Archive for April, 2015
We are excited to have a guest blogger today: David Wees is a math teacher in NYC and he recounts Shadowcon — the alternative NCTM conference — for us.
Six calls to action at Shadowcon
Imagine six engaging speakers, each with ten minutes to convince you to make a specific change in your teaching. At the end of the night, you select which change you want to work toward, and ideally you take action. So describes the experiment in professional learning called Shadowcon, hatched by Dan Meyer, Zak Champagne, and Michael Flynn and shared for the first time at the NCTM Annual Meeting in Boston.
Kicking off the night was Tracy Zager, a mathematics educator who lives in Maine. Tracy shared with us her heartbreaking story of working with elementary school preservice teachers, a majority of whom have negative feelings about mathematics. She described how these feelings were very likely caused by the early experiences in mathematics and how too often these teachers use the same teaching practices that caused their own math anxiety, creating a generational cycle of fear of mathematics. Tracy called on all of us to break the cycle by opening conversations about our experiences with mathematics in school and to start closing the gap between school math and the way mathematicians experience math.
Next up was Elham Kazemi, a teacher-educator at the University of Washington. As part of her work, Elham collaborates with teams of elementary school teachers. Elham asked this thought-provoking question: “What would it look like if we designed schools to be places where teachers learn together alongside their students?” Teaching is complex work! Elham suggested that trying to learn how to do it alongside a colleague is best. Her call to action: Plan together, rehearse together, enact together, reflect together, and everyone improves together.
Laila Nur, a high school math teacher in Los Angeles, California, spoke about how she realized that her students talked much differently outside her class than within it, and decided to experiment with humor in her class as an antidote. Her takeaway from this experiment is that when kids laugh together and with their teacher, it helps break down some of the negative feelings associated with math. Her students enjoy class much more and consequently have fewer emotional barriers to learning mathematics. Her call to action is to incorporate humor in our classrooms, at least four times, and to see how that affects our students.
Kristin Gray, a fifth-grade teacher and math specialist, described how she pays attention to student thinking as evidenced by what they say and what they write and then journals what she notices. This stems from her genuine curiosity about her students’ mathematical thinking. She asked three questions, “What are you GENUINELY CURIOUS about in the content you teach and how you teach it?” “What are you GENUINELY CURIOUS about in your students’ math conversations?” and “What are you GENUINELY CURIOUS about in the math work your students do each day?” Her call to action was for us to start a math journal and record our reflections about our students’ work and to share how this affects our teaching.
Christopher Danielson, a mathematics educator in St Paul, Minnesota, started by sharing a pair of stories with essentially the same moral: listen to your students. In the first story Christopher realized he had not heard something a student said and that the difference between what he heard and what was said was small but incredibly important. He also noticed that sometimes when we aren’t listening to students very well we can hear things and make assumptions about how they understand the world that just aren’t true. He implored the audience to ask follow-up questions when they think they understand what a student means, and then to share our reflections on any differences we notice between what we thought we heard and what the students actually meant.
The final speaker of the night was Michael Pershan, a mathematics teacher living in New York City. Michael has spent much of his career thinking about the mistakes students make and what they mean. He has also spent much of this past year thinking about the feedback teachers give students and how we can make this feedback more useful. He described four potential pitfalls of the hints we give, and offered us the final challenge of the night: to plan our hints in advance and then share the ones that worked so that we can collectively build a pool of effective hints to give to students when they are stuck in specific areas of mathematics.
The six speakers, with their six calls to action, were inspiring. It made me reflect on how I can incorporate their ideas into my own practice. Of the six calls to action, I will start with Elham’s proposal and find someone with whom to plan, rehearse, enact, and reflect on my lessons so that I work in less isolation.
Which call to action are you going to choose? You can see what others are doing on the Shadowcon website.
April 28th, 2015
In our latest installment of Profiles in Effective PD Initiatives, two teachers at Fernwood Elementary School volunteer their time and talent to facilitate a teacher book study of Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions. The result: the entire school benefits. Stenhouse editor Holly Holland talked with the teachers and principal involved.
