Does It Work? Wednesday

I sent this as an e-mail to a group of teachers but I would also like to pose it to you my friends!

What do you know about College Preparatory Math?

I am the only algebra and geometry teacher at a small school and I am only in my second year of teaching. I have been creating my lessons every night on my own, loosely based on common core standards and the textbook. Except I hate textbooks. I am working with an instructional coach for the first time and so I feel like other parts of my teaching are improving and I'd like to improve my curriculum as well. I'm intrigued by CPM, College Preparatory Math, and I just have some questions that I would love to have answered by teachers that are using this curriculum already. Thank you in advance for answering any of these questions and any feedback at all is much appreciated!

  • What were your first impressions with CPM and how have they changed over time?
  • How complicated was CPM to implement?
  • What changes did you see in your classroom dynamic and student behavior after starting CPM? What has the student response been to CPM?
  • Is CPM recommended for a range of ability levels, from remedial  to gifted?
  • Does it seem strange to you that CPM homework assignments are based on past concepts instead of current concepts? How does that work for you?
  • When assessing, do your tests include questions from the lesson and the homework? Did you or do you implement team testing and individual tests?
  • In your opinion, do students stay actively engaged? Is the material appropriately challenging?
  • Do students learn to better think, problem solve, and reason?
  • Do students take notes in addition to the work they do in class, as a team, with partners, or on their own?
  • Have you seen an improvement in state/benchmark test scores in a single year or over time? (I hate to ask this but it is something my administration is very focused on this year and while I do not want to teach only 'to the test', I would be doing a disservice to my students to ignore it.)
  • Are students learning and retaining information any more/better with CPM than with a previous curriculum?
  • Overall, what do you think about CPM and what else do I need to know?


    1. I haven't taught CPM, but was very interested and went to a week-long conference this summer. (My admins weren't interested in purchasing another curriculum though, so...) It's very wordy, but let's be honest -- in real life nobody hands you a sheet full of equations and says, "Go for it!" -- all the math problems in real life are word problems because we think in words. You'll need to support your English learners and any students with a really low reading level. I teach 8th graders, both Algebra and Pre-Algebra (for the kids who didn't understand last year). The experienced CPM teachers at the conference really liked the Algebra curriculum, but kinda let me know that the Algebra Readiness doesn't work so well for slower students (who who would be my target for that material). Apparently they've integrated lots of Geometry, but in a somewhat contrived way that just confuses the students. *shrug* Everyone was enthusiastic about their Algebra 1, and I overheard good things about Geometry... If I taught Alg & Geometry, I would probably give it a shot. The textbooks are relatively cheap. Another thing to consider: if you get free copies at school, CPM sells a thing called a blackline master textbook, and you can legally run copies of it for your students...

    2. I can't speak specifically about CPM, but find out if parents in your area are involved in the math wars. If you have a vocal group of parents opposed to your school's choice of curriculum, then you may have students who resist learning (with parental support).

      There are a lot of people who feel the CPM books are dumbed down and are particularly inappropriate for "mathy" kids.

    3. Looking forward to following the comments here; I'm very curious about CPM myself. (I'm only leaving a comment because it's the only way I could see to subscribe to comments.)

    4. I have been considering CPM for Precalculus, and I'd be interested in comments about those texts also.

    5. Saw this in the morning, but didnt' have time to comment then. I'm kind of surprized that no one else has had experience with CPM.

      I've taught Algebra Connections (Algebra 1--the newer version) and Algebra 2 with CPM. Your question, "does it work?", isn't something I can really answer. Like any curriculum it all depends on how it is implemented.

      So, my experiences with CPM...let me frame this for you a little bit. I am a big proponent of group work, and have worked closely with colleagues to implement Complex Instruction in my classroom. I believe that group work is an essential component of effectively implementing CPM. It is also an extremely difficult thing to do. You can't just put students in groups and expect them to all work well together. So that's a big caveat.

      The amount and complexity of the language is a big challenge for ELL students. I rewrote a lot of problems to reduce the language load for my students.

      The homework...I had so few students actually complete their homework that I don't have any good data on whether the review is good/bad. Especially in Algebra 1. In Algebra 2, the retun rate was much better and students most of the time did pretty well on the review problems.

      For teachers who want their students to get a lot of practice with skills, there are very few drill-type problems in CPM.

      And as someone mentioned above, if your community is involved in the Math Wars, you might want to take a long look at whether that will be too much of an obstacle.

      I hope this helps. If you have any questions in specific, I'd be happy to tell you more.

