Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Celebrating a Lifelong Learner!

Last week at our math teacher leader meeting, we honored and celebrated Kathy Boling, as she will be retiring at the end of this year. Of course, we are thrilled for her, but we also want to share with you today why we will continued to be inspired by her passion and dedication for learning.
Kathy has served on the math teacher leader team for almost as long as we have had math teacher leaders in LISD. However, we consider Kathy one of our "extraordinaire" math teacher leaders because she is continually learning and always trying new things, even after 36 years in the profession. For example, when we asked her to try out math interviews on her 2nd graders, not only did she commit to administering every interview, but she gave specific feedback on the advantages and disadvantages of each interview. As if that wasn't enough, she also attended every single after school meeting willing to collaborate and ask questions of others. When Kathy makes a commitment, she perseveres in accomplishing it.

This year, we encouraged math teacher leaders to spread their mathematical expertise by presenting at this year's February Conference. Kathy was one of those teachers who accepted the challenge to present, and she went above and beyond the call of duty. During the presentation, she engaged the participants in a number talk that she actually used with her students. Kathy understands that we learn best by doing and she wasn't afraid to step out of her comfort zone to try something different.

These are just a few examples to illustrate how Kathy is a lifelong learner. In fact, it is her ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge that has enhanced the culture of our math teacher leader team and will continue to inspire us all. Let me say this in another way. From the words of Dana Nathanson, "She has been an educator for over 30 years, and she is STILL learning as we all are!"

Thank you, Kathy, for your growth mindset, dedication and passion for learning, and your years of service in LISD.

We wish her a wonderful journey as she starts a new chapter in her life! Please help us congratulate her by leaving her note in the comments!

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Mystery of My Walks

This week I downloaded the APP called "MapMyWalk" onto my iPhone and was excited to try it out. This APP records my walk by putting it into a map. It also records my total time and my pace per mile. What wonderful math!  But boy was I surprised! 

Day 1:

Okay, I know I am slow but at least I was off the couch!

Day 2:

Was my APP not working?  How could the same walk give me two different distances? 

If my APP is working correctly how could this be? 

Share this problem with your students and help me solve the mystery. 

Please add comments, questions, answers below.  Thanks for your help!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guest Blog: Ponderings from the Treadmill

I am very excited to introduce our new Guest Blogger!  April Chauvette is our secondary counterpart in the world of LISD mathematics.  April is a Secondary Math Facilitator and mostly works with grades 6, 7 and 8.  She is also our "go to girl" for everything middle school.  We love collaborating with April and appreciate her educational and mathematical insights.  Please join us in welcoming her and thank you April for your pondering . . .   

So, I’ve decided start running more frequently.  It all started with a twitter post from Principal Salome Thomas-EL urging faculty and followers to live a healthier life and challenging them to be a part of #500in2014 (as in running 500 miles in 2014). 
Let me be clear, I am no marathoner.  I’m in decent enough shape, but don’t consistently go out running, its rather sporadic.  And while I don’t mind running and actually kind of enjoy it (if only my HS coaches could hear that!) I seldom do it.  For whatever crazy reason though, I decided to accept this twitter challenge and am working to stay on pace to be able complete the 500 miles this year (it’s only about 10 miles per week right?!?).

I really am going somewhere with this, so bear with me…Like I said, I’m in decent enough shape.  When I did actually run before, my natural pace was around a 10-minute mile over my general 2 to 3 mile path.  Not bad, in my estimation. Not going to blow anyone out of the water, but solid enough. 

But as the crazy Texas winter of 2014 has unfolded, I’ve found myself at the gym on the treadmill more than normal.  My MO had been to hop on the treadmill, adjust my tunes, and crank it up to 5.8 mph to get started.   (While I know you can do the math, 6 mph is a 10-minute mile.)  So I’d start at 5.8 (just below my typical pace) for a ½ mile or so and then eek it up 0.1 mph every so often (to keep challenging myself over the run) then a little more than half way through the run, I’d start tapering back down.  I’d get up to maybe 6.5 mph for a little bit but that was usually a max.  6.5 mph is not bad. That’s peaking at a 9:13 minute/mile pace.  I’ve been pretty content with that, having really just started running consistently in January.

On Friday, I must have been particularly distracted as I got started on the treadmill.  Perhaps it was because I hadn’t run in over a week and was feeling behind, maybe it was the fact that I was actually out in the middle of the day on school day due to our cancellation, maybe it was because I had just dropped my two kids off in the gym daycare and who knew how that would go.  Regardless, I fiddled w/ my iPhone, started my Nike+ app, fixed my headphones and started cranking up the treadmill.  I’d been going for quite a little bit when I looked down at the display and saw that I had started myself off at a 6.5 mph pace.  And was doing fine.  I reactively reached out to slow it down, but then realized that I was doing fine.  Intrigued, I left my setting as it was and proceeded with my normal routine of cranking up the challenge little by little over the course of my run, eventually peaking at 7.2 mph (a 8:20 min/mile pace), without much trouble at all. 

My mind raced far more than my legs that day.  How often do we operate in this manner in our classrooms?  We have what we think is our pace, our zone, where our kids perform best.  We have a bar of expectations for our kiddos. Our MO is to start right under that bar and work up to it and maybe little beyond it and then ease back down.  It makes me wonder, how accurate are we with our initial bar setting? Are we selling ourselves and our students short?  What if we started the day with the bar set a little higher and still worked to stretch students more, little by little, what would we achieve?   Incrementally increasing my speed felt just as challenging when I was running the slower pace as I did at the surprisingly faster start pace.  Would I have known the difference if I hadn’t looked down?  Would our students?

It doesn’t mean that there won’t be stumbling blocks.  I had to pause my run on the treadmill, to deal with a nagging sock that was bunching up between my toes.  But was able to resume the run feeling much better having straightened that out. Extend the metaphor in your mind.  What does the pause in the run look like in your classroom?  What is the cause? What’s your bunched up sock?  Stop and take the time to deal with it.  Then get going again, the rest will go smoother having done so. 

Now, I will tell you that it did cross my mind that this run was a fluke.  Maybe I had extra energy having taken week off.  Maybe it because I was on a treadmill and not outside.  Maybe it was because I was playing mindgames with myself over those 4 miles.  Interestingly enough, having had two opportunities to run since and test this hypothesis, it’s holding, once outdoors and then back on the treadmill (thanks Texas weather).  I’ve continued to outperform my typical self (not just for a moment but over the course of a whole 4 or 5 miles) when I’ve started at a more challenging pace. 

Where have you set your bar?  What surprising successes are you keeping yourself from?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Guest Blog: Transforming Math Instruction (Part 2)

Last week, you might have read: Guest Blog: Transforming Math Instruction (Part 1) written by Kellie Lambert. This week, we are proud to share Jessica Beeler's perspective on how she has transformed her approach to math instruction. Be on the lookout for these two educators during February Conference this year. They will be offering a session on this topic if you are interested in learning more about their success in teaching math differently!

What's that saying? An insane person does the same thing over and over again expecting different results.  Every year that was me.  “I will start fractions earlier, harder.  I will talk louder to make them understand.  If I say the same words just a few more times than I have for the past 13 years of teaching fourth grade the students WILL get it this time.  Yes, of course, I am just not being emphatic enough with my standing at the front of the room and telling them what fractions are.”  Eureka!!

Um, no.  Not even close.  So when Beth Chinderle was visiting Kellie Lambert I heard the discussion afterward. She was showing Kellie student work and going over the different levels of student understanding.  I saw what she was talking about all the time in my classroom.  It all makes sense,  so many kids understand more than I am giving them credit for.  So many still need time to practice and grow.

Actually it was a two-part moment of discovery for me.  Months before at February Conference I went to a class about fractions and they put a dividing fractions problem on the board.  My old learning kicked in and I quickly whipped out my algorithm that I had stored in the back of my brain, applied it to the problem, got my answer, and then...THERE IS NO WAY THAT IS RIGHT!  This is a dividing problem, how did I get a bigger answer? I proceeded to rework the problem and forced it to get an answer that made sense.  Ah, much better.  Then the ladies presenting the class used the same numbers in a word problem.  I swear someone started playing background "Hallelujah" music.  It all suddenly made sense.  My original answer was correct.  Why did no one show me this sooner? I would have been saved a lot of grief as a child/teenager. Just seeing the same information in a real world context made all the difference.

So Kellie and I talked.  And talked.  And talked.  Why not try a different approach? It was not as if I had been using the perfect way. If we did not like it we could always go back to our normal routine.  Let's try it together.  It is nice to have someone to jump with you.
Ok, where to begin? In years past I have stood at the front of the room, taught a skill, had the students take notes, done practice problems, then set them off on their own to apply their newfound knowledge to the worksheet or activity I gave them.  Then I collected all the students that did not "get it" and retaught the skill so they could get a better grade on the assignment.  I can still hear the student groans.  

