CMC South 2018

I returned from another wonderful year of conferences at CMC-South. It is always a great conference in Palm Springs, CA around this time each year. (I highly recommend it!) I wanted to share the two big take aways that are sticking with me a day or two later…

1) Math & Social Justice

Dr. K Childs gave a wonderful talk about how math and social justice are (and should be) intertwined. He talked about how they are inextricably linked, and we should not separate them. Math is inherently political.

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He shared ideas of topics for math problems. In the session we did examples with percents and hiring practices.

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It’s hard to explain the power of his talk in this blog. It was a great mindset shift for me to hear him talk about all the ways math is intertwined with social justice. He ended with a great sentiment of

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There is a lot of work to be done on my part to develop problems and activities that truly bring the social justice issues into the curriculum.

2) Math & Humanizing

Howie Hua gave a great impromptu talk about humanizing the math classroom. He is a professor of pre-service math teachers, and he is doing such wonderful work! He defined humanizing as

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My favorite take-away was that to help with math anxiety, each time Howie gives out a test, he has students put away their pens/pencils and take five minutes to talk about the test (it has already been passed out). So students can discuss possible strategies with their group for a few of the problems. Then, after the 5 minutes, they work independently on the test.

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I really like this, and I’m wondering about extending this idea to have a group quiz in my class that is entirely oral, no writing allowed. I might give groups 5 minutes to talk through and work out problems orally. However, they would not be able to write anything down (these would be problems that are much more explanation focused than calculations). As they are discussing, I imagine visiting each group and the person I choose (possibly randomly?) has to explain the problem. (Perhaps then they can use a pen or pencil.) I might have different student each explain one problem, but at the end of the day, it would be a group grade on how well each problem was explained…just an idea I’m mulling over…

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Overall, it was a great conference. I was glad to spend time with so many wonderful people. We explored the idea of #cancelledschmancelled rogue sessions. I gave my talk on debate in math class, and I was really happy that it finally felt “right.” And I got to share it with two wonderful teachers at my school!

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Skyscrapers!

I’m late in blogging about this, but I really wanted to share: my new favorite start of the year math activity was Skyscrapers! Like Sudoku or KenKen, Skyscrapers are a type of latin square. A full break down of the problems can be found on the wonderful Amie Albrecht’s blog here: Skyscrapers.

I had students build the skyscrapers on paper with candy (which they could then eat). Here’s a few photos:

The students were instantly engaged and asked for more! They have taken to downloading free apps of more Skyscraper puzzles on their phones and showing me their accomplishments.

Thanks Amie!

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Teacher User Manual

I went to a great workshop last week on building relationships among teachers, and I was inspired by the idea of teachers in my department creating a “User Manual” for themselves (that they then share with me…and others?).

We all know the user manual we get when we buy a new appliance or piece of technology. It comes with some information on how it works best and what things to avoid.

So why don’t we do something similar for ourselves?! To help in building relationships and clarifying some of our personal preferences, I want my teachers to take the time to reflect on how they work best (as well as their pet peeves). This manual is a chance to bring up personal preferences and routines so that we know how best to work with each other, possibly preventing some future conflicts. It is a place for some unfiltered brainstorming on how we work best. For instance:

  • What is the best time of day to drop by your office?
  • What is your preferred method of communication?
  • Is there a routine you have during a part of the day?

As an example, for me, having quiet time in the early morning is really important. Before first period is a time where I focus and organize myself for my day, take one last look over my lesson plans, etc., and I prefer that time to be uninterrupted. So I can communicate in my own user manual that the mornings are not a good time to “stop by.” If there is a concern you have first thing in the morning, send me and email about it or to schedule a time to talk.

Here is the link to what I came up with: Teacher User Manual.  I’d love to hear thoughts and suggestions for it before I roll it out!

 

 

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Math with Opinions

What is the flavor of my classroom? I have been struggling with what to say to be able to join in on Sam Shah’s amazing Virtual Conference of Mathematical Flavors for a few weeks now. Sam is asking us to respond to the question:

How does your class move the needle on what your kids think about the doing of math, or what counts as math, or what math feels like, or who can do math?

The short answer is: debate. I have spent a lot of time developing structures and strategies to make my classroom a place where students can discuss and debate math!

Those who know me, know I love to talk strategies for debate in the classroom. However, my struggle in writing this post is to be clear that in my classroom, debate is more than the claim/warrant structure I share in 30-60min sessions at conferences. For me, it is a real and important part of the fabric of my classroom culture. I want students to know that anyone can talk and debate math. I want them to know that doing math can involve opinions, and I want them to feel that math can be messy, argumentative and beautiful.

As a former speech and debate student-turned-coach, I saw the power of both public speaking and creating debatable arguments for students. Furthermore, in the subject of mathematics, a subject solidly grounded in reasoning, proof and argumentation, I saw a place to connect debate strategies to content learning. So, I have tried to create a classroom where students do the talking, explaining their thinking and creating opinions to open-ended questions. It is my goal that at least once every school day, students have an opportunity to debate and discuss something (though I can’t think of a day where it only happened once)!

