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March 12, 2021

Common Core Math: Differentiating for Special Education

The teachers at Tahlequah High School in Tahlequah, Oklahoma are committed to making sure all of their students receive engaging and rigorous math instruction. After realizing that some of their ninth graders weren’t ready to take Algebra 1, they created an Algebra Skills class. In this class, students (many of whom are in Special Education) spend their ninth grade year working on basic algebra skills with math teacher Gary Akin and Special Education inclusion teacher Marjean Dowling. During their 10th grade year, the same students participate in a contextual Algebra 1 class.

Watching an Algebra Skills lesson on solving equations in one variable, it’s clear that these students are getting the support they need to be successful. Gary begins the class by giving students two assessment questions to work on on their own. After monitoring what his students are understanding, he then presents a step-by-step method for solving equations.

Students then work independently to solve problems while receiving one-on-one support from their teachers. Both Gary and Marjean patiently work with students as they break down problems into manageable steps. Watching the teachers make sure students understand each step before moving on shows their commitment to making sure all students receive a strong foundation in algebra.

Meanwhile, other ninth graders at Tahlequah High take a geometry class with Chuck Pack. In this lesson, we see students apply their knowledge of similar triangles to measure the height of the school’s flagpole. These students are challenged to use their content knowledge to tackle an engaging, real-world problem.

Chuck’s students are eager to work together, share their thinking, and learn from each other. Chuck shares how he calls on extroverted students to share their thinking first, knowing that these students are able to handle critiques from their peers. Chuck then develops the same skills with introverted students by working in small groups. Because of this personalized approach, all students are engaged in making and critiquing arguments.

One of the reasons the teachers at Tahlequah High School have been able to create such a comprehensive math program is because they work so well together. Through regular collaboration with colleagues, the teachers receive feedback and support from each other. As they have transitioned to the Common Core State Standards, the math teachers at Tahlequah High have worked together to learn, experiment, and expand their practices.

In this video, Chuck collaborates with his colleague Gabby Vieth to refine his plans for the flagpole lesson. The teachers reflect on how the lesson has gone in the past and make adjustments based on their current set of students. Through their conversation, the teachers also reflect on their experience with the CCSS. It’s powerful to hear Chuck note that one of the biggest shifts he’s experienced is moving away from direct teaching and into a facilitator role.

Through this video series, we get to see four teachers who are committed to making sure all of their students succeed in high school math. When Chuck explains his mantra, “Teach kids, not math,” it’s even more clear that the math team at Tahlequah High cares deeply about all students. The dedication and collaborative spirit of these teachers pays off in their students’ success.


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