A little over a month ago I had one of those “ah ha” moments, where I came up with an idea, and I just knew I had to do it. It felt similar to when I started writing my book…I had no idea how long it would take, but something inside me knew that it was going to get done no matter what. Giving up part way through wasn’t going to be an option.
I started developing my own supplemental math materials. It was something that made me go, “Why didn’t I think of this before?” It combines two things I actually know pretty well…computer stuff and math stuff. Finding supplemental materials for the secondary level isn’t easy. In fact, some of our favorite materials are actually 35 years old, and we’re still using them!
The problem of course is that 35 years ago there was no such thing as standards. And while “math” hasn’t changed since then, the very specific expectations in each grade level has. As those materials age, they become less and less aligned to what we’re supposed to be teaching in each grade.
Another component to this is the Common Core State Standards. Not only do older materials not “align” properly, but this is a brand new set of standards being rolled out nationwide. Most of our materials weren’t even aligned to the California State Standards…and now we have a new revision! As teachers look for material that corresponds with what they are supposed to be teaching, using some of the older materials gets a little difficult.
So I decided to create my own materials, align them to the Common Core, and try to make a business out of it. I’m starting with Grades 6-8, because I’ve taught those and know them the best. I’m taking a lot of inspiration from the older worksheets we use. There is a joke on each page, and each answer fills in a letter at the bottom of the page, eventually revealing the punchline to the joke. At first I was a little concerned about copyright issues…but A) You can’t copyright math (as long as I’m making up my own problems I’m fine), B) You can’t copyright a format (having answers make a joke can’t be copyrighted, and I’ve even seen it used in other books), and C) You can’t copyright little one-liner jokes that can be found all over the internet.
That’s where the similarities end though. Those old materials would switch up the format a lot, to the point where you have to teach students how to fill out that specific worksheet. My goal is to be as consistent as possible, so that students can get straight to their practice without directions. The old worksheets liked to put borders and random “graphics” on the page, but it makes them look a little outdated and cluttered. Mine are very clean, maximizing the page and giving students room to “work” when possible. I’ve also contracted with a friend at work to have original cartoon drawings put on every page, which should really make them standout. The old materials are broken down purely by topic, but I’ve broken them down by Common Core Standard. Need extra practice on Grade 6, Number Sense 3 (6.NS.3)? In my book you turn straight to that standard and can see all 10 pages that relate exactly to that standard. In older material you have to figure out what topic is in the standard, find that topic, and then HOPE that the topic covers it in a way that works with the standard.
I’m excited too because the Common Core Standards have been adopted by nearly every state…and that means I have a huge customer base. I should be able to sell this online to teachers and school districts all across the country. It’s definitely a niche product (middle school math), but they can also be sold for a premium. The “old” books are still for sale at $75 a piece (and they’ve made a couple newer ones that go for $50).
One other component I’m excited about adding is some kind of “curriculum support.” Right now, you buy one of these old books, and you’re on your own. Don’t like a page in there? Need another page? Too bad. But now in the digital age, I can offer digital versions of the answers for teacher’s to display. If teachers request something that isn’t included, I can put it online and make it available to anyone that has purchased a book. A lot of possibilities!
I’ve only been working on it for about a month…but I’m on page 27 out of 300 or so. This is a big project that won’t be done for a year probably, but I’m excited about it. Here’s a sample page I finished the other day.
Not the most exciting project (unless you’re a math teacher!), but it’s something fun I have going on right now, so wanted to share. For the most part I haven’t had any major setbacks. Designing it all in Publisher, which is working well for the most part. I’d love to offer a digital version of the entire project, but that would only make pirating it easier. There are entire PDFs of the older books I’m using for inspiration on the internet. People have literally scanned all 200 pages of those books, and put them up online. If I offered a PDF version, it would be everywhere. I’ve even tried to think of a way to keep people from scanning an entire binder of pages, but I don’t have any great ideas. My best idea was to bind the pages instead of put the pages into a binder, but bindings fall apart, and they’re hard to put on a photocopy machine. I’m thinking digital versions of the answers is good enough. That would allow teachers to digitally look through the books and display answers on a projector, but you couldn’t share it and let other teachers use it because it would already have the answers (and I could keep the quality a little low so that they could look nice on a screen, but wouldn’t print that well).
But I have another 273 pages to design before I have to worry about any of that. I want Grades 6-8 all done before I even worry about selling them. Having a lone grade level to sell wouldn’t look as good. If I can get a small “set” complete, I can sell them together for discounts, and it looks more professional.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.