The Academy of Best Practices

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Below are the writings of three of this year’s participants in ABP.

Growing and Improving at the Academy of Best Practices

Leah Gaines, Westerville, OH

The CPM Academy of Best Practices was transformational for my teaching career. I went to Seattle with the hopes of learning a few new “tricks” for being a more effective teacher and to become motivated for the coming school year, but I had no idea what a wealth of information, inspiration, and camaraderie I would leave with.

When I first arrived in Seattle I was immediately greeted by several like-minded teachers who were also in the same place in their teaching career. We quickly began to discuss why we were there and what we were looking forward to, and I realized that I was not alone in my career or teaching philosophy; it became obvious that collaboration would be a huge part of my journey that week.

We began the week with a speaker who encouraged us to “think big” about our current and future careers. This immediately began to change my perspective of my path as an educator. As a beginning teacher, it is easy to become myopic and get wrapped up in the day to day grind of planning lessons, meetings, extracurricular activities, and communicating with teachers, students, and parents; it was great to have this opportunity to step back from it all and envision where we could go next and how we could grow in our current positions.

The rest of the week is a blur; we learned so many strategies ranging from teamwork and classroom management to giving effective feedback, promoting a growth mindset, and raising the cognitive demand of tasks and conversations in our classrooms. I soaked up as much as I could and became instantly inspired and excited to enact several best practices that will not only improve my students’ academic outcomes, but make them learners who can persevere through any challenge and think critically in all aspects of life.

Through all the speakers and activities I always had my peers there with me ready to discuss, share, and work through the job of becoming a better teacher. We are now a connected network of teachers across the country who have each other for support and who I am sure will all go on to make a huge change in the world of education for decades to come.

Academy of Best Practices: Learning through Modeling

Sara O’Connell, Menasha, WI

When I first saw the Academy of Best Practices advertised on CPM’s Facebook page, I thought it sounded like the perfect professional development opportunity for me. I have two years of experience, I love teaching with the CPM curriculum, and I had never been to Seattle before! As the week began, I quickly realized that this experience was going to be even more than I had thought. It was not just about me, and what I knew or wanted to do. It was about “we” – what we can do to make mathematics education better than ever. When I boarded the plane to Seattle, I had no idea what an amazing community I was going to be a part of.

As the week began, I realized that we were going to work hard, but we were going to grow so much as educators. Our CPM leaders structured this professional development just like our classrooms – discovery and hands-on! Our leaders, along with a wonderful selection of speakers, presented us with the newest research and best practices in education. However, the information was made even more powerful as these practices were modeled within our Academy. Throughout the week, we took part in strategies such as a Jigsaw, Fishbowl, Silent Debate, and Pairs Check, just to name a few. Working with teachers from around the nation, it was very informative to hear where they have used these strategies in their own classrooms.

Not only were my Academy colleagues full of excellent ideas, they also brought very different experiences to the table. We had high school teachers, middle school teachers, special education teachers, math intervention teachers, teachers from districts small and large. Our Academy leaders modeled teamwork, making sure that every day we got to work with a new group of teachers. As we learned throughout the week, the leaders modeled different team strategies. One day, I had an incredible realization as we were tackling a challenging problem. Two of my team members had experience with binary numbers, something that I had very little experience with. As we were working, they said that our problem was “just like binary.” They found a pattern, and flew through the rest of the problem. I was lost and frustrated. I did not understand why the pattern worked. One of my teammates, Teammate A, finally helped me connect the formula with the pattern. Our leaders then modeled a Huddle, so Teammate A went to hear what they had to say. As our team kept working, I found a place where I did not think the pattern was going to work. When our fourth team member returned, I asked him about the pattern. Our team had a good debate about the problem, and we figured out that I was right – the pattern would not work, but my answer using the formula made sense. I felt such pride in figuring it out! Suddenly I saw the benefits, frustrations, and power of working in teams. I understood why team roles and team strategies are so important. I realized why I have been teaching mathematics this way in my classroom! I was the student in class who struggled with a brand new concept, but with the support of my teammates, I was able to persevere. I had a tremendous sense of ownership when I finally figured it out. As a teacher in a discovery classroom, that experience was very powerful. The way our CPM leaders modeled teamwork and team strategies has helped me understand how a student can feel, both struggling and successful, in a CPM classroom. I know this experience will influence my decisions and actions in the classroom this school year!

My Ah-ha!

Leah Christian, Westerville, OH

On day four of our five-day CPM: Academy of Best Practice workshop, I had my biggest “Ah-ha!” moment. It was an “Ah-ha!” moment because it was something I knew about unconsciously from experience.

My freshman year of high school was my worst school year. I was getting help from my geometry teacher since I had been struggling from what seemed like day one. She was questioning me on something we just went over and I got the answer wrong. She let out a heavy sigh and said, “Sorry but you just won’t get it.” It referring to everything we were doing in geometry. With that I stopped coming in to get help and talked with my parents about the likelihood I would need to repeat this class next year.

The next fall I was getting ready to endure another year of geometry. I was not struggling as much but I remember asking my new teacher, Mrs. Griffin, for help. I explained how I just was not good at math. “I do not accept that. You are gifted and talented and you can do it.” She repeated this sentiment to our class every day for the whole year. Throughout the weeks a miracle was happening (at the time I thought that, now I know better): I was good at math! I think I worked harder in this class than any other classes at the time. I would talk to the students around me, justify how I got my answer, buzz through the thirty questions we had to do for homework. I was good at math.

It did not just stop in that classroom either. I decided I should try something new, something at which I could improve. I tried out for the school’s tennis team the following fall, having swung a tennis racket for the first time that summer. I started as three doubles on JV and after hours of practice, lessons, and a few summer camps the following year I was two doubles on Varsity. I won the “Most Improved” award that year.

At first, I did not make a connection between my newfound success in geometry and tennis. That is, until day four of ABP when we talked about the brain. We learned about how the brain is like a dense forest, when you decide to make a path through the forest, through hard work and perseverance, after time the path becomes visible and easier to walk along. Working through the forest and building the path is having a growth mindset. However, if we looked at the forest, after seeing no path and realizing how thick the forest was and giving up, that is a fixed mindset.

My previous thinking about geometry–that some people are just good at math (or anything)–that was a fixed mindset. When I run into students who believe you need to be smart to be successful, they are stuck in a fixed mindset. When people think struggling means you are incapable-again, we are seeing a fixed mindset. I was a hard worker, and I earned success by working with Mrs. Griffin and other students right away; I made sure I did not stop working until I got it right. When students believe they can learn anything, that is the mindset we want, a growth mindset. When we ask ourselves How can I best learn this? when faced with a new challenge, that is a growth mindset. Hard work, effort, and perseverance make a successful person–not some magical innate ability-and when we view the world as such, we are in a growth mindset.

As a geometry teacher, I can apply the same ideals Mrs. Griffin did with me. I loved being encouraged to think I was gifted and talented, but if I was “talented,” why did I fail the year before? I now believe it was because at the time I had a fixed mindset and did not believe I could ever be good at math. Mrs. Griffin’s belief in me was the encouragement I needed to work harder to be successful. In my classroom, I want to change my students’ mindsets from fixed to growth mindsets. I want to assure and reassure my students they are capable of success and improvement because they are hard-workers; their mistakes help them improve. Learning can be uncomfortable, and it is part of the process. Instead of focusing on how “smart” someone is, I will focus on their effort and drive. After all, there are plenty of people labeled “smart” in the world who do not succeed. Through time and effort and reassurance, my students and I will adopt growth mindsets which will lead us to be successful, even if our labels do not always read “smart” or “math-orientated”.

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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.