Look Who’s Learning

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Gearing Up for Open Up Resources 6-8 Math Year 2

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Vaughn’s TMC18 Reflection

Math is emotional, or at least teaching and reflecting about math is emotional. I’m never sure if it is exhaustion, elation, the combination or some other tion of which I have not yet thought. By mid-June and I am emotionally spent. I rest and repair, and then comes Twitter Math Camp (TMC) and the emotions flood back. This year was no exception. TMC18 was my third Twitter Math Camp and each of them have been emotionally draining while at the same time inspiring and uplifting. Knowing that there are actually other math teachers that I can see, hear, and touch who work as hard and care as much as I do brings me to tears every time.

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Part of what makes TMC exhausting is hearing and reacting to the stories of others. Elissa Miller gets me every time. She teaches love and caring and by sharing what she does each year in her favorites presentation she teaches us those acts too. Whether it’s “say two nice things” or wristbands of joy, she teaches us to be better teachers and better people.

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I first came across Glenn Waddell  as I stalked TMC15 thanks to periscope, though I had borrowed from his website long before that. Glenn shared his high five experience as his favorite. That simple action, that five minute talk, changed the culture in hundreds of classrooms for thousands of learners millions of times. That makes me cry as campers publicly share their high five experiences.

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Kent Haines talked of reading to his infant children and then learning that he was doing it all wrong.  I laughed and cried. That was Kent’s intro into his favorites presentation about a website compilation of games for young kids and families. I just loved the intro the best.

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Lisa Henry’s husband, once again, shares his perspective as the spouse of a math educator. At the close of camp, he explains why he gives up his vacation time and travel budget to support a bunch of strangers from across the country at Twitter Math Camp. He does it for his kids because he wants every kid to have teachers as committed as the ones he sees at camp each summer. And I cry.

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During her keynote, Julie Reulbach brought down the house as she talked about teacher leaders and feeling like impostors and trying so darn hard for our students and having to realize that we must stop feeling like we are falling short. We must stop under-appreciating ourselves. Is it any wonder the public disrespects teachers when teachers are self-deprecating? Julie made us tweet statements of what makes us great as individuals. And we did it. And then we saw people at TMC Jealously Camp doing it and I wept as I thought, my gosh, the power to influence greatness which exists in this room is astounding.

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From Tuesday through Sunday I was surrounded by passionate educators doing whatever they can to better themselves for the ultimate purpose of meeting and exceeding student needs. I lived in a house with educators whom I am proud to have as both peers and friends. We don’t come from the same place. We don’t teach the same grade bands. We do, however, share a love for what we do. And that is to eat ice cream and play board games. Oh, and teach math.

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So, as you can see, this post is all about feelings. This is my summary of #TMC18 compiled two weeks after it is over. This is what stuck with me without looking back over the swell archives that have been compiled (except for a couple of pics I harvested). I have great resources that I may access at any time about the content of sessions at camp. What I have without effort and technology are my memories and my memories are all about my emotional reactions to events at TMC18. It is similarly true for our students. They will learn with us and will know how to access information should they forget, but what won’t be forgotten is how our students feel about us, school, learning and math. We have a huge responsibility. Together, we are each better than we are alone. I look forward to spending the next year with you, my friends.

 

Beginning-of-Year Custom

Each summer I find myself signed up for professional development sessions. I am totally psyched about them in March, but come mid-June, I just want to sleep and sew and crawl into my personal quiet space where I can heal. Teaching is hard on the mind, body and soul. Luckily, having the attention span of a gnat, it doesn’t take long before I emerge and start reading and writing and reflecting and of course, attending professional development sessions. Through this cycle, I eventually come away with an area of focus for the next school year. For example, 2015’s focus was on student thinking. I worked on strengthening meaningful mathematical discourse among learners as my students built and rebuilt mathematics conceptually. The many algorithms installed by well-meaning parents and past teachers were eventually understood. In 2016, all of my professional development had the common thread of intentionality. Instinct and reaction were insufficient. Every assignment, activity, question and comment is to be crafted with intension. The theme heard loud and clear in 2017 was about  being vulnerable as teachers.  Just as I want my students to take risks as they explore and problem solve, I too must stretch outside my comfort zones and take risks in my teaching-practice. Also, both in and out of the classroom, be brave and talk openly about race, gender and inequities. None of my themes are ever perfected, but significant progress is made and now these themes are part of who I am.