    6. My very first year teaching I used the CPM curriculum and I am extremely sad that I no longer have access to it at my new school. I'll do my best to give you my opinions in response to your questions:

      1. Originally I did not like CPM. I felt like the students wouldn't get enough practice to really master the content. After working with the algebra I, algebra II, geometry, and pre-algebra texts I find the opposite to be true in most instances. The students have adequate practice (if you assign homework and actually make it part of your day) and the quality of learning is much better.
      2. I arrived in the program's 3rd year of implementation. From my experience, the administration had to be prepared to support you when a parent calls and asks about the "group work" and "group scores" and "is my kids grade hurt by another kid"...type questions. We also implemented it from middle school up...for the entire district. That might have an impact on success/failure.
      3. All levels of learners can benefit from CPM. I had every level of student during my time with CPM. I found that the students it served best were the extremes (low levels and high levels). However, all levels benefited over traditional instruction (imo).
      4. The spiraling homework was based on the idea that students should master concepts over time. This way you could actually grade homework if you wanted to, because by that time they should have already seen the concept several times and had the opportunity to ask questions. This saved review days. I very rarely reviewed for any test. The students knew when we finished the last section, the next day would be group test, and then the next would be the individual test.
      5. CPM is very specific on what % of tested material should be old/new. I believe it is a 30-60 ratio (30 new, 60 old). I LOVED this...same reasons as homework...gave students time to master the content without being penalized for learning slower/faster than anyone else.
      6. I used team and indivial tests. Teamwork/tests/etc... was only 10% of the overall grade. And generally...the kids who were worried about team tests, the team tests HELPED their grade.
      7. The students stay actively engaged if YOU stay actively engaged. If you are the type of teacher that likes to sit behind your desk while students work on something...this is NOT FOR YOU. You can make the material as challenging or not-challenging as you wish (CPM provides guidance for that).
      8. YES YES YES....this is the MAIN reason I love CPM so much. It actually helps create critical thinkers instead of just "plug it in" type of students.
      9. I had some students that would take additional notes. However, many did not and they were just fine.
      10. The school I was in showed dramatic increases the first three years of implementation. (10+ % points) I never bothered to teach test specfic content because the curriculum was so good it naturally covered items that were on our state test.
      11. With CPM it is easier for students to recall knowledge because there are "big problems" that run throughout the chapter(s). Most courses will tie that together. So they will retain it better if they have multiple CPM courses in a row.
      12. It is drastically different than traditional teaching...even simple "group work". It is a whole teaching philosophy. It will take a lot to get used to it, but you need to go into it being willing to give it a shot "as intended". It will not be as effective if you pick and choose the parts you want to use from CPM. It really is all or nothing for the best results.

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    8. I used to teach at a magnet school in Philadelphia where we were given the task to create our own Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry, and Pre-Calculus curriculums using various texts and other sources. The College Preparatory Mathematics was used as supplementary source. It provided us with a lot of real world problems and project ideas. It also allowed for us as teachers to have a better understanding of the mathematics that we were teaching. As a person it easier for you to learn math through understanding and exploration rather than memorization. It was hard to create the environment needed for CPM to be successful. My students wanted to learn math the way they always have been taught, through memorization.

      Since I enjoyed learning from CPM curriculum so much, I decided to use it as a primary textbook in my Algebra 1 and 2 classes during my second year of teaching. My experiences were that it was truly difficult for the students to believe in this way of learning math. It also didn’t help that I was the only faculty member teaching solely using this curriculum. It was a risk that without full support from the principal and mathematics faculty was destined to fail.

      Personally, I believe that CPM is the best College Prep Curriculum out there but is only successful in a smaller class setting with students who enjoy math and working in groups. I’ve seen it work with low achieving students at a private school. CPM however, has been most successful when used as a supplemental source by teachers for learning themselves and for lesson planning.

    9. Boo :( I had a many paragraphed response typed out but I guess it didn't submit correctly. I have taught CPM Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry. I LOVE the curriculum. I'll try to re-construct my post again later when I have a bit more time.

    10. justanotherteacher,
      I did get your comment! It didn't show up on here but it showed up in my email. I wanted to contact you for more information but couldn't find an email address for you. Please, let's talk!

      Mr. R,
      Could you explain what you mean by using it as a supplement? I want to use it for Algebra 1 and possibly Geometry but I will be the only one who does. I have some small classes, 7 and 10, and 3 medium classes, 13, 15, 19. I'm trying to figure out how to do group work with different sizes and how best to use the curriculum. If you used it as a supplement, how was the structure and instruction different than what CPM proposes?

    11. What we did was create our own textbook by pulling activities and exercises from other texts. The CPM influence was found in how we lectured to students and in the mini ‘discovery’ activities that we did with students. Essentially we taught in a traditional manner and only let students do part of a group discovery activity before we lectured the rest using powerpoints.

    12. Oh gotcha good deal :) My email is waltherap@gmail.com. You are welcome to email any time!!!

      I love your blog btw!

    13. I use CPM Algebra Connections for Algebra 1

      This is my first year with it, I have taught Algebra for 9 years. I am struggling with its "slowness." Too much time with Algebra tiles and I have been frustrated with all of the group work sometimes.

      I love the team tests. I like the problems. The homework is do-able for all students with excellent on-line help.

      Overall, it is the best curriculum I have ever used but it can't be taught straight from the materials, I'll be glad when I get through this year so I can know what I'm doing next year.