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!

2017-09-04 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.

3 Things a 1st Grader Taught Me


  1. If you say you’re going to do something, you better do it.
  2. The power of observation from fresh perspectives.
  3. Curiosity and perseverance are important things for adults to model.

Although she was passionate about learning in kindergarten, her desire for academic pursuits (especially in school) have greatly diminished during her first grade year. Saddened, I wanted to combat this by engaging her in a conversation about performing some “experiments,” which garnered that familiar excitement I had loved to see a year ago.

After discussing some possible experiments and wanting to capitalize on her recent trip to a nature preserve, we settled on making a floral arrangement from construction paper. We evolved this idea into a hike through the preserve, where we would collect samples and build replica of a flower. Side note: We are in are in a severe drought here in California, and any flowers that did bloom, occurred two months ago. Two weeks later we got all ready, off on our sample collecting adventure.

The Wife and 1st grade sister, walking way ahead of me.
The Wife and 1st grade sister, walking way ahead of me.

Before I can continue, I have to say she was with one of her older sisters (there are 20 years between the youngest and her) all day, where the 1st grader had asked and asked several times if she knew about this adventure. I hadn’t forgotten, but I thought she would. Two weeks to a first grader is a lot of time, and a lot of things have happened between then and now. Well she didn’t forget, so when she got over to our house, I was in my room recovering from a long run in 90 degree heat. She tentatively asks if we are still going, I said yes, and for the first time she hugged me, straight up long embrace, Lesson 1 learned.

Arriving at the nature preserve, she was jumping for joy.
Arriving at the nature preserve, she was jumping for joy.

Back to the narrative, so we get ready and we’re out the door in 20 minutes. She was so giddy to be going, she kept asking if we were excited too. For the next two hours we walked around, collecting samples. During this time, I learned Lesson 2, she was so observant, she saw and heard everything through fresh ears, I realized that we can stop and look around, and with a fresh perspective familiar things look new. She made me think of this hot, dry environment as if it were some amazing, new place (which it was for her) and how exciting the mundane can be when viewed from different perspectives. For example, this is important to keep in mind as a teacher, as your students will often see the mathematics you teach from fresh and alternative perspectives, we need to embrace those perspectives and view things from their eyes.

The bags of samples, classified by "families" for later use.
The bags of samples, classified by “families” for later use.

After collecting samples, we went to dinner, then off to the dollar store for supplies. Having no idea  what to get, it was a challenge to think of all we would need, but it worked out. When we got back, we were ready to start. We were trying all kinds of fun things, but I learned she was curious. I didn’t know what we were going to do for constructing a flower with our materials,  when I learned Lesson 3. When an adult wants to learn the answer to a question, by what process does she go through to answer the question. Since she would not let me off the hook, I was given a marvelous opportunity to model how one might answer such a question, and how to continue through seemingly endless possibilities to find an answer.

All in all it was a great six hours of learning and time we’ll spent. The total cost:  my time, $8, and a lot of learning. We are extending this idea and building something better from it on Wednesday. Best part is, that spark of excitement for learning is back.

My girls and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
My girls and the Sierra Nevada mountains.