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Saturday, March 25, 2017

The National Math Festival

Recently, I received an email letting me know about the National Math Festival.  This is an event I had never heard of before so I quickly went to check out their website and was amazed at what I found there!

The National Math Festival brings together some of the most fascinating mathematicians of our time  to inspire and challenge participants to see math in new and exciting ways. Through a day of lectures, hands-on demonstrations, art, films, performances, puzzles, games, children’s book readings, and more, everyone from toddlers to teens and adults can experience the unexpected sides of mathematics. The National Math Festival is free and open to the public from 10:00 a.m. till 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 22, 2017 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Those outside the D.C. area can join in via events at dozens of science museums around the U.S. or explore math games, puzzles, books, and other resources available online. For more information check out their full website!

I would love to head to Washington, D.C. this spring to attend but already have plans for that week(I am on spring break!). It is definitely something I would love to bring my entire family to in the future.  If you can't attend, be sure to check out their More Math resources! I found a few new resources there that my students are going to love!  Be prepared to spend a few hours digging through websites!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Assessment for a Growth Mindset

This week we are wrapping up our Mathematical Mindsets book study.  I have loved reading this book and going deeper into the big ideas in my classroom.  If you are just joining us, be sure to check out part 1, part 2 and part 3

Chapter 8: Assessment for a Growth Mindset

Big Ideas

-Teachers are being asked to test and to grade students to a damaging degree
-Often what is easy to test is being assessed rather than valuable mathematics knowledge
-It is common to start a math class with a pre-test to determine what students know.  This gives students a message that math is about performance. 
-Research has shown that test scores demotivate students and convey a fixed messages that result in lower achievement
-Boaler recommends assessing less
-Use more formative assessment 

Impact in the Classroom

Test Less

I am happy to get on board with this one.  We use standards based grading on our report cards so I don't have to worry about giving a percent score.  This naturally reduces the amount of assessing and grading that I have to do.  I never put a grade on classwork or formative assessment prompts. I do grade unit assessments and such but often do not share the percent grade with students.  I have to collect some percent grades currently mostly used during IEP evaluation processes.  I have not yet figured out a way to convince the special educators that a kid is in the lowest 15% of the class without some percentages.  I would be happy to never put a percent grade on anything again and would love to work toward this goal

More Formative Assessment

When I was in graduate school, I read Assessment for Learning and started using many formative assessment strategies.   The following school year, I got even further into formative assessment ideas when all of the teachers in my school had the opportunity to take a formative assessment course together during in-service time.  Reading this chapter brought back a few ideas that we had great success with in our school but have sort of fallen out of practice.  After reading this chapter, I led a staff meeting about formative assessment strategies to remind us all of some of our forgotten favorites.  We also got to have a good discussion about how the assessment practices in our district have shifted and what we have had to give up as a result.

Screeners and MTSS

Since starting our formal work as an MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Supports) school two years ago, we are doing much more formal testing.  These tests are given 3 times per year and are meant to be screeners to see who is not meeting standards in math and reading.  I work in a small school where I literally know all of the students very well and many of them I work with for 7 years.  I do not need more assessments to tell me who needs help in what area.  These additional assessments have added more to our students' and teachers' plates and seemed to have pushed some of our formative assessment strategies out.  I am really struggling with how MTSS systems effect math mindset and will be having some discussions with other folks in my district about these ideas.

Chapter 9: Teaching Mathematics for a Growth Mindset

Big Ideas

-It is important to set up classroom norms based on research.  Here is the printable poster with the big ideas from Youcubed. 
-Teaching kids how to work in groups is an important step.  Designing Groupwork is an excellent reference to get you started.
-Believe in all of your students and make sure they know you believe in them
-Value persistence and hard thinking instead of speed
-Change praise!  Here is a great list of suggestions.
-Choose tasks with a low floor and a high ceiling!

Impact in the Classroom

The Participation Quiz

What an awesome strategy for encouraging group work!  I am a bit ashamed to admit that I learned this strategy from my mentor teaching when I was student teaching but somewhere along the way I lost it from my repertoire.  Bringing it back to the classroom was just the jolt we needed to re-invigorate our group work.  It is an amazing way to motivate students and share all the skills you value.  

