Forming a United Whole – The Coherence Map

A K-12 STEM District Supervisor Explains How He Used the Coherence Map to Improve His District's Math Curriculum

It is July 1st, 2015, and the sun is pushing through scattered clouds on a picture-perfect 82-degree day in south New Jersey. I listen to my coffee-brown dress shoes rhythmically click-clack on the dry pavement as I approach a weathered blue door. In my mind, I quickly rewind five years and think that, if someone asked me where I would be in 2015, my answer would have involved teaching a summer math program or coaching our high school football team. However, this July 1st was different because as I approached the blue door my role in education was shifting from a middle school math teacher into a K-12 STEM District Supervisor. Personally, my career transition involved a deep reflection about my ten years as a middle school mathematics teacher and helped to build a clear focus of “the work” moving forward.

As I reflected on the hurdles educators face in their daily routines, several themes emerged:

  • There was never enough time in our schedule to collaborate with colleagues at a grade level, nevermind vertical articulation across grades or schools.
  • There wasn’t enough guidance around how educators could best scaffold, support, extend, and differentiate for each student in an effort to personalize their learning experience.
  • Search engines or boards we often visit to supplement instruction often led to forty-five minute prep periods where very little was accomplished.

In my relentless effort to uncover an authentic resource to address these challenges,I stumbled upon The Coherence Map. The Coherence Map is an invaluable resource to support all stakeholders with mathematical development in our children. In short, the map vertically articulates mathematical concepts across grade levels while offering an abundance of authentic math tasks to support, scaffold, and extend our children’s thinking. (Click the image below.)

My Journey with The Coherence Map

I am in a unique position. I am a parent of a kindergartener and second grader who use Pearson’s enVision math program; I am married to a (rockstar) first grade teacher who teaches Pearson’s enVision math program, and I support K-6 teachers who teach Pearson’s enVision math program. My philosophy with all textbooks is they are interpretations of the standards. It is our job in education to supplement their weaknesses and meet the needs of our students on an annual basis. After finding The Coherence Map, I decided it was essential work to use the map as a tool to help supplement our textbook. My vision was to create a one-stop resource shop for our teachers to help them better understand how their textbook’s content aligned to the standards. First I created a crosswalk document — a visual representation of how the textbook topics, on paper, claimed to be aligned to specific standards. Next, I navigated The Coherence Map and added hyperlinked resources to the crosswalk document to address gaps and supplement the textbook’s material with additional tasks and assessments. In some instances, even where the textbook technically addressed a given standard, we were able to go deeper by using the free materials from The Coherence Map. Ultimately, a virtual vertical articulation resource was created and continues to evolve. (Click below to explore.)

From Resource to Reality

After understanding the value of The Coherence Map, our next step was to cross-reference our textbook’s recommended scope and sequence with our math standard(s). Each topic and chapter was then color coded based on whether it constituted Major, Additional, or Supporting Work for the grade level. The identified standard was then hyperlinked to the exact “Map Standard” location on The Coherence Map. Having a unique hyperlink for each standard was intentional: users would then only need one click to see how the standard fit within the broader mathematical concept.

After completing this process for our K-6 textbooks, I was able to quickly identify our first hurdle as a team: our third grade textbook scope and sequence (pictured below).

Other than the slightly blinding yellow, this grade level was designed by the publisher to spend the first twenty seven lessons on content that constituted additional work, not the Major Work of the Grade content that should have been the focus. Knowing the importance of fraction development in third and fourth grade, we were able to collaborate with our team and decide to rearrange topics to best fit the needs of our students and focus more on this pivotal topic. This example reinforces the importance of mathematical focus for each grade-level team and the power we have at the local level to positively impact our students’ mathematical experiences.

Moving Forward

It is easy for me to sit behind a desk for numerous hours and cross-reference the scope and sequence of our curriculum with the math standards. The essential piece to the process is taking the resource and making it come to life for our educators and students. Moving forward, we have designed the following in an effort to strengthen our math curriculum:

  • In the summer of 2017, educators will review grade-level curriculum. The goal will be to cross-reference the publisher’s tasks with the tasks embedded on The Coherence Map. Reflection question:  Does the textbook task match The Coherence Map task in terms of Rigor, Focus, and Coherence? If not, how can we supplement (add these ideas to our resource)?
  • Create professional development sessions that focus on mathematical modeling and thinking. I can often be heard saying, “We did not learn math this way, and that is okay.” Together we can challenge and unlearn traditional mathematical thought while striving to enhance instructional practices in our classrooms.
  • After reflecting as a team, re-explore The Coherence Map and continue to hyperlink authentic resources to use in and across grade levels. Analyze specific tasks, identify tasks we can use to support, scaffold, and extend in small group or station-instructional settings.

Final Thoughts

Both my transition from middle school math teacher to STEM Supervisor and my role as a father to two elementary students, have significantly impacted my philosophy toward education, specifically mathematics. I feel our profession has a lot of dedicated individuals who spend an extraordinary amount of time on our craft, and they deserve to know that their work is moving students in the right direction. Having grown up the son of a landscaper, I often use the analogy of digging a hole in my backyard. If you were my neighbor and you glanced over to my yard each day and saw me digging for six to seven hours, you would think, “He sure is working hard.” The dilemma occurs when the question arises: “Why am I digging? Without direction or an end goal to my digging, my hard work is simply a hole. The Coherence Map provides direction for our hard work in aligning material to our local math curriculum. It enhances the natural progression of mathematical thought our students need to experience in their daily routines.

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About the Author: Joshua Zagorski (@JZagorski1) is a K-12 STEM Supervisor for the Maple Shade School District (NJ). Joshua is currently leading a district initiative to analyze their current K-8 math textbook series in an effort to create authentic learning opportunities for all students and teachers. A portion of this initiative is focused in developing relevant K-4 math PD focused on the unlearning by adults and modern mathematical instructional practices that promote equity. Prior to 2016, Joshua was a middle school math teacher and three season coach(football/wrestling/track) for ten years. Along with teaching content he strongly believes in empowering our students and teaching to the whole child. Having the opportunity to build character, teach digital citizenship, and preach making good choices allows him to construct a community of caring. Joshua is an active member in, ASCD (2016 Emerging Leader), Co Director of NJASCD South, NJ Standards Advocate Math Lead , and in his third year on the steering committee for ECET2NJPA. In May, 2014 he was selected to attend the Teacher Appreciation White House Social hosted at The White House. This convening of twenty one educators from across the United States included panel discussions reflecting on student growth, student choice, and best professional development practices to achieve our goals.