Today’s supplemental solutions don’t allow district leaders or teachers much flexibility. Much like “one size fits all” training is no longer relevant to the world’s workforce, today’s static books and online programs seldom fit the needs of any particular school district or classroom.
District leaders and teachers struggle to tailor instruction, but options for building courses, modules, or lessons are very limited. Large publishers can reorder chapters or mush them together (and even that’s expensive) and leading online solutions offer limited and cumbersome options for customization, but these are by and large only partial solutions.
Importantly, the latest research confirms what we had been worried about all along. Without the teacher in the equation, and even though “credits” can be earned, learning suffers.
When districts aren’t aware of other options, they can either grin and bear it or try to write curriculum themselves. The former is a disservice to teachers and students, who will be by definition ill-equipped for the task at hand and for future learning. The latter is invariably more time consuming, complex and challenging than imagined at the outset.
Four reasons why districts need to be thinking about a better way to use math resources
1. No two teachers are alike. Some have been on the job for a long time, others are brand new. Some are really comfortable with, for example, a pure problem-based approach and embed a mix of conceptual and procedural learning and some would like to weave in more direct instruction and application. And this can vary from topic to topic and from class to class. These different preferences, strengths, and weaknesses can’t be accommodated with today’s static resources.
2. Math teachers need flexibility. Teaching is like sports in many ways. No matter how thoroughly you have planned, as soon as the whistle blows stuff happens, and you need to be able to adjust and adapt accordingly. Today’s resources don’t accommodate a dynamic classroom situation, and teachers are forced to spend hours planning and searching for more resources and tools to compensate. Happily, modern technology platforms can bridge this gap. They can give teachers resources so that they can help students learn targeted concepts in all of the important ways, whether it’s problem-based, or procedural fluency or conceptual understating. The fundamental aspect of graphing a linear equation hasn’t change in decades, for example, but there are a lot of different ways to approach graphing, from graphing calculators to making connections between tables, equations, applications and graphs. If a platform can connect, organize, curate, and assemble all those different ways to teach it coherently, and provide those to teachers in an easy to use high quality manner, then teachers can address the changing needs of their students in the most effective manner.
3. Math can’t be taught effectively with scripts, online programs and static resources. Teachers are people too. When they are expected to implement a “one size fits all” set of math resources the same way in every classroom, they naturally tend to resist, or toe the line reluctantly. It doesn’t matter how many professional development sessions you have if your curriculum isn’t flexible and adaptable. It’s one reason changes aren’t sustainable. And it’s a reason turnover among math teachers, especially in larger districts, is so high. They get no respect!
Districts do very little to empower teachers and give them the dynamic tools they need to teach in today’s math classroom. One math leader in Alabama shared with me how her teachers didn’t have many new math resources to work from. The textbook adoption was delayed, standards are in flux, and she now had 150 math teachers scrambling to figure out what to do. The math leader wants to bring a new level of support and coherence to that dynamic, ever-changing environment. She said to me, “If you could help me in this way it would be amazing. I have great relationships with these teachers, and I feel responsible.” This is just one of many math department heads who understands the problem of static curriculum resources, but who just isn’t empowered to do anything about it due to resource, tools, and/or capacity constraints.
4. There’s a lot of expertise on the ground, in the classroom. When you buy a textbook or online resources, you’re basically saying that the expertise belongs out there. But who knows better how to teach than the teacher in the classroom? The best approach is to have district supervisors and coaches, along with expert teachers develop curriculum models that can then be shared with new teachers. This not only allows districts to leverage invaluable expertise and knowledge, but it also shows teachers that you respect their ability to organize curriculum in a coherent way to meet students’ needs. Another district leader in Florida want her veteran teachers to develop “model courses” for hew new arrivals, sharing best practices, but until now has found the process too cumbersome and time consuming. If those veterans could just sit down with a “curriculum authoring team” with an unlimited budget and describe their vision it would be ideal.
A more realistic option, however, is to leverage a “have your cake and eat it too” platform that we call Curriculum Engine—that combines the familiar with even greater ‘on demand’ curated high quality resources—all the while empowering teaching and learning capacity to reach new heights.