The IM 6–8 Math Curriculum Changed My Math Methods Experience

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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Learn more about Illustrative Mathematics 6–8 Math.

Anna Polsgrove

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).

8 thoughts on “The IM 6–8 Math Curriculum Changed My Math Methods Experience

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  1. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this program. Unfortunately, the best curriculum I have ever used is finally here and I’m at the end of my career. Luckily, I have an entire class of future teachers to introduce IM to in the fall.

    1. Donna,

      I LOVE IT, TOO!!!! It is so inspiring to hear that with so much experience you find IM to be the best curriculum! I really felt set up for success using it and am glad you can feel so confident as to pass it to the future teachers like me!

      1. Anna…you can be confident that you are on the right track. I am a constructivist who has had to put curriculum together using Marcy Cook, Marilyn Burns, etc…it’s all there in IM. I think Jo Boaler would love this. I am convinced through the discourse I witnessed with my students. The progression just makes SENSE to them…to me as well!

  2. Donna,

    I began writing my own curriculum years ago based on the teachings of John Van de Walle and lack of good problem or task based curriculum. I began implementing number routines and the five practices. Then Common Core was released and we began to pilot different curriculum. I volunteered to pilot every one my district through at us, and there which was several including teacher created modules. There were some promising aspects of all, but not one of them seemed to really fit. I constantly felt the need to alter or supplement each lesson. The past year our district broke down under the pressure of not giving its teachers some kind of complete curriculum. They wanted to be able to place books in the hands of the students and teaching manuals in the hands of teachers. I began the year using the book, but was spending countless hours altering or changing each lesson. Then a curriculum that was told by a departing friend some years earlier would be coming finally arrived. I joined the live webinar in October and began to implement IM in my classroom the very next day. Now as a review and teach a lesson not only do I not feel the need to alter or change it, I constantly find myself saying, wow why didn’t I teach it like this before! I also don’t have to locate and put in a math routine, because they are already implemented and with much greater purpose.
    I too am starting to approach the end of my teaching career however there are a few more years left to go. I now spend as much time as possible telling anyone that will listen about just how fantastic the best math curriculum ever written is. IM is hands down the best curriculum I’ve ever seen or used, and like I said, I’ve used a lot!
    I know our district already spent a large amount of money buying one curriculum, but that alone is a reason to keep using it.
    It’s like they bought us McDonalds and yeah it will keep us alive, but right next door they are giving away steak and lobster, full salad bar, and drinks with a limo ride home for FREE! So do we continue to eat the McDonalds or get up and walk next door!!

  3. Donna,

    I LOVE IT, TOO! It is so inspiring to hear that with so much experience you find IM to be the best curriculum! I really felt set up for success using it and am glad you can feel so confident as to pass it to the future teachers like me!

  4. Joseph,

    The types of curriculums you were offered in the past is what had made me so nervous when I first started! I didn’t know how I would be a new teacher while living faithfully to Van de Walle and the 5 practices!!!! I feel so lucky to have been introduced to IM alongside my learning of VDW and the 5 practices, because I have such an appreciation for the curriculum. It is so fluid and truly does incorporate everything into the math lessons. Thanks for sharing!!!

  5. Joseph!

    You just made me laugh out loud! I could NOT have said it better. No matter the standards I have spent a life of supplementing curriculums…exhausting. I went rogue by using the program this year, as the curriculum adopted was horrendous. I feel confident that I did my students justice. If not through test scores, by exposing them to REAL WORLD mathematics. Definitely the Surf N Turf of curriculums…perfect. 😉

  6. Anna, thank you for starting this thread! Echoing the others, though IM may be arriving later than ideal in a career, it is still possible to savor good stuff.

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