How To Avoid The Math Professional Development Trap

As we sat down for a dinner meeting with an amazing group of educators last night, it happened…

You know, the trap.

Despite all of us being well intentioned, experienced and very well-read educator leaders, the colleague leading the meeting had fallen right into the professional development trap.

You know the one…

It is the trap we all find ourselves in when we let our excitement to push forward take over and we forget that humans don’t learn like that. 

We’ve all been there. The meeting facilitator begins at a nice pace and shares thought provoking questions to get the group talking and really moving along nicely.

Then, out of nowhere, a great discussion turns into really fast “telling” and a great learning experience turns into a “sit and get” meeting that everyone can’t wait to get out of.

Although this example of the trap we all find ourselves in was shared at the “meeting” level, we often get ourselves caught up in this same trap at the long-range, district math professional development planning level as well. 

You know what I’m talking about: setting unrealistic expectations for growth in the area of math professional development and then somehow feeling disappointed at the end of the school year when it feels like very little progress has been made.

Don’t Let The Math Professional Development Trap Get You!

As we reflect on the professional learning that has taken place in this school year and begin to plan ahead for next year, be sure to keep an eye out for “the professional development trap”. It is waiting for you with its arms wide open.

Don’t be confused by what I’m saying as permission to have low expectations for educators or for mathematics programming in your district. We must continue to have big, bodacious goals for our mathematics educators and we want to clearly communicate those goals along with the steps we plan to follow to reach them over time.

The hard part is planning and communicating these goals without overwhelming those math educators you are hoping to help the most.

So, if you could pick one realistic goal for the mathematics educators you serve in your district to achieve by the end of this school year, what would it be?

If you are specifically a District Level Math Mentor – a consultant, coordinator, coach, administrator, superintendent or director – and you feel like your district math professional development plan is stuck in a rut, book a time to have a school or district level PD plan review for some feedback and suggestions as to what you might do or where you might go next.

This is the first step in getting OUT of that math professional development trap we often find ourselves in and on the path towards making a real impact in our math classrooms district wide.

Resources Related To The Video

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Each lesson consists of:

Each Make Math Moments Problem Based Lesson consists of a Teacher Guide to lead you step-by-step through the planning process to ensure your lesson runs without a hitch!

Each Teacher Guide consists of:

  • Intentionality of the lesson;
  • A step-by-step walk through of each phase of the lesson;
  • Visuals, animations, and videos unpacking big ideas, strategies, and models we intend to emerge during the lesson;
  • Sample student approaches to assist in anticipating what your students might do;
  • Resources and downloads including Keynote, Powerpoint, Media Files, and Teacher Guide printable PDF; and,
  • Much more!

Each Make Math Moments Problem Based Lesson begins with a story, visual, video, or other method to Spark Curiosity through context.

Students will often Notice and Wonder before making an estimate to draw them in and invest in the problem.

After student voice has been heard and acknowledged, we will set students off on a Productive Struggle via a prompt related to the Spark context.

These prompts are given each lesson with the following conditions:

  • No calculators are to be used; and,
  • Students are to focus on how they can convince their math community that their solution is valid.

Students are left to engage in a productive struggle as the facilitator circulates to observe and engage in conversation as a means of assessing formatively.

The facilitator is instructed through the Teacher Guide on what specific strategies and models could be used to make connections and consolidate the learning from the lesson.

Often times, animations and walk through videos are provided in the Teacher Guide to assist with planning and delivering the consolidation.

A review image, video, or animation is provided as a conclusion to the task from the lesson.

While this might feel like a natural ending to the context students have been exploring, it is just the beginning as we look to leverage this context via extensions and additional lessons to dig deeper.

At the end of each lesson, consolidation prompts and/or extensions are crafted for students to purposefully practice and demonstrate their current understanding. 

Facilitators are encouraged to collect these consolidation prompts as a means to engage in the assessment process and inform next moves for instruction.

In multi-day units of study, Math Talks are crafted to help build on the thinking from the previous day and build towards the next step in the developmental progression of the concept(s) we are exploring.

Each Math Talk is constructed as a string of related problems that build with intentionality to emerge specific big ideas, strategies, and mathematical models. 

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

Use our OPEN ACCESS multi-day problem based units!

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

MMM Unit - Snack Time Fractions Unit


Partitive Division Resulting in a Fraction

Shot Put Multi Day Problem Based Unit - Algebraic Substitution


Equivalence and Algebraic Substitution

Wooly Worm Race - Representing and Adding Fractions


Fractions and Metric Units


Scavenger Hunt - Data Management and Finding The Mean


Represent Categorical Data & Explore Mean

Downloadable resources including blackline mastershandouts, printable Tips Sheetsslide shows, and media files do require a Make Math Moments Academy Membership.

Use our OPEN ACCESS multi-day problem based units!