Critiquing Reasoning = Rich Math Task

As my fifth graders were nearing the end of our unit on volume, I went back to the Common Core State Standards to ensure that we had covered all required concepts thoroughly. I reread the fifth grade standard on measurement and data (5.MD.C.5b), where students apply two formulas (Volume = length x width x height and Volume = base x height) for volume of rectangular prisms to solve problems. I felt confident that my students understood and could efficiently use the first formula; however, I knew we needed to spend some more time with the second.

In our problem solving work, my students were intuitively solving using the second formula, but they were not aware that multiplying the area of the base by the height was a separate formula.

In my classroom, I never just give my students formulas. I have two reasons for this. First, formulas they memorize but don’t understand are quickly forgotten. Second, if I want my students to think like mathematicians, then they need to discover formulas for themselves. Our experience building rectangular prisms had led naturally to the understanding of the formula V = l x w x h.

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Less Is More: Increasing Mathematical Thinking

“All great changes are preceded by chaos.”  – Deepak Chopra

As a math teacher, currently in my first year of Common Core implementation, the above quote resonates with me. As educators, we are sometimes challenged with out-of-date curricula and little professional support. The chaos we might experience in attempting something as new and big as Common Core seems to bring more questions than answers.

The quote, though, reminds me that change is uncomfortable, and great changes can make us feel as though our foundation has been shattered. It’s imperative that out of the potential chaos that precedes change, we identify small, achievable goals. Narrowing our focus can increase our productivity, reduce stress, and engage learners.

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#TchLIVE: Professional (and Personal) Learning This Summer

We teachers know it’s a myth that we take our summers off.

Actually, we’re busy improving our practice through professional learning opportunities, from summer classes to one-day workshops to district-mandated PD. We’re busy reading professional books, watching Teaching Channel videos, planning curriculum.

Or sometimes we’re busy learning just for the sake of learning. Figuring out how to grow and harvest the perfect tomato may not seem like it’s related to professional growth. That is, until you think of it as following an interest and passion and all that implies: research, the drive to succeed, trial and error, relevance, and authenticity. And it’s similar to what we would want to see in our students, as they endeavor to be lifelong learners about any of the myriad of curiosities that exist in the world around them.

Enter May’s #TchLive chat! Share what kind of learning opportunities – professional and personal – you have planned for the summer. Bring a favorite thing you’ve learned from this past year to share. Let us know how you plan to continue to grow as a person and a teacher.

The #TchLIVE chat will be on May 28th, at 4pm PT.

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Collaborating Around Math: Before, During, and After Lessons

Collaborating To Develop Math Ideas
As a teacher, I was lucky to work consistently with teaching partners that pushed my thinking and helped me become a better educator. Out of our collaboration sessions came lessons that engaged our students in deeper thinking. But beyond just lesson planning, these sessions nourished me. They gave me the opportunity to ask questions, get advice, and feel connected in a world that often felt isolating.

In a new video series we’ve produced with Illustrative Mathematics and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, we get to see the power of collaboration across grade levels and settings. Working in elementary, middle school, and high school groups, teams of educators come together to plan, teach, and reflect on student learning. Though many collaboration sessions often focus on planning lessons, this series shows how helpful it can be to come back together with colleagues after lessons to assess student learning.

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Developing A Math Team: Online and In Person

Collaborating to Develop Math Ideash
If you heard me use the word “colleague” in a conversation a few years ago, I would have been referencing the people I work with face-to-face.

If you heard me use that same word today, the people I’d be referring to would be much different. In addition to my face-to-face coworkers, I would be gushing about my incredible Illustrative Mathematics Elementary Team members, and all the amazing educators I interact with in the #MTBoS (MathTwitterBlogosphere). While the majority of these interactions are solely online, I have had the extreme pleasure of learning and growing with my Illustrative Mathematics Elementary Team — both online and in person — over the course of this school year.

Our journey together began in September through a collaborative project between Illustrative Mathematics, Smarter Balanced, and Teaching Channel. Having always used illustrative tasks in my classroom, I was beyond excited to have the opportunity to collaborate on the mathematics and student learning of the tasks with professionals of diverse educational occupations. The team consisted of the varying perspectives of a county math supervisor, district math specialist, college professor, and classroom teachers, all the while supported by the mathematicians and content specialists from Illustrative Mathematics and Smarter Balanced. Each team member brought interesting and insightful perspectives that challenged my thinking during every conversation we had.

