Monthly Archives: May 2018

Opening Our (Virtual) Doors

A really exciting thing happened today! My school district launched our brand new, open-to-the-public curriculum site. Not only can you peruse all of the elementary mathematics curriculum documents I’ve been writing and revising for the past four years, but you can access any and all courses taught in my district, PreK through 12th grade. I’m so excited that my district has taken this step!


As someone who’s been part of the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere for 6 years this August, the idea of openly sharing ideas and resources is a deeply held belief of mine. This is not a zero sum game. If I share a lesson I make with others, it doesn’t in any way diminish the learning of my own students. For the past six years I’ve had to live two lives, my work life where everything I make is locked behind file permissions, and my home life where I make and share things like numberless word problems for anyone and everyone to use. Considering how much the content of my two lives overlapped, it always felt strange, but now I’m free to share the resources I’m making at work while continuing to share anything I’m inspired to make at home in my spare time.

I’m in a good place.

While our curriculum site launched today, this has been a project in the making this entire school year. Basically our hand was forced because our existing curriculum site was built in Google Sites…the old Google sites. Google released a new version of Google sites, and they’re so happy with it, they’re discontinuing the old Google sites. Basically in a year or so, our existing curriculum site will cease to exist. There is no magic button to convert our existing site pages to become new Google site pages, so no matter what, we were going to be making something from scratch.

Our department took this obstacle and made it into an opportunity to redesign our curriculum. We spent the fall semester gathering feedback from teachers about what they wanted from the ARRC (that’s the name of our curriculum) – what they wanted to keep and what they wished it could offer. We held focus groups across the district and gathered feedback through a district-wide survey.

After we debriefed all of the feedback, we created four sample sites using four different platforms – new Google sites, WordPress, Build Your Own Curriculum, and Ogment. Then we held another round of focus groups where we invited teachers in to try out all four sample sites. Their feedback, along with several other factors, led to the final decision to build our new curriculum site in WordPress.

During the spring semester we finalized the design, created sample units across courses, and invited teachers in for an open house to provide a final round of feedback before we pulled the trigger on the herculean task of creating all of our units for every course. We debriefed after the open house and made our final decisions. Finally, at the end of April, we started creating curriculum units in our new site.


When the site launched today, our goal was for each course to have the first few units loaded and ready to go. And now that we’ve launched, we’ll continue adding units throughout the summer. I’m hoping to have the entire year of math curriculum for grades K-5 and three grade levels of TAG up by mid-September. I’m going to be so busy for the next few months!

This weekend I’ll try to write up a post with some highlights of what’s available in our elementary math curriculum. There are some things accessible only by district employees because of copyrights we don’t control, but there’s still plenty to dig into. If you’re interested, head on over and have a look around.


Moving On Before It’s Over (5th Grade)

I’m finally reaching the end of my blog post series which has been a retrospective of my elementary curriculum work for the past three years. If you want to read the previous posts in this series, here they are:

Today I’ll be sharing our 5th grade scope and sequences. 5th grade is a strange beast, at least in Texas. It’s a Student Success Initiative grade which means students are required to pass the state reading and math tests (STAAR) in order to move on to 6th grade. If students fail the test, they are given two more chances to pass before a grade level placement meeting is held. In order to accommodate three testing dates, 5th graders have to take their test nearly a month and a half earlier than they did in 3rd and 4th grade.

The implication is that despite having a year’s worth of curriculum to teach like everyone else, 5th grade teachers have to teach all of their standards by late March rather than early May. This makes planning the scope and sequence a perpetual challenge because you’re always working with less time than other grade levels. And with all of the meaty rational number topics in 5th grade, teachers are definitely not clamoring for less time to teach.

With that in mind, here are the scope and sequences for the past three years. What do you notice? What do you wonder?

5th Grade – School Year 2015-16


5th Grade – School Year 2016-17


5th Grade – School Year 2017-18


Looking back, I’m noticing a trend across grade levels where I used to split topics up into chunks that ended up being too small for teachers. In 2015-16 I split the following topics into two units each:

  • Volume – The first unit focused on multiplication and the second on division
  • Addition and Subtraction, Data Analysis, and Perimeter – The first unit focused on fractions and the second on decimals
  • Multiplication and Division – The first unit focused on fractions and the second on decimals
  • Geometry – The first unit focused on coordinate geometry and the second on classifying 2-D shapes

That year we crammed in 11 units before the STAAR test (12 if you include a short review unit). Needless to say, 5th grade teachers let it be known that year that they felt like they were flying way too quickly through their units.

The next year I think I over-corrected. Instead of many short units, I offered fewer, longer units. We went from 11 units to 6 units before the STAAR test. I wanted teachers to feel like they could really dig into the topics for an extended period of time. I also tried to make moot a debate about whether fraction multiplication/division should come before or after decimal multiplication/division. Since they were combined into one unit, it meant teachers could choose their preferred teaching order.

