Impact Over Intent

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Tony Jones, Mahomet, IL anthonyjones@cpm.org

From the “Pinterest perfect” classroom to the “Amazon Wish List” for supplies to the “must do” activity that went viral on social media to the books and websites teeming with hundreds of ideas, it seems that we are continually in a race to create, produce, and enact the best and latest idea that will transform our classroom. However, if we rush throughout the process, we often miss a very crucial aspect: critical reflection.

And so, when we see something like the Harry Potter-themed “Hallway of Mirrors” that one online education group deemed “Brilliant!” or the “Baggage Activity” that went viral on Facebook and Twitter, we are tempted to jump on board without too much thought. We see a chance to make an impact. We see a chance to keep up with the Joneses. I really do believe that the original intent of the teachers who posted these activities was altruistic and genuine. They believed what they were doing was helpful to their students. And a lot of people agreed with them.

However, I also believe there was something missing: a critical reflection of exactly what these activities were and how they might impact students. On the surface, these seemed to be great activities – the exact type of activities that could transform a classroom from good to great. Thus, they were shared over and over and over (nearly 650,000 times – hence, they went viral). However, the problem is that as teachers across the world were doing these activities in their classrooms, they might have been causing more harm than good. Some flaws of the Hallway of Mirrors activity are pointed out in this Twitter response. And this response from Upworthy cautions teachers to consider the effects of trauma on children more carefully.

The more I am involved in education, the more I am convinced that we need to do a much better job of recognizing the cultural and contextual aspects of our individual classrooms. Do we understand and realize that different cultural backgrounds cause students to view (and receive) education in different ways? Do we realize that our words and actions affect different students in different ways, depending on gender, culture, religious beliefs, and family situations? Do we understand the issues of trauma (both life-changing and daily) and how that affects students’ abilities to learn?

Any good idea needs to be run through several lenses, thinking about how it impacts students in your specific context and your specific community. We must think about how it impacts trauma-affected students, how it impacts students from different cultural backgrounds, how it impacts differently-abled students, and so many more. We need to ask several questions. Will it enhance the effectiveness of reaching my students? Is this appropriate for the students in my specific context? How will it benefit my students? How might it be harmful to someone who has experienced trauma?

While I believe there are a few universal truths in regards to students (and people in general), not every great idea will work in every context. What might work with students in rural North Dakota will not necessarily have the same impact on students in inner-city Detroit.

We must realize that everything we do in our classroom has an impact on students. And while it is never simple, and often involves the hard work of serious reflection, we must never skip this step of intentional reflection. Regardless of intent, however good it might be, we must be purposeful and cognizant of the impact of the things we do in our classroom. And we must plan to do things that help, not harm, students. For the sake of our students, we must make sure to take time to reflect and ask the difficult questions. And at times, we must admit that the activity may not be best for our students in our given context.

If you are not familiar with trauma-informed practices, this is a wonderful article from Edutopia to help get you started. A short, free online module to check out is Adverse Childhood Experiences. This module should take less than an hour. Both will give you insight to teaching from the perspective of trauma care.

As a final thought for you, though it is certainly not an original idea, I claim the following as a necessary pronouncement to ALL teachers at ALL times:

We must ALWAYS champion impact over intent.

A harmful impact can have deep, lasting implications. So, please read that statement again. Then print it, post it and live by it.

Two other good resources:

* Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom (2016) by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall
* The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom: Building Resilience with Compassionate Teaching (2018) by Patricia Jennings

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Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

This series contains three different courses, taken in either order. The courses are designed for schools and teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM curriculum materials. Teachers will develop further understanding of strategies and tools for instructional practices and assessment.

Building on Equity

In this course, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their  classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for implementing Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Follow-up during the school year will support ongoing implementation of equitable classroom practices.

Building on Assessment

In this course, participants will apply assessment research to develop methods to provide feedback to students and to inform equitable assessment decisions. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

This professional learning builds upon the Foundations for Implementation Series by improving teachers’ ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rigorous, team-worthy tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices.