Sunday, September 7, 2014

Talking Points in my Classroom

After my Group Work Working Group morning session, I knew for sure that I wanted to try Talking Points in my classroom.  After a lengthy twitter conversation I was convinced that I didn't need to do it day 1, but that day 2 or day 3 was okay.  We ended up starting with talking points on day 3.

Here are the instructions I gave to my students:
I basically took what Elizabeth shared here (see printable student instruction sheet), and modified it to be only one side.  If you would like my file it is available here (titled structure overview).

We read through this as a class and then I passed out talking about talking and started my timer.  As I walked around I tried to remember that I should NOT be intervening unless they were having trouble with the structure.  Here were my observations:

  • I did not observe any group ALL DAY doing 3 rounds per statement
  • Most groups did not do rounds
  • Many did first round without becauses and then went back and said why after hearing from everyone
  • Many were not taking turns
  • Many students took more than one "turn" per "round" (not really turns or rounds the way students were doing it)
  • Saw dialogue between two students while two were silent (groups of 4)
I pretty much felt like a failure.  I'm really not sure why it my students could get the structure from the handout, but I had to do a lot of intervening.  I tried to wait until the end of a round to really get insight into what the group was doing in order to push them the right direction.  I looked for things groups were doing correctly, too.  And all the way at the end of talking points I shared with the whole class the good things I saw each group doing.  (ie. "I saw table 4 reading the statement out loud.  Thanks table 4!")

I had a thought or two about never doing talking points again, but instead I knew I just needed to push it harder and help students focus better.  I came back the next day ready for more talking points and a little more prepared for how to support my students.  I gave the whole class one structural issue to focus on:  say your becauses, and then went around looking for that as well as the other things.  The next time we did talking points I focused on take turns in rounds.  Then finally three rounds per talking point.  Each time I reminded them of the previous expectations, but added one new thing.  This worked really well for me to focus on the good things that students were doing.

We have done talking points four times now, and my students are starting to get it figured out.  I still have some things to work on with them such as:
  • some groups were doing all statements round 1, then all statements round 2, then all statements round 3
  • most students do not interact much with each others thoughts unless they are "commenting"
  • still see "popcorn" conversation rather than turns dictated by rounds
  • a few groups think round 2 can go as long as they want, giving each student more than 1 turn in round 2
  • Sometimes I hear a student asking "Do you still think ____?" which I do not like
  • A few groups are still not tallying responses during round 3...I'm not exactly sure if they're just writing down their opinion, or if they are voting
So far I have done talking about talking, talking about listening, talking about questions, and talking about roles.  I have mine formatted a little differently than Elizabeth, just because my brain works differently than hers :)  I also always copy the self assessment to the back side and have groups do that together.

All of my files are in a google folder that you can access here.  If you download the file it will open in word.  Also there are many shared talking points available here.

Did anyone else experience my struggle with talking points?  If so, what have you done?  If not, how did you set your students up for success?


Monday, August 18, 2014

Group Work Role Cards

Happy Monday!  This might be one of my favorite #Made4Math Monday posts (of mine).  I've very excited to share it with you :)


I've been reading Strength in Numbers by Ilana Horn and it talks about complex instruction throughout the book.  I think these roles are based off of a complex instruction structure.  However, I've modified them some on my own and a lot in regards to Elizabeth's post here.  For the most part I stole Elizabeth's changes and them made a few small changes for myself.

Here are my cards:

I laminated them and put them as a set on a ring so that I can store them in the group storage totes.  That way they are accessible to students whenever they need them.

I really like that they will be able to keep instructions for their role in front of them as the work in their groups.  This will help remind them of their duties as well as encourage them to speak out to fulfill their obligations in whatever role they are in.

This is the first time I'm going to try group roles, and I'm pretty nervous!  But these pretty things make me a little less nervous and a little more excited :)  Let me know if you have any tips!

Here is a link to the file I used.  It has one role description per page, 6 times.  Then the last two pages are the role titles written larger, as you see on the "front" of the cards.  (Note:  the file will open in google drive, but you can download it to word if you would like.)

Thanks for reading and thanks for all the encouragement from those of you who saw the picture on twitter!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Talking Points with my Family

I've been thinking a lot about talking points since #TMC14 and our #gwwg14 morning session.  Somehow I started wondering about what it would look like it a family setting.  So, I decided to try it!  It was a little like pulling teeth to get my 12-year-old on board today, but with him, myself,  and my husband we made a good group of 3 to try it out.

