Saturday, January 30, 2016

Parent Math Night

My school had our first Parent Math Night this week, and I was in charge. That's what happens when you share your vision at a leadership team meeting and people like what they hear. I've had this vision for three or four years now, so even though it's taken some work to pull off, it's rewarding to finally see it become a reality.

My vision originated from the very first night of MTI (Mathematical Thinking for Instruction) provided by my state. (Pre-Common Core, Idaho required all math teachers to take this course.) The very first thing my instructor did was give us a math problem to solve in any way, shape, or form. I believe it was a 3-digit problem, but I can't remember if it was addition or subtraction. While we were computing, he was moving around the room, interacting with teachers, and asking certain ones to write their strategies on the board. Once there were about five strategies up, he asked those teachers to describe their thinking. There was much interaction between the instructor and the group as he facilitated making connections between each strategy. This whole experience kind of blew my mind. I got great grades in math but was a huge rule follower, so I had no idea there were so many ways to solve a problem. I was immediately won over and could envision giving the same experience to my own mathematicians. And I did just that. I still do.

This is what I also wanted for parents. While parents want and need strategies for helping their kiddos, more importantly, they must be won over. They must understand why math looks different now than when they sat in a math class. They must be able to see the rewards of their own children learning a different and better way. With all the negative voices on social media adding to their already growing confusion, teachers must give them a reason to not believe everything they read and hear. What better way to be won over than to experience a piece of it themselves.

We only had the parents for 60 minutes, and we crammed a lot in. Here's a simple outline.

* We asked them to quickly jot down a math memory (good or bad) and place it on a happy/sad continuum, followed by a great discussion.

* We asked them to solve the problem 61-19, sent certain parents to draw their solutions on the board, and asked those parents to explain their thinking. Most importantly, we then had a discussion about the benefits of experiencing math this way.

* We asked them to read some research about math instruction, and we facilitated a conversation about what they thought.

* We showed them a video of children in a 6th grade math class learning about area and perimeter in a real-world, engaging, hands-on way, and we facilitated a conversation about what they noticed.

* We shared specific grade-level tips and typical models and asked for questions regarding both. (Each grade level presented on their own. This was the only part of the presentation that was grade-level specific so that no matter what grade level a parent went to, they basically experienced the same presentation. This definitely helped solve the problem for parents who have children in multiple grades.)

* We asked parents to fill out a reflection form so we could know what they found most helpful and where they still need assistance. That way we can prepare for next steps.

Here is the slide presentation. Click on the graphic to view. Notes are also included.

This is the first parent handout.

This is the research page that parents read, copied onto the back of the first page.

This is the first grade tips and models page. Each grade level had their own version of this sheet. 
The models were handwritten. You'll see first grade's below.

This is the reflection page that parents filled out.

Click here to see these parent handouts.

Our numbers were smaller than I would have hoped, but we didn't invite children, who are typically good at dragging parents to events. (We did provide childcare though.) This night was all about meeting the needs of parents, so we wanted them, as well as teachers, to be free of distractions. Regardless of the small crowd, I've heard positive feedback from those who were there. 

Our parents really do deserve to be educated, so my hope is that we do something similar in the future. At the present, parents are stuck in a place of ignorance, which is not their fault, and ignorance leads to frustration for both them and the little people who they are trying to help at home. Schools have a responsibility to step in and change that.

P.S. I had a helpful team of people helping me along the way too. Our instructional coach was a great collaborator on the event.

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Writing With a DING!

I'm more of a chimes girl myself, but this little dinger, when used sparingly, has been a helpful little tool. When I say sparingly, I mean I resurrect it, at the most, twice a year. Much more than that and it could get a little annoying or simply lose its affect. But I can vouch for the fact that first graders don't mind it's DING one bit, especially if they're the ones who create it. Here's how this little tool works in my room.

