Six years ago I left a community I cared about, an awesome group of math teachers, and students I loved to find out two things: 1. How do humans learn mathematics? 2. What constitutes a "good" teacher?
To answer my first question, my journey has allowed me to work with students from TK to 12, from age 4 to 19, from the most studious of learners to the most resistant of learners, where each moment provides learning opportunities. I cannot say it has always been easy, but few things worth knowing are rarely easy; however, I have caught glimpses of how we learn through being able to work with this span. Understanding when we are exposed to different concepts and tracing how those concepts evolve through the grade levels, connecting this to why students still seem to show up year-after-year acting like each concept is brand new, and finding ways to combat that process. While I am so very, very far from a satisfactory answer to this question, I have developed a solid foundation for how and why.
My second question I originally thought would be the easier question to answer, but I have found that I still do not have as solid a foundation as I do with the first question. As a new teacher, I thought a "good" teacher looked like the photographs below:
The teacher at the front of the room, every student quietly hanging on every word I say, because the students were hungry to learn, and I was THE TEACHER, the dispensary of knowledge. These images quickly faded as I got into working with kids because they didn't have this same image of what their classroom should look like or that this is how I envisioned their learning.
Making a long story short, I found that my journey changed when I could have fun with students, I could be myself with them, and we could still have some sort of learning environment moving forward. After five years, I felt I was ready to really dive into answering my two questions. I didn't consider myself a "good" teacher, which is why I had the question. I knew that I cared about kids, I knew that I developed connections with them and I was always curious how they were doing. I knew that most of the time I was listening and dealing with helping them get past their "friend drama" or other types of drama in their life, which is their reality and they wouldn't, no couldn't, learn math if they were in the wrong mindset. I knew that I could laugh with kids and those disruptive, not afraid to be themselves, loud, and challenging students were my favorites. I like authentic people, people who tell you that you have something in your teeth, who call you on your BS, and who challenge you, but I didn't know what a "good" teacher looked like, sounded like, or did. My perception at this time moved from the images above to something amorphous and unclear, but with one important characteristic.
The message I was receiving said that the only thing that made a good teacher were the results the students were getting on whatever the measurement tool was, and it was almost entirely related to some sort of test. My effectiveness and worth as a teacher, my only criteria to determine if I was a "good" teacher, or not, was based on a single number. What's worse is that this single number only had to be high enough as compared to my colleagues to make me stand out as a "good" teacher. Not only does this not set the stage well for collaboration because I don't want any of my colleagues to know the "secret sauce" because they'll be just as "good" as me (I have to pause and say how much this sucks for our kids sitting in your's and mine's classrooms).
Although the notion that I was judged based on a single number didn't feel right to me, the gravity of importance related to the sacred number indicated that my notion was misguided at best. This process led me to seek out what makes a good teacher, and what might we pay attention to, because I was convinced there has to be more...that being a "good" teacher was more than determining if my milkshake was...well...you get it.
As my understanding about the learner grew, I noticed that most students respond to and desire their teacher to care about them, the individual, and seem to care less about the effectiveness of strategies or the preparation the teacher put into their lesson plans. Kids care about their relationship with you, they don't care about the learning you want them to master. From a kid's perspective, a good teacher is:
The educational system has this other focus which is results based on various measurements, but mostly based on a standardized test that inevitably is used to mark if a teacher is a good teacher or not. From this perspective, all the relationship and people side of things only matters if this helps produce better test scores, if we are machiavellian about our approach here then really any ends will justify the means provided our results meet whatever criteria we meet. Now granted, it is as dire as all that, but our current state I already see that approach coming back as the thing that matters is scores. It may be obvious by this constructed narrative where I stand on this issue, but personal belief aside, I am not really closer to answering my second question.
Granted that a balanced approach seems the most logical in terms of wanting measurable results from students that exist in an educational learning environment that promotes and cares for them. I believe all reasonable adults would agree with this middle ground, and the problem I still have is that this feels a like a great compromise, I don't see it as a meaningful answer to my second question. Perhaps input from others would be helpful in parsing out some sort of truth from this conversation:
My dream of starting a Twitter chat happened two years ago when I started #MathConceptions with the help of my buddy Shane Ferguson. Since that time, I have had the dream of starting a chat with the folks I work with, to grow and learn with those closest to you makes the most sense. As with so many signs I am reading and learning about, if you want to see something happen you should jump in and get moving on whatever that thing is...so I am starting another Twitter chat to tell our story from Burton School District.
Our team of coaches has grown significantly this year, with a lot of folks being new to their roles, having a centralized location to pull info and share stories seems to make sense. Our first topic is on Growth Mindset, as we all benefit from fostering a growth mindset. Each week we will have different topics and hopefully different educational leaders from our community jump in and we all learn about a common passage. Our first chat starts on 9/10 at 7:00 p.m. Pacific standard time. I am excited for the new journey and the amazing folks that will be there, or will eventually be there.
One of the things I love about teaching is how we continuously grow, learn, evolve, and become better at the crafting of learning experiences for our students. Inspired from a variety of amazing educators from within my personal learning network (PLN) I have compiled a series of game like structures for all learners to access and I call the whole kit Ten Minute Math (#tenminutemath). The sequence the various games are shown below, with a clickable index to follow.
One of the blessings of my current position is being able to model lessons and concepts in all grade levels from Kinder through high school and I've tried a variety of these at various grade levels to showcase their value and impact. Well if you'd like to try, please make a copy of this slide deck and get to work. I only hope you share your experiences and modifications so we can all learn a little more and get better together, or you can type tinyurl.com/10minutemath and have fun!