We started by going through the instructions and then started with "talking about talking".  Here are some of my observations:
  • My 12-year-old's "becauses" were generally restatements of the statement
  • My husband and I tended to agree
  • Rarely did anyone change his/her mind
  • We made it through about as many as I did with my peers at TMC
  • I really wanted to convince them to think like me
  • The 10 minutes went fast and everyone seemed willing to try more in about a week...even wanting to work on the same page
  • We only came to a full consensus on one talking point
I'm trying to not evaluate these observations at this time, but I am trying to get rid of my attitude about wanting to change other peoples minds/attitudes.  If they are willing to try again, then I guess we will just see where this takes us.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

[Unit Overview] Polynomials

This is very old and thus is going to be mostly pictures since I already have them updated :)

Finding the Degree and Naming Polynomials:

We actually filled this in as much as we could and discussed why we couldn't really have a constant trinomial...

Adding and Subtracting Polynomials:  I wrote up some notes and passed around papers to groups so that they could put what they wanted into their notebooks.  There were also some practice problems and answers.

Then here is what my notebook pages looked like:

Multiplying Polynomials:  I demonstrated two methods for them to choose from.

This is my go-to style for practice problems

Factoring Polynomials:  We defined factor of a trinomial and did a few examples.  Prior to the examples we completed an exploration activity with multiplying polynomials finding b and c and then making observations.  I've done it twice now and it's pretty structured, but I think it's better than me just stating the pattern for them.

Well, that's my quick post that should have been completed in March or April :)  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

#TMC14 Things I Shared

Sarah Martin (@Sarah3Martin) and I met with the administrators from our school to share some of our highlights from #TMC14.  I figured I'd give an overview of the things I shared as it will be a good summary of TMC.

Talking Points (shared at TMC by Elizabeth)

Talking Points was the biggest take-away for me.  If you haven't already, please go here and print off the instructions and one of the talking points and find 2-3 other people and just DO IT!  I am so excited to try this in my classroom.  I love that talking points gives ALL students a voice and requires ALL students to listen to their peers.  This is something we need to teach to our students, and talking points is a great way to facilitate this.

Math Maintenance (shared at TMC by Kathryn @iisanumber)

Kathryn used Math Maintenance as bellwork, but I am seriously considering using it as homework this year.  It would help me to review older material with students regularly and to prepare them for what is coming in advance.  It might also help me prepare students for a re-assessment on an older learning target to ensure retention.

Here is Kathryn's post on Math Maintenance.

Desmos Lessons

I shared and a little bit of what it can do as well as  Mostly I shared their vision for providing these things for free forever.  It isn't to the point yet where it can do everything I need, but the idea that there are people out there talented at creating this sort of thing for our students is awesome.  And I believe it really helped to demonstrate to my administrators what kind of people go to TMC.  It was a picture of how awesome our community was.

My Session

I shared a little with them about the session I led on intervention strategies.  I wanted them to know that I appreciate the opportunities they have given me, and that not all teachers get those opportunities, but those are signs of how we care for our students.

After hours productivity
One thing that makes TMC stand out from other conferences (not that I've been to a bunch of national math teacher conferences) was that the after hours talk was productive.  Outside of sessions it was always possible to find someone to discuss teaching math with you.  At breakfast, lunch, supper, and well into the night there was always a good conversation to be found.  And usually you had to choose which one you wanted to participate in the most, which was often a big challenge!

Sarah will be shared about Embodied Mathematics, plickers, Nix the Tricks, and Formative Assessment Strategies.

What was really cool about sharing with them was watching their attitudes change as they heard more about TMC.  They were willing to admit that "Twitter Math Camp" didn't sound like much more than a super-fun weekend with geeky people, but at the end they were astounded and excited by everything we had learned.  They were shocked by the wonderful community of math teachers that we have found and how that community can help us become better teachers.  I think each of them walked away with something that they were still pondering and wanting to share with others.  I call that a win!  (Even though they might still think we are strange for enjoying talking about teaching math every minute for 3 1/2 days!)


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Lesson Plan Book 2014-2015

I know it's not Monday, but Tuesday is only a day late (or 6 days early), so I'm going to call this a #Made4Math Monday post anyway :)


Today I present my Lesson Plan Book.  I have four sections in my book this year:

Note:  Throughout the book I used the font Pea Ashley Grace by Kevin and Amanda.  You can get it for free here.

1.  Behind cover/Info Stuff:

It holds my schedule, school bell schedules, district calendar, phone extensions for the district, a page protector, and the Algebra 1 standards.  (This is mostly district specific documents, so I have not shared them here.)  However, I use these documents daily.  I did it similarly last year and I love having it on hand so quickly.  

I use the bell schedules to write up the early out/late start schedules.  Since I have my book wherever I go during the school year, I can use the district calendar when I need to schedule appointments.  I use the phone extension list anytime a student wants to leave to go to another classroom.  (I call first.)  I love being able to put in rosters because I need those handy when we have fire/tornado/lock down drills, and they are always changing.  And then I use my standards as I'm working on curriculum and lesson planning.

2.  Lesson Plans w/Calendar:

I have a two-page calendar for each moth and also a two-page spread for each week.  This is definitely the largest section of my book.  Here is a picture of August:

And here is an example of a week's planning pages:

For keeping track of what we do each day.  Also I write in the date below where it says the day.

This is a big change from what I had last year.  I specifically designated this space better because I thought it would be nice to remind myself of meetings or duties in addition to having a space to jot down students who worked with me before or after school.

3.  Attendance:

Last year I did not have this section, but I tried to merge it with my lesson plans and calendar.  I wanted a better space for it.  I'm not sure if this will be better or not, but I'm going to give it a try.

On the back of the cover page for the section I gave myself a spot to note the codes that I will be using.  I want to be able to be flexible with this, so I put it here where it got laminated.  That way I can use dry erase to write on it and changes will be easy to make.

I also have a page protector here for rosters as well.  I might even makes lists like Fawn does here (bottom of post).

Then I just have a basic sheet printed a bunch of times.  We'll see how it works.

4.  Meeting Notes:

I had a section for meeting notes last year and I loved it!  I have made some changes.  For example I added a page protector because we always get handouts at PD and I needed a place to keep them.  I also felt that the set spacing that I had given myself last year didn't really work.  Some meetings required more notes than others.  So I kind of revamped that.

Here is an example of what the pages look like now.  I have several for each type of meeting that I know I'll be going to.  Then I make some extras for meetings that might come up during the year.

So that's my binder!  I'm really excited to use it this year :)  Here is a link.  You will need to download the file to view it in powerpoint.  Also remember that if you don't download the font from Kevin and Amanda it won't be as pretty when you open it.


Friday, August 8, 2014

My Recent Obsession: Lesson Study

I have recently become obsessed with lesson study.  I think it came from the NY Times article  Why Do Americans Stink at Math by Elizabeth Green and a few follow up articles that were shared with me via Twitter.  I'd read about lesson study and been interested in it before, so this really just resparked my interest.

I was tweeting and thinking about it and found this resource from UK Lesson Study:  Lesson Study Handbook.  It gave me a basic idea of how a lesson study works.  After reading through the basic points of lesson study, I am not surprised that it is successful, as it really allows teachers to collaborate and support each other in a way that I have been strongly needing ever since I started teaching.

So I've been thinking about lesson study.  I think I'm going to have to put it out of my mind for a bit as the beginning of the year is coming, but I would really like to do some sort of lesson study this year.  It looks like as long as I could get two other people to do it with me it would be productive.  So the big question is, do I need admin support too (if the other two need to be in my district)?  Or could it be almost exclusively completed via technology?  Would watching a video of the lesson be equivalent to being there when the lesson was taught?

Those are the things I'm grappling with right now.  What are your thoughts on lesson study?  Would you be willing to try it?  Do you think an online version would work?


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thoughts on Day 1

I've been having trouble processing #TMC14, so I turned to twitter:

And I was astonished at the results.  In our morning session we discussed wanting to stay connected and use twitter to keep us a community throughout the school year, but I wasn't actually expecting such a wide response!  The conversations that came as a result of this involved many people and consisted of over 100 tweets (not all of them involving me).  It gave me so much to think about and I am grateful for all who participated.

