I've Moved!

I was just having way too hard of a time trying to maintain a personal and a teacher, I've decided to compile all my thoughts in one place...hence the name of my new blog 'Confessions of a Multitasker!' This will be the catch-all place of the various tasks I do from day-to-day. Come join me at my new corner of the blogosphere!

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CAMT 2013 - Day 1

This was my first year at CAMT and I had a blast. There was so much good information that I was easily on overload at the end of day one. It's so hard to process so much good information, especially in the midst of reading a book and all the ideas I already had for next school year. Shout out to my co-workers and friends, Mikayla, Elaine, and Samantha, who I tagged along with for the conference! Thanks for not disowning me! :)
I have to start by saying how much of a Dan Meyer groupie I am. I've been following his blog and twitter feed for quite a while. When I heard he was speaking at CAMT, I decided I was going even if my school didn't pay for it, because I had to hear him speak. And he did not disappoint. He was engaging and funny and I had to snag a picture with him. (I resisted the urge to crop my friends Trista and Ashley out of the picture!) It's not the best quality, but I was super stoked.
Dan Meyer - Capturing, Sharing, & Resolving Perplexity

Perplexity is not boredom, confusion, or engagement. Perplexity is not knowing, wanting to know, and thinking that knowing is powerful.

Engaging vs. Perplexity
Engaging - The longest one syllable word is... (I won't tell you)
Perplexing - What is the longest one syllable word?

Figure out your Ed tech manifesto. For now, you can borrow Dan's which is: 
1. Capture Perplexity.
2. Share Perplexity. 
3. Resolve Perplexity.

Dan lets this Ed tech manifesto  determine the tech tools he uses. He uses tools to help him to:
Capture (Internet, RSS feed,social bookmarking tool, keepvid, etc.)
Share (laptop, projector, speakership document camera)
Resolve (do the math)

Instead of going from math standard to perplexity, flip and go from perplexity to math standard.

Dan shared a site with resources he referred to in his presentations. ( I love how he shared tools he used and why he uses them, but left figuring out how to use them to us. I encourage you to browse through the links. Some of my favorites are What if Everyone in Canada Flushed at Once, Playing Catchup, Short Yellow Lights, and Three-ActMath Tasks.

Now, I had not heard of Max Ray before CAMT, but I was familiar with The Math Forum @ Drexel (which he is a contributor) and I had heard of Ignite Talks, where presenters share their personal and professional passions, using 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds for a total of just five minutes. Max's Ignite Talk below served as the inspiartion fo the session I attended.

Max Ray - When 2 > 4
Listening TO students is greater than listening FOR a right answer.

Present math scenarios rather than math problems with questions. Without the questions, students make a chart of "I notice" and "I wonder." All students can notice and wonder, and then contribute to a conversation and no one is incorrect. The question that goes with your math scenario will often be brought up by students in the "I wonder" column. You can then solve that problem or others that were generated by the students.

Give students feedback using the same stems, "I notice..." (something good about the work) and "I wonder..." (a question to guide student thinking).

Grades cancel out the power of written feedback. If both are on a paper, most students will look at the grade and not the feedback. Choose one, grades or feedback for each assignment.

I went to other sessions, but these are the ones that have me thinking the most about the way I teach. I'm reading the book Minds on Mathematics by Wendy Ward Hoffer and these two sessions directly related to some of the components I've been pondering:
Giving students challenging math tasks (Ch 3 of Book Study)
Encourage sharing and reflection / student discourse (Ch 5 of Book Study)
I love how some of the things I'm reading were reinforced in some of the sessions I attended.

Such good information...and that was only day one! Stay tuned for recaps of days two and three!

Minds on Mathematics - Ch5, Discourse {Book Study}

As much as I'm looking forward to getting to the actual workshop components of a lesson (opening, minilesson, work time, and sharing/reflecting), I was looking forward to this chapter because I always feel that I don't do well at facilitating conversations.

I am so guilty of cutting off conversations and following up student explanations with my own.
"...learners can explain ideas in terms more accessible to students in the group, yet often we teachers feel we can explain things 'best.'" (Hoffer, p. 71) According to Hoffer, productive student discourse engages learners, promotes understanding, develops communication and collaboration skills, and supports academic language development. Hoffer also gives several examples of ways to create and sustain effective discourse. Questions stems are included to help us create an atmosphere of respect for thinking, ask learners to share their problem-solving processes, invite peers' comments and questions, take time to uncover errors, and let students revise their won thinking. I'm trying to think of a way I can keep all the great ideas at my fingertips. Or maybe, I'll commit to trying one question stem a day to help encourage discourse. I'm also thinking of making some type of card to attach to student tables to give them stems for explaining their own thinking. Those can be found on pages 76-77.


