Transition to Integrated Course Sequence with CCSSM

This is the sort of post that in years past I would have scribbled in some word processor or private blog. I often write to clarify my thinking and set personal and professional goals, and I’ll do so again here. My reasoning for making this round of reflecting and planning public is twofold:

  1. It will force me to consider my assumptions, goals, and specific game plan even more carefully knowing that others might read what I write.
  2. It may help others process through their own transition, whether to an integrated course sequence or a more traditional slicing-and-dicing of the CCSSM content standards.

Whether the second of these two reasons will actually play out, I don’t know. But the value I’ll derive from the first (reflecting and planning publicly) is reason enough to proceed, so here goes.

My Schedule

Our school has seven academic periods during the normal 8 am to 3 pm day. A full teaching load is six classes, plus one period to prepare. In recent years I’ve elected to work during my prep for a slight pay increase (diapers are expensive!).

This year my schedule is filled with five classes and two periods we’re calling “Program Development.” During these two periods (2nd and 7th) my task is to redesign our 7-12 mathematics program to align with the CCSSM content and practice standards. That’s a lot of planning time each day, but it’s a fairly monumental task, especially considering that we’re transitioning to an integrated course sequence for grades 9-12.

My Assumptions

This could get out of hand (lengthwise) rather quickly, so I’ll jump right in with the bullets to share some of my assumptions:

  • An integrated course sequence in grades 9-12 will be more difficult to design and more difficult to teach, but (if done well) will provide students with a richer, more connected mathematical experience (provided I don’t settle for what @NatBanting describes here).
  • Due to the small size of our school and the constraints on budget and staffing (there are two faculty members—myself included—in the entire 7-12 math department), we need to make the transition to CCSSM content in grades 7-12 all at once. (In other words, we don’t have the staffing necessary to transition one course/grade level at a time, or to make the transition gradually over a number of years, essentially running two programs side by side in the interim.)

I’m calling these assumptions because that’s what they are, at least in part. It might be better to call them semi-researched opinions/positions. In any case, I hope some of you will push back and play devil’s advocate, especially on the second point above. If you think it would make more sense (in my small school environment) to roll out the transition one, two, or three courses/grade levels at a time, please share!

My Goals

By June 2014 I want our course offerings to include:

  • Integrated Math A
    (CCSSM Grade 7 content standards)
  • Integrated Math B
    (CCSSM Grade 8 content standards)
  • Integrated Math 1
    (CCSSM high school content standards)
  • Integrated Math 2
    (CCSSM high school content standards)
  • Integrated Math 2 Honors
    (CCSSM high school content standards, including STEM (+) standards)
  • Integrated Math 3
    (CCSSM high school content standards)
  • Integrated Math 3 Honors
    (CCSSM high school content standards, including STEM (+) standards)
  • AP Calculus AB
    (aligned to the College Board’s AP Calculus Course Description)
  • AP Statistics
    (aligned to the College Board’s AP Statistics Course Description)

Two notes:

  • Students who intend to take AP Calculus AB will be required to complete Math 2H and Math 3H (where, theoretically, they’ll learn the STEM (+) standards and other topics necessary for success in Calculus)
  • I’m not sure if we’ll offer a Math 1H course. If we do, it probably won’t include any of the STEM (+) standards, and I’m currently running short on ideas for how to differentiate it from the non-honors section of Math 1.

While aligning our courses to the CCSSM content standards will be an important task, I consider it even more crucial that we infuse all of our 7-12 courses with the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice. I want our courses to help students grow in their ability to make sense and persevere, reason, argue and critique, model with mathematics, etc. The content itself is important, but it’s the habits of mind that will last.

My Game Plan

It’s rather easy for my to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of this whole undertaking. But I also get incredibly excited when I think about chipping away at specific tasks in transforming our program, my courses, my teaching, etc.

With those two ideas in mind, I believe it will be helpful to break down the entire project into a sequence of smaller, more manageable tasks. In theory, this will keep me sane, on track, and encouraged. (We’ll see whether that’s the case.)

