Creating an Accessible Mathematical Community with IM K–5: the power of “yet” for students and adults

Does the perfect elementary math curriculum exist? Armed with a growth mindset and the Alpha IM K–5 curriculum, teachers in Ipswich Public Schools push their thinking to reach all mathematicians. 

By Maureen D. O’Connell

I preach growth mindset daily. When my students say they can’t do something, they almost always add their own “…yet.” However, walking this walk as an elementary school teacher is another story. Creating, mastering, and modifying curricula to reach each and every student—in every content area—is a daunting expectation. We hold ourselves to near impossible standards. 

Over the past years we have sought a high-quality, coherent curriculum aligned with the way we feel about and teach math in Ipswich. We already supplement our math curriculum with the latest thinking routines and activities for making math visual. We incorporate rich tasks from diverse sources, including tasks from IM’s illustrated content and mathematical practice standards. 

We want to build joyful math communities where students embrace the power of yet and see themselves as mathematicians. We want a curriculum that is problem based and allows our students to make mathematical discoveries. We want a curriculum that seamlessly incorporates the Standards for Mathematical Practice and that unfolds in an understandable sequence or math story. IM K–5 Math beckoned as an opportunity to make this vision a reality. Teachers and our principal at the Paul F. Doyon Memorial School overwhelmingly agreed to try this exciting curriculum in its earliest version.

It has not been a cake walk, yet has been totally worthwhile. The teacher-facing materials aren’t bound in colorful organized packages, yet. The approach is new to us. In order to internalize the lessons, we study and highlight our pdf manuals, and help each other with digital flip charts for our interactive white boards. We appreciate the extraordinary mathematics and deliciously precise math language used throughout the curriculum, and also struggle to accommodate student reading levels.

Teachers and students are thinking deeply, sharing their thoughts with partners and the group. Students are posing questions as a central part of the work. Rather than answering questions about data posed by the curriculum writers or teachers, students formulate questions that can be or can not be answered by the data. This brings Tracy Zager’s equity talk to mind. To paraphrase, she says, the people who ask the questions set the agenda. The curriculum helps empower our students. 

The curriculum tells a compelling math story through a lesson, a unit, a grade level—and even across grade levels! In my role as a math specialist, I am able to see how the story of “data” unfolds in the first unit. Students in grade 1 sort and compare data. In grade 2, students take data connected to their lives and develop picture and bar graphs. These graphs morph into the tape diagrams that support comparing numbers. In grade 3, students move to scaled graphs and create diagrams that present multiplication in an understandable and accessible way. 

When she presented the synthesis for a lesson examining equal groups with data, teacher Andrea Welch said, “What we did today is multiplication.” There was an audible gasp. Oooos filled the room. Several days later a student told her, “I was afraid to learn multiplication, but I can do it.” The curriculum helped make the idea accessible and connected.

We formed an IM K–5 Math PLC to share what’s working and our questions and challenges. We looked at student work and discussed strategies for supporting young students with emerging reading and writing skills. What scaffolds can we create so that students fully access and experience this amazing math content? By unpacking this curriculum in our PLC we are growing our own understanding of important mathematical concepts. For example, we appreciate multiplication as equal groups in a deeper way, where in the past we may have envisioned repeated addition.

Much of what happens in and outside of school feels beyond our control. We push back and work to create responsive and equitable classrooms where students feel safe to try new things, take risks and learn from mistakes and from each other. 

Piloting IM K–5 and working as a PLC allows us to create this rich and safe learning environment for ourselves, to teach at the edge of our comfort levels, to grow in our craft and as mathematicians. We impact important change and embrace the power of “yet” for ourselves. 

Next Steps

Follow our journey @PFDoyonSchool @mdoconnell16

We look forward to colleagues joining us in piloting the beta version of this challenging program.

Don’t miss your chance to be a part of the IM K–5 Math beta pilot.
Learn more

The IM K–5 Math beta pilot for the 2020–21 school year is now accepting applications. 

Participants of the pilot get early access to the highly anticipated K–5 math curriculum, provide feedback to the curriculum and professional learning to influence future versions, and will be a part of a community that is committed to creating a world where learners know, use, and enjoy mathematics.


Maureen D. O’Connell
Math Specialist

Maureen Durkin O’Connell spent 24 fabulous years teaching children at the Paul F. Doyon Memorial School in Ipswich, MA. After 17 years as a classroom teacher, she served as K-5 Math Specialist. As an IM K–5 Math alpha and beta pilot teacher and coach, she was dazzled by the impact of the curriculum on students’ math identity, understanding, and discourse. During hybrid learning she taught IM remotely with students in Grades K-5. Maureen is dedicated to making math irresistible through a joyful community and high-quality and equitable instruction.  She has an A.B. from Smith College in Education and Child Study and her M.A. in Education of the Deaf and Hearing Impaired from Gallaudet University where she worked as a training specialist. She is an eternal optimist, a life long learner, autism advocate and proud mother of two. She loves walking beautiful Crane Beach with her Bernedoodle.