I love teaching math. I was an English major in college and one of the reasons that I became an elementary teacher was because I would get to teach math (and weave all the subjects together and really get to know a single class instead of teaching English to 150 kids...but that's another blog post.).

Through our professional development, Prairie Creek teachers have worked for years to hone our understanding of numeracy development. How do kids understand numbers? How do we deepen that understanding in a way that helps students be flexible, competent and joyful users of math. We have explored how to use math discussions and "number talks" to push on students' misconceptions. We highlight conjecture making and testing as part of our everyday math work. We celebrate the "Oh!" moment one experiences when one figures something out, especially when a student straightens out a misconception.

For years, an organization called Illustrative Math has shared tasks that we incorporated into our instruction. They were designed to reveal the underlying mathematical ideas to students as they worked on them. They were teacher created and there was a community of math teachers who shared ideas about the tasks and made them better. The organization received a grant several years ago to develop a whole curriculum that would be free for all schools. They began with a high school curriculum and this year is the first year that their elementary curriculum was available. Their philosophy mirrors ours. The lessons support the creation of a math community that build their understanding together. Number talks and math discussions are integral to every lesson. Students are encouraged to explain and support their ideas about math. Fewer, quality tasks are assigned so that students can wrestle with the math and correct their mistakes in a meaningful way.

I am excited about the curriculum and challenged by it. For years we have used formative assessments - work that we give *before* we begin a math unit in order to see what students understand - to create fluid math groups. A child who needs more support for fractions may have a really solid understanding of multiplication. But that fluidity meant that we were pulling content from a variety of sources and, honestly, it meant that there were sometimes gaps in a student's instruction. Over the years, I came to see believe that there was a real value to having a solid scope and sequence so that students encountered math ideas in a logical and structured way. Vocabulary and experiences could build on each other in a way that helped students construct a deep understanding of how math ideas are connected and build on one another.

Illustrative math provides that deep, logical instruction. But it does so by grade level. In this, our first year with the curriculum, we decided that we wanted to use it as it was intended - which means separating students by grade in a way we rarely do. We have been experimenting with structures to do this. For the first unit, I taught all of the fourth graders while Amber and Ryan taught all of the fifth graders. We weren't happy with the amount of individual attention students were getting - and we also lamented that we didn't get to see some of our "homeroom" students.

As we made the transition to indoor learning in late fall, we decided to teach our own students -- both fourth and fifth graders. We are trying out different structures to do this. I have "foundation math" work in our first 20 minutes of math. Students work on computation skills. I assess what they need to work on and provide mini-lessons of targeted instruction. This foundational work is proving very helpful to address any gaps caused by our disrupted learning in 2020-2021.

I then teach the 4th graders that day's Illustrative Math lesson for thirty minutes, sending them to work on an independent task while I teach the fifth graders. (The fifth graders work on independent work from the day before or new work that we then can bring in to that day's lesson while I am teaching the 4th graders.)

I really like being able to work with every student in small groups every day. Students are participating eagerly in our conversations - and with groups of no more than ten, I am able to get a good sense of exactly where everyone is in their understanding every day. One opportunity we identified when we were in the larger groups was that students needed help talking substantively about the math they were doing. With these smaller groups, *everyone* is getting a lot of practice explaining their thinking.

We've been able to link up the fourth and fifth grade learning so far this year. We began the year together learning about factors and multiples. Then we moved into working with fractions - the fourth graders explored a lot of equivalent fractions, ordering fractions and combining like fractions. The fifth graders explored how to multiply and divide fractions in a way where they were pushed to really understand what was happening and not just apply an algorithm. Right now we are exploring multi-digit multiplication and division. Fourth graders are just beginning to learn these skills and fifth graders are shoring up what they've learned in the past.

It's exciting to see the students building on their skills and seeing the connections among the concepts they've been exploring.

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