Mathematics Vision Project is the curriculum I am using and we began the last Module for Math 2 this week. The first lesson set the stage for some meaningful LIVE online conversation with learners. The lesson is titled “TB or Not TB” and uses, as you might guess, tuberculosis testing results for the basis of studying the meaning of conditional probabilities. I launched the lesson and students naturally  substituted Covid19 testing for TB as we thought about the context. We had the discussion of what it means to have a false positive or a false negative. We talked about which was more dangerous. Students were more invested because they could relate to the lesson’s context. They indeed met the goal of developing an understanding of the situation presented.

So, you may be wondering how exactly I pull-off live discussions in the middle of May, 2020 with 40-some 8th graders. Well here is some of what I have finally landed on after many failed experiments and inefficiencies.

• We meet LIVE two days a week, for those learners who are able to. I usually get 35 to 45 participants from a course of 52 students. That’s 2 brink and mortar style classes, but I run a combined virtual session.
• We review the lesson assigned the prior day and preview the next lesson.
• Students ask clarifying questions, offer options and make conjectures on open mic or in the chat window.
• For online LIVE lessons, I take a district created PowerPoint and dump it down to a pdf. (Pardon my lack of technical jargon. I am a technosaurous trying to survive in the 21st century.) I import that pdf and share it with my class by way of a shared screen through Big Blue Button  which we access through Conferences in Canvas. I, as well as students, can write in real-time on the “slides”. The writing stays with the slides when I forward them which is handy if we need to revisit. (Note to self – go back after class and record those screens of the lesson that are marked up for students who were not there.)
• I make clear the purpose/goal of each lesson and make certain through discussions that we hit the main points of the lesson. Students have their workbooks that mimic the slides so we are all literally on the same page. Students take notes and write down questions to ponder. I have them circle words and we go through new notations, for example, in this lesson, conditional probability…the probability that A occurs given B has already happened: P(A|B). This detail of instruction is NOT in the workbook because the workbook is NOT a textbook. A teacher is needed to execute this curriculum. Students also ask questions of me and of one another.
• After the LIVE session, I post a scan of my completed lesson workbook pages to Canvas. To do this, I use a set of RocketBook Beacons that I attached to a small whiteboard. I point my phone at them and they shoot themselves to where ever I desire, usually my school email, but I am experimenting with other options. (I started by using my RocketBook pages and balancing my workbook while displaying the medallion at the bottom of the page, but Beacons are faster and create clearer images for me. I am not using them as they were designed, but it works for me.

Here is the result:   8-1-1.
• Another thing I use to work with my learners online is a pdf of chosen problems from Problem Attic. I format and download a set of questions I harvest and choose to display one question per page, extra large, simple font to a pdf. If we want to quiz ourselves, I import that pdf and share the screen as I did with the lesson pages. We use the polling options available through Big Blue Button if I choose multiple choice questions. I can also have students type answers into the chat window, but wait to press enter until I count down so they do not steal the opportunity for others to learn. We also write on the shared screen and talk about the questions. I then post this set of practice problems along with an answer key to Canvas after the LIVE session for all to access.
• We finish in an hour. So that’s one hour twice a week LIVE. Since April 12th : we finished one module, including quizzes and a test, that we started before March 13 – the day the world changed; we completed an entirely new module and quizzed twice and tested on it; now we are into the final module which we will finish including testing by June 5th. It cis everything that I have motivated learners and for that I am grateful. I have measured results. Students who attend and participate in the LIVE sessions perform better on assessments.

So, this may look and even feel successful at times. I assure you, it is far from optimal. I miss the smells and the noises and the looks of elation as well as confusion. I miss sitting close to kids and watching them think through concepts. I miss being able to see individual student work so I can sequence it for sharing with the class. I miss seeing my students’ smiles when I say, “White Boards—GO!” as they run to their favorite #VNPS in the room. I do love that my kids are driven learners. They have worked and they have been exposed and the large majority of them have really tried.

A failure to communicate? No. We have a failure to read directions, right? NO. We have a failure to teach learners how to read directions. And follow them. I have failed my kids. I created a monster that can neither read nor follow directions for themselves. I did this because it was faster to spoon feed and answer questions that could easily be answered from READING THE DIRECTIONS. Oh my dear ELA and reading teachers, I have failed you too. I am so ashamed. I am sorry. I will do better. I am paying the price and learning the lesson.

