Wednesday, December 30, 2020

We are not martyrs. We are not trees.

I've had some travels in my teaching journey. I began working at a school I had done some of my college observations hours in and was hella happy there for 8 years. Then we got a very "interesting" principal and I bailed after a year of her tyrannical ways (side note: she's been canned by 2 districts since then). 

Turned out, the new principal was likely an undiagnosed sociopath, and when my father was given grave medical news, she was completely unsympathetic, did absolutely nothing to help me get a leave, and even tried to stiff me on some pay during the hardest time in my life. Bounced again, this time resigning, because there was no way I could be a good classroom teacher and support my father through the end of his life. I was able to land a coaching job at a local university that started the following month, which afforded me the flexible schedule and lack of classroom teaching responsibilities to be the daughter I needed to be and then to navigate the first 18 months without my dad. Those 3 years were great, and I learned an incredible amount by being an outside insider in various schools and districts, but I missed the real work of teaching and having my own classes to work with.

From there, I tried a year in a nearby suburb because my now-husband and I were thinking of moving outside the city. That was the easiest job I've ever had, but also the most boring. I had one prep and taught it to 3 blocks of kids. The pay was crap, probably due to the extremely bloated "support" staff of coaches and various titles that I don't really understand and never got any support from.

So then I came back to the city I love. Last year I worked at a school where a former AP of mine took over. It was not my jam, and I was yearning to get into a 5th grade position to shake up my repertoire a bit after 15 years of teaching middle school math. 

Now, finally, I have come full circle back to the school where I began my career. My then-AP is now our principal and the vibe is back to the magic that prioritized kids and their families back in the good old days. I learned so much from my pit stops along the way, and I needed them to grow within and beyond my career, but I'm so happy to be "home" where I will finish my career.

The most important things I learned:

  1. We are not martyrs. Find the place that feels like home and treats you like the beautiful human you are. 
  2. We are not trees. Leave the place that isn't serving you and is causing you harm.

We are in a strange time in education, and too many districts are showing how little they value us by ignoring the global pandemic that is raging around us. Classroom teachers are omitted from the narrative, while we are the ones doing the actual work of nurturing youth through this challenging time. I see you and I value you and I know that the work we do every day matters. The haters know this, too, and know they couldn't cut it in our shoes.  We need to take care of ourselves, and I challenge you to do whatever it takes to make that true for you this coming year, and beyond. Remember your worth and act on it. Be brave and say no when you need to.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Making Asynchronous Math Practice Meaningful

I've been thinking a lot about how to give my students choice in meaningful practice opportunities while we are learning from home. While there are some really awesome online tools, I want to limit the need to use technology for all the things.

Why math packs? 

a) We are fully remote for the first quarter of this year. I want our synchronous online time to be engaging and hope that my students do not feel the same level of screen fatigue that I have been experiencing since spring;

b) Many of the tech apps are isolated practice, and do not offer great feedback, so I would prefer that students do some open-ended tasks and games that will allow them to be flexible in their thinking and get feedback from family members who may play with them, and peers when we debrief together;

c) Our school has purchased a subscription to Dreambox (huzzah!), and I feel that platform offers what I'm looking for in independent practice, so adding in many other apps is neither necessary nor effective for what I hope to accomplish through independent practice.

What's in the packs?

  • Needed tools for the games: mini dice, paper clips, dry erase marker, and pompom eraser

  • Some extra tools that will be helpful in class: pencil, sharpener, glue stick

  • Dry erase pocket with 4 games from Donna Boucher and Laney Sammons' book Guided Math Workstations, YouCubed's How Close to 100?, and base ten blocks to cut out as well as multiplication fill-in puzzles from this set of blackline masters.

  • Multiplication Math Flips from Berkeley Everett
How will students use the packs?

Students are expected to spend 45 minutes daily on asynchronous math learning (this is per our district). They will spend some of that time on Dreambox and the for rest they will have choice from their math packs. I am considering whether to do it by day or by minutes (i.e. MWF on Dreambox, TuTh on math packs). They will log their activity on a Google Doc each week so that I can monitor progress and offer feedback. 

