How to Familiarize Teacher with new grade level content

When I first started teaching math, I had to relearn some of the math I was supposed to teach, either because I didn’t know which methods were the ones “taught” (back when I thought my job was to directly instruct students HOW to solve problems) or because I didn’t remember ever learning the topic, so I didn’t know it well enough to talk about (when I had to start teaching geometric transformations and when I had to teach angle relationships!). However, since I specialized in 8th grade math for five years, even though it shifted a bit under the common core, I felt (by this last year, especially) that I had a really good grasp of what each standard covered – what the skills involved were, the topics that were necessary to lay the foundation, and the types of problems the state exam might include or that students should be able to do to demonstrate mastery of those standards. I had ideas of how to assess that standard at various DOK (1 – 3 mostly; I’m still not sure what DOK 4 looks like in math outside of project-based learning!).

Now that I’m starting to teach 6th & 7th grade, I have to do all of that work all over again with not one, but two new curricula. I keep having to remind myself that I didn’t have a full grasp of the math involved in 8th grade when I started teaching it, and that I need to expect the first year or two to be a bit bumpy as I adjust.

I also know that my new school is a screened school, and we accelerate our math program so that the majority of the 8th grade takes the Algebra Regents (normally a 9th grade end-of-year exam, for those outside of NYS), so we need to cover some 7th grade topics in 6th grade and some 8th grade topics in 7th grade, so that the students are prepared for 8th/9th grade math in one year. So that means just looking at the state standards won’t be sufficient for learning the new content that I’m expected to teach, as some of it may be outside the scope of what’s expected (i.e. we teach 7th graders operations with scientific notation, which is actually 8EE3 & 8EE4!). I have the general unit plans for the year, as well as the skills that are covered, but I don’t yet know all the nuances. I don’t know the common mistakes to expect (not to the degree that I did with 8th grade!), so I don’t know what to anticipate yet!

I know that I plan to try the math problems I will teach with my students (as part of the 5 practices – the anticipating part!), but I’d like to get a head start in learning the content that I’m going to be covered. I’ve been deciding to do a few tasks to help familiarize myself with it:

  • Do all of the released problems from the 2016 6th & 7th grade state exams (done! Though I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the state exams or their questions).
  • Do all of the unit tests for 6th & 7th grade at my new school (done what I’ve been given so far!)
  • Read over the standards for 6th & 7th grade and highlight the major works, the supporting standards, and the additional ones (according to NYS’s engage NY website).
  • Create a “Know, Understand, Do” chart for each unit, where I detail what students should know, understand and be able to do at the end of the unit, based on the topics and skills and standards that my school claims should be covered.
  • Look at resources like CMP3, Mathematics in Context, and other curricula that I have access to and select some good problems to incorporate.

I’m wondering if anyone else here has any other ideas/suggestions/advice about other things I should do to get myself familiar with the 6th and 7th grade content.

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