"What do you do when a student says 'I don't now'?" is highlighted on page 79 of this chapter. I finally invested in this poster last summer and hung it in the room that I traveled to.

It was off in a corner, very high, and not at eye level. Ask me how many times I or a student referred to! This year, I've selected a different location...just to the right of my SMART board, at eye level. (Side Note: I can't wait to finish my classroom and share it with you!)

I have to believe, "as Dr. Carol Dweck, in the growth mindset, and much read 'IDK' as a teachable moment, an opportunity to reinforce my expectations that students can and will understand, not allow them to languish in the fixed mindset whey they believe they don't and can't get it" (Hoffer, p. 79). Hoofer also offers some other responses to 'IDK.'

Psychologist: "Well, if you did know, what you you think you might say?"
Zen: "We have plenty of time to wait until you are ready to share your thinking."
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: "Would you like to phone a friend?"
Love and Logic: "We are really hopeful that you will share your ideas now, rather than need to come in at lunch and write a letter to the class about the topic."   

I am thankful for these options as well as the poster to help me combat the 'I don't know' response that I know I will encounter at some point. I hope to use these as well as some of the scaffolding ideas provided in this chapter. Some of the structures presented for scaffolding discourse are:

Pair and Share: Students turn to a neighbor and briefly share their own thinking, then listen to the thinking of their partner.
Problem discussion: In a small groups, students work together to solve a problem.
Carousel discussion: In small groups, students either respond to written information or gather thinking about a topic by writing on a shared piece of paper; the paper is then passed on the next group.
Peer critique: One student comes to the board and presents her work or thinking about a certain problem to the whole class; peers observe and then respond with comments, questions, and comparisons.

With each of these, Hoffer suggest practicing the structure with a simple topic in order to set expectations, even role playing if needed, and then distinct feedback to encourage good behaviors and sway those behaviors that are unwanted. In addition to modeling, accountability is needed. We can hold students accountable by having them teach others, through observations, reporting out, and access (to privileges).

I think of the chapters I've read thus far, this one has been the most helpful...probably because it directly addresses an area of weakness for me. I hope to use the strategies, questions stems, and structures offered to promote effective student discourse in my classroom.

Want to read what other teachers think about this book?
 Check out the book study link-up hosted by Sherrie @ Middle School Math Rocks!
Minds on Mathematics Book Study

Minds on Mathematics - Ch4, Community {Book Study}

Okay, I know I am so behind. There's a good excuse. I was in San Antonio for a week for CAMT (posts to come). Then, I spent the entire week in my classroom. See...valid excuses, right?! I have so much catching up to do. I attended some great sessions at CAMT and have so much information to process. I hope to share notes from some of the better sessions soon on the blog.

So, I just read chapters four and five. Hopefully, I can get six and seven done before the end of the week. Chapter four poses the following question:
While I know the classroom arrangement is not the answer to encouraging community, but I do think it can encourage collaboration. I think classrooms can be set up to accomodate individual, group, and whole class instruction. Here's a sneak peak into what I have planned for my classroom thus far. I got rid of the individual student desks and traded them in for tables in hopes that I would think more about collaboration in the classroom.
In addition to classroom setup, there are some other things I've thought about to encourage community in the classroom. I think this past year is the first time I've valued community in the classroom. I've seen pacing guides that encourage team building and "get to know you" activities for the first week...and I just breezed over that and got straight to the math. I chose a different route this past year and definitely saw the benefit, so I looked forward to reading this chapter.

Hoffer highlights three key components of creating community:
  • Intention - develop a vision and working purposely toward that
  • Interdependence - emphasize opportunities for learners to co-create
  • Homeostasis - balance all socioemotional forces as they shift and change.
In order to be intentional, we should establish a vision, align expectations, convey confidence, build individual relationships, control our thoughts. The one that stood out to me of these is to align expectations with our vision. It mad me think what is the vision for my classroom and how do I set classroom norms that align with that vision? Should I let students take part in establishing that vision and classroom norms or should I just set them. I think this stood out for me, because I have been pondering using classroom norms rather than rules. The two that keep coming to mind for me are respect and effort. Can I refer all wanted and unwanted behaviors in my classroom back to these two norms? If so, is there a need for others or rules?

I love how Hoffer related interdependence to soldiers in bootcamp...probably because I was in the Army. Don't believe me? Here's a couple of pictures!

Anyway, I remember the intensity, challenge, urgency, and shared purpose of the tasks of boot camp. I have to agree that the difficult work did build community. Hoffer suggests that we can enhances typical tasks to promote collaboration, promote discoures, and scaffold successful collaborative learning to encourage interdependence.

And in order to achieve homeostasis, we must hold everyone accountable, give immediate feedback, and facilitate self-monitoring. I really liked the "notice/wonder" format for feedback and the graphic organizer for self-monitoring. Often, we want kids to monitor their learning. I like how Hoffer has students monitor their progress with the classroom norms.

I could easily be the person who say I have too much to cover and no time to build community, but I disagree. I know the value of students learning in an environment where they feel safe and valued. I hope to foster a learning community that will also increase student achievement.

Want to read what other teachers think about this book?
 Check out the book study link-up hosted by Sherrie @ Middle School Math Rocks!
Minds on Mathematics Book Study

{Monday Made It} Birthday Treats

As a part of my efforts to build community in my classroom, I thought that birthdays provide an excellent opportunity to celebrate my kiddos. Our students always let us know when it's their birthday. My normal response is "Well, Happy Birthday!" and I keep on rolling with math. Why not have a little acknowledgement, a little celebration, or a little token to let them know I care. Of course, I'm not trying to go broke, but a 50 pack of giant pixie sticks from Sam's Club got me more interested in this pin, so I went for it!

I bought giant pixie sticks, balloon cut-outs, birthday stickers, and a galvanized tin to hold it all together. Now, when a student tells me it's their birthday, I'll have a sweet treat to offer!

A few other pins I have on my to-do list are below:

What Pinterest projects do you have your eyes on?

Minds on Mathematics - Ch3, Tasks {Book Study}

Chapter 3 of Minds on Mathematics considers the tasks that we assign to our students and seeks to answer the following question:

The opening story of seventh graders rolling dice, determining the product, and if that product is even or odd seems below grade level. Grade level aside, Hoffer refers to the task as shallow math where "learners are expected to memorize algorithms and apply them, complete hunt and copy exercises, plug and chug numbers without considering the questions: So what? Why are we doing this? What does this number or equation or concept really mean?" (p. 33-34). Hoffer suggests that we should move from shallow math to deep math.

As in chapter one, Hoffer tells a story of spending an entire lesson on one problem. While the story she tells of the deep discourse her students had with a task on parabolas, seems like a math teachers dream, I am still a bit skeptical. I understand the idea of moving from concept coverage to student understanding. I'm kind of at my own "yeah, but..." here. Where do you find these engaging, thought-provoking tasks? If you spend the entire class period only exposing students to one task, how are you sure they can apply their understanding on a different task that addresses the same learning? If every student doesn't understand after the one task, when does remediation take place? Now, though, I feel like I am missing the point. I'm forgetting about the minilesson and the reflection which I am sure are integral parts of the overall workshop/lesson. I need to keep in mind that this chapter is only defining tasks, not necessarily giving us how to use the tasks in the context of math workshop.

So, it is suggested that shallow math, as well as deep math, can be found in the resources that we already have available to us. "...the really juicy tasks are often printed at the tail end of each chapter, and too often we 'run out' of time for them" (p. 39). Those good tasks are also often the extension activities. In this respect, teachers have to be willing to break away from the prescribed order of things and pick out the ideas that students really need to understand. 

A few things come to mind for me here. In Texas, our math standards have been labeled as either readiness or supporting. Readiness standards make up about 30% of the curriculum, but almost 70% of the state test. If students understand the readiness standards, they should be able to complete anything related to the supporting standards. Therefore, when looking at big ideas of a unit, I have started to look at how readiness and supporting standards are related and relate them to an enduring understanding that is essential for students to learn.

Another thing I have considered recently is essential questions. I know this is not something new, but it is not something I've practiced in the past. I have started to try and flush out what do I really want my students to be able to know, understand and do. 
  • Know being memorization type items like vocabulary and formulas
  • Understand being those big ideas and essential questions that I want students to have the ability to apply in new situations
  • Do are the processes
The "know" and the "do" are easy (which is why I think many teacher teach the way they do). The understand takes considerably more time, thought, and effort. To help me think more about what I want my students to know, understand, and do, I've adapted a unit overview form I found by Bill Ferriter that I feel does a great job of giving student and idea of what they are to learn.

You can read more about what into the making of this form here. And maybe you want this in word format so that you can edit, so here's a link. Hopefully, I haven't gotten too far off track, but I'm really trying to think understanding vs. coverage.

