Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mistakes are Gifts!

Mistakes aren't just okay, they are gifts!

Six years ago, I was attending some amazing professional development as part of the West Cook Math Initiative- now called Metro Chicago Math Initiative. We had a frequent guest facilitator, David Foster, leading us in a math talk and then discussing re-engagement lessons. I will never forget the day that he said, "Mistakes are gifts." In fact, I believe he said he had heard this from a teacher in Japan that was explaining the role that mistakes can play in helping students understanding mathematical concepts.

Bottom line, I don't know who to give credit to for this quote, but it certainly has had an impact on me. It is something that I repeat to students that I teach, teachers that I coach, and participants in professional development that I lead. I just can't say it enough!

Here's my vlog of my reflections on this idea:

If you like the idea of using mistakes in your classroom, consider re-engagement lessons as an alternative to "reteaching." You can read more here!

image from Inside Mathmatics

Monday, March 13, 2017

Teacher Move: Strategic Eavesdropping

This is my first attempt at "vlogging." It's blogging but with video! This is pushing me out of my comfort zone a bit because, as most people, I hate seeing myself on video or hearing myself talk!! And look how my face is frozen in a weird way on the video below. Ugh! But I think this is a powerful way to reflect on my practice and share ideas I've done in the classroom, so I'm giving it a try.

I hope you find this idea helpful. I call it "strategic eavesdropping." It is a teacher move that you do in the classroom as students are working or discussing. You do this to find students work/thinking to share to the group and facilitate class discussions. It is probably something that you are doing already! What makes this a little different than just walking around and listening to kids talk is the strategic part. You are going to use what you overhear to plan, in the moment, for how to reveal student thinking to the group. Give this video a watch and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Block Schedule Planning

I had an opportunity to teach on a 45-minute traditional class period schedule and a 90-minute block. Both models have their pros and cons. I think my own preference is block schedules because you have so much more time to dive into content. There are fewer transitions and it just seems calmer and more conducive to learning.

However, one major challenge is finding purposeful ways to fill that block. If you notice that you are doing one activity for a long period of time, it might be important to think about chunking. What I mean by chunking is thinking of you period in 15-20 minute chunks of time and planning activities within those chunks. I find it's difficult to keep students attention if something lasts longer than 20 minutes, so that was my maximum for any activity (except an assessment).

I developed the following sample block plans based on 85 minutes. So, if you have 60 minutes you can think about cutting out one of these pieces. If you teach 90 minutes, add 5 minutes to one of the chunks. These aren't meant to be plans that you have to take literally. Instead, think of them as inspiration for how you might rework your time to give students a sense that they are working on several related activities, but not stuck doing the same thing the whole time. For more examples, you can check out a few samples here, where I found my inspiration for this post!

This first sample is something that I would use for providing time for investigation and practice. Our middle schools use Connected Math, which relies on investigation and discovery. However, before I jump into the lesson, you might notice that 15 minutes are for a math talk. I liked using this time to help students develop number sense which is a year-long goal for my students. My favorite resources are Which One Doesn't Belong, Estimation 180, and Clothesline Number Line. I suggest using 10 of those minutes for the actual discussion.

The next chunk is for an intro. If you are familiar with 3-Act tasks, I usually try to find a way to intro an investigation in the style of Act 1. So whether I'm using actual lessons from Dan Meyer, or finding a YouTube video myself, or even doing a little demo in front of the class using students, setting up interest with a "hook" is a must.

Next, students can work in partners on the investigation. They might be recording results on a table or playing a game. No matter what the activity, it should be leading them to look for patterns and coming to some mathematical conclusion.

I put in a brain break because at some point in the lesson, it's important to get the blood flowing to the brains. You might think that doing a brain break is too elementary or babyish for your middle school kids. Not true! Even 8th graders like being a little silly. But if you don't like using something like Go Noodle, think about some breathing exercises, simple yoga poses, or other mindfulness techniques.

After a short brain break, you might want to help the kids synthesize what they discovered during the investigation. Take a moment to write down important findings, formulas, or vocabulary that they can refer to later.

The next chunk might be having students continue in the investigation on their own or to do some individual practice. Using ClassKick or Formative might be good tech tools to use for this chuck so you can monitor student work and be pulling kids that need additional help from you. 

Finally, I always leave 5 minutes at the end to make sure there is time to clean up the classroom and to do a quick summary or conclusion. 

This next sample block plan is something you might use if you have work you want students to continue from the previous day. Notice, there is still the warm-up and a brain break. Plus there are a few moments for discussion and a conclusion at the end. Again, it's not so important that you would have to do this exactly as I proposed, but rather to be inspired as to how a block can be chunked.

My next idea is how you might do stations in the middle school classroom. I would recommend 5 stations. Typically I would have:
1. Teacher-station where students are working on white boards
2. Individual practice- maybe on technology using something like Desmos or DreamBox
4. Game station- some type of strategy game like Blokus, Set, or 3-D Tic Tac Toe
5. Working on an ongoing creative project or individual practice

I would recommend previewing the stations the day before the station day. Go through what each station is and your expectations for accountability. Then when students come in on station day, you review those expectations for 5 minutes and they are on their way. If you like using a timer to time your stations (I do), think about setting it for 12 minutes. That way you have a little transition time built into the schedule above that gives you 15 minutes for each station. Finally, don't forget to leave yourself a few minutes at the end to clean up and summarize the day's learning.