My delight is seeing students struggle as their mindset shifts from the idea that math is where you (a) learn a new formula/concept and then (b) solve a worksheet of similar problems to idea that math is a living subject, where people discuss and debate best strategies or interpretations of information. I want students to not only understand the math but be able to articulate arguments to questions like:

  • What is the best method for solving this problem?
  • Which piece of information is the least important here?
  • How will you most affectively improve this work?

 

FYI: More about my debate structure can be found on my blog here, here and here (among other posts)!

 

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TMC18–Cleveland Rocks!

What a delight it was to travel to my old hometown for TMC18, expertly hosted by Dave and others at St. Ignatius HS.  My close friend Mattie and I ran a morning session again on discussion and debate in the math class to a full room. I also convinced 3 of my new co-workers to apply and attend!

As always, I was overwhelmed by great ideas. Here are some things I want to work on this year:

  • Assessing with Desmos (a la Julie and Jonathan)–remember to press pause so they can not go back and change answers.
  • Connecting with other math teachers and coaches about leadership in Heather’s session.
  • Writing in math class! I want each student to have a math journal that stays in the classroom and they write in once a week. Thanks to Cindy at St. Ignatius!
  • Need to check out Games for Young Minds.
  • Remember: you are not an imposter. We are all teacher leaders! Let’s build up! (Thanks, Julie)

So looking forward to TMC19 in Berkeley, CA next July!!

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PD-Reflection Bingo Board

Let me start with this: I don’t love formal observations. As department chair, I get that they are necessary for a paperwork-admin-trail sort of thing, but when working with teachers, I don’t find that they lead to the best conversations, at least not for me. Formal observations can be a bit too stuffy, the lesson can be jazzed up more than normal, and altogether we don’t necessarily get a genuine snapshot of what the teacher is doing/strengths/struggles/etc.

So, I’m doing formal observations as needed for the teachers in my department. At my school, that’s once every 3 years. But what about all the time in between? How can I really help my colleagues learn and grow in genuine ways? How do we even get to the point where we can be aware of areas to focus on? There’s so much out there to do, how do I help each individual find the right tools for growth?

Then I listened to this great podcast episode (that is also blogged here) from The Cult of Pedagogy about various types of PD. Choice #3 in the blog post inspired me to do my own choice/bingo board of options for PD. Below is what I came up with, a PD Bingo board of options that teachers in my department can do next year. The goal is that each month (just for next year) they will choose a different option. Each of these options can be very minimal in time commitment (but teachers are also welcome to run with it as they please!).

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The instructions will be for teachers to work on a different square each month, providing a variety of experiences throughout the year. The goal is that through this variety they can find both (1) topics they want to focus on for growth and (2) the method(s) of coaching they most prefer. I want my colleagues to see that coaching and PD does not just have to be formal or informal observations. I want them to see a range of options that I consider PD or personal growth.

My hope is that after a year of this, each teacher can set more specific individual goals and a specific method (or two) of working toward that goal. Then, instead of doing such a variety, we can focus on the best method for that teacher…though we can always mix it up again as wanted!

 

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Pi Week!

This year, our math department really wanted to make math exciting and visible around campus in conjunction with Pi Day. So we decided to make a whole week (well actually only 3 days) out of it! Here’s what we did.

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3.12 MondayThe Pi Chain

During math classes the previous Friday and Monday, students decorated a link (a rectangular piece of construction paper) that represented one of the digits of pi. Each class was assigned a section of digits and made a chain for their section, connecting each student’s link.

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The links were also color coded by digit.

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Then, during Monday’s lunch period, we had a (not-so-ceremonial) hanging of the Pi Chain, wrapping it around all the math classrooms.

3.13 Tuesday – The Scavenger Hunt

Teams of 3-5 students signed up in advance for a scavenger hunt that would happen during Tuesday’s lunch. Our department worked in advance to create a series of clues that were puzzles, cyphers, etc, leading students around campus to various rooms to get the next clue. At the end of the clues, they were directed back to my classroom, where they had to put their clues together to figure out the code to the lock box, opening the locks (escape room style).

Teams had to come up with team names, and the winning teams were named “The Inte-girls” and “Dobby’s Sock.” The prizes were math-y tshirts, candy and these amazing ruler-slap-bracelets I recently learned about!

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3.14 Wednesday – Pi Day

Due to various other events (like the student walk out) on Wednesday 3/14/18, we were lower-key on the actual pi day. In my classes, students wrote Pi-Kus (see the link for more info). Teachers and students wore math-y shirts, and during lunch, students were selling pies as a fundraiser!

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Additionally, over all 3 days, we had tables set up during lunch periods with (student run) math puzzles, games, tangrams, rubik’s cubes, etc. Students were free to stop by and just play with math-y challenges. Teachers (not in math) dropped by too!

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We are already talking about how to grow this for next year!!

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