Things I Wish I Had Known... OUR HS Math (Part 2 of 4)

Teachers of the Open Up High School Mathematics curriculum share their advice for effective planning and implementation

It has been an exciting year for the Open Up Resources mathematics portfolio! This summer, Open Up High School Mathematics was launched, including both traditional and integrated course pathways. Each of these pathways received all-green ratings from EdReports! What means even more to us are all of the glowing reviews we’ve received from educators across the country that are using the curriculum alongside students and colleagues.

We passed the mic to the OUR Community, and here was the advice, learnings, and insight we received:

Alethea Guzman – Open Up High School Mathematics Community Coach

  1. The Learning Cycle: Develop, Solidify, Practice – This cycle was pointed out to me at my first conference for the curriculum. I had not realized the significance of these descriptive words previously.  Since learning about and focusing on the intention of the lesson, I have grown in my ability to implement the curriculum, because I am more aware of the purpose and goals of each lesson I teach. I am more aware of how they fit into the progression of learning within a unit.
  2. The teacher is the facilitator of learning, not the keeper of the keys of knowledge. This curriculum is designed around a student-centered philosophy of teaching, rather than a teacher-centered philosophy of teaching. As I utilized the curriculum, I became more aware of the differences between the two. Students blossom in their learning when they become aware that they can construct their own understanding. Students really do learn and retain more information when they are allowed to discover and formalize knowledge for themselves.  
  3. Trust the curriculum. I learned not to add as many separate, direct instruction lessons. When I was unfamiliar with the curriculum, the lessons took me out of my comfort zone. I felt unsure, and I had to learn to let go of the control I had with direct instruction. My advice: Trust the curriculum. I learned to go more slowly through lessons, more guided as needed. I learned to plan and prepare more thoroughly.  I learned to trust the process, and keep in mind the big picture that the learning will happen.      
  4. The curriculum doesn’t have to be a script. Use technology. Adapt for your students. Have fun!


Shanda Hamm – Brown Summit Math Teacher

  1. Begin with the end in mind. Familiarize yourself with the “Learning Goal” for each task by studying the teacher notes and the lesson takeaways and also by looking ahead to the practice questions in the “Set” of each lesson. The practice questions present a clear picture of the “destination” of each task.
  2. Let the routines become routine. As instructional routines arise in the lesson, explicitly state them out loud each time in your implementation with the students. In this way, students will become more familiar with each routine as they are utilized throughout the curriculum and eventually be able to execute them without much guidance.
  3. Chunk and scaffold as needed. The teacher notes are a great blueprint for each lesson but you know your students. Don’t be afraid to offer more supports and scaffolds to set your students up for success as they navigate each task. We want our students to embrace productive struggle, but we also want to make sure that they have what’s needed to fully access the task. 
  4. Embrace the process. The Open Up High School Mathematics curriculum is a new way of teaching for many of us and it can be scary to relinquish some of our traditional ways of teaching content. I have found myself at times “jumping the gun” by supplementing a task with what I thought was missing, but I later found that the “missing” concept or skill was actually embedded later in the unit. Trust the process and look ahead to get a clearer picture of how key skills are woven into the unit.
  5. Be creative with the takeaways. I love that the curriculum explicitly states the takeaways from each unit and gives space at the end of each lesson for students to copy them down. Don’t be afraid to add your own spice to how you present the takeaways. I use an interactive notebook with my Math 1 students for some of the takeaways, and I present the takeaways in the form of guided notes for my Math 2 students. Mix it up, and make it your own. Summarizing the lesson is so important, especially at the end of a challenging task. How that information is presented can make all the difference. 