I am guilty of not teaching how to read and follow direction and if your students aren’t harvesting the fruits of your tiring hours, you’re guilty too. It’s my fault. It’s all of our faults.

So, how am I going to fix this going forward? If I were rich, I would plant money in secret places that require my students to read and follow directions to find. But I’m not. But maybe I could hide other treasures? Would that be illegal given physical distancing? Encouraging notes hidden in the park? Or, better yet – or at least socially responsible – crazy videos of the math teacher that you get via clues left in the assignments. By golly. I’m going to try that!!!  Or some version. I need to give them something to talk about. They deserve a reward. We all deserve to have fun.

Let’s get this online revolution or at least a resolution to get learners to read directions going! Join me!!

Side note… Oh dearest blog, I am so, so, so sorry I have neglected you. You help me think. You help me come up with amazing ideas. My sour take on classroom management this year has led me to neglect you as I feared spreading negative energy. Please forgive me. I’m back. Time to get my kids back too!

Love, sbv

Time to blog. In the midst of a year where I felt like I little productive to add to the education community, I am now in a position to do so.

I just got off a Zoom chat with my niece who teaches in China. Here is some valuable information from our conversation.

Glimpse into our future first:

• Temperature checks are the norm. They happen as you enter a grocery store, your apartment complex and your school building. This is still occurring three months into the situation in China.
• After two months of isolation, they are now seeing people moving about the community, though most wear masks of some sort.
• They never had the shortages we are experiencing. Call it what you will.
• They have been told multiple times that the school will reopen, only to have it delayed week after week.
• Plan no more than a week ahead.

Now for school issues:

• Many parents at first were concerned that education was not really taking place online, but most have now come to grips with the reality of the situation and see and support remote learning for their children. Expect resistance and pushback from parents at first. It might not be as bad in the states since parents will have the benefit of seeing how the rest of the world is coping with education already.
• Keeping regular school hours is important. Even if you teach the same course multiple times during the day, combining classes does not work because students will be attending other classes. To avoid coordination issues, you must see your classes at your regularly scheduled times online.
• See your classes face to face via Zoom or some other such medium at least once a week if not daily. Students need that. The learning must be real. Seeing faces makes it more real.
• Some parents may opt their children out of this learning platform. That is administration’s issue to deal with. Report it, but spend your time with the students who are signed in to learn. Be there for them rather than chasing students you cannot catch. It’s the same group you were have trouble reaching in the regular classroom.
• There will be pleasant surprises. Some students who were tuned out at school now have a parent supervisor making certain they attend to their schooling. It will be so nice to have them being part of the learning process.
• Set up assignments no more than a week at a time. Some students will go ahead and it will be impossible for you to keep ahead, current and play catch up all at the same time.
• If students do not begin when the classes begin, it will be nearly impossible for them to catch up. Make certain the start times are sent out loud and clear!
• With all that said, stay positive and flexible. Embrace the learning you are doing and celebrate the initiative your learners are taking.
• Students who did not take action during class will not likely take action under these new circumstances. Teach those who are there to learn.
• Begin with as much structure as you can and maintain that structure. Try not to make changes along the way if you can help it.
• Teaching a course at the same time as teaching a learning platform is nearly impossible. Get the platform in place first. That should be easy for my students as their science and language arts teachers have done such a good job running their classes through Canvas for the past couple years. I hope you are similarly situated. If you are not in that position, get the platform set first so students know how to communicate and retrieve information.
• Thought you weren’t a technology teacher? Think again.
• Day by day changes will happen. Week by week changes will happen. My niece has seen reopening dates announced, reschedule and then cancelled. They play it week by week, but they have a routine and classes are in session. We can and will do likewise.

Now, with all that said, be safe. Love yourself.

I don’t know about you, but I am feeling overwhelmed and a bit depressed. I think this is probably normal — whatever that means these days. What I do know for certain is that we need one another. I can’t high-five you or give you a hug (not that I’m big on that under normal circumstances) or shake your hand, but please know, I want to help you and I want to help my learners. Be safe. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Live, love, math — in that order!!

Sitting in a MVP (Mathematics Vision Project) Integrated Math 1 professional development (PD) class early this week, minding my own business, probably checking Twitter for any knowledge nuggets or notifications leading to that dopamine rush, when I hear a teacher proclaim her recommitment to popsicle sticks as a means to improve participation in her class come fall. I winced. I remember being praised by my principal for having a cup of popsicle sticks on my desk and the nod of approval he gave me when I used this revolutionary technique to call randomly on unsuspecting students.  About this time each summer I started eating popsicles with abandon hoping to have enough sticks saved by the end of August. Oh my goodness. How far we’ve come!

A dominant theme from PD a couple summers ago was the practice of acting intentionally in instruction and planning and assessment and in each and every teacher move except in calling on students. We were still rolling the roulette wheel hoping fate would carry us the rest of the way. We were upping participation, but not steering the learning ship in any particular direction.  At the close of many a class, we found ourselves on education’s version of Gilligan’s Island, floundering hopelessly for a solution to the wreck that just occurred in class. It never occurred to me there was a better way because fate served me well, much of the time. But not every time and my luck ran out.

How many times have you been burned by a student who boldly states the exact misconception you were saying to dispel; or a student who confidently states something totally and completely wrong? Having no idea what a student is going to say is a rookie mistake. What keeps sticking with me is a scene from L.A. Law  (1986-1994) where Corbin Bernsen, starring as divorce attorney Arnie Becker, has a woman, claiming abuse, on the witness stand. He pushes her to the breaking point about why she did not seek help from a neighbor on a particular occasion when she had been locked out of her house. She explains that she could not seek help from a neighbor because she was naked.  At that point, his whole case fell apart right before him. He was reminded that a divorce lawyer never asks a question to which he or she does not already know the answer. And so it is two decades into the 21stcentury in the mathematics classroom.

Now, at long last, the Five Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions by Smith and Stein, affectionately referred to as “the five practices’’ is gaining traction and getting real.  When we, as teachers, invite a student to share insights with the class, we already know what they are going to say. It’s still organic, it’s just that we are sorting and selecting student insights in a planned way. And when I say we, I assume every teacher is now doing this or at least striving to take steps toward orchestrating classroom discussions in such a way. Just when I think that, I over hear the popsicle stick comment and I know, the work here is just starting.  I know I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the training and experiences I have had using Open Up Resources 6-8 Math authored by Illustrative Mathematics.

At HIVE19 in Atlanta, Brooke Powers (@LBrookePowers) introduced us (Martin Joyce (@martinsean), Morgan Stipe (@mrsstipemath) and Jen Arberg (@JenArberg) to a video that we then showed during our Five Practices 6-8 breakout groups in session 3 in the Community Track. This video created by and starring Dr. K. Childs, set the stage nicely as we dug into a lesson specifically on the five practices. I am sharing it further by linking it here. I hope this makes an appearance in your back to school training sessions. I also hope this practice extends to other content areas because good practice is good practice.

I am the first to admit, I am no expert on curriculum. I taught 8thgrade math for 10 years with no curriculum. I taught algebra 1 for 8 with no curriculum including my very first year in the classroom. Also, I taught Geometry for a couple years without any curriculum. Algebra 2 (the best ever!!!) I was without, but I did have access to a textbook, so maybe not truly without, it was just not aligned. Then there was Math 2, 1 and Math 8 under Common Core for several years with zero curriculum. I had to have the difference between standards and curriculum explained to me because I had no clue what curriculum actually was because I had never seen such. Standards are not curriculum. Resources are not curriculum. When you spend 20 hours preparing for 12 hours of class, you do not have a curriculum. Having multiple preps without any curriculum is nearly impossible. I did that the first year I taught geometry. I had Math 8 as well as algebra 1 that year. Once school was out, I went to bed and didn’t wake up until I heard fireworks on the fourth of July. I didn’t know there was a different/better way.

Finally, in late August of 2017, my school was asked to pilot the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math Curriculum authored by the geniuses at Illustrative Mathematics. I was amazed…and pissed. Why had I been put through 10 years of hell having to do everything myself via trial and error as I cobbled together resources to teach the standards for my classes. I knew I had found the silver bullet that educators have been looking for, or at least, I was much closer to it than ever before.

After using the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum for almost two years coupled with hearing noise about the Mathematics Vision Project (MVP) partnering with Open Up Resources to deliver a high school curriculum, it dawned on me that there had to be some Math 2 stuff hanging in a cloud somewhere so I went hunting. I knew I had limited time after spring break to cover the probability unit for Math 2. I found Module 9 for Math 2 from MVP. I looked it over. Checked it for alignment. Worked through the lessons then checked again for alignment. I decided to give it a try. I like it and here’s why.

