Professional Learning Playgrounds

Inspired by the work of Christine Klynen and Kurt Klynen (and the Joy of PL team) I kicked off the year with a series of professional learning playgrounds for my K-12 mathematics educators.

If you are interested in replicating these playgrounds, feel free to access this Numbers file for planning: Numbers for iCloud and/or contact me and let’s have a conversation about this!

The intended outcomes included: utilizing creativity to think deeply about mathematics content including representing concepts with unlikely materials, use of the camera in creative ways (slo-mo, stop-motion, photo, video) to capture understanding, and an opportunity for team building.

The organization of the playgrounds was a challenge because I needed them to be self-explanatory, as I was scheduled to be in another location leading other sessions simultaneously.

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Playground #1 – Creative Mathematics

This playground included three sets of cards: materials (which specified CARS, PLAY-DOH, or LEGO), content (which specified math concepts), an photography (which specified SLO-MO, TIME-LAPSE, PHOTO, or VIDEO).  The instructions were provided via video as well as text and accessed via our learning management system:

  1. Shuffle each deck of cards (material, content, photography) and place face down on the table.
  2. Draw one card from each deck (material, content, photography).
  3. Use the material to create a model of the content and capture using the selected photography tool. Use the options within your Camera app to select either photo, video, slo-mo, or time-lapse.
  4. Use Twitter to describe the process and product – share with #CISDlearns.
  5. Replace the cards and materials for the next session of educators.
  6. Have time for another round?  Challenge yourself by using a different material or photography tool and share with #CISDlearns.

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Playground #2 – You Can Always Add.  You Can’t Subtract.

This playground was about hacking math tasks.  That is, some math problems include too much information and actually promote impatient instead of patientproblem solving.  After the educators watched Dan Meyer’s TED talk, they rebuilt tasks in a similar way.  The instructions were provided via video as well as text and accessed via our learning management system:

  1. Watch Dan Meyer’s TED Talk: Math Class Needs a Makeover.
  2. Shuffle the deck of cards (You Can Always Add.  You Can’t Subtract) and place face down on the table.
  3. Draw one card from the deck.
  4. Use the camera on your iPad to scan the QR code and access the task.
  5. Copy the task to Notability, select Create a New Note, then Import.
  6. Similar to what Dan did, rebuild the task in a way that supports math reasoning and patient problem solving.  Think about what you can eliminate.  Use the annotation tools in Notability at the top to edit the task.
  7. Use Twitter to describe the process and product – share with #CISDlearns.
  8. Replace the cards for the next session of educators.

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Playground #3 – Chopped: Mathematics

This playground included one sets of concept cards, a basket (box) of various manipulatives and a small mystery ingredient box containing Play-Doh.   The instructions were provided via video as well as text and accessed via our learning management system:

  1. Shuffle the deck of cards (concept) and place face down on the table.
  2. Draw one card from the deck.
  3. Open the basket (large box) and select two types of manipulatives.
  4. Use both manipulatives together to demonstrate the concept.  Don’t forget to use the mystery ingredient as well (in the small box).
  5. Take a photo of your work (including the concept card) and share on Twitter using #CISDlearns.
  6. Replace the cards and materials for the next session of educators.
  7. Have time for another round?  Challenge yourself by using different manipulatives and share with #CISDlearns.

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The feedback on these playgrounds was so positive and the learning was so deep as a result of the collaboration and critical thinking required.  I cannot imagine facilitating professional learning in any way that does not promote creativity and conversation.

My educators are worth it.  Your educators are worth it.  I encourage you to think differently about professional learning and share with the world!

 

 

 

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WW ADE Institute 2018

To the Apple team and my fellow Apple Distinguished Educators,

Thank you for loving my sometimes outgoing, sometimes reserved self.  You inspire me to be creative.  You let me be funny.  You help me to be humble.  You remind me that I am part of something bigger.  If this is a dream, please don’t wake me.

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As 371 of the most innovative, creative educators on this planet were together in Austin, I felt like I was home, surrounded by my people.  And, after 40 years of Apple Education and 24 years of the Apple Distinguished Educator Program, we continue to change the world.

The creative genius behind Apple inspires storytelling like none other.  My top three videos shared during the week were Homework, Homepod, and The Making of Homepod.  I will watch them again and again, for sure.

Homework: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IprmiOa2zH8&t=23s

HomePod: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=305ryPvU6A8

The Making of … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=go6Hpal8fUA

Everyone Can Create

We were inspired to use Drawing, Photography, Video, and Music to create and, more importantly, to inspire others to create.  We learned about Creativity + Simplicity + Humanity and to Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.

Jonathan Cho, your chicken drawing was outstanding.  What was better was your stream of consciousness as you described the questionably accurate anatomy of the animal.  I will remember the value of the process.  The process IS the product.

Workhops

Jodie Deinhammer and Julie Garcia, you rolled with the punches so well during your session – Connect Math and Science Through Creativity.  Please know your message was inspiring and embodied the work of Creativity + Simplicity + Humanity with a touch of math and science love.

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Wes Molyneaux, April Requard, Nancy Gadzala, and Ben Mountz (via hologram) your session – Foster Creativity Through Visual Storytelling with Keynote was well done, my friends.  With a nice blend of quick wins (masking shapes and magic moves) and grand plans (the sketching project), you nailed it.

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Mia Morrison and Erica Galvan, thank you for sharing your stories in your session – Bring Student Voice to Life with Books on iPad.  Giving a voice to our kids is what it is all about.

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Who knew so many of us were willing to get up before the sunrise to share a bit of exercise and good times?  Thank you to the team behind this.  Your signs were spot on.

The Project

Through a series of well-designed structures with ADE colleagues in small groups, one-on-one pairs, and individual work time, my project was developed, refined, and elaborated upon beautifully.  In 4 short days it evolved as I worked to simplify, simplify, simplify the content and then expand, expand, expand the reach.

Thank you Mia MorrisonApril Requard and the rest of ADE Team 1718 for welcoming me (all the way from group 30) in for that fantastic sharing and feedback session.

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ADE After Hours

ADE Meet

Kelly Croy your podcast message is awesome.  Thank you for working to capture our voices.  I am thankful that in doing so, your voice is captured as well.

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The Pitch

Thank you Wes Molyneaux for sharing your story about microcredentialling and for letting me ask so many questions.  You are inspiring and your impact is so great.    

Deeper Learning

Noah Katz, you are a Keynote mastermind.  Where the Wild Things Are will never be the same.

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Thank you to the team behind this fantastic opportunity to share a bit of a story, infuse it with a bit of humor, and enlighten others with some creative tricks for their back pocket.  I loved every minute of it.

Tip #1: Text Replacement

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Tip #2: Twitter QR Code Generator

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The Playgrounds

Thank you Christine and Kurt Klynen for your model of bringing the joy to professional learning and for the opportunity to be a small part of this at Institute through the Joy of Professional Learning’s Casino of Learning.

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Thank you to the rest of the team: Cheryl Davis, Alberto Valdes, Camilla Gagliolo, Casey Cohen, Jason Kathman, Johan Andersson, Kelly Croy, Chris Penny, and Reshan Richards.  Y’all owned it.

Showcases

Katie Morrow, you are fantastic.  Apple Tools for Literacy done Hamilton-style was unforgettable.  Well done.

Anthony Stirpe, you are amazing.  What a story.  What an impact.  Thank you for reminding us that we do this work for kids and they need us.

One-on-one time with my fellow ADEs

Surrounded by 370 other ADEs, finding a bit of quiet time to share ideas and openly welcome feedback was absolutely the best.

Thank you Michael Hernandez for the great conversation and quick run on Tuesday morning.  Thank you also for the inspiration to use the Global Goals to leverage social justice as purposeful information for my project.

Thank you Don Henderson for your inspiration to bring Challenge Based Learning into my project.

Thank you Jon Smith for your inspiration to provide a greater audience for my project.

Thank you Noah Katz for your insight around data and for the inspiration to begin my project in this way.  You are quiet amazing.

Thank you Brian Timm for your feedback on the details of my project and for your keen design eye on my Keynote graphic.

Thank you Nicki Hambleton for your absolutely positive spirit when sharing my project with my homeroom group.  You faced so many challenges with grace this week, you are a beautiful person.

