Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Teaching Math in the New Year: 2017

There's been considerable disruption with regard to math teaching and learning this year. At the system level there were greater mandates requiring substantial change and advocacy. This will continue as the system works to utilize new research about good teaching and new state curriculum expectations and assessments. There is a real need for greater inclusive and strategic process in this regard in order to update our efforts to teach math well. This disruption continues at the state level too as the state introduces standards revisions, Next Generation MCAS, and more. I expect there will be some disruption at the national level as the new leadership takes hold too.

How do these changes affect a classroom teacher like me?

Progressive Standards and Approach
First, I did push the teaching forward to meet the systemwide expectations. At the same time I advocated for efforts that I believe are important to consider. For example I quickly moved the students to the expected units, but I spoke up about the fact that this quick movement left students without a strong number sense foundation behind and asked what would we do with regard to those students. It's not the students' fault that their number sense foundation is weak, but instead a product of experience and readiness for the learning. Students come to fifth grade with a wide variety of preparation for the content. Some exceed expectations and some come to the grade level unready for the grade-level standards. As educators, it's important that we move more and more towards progressive standards so we can meet students where they are and work to move them forward with as much strength, meaning, and engagement as possible.

Organizing Unit Study
I also want to work to organize the many lessons and learning experiences I have on file to support the program. I also want to advocate for a more meaningful grade-level organization of units and study. Currently our systemwide approach differs from the progression noted in State and Common Core standards documents. I feel that our approach saves some foundation study until later whereas if taught earlier it would foster greater support for later units as well as greater engagement. Also some of our units are taught after the standardized assessments which test students on that content. I believe that students should be taught all standards prior to the standardized assessments. I will work with my grade-level colleagues and administration to advocate for possible changes.

Integration of Modern Day Tools, Research, and Information 
In order to make math learning and teaching more meaningful and engaging, I will look for ways to integrate more modern and meaningful tools, research, and information. I want the math learning to be engaging and meaningful for all students.

As always I will seek ways to positively respond to students' learning efforts to inspire and lead their learning.

Decimals: Online Models

Students are studying decimal numbers and computation. As part of that study they are creating and interpreting online models.

I find that Google Table and Draw is an excellent tool for creating online models, and that's why I'll have students use the online tools to study decimal models.

First, I'll have students sign into their Google math classroom account. Then I'll have them open this document. After that, I'll introduce them to model after model and how we'll mark-up, color, and read those models as representations of decimal values and computation. Then students will make their own models.

This is a good way to introduce a whole class to making and interpreting models. When we begin our fraction study in a few weeks we'll use a similar page to see the connection between decimals and fractions. That will be a good way to bridge the two units.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Preparing for the Math Test

Tomorrow students and I will discuss how to prepare for a math test.

As a community of learners we've reviewed all the material on the test. Some material has been reviewed with greater depth than other areas. This is true given the time available, students' skill, and interest.

I'll start tomorrow's lesson with the news that on Thursday they'll have a math test, and then I'll ask if they have any questions or thoughts about that. After that I'll explain the system values related to the test which include the following:

  • The test will show us who has mastered the skills, concept, and knowledge included and who needs more teaching. That will help teachers to help the students gain a strong foundation in math.
  • The test will be factored into their math placement for middle school. Though I have mixed feelings about math levels at middle school; it's a reality associated with test scores.
  • The test is a chance to sit quietly and work by yourself to show what you know. Throughout life there will be tests, and this is good practice with regard to preparing for and taking a test.
After this explanation, I'll ask students if they have questions, and then I'll ask them if they have ideas about how to best study and prepare for the test so they can do well. 

Next, I'll tell students that I created a study sheet to help them prepare for the test. I'll invite students to complete the study sheet alone and/or with friends or teachers. Then I'll note that they should complete the study packet for homework and the next day we'll review the packet together. On Wednesday, I'll provide a study menu for more practice and then on Thursday they will take the test.

In the meantime, I'll find time to review past work and efforts to gain an overview of individual and collective student learning that will be available for our team math meetings on 12/2 and 12/16. 

As a learning community, it's essential that we stop now and then to have these conversations as we set the course for successful learning and teaching. Onward. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Mathematicians: Pattern Seeking and the Powers of Ten

I played around with the "behavior" of the Powers of Ten this morning. I've been playing around with this a lot in the past few years as I prepare and teach fifth graders the Common Core Standards.

