Getting Schooled

Emoji Graph from Youcubed

I subbed for Jackie this last Wednesday.                                                                                       We had already planned to do Week 2, Day 2 from Youcubed’s WIM , which begins with a video about the importance of mistakes in learning, then goes right into looking at this graph and doing some Noticing and Wondering.

This was my Very First Time Ever with Notice-Wonder.  I’ve never been trained, never taken a workshop, never seen it modeled; my sum knowledge and enthusiasm comes from reading blogs. Seemed straightforward enough, easy-peasy. After Noticing and Wondering in four 7th grade classes, here are my take-aways:

N-W takes up a lot of time.  A.  Lot. All observations are supposed to be recorded, but not all observations appear to be…worthy of pursuit, mathematically or otherwise.  I can see how one might easily discard this routine as a ginormous consumer of precious time because one feels pressured to keep up a particular pace and one is unsure about committing so much time to noticing and wondering. I can see it turning into a pointless snooze-fest for students–especially if it is facilitated by a rookie who grossly underestimates the time needed and is ignorant of the routine’s nuances and the students regrettably never get to the engaging and worthwhile group activity!

Well, well.  This routine is much more complex and challenging to successfully implement than it appears on the surface; its going to take time for me (us) to improve facilitation and timing.  (Workshop, anyone?) I noticed that the same few voices were willing to share (although I had them start N-W in small groups), and many students did not pay any attention to what their peers were saying, so I wonder what needs to happen to make it more inclusive, engaging, and valued.

That said, I think the N-W routine, although undeniably a time-user, is not a time waster;  it is instead a commitment to and and an investment in students and the culture of learning.  At least that’s what I hear.  However, I suspect its not enough for the teacher to be committed; students have to believe in it as well. Their impression, it seemed, was that it was more of sharing-time (for some) rather than an intentional routine aimed specifically to generate curiosity and gain insights, which in turn pave the way to new learning for ALL.  How do I help them get there???  How do I facilitate quality experiences so that students value the process and can internalize/transfer it from class, to group, to individual problem-solving?

In my single, eye-opening experience, what students noticed was surprisingly revealing, and from class to class, diverse. In spite of the bumpy first ride, I was glad I took the plunge. There just so much more to it than I anticipated, so much figure out. (Help, please!)

Before That….

I got so gung-ho about my previous post on our First Ever Talking Points that I forgot I already had a draft in the queue.  So here it is, out of order.  Not that it’s earth-shattering, it’s just part of the journey.

“Jackie” and I met on Labor Day to do some planning. We decided that margaritas would impede rather than enhance our productivity. Hmmm.

In my ongoing effort to keep our work Jackie-centered and not Pat-centered (yes, this is difficult for me!), I asked her where she wanted to start. She obviously had been thinking about this (YAY) because she got right on it:

I want to use activities and tasks that engage students and move their learning forward.

(As I write this, I realize that I SHOULD HAVE asked her what she meant by engaged, and for examples of what she didn’t want. Agh! Missed opportunity!! Valuable mistake!!!)

What I did instead was to clarify “engaged” myself– mentally engaging, requiring active thinking. Not busy work. Some people think busy (and quiet) = engaged.

She and the other 7th grade math teachers at her school have agreed to start with ratios and proportions. I unfortunately continued to stomp idiotically all over her space by suggesting that we determine what the Big Ideas were (stomp stomp) and then bulldozed ahead to tell her what I thought they were. (STOMP STOMP STOMP!)

*sigh*  I think I get overly-enthusiastic because I have spent an embarrassing amount of time thinking and reading and writing and thinking some more about ratios and proportionality. (Integers, too, BTW.) And I don’t have an outlet, except this blog that remains unread. However, the point of this blog- reflection-journal-thing about Jackie and Pat’s Great Adventure is for me (Pat) to learn, and what I am learning at this moment is that I need to BACK OFF a bit and provide Jackie room for her voice. I still wonder how I should go about preparing, content-wise, for collaboration without over-preparing and as a result, overstep.  Even if she agrees with me, it’s not OK. How do I know if she really agrees? I will never know what she thinks or wonders about if I don’t shut up an listen.

Hmmm, it’s just like teaching. Wellwaddayaknow.

