligned to the curriculum, or that when I pick a PoW or Task, I make sure it correlates to the concepts and skills that we’re working on in the textbook. Therefore, it’s entirely intentional that the warm-up and PS are not aligned because critical thinking and creative thinking are not objects that we can place in a box or things that I can string along some prescribed continuum.

All 6 types of tasks are of course important to me. I try to implement them consistently with equal commitment and rigor to support and foster the 8 math practices.

Which ones get graded?

I don’t grade textbook exercises, i.e., homework, because I can’t think of a bigger waste of my time. I post the answers [in Google Classroom] the day after I assign them. I don’t grade PS because that’s when I ask students to take a risk, persevere, appreciate the struggle. I don’t grade warm-up because I don’t like cats.

I’m finally comfortable with this, something I’ve been fine-tuning each year (more like each grading period) for the last 5 years. I could be a passive aggressive perfectionist — or just an asshole when it comes to getting something right — so it’s no small admission to say that I’m comfortable with anything.

It’s about finding a balance, an ongoing juggling act between building concepts and practicing skills, between problem-posing and answer-getting, between teacher talk and student talk, between group work and individual work, between shredding the evidence and preserving it. Then ice cream wins everything.

Here’s the thing. We want to build a math curriculum that makes kids look forward to coming to class everyday. I trust that that’s true for more than half of my students — this could mean anywhere between 51% and 80%. I think we’re doing something wrong when kids look forward to just Measurement MondayTetrahedron Tuesday, or Function Friday. Math should not be fun only when students get to play math “games”!

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