Today I spent some time putting together a little video. I'll have students edit it with me.

I'll be interested in how students react to this. Following the film, students and I will review this exercise, then I'll have students work with friends on this exercise and then this one. Ideally I'd like to have students creating this videos, but currently I don't have the time for a long list of reasons. Projects such as creating films that animate and/or present and teach math concepts is a great way to learn and would fit Boaler's research in part.

In the meantime, we'll play with this video today as well as this SCRATCH animation too. Also there are many more videos and activities we've used on this Magnificent Math Powers of Ten Page. Let me know if you've got something wonderful to share related to this. Thanks!

Note: For many reasons this lesson did not go as planned the first time so I reworked the video and practice exercises. I reflected those changes above.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Math Teaching Patterns

As I sit today correcting a mound of math assessments, I'm thinking about ideal math teaching/learning patterns.

I don't think it's the best use of teachers' time to correct paper/pencil assessments for hours on their weekend especially when if these tests were on the computer, it would take a fraction of the time. It's frustrating and probably another reason why the teaching shortage has started. It's difficult to work a job that expects so much weekend work.

Anyways as I correct these tests, I'm thinking about the math teaching/learning patterns I want to follow.

I'm going to continue to offer a number of varying homework patterns dependent on family and student. I will work with families to reach a good balance that fits their philosophy, time, and need. I know this will vary somewhat from family to family, thus a homework menu and greater personalization. I am also cognizant of recent research related to the questionable benefits of homework and will continue to think about that and work with families sensitively in that regard.

There needs to be a good deal of explicit teaching and practice in the lessons. As I correct tests today I recognize that this worked for most students.

Creativity and A Constructivist Approach
The more students can create their own examples of math concepts by writing problems, creating models, and creatively presenting the information, the deeper they learn. I am noticing this today as I read problems students wrote, solved, and interpreted via graphing.

Though tedious to correct, assessments do give you an inside view of student performance. If we put these assessments online, we will be able to sort and sift data in ways that give us a better view and more time to really cull important details from the data--details that will help us to teach children well.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Math Exchange

Today our math coach has set up an exchange between sixth grade teachers at the Middle School and fifth grade teachers from the three elementary schools. During the day we'll visit the current three different leveled math classes and then we'll have a chance to meet at the end to ask questions and exchange information and ideas.

At first, I wasn't going to attend this day because my sons have previously attended the Middle School so I have a parent perspective of the math program. Also the Middle School sends fifth grade teachers an update every year to let us know how our former students are doing. This information helps me to gauge the program I teach as well as how I coach individual students. Generally students have made a positive transition from the fifth grade program to the sixth grade math program.

Once the coach relayed the schedule, however, I asked to sign up because the schedule is not a visit alone, but instead an exchange which is an opportunity for all of us to talk deeply about the ways we teach students math. I know that the Middle School team is devoted to teaching mostly math all day and that they began a standards-based approach last year. I know that they are continually updating their program so I'm interested in the ways that they are employing current research to lift their program. I'll also look forward to seeing last year's students, and observing the many ways that the sixth grade teachers run their classrooms.

I really enjoy the ability to teach a subject with greater depth which is what the shared teaching model affords. It will be a profitable day.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Teaching Walls: App-Friendly?

Many educators face challenges when it comes to technology since they are unable to easily access apps and programs that they learn of. This lack of ready access prevents the good teaching possible. For example if an educator has access to technology in fluid, workable ways, he/she can test apps and other programs with regularity and student input. However, if the systems for tech access are cumbersome, lengthy, and inaccessible, then educators will quickly lose interest and the needed timeliness to try out new apps and programs and employ them for best student learning.

For teachers to do their work well they need ready, regular access to the best tools, supports, and programs. Teachers do their best work also when they have voice and choice with regard to what they use and how they use it to teach well. When others, distanced from the learning, hold the reigns of teacher tools and programs, voice and choice is diminished and children don't get the deep and dynamic programming possible.

In light of this, systems need to think carefully about the following questions:
  • How are curriculum decisions made? Do teachers have voice and choice?
  • Are the people choosing the technology distanced from the daily classroom efforts and work?
  • Are teachers and administrators asking the right questions when it comes to quality teaching and learning?
  • Is there a good synergy between and amongst administration and educators when it comes to curriculum design and implementation?
  • How is the entire learning community including students and parents involved in this decision making?
  • Do we make decisions based on good informal and formal data analysis, discussion, and debate?