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S2 Ep8: Why Good, Vetted Curriculum Matters with Patrick Vennebush

Updated: May 5, 2021

Patrick Vennebush is the Chief Learning Officer for The Math Learning Center, where he oversees the areas of Educator Support, Educator Resources, and Development. During his two decades in math education, he served as a classroom teacher, wrote questions for MathCounts, led the development and launch of a digital secondary math curriculum for Discovery Education, and oversaw the creation of materials and digital interactives for the NCTM Illuminations project. For fun, Patrick runs a middle school math club and is the author of Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks.

In our conversation, Patrick shares how the strategies and methods taught by his college professors "gave him no choice" in the trajectory his own educational path took. The idea that math education should be hands-on and inquiry-based is a deep belief of what good mathematics education is for Patrick, and he has been fortunate to work with several education companies that fostered this same philosophy. In our conversation, he focuses on why a good curriculum matters, and how a good curriculum is NOT going to provide everything a teacher needs, but instead, provides the questions important to create great lessons and learning opportunities for students.

When it comes to why the quality curriculum is important we explore:

  • How a curriculum can put the resources and tools together for a teacher to enable them to spend their time creating great lessons and learning experiences not searching for resources on the web and building from scratch each time, by themselves.

  • How what teachers want and ask for is a guiding structure--insights on how, why, and when to use all the different resources and supports available.

  • How to help math teachers make the connections between the manipulatives and the learning that should be happening.

  • All the work that is done by a team - including educators, editors, consultants etc. to build a curriculum that is coherent and has lessons that tie together and connections that build across grades.

This does not happen if you are looking for a single resource, just-in-time lessons, where you don’t necessarily know the quality or the alignment to the standard. A classroom teacher does not necessarily have the time to find the best resource out there, especially if you are looking for connections and consistency. Vetted curriculum, based on research and experts very deliberately connecting both the vertical and horizontal alignment (within grades and across grades) is what sets a good curriculum apart. Coherence matters.

When it comes to helping teachers and school districts implement a quality curriculum like Bridges, professional development in using the materials and making the connections is crucial. The challenge: finding time for that professional development and practice. We explore how the Bridges Curriculum has had to pivot the way it is delivered and supported during the pandemic into a largely digital platform. This includes ways for teachers to share things with their students asynchronously and synchronously, creating student kits (i.e. individual kits for students to use at home with materials they need to get that hands-on experience), and creating different ways to utilize the tools ‘online’ in creative ways, such as Digital Scavenger Hunts. One challenge the pandemic posed was discovering ways to help keep students on pace and at grade-level learning. To combat this challenge Bridges revised the scope-and-sequences of its curricula and in some cases created brand new ones.

Other themes/topics in the episode:

  • Developing quality curriculum

  • The power of high-quality curricula

  • Support for/supporting teachers

  • Pacing and flexibility of curriculum with different standards

  • Consumable resources and changes in a remote-learning world

  • Assessments and changes that are needed

  • Digital apps for replacing hands-on manipulatives

  • Professional development resources in a digital environment (live webinars and webinars-on-demand, self-study modules, Q&A sessions, etc.)

  • Tech-enhanced activities

  • Tools/routines that involve parents in the learning process

  • Being aligned with the common core - what implications it has for Bridges

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:

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