September 1, 2014

Technology Flow

At PCMI this summer we were discussing integrating student work into discussions and I realized I don't do this well. I also realized that I have a document camera that I almost never use - last year I used it to project my homework solutions in PreCalc daily and that one time I was being observed. That might be it. So I stopped to think, why? I am not one to use technology for technology's sake, but the document camera is a great tool and it's easier than having students come up to the board to rewrite their solution. It finally dawned on me that I don't use it because it is such a pain to switch from projecting the computer to projecting the doc camera and it messed up the alignment of the SMART board (the homework was first so it wasn't an issue). Plus, the problems were on the SMART board so once I switched to the doc camera we couldn't reference that information anymore.

So, I'm not going to use the document camera and the SMART board because it interrupts the flow of class. I had to find a way to incorporate student work in another way. Next step: brainstorm.

SMART board:
I already have it and know how to use it and it's already paid for.
I can make slides ahead, add new slides as I go and annotate everything.
I can export the annotated version to pdf (to share with students and coworkers)
Kids can write on the board.
The notebook software slows my computer way down (but they're updating it and adding RAM to the computer - it's 8 years old)

Document camera:
Some teachers use just the doc camera but I like having my lesson plan queued up. I have the technology to have neatly typed things with cool graphics and I'm comfortable using it. Using just the doc camera seems like going backwards.

Someone wrote a grant and then left teaching for a district position, which means I get his class set of iPad minis and an AppleTV.
Use the iPad and powerpoint to have slides and annotate and include photos.
It should run faster than the notebook software. But if the network is down I lose the ability to annotate.
Doceri seems cool but it crashes when I want to export to pdf and it costs $$.
I don't want to make slides on the iPad, I want a full functioning computer for prepping. But I need to be able to add slides as I go. Turns out this isn't common (or even at all possible?).

After a few weeks of struggling to find a system that will do all the things I want I'm mostly going back to my old standby. The people who wrote the grant didn't have a plan for how to use the AppleTVs, they're just as lost as I am. Who knew asking for the ability to both prep and change plans as I go was such an unusual request? Many people recommending using things other than slides but I really like projecting things that are meant to be projected (screen shaped), with the flow of class all lined up (I copy over all the essentials like the warm up and exit ticket format as well as any slides I didn't get to the previous class) but the ability to fill in (many slides have one problem and lots of work space or a note to self in tiny font) and adjust as I go (I can easily add slides - two clicks - when I need more space). The new addition is an iCloud photo stream. I can take photos of student work with my phone or iPad, but instead of worrying that students might see all my photos (not that I take inappropriate photos but my students are easily distracted and might want back stories), I can send them to the specific Math Class photo stream where only classroom photos reside. Bonus - if I get all the iPads hooked up to the same photo stream then I can snag any kid's photo (including screen shots) on days we use the iPads. Assuming the update and extra RAM help my computer out it should only take a few quick clicks to insert a photo into my slides and I don't have to deal with the board getting misaligned.

This was a stressful process. I want things to work smoothly for me and also have the ability to share what I'm doing (did I mention we have 4 new math teachers? My mentee last year really appreciated my filled in notes so I want to offer the same to this year's newbies). I hope this works because I don't want to have to worry about how I'm presenting, worrying about what I'm presenting is more than enough!

August 24, 2014

Goal Setting

My brain is still in summer mode but I've managed a few moments of clarity where I've reflected on my summer experiences and past years to make a plan for this year. I've come up with four goals, two that I am setting for students and two that I am setting for myself.

Student goals:

Develop (or strengthen) a growth mindset

Catch phrase: YET

Message: You can learn everything I ask of you (and more!) if you do the work. You don't need to be told how to do every step, you are capable of thinking.