Though I had no detailed how-to guide or training on how to actually implement this curriculum, I could see it was designed around a learning cycle that made sense. The first thing that made sense is that, unlike me, the authors of the curriculum realize that students actually come into the course with prior knowledge. Students are immediately held accountable for that knowledge. As students are working on the “ready” portion of their independent work, they are actually expected to go out and reacquire concepts on their own if they don’t recall them. I had spent weeks in the past reteaching prerequisite concepts rather than holding students accountable for regaining any lost knowledge themselves. With the MVP module, if students struggled, we spent a little time, but not a significant amount. I would then throw in a drill and kill exercise from my stash to make sure student understandings were solid a day later. We kept moving.

The next thing that sold me was the problem-based learning approach. It was clear that the five practices were part of the design from the page and a half alignment/teacher support page per lesson included in my find. It was also clear that discovery learning and collaboration were part of the process and those are my jam!

I realize through training with Open Up Resources and Illustrative Mathematics that I had to “launch” each lesson by laying down groundwork and making expectations clear up-front. I also circulate and prompt students who are stuck during the task of the day with instructional moves. What do you notice? What do you already know? What are you actually being asked? Can you use a different display to make the data more clear to you? The key is that the students are prompted to take action rather than waiting me or the rest of the class out.

I also like that the classroom projects/tasks are complex enough that students need to talk through what they are about and what learners are really being asked to do. The synergistic learning experience that students have is by design, not by accident. Students genuinely need one another more and me less.

Once students are mostly through with the problem or task, I choose students to present, always looking for varying approaches and insights. Because I am still learning to implement the five practices, I don’t always make the best choices and sometimes I revert to old habits of cold-calling that I get burned by, but we carry on. My students support my learning as much as I do theirs. It’s a wonderful relationship. I am very open with them about the fact that I am trying something new and they are very forgiving when I need a do-over and we rewind and try again.

My students have been frustrated for years about not having a curriculum—almost as much as their parents have been. They crave structure and who could blame them? What I want is quality structure. I’ve only tried this one module from MVP. I’ve not tried any other curriculums other than plucking lesson ideas from various places over the years with no sort of cohesive plan. So far, I see that the MVP curriculum adds both efficiency as well as depth to the learning that goes on in my classroom. Next year, I plan to experiment with MVP for Math 2 as my district launches MVP only for Math 1. I guess I am pre-piloting for Math 2 on my own. Since I am on my own, I can make adjustments as I go. I do wish I had access to some of the for-fee resources such as assessments and training, but I draw the line at having to pay for that sort of thing myself. I may attend the district MVP Math 1 summer training just to get a better understanding of the design.

Wish me luck as I venture onward. If you have any suggestions, I’m all ears!!

I think quite a lot about professional development. Whether I’m preparing to give or receive, I want it to be worthwhile.

A while back I was deciding whether or not to give the PAEMST a third shot. Yes.  That’s right. My third shot. The first year I submitted, I was a finalist for the state of North Carolina. My lesson was terrible and my write up wasn’t much better. But there I was, a finalist. Two years later, I apply again. My score is double the score from the year I was a finalist, but it wasn’t in the cards. And oddly enough, I was totally ok with that. See, the growth I achieved during and after each of these processes has been the most growth I have ever made as a teacher. It is no less and no more than the personal growth I went through when I did my National Boards. (Note to the world—the most significant professional development a teacher can get is personal professional development through structured reflection. It should be recognized and recorded as such.)

So why am I applying again? I had to. Early this calendar year, I found myself in a terrible funk as a teacher. I had no confidence and my students sensed that and seized on it. That just made each day worse. I had to shake what was happening to me and in my classroom. I thought about when I was at my best and what made me my best and it all came back to serious, structured, self-reflection. Reflection on my foibles as well as my fabulousness. I knew I had to resubmit for PAEMST, so, on March 1st, I self-nominated. I am doing this for my self and for my students. They deserve my best and I was not at my best before I made this decision. I was an over burdened teacher who felt compelled to beat herself up over data. Data points that truly represent neither me nor my students. Data points that are valid in hindsight, but at the moment made me feel like a failure. I am now on a natural high that is propelling me forward as well as my learners.

For me data is emotional before it is informative. That is something every administrator needs to know about me, and probably about most other teachers. I take my job very seriously. Data is merely one dimension that defines me as well as my learners. We are so much more than one stinking data point. I could go on a whole diatribe about grades and end of grade scores and whatnot, but I won’t. People that don’t understand will not suddenly change their position on my rant.

If you are like me and need a structure to help you reflect and give yourself a significant career boost, then do some structured, self-refection. Use the National Board prompts or the PAEMST dimension prompts. It is so worth it for you and your students. While you’re at it, you might as well apply, right?

There was a time I thought radicals should be simplified. A factor of a radicand should never be a perfect square. To do otherwise was just sloppy math—so I thought. Now, I think differently. You should consider it too.

Making the square root of 40 look like 2 on the square root of 10 serves no real purpose in the mathematics of real life. You can readily estimate the square root of 45, but trying to do that with three square root 5 is a much more complicated task, and for what? If I am going to the fabric store and I am asked how much ribbon I want, I better not say, “4 root 2” and expect to get the correct amount. At the hardware store, I am far better reasoning that the square root of 32 feet would be a bit less than 6 feet, and a bit more than 5 and one-half feet and just say 2 yards. The lumber department does not want to hear this nonsense about radicals and square roots.  They want to cut my lumber and send me to the register to check out so they can help the next person also get a reasonable amount of lumber.

Now, I know, one needs to simplify radicals to combine radicals via addition, such as the square root of 27 plus the square root of 12, but seriously. This is not reality. This is a contrived problem that I have never seen come up in real life. Ever. And I sew and measure and do real life things with math—at home. It does not come up.  It’s clever, like a party trick, but not terribly useful.

I do make certain my Math 2 students can “simplify radials,” but just for the “man.” Not for real life. I used to “ding” my students (take off 1 point just to be mildly irritating to get them to conform to convention) for not simplifying radicals. I am totally rethinking that.

Reality says leave radicals as they are so they are easy to estimate to be useful and to check for reasonableness. Done.

I’ve heard it. I’ve said it. I’ve lived it. The equations section of Unit 4 of 8thgrade Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum is a beast. It ramps up so quickly with little to no practice and students are lost. They are frustrated and giving up. So are teachers. So was I, until I got my head around it. Sheer conjecture, but this is my take on the whole thing.

This curriculum is designed for 8thgraders. All 8thgraders. We have three distinct levels of math classes in 8thgrade at my school. The Open Up curriculum is only being used for students who are currently at, barely at or below grade level. There is a narrow group of learners using this wide-ranging 8thgrade curriculum. Most of these learners have never truly been asked to perform work that is on-grade-level. This is the first time. They are lost and struggling and giving up.

We are taking a curriculum intended for acceleration, remediation and everything in between and using it exclusively for corrective and remedial instruction with enough access for on grade-level students to make progress. We are working hard to deliver the curriculum with fidelity. Our students are being challenged with grade-level material for, perhaps, the first time. They, in all likelihood, will not get it all. That’s ok. For many, this is their first exposure to grade-level material. Maybe they’ll get it the next time. We need to focus on the fact that students finally have access to grade-level material. We, as teachers, need to be careful not to let our well-intentioned actions take that away from them. When we take the opportunity for students to solve equations containing distribution and fractions and negative numbers and variables on both side and exchange it for 6thgrade-level equations, we are cheating our students.

And there I am, taking work that is at grade-level and breaking it down into bits and pieces that my students can understand and taking it off grade-level. I’m reading to them rather than having them read the problems themselves. I’m giving in. I’m using a curriculum designed to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners with a group of learners who, for the most part, don’t want to be there. I have got to do better so my students have a chance to do better. I’ve started giving out Life Savers to students for getting a good start on activities. Hopefully, only I catch the connection there.

Students do not know how to put in the sustained work required to do the learning that needs to be done to get on grade-level. They do not know how to reach longer-term goals on their own.  Rather than getting frustrated with the students and the curriculum, we as teachers, need to rise to the challenge and be the bridge that finally gets these students access to grade level work. Yes. It will take multiple years, but I would rather be the start of their access to grade-level work rather than the continuation of subpar standards.

There is so much immediate gratification in the lives of students that gets in the way of the time it takes to do the work required to reach longer-term goals.  None of these students fell behind in the last year or two. Fact is they were never caught up to start with. This is just the first time they have ever even had the chance to see and do work that is on grade-level. They are 13 and 14. Yes, they are going to struggle. Yes, we are going to struggle right along with them.  We owe it to them to finally challenge them with what they deserve. All students deserve access to grade level content. Period. Taking Martin Luther out of context, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

Tracking is the start of all this below grade-level activity. We say we want all students to succeed, but how can they? There is no way to “jump the track” they are assigned to if they do not have a crack at the actual expectations of the grade. At-grade-level progress needs to be accessed and assessed for all learners. Watering down standards and short-changing learners who have historically struggled will never get them where they should be. Please honor our students by honoring their access to grade-level material. It is probable that many may not get it, but some will. Chances are, the ones that don’t get it weren’t going to get the watered-down version either. At grade level material gives all students a chance to meet and exceed expectations. Expect great things from yourself and your students.

It’s no secret I am an Open Up Resources 6-8 Math junkie. I love what the curriculum does for learners. Today, I want to expand my definition of learners. I am a teacher, but I am also a learner. I have learned more about teaching, learning and math in the past twelve months than I learned in the prior 14 years. I have Open Up Resources 6-8 Math, Illustrative Mathematics and my international PLC to thank for that.

It’s not just that I have quality material with insights spelled out for me. It’s not that my students are challenged and required to think differently than they ever have. All those things are good. And true. The fact of the matter is that this curriculum makes me a better teacher. I teach better than I ever have. I am more prepared and I have greater insights. I am a better listener. I want to hear how my students are interpreting the math. I want students to share their interpretations. As prepared as I feel each day, I seem to always see and hear and feel something new about the math my students are doing. I am learning. I am the learner and I LOVE IT. Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum makes me a better teacher and learner. Every. Day.

I was starved for quality professional development ever since Common Core was rolled out. The minimal training received on Common Core was ill-conceived and not informative. I remember building fences with posts that were the supporting standards and rails that were supplemental or connecting standards. But I didn’t learn how what I was to teach was better for my students. Everything was theoretical. There was no comparison of how students were expected to learn differently or how I was expected to teach differently. I didn’t practice teaching anything. I was also not given resources with which to teach other than an outline. I learned much more about Common Core as I was teaching seeing my students make connections I had not previously considered. Because North Carolina gutted education funding on the heels of Common Core’s implementation, teachers were left to find and develop their own resources in order to teach and learn the standards. That took a while and I learned much through the school of hard-knocks. Eventually, I was seeing the connections and the wisdom of the sequencing. I was excited. Unsupported, but excited.

Then Common Core got killed in the court of public opinion. Had Common Core had extensive, quality public relations communications, I like to think the educated public would have bought into the sequencing dictated by the standards. But they didn’t. The only public communication was parents posting homework problems without a context and calling the whole thing folly. There were even teachers that ignored the adoption of the standards and taught what and as they always had. Perfect strangers would come up to me in the grocery store line and see my teacher ID and say something like, “What do you think about Common Core?” expecting me to bash it. I wouldn’t bat an eye. I just said, “ I love it. The connections that students make all throughout the standards are solid. The insights that both students and teachers are gaining are profound. I hope the state has to courage to do the right thing for our schools and ignore the ignorant neigh-saying public. Why do you ask?” I typically didn’t get a response.

I want a do-over on the release of the Common Core Standards. I would start by rolling it out to the elementary schools for three years. Move to the middle schools for a year or two and then finally get to the high schools. Changing horses in the middle of the stream and then providing little to no professional development for teachers and no quality public relations education killed Common Core. Teachers were asked to implement without understanding. Teachers don’t do that. Teachers demand and deserve to understand why. That is a sad fact that was disregarded. We are now getting a do-over, of sorts, via Open Up Resources 6-8 Math, but better. It’s the third word…RESOURCES.

I am fortunate that my district is investing in teacher professional development with the implementation of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math. It seems the phrase Common Core is now somehow forbidden by the state. What we teach are the Common Core standards, but they are simply rebranded. Clever. But the standards are better than solid and it’s working so let’s just keep that little secret to ourselves. Open Up Resources 6-8 Math and the professional development I am receiving through Illustrative Mathematics are helping me connect my teaching to the standards with better understanding and execution than ever before.