I also hope that by planning in this way it will be easier to share resources with others (in both a “give” and “take” sense), and that I’ll have more opportunities to collaborate. For example, if I ask on Twitter, “Who wants to help me develop a CCSSM-aligned course sequence for grades 7-12 with integrated courses for high school,” I’ll probably hear nothing but crickets. However, if instead I ask, “Who wants to help me create a concepts and skills list for, say, an integrated course for Grade 9,” I might have a few more takers.

So with that background, here is my plan of action, laid out more or less in the order I’ll proceed:

Curriculum (Draw the Big Picture)

  • Arrange the high school standards into courses (whether that involves adopting something like this as is, using or modifying California’s integrated pathway (see pages 95-123 of this document), or starting from scratch, I don’t yet know)
  • Identify the three or four “big ideas” in each course (and later, develop six- to 12-week units around them)

Note: I see myself reading more of this blog and these books in the near future.

Assessments (Set the Targets)

  • Develop performance task assessments for each of these units (emphasizing “synthesis skills”)
  • Write a “concepts and skills list” for each course (possibly by using these as a starting point)
  • Develop assessments for each of the items on the “concepts and skills list” (ideally, assessments worth posting here)

Lessons (Work Out the Details)

  • Create a list of individual topics (based on the “concepts and skills” list) for each “big idea” unit
  • Select, adapt, or create a rich task to launch each “big idea” unit (one that we can refer back to throughout the unit)
  • Sketch a rough outline of individual lessons for each topic
  • Write individual lessons for each topic (this should only take, roughly, forever)
  • Select, adapt, or create appropriate homework assignments for each lesson (though I probably should read this—currently sitting at my bedside table—before forging ahead)

That’s All for Now

If you need to tackle any of those smaller projects and you’d like to join forces for a bit (whether we collaborate through Dropbox, Google Drive, Hangouts, or some other tool), I’d love to have some help and/or lend a hand with your transition.

Drop me a line in the comments, or send me a note on Twitter (@mjfenton) if you’re interested.



  1. Michael

    First off, best of luck on this daunting task. It sounds like you are used to a pretty heavy workload at your school. I’ve taught at some small schools but I always had at least three colleagues from 6 – 12. Just the two of you? Yikes!
    I’ll comment on a number of things here

    Your Assumptions – My gut feeling about the rollout is the opposite of yours. If you have students already midstream in a more standard slice and dice curriculum, it feels to me that they’d be best served by carrying out the completion of the sequence they are already engaged in. Unless you can be really (really REALLY) careful about keeping track of curricular strands, I cannot imagine them escaping without some real holes or some serious replication of effort. However, with only two of you teaching the simple demands of the school’s bell schedules may force you into the tear the band-aid off approach here. Another question to consider is this one: How many kids do you inherit in the middle of their 7 – 12 career? How to align for them? We have had conversations about redesigning the 3 years of Alg I/Geom/Alg II in a more meaningful way but one huge obstacle is that we have SO many new students at 9th, 10th and 11th every year. I’m having a hard time imagining how to integrate them into an integrated curriculum.

    Your goals – I do not know what the breadth of ability is in your student body. I do know that, in my opinion, the school I worked at that had NO honors distinctions until the AP level was one where students and parents had the fewest opportunities to angle their way into classes that did not suit them. I also had a healthy dose of interested/engaged kids in every class I taught. The school where I work now could not sustain that because we have such a wide gap in ability and interest. We have freshman in Calculus and seniors in Algebra II routinely. At times, the honors track situation creates a group of kids who self-identify as not being able to succeed. Perhaps I am being colored by my recent forays into Jo Boaler’s course and the heavy dose of Dweck I am getting there.

    Drawing the Big Picture – It is clear that you have done some serious thinking here. Beautifully outlined work.

    This is a terrific, thoughtful post. Thanks and best of luck!

