Teaching Math By Modeling Perseverance: How Do You Try New Things?

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May 2023

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As an educator, I teach students life skills such as perseverance and self-compassion through mathematics, but how often do we push our own growth in those same ways? Once we find what “works” for us, we get comfortable and often become complacent.

Trying new things is simultaneously exciting, motivating, confusing, and exhausting. Change is hard, even if we know what is working for us may not be what is best for student learning and gaining a sense of belonging in math.

The good news is there is so much great information out there from so many incredibly creative educators that we do not have to start from scratch! If your social media or inbox looks anything like mine, it is full of saved ideas that you want to try in your classroom.

Most recently, I have been trying to incorporate side-by-side assessments (see Tucker’s 2020 book or 2022 blog post), a way to evaluate student work in partnership with the students rather than assigning a grade by myself. When I read that side-by-side assessments bring students into the grading process during class time, it seemed like a great practice, on paper. It matches my beliefs about how assessment should inform student learning rather than only quantify it. In reality, though, even after ample trial-and-error and tinkering on my part, I am stumbling through incorporating side-by-side assessment into classroom routines. Still, my work towards this equitable practice allows me to model for students what perseverance and self compassion look like as I try something new and difficult.

Trying new things that align with our values will often uncover other areas for growth in our current practices. For example, while I worked to make time for conferencing with individual students, I simultaneously uncovered the learned helplessness I previously enabled by being readily available to help students with the raise of a hand. Was what previously worked for me best for the students? Or, had I reverted to what was easiest for me? Going forward, how can I do what is best for student learning and still have a healthy work-life balance? I will say it again: IT IS HARD! Here are some guidelines that I keep in my back pocket as I try new things in my classroom:

  1. Invite your students to fail with you (Tucker, 2020). Students must see a model of learning through failure— that’s math! I am taking some information I already have, combining that with new information I have been given, and applying it to my specific context; this is the ultimate showcase of real-world learning. Invite students to grow with you.
  1. Journal what went well, and what you might change for next time. Make this easy for you! I keep an electronic journal in a Google Doc, but this can also be done in a personal notebook, or by adding comments or sticky notes (physical or digital) to your lesson materials. Even better, take note of what students say went well or needs improvement, and save those, too.
  2. Stick to your values. Reflect on the values that guide you to try something different. Write them down. Post them in your room. Share them with students. Why do you choose to try new things, even if they do not work well the first few times? What do you believe about students, and about how schools should serve them?
  3. Work in bites you can chew. Things are going to pop up that you did not take into consideration. Expect it, and re-focus on one or two simple things you can improve next time. Burnout is never the goal, and we often have to be intentional to avoid it. New practices take time, and you work at your own pace; we know that is true for students, so allow that same grace for yourself. Teaching kids is an exceptional privilege and a behemoth task. If you are like me and a lot of other teachers dedicated to ongoing professional learning, you have likely noticed that your practices do not perfectly align with your beliefs and values. We all have room for growth. I hope this encourages you to take some time to reflect and pick one thing you want to improve this semester. We deserve to work in ways that fulfill us. Allow your students to join you as you try, fail, and try again.

Tucker, Caitlin (2020). Balance with blended learning: Partner with your students to reimagine learning and reclaim your life. SAGE Publications.

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Jennifer Moriarty

Kansas City, MO, trc-jennifermoriarty@cpm.org

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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.