Letting Go of What I Thought I Knew

I have always been pretty open about the fact that I felt my “creativity” couldn’t be confined by me being tied down with a text book.  I have written numerous posts about it, tweeted it more times than I can count and told just about anyone who would listen that I didn’t need a textbook.  Turns out I just was right and wrong.  While a traditional textbook may not have been right for me; I have fallen in love with the Illustrative Math curriculum materials this year.

The EdReport on Illustrative Mathematics 6-8 Math Curriculum was released this week, making it the highest scored math program available on the market which only confirmed what I have seen in my classroom this year; the IM curriculum is a game changer for math education in this country.  I have been pretty vocal about my IM experiences this year, shared countless student work samples, videos, and pictures but I thought it was time to give other teachers a glimpse of what IM has done to my classroom performance.  I am definitely a data driven educator and as much as I have loved using the materials, it means very little if students do not see growth during the course of the year.  As you examine the results below please keep the following in mind :

  1. My class make-up this year is very similar to last year.  For the last two years I have taught two math 7 classes (one is a collaborative class for students with disabilities where I have a co-teacher).  The percentages of students from each sub-group is nearly identical for each of the last two years.
  2.  I am not a professional researcher.  I am a classroom teacher in every way.  I simply feel it is imperative I keep as much data as I can in order to make the best decisions I can for students on both a short and long term basis.
  3. I don’t work for Open Up Resources or Illustrative Math.  I have a passion and a heart for providing all students with access to the best math education possible regardless of geography, socio-economic status or other outside factors.

Unit Two Assessment Data:

Unit 2 focused on Proportional Relationships. The following data compares this year’s results with the Ratio & Proportions Part 1 Unit Test from 2016-1017 which most closely aligned with the content for 2017-2018.Unit Two Assessments

Unit Three Assessment Data:

Unit 3 focused on Measuring Circles. The following data compares this year’s results with test questions from the 2016-2017 Geometry Part 2 Assessment that focused on circles.

Unti Three

I was excited for those results but decided to play devil’s advocate and look at if from a more cynical point of view.  Last year’s data was based upon teacher written assessments and this year’s were the assessments that came with the Illustrative materials.   Although the IM tests are very rigorous and require a great deal of deep thinking I began to wonder how students would do on a more traditional standardized like assessment.  We are required to give semester finals in my district so I used that as an opportunity to see how the IM curriculum would transfer to a standardized test.  I used our district created final exam questions that were on the content covered during our first four IM units.  These were entirely multiple choice and very much like released items from our state K-Prep assessment.  The results were astounding.

Highlights from the fall final exam:

  • Average score was an 83% compared to 67% last year
  • The average score in my collaborative class was only 3% lower than the general ed class nearly eliminating the achievement gap between the two classes
  • There we NO NOVICE students in my collaborative class (I have never had that happen in 13 years of teaching

I feel pretty confident in saying that the kids will do just fine on our state test this year.  The best part was the kids comments about the test.  In years prior, students finished the assessment and said things like, “man that was so hard” or “I know I failed”.  This year they had comments like “do kids in other schools just take tests like that all the time?  It was so easy”.  I truly believe that due to the depth of thinking required in each and every Illustrative lesson, practice problem, and assessment that once students had to take a traditional assessment the cognitive load required was so much less that it presented no challenge to them.

As I said in the beginning of this post, I was concerned about letting go control of my teaching creativity and following a curriculum program but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I have more time to be creative because Illustrative has taken the curriculum design and planning off of my plate so I can find ways to make the workbook come alive for students.  Last week we watched a Ferris Bueller clip to understand why distance can’t be negative and then my favorite four minutes of Cosby Show when Theo is learning about being a “regular person” and money before we started looking at integers in the context of money.  I was sure that my kids would be lost on the concept of integers without using manipulatives like integers chips.  I gave the IM lessons my best shot though, and even though it is embarrassing to admit it, I even understand subtracting integers better after the thoughtfulness and context of the lessons using number lines and elevations.  I was able to improve their fluency with some of my favorite games, but the conceptual piece was done in a way far greater than I could have ever done and this teacher is thankful.  We took a formative assessment yesterday to see who needed some remediation time with me on adding and subtracting integers…in two classes there were noly two students who didn’t master the concept on the first try.   Although I don’t have the data in front of me, I am almost positive that last year I had more than two students at the end of the year that still hadn’t achieved mastery on that skill and this year after one attempt they had it.