I sensed early that this year’s theme is going to be about self-care. I got hints as I saw my friends on strike in West Virginia and Oklahoma as they advocated for themselves, their students and others. The Me Too movement is about self-care and advocacy. Students organize and march for stricter gun laws, advocating for themselves and safe schools. These were all early clues.

Then Julie Reulbachspokeat Twitter Math Camp 2018 (#TMC18) about being teacher-leaders, and, oh, so much more. The theme was sealed. Self-care it is. A big part of self-care is liking and respecting myself. I am good at some things and I work hard to improve what I am not yet good at. I am reliable, honest, caring and confident and it is not bragging to say so. I love my students and I love my job and it is time to love myself. I am enough. Everyday!

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Realizing a theme for each year first came about by accident. I happened to notice ideas recurring over certain periods of time and I started making connections among what I was reading and hearing and noticing. Now, I actively look for the coming year’s theme without forcing it. Having a central focus helps me when I find myself flailing in the middle of October and when panic sets-in in March. These themes make me who I am: a work-in-process making progress. Discovering my new theme is how I prepare mentally for a new school year. I still have to set my room up, plan my first couple of weeks, rewrite my syllabi, and finish making my first-day-of-school outfit, but I have observed my custom.

Have a great school-year everybody!!

Opening Up about My Affair with Open Up Resources

I feel like a first-year teacher drinking from a fire hose. A couple days before school started, we were offered the opportunity to pilot the Open Up curriculum in our county for mathematics in grades 6 through 8. Because I had taught math 8 with zero resources for the past 12 years, other than what I harvested or created myself, I jumped at the opportunity.

There are many things I love about the Open Up Curriculum.

  • I love that I have to be more organized, focused and deliberate.
  • I love that I learn and see math differently each and every day.
  • I love the warm-up and learning routines and structures.
  • I love trying new things.
  • I love that the materials are already prepared.
  • I love that my kids are challenged and then they still have second chances if they don’t get something the first time around.
  • I love that they finally respect my kids and me enough to develop some real resources.

Struggles:

I cannot get ahead. I barely keep up. Each day I rush to get ready for the next. I prepare a PowerPoint to keep the class and me on topic. I snip screen shots into a PPT and prepare Student Task Sheets using what Open Up provides. Problem is, I frequently have to heavily edit so the information fits nicely onto a printable document. Mastering Textboxes has helped enormously in this area. I am saving all of these edited documents, so hopefully next year will be better. If that holds true, it will be the first year I have ever used what I made the year before. I have always created everything new each year in response to what my kids need.

I know that Open Up is integrated with OneNote and I even spent a couple hours being trained on how to do that. On my own, I cannot for the life of me figure it out though. I have to get ready for the next day. I don’t have time for trial and error where it is mostly error. I want to learn how to do all of that, but I also must be ready for the next day. I cannot sacrifice my kids for my learning curve. I also know there are Google slides for many of the lessons, but I have no idea where those are. I had them in the last unit, but can’t find the link now. There’s just too damn much to keep track of. I have to use what I know I can pull off now. I must survive.

Adjustments:

I am working on pacing myself and my class based on the recommended time estimates for each activity. I have a hard time not getting each and every comment and contribution out of students before I move on, but a timer is helping me. I hate leaving a kid unheard, but we need to move.

Many kids are used to waiting you out. They will copy what you do, but they will not venture out on their own. I am now waiting many of them out, but I can’t wait them all out. There just isn’t time. I love mistakes that kids learn from, but too many won’t even try until the bitter end. Working in extra supports and re-teaching is tough. Where? When? With what?

I struggle with formal assessment as well. I hate grades and love learning. Unfortunately, we are required to take a minimum number of grades a quarter. On what? There are only end of unit formal assessments, but that is not enough. There are no quizzes. I collect daily work and cool downs periodically, but are they really formal assessments or are they just part of the learning process? I started the year doing my own quick quizzes, but have gotten away from that. I need to get back to that. Now.

