Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Math Is on the Wall - Installing the Whiteboards

This will be a series of posts to document and share how whiteboard walls have changed my teaching and student learning in my math classroom this year.

This post is about purchase and installation.

Let's Start at the Very Beginning... A Very Good Place to Start...

Back on August 26th I had an exchange with Chelsea McClellan a math teacher in Pollock Pines CA who invited me into her math classroom that has whiteboards on the walls.  I went and visited on September 7th.  The picture below shows her room.  

She painted her cabinets with whiteboard paint and added three 4x8 panel boards from Home Depot that she also painted with whiteboard paint.

I had been researching whiteboard walls for classrooms ever since I attended a CUE event in October 2016 and attended Ed Campos Jr.'s session CLICK HERE to read his blog post.

After visiting Chelsea's classes I made an appointment with my principal and we discussed how I could make this happen in my classroom.  There were a few stipulations that I needed to follow:
  • The whiteboards had to be temporary (meaning they can be easily taken down if I move rooms)
  • No painting of the desks with whiteboard paint - (again too permanent and I get that!)
Pretty simple and easy to follow.  I purchased four 4x8 panel boards from Home Depot (click here).  I had three of the boards cut in half - 4ft. x 4ft. and one of the boards was cut into fourths - 2ft. x 4ft.
My after school STEM club installed the whiteboards:

  • They put duct tape around the edges of the boards
  • Used 16lb Velcro to put on the walls (click here

I'll be adding one more board cut into thirds against my cupboards opposite this picture before we go back after winter break.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Baby Steps and Bread Crumbs for Shifting Math Instruction

I've been thinking about this for a while now. I want to innovate my math classroom...

First, here are my constraints:
  • My curriculum which is Pearson Digits
  • My insane pacing guide which has me and  the teachers at my school and in my district teaching the same thing the same day etc...  We have common summative assessments that everyone gives on the same day.
  • We have weekly intervention for students who are struggling that we use our PLT Monday to pick students to go into based on common formative assessments that we give each week.
  • And finally students who want to sit and get rather than do the difficult work and are resistant to problem solving and mathematical thinking. The students are compliant instead of curious.
  • Also I've been GLAD trained this year so my site Administration expects me to integrate glad strategies in my math class as well.

I look at my constraints and I want to try and flip them and change my perspective of them being something that works against me into something that can support the Innovative learning environment that I want to create.
  • The curriculum is the foundational piece that will allow me to try other things while I'm teaching to the standards.
  • We have common summative assessments, again it's a foundational piece so I don't have to recreate a assessments.
  • The pacing guide also gives me a guideline and a structure to follow.
  • Having the built-in interventions for struggling students is a good thing.

Ways I want to innovate:
  • Jo Boaler’s youcubed
  • Fawn Nguyen's visual patterns
  • Robert Kaplinsky open middle and other math materials
  • Dan Meyer’s 3 ACT Math
  • Lisa Nowakowski's Math Reps
  • Engage New York, Illustrative math, Khan Academy, Math 360, Hyperdocs, Classroom Cribs
  • I also have real-life math activities that I created for my kids a few years ago that I would like to start creating again and here's a link to check them out.
  • Design thinking and design challenges
  • Makerspace
  • AND other great stuff also!

I want to spend the time to have the kids become problem solvers and mathematical thinkers and so time is an issue also because I am on the insane pacing guide and assessment timeline.

Because I'm new to my district this year I can't go Rogue which I normally would do because I could justify that I'm teaching the standards. Interestingly, the teachers that I'm working with want me to find a way to do this stuff and then show them how to do it. They have all this faith in me to change the way math is taught in the district.

I'd love to have a conversations with other math(or any content) people to consider this scenario which I think is very common in a lot of schools and districts to come up with a way to baby step the Innovation into the routine so we don't overwhelm the teachers and make it easily replicable.

I have an interesting perspective going back in the classroom after being an  instructional coach for 4 years.  I really want to find a way to work with the constraints that we all have in the classroom and find ways to truly innovate learning and instruction beyond following a curriculum and using a Chromebook as a digital textbook.

We have to start small and I think that's what I'm asking now that I've shared all this: what are the baby steps and/or the bread crumbs to start this journey and who else would like to join this conversation?

Let me know if you want to join the conversation.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Log Splitting Percents HyperDoc

A few weeks ago I posted my Real Life Math idea based on splitting logs for firewood Read it Here.  I wanted to share the HyperDoc I created for my 7th grade students:


It is a "Percents" activity to give the students some Real Life percent connections.  The students work in groups and complete their own copy of the HyperDoc.  I would appreciate any feedback!


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Wood Splitting - A Middle School CCSS Math Lesson

I like create math situations for my students that relate to my life.  I like to do this in the hopes that my students see that everyday things can be related to the math they are learning.  My ultimate goal is for my students to consider the possibility of relating math to their lives.  This weekend is log splitting weekend.  One thing I love about the non-stop work and chores we have on our property is that often it is mindless work.  My job during wood splitting is to roll logs to my husband and to take the split pieces and turn them into a pile.  These tasks that do not take much brain power allow me to think about teaching, lessons, and math problems for my middle school students.  I take pictures to show my students to help them picture the context of the problems.

Our Pine Logs and Starting Pile

Our Oak Logs and Starting Pile

Here is the information for the problem:
  • Big pine logs provide 15 pieces of fire wood
  • Small pine logs provide 7 pieces of fire wood
  • We have 25 big pine logs and 21 small pine logs
  • We split big pine logs from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm
  • We split small pine logs from 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
  • The pine pile started with 126 pieces of fire wood

I ask the students what math questions we can ask using this information and the concepts we are working on in class.

In my 7th grade classes we are working on Proportional Relationships, Constant of Proportionality, Unit Rate, Percents so the questions we create will be around those topics.  I have questions in mind so that if the students need guidance in creating, I can ask questions to move them if they get stuck.

In my 8th grade class we are working on solving equations.

In a few weeks I'll have my whiteboards up around the room so we can do this activity in a Math 360 environment which will change the entire dynamics of the lesson and the learning.

Here is  a photo of the completed wood pile:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Design Challenges In Math Class

Upon going back to the classroom this year, I promised myself I would continue some of the things I started doing as an instructional coach.  One of my must do's this year is Design Day.  One day a week, we have a design challenge in our math class.  The purpose of these challenges is:
  • to connect design thinking into the mathematics classrooom
  • to provide opportunities for my students to "fail" in a low stakes environment
  • to connect maker activities to learning mathematics 
  • to encourage problem solving, critical thinking, risk taking 
  • to provide meaningful reflection for students as they process their successes and challenges
  • to remember that we are designer-ish and that means some days we end up with a pile of nothing
The goal of our first two challenges was to provide the students with a task that would be challenging and provide many opportunities to fail and start again, to persevere or give up, to step out of their comfort zone and feel challenge and possibly failure.

Inevitably, there is always a group or two who end up with a pile of nothing at the end of the time.  This becomes an opportunity for the whole class to consider how and why this happened.  We discuss what went well and what did not.  It also provides the opportunity to explain to the students that in the end, everyone learned something - some learned how not to do it, other learned one way to do it.  When we do a class gallery walk, the students learn there are many possible outcomes and ways to complete the challenge and learning takes place in every one.

Interesting Insights:
  • It amazes me how quickly the students give up their paralyzing fear of failure and are willing to jump in and take risks, an example:
    • a group of high achieving eighth graders copped out of the first challenge by building a structure that was one inch high.  They struggled as they tried to make the tallest structure and there was no way they were going to have a pile of Popsicle sticks at the end of time, so they built a stable and very short structure.  They were not willing to take a chance and fail so they were happy with partial completion rather than total failure.
    • Fast forward to the Week 2 Challenge - these same students let go of their fear of failure and were all in.  They took risks and persevered and completed the challenge successfully.  In one short week these students shifted their mindset and embraced the possibility of failure.
Here are our first design challenges.  The first two gave students the opportunity to take risks and prototype quickly with the possibility of inevitable failure always looming.  After the first two tasks, I connected the challenge to our unit of study - proportional relationships.  The students spent the next two design days building models of our classroom.  Next is introducing the Design Thinking model (I'm stealing Vista Innovation and Design Academy's process CLICK HERE).  

Our First Challenges:
Design Challenge #1:  Build the tallest free standing structure (can be moved and is not taped to the desk, floor, table etc...) out of 40 Popsicle sticks and masking tape
  • students worked in groups of 4
  • they had 20 minutes to complete the challenge
  • I provided tape as needed
  • Popsicle sticks were purchased at Dollar Tree
Design Challenge #2: Build a free standing structure out of straws and masking tape that will hold a box of 24 crayons 4 inches off the ground.
  • students worked in groups of 4
  • they had 20 minutes to complete the challenge
  • I provided tape as needed
  • straws were purchased at Dollar Tree

Design Challenge #3: Make a model of our classroom using construction paper and tape.  This first part of the challenge is the jumping off point for the design thinking process.  The students will use their first models to build scale models, then after learning from that process, each student will pick a meaningful object to scale up or down and build.

Photos of our Challenges:

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Ratios, Proportions, Chocolate Milk, and Hummingbird Feeders

Photo Courtesy of Krissy Venosdale
I am kind of an unconventional math teacher... I want my students to find other ways to solve problems that do not involve blindly following rules that I give them, oh I don't give them rules.  I spend an abundance of time asking them to problem solve and use critical thinking to solve problems.  They also have to show proof of understanding and share their processes, thinking, etc...

Over four years ago when I was in the classroom as a middle school math teacher one of my favorite activities was Dan Meyer's Nana's Chocolate Milk - 3 - Act Math  activity (love these problems and there is a plethora of them).  I love this activity because it it gives students an opportunity to solve ratio problems using proportional reasoning and problem solving without following a rule.  They can find "their" way to solve the problem using what they know.  It provides opportunities for math talks that create a community of mathematicians and "lead learners" rather than blind rule followers (obviously I have issues with step by step).  And on some days students have to embrace their "Ishness" - Here is a past post on that - CLICK HERE

Now back to Nana's Chocolate Milk and what it has to do with Hummingbird Feeders...

Ironically, I had a recipe mess up moment when I was making the potion we put into our hummingbird feeders.  I mistakenly used the 1/3 cup instead of the 1/4 cup.  So, of course I turned it into a proportional reasoning problem for my 7th and 8th grade students as a warm up problem for the day after we did the Nana's Chocolate Milk problem.  It was a bit more challenging, but the students
worked in groups and made meaning of the problem in ways that made sense to them instead of blindly following a rule I gave them.

I'm looking forward to later in the year when the students will start creating their own 3-Act math activities to share with their classmates and the world!

Here is the link to the slide deck I used to introduce the problem to my students: CLICK HERE.  Please Steal, Copy, etc... and use it with your students and/or create your own.

Monday, July 24, 2017

What I learned in First Grade

This morning I was reading George Couros' most recent blog post: 5 Questions to Ask Your Students to Start the School Year Click Here. At the beginning of the post he shares a question he posted on twitter to his followers:

"In your time as a student in K-12, what made an impact on you. Not who, but what? What do you remember that influenced you today?"

This question brought me back to first grade - the year I learned to HATE reading.  I learned that reading is about being grouped by ability and learning about Dick and Jane.  I learned it was laborious, meaningless (to me), and most of all passionless.  While I had books at home that I loved, that is not what reading at school was for me.  I was in the lowest reading group and it was then that I chose not to be a reader which meant I would battle reading the rest of my K-12 years.  I did not read for pleasure or in my free time, reading was a chore and/or a requirement.  Needless to say, that might have something to do with my passion for math and science.

Even though I had given up on being a reader, I would watch my mom devour books and spend hours chatting with her friends about books.  I secretly wanted to feel the passion my mom had for books and reading.  I assumed I would have to wait until I was an adult to experience THAT type of reading.  

One summer, when I was in college, I was visiting my Nana in Mission Beach and I picked up a Danielle Steele book.  Everyone reads at the beach so I decided to give it a try.  My reading world was changed forever.  I laughed, cried, got angry, frustrated and connected to the characters and the story.  I read every Danielle Steele book that was in the beach house.  I call Danielle my "gateway" author - she was the one who pulled me in, but after a few of her books, I needed more substance.  I'm so thankful for Danielle because she taught me what reading is/should be.

After that summer I began my credential program and my student teaching.  I was placed in a fifth grade classroom and another transformation happened.  As we read books like Bridge to Terabithia, I became more and more angry.  As I read and connected with the characters and had vivid pictures swirling in my mind I was mad at every teacher I had that never gave me that passion for reading, 13 years of schooling and NOT ONE of my teachers helped me cross over and become a passionate reader.  I set out to read all of the incredible books I skipped or missed out on during those 13 years.  

My second year of teaching during our "DEAR" time (drop everything and read) I was still catching up on incredible children's literature books.  I also read aloud everyday to my 4th and 5th grade students.  I would cry as I read and I modeled how you are supposed to feel and interact with a book and it's characters.  I also had Marisol, one of my 5th graders.  When I would get to a point in a book that I was crying so hard I could no longer read coherently, Marisol would come and take the book from my hands, sit next to me and continue reading where I had left off.  It was a seamless transition and I would go join the criers table (where all the criers sat during read aloud).  We would cry together as Marisol read aloud to us.  The students would keep a careful eye on me during DEAR time and when they saw me crying, they would demand that I read that book next.

Interestingly I'll be returning to the classroom as a first grade teacher, a grade I have not taught ever in my 27 year career.  I'll be sharing my journey as my students and I learn together this year.  One thing I know for sure, my students and I  will share a passion for books and reading from day one.