Fernwood Elementary Teachers Talk Intentionally About Math
Teachers are accustomed to having school and district leaders determine the scope and format of their professional development. Rarely do they initiate, plan, and lead their own on-the-job training.
That’s why Fernwood Elementary School assistant principal JoAnn Todd was surprised and pleased last spring when two teachers asked if they could organize a faculty book study focusing on Intentional Talk: How to Structure and Lead Productive Mathematical Discussions (Stenhouse, 2014).
“It was kind of a grassroots movement,” which turned out to be a wonderful way to spread good instructional practices, said Todd, who now serves as principal of another school in the Northshore School District, near Seattle. “Having it be from the ground up, versus from the district or principal, gives it more legs, that genuine excitement.”
The book study also enabled her to develop the leadership skills of the two young teachers who proposed it. Kindergarten teacher Shelley Heathman and sixth- grade teacher Emily Schenck worked with Todd to organize and facilitate a series of ninety-minute sessions held every three or four weeks. Todd helped the teachers learn effective structures of professional book studies as well as strategies for managing time and coaching colleagues. Before each session the organizers shared their plans, and Todd offered feedback and work-arounds for possible problems.
Because Fernwood couldn’t compensate teachers for their time, they had to meet voluntarily after school hours. Nevertheless, eight other teachers agreed to participate with Heathman and Schenck.
“It was like-minded people from across grade levels coming together and being able to learn together,” Schenck said. “We also internalized it more because it was something we were having fun doing together. Instead of a passive recipient [of professional development], you are an active learner, which is what we want our kids to be.”
Having Productive Math Discussions
Schenck had taken a University of Washington course with Allison Hintz, coauthor of Intentional Talk with Elham Kazemi, and suggested using the book for a deeper exploration of how to guide classroom conversations about math. Intentional Talk features a range of methods for guiding classroom conversations about math—from open strategy sharing to targeted discussions—such as asking students to compare and connect and define and clarify.
“Open strategy sharing is typically the first way to get mathematical discussions going in classrooms,” the authors write. “It’s like having a good, basic recipe for a soup from which you can make all kinds of variations. Open strategy sharing allows you to nurture the norms needed for a productive math-talk community. And you can use this discussion structure to model how students should talk with one another” (17).
An open strategy sharing discussion typically begins by highlighting a problem that has multiple solutions and using instructional talk moves such as repeating (“Can you repeat what she said in your own words?”) and reasoning (“Why does that make sense?”) to help students verbalize their understanding.
The book also features lesson-planning templates for mathematical discussions. For example, the template for troubleshooting and revising discussions asks teachers to consider the following:
• What is the confusion or misunderstanding we will discuss or revise?
• What is the insight I’d like students to understand?
• What are the problem context, diagrams, or questions that might be useful to use during the discussion?
Schenck said one of the “immediate takeaways” she gleaned from the book was the reminder to focus students’ conversation on the learning objective of the day and to give them multiple ways to talk about it. When teaching students how to add and subtract negative numbers, for example, she realized that she often shared shortcuts but did not always explain them at the conceptual level. So, instead of only sharing that the quickest way to subtract negative numbers is to add them, she started putting up problems and asking students whether they were true or false. Through peer conversations they learned how to analyze, defend, and build on their knowledge of mathematical processes.
“To be able to talk about problems with peers and hear what they are thinking is so powerful,” Schenck said. “They’re not only learning math on a conceptual level but also good communication skills.
“When you are a teacher, you can always say, ‘This is the rule,’ and they will believe it, but to get them to say it validates their thinking.”
Classroom Observations and Videotaping
As part of the collegial book study, Heathman and Schenck wanted to videotape some lessons so teachers could see how the Intentional Talk strategies played out in different classrooms and at different grade levels. They offered to do the first sharing so teachers who felt vulnerable could get comfortable observing and reflecting as a group.
“Our conversations were more about what students were doing, not what we were doing as teachers,” Heathman said. “I think the biggest aha moments were that students are capable of amazing things. If we can give them the proper environment, which is a safe place to work together, they can take it away and enhance each other. Good teachers are just facilitators—that’s something the book helped us realize. Students are more than capable of enhancing their own learning just by having accountable talk with each other.”