This is new to us all, and as I stated at the start of the post, it is my hope that incorporating some choice in offline activities to offset the time we are spending online. I'll let you know how it goes in a later post once school starts and we get some practice in! Please comment your thoughts and ideas!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Pausing to Process: Distance Learning Information Overload

I have lost count of the number of hours I have spent since mid-March in trainings, webinars, online courses, and meetings. I know I have nearly 60 new hours of PD credit, and probably a similar amount that did not count for credit. So, yeah, I'm a little overloaded with information. I feel the need to pause and process and integrate what I've learned with my experiences from March-June teaching from a distance.

While there are so many amazing apps that do so many things, I cannot do all the things. It is time to reflect on what is manageable for my students and me, and to think about what to use to accomplish our goals.

I'm not all the way there yet, but here are some initial thoughts:
  1. Google Edu Suite is the district-approved LMS, and we have a pretty strict AUP (acceptable use policy) that limits what we can use outside of that. So, for as many things as I possibly can, I will be using Google Tools. My favorites this year were Jamboard and Drawings, will build on those with more.

  2. I want to limit the amount of unique logins students need to remember. Sites that integrate seamlessly with Google Classroom are huge favorites, and that allow a "Sign in with Google" option.

  3. I'm coming off of our annual layoff (that's right, folks, Teachers. Do. NOT. Get. Paid. Over. Summer.) and I believe that employers have a responsibility to provide the necessary tools for their employees to do their jobs, so forever free is hugely important. I will pay for something that legitimately does something very differently or much more efficiently than what I can do with Google tools, but it's gotta be as amazing as Classkick Pro. :)

  4. Assessment tools have been a challenge. My district has a new assessment management system that I am actually super psyched about, and plan to use that for most of my formative and summative assessments. Google forms will also be used for some checks, and I'm exploring EdPuzzle. Menti is awesome for quick, anonymous polls. Gotta keep it fresh.

  5. Flipgrid is a staple I do not know that I couldn't live without for asynchronous math talks, so that will be a big one, too. I have visions of books talks and more with that, too. Peer feedback can happen well there, too, and it will give us a space separate from Meet to see each other's faces.
Good thing this is day 1 of #MTBoSBlaugust because I have a lot of fleshing out to do. However, I will say that limiting the number of tools is helping me streamline my thinking. More to come!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

What am I going to do with all these exit slips?

Exit slips offer a great opportunity for students to independently reflect on their understanding and ability to perform the day's objective while giving me insight into their thinking. They can be great links from one day's learning to the next, and with multiple classes, they help me keep the thread of the story of our learning from day to day. 

They are also a lot to manage.

A couple years back, I focused on mindfully using exit slips with my students to help me provide meaningful feedback and opportunities for us to re-engage in problems and deepen learning. As I played with some different tools, I narrowed down some go-to strategies that my students and I enjoy most.

1. Icon Feedback
As I read through exit slips, I naturally sorted them into piles based on some similarity (same strategy, similar error, etc.). Icon feedback built off of this practice, and I would assign a symbol to each set of similar exit slips. The next day, students would get theirs back and find their people with the same icon to form a group (often split into smaller groups due to massive class sizes). I would project a prompt next to each icon, and the group would work together to respond to that prompt, using their work as a conversation starter. This allowed groups to re-engage with their own work, and work with others who had similar thinking to dig deeper into the problem in some way. One example is below, but what I love about this is all the possibilities. You can also group students with very different thinking and apply their strategies to a new, related problem. The possibilities are endless.

I started class with a recap from the previous day's exit slips. Note: this was super early in the
school year, so notice that there was a lot of focus on HOW they completed it as well as content.

Then, we looked at the icon on their papers. The one they had matched the question that was on this slide. That was their focus when they met with their groups.

