All in with OUR/IM – The Big Picture

The Big Picture

You can’t really get a picture of where you are going in a new city looking only at the zoomed in 30 feet of street that is shown on your phone’s navigation app. That’s handy and helpful, but almost everyone I know starts by zooming out and looking at the big picture. Where am I now and how does that relate to where I am going?

So time to zoom out a bit. Let understand a little about how the course is put together. I promise I’ll try to keep it brief, but I’ll give you places to look for more detail.

From Lecture to Problem Based Learning

For 20+ years a typical day in my classroom begin with going over homework questions, me “giving notes”, and then students working together in pairs or groups to practice the concepts and procedures I had just attempted to deposit in their heads. In my “giving notes” I made it a priority to make connections and help students really understand the mathematics. I tried hard to keep students engaged, asked them to discuss their thinking with their partners, and invited them to ask clarifying questions for the good of all.  “No such thing as a stupid question” and “If you are wondering, so is someone else” were repeated again and again.

This was how school had looked when I was a student, and I did my best to replicate and improve on the experiences I had as a learner.

Attempts to venture into changing the way class was organized were difficult.  Books were written to break things down into tiny separate procedures, and if I was going to make it through the curriculum, I needed to get through one of those procedures pretty much every day. My classroom structure was the most efficient way to get that done.

If you have been teaching very long, you know that not every student can gain complete understanding and fluency in a day.  And so, every year, some kids would get left behind. Not because I didn’t believe “All Means All”.  Not because I didn’t give every lunch and after school to support them. Just because the ideas were flying by so fast that it was hard to keep up.

Add to that those students that at 13 just can’t stay focused consistently on a math lecture for 20 to 30 minutes.  The in and out of the natural attention span of an adolescent created gaps in understanding, missing connections, and fuzziness regarding procedures even if my explanations were flawless.

It felt like a trap.  The only way we could “get through” the material was inadequate to actually have all students learn the material.

Until now.

This new curriculum from IM gives me hope that we can keep all of our students engaged. We can let our students’ understanding of the content deepen over time. We don’t have to leave any students behind. This curriculum is built differently, to allow it to be taught differently.  

From this point on, I will be referencing the curriculum course guide. I strongly recommend you take the time to read it. I have only pulled out a small portion of the many parts that I think will really help you get a better view of the big picture

How IM is Built

Unlike the many text book series that I taught from, which were designed for lecture based classrooms, Illustrative Mathematics 6-8 curriculum is designed to support Problem Based Learning (PBL). The overarching idea of PBL is that students learn math by doing math. This curriculum was written to set teachers up to make that happen.

“In a problem-based curriculum, students work on carefully crafted and sequenced mathematics problems during most of the instructional time. Teachers help students understand the problems and guide discussions to be sure that the mathematical takeaways are clear to all.

From the course guide

One of the pieces of the IM 6-8 curriculum that I am continually impressed with is how carefully crafted it actually is. Here are a few posts from the Illustrative Mathematics Blog that brought this idea home for me:

Warm Up Routines with a Purpose

Vocabulary Decisions

Respecting the Intellectual Work of the Grade

All together, the pieces of each unit tell a story, with each individual lesson bringing new dimensions of that story to the table. “The goal is to give students just enough background and tools to solve initial problems successfully, and then set them to increasingly sophisticated problems as their expertise increases.”**

From the course guide again

How IM is Taught

As a teacher new to problem based learning, the most common error is to focus on what students are doing (fold, cut, pass to the left) instead of what math students are learning.  Each activity and lesson has a purpose, and students are supposed to land somewhere. As a teacher your job as you prepare is to understand the mathematical idea behind each part of the lesson, and make sure at the close that you bring those thoughts to the forefront.

“Not all mathematical knowledge can be discovered, so direct instruction is sometimes appropriate. On the other hand, some concepts and procedures follow from definitions and prior knowledge and students can, with appropriately constructed problems, see this for themselves.”

