THE ROAD FROM “THEY CAN’T”
TO “WE DID” IN A SPECIAL ED
CLASSROOM

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Terri Matelski, Parma City Schools, OH

Looking back to my first professional development day, I remember being quite overwhelmed when I heard that I would be using the CPM curriculum with my 6th grade students who have cognitive delays. My mind was immediately filled with “I CAN’T”, because my students’ skills typically fall at least two to three grade levels below their peers. I can recall the whispering among the Special Education Intervention Specialists who shared my opinion that our students would not be able to use this curriculum. We could easily come up with a long list of reasons why it would not work.

When I took my Teacher Edition home and leafed through it, I decided I was going to let go of the “I CAN’T” and replace it with “I CAN”. I decided to raise the expectations in my classroom and challenge my students and myself like we have never been challenged before. This would be especially demanding for me because my students require a modified curriculum, and it was the first time we were focusing on the Common Core using standards other than those in their IEPs. I was going to have to find a way to teach
the “regular education curriculum” to my special education students while also meeting the individualized needs on their IEPs.

I have always believed that learning needs to be fun! It has been my experience that kids who are having fun learn far more than kids who are not. In fact, I believe that when kids are having fun, they often do not even see it as learning. To me, CPM is a curriculum that puts the fun in learning.

It was very important for me to stick to the curriculum so my students were learning the same topics as their peers in a traditional classroom. When planning a lesson, I always started with the Core Problems. I knew those were the most crucial problems; therefore, I focused my learning targets on the Core Problems. Each day, I would write one simplified target on the board. I felt it was essential for every student to be able to verbalize the target during the lesson, so I did my best to keep them to ten words or less. I challenged my students to “hit the bull’s eye” everyday. They rose to the challenge and even surpassed my expectations.

I planned lessons that included whole group instruction (using the Core Problems), and then my assistant and I would break into smaller groups based on the varying abilities of the students in my classroom. Whenever possible, I involved movement, manipulatives, and visuals. I had my students “become” the problem. For instance, when we were creating patterns with dots, they became the dots, and then drew them on the board. We became histograms and bar graphs. Histograms touch, so we stood with our bodies lined up next to one another touching, and bar graphs do not touch so we each took a step away from each other, not touching, with space in between. For instance, when we were learning how to add positive and negative numbers, I introduced the lesson by having the students “play ball”. Every kid loves to play games and could relate to being on a team at one time or another. For each problem, I would pass out enough cards with the words “Positive” or “Negative” written on it to mirror the problem. When adding simple problems such as 3 + 7, I gave ten students a positive card and told them to demonstrate the problem in the front of the room with three students on one side of a giant plus sign and seven students on the other side. They then would demonstrate simple addition by moving to the right of the equal sign become a positive ten. We were also able to demonstrate the same problem using negative numbers with negative cards: –3 + –7 = –10. It was obvious how they could become one collection, or “team” as we called it, as long as each number had the same sign. The real learning and discovery happened when the problem changed to adding a positive and a negative number. For instance, when we looked at the problem 3 + (–7), three students were given positive cards and seven students were given negative cards. I then challenged them to determine an answer, and decide if the answer is positive or negative. I loved watching the discussion between students. It was great for them to be able to explain that if numbers are on
different “teams” with different signs, you have to subtract and keep the sign of the larger number (because that is the bigger team). They were able to use this information, develop methods, and apply them to future problems.

I also used food when I could. My students were able to master decimals, percents, and fractions using a role of Smarties™ or small bag of Skittles™ to calculate the percentage of each color in their package. Hershey™ bars make great manipulatives and rewards for learning how to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions. Visuals including PowerPoint presentations were also highly effective in teaching my students.

Overall, my students amazed me. It was truly inspiring to see their transformations. They went from learning about time and money to being able to use a calculator to explain how and why to use a specific graph, add and subtract positive and negative numbers, explain how area and perimeter are related, and change improper fractions into mixed numbers using common denominators. They were able to apply their learning to word problems. Weekly scores were on the rise. Great things were happening. Parents were excited! My students were being challenged like never before and were excelling. They enjoyed math and looked forward to it every day. I heard comments like “Math is already over…that went quick” and “Can we keep doing math?” It made me feel good to know how much they loved it.

Since my first professional development day a year ago, I have completely changed my way of thinking. My “I CAN’T” turned into “I CAN” and eventually, “WE DID”. Using CPM my students were challenged more than they ever were before. They achieved more than I could have ever anticipated. I am so very proud of all we accomplished this year. And I know they will continue to succeed using CPM in the coming school years.

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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.