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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  1. Posted October 28, 2016 at 3:59 am | Permalink

    Super stuff… though I’m always a bit suspicious of people who don’t like cats! ;)

  2. Nam Nguyen
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    Our grade 6 to 8 team is “piloting” CPM CC 1-3 and Go Math. We started the year with CPM and recently switched to Go math. It has been rough for me. What are your thoughts on CPM?

    • Brenda Payne
      Posted November 1, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Our school has been using CPM for 7th-9th grade advanced students. We have been using year 2 of Math Foundations for all 7th graders at times. All teachers using the curriculum find it challenging but enjoyable and worth the effort. We see students willing to try multiple methods to solve a problem, and they make stronger connections than in the past. Additional resources for practice problems are slim, but supplements are easy to find on your own. I began to pull some of the review problems from future lessons as additional practice problems and have found that helpful. The online teacher text has been very helpful and provides videos to assist teachers in lesson instruction. Algebra Connection Problems are connected to Desmos for exploration of problems. As we review curriculum alignment, we find that CPM problems match the standards and Depth of Knowledge we are seeking.

  3. Jessica
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this. I love your graphics and especially how you discuss which ones are “aligned” to the “curriculum”. In my world of working with teachers I find many who hesitant to do anything that is not aligned, but when they do they feel so encouraged. I also love how you talked about what gets “graded” — this is also a constant point of discussion.

  4. Brian R Lawler
    Posted October 28, 2016 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Fawn – what about the “Standards for Mathematical Practices” in CCSS, or similar in other standards documents? Don’t you think that means you’re teaching the curriculum always then?

  5. Posted October 28, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Really important work. Glad you’re championing it, and getting the platform to share it.

  6. Sue Royal
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your insights – it seems we have been on the same journey for the last 5 years. I love how you can connect with the content standards and the practice standards by using rich tasks, problem of the week, text book, and assessments that are both formative and summative. I am curious – do you weight your grades? For example, do you weight a group task ‘lighter’ than say a unit assessment?

    By the way – I love CPM for the way it incorporates content and practice standards all in student led learning. Our district piloted many publishers offering and after 2 years of trying 5 offerings, we adopted GoMath. I am going back to my pilot materials to find rich student centered tasks for group work.

    Thank you again for all you do for education!

    • Nam Nguyen
      Posted October 29, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      @Sue Royal I am curious why your district decided to move with GoMath? We just started Piloting GoMath with 7th and 8th and it has been a big change for students and myself. How has GoMath for you? I truly believe a math curriculum is more than just a “textbook” but a path for teachers to guide their students with the learning of mathematics. I find myself reaching back to CPM for some of the group questions or looking into great resources provided from Fawn and other educators.

      • Sue Royal
        Posted November 15, 2016 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

        I think we adopted GoMath because the curriculum and resources are familiar. CPM requires a different approach to teaching and I think there was some resistance to change. I use the same resources Fawn mentioned in this post and I often find myself going back to the CPM resources for group work.

  7. Helen King
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    This is really useful Fawn. So glad I have found you. I’ve just made contact with CPM too.

    Helen from Oz

  8. Steve Clarke
    Posted October 29, 2016 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean by Task, as distinct from the other five activities you listed. Care to elaborate?

  9. Posted November 2, 2016 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this! I was a participant in your webinar and thought it was great. I work to incorporate all of these same components in my class too, and I struggle with time management. I am curious about the frequency that you implement each of these components and the amount of time students work in class compared to at home. For example, do you post the POW on Google Classroom with a due date, or do students have a chance to work on these in class?

  10. Andy Smith
    Posted November 15, 2016 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    Just curious when (or if) you go over the PoW with the class or if it is covered in your grading of the problem.

  11. Telanna
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Hello! This post was recommended for The Best of the Math Teacher Blogs 2016: a collection of people’s favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts at the end of the year and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.

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