Back to the story, us sipping our very fine water and me saying I thought the Big Idea (that unfortunately gets overlooked) in proportional reasoning is that ratios (and rates) are all about RELATIONSHIPS.

One of us (I hope it was her) suggested we do some actual planning. We penciled in two days for WIM Week 2 Day 1 to develop group norms and introduce growth mindsets. Then on my first day volunteering, we’re going to introduce the Talking Points protocol together.   After the weekend, she’s going to do a shorter TP related to ratios, and launch a task comparing prices of liquids (inspired by this post by Dan Meyer). To practice with proportional ratios, she’s going to ask students to bring in a favorite family recipe. On Wednesday, I’m going to sub for her (how great is that?) and do WIM Week 2 Day 2, which fits well with our Big Idea of RELATIONSHIPS.
Being even less familiar with Talking Points than I am (isn’t it great that she is willing to trust me and try?), Jackie has questions. She’s wondering about their purpose and use,  just trying to wrap her head around it. It was a bit challenging for me to answer her questions satisfactorily because I only know what I have read and have no personal experiences or training, either.  It just sounds…right.  Returning to her original statement about “engaging and moving learning forward”,  I reiterated that it’s value lies in engaging every student in a manner that feels equitable and safe.  If I understood her correctly, she is struggling to see how to intentionally use TP to move learning forward. Now I wonder, too.

With that question unresolved for now, we came up with the first ratio TP to assess/access student prior knowledge before launching the Price of Liquids lesson.

If Ken takes less time on his morning jog than Barbie does on hers, he’s a faster runner.

UPDATE: I have developed these additional points and sent them to Jackie for her to edit (add, delete, re-order, re-word, whatever).

TP (Ratios)
1.  If Ken takes less time on his morning jog than Barbie does on hers, he’s a faster runner.
2.  The United States should switch to using the metric system.
3.  Percents are ratios.
4.  Ratios are really just fractions.
5.  I use math when I shop.
6.  Numbers in math are easier to understand when they are in context and mean something.

Amazing and Amazed

Here’s the short version:

If you have never folded Talking Points into your lessons, you should find out how HERE or  PERHAPS HERE  and do it. It is totally worth every minute in any content area.

Here’s the long version:

Jackie and I launched Talking Points last Friday, the first time for either of us. We didn’t present it at all like we had planned due to technical snafus, but I think the wing-it method we came up with worked just fine, if not perhaps better.

We projected only the first TP, verbally explained the process, and took questions. Then with two student volunteers, modeled all 3 rounds of the TP.   Jackie decided to play a role in which she changed her mind, I pushed the growth mindset message, and the student volunteers were very natural and took their job seriously.

We let the students know we were all new to this protocol, so mistakes might be made, and that’s OK.   That this was not for a grade, that there were no right answers, and they were not trying to get a consensus. That this activity supported the math practices, especially viable arguments and listening to/critiquing the reasoning of others (a life skill, BTW). We passed out two sets of 5 TPs, set the timer for 8 minutes, and said GO. Jackie and I roamed the room listening in, only intervening a couple of times in regards to the following the protocol.


After the timer went off, we stopped and asked for some feedback. What did you group do well? What did you find challenging? Did anyone change their minds?

We had just enough time to spend on the last 5 TPs. We collected their papers and thanked them for working so hard.


After 4 classes of Talking Points, we debriefed.

We noticed:

  • Students were very engaged the entire time.
  • They took it seriously and we heard a lot of thoughtful and interesting reasoning.
  • There was usually at least one person in each group that would help keep the group focused.
  • The time went very quickly.
  • It was HARD to not respond to what students were saying.
  • Students interpreted the statements in a variety of ways, sometimes unexpected.
  • The routine was POWERFUL: every student had a voice today, every student was listened to.
  • Students were very respectful.
  • We heard a mix of fixed and open mindsets.
  • Students were willing to change their minds.
  • TP is challenging for Newcomer ELD students.

We wondered:

  • Is there a way to collect data on which students changed their minds? On which points? (Still thinking about this.)
  • Do we need or want group tallies? What is the best way to collect them? (Don’t yet know.)
  • What will we (especially Jackie) do with this data?
  • Is it possible to have just 1-2 Talking Point as a opener to a lesson? (We think yes!)
  • As a formative assessment? (Maybe so– student familiarity with the format may prove helpful!)

