Kayla Patterson, Augusta, WI firstname.lastname@example.org
My name is Kayla Patterson. I am currently in my third year of teaching at Augusta Middle School in Augusta, WI. I teach seventh and eighth grade mathematics using Core Connections, Course 2 and Course 3. As might be true in many districts, Augusta was searching for an effective intervention curriculum. At the time, we were using the “pre-teach/re-teach” approach, to help give students confidence in the classroom and increase their understanding. I found myself growing frustrated with this style of intervention because I was not seeing any growth in student achievement in the classroom or on assessments. I was not teaching leadership, growth mindset, or goal setting. Instead, I was reinforcing to these students something that they probably have gotten their whole lives, that they are different from their peers. These students were still very reserved in class, disengaged, and quite frankly, bored. It was in the midst of these frustrations when I found CPM’s intervention course for Core Connections, Course 3, Inspirations & Ideas (I&I).
Our district’s instructional coach was the person who introduced me to I&I. In order to teach this curriculum, I had to attend a training that CPM facilitated. This training provided us with the tools to be successful in planning and implementing this program in our district. This training was highly effective in explaining the philosophy behind the curriculum, and it allowed teachers the opportunity to engage in the problem solving and productive struggle their students would be doing. During the training, I had so much fun! I was genuinely engaged in all of the problems and excited to implement the curriculum. I could not wait to do more problems. They were relevant and kept me wondering. But I also remember being intimidated by the complexity of the problems and worried it would be too challenging for my students. I am ashamed to say it, but if I am being honest, I doubted my students. This curriculum is intense. The problems are wordy, contain a lot of information, and are often open-ended. Please continue to read to fully understand how all of my students proved me wrong.
As with many interventions, students were selected to be in I&I based on data, teacher input, and work ethic. While contacting parents, I had some pushback because parents did not want their child to be different from their peers. They did not know that this course would soon have their child excited and confident about math. On the first day of class, I found out my students were referring to it as the “special math class.” They did not know it would turn into their favorite class period of the day! They also did not know that their peers would become jealous of their “special math class.” Their peers even ask me repeatedly if they could join!
The course was not easy to implement. My students were not used to being told it is okay to make mistakes and struggle. They were not taught how to set goals for themselves, or that the bumps in the road were expected and should be embraced. Additionally, I was working with a room full of students who hate math, who have repeatedly failed at it, and are now being told they have to do it twice a day. It was rough. In the beginning of this course, my students were easily frustrated. I felt like some of them were shutting down and felt defeated before they even entered the room. I remember very distinctly conducting a Math Talk where I showed an image with four pigs, and I asked the students, “Which one doesn’t belong?” A student, already frustrated, yelled, “This is so stupid! When are we ever going to need to know this!” I laugh at it now, but at the time I remember thinking, Holy cow! Are we ever going to be able to tackle some of these challenges if just justifying why you think the “top left pig doesn’t belong because it’s the only pig in the mud” causes us to yell and shut down?
I cannot say I did anything monumental with my students to change their mindset. I continued the curriculum, even with student pushback. I encouraged, encouraged, and encouraged. I was very authentic with them in order to model a safe space. I shared my mistakes, struggles, and goals. When students would ask a question, I would say, “I have no idea. Let’s figure it out together.” I failed in front of them, and asked them for help. I told them that I struggle just as much as they do sometimes, and that is okay. My students now recognize that how we respond to failure and mistakes is how we grow and learn. But I could not have facilitated all these things without I&I. The I&I curriculum has problems and prompts for students to reflect on and respond to in writing. These include topics such as mistakes and how they impact the brain, challenges they have faced, big picture goals, and the smaller goals they need to reach before they reach the big picture goals. For my part, I showed students that these are skills that do not go away, and if we learn to embrace them, we can thrive in the classroom and beyond.
The students that I have for I&I I also have in their core math class, CC3, so I get to see the direct effects of I&I in that class. I am truly amazed, and so proud of my students. These students have become highly engaged. I am talking about students who used to need multiple prompts to take out a pencil but are now group leaders. They are confident! They are risk-takers, and they are not afraid to make mistakes. They participate, both during whole class discussion and in their small teams. One of my favorite examples is a young lady who in the first two weeks of school cried everyday in math class out of frustration. She wanted so badly to do well, but she did not know how to ask questions. She was terrified of making mistakes. She never talked to her teammates, and she really internalized her failure. I got her into I&I by the third week of school, and it has transformed her as a math student. In her words,“I never thought I would like math. I always got Cs and Ds in my old school. But now, I feel confident. This is my favorite class!”
Another one of my favorite success stories came from a parent. I stayed after school to watch a basketball tournament that my students were participating in, and one student’s mother went out of her way to find me. She said, “What are you doing to Chris?” (The name has been changed.) Her tone sounded a little accusatory and I did not know what she was referring to. So I asked, “What do you mean?” She said, “Chris loves math now. He’s always talking about it.” She continued to tell me that this student comes home and tells her quite often about the interesting problems he is solving in I&I. As I am writing this, I am reminded of how engaging and relevant the questions are in the I&I curriculum. Because of the rigor and complexity of the problems, students are proud of their accomplishments; they go home and share their successes with their families. Now that is a win!
I do not have data, and honestly I could not tell you if any of my students have gained one particular mathematical skill from I&I. Besides our standardized progress monitoring check provided by the district, I do not facilitate any formal summative assessments in I&I. But I can, without a doubt, tell you that my students have gained the skills they need to be excited and successful in mathematics. They are problem solvers and reasoners. They look for patterns and make connections. They are able to organize their thoughts and justify their answers. They are confident and engaged. But most importantly, they feel success in a subject that used to be daunting.
Below are examples of work from the I&I students.
This is the work of one of my I&I students who is also in CC3. We were working on solving equations with rational coefficients. Though this process is not efficient, the proportional reasoning and unit rate skills, mixed with the problem solving and risk taking skills this student learned in I&I, made this problem approachable to this student. You will noticed he also understood how to eliminate the decimals by multiplying the whole equation by ten in problem #11.
This is the work of another I&I student in CC3. The lesson objective is solving systems of equations. This student persevered through making a table all the way up to 30 days. Again, not the most efficient way, but she showed understanding, reasoning, and worked really hard to solve this problem.
This is an example of student work from a lesson in I&I. These students took a rigorous problem and organized it into a tree, using different letters to represent students names. When they felt like they had exhausted their options, they went back and started looking for patterns.