What if you weren’t afraid of math?

The majority of elementary school teachers had negative experiences as math students, and many continue to dislike or avoid mathematics as adults. In her inspiring speech at ShadowCon during this year’s NCTM conference in Boston, Tracy Zager asked the audience to look at how we can better understand and support our colleagues, so they can reframe their personal relationships with math and teach better than they were taught.

Tracy is the author of the upcoming book Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms (to be published in 2016 by Stenhouse Publishers). She also works with schools as a coach/consultant, and loves learning together with teachers and students over time. Watch a video of her speech below and then read her calls to action and see what you can implement in your school/classroom.

Call to Action

  • This is a collection of words mathematicians’ use when they talk about mathematics. Discuss it with your colleagues, making an extra effort to include everyone.
  • Each person should choose a word that appeals most to him or her. It should be a word that’s not currently a big part of your math teaching and learning, but you wish it were.
  • Using your colleagues as resources and collaborators, make the word you chose central to the planning, teaching, and learning of your next lesson. Don’t skimp on the conversation with your team–that’s part of the point!
  • Teach the lesson. Afterwards, get back together with your colleagues and talk about it. What was different for each of you? What was different for your students?
  • If it works for you, consider sharing the image and exploring it with your students as well. There are lots of possibilities here.
  • Write a few paragraphs here so we can learn together. Describe what happened and what you learned. What ideas do you and your colleagues have for building on this exercise?

Add comment June 9th, 2015

Now Online: Power Up

This accessible, hands-on book shares a wealth of creative lesson ideas, how-to examples, useful tools, and collaboration tips for educators ramping up their technology skills to improve teaching and enrich learning for all students.
—Brian Lewis, CEO, ISTE

A must-read book for those who are already in 1:1 mobile device situations and are looking for good ideas, for those who are planning a 1:1 initiative, and for any educator who wants to learn pedagogically sound ways to embed technology into teaching and learning and the practical methods to do so!
—Kathy Schrock, Educational Technologist and Speaker

power-upIn Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning, Google Certified Teachers Diana Neebe and Jen Roberts draw on research and their extensive experience working with teachers to share the keys to success when teaching with a computer or tablet for every student.

This is the book your teachers need to understand the changes in pedagogy, planning, classroom organization, time management, and collaboration that will help them be successful in a 1:1 environment. With detailed classroom examples, questions, and suggestions, readers will come away with a clear sense of how a fully implemented 1:1 classroom operates. The companion study guide and website provide rich resources for PD leaders.

The full-text preview and the e-book version are available now, and you can also preorder the print version which ships later this month.

Add comment June 8th, 2015

Blogstitute 2015 coming your way!

blogsitute2015

It is hard to believe that the Stenhouse Summer Blogstitute is celebrating its fifth anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, we have lined up an extraordinary selection of authors and blog posts for you for a record six weeks of easy-breezy online professional development.

Starting Monday, June 15, you will find posts here from:
Kate Messner
Kelly Gallagher
Jeff Anderson
Janet Allen
Mark Overmeyer
Jennifer Fletcher
Mary Anne Buckley
Chris Moynihan
Diana Neebe and Jennifer Roberts
Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris
Liz Hale
Brenda Overturf

We will post two blog entries each week during the Blogstitute. The more you visit and comment, the more chances you’ll have to win a package of 12 — yes, TWELVE — books, one from each of the authors or author pairs mentioned above. We’ll be Tweeting using #blogstitute15 and another winner will come from those who retweet us during the six weeks.

I hope you will tune in and spend a few weeks with us and your fellow teachers again! See you soon!

48 comments June 1st, 2015

A new book is born

It is always exciting when we start to work on a new project with a new author — at least a new author to us. Last week Paula Bourque stopped by our editorial meeting to witness the official “turnover” of her manuscript. She’s done the hard part, now it is up to our production team, including Louisa Irele (right) to produce the book that you will hold in your hands. Stay tuned!

Author Paula Bourque with Louisa.

Author Paula Bourque with Louisa.

