Rising Out of #teacherfunk

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?

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Simplifying radicals? Who needs it?

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.

image square roots
pic fromthemathlab.com

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.

real square roots
Photograph by question_ev3rything on reddit

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.

Skirt and shirt made out of fabric that has root vegetables that are in the shapes of rectangular prisms.
Last spring’s project…square roots…get it?

 

A Tale of Two Years

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Thanks to Charles Dickens for igniting my thought process.

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This is year two for me teaching 8thgrade math using Illustrative Mathematics’ curriculum published and distributed by Open Up Resources 6-8 Math. Year two is everything I had hoped it would be. I marked my Unit 3 assessments Wednesday and was pretty pleased with the understandings my learners demonstrated. I tallied the individual scores just to get a macro feeling of how the classes were doing this year on the Unit 3 formal assessment. I felt pretty good about student work, but mildly disappointed in myself. As I was marking, I wish I had some student copies from last year’s assessment to compare similarly situated learners’ progressions. (Year one people—make and save a couple student copies to look at next year for each assessment. I thought I was going to remember, but I didn’t.) I did find my teacher copy with the tally marks of last years’ results. Drum roll please…the scores are better. And more students are able to put their understandings on display on the assessment. And, dig this, I am a month ahead of last years’ pace. And the results are significant. [Timeline correction…Last year, I started Unit 4 on February 2nd. February 2nd!!!! This year, I started Unit 4 December 7th. That’s almost 2 months ahead and we have already had 7 or 8 days out of school due to weather issues. And my learners understand more and perform better.] This is all because it is year two. My class sizes are a bit larger than last year, but the mix of historical performance measures (skills, abilities, levels—all horrible words to describe children’s current placement) is about the same. This year-two teaching experience with this curriculum is a wonderful feeling. I attribute improvements to the following changes, in no particular order.

  • Focusing on not over-teaching is a giant change affecting pace issues of the past. This revelation came during summer PD sessions with the good people of Illustrative Mathematics fame.
  • I am also better at formative assessment on the spot so I am not waiting until I can look at a stack of cool-downs to know if students got the intended learning or not. I have better interventions, earlier.
  • This year I made a commitment to move along regardless of stragglers. If I have learned one thing comparing last year to this year it is that you are going to have stragglers no matter how slow and thoroughly you go. Slowing down only harms the learners who are ready to move. It’s like walking in a line with a class of students. No matter how slowly you walk, the end of the line gets further and further from the front. Continually stopping so they can catch up is necessary, but holds everyone back. I need to work at incentivizing the back of the line, aka the stragglers, so they want to keep up and be part of the learning group.
  • This year I am using the practice problems whenever I can. This may be as filler at the end of class or as a pre-class activity to review the prior day’s concepts. I also assign targeted practice problems as Unit reviews before a Unit test. I’ve also put in a Quizizz activity once in a while. I’m going to give the Kahn Academy practice problems a shot next. That retrieval/practice routine must be played out regularly.
  • The launch for each activity is better year 2 because I know where I am going. I know what the focus of the activity truly is and I know where the stumbling blocks are. I am not removing the productive struggle, but I am better with my instructions and communication to learners of the expected outcomes.
  • Both activity and lesson syntheses are better than last year in that they exist, usually. They are focused and tight. They tie to the lesson summary or they come with a note or a highlight on the activity page in the workbook to seal the deal. I am still working to improve all of this and it’s not nearly as good and tight as it reads here.
  • The professional development, I am receiving on the unit materials and elements, is better this year since I can actually attend the sessions. Last year they were not held at a time when I could make it without missing one class of each of my two courses during the day, plus I was sooooo far behind I was afraid to be gone.
  • This year I have the support of my nationwide PLC. I am also supporting other users of the curriculum so I get better and think more carefully as I respond to inquiries and participate in twitter chats. I also feel a sense of accountability to my nationwide PLC and this makes me prepare and research at a much higher level than I otherwise would.
  • I spend more quality time reflecting as I prepare Guru Zoom chats and draft the weekly #OpenUpMath Twitter chat questions. Nothing sharpens skills like leadership.
  • Taking some of the preparation off of me and putting it on students, by having student workbooks, is a positive change for which I am grateful. I am not certain learners took the copied version of the activities last year as serious as they do the official workbooks this year. I am also able to invest in better preparation because I am not making copies of the materials. Workbooks also save valuable class time not having to pass out papers.