Now for the real purpose of this post. I am concerned there are teachers reluctant to change their ways regarding what they teach and how they teach it and some of these teachers are merely going through the motions as they roll out the Open Up Resources 6-8 Math curriculum. Teachers are learners too. Remember, you can’t get more out of something than you put into it. Just because something is good and nationally acclaimed doesn’t mean it will work without effort. Teaching is work. Teaching with Open Up Resources 6-8 Math is a lot of work. It is this work that is making me a better teacher and it’s hard. But my students are worth it. I am worth it. I am grateful that my district sees that we are all worth it.

A couple weeks ago I quickly responded to Leeanne Branham’s question about what makes good teacher PD.

Had I given more thought to Leeanne’s question I would have added PD must have a common thread running through it, an over-arching theme, aka a number 1 takeaway you almost don’t realize is there until near the end of the session.

As I was reflecting on Year2, Day2 of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math PD with Kevin Liner of Open Up Resources 6-8 Math and Illustrative Mathematics Curriculum fame, it occurred to me that Monday and Tuesday’s PD hit every mark. (Aug 13-14) The number one takeaway, over-arching theme, common thread was simply this: in order to be effective and efficient, don’t over teach the lesson. Do not go beyond the Learning Goals set out in the lesson. Over-teaching, getting off on tangents and celebrating spoilers rather than quietly acknowledging and telling smarty pants students (I mean that in the best possible way) to keep it to themselves for now are the main reasons we get behind during lessons. Teachers are the problem. I am the problem. I need discipline and self-control and first of all self-awareness. Now, to get down to the nitty-gritty of how this unfolded throughout training—not exactly in order.

We talked about what it really means to reflect on our teaching and, in particular, a lesson we have taught. The take-away here was that we as educators must reflect on our planning processes and not just what went well or poorly during a particular lesson. In this refection of our planning process we must not only look at the short term planning of the lesson, but also the long-term planning, both forward and back. Reflect forward. Whoa! Failing to do this risks understanding the learning progressions that are so carefully written into the curriculum. In edu-speak, this is coherence. It matters what comes before as much as what comes after. Sequence matters. The big reveal is not going to be in the first lesson of a unit. Ever. Teaching for conceptual understanding necessitates learners progressing through the concepts and building understanding that each individual personally owns. Seeing far into the future in the planning stage will help us as educators honor the conceptual learning progression. We are learning to teach differently so our students can learn differently. We keep hearing, “trust the curriculum” and this deep dive and reflection into long term planning reveals why the curriculum can be trusted. It’s all there.

We were reminded once again of the Five Practices, and looked at them from the perspective of planning.

•  Anticipating students’ solutions to a mathematics task
• Monitoring students’ in-class, “real-time” work on the task
• Selecting approaches and students to share them
• Sequencing students’ presentations purposefully
• Connecting students’ approaches and the underlying mathematics

NCTM , 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions

Kevin said these practices are the ingredients that create magical conversations among learners. For our training session, we focused on anticipatingand sequencing. When planning anticipating and sequencing it is always better to do that with our peers rather than in isolation on a Sunday afternoon. To that end, establishing group norms for PLCs at our schools is necessary. Day 2, we spent quality time broken into our school groups discussing, developing and revising PLC norms. This is where we got something tangible to take back to our schools to put into motion. Having a group protocol is the difference between a productive PLC and a non-productive PLC. Highlights of the group norms for planning developed by the wonderful teachers at Northwest Guilford Middle School in Greensboro NC follow. Please know, this is NOT a final, polished, static list, but rather a summary of the norms we discussed as a group. They will change as we change as educators.

• Doing Math Together (like actually work problems)
• Respect think time
• Do not interrupt others
• Be “all in”
• Drop your pencil and listen
• This is not a race
• Pick a topic with a longer term focus so the PLC can go deeper with exploration and problem solving
• Sharing Our Understandings
• Focus on teaching goals as they relate to learning goals, meaning goals for my actions as a teacher, for the future
• Use a timer to move things along
• Listen more than you speak (a rather BIG deal)
• Be fully present
• Discussing Students and Their Understandings
• Strive for more than antidotal evidence
• Speak of learner understandings and common errors
• Focus on the product, i.e., what students are producing as evidence of their understandings
• Confidentiality is critical
• Connecting and Reflecting on Our Own Practice
• Just as assessment informs instruction, so must past experiences inform planning and teacher-moves
• Help is on the other side of vulnerability. Open up and be vulnerable in your PLC as you plan and reflect and get feedback
• Leave with a plan of action for the future
• As peers, we must hold one another accountable

With norms also comes the issue of what to do with breakers of the norms. Some suggestions were a yellow card or a light bell ring. A taskmaster, timer, rule enforcer, norm police position needs to be assigned on a rotating basis. Not it! Please don’t pick me!