Todd said she witnessed tremendous growth among the participating teachers. Seeing effective practices in action made all the teachers more aware of their strengths and weaknesses. For example, when intermediate grades teachers heard the rich conceptual conversations students in the primary grades were having about math, they realized that their older students could do more than they had previously asked them to do.
To demonstrate her commitment to the professional learning process, Todd volunteered to teach a lesson from Intentional Talk and videotape it for the study group to analyze. She also showed the teachers how the reflective work they were doing tied in with the state’s teacher evaluation system.
“Criteria two is about using questioning and discussion techniques” with students, she said. “I was pointing out, ‘Hey, guys, what you’re talking about is actually reaching proficient and distinguished levels on the state evaluation.’ It was validating to them. It made their work in the book study completely relevant.”
Extending the Lessons Learned
Schenck and Heathman said they hope to do another collegial book study in the future, perhaps with a more concrete plan for ensuring that the best practices spread throughout the school. Teachers believe the study was a valuable addition to their ongoing professional learning.
“It takes passion and eagerness to have an organic experience such as this book study,” Heathman said. “It was a very positive experience, and Intentional Talk was very accessible and manageable.”
April 22nd, 2015
We just got back from the annual NCTM conference in Boston where we got to meet many of you — our readers and our authors. We had a lot going on this year with a busy booth, several of our authors giving presentations, as well as ShadowCon, where a group of passionate math teachers issued calls to action to their colleagues and to the next generation of teachers. We’ll be following up with them in the next couple of weeks and months, but until then here are some tweets that represent some of the excitement, learning, and enthusiasm of this year’s NCTM. (You have to click on some of the images to see the full text and image in the tweet!)
April 20th, 2015
Assistant Principal Krista Venza and Officer Wayne Moreland
Today’s guest post comes from Krista Venza, assistant principal at a Pennsylvania middle school, and Wayne Moreland, a police officer. The two of them paired up to create the “Hello My Friend Project,” aimed at inspiring students — and teachers — to respect each other, to create a sense of community in their schools, and to reach outside of their schools to help those in need. You can find out more about the project on their website or their Facebook page.
Building a Culture of Trust and Respect: One Police Officer and One Child at a Time
By Wayne S. Moreland, Police Officer and Krista M. Venza, Assistant Principal
When something negative is reported in the news, people tend to use generalizations such as, “All teachers . . .,” “All lawyers . . .,” “All police officers . . .,” and so on. Although there are some people in every field who can give the whole profession a bad name, most people are good and work very hard at their jobs. If we wait until a tragedy monopolizes the news and creates a culture of mistrust, we will miss the chance to build bridges between two institutions that share a vital role in every community: guiding children to become responsible and educated citizens.
As school and police leaders, we may seem an unlikely pair to join forces, but we realized we had a common desire to change perceptions and create a culture of trust and respect between schools and law enforcement. Wayne is a township police officer with eighteen years of experience in law enforcement, including the motorcycle patrol and training coordinator and team leader for a county SWAT team. Krista has eighteen years of experience in education as a special education teacher, instructional support facilitator, and school administrator.
Krista enrolled in a local citizen police academy, which helps the public learn about policing, Pennsylvania criminal law, and connections to the community. One of the key insights she gained was how quickly police officers must use their training, experience, and judgment to make decisions that can have lasting impacts on lives. The parallels to teaching are clear. Although educators do not normally have to make life-or-death decisions, they do need to react quickly and effectively to a number of different situations throughout the day that impact students’ lives.
Meanwhile, Wayne was searching for a way to show children a different side of law enforcement. He recalled an incident when he had volunteered to read to a local third-grade class. After the teacher introduced him, he was startled when a child walked up to him and asked if he was going to kill her. Wayne immediately knelt down beside the girl, placed his hand on her shoulder, and said, “Honey, I am here to read a book to you and your classmates. The police are here to help you, not hurt you.” But the moment stung.