Once more from the course guide (might be worth a peek)

You are the essential piece to the puzzle, the one that makes sure the intended math is clear to all. If you are running out of time, it can never be this lesson close that you skip. However in that close, you don’t have to do all the talking.* Since the kids are working for much of the lesson, you have time to be listening. Be listening for those key learnings that you might draw out from students.**  

If you are now hankering to get a peak at what a lesson might look like, guess what? The course guide is a good place to find that information. Time for you to break down and follow a link to the section of the course guide  titled How To Use These Materials.


Because ideas deepen over time, one lesson does not start and end the teaching on a subject.

The initial lesson in a unit is designed to activate prior knowledge and provide an easy entry to point to new concepts, so that students at different levels of both mathematical and English language proficiency can engage productively in the work. As the unit progresses, students are systematically introduced to representations, contexts, concepts, language and notation. As their learning progresses, they make connections between different representations and strategies, consolidating their conceptual understanding, and see and understand more efficient methods of solving problems, supporting the shift towards procedural fluency. The distributed practice problems give students ongoing practice, which also supports developing procedural proficiency.”

-From guess where? ( spoiler: the course guide!)

I am going to make a prediction here. You are going to worry at the end of a lesson that your students don’t seem as fluent in procedure as they did with your previous curriculum.  Be patient. Remember how carefully crafted this work is and trust a little bit. Notice in the quote above the learning progression:

Activate prior knowledge – invites all students in

Introduce representations and contexts – essential for developing an understanding of the mathematics

Concepts – where I used to start if I did a great lesson

Language and notation – where I started if I was pressed for time

Connections and consolidation – the place where students can move to the most efficient method of solving problems

Procedural fluency – what we tend to focus on as the goal.

Being patient enough to let your students have all those stops along the way is the best way to help them learn in a way that lasts past a unit test.

This video by Dr Jo Boaler from Stanford University explains that further:


According to one IM trainer, the two biggest concerns that teachers seem to have with the IM curriculum are

  1. The pacing seems really tight

  2. There is not enough skill practice built in

I am not going to say to you that pacing will be a breeze or that you won’t want to add extra practice activities from time to time. But I am going to say that both these problems are exacerbated by a lack of patience.

The pacing will definitely be tight if we over-teach. If we think the first time something is mentioned you have to teach everything there is about that subject, you will consistently run out of time. One way to help yourself trust the curriculum is to stay ahead in your planning. First look at the big ideas of each week in a unit, so you can see when things will come up again.***

The pacing will definitely be tight if we try to keep everything else we always have done and add Illustrative Math. This is a complete curriculum. You do not need to be scrambling to make warm-ups and find performance tasks. It’s all in there. Each and every lesson starts with a thoughtfully chosen warm up ready to use. Each and every unit ends with a culminating task that applies the mathematics. And because topics continue on throughout the chapter, going over homework time isn’t the only chance you have to revisit the previous lesson’s ideas. As an example, look at the development of major work of 6th grade:

And what about that “not enough skill practice” worry? Students do need to practice and apply skills. But if you look at the lesson progression above, where do you think it is appropriate to have the bulk of the skill practice? It won’t be on that first day. By spiraling the homework we allow students to get practice over time, as they move through consolidation and toward procedural fluency.**** 


We all have a lot of learning to do, but based on the experiences of the teachers who used the curriculum this year, we have a lot to be excited about. We are part of an amazing shift in math education. Finally all really can mean ALL.