Sara Vaughn – Integrated Maths 1 & 2 Teacher, Northwest Guilford Middle School 

  1. Week-by-week batching is inefficient. When I prepare and plan in batches, I harvest all my Google Slides for the entire unit and then combine lesson slides for each week into one file. I access the single Google Slides document and update it as I go through a week to add extra practice, review an exit ticket, or add a mini-lesson to cover rusty or missing content for my learners. 
  2. The Takeaways need to be scheduled and completed... Even if I abbreviate the lesson and shortcut some student discourse and discovery. Not doing so risks my students missing the entire point of the lesson. If my students cannot state what they learned, then they learned minimally.
  3. Typos are part of life, and perfection will kill you. When I make a mistake, I remind my learners that all learning materials are prepared by humans. I say, “Whoops! There I go again, showing my humanity!” This gives my learners permission to show their humanity, too.
  4. Read the room! Kids need to move. And every day! It is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of the lesson, as I walk around talking to students trying to sequence their work for the close and… well, students need to move, too. I try to incorporate movement by sending students to the board for quick practice, or simply by having them stretch. 
  5. If you are not fully prepared, as in, you do not have time to read and notate the student pages using the Planning and Implementation text, take a day to retrieve, review and relearn prior content. If I go ahead with a lesson underprepared, I sabotage future lessons intended to develop fundamental concepts and cheat my students out of their learning. I also stumble and fumble around as I figure out exactly what it is the lesson is truly getting at. Preparation time is not optional with the Open Up High School Mathematics curriculum. Sloppy preparation  =  sloppy lesson. I did the math!
  6. Here is the order of preparation steps I settled on – for now: Complete the Exit Ticket. Read the lesson plan from the Learning Goals through Purpose only. Complete the student tasks and RSG. Then, finally, read and notate using the rest of the teacher Planning and Implementation text. I try to do all of these things a week (or at least a day) before each lesson. The day of the lesson, I read the 5 Practices pages for the lesson and update my notes using the student work samples and notes provided. By delaying this last step, the lesson is fresh on the day I implement it. Here’s the truth: I am still working on this last part, but it is genius when I pull it off!


Jennifer Grove – Allen Jay Preparatory Academy Math Coach and Teacher

  1. Your teacher manual is like a trusted, veteran, teacher friend. Like a friend, it is there to give you insight and forethought as you plan. It helps answer questions you didn’t know that you needed to ask. And it provides tips and suggestions as you adjust your instruction to meet the needs of all your learners. It is absolutely worth the time to read, highlight, and annotate! 
  2. Problem-based learning is about so much more than the solution to the problem. It is about the learning that comes out of the problem, the journey it takes us on and the shared strategies that we build together as a class. In fact, non-solutions are important, too! So if as a teacher you think, “Oh, I know how to solve that, so I don’t need to read the lesson details in the teacher manual,” then you are missing out on differentiation ideas, ways to scaffold, added strategies to support future lessons, tips to be efficient with your timing, and more! 
  3. Anchor charts really do anchor the learning. You can “collect and display” more than just when MLR2 guides you to do so. Students appreciate them! And as a teacher, it makes it a quick reference point as we build our understanding of a concept. I have even had students request to snap a picture of them to use as they study and practice. So much so that I have a page on our Canvas of pictures for the Anchor Charts that we have created so far this year. 
  4. Go ahead and prep those card sorts. You will thank yourself later! 
  5. Practice and model productive discourse. The time you use to teach your students what the expectations are as they talk to each other and share out in class will come back to you over and over. Learning is a social process, but for 30ish students to hold dialogue together, there has to be procedures for the learning to remain the focus.
  6. You don’t have to do every single task in every single lesson. Knowing your learning targets and the expectation of the cooldown can assist you for in-the-moment decision making. You can build the goal of one task into the plan for a different one or skip it, because you know it will be addressed in the following task as well. This curriculum is meant to be adjusted based on the needs of the students that are sitting in front of you each day. Those students are not the same each year, and it’s okay and encouraged that you adapt the curriculum each year to meet those changing needs!
  7. Give yourself grace. If you are a few lessons behind pacing, if you thought you planned well but it flopped, if you forgot to cut out those laminated card sort cards, IT IS OKAY!


