2017-10-16 What a Week

Returning from Northern California this past weekend, I was thinking about all the challenges that we had to accomplish this week with a mixture of dread and excitement.

Monday

The week began with the implementation of my newest game created around the 4.MD.3 standard. The game also involves six other standards interlaced within the clues students must solve to unlock the locks. I planned the game for 30 minutes for the fourth graders. The two 4th grade classes that would attempt the game were new to this learning experience. Normally I don’t like to give the first rep of a game to include grade level content, but this was a challenge I had to meet. The energy in the room from the two reps taught me a lot about the quality of the game, and some interesting facilitation pieces that make the game a lot more accessible for all learners.

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The students did a great job of working together, though not fully to the point of genuine collaboration, which is wonderful since students pointed that fact out in the debrief. The biggest change idea we implemented from class to class was students working in groups from the start of the game. While this isn’t new for me, it was new for doing it for the first time at this grade level. I usually like to let students go without too many structures for a first rep and let the chaos become a need for roles. Starting out with groups forces them to slow down, and focuses them on solving the problems, not playing with the locks…something that I hadn’t predicted…I am more a believer in structured learning from this point forward.

Tuesday

Although we introduced the lesson last week in this amazing special education class, I wanted to remind the students of the work we had done to get to this point. Starting with my approach to Numberless Word Problems, students went through a sequence of four NoticeWonder questions as the story grew in complexity showcasing the learning goal. The students would then write a question from their wonderings, and then come to a consensus on the question they were going to ask for the whole class. In our case, we helped facilitate this part, to give the language of the task we were attempting to solve. Background information about this group of students: The students love, love, love Youtube. So our lesson was built around trying to figure out the best deal if Youtube were to offer you two choices for a contract to make films for their channel.

Each group was given a different representation, that is each group had a different contract offering. The students had to sequence both the amount of views and the value per views, with some of the numbers not filled out. Since every tent was not filled out, students would have to make sense of the pattern and fill in the missing pieces, i.e. the part of the standard students were meant to cover. Each student had a job

  1. Two students hold the two ropes (turned into just one rope for us)
  2. One student sorts and sequences the money tents
  3. One student sorts and sequences the view tents
  4. All students contribute to sequencing through discussing their NoticeWonder pieces

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The end result is to get the groups to come back together and decide which is the better deal and why. The use of the Numberless Word Problem approach to introduce the context gave the students a powerful intuition to come up with a question (which is guided by careful questions), and then using clothesline math to explore the learning made for two powerful hits. I will be following this approach in third grade next week (on Wednesday and next week), as we go through a sequence to solve 3.OA.4 through 3.OA.7, and students will create a book afterwords.

We also launched a dream of mine that has been in the making for the past five years, and really come into focus the past two years. We started a Breakout EDU Academy with eight teachers covering third grade through sophomores in high school. This initial group will become Jedi masters by December. Once January comes, they will adopt a padawon, and together, they will create a training from our district offerings and turn it into a game. The padawons become masters in May, and will adopt a new class for Fall, the Jedi Masters will become the Jedi council and oversee the operation from this point.

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Wednesday

I had the opportunity to introduce the 3rd graders to the NoticeWonder component of the Numberless Word Problem that starts our journey on becoming mathematics authors. The students had a variety of great observations, but the 30 minutes was not enough time to have the students go beyond.

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Another big task on Wednesday was a collaboration for the next day’s training. Our team of secondary math teachers are fostering student grit through a football theme. One of the learnings is focused on an article titled, “17 Reasons Football is Better Than HS.” We are utilizing the PDSA cycles to implement changes and looking if we can find a change idea(s) that will help our students gather grit.

Thursday

Our plan was to have two repetitions of collecting data around the strategy we had implemented in this classroom as the students tried the performance task. Using the data we would see what adjustments we could make for future implementations.

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Our day took a few turns and the students were amazing in their flexibility of tackling the task and answering questions. We tried a new change idea in the second observation as we were more pointed and went about a little bit of teaching the students how to take a performance task, like breaking it down using the strategies the teacher had taught them, and sequencing through the performance task.

The day was really interesting and quite surprising in many ways, one of which I will share here. The teachers were asked to provide me with feedback on how the day went. I am always looking to improve, and these are some of those results. For your information, the scale is 1= unacceptable 2= poor 3= satisfactory 4= good 5=very good. 

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I am curious what your take aways are from this, I am still processing the thinking. That being said, their comments were illuminating on a variety of pieces to make this both more meaningful and impactful for them and their students.

Friday

The week ended with an all day event for many fourth graders in our district (and neighboring districts) as they learn about life in the time of the pioneers (California history). The entire Zalud Park in Porterville is taken over as 1,200 fourth graders go through a series of stations, each with a learning experience about the times.

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The students get to find out what life was like through first hand experiences of that time and get to be outdoors and share friendships with school mates. Just an aside, at lunch watching students laughing, rolling down hills, and just being happy kids while at school is what makes being in education worthwhile. Days like this day are a great reminder we are in the people business, not the test getting, show me the best score you can get business, but I digress.

Saturday

In mountains near Yosemite National Park, a group of different math teachers met to listen to Dr. Timothy Kanold, author of Heart!. The surprise was complete when I see several of my old teaching colleagues are seated at the back table, so I asked if I could join them. Immediately I was seeing a lot of fantastic familiar faces, which going up solo and not knowing what to expect this was a huge surprise.

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The most incredible thing happened when I ran into an #eduhero, Duane Habecker, who was also in attendance. We have established a learning connection, we will be able to meet up face-to-face soon to get better together. And the learning from the day was phenomenal. I am enacting these five things moving forward, and I do not doubt it will make our learning better and impact students directly. My five learnings are:

  1. Creating an agreed upon VISION for the group is fundamental
  2. Every decision (or action) needs to be research based
  3. Every decision (or action) needs to move the VISION forward
  4. Always celebrate the small wins excessively, and push for the long term goal
  5. Always start with an Essential Question tied to your VISION

So, all that to say, I was righteously anxious driving home last weekend, but I am always so glad for so many wonderful learning opportunities and how impactful those things are.

PS I didn’t link the lessons I am referring to in this entry. If you’d like me to share, please leave a comment, or otherwise connect with me, and I’ll gladly do so. I would love to hear your feedback, I am a little nervous publishing my feedback, but I need to be transparent and grow. I am wishing you all the best in your learning journey and hope we can grow better together.

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.

2017-08-16 ReNew Learning and RTR

I love when I come to a new understanding about something that I had previously known, which happened this week. We had the blessing of having a consultant come to our campuses from the county office of education to help us with some work we are doing. Part of the work is to implement Rich Task Routines (RTR) in mathematics to help our students become stronger math students.

What is a RTR you may be wondering?

An RTR is an activity designed to help us (teachers) be purposeful in our delivery of content to give students access to deeper and more challenging learning targets. The idea flows from the 5 Practices made famous by NCTM book by the same name. The work and intentionality of what we put into, seeing the whole cycle with students, and reflecting on the process made for a great day of learning. I can’t wait to continue this journey.