So what is missing from here from the past? Notably, negativity, comments about what students can’t or won’t do and war stories. As teachers, we must have an outlet for frustrations, but such actions can run the productive PLC train off the rails. Take these frustrations to the gym or to the track or the bar. Work them out and get over them, but please don’t derail your PLC.

We spent a good deal of time learning about how to use Cool-downs more effectively. I thought I did Cool-downs great last year. I did them everyday. I reviewed them at the beginning of the next class. I thought I nailed it. I was wrong. Other teachers at the training stated they periodically used the Cool-downs as homework or just used them when and if they had time. Cool-downs were rushed through and never truly sorted and analyzed by teachers. We went through a lot of motions last year, but none of those motions were great. Kevin helped us see a productive, more intentional way to use Cool-downs.

The biggest shocker was that we do not have to use Cool-downs each and every lesson. As we plan, we decide if we are going to use the Cool-down and budget the time for it. Maybe even do two in one day. When we do Cool-downs, we will look at them with a focus on student understandings, not merely, did the kid get it or not. A student can get a correct answer and still not truly know what they are doing just as a student can get an incorrect answer and make a computational error while the conceptual understanding is solid. What is understood is quite different from what we see in a mere answer. You want kids to show their work? You better really LOOK at their work. The information gleaned from the Cool-downs will then be used to actually plan subsequent teacher-moves.

So here is this great concept of teacher-moves. Not teacher reactions. Not teacher assumptions. Not teacher experience. Not teacher instincts. Actual planned out teacher moves designed specifically to intentionally address student understandings. These get noted on the daily clipboard roster so they are addressed and not forgotten by the frazzled teacher.

Another shocker—not every lesson/activity is a five-practices activity. Wait. What? I still don’t quite have my arms around this one. Note to self: pay more attention during PD. More on this when I figure out why I’m confused here. Truth.

How to differentiate daily and live through it has never truly been taught to teachers in a way that is actually possible to successfully pull off. Asking administration for help and advice on differentiation will keep them out of your room because they don’t know how to do it either. (This is obviously, just one snarky gal’s opinion.) What we can do in our teaching, however, is make small tweaks that get the actual support to the learners in need. Planning multiple lessons at multiple levels to be monitored and evaluated and assessed all at the same time day in and day out by one teacher in a class of 35 students is pure folly. Small tweaks. We can do that.

We spent time looking at multiple representations of mathematical concepts and limitations of each. The point is, buildings of conceptual understandings have varying entry points that may expire when the situations get more complicated. This necessitates higher-level thinking and abstraction. We start with accessibility by honoring coherence in concepts layered throughout progressive courses. Colloquially, the punch line may be the algorithm, but you must lead up to it—lay foundation on which to build. For the record, my English teacher, bestest buddy, has told me on many occasions that my analogies, while useful at times, take a bit to get used to. My apologies, but I must be me.

Now, how to plan a lesson as a PLC:

•             Do cool-downs together for upcoming lessons
•             Read learning goals and learning targets
•             As you go through the steps above: Do, Share, Discuss, Connect
•             Read the synthesizes–ALL of them
•             Read each activity and complete and then Do, Share, Discuss, Connect

The focus must be on WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!!! for each lesson.

Every piece of feedback to a member of the PLC has an action associated with it:

•             I like the way you did…I’m going to do that too!
•             Oh, I didn’t see that part. Can you re-explain that form to me?

Teachers are to a PLC as students are to a classroom. Self-discipline and focus as individuals are essential. Just as we want our students focused on the learnings of the day, so too must be focused on the learnings of the PLC. Teacher-management is like classroom management for PLCs. It is essential for successful group planning.

I have been working on this post for two weeks off and on—mostly off. I apologize if it seems disjointed, but I wanted to share and may not have polished like I should. I’m sorry.

So fearing that TLDR has set in for most readers, (I would have bailed long ago) if you made it this far, you have earned a merit badge. Enjoy.