Use Your Words!

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Gail Anderson, Lansdale, PA gailanderson@cpm.org

Are there any other West Wing fans out there? My husband and I had date night every Wednesday at 9 pm for all eight years of that show’s run. I remember one episode where President Jed Bartlett was criticized for using “big words.” His opponent claimed that Bartlett was showing off, and that he was too far removed from the public to be a good leader for them. I once received a similar criticism from a student in my high school math class, which made me stop to think about how I communicate with my students. It was certainly not out of pride or trying to “show off” to my students that I insisted on using the rich vocabulary I have gleaned from years of reading good literature and studying mathematics (and watching West Wing). It is who I am. It is a reflection of what I have learned, and of the wonderful opportunities I have been blessed with in my life to be exposed to a wide variety of people, places, and things. My students also deserve the opportunity to build their communication skills and develop a rich vocabulary. This is best done by exposing them to rich, meaningful vocabulary, not by shying away from it or “dumbing down” our word choices.

I was delighted to read Pamela Propst’s post, Math and Vocabulary, on the Teacher Research Corps (TRC) webpage, (February 4, 2021). She poses the question, “Is vocabulary more important than you anticipated?” She goes on to describe part of her journey to move away from the up-front approach to teaching vocabulary (handing out lists and quizzes) to the natural incorporation of vocabulary in the students’ learning. After some initial complaints from students, she reports wonderful success. She challenged them by exposing them to the vocabulary, using it as she circulated during teamwork, and asking them to intentionally begin to use the vocabulary in their notes and journal responses as well. She noticed an improvement in students’ communication of mathematical concepts. And, perhaps more importantly, her students noticed the improvement! Learning and using good vocabulary doesn’t only help with precise communication, it breaks down barriers for students entering the mathematics. Probst writes, “Since they have been using the vocabulary for each chapter more consistently, many have mentioned that breaking down word problems has become easier.” Do not shy away from using “big words.” Use words you want your students to use. Give all of your students the opportunity to enjoy richer, more precise conversations in math class and to realize they are a part of the mathematics community. After the initial complaining, they may even discover they enjoy the power of rich vocabulary. A colleague related to me that his middle school students much preferred multiplicative inverse to reciprocal because they were proud of the fact that they used a 5-syllable word. And by naming it a multiplicative inverse, they actually came to understand the concept much better than they would have by simply memorizing the word reciprocal.

Using precise, rich vocabulary is one small part of how you can help students improve their mathematical skills and grow to achieve at higher levels. CPM provides many wonderful, free professional learning opportunities, including publishing research conducted by CPM teachers who are incorporating innovative strategies in their classrooms and reflecting on their efficacy. If you have never browsed through the treasure trove of math teaching research contained at imath.us, I encourage you to check it out today!

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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.