unit 3 question

Just look at the understanding that is demonstrated here. This learner is testing algebraically as well as graphically to determine if the ordered pairs are indeed solutions to the given equation. And look! Going beyond what was given, she tests a point not provided (4, 3) that works in the equation to see that it is on the line. I cried–in the best possible way.

Not everything is rosy, however. Horizontal and vertical lines as well at the shifting of proportional lines (y=kx from 7thgrade) was horrible last year and no better this year for the most part. Why??? I know I did a better, more explicit job connecting points and coordinates and lines. I did better, but the students weren’t doing enough. I need to beef that up and I am going to go back through those lessons again and see what it is I am NOT doing. The lessons are good in the moment, but they are not sticking with learners. I have got to make them stick. There needs to be struggling retrieval and spaced practice. All those sticky things must happen more and better than I have been doing. I will also check with my Tweople and see what their experiences and remedies are This is one area that did not improve from last year, yet.

I am going to continue to tweak and ponder, reflect and revise. I pledge that to my self and to my PLC.

Home Communication Logs (HCL)

What can I do instead of homework to make a difference with consistently, under-performing students? I need something that will provide learners with the opportunity to intentionally think about and talk about math outside the classroom. I also want to make sure family members, as stakeholders in children’s educations, are kept up to date with what students are learning.

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To help address all of these issues, I developed the HCL—Home Communication Log. Students are required to discuss math outside of school for five to twenty minutes each day with an adult. Students then turn in completed logs each Friday.

So far, results are mixed. I still have reluctant students not turning in the logs. I even had a couple students copy somebody else’s log the first week. But, most of the submissions are good. Parents and children are talking about math daily, and without doing homework! I suggest that students review the lesson summary, from the student workbook (Open Up Resources 6-8 Math) if they are stumped about something to talk about with their selected adult.

After the first week I asked students, “when do you talk to your parents or special adult?” A few told me that they have dinner at the table every night as a family. My heart melted. I didn’t think families did that any more. A couple kids told me that mom or dad is not around in the evening so they had trouble with the log. I told them it was fine to talk on the phone with their parent. I also offered up staff members as special adults for students who have trouble connecting at home. I also told them to come see me before school or at lunch if they wanted.

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I know this is not perfect, but it is more than I have done in the past as far as homework. True confession: What prompted this year’s HCL is a devastating failure on my part last year. I had a student performing below grade-level and, here’s the bad part, because that is what I saw in her file, I didn’t contact the parent. I saw it as normal for that student. I made a terrible assumption that I am embarrassed and sad about. The parent came in and we talked about the situation and I apologized. I then tutored the student each morning she came in. I provided additional information for afterschool tutors as well as private tutors for this student. She still performed below grade level and didn’t grow a bit according to state test results. And it was my fault. I didn’t push her enough. I didn’t let her parents know that she was sandbagging all year. I failed her–my student.

So, fast-forward one school year. I now have 38 kids in one class. 75% of them were determined by the state to be below grade level last year. These learners are like the kid I let down last year. I know a simple Home Communication Log is not going to fix that, but neither is homework. That’s why I thought I’d try this log. Students at my school keep Reading Logs so I thought this would fit in with what they were accustomed to doing. Perhaps it is again, naive on my part, but if parents see their kids making progress, they can encourage them. If parents see their kid struggling to articulate what went on in class that day, that should alert parents to an issue and again prompt encouragement and/or action. But once again, the students that don’t turn in the logs are the same students who would not have done homework had it been issued. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these are the same students having trouble making their paper and pencil make contact during class. I do my best to check with all 38 students throughout each activity. Much of my time is spent getting reluctant learners started. They want to hide in a class of 38, but I try not to let that happen. Truth is, if a reluctant learner is also a wallflower, I may miss him or her. It pains me to admit it, but it’s true. That happened, as I said.

