Quick Reflection After First Day of Studio Math

As I reflect on our first studio day, I am thankful to have the opportunity to participate in it, especially this year. This has been a challenging year so far, partly because of the common core transition, but I’m sure there are other factors too. I know that people are not motivated to change unless they are in some way dissatisfied with their current state of affairs, and I am definitely not satisfied right now!

I feel like I have some “tricks in my bag” for encouraging student engagement, participating, and math talk in the classroom, and I have been practicing using genuine questions to get at their thinking, but I still have several students who are “checking out” during class most days.

After my first studio experience, I have decided to focus on a couple of small things that I hope will make a big impact on the engagement and learning in my classroom: (1) Planning specifically for structured student math talk, and writing exactly which structures I will use into my lesson plans; (2) Choosing the most critical times in the lesson to incorporate discourse; and (3) increased accountability in reporting back to the whole group (for example, having all “b” partners stand up to report back “a” partner’s ideas, and strategically choosing who shares back in whole group to ensure everyone’s participation, not just the “usual suspects”).

Friday, Session 1: Creating Student Centered Lessons

Presenter: Beth Rogers, Kennesaw State University


Technology: PPT, (handouts of PPT, but ran out and offered to email upon request)


Hands-On: None really. She did ask for discussion. I’m totally going to sleep here even though I like and agree with the things she is saying.


What I liked: Sample lesson (factoring & graphing polynomials)–she showed/talked about phases of the lesson, from “traditional” (highly structured) to requiring more student involvement and exploration. Sometimes started with analyzing the function algebraically, sometimes graphically (Idea:  make 1/2 a class set of one approach, 1/2 of the other, and label A-L on each set, then partner up with the other “A” person so one student has algebraic approach and one has graphical, but they have the same problem, then switch papers to verify each others’ methods. Reminds me of row games).


Interesting: She got my interest at the beginning, but I’m starting to feel like I’m in the wrong session.  They’re talking about resources for teaching Math III (junior year) . . . It was enlightening to hear different teacher perspectives on what they are doing in their classrooms and what their basic philosophy is.  And by “enlightening” I mean that it makes me want to stab myself in the eye.

Session 4: Math Tools for Teachers

Presenter: Felicia Cullers, Grovetown MS


Technology: Introductory remark “OK, y’all, most everything we’re doing today is web-based, so there’s not really any hand-outs, but if you want me to email you the Mp3 files you hear, job down my email address” I think I’m gonna like this.  Tools demonstrated:  Teacher Tube (order of operations rap video);  Alabama Learning Exchange (ALEX–search by grade level, subject, topic, etc. They have lesson plans, PPTs, pdf’s, word documents, etc.); Utah Education Network (curriculum resources, lessons, fold-ables, songs, games, etc. in pdf form, essential questions, etc.);


Hands-On: Nunnathat. (Unless you count participating by writing our own songs!)


What I liked: Incorporation of music into math class. Once again, something I like, but just don’t think about enough.  It really does help students remember concepts, especially when they’re involved in creating the songs.


Interesting: Girlfriend is BRAVE to be up singing & rapping in front of all of us!

The rap that we made up today:

Working with integers can be fun, follow the rules and then you’re done.

When you multiply or divide, do what you know and check the sign.

When the signs are the same, positive is the name of the game.

When the signs are different, it’s a negative thing.

Working with integers can be fun, follow the rules and then you’re done.

Hope you liked our song, ’cause we are done.

Adding and subtracting rules are still to come.

Session 3: Bridging Literacy and Mathematics

Presenters: Tonya DeGeorge & Zandra de Aroujo, UGA


Technology: PowerPoint. Black & white,Times New Roman. There was a “wordle” on the title page.  When they ran out of handouts, they gave us their email address & said to request copies.  Better than the last one, but would have been even better to give us a website to find/download them.


Hands-On: OK, it wasn’t really hands-on, but they did give us 4 math-themed graphic organizers that were only partially filled out and had us work together with out group to complete it.  Good point made: Graphic Organizers shouldn’t need lots of explanation, their whole point is clearly show relationships. We also received a copy of roles for group work and got to practice it with the people at our table on a real math problem.


