Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Minds on Math Chapter 10 - Sharing and Reflection

Chapter 9 stressed the importance of students sharing and reflecting upon their work.  Again, I felt as I was reading this, that this was something I did fairly well in ELA, but under-utilize it in math.  It is important for students to think about their not only the mathematics they are learning, but their own thinking.

On pages 162-163, Ward Hoffer lists questions to use in reflection.  As I read these questions, it dawned on me that I really needed to compile some of the great lists of questions that Ward Hoffer shares in the book.  So I set out to find my favorite lists.  I wanted to put them in an easy-to-use booklet that I could carry with me as I circulated the classroom.  This is what I came up with...

I'm going to cut them apart and have them spiral bound at an office supply store.  There were so many useful things in this book and I wanted a way to have what I considered to be the "best" tidbits at my fingertips.  

I really liked the rubric that Ward Hoffer included.  For me, this really helps assess explanations and it gives students some guidelines to consider when penning (or penciling) their explanations.  It also makes the assessment less arbitrary and is more useful than a credit/no credit system.

For those of you interested, we will be having a Twitter chat tonight at 7:00 p.m. CST about this book.  Join us #momathchat!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Minds on Math Chapter 9 - Conferring

When I taught ELA, conferring was just something that we did.  It was a common practice to have a quick conference with students about what they were reading or writing, and the conversations were often very informative.  You could tell who was reading and whether or not they student understood what they were reading.  For writing, you discuss ideas with students and help them further develop those ideas.

When I started teaching math, though, it didn't seem as important to conference with students....until I read this book.  As I read, I thought often of my days in ELA and it dawned on me that, just like in ELA, we also teach reading and writing.  To be successful in math, students have to be able to "read and comprehend" a problem.  Students also must communicate (or write) their thinking and solutions to a problem.  With this ah-ha! and Ward Hoffer's book, I came the realization that I was doing my students a disservice by not conferring with them about their math thinking.  

Ward Hoffer offers three steps to conferring with students.  First is research.  Conferring can be used as a tool for "finding out" what students know, are stuck on, are thinking, etc.  Second, conferencing can be used to coach students.  This entails walking a student through a problem without giving them answers.  Third, help the students reflect on their thinking.  

As I think about my classroom last year, I know that I conferenced with students, but usually when the student came to me.  I was not intentional about conferring with students on a regular basis.  I realize I need to change this.  Time will always be an issue.  Obviously some students need more assistance than others, however, even the "advanced" students in our classroom can benefit from conferencing.  After all, we don't want those students to get bored and lose interest.

I think the list of "Conferring Questions" on page 147 will be helpful.  Maybe I'll put some of these lists/reminders together and spiral bind them so that I can have them with me to easily reference.

Good luck to you all as you get ready for the coming year...it's going to be fabulous!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Minds on Math Chapter 8 - Work TIme

Ward Hoffer starts this chapter with planning.  One of the things that needs to be planned is differentiation and honestly, I need to work on this.  I'm good about differentiating content, and sometimes process, but I rarely differentiate product.  I think it's easy to differentiate product in just about every other subject, but I struggle with this in the math classroom.  Part of me struggles with it conceptually another part of me struggles with the management of it.  When we give a test in math, there's an answer key and we go about grading the test.  When students are allowed to show different forms of mastery, it makes evaluating the mastery much more difficult.    

When it comes to the students and what they are doing, Ward Hoffer is clear, we must be explicit in our expectations (do you see a pattern yet?).  In explaining the benefits of this, Ward Hoffer writes "you have so effectively established and conveyed purpose to them during your opening, explained the connection between purpose and the task during the transition to work time, that they remain continuously conscious of why they are doing what they have been asked to do."  

During work time, it's the teacher's job to promote thinking, gather data and troubleshoot.  I love the Ward Hoffer's use of the term "troubleshoot".  So much of what we do is troubleshooting!  I found Ward Hoffers list of questions to use when students are "stuck" especially helpful.  These can help students without rescuing them (something I think I do too often because I'm worried that they have to "get it" before the bell rings!).

The thing I love about workshop is that most of the time the students are "working".  I was reminded of how important this is this week when I was driving with my daughter (who just got her license yesterday!).  She said, "mom, it's so much easier to know how to get someplace after I've driven it myself instead of sitting in the passenger seat."  Yes, it is easier after you've done it yourself, whether that be driving the car or working a math problem!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

TpT BTS Resource Books

A bunch of really cool teacher authors on TpT have put together a book of resources for back to school.  In it there are links to lots of freebies and Common Core tips.  There have been countless hours put into putting this book together and it looks really great.  Check it out!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Gear!

I told myself no more black t-shirts.  Absolutely none.  And, well...I found two new math t-shirts that I just couldn't refuse, black and all.

This now brings my math t-shirts to 6, or in math terms, an even half dozen.  My husband thinks that's too many.  After all, he says, there are only 5 days in a school week.  I'm not quite nerdy enough to wear them on a non-school day, so they really only do get used for school.  What do you think?  How many is too many?  And if you don't think I have enough, share your favorite place to get math-wear!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


How do you handle IDK's in your classroom?  At #CAMT13, presenter Juliann Doris suggested using an anchor chart with suggestions for what to do instead of IDK.  I took her idea and created this poster to use in my classroom this year.

I've formatted this to print on 11x17" paper and will have 3 or 4 printed that way I can have several up around the room as a reminder of what to say "instead of IDK".  

You may have read that I am participating in a book study on Minds on Math Workshop.  One of the ideas presented in the book is that we should never accept "IDK" as an answer because it sets up a culture in the classroom that a student can say "IDK" and never be held accountable for his/her learning.  Ah-ha!  I loved this!  When we accept an IDK, we not only send the message that it's okay to not know (which it is), but we also tell the student that it's okay to "never know" because we aren't sending the message of "so you don't know it yet...what can you do do know it?"

I'm excited for a culture shift in my classroom this year!  

Oh....and I've joined Facebook.  Find me there and like the page for product updates, freebies, and giveaways!  

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Minds on Math Workshop Chapter 7 - Minilessons

In chapter 7, Ward Hoffer introduces us to minilessons.  A key to a minilesson is modeling thinking as opposed to showing examples.  The think-aloud concept is not new to me, but I'm afraid it's one that I really haven't used since moving to math from ELA (and since moving from elementary to middle grades).  I can't say that I have a good reason for this, it just is.  This chapter, was a good reminder of the effectiveness of think alouds.  

One thing I really took from this chapter was that thinking aloud doesn't just stop with talking.  Part of the think aloud process is illustrating the thinking and annotating the illustration.  Another important part of the think aloud process that I really hadn't considered was the discussion about what she (the teacher) was doing during the demonstration as well as discussion about what the pitfalls might be.  

The list of "lesson" types was intriguing as I often think of a lesson as the mathematical content or process.  Ward Hoffer suggests that lessons can offer direct instruction, revisit findings from a previous lesson, introduce a thinking strategy, modeling a problem-solving strategy, discussing implementation of a specific math practice, revisiting community agreement, discussing the relevance of a particular concept to learners' lives.  This was a pretty comprehensive list that included some things I wouldn't have thought of as "lessons".  This can serve as an important reminder to us all that math is much more than the content in the textbooks and for it to be meaningful to students, they need to approach it in many ways.

Until next time...


Managing Student Absences

At #CAMT13, one of the presenters mentioned her method for handling student absences.  It intrigued me and I've given it a lot of thought this week.  I honestly can't decide if I like it better (and if it would work better in my classroom) than what I already do.

Currently, I have a missed work bin.  In the bin, I keep file folders labeled for each class period.  As I take attendance, I pick up any handouts for the day, and put the absent student's name on the paper and drop it in the appropriate folder.  Students know that they are responsible for checking the folder upon their return.  I like this for several reasons.  One, it's easy.  It takes very little setup and kids know what to expect.  Two, if I get a call from the office that a parent is picking up work, I go to the folder, grab everything with that student's name, and send a student to the office with the work.

The other method I hard about was keeping a file crate with a file for each day of the month.  Extra papers are filed at the end of the day and students can go get what they need based on the date of their absence.  I like this because it would make any extra copies easily accessible for students who lose things.  I wonder, though, how well my 6th graders would do with remembering the dates of their absences.  And, what if students relied on extra copies too much and then there weren't any left when an absent student returns?

How do you handle student absences in your classroom?  I'd love to hear what you do!

For the kids,

Minds on Math Chapter 6 - Opening

Chapter 6 is all about the importance of a good opening.  Ward Hoffer suggests that that there are 4 key aspects to an opening:  welcoming learners, activating prior knowledge, setting a purpose for the lesson, and managing homework.  While most of most of the chapter seemed to be common sense, there were a few points that Ward Hoffer made that made me think about the effectiveness of my openings, which honestly, I am prone to skip as a means of saving time.  