Thank you Cathy Yenca for sharing my love of mathematics and spending a small time talking about what we can do to make a big impact.

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Thank you Jake Lee for your fantastic spirit.  You have no idea how much it took for me to hold it together in this picture.  I love your great personality!  And, your project is too much, but the way.

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Thank you to my Coppell ISD ADE friends, Brian Timm, Jodie Deinhammer, and Mike Yakubovsky.  I am so lucky to go back to my day job and have you there.  I love y’all.

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Also, thank you to the translators who speak the universal language of high fives through the glass of the sound proof booths.

Until next time.

Yours,

MK

Evidence of (Professional) Learning

As I work to design and deliver professional learning for my educators, I continue to seek ways to improve their experiences.  I am pursuing ways for my educators to capture their learning while they are in the sessions, share this learning beyond the session, and access later once the session is over.  Two examples from this summer are the use of Clips + FlipGrid and Pages with placeholder images.

Clips + FlipGrid

One day-long session related to supporting Gifted and Talented students in mathematics included 50+ elementary and secondary educators.  Early in the session I requested the attendees download the Clips app if they had not done so already.  Throughout our time together I reminded the educators to take photos and videos of the process.  These artifacts were stored in their camera roll, ready to access near the close of the session.

As the session came to a close, the educators used Clips to summarize and reflect on their time in the session.   In 20-30 minutes, all 50+ educators successfully created summaries of their learning with photos and videos as evidence!  These videos were shared within and beyond our time together with FlipGrid.

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Pages with Placeholder Images

Two half-day sessions related to teaching students supported through Special Education services in mathematics included elementary and secondary educators as well.  A portion of the experience involved clarification of our standards.  The educators were challenged to collaboratively model a given strand of the standards using manipulatives, images, and text.  These artifacts were captured and organized on a Pages document.  I created the Pages document with placeholder images ahead of time and shared through iCloud.

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The educators used their camera to capture photos and successfully demonstrated understanding of the standards as they created this artifact of their learning!

Next steps of my work include supporting my teachers to collect evidence of learning as part of their bigger professional learning journey.

NCSM 2018

Some of the most insightful, inspiring minds in math education converged upon Washington DC this week for the annual meeting of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics.  I left recharged and ready to continue to do the good work, knowing I am not alone in this.

I am indebted to my friends (specifically Steve Wyborney, Kyle Pearce, Robert Kaplinsky, and Kris Childs) who spent valuable time with me before, during, and after the sessions to share ideas, challenge one another’s thinking, and re-commit to the work together.

The sessions I attended each provided a clear, consistent message …

Michelle Rinehart

Math Talks: Adapting the Number Talks Structure for Secondary Mathematics Classrooms

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Christine Newell

Building Mathematical Language and Precision Through Routines

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Grace Kelemanik, Amy Lucenta

Learn How to Develop Teacher Content Knowledge and Practice Through Instructional Routines

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Graham Fletcher

Teaching Beyond the Task: Using Yesterday’s Lesson to Prepare for Today

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Kyle Pearce, Phil Daro

Digging Deep into Ratios and Proportional Relationships in the Middle Grades

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Kristopher Childs

Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice Develops Student Problem Solvers and Not Just Rule Followers

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Shared Albums in Photos with iCloud

The Shared Albums feature within Photos in iCloud provides a simple, systematic way to archive and share images with others.  Any photos or videos on your iPad Camera Roll, or already saved within Photos can be added to a Shared Album.  Though the owner of the Shared Album must have an Apple ID to create the album, there is no Apple ID required to view the album if the owner publishes to a public website (an option within Photos).  Also, sharing is possible with those using a Windows computer, as the images may be housed on a public website that invitees can access via a unique web address.

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Albums can be used to curate photos and videos from invitees, based on certain set up features by the owner.   This minimizes the workflow and necessity to gather images on a single device for a large batch upload of content.  Invitees may also like and comment within the album, should the owner choose to utilize this feature as well.

We photograph things that matter to us.

How might you use Shared Albums to curate and share photos and videos without the barrier of a lengthy workflow process?


Workflow: Archiving and Sharing Paper by FiftyThree Sketchnotes with Shared Albums in Photos

I use the app Paper by FiftyThree to create sketchnotes of professional learning opportunities.   This includes summaries of books, articles, TED Talks, and sessions I attend at conferences.

In order to archive and share these sketchnotes, I use iCloud Photo Sharing.  This allows me to continue to add to the album while sharing a single web address.  I am also able to control the rights of those viewing the images (such as restricting the rights to add images or comments to the folder).

Workflow to Export Sketchnotes from Paper to Shared Albums:

  • While in the Paper by FiftyThree app, view either an entire journal or a single page in the butterfly view.
  • Tap the Export button and select Export Drawings…

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  • Tap on iCloud Photo Sharing.
  • Either select an existing Shared Album or create a New Shared Album.

Workflow to Invite People to Shared Albums on iPad:

  • While in Photos, navigate to the Shared Album.
  • Tap on People and set restrictions (Subscribers Can Post, Public Website, Notifications).
  • I choose to turn off Subscribers can Post and Notifications and turn on Public Website.  This allows me to share the link to the album in iCloud where anyone can view.
  • Share link.

I have utilized other platforms to archive and share my sketchnotes and Shared Albums in Photos is my top choice.

Show Your Work with Pages

The most recent iWork update supports the creation of books and the addition of drawing in Pages with the same ease of workflow that we are accustomed to from Apple.

I put this update to the test by putting it in the hands of first graders and the outcome was fantastic!  The ease of use by 6 year olds was nearly seamless.  The only struggle I noticed was with their desire to change drawing colors.  More on that later.

I gave the first two students (I’ll call them Madison and Eli) math tools of their choosing and asked them to teach me something.

Madison wanted to show what she knew about addition with a rekenrek (the beaded math tool in the picture below).  Eli wanted to prove to me the area of an unfamiliar shape.  Both students followed the same process to create their books.

First, they chose a template.

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Then, they replaced the placeholder on the cover page with their own photo.

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On subsequent pages, they continued to add photos along with annotations using the drawing tool.

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Note for teachers: This is powerful!

The ability for students to annotate their thinking directly on a photo they took provides us with a peek into their mind!  Think of this as the creative equivalent of Show Your Work.  Rather than writing an abstract number sentence separate from the tool (the rekenrek) they use to build it, have the students mark up the actual photo – connecting the number sentence to the tool.

Now, for Eli.  He selected this zig zag shape (shown in the picture below) and said he wanted to tell me how much it was worth.  That’s first grade speak for composite area!

So, just like Madison, he selected a template and began adding photos to replace the placeholders.

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He pointed to the shape and said it was worth 5.  Then, I asked him to prove it.  This is where I am pushing him to justify his thinking – to Show Your Work.

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Without hesitation, Eli grabbed 5 one inch squares, placed them on top of the zig zag shape and took a picture.  Now I know what he is seeing in his mind when he said the shape was worth 5.  He saw 5 orange squares, placed in a non-overlapping way, on the composite figure.  He used the drawing tool to write count the squares and 5.

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The only hiccup in the workflow with these students came when they attempted to change the drawing color.   Each  tapped the color wheel rather than dragging the white teardrop around the circle.  Though this was simple to overcome, it was important because it allowed for the students to choose their own color in order to add their personal touch to their books.

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Another example of creating books in Pages is to capture the process, or tell the story, of a learning experience.  This class had read The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant.  The students were tasked with solving the problems the relatives encountered during their visit.

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The image below shows how this student inserted a photo of her cardboard creation (a bed for the relatives) into a book in Pages and began to use the drawing tool to annotate the parts.  She’s writing cup holder on the image.

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This image shows how she added text to the page to justify her thinking – The relatives only had one bed.  There is no need to ask, “What is that? or Why did you make that?” as she has articulated each part of her creation.  As the teacher, I now have a clear view into her mind and don’t need to remind her to Show Your Work.

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I challenge you to use the new books feature in Pages and empower your students to show their work!

The Intersection of UBD & Retrieval Practice

We are making great strides in mathematics teaching and learning.  We are supporting our teachers to understand the content and employ strategies that make the math accessible and rigorous, all while using problems worth solving in class.