So, back to the 75%. On a good day I feel like half of them make progress. Am I supposed to feel good about that? Is that enough? No. Clearly the answer is no. I am doing the best I know how to do, but my boat is taking on water and I feel like I’m bailing out with a sieve. I love my kids and that helps for sure, but love is not enough. I need more. My learners deserve more. Maybe they wasted time in earlier grades. So what! All that matters now is how we fix it.

So now back to HCLs. I’m toying with the idea of adding just 1 practice problem from the workbook to the HCL per day for next quarter. At that point it could be a spiraled question. I don’t know though. If you read this, please know, this is my processing process. This is how I think things through. Don’t take advice from me like I’m some expert. I’m just figuring out this teaching thing one day at a time like every other honest educator in the world.

I am going to continue to refine and adjust the HCL as I work with it this year. If you have suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

 

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.

 

Reflecting on My First Year Experience with Open Up Resources

Please let me disclose up front that I am a user/fan/evangelist of Open Up Resources (OUR) and have absolutely no affiliation with them whatsoever. I do, however, have enormous respect and gratitude. Statements here are opinions and reflections on my experiences. Your mileage may vary.

2017/2018 was the best school year in a long time. I learned a lot; I was organized; I felt prepared; I tried several new things; and most importantly, I left school June 14thexcited to return eight weeks later to build on the year’s successes and improve any mediocrity and shortcomings.

My school dove into OUR headfirst and didn’t come up for air until at least Christmas. My district provided training all along, but given my course load, I was not able to attend the large majority of training as desired. I wrote about my initial experiences here. I finally got into a groove and became much more efficient in preparing for my Open Up classes. Rather than preparing daily as I had done September through January, in February I started batching my lesson preps. By April, I built my PowerPoint for an entire week in one file. At the close of each day, I deleted the slides covered and saved the rest of the file for the next day. Because I used Variable Random Grouping each day, I needed a new seating chart slide anyway. I finally began importing the pre-made slides provided by Open Up. I imported the slides I wanted and just edited my student sheets using textboxes for more efficient printing rather than duplicating them into my homemade ppt. Send me a message and I am happy to grant you access to my files. Samples may also Files may be accessed through the PowerPoint I am preparing prepared and edited for TMC18.

Here is a simple graphic of the way I think OUR looks. Move clockwise, beginning with the Warm-up.

OURgraphic

The job of synthesis is to connect every aspect of the portion within the lesson as well as to connect new learning to prior learning. If there is ever any ambiguity about connections throughout the lesson, they are hammered home during the final synthesis. If the final synthesis is skipped, there is an obvious hole in the lesson. Each portion of the lesson is also synthesized as one lesson phase transitions to the next. The relative sizes of the circles in my graphic are indicative of the amount of time allocated to each portion of the lesson. Lessons follow this consistent pattern throughout the course.

I like how the Cool-down bleeds into the Warm-up in the graphic. Fairly early on through the year, I began reviewing the Cool-down at the beginning of the next class. This allowed learners to review my feedback on the Cool-downs as well as to access newly acquired knowledge for the prior day’s learning experiences. That is a example of how I made OUR my own.

Another example of making OUR our own at my school is a sixth grade math teacher came up with the idea to have learners place completed Cool-downs in green, yellow or red folders depending on their individual confidence levels. The information gleaned from the placements was telling in a couple ways. It was easy to spot false confidence. It was also helpful to see at a glance how students were evaluating their own learning. We still sorted and wrote meaningful feedback on the Cool-downs each day.

Here are errors that I made this year that I want to spare anyone else from making.