Ward Hoffer poses that an effective opener should set students up for success.  To do this, she writes that the problems posed as an opening must be accessible from multiple entry points because they ensure that "everyone can get started, everyone can experience some success, and you can still gather useful formative assessment data."

Two suggestions for activating prior knowledge were presented:  a problem of the day and conceptual conversations.  The conversations stood out to me for a couple of reasons.  One, it's something different than is probably seen in the typical classroom.  Two, the collaboration required in having a conversation would certainly give students an opportunity to activate and pull out those things that students already know.  

I found homework an interesting addition to this chapter.  While it certainly is part of most classroom's opening routing, I wounder how it would really fit into a 5 minute opening.  Personally, I post my homework answers on Edmodo so that students can check their own as they work.  It serves no purpose for students to work problems incorrectly and more often than not if a student knows his/her answer is incorrect he/she will go back and rework it to get it correct.  Students with questions either post them on Edmodo, or ask them at the beginning of class the next day.  (I post answers only and I only accept their homework if they have the work, this keeps them from turning in a sheet with my answers.)  

As an aside, I totally understand the "limited homework" rationale and I often question our "homework Monday-Thursday" routine.  The reality of it is, though, that when students get to high school and college the demands are intense (at least they are in my district...I'll have a junior this year...I know!).  I feel like if we don't prepare our students for the academic and work-habit/time management demands we haven't fully prepared them.

Until next time...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Feeling very wordy...

Have you ever started something and then wondered why you would have ever thought it was a good idea?  Well, that's been me this week.  I've spent hours and hours and more hours working on a word wall.  I started last Sunday and by Tuesday I was really starting to question my sanity (as was my husband and my children!)  At last I have finished, and I'm really excited to share it!

I think vocabulary is so important.  Often, I find that our students don't understand because they can't comprehend the language.  And, too often, it's their inability to decode words that holds them back.  One word that always surprises me is "percent".  Students have difficulty seeing the "cent" and connecting it to other words that have "cent" in them (cents, century, centimeter).  

Is it just my kids?  What do you do in your classroom to help students understand the language of math?

For the kids,

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Lost is Found!

I have a math smarts survey that I do with my kiddos at the beginning of the year and I put it in my bag to bring home and make "pretty" for this fall.  Somehow between the packing up of the classroom and the moving of things back home, I lost track of it...until today!

I love using this at the beginning of the school year because it helps me get to know my students and it helps the students get to know themselves as learners of math.  I think it also helps students understand that there are many, many different ways that we can be "smart" at math.  When students can see that they are good at some things their classmates aren't and vice versa, it aids in the establishment of a community in the classroom.

Students complete the survey and then chose one thing they think they're good at.  I give them an index card and they decorate it with their name and area of expertise.  When finished, I put them all on my "Mathemagicians" bulletin board.  The survey goes into student's interactive notebooks and serves as a reminder throughout the year of the things that they are good at and those things they wanted to get better at.

Can't wait to get back to school and get to know my new students!

Minds on Math Chapter 5 - Discourse

In Chapter 5, Wendy Ward Hoffer writes about the importance of time spent discussing mathematical content.  She once again reminds us that "students benefit more from solving and then discussing a few problems in depth, rather than completing numerous practice problems."  While this idea was discussed earlier in the book, it was a good reminder during this chapter because discourse, for obvious reasons, takes time and doesn't fit with the "drill and kill" mindset.

As always, I love Ward Hoffer's lists and there were several in this chapter.  On page 75 she lists ways we can invite students to share.  While I have used some of these in my classroom, the one that intrigued me was "explain your vigilance".  Without Ward Hoffer's example (What were some of the speed bumps you encountered when solving this problem?), I might have glossed over this list completely.  What I like about this is that it validates students' struggles.  It says that it's not only okay to struggle, but it's also normal to struggle.  This is important for all students, because on some level, I think if there's no struggle, there's no gain (the no pain, no gain mantra that coaches use).  As an aside, one group of students who I think need to experience this more is the honors students.  (Mine frequently say that math is too hard (mainly because they've never been challenged before).  I explain to the students and their parents throughout the year that if the student get through the year without feeling a little uncomfortable, I haven't done my job well because they haven't been challenged.)  Working through challenges, whether in the math classroom or in sports or in a career, is an important life skill.