Monitoring: I am required to give four interim assessments throughout the year as predictors for the state test. Along with each of those I will have students complete a growth mindset survey.
Question: How do I convince students to answer with their true belief rather than what they think I want to hear (it's specifically named a survey not quiz and is ungraded, right now I have a question for name but I'm not attached to including it)
Hope: Taking a growth mindset survey before taking a test that they aren't necessarily prepared for might encourage students to see difficult problems on the test as challenges to look forward to accomplishing.

I have a (draft?) of my survey as a google form and figured out how to get the spreadsheet to score it for me! Make a copy of the form to save to your own drive. I don't think the spreadsheet and form will be linked if you copy both of them so don't do anything with my spreadsheet yet. You'll need some data to see how this works, so take the survey. Then go back to your editable form and select "view responses." Insert a new sheet in this spreadsheet and then copy the first two rows of my sheet 2 into your sheet 2. It should score your responses automatically. Once kids fill out the form their responses will be in the first sheet only. To score them, highlight cells A-Q in row 2 of sheet 2 and use the autofill dragging feature (drag the square in the right corner of selected cells down until you've highlighted as many rows as were filled in sheet 1). If that's totally unclear leave a comment or send me a tweet (@crstn85) and I'll try to help you figure this out. I wish forms were as easy to share as other things!


Catch phrase: You are responsible for your own understanding.

Message: We provide resources to help you learn. It's important that you figure out how you learn (this is especially important since I teach many students with learning disabilities). Use group space and alone time wisely. Find your math soul mate(s) and use them wisely. Take the initiative (to ask a question, to do extra practice, to take a break).

Monitoring: In my Algebra 1 classes I will use a modified form of the stamp charts we used last year. (I'll share my new notebook setup once we've tested it and determined if there are major bugs.) The chart hits on many of the elements of responsibility and will communicate both to the students and the teachers what areas of weakness are. Perhaps in my PreCalc class I will use participation quizzes.

Teacher Goals:

Build in review

After attend Kathryn's Math Maintenance session at TMC14 I realized that I need structure in order to successfully build in review. If it's not a routine then it never happens. I'm taking her Math Maintenance routine and using it for homework. Each night there will be several problems on the topic from that day. In addition, there will be one problem on the review topic of the week and one problem that is sort of bootcamp for an upcoming topic. I love the idea of taking an open response question and spreading it across the week. It's also an easy place to put multiple choice practice (state test, SAT etc.). As an added incentive, I'll count the week's worth of review problems as sufficient to retake a test/quiz on that topic. In discussing this with my new colleague he mentioned that teachers at his previous school put problems that many students had struggled with on a recent assessment on the homework. I love this idea!

Balanced Units

There are some units that include many skills that are easy to separate, those units see many quizzes. There are other units where I've found great tasks, lots of great tasks, and I want to do all of them. Part way through second semester last year I realized that my gradebook was becoming very uneven and I decided that I needed to be planning more medium picture. I have the big picture of which units happen in what order, and I plan the day to day, but I wasn't taking time to look at the unit to see if it was balanced in investigation vs. practice vs. assessment. This year I'm going to decide on skills and tasks before I start each unit. I will make a document with this list to go into the unit folder and then write comments there after completing any lesson that went particularly well or poorly and at the end of the unit. Ideally I will get my colleagues to comment on these documents as well so we can have a comprehensive unit overview to refer to next year. (Idea for the shared doc that people reflect in comes from a PCMI presentation.)

I'd love for the monitoring on my teacher goals to come from you. Ask me sometime to share my progress?

What are your goals for the school year?

August 5, 2014

TMC: Nix the Tricks

I got to give a presentation on Nix the Tricks for the first time at Twitter Math Camp. I was pleased how well attended the session was and feel the need to apologize to all those people for being my "first period class." Thank you for your enthusiasm, patience, understanding and feedback. Second period is going to go much better but I'm hopeful that the guinea pigs still gained something from the experience.

