This is a bittersweet post, as it marks the final set of videos from my Math Routines video series from this past school year. I learned so much over the course of the year while filming and working with teachers and students across grades K-4 on these Number Routines:
As I watched each filmed class routine, I reflected a lot on the types of questions I asked students, the way I structured the problem(s), the math the students knew, and the many interesting student ideas I didn’t anticipate in my planning. This process was an incredible experience in professional growth.
This entry is the first post in the series Getting Better Together: A Lesson Study
Don’t you just love those days when a math lesson goes really well? A lesson where, at any given moment, you could look around and see students engaging in a task, persevering through problems, talking with one another about the mathematics, making connections, and in the end, be able to demonstrate understanding of the mathematical goal for the day? While it’s an amazing experience we probably wish we could have every day, there’s also much to be learned when a lesson doesn’t go quite as well.
We’ve found collaboration with one another to be an invaluable component of our professional learning. In every conversation we have around the math, the lesson, and student work, we learn so much. Since we know it’s not always easy to find the time to meet, especially living on opposite coasts, we’ve found ways to be creative in our scheduling, planning, tools, and technology to make it happen.
We were fortunate to begin our journey together over two years ago when we worked on a project supported by Illustrative Mathematics, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia, and Teaching Channel. The project connected educators from around the country in a planning, teaching, and reflection cycle unlike anything we had ever experienced. Recently, NCTM’s publication Teaching Children Mathematics, published an article on this work and hosted a Twitter chat that generated an energetic conversation about collaboration that sparked a new idea for us to try.
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.
“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.
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.
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.