What I liked: Focus on vocabulary and reading strategies. They talked about graphic organizers in math, which is something I really like, but that I’ve been extremely slack about. I should totally do these for “do now” problems to activate prerequisite knowledge and for “tickets out the door” to see what they learned from the lesson. We also had good whole-group discussion time to reflect on what we are learning. (Note to self:  I may need to do this part more with my students–I’m at the point right now where the majority of class time is group work and small group discussions, but wrapping up the ideas for everyone is very useful!)


Interesting: This is the first session where they mentioned any research. It seems to be largely about ESOL students, but as they say, strategies that are good for ESOL students are good for any struggling readers. They were also the only people who asked for feedback (verbal, during session) on how interesting/helpful their session was.

Session 2: What is an “average” pencil?

Presenter: Sharon Taylor, GSU


Technology: Word document on the projector. Computer decided to update itself 10 minutes into the session.


4-page packet (including cover page–she also is sending a blank copy home with us so we can write on the first one). Why not just give us a link to it? This could have been more of a problem for her if more people showed up. She also had a tablet to write on for recording the data, but wasn’t very adept at it, so the data did not go into the actual table.


Hands-On: pencils of different lengths, scissors, thin & thick paper strips, scissors, rulers, tape.  Lots of verbal directions at the beginning (she seemed very nervous & stumbled over words, perhaps because there wasn’t a large turn-out and she lost some confidence?).


What I liked: Cool extension ideas for exponents, standard deviation, using Legos for # of letters in your name and then “evening out” the stacks. Someone also mentioned making a “human box & whisker” plot, which I’ve done before, but she added in the idea of “stacking” people who have the same number of letters in the name to show that the length of the box (or whisker) will be shorter due to repeated values.


Interesting: Some teachers weren’t very adept at measuring in inches/centimeters.  I noticed several people writing 5 3/16″ as 5.3″.

Conference Session: Exploring Geometry Using Inquiry-Based Activities

Presenter: Susie Lanier, GSU


Technology: PowerPoint projected on screen. She ran out of copies and said to email her if you didn’t get one.

Hands-On: Started with a handout (worksheet), a cut-out paper circle, and a square of patty paper. She asked us to find the center of the circle.  There were some awesome questions about area at the end!  I was very engaged.  I really thought she was going to get to incenter/circumcenter/orthocenter, but I suppose that’s not really applicable to middle school.


What I liked: She teaches pre-service teachers and uses this book http://www.amazon.com/Geometric-Structures-Inquiry-Based-Prospective-Elementary/dp/0131483927  We did lots of constructions without any compasses or straightedges–the paper folding is very intuitive. I hope that if I do this with my students before we get to traditional constructions that it will make more sense to them.


Interesting points:  The teachers who are participating are very eager to show what they know!

And it comes back around to SBG . . . again

My standards-based grading journey thus far has been far from linear.


I began by jumping in with both feet (& hands & torso & head-under-water & gradebook) and forged ahead with no training and not much research. I tried to separate every single assignment I gave into a specific standard category & place all grades (yes, including homework & notebooks and all that, mock if you must) into the magical electronic “standards-based” gradebook. And here’s what I learned: DON’T DO IT THIS WAY!! Just because your gradebook is standards-based doesn’t mean that your teaching or basic philosophy is standards-based.


The next phase was a bit more refined. I realized the error or my ways after reading brilliant posts from superstars like Dan Meyers and Kate Nowak and many others. I subscribed to the philosophy of “re-doing until mastery” over “try it once or twice,  pass or fail, and them move on to the next topic”. I remediated with those who needed it, I allowed re-quizzing as needed, I gave students standards checklists that they had to keep up with. I separated quizzes into standards but lumped them in with end-of-unit tests and kept separate categories for homework (OK, I still graded hw, rant away), projects, and computer lab work.  Most importantly, I think, my ultimate goal was for every student to master every standard, no matter WHEN and no matter WHAT.


