Educators have been implementing Open Up Resources 6–8 Math for years, and here is their insight from their invaluable experience with the resource.When I first piloted Open Up Resources 6–8 Math in my 7th grade classroom in Iowa, I was hungry for a shift in the learning of mathematics. Using a problem-based curriculum, where my middle schoolers were actively sharing their learning and ideas in class was something I sought. Instead of spending hours researching, recreating, and cobbling together lessons, I could finally work from a great foundation.
There are so many educators like me that have seen the benefits and worked through the challenges of problem-based math. I asked them for their insight into things they wish they had known at the beginning of their journey with Open Up Resources 6–8 Math.
- Morgan Stipe, Teacher Leader in Residence
Nicole Mercurio (AZ) – Grade 6 Community Coach
- Do the math beforehand. Entering the school year having already taught 6th grade and knowing the content I was sure that I could solve any problem that was given to me in that grade level. I learned quickly that I needed to be prepped for that lesson with the cognitively demanding tasks that are required of the students. Practicing and applying the math before the lesson helped with differentiation, questioning strategies, and with productive struggle in my classroom. I quickly absorbed that this curriculum was not one that could be taught day-by-day but needed intentional planning.
- Become familiar with the unit narratives. The structure of the lessons are designed to be intentional. Each activity and unit are formulated in a sequential order that makes connections throughout the instruction. I was made aware this year that the units and stories overlap throughout grade levels and it is something that helps students.
Each lesson, activity, and unit have a narrative. My second year I familiarized myself and it helped make connections clearer for my students between activities within a lesson, the lesson itself, and unit. Furthermore, this year teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, I see the connection of unit stories transfer across all grade levels. It is rewarding to see how the narratives helped shape students' prior knowledge and activates student engagement.
- Connect within the communities. Within the Open Up Resources 6–8 Math curriculum there are so many communities to be part of and join. My first year implementing this curriculum I cannot express enough how I wish I had known about the facebook community along with the PLCs that are virtual and free each month for each grade level. That year I had a million questions about what a Number Talk or what Poll the Class Routine was supposed to look like. It wasn't until my third year I gained more knowledge about the monthly PLC’s and gathered more information from teachers around the United States. I was able to collaborate and receive valuable tips and resources that I eagerly implemented into my lessons. The most used resources from the community that I use every day are the community created resources slides. They are already pre-made for each lesson and are engaging and interactive for my students.
- Give yourself grace. Taking on a new curriculum that was completely different then the way I taught before was a challenge. I needed to be constantly reminded that I wasn't the only one experiencing this struggle and that with time, like all things, it would start to click. After my first year using the 6th grade curriculum it started to make sense for me and became more fluid, easier for me to implement in my classroom, and anticipate students' thinking. This year I am reminding myself of that again while using the Open Up Resources Algebra 1 High School Curriculum. This structure and flow of a lesson is similar to the middle school curriculum, but there are differences. I have to remind myself that it takes time to familiarize yourself with a new curriculum and allow that grace period to make adjustments.
Aprile Hampton (NC) – Multi-Classroom Leader
- Use the Course Guide. The Course Guide is the most underutilized resource. Within the Course Guide you can find background information on the 9 units of study. It provides explicit instructions on how to use all the materials in Open Up Resources 6–8 Math. One of my favorite things is how it provides you with sentence frames that can be used to support student language production. This resource is AMAZING! I dare you to read yours.
- Routines are key. Knowing the Mathematical Language Routines (MLRs) is one thing but knowing how to implement them is even bigger. As teachers, we must begin with knowing the purpose of the language routine. Once we understand why we are doing something, we can have a better understanding of what it is, where we can find them within the tasks and how to implement them correctly.
- Know which lessons require blackline masters. Print them out for the entire unit and put them in a notebook. That way you have easy access to them and can quickly make copies as needed.
- Connect on social media. Joining the OUR Facebook community has been a game changer. It’s a great platform to connect with other educators. You can gain access to materials that teachers have created that you can use within your lessons. You can also pose questions to your fellow educators and receive feedback on how to teach lessons or the curriculum in general.
Cathy Dickson (IL) – 7th Grade Math Teacher, Teacher Leader in Residence
- Use a timer. In my first year, I fell in love with the curriculum and the way the lessons and activities flowed. I would lose myself in the productive discourse in my classroom – so much that I spent too much time on lessons. I thought that everyone needed to finish each part of an activity before we moved to the next activity. The warm-ups are so engaging because they get everyone involved but the lesson goal relies on giving students the experience of the other tasks as well. When I went to the first HIVE conference, it was suggested that we set a timer and try to stick to the minutes allotted in the teacher guide. This helped so much! Now, in my 5th year, the time management is much easier and I have a clearer understanding of how much time it takes to elicit the understanding necessary to bring students to the learning goal.
- Trust the process. In my early teacher training, best practice was the “I do, we do, you do” method of delivering instruction. The first time we “played in the sandbox” with a unit in Open Up Resources 6–8 Math, leaving that model behind was difficult. We were used to modeling a problem/process then walking around as students tried it on their own. Then, there were moments when I trusted the process, followed the lesson guide, and it was incredible how giving students quiet time to explore, then chat time with a partner, would result in them coming up with the insights and understandings that were intended. Almost as if there was a script I sent a student previously and they followed it! I even thought I heard a choir singing in my head in those moments. Less of us, more of them is essential.