Following much conversation, feedback, and contemplation, I am working to design what I am currently referring to as a lesson structures for both my elementary and secondary mathematics teachers.   This comes in response to a request and will be communicated in that way, as opposed to a top down mandate.  Great things are happening in our schools, but our teachers need direction when they are overwhelmed, a nod of support when they are on the right track, and tools for on-boarding when they are new.  That is what this work is about.

Even though we are moving forward in math education, we have an opportunity to collectively do math differently – for the better.  We have the chance to empower our students with skills to retain and retrieve what they have learned so that they may connect, compare, extend, transfer, and create with this knowledge.  The problem is that we do not do this well, if at all.  Why do we not teach our kids how to use metacognitive skills to own their learning?  I cannot grasp why we are not transparent with students, providing them with clarity about what they will learn, what they are learning, and what they have learned so that they can be in control.

So, consider a team of teachers gathered around a planning table, looking at the next unit of study, making decisions about the learning experiences they will provide for their students.  What steps do they take?  Do they use a calendar to plan 8 consecutive lessons followed by a day of review then a unit test?  I so very much hope they do not.  But, since hope is not a strategy, this is where the lesson structures comes in.

Back to the planning scenario.  Based on that given topic, using the lesson structures, the teachers may choose a few inquiry-based tasks, some whole group mini-lessons with small group next steps, and even some days structured solely as small group days.  Each of these experiences should be purposefully chosen, equitably designed, carefully sequenced, all with learning as the goal.  What I strive to see is learning design that pulls from the best-in-the-world content and resources so that all students have the opportunity to learn and be successful.  I also look toward design that is centered around what the students will do, not what the teacher will do.

In my design there are three lesson structures, each including a few portions that are consistent across the various means:

  • Number Sense Routine;
  • Reflection; and
  • Retrieval Practice.

The Number Sense Routine may look like a Number Talk or various other formats such as Which One Doesn’t Belong?, Notice & Wonder, Numberless Word Problems, Would You Rather, Same & Different, Estimation 180, Count Around the Circle, or Clothesline Math.  The point is that there is an opportunity EVERY DAY for students to make sense of mathematics, develop efficient computation strategies, communicate mathematically, and reason and justify solutions.  The emphasis here is on the students doing the math.

Also, EVERY DAY students are provided an opportunity to intentionally reflect on their learning.  This may include posting content to their portfolio, writing in a journal, or responding to a well written prompt with a classmate.  As adults, we reflect on our day in the car during our commute, at the gym while we work out, or at home as we cook dinner.  We think about what worked, what didn’t work, and what we would do differently if given the opportunity.  Let’s move toward providing this reflective time for our students as well.

The final commonality amongst the lesson structures is Retrieval Practice.  My first experience with this tool was when I read Make it Stick.  Since then, I have listened to the 15 podcasts on the subject by the Learning Scientists, explored the content on the Retrieval Practice website and began reading Small Teaching by James M. Lang.  I have only begun in my learning of this under-utilized opportunity to support our students.  It is exciting to think that a few intentional, purposeful moments in our classrooms can empower our students to become owners of their learning – teaching them how to learn, how to study, and how to use this knowledge to be successful.  Why not?

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In addition to the work to incorporate Number Sense Routines, Reflection, and Retrieval Practice into the lesson structures, I am working to communicate the role each of these (along with Inquiry-Based Tasks, Whole Group Mini-Lessons, and Small Group Mathematics) fit into our structure of Understanding by Design.  The clarity on this connection came to me recently and I am comforted in the alignment – when connections are this apparent, I am assured it is the right thing to do for teachers and students.  Within Understanding by Design, we design learning for one of three purposes: acquisition, meaning making, or transfer.  For many years, we have struggled to articulate the distinction among these three outcomes.  Until now.

  • Retrieval Practice is for Acquisition.
  • Number Sense Routines are for Meaning Making, as are Whole Group Mini-Lessons.
  • Inquiry-Based Tasks, Small Group Mathematics, and Reflection are all for Transfer.

