The Teaching Redesign Corps: CPM’s Idea Engine

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Mark Coté, CPM Project Manager

Only twelve short months ago, the idea of kickstarting a program for continually investigating instructional improvements was just that, an idea. But such a solitary spark has been responsible for many a transformation in the history of mathematics education. And so it is today. With several thousand hours of inquiry, data analysis, and reflection under its collective belt, the CPM Teaching Redesign Corps has become CPM’s idea engine.

“We have spent the last 25 years creating text books to realize our vision…now is the time to put people and intellectual effort into improving how the current books are used,” was the charge shared by Tom Sallee during the TRC’s inception in the spring of 2014. By simply asking, “What if…?” the twenty seven participating teachers who gathered in Baltimore last summer turned the ignition switch and set the pedagogical power plant in motion.

With plans for improving study team structure, student engagement, questioning strategies, mind set behavior, and consolidation in place, the eight cohorts made changes in teacher behavior (x), and then meticulously scrutinized the effects on student learning (y). Monthly Skype meetings helped teams refine proposals, clarify procedures, fine-tune operational definitions, adjust data collection instruments, and share findings. Each teacher also found time to reflect on their classroom observations and insights by keeping a weekly personal journal.

By the end of autumn, it became clear that numerous x ? y relational understandings were emerging, especially in the area of mindset. Differences in student learning behavior were significant enough to warrant sharing findings at the CPM National Conference in February. Presenting to a standing-room only crowd, TRC members Mark Atkinson, Beckie Frisbee, Natalie Ijames, Beth Johnson, and Mark Ray offered detailed accounts of their investigations. Instructional changes included dedicating a small portion of the week to helping students understand brain development, coaching students to foster a growth mindset, altering assessment activities to encourage perseverance, and harnessing the power of learning from mistakes. As one conference attendee put it, “Wow! Cool to hear the struggles and successes of the panel. Time to get more out about mind-set. Thanks for plenty to think about.” CPM plans to do just that. A first writing session designed to explore the possibilities of incorporating these new ideas into curriculum and professional development is on the calendar.

TRC members were not the only ones gaining new realizations as the investigations unfolded. Mid-year, Tom told the CPM Board of Directors, “We now understand that this entire endeavor is an organic process and change will be the rule rather than the exception for all concerned throughout the year. Regular feedback is even more critical than previously imagined.” In addition to change, flexibility and interest also became the rules as each TRC member honed in on a specific facet that fell within a core set
of group activities.

With the target of fostering a growth mindset, Christy McConnell challenged her students to set ambitious goals. “I like the goal setting I’ve been doing. I’ve already noticed a change in student behavior. It seems to be another channel toward building perseverance. Overall, I’ve noticed a big difference (attitude of writing goals and quality of steps to achieve goals) from the first time. Students ramped up the seriousness/importance of writing goals as they saw more success from their prior experience. The first time I did the goal writing activity, students got busy quickly and did what I asked. The second time they went to work with more of a purpose, and I thought the overall product was better for more students. I think one of my kids said it best when he stated, ‘This gives me a great sense of direction and a good map.’”

John Hayes and his team wondered how a teacher might improve questioning practices. He collected data about his frequency and sequencing of the four levels of questions that teachers generally ask. As he analyzed the data, subtle tendencies in his questioning patterns began to emerge. “The questioning level is often determined by the previous question I ask. Oftentimes, when I question at a level 2 (‘How’ without a context), I am trying to scaffold the problem for the student. If I just questioned at a higher level, I could avoid the scaffolding. I think as a teacher, I like to scaffold for students because I get to see the ‘a-ha’ moment immediately, but as an educator I know this isn’t always necessary. If I question at a higher level, the students are often able to scaffold themselves. Students are much more capable of thinking than we give them credit for.” When asked about participating in TRC 1.0, John commented, “How often do you get to sit in a room of teachers that are open-minded enough to change their teaching methods, and motivated enough to actually complete the process? It really is impressive how much room there is for improvement if you make the decision to improve.”

Many additional key insights for improving student learning have emerged. Penny Smitts said, “Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate! Any opportunity to have students consolidate their learning about a topic or idea should be taken. Giving students the time to reflect about their learning through writing is a key component to checking their understanding of a concept. When this writing is paired with peer discourse, it helps solidify the consolidation of learning for students and it affords them the opportunity to add additional ideas to their own written response.”

As far as any permanent changes in her own teacher behavior, Penny noted, “This journey has shown me that if I am faced with time constraints within the classroom, eliminating the learning logs is not the answer. I have come to realize the power and importance of having students consolidate their thoughts and ideas through writing learning logs. Students need time to reflect on their learning and they need an avenue to do so. My students have shown me that not only is the writing important, but the discourse among peers about the writing is also a key component to further consolidate their learning. In order for students to truly grow, they need to read, hear, and discuss other’s written consolidations.”

Brenda Linebaugh noted a fundamental shift in her role as a secondary mathematics teacher. Good curriculum is only the beginning. “As a teacher, I have learned that these ‘non-math’ skills, like asking higher order questions, can be threaded throughout the course. Student-generated questions can build upon and improve the math instruction and learning. I could say I knew that before, but I never really put it into practice to the extent I did this year. I have become more cognizant of the process of layering new skills that lead to the desired result of better student questioning. I have kept the end goal in mind, and I keep that focus throughout my lessons. It has become part of the learning atmosphere.”

The wheels are in motion. Every member has discovered at least one original, significant strategy that will become a permanent addition to their teaching repertoire. New ideas about how to redesign teaching are gaining traction thanks to the inaugural efforts of TRC 1.0 members Mark Atkinson, Beth Baker, Bruce Brusoe, Kerry Cardoza, Cisco Cox, Jocelyn Dunnack, Geoffrey Enriquez, Beckie Frisbee, John Hayes, Natalie Ijames, Lisa Jasumback, Beth Johnson, Tanya Lantrip, Pam Lindemer, Brenda Linebaugh, Alan Little, Christy McConnell, Sarah Morrison, Mark Ray, Meghan Sanders, Valerie Scott, Staci Shackleford, Penny Smits, Jerry Yoder, Jeanne Villeneuve, Heather Wade, and Bonnie Walczak.

Since it is our intent that CPM continues to be a place where good teachers can and do contribute good ideas, TRC 2.0 will cross the starting line in late June. If you would like to join in this endeavor and make a contribution to CPM’s ever-growing encyclopedia of teacher-based knowledge about curriculum design and effective instruction, please contact Mark Coté at markcote@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

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.