Impactful PD for Secondary Special Ed Math Teachers

All the sample activities are going to be useful. Thank you.

Collaborative activities for students to be engaged with one another.

All the different activities that got us out of our chairs.

I learned about quadratic functions more today.

Those are just a few of the responses on our feedback form from a full day PD delivered to special ed high school math teachers at an urban school district in California last month. What’s more impressive, and really a nod to the district math leadership and their marketing, is that 81% of teachers voluntarily chose to attend this training, which necessitated a full day sub during the third week of the school year. Luckily, judging from the overwhelmingly positive feedback, they found it it be worth their time.

So what’s the key to engaging secondary special education mathematics teachers like this? We share our model here.

After the district leadership administered a google survey to gather special education teacher input about what they want to see in PD sessions, it was clear that they wanted more support with content knowledge. They wanted to understand the mathematics better so they could teach it with confidence. So we developed a PD structure that received rave reviews and we believe will impact teachers and students positively.

Building Content Knowledge

Our PD model is centered around the mathematics. Teachers need a safe place to explore the math and make their own meaning of how to then teach it to their students. We help teachers see their adopted textbook with new eyes, giving tips about how to structure notes or where to embed some exploration. In addition to customizing resources for districts adopted textbooks, we provide teachers with additional lesson ideas and notes to give teachers additional options to choose from. As teachers gain more confidence in their math content knowledge, they will grow in their confidence in teaching mathematics to their students as well.


As a math teacher, I was always looking for and creating content based activities to engage and motivate my students. Special education teachers have so much on their plates, from bursting caseloads to IEP compliance, their time is precious. During our PD, we give space for teachers to explore engaging and relevant classroom math activities and collaborate with peers around how to facilitate the activities with their students. Teachers walk away with ready to use activities for their upcoming content.


The CCSS for mathematics focuses on conceptual understanding, relating abstract representations to real world contexts, and problem solving. In his article titled, Adapting Mathematics Core Curricula to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities, Allsopp et al discusses the impact this could have on special education teachers:

“Teachers need to possess in-depth conceptual understandings of the mathematics that they teach and abilities to teach students deeper understandings while enhancing their abilities to think critically and to connect abstract representations to the real world. Difficulty adjusting to these new standards and their emphasis on promoting deeper levels of mathematical understanding with students in turn may result in teachers relying on adopted texts and programs even more than they do now.”

When you scroll the pages of the high school math curriculum reports from EdReports, you quickly see that many texts don’t measure up to the rigor identified in the standards. If special education teachers are relying on their adopted texts to provide the conceptual understanding and real world contexts needed to reach proficiency in CCSS math, they may not find it. In our PD we bring in relevant, open source math tasks matched to district pacing and textbook mapping. Teachers experience these tasks as learners, collaborate with colleagues, and develop their conceptual understanding of the mathematics they are asked to teach.

Based on the teacher feedback we shared at the beginning of this post, we feel our PD meets the needs and wants of secondary special education math teachers and will impact their classrooms. Working with special education teachers is a joy and their work is so incredibly important. We feel truly lucky to give them tips and resources to raise their confidence and excitement about teaching mathematics. Are you a special ed teacher who would appreciate this kind of PD or an administrator who sees a need for your special education teachers? We’d love to start the conversation! Email us,, today!

Want more? Juliana will be hosting a FREE content based webinar on solving multi-step equations for special education and remedial math teachers on Tuesday September 25th at 4:00 pm PST/7:00 pm EST. Register and get the link here.

Works Cited

Allsopp, D, Farmer, J., Hoppey, D. and Kamp, B. (2013) Adapting Mathematics Core Curricula to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 45(4).

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