1 comment May 28th, 2015

The Power of Peer Conferring

If you are thinking about introducing peer conferences into your writing workshop, Mark Overmeyer has some advice for you! His new book, Let’s Talk! is full of ideas on how to make conferences more manageable and meaningful.

The Power of Peer Conferring
By Mark Overmeyer

lets-talkStudents should be encouraged to confer with one another about their writing. But if peer conferring is not carefully framed for students, some unintentional things may happen.

If your writers think that working with a peer is an opportunity to “be the teacher,” there may be some negative side effects. I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was a young child. Whenever I had the opportunity to work with a partner, I tended to be a bit bossy. And because I desperately wanted to “teach” something, I would make things up if I had nothing to offer. So, if asked to work with a peer in writing, I loved marking his or her paper up and giving it some kind of score or grade. My desire to be a teacher led me to take over the writing for another student, which, of course, did not help the writer at all.

Here are some tips for making peer conferences successful for all students:

Suggest that peers question and wonder rather than jump straight to giving advice.

Peers might be more successful at asking questions of one another than giving advice, especially early in a peer-conferring experience. After a writer shares, the reader might ask a few clarifying questions that can then nudge the writer to think of more details to add. I find that peers have more authentic wonderings because they often experience the world in the same way as their peers. They might ask better clarifying questions than an adult because they have less experience with filling in the blanks of a slightly confusing narrative.

Make the roles of reader/listener and writer clear.

The reader/listener can begin by praising the writer for something specifically accomplished, followed by suggestions. It is perhaps best to think of these offerings as “suggestions” rather than “teaching points,” because successful peer conferences require the writer to make final decisions about what to add, delete, or change based on peer suggestions. In a teacher-student conference, it is more likely that a teacher will actually require a writer to try something to improve the writing, because the teacher’s role includes helping the student to become a more flexible writer. In a peer conference, however, the writer has to make the final decision about what advice to take and what changes, if any, to make.

Let the writer take the lead.

Another way to increase the success of a peer conference is to ask the writer to begin by writing on a sticky note where he or she thinks support is needed. If the writer sets the agenda for the conference, he or she is more likely to receive helpful advice from the peer reader.

Focus on content, not grammar and mechanics.

One key to successful peer conferences is to ask students to focus on content rather than on conventions. All writers in your classroom have the advantage of having lived as long as their peers in your class. They have similar life experiences in the sense that fourth graders see the world through fourth-grade eyes, not through adult eyes. When the focus is on content and not on conventions, I no longer have to worry about grouping a “strong” writer with a “struggling” writer. These kinds of labels limit expectations for writers in general, but they can cause particular harm in a peer conference. When setting up peer conferences, I am careful about grouping students together for the purposes of supporting one another but not based on my assumptions about the levels of their writing. Remember what Carl Anderson says about writing conferences: they provide an opportunity for conversation. I firmly believe that all of my students can engage in meaningful conversations about their work if the focus is on content.

The biggest danger in allowing peers to provide advice on conventions is that students tend to take their friends’ advice, even if it is wrong. A peer may unknowingly “help” a fellow writer by correcting a mistake that wasn’t an error to begin with. Editing for conventions is the work of the writer, with the support of the teacher—not the work of his or her peers.

Make peer conferences a choice, not a requirement.

I believe in the power of peer conferences, but once they are established and students can meet with peers independently, I do not require students to confer for every piece of writing. My writers need to know that although it is okay to seek advice from a peer at any stage of the writing process, it is also okay to continue writing without seeking support. I find that, when given a choice, students work with peers in more meaningful and authentic ways because they aren’t doing so to please me or to meet the requirement on a checklist. They are meeting with a peer because they want to meet with another writer.

Debrief with students about the benefits and potential pitfalls of peer conferences.

If you want to know how peer conferences are working in your classroom, go directly to the source: ask your students. After a few rounds of peer conferences, you might gather your students and ask for their honest feedback about the opportunity to talk with their peers. Consider asking questions like, “What do you think about peer conferences? What is working? What might make it better?”

Make sure you encourage students to speak in positive terms, and do not allow them to name the peers they worked with as writing partners. This is why I suggest that you debrief after a few sessions of practicing peer conferences. If you debrief after only one opportunity for peers to work together, some students may feel singled out. They may interpret their partners’ comments as a negative reflection on them.

Students might be given a few language frames to help with this debrief:

“One thing that helps me as a writer is when the reader . . .”

“The kind of advice that helped me the most was when . . .”

“It would have been better if . . .”

When used effectively, peer conferences are a powerful tool for creating more independent, motivated writers in your classroom. An added benefit is that students tend to use more age-appropriate voice in their writing. When students confer only with me, my writing biases tend to bleed through: I love descriptive writing and the use of dialogue. I don’t know much about how to infuse humor. I struggle with passive voice, so sometimes I don’t even notice that writers are not using active verbs. Allowing peers to work together on their writing content lets them grow in ways I can’t provide as just one voice offering praise and advice.

Add comment May 21st, 2015

The Power of the Memorized Line

Sarah Cooper is back this week with this thoughtful post about the importance and power of memorizing lines — from history, from poetry, from speeches. She argues that having a thorough knowledge of a subject helps students dive further into analysis and understanding and that these memorized lines can become companions for life.

Cooper author photo bigger resolutionThe Power of the Memorized Line
By Sarah Cooper

My mother, an English teacher, was master of the literary one-liner.

“There’s a certain Slant of light,/Winter Afternoons,” she’d muse while visiting Boston in December, the sun setting just after 4:00 p.m. Emily Dickinson’s poetry became a way for my mom, a longtime Californian, to manage the gloom.

Well into my adulthood, whenever I said anything remotely snide, my mom would whip out King Lear: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a thankless child.” Sometimes she meant it more than others.

And, faced with any situation in which despair threatened to overwhelm hope, she would quote William Faulkner’s 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.” I’ve pulled out that one myself when discussing historical catastrophes with students.

At their worst, such displays of erudition can remind us of Monica in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love, who “knows one line from every poet.” At any remotely apropos conversational moment, Monica inserts an allusion to make herself look smart.

At their best, however, the right quotations, plucked from long ago—in the middle of a classroom or the middle of the night—can ignite memory and make us feel we’re not alone.

Memorization might seem old-fashioned, a straggler behind the excitement of inquiry learning and design thinking. Yet mastering a substantial body of knowledge can lead to playful analysis.

“The stronger one’s knowledge about the subject at hand, the more nuanced one’s creativity can be in addressing a new problem,” assert the authors of the recent book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, which applies cognitive science research to memory techniques.

When I taught English, my students often memorized a poem as part of a larger poetry project. Now that I teach U.S. history, each year I choose a couple of quotations that students must memorize verbatim, keeping in mind poet Robert Pinsky’s observation that “a people is defined and unified not by blood but by shared memory.”

Last semester, the eighth graders memorized the opening to the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Ideally these tenets will echo in their ears any time they see rights being taken away.

Next year, I hope to ask students to internalize a more subversive section of the same paragraph, which declares that “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.” We live in inertia until something propels us otherwise, an idea I would like them to seize upon as they become adult citizens.

This semester, students are memorizing the final sentence of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Why this particular sentence, laden with prepositional phrases?

The students told me a bit of “why” themselves after they circled resonant language in class: charity, strive, bind, cherish, just and lasting peace. These words aspire to create community in the face of deep conflict.

Lincoln’s grand ending also invites us into a national discussion of peace and war that has persisted for 150 years.

President Gerald Ford held Lincoln’s speech in mind when he said in April 1975 that “the time has come to look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the Nation’s wounds, and to restore its health and its optimistic self-confidence.” Ford hoped that an appeal to Lincoln’s graciousness would help heal the rancor of Vietnam.

So too did Barack Obama hail toward Lincoln in his Nobel Peace Prize speech in 2009, when he spoke of “three ways that we can build a just and lasting peace.” Echoing the words of others does not simply show a familiarity with history but also gives strength to persevere through difficult work.