  • Notice the graphic. Without the synthesis, the lesson has a big hole in it. Don’t shortcut that, rush it or heaven forbid, skip it. Be explicit as you make connections. What we as teachers think is obvious, may not be to learners and frequently, they just need that small nudge forward to make the desired connections.
  • Give at least 5 minutes for the Cool-down. Some kids can demonstrate understanding with more time. If they don’t nail it, you need to figure out what you missed along the way. This is valuable information and not a step that you can afford to skip.
  • Keep the pace up from the very beginning. Trust the curriculum. Concepts will come around multiple times from multiple angles. It works well. The authors are geniuses. Respect and trust it.
  • Focus on student work and having students share their perspectives on your cue. Sequencing student responses is an art that I am far from mastering, but it is valuable to student learning.
  • Allow enough time for assessments. Learners are actually excited about showing what they have mastered.
  • Score assessments with an open mind and an open heart. Learning is a process and you are looking for progress toward mastery. This material is challenging in a whole new way. Don’t defeat learners before they get a fair chance. Fairly recognize progress.
  • Stay organized. The curriculum makes that easy. Follow the OUR sequence even if your district thinks they know better. They don’t.

I am most excited about the improvements I plan to make this coming school year.

  • My district is getting student workbooks, so I will not have nearly as much copying to do. I will still copy the Cool-downs, but I have those all set.
  • I am going to take my own advice and focus on sequencing student responses more deliberately and improve my process here.
  • I am also going to improve my syntheses. I really didn’t help my students make the connections and recap the concepts the way I should have last year.
  • I am going to keep my pace up in the beginning so I do not have to condense and shortchange my learners at the end.
  • I am going to use VNPS (Vertical Non-permanent Surfaces) every chance I get. Learners did far too much sitting last year.
  • I want to adapt some student tasks to Desmos so students have the opportunity to dialogue with other learners and critique their work. Desmos is well suited for this.
  • I have to work calculator use into the lessons. No calculators for learners at first for sure, but after my students have conceptual understanding, I need to teach them to use the tools at their disposal. I totally dropped the ball on that one and need to figure it out.

I could write for days about how jazzed I was each day as we learned math in an entirely different way this year. I could tell you how I learned something new each and everyday, not only about student learning, but also about math. You need to experience that for yourself though. Please be smart enough to do that the week or at least day before your students do. It will make you so much more efficient and effective than I was. I eventually got ahead of them, but not far. I am excited for next year for sure!

OUR made me love, adore, and treasure teaching Math 8 for the first time ever. It was fun. It was meaningful. It was amazing. I cannot thank OUR enough for bringing joy into my classes through quality curriculum. I would have never thought that possible, but I lived it.

After finishing the year, I am incredibly in love with OUR. I hate myself a bit, but that is true every year. No matter what I do, I feel like I could have, should have done more. However, OUR helped me give my learners more conceptual understanding than they have ever had. The stage is set for explosive learning in high school. This is both my prediction and prayer.

Best Review Day Ever

Today my intern planned a review for my OpenUp classes. (Gosh, that sounds so much better than my Math 8 classes.) I attended our vertical math PLC yesterday and @BethSize shared a review game they do in 6th grade where the kids play connect 4 with post-it-notes, earning them as they solve sets of problems as a group. When my intern had all these review sheets I thought, “what the heck? Let’s do this.” I checked with my next door 8th grade teacher neighbor to see how big the board was supposed to be. She didn’t recall, so we made up our own rules. Three teams of four. A 6×6 grid on a white board. Different post-it-notes for each team. No building from the bottom. Put your mark anywhere on the board. Teams solve a sheet of OpenUp problems harvested from problem sets and elsewhere in the OpenUp resources (goosing some up by adding solve or show or prove directions.) They are checked by me or my intern. If there is an error or two, we say something like, 3 of those are correct. Learners then return to find their own errors. Once all are correct for each member of the team and we ensure all members are on-board doing the learning, the team earns a sticky note. (High tech can be over rated.) A member of the team places the note on the board. We played three groups of 4 per board. We called it Connect 4, but once teams got four, they challenged themselves to get a whole column or simply the most stickies on the board. I teach middle school. We are very flexible.