So now I’ve been following the #SBG chats in twitter over the summer months and I’m feeling the push to take it to the next level.  The problem:  What does “the next level” look like? I’m currently wrestling with these questions and I’d love to hear your feedback (even if you have more questions and not answers for mine!):

  1. How should I weight my grade book now? I’m required by the county to keep a “normal” electronic gradebook that parents & students can see to keep up with progress. What percent should the standards quizzes weigh? What other categories are necessary? (I’m thinking projects, computer lab work, and unit tests–although can I lump in unit tests with the standards quizzes?).
  2. Once I figure our how to weigh the grade book, how can I “sell” it to my administration (and co-teachers, and parents . . .) I fear that if I don’t have support then I’ll be pressured to change it. “What?!  You teach 7th grade and quizzes are 60% of their grade?  Are you insane?”
  3. How do I “sell” SBG to my students? How do I motivate them to do non-graded practice, such as class work and homework? They have been inculcated by previous teachers to be grubby little point-mongers rather than focused learners!
  4. I think “Process Standards” are really important in every unit (problem solving, reasoning/ justification, communicating mathematically, making connections, multiple representations). How do I assess them? How do they factor into a standards-based gradebook?
  5. OK, there are really several other questions, but they may be best saved for a separate post.


So, as Dan would say, “What Can  You Do With This?”

3 down, 1 to go

Today is the end of the 3rd 9 weeks grading period, only 9 more weeks until summer! Yay!

So of course instead of finalizing my grades, I’m blogging, but I have an excuse. Really, it’s a good one! The required online grade book program that I use is on some silly scheduled maintenance or back-up or something every night from 10-11, so I really can’t do it now.

In the meantime, I have been taking time to reflect on my practices. Recently some of my students (the struggling ones in particular) have been complaining pretty directly to me that they do not like my methods. In their words, the way I’m teaching doesn’t work. They want me to tell them how to do a problem, then give them problems exactly like that to solve. No group work, no extended problems, nothing challenging–that sort of thing makes it too difficult to make an A!

Now it would be soooo much easier for me to succumb to this type of mind-numbing “teacher dumps knowledge into students’ heads, students dutifully regurgitate” routine, and grades would likely improve, and many students would be much more comfortable in math class. But the thing is that I really don’t want them to be comfortable! I want to stretch them and make them think and choose experiences that will help them figure out the important ideas. I want the problems to be messy and long and challenging–isn’t that what math is like in real life?

So as I plan my last two units of study, I am really trying to “stick to my guns” and teach the way that I truly believe is the best way for students to learn and understand and remember long-term, despite the obvious fact that many of them really do prefer some boring old school marm un-differentiated, low-technology, outdated pedagogy.

Here goes nothing!

January edition: a comedy of errors

I teach 7th grade math in Georgia, and one of the standards we worked on this month was on basic geometry constructions (copy a segment & an angle, bisect a segment & an angle, construct parallel & perpendicular lines). I thought I knew how to do constructions, I even researched to find online demonstrations, cool instructional videos, and helpful notes on the various steps.

Wow, what a bust! My kiddos reeeaaaalllly do NOT get it! Not only do they not remember the basic steps, but they don’t understand WHY they work, and isn’t that the whole point? Yes, we discussed the “why” part in class, and a few bright students carried the discussion while the others sat there trying not to look confused. Not good enough. (Imagine that, right?)

Mistakes I made:

  1. Thinking that direct instruction was enough to create understanding,
  2. not providing enough concrete experiences for them to learn the whys behind the whats, and
  3. moving way too fast (see mistake #2 as a reason for this).

How I’m going to improve:

  1. Prepare activities that will aid in gaining understanding, I’m especially leaning towards constructions with patty paper and also using Geometer’s Sketch Pad (our school has a license) and/or Geogebra.
  2. Make my future self a giant note on bright-colored paper about how NOT to teach this unit next year.

Do you have any awesome activities or resources that help your students understand constructions? I would love to hear your input and ideas!

Why I think I should blog

Hello, my name is Mrs. Fuller, and I’m a math teacher.  Isn’t that how the meetings start?

Anyway, I’ve spent many months reading fantastic, inspiring bloggers like Dan Meyer, Kate Nowak, Dave Sladkey, Tom DeRosa, and others, and have come to a couple of conclusions: (1) making mistakes & blogging about them makes for better teachers, and (2) I make lots of mistakes, so maybe if I blog about them I’ll  be a better teacher!

Step 1:  start a blog.  Check.

Step 2: blog regularly. Partial check.  (Signed up for Project52)

Step 3: make less mistakes next go-around.

I look forward (gulp!) to putting all my bumps, bruises, and train wrecks out there for the world to read!