As with Lincoln’s speeches, the best documents of American history contain a great deal of poetry. Memorizing such rich language gives us what poet Billy Collins calls “the pleasure of companionship” from something we have set to heart. “When you internalize a poem,” Collins says, “it becomes something inside of you. You’re able to walk around with it. It becomes a companion.”

My mother’s quotations—Faulkner, Shakespeare, Dickinson, all—have walked around with me for a lifetime.

Similarly, I think all of us hope that the documents, speeches, and novels we teach might in some way become “companions” for our students in future years—when they feel beleaguered, when they feel emboldened, or when they simply need to remember that someone else has faced their struggles before.

Add comment May 18th, 2015

Remembering Mary Shorey

maryshorey

Staff, students, and parents at Pritchett School in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, will dedicate the new library/media center as The Dr. Mary C. Shorey Learning Center on May 14, in honor of their colleague and teacher who died last year. Shorey, co-author of Many Texts, Many Voices (Stenhouse, 2012), taught at Pritchett for many years and shared her students’ deep explorations with critical inquiry, social justice, and multimodal literacy in the book.

Add comment May 13th, 2015

Watch Two Talks from ShadowCon

If you missed the excitement and buzz of ShadowCon — the alternative, teacher-led mini-conference during NCTM — here is your chance to revisit all of the speeches and calls to action. We are excited to post one speech here from one of our own authors, Elham Kazemi, who, along with Allison Hintz, wrote Intentional Talk. The second speech is by Laila Nur, who encourages math teachers to bring humor into their classroooms. You can find out more about ShadowCon and see how other teachers are implementing the calls to action on their website.

Elham Kazemi

Call to Action from Elham:

My call to action is for you to make collective learning opportunities happen by doing the following:

  • Find two teacher friends or more (over time, your principal would be a strategic bonus). Take something you want to try from this conference, from a book, from the math twitter blogosphere. But don’t try it out alone. Explain the idea of owning the lesson together and set some norms for collaboration and risk taking.
  • Plan together and identify some questions you have about your students. Then teach together, while you sit among your students. Call teacher time outs during the lesson that let you pursue ideas, shift direction, or experiment with a next good question.
  • Share back with us what you tried and what you learned from this new way of making practice public and learning together.

Laila Nur

Call to Action from Laila:

Incorporate mathematical and/or educational humor into your class at least once a week for the next four weeks (or longer). Then:

  • Describe how you implemented humor into your lesson/class time.
  • How comfortable did you feel during implementation?
  • Take note of changes in students’ behavior and attitude over time. How did students respond?
  • Do students seem more confident or comfortable speaking in front of a group?

Add comment May 12th, 2015

The Results of Our Twitter Poetry Contest

We are excited to announce the winner and honorable mentions of our Twitter Poetry contest. The challenge was to write a poem in 140 characters or less. Shirley McPhillips, poet and author of the recent book Poem Central, served as our judge.

And the winner is….

HER by Erika Zeccardi

curved back
leans against the maple,
bare branches outstretched.
Faint whispers of red river valley
dance across the yard

IMG_1747

Honorable mentions:

BROTHER LUCIEN EXPLAINS THE VOW OF SILENCE AT FONTENELLE ABBEY

Allowed to speak? Yes.
Of course. But always we must
have something to say.

–Carol Kellogg

Phoenix rises from ashes
Memories in flashes
Fall hard on ground
Voices call her
Daggers take her
A new day begins

–A.T.

Clairvoyance?
Tomorrow’s mystery today?
Please, no.
Now needs full attention.
I can’t afford spending
today with tomorrow.

–Chris Kostenko

Congratulations to Erika, as well as to Chris, A.T., and Carol! Keep writing!

3 comments May 8th, 2015

Six calls to action at Shadowcon

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.

tracy

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.

elham

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.
laila

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.

kristin

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.

christopher

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.

michael

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.

1 comment April 28th, 2015

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