First of all, I should say that I am not getting paid by CPM in any way (except for in the free sample books that they’re happy to send out to anyone who asks). I’m about to give it a pretty freaking positive review, tainted only by the melancholy of knowing a superior. CPM, if you want to start paying me after reading this post, that would be fine. firstname.lastname@example.org.
College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM.org) has a boring name but the most exciting lesson materials and curriculum I’ve ever seen. Now, I’m only 26, everyone, so you might skip the shakers and go straight for the salt mine, but I have been using sample lessons from CPM’s algebra 2 and calculus books for the better part of two months, and I am literally moved to extol the benefits I’ve seen to each of my 118 readers. Bulleted, for your convenience:
- The sequencing is beautiful. It makes so much sense. In big ways, like “teach derivatives and antiderivatives together,” and also in small ways, like “finding the derivative of a logarithmic function will be a great way to practice implicit differentiation,” and also in tiny ways, like “think about this, and then this,” and then as often as not I see my kids beaming with pride and excitement at their discoveries. CPM is very well thought out.
- The teacher’s manual tells teachers what the authors were thinking, which allows you to be flexible. It tells you which problems are most important, and which ones are important for topics coming up soon, so if you want to skip a topic or lesson, you know what you can drop and what you can’t. If you have an awesome lesson idea, the teacher’s manual helps you figure out how to swap the CPM lesson out and swap yours in without missing something that will be essential later.
- The books are really lesson plans. The courses include homework, assessments, and classwork. They include materials for each lesson. There is literally a full, well-explained lesson plan for each of like 160 days of class. Purchasing the courses gives you three free days of professional development (re. how to work with CPM materials) and it gives your kids free access to solutions and additional practice online.
It’s this third bullet that has me in an existential crisis. This is why I haven’t been writing much lately: I’m not doing much lesson planning! CPM has done all of the work I used to do, and they’ve done it better. They’ve tested their materials on thousands of students and hundreds of teachers over the course of the last twenty years (or so? I don’t actually know, sorry). How can I presume to add anything to this after 5 years of teaching by myself? I haven’t even been taking good notes, for crying out loud! These books have been a huge hit to my (admittedly distended) ego for the last couple of months.
One of my coworkers really put this crisis into perspective for me. She said, as if this were obvious, that I’m supposed to be a teacher, not a curriculum developer. My immediate reaction, which scares me retroactively, was that there is no distinction – this is what I’ve been doing for all five years! Thinking about what’s important to teach my students and then figuring out the best way to teach it to them! That’s what’s so fun! Right?
But imagine this drastic role change: it is my job to deeply understand math and to guide my students through lessons created by people who have spent WAY MORE TIME ON IT THAN I CAN EVER SPEND IN MY WHOLE LIFE. It’s my job to support my students, encourage them, lead them to additional resources or work to fit their interests into the class. It’s my job to assess their progress and support them in failure and success. It’s my job to show them the habits of successful and happy intellectual adults. It’s my job to deal with schedule hiccups and individual circumstance to give the students the smoothest experience possible.
It might not be my job to figure out what is important for my students to learn, or how they will best learn it. Holy fuck.
One of my first reactions to this realization was, “well, I’m in the wrong job. I want to work on curriculum.” But I’ve been ceding entirely to CPM in my Algebra 2 class for over a month now and the increased depth I’ve attained in my relationships with students during class is satisfying in a new way. I’m hoping my school will officially adopt CPM for Algebra 2 and Calculus next year, so I can start from the beginning of the year next year, and I can really give it a shot. But you might see significantly fewer posts from me about the totally rad new lesson idea I’m developing. Because maybe teachers don’t develop lesson ideas!
Oof. This idea still shakes me. It’s so radical.
PS: Teaching is taking less time than it ever has before, btw. Pretty nice side effect.