By far one of the questions I get asked most frequently is “what curriculum do you follow?”. I see numerous people post this question on Twitter as their district looks to adopt new materials and get so many e-mails from schools who see our math success and assume it must be a result of a book or math program we follow. People always seem puzzled when I answer the questions with “none”. We follow no specific curriculum or math program where I teach. We follow the Common Core Standards or KCAS in Kentucky but have the freedom to teach the material as we feel most effective rather than be married to a specific system. I wont lie I felt a bit vindicated when Education Week posted this article about math programs and their Common Core alignment. The article definitely helps validate my thoughts that there is not currently a solid Common Core aligned math “curriculum” to follow. To be honest, even if there were I probably wouldn’t buy in and use it. As an educator I feel that one of the most important aspects of my classroom is the autonomy to make decisions on how and what to use to get my students to meet the expectations of the Common Core Standards. That how varies based on topic, day, student, culture and changes day by day. I don’t think there is a way for a prescribed curriculum to do that.
So what do I do? Well I use every resource at my disposal to create my own curriculum that is right for every student, class, and teaching moment. The Common Core Standards defines “rigor” as having an equal emphasis on procedures, conceptual understanding and applications. In math, we have always had an abundant amount of procedural resources (hello every text book in America). Numerous conceptual understanding resources have begun to emerge thanks to the work of Dan Meyer and many others on things like the 3 Act Math Tasks that go so much deeper than the skill and drill methods of days past. Eli and the Desmos people have taken that even further with their amazing online graphing calculator software and lesson plans like Function Carnival and Polygraphs. However resources on the application piece of rigor have been few and far between. We’ve all see the “wonderful” forced context and application problems in our text books but I have to believe the writers of Common Core meant applications as so much more than that.
Enter Mathalicious into my life and classroom. Although I may not follow a curriculum I can tell you that Mathalicious is my go to resource for teaching math through application. Last week we were able to learn about percents, not through “is over of percent goes above” or “the butterfly method” or “the fish” but instead by looking at coupons. Most importantly we didn’t just calculate the value of coupons but instead studied the psychology of coupons. We talked about JCPenney and what went wrong with their “everyday low price plan” and if people would rather get a good deal or a good price. So instead of spending an hour drilling and killing percent problems we were able to practice percent problems in the context of the real work instead of in the context of a worksheet. In my mind this is what math should really be about. Math in the real world is not a series of skill based questions but instead is about using math simultaneously with other disciplines like psychology, sociology, science etc and using the math to solve real problems.
Coming up in class is my statistics unit with a huge focus on variability which we study through the use of box plots. Yes I could teach it by giving students random data and worksheets with meaningless problems but instead we will learn about variability with the Mathalicious lesson “Wealth of Nations”. We will look at wealth distribution in the U.S. and the ever growing poverty problem. We will have difficult discussions. There will be disagreement amongst classmates on how to solve the problem. There will be shock about the inequity in America. However more importantly, there will be learning, real authentic learning in the context of an actual problem that the kids and their families face daily. I can’t put a value on those type of discussions and learning opportunities in my classroom.
If there is on thing that makes me a little sad in all of this it is that every student in America does not currently have access and the opportunity to have these math discussions. Every student deserves to have the opportunity to use math as a prism to see the world, to use math to be better citizens, to use math to make the world a better place. Every student needs access to Mathalicious in my mind.
So no, to answer everyone’s question I don’t use a curriculum. I don’t use a text book. I don’t have workbooks or an abundance of worksheets. Instead I have the world as my curriculum and I don’t think you can put a value on what that is worth. Maybe this is best summed up by what my students thought of “Wealth of Nations” last year best.
Can you put a value on student’s calling math lessons mind-blowing? I am pretty sure the answer there would be a resounding no.