My Personal Exposure to Brain Plasticity

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Gail Anderson Lansdale, PA   gailanderson@cpm.org

For years I have quoted the exciting news about the brain’s plasticity and its ability to forge new connections after a trauma, but this winter I discovered for myself how hard it actually is to build those new connections.

As a teacher leader, I really enjoyed discussing the slide about brain growth and how it is like building a path in the forest. As part of the CPM curriculum team, I have participated in many discussions about growth mindset. In the September 2017 newsletter, I reviewed a course I took online from Columbia University which had mindset as one of its four units. In my mind, I simplified this process to just re-teaching something that was missing. In my personal attempts at recovery, however, I have learned what it feels like to consistently fail.

On February 21, 2022 as I packed for the National Teacher Conference in San Francisco, I suffered a hemorrhagic stroke in my left pons/midbrain area, which left me with my left side barely usable and my right side without sensation. It was very difficult to move, so I could not walk, read, write, or talk as I was accustomed to. I had severe processing issues, giving real meaning to the phrase “extra time required.” I remember being asked to swallow ten times, and how difficult it was for me to make my throat do that simple action even though I desperately wanted to get through the practice so I could be cleared to eat food again.

I needed resilience and engagement in the work I was doing to keep going and keep making progress. It was, and still is, a long road to recovery. The various therapists, like many teachers I know, seemed trained in giving gratuitous praise –  but I soon figured that out and learned to challenge them to tell me specifically what I was doing that was good. That feedback was so much more helpful than the generic praise because it gave me an idea of what I should do more of and what I should do less of.

We talk about neuroplasticity and about how wonderful it is, but it is not the same for kids and people recovering from strokes. Learning to walk for me is very different from the first time around. I already know what the motions are supposed to be; I just have to teach my legs to make the right moves. One-year-olds learn to walk without the experience of that motion and do not know what it is supposed to feel like. As an older walker-to-be, I can analyze things and communicate and listen to therapists, whereas a toddler does not have that verbal understanding.

I tried a couple of software treatments to improve my motor skills post-stroke. One was a typing test that would not allow me to type a wrong letter. This soon became very discouraging because I got no credit for all of the correct letters I typed. Another game I played was designed for stroke survivors where a shape came out on one side of the screen, and I had to turn a dial to match the shape before it left the screen. If I got it wrong, it just went by, and let me keep trying. A new shape came out, and I got to try again. This game was more engaging to me. This kind of painless practice is what we model the Skill Builders after.

I am now a stroke survivor. My new motto is: Let it go and just try again.  And I am learning to take my time. Many of my therapists tell me to slow down, and I have heard from other stroke survivors that they have learned to “stop and smell the flowers.” We cannot rush neural connections.

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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

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.