My thoughts…

During one of my recent “rabbit hole adventures” through Twitter, I discovered the following article, Teaching Math to People Who Think They Hate It by Jessica Lahey.  The article discusses a Cornell University professor’s desire to teach math to people who dislike the subject. I was very intrigued because one of my favorite parts about teaching mathematics is seeing the “aha” moments in people’s eyes as they all of a sudden understand the concept or make a new connection. The article did not disappoint! After reading, there were several main thoughts/questions that really stood out to me.

  • What is your “mathematical biography”?
    • One of the first things that the professor, Steve Strogatz, does with his students is asks them to provide a “mathematical biography”. Often you can trace someone’s thoughts and feelings toward math back to their prior experiences.
    • I often hear people say throughout the course of a day, “I’m not a math person.”, “Math is not my thing.”, or even “I love math.” Now, I am pondering what is their math biography? Can that mindset be traced back to an experience in their learning?
    • Stay tuned for a post in the near future of my math biography. (While I have reflected on my prior experiences, I haven’t actually written my biography.)
  • Setting the hook-
    • Inquiry-based…problem-based…student-centered…Adults and children alike solve mathematical problems daily that are presented to them without even realizing it. How you may ask? It’s disguised in context! Young siblings determining how many pieces of candy they each get to make it “fair”. Adults estimating how much money they will have left after buying dinner. If we are solving math problems every day in “disguise”, why can’t our math instruction be in disguise as well. Think… 3 Act tasks, problem-based tasks….low barrier of entry. Students as well as adults enter these problems, make sense of the problem at hand, and use their level of math understanding to reason their way through, construct a viable argument for their thoughts and model the context with their mathematics. Sound familiar? SMPs. ūüôā
    • Mathematics has not changed… It is crucial that we look at the WAY in which mathematics is approached and our perspective towards mathematics. We live in a world surrounded by people “who are not math people”. It is time to step up- change the way in which math is approached, change our mindsets toward mathematics, make math the engaging, real-life, problem-based subject that it really is.
  • Conceptual Understanding vs. Procedural fluency
    • As the article discusses, often the argument is presented that students are not ready for the rich problem solving tasks because they don’t have the “basic” concepts or know their facts. I disagree. While I completely agree that procedural fluency is equally as important as conceptual understanding, I believe that these two components should be developed hand in hand. Snapshot of my mathematical biography: I did not learn my multiplication facts. I HATED time drills. Every stinking time, I would freeze because of the time factor. However, I considered myself an all ‘A’ student. There was no way I would let my teacher think that I did not know my facts. I learned ways to “compensate”. I got really good at my x 10 facts. So, every time I was drilled on my x 9 facts, I quickly subtract one of my groups. (6 x 10 = 60 So, 6 x 9 =54) Really my conceptual understanding of the operations helped me make sense and become procedurally fluent with my multiplication facts. If someone had waited on me to learn all my facts before giving me contextual problems or even a conceptual understanding,  I’d still be stuck in 3rd grade memorizing my facts. This is one of the main reasons I am a huge believer in using games and Cognitively Guided Instruction in math instruction. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out or let me know. I will be glad to share my experiences and information with you.

My challenge to myself and anybody else-

  1. Ask yourself, “What’s my math biography?”
  2. Begin turning all the “I’m not a math…” comments into “OMG, I totally get it now” and/or “You mean to tell me you can teach math this way?”
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The Battle of the Mindsets… Growth vs. Fixed

In June, I decided that I wanted to step outside my boundaries and challenge myself physically. With not much prior experience, I convinced my husband to sign up for a century ride (100 miles) with me. A century ride is to a cyclist as a marathon is to a runner. Before I knew it I was registered to participate in Spin for Kids Century Ride on October 18…. and I didn’t even have a road bike!! After buying a bike, I was ready to start training, or so I thought.

Over the next 14 weeks training, I experienced many emotions. I could not tell you how many times I wanted to throw in the towel. (My fixed mindset that I am an nonathletic person kept showing it’s ugly face.) I was determined that with the right mindset, I could conquer this challenge.

The week leading up to the ride was one of constant anxiety. The morning of the ride, I had a revelation. My insecurities, anxiety and fear toward my ride were not any different than many children and/or adult’s feelings toward math. Holy Cow!! Sure, I have experienced nervousness with certain situations over the years, but never to this extreme. My wheels kept turning…

I have always been a advocate for math education and teaching math in such a way that students can engage in problem solving situations with enough cognitive dissonance to keep them hungry for more. One who teaches in such a way that student construct their own conceptual and procedural understanding based on what I put in their environment.

However, in my current situation, it didn’t matter who told me, “You can do it!”, “You are ready for this!”, “You will be fine.” my feelings of anxiety would not go away. It took me actually believing in myself, having a growth mindset, and actually accomplishing the challenge for the feelings to subside. To be honest, I think I would have to do it several more times for my emotions to drastically lessen.

My century ride reminded me of the following:

  • A fixed mindset is hard to change, but is 100% possible.
  • Everyone needs cheerleaders. I will begin to make it a conscious effort to be everyone’s cheerleader everyday.
  • Perseverance pays off! Student’s need to reap the benefits of perseverance over, and over again so they will begin to automatically persevere through any situation handed to them.
  • Anxiety in Math has be recognized and fostered among all teachers! The phrase, “I am not a Math person.” is NOT acceptable!!!!!! As educators, we must give students the opportunities to persevere through tasks and feel accomplished many times before the anxiety previously associated will dissipate.
  • WOWZERS… Anxiety is something serious and hard to overcome.

Yes. I did finish my first ever 100 mile bike ride! I am thankful for the opportunity to ride, to raise money for an incredible children’s camp, and the emotions that came with the experience. It is from those emotions, I was able to truly experience what many students feel when they walk into a math classroom.

Now, I step up to another challenge…. Helping others find their growth mindset and helping students throw away their anxieties in math.

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It’s All About the Core

Where does time go? For the past several months, I have had “update blog” on my to-do list. Week after week, it stays there, and I tell myself, “I don’t know what I would write about anyway.” Needless to say, I have been stuck in this hamster wheel mindset.

As I was reading Graham’s blog today about #MTBoS, I began to reflect on the purpose of my blog and why I created it. Reflection and collaboration are two actions that I hold near and dear to my heart, and two practices that I feel are crucial to my lifelong journey of learning as well as my students’ learning. ¬†If ¬†those are so important to me, why am I not participating in these actions on a more frequent basis? Needless to say, that led me to a commitment statement.

~ My blog is my place for me to reflect and collaborate. Gone are the days of my reflections only being final drafts after several edits. Gone are the days that I simply mentally reflect on ideas/tasks/happenings without sharing. ~ (Yes, I had to put my commitment in writing so that I can “hold” to it.)

Now, if you are still reading this post… This is where I finally get to my actual post. ūüôā

For the past week, I have had my thoughts and reflections lead back to one thing…

Instructional Core

Image result for instructional core

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Math Leadership Summit in Santa Fe last week, and learn from Elizabeth City. (Thank you, Carnegie Learning for hosting.) She had me from Chapter 1 of her book, Instructional Rounds in Education.

Based on that Summit, my take-aways were, “What is our instructional core?” “How can I strengthen the instructional core in which I work?” and “How can I help to deepen teachers’ content knowledge in math?” Far to often, I see teachers spending hours upon hours planning, looking for activities etc. to only engage students in low cognitive demanding tasks. It is easy to say that our CCSS are only the surface level and that each standard has depth in which we should teach. ¬†However, it is more difficult to have the knowledge of what the depth looks like and how to achieve such depth in our lessons.

It hit me like a ton of bricks… I can deliver professional learning all day long, provide ongoing support for incorporating tasks such as 3-Act Tasks, Formative Assessment Lessons, Georgia Frameworks, etc. However, if a teacher doesn’t know the why or the how behind which these tasks were developed, it is likely that the delivery will not capture the richness the task was intended to have.

So, as I prepare for a follow-up PL integrating 3-Act Tasks into the classroom, I am reminded of the instructional core. How can I support the CORE not just the TASK?

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Finding the Way…

When I was younger, I LOVED playing Super Mario Brothers. I vividly remember coming home in the afternoons from school, eating my snack and playing this video game. This game was a favorite! There was something about it.

As soon as I popped the game in, this was the first screen I saw. Where it says "empty", it would soon display coin amounts.

As soon as I popped the game in, this was the first screen I saw. 

When I first ¬†turned it on, I saw a screen similar to this. Usually, I completely ignored this screen. What information did it really tell me anyway? I already knew the title, and frankly, I couldn’t have cared less about when it was copyrighted.

As soon as I hit the “start” button and selected my level, I was dropped into something like this…

Where are the directions???

Where are the directions???

Time started ticking… and I had to find my way! Oh, and did I find my way? Yes, there were many times that¬†Mario would loose his life. I couldn’t end the game there. ¬†I would hit start again! With the only goal of getting further through the game than I did the previous time. I couldn’t help myself. After I would beat one level, I wanted to even go back, replay it just to beat my time. I had persevered through the level, made sense of what I had to do, and then I WANTED to become more efficient. ¬†No one handed me instructions to the game or taught me strategies on how to get through each level successfully. Nobody had to! I wanted to figure it out. The crazy thing…If you were to put this game in front of me now, I would remember how¬†to navigate through and still beat the levels. Beautiful thing, right?

Student-invented strategies are just as beautiful! I could not tell you how many times I have been in the middle of a lesson with the teacher looking at me like I was crazy for putting the students in problem solving situations. (Imagine hitting the “start” button, and students falling into the problem just like Mario did in the levels above.)

I can hear some responses¬†now…

“My students don’t KNOW enough strategies to help them solve this problem.”

“I haven’t taught them ways to do these problems yet.”

“We haven’t learned this yet.”

While the teacher might be looking at me like I am crazy, the students are looking at me with their wheels turning. I can see in their eyes, they are thinking. Several minutes pass. Some students begin working, and others ask questions. My answers… the least helpful question I can think of. Just enough to keep them invested.

After probing students’ thought processes and answering more questions with questions, I find that students arrive at an answer to the problem. They solved the problem! They beat the level! And boy, oh boy, do they want to tell you all about how they beat the level! They want to share their strategy with anybody listening on how they solved the problem. Their focus isn’t on the answer, but what they did to solve the problem – their strategy.

Food for thought: Put students in purposeful problem solving situations, and let them find their way. Will it take them more than one attempt? Definitely! Will it take some support? Definitely! (I tried to get extra lives ALL the time when I played Mario Bros.) Will they find their way? Definitely! Will they retain what they learned? I bet you! =)

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Engaging Students in 3 Act Tasks

Time flies when you are having fun, and I have been doing just that! Over the past several months, I have had the opportunity to learn from some incredible educators. During the summer (Yes, this post is long overdue.), I traveled across Georgia working with 3rd grade teachers facilitating the 2014 Summer Academies. What they didn’t know is how much they were truly teaching me!

At the end of one of my sessions I had this note…. and how beautiful it was….

How AWESOME is this Ah-Ha moment?

So many times in my career, I have heard, “My students aren’t ready for this.” or my favorite, “My students can’t do this.” My challenge is always…Give it a try. More times than not, your students will knock your socks off when they are given the opportunity to make sense of problems and reason abstractly and quantitatively. (Standards for Mathematical Practice #1 & #2)

Am I saying to just hand students incredibly difficult problems and walk away? Definitely not, but I am saying that if we are methodical with our tasks (which provide an engaging context) and questioning, we will see our students begin to soar.

If you haven’t heard of 3 Act Tasks or Patient Problem Solving, I STRONGLY encourage you to do so! You won’t be sorry. These types of tasks provide an engaging contextual problem presented in form of a picture or video that hooks students. Students don’t even realize they are in a “math” classroom. It provides the cognitive dissonance that motivates students to want to know the answer. And better yet… They are totally student inquiry based. Students drive their instruction.

Some of the beauty….

Part of Act 1: Students posing questions about things that they wonder…. (while some are not “mathematical”… how awesome is it for 5th grade students to be this ENGAGED?)

Part of Act 2: Students ACTIVELY ENGAGED in problem solving. Just imagine some of the conversations going on during this time. AWESOME stuff!

Act 3…. The Reveal

Get ready to see faces like this!

Go check them out at…CCGPS Frameworks! You’ll begin to see that “Students are smarter than we give credit.”

Learn more about 3 Act Tasks and Patient Problem Solving from the source Dan Meyer, and some others who have brought 3 Acts into the elementary world Graham Fletcher, Mike Wiernicki, and Jenise Sexton. If your still hungry for more… you’ll find some more great information¬†in the CCGPS Effective Instructional Practice Guide.

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