Today.  A paradigm shift. A new concept? Let's start with some sort of problem solving.  At first the students were very hesitant, "but I don't know how to do this." My reply, "just try something." It was slow.  They were unsure.  They were unwilling to take the risk of getting a wrong answer.  It took some coaxing.  Ok, a lot of coaxing.  THIS IS NOT FOR A GRADE.  Not everyone tried that first time.  Some did not try very hard.  That was okay.  I walked around, asked questions, gave some reassuring back scratches, and let them get it wrong.  I learned SO much.  I quickly saw which kids had no conceptual understanding, which kids had only a little, and which kids understood what the problem was about.  I also saw where there were misconceptions.  A wealth of information, and I had yet to teach a thing!!!! That very first day I was hooked.  Fail or succeed I knew I was going to see this through.

Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your journey. Please leave her a comment or question below!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Guest Blog: Transforming Math Instruction (Part 1)

We are blessed to have TWO guest bloggers this month! Kellie Lambert and Jessica Beeler, 4th grade teachers at Rutledge Elementary, have transformed their approach to math instruction to provide students the opportunity to explore, discover and uncover important mathematical topics. Both of these educators were willing to share their journey through a guest blog. First, we will hear Kellie Lambert's perspective on how she is teaching mathematics differently this year. I hope you will be inspired by her courage to try something new and different! Thank you, Kellie, for sharing your journey! 
This is my 9th year teaching 4th grade math and every year I feel like I pour my heart and soul into my math instruction every day and while some might be satisfied with the results I get, I have never been completely satisfied.  I have always known in my heart that there had to be a better way to approach math instruction where I’m able to reach more kids faster and take them further. 

I feel like I try to completely revamp my math instruction every year in order to find what works.  I’m constantly reflecting, researching, analyzing data, and attending numerous professional development sessions in hopes of finding new and better ways to improve math.

I have a tendency to try new big ideas and if I don’t see improvement, revert back to the mediocre approach that I’ve always known.  In fact, a coworker once asked me, “Have you ever wondered if the reason you feel like your students aren’t successful is because you completely change everything every year, and you never really give any of your ideas a chance to see if they actually work or not?” 

Hmm…well, that was an interesting thought that made me really start reflecting on whether or not my NEXT new big idea for math instruction would be the one that works.  I ultimately decided that if I was going to try a whole new approach (again), that I should seek advice from the experts.  I decided to get in touch with Beth Chinderle, one of our district’s elementary math facilitators. 

Beth Chinderle met with me before school started this year and we discussed my next big idea.  While Beth never discouraged me from moving forward with my idea, it quickly became evident that there was a far better way to approach math instruction than the route that I was headed in.   Beth Chinderle basically blew my mind with her ideas for math instruction in the elementary classroom and her philosophies on problem solving.   I held on to every word and couldn’t wait to collaborate with my coworker, Jessica Beeler about how we could improve our own math instruction. 

Jessica and I shared ideas back and forth and she was the one who had a stroke of genius.  After discussing Beth’s Chinderle’s visit (along with all of her shared wisdom), our own philosophies on math instruction, and considering the research that’s out there, Jessica came to the conclusion that if we simply flip our problem solving approach that we could change everything we know about teaching math. 

We decided to take a risk and go for it.  As we started sharing our new approach with others, we quickly realized how much of a mind shift our idea truly was.

Flipping the Problem Solving Model:
When we introduce a new math skill, we introduce it to our students in a word problem and allow them to explore their own approaches.  We have eliminated front-loading the students with strategies, tricks, and methods to guide them towards the correct answers.  Instead, we allow them to explore, discover, and draw their own conclusions about new math concepts.  For instance, when we started our division unit, we started it off with a division word problem.  Most of our students had never been taught division, however, they were all able to solve the problem correctly.   How was this possible?  Our students had enough prior knowledge to be able to use a variety of strategies to help get the right answer.  We then had students copy their strategies on computer paper and we talked about them as a whole class.  The division learning came naturally through our classroom problem solving talks.  Students started noticing patterns and wanted to try the approaches their classmates had tried.

When we start with problem solving to introduce a new math skill, it serves as a pre-assessment for us.  We’re able to quickly determine how much prior knowledge our students have and how much they don’t know.  We use what we learn from the problem solving to help guide our instruction.  Once we’ve explored with problem solving, we’ll go back and do some small group or whole group instruction about our new math skill in order to help fill in the gaps.  Then, the students can’t wait to attack the original problem we gave them all over again or attack a new problem. 