The formal assessments created by Open Up are really great, but they are a bear to evaluate. If we were doing standards based grading, I could see where this type of assessment would be really helpful. We are not though, so making the grey into black and white is a challenge for sure.

 Misconceptions about conceptual understanding:

For years I was told to dig deeper to get students to better understand. Problem was, nobody showed me what that meant. I was left to my own devices. I thought I was doing that when I insisted students understand why certain math algorithms worked. Turns out, I missed the mark. I am finally starting to understand what conceptual understanding means. If somebody was writing about it, I wasn’t reading it. Open Up Resources is actually showing me what it means to have/get/show/teach conceptual understanding of mathematics topics.

What I worry about now, is what my NC Math 2 kids are missing along the lines of conceptual understanding. These are the kids who have done well so far because they have been able to get away with memorizing stacks of mathematical algorithms. My only evidence that I am actually teaching for understanding in Math 2 is that I have a few kids that have historically gotten all As now struggle to get Bs because they do not truly understand what they are doing. I digress. This is about my experience with Math 8, Open Up Resources. I long to crack this conceptual understanding nut though.

I confess, I tell my Math 2 kids everyday how excited I am about what I just learned in Math 8. The ones that truly listen to what I am saying are very curious and want to know more. How I wish I could teach them this Math 8 goodness as well. I know next year I will work much of this into the Math 2 warm-ups. I do a bit know, but not like I wish I could.

Sharing:

I want to share with others, but I am slow. I know I should put all my stuff on Google Slides and share that way, but I haven’t learned all of that yet either. I need help figuring out how to efficiently share my stuff. I am re-creating all this and I am not sharing. That’s not who I am. I need help figuring out how to do that without spending an additional thirty minutes a day. My biggest problem is that I stink at asking for help. I will do anything for anybody, but I am not good at asking for help for myself. I’m getting better, but I still have a long way to go.

Goals: (These are actually wishes because I do not have actionable steps for them—yet.)

  • Create a Desmos activity of each lesson. I experimented with a cool down, but I want more. I think the tasks could be adapted pretty easily in Desmos.
  • Figure out how to use the parent resources created by Open Up. I am not even sure how to show parents that they are available. What I print stinks, so there must be a better way.
  • Figure out how to get students to utilize the reflection piece created by Open Up. That looks pretty deep and by deep I mean valuable.
  • Design a notebook or filing system for students to organize work papers so resources are available for review.
  • Figure out how to work training into my schedule. I teach Math 2 second and last periods. Math 8 is first and third. Trainings are half days. This takes me out of half of each of my classes. We have a dozen cross-teamed kids so adjusting the schedule is not practical.
  • I want to find or develop a group of learning tasks that show kids that their efforts matter even if they don’t get to the end. Too much of math is about the end and we need to start to praise and celebrate the middle because that is where the learning happens. I think this will help that perseverance piece a great deal.

Closing:

I hope I don’t sound like Debbie Downer. I am really digging this curriculum. I even showed my pharmacist brother-in-law how cool it was over Thanks Giving. He said, “I don’t fully understand, but I can see how it would be exciting for a math teacher.” Now, granted, he is above average intelligence. The point is he appreciated what Open Up is trying to do for kids’ understanding. He also enjoyed how excited I was about it.

Vulnerability = ZPD for teachers

TMC17 Summary and Reflection

I was surrounded by greatness and for that I am grateful. I didn’t show up at TMC17 with my A game, but I improved as the week progressed. Why is that?

Attitude—After leaving Greensboro late because of a doctor appointment that came with unexpected news topped off with car trouble, I got to Atlanta three and a half hours later than expected. It all worked out rather well as I ran into some very nice MTBoSers in the hall and they invited a first timer and me to join them for dinner. Great restaurant. Great company. Thanks Steve Weimar, Megan Schmidt and Benjamin Walker.

