Saturday, August 4, 2012

An Educational Journey

I found out on Wednesday that the math company I work for, Key Curriculum, had been acquired by McGraw-Hill Education. In the span of less than an hour I went from Key employee to McGraw-Hill employee.  Needless to say, it's been quite a week!

In the world of math education and publishing, this acquisition is a big deal. Key Curriculum has long been seen as a maverick in math education, representing inquiry math with their Discovering Mathematics textbook series (now a part of Kendall Hunt Publishing), Integrated Math Program and of course, amazing dynamic mathematics software, Sketchpad, TinkerPlots and Fathom. Employees and authors of Key are known for their authenticity, with those working directly with textbooks, software and training being former classroom math teachers.

However, this acquisition appears, to some, to represent Key selling out to "the man" or the big bad corporate world, as if somehow the quality and authentic mathematical content and teaching practices that Key represents will now be gone. I received several responses to my personal announcement to the consultants and moderators that work for me asking  if I was really okay with the change, or if I was already towing the company line and had to say this is a good move for Key.

I am not towing the company line.  Heck, I don't even know what the company line is yet!

I truly believe this acquisition is going to be a great thing for Key Curriculum (we will keep the brand name), the software and products we take with us, the people who are going forward with McGraw-Hill, as well as  math education and education in general. Sounds lofty, I know. Perhaps the the best way to explain my feelings about the future with McGraw-Hill is to take you on my personal educational journey.

I started teaching middle school mathematics in 1989. Despite a first year where I was a floating teacher (i.e. no classroom), teaching large classes with the 'toughest' population (typical for new teachers), and getting both sexually harassed by one student and hit by another, I stuck with it because I was determined to be a great teacher. I wanted students to LOVE math because I did. When the chance came along to join a special middle school math masters program under the direction of Dr. John Van DeWalle  and Dr. Ena Gross, focused on inquiry math teaching and student-centered learning, I signed on right away. My teaching changed dramatically during the three years I was in the program, focusing on using collaboration, hands-on manipulatives,and  real-world applications. It is here where I first discovered Key books and resources and began using these in all my classes. With the push of John and Ena, I also began sharing things I was doing at local math conferences, then state math conferences and eventually, the national math conferences.

Let's admit it - I became addicted to creating new and interesting ways to teach math and even more addicted to sharing what I was learning with others - in my school, in my district, and around the country. Why wouldn't EVERYONE want to teach math in an inquiry, hands-on way where students were engaged? My mission led me on a typical path in education leadership - I became a math department chair and a district professional development presenter, even as I moved to different school districts and cities. I saw each step up as a way to expose more teachers to great mathematics resources and teaching strategies and as a result, inspire more students to love math. I eventually ended up as a district math specialist, supporting over 200 secondary math teachers through modeling, coaching and providing professional development.

In this 17 year journey, I was constantly looking for new ideas and resources to bring to my teaching, which is how I of course discovered all things Key Curriculum.  The Discovering Mathematics Series for Algebra and Geometry became my bible, Sketchpad became my daily technology tool and I did whatever I could to use these and other hands-on resources with my students in all the middle schools and high schools I taught and supervised.  Let's face it - it was a love affair with Key.

During my time as a district leader, I started a doctorate program in education technology. I am fascinated by the ability of technology to enhance and expand students understanding, not just in mathematics, but in any subject.  As always, my goals were to reach even MORE teachers and, in turn, more students. These goals were always on my mind, so when two years into my district leadership and doctorate work I was given the opportunity to join Key Curriculum as their professional development coordinator, I jumped at the chance. Work with the products I love, spread the joy of these products to teachers around the country, and work with amazing educators? You bet!!

(I have to admit, as a certified Key groupie (math teachers will totally relate to this), meeting the folks at Key was a little like meeting the Rolling Stones or Coldplay.  Rockstars!)

My time with Key has been an amazing journey.  Being on the other side of the publishing world, the provider vs. the receiver, was an eye opening experience. It's a tough business out there, and competing against much larger companies with a lot more money and resources was really hard. Convincing a textbook committee that Discovering Mathematics was the best choice for their students in a 20 minute presentation against much larger companies with many more resources is something I had to do on a regular basis and it was like going into battle every time.  Really tough. But, I, and all of Key's employees, believed in our products, which is what spurred me on every time. But, last year, when we sold our textbooks to Kendall Hunt publishing, and our company became a much smaller (around 42 employees) company focused on our dynamic mathematics software, I have to admit, I breathed a sigh of relief. 

The books were going to a company with the resources to bring them to a wider audience, so good for the books and good for Key. As someone in education technology, I realize the future is going digital and so Key's move to focus just on our technology was music to my ears.  And it's been a fun year - a crazy year, with changing our name, getting a new website up and going, and working with a smaller staff where everyone was doing the job of about five people, but a fun year.

I love technology. I love the possibilities that technology brings to education. In my doctorate program, I have focused on how to help teachers of any subject integrate all kinds of technology (social media, podcasts, software, etc.) into their teaching. The goal is to help them engage students in learning and expand learning opportunities. Having a year to really focus on Key's amazing software and share the joy of learning mathematics with expansive tools has been a blast. But - Key is small.  And while we have great ideas about what we want to do to improve our technology, create new technology (like our iPad app, Sketchpad Explorer), enhance STEM education, and provide quality support and professional development to teachers through online courses, free resources, and webinars, we are limited.

We are 42 people. Eventually, you reach a point where you need help to keep your vision and goals moving forward. This is that point. The acquisition of Key by McGraw-Hill Education is, in my opinion, a partnership and helping hand. In my research of my new company, I find they are just like Key, with many former teachers who work towards trying to get great teaching resources and teaching strategies out there so students can learn more and learn better. Granted, they are much, much bigger than Key. After meeting several of the folks I will be working with, I am hopeful because I sense in them and in the company overall, the same goals that have guided me for 22 years of education: the desire to make teaching better so students love learning.

So, I am ready to start the next adventure in my career. To my friends, colleagues, fellow math teachers, education leaders, and other Key groupies who question whether this is a good move, I say yes. I do truly think the McGraw-Hill/Key venture is a great thing. Key's entire existence has been based on creating engaging mathematics curriculum and resources for students to learn math and support teachers. My entire career has been about learning ways to improve teaching and student learning and share those with educators. I think with a much bigger company and a lot more people working towards those same goals, there will be more opportunities to make the impact we've been striving for all these many years. How can that be a bad thing?

Am I sad?  Absolutely - my Key family is splitting up.  But many of my friends and colleagues are joining in this next phase, so that's some comfort. Am I worried? Maybe a little. Am I scared? Heck yes!  My future has suddenly become a little shaky and unclear. But, I am hopeful.  I am excited. And I am ready to face the challenge. This is change, and change is hard, but if we don't try to change, how can we expect anything to be different or better? I for one am striving for better and this is the next step in that process. Onward.....

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