Order of Topics
Our district takes topics in a different order. Can I do chapters out of order?
The best results come from doing the chapters in order. Even for states that test in March, there should be enough time.
A good curriculum must be flexible enough for teachers to accommodate their students. In Think Math!, that flexibility is built into the lessons, not into the order of the year.
Why is it not a good idea to rearrange the chapters? Mathematics is not just a collection of things to know that could be learned in any order. Think Math! unfolds mathematical knowledge coherently. Each chapter builds on previous chapters. As new ideas are presented, the chapter maintains earlier knowledge by using (practicing) it. Switching the order destroys that coherence. Skipping a chapter leaves students without some of the prerequisites for chapter that follow. It would be like reading the chapters of a good book out of order.
Sometimes, chapters on the "same topic" are separated far apart (as is the case, for example, in the 3rd grade chapters on multiplication). Why were they separated, and not gathered together as one large "unit"? Generally, a "break" is to let an idea ripen and develop before it is extended. The intervening chapters exercise the ideas and skills (usually subtly), strengthening them during the break, so that the return to that topic is successful. Occasionally the break is just to keep the pace lively and the topics feeling fresh.
If earlier chapters are prerequisites for later chapters, what happens to students who transfer in during the year? This is never easy, no matter what the curriculum, and requires extra attention and thought from the teacher. Think Math!'s lessons are robust and varied enough to give the teacher good options, and to give these students many entry points so that they can catch up with the rest of the class.
Even though each year also builds on the prior years, Think Math! was designed, and tested, to work with students who have never been through it before. The first chapter of each grade starts "easy" so that all students can succeed and so that teachers have a chance to get to know their students, but also provides enough of a new "slant" on the mathematics so that students experience starting the year with something new and exciting, rather than dull (and demeaning) review.
Will the essential topics be covered before the state test?
Yes! Topics are arranged in an order that assures preparation for state tests and also provides appealing, valuable, appropriate work for the months following the tests. See Pacing for more detail.
Our state doesn't require that topic at my grade level. Can I skip those lessons?
Skipping is risky. Lessons build on each other. One way that Think Math! helps students achieve is by building parts of skills and big ideas before the students need the full-blown skill. Getting rid of these parts is not fatal, but makes learning more difficult later on.
Also, most lessons have at least two layers of learning: the main objective of the lesson, and embedded practice of earlier learning and/or foreshadowing of later learning. Even if one goal of the lesson seems expendible, the added value may not be. Whole chapters often have this "double layer" structure, introducing one topic via another topic that enhances or extends earlier material. For example, grade 5 chapter 6 presents transformations (reflection, rotation, and translation) in the context of grids and graphs. For your state, only one of those topics might be essential, but skipping the chapter skips both topics. In any grade, chapter 1 can also look "too easy" or "miscellaneous" or "not needed for this year." But, in every grade, chapter 1 introduces ideas that students will encounter throughout the year, while creating essential opportunities for teachers to get to know their students.
Of course, lessons do get skipped. Students miss lessons when they are ill, and Think Math! builds in enough support to allow a missed lesson from time to time. Even so, deliberately skipping a lesson because it seems not to be required by the state is rarely a good idea. As in all good teaching, you must use your judgment.
Kids like variety. Can I skip around?
Kids do like variety. In fact, good teaching deliberately uses variety to help keep the day lively.
But, in general, the answer to "Can I skip around?" is "It's generally not a good idea." Use pace, and classroom management for variety. Try a lesson on the rug, or from the "back" of the room, or recall a game... Because mathematics is about logical thinking, and is not simply a list of skills that could be learned independently in any order, Think Math! lessons are carefully crafted to build on one another. Skipping lessons destroys that structure.
When you are fully familiar with the program, you will get a feel for activities that can be moved, but be conservative about change, and don't make changes until you have taught the entire program and know how it works "as is." Remember, anything you move earlier pushes something else later. And things that are in later chapters often depend on learning that was begun in earlier chapters.
Do I have to do the Headline Story and Mental Math before the lesson?
No. These should be done every day but can be done at any time of day.
Even though these are described in "step 1" of the lesson in the Teacher Guide, they can be taught at any time, before or after the main body of the lesson ("step 2" in the Teacher Guide).
Some teachers like to prepare the Headline Story on the board or chart paper the night before, have children think about it (or write in their journal) as they come into class the next day, and then hold a brief discussion of the Headline Story during the morning opener (calendar time, or going over the day's schedule, or whatever morning routine the class follows). Some post it early, have students think (or write) in their free time, and hold the discussion at some later time of day.
Mental Math is excellent for "lost time": waiting on line in the hall, cooling down after recess, a lively break between reading and social studies...
See Headline stories and Mental math for more.