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