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.

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.

2017-06-02 – Day 23 – Last Day

The combination of working on so many things, being pulled in so many directions meant the beginning of summer was especially important to pull back and refill. The last day of school with students, while I would miss our good times together, I have to admit, I was all like….

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Especially considering we have an epic road trip planned to return us to the great northern reaches of this continent that I haven’t been to in over 16 years. So this summer….

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….epic road trip is going to be amazing! I wish everyone a happy summer, I will be off the grid for most of that time, and be all like…

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2017-05-17 – Day 7 – Clothesline Math & Goodbyes

Yesterday we spent time making sense of the ideas of Clotheslines Math, and we were able to get a few quick reps in. Today, we dove straight in, students were broken up into groups of four, each person was assigned a job, and the students were tasked with placing the trig functions in their appropriate sequence on their number line. Students were given 15 minutes to make this magic happen

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I had one group finish early, which was perfect, they became the “experts” and I shipped them out across the “country” to troubleshoot groups where the sequence was stalled. Once the 15 minutes were up, groups verified their sequences with others, and with their “experts” were given another 2 minutes to confirm their sequence. Each group would use their device to take a picture of their successfully completed sequence, and then we tried this process whole class, randomly chosen people were given a tent, two students were holding our much longer class sized chord, and we tried to place the tents in a proper sequence.

So a couple of things that I loved about this process: 1) Students understanding of how to construct a viable number line is sorely lacking from establishing benchmarks to proper scale and this is a powerful way to build it; 2) The multivalued aspect of the trig functions were highlighted in context, so some students made this connection; 3) The periodicity of the trig functions were brought to light when we connected all of our group together, and what did they notice and wonder.

We were able to get to try this in 8th grade today, as well, but with different algebraic based tents. Students in 8th grade were much more accepting and understanding of the process (tents were integers) but struggled with the tents that were given as variables. Students had no problem placing m, 2m, and m/3 in a variety of orders. So we will be addressing this misconception in the next period. I am thinking of having students draw a distance, then draw twice that distance, and a third of that distance. Then we place the tents m, 2m, and m/3 on their number line and see where the conversation goes.

On another note, today was the last day of a content specific course in mathematics for new teachers and I wanted to highlight some of these pieces in our last class together. So we started with a warm up on the sheet placing various terms in order. Our random groups were given an envelope with 3 linear equations, highlighting various slopes and y-intercepts and three fractions and asked to place in the correct sequence.

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The teachers seemed truly engaged in the process, and the attending to precision (MP6) evident everywhere. After teachers shared their thinking and we compared, we talked about how this might be used in their content areas. I do not know if I facilitated bringing to light the flexibility of this strategy, but I think the teachers found some value in it as another tool in the trade. The evening was our last class together, as half of them will be graduating with their preliminary credential in a few weeks, and half will be doing so for another year but will be graduating to summer soon, so our theme of the night was graduation.

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As per our traditional sequence, we like to have a group photo to commemorate the evening by, and this one was no different. In the spirit of the class, I showcased a family fail photo, to prompt our discussion and as a reminder for myself, and we tried to take an awkward family photo together, and I think we nailed that result.

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It was an epic end to a great sequence of classes and I hope the new teachers were able to get as much from this as they gave my partner in this class. I hate to end this amazing post on a down note, but I felt the night went well, we did spend too much time on the “speed dating” portion discussing our use of a strategy from Teaching Reading in Mathematics (TRIM) with a problem from Fostering Algebraic Thinking (FAT) book. We didn’t debrief their assignment as well as I would have liked, and I don’t think I facilitated the connects between all the classes well. In the sequence of the night, time moved too quickly and trying to do too many things got the best of me. The part that really gets me is that it felt like we had put our hearts into this class, each night had a theme, we tried to make every moment purposeful, connected, meaningful and engaging, the teachers seemed to indicate they were picking up what we were putting down, but their feedback indicates more to the contrary than I would have expected. This is to say that no matter how well you dress something up if the content isn’t good, people will notice and will not connect to it. I am going to have to do a lot of reflection on this class and use these failures as opportunities to grow, learn, and question.

2017-05-15 – Day 5 – #Sketch50

I almost missed the journey, the idea is called #Sketch50 on Twitter and following various messages. I see the idea more like…

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which forces you to…

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And in order to do this, we need to realize…

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Understanding that I would never spend 50 days drawing different ideas, but knowing that in order to stretch oneself getting in those reps is so important. The public display and daily demand cause one to formulate a habit around this idea. The result of this #sketch50 has extended to my blogging once a day until the end of school, knowing that writing, reflection, and expression of ideas through these various formats help us get better. With the terminus day 50 of #sketch50, I wanted to reflect on the journey, so the last 26 of my days are shown in the slide deck below (I’m working on getting all 50 into the deck). Love to hear your thoughts.