Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Math Talk Videos

I made the choice to ignore a Common Core Math jab that appeared up on my Facebook feed this week, but I found myself thinking, "Oh no.  Here's another parent who thinks unkindly about the direction math is heading these days."  I believe it's a problem that teachers have a responsibility to address.  How can we help chip away at the pervasive negativity concerning math instruction?  I recently shared my thoughts and game plan for what I'm doing about it, and because I believe it's an important dilemma to tackle, I'm sharing the post again here for those who haven't read it yet.

If you saw that previous post, you'll know that I have a weekly habit of sharing kid math strategies with parents so they have a clearer picture of how their children are thinking about math.  All year I've been wanting to take it to a new level though.  My cousin David, who is the IT boss in the Boise district, gave me a great idea at the beginning of the year.  He talked about how cool it would be if parents could watch videos of kids explaining their thinking.  I was all over the idea.  It just took me half the year to figure out how to share personal videos on my weebly class website without it costing me a $40 upgrade.  I love what I'm able to do for my parents now.

After I've asked a mathematician to draw their solution to a problem on the board, they're given the opportunity to teach the rest of the class.  (Read this if you'd like more specifics.)  Now that I have a way to share videos with parents, I videotape math talks and share them on my class website, along with pictures of the strategies and my explanations, as I always have. 

Click on the photo to watch some recent math talk videos.

The more parents are invited into our classrooms to see and hear for themselves what math is doing for their children, the better they'll understand that the changes we're making are for the best. 

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday Sayings: The Three Ps

That day Allie began rubbing her hands together in anticipation of our contextual math problem truly warmed my heart, partly because I did not grow up with an appreciation for story problems.  I did them out of obedience and nothing more.  Even though I earned good math grades, I rarely felt particularly successful with them either.  They were pretty much hard and not a bit on the fun side.  On the whole, it's safe to say I was not in possession of the three Ps Buschman refers to.  

Not all my kids rub their hands together like Allie, but neither are they grumbling and rolling their eyes, although it's always possible some do the math out of obedience like I did.  Regardless, I believe that most of my mathematicians have a different perspective of contextual problems than I.  In fact, I would describe them as fearless, which certainly goes hand and hand with the three Ps.  

What contributes to this fearless attitude that was so foreign to me all those years ago?  Reflecting on how math instruction has changed within my room over the past five or six years, the following factors are worth pointing out.  Problem solving does not take place in isolation.  Neither does problem solving equal one right way or require the use of a mysterious rule that must be memorized and followed.  "Solve it in a way that makes sense to you."  Differing paths to a solution are not only encouraged but highlighted and strategically used to the benefit of everyone.  With these things in place, I believe there are fewer reasons to be intimidated like I was. 

While I sense their fearlessness, I also want to be more aware of how I can intentionally instill patience, perseverance, and a positive attitude into my math instruction.  Those are skills that can be taught, and I need to look for ways to highlight and teach what each one looks and feels like when it comes to math problems.  If I do, Allie should be rubbing those hands together long after she leaves my classroom.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Just Right Problems

I hope Tara from The Math Maniac doesn't mind that I'm piggybacking one of her recent posts about problem solving.   
She recently said, "If you don't see a range of strategies, these problems might be too hard or too easy for your students."  What an excellent reminder for those times when most everyone in the room solves a problem the same way.  I agree that there should be a range, although I'll admit I don't always see it.  Today I did, which says something about the problem I gave them.

8 reindeer pull Santa's sleigh.  Each reindeer has 2 antlers.  How many antlers are there altogether?

While the kids were solving the problem in their journals, I purposefully sought out a range of solutions and sent those particular mathematicians to the board to reproduce their strategies.  When it was time for our four math teachers to share, I purposefully chose the order they would share.  Look at them below and you'll see the progression.

The kids delivered today.  Isn't it amazing how much better they deliver when I have my act together?  The problems we choose are key.

