My Biggest Fail…

First off, I would like to really say thank you to Annie (@Annieperkins) for being bold and posting her failure this week.  It was a great story, reminder, and way to cope with what we do on a daily basis.  Read her awesome post here.

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This is why I really appreciate the MTBoS, there is no way I could have these discussions and reflections without it.  It is a conversation I could have with my close colleagues (CLOSE colleagues, you don’t want everyone in the building knowing this), and even then when you are the only math teacher in the building it makes it hard to really connect with any condolences you may receive (because you know, our profession is SO much different than anyone else’s).  It is comforting to know that others experience the same struggles that I do.

I can totally relate to Annie’s initial fears of “airing out” her failure.  When I started blogging, I wrote one post to begin with, and didn’t post another for 6 months.  Why was this?  Feeling of failure and insecurity.  I started blogging because I wanted a way to have reflections and records of what I did through the years, but I will be honest in the fact that “putting yourself out there” is very hard and immensely daunting.  I mean, anyone can access my blog and read what I post, how will I be viewed as a person, teacher or presenter when I write about all of my shortcomings?  Even now, I rarely tell anyone about my blog in district- I still have that fear.  I’m getting better, and presenting at NCTM San Antonio was a huge breakthrough for me in this.  I am far from where I feel I need to go, but I am a lot more accepting of what I do here on my blog and twitter.

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(Like this Pic, I love that I’m presenting- but I’m like “My eyes are closed!  Thanks Nicole, I look like a dumb-___!”)

So, off to my biggest fail- and I really have to thank Annie for making me revisit this blast from the past.  It was a turning point in my teaching career, and it started me down this path to seeking people, research and resources to make myself into the teacher I wish I had (yea, here’s also to you Tracy!).

It was early in my teaching career, and I had gone through 4 administrators in the first 3 years of teaching.  This year was proving no different, this was my second administrator for the year (the first had gotten into a car accident and passed away, so our middle school administrator started servicing both buildings) I was in my final year of administrator observations.  Trying to lesson plan for that many different administrators and being a new teacher is a HUGE stress factor, I was used to test-taking for that many professors- having to focus on what they deemed important and be evaluated by their exams- but when it was the determining factor for my JOB it was a whole different level.  Every administrator has a different focus and what they deem is important to teaching in “their” building.  This administrator was a traditionalist, so I tried to “please” him for my observation.

The lesson was an exercise in boring.  We had “student note” workbooks, which meant I spent the hour in direct lecture, drawing beautiful diagrams and defining vocabulary for students to then copy in their workbooks.  This was one of the most difficult lessons I did (for me personally as a teacher, this wasn’t my style), it felt wrong- and there was a particular student who felt that way as well.  I noticed him right after defining the term polynomial- he had his head propped up on his hand and had is eyes closed.  This particular student was one who was “at-risk”: he rarely attended class, he had numerous discipline problems, a challenging home life, and he was behind on credits- but he was extremely smart.  It took me a while to catch a hook on this student, and typically we had a good working relationship for class.  He liked the way I typically approached class, and could not do “traditional.”  His current status for this lesson wasn’t a surprise, and I tried to gather his attention by allowing students near him to share with the class, I taught from his general area instead of by the board- but I knew that if I called him out directly in front of his peers and in front of the principal there would be a problem.  It was a tough choice to make since I was being observed, but since he was seated off to the side and towards the back of the room, I allowed him some space and continued with class.

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The principal left during our “direct lesson note-taking” and when that was done, I followed through with the schema and assigned practice problems.  Once I had this done, I approached my student and quietly talked with him in class about what he was doing, what we had covered and what would happen next.  He told me he had a really tough night, there was a fight at his home and he stayed up most of the night protecting his siblings.  He stated that no one ever came to the back of the trailer to their room, but he was afraid to sleep.  He also told me he was sorry because he knew the principal was there, but he couldn’t stay awake.  I quickly reviewed what we had went over, and he found a partner to work with and catch up on his notes.  Not a major deal breaker in the least- as far as I was concerned.

The next day, I had a follow up with my administrator.  That is where I found out that for the first time since I had been teaching, I failed.  He did not have any sort of rapport with the student who was sleeping in class, and once he had come to the principal’s attention, everything I had done in class after that was forgotten.  I was supposed to confront the student, get them awake and attentive- or send him to the ISS room to “rethink” his actions.  This was a very hard observation meeting for me to attend, this was my last year of mandatory assessments, my last year of probationary teaching, and this man held the power to end my career at the school.  Instead of sticking up for myself and my student, I shouldered the burden of being a bad teacher and was referred to a “master teacher” with which to work and council.  I received an hour long “in-house PD” lesson on the fine arts of classroom management and student behavior from him.  I had an extra observation that year from him as well as three more that was required from my co-operating teacher.  At the end of the year, on the last day of school, I was called into his office (in the middle school building no less) to be told that I was no longer a high school teacher and I was moved to the middle school.  I was to have another year of probation where I could be overseen by him personally.  I won’t go into that next stress-filled year but all I could think about was that I was the worst teacher ever.  I even actively sought out new positions in my area because I felt so much shame that I wasn’t sure I could work in the district anymore.

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I was a bad teacher, so bad I had to move to a different school, teach a different grade, have a mentor and be personally watched over by the principal

It was difficult for me that summer, my teaching self-esteem was shattered.  There wasn’t any local teaching jobs open in my area and although I applied for any other related type of field I didn’t get any calls for interviews.  This left me in a low that I had never really felt before- I even almost went back to bartending just so I didn’t have to work another year for a man I was sure was using me for another year before sending me on my way.

I can’t thank my wife and friends enough that summer, they kept me doing things and always were great ears for me.  They convinced me to keep moving forward, to prove who I was and to take this new challenge and make the best of it I could.  Standing outside my car, outside that building and taking that first step into the middle school, his place of power, was a very difficult step to take.  Although I never gave into his vision of what kind of teacher I should be, the whole experience did shape me into the teacher I now am.

Wow, I can’t believe I actually just typed all of this and am going to put it out there on the web- but I do realize that now that I have I can start being more accepting of the smaller failures I have along the path of teaching.

Teaching students is the biggest act of being human.  I hated that most instructors feel they have to come from a place of absolute power and certainty.  I knew this was never the truth because all through school I thought about Math differently than it was presented to me, I played the game however and on tests I would replicate the work they wanted me to do.  There were times I forgot and I had many long talks with the teacher explaining my work.  As teachers we can’t be afraid to show students that we too struggle with work, make mistakes and feel like failures.  Students need to know that it’s OK for that to happen, but it doesn’t have to shape who you are.  We also have to teach them how to get back up from failure and keep going, no matter how hard it seems.  This is what being a teacher truly is.

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I failed myself that day, and I failed my students- not because of my lack of content knowledge but because I was afraid to show an outsider who I really was and how I used that to create a learning environment where all of my students have the opportunity to be successful.  If you see me in class, you will see one of these being used by me, in a way I feel comfortable with that allows my students to own their own mathematical ability- not mine.

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What did I realize a few years later (well, actually 3 years later when that Administrator also left the district)?  I was a good teacher, I made the right call for all of my students at the time, and no one in that room (other than my administrator) thought I was not doing my job or supporting them to my fullest.

Sometimes, being a “failure” is actually the best thing that can happen to you.  Thanks Annie for inspiring me to share this story and many more in years to come.

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My MCTMDuluth Presentation

It was a week before the Minnesota Council Teachers of Mathematics Spring Conference when Sara VanDerWerf @saravdwerf messages me because there have been canceled sessions.  She wants to know if I will do a pop-up session, and of course I will.  The only problem- the topic.

Last year at MCTMDuluth, and this NCTM, I spoke about using Open Middle Problems to Promote Classroom Discourse.  Around Minnesota, I’m the Open Middle guy (except that one random incident where I was the Desmos guy) and that is totally OK because I truly believe in the power of Open Middle Problems in the classroom.  Those problems have led me into thinking about two other changes to make in my classroom (and these are not new in any capacity for educators)- Problems you Pose to Students and How you Ask Questions.  This is actually what my proposal for NCTM DC is next year and it’s still a stream of consciousness for me, nothing really concrete.  This is the topic I chose to present, to get a feel for how it feels as a presentation as well as to get input from my awesome peers at the MN conference.

The Google Doc presentation is here.

Too often students don’t understand what is going on in math class.  Earlier on in education, this was deemed OK- these students were slow and needed to catch up to the others.  More often than not, I think that this clip is how students feel in a math class.

 

When this does happen, we lose these students, this is where the Math Identity of  these students is taken away.  This is when students need us the most.

Students who are behaving in certain ways in your middle or high school math classes are not acting that way because they WANT to, they act that way because they have LEARNED to act in that manner to hide their feelings about math.  I have yet to find a student who doesn’t want to be better in math class, but it takes a lot of trust building and showing that you care to get those kids to crack and admit it.

We are teaching in the 21st Century and still use 18th Century mediums.  Books are not new, like it or not they are slowly becoming a dying technology (much like typewriters).  Our students interact with electronics, and we need to provide instruction through mediums that they interact with.  When I was young, I was trapped on a farm outside of town with no way to get anywhere.  I did a ton of stuff outside and if I wanted to “get away” I had to read a book.  They took me on journeys and adventures that I could only imagine.  My son however can pick up his iPad instead of a book.  That is how he interacts.  Right now, I have tons of difficulty getting him to read- it is a constant struggle.  Too many of my Students are the same.  They don’t process information by seeing it in a book, written on a board, or even when they hear rationalization of the process (because once again, it is referencing text).  We need to provide students with other ways to see math.