Tashima Price – Coordinating Teacher, Wake County Public School System

I love teaching mathematics. I have had the privilege of teaching some of the greatest young adults around. I love the high school math curriculum. There are somethings that I wish I had known before I started using it:

  1. Planning! I had always been a planner when it came to teaching my students math. What I wish I had known was how important it was to really complete every task as if I was the student. When I sat and actually worked through the material as a student, it was then that I was able to really be a better facilitator of math instruction. Thinking of the misconceptions that they may have, alongside assessing and advancing questions, I would need to have prepared to move their thinking forward, allowing for a more successful outcome for my students. 
  2. The Teaching Cycle:  Launch–Explore–Discuss
    • Launch! Who knew how imperative a launch could be to capture students' attention and get them ready for the task before them? I do not feel that I am all that creative, however, it was important for my students to leave my classroom feeling successful. So, ensuring a successful launch helped.
    • Assessing and advancing questions moved student-thinking forward. The use of the 5 Practices in every lesson really helped to build a discourse-rich classroom. 
    • Classroom discussion happens on a high level. Being so intentional about selecting and sequencing student responses to a task leads to rich mathematical discourse. Allowing for multiple representations also allows for students to make connections and learn from their peers in a way that empowers them to be critical thinkers.
  3. Anchor Charts. As a middle school teacher, I know how valuable using anchor charts are in the classroom. What I wish I had known was how helpful and useful they would be with using the high school curriculum. My students loved being able to peruse the walls of the classroom for support as they moved from one unit to another, looking for the “anchor” in the room as a reminder of how concepts connect and build on each other. 

The way the high school curriculum builds students’ conceptual understanding, while moving them to procedural fluency in mathematics, is wonderful. Every time I look over a task, I find another way to look at it from a perspective that I hadn't previously.


Beth Neill –High School Math Professional Learning Facilitator

  1. Work the lesson ahead of time. Boy, I learned this quickly! Nothing like that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize the lesson is tanking right there in front of you! It is essential to anticipate possible student solutions. Put on that “student hat” and think about how they will approach it. And do this before reading the Teacher Edition. It gives you a real sense of what students will experience. Then use the Anticipate Student Thinking questions, Learning Goal(s), and Standards to help you understand what this lesson is teaching.
  2. Select the student work you want to present during the discussion. Taking random volunteers could potentially derail your discussion and confuse students. As you monitor students working, pick out the student work that, when woven together, will achieve the Learning Goal. I found the 5 Practices Charts so helpful in knowing what to look for and suggestions for sequencing the work! I save snapshots of student work. This allows me to display them again later if needed or if I need to use it in another class because that representation or idea did not show up.
  3. Use students’ words and thinking. This is so powerful! I love my role as facilitator instead of “information disseminator.” Even though I am orchestrating the discussion it is their words, ideas and thinking used as the foundation to attain the appropriate mathematics vocabulary and goals. Co-crafting the Takeaways with the students helps cement the content for the students and builds a student’s math identity.
  4. Understand the Learning Cycle. Take some time to know the learning progression within each cycle (Develop, Solidify, Practice). I caught myself trying to do too much at the beginning because I did not realize that more would come out in the next lesson. This also helped ease my mind in case something did not arise, or my students struggled because I knew that content would be addressed again. These lessons are not one and done! I love that! I found all the assessments provided (Exit Tickets, Quick Quizzes, Performance Assessment and Unit Test) helped me really hone in on what math content was being brought out in each Learning Cycle and Unit.
  5. Trust the process. This is such a well-designed curriculum. Try it first as is before supplementing or changing it. Of course, you know your students best but give it a shot! There are so many supports not only for you but for your students. The Mathematical Language Routines, Instructional Routines and Supports for Students with Disabilities are so on-the-spot ready for me. Plus, I found the distributed practice a win for helping students retain their math skills. Those Retrieval problems are awesome to use in class with students to resurface skills before they do the Ready and Go problems. I did not have to create anything new – what a time saver! And what teacher wouldn’t love that!
  6. Connect with others. Sharing with other educators has been a great support for me. If you do not have anyone else in your building, reach out to other schools in your district using the materials. If that is not available, become a member of the Twitter and Facebook groups for HS Math. These groups are full of helpful and supportive educators.
  7. Breathe. You’ve got this! One step at a time. Pick one thing to focus on and build as you go. I am still learning after all these years. It gets easier and more comfortable as time goes on. Seeing the engagement and excitement of students will be such a positive experience. This way of teaching helps build such a community of learning for your students and you.