Comfort level—I left TMC16 thinking I would not bother to come to another TMC. I got into writing proposals to present back in January and they were accepted and so I came. I attended the Desmos pre-con this year so that was nice. I read comments that non-amateurs were not very open to new folks at that point of the camp and that is unfortunate. I will say, though, that TMC non-amateurs were super great at speed dating the next day. Perhaps it’s because they were held hostage by a downpour, but regardless, they were there. They were participating and they were welcoming and I think they actually enjoyed meeting new people. That was a real turning point for TMC17. Somebody really needs to schedule rain for TMC18. I wonder who is in charge of that.

This year’s TMC was my 2nd so I had a point of reference. Last year I over-PDed, if that’s possible. This year, I came hungry. I enjoy My Favorites and the Keynote speakers blew me away. If you haven’t done so, please check out their presentations here. I chose good short sessions this year. Then I hit the mother load when I made the right choice for my three-day session. I was excited to meet and learn from the well respected @cheesemonkeySF. Boy, did she deliver. See separate post.

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Along with friends, I presented so I also came to TMC17 vulnerable. Little did I know that vulnerability was the theme of TMC17. Last summer’s marching orders were “be intentional”. This year I heard loud and clear to be vulnerable. Take risks. I see vulnerability as a teacher’s Zone of Proximal Development. Learning and progress happen for teachers when they open up and take chances and then reflect and refine.

Have a great, vulnerable school year party people!! May you learn and grow exponentially.

Reflection on TMC17 long session–From Drab to Fab

This is MY reflection and summary of my three day Twitter Math Camp (TMC) session with @cheesemonkeySF, aka, Dr. Elizabeth Statmore. This is my interpretation. I apologize if I misconstrued anything Dr. Statmore put before me. My intent is to honor her and to document my learning at the same time.

Differentiating CCSS Algebra 1 — from drab to fab using Exeter Math 1 & Exploratory Talk

Day 1:
A goal to be met in the first three weeks of school is to build a culture where students exhaust all they know and have available to them before asking for help when problem solving.

In order to get students to own the problem for themselves, make it personal to them. Change the names and places to be relatable to the earners. Put a story behind the problem.

Teach students how to approach a problem. This is the Know—>Notice—>Wonder sequence.

Use readers’ theater as a way to establish procedures and protocol for classroom routines such as Talking Points, Vertical Non-permanent Surfaces, and Number Talks. Elizabeth has done this through a script she has created called deleted scenes.

We actually got to practice this as a class and this helped me understand the purpose as well as the procedure. I had read Elizabeth’s blog on this, but never truly got my head around it. I am now ready to give this a shot. There are at least a couple people in the class that are going to give writing a script a shot. I hope these get posted and shared widely. Each member of a table group (4 students or so) has a copy of the script. (reuse for all classes.) Characters are assigned and the script is read, with each group simultaneously working through the script. Doing this as whole class leaves too many inactive learners. Up engagement and participation at every turn.

Use Talking Points to illicit emotions and access prior knowledge when moving into a new topic. Choose statements that are debatable and students have opinions about. The number 1 rule to adhere to and teach and monitor is: No comment, no emotion, no body language as the talking points are going around the table. As teachers we must model this. By doing so, we honor learner space and inner thinking. I repeat: NO snarky comments. Listen. Be silent and listen. In a circle, Talking Point 1 is read. The only person in the group speaking is the person holding the Talking Stick (or whatever article you choose). The talker states their reaction to the Talking Point and gives justification for their opinion. They then pass the talking stick to the next person who then gives their comment and justification. This continues all the way around the table group. Round two is the same procedure with the same Talking Point only this time the talker keeps or changes their opinion and gives justification. When all have completed the second round, opinions are tallied and the next Talking Point is run through the process. Some groups may get several Talking Points from the list completed and others may only get a couple. That’s ok. Front load the Talking Points so the important points are covered first. Shut it down and channel the emotion into learning the math at this point. I see this as peak interest and passion and then shift to content.

The learning cycle—Wash, rinse, repeat

learningcycle

Day 2: The theme of today was Radical Differentiation and this was addressed through problem organization and people organization.

Organize problems

  • Challenge for all
  • Practice & support—more problems and challenges for speed demons
  • Extensions
  • Make sure the beefy problems are up front so all students get these
  • Challenging learners does not mean stumping them
  • Every learner deserves a win.