Students have to have an experience with what you are trying to teach them.  An experience they can relate to.  An experience they can visualize, manipulate, interact with.  Notice that I’m not saying we have to use digital technology here, we need to give them experiences that they can interact with.  This can be provided in many different ways, some with technology and some not.  I do agree with Dan Meyer in his age old talk about Video Games- we need to provide students with experiences in a similar fashion as video games because that is how they have learned to learn.

Give students a video to watch, activity to participate in, a photo to view, a puzzle to solve.  Allow them to notice problems and wonder about how to solve them.  Have them verbalize patterns and make conjectures on how they are related.  Allow them to be mathematicians before you introduce “formal structure.”

I’m not saying you have to totally abandon whatever curriculum or groove you currently rock in the classroom, but I am asking you to take the time to introduce a front-end stimulus for students that will allow them to have some practical experience with the mathematics you teach before you start the “I do, we do, you do” process.

After you provide students with some experience with the math, AND allow them to notice and wonder about things, THEN you can start questioning.  Notice here that I have yet to talk about calculating answers or assigning homework problems.  There has to be a lot more that happens before that- even though we all feel the crunch of getting our curriculum in “by this time” and get kids to master skills “for the test.”  Trust me, if you can get students talking, wondering, and verbalizing their thinking through questioning you will have a TON less work in the form of student questions on “how do I do number 13?”

One of the biggest thing many teachers can do to help their students be successful in the classroom is to implement a universal lesson design.  This may seem like a special education method but it is truly best practices.  If you learn to design lessons taking all of these considerations into mind, you will have provided students the best possible learning experience and environment.  (And I’m willing to throw out there that you will enjoy your lessons more as well).

Like I said earlier, this is just a stream of thought, please drop some comments on your thoughts on this- I’m still learning and would appreciate any input on this.

My Favorites of NCTM- Global Math Department Presentation

I just finished talking at Global Math Dept and it was great!  After listening to my fellow presenters, I think I was the kid in the back of the room who doesn’t fully listen to directions and gave a half-finished assignment.  Whatever the outcome, it was what I have been thinking of since I left NCTM in San Antonio.

My presentation slides are here…

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1NvEVgI7Wfdb08ouhziM1mhgHB3QcukYhJ2U5z2NAbFU/edit?usp=sharing

 

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Overall, as my first experience at NCTM this was awesome, and has me hooked.  I would present there any time I was able (and I’m currently working on my proposal for next year!).

Drop my any questions you have…

My NCTM Presentation

In case you, like the rest of the mathematical community, was at Jo’s presentation Thrusday @12:30, here is my powerpoint for my presentation at NCTM.

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https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1BHlgPIxluhVpsm7Io0QC7U4n4Wf7s_unOOe_M-_v8x0/edit?usp=sharing

Some big ideas from it:

Change the way you question to promote student thinking and conversations.  This is my new thinking kick, and now I am constantly looking at problems and trying to determine “how can I ask this better?”

Once we ask student for an answer, we ask them to stop thinking.  They become focused on one goal, and will no longer notice and wonder to make connections to mathematical meanings and possible solution paths.

Please try out an  Open Middle problem.  They can fit so seamlessly into your curriculum.  I use them in flexible ways: as warm ups, practice problems, exit slips and for formal assessments.  When you are assigning homework for students, examine your text’s problems and then check out our site- see if you can get them to practice in a more meaningful way that promotes understanding without burying them in paperwork.

It was a great experience presenting for the first time at the national conference, I really enjoyed NCTM and would like to thank everyone that made the conference possible.  I am definitely submitting a proposal for D.C.

 

 

Open Middle Introductions, Please.

Hello all, you may or may not know that although I do create a lot of Open Middle problems, I do work with a group of 4 other awesome educators who create the Open Middle team.  This blog is an introduction (re reminder) of what Open Middle is, the people behind Open Middle, and if you wish to accept the challenge- what kind of information we need to publish your great problem to the Open Middle site.

What is Open Middle?

Taken directly from the OM site (blatant plagiarism, thanks Robert K.):

Dan Meyer introduced us to the idea of “open middle” problems during his presentation on “Video Games & Making Math More Like Things Students Like” by explaining what makes them unique:

  • they have a “closed beginning” meaning that they all start with the same initial problem.
  • they have a “closed end” meaning that they all end with the same answer.
  • they have an “open middle” meaning that there are multiple ways to approach and ultimately solve the problem.

Open middle problems require a higher depth of knowledge than most problems that assess procedural and conceptual understanding.   They support the Common Core State Standards and  provide students with opportunities for discussing their thinking.

