While teaching “freestyle” did not solve all the problems in my math program, being more directly engaged with math as the teacher and personal developer of each math unit, I definitely had a better idea of what the problems were and how I could intervene to help students with next steps. As a whole, the students also seemed to enjoy the math program much more than classes I had had in previous, more textbook-reliant years.
For teachers thinking about stretching their mathematical instruction beyond the textbook, I offer the following considerations:
- Begin by choosing ONE unit to plan entirely “from scratch.”
- Set the textbook aside for this unit, and gather together a few alternate resources (including the curriculum!). Your teacher-librarian or a board program resource consultant, or even a colleague down the hall who’s already been experimenting can help direct you to a few good resources.
- Consider which curriculum expectations need to be addressed for this unit and think about how students will get there (begin with the end in mind); for ELLs and students with LDs, develop a list of necessary vocabulary to pre-teach.
- Develop a set of five or six lesson plans for the unit, including some that can serve as formative assessment checkpoints along the way.
- Develop your lessons in a three-part framework: Minds On (a warm-up or thinking question), Action (the “big” problem for students to work on), and Consolidate/Debrief (taking up the problem as a class, sharing various students’ solutions, assigning a similar problem so that students can apply their new math skills).
- Tell your students what you’re up to: It’s good for them to see you as a life-long learner, and they will become your biggest champions as you slog through the failures and successes of your little experiment!
- Take some time at the end of your unit to celebrate the things that went well, and reflect on why some things may not have gone so well (and what you might do differently next time). Consider asking your students which method of learning math they prefer and why; this can provide clues for improving future instruction.
- Share your work with others, and ask them to share their work with you. Although we found that a lot of our own learning came from developing the lessons and units ourselves, we were constantly aware of the time crunch many teachers – including ourselves – face, and were always grateful to get a great idea from somewhere else that we could easily incorporate into our classrooms.