In March 2018, I applied to work creating online content for ASSISTments, an online, non-profit program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. When I applied to do this work, I never thought it would become such a powerful professional development experience for me. Yes, I have blogged before about my experience creating online content for ASSISTments. However, as I was starting working on the 7th grade content again this summer, this time creating the hints and exemplars rather than videos, I realized the bar has been raised.
In the past, since only certain types of problems needed a video, I could skip the other problems. Now, I must create content for every problem. When it is an exemplar, my example needs to be different from what is available in the teacher guide (within reason–obviously, the answer is the answer, but language and examples and other aspects of an exemplar should be customized). When it’s a hint, I have to both understand the problem thoroughly and be able to work backwards to break the problem down into three, linked steps that logically flow together to create a sequence that brings students to the final answer.
This work is forcing me to do all problems thoroughly, even beyond the depth I had been working at before from the work I did with videos last year. Now, because I have to create every single problem, whether I like the problem or not, and because I need to approach the problem using the methodology Eureka uses, I have had to go deeply into the curriculum.
I thought I knew this until I got to Grade 7, Module 3, Lesson 4, which was one of the last problems I was working on this summer. It turned out I hadn’t processed just how much I still didn’t know deeply in Eureka yet.
The Problem Set for Grade 7, Module 3, Lesson 4 has a series of exercises to practice factoring. I was fine, until I got to the column shown below, which stumped me on first view. I know how to teach factoring. And, yes, I could work backwards from the answers given here and figure out the math, but I couldn’t figure out how to work forwards from the beginning AND explain it to the students in a way that would be meaningful, since “because I said so” is a pretty weak mathematically reason!
I really didn’t understand why we were doing this problem and the way it was being done. Then, as I worked backwards and started thinking about explaining it (limited to THREE hints max), I started to think about groups of 4:
I found another group of four:
I was still struggling with the “why on Earth would you do it this way?!?!?” when I got to the last hint:
That’s when I realized I could make everything into groups of four which then meant I could write it as a product of two factors: 4(1 + 4 + 5). Wow. Got it!
One of the ways this experience was powerful professional development for me was that the Eureka teacher materials often give answers, but not explanations. Doing the hints/exemplars and the videos forced me to slow down and put words to the why of what I was doing, so that I could turn around and teach it to my students. When our district first adopted Eureka, we got money to do our own in-district professional development. While that was helpful, even watching the Eureka-created videos wasn’t as helpful as the work I did this summer, because we didn’t always know what we needed to watch or where to find it or there wasn’t always a video or explanation for every problem. Again, my work this summer required me to deeply engage with every problem, like it or not.