Some additional characteristics of open middle problems include:

  • They often have multiple ways of solving them as opposed to a problem where you are told to solve it using a specific method. Example
  • They may involve optimization such that it is easy to get an answer but more challenging to get the best or optimal answer. Example
  • They may appear to be simple and procedural in nature but turn out to be more challenging and complex when you start to solve it. Example
  • They are generally not as complex as a performance task which may require significant background context to complete. Example

In other words, we are asking kids to solve non-routine problems that may or may not have one single correct solution, but have multiple ways to arrive there.  This promotes rich classroom discussions about the mathematics behind the problem which develops deeper understanding.  Hopefully this is what you are all about in your classroom.

The people behind Open Middle

On to the people who drive Open Middle (well those who organize the website, because we appreciate everyone who uses our site!)  The project was founded with Robert and Nanette.  After flooding Robert with questions and problems for the site, I was invited to join the team.  Open Middle started to gain a following and problem submissions started pouring in, and we welcomed Dan and Zack to the team.  Here’s a rundown of each member (or what I can dig up through a web search).

Robert Kaplinsky (taken from his website robertkaplinsky.com):  Hi, I’m Robert.  I train mathematics educators who want their students to be better problem solvers.  I help them build the tools needed to get students critically thinking and articulating their reasoning.  I do this while continuing to work full time for a K-12 school district in Southern California as a mathematics teacher specialist.  It helps me stay connected to current issues in education as a typical month involves me teaching students at multiple grade levels, mentoring teachers, and providing professional development.

Nanette Johnson (taken from her blog mathmaddicts.net): I am a wife to one amazing husband <3,  mommy of 3 awesome kids…a math teacher to more than 2000 students (over the years…and still counting).  I love teaching, and watching students break down their previous self-imposed beliefs that they “just weren’t good at math”.  I’m concerned about how teachers are expected to teach in ways in which we did not learn and in ways which were not appreciated.  I want to find ways to help teachers go from surviving to thriving.

Bryan Anderson:  Currently I am working at a public school that services a juvenile center in my area.  As such, I teach mixed classrooms where student age could fall anywhere between 10 to 18 years.  I also see a wide range of proficiency levels as most of my students typically have not attended school for at least one year.  A large majority of my current students qualify for special education services, and as a requirement to this I am picking up my special education certification for learning disabilities.

Dan Luevanos (taken from his blog Math Rockstars):  My name is Daniel Luevanos. I live with the intent to rock ‘n’ roll. I believe that we can change the world by challenging ourselves and others to do the unexpected.  I’ve been a secondary math teacher in San Marcos Unified School District since 2009, teaching at the high school and middle school level. Currently, I’m a Secondary Mathematics Teacher on Special Assignment in San Marcos Unified School District.

Zack Miller (taken from his blog A Math Education that Matters):  My name is Zack Miller and I work in math education in the San Francisco Bay Area. Teaching math was my first job out of college, and since then it has developed into my (sometimes fully-consuming) passion. Lately, I’ve been leading the charge re-envisioning the curriculum, assessment, and instruction for my charter network’s math program.  In the time since I started my career, I have earned a degree from the Stanford Teacher Education Program, been a founding teacher at two innovative charter schools, presented at numerous conferences, and became a Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship. I’m eager to share what I’ve learned, and to learn more from the community of folks focused on this important profession. That’s what this blog is all about.

What Information Do I Need to Submit a Problem to OM?

The first step is to click on the link for submitting problems on the Open Middle website, which can be found here.  It will take you to a page that looks like this:

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This page gets slightly long, so let’s just cover the essentials

  1. Your name, address and blog (yes, please let us link your blog!)
  2. Any co-contributors
  3. Problem Title- please make this as descriptive to the problem as possible
  4. Directions- We are working on having a consistent wording for these.  Typical Open Middle format follows along these lines: Use the whole numbers 1 through 9, at most one time each, to find the largest ____________.
  5. Image link- please make sure this link is accessible as we have different members preview the problem, edit if needed and uploading.
  6. Hints- what can teachers say that could prompt student thinking about the problem?
  7. Answers- please, please provide at least one correct solution
  8. DOK- please indicate what Depth of Knowledge your problem requires.  If you are unsure, check out this DOK site.
  9. CCSS-M Standard.  Typical formatting for these are not the same as the CCSS site, we record the grade level, mathematical strand, and standard.  for example: CCSS.Math.Content.6.NS.B.3
    Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation.                                                                                                                            Would be labeled as 6.NS.3 for the Open Middle website.

Thanks for checking out the Open Middle website, we hope that these problems provide you with an alternate way of providing purposeful practice for students, and those practices will create rich discussions and empower students as learners.

MTBoS30- Day 26

Activating background knowledge…


My reading today really has me thinking about how casually I have thrown this statement around. Today I’m hoping this paragraph makes you think about your lesson more, like it did to me.

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Echevarría, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2013). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP model.  Pearson Education: Upper Saddle River, NJ.