You want us to do what?

We started each block by looking at this group of statements, discussing what it means to make mistakes in math classrooms, and how to not feel “dumb” when we do make mistakes. My attempt at working toward growth mindset. We also talked about how growth in mathematics almost always begins by trying things that may not work.

Today was my first day utilizing Google Classroom. Most of my students raised their hands indicating familiarity with the program when I asked. Everyone signed in, and began to work on the tasks I had placed in the stream. One was the syllabus, one was a group task asking them to work on a problem, then create a google slide explaining their problem and their solution in Geometry. In Algebra 2, I asked each group to take one of the rules of exponents, and create an example and explanation for how the rule worked.  Both courses were asked to add a comment to two slides created by other groups. Thank you Alice Keeler for your book and the idea for this.

I was unable to get EquatIO added to the computers before my algebra classes, so they used the Add-on “Math Equations” until our technology department could get it added. Well, some tried, some couldn’t find it, and some just decided to type their equation into the slide using the text they would have typed into the program. The frustration levels were high, more with the technology than the math itself. Adding comments was also very frustrating for them. Many wanted to just quit, and I had to encourage them quite a bit to continue and try to find a way to do this.

We managed to get through it, and they had their first success at adding a slide to a google slides presentation, typing information onto a slide, commenting on another slide, and attempting some problems utilizing this resource they created for each other by contributing to this. Tomorrow I’m going to go back through the presentations and have each group present their slide and how their rule works by choosing a problem from our practice sheet and showing how the rule works for that problem.  I’ll also have students discuss what information was helpful, and suggestions for how to improve the examples and explanations that were put on the slides. I’m hoping this will help them to review these rules, become more comfortable with what they did on slides, and become ready to do more work like this.

I had made a mistake in putting this assignment into google classroom and somehow linked both of my Algebra 2 classes onto the same slides presentation. It became a long messy document, which I really didn’t want for our first attempt. I’ve tried to separate them so that it will be easier to do this work tomorrow, and had to admit that I’ve made the first mistake for the year. They did get a laugh at that.

All in all, I think the day went well. My students spent their first day really having to dig in and work, and I’ve set the example for perseverance when making mistakes. I’m hoping they are beginning to see the need for and benefit of having collaborative conversations, and I’m hoping that this practice will help them with end of course testing which occurs on computer. Previously they did nothing in class on computers, but then had to test with them. I’m sure that is an extra added stress for the testing that I’m hoping to eliminate this year.

I’m also hoping to learn how to do this better and create an interesting and beneficial course for my students that prepares them for any future work in which they may find themselves.

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The Year in Review

This has been one of the most challenging years I can remember, and I’ve had a few. I have had to rethink my teaching and student learning several times and am feeling like I came up short.

While reading this blog this morning, I was reminded about learning, assessing, and approaching the classroom from this point of view, rather than the “old school” teach and test. I found myself back in a groove that was not comfortable this year, because I felt overwhelmed by the changes I had made in my life, and the challenge of being in a new situation once again. It’s definitely not a good reason, it just is.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to begin again. For me this is occurring in many ways: back to the classroom after supporting teachers for several years, teaching in a new state, teaching block scheduling over a semester rather than having a year to connect with students  and their learning, and personally learning to assimilate to a new area and way of living, or at least one I haven’t been in since I was young. My gratitude is for the opportunity to once again evaluate myself as a teacher, as a leader of learning, as a facilitator, and as a role model. It is good for us to have new opportunities to do this and to take a step back and evaluate our ability to adapt to new roles and situations. I was confident I could do this, but the magnitude of the changes this year make me realize I fell short, however, I am also realizing that I am strong. Instead of the messages of my past, “you’re a failure, etc” I am asking myself what needs to change and where do I start?

This is a powerful place to be. I can’t wait to see what I have learned about myself this year, what my students have learned about me, and what I will be when the next school year begins. Thank you Dave for pushing my thinking and not allowing me to fall into the “woe is me” thinking that I am capable of doing, especially when fatigued and stressed. Thank you MTBoS once again for being there when I was able to get on twitter looking for encouragement and ideas to get me through, and thank you teachers everywhere for your continual drive to push through another year, and return the next to do it again, even when the challenges can feel huge and unyielding.

I am also encouraged by my new administrators. Both my principal and vice-principal have told me how happy they are to have me here, that they feel that I am a strong teacher and bring tools and ideas that they have been desiring in the school for a while. When I look at my teaching this year, I’m wondering what in the world they saw, but I have to remind myself not to discourage in what I didn’t see in me, but be encouraged that I know I can do better, and just do what needs to be done to make sure next year is better than this one.

I already have ideas and have begun making a list. I’ll be doing the work of prioritizing and refining over the next two months. We are also given multiple opportunities for Professional Development, for FREE, here in Tennessee, and I have signed up for several, grateful for these opportunities to improve my practice also.

I’d love to hear from any of you and your thoughts about this, or ideas to help push my thinking forward.

Owning the Difficult Decisions

It’s been quite a while since I reflected here. I had been trying to write once a week, and when winter break came, I found myself exhausted, frustrated, and ready for rest. After break, upon returning to work, I started with a positive attitude, and a new direction in mind. This was quickly depleted after a week of grading Interim Comprehensive Assessments that our students took before break, and having my calendar changed several times by others who were “dictating” to me what my priorities are and how I should attend to them.

I found myself trying once again to follow the dictates given to me, get everything done, and tell myself I was supporting teachers in doing so. Instead, I found myself angry; angry that I couldn’t do what I know to be important in creating strong learning communities in our elementary classrooms, and angry that I couldn’t do what I was originally told my job description was, to support mathematics learning in our elementary schools.

I had a discussion with my immediate supervisor and our director, was told I couldn’t possibly support all our sites and teachers, and we can’t always hear what we want to hear. I then attended a training session for principals on a math support software program our district purchased and heard the principals being told that I was going to be the support for implementation and learning. I found myself feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place, and starting to have conversations about whether or not I was really effective where I was, or if I should be doing something else. I have tried to balance my work and life, and found myself having to skip the things that mean so much to me and have a large part in my becoming the teacher I am, my twitter chats, because I can’t possibly do everything that I have been told are my priorities during the day. Because of meetings, workshops, and other things I am required to attend, I have limited time to actually support sites, plan for math lead meetings (another post), and currently, observe classrooms at sites to complete a criteria for success rubric required because of our new math adoption.

I had reached a point where I was leaning toward moving back into a classroom next year, for no other reason than I knew I would feel successful there. I know that I affect learning for students in a positive way when I am in direct contact with students. I am not at all sure that I affect student learning in a positive way when I am not in direct contact with them at this time, and this is something that I am going to be required to show in some manner with artifacts and student outcomes. This is obviously something that is important to me, and something I have been striving to do, but is currently causing me a lot of stress.

I reached a point where I knew I had no control over any of this. I had to let it go, and just focus on what was right in front of me. This past week I found myself on three different sites, for different reasons. In my interaction with the administrator at the first site, after our discussion when I stood up to go, she came around her desk and said, “I need to give you a hug. Thank you so much for being the wealth of information you are.” I almost cried right there. I did walk out with a little spring in my step that hadn’t been there for quite a while. At the next site, after classroom observations and a discussion with several principals and other personnel, the principal stopped me as we were all leaving. We had a short conversation and her parting words to me were, “Thank you for doing the work you are doing. You are fighting the right fight, and you need to continue to do this.” Again, I was nearly in tears, and walked away with many thoughts and reflections from that. The last interaction was simple. I was at a site to meet with a group of teachers, and before we started the principal leaned into the room and said, “Thank you for being here, and for being the great source of information you are.” Deep breath, we’re about to have a meeting.

I’m not a fighter. I am someone who cares for others deeply, does all they can to build them up, and encourage them to be all they can be. When I have to confront others, my heart races, my palms get sweaty, and I have to constantly remind myself why I am confronting them and standing for the things I do. I like to encourage, support, and build. I don’t like to have to speak to others using strong words. A co-worker said to me Friday, “maybe that’s why you’re here.” Hmmmmm. OK, I’ll bite.

My focus is students. Their learning, their success, their emotional well being. Pure and simple. If I have to fight for that, I guess that’s what I need to do, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me, no matter how often I tear up and how much my heart races. Even if I say stupid things in my anxiety, make mistakes about how I speak to others, and forget things I wanted to say because I get hurt or angry in the interactions. I am still learning, and in the end, it’s about the kids. They are worth anything I might have to experience.

CMC North 2015

Well, here we are once again, in one of the most beautiful places to have a math conference. Last year was my first time to present at this conference, and I overdid it by doing an Ignite also. This year was lower key for me, and yet, not so much. Last year my presentation was at the high school level, definitely a comfort zone for me. I had started a new position as K-5 Math Academic Specialist, however, and this year felt that I should begin to step out of my comfort zone and to present at the elementary level.

This is the first time, aside from things I do in my job for my teachers, that I have presented something at this level. I have to admit, I was nervous, it’s difficult to feel accomplished enough to share when I’m feeling that I’m still in the learning process myself. Thankfully, the MTBoS has taught me that learning is a continual process, and if I don’t continue to learn, I stop being effective, so I stepped out, and became bold.

I was pleasantly surprised at the response today. I had planned to present based on the interactions and engagement I have come to expect from a lot of the teachers I work with. Often they will wait for me to tell them exactly what they should be doing and how to do it. The teachers today were engaged, and interacting with me and each other and really thinking through problems and the problem solving. When I first saw the room and set up I was very disappointed. The room was crowded, desks in rows, barely room to get around and definitely not conducive to interactive discussions and teachers coming to the document camera to share, so I thought. I made some changes to how I was going to have teachers share, based on the room set up, and that may not have been the smartest move on my part, but it is what it is. I really wanted teachers to come to the document camera themselves, and have group discussions about their solutions, but I made an executive decision. There was also some difficulty with the wi-fi, and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to use my presentation at all, and was going to have to be creative in sharing problems. Fortunately, one of the attendees offered his hot spot and saved me that pain. I think too, as a future consideration, a topic like this may need 1 1/2 hours rather than one hour. It’s big, and we all need time to cognate on it.

As I read through the comments from attendees, my first reaction was “darn”. I took a chance, and it didn’t work out. I wasted people’s time, and that is never a good thing. I sat through another session, had dinner, conversed with friends and other presenters, and began to see it a little differently.

I was transparent at the start of my presentation, letting attendees know that elementary education is a new area for me, and I am learning as well as the teachers with whom I work. I commented on how I hoped to learn from them, and that I had something of value to offer to the discussion. I also modeled a growth mindset. I was willing to step out of my comfort zone, share things that I am learning, and allow myself to learn from others who were willing to do the same. I saw several “ah ha” moments in that hour today, heard teachers reflecting and thinking about problems, student thinking, and conversations they could be having in their classrooms. I heard teachers sharing with each other things that have worked, and misconceptions they themselves have had about this topic.

I want to thank those who gave feedback for taking the time to do so. It helps me to see where I need to grow, and reflect on my own learning. Some feedback I would like to comment upon: “How much you get out of this session depends on you”. Yes, that is true of any learning situation. It is what we experience in classrooms every day. I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I begin to depend on someone else for my learning, I am passing up the opportunity to have a say in how far I can go. Another: “Abstract discussion is fine, but I prefer methods to take back and use in the classroom tomorrow”. There is more to take back to the classroom that a pre-made activity or someone else’s lesson. Often, the things we need to learn are the ways to facilitate a lesson, and to allow students to be heard. A large part of what I was doing today was modeling facilitation of classroom discourse, allowing voices to be heard and encouraging students to make meaning of a difficult topic.

Finally, I realize that in changing how I was handling this presentation, I lost something very important. Two attendees made mention of the fact that the discussions were not recorded. This is a salient point. In changing the way the presentation went, we did lose some of the important points and a visual record of the conversations that happened. That was not good. I needed a back up plan for that, and believe me, next time I will have one. I will also prepare better and have a plan for the possibility that things go better than I had hoped, and make sure that I am able to provide a solid learning experience for everyone.

Thank you so much for allowing me to continue to learn and grow, and I also hope that you all will continue to do the same on your journey.

Thank you all once again for a wonderful CMC North Conference!

The Sound of Learning

I have had the honor of visiting many classrooms across the district in the past 6 weeks. I have been to every one of our sites, some of them more than once. As September became October, things changed. What started as a stiff struggle, has become laughter, shouting, arguing. Some people would call it chaos. In my teacher training program, my supervisor called it “organized chaos”.  I call it the sound of learning.

It brings me such joy to hear kids asking questions like, “How can we know if the two pieces of clay are the same size?” and “Can you explain to me how you knew that?” I love watching classroom discussions where a teacher asks a question and every single hand in the room is waving and you hear the, “oh oh oh” of “pick me, pick me”. I love watching kids sitting on the carpet, wiggling their fingers, writing with fingers in the carpet, looking at the ceiling with their eyes rolling back and forth as they visualize numbers, figures, and manipulate them mentally to try to figure out an answer. I especially love how they come up with their own language when they are trying so hard to explain what they are thinking and just don’t have the vocabulary yet. What I’m loving the most, is that they are doing it. They are figuring, they are mentally working to solve, they are searching for language to tell us what they are thinking.

There are wonderful signs across our district of changes in the way kids are thinking and approaching mathematics. Principals are noticing, teachers are noticing, and kids are noticing. Parents are noticing, and have lots of questions, and teachers are reaching out to each other to find out how to share these things with the parents. At our last district PL sessions for K-2 teachers we had 45 teachers sign up! The sound of learning was happening there also, as teachers shared their fears, their wins, asked questions, and just plain talked to each other. It was incredible.

Today I was asked to model a Number Corner lesson in a fifth grade classroom and a Kindergarten classroom. What fun this was! In the 5th grade class it began slowly. We were using clues about top view, right side view and front view of three-dimensional figures to determine which of a group of figures was being portrayed. Kids were shy to answer at first, but I kept asking and referring them back to the previous figure they had unveiled. One of them built this figure out of unifix cubes, and we compared what we saw in the three dimensional figure with what was being seen on the cards. Lots of “ah has” happened here, and as one boy described, “on the card we see what happens if the figure is rolled over by a tire”. OK, I can go with that. After we cleared that up, suddenly a large portion of the group who had been leery about making predictions and sharing became very animated. One got up and asked if they could work on building the next figure, which we had not yet uncovered. This led to more discussion as we compared the built figure to the three views we had, and kids began to choose which figure was being modeled. When we uncovered the picture, there were lots of “yeahs” and “darns”. I took a little more time with this discussion, because I could see that kids were beginning to warm up and feel more confident about sharing their thoughts as we went along. The teacher gave me permission to do this. When we finished the entire group asked, “can we do some more?” How cool is that? I told them I had to leave now, and there was a collective “aaaah”. Talk about feeling welcome. I promised I’d come back and we’d talk some more and they were happy.

In the kinder class, we were looking at leaves and patterns in pictures of leaves. The leaves were changing colors and the number of leaves was increasing every fifth card. It took a bit for them to see this, but then we talked through the patterns together several times, and they loved it. We counted the days we have been in school by tens and ones, and they told me what they next number should be (39). Lastly, on a number line with four numbers showing, between 1 and 20, I asked kids to tell me what number should be under a certain card. Many of them had their hand up immediately, without counting from one. It is so exciting to see our kids becoming so fluent with numbers and their thoughts so early. I can’t wait to see how our current kinder’s do as they grow up with this type of math learning.

I feel so blessed to be a part of the changes occurring in our classrooms this year.

This post is a part of Kathy Perret’s #EduCoach Blog Challenge. You can read more about it here.

Math Talk

I had two of my grandkids for the weekend, as their parents took a quick trip to Montana. Lilli is seven, in second grade, and pretty quick with numbers and math ideas. She enjoys the challenge of learning and seeing different ways of doing things. Gwen will be nine in November, in fourth grade. She had some difficulty last year with math, felt very frustrated and decided she wasn’t good at it. We worked together quite a bit over the summer. I was able to identify some of her problem areas, and she started the year with 100% on her first math test and is feeling much more confident at this time.

We had some wonderful moments this weekend in both math and science discussions. I’m going to stick to the math discussions here, the science will have to be another blog.

The weekend started with the game Math Dice. This was with their Auntie Heidi, and we decided that only the operations addition and subtraction could be used, because Lilli hasn’t had experience with multiplication and division, yet. Gwen was very quick at first, seeing the equations right away, and Lilli was getting frustrated, because she doesn’t like to think that she isn’t good at something related to math. Heidi, being very quick herself, changed the rules of the game. She said that once the first person shares their equation, the others need to find another way to solve the problem. Lilli was all over this. One thing she is very good at is finding another way to solve problems. Lilli ended up winning the game, much to Gwen’s surprise. Gwen was a good sport about it.

On the way home, in the car, Gwen starting talking about the game and how she would have won if we would have allowed multiplication and division. Lilli said she didn’t understand those and it wouldn’t be fair. I suggested we talk about multiplication and see if we couldn’t help Lilli understand what is happening with multiplication. I suggested 2 x 3. I asked Lilli to tell us about skip counting, and Lilli gave an excellent description:

L: Well, you put all your objects into equal piles of a number, like 2 or 3, and then you count by that number, like 2, 4, 6, 8 . . .  until you’ve counted all your objects. If there’s one or more left over, then the piles aren’t equal.

G: I’ve got this Nonnie. Lilli, multiplication is like skip counting. You put your objects into equal groups, then you count how many groups of the objects you have, and that’s what you’re multiplying.

L: I totally get this! So, for 2 x 3, you have 3 groups of 2 objects!

G: Yes! Or. . .

L: 2 groups of 3 objects! (Did I mention she loves to find another way to solve the problem?)

G: So, if we are looking at 3 x 4. (She’s not too good at problem strings, yet)

L: We would have 3 groups of 4 objects, or 4 groups of 3 objects. (Maybe it didn’t matter)

G: Exactly! How many is that?

L: 3, 6, 9, 12! I can count it by the fours too, do you want me to do that?

At that point we were home. So we didn’t have her do that.

Later, we were putting together some materials for Bridges. Our district has adopted Bridges this year, and teachers have been complaining about how long it takes to get organized. I brought home a set of fourth grade teacher materials to problem solve this. My granddaugthers decided to help me. We opened the boxes, and if you are unfamiliar with Bridges, teacher materials come in 3 large boxes. One box is equivalent to all the teacher guides, 10 in all, including Number Corner and Assessments. The other two boxes area a bonanza! They are full of manipulatives! Cubes, square pieces, geometric shapes, tape measures, measuring cups, scales, dice, game pieces, cards, and so much more! We had quite a problem on our hands. I had purchased 8 plastic containers at the dollar store to organize materials, but we quickly realized that our colored squares and geometric pieces weren’t going to fit in the ones I bought. We had a great discussion about what we needed to do, which included estimation.

We had six bags of geometric shapes. Three of the bags fit into one container. The girls knew immediately it would take two containers to hold them all, but also made the comment that it would be so much better to have them all in one.  We then discussed what we would need to find to hold all of them.

We had a similar problem with the colored squares. We had three bags of those, and two fit into one of the containers. Another discussion ensued, and we went off to Walmart to fix the problem. I wish I could put in our discussion at Walmart, but this is already quite a long blog, and it was full of estimating, discussion and arguing between the two. I let them handle it, we came home with two containers that worked perfectly!

I can’t wait to tell you about the scales, measuring, estimation and science discussions! More to follow!

New Curriculum Excitement

We just completed our fourth week of school. Our district has new math adoptions K-12. Grades 6-12 are doing well. They knew about their adoption last year, were working in May and June to organize, pace, and collaborate around their new materials and focusing their energies on the changes required. K-5 is a completely different story.

Our adoption was finalized in June. Teachers were given on-line access to materials during the summer, Trainings were scheduled for the first week of August, and for a myriad of reasons many teachers did not make it to these trainings. We are experiencing the same difficulties that every district across the nation is experiencing, staff turnover, lack of subs, and PD scheduling difficulties. We scheduled a second round of training this past week, but could only schedule a total of 70 teachers for this. A handful were called back to class because of sub issues, and we still have approximately 20 teachers who have not been to a training at all. I’m actually feeling pretty good about this, since we have 340 teachers at the K-5 level in our district, but it’s never a good thing for a teacher not to have some introduction to their new materials. Especially if math causes them anxiety, and the new materials require inquiry based learning and constructivist teaching.

That’s where we are. I have felt overwhelmed the previous three weeks, with trying to get materials to sites,  responding to teacher emails from teachers who suddenly realized that they probably weren’t going to be able to just jump into this curriculum without some introduction, and many other issues. Labor day weekend gave me the opportunity to reorganize my thinking and priorities. This week I made it a point to talk to site level coaches, get into classrooms and encourage teachers, sit in on grade level planning, help teachers to prioritize their learning and teaching with the new materials and routines, and be visible. The results were amazing. My stress levels decreased, and anxiety levels are decreasing at sites. I am going to address teachers at two sites during staff meetings this coming week, and sit in on full day planning for grade level groups at two sites. I still have five more sites to visit, but we are getting there.

My first math lead meetings will be on the fourteenth and twenty-first of this month, and on September 23 our PD support team called, “Lead In” is working with me to schedule a 2 hour support and collaboration time for grade 3-5 teachers across our district during early release time. We will attempt to do this each month for both primary and intermediate grade level teachers. My hope is that they will see this time as a valuable asset to them, time to problem solve with other grade level teachers and have support available for questions around inquiry and the facilitation of classroom discussions. What seemed like an overwhelming prospect three weeks ago is beginning to seem possible, with the support and help of other teams in our district.

I’m excited about our fist math lead meetings, two teachers have stepped up to share their expertise in a portion of our new curriculum, and we will be working on problem solving and collaborating on how to answer questions and support teachers at individual sites.

More to come.