By Anna Polsgrove
When I first started the Math Methods course at University of California, Irvine, all of my ideas on how to learn math took a complete 180.
During the first two months, a million questions swirled in my head as I worked through problems with my classmates: We don’t just teach the algorithm anymore? What do you mean “use representations to build conceptual understanding”? What is an area diagram? What are all of the multiple strategies to solve a problem? How am I supposed to anticipate misconceptions when I have never taught the curriculum?, just to name a few.
Needless to say, I was overwhelmed.
Fortunately, for my first student teaching placement I was placed in a first-grade class, so I had some schemata to work with because I’ve worked with young children in the past counting and combining objects. I felt comfortable with the math the students were doing in class and was able to adapt to the use of representations. After Christmas break, however, I switched placements to a sixth-grade classroom, where I felt completely out of my comfort zone and frightened by the math. Percentages, ratios, and statistics: Oh my!
On the first day, I found out that the school in which I was placed was piloting two different math curricula, Illustrative Mathematics 6–8 Math being one of them. I was so grateful for this. All I could think about was the infamous math edTPA—a performance-based assessment of teaching that evaluates the teacher’s skills and knowledge—lurking around the corner. For the math edTPA, we must plan out a full unit and write commentary to justify our lessons, videotape our lessons and write more commentary justifying and proving that we know what we are doing during the lessons, and then listen to our students’ work and write even more commentary analyzing how our lessons went and what the student work tells us about next steps and teaching. Basically, the edTPA is absolute insanity and stress for two months.
How was I going to successfully teach sixth-grade level math and pass this exam?
I taught IM’s unit on percentages for edTPA and was surprised that it guided me through the 5 Practices that my professors at UCI had been hammering into my head. Each lesson included anticipated student misconceptions, strategies to look for while monitoring the students, and even suggestions for how to sequence them. Each lesson plan guided me through successful Number Talks and how to introduce multiple representations—two of the main practices my professor at UCI told me were necessary in creating a rich mathematical experience.
Suddenly, I felt excited to teach sixth-grade math! As a Master of Arts in Teaching candidate, I had learned about the latest and greatest strategies for effective teaching, and I was nervous that it would be discouraging as a new teacher if I couldn’t implement all of them. The IM lessons have been a step-by-step guide and resource that has allowed me to succeed in facilitating a lesson using the 5 Practices framework in content that is really new for me.
The IM curriculum is also really great because each lesson comes with a warm-up, activities, and a cool-down. In the beginning of each lesson, there is a warm-up that varies throughout each learning segment. Sometimes the warm-up implements a “notice and wonder” discussion, which UCI taught me is a great way to encourage deeper thinking in students! The curriculum offers many opportunities to have the students participate in a few minutes of “quiet think time” followed by a partner share in all of the activities. This really allowed me to walk around and assess the student discourse so I would know whether to proceed with the lesson or spend more time on a particular topic. I used the cool-downs as exit slips to allow for a lot of formative assessment as I monitored the class and assessed whether my students had met the learning objectives. This was really helpful because it was a quick way to determine what would be covered in small groups the following day before moving on.
Teacher Bonus: I loved how I could customize the current version of the lesson. This really helped because I could change the names in the curriculum to my students’ names for more buy-in, and it also allowed me the opportunity to change numbers and context if students needed more practice in small groups.
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Anna Polsgrove is a sixth-grade teacher in Newport Beach, Ca, where she promotes collaborative learning to enforce critical thinking skills through higher order inquiry-based learning. Anna received her Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of California, Irvine, and attended the University of California, Davis for her Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics with a minor in Education. Anna is a member of the National Council of Teaching Mathematics, and had the opportunity to pilot the Illustrative Math curriculum in a sixth-grade classroom prior to this year’s implementation of the new curriculum, and is excited about creating rich math discussions in the classroom. Anna has a passion for teaching to create lifelong learners through compassion, technology, and a positive, open environment. She shares her enthusiasm through the Twitter community and enjoys using that platform as a professional learning environment (@Miss_Polsgrove).