Thursday, April 30, 2015

Developing the math core curriculum

Shaheena Shiekh is in her third year of teaching math to seventh and eighth grade students at Denman Middle School.  It is also her third year working as part of the teacher team that developed and continues to refine SFUSD's secondary Common Core math curriculum.  While Shaheena is the first to point out that the new curriculum is a work in progress (getting the pacing down is the biggest challenge) and is frustrating many teachers and parents, she is also amazed by how her students are shifting from following mathematical procedures to making sense of math in new and meaningful ways.  "Just ask a student what they're learning.  You’ll be astounded by the depth of their responses."

Shaheena grew up in the East Bay and has always loved math.  She wanted to share this love with her students.  “I love when I see my students struggle with a concept and then find that ‘Aha!’ moment.”  What she didn’t expect was how much she would learn from them, especially while implementing this new curriculum.  "I've learned so much by seeing my students explain their strategies. It is also incredible to see them struggle to work effectively as part of a group. Team work is how most of the real world works, so it's good for them to start practicing now."

As a first year teacher, it was unusual for Shaheena to be invited to participate in the teacher team that was redesigning the curriculum.  Other participants had at least two years of teaching experience so they were familiar with the curriculum being replaced.  However, the district felt it was important for every secondary school to be represented and the Denman math team was new and relatively inexperienced.  While insecure to start with and faced with a steep learning curve, Shaheena quickly realized that she had ideas to contribute and that the team took her seriously.  “I felt like my voice was heard.”

The first year of the process focused on the whole teacher team and laid the groundwork and the rationale for the curriculum design work to come.  That summer Shaheena spent an intense week working with the 4-person eighth grade team to think about how to plan the units so they were aligned with the standards and the scope and sequence developed by the Pearson Foundation.  “It was a great example of working as a team.  Everyone shared, learned and struggled.  We had to figure out how to work effectively together and align our vision, goals, language and strategies.”  This design work continued over the second year.  In this third year, it is being implemented -- and revised.  “There is a lot of expectation that everything is going to be perfect the first year.  The reality is that shifts take time and in teaching you don’t really know what is good or bad until you try it.  What’s great is how students are learning at a much deeper level.  But the units still need a lot of revision.  Most notably, we need to take a lot of stuff out because the pacing is slower than anticipated.”

Shaheena points out the importance of collaboration time with her school math team in making it through the frustrating times.  Every week the Denman math team meets to make decisions about how to use the units that have been created.  “We need the district, our schools and our parents to be patient and give this a chance.  We also need support.”  Superintendent Carranza indicated that more support is on its way for the 2015-2016 school year in the form of additional math coaches to support middle grade math teachers and a 10-student reduction in eighth grade Common Core math classes.

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