Like I said, I think this was an over-correction. That year teachers let me know that the units were too long. Some of the feedback was that by the time they got to the end-of-unit assessment 25 days later, students had forgotten content from earlier in the unit. Other feedback was that teachers didn’t know how to utilize their time within the unit. They felt like there was too much to cover, even though they had a longer block of time in which to teach.

Last spring I sat down with my 5th Grade Curriculum Collaborative to (hopefully) find a sweet spot. First we talked about which units to keep combined and which to separate. They decided that the unit on volume, multiplication, and division could stay together. They also felt that the geometry unit didn’t need to be broken up.

What did need to be broken up were the units on rational number operations. They said these are the topics where students have the greatest struggles. Namely, students need dedicated time to work on addition and subtraction with fractions that have unlike denominators. They also wanted to introduce fraction multiplication and division earlier to give students even more time to encounter related word problems. One of the biggest struggles our students have is knowing when to multiply or divide fractions in a word problem, and if it’s a division problem, in what order to divide – unit fraction divided by whole number or whole number divided by unit fraction.

After deciding that we would have 8 units and the order in which they would be presented, I asked them to identify the unit that they felt was the most critical. They decided Unit 2 on adding and subtracting fractions is the most critical. I asked how many days they needed to ensure success with that unit. They decided on 20 days.

We repeated this process to identify their second priority unit, which was Unit 3 on multiplying and dividing fractions. Again, we talked about the amount of time needed to teach this topic well. Because we considered these two units to be our top two priority units, it was non-negotiable to steal days from these two units as we created the rest of the scope and sequence.

Have we found the sweet spot? I think so. I’ve received minimal feedback from teachers about the 5th grade scope and sequence this year. It helps that this year Texas shifted the date of the STAAR test a little later than it was in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Teachers ended up with two additional weeks of instruction than in years past which definitely gave them a bit of breathing room.

This impacted our post-STAAR units however. In 2015-16 and 2016-17, after the first STAAR administration, we had two mirror units (Units 13a and 13b in 2015-16 and Units 8a and 8b in 2016-17). The rationale was that based on all the data collected that year, teachers should have had a pretty good idea of which students would pass on the first administration and which students would not. When scores are returned 3 weeks after the test, campuses tend to scramble to create intervention groups and provide intense intervention. My philosophy is, why wait?

Once the first administration was done, we wanted teachers to start providing that intervention and support immediately so that they could intervene for a full 6 weeks instead of just 3. This might involve mixing students around across classes so that some students would learn from the Going Deeper Unit while others learned from the Enriching Connections unit. Both units had the same standards, we just provided different instructional resources.

Once the second STAAR administration was over in May, all of the 5th graders got to take part in the final unit of the year which focused on personal financial literacy. This is a unit students tend to enjoy so I wanted to make sure everyone got to take part. If we had offered this unit after the first administration, some students might have gotten yanked out of it when scores came back, which isn’t fair.

As I mentioned previously, things changed this year when Texas moved the first administration two weeks later. They also moved the second administration a week later as well. That had a big impact on my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade scope and sequences because now there isn’t enough time after STAAR in May to warrant a complete unit. That meant the personal financial literacy unit had to move immediately following the first administration of STAAR or else it wouldn’t get taught at all. It also meant the two mirror units are much shorter this year. Considering students got more time for first instruction this year, I’m not complaining.

5th Grade – School Year 2018-19

Based on the lack of feedback, I’m going to keep the scope and sequence the same for next year. Over the past two years, my 5th Grade Curriculum Collaborative has worked with me to develop suggested unit plans for 7 of the 8 units before STAAR. Teachers have been really happy with these model plans. Once we write the 8th plan, it will be nice to go back and start making revisions to the existing plans now that they’ve been in use for a couple of years.

I’m not sure whether I’ll make any adjustments to the computational fluency and spiral review topics this year either.



You’ll notice that, like 4th grade, 5th grade also starts with a review of multiplication facts. I’ve done the math and across grades 3, 4, and 5, we’ve incorporated nearly 75 hours of instruction on multiplication and division facts across these three grade levels. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 3rd Grade – Nearly 50 hours focused on conceptual understanding and more than 10 hours of procedural fluency practice spread across the entire year
  • 4th Grade – Nearly 10 hours of procedural fluency practice spread across the first semester
  • 5th Grade – Five hours of procedural fluency practice in the first nine weeks

I have some work to do to help see this enacted in the way that I envision, but I feel good about the structure we’ve put in place to intentionally teach and reinforce this skill across the intermediate grades.

Looking at the spiral review topics, I’m pretty happy with their flow, especially at the beginning of the year. In Unit 1 we focus on 4th grade fraction topics. 5th grade is really a fraction- and decimal-heavy year. I totally get that students might have forgotten some of what they learned in 4th grade, but we just don’t have the luxury of time for excuses. The students need to hit the ground running if they’re going to have sufficient time to grapple and become proficient with the 5th grade material.