Throughout the book, Ward Hoffer shares the importance of withholding correct answers in order to discuss errors.  One of the things I occasionally do with my students when we are looking at homework answers is post an incorrect answer.  Students often assume if it came from the book, the internet, the teacher, or their parents, it must be correct.  They assume that if I'm giving them an answer, it must be correct and so they mark their answer wrong and never question why they got it wrong.  Students who not only catch the error, but justify their thinking are rewarded in some way.  By working with errors, Ward Hoffer is validating student thinking by recognizing that errors aren't something to be afraid of because we learn from them.

An ah-ha for me was Ward Hoffer's suggestion of allowing students to revise their thinking.  I think this is a natural extension of discussing errors, but one that I think I have missed.  Ward Hoffer writes, "an incorrect answer is the beginning of learning; when we maximize the opportunities revealed by our own and our students' mistakes, we model the growth mindset, the belief that we are all capable of overcoming our difficulties and achieving." (emphasis added)  Allowing students to revise their thinking tells them that our classroom isn't a "three strikes and you're out" kind of place.  Just because they have had some struggles, doesn't mean they're out of the game and unable to recover.  When we allow students to revise their thinking we validate the idea that learning is a process.

I'm off to make classroom posters to help facilitate student discourse.

For the kids,

Monday, July 15, 2013

Minds on Math Chapter 4 - Community

I have, for the last few years, attempted collaborative groups in my classroom.  What typically happens is that the groups work for the first semester, but the students come back from the holiday break and are different creatures (I'm not sure how two weeks does that to them!), but when they come back, I have a hard time being patient with them in groups.  Inevitably, my class ends up in rows shortly after returning from the break.

This chapter on community was important for me in a couple of ways.  First, it reinforced what I believe to be true, students learn better in collaborative community groups.  One of the activities that I start out the year helps students see this.  I have the students list all of the Major League Baseball teams that they can think of.  I give them about 30 seconds to complete this.  Of course, no one ever gets them all.  Then I let them confer with their groupmates and allow them to combine their lists.  What they realize is that they are better as a group than any individual was on his or her own.

Second, I took away from this chapter that perhaps my groups were not working as I would have liked because I wasn't intentional enough at the beginning of the year.  Unfortunately, I cannot wave a magic wand and wish perfect groups upon my students!  Building a community not only takes time, but it takes continual reinforcement of group goals and norms.  Building a community requires work:  reinforcing those things that are going well and correcting those things that need improvement.  

One of the suggestions in this chapter that I really liked and would like to incorporate this year is that of individual preparation time.  Wendy Ward Hoffer writes, "learners often succeed best in community endeavors when they have chances to read, write, and think alone for at leas a few minutes before engaging with others."  I often assign tasks and let the groups dive right in.  Ward Hoffer's statement about preparation time makes me wonder how much better my groups might have been if I had given my students this time to think before beginning.  I think this especially helpful for at-risk and special needs students because it gives them a chance to form their own ideas (something I don't think they get a chance to do when groups start immediately because their voices are overshadowed by stronger students).

I'm off to find community-building activities for my first week of school.

For the kids,

Friday, July 12, 2013

#CAMT13 Day 3

Today was the final day of #CAMT13 and, honestly, the day was a little disappointing.  Danielle and I were really stoked about our first session, which was described as multimedia in the math classroom.  The presenter did present some multimedia math conundrums (commercials, print media, tv shows, etc.), but I didn't find it to be something that I could just take back and use in my classroom.  The mathematics presented were at a pretty high level, almost as if he was teaching a college-level course.  I was looking for a list of multimedia sources that I could take back to and use in my classroom in lessons. 

From there we were supposed to go to a session on multiple representations.  We walked from one end of the conference center to the other (it felt like we had walked from San Antonio to Beaumont!) only to find out that the session had been cancelled.  Ugh!  So out the conference programs came and we quickly proceeded to our 2nd choice.  

We spent some time in the exhibit hall, grabbed some lunch, and went to session 4 excited to hear about organizational techniques.  We waited, and waited, and waited some more, only to be told at 1:00 that the speaker had not checked in.  Here's the rub...if the session was supposed to begin at 1:00, wouldn't they have known by 12:30ish that there was no speaker?  Had they told us earlier, we could have made it to a different session.  Given that we couldn't, we decided to call it a day and head home.

I love the opportunity to meet with other math teachers, but I think there have to be more efficient ways of doing these large conferences.  Sometimes you are forced to skip a session just to get in line for a session you really want to attend.  We don't pay large sums of money to attend (registration fees, hotel, food, and travel expenses) to mission sessions!  The organizers should have the email addresses of the attendees, and with that communication tool, they have the ability to contact attendees to update them on cancelled sessions.  This way attendees could plan and maximize their time at CAMT.  Third, it would be nice to have rooms set up for each grade level (or grade band if space does not otherwise permit) so that if you were unable to attend a specific session, there would be a place that you could go to meet other educators and where you could discuss topics of interest.  

All in all, though, I did enjoy the conference and I'm looking forward to next year.  See you in July 2014!


Thursday, July 11, 2013

#CAMT13 Day 1 & Day 2

#CAMT13 Day 1 -

Capturing, Sharing & Resolving Perplexity - Dan Meyer!  His stuff is so good and I loved the opportunity to hear him speak.  He's so inspiring... I want to be a student in his class.  We really loved the "What if Everybody in Canada Flushed at the Same Time" problem.


Meyer took out the labels and had the students analyze and interpret the graph.  My hockey-player son would be so into this problem!  Meyer shared other perplexing problem examples after which Danielle (my aforementioned former teaching partner :( ) and I were noticing "perplexing" problems all day.

Fantasy Sports in the Math Classroom - This was a very intriguing session.  I believe it would be very engaging for the kiddos, and the presenter said that in all the years he's done this, he always has 4 out of the top 5 kids being girls.  I would love to do this with hockey because the NHL season almost spans the school year (if there's no lockout!)  I'm thinking, though, that since the Houston Rockets just signed Dwight Howard basketball could be interesting next year and something that all of the students will be talking about.  Can't wait to sink my teeth into this and see how I can make it work in my classroom.

Interact With Me and Engage Me (Jennifer Smith-Sloan @ 4mulafun) - Jennifer shared with us her interactive notebooks and how she uses them as a tool in her math classroom.  We used Mead 5-Star notebooks (Thanks, Mead!) and Jennifer provided us with lots of ideas for flippables and organization of the notebook.  I am intrigued by the idea of using spiral notebooks as opposed to composition books and am trying to decide if I want to make the switch.  My biggest concern is whether or not the students will be tempted to tear pages out of it and then they end up not having enough pages in their notebook.  What do you think?  If you've used interactive notebooks before, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  You can check out Jennifer's great products on her TeachersPayTeachers store.

Designing Cognitively Demanding Assessments - In this session we discussed the features of high cognitive demand assessments by looking at NAEP assessment items.  It was interesting to look at actual test items and discuss what about them made them high, moderate, and low on a cognitive demand scale.  If you're interested in looking at some of the questions and their cognitive demand, click here.

#CAMT13 Day 2

The 100s Chart - Last year we heard Brad Fulton speak and we used his homework management ideas to streamline some processes in our classes.  Our adaptations of his system worked brilliantly.   We were equally impressed with his use of the 100s chart to help build algebra skills using arithmetic.  We were introduced to "algebra man" (see below) and after working with him for a while, we learned how to extend "algebra man" into something that the kiddos create on their own. I know my kiddos are going to love this!


Achieving Numeracy Through Texas History - I think this session would have been really good for our 7th grade teachers, but it did give me some ideas that went along with Dan Meyer's perplexing problems.  I wonder what other ways we can incorporate what's going on in other classes into our math classroom?

Building Powerful Numeracy - This session took me back to my elementary roots!  There was so much in this lesson that reminded me of things we did in elementary school.  I still use many of these strategies in my 6th grade classroom, but it was nice to hear someone talk about how important they are (and know that you use them!).

In my elementary school, we called them cluster problems; Harris refers to them as problem strings.  Essentially they are related problems that build upon one another to make the work easier.  For example, if you know that 23 x 10 is 230, then it should be easy to find 23 x 5 because 5 is half of 10.  So...23 x 5 is half of 23 x 10.  I love helping students develop these skills because, as Harris points out, it takes the pressure off the student to "remember".

Algebra Readiness - I am excited to share a resource I found at CAMT.  We were unable to make the session about this resource, but stumbled upon it in the exhibit hall.

This book is an essential skill builder and I think it would be great to use as homework.  Each page has problems covering a variety of skills.  The great thing is that there's a little bit of everything on each page, including vocabulary.  

While we were looking at the books and debating about purchasing, several teachers came up and started talking about how they used this resource and what a difference it made in their classroom.  I can't wait to really take a look at it and decide how I want to use it in my classroom!

So, I'm off to see how I can roll all of this into the neat little package that I call my classroom!

Can't wait to see what tomorrow will bring!