Blogging Initiative Kick-off

My initiative at the beginning of the school year to blog more has not gone well (only two posts in nearly 90 days of teaching!). With the help of my mentor Teri Owens and Explore MTBoS I am making this pledge:

I, Laura Lee, resolve to blog in 2016 in order to open my classroom up and share my thoughts with other teachers. I hope to accomplish this goal by participating in the January Blogging Initiation hosted by Explore MTBoS.
You, too, could join in on this exciting adventure. All you have to do is dust off your blog and get ready for the first prompt to arrive January 10th! #MtBoS #ExploreMTBoS


exploreMTBoS  MTBoS Blogging Initiative


Classroom Management – How to not let them “get me”

I need to develop my top three tenets of classroom management–three simple things I can come back to on days like today when I let them beat me, when I lost the respect of my students and myself. I don’t want to be the teacher that rules with intimidation and threats. These, for some reason, become my defaults on days that I’m tired or not on my A-game. These can’t be excuses. I teach humans, humans who want to do well. The best advice I’ve received so far (best meaning, I’ve tried it and it works) are the following:

  • Replace 3 minutes of something they don’t like with 3 minutes of something they like (Dan Meyer)
  • Routines – establish routines and stick to them-slow is smooth and smooth is fast (Terry Wyberg)
  • Follow through – set expectations for students, communicate these to students and then follow through when these expectations aren’t met (Kim Campbell)
  • Engaging lessons – yeah this is ideal, but unfortunately not an everyday reality

The follow through is what I struggle with the most. I let one kid get away with not meeting an expectation and all of the sudden I’ve been overtaken by 20 of them talking at once, wiggling around the room, a low hum buzzing throughout the room. Where’s it even coming from? How many chromosomes do 7th graders share with hummingbirds? The incessant flapping of wings at speeds that create a low, incessant hum makes me think that someone should start mapping these two species.

In all seriousness, though, if I followed through more, they wouldn’t have a chance to get to me and then I wouldn’t turn into this evil dictator that rules from an insecure place of power and authority over compassion and fairness. Recognize the good, don’t focus on the bad, proximity speaks louder than words (even if those words are on the microphone).

New Goal for 2015-16–Embrace the Math Talk

Ok, so after actually starting a week of both middle school and my final grad school class, I have a new goal for 2015-16–embrace math talks. As part of my final class to get my masters, my adviser suggested I start utilizing pattern talks as a way to build understanding of slope and y-intercept among my 8th graders. I’ve dabbled in math talks before, attended sessions at conferences, read blogs and articles online. I love the premise and I whole-heartedly believe in their potential, but completely lack the confidence in myself to facilitate the kinds of talks I’d read about.

It wasn’t until I started to read Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies by Sherry Parrish that my efficacy started to increase. She suggested starting with 5 small steps that suddenly made math talks seem much more attainable:

  1. Start with smaller problems to elicit multiple strategies
  2. Anticipate solutions and strategies and be prepared to share a strategy from a “previous student”
  3. Ok to put a student solution on the “back burner” – this was really important for me to read as I thought about my lack of confidence in leading a discussion.
  4. Limit talk to 5-15 min. This is really important for maximizing engagement. I don’t know if it’s a teacher thing, but I have this gut instinct for more, make it longer, talk about it more, when really I should just move on, end it, do a follow-up activity, but end the talk. Do the talk in the last 10 min of class if you’re worried about sticking to this.
  5. Be patent with myself and my students. Be willing to make mistakes, learn from them, and try again.

I use four terms to differentiate between four different types of talks I’ve been having:

  • Pattern talk: putting a pattern on the board and asking students to make predictions about the next step
  • Figure talk: scaffold up to a pattern talk by putting just a figure on the board and asking students “What do you see? How do you see it?”
  • Number Talk: mental math computation like -75 + 12
  • Math Talk: overall term for all of these different talks

Reflections so far:

8th grade

Overall Goal for the year: build understanding of slope and y-intercept using pattern talks

Started with a figure talk as a way of building up to a pattern talk.

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 7.57.20 AM

Waited until all thumbs were up (it was pretty fast; this wasn’t meant to be hard).

All of the different strategies I recorded:

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 7.57.10 AM

The first kid I called on thought I was insane. She just counted each tile one-by-one and didn’t understand why I was so interested in how she saw the figure. I think she assumed everyone did the same thing. Other kids immediately raised their hands, though, eager to share that they had seen it much differently.

What I did:

  • Asked students to hold a thumb up in front of their chest when they had an answer; hold up a second finger if they had two different ways of getting the same answer
  • Called on one student to share # of tiles and then asked if there were any other solutions before asking for strategies
  • Anticipated different ways students would see the tiles
  • Pre-planned how I would record student thinking

What I didn’t do:

  • Ask “What do you see? How do you see it?” This was originally suggested to me by some research, but a colleague phrased it like that in her first class and got crickets. By changing the question to the one posted, we got much richer strategies and solutions.
  • Have students talk to each other about different strategies
  • Follow-up – ask students to do something after the talk to hold them accountable

What I want to do next:

  • Pre-plan some student-to-student communication either by asking students to re-state in their own words what they heard a classmate say or by planning some Turn/Pair/Shares where students have to talk to a partner about a particular strategy. Not sure how to make this a rich, meaningful experience yet.
  • Try a pattern talk now that they have seen that there are different ways of looking at a figure.

7th grade:

Overall goal: adding and subtracting integers and rational numbers (I know, integers are rational numbers, but I always feel like I need to delineate)

Number talks that have been productive:

2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + -2 + -2 + -2 =

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 8.56.47 AM

These encouraged the idea of using opposites to add integers and connection between adding a negative and subtracting a positive. This also served as a great segway to talking about subtracting with the balloons and weights model.

As I think about planning math number talks, there are 5 things I’ve decided I need to think about beforehand (at this point anyway):

  1. What strategy/concept am I trying to highlight?
  2. Anticipate solutions – wrong and right
  3. How will I record solutions?
  4. How will I get students to talk to each other about different strategies presented during the talk?
    1. will I ask a student to repeat what they heard someone else say in their own words?
    2. Will I plan a turn/pair/share question to get students to discuss some aspect or make connections between different strategies?
  5. Follow-up: What will I ask my students to do to hold them accountable to Math Talk?
    1. hold them accountable to a particular strategy or accountable to whole talk?

Goals for 2015-16 School Year

1. Help students productively struggle. I tend to rush in with too much scaffolding when my students start to struggle. As a result, my students learn that if they struggle and are vocal about their confusion, the teacher will tell them what to do, and end up with two or three completely dependent groups that don’t learn anything or won’t do anything unless I am standing right next to them telling them exactly what to do for the whole year.

Most of this enabling stems from classroom management fears. I don’t know how to give my students just enough information or direct their thinking in just the right way that they can stay engaged but still have to think. Per Principles to Action, this year I want to try the following

  1. Anticipate challenges and misconceptions and how I would help a student productively struggle with that particular misconception or challenge. For example, what questions would I ask? background info would I remind them of? would I gather them all back together and have them list two things they know and one thing they don’t know then elicit ideas for how to find what we don’t know? circle the sage? change problem to easier numbers to better understand process?
  2. During instruction:
  • praise students for their effort persevering through a challenge
  • become more comfortable with being spontaneous/thinking on the fly. I need to have my list of ideas from above and be okay with trying something on the fly in response to my students level of struggle. It might not work at first, keep trying.
  • don’t take over student thinking just to avoid classroom management issues. If a group isn’t engaging in a problem, over-scaffolding won’t help. Encourage them to struggle, use hints, check on them frequently, but don’t take over the thinking for them.

3. Reflect on student challenges/misconceptions and what worked/didn’t work in helping them struggle. Don’t necessarily equate success with “everyone got the right answer and perfectly understands the objective.” Look more for that productive struggle–were students engaged, did they persist despite confusion, were they having mathematical discussions?

2. More consistent use of call and responses

3. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast, aka don’t be in such a hurry with my content at the beginning of the year. Take time to teach routines, build community, and get to know students.

First post: My blogging rationale

My name is Laura Lee. I am a middle school math teacher and for the last year and a half I have been a serial MTBoS stalker. I surf the internet like I backpack the woods of northern Minnesota–enjoy the scenery, use the resources, leave no trace.

I have a Twitter account and have, on occasion, thought about starting my own blog, especially after Kate Nowak’s  “Every Teacher a Blogging Teacher” at NCTM. It wasn’t until I saw Dan Meyer’s impressive Twitter and blog data from TMC that I finally got motivated.

Dan presented some interesting graphs comparing # of followers to # following and # of tweets to # following where his essential wondering boiled down to: Why don’t more math teachers have an active presence on the MTBoS? For me, Dan, it’s a lack of confidence. I’m about to start my second year of teaching middle school math at a junior high in Minneapolis, MN. What could I, an inexperienced rookie, have of value to share with the greater math community? I mean I cried for the majority of terms 1 – 3 (not in class, but to my mom, my dog, under my desk, in the middle of the night…). Most of the time I felt like I was just hanging on for dear life. I had been indoctrinated throughout my teaching program at the University of Minnesota with the discovery model of mathematics pedagogy–presenting open-ended tasks, questioning students to get them to draw their own conclusions, summarizing student responses in a meaningful way. The last thing I wanted to be was the teacher who taught rules and algorithms because I wasn’t smart or creative enough to come up with a better way. More often than not, I felt like I was failing on this front. So what could I possibly have to share with this community of great thinkers and teachers like Fawn Nguyen and Dan Meyer?

I ultimately decided that I ask my students to take risks every day. I ask them to be confident when I know that they are not, speak when they are unsure, and try something, anything, even when they are clueless. I cannot expect my students to do anything I am not willing to do myself.  So here I am being courageous, for them. I cannot let my students suffer at the expense of my insecurities. I have no idea what this blog will turn into, but, like my students, I have to try something.