Monthly Archives: June 2016

Algebra 2 Concept-Based Map (Draft)

I’m in beautiful Pomos, Cyprus, having finished my second year at an international school in Nicosia.  Pomos is an inspiring place to work and to plan for next school year, and I am anxious to share the work I am doing with you for your thoughts and feedback.


This post reflects a current draft of next year’s work for my Grade 10 Algebra 2 class (Algebra 1 to come soon). I want to begin by gratefully acknowledging some of the most important sources for materials and inspiration for me.  My online MTBoS community is wonderfully generous, I have some top-notch local colleagues, and it is a truly great time to be a collaborative math teacher.

  • Although I veer in several key places, my starting point for this map was the work of David Wees (@davidwees) and the New Visions for Public Schools’ Algebra 2 curriculum.
  • The kernel of inspiration for the work was inspired by Glen Wadell’s (@gwaddellnvhs) big picture thinking, in particular THIS POST, which has been churning around in my head since last June when I first read it.  The way that he begins the year communicates a clarity, which connects his whole course together in a way that I wanted to emulate.
  • Thanks to Pam Wilson (@pamjwilson) as well for sharing her linear equations unit, which was a big help for me.
  • Henri Picciotto’s post on “Forward Thinking”, which helped me to focus on always keeping the big questions and concepts of the course at the front of my mind when planning.
  • My colleague from the English department, Laramie Shockey, and her help in understanding Lynn Erickson’s Concept-Based Curriculum Model (which is a required strategy at my school, but which I had not found useful until Laramie’s mentoring).  This process was really clarifying and useful for me. I was doing many, if not most of these things already, but this is a concise way of framing it, which helped me to pull the pieces together.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 3.28.00 PM

By its nature, this map remains a work in process and is a living document. To keep this as relevant and lasting as I could, I worked to pare this down to the most important concepts for the course – but any curriculum map has very limited meaning until a group of students actually arrives. The process of creating this map really helped me to gain clarity about each part of the course, and what I want students to learn.  It helped me to know what to remove from the course, and what to prioritize.  This has to work differently for each school, and yours will naturally have to be different from mine, but here is some of what guided my choices:

  • Sequencing – whenever possible, begin with informal before formalizing both in the small (day by day) and the big picture. 
  • Include multiple exposures to ideas – for example, identify linear functions visually in Unit 1, formalize and practice skills with linear functions during Unit 2.  Compare linear functions to exponentials in Unit 3, and model with linear functions in unit 7.
  • My map is based on Virginia State Standards (My school’s standards of choice) with the addition of the CCSS Math Practices, but in addition, my curriculum for grade 8 and grade 10 is geared to prepare students for the IB math program in grades 11 and 12.  In addition, I teach some very specific skills to support the grade 10 science curriculum.
  • I teach equations first, and then functions. I find that students can work with functions more fluently once they are comfortable with the algebra. Although this is different from the New Visions work, I have had success with this sequence, and it seems to work with the populations I teach.
  • We include right angle trig and a study of vectors during A2 to support grade 10 students who take physics during the second half of the year.
  • Generally I pared down the language in this document.  While I like specific academic language, this version was developed with kid-language in mind. I want kids to actually be able to say the things that are written as generalizations when a visitor comes in to ask them what they are learning and why.
  • In addition to the sequence of topics, I included a “Unit X,” which emphasizes the importance of problem-solving and cultivating the habits of mind of a mathematician in grade 10 math.

I found that the concept-based model helped me to focus on what I wanted students to know and to do, but I haven’t yet made the whole of the model useful for me.  It’s quite possible that I don’t fully understand the concept-based system, but I don’t understand the importance of the one word conceptual lens or one word for Macro/Micro Concepts, so I’ve left these out of my maps.  My school asks that teachers use a specific model (Atlas Rubicon – Yuk, $%#&@, and Blech!!) for our internal sharing, so I do have to include them in that version. Feel free to send an email if you’d like to see these as well, but for me they weren’t that useful. Please let me know if you understand these better than I do and can lend some insight.

My process:

This process has to be personal and specific to your situation, but here were my steps.

  1. Name the concept (unit)
  2. Sketch/draft generalization for the unit.  Brainstorm Essential or Guiding Questions
  3. List important topics, facts, procedures
  4. Write the related generalization for each topic, fact or procedure
  5. Revisit unit generalization based on what happened during steps 3-4
  6. Translate topics/facts into “Critical Content” (What students should know) and “Key Skills” (What students can do)
  7. Design formative and summative assessments
  8. Cycle through 1-7 until they (mostly) match each other and I am (mostly) satisfied with them
  9. Correlate with my standards to see if I’ve missed anything
  10. Cycle back through 2-9
  11. Add important unit vocabulary
  12. Organize the “Possible Learning Experiences” – this is the most fun for me – I love to source, modify and/or create and choreograph the experience for my students.  This document does not yet include this part, but I will publish it here soon.

Steps 1-7 are cyclical for me, and I think you could start anywhere as long as you cycle through these until they all match – this was one of the real moments of clarity for me. I would write a unit generalization, and then realize that it didn’t match the facts/topics. I had to decide which one I had to change, which forced me to make a clear decision about what I wanted to prioritize. I wanted to connect my guiding questions with my essential understandings. If one was in there without a clear reference to the other, I tried to visit them until there was a match, or I felt that there was a reason to include one without the other.

I would love your feedback on this map.  Does the sequence make sense? Am I missing anything critical?  Is my language kid-friendly enough? Academic enough?  Do you do things in another order that works better for you?  Thanks in advance for your thoughts!  Here are the maps in Keynote and .pdf format.

Algebra 2 Conceptual Course Map DRAFT 3.key

Algebra 2 Conceptual Course Map DRAFT 3