Math for Our Smarty Pants

The California Mathematics Project at UC Davis has been conducting professional learning for our elementary teachers this month in grade level groupings. It has been a great way for our grade level teachers to get together and talk a bit about what is going on at school sites, as well as learning about designing curriculum around the CCSS, rather than the text book. I love the way that Pam Hutchison has been reinforcing the things I have been telling teachers as I work with them, as well as giving them hands on experiences that allow them to walk away with some very concrete ideas and lessons to use in the classroom. The teachers have been very positive about the experience, while letting me know that they need a new curriculum that is more focused on the CCSS. Well, at least they are realizing that the CCSS should be their focus?? One can hope I guess.

One of our principals has asked me to come out to the site when they are having their staff meetings to reinforce the information the teachers are learning in these professional learning sessions and to help them incorporate the information into their lesson planning. He has given me the time to talk with them as a group and then allow them to work in grade level groupings as PLC’s and to rotate among the groups to be a part of the planning discussion. I had my first meeting with the K-3 teachers this past Wednesday.

I had the opportunity to work with Justin Lanier this summer, both at TMC and again in his SMOOC: Math is Personal. Several educators worked together to solve problems, discuss readings, and reflect on practice. Justin is a wonderful leader, and knows just what questions to ask to get us thinking deeper and better about our teaching and learning. One of the readings assigned was the Getting Started portion of “Math for Smarty Pants” by Marilyn Burns. She is a gifted educator, with a focus on elementary learning. After reading and identifying the type of learner each of us is, we wrote a small piece about it. I was very excited about it and told Justin that I would love to use this with the elementary teachers I am working with.

On Wednesday, I wanted to start by having the teachers read this portion of “Math for Smarty Pants” and discuss it, while thinking about their students. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. The principal had some agenda items and then when I had the opportunity to work with the teachers there wasn’t enough time to do that and to discuss the unit plan and how to put together viable units as a PLC, planning for all learners and allowing low entry with some extension activities planned to be sure all learners were captured and given learning experiences that would allow them to extend their thinking no matter what level they are at. This is really important for us. We have 19 elementary schools and a large ELL population, some of our kids are fresh from Mexico with no English background and little to no learning in their native tongue. At this time, we have little consistency across our district at grade levels, and in some cases at school sites in grade levels. There is a lot of work to be done, and I am going to need to plan very carefully and pick my battles wisely.

The discussions went well. I had created a simple unit planning template, focusing on student learning outcomes, the standards, prior learning and low entry activities with extensions for students who are learning more quickly. The discussions were wonderful and rich, teachers were discussing what extension activities should look like, what essential learning outcomes should be, and when to incorporate “nice to know”  learning.

All in all, it was a very successful time, even though I didn’t get to do everything I had hoped. I still have “Math for Smarty Pants” in my back pocket, and will be looking for opportunities to incorporate this resource and the valuable learning it contains into our discussions.