Here comes CPM

This year brings two big changes for me at school.

First, we are switching away from an A/B block semester schedule, where a one-credit course contained approximately eighty-five 85-minute periods, or about 115 hours (factoring in one shorter period every other week on average).  The new schedule is divided into trimesters, with five 70-minute classes every day (except on Wednesdays, when classes will be 60 minutes long).  A full credit will be earned in two trimesters of approximately 56 days each, for a total of about 127 hours.  I am glad to have more hours per course, though some folks did express concern about increasing our work time while decreasing our prep time.  (I assume most of you are nodding in sympathy with the former and/or the latter.)  However, most if not all IB and AP classes will be three trimesters, so we are looking at huge gains in class hours for those courses.  (There may be a few other three-trimester courses as well; I’m not sure what other departments are doing.)  I don’t teach IB or AP this year, but I was a big supporter of this exception.  I’m not sure how credit for those courses will count on students’ transcripts, but let’s leave that aside for now.  Be all that as it may, the change to trimesters is coming.

(If anyone is scratching their head at how little our students are in class, please be aware that Oregon is generally considered to be 49th in class time for the United States, with only South Dakota requiring fewer hours in a school year.)

The other big change is that our math department will be using CPM texts for Algebra 1 and Geometry this year.  Another teacher and myself piloted some of the material in the spring, but this fall we are jumping in with both feet.  Largely to help make the transition, I have been given a Geometry-only teaching schedule.  This is not something I would ordinarily prefer, but for this year I’m glad to have only one curriculum to focus on.  The other Geometry teacher is also teaching some sections of Algebra 1, by her choice.  And there are a few other Algebra 1 sections spread between two other teachers as well.  So four of us (out of seven in the department) will be using CPM as our main text for the first time this year.

I don’t even know where to begin in discussing CPM.  Let me try to hit a few points, briefly.  CPM, done “by the book” involves a large amount of group work.  The students are given problems (not exercises) to work through, and the idea is that with a little bit of group-by-group guidance from me, the students will come to “discover” and understand definitions, postulates, theorems, etc. through group work and individual reflection.  The Teacher’s Edition of the text gives you what feels at first like a script for each lesson, but I have found that there is more room for flexibility than at first meets the eye.  Nonetheless, in piloting CPM I tended to follow the general flow of the units in the book, as they seem carefully worked out.  It is interesting to see how differently the topics are ordered from other Geometry books I have used in the past (Glencoe, Prentice-Hall).  And CPM feels much closer to problems-lead-to-knowledge than knowledge-leads-to-problems, the latter of which is what my students have largely been exposed to in the past.

The lessons suggested in the TE are designed for 60-minute periods (most lessons take one period, a few take two).  With our periods just ten minutes longer than that, I think the opportunities to pair-up lessons or cover three topics in two days (for example) will be quite few.  But I am hoping that the 70-minute period will often allow me to take my students a little farther or deeper on a given day than I could have in 60 minutes.  My next-door (classroom) neighbor, the other Geometry teacher, and I have penciled in a Scope-and-Sequence for Geometry A (one trimester) and Geometry B (a different, not-necessarily-contiguous trimester).  The first trimester’s S&S is shown here.  We find that we can get through ten of the twelve chapters, with some omissions along the way.  I am hopeful that with CPM my students will be more likely to Learn what material we get through than they would by powering through our old Glencoe books and “learning” all of the chapters.

I certainly understand that I play a role in putting a capital L in my students’ learning.  No text book (or anything else) is a silver bullet.  But I supported the move to CPM because I believe that it will help my students to understand Geometry more deeply than in previous years.  I’m trying to keep my expectations realistic though.  Even if CPM will be a noticeable improvement for my students, I can’t expect to change night into day in our first year of implementation.

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