Lessons From Improv

Karen Wootton, Director of Curriculum and Assessment

While I am not the world traveler that CPM’s own Chris Mikles is, I do find myself crossing the country many times a year. I am seasoned enough to know that I need to bring something to do during those five hours strapped to a seat with nowhere to go. I usually have several things on my “flight to do” list, but when I fly Southwest, I always make time to read their inflight magazine.

The September 2015 issue focused on teamwork which naturally caught my attention. In particular, the first article Comedy of Errors: Five lessons on teamwork and failure from the halls of Saturday Night Live by Katie Rich, had several important teamwork lessons that are basic tenants of improvisation. “The foundation of improve,” Rich writes, “is one simple phrase: ‘Yes, and…’ The ‘yes’ part is simple. It means getting on board and saying yes to the people on your team.” Rich explains the importance of being a better team player, by showing up and being present, and with a good attitude. She goes further “Not feeling it today? Then stay out of people’s way and do whatever you can to not spread that funk to the rest of the group.” Important words for students and adults.

Once you have listened to your team and covered the “yes” part, what is the “and”? This is your contribution to the idea. Share your thoughts on how to extend what your teammate has said. Help the idea grow and expand. Imagine how your teams might function if everyone had the attitude of “Yes, and…” Those would be exciting teams to work with!

Rich outlines four other lessons from improv for strong teamwork, each is key for an improv team to be successful, and each will improve our students’ teamwork if we can encourage students to accept them. Her second lesson is Know your role. With the team roles many CPM teachers use, this should make sense. It does go beyond Resource Manager or Facilitator though, and extends to students knowing their strengths. If a student is very good at seeing a pattern, we want the student to know this and be willing to step in when that skill is needed.

Don’t try to fix everything might be a challenging lesson for some. Rich writes “You cannot change the people you work with. You can only change the way you react to the people you work with.” How much more productive (and happier!) would our students be if they can embrace this lesson!

In her fourth lesson, Rich says See the whole picture. While we might easily translate this to the field of mathematics where seeing the big picture helps students make connections and deepen their understanding, Rich extends this lesson to seeing how every team member has played a part, and has brought something to the final outcome. No one person takes the credit, no one person is blamed. For many students, realizing they are part of a bigger, productive group can build a sense of community.

The last lesson is another that is important for students and adults alike. Goshdarnit, be good to each other. She points out that mastering the earlier lessons may not be easy. There is always someone or something that will get under your skin. (But remember the third lesson,  Don’t try to fix everything!) But despite possible irritations, we can still be nice to each other. “Good people rise to the top” Rich writes, and I think we all know this to be true. Plus, she adds, that annoying person may not be the problem. “Is it is you? It might be you…. The only tactic that I have seen work with a difficult teammate is total kindness and respect. Treat others like they are geniuses, like they are important, and guess what—they will feel that way. And they’ll remember you made them feel that way. And the team will get better.”

So with those wise words, let’s teach our students these improv lessons. Let’s make our students’ teams great and supportive places to learn.

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Algebra Tiles Blue Icon

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.