  2. mrdardy, thanks as always for the thoughtful comment. There are several things I want to respond to, so I’ll try to keep this organized…

    1. In light of what you shared (which echoes the sentiments of the other teacher in our department) I need to seriously reconsider my “tear the band-aid off” approach. I may still return to it, but a good thinking through of the possibility of a more gradual transition is in order.

    2. In my mind, the Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 sequence is NOT collectively equivalent to the integrated Math 1, Math 2, Math 3 sequence. There seems to be a half year shift between them, possibly because half of what I teach in Algebra 1 is actually contained in CCSSM Grade 8. Also, students who finish Algebra 2 at our school must take Precalculus before enrolling in AP Calculus. In the future, students who finish Math 3 would be able to enroll in AP Calculus. In essence, our fourth course (Precalculus) will be swallowed up by the three year integrated sequence (mostly by Math 2 and Math 3). One other thing worth noting (before I come to an actual point of some kind) is that most of my students in Algebra 1 are in 8th grade. Looking forward, most of my students in Math 1 will be in 9th grade.

    All that rambling really just sets the stage for this comment: Since there is not a “straight across” option for transition from traditional to CCSSM integrated, we must decide as a department whether to shift “over and up” (where students might have as much as a one semester gap in knowledge, scattered around in various domains) or “over and down” (where students might have as much as one quarter to one semester in knowledge overlap from previous courses). I plan on taking the latter road.

    In case anyone is still reading this comment (what strange sort of punishment you self administer!), here’s an example. Suppose this year there is a 9th grade student who completes Geometry (the 2nd course in our A1, Geo, A2 “high school” sequence). He will move “over and down” into Math 2 (the second course in our integrated high school sequence). There will be some content overlap, and even a few small gaps, but this seems like the least evil of all roads in an all-at-once transition.

    (Time for an ice cream break, so I’ll stop here and wrap up my comment in a second reply.)

  3. 3. We are a K-12 school. The most common “starting points” (where students enter the school) are at Kindergarten, 7th grade, and 9th grade. However, we have quite a few students enroll at every other grade level, especially in grades 7-12. There will always be the question of what to do with students entering our integrated sequence after making some progress in a traditional course sequence, but every district I’ve spoken to in the surrounding area (including the two largest districts) have decided to go with an integrated approach. (Actually, one of the larger districts was still weighing their options last time I checked, but seemed to be leaning toward integrated. Therefore, it would probably be more difficult for us to remain traditional, even fi I thought that was the best approach (which I do not).

    4. The range of math interest and ability at our school is fairly wide, so I’m fearful of killing the honors distinction because I want to preserve an opportunity for some students to challenge themselves more than others. I’m just not entirely clear on how to make this happen. I expect I’ll learn a lot this year through reading, discussing, and reflecting.

    5. I signed up for Jo Boaler’s course, but haven’t made much progress yet. I anticipate I’ll start that again soon. I know next to nothing about Dweck, but I’m excited to learn.

    Thanks again for the comment!

    (And congrats on starting up your own blog:

  4. I’m currently teaching in a school that has adopted the Integrated Math approach. This is my third year teaching and it’s been a huge shift in mind-set for me (since I learned in an Alg/Geo/Alg2 school), but I really like what it emphasizes and where it focuses a lot of its time.

    If you’re interested in comparing notes, I would love to send you some of the “standards” (individual topics) I’ve created for my units (which I’m in the middle of tying to the CCSS right now) and see what you decide to go with in each of them as well.

  5. Joey,

    Originally, my experience was the reverse of yours. I went through an integrated sequence in JH/HS, and now teach (at least for one more year) in a traditional sequence. The shift in mind set didn’t seem very big in this direction, probably because I tutored a lot of students during HS and college who were taking a traditional sequence. (My HS moved away from the integrated sequence almost immediately after I finished it.) I’m also thinking it might be easier to sever connections than it is to weave them together into a coherent whole.

    I would love to compare notes. Send whatever you want to mjfenton at gmail dot com.

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