It’s really been eye-opening to watch the transformation in our math classrooms.  Our students take more risks, they aren’t afraid of a challenge, and they value the ideas and opinions of the others around them.  We’ve noticed that our students are developing stronger math foundations and that they’re able to apply their math knowledge in numerous situations when it’s presented to them in a variety of ways (something we’ve always struggled with in the past).

We’ve also incorporated Number Talks into our math routine and the discussions are remarkable.  The first thing I realized about number talks was that I should’ve been doing these for the past 8 years.  It’s fascinating to watch the students gain confidence and share their strategies despite whether they get the right answer or not.  The greatest thing to watch is when a student is sharing a strategy that didn’t lead to the correct answer and the self-discovery that takes place as they figure it out on their own.

This is the first year that I have ever been really excited about math because I finally feel like we’re on the right track.  In the past, I’ve felt like there were pockets of greatness here and there, but overall, I still felt like there was so much more that still needed to be done. 

This year has been an incredible ride and I wouldn’t have wanted to take it with anyone other than Jessica.  It’s amazing to work alongside someone who has so much passion for teaching math and who truly understands what works for kids.  After what I’ve seen this year in math, I can’t fathom teaching math in any other way.  I think we’ve finally discovered the next big idea that actually works and I can’t wait to see where this journey takes us!

Please feel free to leave a comment or question below for Kellie. Next Monday, we will post Jessica Beeler's perspective and hear her thoughts. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Open Questions

The ultimate goal of differentiation is to meet the needs of the varied students in a classroom during instruction, but this can seem overwhelming.  One way it can become manageable is if the teacher can create a single question or task that allows students at different stages of mathematical development to benefit and grow. 

This single question is called an Open Question. A question is open when it is framed in such a way that a variety of responses and approaches are possible. 

For example, look that the picture below. Describe what you see by using a mathematical equation and justify your answer.

What equation did you come up with? 
How many equations could you come up with? 
Can you justify all your equations?

Marion Small in her book called, Good Questions, Great Ways to differentiate Mathematics Instruction suggests 5 ways to change a closed question to an open question.

1. Turning the question around
2. Replacing the question with a blank

3. Asking for similarities and differences

4. Asking for a number sentence

5. Changing the question

Open questions can lead to great classroom discussion that can engage all students. So give them a try and share with us your results!

You may enjoy this book by Marion Small. Inside are many examples of open question for grades Pre K through 8.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Classroom Norms for Think Time and Participation

Good teaching is more a 
giving of right questions than 
a giving of right answers.
~Josef Albers

I love this quote because more and more educators, parents and students are realizing the core of mathematics lies in the act of justifying and reasoning. The practice of questioning is one way that we can get students to discuss ideas and justify their reasoning- a necessity our young learners need when they enter today's workforce.

So what questions can we ask students to elicit some discourse? Here are my favorite questions/prompts:
  • Tell me more...
  • I don't know, what do you think?
  • Why?
  • Will it always work?
But sometimes, even when I've tried my favorite questions or planned the perfect reflective question, I still sometimes struggle to get all students to participate with each other, especially those that feel like they "can't do math." (Which is NOT true, of course!)

This year, at the Texas ASCD conference, Jackie Walsh, an independent consultant who has two decades of experience working with educators to improve questioning practices, shared some awesome ideas during her presentation.

Have you ever thought about establishing classroom "Norms" for think time AND participation? Here are Jackie's suggestions:

Think Time Norms
1. Use the pause following the asking of a question to think about the question and to come up with your response.
2. Use the pause after your response to think about what you said and add or change it.
3. Use the pause following a classmate's response to compare it to your own. Be ready to agree or disagree and to add to your ideas.

Participation Norms
1. Raise your hand only to ask a question or to comment on another student's response.
2. Listen with respect to other points of view in order to fully understand and learn.
3. Monitor your talk so others can contribute.

Do students know that when you provide "wait time" that their role is to think about the question and come up with a response? Do students understand how to respectfully participate in a discussion or response? I think some of these norms could be helpful in the classroom. In fact, in the book Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers he also addresses this very same topic. (This is another excellent resource!)

Lastly, on my quest to learn more about classroom discourse, here is another video I came across from the teaching channel. If you haven't viewed this yet, I promise, it is worth your 3 minutes!

I'm curious...What are your ideas for getting all students participating in math discussions?