The images above depict Elementary Mathematics lesson structures; however, those for Secondary Mathematics appear very, very similar.

I will continue to work to design supports for clarity around each portion of these documents.  In the mean time, I know the intersection of UBD and Retrieval Practice makes sense.

Make It Stick

Recently I read Make it Stick by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel.  My sketchnotes from each chapter are below.

Chapter 1: Learning is Misunderstood

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Chapter 2: To Learn, Retrieve

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Chapter 3: Mix Up Your Practice

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Chapter 4: Embrace Difficulties

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Chapter 5: Avoid Illusions of Knowing

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Chapter 6: Get Beyond Learning Styles

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Chapter 7: Increase Your Abilities

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Chapter 8: Make It Stick

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What Does Learning Feel Like?

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time in a 5th grade class, promoting thinking, reasoning, and problem solving – as a model for the teacher.  In general, it was evident these kids could calculate solutions to math problems out of context, but once they were faced with a scenario (concrete or written in text), their estimation, problem solving processes, and justification skills were very weak.

I started by posing the question, “What does learning feel like?”  I wondered if they could describe that feeling of meaning making, that very moment that connections are made and clarity is discovered.  What they shared would have better answered the question, “How do you know that you have learned something?”  After acknowledging the difficulty of describing such an abstract concept, we moved on to the next phase, the Stroop Test.

The students accessed timers on their iPads and prepared to measure how long it took to name the color of all of the words projected on the screen.  As a form of the Stroop Test, the challenge is that the words are actually colors themselves, written in an incorrect color font, as shown below.  Here is a link to my slides.  Note: I also created a slide specifically for a student with red-green colorblindness (to the best of my ability).

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After round #1, I asked the students how it felt to complete this task.  Their responses were beautifully said… It was challenging but I knew I could do it, and I had to tell my brain to slow down because it was saying the wrong words.

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After a second round of the test it was time to move to the next phase of the lesson, the numberless word problems.  Here is a link to my slides.

The idea of a numberless word problem is to scaffold the process so that students slow down and seek understanding of the situation before they allow their brain to jump into number crunching mode.  Read more about numberless word problems from Brian Bushart here.

This first problem is scaffolded in this way:

  • Mr. Choate has some trail mix.  He is going to pour some into each bag for his students.
  • Mr. Choate has 12 cups of trail mix.  He is going to pour some into each bag for his students.
  • Mr. Choate has 12 cups of trail mix.  He is going to pour 1/3 cup into each bag for his students.
  • Mr. Choate has 12 cups of trail mix.  He is going to pour 1/3 cup into each bag for his students.  How many bags of trail mix can he make?

Between the slow reveal of the slides, I posed purposeful questions such as:

What are you picturing in your mind when you read this story?

What is in the trail mix are you picturing in your mind?

How small or large is the bag you are picturing for each student?

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I was surprised, though prepared, to notice that nearly all of the students in this class were unable to reason through the problem accurately.  The most common response I saw was 4 bags.

So, I asked the students to show me with their arms what it would look like if they were holding a bowl that contained 12 cups of trail mix.  The response to this varied greatly.  I modeled this visual as well as what it would look like if I were to hold 1/3 cup of trail mix in my hand.  Again, quite a variety of responses on this one.

I took the response of 4 bags and demonstrated (in an imaginary way), scooping out 1, 2, 3, 4 scoops of trail mix and announced that then my bowl should have been empty.  But it wasn’t.  The students went back to their thinking before I moved to another thought process.

If the scoop was 1 cup in size, how many bags could he fill?  They were (somewhat) able to reason that he could fill 12 bags.  So, knowing the scoop is 1/3 cup, should he be able to fill more or less than 12 bags?  This is where the “backward” thinking comes in to play, much like the Stroop Test.  The scoop is getting smaller while the number of bags is getting larger.

The lightbulb moment for most kids came when I sketched 12 boxes on the board, representing 12 cups/scoops.  The students knew each one actually represented 3 bags, because the bags held 1/3 cup each.  So they added, 3 + 3 + 3 , … 12 times and decided he could create 36 bags of trail mix.

