Math: It’s NOT The Most Important Thing We Do

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Kimberly Pantoja, San Jose, CA

Distance learning is not what I signed up for when I became a teacher. I did not even really like the online classes I took as an adult learner – so why would I ever want to teach that way? And yet, here we are. Sitting behind screens wondering if what we are doing is right, is fair, is equitable, is best.

In my classroom, math is not the most important thing we do. It might not even be the second or third most important thing we do. In my class, the most important thing we do is build relationships. We talk, we share stories, we let each other know who we really are. We build a place where it is not only okay to make a mistake, we build a place where mistakes are honored. And along the way, we do some math.

My experience with distance learning has been an overall successful journey. I teach 170 middle school students. On average, I see 160 of them in my online classes each week. Of the ten I do not see, I get an email from at least six or seven of them letting me know why they missed class.  Are my math lessons riveting? Are students clamoring to learn how many cones it takes to fill a cylinder, or why something raised to the power of zero always equals one? Probably not. So, why are they coming to class, logging in to see me on a screen?


All year, I focused on building relationships, and with that, building a foundation of trust and mutual respect. My students come to virtual class because they respect me and they respect the effort I have put in for them. I communicate with them often. I share my joys and I share my hair-pulling frustrations. I share my struggles, both as a mom and as a teacher. Distance learning is not easy – for any of us. I do not think many students realize that it is just as hard for us to be away from them. It is as hard for us to teach as it is for them to learn. We all miss human contact and live interaction.

When my students miss class, I call them. I ask if they are okay and where their head is at. I tell them that I am not calling them to nag them about school work, or to go on about the wonders of math (and there are many!), but that I want to hear how their days are going. I have heard about lost pets, fights with siblings, worry about family finances (why is a middle schooler even worrying about these things?), and so much more. I have shared so much about myself – how I am worried my oldest son is not going to graduate high school on time, how sad I am that I cannot go cuddle my newborn nephew, what happens when I fight with my family. These are the pieces that make us who we are. These are the connections that bind us together.

And the result? My students work for me. I have been making videos for them to work on their own time. Trying to adapt the wonderfully collaborative CPM curriculum into an individualized lesson is difficult and requires me to be not only creative, but I have also had to teach myself how to be much more tech-savvy. I end with a 7-10 minute video for each lesson. These videos take over an hour to plan, create, and edit. I have told my students this and because of the mutual respect we have built, they honor my time and efforts by engaging with the material I carefully create for them. I have no doubt that if I had not taken the time to build these relationships and genuinely develop an interest in each student, I would not be experiencing this level of student engagement.

So, math? Yeah, it’s great. And distance learning? Well, that’s not great. But it is not horrible either. I have learned a lot about myself, and I realized that teaching is about so much more than the four walls of my classroom. Making an impact happens every day, in every tiny interaction. Build those relationships. Become an active partner in taking these children and raising them into wonderful adults. And along the way, math will happen.

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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

The Building on Instructional Practice Series consists of three different events – Building on Discourse, Building on Assessment, Building on Equity – that are designed for teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM instructional materials and who have completed the Foundations for Implementation Series.

Building on Equity

In Building on Equity, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Essential questions include: How do I shift dependent learners into independent learners? How does my own math identity and cultural background impact my classroom? The focus of day one is equitable classroom culture. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture. The focus of day two and three is implementing equitable tasks. Participants will develop their use of the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Meaningful Mathematical Discussions and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will use an equity lens to reflect on and revise their Chapter 1 lesson plans.

Building on Assessment

In Building on Assessment, participants will apply assessment research and develop methods to provide feedback to students and inform equitable assessment decisions. On day one, participants will align assessment practices with learning progressions and the principle of mastery over time as well as write assessment items. During day two, participants will develop rubrics, explore alternate types of assessment, and plan for implementation that supports student ownership. On the third day, participants will develop strategies to monitor progress and provide evidence of proficiency with identified mathematics content and practices. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

In Building on Discourse, participants will improve their 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 rich tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices incorporated through intentional and reflective planning.