Low Floor, High Ceiling Tasks

Many of the math tasks in this chapter I have tried out with my students over the past two weeks.  It is amazing how much mileage I have gotten out of some of these tasks and how much it has helped move some of my multi-age groups forward.  Another resource for these types of problems that I stumbled upon this week and then spent way to many hours there is Math Pickle. It is an amazing website full of great math problems, puzzles, games and ideas about how to bring unsolved math problems into K-12 classrooms.  

Thanks for following along on this book study!  This book is such a wealth of information.  I am considering doing another book study this spring around Designing Groupwork.  I will let you know the details when I work them out! 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Mathematics and the Path to Equity

Welcome to week 3 of our Mathematical Mindsets book study! If you are just joining us, be sure to check out our launch, The Power of Mistakes and Struggle and Creating Mathematical Mindsets

Chapter 6: Mathematics and the Path to Equity

Big Ideas

-The myth of the mathematically gifted child: This section reminded me of my own math story
- All students should have access to high-level content
-Try to change ideas about who can do well in math
- Make sure students have opportunities to think deeply about math
- Importance of group work
- Eliminate homework
- Encourage minorities 

Impact in the Classroom 

 Eliminating Homework 

The strategy that resonated the most with me is the elimination of homework.  Last school year, I made the decision to stop assigning math homework altogether and it has been great.  The kids who were the most likely to do the homework were the ones who needed it the least.  Having parents and caretakers "help" with homework was leading to procedures I wasn't ready to embrace in the classroom along with negative feelings about math.  I was spending more class time assigning and collecting homework than kids were spending doing it.  Now, I assign no homework.  I do have a class blog that is a curated list of online activities that go along with what we are learning in class.  Families can access this at home if they wish but it is certainly not a requirement.  I also use a lot of games/centers in my classroom and sometimes kids will love a particular game and want to share it with their families.  I let students who wish to take games home to play with family members do this.  I also occasionally will have a student who wants more practice with a particular skill and will ask for something extra.  I indulge this desire.  Since eliminating homework in my classroom, things seem much more equitable and students, parents and myself all seem happier.  I have not noticed a lack of understanding or that we are farther behind than in years past.

Working in Groups 

Another strategy that really resonated with my was teaching students to work together.  In the times that I was most challenged by my math classes, I had a group that I could turn to for help.  I remember spending 6 hours every Thursday night in our University library working on problem sets together.  This gave me the confidence I needed because I could see others were struggling also and because I was able to construct my knowledge with others.  When I was student teaching, my mentor teacher had me read Designing Groupwork which led to a great system for making sure my students work together.  It isn't always perfect and sometimes group work can be a challenge but it is such an important part of my math lessons.

Offering High Level Content to All Students 

The strategy I envision being the most difficult to implement is definitely offering all students high-level content. I think we have done this in our elementary school but I imagine it would be harder and harder to do as students get older and the gap between students widens.  Our school district currently offers accelerated math beginning in grade 7.  I have always been on the fence about whether this is a good idea and this chapter got me thinking that maybe it isn't. 

Chapter 7: From Tracking to Growth Mindset Grouping 

Big Ideas 

-When students are offered high level content they achieve at higher levels
- "We can give no stronger fixed mindset message to students than we do by putting them into groups determined by their current achievement and teaching them accordingly." 
- The importance of providing open ended tasks
- Complex Instruction
-Valuing different types of skills

Impact in the Classroom

Re-Thinking Tracking

Over the past few years, our school has moved completely away from grouping kids for math based on skills.  We teach heterogeneous groups for each grade level and have even moved to teaching some multi-age math groups.  The only exception has been kids who are more than two years behind in math.  These kids are often pulled out of their math class and offered math in a different setting by a special educator.  I would be interested to hear more about folks' opinions on how far behind is to far behind to group heterogeneously. 

More Low Floor, High Ceiling Tasks

When I provide my students with open ended tasks, they are more engaged and invested in their learning.  I feel great about my teaching.  I think I need to do more of these types of tasks but I am still working on juggling doing these tasks with number talks and all of the other things I am expected to do or think work really great for my students.  I will be thinking more about this.

What did you think about this week's reading?!  Please respond in the comments below!