Saturday, March 3, 2018

Reaching Vince in Math Class

Vince began the year as one of my most perplexing students.  He was quiet, he struggled with math, he had strained relationships with the other students.  He dreaded working in groups because he did not fit in with anyone.  Everyday I had to dig deep into my toolkit to find ways to make a connection with Vince.  He is a student that we all have in our classes.  I practiced patience with Vince and worked hard to build trust so that he would take chances in his learning of math.

Everything changed for Vince when the whiteboard walls went up.  It was not immediate.  He was one of the tough ones, a hold out.  He would come in the room and sit at a desk while the other students got to work doing math on the whiteboards.  I would hand him a copy of the whiteboard problems and he would pretend to work on them at his desk.  I understood the risk it takes to put yourself and your math work on the whiteboards.  I would gently encourage and ask questions to try to guide him and get him up to a board.

During our winter break, I added 3 whiteboards to the counter close to my desk and Vince took over the middle whiteboard as his own.  We also started doing Visual Patterns problems which require problem solving and critical thinking and provides opportunities for students to show multiple representations.  For the first time I got to see Vince's mathematical thinking and problem solving abilities:

And when I asked Vince to explain, he was very articulate.  He is a second language learner and working on the whiteboards has increased his confidence, his oral language use, and has given me a glimpse inside his mathematical brain.  I have learned that he has strong math understanding and skills. Unfortunately our online textbook assignments and tests have not shown me an accurate picture of Vince as a math student. 

The whiteboards have allowed me to provide individualized direct instruction and to collect useful data on student understanding, struggles, and misconceptions.  My instructions varies throughout a lesson based on what I see on the whiteboards.  I do mini-lessons for a group or groups who are stuck, whole class instruction, and/or individualized instruction.  We (everyone in the room) write all over the whiteboards so that students have samples to refer to and we are learning with/from each other.

The whiteboards have had a positive effect on all of my students but the impact is profound for my students like Vince who have been able to show how they make sense of mathematics and become a part of our learning community instead of hiding and pretending.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Math Warm Ups on Whiteboard Walls

The whiteboards are up, now what?  The first place I started was with our warm ups.

Procedure:  Play music and give the students the following instructions:

    1. Set your things down in your seats
    2. Get a whiteboard pen and go to a whiteboard
    3. Complete the Warm Up.
    Because my whiteboards are panel boards and are NOT magnetic, I bought little plastic clips from Dollar Tree to hold warm up problems on each whiteboard.  The students know not to write on the warm up sheets and they stay up for all of my classes.  

    I get my warm ups from: Open MiddleVisual PatternsIllustrative MathematicsEngage NY, and our online textbook Pearson Digits (I re-type them etc...)

    Management Note:  At first I tried posting the warm up on our TV monitor but it was difficult for the students to see and they would leave their whiteboard to go read and then they would socialize and I ended up having students "gathering around the monitor".  The second way was to push the questions out digitally on the Chromebooks - saving paper right??  Again this ended up taking too much time because the students would lollygag and check their grades etc...  I want them up and doing math as soon as they get into the classroom!

    Here is how having students begin math class on whiteboards has shifted the learning and teaching in my classes.

    The Learners:
    • They want different colored whiteboard pens so that each person's contribution can be seen
    • They are up and moving and not able to hide behind their Chromebooks or pretend to be writing work on a piece of paper or in a notebook.
    • They are willing to take risks, try to work things out, and learn from their mistakes
    • They have meaningful math conversations and are thinking critically and discussing
    • They are showing multiple representations - this is the way I did it... that is the way she/he did it
    • We see everyone's personality dancing on our walls
    The Teacher:
    • During the warm up I am able to get around to each group and have meaningful math conversations with my students.  I ONLY ask questions to keep them moving, get them unstuck, or to extend their thinking if they are close to finishing up.
    • If the students are struggling, I do not help them, as stated above - I only ask questions!
    • I let any/all answers stay up whether they are right or wrong so we can discuss as a class and the students learn from each other which takes the stigma out of making and learning from their mistakes.
    • I take notes on misconceptions and direct my instruction accordingly.  If all of the groups are struggling on the same thing then I go over it during whole class instruction.  Otherwise, I give each group personalized support in the moment.
    • I am flexible with the needs of my students:
      • Some of my students were very fearful of putting "their math" on the board for everyone to see.  For those students, I provided a copy of the warm up and they could complete it at their seats.  This was only about 1 - 4 students each period.  Once they got over their fear and observed how it worked, they were up and at the whiteboards with the others.  The students still have to do the work, but I'm flexible with their needs because so much goes on with middle schoolers from period to period. 
    Next Steps:
    • Gallery Walks - now that the students are getting more comfortable with each other, I'd like them to start looking at each other's work and place stars and/or question marks to whole class discussions: I like how you... Can you explain how you...
    • We've started writing explanations of mathematical thinking but now I want to have the students write group explanations on the whiteboards which will hopefully lead to better individual explanations.
    • Flipgrid, Padlet, Google Suite etc... - Digital sharing of work and thinking!
    • More student led learning of mathematics
    • Whatever else we can think of...

    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: