My 10% and Other TMC Reflections

During my first two years of teaching, I got pretty good at disguising worksheets as activities and games.

Card sorts? Without a doubt. Tarsia puzzles? You betcha. Hole Punch games? Check. QR Cards? Of course! Scavenger Hunts with problems around the room? Yep.

Those, along with several others, found their way into my classroom on a regular basis.  I could convince my 6th graders just about anything was a game and used that to my advantage more times than I can count.

For a while, I honestly thought that these types of activities, and only these types of activities, were enough. As I dove deeper into the MTBoS world and became a bit more experienced as a teacher, whether I was willing to admit it or not, I knew my classroom was lacking in rich mathematical tasks that encouraged students to think creatively and connect the math I wanted them to learn to the math they encounter in real life.  However, I was unsure of how to implement those types of things into my classroom, so instead, I focused on finding new ways to disguise worksheets as activities -I became better at something I was already doing a fairly decent job of.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely believe card sorts and the like have their place in and will continue to use them as part of my curriculum (not my entire curriculum), especially now that you can create card sorts in Desmos!

Although I still have a long way to go, this past year I slowly started stepping out of my comfort zone and tried other types of activities. I started grad school last fall, and that played a big part in that.  I was forced to start applying the things I was learning in class to my own classroom as part of my grad school assignments. Grad school also helped me to be more intentional about the types of activities I use and has helped me become a more critical consumer of resources.

As I was working on curriculum one day a few weeks ago and was looking at a list of activities I had compiled for 8th grade algebra that went beyond disguising worksheets as activities, I remembered thinking something along the lines of, “All of these activities are great. Now, how do I incorporate them into my lessons so that students make sense of them?” And the reality of trying to do all of these new things I’ve been finding in addition to doing my action research project for grad school hit me, and I started feeling defeated with everything I wanted to change this year before the school year even started.

Insert Dylan’s keynote at TMC.

As I sat there listening to what he had to say, it almost felt like he had heard the thoughts going on within my head a few weeks prior. It was so encouraging to have those thoughts and my experiences my first few years teaching validated by someone else. I was also encouraged to hear him admit that he doesn’t have all of those things figured out yet.  (You can watch his talk here.)

Dylan talked about how his first year teaching he used many of the things people within the MTBoS community have created, but that these clever ideas do not add up to coherent curriculum. He also talked about how that we as teachers have to develop skills around using these videos, tasks, and activities and getting students’ engagement around these things to go toward mathematical thinking.

One of the quotes he used in his presentation was this, “Like so much else in education, ‘what works’ is the wrong question because everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere” (from Embedding Formative Assessment by William).  I needed to hear that for a couple reasons.  1)  I can’t assume that what works for other people will always work for me.  2)  I can’t assume that the stuff I’m super passionate about doing in my classroom is what’s right for other people.  Both of those are normal and ok.

He went on to quote Steve Leinwand who said that it’s unprofessional to ask teachers to change more than 10% a year, that it doesn’t respect their expertise, knowledge, and skills that they bring to the table. However, it’s also unprofessional to not expect teachers to try to change 10% every year. Dylan challenged us to choose 10% that will make the biggest impact on students day in and day out.

The idea of 10% has been really beneficial for me as I’ve been processing TMC and the rest of the professional development I’ve done this summer.  I can’t change everything all at once.  Instead, I need to really hone in on and focus on 10%.  Here’s where I’m at in deciding what my 10% will be for this coming school year.

  • Assessment Feedback: This is the crux of my action research project. It stemmed from being frustrated when passing back tests and seeing students look at their grade, turn the test over, and never look at it again. It is my goal to change that process in a way that will encourage students to look at their mistakes and learn from them. I admit that I don’t have all the details figured out of how this will play out in my classroom, but I’m excited to make changes in this area.
  • Math Talks: I’ve tried them a little bit, but I want to get better at them and use them more regularly and more purposefully.
  • Routine for Math Tasks: After listening to Dylan’s keynote and attending David Wees’s session on Connecting Representations, I know I will benefit from coming up with a routine for myself and students to use when incorporating some of those mathematical tasks I mentioned earlier. I was intrigued by Heather’s presentation on using the Engineering Design Process in math and am also interested in learning more about Contemplate then Calculate (also by David Wees).

That will likely take up more than my 10%, but here is a list of some of the other things that stood out to me from TMC.

  • Desmos: You can now create your own card sorts and marble slides! See Julie’s post for a more detailed explanation of how to do this.
  • Pre-Tests: I was reminded by Michelle Naidu in our morning session that pre-tests should cover skills students should know going into a unit and that we should do our best to ensure that each question on a pre-test assesses one skill so that we know exactly what students are struggling with.
  • Feedback Quizzes: I actually stumbled across Julie’s slides from her TMC presentation last summer and that was one of two things that really got me thinking I wanted to do my action research on something related to this topic. I attended her session this year and one of the things she said really got at the heart of why I want to change how I go over tests in my classroom was this, “How students compare to others isn’t in their control. How they improve is.”  I want students to see assessments as a way for them to improve, not as something that compares them to their peers.
  • Warm-ups: I went to Lisa and Jessica’s session on warm-ups. I was familiar with several of the warm-up strategies they mentioned, but counting circles were new to me and that’s something I want to explore more.
  • The Fun Math Game with the Lame Name: Joel shared with us his game, Variable Analysis. You can watch his presentation here.  The game itself isn’t very complicated, but he does a good job of explaining how to carry out the game and how all students participate throughout the entire game. My students struggle with equations involving more than one variable, and I think this game is something I would like to try when covering that.
  • Fractions:  I went to Brian Bushart’s session on fractions and there were two main things that really stood out to me.
    • Verbs vs. nouns. (I stole this picture from Heather’s post.) Screen Shot 2016-07-24 at 1.17.01 PMMany students don’t have enough understanding of fractions to understand that a fraction is a number that can be represented on a number line. They can’t get past seeing fractions as adjectives (1/2 of a pizza), but we need to get them to seeing fractions as nouns.
    • We also discussed how fractions are the first time student see the same number represented in multiple ways (ex: ½ = 2/4 = 4/8).  This is a BIG thing that I know I tend to go over very quickly.  I thought this fraction applet that Brian showed us was pretty neat and does a nice job of helping students see different representations of the same number on a number line.
  • Glen Wendell: Glen’s entire My Favorite is worth a watch. A quote that resonated with me was, “You don’t face your fears once and beat them. You have to face your fears regularly.”
  • Birthdays and Functions: Hannah shared how she celebrates birthdays in her classroom and how she relates this to functions. It’s brilliant!  I will definitely be stealing this idea.  Check out the slides from her presentation here and her actual presentation here.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with the TMC Song.  Enjoy!

From a MTBoS Stalker

“This community is not about impressing each other.” -Tracy Zager, keynote speaker at TMC16

I stumbled into the Math Twitter Blogosphere (MTBoS) world when I first started teaching three years ago. I don’t remember exactly how I found it, but one click lead to the next.  Before I knew it several hours had passed, and I had forgotten what I was originally looking for.  As I’ve continued down various rabbit trails in the MTBoS world, I’ve slowly discovered more and more of the awesomeness that this community has created and continue to be amazed at the things that have come from this group.

Over the years, I have thought about blogging, but I’ve never followed through with it because in my mind a) much of what I do in my classsroom has been inspired by someone else so it wouldn’t be anything new and b) the rest of it isn’t “good enough” to put out there for the world to see.  As I’ve dug further and further into blogs, it was even more cemented in my mind that these people are so far out of my league -another reason I have refrained from actively participating in the MTBoS world.  Who was I to throw out a question to them on Twitter or comment on their blogs, let alone start a blog of my own?

Obviously, if you’re reading this, I’ve decided to hit the “publish” button and am putting this out there for anyone to read.  So what changed?

I went to Twitter Math Camp (TMC).  That’s what changed.

I went to TMC still feeling like I was completely out of my league.  One of the things said to the first time attendees at TMC was that there are no rock star teachers there.  At the time I thought to myself, “Yeah, right! The people that say that usually are the rock stars!”  However, these are some of the things I noticed throughout the course of TMC.

  • During the Desmos pre-conference, I watched Dan Meyer and the rest of the Desmos team attentively listen in on conversations teachers were having while working in Desmos making mental notes of ways to make their product better.  I saw people ask them questions they didn’t have answers for yet.
  • I worked with people I would consider “rock star” teachers. I asked them questions. They asked me questions. We learned from each other.
  • I watched as these “rock stars” had their minds blown more than once by something someone said or an idea someone shared with them.  You could literally see their minds racing as they thought of ways to apply this knew knowledge in their classroom.

So maybe these “rock stars” don’t have it all figured out?  They’re still learning too? They make mistakes just like me?  Going to TMC made these teachers whose blogs and tweets I read real to me.  However, what does separate these teachers from me is that they’re willing to put themselves out there and let others see into their classrooms. They’re asking questions and looking for feedback from others to take their good ideas and turn them into great ideas.

These are the questions I left TMC with:  What’s my role in all this?  How do I go from a MTBoS stalker to an active participant?  What does that look like?  The idea of a blog terrifies me, but as I’ve asked myself why I would start a blog I’ve come up with this:

  • It forces self-reflection.
  • It gives others, outside the walls of my school, an opportunity to give me feedback on things I’ve done in my classroom and provides an avenue for the collaboration that took place at TMC to happen year round.
  • Although I may end up blogging about something many other people have blogged about already, there’s a pretty good chance I do those things a bit different from others, and someone may benefit from seeing those things in a slightly different way.

As I look at that list if the only thing that comes of this is self reflection, this will be worthwhile.  The second two would be added bonuses, even if they only happen once.

So here goes nothing.  I’m facing my fears and jumping into the MTBoS community because of what I experienced at TMC.  The idea of actually following through with this still scares me, but I keep coming back to what Tracy said, “This community is not about impressing each other.”  And thank goodness for that!