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.

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La Cucina Matematica, Twitter, and the MTBoS

Saturday I spent in Alameda at the COE with Matt Vaudrey, John Stevens, and several other educators. We were learning about teaching math in an engaging and focused manner. I have actually been to their workshop before, and was asked by a colleague if I would attend again. I was happy to, I find Matt and John very entertaining and love learning from and with them. Their workshop is called La Cucina Matematica and their website is extremely helpful. Their workshop includes work from Fawn Nguyen, Sadie Estrella, Andrew Stadel, and others that I find inspiring from the MTBoS. When I first began using twitter approximately 1 1/2 years ago, I was fortunate to stumble upon this group, and I haven’t looked back since.

We spent the day engaged in several different activities, counting circles, estimation 180, the mullet ratio, visual patterns, and discussions of the Standards for Mathematical Practice, which are the foundation of all of the activities. We talked about how important and exciting it is to see kids who have not been very successful in mathematics come alive and begin to justify and stand firm on their mathematical beliefs. Kids believing in themselves and their ability to learn and use mathematical ideas. I love being reminded how important this work is, and that others are as passionate and involved in the learning of students and their success as I am. I often felt very alone in this at my previous site.

I want to thank the “Regional System of District and School Support” for supporting and hosting this and other strong and wonderful programs like this for teachers and teacher leaders around the North Bay area. While I have been fortunate to have been a part of the MTBoS and to learn from and with these wonderful educators, there are so many who are not connected to twitter and are missing a large part of this PLN. The group of educators to which I refer are dedicated, supportive, active, reflective and collaborative. We work together constantly to improve, strengthen and create strong teaching and learning. Sometimes we just have a lot of fun discussing nerdy and goofy things. One thing John said that really resonated with me, when he was working on a presentation for a classroom that he hadn’t taught for a bit, he put his lesson plan out there and asked for opinions and help. Within minutes he was receiving help and suggestions from many different sources. This just doesn’t happen consistently on sites.

My practice has improved immensely in the past year and a half, and as I work with teachers I am constantly thinking about, “How would the MTBoS think about or dig into that”, and “How can I use my PLN to strengthen my work with teachers?” I am sharing the things I learn from these marvelous people, and hope that I can offer something to this wonderful PLN of which I am a member.

Thanks once again for the learning, reflection, and reminder to always strive for more.

Coherence

Monday I facilitated a meeting of elementary teachers. We are meeting to discuss assessment, pacing and piloting new curriculum resources for our district. Our discussion Monday was regarding the coherence of the K-5 CCSSM and we started looking at assessment. We’ll continue that discussion next month, but the coherence discussion brought up some great comments. I started by giving each group a copy of the K-5 math standards on a page. I’ve linked them into CCSS Math Standards on this blog.

We then took this Coherence activity from Achieve the Core and in groups began the work of looking at how the fraction standards relate in grades 3 to 5. A couple of minutes into this activity, one group had an “ah ha” moment, and started back at the Kindergarten standards. The discussions that occurred after this activity were amazing and exciting. One teacher commented, “If I teach 1st grade, I need to know what the Kindergarten and 2nd grade standards say.” Other teachers began to discuss how this could help with creating differentiated activities, creating a lower entry point and extending ideas for students who catch on quickly. A coach’s dream.

The assessment discussion didn’t go as well as I had hoped, often bring up assessment causes many teachers to become defensive, and talk about “bad” assessments, rather than the work of looking at how to create better assessments. We started looking at the 3rd grade practice exam for Smarter Balanced, and tried to concentrate on, “What are kids being asked to do, and how are they being asked to do it?” We’ll dive into this discussion more next month at our next meeting, with two more assessments. I’m hoping we can start to have the conversation about how assessments should be created, and what we are hoping they will tell us about what our kids know and don’t know.

Another conversation we will soon be having is piloting curriculum resources. I am beginning to preview materials along with another teacher, and we are working on creating spreadsheets to compare materials and look at what might be non-negotiable for teachers. I really want the focus to be on how to teach the standards, and not about the materials, however, we have a large contingent of teachers who are not there. It will be interesting and quite a learning experience I’m sure.

More to come on this journey.

Total Instructional Alignment

I spent the past two days at the Alameda County Office of Education with six of my colleagues from the district at a workshop for Total Instructional Alignment. This was lead by and based on the book written by Lisa Carter. She wrote the book before the CCSS, however, the resources and process that she showed us is more than adequate for working with the CCSS. It follows the process of unpacking the standards, creating learning targets, determining assessment focus and aligning instruction. This work aligns very well with what we have been working toward in our district with site academic specialists and teachers. The resources and work we did the past two days were eye opening and will definitely help us to extend and deepen what we have started.

It was also great to be there with most of the district level academic specialists, working together and discussing the work we were doing. One of the things we are hoping to work toward is consistency at all levels and in all disciplines throughout the district, so working together today was a great experience toward this. It really helps for everyone to receive and synthesize the same information and being able to discuss our impressions and understandings. I know that I would love to see this kind of work happening at sites and in grade level teams across the district, the comprehension of the standards and instructional practices to support them would be very powerful for our teachers and students.

We all agreed that one of the most powerful things we saw this week was unpacking the standards for a unit plan, recording the same standards from the previous grade level at the beginning of the plan, putting the current grade level standards at the end of the plan, and realizing that the unit plan is the steps to get from the first set to the second. The realization that the standards record the learning outcomes that students should reach by the end of the year really created an understanding for us of what learning in the classroom could look like and how it could be scaffolded for students in different stages of learning. I’m excited to continue digging through the grade levels and creating plans with teachers while gaining deeper understanding of the process of learning that can occur within our classrooms.

This was great timing for us at the elementary level, as we have just created a math curriculum committee and are beginning the work of looking at standards, assessments, pacing and new resources for our teachers. We will be piloting materials next fall which gives us the opportunity to really dig in and make much clearer decisions about good teaching and learning.

Reflections and Looking Forward

It seems fitting that I sit here reflecting on December 31. Looking back at 2014, and looking forward to 2015. This year has brought so many changes for me. I moved out of the classroom, to the district as a math coach; from high school, which I have loved for the past 11 years, to elementary, with which I felt overwhelmed at first, but am realizing I am coming to love as much as high school; from someone who felt confident and able to step out and take risks, to someone who has stepped out and is taking risks, and feeling again somewhat unsure and less than confident.

I know these steps are important, and taking risks means that we have to leave our safety net, I didn’t realize that the risks I was taking previously were still leaving me over the safety net. I have had many moments since August where I felt less than capable and unable to be what I felt I was supposed to be. I stepped into this position with so many dreams and plans, and still have them, but as I learn more about myself, my position, and the learning and growth that I am experiencing and will continue to experience, I realize that I needed to make this change. I have been a good classroom teacher, and have a lot to share with other teachers and this position has put me at enough “dis-ease” to realize that I still have a lot to learn along the way. My father has always told me that when you stop living you start to die, and I know that I am not yet ready to die, so I need to continue living. This means I need to continue growing and learning.

I have struggled quite a bit this year. I have made several comments, which I thought were in fun, about becoming “old”, and I’m now realizing that in doing so I made myself feel and believe that I was becoming old. Too old to grow, too old to learn, and too old to dream. I have walked through some difficult feelings the past 3 months, and have come to realize that I still have the right to dream, and that I am only as old as I think I am.  I haven’t been able to get to the back to the point of believing in “happily ever after” again, but maybe that’s a childhood dream, and mature dreams are more realistic.

As I look ahead to 2015, I have some plans to for which to strive, and some regrets from the past to leave behind. I have some learning and growing to do, some friendships to renew, and some yet to make.  Most of all, I am going to work on creating a dream.

Thank you all for being a part of my growth and my learning. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my twitter buddies, the MTBoS, and my colleagues who have continually encouraged me to be the best I am able to be, and when I achieve that, to dream bigger and better.

Have a blessed 2015 all.

CCSS and Teachers

I’m now in my fourth week as a Math Academic Specialist for K-5 teachers. I’m really learning and beginning to sit down with teachers as they plan, and try to make sense of the district pacing calendar that has been created for them. One of the things that has been the most difficult for the teachers, is to attempt to put EnVision Math into the CCSS and make it make sense. Many of them are frustrated with trying to utilize the resource in the pacing schedule. Many of them are confused about how to make the resource work, and many of them are just frustrated with EnVision as a whole. Looking through EnVision myself, to become familiar with it, I had decided that if I were teaching at this level, I would definitely put the book aside as a resource and be looking elsewhere for my activities and lessons.

As I sit in the planning with the teachers, the first thing I am advocating is that EnVision is not their curriculum, the standards are. As this sinks in, I see relief come over the faces of the teachers. Many of them have told me that was very liberating for them, they knew there was a lot missing there, but felt obligated to “go with the curriculum”. As they change their thinking to realize that “go with the curriculum” means “go with the standards”, they are becoming excited about the things they can do and ways they can introduce the ideas of the standards in engaging and realistic ways. I found myself sitting back and listening to ideas of creating a small town, each classroom being a different store or business, and having the students “visit” the different businesses and engage in decision making, buying and selling, etc. I became excited listening to them, realizing that our teachers are very creative and really desire to bring good learning to our students, they just thought they didn’t have time because they had to cover the “curriculum” or what they understood to be the curriculum. This is in our K-2 level classes.

I have been working on creating a list of resources for the teachers, bringing some of the best of what I know to be out there in the MTBoS and other places, and continually searching for more. They are excited about these, and have asked for SMP posters in kid friendly language for their classrooms. The kids are subitizing, justifying, and just plain problem-solving, and I can’t wait to see what else they will come up with as they are liberated more and more from being tied to a publication, rather than the curriculum.

Meanwhile, I am learning more about how younger kids think and learn, and I am hoping that as I can start to visit classrooms more, I will be able to contribute to TMWYK and show the MTBoS what NVUSD can do with math learning in our classrooms. I am grateful for the challenge I have been given, and excited about working with the younger kids, something at which I never thought I would excel.

PD The Right Way!

Today I spent 4 hours with our district leadership discussing Professional Development. While this probably sounds boring, tedious, and long, it was one of the best days I have spent so far this year! I was in a room that was too small for us, discussing the definition of PD, what it should look like, how we need to build it and create a roadmap for it, and how we should work with school sites, principals, and coaches on sites. It was a very important and enlightening conversation. 

First of all, I finally have a picture of our school district’s goals, objectives and plan for our district over the next 3-5 years. We obviously didn’t get a roadmap created, that was a large goal to accomplish in four hours, but we had deep, rich discussions about learning, teaching, supporting teachers and students, creating and utilizing assessment data to inform and enrich classroom teaching, and teaching strategies and the reasoning for utilizing different strategies. 

Secondly, we created sticky note posters about the foundations of teaching and how we want to build a strong culture of learning on this foundation: Classroom Management, Knowing When and How to use Instructional Strategies, Formative and Summative Assessment, and Deep Content Knowledge. The really wonderful thing, the discussions revolved around creating definitions and unified understandings of what these were, discussions like student choice and engagement, changing the culture of learning, teachers as facilitators, inquiry, PBL, the cycle of improving learning, informative feedback, and so many other wonderful ideas, I could go on. 

Our district has gone through some huge changes the past year, and is re-organizing. This can be a good or bad thing, but for today, it was good. There were some really great educators together in this room, and the one or two that didn’t really buy into the entire process chose not to return after lunch, and the discussion and plans for moving forward that came out of that session were wonderful. We created a plan for sharing these ideas with principals, and are going to meet again after this to review and reflect on how principals reacted to the information and discuss anything further that came out of that meeting. From there we will be building a roadmap for professional development for our district, and working hard to keep a lot of it at the site level, to work on supporting and building the site-level goals and objectives. 

Another thing that really excited me was the number of teachers in the room. We outnumbered the administrators 2 to 1. We were an active and vital part of the discussion, and our ideas were an important part of the building of the foundations for this.

PD for teachers, by teachers. What a concept.