After much discussion, we decided to supplement the work of the DARE program, in which police officers teach school students good decision-making skills, by creating a middle school program called PEACE Crew. The letters in PEACE represent the following:
P – Practicing self-control through
E – Exercise, discussion, and reflection of
A – Attitude and
C – Choices while always valuing
E – Each other
The after-school program is voluntary, and attendance fluctuates between five and twenty students each week. The structured sessions include focus and meditation activities, discussion of current topics, personal reflection, viewing of inspirational video clips, and physical exercise. Students are guided through a meditation session to help them to clear their minds and let go of any issues that may be distracting them. Topics discussed include bullying, friendship/relationship issues, academics, social media, and family dynamics. Students spend time writing about something that made them smile, something that made them upset, and something they learned that day. They then share these with the group. We model and practice active listening, showing empathy for others, and providing appropriate feedback during this time. We also feed them; usually we order a few pizzas and eat while we watch TED Talks, Kid President YouTube videos, and other video clips featuring inspirational people. The session is wrapped up by engaging in physical activity such as running sprints, stretching, working out in the weight room, or playing organized games.
The biggest surprise we’ve observed is that, when others see the positive interactions taking place within our crew, they are inspired and want to get involved. One of our mathematics teachers, who is also the high school football coach, volunteered to share a video clip of an NFL coach’s motivational speech to his players and then spoke frankly with students, encouraging them to be people with integrity who can be counted on. We have faculty members lined up to lead students in yoga and Zumba workouts, and we plan to invite other administrators, faculty members, and members of the community—such as business owners, judges, and police officers—to be guest speakers.
Another great outcome is how quickly we’ve gotten to know the students on a personal level. They have become comfortable talking openly with us and approaching us when they need support or someone to listen. Being available to them and making connections is so important when teaching them about trust and respect. As teen advocate Josh Shipp says, “Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.”
The students have expressed interest in spending time volunteering at a nursing home, cooking a meal for their teachers, holding a coat drive, and helping clean the school. They have plans to become ambassadors of good in our school and encourage others to become responsible, caring individuals.
Their first outreach activity is holding a food drive to benefit our local food bank. Crew members will go to each homeroom and speak to their peers about the food drive and the competition they’ve developed to encourage participation. This will be the first opportunity for many of our members to try out a leadership role where their peers are looking to them for information and instruction. They are taking this new role very seriously, and we are providing them time to work together to decide what they will say and to practice delivering this message before having to do it for real. We are excited to help them see this project through and for them to experience something they planned successfully come to fruition.
These students have ideas about how to reach out to others in need, how to stop bullying, and how to simply be kind to one another, but some of them continue to say and do things that test our patience and question our will to continue giving of ourselves and our time. Still, we do continue—it takes a lot more than just creating a club and asking kids to show up to effect real change. Expectations and skills need to be strategically taught, especially those having to do with becoming a contributing member of a community that values a partnership between its citizens and law enforcement. These skills need to be modeled by everyone the students interact with, and the students need to be given the opportunity to practice the skills in a safe, supportive atmosphere.
How can we help make that happen? It simply comes down to caring and doing it. Lots of people have good ideas and good intentions; we’ve decided to jump in with two feet and all our hearts to make a difference. Our group is special because we are giving students opportunities they may not otherwise have, and people want to be a part of it. It is human nature to internalize what we experience, hear about, and read about, and to make it our personal reality. Our hope is that this program bridges the divide and that our reality becomes a culture of trust and respect among individuals, the community, and law enforcement.
This is all about people deciding to step up and create opportunities to make connections so our students—and, we hope, the entire community—know that someone cares about them and believes in them. In life, the stars don’t always align, and we don’t always hit every green light. It’s up to individuals to choose to make things happen, so why not an unlikely pair like a police officer and an assistant principal? Who’s with us?
April 14th, 2015
We are heading down to Boston this weekend for NCSM and then NCTM. We hope to see you at our booth at both conferences!