- The Teacher Edition and Course Guides are unending treasures. Though overwhelming at first, the teacher lesson guide offers a treasure trove of information, support, and guidance. In year 5, I still regularly go back online to the website and read through the lessons to get clarification, to look for which math language routines I can add as a scaffold, to verify I understand the learning goal, to analyze the synthesis, and to note possible misconceptions. You probably have it bookmarked like me for easy access!
Similarly, the Course Guide is also a valuable resource, especially the “How to Use These Materials” section if you are new to the curriculum. You can also read about Scope and Sequence and how it vertically aligns grades 6–8. Math Language Routines (MLRs) and other instructional routines are listed and explained in purpose and process. These are just a few examples; It seems more and more is added each year to support and benefit teachers. Take time to explore it when you can.
- Don’t skip the synthesis! Another HIVE nugget of wisdom I received was the importance of the synthesis. I will quote Brooke Powers, Director of Professional Learning, as I have many times, “Skipping the synthesis is like skipping the end of a movie before the plot is resolved and starting another the next day.” There are so many ways to close a lesson. Many times, if we are honest, we are hearing the bell for the next period ring or we look up with 1 minute left. That’s reality. This is where intentional planning results in solidifying understanding. The design of each lesson is a synthesis after each activity and a lesson synthesis at the end. These are already embedded for us! A couple years in, I realized there are many different types of synthesis. Recognizing these types has been a game changer for me because my familiarity with the purpose of the lesson has deepened such that I “get it” even more than in the past. So, with that in mind, do whatever you can to save time for it. I bought a doorbell to ring when it is time to wrap it up. Even if I can’t follow the synthesis that is in the teacher guide due to time that day, I stop 5-7 minutes before the end of the period to “resolve the plot” that makes sense for wherever we are in the lesson.
Robert Gloria (CA) – Grade 8 Math Teacher
- Preparation - Going into it, I thought I knew everything I needed to teach math with the OUR curriculum but I underestimated how much effort it took to reprogram my brain from procedural to conceptual teaching. In fact, during my first year teaching math with OUR, I realized my conceptual understanding was severely lacking. I quickly learned that I needed to complete the activities myself first before teaching the students. Oftentimes, the developing conceptions and difficulties I encountered were the same for the students so it allowed me to get ahead of it and be ready to offer the appropriate level of support. Collaborating with other OUR math educators was a very important step because it helped me see math problems from a perspective that most times was different from my own. This collaboration helped me to better anticipate student responses.
- Scope and Sequence - I wish I knew how important it is to understand the unit progression and also how different units are related to each other. Needless to say, I was over teaching quite a bit during my first year. I’d teach the slope formula only to find it didn’t appear until the next unit. Reading the unit overview before teaching a unit and really understanding how each lesson is related to the overall unit was a game changer. Once I understood the grade level scope and sequence for the grades I taught (7th and 8th) I then began studying the unit progressions for 6th grade so that I could effectively expand on the conceptual understandings and strategies students learned previously.
- Supporting Students - The beauty of the OUR curriculum is that it aligns well to the math research that tells us how students best learn math. Just as it is a shift for us, it is also a shift for them. I wish I knew that students need to be supported socio emotionally and to regularly practice the skills they need to effectively learn math in this new way. Finding ways to support students without reducing their cognitive load or the rigor of the lesson can be really tricky.
Keyelle Miller (NC) – Multi-Classroom Leader
- Teach, facilitate, then let it go. As teachers, we find strength in knowing that our students have a grasp on a new concept when it is first taught. With OUR, many times students grapple with a concept for a few days before the learning completely unfolds and makes connections for the students. This is intentional. Find ways to lean in on the connections between each lesson so “over-teaching” doesn’t happen. Facilitate an environment for productive struggle and let the students go. Loosen the reins of what you have known as the formula for success because with this curriculum, the reward comes later and oftentimes resurfaces in upcoming lessons and even units.
- Measurable Targets. Data matters. If you aren’t setting specific goals around how your students are learning, how will you determine whether your curriculum is successful? It's one thing to think about the overarching standard being taught but to have daily attainable goals to reach that standard is another. That’s why OUR sets measurable outcomes and tracks progress through the cool downs at the end of each lesson. Teachers get a better view of what students actually know in bite-sized pieces at the end of each lesson.
- Collaboration is key. Having regular discussions about this work during PLC about the lessons and the progression of learning creates opportunities for growth with this resource. Getting input from everyone on student misconceptions, implementation strategies, and best practices will help identify the gaps you need to address as you prepare to facilitate the learning. Collaboration through online communities is especially beneficial because it provides a wide scope of the curriculum across the country and gives you support beyond your own county.
- Do the work. Then do it again. After implementing the curriculum with fidelity, one may think you have it under your belt and you can facilitate a lesson with your eyes closed. OUR curriculum is not a one-and-done initiative. There are so many facets that may have been missed and key features introduced each year that helps the learning unfold. I appreciated getting a new teacher manual or downloading the lessons to do the work with new eyes and a fresh outlook for that year. Revisiting your work allows you to not only review how things went when you previously taught it, but also makes room for new ways of launching activities and keeps the content exciting for you and your students. It creates a reference point when seeking ways to correctively instruct students and provide additional support as they continue to dive deeper into the learning process.