Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A Window Into Our Classroom

I am a terrible blogger.  I rarely take the time and, when I do, I have no clue how to approach them. Audience?  Purpose for writing?  I'm at a loss on even the basics.  But, I enjoyed seeing my classes at work so much today that I decided I'd brave the discomfort and open the blinds so you all can peak in.

Typically, our class follows a bit of a rhythm.  This can vary a bit and it isn't entirely set in stone, but generally we focus on one overarching concept each week in the following pattern:

  • "Throw them in the deep end." (MONDAYS) We usually work in groups on some sort of problem solving task that requires the concept we will be learning.  This week for example, we are planning to discuss Equivalent Ratios so they spent Monday in their home groups trying to wrestle with one of Dan's three-act lessons: Nana's Paint Mix Up on group whiteboards. The results on Monday are typically quite mixed.  Even if they arrive at the correct answer, they get there with a lot of fits and detours and have a difficult time justifying or defending their answer.  Which is fine...and at least somewhat by design.  Some groups that picked it up more quickly had the chance to wrestle a bit with Nana's Chocolate Milk as well.
  • "Let's put some language to what we experienced yesterday!" (TUESDAYS) We typically have one direct instruction day a week and this is it.  We use a version of Interactive Notebooks.  I say a version because I don't use foldables or many of the typical INB frills.  We organize it with a table of contents and page numbers, notes are taken on the right and a Thinking Space is reserved on the left where we often put reflections, sample problems, or challenge activities as we move throughout the week.  This is the day where I introduce them to specific vocabulary and models that can be useful as they wrestle with problems like that which they encountered the day before. Here is one of my copies of this week's notes (I use the Elmo projector and write a fresh copy for each class.):
  • "Let's Try This Again!" (WEDNESDAYS) While it can sometimes take the form of guided practice, this is the students' opportunity to try out the new language or models that we discussed in Tuesday's lecture.  For this week, that meant working in our color groups (which differ from home groups) while revisiting one of the Dan's three-act tasks as we looked at Nana's Scrambled Eggs.  This time, there was a higher expectation on their responses.  I wanted them to model their answer in a number of ways and use precision in their presentation.  I was not disappointed.  While there were points of misconception that arose and occasions when we needed to prompt one another ("No naked graphs." "No naked number lines." "What does flour mean as a unit?" "In our original ratio, what did the 2 and 3 represent?"), their work showed a much deeper understanding of the concept than Monday's sense making endeavor.  You'll notice a few errors in these samples but they were still working through their thinking.  Overall, I was pleased with what I saw:


We often conclude Wednesday with a quick formative assessment (a 2-5 question exit slip depending on the concept being covered) and then use that performance to help determine Thursday's activities. Often there are differentiated tasks available for Thursday that include opportunities for reteaching for those that need them and challenging extension tasks for those who will benefit from them.  I am out tomorrow, so I am leaving something more substitute friendly.  

Fridays are reserved for Think Through Math, a district purchased computer program that allows students to work at their own pace.  I usually hate programs like that but I actually like the way this one operates.  And it allows me to customize the sequence of lessons so I place them on Pathways that align to what we are doing each quarter.  This also allows me to have sufficient time for students to reassess on skills that they performed poorly on or get caught up on notes or assessments that they have missed.  

This pattern varies slightly from week to week but is at least semi-consistent.  Our district requires us to submit two grades per week so this provides a weekly routine of one exit slip assessment and one participation grade (generally the Thursday activity) per week.  Unit Tests (double grades) and homework completion (compiled into a grade twice per quarter) are in addition.  The system isn't perfect, but in Year Two in this position...I'm fairly happy with how it is working.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Teaching the SMPs

Casey (@cmmteach) asked that I share the foldable and card sort that I use for teaching the SMPs to my students.  There is nothing necessarily fabulous about the activities but it familiarizes them with the language that I try to refer back to throughout the year in class discussions.  This year, West Virginia has eliminated the Common Core Standards and replaced them with our College and Career Readiness Standards which read...exactly...the...same.  The political game.  Whatevs.  They renumbered them and they are calling the SMPs the "Mathematical Habits of Mind," so I am going to try to start referring to them as such in order to align with what my state/county expect.

Here is the foldable that I used last year and intend to use again this year:


It marked the first page in our INB prior to the Tables of Contents or any notes.  This year we are not going to try to complete all 8 in a single class session.  We are going to complete four one day and four the next so that we can talk a bit more about how we have been utilizing these skills in some of our opening activities.  I'm afraid this piece of what we do is a whole lot of me talking to them, but I'm laying a foundation and I do try to pull back from that more as the year progresses.

Last year, our classes were grouped by "ability" (I assume as determined by test scores but I was not privy to those conversations).  Regardless, the result was that I saw our more high achieving class of students twice a day.  This allowed me to have much richer conversations with them and explore some of those activities I would love to incorporate more of but never seem to have the chance (Looking at you, Mathalicious).

One example of a lesson that I did with them but not the others was our SMP Card Sort.  This year, I am going to attempt to do the MHM Card Sort (not sure how I feel about that acronym) with all of my classes.  I basically disassembled the SMP Posters that Chris Shore developed and use them.
The way I managed that last year was to hand the groups chunks at a time and have them match them up (i.e. the actual SMP and an "I statement", then the key word, then the key vocabulary, then the key questions, etc.).  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how I am going to execute that this year because I'm looking at the practical need to have the materials back in an organized fashion for the next class and that doesn't seem reasonable given the time constraints.



This is part of what I have on top this week for Wednesday through Thursday.  But I am also introducing our Multiplication Opener Routine and attempting our first three Calculate then Contemplate lessons.  I suppose it may be a bit ambitious...I may be changing plans as it plays out.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Unit 0 - Nailing It Down (Blog 3 of 3)

So, this week I have been working on nailing down my introductory unit...here and here.  I plan to spend seven class days this year on introducing our class.  I know that there may be unanticipated interruptions (class meetings, drills, etc.) but at this point, I want to take my list of activities and sequence them to optimize the experience for students.  To recap, my overarching goals with this "unit" are:

  1. Begin with the idea of Growth Mindset as a foundation (mistakes have value!)
  2. Help students to learn what Collaboration looks like in our room
  3. Celebrate the value of Differing Perspectives in mathematics
  4. Set the tone that mathematics and problem solving is FUN
  5. Establish the basics of our Class Routines

These are the activities I pair down from a broader list of ideas:

That is still 12 nearly full day activities in only 7 days.  And it would've been nice to include a computer lab day as well.  Sigh.  Too little time for all the goodness I want my students to experience.  <3 span="">

Ok, initial thoughts:
  • THURSDAY (Day 1):  An activity from Get It Together.  Last year we did "Build It" by we may do "What is My Number" instead.  This would get them working in their home groups right away and talking with one another.  We could debrief with a discussion of how collaboration works best. - develop our group norms (Takeaway:  Collaboration works best when everyone contributes.)
  • FRIDAY (Day 2):  Introduce class procedures/required materials.  Take Growth Mindset quiz, watch Failure commercial, and read article.  Then watch the Death Crawl Scene to end class.  (Takeaway:  Mistakes have value.)
  • MONDAY (Day 3): Introduce this week's homework.  WODB.  Dot Talk.  First Number Talk.  (Takeaway:  We honor differing points of view.)  
  • TUESDAY (Day 4):  Introduce Instagram account.  Work on Estimation 180, Day 1.  This would get them working in their color groups on the large whiteboards.  It would also allow us to experience our first Gallery Walk and discuss those expectations.   (Takeaway:  Precision in communication is important.)
  • WEDNESDAY (Day 5):  Begin Opener Routine with Multiplication Chart; CthenC #1 Telescoping Sum; Interactive Notebook - SMP Foldable/First Four SMPs (Takeaways:  Ummm...patterns, structure, perseverance, communication, perspectives...lots of goodness here.  Using the SMPs to reitterate and reinforce the conversations we have had through the week thus far.)
  • THURSDAY (Day 6):  Continue Opener Routine with Multiplication Chart; CthenC #2 Tilted Square; Interactive Notebook - Second Four SMPs/Tables of Contents (Takeaways:  Same as Wednesday.)
  • FRIDAY (Day 7):  Homework Check; CthenC #3 Coin Problem; SMP Card Sort from @MathProject's SMP Posters (Takeaways:  Same as Wednesday.)
Those last three days may be overly ambitious.  But the Day 7 could be cut off to allow me to stretch out the earlier conversations as needed.  These are my thoughts at the moment.  Subject to change of course, but it is a starting point.  Tomorrow...back to the grind.  Here we go!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Unit 0 Still in Process - Activity Triage (Blog 2 of 3)

OK...so my problem is that I think all of these experiences are incredibly valuable so it is difficult to cut things out.  However, if I can find appropriate points within the school year to insert some of them, they would serve the purpose of revisiting and reinforcing our class ideals and values so that would be good.  

So, here are all of the ideas contained within the last blog post.  I am going to try to make note of those that would fit organically throughout other parts of the curriculum to narrow down some options.

 Ideally a Part of Unit 0
Maybe Could Wait Until Later 
Would Fit Nicely Later 



Opening Week - Unit 0 (Blog 1 of 3)

I am incredibly crappy at blogging.  I didn't even write a #TMC16 reflection this year.  The pressure to put something out there that has value makes me uneasy, because everything...absolutely everything...I do is a work in progress.  So, I'm thinking maybe I need to stop worrying about the fact that people may read what I write and just use this space to help  me process my ideas.  So that's my goal today.  

I am trying to flesh out how I want to use the first seven days of class.  To recap, I am teaching sixth grade and we are (thankfully)  moving away from tracking the students in class.  As a result, I will have 5 heterogenously grouped classes this year, plus some additional enrichment/support mini-classes which I will tackle at another time.  The general way I break down my class is about two units each quarter:

  • First Nine Weeks:  Integer Concepts (including Coordinate Plane) and Decimal Computations
  • Second Nine Weeks:  Factors, Multiples, Fraction Calculation and Ratios 
  • Third Nine Weeks:  Algebraic Expressions and Algebraic Equations
  • Fourth Nine Weeks:  Geometry and Statistics
But I make it a point to spend a good week or more laying out expectations and setting the tone for my classroom before we get into a lot of new material or start our INBs.  This year, I will have 7 days to work with since I try to work in approximately week intervals throughout our regular material.  I'm trying to figure out how to merge the following three approaches:
  1. What I did last year
  2. Jo Boaler's Week of Inspiration (of which their now appear to be two: here and here)
  3. The Contemplate then Calculate introductory material (here).  
There is some overlap between Boaler's material and the CthenC stuff and likely between the two Jo Boaler's weeks themselves, but I haven't worked out where all of that is.  Here's a quick overview of what I am seeing:


 Jo Boaler Week 1
 Jo Boaler Week 2
Contemplate then Calculate 


  • Day 1 - Math Takes Practice (Journal/Video) and Telescoping Sum
  • Day 2 - Thinking Like Mathematicians (Quiz/Article) and Tilted Square
  • Day 3 - Working Like Mathematicians (Letter to Future Student) and Coin Problem 
  • All of the Growth Mindset Activities are Available Here



There is also probably overlap with some of what I did last year:

  • Day 1 - Introduce Myself Briefly, Marshmallow Challenge, Homework ("What are some ways your team was able to be successful working together?") - NOTE: I think there were other things we did that first day but I don't have that resource accessible at the moment
  • Day 2 - Groups Use Last Night's Homework to Create Group Norms, Student Journal ("Write about a time you have failed"), Failure Commercial, Student Journal Part Two ("How can failure be a good thing?"), Death Crawl Scene Video Clip  
  • Day 3 - Class Procedures/Routines, Get It Together Activity ("Build It!"), Revise Group Norms, Assign 1st Weekly Homework
  • Day 4 - Combine Group Norms Into "Our Class Norms," Which One Doesn't Belong (whole group practice), Which One Doesn't Belong (individual groups create)
  • Day 5 - Dot Talk (two examples), Number Talk (one example), Number Talk in Thinking Journal (organize in classroom)
  • Day 6 - Estimation 180 (Day 1) with Number Line Group Representations (group whiteboards), Gallery Walk, Class Discussion (labeling, precision, clarification in expressing ideas)
  • Day 7 - Set Up Interactive Notebook (foldable for SMPs and Tables of Contents), Complete Foldable for SMPs, Journal about SMP (Which do you think is most important and why?) - NOTE: Reteach class later in the day also completed a Card Sort based on @MathProject's SMP Posters

It might be helpful to clearly state my goals with this "Unit 0" because it is possible that I try to do too many things with it:
  1. Begin with the idea of Growth Mindset as a foundation (mistakes have value!)
  2. Help students to learn what Collaboration looks like in our room
  3. Celebrate the value of Differing Perspectives in mathematics
  4. Set the tone that mathematics and problem solving is FUN
  5. Establish the basics of our Class Routines 
OK...that may be as far as I can go right now.  I at least have all of the thoughts and ideas in one location and hopefully I can pick up later and flesh out how to merge them.  Any thoughts and input would be appreciated.  :)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Survived Day One of Sixth Grade

I'm not gonna lie...it wasn't stellar.  I mean...it wasn't awful, but it wasn't exactly what I was aiming for.  They definitely have much, much more energy than I am used to.  But I'll adjust that.  I just have a more low key management style based on relationships and mutual respect, and I think I'm going to have to be a bit more authoritarian than I am typically comfortable with.  But I'm going to make mild adjustments today and go from there.

I didn't spend the day on rules and such.  There was a brief introduction.  They filled out a little questionnaire which included four agree/disagree statements about their attitudes toward math.  Then, they worked in their groups on the Marshmallow Challenge.  Time is more limited than I'm used to which meant that I had to cut time shorter than ideal to allow for the follow-up conversation that I was after.

Aside from my five classes (some of which grew quite a bit between seating chart and the start of class), I teach one Reteach class.  That is my largest group and they were quite rambunctious but it a not altogether bad way.  We opened with an Estimation 180 task and they were fantastic.  The discussions I heard in their groups were fabulous and when we started sharing estimations, some of them automatically justified their reasoning.  We honed up the precision with units a bit and they were golden for a first attempt.

Then they worked in their groups on the Four Fours Puzzle and went at it like champs.  I was worried that their background knowledge of grouping symbols might be too weak to make this work but it was right at the sweet spot.  They didn't go there automatically but with nudging, they were thrilled to remember how parenthesis could help them communicate the sequence they intended.  I was pretty proud of this group's start to the year.

So, there's that.  No flowery pictures or videos because time is at a premium.
Today's objectives:
(1) Strengthen behavioral expectations.
(2) Compile ideas on group norms from last night's homework.
(3) Discuss the importance of failure...complete with video clips and journals.  :)

Have a great day, y'all!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My TMC Take-Aways


I found TMC15 much less overwhelming than previous ones in terms of information overload. I think that was at least partly due to the fact that I came in with a more limited goal and was, therefore, in a better position to filter all of the great ideas that were coming at me. My central goal was to make connections with other middle school teachers to expand my circle of go-to amazing people for ideas and advice. I definitely managed to accomplish that.



Take Away #1 - Zombie Apocalypse


Hedge had warned me that her and John were taking a risk in their approach and that I would either love it or hate it. Well, I definitely loved it! I am not necessarily a fan of the whole Zombie genre so I was lucky to have Laurie on my team. She was ultimately the victor in the week's activities so she knows her stuff. We were put into teams of four. I also had Timon and Lisa on my team. We were then guided through a series of activities based on the premise that a meteor had struck Los Angeles resulting in an outbreak of zombie like behavior that appeared to be spreading. We had to calculate how long we thought the outbreak would take to reach us at Harvey Mudd. We had to choose get away vehicles and justify our choices. We had to calculate how far we would be able to drive after seeing how much gas was in the vehicles we had stolen (randomly assigned). And then we had to use google maps to stake out a location that provided us with some safety as well as access to some resources that we may need.  Here is my group hard at work.




This is the link to the Wiki with all materials that Hedge and John used in our morning sessions. Here also are all of the tweets that we hashtagged out of our sessions (#TMZombie) including this amazing video of Timon as our team tried to determine the speed of an average Zombie.


video


Another team actually found a web resources indicating they move at 2 mph so our results were pretty close. ;)

I have to admit, I found myself getting really caught up in our mission and had to remind myself that I was supposed to be exploring ways to integrating this into my class. But I think that speaks well of the natural engagement level of these activities. The real take-away came from a lot of side conversations about how this could be implemented...cross-curricular connections as well as additional ideas for lessons based on the theme. I immediately texted my new grade level team who seemed enthusiastic to hear more about it. I've tried to start gathering ideas into a more organized set of information that we can use as brainstorming seeds for a cross-curricular end of the year adventure. Here is the link to that document which may (hopefully will) take a more cohesive organized form at some point.  



Take Away #2 - Contextualizing Nekkid Problems


blblab SMP 2

Take Away #3 - WorkStations

This is the link to the materials that Sadie and Mitzi used in their session. This includes materials for Fraction-Decimal-Percentage Track.  


Take Away #4 - New Ways to Utilize Estimation 180
Estimation 180 tasks in various ways (number lines with gallery walks, etc.)