From a teacher’s perspective, “curriculum” and “autonomy” might seem like mutually exclusive concepts, but Fishtank Math curriculum and the Kiddom Education Platform are a perfect pair for offering more autonomy to teachers.
When we talk to teachers about why they love their work, their answers usually center on connections with their students. Many point to those moments when days or weeks of exploration and practice with a student coalesce into understanding. They tell us about the particular way they brought a concept to life that they just knew would resonate with their specific group of students.
Teachers are constantly making decisions, large and small. They are deciding on the best way to introduce a new idea, or guide a student discussion, or provide the access points that will help each of their students engage and grow. Day in and day out, they are bringing their subject matter expertise together with their student relationships to create classroom moments that really matter.
All too often though, we see that the textbook or curriculum teachers are working with doesn’t honor this expertise or adequately support them in making these crucial decisions. We think materials with lengthy scripts or uncompromising pacing plans work against teachers’ strengths, and that the right resources can empower and support teachers, without overregulating or overwhelming them.
We know that from a teacher’s perspective, “curriculum” and “autonomy” might seem like mutually exclusive concepts, but we think that there are three main features of a math curriculum that can actually extend more autonomy to teachers: discernable design, flexible materials and supports, and actionable progress monitoring. And together, Fishtank Math curriculum and the Kiddom Education Platform are a perfect pair for offering this optimal blend to schools and teachers.
Understanding why certain decisions were made in designing a curriculum can be a powerful starting place for teachers. Just as we want students to grasp the conceptual underpinnings of a problem they are solving, we want teachers to see how student understanding is built over the course of a year, and how grade-level work is connected to prior and future grades.
In the Fishtank Math curriculum, we share why we’ve decided on the unit sequence of each course. We also start each unit with a summary of the big ideas it explores and explicitly detail how grade-level standards relate to where students are coming from and where they are going.
These standards relationships are made clear at every level of the curriculum—from units, to lessons, to assessments. Teachers never have to wonder what standard they should be focusing on, or what skills from prior grade levels support the work students are engaged in.
We know each teacher has their own way of preparing for an upcoming unit, which they have honed over the course of their teaching career. We don’t dictate a particular way to prepare, but instead offer resources and guidance to more deeply internalize the content of the unit. Each unit includes a list of vocabulary and materials needed for the unit, as well as links to readings to develop content knowledge and examples of models that will be used throughout the unit.
As teachers move to look at a unit’s sequence of lessons, we think it should be easy to see what students will be working toward over the course of the unit and within each lesson. We cluster lessons into topics within the unit sequence, and make sure each lesson has a concise, unique objective.
Understanding each of these layers of curriculum becomes even more dynamic and supportive for teachers when they access it in an easy-to-navigate format, like the presentation of courses, units, standards, and lessons on the Kiddom platform. By having this visibility into our curricular decisions, teachers can see the big picture and use it to inform their preparation for bringing lessons to life in their classrooms.
Flexible Materials and Supports
Flexibility also has to start with the big picture, and for Fishtank Math that means year-long pacing with breathing room built in.
We have flex days incorporated into each unit plan and intentionally leave this space for the inevitable shifts student needs and school schedules will require. If students need a review day at the beginning or end of a unit, or a lesson would be better extended over two days, or a snow day interrupts things, we think teachers should have the latitude to make these changes without having to sacrifice future plans.
Each Fishtank Math lesson is designed to be adapted by teachers. There are no scripts, but plenty of supports to draw on. The lesson objective and standards are accompanied by criteria for success, which are smaller learning goals students need to understand to achieve the lesson objective. We also include tips for teachers that offer guidance on potential misconceptions, connections to other lessons, units, or grade levels, and the materials to prepare for a lesson.
Equipped with this information and their unit-level preparation, teachers can then look at the core elements of each lesson — a series of Anchor Problems, a Target Task, and a Problem Set for practice — and decide what structures and style will work best for them to present the material to their students.
Another element of teacher autonomy comes with the Anchor Problems, which are the core problem-solving tasks designed to help students make sense of the mathematics of the lesson. Each problem is accompanied by a set of guiding questions. These questions can be used to scaffold the problem, more deeply engage students in the content of the problem, or extend the problem for the students who are ready for a challenge. We don’t think every question will be needed by every student, and teachers are truly in the best position to know which questions will be needed for whole-class instruction, or small group or individual guidance.
At each of these decision points, the Kiddom platform lets teachers capture their adaptations and modifications in their personal copy of the curriculum, and in the way they use the planner and timeline to arrange work for their students. Rather than parsing through dense lesson scripts, we think teacher time is better spent adapting a straightforward lesson outline that emphasizes content-rich problems for students to engage with and the support to help them do so.
Actionable Progress Monitoring
Curriculum should provide teachers with the tools to collect the data needed to inform their decision making.
In Fishtank Math, this starts with pre-unit assessments, which help gather information about students’ prior knowledge or preparedness to access new ideas in the upcoming unit.
Each problem in the pre-unit assessment helps a teacher gauge whether students would be better served by adding in a warm-up activity or more significant review before diving into a new topic.
The pre-unit assessment teacher guide describes to teachers how each problem connects to content in the upcoming unit and suggests specific action steps depending on student performance, as well as specific resources teachers can draw on for additional practice problems.
The rest of the Fishtank Math assessment package includes mid-unit and post-unit assessments, as well as a student self-assessment tool.
This last resource allows students to monitor their own progress and reflect on what they’ve learned in a unit. In addition to helping build students’ metacognitive skills, teachers can gain interesting insights into possible discrepancies between how students think they do with certain topics versus how they actually perform on the post-unit assessment. This analysis can help teachers strategize how to approach related topics in upcoming units.
Teachers shouldn’t have to wait until the mid-point or end of a unit to gather data, though. The Target Task of each lesson is designed to act as an indicator of student understanding or mastery of the objective. This gives teachers a daily opportunity to assess how students are progressing through a unit, and adjust their plans for the coming lessons to support certain students who might be struggling or address whole-class misconceptions.
These data points, drawn from high-quality problems and explicitly connected to standards, become even more powerful in combination with Kiddom’s rich reporting functionality. With a few clicks, teachers can see classwide trends, understand which students need more practices with certain skills, and personalize instruction moving forward.
Interested in seeing Fishtank Learning's digital math curriculum in the Kiddom platform?
Teachers deserve to be treated like the driven, curious, passionate professionals that they are. The curriculum they use should value and leverage their unique expertise around their subject matter and their students. The right resources can provide a supportive foundation and a clear path toward student success, while offering teachers the autonomy to prepare and make critical in-the-moment decisions about how to serve their students best.
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Thinking about bringing Kiddom + Fishtank to your school or district?
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