Extra Resources:

  • *One of my favorite ignite talks about learning to cede the role of sage on the stage:

The less I talk, the more they listen by Graham Fletcher

  • ** A fabulous book for helping us learn to lead discussions for math learning is The Five Practices for Orchestrating Mathematical Discussions. Much of the learning from that book is baked into the IM 6-8 curriculum. A couple Illustrative Math blog posts on the topic are linked here:

How the 5 practices changed my teaching

The 5 practices framework- explicit planning vs explicit teaching

  • *** Speaking of over-teaching, see this IM blog post on why teaching students to cross multiply is delayed in grades 6 and 7:

Why We Don’t Cross Multiply

  • ****A non-IM aside – if you do decide on a certain section that your students need more practice, there are a million wonderful resources for creative skill practice out there that can be just as effective as a 1-31 odd worksheet. Truth -sometimes they are just an old worksheet, just delivered in a more interactive way.  Here is a post that lists some popular practice strategies and games.
  • Much of what I am going to share in this post can be found in the Course Guide  provided by IM for each grade level. If you are looking online, you can find it here:

If you purchased the print Teacher’s Edition that same Course Guide is the small darker green book that came in the package.

Pro Tip:  if you did not purchase print versions of the material for your students, you may still enjoy getting the print Teacher’s Edition for yourself.  Everything it says is also online, but I find it easier to highlight suggested questions and add post-its to remind myself of something for next year if I have a hard copy.  It comes with a separate booklet for each unit, which makes it really nice for carrying back and forth to school.  Here is where to contact about any print option needs. 

All in with OUR/IM – Materials Prep

So I know, we should start with the math, with understanding what focus, coherence and rigor actually mean, with the philosophy of Illustrative Mathematics and of Open up Resources.  But I am going to assume you have done your research and have already decided that the is the curriculum you will be using in the fall.

If I am wrong, I suggest a deeper dive at the sites above, and perhaps a look at Brooke Power’s Blog posts about her experiences with the 7th grade IM curriculum last year:

Sept – Seeing the Light of Conceptual Understanding

January – Letting Go of What I Thought I Knew

April- Closing the Gap

But if you are all in, I am going to start at an unusual spot – materials preparation.  Not because it will give you the happy feeling that you are getting something done. It will, but it will not fool you long. The dull realization that you have no idea how to teach like this, the worry that it seems like an awful lot to manage, and the question ‘will it really be best for my kids if their teacher has a nervous breakdown in the process?’ will keep you unsettled until we address those things in future posts. Don’t worry . . . we’re gonna get there. You’ll be ready and it will be awesome.

The reason we are starting with materials prep is money. The fiscal year ends in June, and that means budgets are wiped clean and start over. In our school district, teachers have a Teacher Center account that will be reset on July 1st. Money you didn’t use by June 30th is not yours anymore, and you account balance is reset to $100 for the upcoming year. So to get the most out of that budget, you want to print as much as you can afford before the end of June (especially if color cardstock and laminate is your thing).

Before you rush to your copy machine, a tiny bit of of preparation will make life easier. Start with your computer.  Whatever disorganized collection of individual pieces you have downloaded in the past is not going to do if this is your core curriculum for the entire year. So start clean.  Make a folder for IM, fill it full of empty unit folders, and rename with a quick copy and paste.

making im folders

You may be tempted to make folders inside each for cooldowns, student practice, assessments. Hold on . . .those will happen automatically as you download and unzip files.

Now head to your grade level curriculum site. Here I am at grade 8.

curric home page

Choose unit 1, and then click on unit

downloads near the top. Unit downloads

Unit 1 downloads

For now, focus on Student Handouts.  We’ll get to teacher preparation in a later post.

Student handouts

If your district has purchased the print workbooks for your students or if you are working 1 to 1, the only things you need to download are the Blackline Masters and the Cool-Downs. If you are without workbooks and computers, I would go ahead and download them all.

For now, we are going to focus on the black line masters.  If you can take care of these things in advance you will never have a night during the school year when you have to decide between knowing what you are doing and preparing handouts.

Here is what that Unit 1 blackline master download looks like.  Make sure you have downloaded in into your Unit 1 folder before you extract.

Blackline masters compressed

Then, go ahead and click Extract now.extract compressed folders


PDF versus Word Downloads

A pause here for those of you who are noticing these are pdfs and the site also has word documents available.  I mean, why not get something I can easily edit and personalize, right?

A couple reasons actually.  I did that last January when we decided to try a unit, and editing and resizing takes TIME. It took two of us working full time on the process several days to finish all of unit 1. And it really wasn’t worth it.  The cool-downs, for instance, we wanted 2 on a page because copy money and paper were scarce at some of our sites. This meant rearranging graphics and respacing. But guess what, my printer prints multiple copies per page if I chose. Why did I make it so hard??

In addition, there is a formatting issue in the word copies. (At least there was this spring. Maybe it is fixed by now? Someone comment and let us know). The numbering does not download correctly and renames problems in ways that do not match the on line images you might chose to project.  Fixing all those issues was one of the big time wasters when we used the word versions.

And honestly, you really need to learn the curriculum as is.  The tiny decisions of why this particular warm up are not obvious at first glance. For instance their might be a number talk warm up that brings up multiplying by fractions in a lesson on scaling, because later in that lesson, mid problem, students will need to access that skill.  Although we’ll do our best to prepare, some   things you won’t notice until you are mid second period next year. My strong advice is this year trust the process AND save yourself some work.

The Blackline Master Report

This little document is a lifesaver – don’t miss it! This is the list of blackline masters for Grade 8 Unit 1. A lot, but don’t worry.  It had more than any other unit from grade 8.

blackline master report 1

See? Here is Unit 5:

blackline master report 5

Let’s decode for a minute looking at unit 5.  The first Classroom activity you are going to use in lesson 1. It will be the second activity of that day. Hence 1.2. (The long name is, which means Grade 8, Unit 5, lesson 1, Activity 2)

For that activity you are going to need 1 copy for every 4 students. It is not a one time use, so one class set will do you for the whole day. If you look up and down  the list from unit 1 and unit 5, notice there is only one time where you need a new set for each class. Classroom ACtivity 1.2 does require cutting, but that doesn’t have to happen right now. If worse comes to worse, period 1 can do that for you. It does not need to be run on card stock. Although some will chose to do that, or to laminate, to make the activity more durable, you don’t have to.  I only found one or two in all of 8th grade that required cardstock, so this doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. And it doesn’t need colored paper. I know, colored paper is pretty, and if you have free access to colored paper, cardstock, a laminator, and unlimited cutting help, go wild.

So here’s how we did it with our teachers. We printed all these black line masters and master reports and loaded them into folders for our teachers so they were ready to go. First semester on side 1, second semester on side 2.


You probably have to do this yourself. If you run things off this summer, you can pass that folder around your PLC to help everyone get off to a good start.

To see what kind of time we were talking about, I went and made myself the whole year of blackline masters.  It took me under two hours.  I had a big stack of 9 by 12 envelopes and for each activity I dropped it in an envelope and wrote on the envelope to label what it was. I didn’t take the time to cut up and I didn’t laminate, but I did run each unit in a different color to help me keep organized as the year went on.  At then end I walked out with a paper box about half filled with standing envelopes. If I was in the classroom that would just slide in the back cupboard, and as the new unit approached I would hand over cutting and bagging jobs to the students that are inevitably hanging around my classroom at lunch or before school.

A warning – one of our schools, so excited after the IM training we had, went to the teacher center together to knock materials prep out.  They used colored card stock and laminated everything with the high quality lamination machine. Several hours later they were only finished with a little more than two units and had blown their whole collective budget at the teacher center. And that much uncut laminating takes up way more space than my one little paper box, so the cutting has to happen now. Once they are all cut and rubber banded they will be awesome, but right now, it has turned into a big, expensive job.

I love the pretty laminate, but don’t trap yourself into thinking it is a must have.  If this year you run them all just on paper without laminating, that can work. Spend your evenings this year learning the curriculum – what math am I supposed to get out of this activity? Being able to connect and synthesize the lesson is about one million times more important to your students learning.


I hear your self -talk.

“But the laminated cardstock is so pretty! And it will last forever if I just put in the work this one time.”

