Back to Resource Center

Moving from “unpacking” to “understanding” math standards

by Sarah Tierney

You hear the word “unpacking” a lot these days when it comes to the math standards. The problem with unpacking is that we sometimes forget how to put everything back in the suitcase.

While it can be helpful to “unpack” a math standard into the knowledge, skills, and understanding students need in order to demonstrate mastery, we’ve learned we can’t stop there. We also need to tease out the connections between all the parts of the standard we've unpacked to understand how they work together to deepen students’ understanding and skills. 

Having an opportunity to solve the same types of problems that our students will be solving is always a powerful and eye-opening experience.
— math instructional coach, DC

Analyzing the standard, examining vertical progressions, and actually solving some problems can help us see these connections. We’re left  with so much more than a checklist of “unpacked” objectives—we have a deep understanding of what that standard requires when it comes to teaching and learning.  

Use this approach as part of teacher preparation, professional development, or planning meetings in which math teachers want to deepen their understanding of the math standards to make improvements to unit and lesson plans.

Click the button below to learn how to use this approach to make meaning of the math standards.


We’ve spent ten years learning from thousands of leaders and teachers across the country about the things that make a big difference for schools. Now, we want to give you the opportunity to do the same. This is the third in a series of tools, resources, and insights we are sharing from our work with school partners.

Sarah is a director of new partnerships and former coach at ANet. She’s leading the Lessons From the Field project.

Get k12 Education Resources

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter to join our community and receive monthly selections of actionable resources, stories of best practices from across our national network of partner schools, districts and CMOs, and invitations to exclusive events. We're glad to be learning together alongside you.