I still don’t understand twitter. That is, I get how it works, how one can write and read tweets, like/dislike tweets, comment on them, retweet, etc., (whether or not they contain truth or have value).  All actions that seem available in all forms of social media, including blogs.  I get that it is about sharing.

I am not inclined to have my personal or professional life revolve around social media.  Maybe its generational, maybe it just me being selective or making priorities. Maybe my skepticism and reluctance are based on misconceptions and ignorance. Or all of the above. I know I am not interested in the self-centered, everybody-look-at-me aspect, although I don’t think that’s what people have in mind when they encourage me to get on twitter for professional purposes.

I guess what I don’t understand is, what DO they have in mind?  What is it they are asking of me? Why do they feel this is important?  What are the advantages and disadvantages?  Is it possible to use twitter to have a worthwhile conversation? If so, how?   I am not even sure what questions to ask about twitter that will convince me that it is worth my time and effort.

What am I missing, here?

PS.  In the spirit of making it all about me (and to include a visual in all this boring text)… lookie what I did!


UPDATE (10 minutes later)

It occurs to me that maybe I should stop overthinking and just get a twitter account and start looking at what y’all are doing and saying.


Its been so long since I’ve blogged that I had to look up my password.

One of the many reasons for my little hiatus is that there are plenty of UH-MAZING blogs out there– that people actually follow and read– making what I think and wonder and write about rather…superfluous.

For example, Ilana Horn’s insightful, intelligent, inspirational blog.  Informed and intriguing.   I recently started following, and back-read several posts she has written on status in the classroom, in part because I believe know status is deterimental to equitable learning yet is created and deeply ingrained and even actively perpetuated in the Old School system/institution of teaching and learning.  She explains it all  very clearly in a series of posts:

Status: The Social Organization of “Smartness”

Seeing Status in the Classroom

What Does it Mean to be Smart in Mathematics

Recognizing Smartness and Addressing Status in the Classroom

This morning (since I kind-of overdid it hauling bark dust yesterday), I decided to chill a bit and create a list of competencies I value in my classroom.  Not besides “fast calculations and right answers”, but instead of.  A definite and requisite shift in classroom currency if one is striving to achieve an active and equitable learning culture.

In no particular order….

Students in the role of sense-makers.
Connections between mathematical ideas.
Connections between representations and models.
Clear communication of thinking (the WHY), even if incomplete or unsure.
Active and intentional listening to all peers.
Multiple strategies and solution paths.
Gaining insights by making mistakes.
Willingness to revise thinking and understanding.
Great respect for the value of every person, their learning, and the strengths they already have.
Genuine Questions and Wonderings.
Collaboration in learning as a community.
Flexible thinking.
Creative thinking.
Visual/alternative representations of reasoning and ideas.
Connections between multiple representations.
Connections between different strategies.
AHA and WTF* moments.
Active awareness and regulation of learning.
Attention to reasonableness of solutions (yours and others’).
Private time to think (and respecting it).
Critique of thinking, reasoning (not people).
Critical and deep thinking.
Understanding the thinking of others, even when it differs from your own.
Respectful disagreement.
Respect for (and celebration of) strengths and strategies that differ from one’s own.
Genuine/legitimate peer support in learning.
Growth mindset.
Engagement and involvement.
Willingness to start even if you are not sure.
Equitable collaboration.
Consideration of ideas other than your own.
Ability and willingness to adjust your reasoning/opinion and change your mind.
Learning from peers.

Wow, that list is a lot longer than I expected.  Which would you add, revise, or omit?  Why?

Here’s what I might do with such a list.  At the beginning of the school year, cut it up and have students in small groups sort them into 2-5 or so categories, their choice.  Sorting activities are a worthwhile way to get kids talking to each other, voicing opinions, making choices.  Listen in, because you’re finding out about them, too.  Notice common choices as well as different ones.  Ask groups to explain their categories to you.

Then, as a whole class, share and discuss.  Ask them to notice things.  I have NO IDEA what will happen here, but I’m wondering if anyone will notice that “right answers”, “smart”, “good grades”, “fast thinking” and those types of competencies typically over-valued (and detrimental to learning) are MISSING.  So are generic behavior-type rules, like arrive on time, do your homework, pay attention….Will they notice the focus on inclusiveness and learning instead of on first and fastest?  Will they identify with some of them?  I’m really curious about how kids will sort these and what they will say!  Finally (if there are enough common themes?), use their input to develop a SHORT list of classroom norms that recognize and support these valuable competencies.



*Probably should change this to WTH What the Heck, or HIW Hold it, What!? Or some such thing more socially appropriate, right?

WTF moments are not moments of frustration, though.  They are moments of realizing something is amiss, some reasoning, intuition, or process is not going the way you expected, or the solution make no sense.  Disequilibrium and perplexity reside here.  In a sense, these moments are insights, too, a realization that an adjustment is needed;  understanding WHY one path works and the other does not paves the way to the bigger insight (AHA!) and gains in learning and understanding.  When students people share their thinking, they tend to leave the WTF moments out and share only what worked, saving face and strengthening the currency of “right” answers.  However, in a healthy, inclusive culture of learning, WTF moments are valued as an important and natural part of the learning process, worthy of sharing, even celebrating!   “First, we thought….because….then we. saw…realized…tried….because….figured out….learned….”. Even “First we tried….because…not working……and now we wonder….not sure….have some questions…..”

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.

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

Omit the Question Omit Link

Reverse the Order   Reverse 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!

Casually Retired, Year 1

As the beginning of The Second Year of Me Not Teaching draws closer, I find myself pondering my situation. My decision to “retire” at the end of the 14-15 school year remains completely right and wise, and I am so grateful on virtually a daily basis to be able to “be there” for and with my family. It’s pretty damn wonderful.

What surprises me however is how much I continue think about teaching and learning, about schools and education. That I am still quite invested in growing professionally in spite of the fact that I do not currently have a job, have a classroom, have students, have colleagues. That I get excited when I read insightful blogs or arrive at a personal aha moment, yet am frustrated because the conversations I crave remain elusive. I feel more informed, better equipped, a tad wiser, and inspired. In my imagination, I am able to move assertively and confidently toward becoming the teacher I really want to be.  I still want to Be the Change, to make a difference.

Just not full time. And not yet.

In the meantime, I’ll keep reading and learning and doing this irregular blogging thing. Periodically I wonder why I bother, feel like I will remain invisible/insignificant forever, but then remind myself that for now it’s enough to be interested (even if uninteresting). Whatever I’ve gained from my time reflecting this past year seems to have become the foot wedged in the teaching-learning door, keeping it decidedly ajar.

So I’ll continue to post what I find interesting, inspirational, and insightful. Someday someone somewhere may be glad I did. For now, I am glad that I can.