Organize people

  • Group speed demons together so they do not rob the other learners
  • Group the “katamari” together. These are the thoughtful, careful, deliberate learners, not strugglers, but rather the learners who know speed is not the end game.
  • Group free-loaders together.
  • If writing as a group, the talkers do not write and the writers do not talk. Trade devices when necessary.

Day 3: The final day, we were all in awe of Elizabeth and just wanted to learn everything we could from her. We asked what a day looked like in her class and she delivered.

She uses a broadcast clock to plan her class period, regardless of the length of the period. (I know I read about this someplace else, but I forget where, but it is genius.) Her clock looks something like this. broadcast clock Details below. Please note, unlike a real broadcast clock, the sectors in my clock are not proportional to the total time. (I simply do not know how to do that in Word.)

  1. Open class with a PowerPoint slide that has students self-managing. Do now, check “Home Enjoyment”, aka, homework, with table mates, identify burning questions with tablemates, and get any handouts or supplies needed for the day. This all takes about 4 minutes. Each class has a theme song that plays for the first minute of the opening slide. This helps learners shift into math class mode.
  2. Burning questions that students have about Home Enjoyment are addressed. Reserve the right to deem a posed question as NOT burning if learners can get there themselves and merely didn’t do so. This segment is as long as it needs to be, and no longer.
  3. Slide changes to a fanfare of sorts to reveal the EQ. Learners rely on the EQ for focus and grounding. Initial notes and direct instruction happen here. This is only 6 minutes. Tighten up. You get another chance at the end.
  4. Productive struggle/guided practice/guided sequential flailing happen at this sector. Have plenty of chosen problems, but front load them so all students get rich materials, not just those who get there first, aka, speed demons. Never give problems you have not done. Intentionally choose the sequence. Stumping learners is not challenging them and vice versa.
  5. If the situation warrants, have a close. Elizabeth does not see this as a nonnegotiable the way some instructors do. I appreciate that, but will try to get my head around when closure is helpful and when it is just a closer for the sake of that checkmark.
  6. Set a timer so you know when you have 7 minutes (or whatever your experience tells you that you need) for final notes and marching orders and a calm ending.

Synthesis

The productive struggle sector could be handled in a variety of ways. One way is to use Speed Dating—one side moves, each student is an expert in one problem, see Kate Nowak blog for details. This could also be Vertical Nonpermanent Surfaces, aka white boards. Alex Overwijk is the expert in this area. This could be the time for Exeter problems thoughtfully and purposefully sequenced for maximum learning.

Phrases—these just stood out to me as brilliant insights made by Elizabeth and paraphrased by me and others in our session.

  • You can’t develop patience quickly. (teachers or learners) Practice and honor the process.
  • Your learning should never be a threat to others. When you share your learning you gain and kids need to experience this. A rising tide floats all boats. Everyone benefits when students share their learning and insights with one another.
  • Speed demons commit cognitive theft. Honor all learners and protect the Katamari from robbery of their learning.
  • We don’t “fix” struggling learners, but rather, we help heal the disconnection from their inner mathematical selves.
  • Guided sequential flailing leads to learning. Problems are sequenced to support learner success.
  • Kids have to be able to get a win. Challenged ≠ Stumped
  • If kids have been robbed of their confidence, lend them yours. (Believe in them and let them know.) Take that burden from them so they may focus on learning.

Management Tips

  • Seat for discourse and production (separate the speed demons, katamari and freeloaders) when appropriate.
  • Honor learning and respect the process for self and others. Talking points procedure can reinforce this culture.
  • Music may be used for unity; transitions; class identification; sharing about yourself.
  • Students can self-start and you need to set the stage for that. Have this structure in place from the start so students own it and can rely on it, even if you are absent.
  • The Tibetan Singing Bowl is a peaceful way to focus students in a calming way. Help students be fully present and you be fully present for them.
  • Listen at every turn. Sequence. Listen. Learn. Breathe.

(Note, this is not intended as my TMC17 archive reflection. This is yet to come.)