## 6th Grade and Pre-Algebra Standards

By now, you probably know that I am teaching all new courses this year. Over the last five years I taught only fifth grade, but this year I will be teaching three sections of sixth grade and one section of pre-algebra which is all seventh graders.

After using standards-based grading (SBG) with my fifth graders last year, I knew that it was going to take a lot of work to develop standards for two separate courses. Well, it is done! Ch..check!

I want to share those standards here in the hopes that others can make use of them or that teachers more experienced with these grade levels and this content can provide feedback. For reference, here is what a few of my 5th grade standards looked like last year -- my first year using SBG:

 Standard ID Concept Standard Sample Problem A1 Number System Decompose numbers into expanded form according to place value. Decompose 3,213 into expanded form. A2 Number System Recognize that in a multi-digit number, any digit represents 10 times as much as the same digit in the place to its right and 1/10 of what it the same digit represents in the place to its left. In the number 23,488, how many times as large is the value of the first 8 as the value of the second 8? A3 Terminology Use appropriate language to describe parts of multiplication and division equations. What are the terms for the different parts of a division problem? A4 Whole Number Multiplication Can complete 60 single-digit multiplication problems in 3 minutes. 8 x 7

After one year using the standards, I had a two goals to keep in mind as I made my two new lists of standards:

• Simplify - There was just too much information here for most fifth grader to parse. In writing these, I knew how important it was to be specific to ensure that it was clear when a standard was met. The result, however, was that most students had a difficult time knowing what each standard was all about. This year, I worked hard to declutter and simplify the language for each standard in order to make them more accessible to students
• Shorten - Man, there were a lot of fifth grade standards. 55 was too many for 5th graders to keep track of. I broke down concepts enough that it was very easy to see when students had met each standard, but the total number of standards was overwhelming to both students and to me. As I wrote my standards this year, I erred on the side of making each standard too broad, knowing that I could always split them into separate standards if needed during the year

As you look these over, keep in mind that I teach at an independent school that does not follow the common core state standards. So, if topics seem out of place or absent, that may be the cause. If you notice a glaring absence, though, I would still like to hear it. I can always add topics in if they are appropriate.

Sixth Grade Standards[6]Just get in touch with me if you would like a copy of these in a more accessible format. Say, a spreadsheet.

Sixth grade covers decimal, fraction, and integer operations as well as geometry and measurement (both 2D and 3D). The course uses the Connected Mathematics Project 3 (CMP3) curriculum. Specifically, we use the Let's Be Rational (Grade 6), Decimal Ops (Grade 6), Covering and Surrounding (Grade 6), Shapes and Designs (Grade 7), and Accentuate the Negative (Grade 7) modules to meet the content my school covers in grade 6. Here are my grade six standards:

The first thing to notice is that there are only 22 standards. Already this simplifies the process for students and parents. The downside, though, is that there are some standards that hold some pretty deep and rich ideas.

For example, "D4 - Convert between fractions, decimals, and percents" covers a lot of material. Some of this is review from their fifth grade year, and last year I had this set of content broken into at least five separate standards. I will have to be keep an eye on standards like this one to be sure that they are specific enough. If not, I can always rework them during the year after talking it over with students.

The second thing to notice is that I provided a very general overview of the standards (column 2) separate from a detailed description of what is covered (column 3). My hope is that students will have an easier time understanding what the standards cover by referencing column 2.

The CMP3 curriculum made writing these standards incredibly simple.[7]Just on the incredibly unlikely chance that someone who helped author the CMP3 texts reads this, I want to say "Thank you!" The CMP3 teacher's guides are incredibly helpful. The simple but detailed analysis of the mathematics covered in each module is amazing. When teaching a new unit, I have two go-to references for the content: the CMP3 teacher's guide and Math Matters. I know some studies have shown that TG's aren't always used, but I DEFINITELY use these, even when I am not using the curriculum. The front of the Teacher's Guide has a list of the ideas covered in the text as well as the common core standards that are covered. I just combed through those and combined related topics into individual standards. It helps that I have taught a lot of this before (albeit when I was a young noob teacher).

Pre-Algebra Standards[8]Just get in touch with me if you would like a copy of these in a more accessible format. Say, a spreadsheet.

Creating the pre-algebra standards for the seventh grade course was a much more involved process. The text for the course is Larson Pre-Algebra seen to the right.[9]Not the Florida version shown here. We use the regular version which has a female soccer player on the cover.

As I have noted before, this text is about as traditional as they come. Each section introduces a super-specific skill, teaches an algorithm in one or two examples, then has students practice applying that algorithm multiple times. There is no big list of ideas or content to cover in the front of the text -- this may be because I only had access to the student edition -- so I had to pull the big content ideas from the text.

I started by making a list of each section in the book and what algorithm or content each section addressed. From there, I started combining related sections into groups. Related ideas were sometimes multiple chapters apart. For example, "solving one-step equations by multiplying both sides" was section 2.6. But, if the value you needed to multiply by was a fraction or decimal, you had to wait until chapter 5. It seems insane to me to separate those ideas at all, since they are not really different conceptually. So I combined them into a single standard.

After getting a rough list of standards from the text, I reorganized them and added detail about what meeting them would look like. In the end, I ended up with what I think is a pretty good list. Having never taught this course, though, I am sure that there will be some changes as the year progresses.[10]The last four standards are topics that the course does not need to cover, but that ARE in the text. I added them there for reference, but I will likely not get to them.

Since I will not be following the (illogical) progression of the text, I have officially decided that my pre-algebra course will not be organized into units.

At first I was pretty nervous about the idea of having no larger organized unit structure. When will I have tests? How will I pace myself? But then I remembered that I have been trying (for years) to have fewer and fewer big tests. A unit-less structure will support that as there won't be any predetermined time for a unit test.

Going unit-less is also more respectful of the nature of mathematics. If mathematics is a web of ideas that are connected in amazing ways, adding arbitrary units will only disguise this nature. Solving 1-step and 2-step equations should not be separated into different chapters or units. The ideas in pre-algebra build on each other, and I want my practice to reflect that.

Closing Thoughts

Creating lists of standards is exhausting. But, I cannot think of a better way to prepare to teach a new course. When I first got the news that I was teaching pre-algebra in July, I was pretty overwhelmed. I am comfortable with algebraic content, but I was not even sure what content was covered.

Taking the time to outline what ideas I want my students to master forced me to engage deeply with the course content. It helped me to see connections between ideas as I grouped algorithms, skills, and concepts into standards. And, it helped build my confidence as I prepared for the course.

With the start of the school year only a few days away, I am excited to help students, new and old, discover the beauty and interconnectedness of mathematics. I cannot wait!