Before we ran out of time (or answered all of our questions), we turned our attention to next Monday’s lesson, Ratios of Fluids*. I had come up with 6 TPs (detailed last post    next post) to open the lesson, and Jackie thinks maybe she’ll just use the two she feels are most related to the lesson goals. Unfortunately, we had to stop before we were done thinking and reflecting.  Teachers just don’t have enough time!

All in all, a truly loverly day! I am pretty sure I took over the class way too much, and am definitely going to have to figure out how to back off and support Jackie and her learning.

*I plan to post my proposal/take. Plan. As in it might happen.  Or not.

PS. Jackie texted me this:  We did great together.  I felt good all day.   That makes me so happy!

Open That Can, Already!

I had coffee today with a person I have never met before.  (Why is uninteresting.)  When she found out I had been a teacher, she said she felt school should not be about telling students what to think, but rather about teaching them how to think.

Why is this type of comment so refreshing to hear?  Is this view that uncommon?  Who, outside of education, shares it?  Who, inside, does not?

If I were in charge of PD at a school AND wanted to develop an empowering and effective learning culture for both students and staff, I would lay it on the line and ask:

What is the purpose of school?

Then invest time answering it together, even if it takes all year.  I bet that can of worms would reveal quite a bit about one’s staff and what they need to move their pedagogy forward.







It Begins….

I blogged recently about a joint adventure a friend and math teacher (“Jackie”) and I have decided to embark upon. We had just enough time to squeeze in our initial meeting a couple of days before school started up again and didn’t spend a lot of time wishing we had this idea at the beginning of summer….oh well. Better late than never.

We’re both new at this, at our respective roles, which we don’t yet fully understand. At coaching, at collaboration, at whatever this is or will be.

We currently have rather different teaching styles. She calls herself a direct-instruction teacher, but I know she does more than transmit information. Evidence:

  • She reviews area of a rectangle with students, then tells them that every area formula (they will be using in MS) is connected to A = bh and she believes they can reason them out. And they do.
  • When a student wondered out loud how many posters of (insert celebrity) it would take to cover all the walls in the classroom, she dropped her plans and let the students, now totally engaged, work on finding the answer.
  • Her daughter, home from college, was a guest speaker. She showed the class a map of her campus (sans scale), which contained an oval grassy common area, and then challenged them to create a scale and find the area of it. Students DUG IN.
  • She does not show kids “how to” do cross-multiplication, because she feels (like I do) that it is meaningless to someone who is learning about proportionality. It is a “magical” way to get the “right” answer but is not a way to achieve relational understanding. It values HOW over WHY. Bleck.

I tried to not sound like a therapist when I asked her, “How did you feel, on those days?” She replied Fabulous. I got chills.

Personally, I identify with student-centered learning, with constructivist theories, and with empowering students. (Not that I excel at these things, but my heart and mind and pedagogical beliefs orient in that direction.) Jackie is, thankfully, open to growth. A year ago, she participated in a district-arranged math pedagogy class  that she found was full of great ideas . Yet she felt the program lacked the information and support she needed throughout the year that would allow her to successfully implement said ideas and change her practice.

The plan is for me to provide that support– with information, with collaboration, with resources, inspiration, with whatever she needs– to move her forward, significantly yet comfortably.  This plan is still a tad vague, but we’re committed.

My first question to her was:  What is your goal?

I want to improve my relationships with students. Last year sucked. I felt like a bad teacher. I think having more hands-on, student-centered activities and tasks will improve the culture of my classroom. I also want to continue to use some of the things I learned about in Math Studio, like questioning strategies.*

A fine goal, to be sure. (No, it’s not a SMARTe goal. We have not even talked about collecting data. This goal is personally meaningful to Jackie, and that matters.)

We noted that our experiences have shown us that students (as passive learners) do not use strategies shared (by teacher) unless prompted, do not seem to take on the responsibility of sense-making (do they even know HOW?) and as a result, learning bogs down.

Which was a perfect segue for me to briefly described some inspirational routines I’ve been reading about that I truly believe will go a long way to build a community that focuses on cooperative learning and student sense-making rather than on right/wrong answers and here’s-how-to-get-them.