I like how the Unit 2 spiral review parallels the focus TEKS topics, but using whole numbers instead of fractions. We do the same thing in Unit 3. However in Unit 3 it’s doing double duty because in addition to being a parallel to the focus TEKS work, it’s also revisiting whole number multiplication and division which will be a focus in Unit 4. Then in Unit 4 the spiral review topic is decimals which is in preparation for Unit 5.

Got a question about our scope and sequence? Wondering what in the world I’m thinking about planning things this way? Ask in the comments. Otherwise, that just about wraps up this blog series.

Parting Thoughts

Over the course of this blog series, I’ve really appreciated the experience of reflecting on my past three year’s worth of curriculum work in each grade level. It’s been interesting to see how my thinking has changed over the past few years and how much of it has been influenced by the feedback from and collaboration with our teachers. I greatly appreciate that they’re willing to share what’s working and what’s not. I don’t teach in a classroom day in and day out, so I would be handicapped in my work without their expertise and insight.

Looking back over three years and six grade levels, I’m struck by how complex this work is. There are so many moving parts in terms of the numerous standards within a grade level, how they interconnect across grade levels, how to bundle standards meaningfully into units, and how to decide the appropriate amount of time for any given unit. If you ever find yourself in the position of doing this work, my advice is to invite a group of colleagues to work with you, do your best, and expect that you won’t get it “right” the first time.

That being said, what started as a blog series where I was planning to reflect on the changes I might make for next year has instead reaffirmed that the work I’ve done with my teachers over the past three years has resulted in six scope and sequences that make sense and don’t actually require much tweaking at all. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. Are they perfect? Probably not. But they appear to be working for our teachers and students, and at the end of the day that’s what matters.

Oh, and I have an exciting announcement for those who’ve read all the way to the end! My school district is currently in the process of making our entire curriculum for all subjects K-12 an open education resource for anyone to access. Copyrighted lessons will still be restricted to district employees, but all of our curriculum documents and a wide variety of non-copyrighted resources will be freely available. We’re currently in the process of transferring everything into our new curriculum site. I’ll be sure to share the link (and probably blog about it!) once the site goes live. I’ve always been a big fan of sharing because we’re better together, and I’m so thankful to work for a school district that shares this philosophy.




Moving On Before It’s Over (4th Grade)

After taking a break to prep my session for the 2018 NCTM Annual Conference, it’s time to get back to this blog series on my spring curriculum work as I prepare for the 2018-19 school year. If you’re just joining us, here are the previous posts in this series:

Today I’ll be talking about our 4th grade scope and sequence. Here they are for the past three years. What do you notice? What do you wonder?

4th Grade – School Year 2015-16


4th Grade – School Year 2016-17


4th Grade – School Year 2017-18


The first thing I notice are my efforts to figure out how I wanted to break up multiplication and division across two units. Here’s what we’ve tried over the past three years:


  • Unit 3
    • Multiply 2-digit numbers by 2-digit numbers
    • Divide 2-digit numbers by 1-digit numbers
  • Unit 6
    • Multiply 3- and 4-digit numbers by 1-digit numbers
    • Divide 3- and 4-digit numbers by 1-digit numbers

What was our rationale?

In the spring prior to the 2015-16 school year, our adopted resource, Stepping Stones, underwent a revision to more closely align to the TEKS. In March 2015 we were sent preliminary scope and sequences of the revised courses. While doing our curriculum work that spring, we decided to try to follow certain topics in the order presented in the revised scope and sequence documents to ensure that students would see lessons in order. Our thinking was that presenting lessons out of order could lead to problems if later lessons assumed knowledge of earlier lessons.

In those preliminary documents, 2-digit by 2-digit multiplication was taught first followed by 3- and 4-digit by 1-digit multiplication. I was a little concerned about this, but we decided to stick to our plan. Lo and behold, when the revised Stepping Stones launched that summer, the order had been reversed. Our curriculum documents were already completed and posted for teachers to use by that point so we stuck it out for that year. However, as you can see below, we changed things up for the next school year.


  • Unit 3
    • Multiply 3- and 4-digit numbers by 1-digit numbers
    • Divide 2-, 3-, and 4-digit numbers by 1-digit numbers
  • Unit 5
    • Multiply 2-digit numbers by 2-digit numbers

What was our rationale?

So we flip-flopped the multiplication topics, but we also merged all of the division into Unit 3. Our thinking was that students already did a lot of dividing with 2-digit numbers in 3rd grade, so really division with 3- and 4-digit numbers was just extending that. That allowed teachers to solely focus on 2-digit by 2-digit multiplication in Unit 5.