We started the session with groups discussing the following problems:

They didn't know it at the time, but these were all problems that I chose from Math Mistakes with Michael's assistance because we felt the mistakes students made were a consequence of tricks they had learned. Here's a place where I need your help - I would love to have lots of examples of how students solve these problems. Having a single mistake to hold up and say, "I hypothesize this kid made this mistake for this reason." and then conclude, "Therefore no one should use tricks ever." is not good logic. But having a pile of mistakes that correlate to a variety of tricks? That would be more convincing. (I should also read those articles that I saved on research about understanding, as that's even better logic. Time has been at a real premium the past few months...) Feel free to check out the slides which match problem to mistake to trick. (Next time I plan to include more info on how to nix the tricks, not just why tricks are bad.)

We then got into some great conversations about long division, the multiple methods for teaching it and the necessity for teaching the standard algorithm in preparation for polynomial division. I love listening to people talk about areas of math I don't teach and seeing how it relates to what I know. I guess I'm not the only one:


These conversations are the aspect of Nix the Tricks that I've loved the most. People coming together to think deeply about how to teach something students find challenging. Because people don't invent tricks for things kids can do easily; tricks are in place because someone thought the understanding was too hard (for the kids or to teach). I'm wondering how to get that conversation going in a room full of teachers who don't know each other and who teach different things. There were many participants interested in this conversation but not everyone. To differentiate I could have each group pick one of the 8 problems from the beginning and decide how they would teach a lesson around that problem for understanding? But I'll have already talked about the related mistakes and tricks and how to avoid them. Although that sounds ambitious for an hour, perhaps I'll only have skimmed how to avoid them and it would make sense for people to dig deeper...

I leave you with some questions:
1) Can you give one, some or all of the 8 questions above to one, some or all of your kids (at home or in school) and then share their mistakes with me? I'll even give you a form to make it easy to share out. Also, if you know of anyone who already has this type of data I'd love to see it!

2) I don't want a Nix the Tricks presentation to be about me telling people how to teach, but instead to get people thinking and interested in engaging on the site. How can I get teachers to talk to each other in small groups about nixing tricks? Is this the best way to get people interested in having continued conversation on the topic?

August 4, 2014

TMC: PreCalc Session

I was lucky enough to spend my mornings at Twitter Math Camp facilitating the PreCalculus session with Jim Doherty. We had a wonderful crew of teachers who were all eager to jump in and share and work together to create some awesome tasks.

Each day Jim and I planned some sort of opening activity. We folded conics on patty paper, identified creatures using a dichotomous key (and discussed how dichotomous keys apply in PreCalc) and did a rational card sort. All three activities are on the wiki.

We started the discussion by sharing the topics in our courses as everyone's interpretation of PreCalc is different, plus we had a few participants from outside the US who have an entirely different scope and sequence. Once we had a set of topics we considered what essential skills we'd like students to focus on in Algebra 2, and what essential PreCalc skills are necessary for Calculus.

Our Brainstorm

The three highlighted phrases are the three topics we focused on. We split into groups to tackle the tasks. I know my group had some excellent insights and a lot of enthusiasm. It was wonderful to have three days to think about a single topic. I rarely have time for such depth on my own, but to have it with a group of teachers who were equally passionate about students making connections and understanding was amazing. We had the time to try things that didn't work (deriving the equation of an ellipse from the geometric definition is tedious and not a good use of kids time in our cases) and explore ideas that we weren't sure about. We didn't finish what we had hoped to, but we made progress and I think the energy of this conversation will carry me through to continue tinkering with it. Everything we did accomplish is posted on the wiki.

The Wiki

If you have any questions on how people intended to use the materials linked please ask, we want the information to be useful for everyone whether they were present or not. Greg did a nice job of recapping our presentations.

I can't wait to try out the trig and conic tasks (my course doesn't include vectors). I'll try to remember to share my experiences and adaptations, I hope you will too!

August 3, 2014

TMWYK: Productive Struggle

A couple days ago a tweet rolled by on my feed that I wanted to respond to, that is really important to respond to, but was too big for me to begin communicating in tweet sized bits.

But then yesterday I was hanging out with a seventh grader (my soon to be foster placement) and I did some things that supported her productive struggle that connect to the classroom.

We were checking out the shelf of puzzles and games trying to decide what to do when she spotted the Rubiks cube. She'd never seen one before and picked it up. I told her to mix it up and suggested spinning in more than one direction (explicit instruction on how this thing works). She asked if I'd solved it and I confessed that I only knew how to completely solve it by following instructions (acknowledgement that this is a challenging task). This was plenty to pique her interest. Once I saw her eyes switch to focus mode I stepped away, said "I'll let you play" and picked up my yarn. While I watched her puzzle I realized that crocheting is an excellent equivalent to Greg's Ukulele, I could watch her without her feeling the pressure of being watched because I was also doing something. She could talk to me but I didn't feel the need to constantly engage her in conversation because my hands were busy. She did talk while she puzzled; she said "This is hard!" every couple minutes for 15 minutes. Nothing else, and her eyes quickly returned to focus on the puzzle. And this is the hardest part for a teacher - how do you respond? It's tempting to jump in and provide help. But she didn't want help, she was expressing her thought process "My brain is working right now and I'm surprised how much my brain is working while spinning cubes!" I sometimes smiled, sometimes said "Yes." and other times said "Yup! But it looks like you're making progress." (growth mindset is helpful here). After 15 minutes she looked up and said "Wouldn't it be crazy if someone just did [mimed rapid spinning of the parts] and solved it?" To which I responded "There are people who can do that! They've worked really hard and learned how to solve it quickly. Have you ever seen a video of that?" She grabbed her phone and I wondered if seeing someone successfully complete the task would be motivating or frustrating, then I realized there must be "how to" videos online and I didn't want her to ruin the experience by stumbling upon one of those. I told her to search "Rubiks Cube Competition" so that they wouldn't appear in her search. The look of intense focus reappeared as she watched a video. She expressed shock, "15 seconds! It was too fast for me to even see what he did!" She watched a few more, then sat back in awe. I explained that some people could look at the cube, see the positions of all the blocks and then figure out in their head how to solve it, but that they had to practice a lot to get there. This prompted another 15 minutes of playing. At some point I gave her the hint of focusing on just one color to start with (strategy of looking at a simpler case) and she would occasionally share how many blue pieces she had grouped together. After another 15 minutes she put it down and said she was done. I went over and showed her a technique - thinking back I wish I'd asked if she wanted to know before telling (but 30 minutes of restraint was all I could handle!) - I showed her how to move some pieces out of the way to get a block in without messing up the current progress. She was impressed and excited and spent another few minutes trying to replicate the technique before deciding she was really done. And I let her be done.

So how does this apply to my classroom?
I pose a problem and provide a bit of information.
Then I step back and let kids explore.
I'm available so they can ask for help, but not hovering.
I use growth mindset language as much as possible (the focus is the process not the answer).
I value kids ideas and questions.
I provide assistance when they are stuck: if a kid is just struggling (no longer productively) or has quit they need a teacher. The tricky part is deciding exactly what kind of assistance you can provide so the kid can continue working.

The last thing I did, letting her stop, is really hard to do in a classroom. There's a goal for today and a pacing guide and all those outside pressures that make it challenging to let kids proceed at their own pace. One thing my co-teacher and I are planning to do is provide a puzzle table where kids can go if they need a break from the class activity. I also let kids go to the bathroom or get a drink of water whenever they want. Knowing yourself well enough to know when you need to step away and clear your head is an essential skill. In the classroom, I'd ask a kid to re-engage after a short break, but that's also the difference between working on a task carefully chosen for your students and picking up a Rubik's cube!

Wondering what the TMWYK in the title stands for? That would be Talking Math With Your Kids, the awesome idea, blog and book of Christopher Danielson.