Last year I did this on the first day, which worked great for last year, but I'm not sure I want to do the same this year.  I really want them engaging in math in groups right away, but I want them to do it in a productive way!  So I got lots of ideas from people, but I need to explain my situation a little better than I can in 140 characters.  Here is what I have to deal with:
  • We start school on a Thursday, so I only have 2 days of school that first week.
  • On Thursday we will start with an assembly, so I will likely have about 30 minutes with students, regularly I have 51 minutes
  • My admin expects that the syllabus be passed out on the first day
  • I'm not going to read the syllabus to my students on day 1 (or likely any day)
  • I am going to be doing talking points weekly, on Thursdays for bellwork, but I don't want to wait until a week after school has started to do talking points
  • I want to get their ISNs started, so they see that I value it
  • I don't want to have to teach a bajillion procedures/classroom structures on day 1, but I want my expectations to be clear when I have them engage in those things
  • I greet all my students at the door day 1 (and try to everyday), so I need something to engage my students right away while I'm in the hall greeting
  • Our first unit is a "bootcamp" unit on numbers and operations, I would like to tie into that so that what we do has value to them
OK, that's enough bullet points.  It really left me with a few options that I have spent some time thinking through:  syllabus scavenger hunt, syllabus talking points, or some other activity (like Tabletop twitter shared by Jasmine Walker as a "My Favorite" at #TMC14) in addition to gluing the syllabus into ISNs.

I think I have officially decided against syllabus talking points, as I'm not sure it would be a great place to start talking points.  I really like starting with the first one that Elizabeth had us start with, which was "talking about talking".  I think it would be a good place for students to start with talking points because the statements relate to the activity.  So I guess I'm thinking about saving that for Friday (day 2)...

Another idea for an activity that I had was a number sorting activity.  Each student would receive a number (any form of a real number) upon entering the classroom and in their small groups they should order from least to greatest.  Then when I finish greeting everyone and giving attendance I would come in and give a little more instruction (perhaps encouraging them to use "I think...because..." statements) prior to having them order all numbers from least to greatest.

Thoughts?  I'm still processing ideas and reading about quality group work, so not sure I will make a decision yet.  However if I do end up wanting to do the number sorting lesson I need help choosing good numbers!  I think a lesson like that calls for a lesson study structure, but I could be wrong as I still have little understanding about lesson study.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

This Is Not A Test

When my colleague Sarah Martin posted about reading This is Not a Test by Jose Vilson, I saw an opportunity for a bonus read this summer.  I had spent all my allotted book money already, but she loaned me the book! (Read her reflection here.)

I feel as though Vilson is calling all of us to use our experiences and knowledge to speak out for better things for education in the United States.  He asks us to speak out for our students and to our students.  Relate to them and do our best to show them how things could be better.  He asks us to speak out for our profession.  To elevate things for teachers and for students in the eyes of the public.  He also asks us to speak for equality in general.  Work against the innate structure of our society to provide privileges to some students rather than others.

It is more an inspiration call than a practical call in that there are not specific suggestions for how to do this.  But rather we must each find our own way to speak out and we must find our own things to speak for.  It feels like a big challenge, how can I live up to it?


Saturday, August 2, 2014

#5things I Like about Teaching in a Small Town

I was just reading some tweets about teachers who are just now finding out their courses for this coming school year and I was reminded again of the benefits of teaching in a small town/school.  So it inspired this post!  In no particular order, #5things I Like about Teaching in a Small Town:

1.  I know my schedule before summer starts
Pretty much my schedule stays the same from year to year unless I advocate for it to change.  Which is fairly easy because in order to rearrange math classes I only need to get two other math teachers and the principal or the counselor together in order to suggest and possibly implement a change.  Otherwise things stay the same and I know what to expect.

2.  I can talk to the 8th grade math teacher...whenever
If I have a question about my students prior experiences I can email, call, or stop by and visit the 8th grade math teacher easily.  She is always open to discussing how to help our students best transition.

3.  I can walk to school
I get to live just a few blocks from the school (thanks to my in-laws who we rent from).  So it is an easy walk to and from school each day.  Much preferred over the hour drive I did before we moved to town.

4.  I get to really know people
I get to know my students and the other teachers really well.  I have already had interactions with many students who will be in my class in the upcoming year.  And the more years I spend in the same district, the more I get to know my students' families, too.

5.  My principal is always there
If I need something or want to pass something by, I can always find her.  She is supportive and aware of what is going on in every classroom.  She works hard to do a "walk-through" everyday.  It is nice to have that kind of support!


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Morning Session from #TMC14: #gwwg14

So I actually had to close twitter in order for me to start this post.  I've been wanting to write about all the amazing things that happened at #TMC14, but my brain is on overflow!  I'm pretty sure that a concise organized summary of EVERYTHING is not going to happen, but I did want to share how amazing our morning session with @cheesemonkeysf was, because it was awesome!

However, now that I've been home a few days, I can already feel myself giving up hope on implementing some of the things I learned about.  It's crazy how when I was a part of the community at #TMC14 it all seemed so easy and now that I am home it all seems so much more difficult.  So as @lmhenry recommended, I'm going to share some of the things I would like to implement, and find someone to hold me accountable.  I'm going to do this, #MTBoS, but only with your help!

I debated for days before going to #TMC14 which morning session would be best for me.  I took @ddmeyer 's advice before he gave it, and chose the selfish option.  I choose to join the Group Work Working Group.  I felt that I had a handle on Algebra 1 content (not necessarily on how to teach it, but hey) and knew that what I needed most was to be able to get my students to interact together with the content.  I was terrified the first day, because it was definitely the choice that was outside my comfort zone!  However after the first day, I knew I had made the best choice ever!

One of the big take-aways for me was "talking points".  It gave everyone a voice and demonstrated that all voices were equal, and thus opening me up to listen to others in a way I'm not sure I ever have.  (Read about @cheesemonkeysf 's write-up on talking points here:  Talking Points Activity.)  We liked talking points so much that we tried them several times, including even taking the opportunity to observe others who were doing talking points.  We even started to create our own talking points specific to math!

One of the things that we heard over and over again was that in order for group work to be successful, as teachers we need to consistently push the authority back onto the students.  It sounded crazy at first and I know that I didn't fully listen to all that statement implied.  However, hearing it again on Saturday, it finally made sense.  But, I won't lie and say it sounds easy.  It's scary.  Really scary.  In fact, I'm worried I'm going to be too scared to try it.  It is so different from what I'm used to doing in class.  It's outside of my comfort zone, but for my students I need to.  I need talking points ingrained into my classroom so that all students have a voice.  And that they can use that voice to earn and demand respect from their peers, and support each other in that process.

Main point: my goal is to use talking points and other "restorative practices" (ask me more later... I'm only throwing that phrase around because I heard it during our session and want to know more) as the center of my classroom management.  Elizabeth said that things like that have worked at her school, and so I am very excited to try them for my classroom.  (And really scared--read above.)  I also hope that it is something my entire school might pick up on and use because I think it could really, really, really help.

Shoot, no picture, so @ddmeyer isn't going to read this!


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Checklists: Why I'm Excited to Try Them!

This morning I saw Steph Reilly's post about Checklists and Error Analysis.  Both are genius ideas (please, go read and I'm grateful to her for posting them.  I think checklists are going to be a life-saver for me...and here's why.

I don't grade homework or notebooks.  I don't have time and I don't want to put so much emphasis on homework that students want to copy.  (I wrote a lot more about homework here.)  However, I had a lot of trouble getting students to do the work required to get the learning.

Because of that I chose a unit and planned to have students do an Agenda assignment in preparation for the test.  I gave them an "agenda" with lots of options for tasks to complete.  (By the way, creating the agenda was a LOT of work for me.) They got to choose which ones to do in order to earn x points.  They had class time to work, but were expected to complete some if it out of class.  They had to have it completed BEFORE they could take the test.  This was pretty unsuccessful.  Students hated the agenda, to put it nicely.

I've been debating all summer how to hold students accountable for doing the work, but I knew that agendas probably weren't going to work.  There is something similar I'd heard of called "menus", but I'm not really sure they would be any better.  So I had a problem with no solution, and that is one of the reasons I was so excited to read Steph's post.

Here are the things I like about the checklist:
  • Can be built as we go, so I don't have to plan everything out ahead of time
  • Can include whatever I want, even notebook pages
  • It won't overwhelm students at the beginning because it will be empty
  • It will give students things to work on if they finish something else early
  • It will remind students of things that we have done that they have forgotten about
Anyway, I liked the idea so much that I am fairly certain it is the solution to many of my problems.  I wanted to link the assignments to specific learning targets, so I added a column that Steph didn't have in hers.  I also typed up some instructions, but didn't want to have to include them on the actual checklist, so I think I will make them notebook friendly and tape them in the front of our notebooks with our syllabus, bellwork schedule, and classroom expectations.


Since I made the documents, I'm going to go ahead and call them my #Made4Math Monday, but I totally stole it from Steph as stated above, so please read her post!

Note:  These files will open in google drive and you will have to download them to edit them in Microsoft word.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

#5things I Need To Do Before School Starts

Well, this morning on twitter @druinok inspired this post.  It really is #105things, but I simplified them into categories to help me feel better :)

1.  Get Organized
I need to organize EVERYTHING:  my closet, my wardrobe, my desk, my filing cabinet, my inbox, my google drive, my dropbox.  Name it and I would prefer it to be organized! (I also need to finish my teacher binder for the upcoming year, but I've got a few things to figure out first...)

2.  Buy Things
I need new things for a new year.  I have an Oriental Trading order (and maybe an Amazon order) to put in as well as some Target/Dollar Tree shopping to do.  I do very much enjoy the buying, but deciding what I need is important otherwise I would spend thousands!

3.  Plan Classroom Structure (ie Procedures)
I need a better way for distributing classroom supplies.  But I don't have a solution yet.  Also I need to decide how I'm going to do bellwork and how strict I want to be about the beginning of class.  I need a plan for storing notebooks in the classroom and maybe even folders too, since I just read Sarah's post about that yesterday.

4.  Plan Units
For many reasons I am restructuring some of my units (again!), and I don't have everything really figured out yet.  I want to make sure to incorporate more problem solving tasks into them as well, so I need to figure some of that out.  I also want to link the foundational standards into my units.

5.  Solidify Grading Expecations
For many reasons I also want to make changes to how my gradebook looks.  I'm not sure how to balance SBG with understanding of concepts (rather than just performing skills), but I really want to find a way to make it work.  Also with the foundational standards identified, I want to have different expectations for them (ie. higher level of proficiency) than with the others.

So there it is, all the big stuff I'm trying to do before school starts...obviously I need to plan individual lessons, write a syllabus, and other things too.  I also need to blog a lot!

Any suggestions for me?  What do you have left to do?


Monday, July 14, 2014

Vocabulary Quiz Rubric

I was working on my units this week and started thinking about how I wanted to focus on vocabulary.  I began to think about how I could score vocabulary, and my thoughts needed to be recorded.  Before I knew it, I had something to share for #Made4Math Monday!


Here is an image of the rubric I created.  I think it shows that I want to balance use and understanding of the words as well as knowing the definitions.  I usually provide the definitions and ask students to give the word and an example.  This gives me a better understanding of what they know.  It's not perfect, but it's the best I Have found.

Since I don't allow scores below a 2 to be final (students will have to reassess), I figured I didn't need to define what those lower scores might be.  That made my job a little easier.

I also was thinking of usually having 10 words for a vocab quiz.  If I have fewer new words than that I will add old words.  That will show that I value retention of the words not just memorization.

Do you quiz your students on vocabulary?  How do you score it?

Here is my file.  (It is set to print two per page for student notebooks.)  It will open in google drive, but you can download the Word file from that.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

5 Practices by Smith and Stein

After finishing Mindset and reflecting on it, I chose to read 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions by Margaret S. Smith and Mary Kay Stein.

I first wondered if actually naming the 5 Practices would give away the purpose of the book, so I was curious how I would blog about it without doing that.  But after reading it, I know there is SO much more to the book than the names of the 5 here they are:  anticipating, monitoring, selecting, sequencing, and connecting.  The whole purpose of the 5 Practices is to best prepare for teaching mathematical tasks so that we have to make fewer decisions during the lesson where we are less able to make good decisions.

It helps me to look at the 5 Practices in terms of the big picture of lesson planning and teaching.  As most people who read math teacher blogs are familiar with The Three Acts of a Mathematical Story [Task], probably most famously, if not first, presented by Dan Meyer, I will present 5 Practices in terms of the 3 Acts...except I'm going to start before Act 1.


Before any planning can occur, the teacher must "specify a goal that clearly identifies what students are to know and understand about mathematics as a result of their engagement in a particular lesson" (p. 13).  After having a clear goal, then the teacher must select an appropriate task.  A task that can be used to meet the lesson goal while engaging the students with the concepts and that "stimulate students to make connections [that] lead to a different set of opportunities for student thinking" (p. 15).  

This part is going to be a challenge for me, because I have trouble seeing what big ideas can be learned from tasks.  I know that there are a lot of tasks available from the #MTBoS, but selecting ones that are going to best fit my goals is a challenge.

Once a goal and a task have been established, the teacher begins anticipating all the possible solution strategies.  Consider strategies that lead to both correct and incorrect solutions.  Then create good questions to ask students who are using each strategy.  If it is a strategy that might lead to an incorrect solution, questions should be redirecting students down a correct path.  ALL questions should seek to reveal what understanding students have about their strategy.

Once this has been done, a teacher should complete a monitoring chart.  Here is an example I created to match what the book suggested:

I want to add a column for questions.  It will help me remember all those questions I came up with!  Here's a link to my version of the monitoring chart. [Note:  You will likely need to download into Microsoft Word to preserve formatting.]

After you have the monitoring chart completed you are ready to teach the lesson.  So here we go into Act 1!


Nothing new from 5 Practices for this act.  Essentially distribute needed materials, read through task, and ensure all students/groups have an understanding of what they are being asked to do.  Work to hook your students into the task so they can't wait to strategize a way to the solution.


After letting the students get to work, the teacher begins to monitor their progress.  This is where all that hard work of finding as many strategies, creating good questions, and having the monitoring chart ready is going to pay off.

As you move from group to group you have preplanned questions to ask students.  Likely the major change of this act as a result of the 5 Practices is that you will take notes on what strategies students/groups are using.  This will better help you prepare for Act 3 and it is also why the monitoring chart is so helpful.

In between Act 2 and 3, the teacher has to make some decisions.  First, select students to present their strategies.  This can be done effectively and efficiently because you have all the notes in front of you.  You will likely want to select at least one student to present each strategy.  Once you have selected the students, you will need to decide on an appropriate sequencing to best facilitate the discussion you wish to have in Act 3.  There isn't necessarily one sequencing that is best, but you must choose one that will work for you.


It is time to begin the conclusion of the task by drawing the whole class together and start sharing strategies.  During this time the teacher has the important job of connecting student strategies to each other and to the learning goal.  Good implementation of this will change Act 3 from a show-and-tell, to actual mathematical discussion.  This will probably be the most challenging of the 5 Practices for me.  I definitely see it as what will turn tasks from "fun days" into "fun, productive learning days".  I also think that the anticipating I will have done with the strategies will help me to see the connections, which in turn will help me guide my students in making connections as well.


There is always the Final Act of reflecting and modifying for the future.  I think the first time I implement a task this year I will plan to do it a different day in each of my classes.  That way I have time to reflect and improve in between implementations of the task.  And since I teach Algebra four times a day, it won't hold the stress of four possible dud lessons on my first attempt.

I am so excited to try to implement tasks.  I think this book really gave me a way to make them a productive use of class time.  My goal will be to implement at least one task per unit.  And in July I plan to continue to develop my units, learning targets, and I will begin selecting tasks :)  

During the year I plan to create a task binder where I keep a record of the tasks I use, the strategies we find, my monitoring sheets, and other notes.  This will help me to stay accountable and to have evidence of what I have done throughout the year.  

One more thought...the book gave a flow chart for The Thinking Through a Lesson Protocol.  I plan to use this as I plan each task, but I will likely modify it to make it more usable to me in my lesson planning.  Don't worry, I'll post again as I plan my first task!



Monday, June 23, 2014

Paper Organizer

This is my first #Made4Math of the summer!


I always try to keep my desk clean, but I can never seem to manage it no matter how hard I try.  It seems like everyday after school my desk is a giant pile of papers...

So I decided to reorganize a desk drawer that I never knew what to do with before because it was so deep.  I bought one of these...

...and put it in my drawer.  (I think that is what it is just took me a few years to figure it out.)  I labeled folders for each class that say "Algebra Today."  That is where I put copies for the day so that they don't pile up on my desk.  I also keep a folder for the unit next to the today folder.  Then after school I can empty the today folder into my bulletin board for absent students and into the unit folder.

It wasn't a perfect system, but it did help keep my desk cleared off.  It even helped me to use the drawer to store my papers to grade folder and my teacher binder.  This is what it looks like right now...kind of a mess since I haven't sorted anything since school got out!

I turned a wasted drawer into something useful that helps keep my desk cleared off! It felt like a very productive change :)



Thursday, June 19, 2014

Plans for June [Update]

As I mentioned in my first Plans for June post, I have been working with a few students in order to try to help them pass second semester Algebra.  I had three students commit to attending class Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9am to 11am for the month of June.  The deal was that if they completed enough work prior to June 30th they would not have to come anymore. But that they are not to miss any days before their work is completed.

Of the three students, one student missed a day and has not returned.
Another student missed a day, but came they next and I allowed him to continue (Is this bad of me?...probably in some ways...)
The other student has been early everyday, gotten all take-home assignments completed, and even taken time to pick up one of the other students.

Things I like:
  • Few students means I can really meet their needs without excessive commitment on their part
  • I told them day 1 that summer Mrs. Freed was not as organized or well-planned as school Mrs. Freed and they would have to be patient with me
  • They are learning
  • I am making them responsible for their learning
  • We are working on growth mindset (but they don't know it)
Things I don't like:
  • I feel guilty when they don't show up
  • I did not stick to what I said about missing
  • Sometimes getting them willing to WORK at what they are learning is a really big challenge for me and I get frustrated (it is awesome when the still do though)
  • I have really had to analyze everything and choose THE MOST IMPORTANT and THE MOST DOABLE in our short amount of time.  Paring down when I already felt like I pared down the curriculum was challenging and I didn't really like it.
I don't know if I would offer this again.  I would have be decide after I have finished.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cute Storage Containers

We stopped at Dollar Tree the other day and they had these:

Aren't they cute! I got six.  I'm very excited to figure out what to use them for in my classroom.



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

[Unit Overview] Exponents and Radicals

Here is a brief overview of the unit I just finished on exponents and radicals.  Because of time, I did not do everything as thoroughly as I would have liked to.  However, I feel the structure is something that I can hold onto and build on for next year.

Evaluating Exponents and Radicals:

I got the idea for this structure from Sarah Hagan at  Here is her post on Radical Radicals.  I liked this idea so much that I decided to apply it to exponentials as well, even though my students knew more of the vocabulary that goes along with them.


We still struggled with knowing what the word evaluate means.  That is something I hope to work on a lot more at the beginning of next year:  vocabulary like evaluate, simplify, solve, expression, equation, etc.

My File

Properties of Exponents/Simplifying Exponential Expressions:

I got the structure for this lesson from Lizzy-Sensei at  Here is her post on Exponent Rules.  I loved the structure of it, but I didn't want to print an entire page for each student for each I changed it to a half-page structure.  I also noticed that my students would fill out the table, but then stop without answering the questions.  That was frustrating to me, and I don't know how to make it better for next time.  Also by the time we made it through all the properties the students were really bored of that structure of the lesson.

However I do know that I would plan on formatting it just a little bit better for my notebooks next year.  Also need a box around where we actually put the rule, because when I had them look back in their notes for the rule, they didn't know where it was.  I'm also thinking about reorganizing the columns in the zero and negative exponent property ones because students kept thinking that the rule should connect the first and the last column, rather that the ones that showed the zero or negative exponent.

Also students struggled to put what they had learned into practice.  It seems that they needed much more practice as they went.

My File [Reformatted as a Book]

Translating between Exponentials and Radicals:

I did an intro to try to help show WHY this is true, but I don't think it was very good.  This is something I really want to think through developing a good discovery-type lesson for my students next year.  For this learning target we put the rules into our notebooks and then I had a matching activity for them to do.  I asked them to write down their matches on the bottom of the page.

Simplifying Radical Expressions:

We added, multiplied, and simplified radicals.  We did adding multiplied, added, and then simplified to show that we could add things we didn't know we could add.


Adding Notes/Practice
Simplify Cards

I knew that was a lot in a few short days, and I had just read Kathryn Belmonte's post on Coloring Relay, so I made my students a coloring sheet with the answers written in.  I allowed them to work individually telling them that they could color in one section once they had completed the problem that had that answer...yes some students mostly colored and didn't do a lot of math.  But it was Friday and I wasn't feeling great, so it was a compromise I was willing to make.

This is not my favorite unit.  I think it is a lot of stuff to put into one unit.  But really it is only a couple standards, so it is hard for me to balance that.  It has taken me a long time to share this because I'm not very proud of this unit.  However, I put a lot of work into it.  I created and modified everything.  It was a lot of work, but hopefully now that I have things to this point I can make it better for next year.


Note:  All files must be downloaded in Microsoft Word to get correct formatting.