Friday, June 3, 2016

Quest Blogger: Ending with Inquiry

Our quest blogger today is 2nd grade teacher, Emily Jones.  She shared a little bit about herself and her love of math, "This is my sixth year teaching. I have taught grades 1-3 and I have a passion for math! My kiddos are 11 and 14. Prior to teaching and being a stay at home mom, I worked in banking. I found a love for math from my banking experience and in teaching. I have greatly improved my math thinking as an adult." Thank you, Emily, for sharing your passion for math!

Right now the end of year checklists are begging for attention and teachers are trying to figure out how to keep their students engaged.  Let’s be honest, teachers are just trying to keep kids safe.  Having engaged learners during the last week of school is a BONUS.  So, how can we send off our students longing for more math?  How can we continue to focus on rich learning even when summer and swimming pools are on the brain?
Recently, I became inspired to seek out answers to these questions and after reflecting I arrived at these three words: novelty, exploration, and structure.  After modifying a few Bridges in Mathematics marble roll lessons I came to realize the magic of the fab three—the triple threat.  Novelty, exploration, and structure, I decided were the key to any great end of year lessons.  The result?  Instead of ending my year with guilt and glazed over eyes as I desperately tried to fill in any learning gaps, I was witness to happy, enthusiastic learning.
Novelty tends to be the first item checked off on my teacher-shopping list. When I get excited about a lesson, it is typically because I have found something interesting or unusual to add to it.  In this case, my novelty came from extremely long tubing because I just bought two new rugs and cool tubes were included in the packaging.  As predicted, the cool tubes sparked a ton of interest and drama.  But I’ll save that story for another day.  So, instead of using regularly shaped paper towel tubes we had intriguing sizes and shapes!  In an instant a plain lesson can go bold with the slightest of tweaking.
My second best friend is exploration.  If anything got me sucked into education, it is the art of exploring.  I could watch kids explore all day.  My class’ curiosity about our materials for the lesson mixed with summer fever made it very hard to give instructions on the front end.  Sometimes my strategy is to give freedom and then reign in.  So instead of giving a lengthy set up, I allowed them to create first without a ton of explicit learning expectations.  While I lead one group by digging deep into the heart of the lesson and facilitated, I allowed other students to construct, build, and test.

Equally crucial to a successful lesson at the end of the year, is strong structure.  I saw immediately that I would need to orchestrate a careful plan to make sure that students were learning at high levels.  I used my time working with groups to ask questions, speculate, and clarify any misunderstandings.  I managed switching groups and moving from more structured environments to less based on observing various groups. Then, I reeled everyone back in when I felt like the freedom of discovery had reached its limit.

In the end, not all of my students filled in every box or answered every question for their written portion of the assignment.  Instead, they had meaningful learning.  They had a purpose.  We had rich conversations, involvement, and excitement.  What more can you ask for at the end of the year? 

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Guest Blogger: You Mean I Can Play Games and Learn Math?

It's been a long time, but we are so excited about this guest blogger and her excitement about math! Christine Mauer is an Instructional Assistant for Resource/Inclusion at Reagan Elementary.  She is also the main contact for the Math Pentathlon program at Reagan Elementary as well as Henry Middle School.  She has 4 boys (ages 24, 13, 11 and 9) and LOVES MATH! Thank you Chris for your commitment to making math fun and meaningful!
“When will I ever use this?”  “Why do we need to know how to do this?” “I’m not going to be a scientist or math teacher, so why should I care?”  These are some of the most common questions I hear during the course of the day.  While the world we live in is rapidly changing, and the challenges children face are growing, there’s few things that remain constant.  No matter how we teach math or approach math or view math, the fact is, it is a constant.  It’s always been there, and will always be there.  It is part of our daily lives.  When kids don’t see the need for math, we can remind them in lots of different ways that math is essential to the way of life to which they have become accustomed.  That handy cell phone they have in their pockets….it’s all math, programming, art, graphics, engineering!  That laptop they do their homework on….ALL MATH!  The money in their piggy bank…well, you get the idea.  Math can come easy for some, or be extremely difficult for others.  While we try to meet each child at their level to teach them the skills they’ll need to become thriving members of an adult society, sometimes there are gaps.  Those gaps can be closed sometimes by introducing math in another way.  What if there was a set of games that would incorporate ACTIVE PROBLEM SOLVING (think chess), COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT, and PEER SUPPORT???  Funny you should ask, there are sets of games that do just that.
Back in 2009, when Reagan Elementary first opened, my son was in 2nd grade.  We had moved over to the “new school” from Cox.  There was a mom way back then who had been involved in a program called Math Pentathlon (big, long word that takes a bit to get used to saying).  Her name is Stephanie Beasley.  She is now an AMAZING 4th grade teacher at Reagan.  Well, way back when, she started an after school math club that my son was interested in trying, so I volunteered to help.  At first, I thought, “I wasn’t that great at math in school, but I’ll try this since my son is interested.”  I noticed something different right away about this program.  When the kids sat down, they all shook hands and said, “good luck” to their opponent.  Then, they talked across the table with each other on what they thought the next move should be.  Then, when the game was over, they all shook hands again and said, “good game”.  I have to say, I was astounded by the attitude they all had.   Little did I know, that was the beginning of my love of all things math!   Really.  Honestly.  I was not a math fan, until Math Pentathlon!
Math Pentathlon (Penta means 5, Athalon means Events) consists of grade level games and a tournament in the spring.  Teaching the games became something I never thought I’d ever do, but Mrs. Beasley got hired on as a full time teacher so I took over Math Pentathlon at Reagan.  I was nervous.  She was so good at it.  Would I be able to do it?  Well, with the help of many, many, many other volunteers, the program continues to grow and evolve.  The next step was, “what happens after 5th grade?”  Turns out the games go all the way to 7th!  I reached out to Dr. Ellis at Henry Middle School to see if they’d be interested and they were!  HMS is one of 3 middle schools to have the program in LISD.   The program also has a lot of volunteer opportunities for kiddos that have aged out of the program. They can return and volunteer as a coach or to help with the tournaments and/or trainings.  Reagan has had a few state awards as well as becoming a sponsor school for less privileged teams in other parts of Austin.
Tournaments are held around the Austin area and have grown so much that they now have to be split into multiple locations.  There are 11 LISD elementary schools with the program and 3 middle schools (so far!).  There are 4 divisions in Math Pentathlon.  Division 1 (K/1st grade), Division 2 (2nd/3rd grade), Division 3 (4th/5th grade) and Division 4 (6th/7th grade).  If you can imagine 700 kids competing in a MATH tournament.  It’s a beautiful sight.   Right now, Math Pentathlon is only offered in 3 states, Texas, Indiana and Michigan. We should feel very privileged to have the program here in LISD.  

With all the competition in the sports world, there are few that exercise the mind like math does.  It’s nice to know that there is an outlet for children to explore, enjoy and compete mathematically.  If you are interested in learning more about Math Pentathlon, feel free to check out a club near you!  Or or on YouTube, just search Math Pentathlon Austin Tournament and you’ll get a very good sense of what it’s really like to be at a tournament. The energy and brainpower in one room is truly something to behold.    It’s nice to know that even as an adult, there’s always something out there to push us out of our comfort zone and open our eyes to new possibilities.  For me, it was Math Pentathlon.  I hope that you’ll branch out and see if maybe it might be a good fit for you as well.
“Mathematics is the most beautiful and most powerful creation of the human spirit.”

                                                                            --Stefan Banach, Polish Mathematician

Monday, October 13, 2014

Guest Blogger: Creating Math Thinkers

Our Guest Blogger this week is our Math Teacher Leader, Kevin Williams, a dedicated 5th grade teacher from Reed Elementary. Today, he writes about his experiences with learning and teaching math for understanding. Thank you, Kevin, for sharing your journey with us today as you create math thinkers in your classroom!

Hello, my name is Kevin Williams, and I'm a mathaholic. I wasn't always addicted to math. In fact, as a student I barely even liked it. I had many good teachers, but it was a different day and age. All students had to do back then was repeat procedures and algorithms. I was an expert at memorizing formulas, repeating steps, and passing tests. Passing tests was so easy back in the day. They were mostly computation problems with very few real-world applications. I didn't even realize how math ignorant I was. Not until I became a teacher.

At first things were great. State tests were ridiculously simple, requiring very little from teachers as they prepared their students. It wasn't long before new math standards and expectations came into play. Suddenly it wasn't enough for students to add, subtract, multiply, and divide in isolation. My students had to actually think. While I was great at teaching steps, procedures, and tricks, I was at a loss for teaching thinking.

It was at a Marilyn Burns training that I began to understand just how little I knew about teaching math, and really how little I understood math personally. As the leader worked with a group of students, she asked the simple question, "What is area?" Every hand reached for the sky. "It's length times width," they all shouted. I was so proud. "That is how you can find area. But what IS it?" It suddenly hit me. I was guilty of teaching methods to find answers when my students didn't even really understand the questions!