All of that was the first numberless word problem.  Slow, intentional, clear problem solving is what is going to make the difference.  I asked the students who else should take the Stroop Test.  Their response – teachers!  Why?  Because they need to know what it feels like to learn.  Wow.

In the debrief of the trail mix problem, I asked now if they could describe what it feels like to learn.  They said it was stressful and challenging and one even mentioned he had to fool his brain and not let his brain fool him.


My next steps include working to incorporate more number sense routines in resources and professional learning.   Some of my educators are using these structures, but all students should have an opportunity to think about number and scale and reasonableness more often.

  • Problem Strings
  • Number Talk
  • Which One Doesn’t Belong?
  • Notice/Wonder
  • Numberless Word Problems
  • Would You Rather?
  • Estimation 180
  • Clothesline Math
  • Count Around the Circle
  • Tools such as number lines, rekenreks, hundreds charts, strip diagrams

The Power of the Ask

In September of 2017, I was asked to return to the 2018 Research-to-Practice Conference at Southern Methodist University.  At the 2017 conference I served on the panel at the opening of the conference.  This time, I was the closing speaker.  The conference is exceptional – a best kept secret that sold out this year in 48 hours!  Always working to improve upon my practices and knowing the structure of a full 60-minute time slot, a given topic problem solving, and the final event on a Friday afternoon, the pressure was on.

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As with all of my planning, I employed backward design, beginning by making notes about the biggest takeaways I wanted to provide for the audience: actionable content grounded in equitable practices.   I built upon what I know about breaking barriers to accessing mathematics and quickly recognized that my network of math education leaders have made significant contributions to this work.  I wanted the audience to be afforded the opportunity to make these connections as well.

Enter: The Power of the Ask.

I drafted personal emails to nine of my friends, requesting their insight on this topic.  This is what I sent:

I have the opportunity to present the closing session at the 2018 Southern Methodist University, Research-to-Practice Conference in February (link).  My topic is: Breaking the Problem Solving Barrier (description below).  Info from last year’s conference: here.
Too often the problem solving tasks we design include unintentional barriers that prevent our learners from accessing the mathematics. Language, prerequisite knowledge, disengagement, limits, and time are five barriers impeding learning in our classrooms. Let’s break the problem solving barrier in order to cultivate a problem solving community in which all are welcome.
I am working to design my content around the expected audience of approximately 300 mathematics educators and teacher leaders.  I would like to send them off with both practical content and the reasoning behind the benefits of removing barriers in mathematics in terms of problem solving.  Even better, I would love the opportunity for these teachers to hear the voices of many leaders in math education who are collectively working to make the content accessible for all students, highlighting their favorite structures or tasks.
Here’s where you come in… I would be so grateful if you would contribute to this FlipGrid Topic, sharing your favorite problem [structure, task, lesson, system] that allows the mathematics to be accessible to learners.  Don’t be too humble to toot your own horn in sharing something you designed, or give a shoutout to a colleague for the work he/she has done!  I greatly appreciate your contribution and know the mathematics educators and teacher leaders will benefit from your words of wisdom!
Wondering what to share?  [This is where I added specific work each of my friends has created that would be valuable for the audience to see.]
What happened next honestly surprised me.  Every one of them responded YES!  Every one of them contributed to the FlipGrid topic I created.  Not one of them was too busy, not interested, or didn’t see the value.  Every one wanted to (voluntarily) support teachers and instructional leaders for the greater good.  All I had to do was ask.

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I was able to share the voices of my friends Brian Bushart, Graham Fletcher, Cathy Yenca, Steve Wyborney, Jon Orr, Kyle Pearce, Lucy Grimmett, Michelle Rinehart, and Robert Kaplinsky with those teachers and instructional leaders at the conference.  I was able to send them off with actionable content grounded in equitable practices.

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My biggest takeaway from this experience is twofold:

  1. Continue to ask.  We are better together.   Also, being humble enough to ask others to fulfill what you need will allow you to grow in ways you cannot anticipate.
  2. Continue to say yes.  When others approach you with a need, say yes.  You will grow by giving to others.

Have you seen Jia Jiang’s TED Talk What I Learned from 100 Days of Rejection?  Worth the watch if you wonder about the power of the ask.