A few weeks ago, my oldest son got on the bus for his first day of 1st grade, which means he’s trading in his beach towel, bicycle, and popsicle-stained t-shirts for his book bag, pencils, and, hopefully, some clean shirts. It also means my hectic but rewarding summer PD schedule has come to a close. But most of all, it means that I’m filled with optimism and hope, not just for my son and his classmates, but for all the teachers, support staff, and administrators who I’ve worked with over the past four months.
I spent much of my summer providing professional development to educators around the country who are implementing Eureka Math and thinking about math instruction in new and exciting ways. Each one is passionate about helping his/her students grow. But changing the way we teach math so that students gain a much deeper conceptual understanding of the content and are more adept at solving problems efficiently and thinking critically is difficult work.
Even if implementing Eureka Math were the only thing a teacher had to do, it would still be a challenge. I know I will still get a slew of questions that include, “How long should it take until I can do a whole lesson in 60 minutes?” or “Which component of each lesson is most important?” or “How can I differentiate these lessons to meet the needs of my students?”
Teachers don’t want professional development that’s vague or entirely theoretical. They want specific answers to practical questions like these that will help the students in their classrooms now. That’s why I love sharing our Preparation and Customization PD session with teachers. There are also several teacher support tools available online to help teachers improve their practice even if they didn’t get a chance to participate in person this summer.
We offer these sessions around the country throughout the year, especially in the summer. For those teachers who haven’t had an opportunity to attend a session in your district or one near you, please try to find an opportunity to do so next year. Teachers who have had the opportunity to attend a professional development session can pay it forward and share what they have learned with their colleagues. They can participate in our online community forum on Facebook or become one of our Eureka Math Champions and share their stories.
In the sessions I’ve helped lead, my colleagues and I walk teachers through a three-step approach to using the curriculum as a resource for understanding mathematics and its instruction more deeply. In doing so, teachers gain a better understanding and vision of how to deliver a lesson and how to possibly differentiate it to meet the needs of diverse learners.
First, we ask teachers to analyze the teaching sequence in a module while also considering the learning objectives. We encourage teachers to take this step back and think about what role the lesson plays in the grand scheme. We want them to think about what happens prior to this and what it is building toward. Then, we ask teachers to complete the problem set in a lesson, analyze the new complexities, and study the debrief questions. By exploring the new complexities and anticipating where students might stumble, teachers will be better prepared to proactively help students.
In the final step, we ask teachers to identify “must do” problems for their students. It’s not generally expected that students will complete all of the problems in the time given, so this is an area where teachers have to make choices about which problems to emphasize for individual students. Due to the diverse learners in our classrooms, the “must dos” will look different from student to student.
Teachers I’ve talked with during these PD sessions say this approach gives them something many of them are looking for — a replicable routine that deepens their understanding of mathematics and prepares them to teach challenging lessons on a daily basis.
This is work that we can all be proud of. And perhaps a little selfishly, I love sharing this kind of session with teachers because I know it makes a difference to kids like my school-age son, and that too fills me with optimism and hope.
Adam Baker is a lead writer for Eureka Math and former elementary school teacher from upstate New York.