The conversations and teaching, one learner to another learner, were out of this world!! Now, true confessions, we had two adults in the room so groups got quick attention and directions. That cannot be under emphasized. More adults is better. Period. Done. Who doesn’t get that? Oh, yes. The state of North Carolina.

The second OpenUp class was even better. We had time to reflect and resequence the problem sets for that delicate balance of success, challenge and learning. Intentional sequencing is so important and yields amazing results. Getting good at it is a work-in-progress.

This activity went so well with my OpenUp classes that I tried a variation on this with my Math 2 classes. They too have a Unit Test soon. I created MC problem sets off of SchoolNet and made a packet of questions for each of the 8 groups. Some packets were 12 questions, some were 4 and everything in between. It all depended on where the nice page breaks occurred in the printed versions rather than planned sequencing. This is designed for online, so the printout isn’t pretty. It’s easy to harvest–by–standard though, so vetting time is minimized. Because they got many more problems per packet than my OpenUp classes, I decided to do two groups per tic-tac-toe board rather than Connect 4. It worked. It wasn’t perfect, but for the seven out of the eight groups that worked, it was great. I told teams which if the questions were incorrect so they could go back since there were many more problems and they were all MC. (Easy to check, but still challenging/standard aligned questions.)

Unit 4 Practice Problems my intern compiled are here, though the ideal sequencing is not in the order the problems are presented here. This is Unit 4 of the Open Up 8 grade curriculum.

Everyone in room 209 has been working like crazy since we got back from winter break. Today we had fun showing off our learning.

Reacting Intentionally

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So, I’m here in Indiana at a family reunion. First of all, I love these people. I only see them at weddings or funerals and there haven’t been many of those. My cousins are quite a bit younger than I and live quite far away so I only know them superficially. Many of these Baumgardners have been or are educators, with the have “beens” far outweighing the “nows” especially by those in attendance. So I’ve been thinking about all of them this morning. I’ve also been thinking about going back to school and being around teachers whom I also love and haven’t seen in a while. My biggest dread being around either group is the one-ups-manship that is played out fairly constantly.

With family, someone asks you what you are up to and you tell her or him or at least you start. Not too far into the conversation the focus shifts off you and onto the person inquiring since she or he has done or seen something far worse or far better. With family, unless it’s a medical condition, they tend to favor the far better. And to be fair, it usually has to do with bragging about offspring rather than her or his self. By contrast, teachers one-ups are almost always downers. This makes talking to teachers rather depressing. So, what’s going on here? Why do teachers do this? Most importantly, what can I do to not be “that” teacher?

Multiple choice question:

I talk with a teacher about a situation that ends up being one-upped I am actually

A) venting so I don’t explode on a kid/parent/administrator/colleague
B) seeking support in the form of advice about how to handle a situation
C) trying to impress them with my mad skills
D) feeling sorry for myself and having a pity party
E) all of the above

Answer for yourself, but I choose E, if I am being totally honest. When I talk to another teacher I just want to talk to someone who speaks my language and understands.

I taught my husband to just listen and maybe get me a drink if I was sharing something particularly painful. Things at school, he cannot fix for me. I don’t want him to fix them. It’s not his world. I just want him to listen and know I had a rough day. I don’t usually want his advice either and if I do, I ask for it. Now, these behaviors, just listening and asking, did not come naturally for either of us. We have to think about what we are doing and “react intentionally.” Sounds like an oxymoron but it’s not.

Imagine if an administrator or counselor or pastor one-upped each thing I shared with them. I’d quit going to these people. Venting would never turn into conversation that would lead to solution or simply a shoulder on which to cry. These people had to learn how to react and so can teachers. Teachers need to be there for one another. So in 8.6 days when I go back to school, I want to be a better colleague. I want to be a supportive listener. I want to help where I can and lead the positive charge by example. I want to react intentionally.

As I go onto the very loud, highly competitive stage of the Baumgardner reunion today, I hope to also react with intension. I pray for inner calm and keen listening for myself. I will make certain the conversation is centered appropriately. I am going to do my very best not to interrupt. That’s just really hard when you have something funny to sprinkle onto the conversation. But I will try.

Heart

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