I have felt the need to share this data for a while but not for attention or kudos.  I truly believe the Illustrative Math curriculum is what is right for kids.  All kids deserve the chance to truly understand, comprehend, and enjoy math and this program provides that opportunity in an easy to use format.  It is a game changer in grades 6-8 mathematics.  A free, accessible, and differentiated curriculum seems to good to be true, but this isn’t just good it is phenomenal.  Thank you IM for chaining math instruction for both me and my students, I am beyond grateful.



18 thoughts on “Letting Go of What I Thought I Knew

  1. Thanks Brooke. You may recall I’m teaching preservice in thailand. The shift from teaching as telling to teaching as facilitation feels so big sometimes to make happen. Maybe IM can help me.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful reflection about your teaching practice and the learning of your students. Your words are inspiring.

  3. “Unit 2 focused on Proportional Relationships. The following data compares this year’s results with the Ratio & Proportions Part 1 Unit Test from 2016-1017 which most closely aligned with the content”
    as you mentioned
    “Last year’s data was based upon teacher written assessments and this year’s were the assessments that came with the Illustrative materials.:

    So I’m interested in whether you did an item analysis on each question. Also, were the point values the same?
    I’m not being a skeptic, but often data can be misinterpreted through visual representation. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on IM, my team is also in the process of choosing a curriculum.

    • That’s a great question. I totally agree that it is very easy to skew data to appear things are working better than they are. I have tried to avoid that as much as possible. Luckily last year we used an online assessment platform so I have been able to pull out the items from last year that aligned with the same standards. That was especially true on the fall final exam. I also have given some of the same formative assessments this year as I did last year. On our first rational numbers formative assessment the kids scored approximately 10% better this year than last year and the questions and format were exactly the same. I hope that helps some! I am very happy to answer any other questions you have. We have also been implementing a more traditional book in our Algebra I class so I feel like I have seen both ends of the spectrum this year.

  4. Hi Brooke, I have been using IM this year in my 6th grade classroom and I am actually doing my research for my thesis on using math tasks in our curriculum as well. I was wondering if you minded if I used some of your data that you shared here as well to support my hypothesis. Thank you for sharing this. I have struggled this year and this is very encouraging!

  5. It’s concerning that you think your students will do “just fine” on the state assessment. We have so much pressure to show growth on our state assessment and “just fine” won’t be good enough. I would like feedback that shows the students will exceed growth and performance when they use this curriculum.

    • I totally understand your concerns. Based on the state like final we gave in December they outperformed students of years past. My winter MAP data also showed significant growth that was beyond the expected growth predicted by NWEA. I will be interested to see how they do on Spring MAP also. I am excited for them to take our state assessment in May but unfortunately we do not receive those results until October of 2018. I believe the biggest barrier to student growth is getting kids engaged and to have a growth mindset and I have seen both improve with the use of the curriculum. Hope that helps!

  6. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on IM. I used four (2 eighth grade and two seventh grade) units at the beginning of the year and really liked the conceptual approach. At that point, I had to switch to one of the resources we had available to pilot. But I saw tremendous growth in my kids’ MAP scores from Fall 2016 to Fall 2017. Being new to this school, I do not have data for different classes to compare. I can only compare the same group of students from the grade level prior. My district is looking for new teaching resources this year. I was very disappointed to say that IM was not one of them. I also agree that using it as supplemental material is a disservice to students as well as the IM creators. Thank you again for your thoughts on this resource.

    • I am so sorry to hear that! I am actually going through the same thing right now as my District is adopting a very traditional textbook for next year. I am still trying to figure out what I can do moving forward as well!

  7. Thank you for your reflection of the conceptual aspect that a curriculum can provide that is better that what I can create. I totally agree. I want to spend time using my creativity and enhancing what is already provided in a curriculum. Thanks for sharing I look forward to talking to you more about IM but I think that your reflections can be applied to curriculums that offer a very conceptual focus on math.

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