I also wanted to give a sample of what it might look like if you want to work on something for the majority of the block. There are those days that you might be working on a creative project and you want plenty of in-class work time. Notice that there are 55 minutes of work time, but there are scheduled mini-breaks in between. It's important to intentionally plan the breaks so you don't forget to do them. It might seem like it's not worth it to interrupt work time, however I will suggest that giving some planned breaks to stretch, reflect, and refocus is important for making sure students stay engaged.

Finally, I wanted to share a sample block of what you might do if you are giving an assessment. 

I hope these samples help planning your block easier. Sometimes just seeing things in a graphic like this helps visualize how the timing might work. Keep in mind that students really appreciate knowing how their time will be spent as well. While you don't need to create a slick graphic for each day, but simply writing up the agenda on the board helps students know where they are going and how they know when they got there.

If you have any other types of lessons you like to include in your blocks, leave a comment and I would be happy to think through some other ways to chunk a block!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What is the answer?

The Hows:
How do we fix math education?
How do we address issues of equity and access?
How do we improve test scores?
How do we choose curriculum materials that encourage inquiry, exploration, problem solving, and application?
How do we improve number sense?
How do we make math fun, relevant, engaging, and meaningful to students?
How do I set up positive norms in math class?
How do I address math anxiety of my students? parents? other teachers?

The Whats:
What is the best curriculum?
What interventions are best?
What approach is better?
What is the purpose of math education?
What are we doing wrong (or right!)?
What will get us the biggest improvement the fastest?
What do teachers need to improve their teaching?
What do students need to improve their learning?

These are just some of the questions I think about, am asked, or read about daily. Daily! The longer I'm in education, the longer my answers to these questions become. I see peoples' eyes glaze over as I try to explain how there isn't just one factor that plays into any of these complex questions. I know, it would be so much easier if I could name a curriculum, program, app, webinar, keynote speaker, blog, or website that contained the answer. 

I'm still hopeful that there are answers. It's just not a quick fix.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

1 Second Everyday

My new app obsession is 1 Second Everyday. The idea is to take 1 second of video each day and compile it into a video. I first purchased the app for my iPhone with the idea of capturing video of my kids. I've been doing it and it's great!! When you put all the clips together it tells such a great story.

The app is very easy to use. You can use video saved from your camera roll or you can record video within the app. It is also a cinch to watch, select, and crop your 1-second of footage to use. Finally, you just hit play and the app puts all the 1-second pieces together. Easy-peesy!

A few weeks ago, I started thinking about how I might use the app in school. With a $4.99 price tag, it probably isn't feasible to purchase for students and have them creating their own 1 Second Everyday compilations. However, as a classroom teacher, how amazing would it be if you captured just one second from each day of the school year and at the end of the year you had an 180-second video to show you class or share with parents?

Another idea for this app is using the "My Freestyle" portion of the app that allows you to do little mini-projects using any timeframe you wish. So today, I tried it out! I was in a math class that meets for 88-minutes. I captured 18 little moments from the beginning to the end of class and came away with this product:

Isn't it an interesting way to tell the story of a class period? I'm excited to find some other ways I could use this app with students and teachers. If you have any ideas, please share!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

#OneWord2017 Reflection and Lesson

Instead of making full-blown new year's resolutions, I have joined the movement of choosing just one word. Two years ago, I chose "calm" and last year my word was "authentic." This year, I have chosen the word purposeful.

I decided to choose "purposeful" because I think it is going to help me be more focused and intentional this year. I tend to be one of those people that say yes to everything before I really know what is being asked of me. While I love having my hands in several projects at a time, it can sometimes make me feel a bit scattered and I'm wondering if I'm having as much of an impact as I would like.

My work feels like a calling to me. It's something I think about in my free time. I like blogging about it and connecting with other educators-- it's almost like a job and hobby! It feels like there is a bigger purpose and that is important to me. Helping others find their "purpose" in education is something I can do as a coach. They might not enjoy the same aspects of their work that I do, but there are can be other aspects that move them and help them feel connected, appreciated, and successful.

Being purposeful this year means (to me):

-ask more questions before saying yes to things. For example, just asking "why did you think of me for this project?" or "what skills do you think I have that will contribute positively to this?" could help clarify a lot!

-help teachers, through coaching, find (or continue to have) purpose in their work.

-continue to advocate for "purposeful" integration of technology in classrooms. I love tech, I think it's impactful, but I also hate the idea of using technology just for tech's sake. However, I also am really frustrated when people think that educational technology can be ignored and we can continue to do things "they way we always have."

-I'm reading The Art of Coaching by Elena Aguilar and there are so many great ideas for how to ask questions for different purposes when coaching. It takes a lot of thought and practice to develop this skill. I'm working on it, but I think being really "purposeful" with my questions will help.


Last year, I did a One Word lesson with my students when we got back from winter break. I think it is a really worthwhile activity. I gave students this list and let them pick a word that meant something to them. I had them tweet their One Word.

This year, I came across this post from Marilyn McAlister (@RunnerGirl13_1) with some great ideas for making this a lesson in your classroom. I would totally steal borrow 😀 her hyperdoc idea if I had my own classroom this year!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Welcome 2017!

Many people are glad to see 2016 go, and while I agree there were some difficult things about the past year, there were also some really great things. My son was born, I started a new role as instructional coach, and I became an ICTM board member! That being said, I do like the new year because it is a time to reflect and set some goals for the upcoming year. So, welcome 2017, the 306th prime number!

When you have little kids, the party peaks at about 6pm. In fact, this year the kids all had pretty bad colds. So, I wiped everyone's noses, got out our "party" decorations and gathered the fam for a group selfie. My 2-year old was into it for about 5 minutes and then declared, "party over." :)

Here's to a great 2017! I hope you find happiness and success both professionally and personally in the new year!