Much has changed for me since then. I began a personal journey to truly learn the reasons why all of the procedures, algorithms, and tricks I taught worked. I'm embarrassed to admit some of the concepts that I finally began to understand--like when I discovered arrays and for the first time understood square numbers! I became addicted to playing with numbers.

Why tell you all of this now? I guess it's because of the new Bridges materials that we have in Leander. The materials require kids to manipulate and play with numbers. It gives students opportunities to apply knowledge and skills. It enables kids to build number sense. It makes us communicate mathematical thinking. And we play games. Lots and lots of games. Games that make kids think. I can't wait to see how it will eventually transform our kids and their deep understanding of math. I have been around long enough to understand and expect an "implementation dip" in the short-term. I'm confident, though, that if we stay the course, we will see dramatic improvement in mathematical thinking in the near future.

Thank you, Leander ISD, for providing us with a resource that will prepare our students for a brighter future, with more options due to their better understanding of math. I see many more mathaholics in our future!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Guest Blog: Open Tasks from a 4th Grade Classroom

Our Guest Blogger this week is Jessica Beeler, 4th grade teacher from Rutledge Elementary. Jessica has had great success with using open tasks in her classroom and was willing to share an example of how she facilitates mathematical learning through this type of open-ended problem. Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your knowledge with us today!

         This year I have been a huge advocate for problem solving in the classroom as a primary way for the students to learn and investigate new concepts.  They have really blown me away with their level of learning. I have challenged myself to use a variety of different facilitation methods to aid their math discovery.

         So I decided to pull out some open-ended problems to get the students thinking more deeply about their work.  The different problems they created were so exciting.  One student, who is usually quite quiet and with-drawn ripped through the first answer (3 ½ brownies) with a great problem.
        She was able to tell me how she figured out they needed 14 brownies total.  She drew the 3 ½ brownies for each person then simply counted them up, combining halves as she went. 
         I was able to easily differentiate another problem for her (2 ¼ brownies) which she created equally as quickly. 
         Then she moved on to 1 2/3 brownies,
and finally 5/3 brownies.  By this point she was very confident in her strategy and really understood it well. She really got excited by the different problems and did not have a single drift-away moment.
         A few of the students gravitated toward subtraction problems instead of equal share problems.  This was fine, but not what I was anticipating when I created the answers.  To avoid this the next time we did the activity I included the word each in the answer, “5 2/4 brownies each.”
         I have done a few similar problems in homework before, but am definitely going to start doing more.  It is an easy thing for me to create, and incredibly beneficial for the students.
         They also love checking each other’s problems to make sure that they truly do work out correctly.  I have had some great conversations with individual students as well as they have been designing their problems. I love seeing the excitement in their eyes as they see they can not only understand the math, but also create the math!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Integrating ELA With the New Math TEKS “Like a Pirate”

The new Math TEKs have proven to be a challenge for both students and teachers this year. Students have struggled to learn new strategies to help them become successful and teachers have been forced to think outside the box to keep students engaged and learning.

By integrating content areas to create a learning “experience” for students, the 2nd grade teachers at Block House Creek Elementary seem to be having just as much fun teaching as students are at learning.
In March, teachers combined the skill of comparing and contrasting works by the same author with organizing data in a bar graph using intervals. Along with the exciting NCAA basketball tournament hype, March Madness - Book Edition began. Using the diverse and often humorous books of Mo Willems, the entire 2nd grade set off on a two-week journey to find their favorite Mo Willems’ book.

Each day the 2nd grade teachers would read the same book to their classes and then each class voted on their favorite. Each math class got the opportunity to count up the votes and decide how they would like to graph the results. There was a large bracket in the hallway during this process so the students could see who won each round as the narrowing down process continued.

On the last day, all the classes read the two finalists at the same time and teachers tallied the votes. At the end of the day the big reveal was held in the gym. The students were so excited to find out if their favorite book won. It all came down to “City Dog, Country Frog” and “Pigeon Finds a Hotdog,” two very different books. The children cheered as the winner, “Pigeon Finds a Hotdog” was revealed. They were then surprised by a five-minute dance party in the gym. Teachers and students danced together for a brief moment of fun and silliness that seems to rarely occur in our daily treadmill of demanding curriculum and many tiny needs.

Although change can be uncomfortable and overwhelming at times, with the help of innovative ideas and collaboration, everyone wins in the end. Everyone gets to share in the joy of learning.

2nd Grade Team