Hopefully, you made it through my rant and slightly off-topic thought process. Now, back to the chapter at hand, the tasks...Hoffer says that when the tasks we have lack the deep math, we have three options:
  • resequencing existing tasks
  • modifying existing tasks
  • finding better tasks
I automatically went to finding and creating better tasks, but Hoffer offers places we may find them. I like the idea of using the challenging tasks that can often be found at the end of a unit or in the extension materials to launch a unit rather than an extension at the end for those students who finish their work. Hoffer also suggests setting a small goal of one to two tasks and to divide and conquer this with teachers on your team. She also provides ways to modify tasks you've found that aren't meaty enough, by increasing complexity, introducing ambiguity, synthesizing strands of mathematics, inviting conceptual connections, requiring explanation/justification, or proposing solutions.

I love blogging as I'm reading rather than at the end. Now, as I read the "Yeah, buts..." at the end of the chapter, I see that all my thoughts are there...
  • Time is always an issue so start small.
  • Not all students are ready for high cognitive demand, so offer ample scaffolding.
  • How do you assess with one or two problems...these problems don't stand alone within the workshop.
I'm really looking forward to getting to the practical examples and logistics in the chapters to come.

Want to read what other teachers think about this book?
 Check out the book study link-up hosted by Sherrie @ Middle School Math Rocks!
Minds on Mathematics Book Study

Minds on Mathematics - Ch2, Tools {Book Study}

Speaking of tools, I'm super duper excited about my new pencil sharpener! 

Maybe you've seen the Classroom Friendly Pencil Sharpener! It's not quiet like I've seen some sites suggest, but it definitely gives the sharpest point on a pencil that I have ever seen! I lucked up and found this baby on a teacher swap site for 10 bucks! 

Once I bought it, I knew I had to make cans for sharp and dull pencils. I got the labels from Donna @ Peace, Love and Learning and the polka dot pails from the clearance aisle at Walmart.

Okay, on to the tools referenced by Wendy Hoffer in Chapter 2 of Minds on Mathematics

These tools are "practices, skills, and strategies best suited for support learners" (Hoffer, p.21). And we, as teachers, must "explicitly offer instruction on these processes with the context of content learning" (p. 21).  More specifically, these tools are:
  • Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice
  • 21st Century Skills
  • Thinking Strategies

Hoffer opens the chapter with asking a student how he approaches a word that is unfamiliar when reading. The students offers a slew of strategies to figure out the unknown word. When presented the same question in a math problem, the student only knows to start over. Hoffer sass we have to teach students strategies that are transferrable to new situations...encouraging students to develop understanding. 

In the next few pages, Hoffer shows what teaching the processes may look like in the context of the minilesson, work time, and reflection. Using the process standards from the Common Core, there are explicit examples of how to teach students to think. While it is plainly spelled out, we still have to figure out what that looks like for us. I teach in Texas, one of the few states that has not adopted Common Core, but I still found pages 22-23 helpful and I think many of the examples provided are great ways to teach students to think and process material. I can see how creating opportunities for discourse, scaffolding students' independence, allowing ample work time, modeling precision, and welcoming many approaches (just to name a few) can encourage thinking and problem solving.

Still...I see these words and I think I know what they mean in the context of a math lesson, but it really takes planning. While thinking comes naturally for me, it may not for my students. It is hard for studnets to know the thinking that goes into solving a problem unless I explicitly tell them. It's hard to do this "think-aloud" strategy, but it is crucial for students to hear the process going on in my mind. Otherwise, I am just solving a problem and students know none of what went into it other than the steps they see on the paper.

I appreciated the next section on thinking strategies, which really paired down on the plethora of examples provided in relation to Common Core and 21st century skills. Thinking strategies have come from reading research and proven to be helpful across content areas when students are trying to make sense of new information. These thinking strategies are:
  • asking questions
  • determining importance
  • drawing on background knowledge
  • inferring
  • making mental models
  • monitoring for meaning
  • synthesizing
On page 27 is a great chart with definitions of each and what students and teachers may say that would use the particular thinking strategies.
...if we take seriously the imperative that students need tools for independent problem solving, not just answers, these three lists [Common Core Standards of Mathematical Practice, 21st Century Skills, and Thinking Strategies] offer us a wonderful array of implements we can hand over to learners as tools to assist them in leveraging student understanding of content for themselves. (p. 29)
We have to teach students the strategies so that they can select and use them as needed. The lesson plan template I referred to making in my review of Chapter 1 has just expanded. Not only do I need to be thinking about what the teacher will do and what students will do, but now what thinking strategy I will offer and how that will be taught. I see this as a "yeah but" and Hoffer states that we don't have to do it all at once. Just consider one math standard at a time and one thinking strategy that can be paired with it when you teach it. Seems feasible to me...I need to not only teach the math concept, but a thinking process that students can use on their own as problem solvers.

Want to read what other teachers think about this book?
 Check out the book study link-up hosted by Sherrie @ Middle School Math Rocks!
Minds on Mathematics Book Study