I actually used the dinger to inspire my writers. For example, we're currently working on persuasive letters. Even though I'd modeled and taught a handful of lessons on backing up their opinions with details, which typically isn't an issue with my writers, the majority of this year's class wasn't embracing the idea in their daily writing. Somewhat out of desperation, I brought out the dinger one day and made quite the hullabaloo about it during my mini-lesson on using details. Of course, when they heard what the dinger could do and that they could be the ones to create that sound, their little eyes lit up. 

Off they went to write, and off I went to circulate the room, looking for writers who were using details to back up their opinions. Each time I found one (and I found many that day), the child got to ding the dinger while I made a quick announcement about what that writer had just done. My goal was to catch as many of them trying the strategy as possible, and I did just that.  

Yes, it's a little noisy. Yes, it interrupts the writers, Neither is ideal for the everyday writing workshop experience. But, it motivates writers who won't budge and need a push in the right direction. A little noise and interruption a few times a year is worth it when my writers take on the challenge and get over that hump in their way.  DING!

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Monday, January 18, 2016

December Reads

December was a good reading month for me. It helped that I read 12 books over my Christmas break. What a sweet way to spend a vacation. :)

I'm going to include my Goodread star ratings. 

5 stars - so so so wonderful

4 stars

4 stars

3 stars

2 stars - the story is inspiring but I wish it had been written well

4 stars - I really love JoJo

4 stars

3 stars

4 stars - great messages in this one

4 stars

3 stars

4 stars

4 stars - funny and inspiring

4 stars

In conclusion, I adored Fish in a Tree. Teachers must read this one. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was my next favorite. It's an endearing and thought-provoking story. I read quite a few Sandra Brown books. Minus the steamy scenes, I enjoy the suspenseful plots. 

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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Perspective

I experienced a crucial mind shift this week. I'm hoping that my written reflection will be enlightening not only for this teacher, who might be noticing a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, but also for you, the innocent bystander, who just might be able to relate. 

A mind-boggling incident occurred at recess with one of my little people this week. My typical response to a mind-boggling incident (and I've experienced my share this year) would go something like this.

You've got to be kidding me. I work too hard on character each and every day for something like this to happen. 

Instead, for some reason, possibly divine intervention, my response was both slightly and hugely different.

It's a good thing I work so hard on character each and every day. My kids sure need it.

This slight variation in wording rocked my world this week, in a really good way. The incident, though frustrating, didn't turn into a dark, gray cloud of despair raining down over my outlook on the condition of my classroom. Instead it encouraged and boosted my daily efforts. It validated why I do what I do and how hard I work to make a difference. 

Seemingly, I accidentally stumbled across this new perspective, but I'm asking the question, how can I purposefully transform a previously negative outlook into something of promise and hope? I'm confident we all could use more of both. 

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Saturday, January 2, 2016

Saturday Sayings: Stir

There were scores of things I didn't know 22 years ago when I received my teaching certificate. Recently I've pondered one of the most obvious. My limited view of curriculum consisted of reading, writing, math, science, health, and social studies. I admit to being clueless as to the importance of character development in the classroom. I'm unsure of whether that was a product of ignorance, my undergrad studies, societal needs and expectations, or all of the above. But there's been a gradual and pivotal transformation from those first years that's expanded my role as the teacher of six-year olds. Twenty-two years later I realize there's not enough time in the day to teach them simply how to be who they were meant to be.

This year I feel an even greater urgency than usual to turn my little ones into readers, writers, mathematicians, etc. They have a great need for these skills, but at the same time, I'm overwhelmed with the job of helping them find their potential in character. One morning in December I was reminded of a scripture that sums up my heart's desire for these kids (all kids).

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works. - Hebrews 10:25

Putting religious beliefs aside, it's difficult to dismiss the truth and value of this thought for the 21st century classroom. The world looks different than it did 22 years ago, and content knowledge alone will not prepare my students to be part of it. 

Stir. Stir. Stir.

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