Don’t kid yourself. Unless this is your first year, you know it won’t.  Their will be the pieces that get lost, the pieces that get used to hold someone’s piece of chewing gum, the pieces that get thrown away as a group cleans up, or swept into someone’s backpack. And when you go back to make one more set, the color of the paper will be slightly off. And it will drive you crazy.  You know it’s all true.

You know what prep will last forever? The knowledge you develop, the connections you make, the understanding you grow within yourself as a teacher and a mathematician. Put your time in there.

So yes, go use the rest of your 17/18 school budget and get some materials made. Go back in July and knock the rest out. If you keep it simple, you can be done this summer, and spend your limited time during the year focused on prepping the instruction. You won’t regret it.

A few quotes from teachers who taught out of IM 6-8 this year:


I became a better teacher in year 13 thanks to @openupresources and the #LearnWithIM curriculum. I’m not sure I ever thought a curriculum would make me better but @IllustrateMath did. Then @Milken helped give me a stronger voice and now the sky seems to be the limit. So thankful.

— Brooke Powers (@LBrookePowers) May 30, 2018


Up next – All in with OUR/IM – The Big Picture.

Open Up Resources 6-8 Math by Illustrative Mathematics: All together, All In

If you are part of the online math community or a reader of Ed Reports, the fact that Illustrative Mathematics’ new middle school math curriculum is taking the math teaching community by storm is no surprise. We heard whisperings as it was being written and heard glowing reviews from the piloting districts. We recognized many of the research based instructional practices and structures. They were things we had worked hard to embed in our classroom – desperately trying to teach in ways true to our standards using materials that were criminally misaligned.

Since this curriculum is published by Open Up Resources, a non-profit publisher dedicated to “increasing equity in education by making excellent, top-rated curricula freely available to districts”, we didn’t have to wait. We logged on, dug in, and tried out a few lessons. But as anyone can tell you who has looked deeper, the materials are artfully crafted, with the key ideas of the grade woven and deepening throughout the course. Teaching anything less than the full curriculum is a disservice to the work.
And so next year – we’re all in.
Lots and lots of us.

For some of us, it is with full district support, with training and coaches and enthusiastic teammates in our PLC to learn with. Open Up’s commitment to providing the curriculum freely to all means that lots of districts have money for training, and some of us have had the pleasure to attend and begin our work toward an awesome school year.

But for others, they are venturing forth with very little back up. . . because they believe (hope) it will be what is best for their students.
If that is you, this series of posts is written with you in mind.

You don’t have to go it alone.


Some spots to learn:

Follow to receive emails when there is a new post, so you don’t have use your limited time to lurk expectantly.

  • The Twitter hashtag #learnwithIM :

A place where the community of educators using or learning about the curriculum can ask questions, share successes, and collaborate to improve our practice. Not on twitter? Start by just googling the hashtag and seeing what types of things you find. You don’t have to make an account or sign in to read what is there. If there is a comment that interests you, click on the side to pop it out and read the full conversation. Twitter is a place that educational professionals go to share and learn. Since so much of our days are spent shut in a room with no other adult, we need this forum as a spot to grow our practice. When you are ready to ask a question or join a conversation, make a twitter account and join in. There is not an “in crowd” here. The authors of the curriculum are as likely to join the conversation as a first year teacher. All are welcome.**

  • And for the summer at least, add this blog to that list.

I am a teacher on special assignment in a central California district, and my job for the next year is to support the teachers of my district as they spend a year piloting Illustrative Mathematics 6-8 curriculum. So while I am at it, thought I might as well add you to the list. I am a professional, but not an expert.* I’ll be sharing the things I am figuring out along the way and passing on to the teachers of our district. And to you too – welcome!

Next post – All in with OUR/IM – Materials Prep

*For experts I encourage you to find a IM sponsored training, even if you have to pay your own way. They are fabulous quality, and really gave those of us lucky enough to attend a clearer view of how it all works together.
**Other hashtags that will connect you to math teachers are #iteachmath and #mtbos . (Yes,that’s a weird hashtag. Follow the link if you are curious).
***If you need to play the whole song now: