2017-10-02 Improvement Science & Mathematics

The past two weeks have been an intense dive into the work we started over a year ago, and the feeling that we’re finally digging into something will set in.

We will find a process by which we can triple the scores on the state standardized testing in mathematics at the fifth-grade level. If we are successful, or not, we are learning a lot about our system, and we will be sharing that out at the termination of our process.

To determine if we are successful, we have utilized the power of Improvement Science. Although I have been learning the process of Improvement Science for 1.5 years, I feel comfortable discussing all of what I don’t know when it comes to this complex set of machinery.

I am working on putting all Improvement Science into a visual, comprehensible approach and it gave me the opportunity to work on my creative graphic designs. The series of several images and video are a result of that time and learning.

Students learning, students engaged in the growth mindset, and all this great stuff is just so exhilarating to be apart of this unfolding story. As the journey continues, I’m excited about the learning that will continue to grow from this process. One simple example is the productive analysis of learning when teachers from different sites come together to plan, watch, listen, and grow better together.

Here is my first repetition of making Improvement Science a visual learning experience.

Or you make click below at the PDF as well.

Improvement Science

2017-09-18 Published 1st Article

Near the end of July, I received a random email message from someone associated with Edutopia….I thought to myself that either this is one of my friends playing a practical joke on me or this email was sent to me by accident. The email asked if I would be willing to write an article on Visible Mathematics for the educational resource, and it wasn’t a hoax.

My reaction was skeptical at first, I had a hard time believing that the amazing resource of Edutopia would want something from me. You have to understand three major problems with this: 1) I am a physics, math, and technology nerd….writing is a huge challenge for me and I don’t think I write very well; 2) Like Dave Burgess says, being creative is hard work (it’s like being good at anything, it requires a lot of hard work); and 3) The article is going to be very public!

The challenge to overcome these huge obstacles was almost enough for me to choose not to pursue writing an article about mathematics. I have a fixed mindset regarding my writing, but I am working on it, so I tried to write the article.

In my first attempt, I wrote a narrative, with myself removed from center stage. Recreating a time when visuals in mathematics made an impact on students learning. I spent a week of writing, revising, and seeking feedback, before, I sent it to the kind folks at Edutopia. Their response was gentle, kind, but let me know that was not what quite the idea they wanted to capture. Although this type of feedback normally shuts me down, I am working on a growth mindset in my writing and I wanted to persevere.

In my second attempt, I focused on a personal story. In my story, I learned something so powerful I will never forget it and use it instructionally whenever I can. I won’t spoil your read of the article, but the learning was powerful and changed me as an educator. The second story flowed out and I was happy with it, so I tried one more time sending it back to the great folks at Edutopia.

Eureka! They were almost there, the tough job for them was on. The editors had to figure out how to display it, clean up my horrible grammar, and get it ready for publication. With ease the process seemed seamless as the folks at Edutopia put it all together.

The night before it was to be published, I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve, the anticipation was killing me.

When I woke up the next morning, I saw it was published, and I let out a squeal. I awoke my wife by jumping on the bed, singing, “Do you know what today is…” Well she didn’t appreciate that at all! After the morning fog wore off, she was very happy for me, and I learned my excitement could at least wait until the sun had risen.

I also find it amazing that writing is a process that shows us how unorganized our thinking is, and it always feels so good when a well written piece is produced. I am so so grateful for the experience and for the great folks at Edutopia for working with me, despite the number of revisions. As I continue my growth journey in my writing, this was a story that I am excited to tell. Happy Monday and have a week worth writing about!

2017-09-11 Coding a Newsletter Template

A journey from last year that I really enjoyed doing was creating a monthly newsletter that indicated the successes we were having as a district mathematically speaking. While I enjoyed creating the newsletter, I was never happy with the design, and always thinking about how I could make it better. Well I went from using pages to Google slide decks (because I love, love, love slides) and still ran into a similar issue…actually I think the Pages version was way better which makes it worse….well new journey this week, I am excited to be working with a teacher and their coding and design clubs, as I am going to pose as a customer to order a new newsletter and they are going to design it for me. I am going to “hire” them and they will design it for me.

I will give them a list of specs and a “budget” to work from, they are posing as a small startup company and this is one of their first jobs. I am super excited to see how this will go and I hope I get a sweet newsletter out of it too!

2017-09-04 Numberless Word Problems

There are two things that I learned about toward the end of last school year that got me so excited I couldn’t wait to try them, Numberless Word Problems was one of them. One of my #eduheroes, Brian Bushart (@bstockus on Twitter), created this idea some time ago, and I was just learning about them. So, I wanted to get a couple reps in ASAP, and I was able to get a couple of reps in before the end of the year, and it confirmed my initial excitement.

With this school underway, I want to jump in early and often to get everyone on board with this idea, exposing all students to this opportunity and making it an ever growing area of powerful learning. On this journey last year, I was able to modify this into a sequence of learning events, where we start with a #NoticeWonder activity that builds the Numberless Word Problem the students create. Since students create the word problem, whether or not there are numbers is there choice, and it is so interesting what they come up with. The students smash their questions together to make a new question, and then they answer their question (or switch with another group and answer theirs) four ways.

Once the students have shared their answers and we’re all on board with the questions and answers, we compare our information to the state standards example(s). Students are always surprised that their questions are much harder than the state examples and think the state question is easy. Compared to previous times when given the state question, they typically shut down because it’s “too hard,” I’d say this is an amazing outcome.

Anyway, it’s still a work in progress and I’m super excited about it. Thanks Brian for sharing and making us all a little better.

2017-08-28 PDs

This week was the week of Professional Developments (PDs) with my creation and delivery of Interactive Math That’s Meaningful (Horrible Title, I know) and 3 Powerful Math Routines. Each one has some amazing pieces to it that I am very proud of, and both have some areas I do not feel meet my goals. Time and reps will let me know if my feelings are accurate, and it will reveal where other holes are and where great stuff is as well. It’s pretty hectic this week, so this is just short note to remind me to breath.

2017-08-10 Breakout EDU Middle School Math

With the sounds of a sharp, repeating, and blaring noise the herds of young bodies began their almost zombie like motions to their assigned classrooms. Those who were new to the school, looked anxious, schedules out and a mixture of puzzled and nervous expressions. The contrast of the mindless shuffle to class to the anxious, confused, and fresh faced ones as they avoided being trampled by the zombie herds was almost laughable. Oh to be 12-years-old again….never mind, I’m good.

Although I was there to set up the Breakout EDU game, I couldn’t help to enjoy the nervous energy of the first day of school. The timeless roles of adolescents playing its course in all of their lives and the social aspects of this age are always fun to watch and enjoy. The end of the summer felt too soon, and the beginning of this school year didn’t feel like it was upon us….but ready or not, it was shown time.

The wonderful joy of having such a fantastic middle school staff is their openness to experience, and a few days before the start of school I was asked by two eighth grade math teachers to help facilitate a Breakout EDU game for the students’ first day. It was on!

Together we came up with a plan with the two boxes we had, one in each room, one class would do odd periods, the other class would hit even periods. I would jump back and forth, facilitate one, then let them facilitate the next. We worked out how the game was set up and what needed to be done so students wouldn’t inadvertently see how to break the game.

So here we are, first period of the first day of school, and it’s show time!

The magic that is Breakout EDU took hold, slow at first, as students had to break down that first day awkwardness. As different students found and placed together the various clues, the class wasn’t going to make it, so I asked the teacher and he wanted to make sure it was successful, so I aided in small ways, and they were able to do so.

(Update 2017-09-11: The students haven’t experienced the game since the first day, and six weeks into school they are begging their teacher for another game…so I guess they did love it)

Cheers to Better Deals – The Inequality Story

downloadAlthough I have attempted to teach this topic in many ways at a variety of levels, I always find it interesting to see how learners attempt to grapple with the concept and understanding. Learners who struggle with understanding linear graphs typically have an even more difficult, and when you add-on this is the first time the learners have literally ever met the material I am at the source of the stream that I  see in higher education. The topic is linear inequalities, the grade level is sixth grade, and I am attempting to teach these young minds this topic in 50 minutes, or less, and it is their first time (Does anyone else hear the Mission Impossible theme song here?) Well, I accepted the mission, I would attempt this process, twice actually, as I would teach this lesson back-to-back in two different group of 6th grade learners. As you are aware, I am a huge fan of 3 Act math lessons, with one of my favorite resources coming from La Cucina Matematica, where they shared Estimation 180 and found this amazing 3 Act lesson. As with any lesson, I have to adapt it a little to make it match my teaching style, and went in feeling ready to give it a tackle. In my career, this is the first time I have attempted to teach this lesson with a 3 Act component, and it is the first time I felt compelled to not give any instruction, but let the students conversation and discovery lead the way. One of the big pieces I was looking forward to was having students see their responses projected in front of them with Desmos, using their group responses to guide the inquiry. One note on this topic, I would prefer to have assigned each student their own opportunity to play on Desmos and then share out whole class, but I would need some additional front loading days to teach students how to interact and use Desmos, which I am unfortunate in that I didn’t have that opportunity, so we did that part whole class. My lesson followed this the PPT I made here or you can see below, which went off overall pretty well.

Immediately, I must say that the kids in the first class thought that Woody had cussed in the first act, so the second time I gave the lesson I had to front load that the bleep was covering up the answer to a question we were looking to answer. Another thing I picked up on right away, is that students struggled with figuring out what the humor was, they needed the mathematical background to understand what the reason for the humor was, which is an avenue to pursue with them later. The way that the various groups interacted, the way in which the conversations went within each group depended a lot on what they noticed from the clip. I was surprised by the number of kids who actually knew the show, a big thanks to reruns and older parents, as those students were more interested in the problem since they had more background knowledge of the show. The beautiful thing about this lesson, is that the discussion and interactions gave the students the opportunity to discuss and find the break even point, with about half the students understanding why the deal was better or worse. Quantitatively speaking more than 90% of the learners were able to understand that $25 per week was the break even point, and they were able to understand that certain values like $30 a week was greater than while $20 a week was less than the value of the original deal. We started to talk about how $24.99 per week was still less than the original $100 a month raise, while $25.01 per week was greater than the original $100 a month raise; however, there were only about six kids per class that were able to articulate this point and why in their exit slips. The next steps in this lesson would be to flush out the idea mentioned above, that any value greater that then $25 per week is a better deal (more money) for Woody, while any deal of $24.99 per week or less is a worse deal (less money) for Woody. The discreteness of money helps make this more concrete which was one reason I thought it might be very valuable for these learners, not to mention money is something they are familiar with. Overall, I would say the lesson went well and promoted a lot of great discussions among the students, it removed any prior need for mathematical knowledge so all kids had an entry-level assessment into the game, and the students discussing the break even point was a huge win. The use of Desmos really helped visualize it for students, and will give them some place to start building on. I feel confident this was by far the best attempt at securing an understanding of this difficult concept and I imagine that with follow-up and repeated visits this topic will be mastered by most of these young learners.