Curriculum Spotlight: Middle School Illustrative Mathematics

The program comes from Open-Up Resources’ “Illustrative Mathematics” and is deeply rooted in discovery-based learning, where students are able to explore problems with their peers to find patterns and draw conclusions about the concepts before being explicitly instructed on the direct objective.

This type of learning not only provides the students with depth of understanding, but gives them ownership of their solutions and problem solving abilities. A typical lesson in a math classroom this year might look a little different from what you expect from math: direct instruction, followed by independent practice. Though the students are given plenty of opportunity to enforce their skills and learn the algorithms, the emphasis is shifted from black-and-white ways of solving problems, to a much more collaborative sense-making process.

“Students learned about adding angles in a triangle through cutting up triangles as partners and noticing how when you line up the angles so that the vertices are on the same point they make a flat line which they know from prior knowledge equals 180 degrees. To learn their rigid transformations, scholars described dance moves to their partner that included slides, flips and turns, relating to translations, reflections, and rotations, before they ever knew those terms,” said Ms. Holub, eighth-grade math teacher at Pattillo Middle School.

By pairing self-created interpretations with the common-core standards, students have multiple entry points to the material. More importantly, perhaps, than the richness of the material is how our teachers have used the curriculum as a way to foster positive classroom culture where students are encouraged to share ideas. Sixth and seventh grade teacher, Ms. Lyons, exemplified this goal before diving into material through a gallery walk where students shared their goals and areas of growth.  By setting the stage for open communication in her room, scholars could jump into the new curriculum, confident in their own abilities, and open to leaning on peers for support. Scholars at Pattillo have ownership over math and are gaining critical life skills promoting collective action with their peers,” added Holub.