However, this came back to bite us in the butt because of a tricky little standard about interpreting remainders. Teachers emailed to let us know that they really wanted to revisit division in Unit 5 because their students were still having difficulty with interpreting remainders. This was great feedback, which leads us into the current school year.


  • Unit 3
    • Multiply 3- and 4-digit numbers by 1-digit numbers
    • Divide 2-digit numbers by 1-digit numbers
  • Unit 5
    • Multiply 2-digit numbers by 2-digit numbers
    • Divide 3- and 4-digit numbers by 1-digit numbers

What was our rationale?

Multiplication remained untouched this year, but we did spread division out across Units 3 and 5. Our hope is that by only doing division of a 2-digit number by a 1-digit number in Unit 3, teachers can focus more of their energy on interpreting the remainder. Then in Unit 5 they can extend division to larger numbers while reinforcing what students learned about interpreting the remainder.

We’re in a good place now, and I don’t foresee changing this for next school year, but it gives me pause to think about the fact that this simple rearranging of a few topics was a 3-year process. It’s important to note: There are no absolute right answers in this work. I can consult teachers. I can read professional journals and books. I can read up about how other curriculums structure their scope and sequences. In the end, I have to use my best judgment…

…and then wait and see what happens when teachers and students interact with these units. I can (and do) iterate and revise, but by the nature of the work, it’s over a scale of years, not days or weeks. No pressure! It makes me think of how if I think back to my first year teaching, I feel bad for that group of students because I know so much more about teaching than I did back then. What I have to remind myself is that regardless of the specific decisions I’ve made each year, I’ve always been striving to do my best for the students (and now teachers) that I serve. And I’d rather know that I’m improving each year than continuing to make the same mistakes time and again.

Another noticing I have about the 4th grade scope and sequence is how I had too many units in the 2015-16 school year. Similar to 3rd grade, I tried breaking some topics up over multiple units to create opportunities for them to spiral back. Most notably I did this with fractions (Unit 4 and 7) and decimals (Unit 9 and 11). Teachers didn’t like this. They specifically requested one fraction unit and one decimal unit, which we created in 2016-17 and continued in 2017-18.

The last thing I’ll point out is how our angle measurement and 2D geometry unit shifted from the second semester in 2015-16 to the first semester in 2016-17 and 2017-18. This was influenced by the Level 1 Curriculum Audit training I attended in the fall of 2015. One of my big takeaways from that training was that topics that are absolutely brand new to students should be introduced as many months as possible prior to the first time students will be assessed on them. Angle measurement is completely new to students in 4th grade. Introducing it a couple of months before the state test doesn’t give students sufficient time to learn and reinforce it, so I moved it earlier in the school year. This gives plenty of time to revisit it between first instruction and the STAAR test.

4th Grade – School Year 2018-19

Here I am sharing the curriculum work I’m doing this spring, and it turns out I’m not really changing our courses that much. I don’t anticipate reordering any of the units in 4th grade. Our computational fluency and spiral review topics seem pretty solid as well.



Looking at computational fluency and spiral review, the first four units basically serve as review of 3rd grade concepts. Notably, teachers have a whopping 59 days of computational fluency to work on multiplication and division fact fluency, which was a HUGE focus of the 3rd grade scope and sequence. This amounts to about 10-12 hours of practice at the start of 4th grade. We specifically organized this work around the thinking strategies taught in 3rd grade to create common language across grade levels.

The spiral review concepts in the first few units are critical, especially reviewing 3rd grade geometry concepts in Unit 3. As I was working with my 4th Grade Curriculum Collaborative this year to plan Unit 4, we talked about the 3rd grade geometry standards. The 4th grade teachers were surprised to hear that their students should come in already knowing a lot about a variety of quadrilaterals – parallelograms, trapezoids, squares, rhombuses, and rectangles.

I talked about how they have their own heavy work to do introducing angle measurement and parallel and perpendicular lines; they don’t have time to “teach” those quadrilaterals in their 4th grade unit. There was some resistance, but I pushed back that they have to utilize that spiral review time in Unit 3 to revisit all of those polygons and attributes that the students learned in 3rd grade. Otherwise they’re setting themselves up for some real (and potentially avoidable) challenges in Unit 4.

I am excited to check in with our 4th grade teachers next year because this school year our 3rd grade teachers were able to use a newly created suggested unit plan for their geometry unit that was chock full of amazing lessons. I’m hoping the 4th grade teachers will be pleasantly surprised by the level of thinking students bring next year. I made it a goal this year with all of my Curriculum Collaboratives to plan all of our geometry units K-5 to ensure students are always engaging with grade-appropriate standards and building the levels of geometric thinking they need across these six years.

Got a question about our scope and sequence? Wondering what in the world I’m thinking about planning things this way? Ask in the comments. I’ll wrap up this blog series with 5th grade’s scope and sequence in my next post.