By the way, Tara is a great resource for all things elementary math.  Go check her out.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Close the Door

I might regret ever pondering this matter, but I'm beginning to wonder how the public views their teachers.  I've crossed paths with a few parental comments (not from my personal experience) that have heightened my concern.

"The teachers do not have a choice.  Their salaries depend on their students' standardized test scores."

"I feel that more of the teacher's time is spent 'teaching to the test' and you all seem to be evaluated on what kids do on these tests instead of what they actually learn in your class.  I want my child to have teachers that she can look back one day and know that they loved teaching her."

Comments like these sadden me.  I would hope the public believes we make decisions about the children they've place in our care based on what's best for them.  Instead the message I'm hearing is that they view us as handcuffed by testing, legislature, and curriculum.  They believe we are at the mercies of the unseen puppet masters who make all our decisions for us, leaving us without any to very little autonomy when it comes to doing what's best for our students.  

One of my favorite principals once granted me permission to close my door.  "Do you what you do best," she said.  I took her up on that offer.  I don't believe in a literally closed classroom door, but hypothetically I shut much of the world out of my every day teaching practices.  Some would say I'm spoiled that way--the exception and not the norm.  I know there's some truth to that, which makes me want to apologize to those whose experience is contrary.  I'm unsure of how to fix it, but I believe educators should not only be allowed, but encouraged to do what they do best--to use professional judgment to make daily decisions based on what's best for their kids.

I'd like the public to believe that our energies are focused on their children and not on fighting a system that's enforcing its will upon us and thus upon the children as well.  When possible, just close the door.

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Friday, December 12, 2014

Lines, Shapes, and Patterns

I don't peruse Pinterest much these days, but when I couldn't get to sleep last night, I hopped on and found this picture meant for coloring purposes.  (Click on the picture to visit the Pinterest link.)

I had a moment of creativity.  What if my artists could draw something similar.  I figured we could make it a lesson about lines, shapes, and patterns, which sounds fairly artistic to me.    By the way, I never showed them the picture above.  Here's what they come up with.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Common Core Math Bashing

I do a very poor job of staying informed about current events.  I'm typically unplugged and clueless, but even I have noticed the bad rap Common Core Math is receiving these days.  The bashing I've seen on Facebook actually hurts my heart.  It feels personal, as if my own philosophy of teaching is under investigation.

Some very hurtful things are being said about math instruction, and the tone is an angry one.  I know it's because society wants the best for this young generation of mathematicians, and that desire brings out the passion.  I'm passionate about my mathematicians too, but I believe the changes I've been making to my math instruction, which actually began before I was even aware of CCSS, are not only beneficial but essential. 

The people, in essence, who are questioning what I'm doing to my mathematicians, grew up on a different method of math, as did I.  They simply don't understand yet.  They're coming from a place of ignorance, and the educational system is asking them to make a rather uncomfortable paradigm shift.  I believe we teachers have a responsibility to educate the public.  We can't leave it to the media or social networks.  I can't reach everyone.  My sphere of influence is a small one, but if we all educate our parents, we'll make a significant impact on our most important clientele. 

When I first began making significant mathematical shifts, I created a math wiki for parents.  I shared weekly pictures of math strategies that my students were creating, and I explained the strategies as well.  Last year, I stopped using the wiki, created a class website, and designed a page on my site specifically for the same purpose which I've continued using this year.  

Here is one example from my site.  If you're interested in more, click on the picture to visit my math page.  

I'm not insinuating that all of our Common Core Math issues can be solved by something so simple, but I do believe it's a step in the right direction.  I want parents to see that my students and I are not at the mercies of CCSS, being forced to submit to practices I don't believe in because a curriculum or test says so.  I want them to see that I'm willingly making shifts in the way I teach because I believe my mathematicians will be better off because of it.  If I don't repeatedly share this message with real live examples of student work, who will?  

