Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Small Changes that Make a Big Impact!

I love the NCTM article, Never Say Anything A Kid Can Say, by Steven Reinhart. I reread it often and it always reminds me of something to work on or try so that I can have a more student-centered math class.

I have recently been sharing 3 of my favorite tips from the article at PD in my district. These three tips are small changes that you can make that have a BIG impact on your classroom. I vlogged about those three ideas. Enjoy! ;)

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn

I'm sure we all can think of people (in education or not) that play it safe. They don't take many risks, but also don't really do anything noteworthy. Then there are the risk takers. Trying new stuff and sometimes falling on their face. But these people also sometimes succeed, and when they do they are doing amazing things.

My husband might laugh if I told him that I identify more with the risk taker. That's because when it come to my personal life like finances, buying a house, buying a car, raising kids, I don't like to get too crazy. I drive a Honda CRV, for goodness sake! However, when I'm talking about trying new things in my job, I'm a lot more willing to "change it," "try it," "let's see what happens!"

Does this look like the ride of a risk-taker? lol

The thing about being a risk taker is you have to put yourself out there... and there have been plenty of times, some embarrassing, that haven't worked out. And, while I love social media for connecting with my PLN, there is an aspect to social media where I'm really just putting forth my best, curated version of my life and career. I won a teaching award, yay! I was elected to the ICTM board, yay! I got a new job as instructional coach, yay! Of course I want to share all of those great moments. I'm super proud of them. But if I never take a moment to share the disappointments, it might look like I'm living a pretty charmed existence. I don't want to give the impression that I'm perfect or even that extremely lucky.

So, I'm taking this post to briefly describe a few of those near-misses, disappointments, and hard times in the hopes of rounding out what I'm putting out there. As many of my colleagues like to say, "Fail forward!"

Civil Engineering
I got my bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. I loved math and science and thought this was a good fit. It wasn't. I won't even tell you my GPA. I did graduate and worked for a few years before deciding to finally admit it wasn't for me. I went to grad school for teaching and haven't looked back since. Well, except to break out this pic every once in a while!

Maybe you are surprised to see this one on the list, because I now am, in fact, a National Board Certified Teacher. But back when I first submitted my portfolio entries, my score came up short! I was really disappointed at first and not sure I wanted to resubmit. In fact, it cost a good chunk of change to do so. In the end, I did redo a few parts and was able to achieve National Board status. A positive in the end, but it was a bumpy road!

Two years ago I was so honored to be nominated by my friend, Sendhil, to apply. I did so and was excited to be chosen as an Illinois state finalist. In the end, I didn't get it and I was super bummed. If I was still in the classroom this year, I could have reapplied, but since I'm not a classroom teacher I'm not eligible. So, instead I decided to nominate someone! My friend Lauren Slanker was an obvious choice for me. She's a great science teacher and I'm really hoping she gets the chance to become a PAEMST!

Presentations at NCTM17, ICE17, ISTE18, TMC17
I really enjoy presenting, either in my own district or at conferences. I've been lucky enough to present at quite a few! But, my proposals don't always get accepted. In fact, this past year I feel like I went though a bit of a slump in proposal acceptances, getting "no thanks" from NCTM, ICE, ISTE, and TMC. It's always a bit of a hit to the ego when you feel like you have something you want to share and are rejected. But this is definitely a situation where you need to just keep putting yourself out there. Also, reading tips from people, like Robert and Dan shared can be helpful too!

So there is an incomplete list (there's more!) of some of my biggest fails in recent years. In some ways, it helps me really appreciative of the opportunities that do work out. No one is perfect and if you are a risk taker, there will be fails. But the only way to grow and learn is to keep putting yourself out there. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you... learn!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Start. Right. Now. #D100bloggerPD Book Study

I'm happy to be participating in another #D100bloggerPD book study! This time we are reading Start. Right. Now. by Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas. You can read more about our book study and find links to all the contributors here!

Our district's technology conference, iEngage Berwyn is coming up in a few weeks and one of our keynote speakers is one of the authors, Jimmy Casas!

The portion of the book I'm reflecting on is the second part of Chapter 4: Go the Way. There are four sections in this portion of the chapter: Tell the Truth, Ask for Help, Stay the Course, and The Way We Respond. 

Tell the Truth
At first glance, this one seems obvious. I'm a truthful person and bad liar--although pretty good deadpan/dry sense of humor ;) But this section is also about being truthful and honest even when it's having a tough conversation. In reflecting, I can think of several difficult conversations that I just plain avoided instead of addressing an issue. This portion of the book is a good reminder to be honest with people, obviously in a kind way, to help everyone grow. There is a book called Having Hard Conversations by Jennifer Abrams that has been on my "to-read" list for a while. I think I need to make it my next read!

Ask for Help
Asking for help can sometimes feel like a weakness-- but it actually is a strength! I've learned this in my teaching career. When I was a first and second year teacher, I held firm to the belief that I needed to look like I knew what I was doing. No matter what the situation, I "had it under control" and didn't want to ask for help. Big mistake!

Now that I have a little more experience, I actually ask for help more often! This year I am new to the instructional coach role after being in the classroom for 12 years. I'm asking questions every day! Having a middle school background and now working with several primary teachers, there is a lot I don't know. Sometimes I don't even know what I don't know! Reaching out to people in person or virtually, through my Twitter PLN, has been enormously helpful in my growth.

Here is an example of a recent plea for help:
I got a ton of responses and help in pushing my thinking forward, which never would have happened if I hadn't asked for help!

Stay the Course
There are always challenges. It can be tough, but it's important to keep going. Now that I'm a mom, I see a parallel to this idea. A mentor mom once said to me, "things will be hard sometimes, but don't worry, things always change. But if things are going well, remember, things always change!" Ha! Isn't this the truth. Staying the course helps you deal with those changes and challenges. 

The Way We Respond
When I first read this header, I thought it was going to be more about how to respond. And, yes, a little of that was address. For example, we should be positive in those responses. However, I was surprised to read this section and learn it was more about the fact that it was more about making the effort to respond. Respond promptly to every communication. Even if you have things to do. Even if you get what feels like a million emails. Even if someone is angry at you. Even if someone stops to chat and you are busy. 

"Excellent educators realize the importance of responding promptly and positively to every communication they receive."

This is a great reminder and advice.

The end of the chapter shares some great people and resources:
Teach 4:
1. Rachel Cuppy (@rcuppy1)
2. Bill Ferriter (@plugusin)
3. Derek Dixon (@Mr_DerekDixon)
4. Ben Feight (@FeightB)

Lead 4:
1. Jon Harper (@Jonharper70bd)
2. Jennifer Hogan (@Jennifer_Hogan)
3. Malynn Rodriguez (@malynn_r)
4. Dwight Carter (@Dwight_Carter)

Learn 4:
1. "Nice Bike," video from Mark Scharenvroich
3. Seek Feedback
4. Create common values statements

Be sure to catch the next two posts on April 11th on Lauren Slanker's and Mona Towner's blogs!

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.