We are always on the hunt for resources that make our teaching lives easier, and I love to curate and share. To this end, I am showing some of my favorite and richest collections of resources for powerful mathematics instructions. Starting with a collection of powerful uses for one of my favorite ways to capture student voice, Flipgrid, through a collection of some of the amazing, sharing educators in my PLN, with over 40 ways to capture student thinking. The clickable Flipgrid PDF is has a variety of ideas to spark your creative teaching practices and let students voices shine. The second clickable PDF I am sharing is a link to several other clickable PDFs depending on what you are looking to do with your learners. The Math Coordinator in me wanted to share some ways for you to access instructional strategies that allow you to go deeper with students. The MCs Top Six clickable PDF is for you if you're looking for empowering students through meaningful math experiences.
The next two clickable PDF resources may be confusing if you're not careful with understanding their intent. The one of the left below (Single Serving) target is for single lessons, if you are looking for powerful single lesson ideas then this is the clickable PDF you need. If you are looking for deeper learning experiences, then the clickable PDF on the right (Multi-Servings) is the one you need. Please note, like the MC Top Six above, these may lead to additional clickable PDFs depending on the resource type. For example, on the Multi-Servings (on the right below), if you clicked on the Clothesline Math resource it would lead to another clickable PDF with the various clothesline math resources linked there. There is too much on either of these resources to go into in any more detail here, but I encourage you to jump in and start clicking away. The resources are linked below.
Thump.......thump...thump..thumpthumpTHUMPTHUMPTHUMP the sound of your heartbeat as you wake from a horrible dream in the early morning hours of the first day of school. What was it?! Why?!
You start to run down your list, the bulletin board is done, you got the snacks ready, the copies are made of your syllabus and letters home, seating charts are ready, you have been practicing how to say that one name you just aren't sure how to pronounce, your outfit is ready, your car has gas, your coffee pot is ready, your lunch is already made, you even thought this year I'm going to start waking up early a few weeks before school so that first day (or week..or month) I am used to getting up early....so why are you awake at OMG IT's TOO damn early o'clock...then it hits you.
I don't have a couple of educational activities planned for the first couple of days to get to know my new learners...maybe I'm new to this grade level, maybe I'm a new teacher, maybe I just wanted to switch it up.
Let the power of your PLN help you out, here is a clickable resource for your first days of school, with grade level appropriate resources. Enjoy and get some sleep, your learners are counting on you.
You can also type tinyurl.com/bsd-firstday.
Putting it all together, I thought I would make an attempt of collecting a variety of resources in a meaningful and easily accessible way. Within our district we have been using Eureka math curriculum K5 since 2014, and the fantastically amazing Duane Habecker's videos have saved many a frustrated math coordinator..err..teacher...err...both...and now Duane has outdone himself even more with the fantastic resource EMBARC.ONLINE, which will be so helpful and I am excited to share with my teachers this 2018-19 school year. Click on the image below or here to #harnessyourinnerduane and access the power of these resources.
If you don't know who Graham Fletcher is then you're really missing out on a fantastic mathematical mind. Graham has a wonderful ability to make the complicated, or overwhelming, seem simultaneously comprehensible and bite sized pieces. Having been a huge fan of his 3 Act tasks and various other ideas, like geometric number talks and visual operations on fractions I was extremely excited to meet him in real life in March for our ongoing Central Valley Networked Improvement Community and learn from him as well.
It was during this time that I thought it would be very helpful to have a single place to view all of his current work on the progressions of the operations and other information in one place. So I created a clickable PDF, Graham Fletcher's Progression Videos that allow the user to simply click on the operation or the concept they would like to learn about and Graham will expertly discuss those ideas. For example, the image below shows the clickable PDF, if the user wanted to learn about multiplication, then the user simply has to click on the multiplication symbol and watch Graham's video. I hope you enjoy and find as much learning and amazingness as I have.
"Instagram, Swiffer, and Nest had to compete with consumer habits and perceptions. Breakout products face competition from the formidable inertia powering the status quo," said Jay Samit.
Over coming inertia is hard, it is very hard to do and it is worth celebrating when we do see evidence of it being overcome. Overcoming inertia is the challenge that I am currently raging against on an apparently global scale. I love how Hamish Brewer says we need to change the conversation, and we need to be that change.
We need to change the conversation about what does effective math instruction look like in the classroom (Note, my focus is on mathematics instruction, but I believe all instructions falls under this idea). I am at this weird place in this journey as I don't know if I am crazy or if I am actually on a learning journey.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with what we consider traditional direct instruction and students often need this guidance to introduce some concepts, skills or review some skills. The problem is when this is the only thing we do to reach students. Most people, yes students are little people, do not truly learn a concept when you lecture at them and they, at best, passively take notes. Students need to be making sense of concepts and they need to talk about their thinking. We need to provide students room to think, to make sense, to wonder, to struggle and to make mistakes. Students don’t need more testing and more worksheets.
So how do we start to change the conversation? How do we overcome that inertia to change? How do we change the conversation and invite you to be the change? How can we not be #relentless for our kids?
It's been a long, long while as this journey takes me places that I've enjoyed going and places that I have had to endure get continue on this journey. My purpose for blogging is to continue to force myself to reflect on the learning as our journey continues, and I want to establish a consistent publishing of quality writing that reflects that journey. To that end, I will figure out if once or twice a month is a frequency that is sustainable both in quality and quantity.
Currently my journey is taking me down a couple of learning paths I'll list in no particular order below:
I am looking forward to growing, reflecting, and rekindling that journey.
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