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Teaching Novels in the Common Core Era

The teaching of literature, and novels in particular, has been a subject of some controversy and confusion since the advent of the Common Core.

The standards’ call for a greater percentage of informational text (increasing from an equal percentage of informational and literary in fourth grade, to 70% informational and 30% literary by grade 12) was seen as a sign the standards were trying to phase out literature. However, these percentages were cumulative across the whole school day and reflect reading that should be happening in content area classes, like science and social studies.

While the amount of informational text read in most ELA classrooms will increase, the introduction to the standards clearly states, “The ELA classroom must focus on literature (stories, drama and poetry) as well as literary nonfiction.”

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Differentiate Your Direct Instruction: Make Content Accessible to All Students

New Teacher Survival Guide

As a teacher, you are the deliverer of information. You have a curriculum, know the content, and are charged with the responsibility of getting that information into the minds of your students. Instruction “positions the teacher as a metaphorical ‘bridge,’ helping students connect the knowledge and skills they already know (or are currently learning) to the essential outcomes they need in order to continue developing as learners and human beings” (Tomlinson, C. A. and Imbeau, M., 2010, p.22). Being an educator means you have accepted the challenge of figuring out how to be that bridge. How you deliver your instruction matters and will determine whether or not that content is accessible to all of the diverse learners in your class.

In education, we talk a lot about differentiation. We realize that a “one size fits all” curriculum won’t meet the needs of the wide range of unique learners in our classrooms and so we differentiate our instruction in order to meet their needs. In one of Carol Ann Tomlinson’s books on differentiation, John Stroup says, “differentiated instruction recognizes that students are not the same and that access to equal education necessarily means that, given a certain goal, each student should be provided resources, instruction, and support to help them meet that objective.”

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Five Strategies for Peer Observation To Improve Practice

“We cannot create what we can’t imagine.” – Lucille Clifton

One of my main roles as an elementary math coach is to open up teachers’ minds to what’s possible in their classrooms with their kids. Teaching in the United States is an isolating profession. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, teaching the same things in the same way with the same results, year after year.

The Common Core is shaking up what we teach, but it doesn’t delineate what the standards look like in the classroom. Videos of exemplary lessons and teaching practices, like those found on Teaching Channel, are one way for teachers to reimagine what is possible in the classroom. As coaches, we also have an opportunity to break through teacher isolation and bring lessons to life through peer observation. Below are five structures for peer observation that I have tried this year in my coaching practice. I have listed them in order from simplest to implement, to the more complex.

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Takeaways From A Video Coaching Experiment

You know the expression “two heads are better than one?” When it comes to coaching teachers using video, I say that two sets of “eyes” are better than one. Last week, I equipped myself with an iPad and set off to record a lesson in an ELA classroom. I have done a plethora of observations on my own without a camera, and this time I wanted to see if using video for the coaching conversation would make for a more productive coaching experience. And it did.

Prior to using video to coach teachers, I would leave the room to draft up my observation report. The notes I had taken during the lesson were used to inform my wows (areas of strength) and wonders (areas of growth), and make recommendations for the teacher. I had to rely on my notes and my memory of the lesson for this report, and I did wonder if using recorded video of the teacher would facilitate a more authentic coaching experience. Let’s talk about my takeaways from the video coaching experience.

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A Letter To My Children: What It Means to Be a Teacher

For the past several years, I’ve used Teacher Appreciation Week to pay tribute to this wonderful community of teachers, to colleagues, to the teachers who have made those indelible marks on me, and even to my own mother. Yet, this year, there are three young people who have lived teacher appreciation, but may not really understand what it means. For you, my children, some insight.

A Letter to My Children - What It Means

Dear Evan, Lauren, and Zachary,

Many (many) years ago, there was this little girl who spent her summer afternoons creating neighborhood schools for all of the children on her block. She mimicked what school looked like to her: rows of desks, questions and answers, praise and encouragement from the teacher, stickers and stars on the top of “assignments.” She imagined what it would be like to free an idea in someone else’s mind. She was crestfallen when the game of tag pulled her “students” away all too soon in the afternoon. She would wake up early and try to think about how to make learning fun.

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