Here are the details about author signings and sessions at each event:
(Stenhouse booth #103)
Chris Moynihan, 10:00 a.m. Tuesday
Elham Kazemi, 11:30 a.m. Tuesday
Cathy Humphreys & Ruth Parker, 3:30 p.m. Tuesday
Ruth Parker, 2:45-3:45 Monday: “Enacting the CCSS: Preparing a Next Generation of Mathematics Teacher Leaders”
Elham Kazemi, 3:00-3:45 Monday: Hot Topics Conversation Café: “Developing a School-wide Learning and Coaching Culture” (Table 3)
Elham Kazemi, 10:00-11:00 Tuesday: “Developing a School-Wide Culture of Collective Risk Taking and Learning: It’s Not Easy But Why It’s Worth It”
Cathy Humphreys, 2:15-3:15 Tuesday: “High School Number Talks as Agents of Change in Classroom Culture”
Chris Moynihan, 2:15-3:15 Wednesday: “Reflecting the Light of Learning Through the Mathematical Practices: Finding the GOLD within the MPs”
(Stenhouse booth #721)
Chris Moynihan, Noon Thursday
Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, 12:30 p.m., Friday
Elham Kazemi & Allison Hintz, 2:00 p.m., Friday
Anne Collins and Linda Dacey, 4:15 p.m., Friday
Ruth Parker, 11:00 a.m. Saturday
Linda Dacey, 8:00-9:00 Thursday: “Sing; Move; Dramatize; Create Stories, Visuals, and Poems: Learn Math”
Elham Kazemi, Kassia Omohundro Wedekind & Allison Hintz, 1:00-2:15 Thursday: “Counting Matters: Why We Should Pay More Attention to Counting”*
Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, 2:00-3:00 Thursday: “Pulling Together to Promote Innovative Practices: A K-College Partnership”*
Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, 11:00-12:00 Friday: Transforming Intervention: Moving from Skills Remediation to Rich Problem Solving”
Elham Kazemi & Allison Hintz, 12:30-1:30 Friday: “Transforming Practice: Organizing Schools for Meaningful Teacher and Leader Learning”
Anne Collins, 2:45-4:00 Friday: “Modeling Concepts Across the Domains”
Ruth Parker, 9:30-10:30 Saturday: “Bringing the Standards for Mathematical Practice to Life in Classrooms”
Allison Hintz, 11:00-12:00 Saturday: “Mathematizing Children’s Books”
April 11th, 2015
We covered a lot of ground during our hour-long chat with Kelly Gallagher. We talked about his new book, In the Best Interest of Students, as well as the effects of the Common Core State Standards on the teaching of reading and writing. Here are a few memorable Tweets from the chat, as well as the fuller archived version.
April 9th, 2015
We are getting our hashtags ready for our live chat with Kelly Gallagher this Wednesday, April 8, at 7 p.m. EST. Kelly’s most recent book is In the Best Interest of Students: Staying True to What Works in the ELA Classroom. In his new book, Kelly notes that there are real strengths in the Common Core standards, and there are significant weaknesses as well. He takes the long view, reminding us that standards come and go but what remains constant is the need to stay true to what we know works in the teaching of reading, writing, speaking and listening.
You can preview the first chapter of his book online now and you can use code TWEET to receive 20% off and free shipping!
During the chat, we’ll try to cover as much as we can leave some time for your questions. Here is what we are planning on asking Kelly:
- Can you tell us a little bit about why you wrote this book and what your hopes are for the book.
- What benefits do you see in the current standards? And what are some of the weaknesses?
- What are some of the problems with the way close reading is taught?
- Why is recreational reading important?
- How can teachers deal with administrators who are not acting in the best interest of students?
- What future do you see for CCSS and what do you think is next?
What questions do you have for Kelly? Whittle it down to 140 characters and come join us Wednesday night! Follow #bestinterest during the chat and make sure to follow @stenhousepub as well for this chat and for other exciting events and news.
April 6th, 2015
Do you find it challenging to translate the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice from the Common Core State Standards into the classroom?
Christine Moynihan, author of Math Sense, has worked with teachers across the country to help them make sense of the Mathematical Practices and tap into their power. She shares a practical framework for incorporating the Practices into daily instruction in her new book, Common Core Sense.
For each Mathematical Practice, Chris defines the main purpose, describes what students often do and say as they use the practice, and recommends questions that teachers can ask and steps they can take to make the practice a powerful part of their math classroom.
The ideas are illustrated with lessons spanning grades K-5, accompanied by classroom vignettes, student work samples, and teacher observations.
Common Core Sense is an essential guide to the Mathematical Practices for all K-5 teachers. You can now preview the entire book online!
April 2nd, 2015