Notice and Wonder       N/W link 1   N/W link 2

Talking Points  TP link 1    TP link 2

Which One Doesn’t Belong   WODB link

Low floor, high ceiling tasks  LF/HC link 1   LF/HC link 2

Creating a need   Need link

Leave off the question  Omit Q link

I think each of these choices are worth implementing and feel manageable.  All of them are designed with growth mindsets and active learning cultures in mind; their intended purpose is to increase student talk, student curiosity, student engagement, and student ownership of learning.  Jackie and I agreed that taking on the Grading Monster or Homework Ogre are both Way Too Big for us at this point (made more complex by our somewhat conflicting opinions), although I now wonder (to myself) if increasing actionable feedback and reducing use of points/ grades would be something to keep on the back burner.

We spent more than a little time checking out this GEM that recently fell into my lap out of the MTBoS universe. Gotta use that stuff, somehow, somewhere. We both signed up.  (It’s FREE!  Do it now!)

I followed up our meeting by sending her the two Talking Points links (from above) and  this one from Fawn Nguyen  because she’s so amazing/inspirational/hysterical and it was so timely. I don’t want to overwhelm Jackie and suck up her already too-little time with a gazillion emails and links; the Internet and MTBoS can be quite the bottomless rabbit hole. Honestly, I don’t know how people who clearly put a lot a time and energy into teaching their very best all day long have any time or energy to be online figuring out how to do it better.  Clearly they either are better organized than I am, need far less sleep, or have a clone.

*Paraphrased, OK?

The Proposal

A couple of weeks ago, I thought holy shit, summer vacation is almost over and I haven’t met up with my friend and fellow not-retired math teacher for a coffee! So I texted her and we arranged what turned out to be a nice long visit in a park on a sunny, 98˚ day.  We got caught up with each other’s lives and laughed ourselves silly.  There was just one conversation in particular I want to share.

Last year, a different friend (who is also a math teacher) very graciously and generously let me volunteer in her classroom once a week. I’m not sure how helpful/useful I was, but it was tons of fun for me. It really helped me stay connected to teaching and learning and kids and school, helped me feel useful in a teachery sort of way.  I am so grateful.  (She, too, is now retired.  In case you were wondering, I did manage to have coffee with her this summer as well.)

So I mentioned to my not-retired friend (let’s call her Jackie) that I was not sure what volunteering would look like for me this coming year, since my other option retired. This was basically what happened next:

Jackie: You could come into my class.
Me: Really? Really?
Jackie: Well, of course.
Me: REALLY? I thought….for some reason my impressions was…I didn’t realize….um..
Jackie: What? That I wouldn’t want you there? Pfffft. You could even teach, if you want.
Me: (Silent for a moment.) OK, this is… I mean…What if….I’ve got this idea….
Jackie (waits for me to pull myself together)
Me: OK, volunteering. Definitely. Yes!  Thank you. Here’s what else: I’ve spent the last year reading all kinds of blogs online, I’ve taken this course, done a lot of thinking, got a billion things I want to try out but can’t. Would you be interested in doing some collaborating? Some planning together? Some unofficial co-teaching?
Jackie: Yes, I would.

We tossed the idea around a bit more, thought maybe we should run our idea past admin.  Decided we were getting too hot and sticky, splashed our feet in the public kiddie pool for a bit before parting ways. Me, excited and strangely nervous.

I spent some time that evening thinking about what our roles should be in our collaboration. I ended up sending her an email that included this:

I think this adventure should be all about you, your needs, your goals, your learning,
and those of your students. I’m the resource there to support you, to empower you,
help you determine your goals, to give you feedback, ideas, etc. I obviously will have
my own goals, but not my own agenda. Whatever we end up doing, it should push us both
just a little outside our comfort zone, have value, and a positive impact on class culture and student learning. We should give ourselves permission to fumble around
a bit and make mistakes and also allow ourselves the time we need to improve
and figure things out. IMO, that’s what learning is.

She quickly shot back that she finds those exact things IMPERATIVE. Good, we’re on the same page.

It goes without saying, but I’m saying it anyways:  I’m pretty excited!