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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saturday Sayings: Start There

I see how he plays with the bottom of his shoe when I'm reading a picture book.  Or if it's not his shoe, it's something else, while we're doing shared reading.  I see how he barely moves his lips or completely ignores us when we count to 100 with a fun youtube brain break.  I see how he tries to get a spot at the back of the group where he doesn't think I see him.  I see how little effort he gives and interest he shows with most everything we do.  I see how after two years of kindergarten how much he still needs every little concept I'm teaching.  I see how he's surrounded by so many who seem eager to learn whether the content is easy or hard.  

What I don't see is a little eager fire in his eyes.  I don't feel him willingly following me on this journey.  Instead it seems like I'm dragging him along.  He is indeed a mystery, and yet this is nothing new.  Every year I have to ask myself how to engage the one who refuses to meet me halfway.  I know Routman's advice is part of the answer to this ever-present dilemma.  "What matters most to this child?  Start there."

Indeed, I see that he's full of greatness.   

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Monday, December 1, 2014

Breathing and Reading

I tell my kids that we read every day we need to breathe, so I'm here to share what I've been reading.  October was a busy month, but I made up for it in November.  A week off for Thanksgiving helped a lot.  I hope you can find something here that looks worthwhile.  


Sarah Addison Allen writes wonderful stories.  I loved this one.

This isn't my favorite by Allen but it's still a good story.

An interesting read but not a feel-good one for sure.

I rarely read memoirs.  This is an engaging one.


This book had a few slow moments, but I would still recommend it.

I loved Ivan, Stella, Bob, and Ruby.  Great story.

I feel bad saying this, but I was a little disappointed.

Everyone must read this YA.  I loved the story and the message.

I didn't embrace this YA.  

This is either YA or slightly younger and so enlightening.

This wasn't a waste of my time, but it wasn't my favorite either.

The essence of the story is a good one, but I wouldn't recommend it.

I found this in the juvenile non-fiction section of my library, but it felt older than that.  It's beautifully written.

I was hooked from the first page.  I liked this YA a lot.

This was an enjoyable YA for sure.

I enjoyed Stargirl much more than this one.

There were moments that drew me in and others I trudged through.  Now I need to see the movie.

I enjoyed this Christian historical fiction novel.

Does anything catch your eye?  Here's to some breathing and reading.  :)

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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Saturday Sayings: The 17%

When Thanksgiving break started a week ago, my goal was to finish all my school work and get my house cleaned and organized as soon as I could.  Work before play.  That's my motto.  By Saturday night, everything on my list was crossed off.  It was time to play.  I cozied up under a blanket on my couch and began reading.  Insert strange looks and shaking heads.  Some people don't understand my enjoyment of books. When I leave comments on Facebook about my voracious reading habits, I don't always receive encouraging feedback.  Sometimes I get the, "Is that all you ever do?"  Well, no, but it's pretty close.  I just finished my sixth book of the week, and I'm not embarrassed if people know.  (I think I've broken a personal record.  Maybe I should tell Facebook.)  

Although my skin could use some toughening at times, I love books enough that I can put up with the naysayers.  My students are not equipped with that ability yet.  Fortunately first graders aren't at the age where it's really needed, but soon enough, friends, family, and society will have something to say about how much and what they read.  Their world is already brimming with messages, making it clear that it's cool to be wrapped up in this, that, and the other thing.  Rarely is reading given a place on the list.  And for many, those messages will influence their choices.  At this point, they think it's cool to take their books with them to recess.  But will 17% of my students come to a point in their future reading lives where they will be embarrassed to be seen with a book?  I'm challenged today to do something about that statistic.    

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Monday, November 24, 2014

The Accordion Book Tip

I've been sharing a few of my methods for putting classroom books together.  I want them durable, inexpensive, and enticing.  This particular tip is one that brings out the oohs and ahhs from my readers.

After printing off the child's page and glueing it to construction paper, I use clear packing tape to adhere each page to the next.  I leave a very tiny space between each page and attach tape to both the front and the back.  Then when I close the book, it folds up like an accordion.  The kids love stretching out the book when they read it, although for some, putting it back together presents a challenge.  :)

If you check out the labels on the right side of my blog, and click on "classroom books" you'll find additional classroom book making tips as well as several types of books that I've made in my room.

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