Once they had a chance to reflect they found a partner and acted on the feedback. We later moved to groups of 4, but the first few weeks I had them in pairs to get everyone talking in a time-efficient manner.

2. My Favorite No (or, "Whoa")
Inspired by this video from The Teaching Channel, I use student work to highlight common errors. I quickly sort the work into yes/no piles based on the answer or feature of the work I'm looking to highlight with the class. (I've done this real-time, and also done it the next day. I prefer the next day as part of our launch because it uses less class time and allows me to get it into a slide). Then, just like the video shows, we talk about what we like about the work, and how we could improve it. Language matters, so think about how you want to phrase this routine with your students - "error analysis," "my favorite no," "my favorite whoa" all have connotations I wasn't comfortable with, so I often introduced it as "analyzing awesome thinking". You know your students.  We would analyze it together, improve it, and come up with a polished product together. This was a great way to analyze common errors as well as explanations and vocabulary usage to let students see others' work and reflect on their own.

3. Re-Engagement Math Talk
Since math/number talks are a daily routine in my classroom, the structure provided a great space to use exit slips to create a prompt that used student thinking to spark conversation. My favorite prompt was simply, "Who do you agree with and why?" Sometimes both/all answers were correct, sometimes there was one that had a correct answer but no thinking where another had an incorrect answer but an awesome process. Another favorite prompt was "What's the same? What's different?" By putting up student work with these simple prompts, great conversations with takeaways I couldn't have planned for took place. On days when they fell flat, I would  Here are a couple of examples. 

As you can see from my top 3 strategies, there are a couple of things that matter to me when using student exit slips:
  1. Student thinking is the driving force of our discussions
  2. Students have the opportunity to re-engage with a problem they already worked with to dig deeper
  3. Prompts are non-threatening and promote discourse and reflection
  4. We wrap up some thinking about a problem as a shared experience with it
  5. The goal is to push thinking as well as model how we can share our thinking clearly and effectively
I'd love to hear feedback on how you use or plan to use exit slips in your classes, especially in virtual environments!

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Math Language Routine: Stronger and Clearer Each Time

We spend a lot of time perfecting how we support students in the classroom during the learning of mathematics, but helping students develop independence in using those supports and their benefits can be tricky. In thinking about why this happens, I have realized that some of the supports I have used actually lower the cognitive demand of tasks, so when students are faced with a non-routine problem, they can struggle to apply the tenets of those supports in a new context.

The Mathematics Language Routines maintain the rigor of the language and amplify it so that students are practicing in class what they will see on those measures. They are also more deeply learning the language, as they spend time refining their responses and then reflecting on how communication helped them more clearly articulate their thinking.

My school adopted Illustrative Mathematics last year and that was the first place I learned about them. I reached out to the literacy coach in my building who worked with me to develop the protocols with my students for "Three Reads" and "Stronger and Clearer Each Time." I'll focus on the latter in this post.
The goal of "Stronger and Clearer Each Time" is to help students revisit and refine their thinking to present a well-developed idea either in response to a prompt, as a solution to a problem, or any other opportunity for communication where precision is a focus. It also provides a chance for participants to reflect on how communication strengthens our thinking when we learn from others.

The routine begins with independent think time, where students write in response to the prompt on their own. I typically set an amount of time for them to “write everything you can about ________” I encourage the use of drawings, diagrams, words, and phrases. Before students move on to the next part, I have them pause, read what they have written, and jot down 3-4 key words from it to remind them what they want to share with their partner. 

Next, students go through 2-3 rounds of collaboration, where they spend a couple of minutes with a partner to share their own thinking and get feedback, and then do the same for their partners. At the end of each pairing, students quickly jot down something new they heard from their partner. 

After we have 2-3 rounds of partner talk, students head back to their home bases to write a revised draft of their thinking, incorporating the new information they heard. I have found that sharing out and thanking each other is a great closing to the collaboration piece; and it also reinforces social skills and gives students a chance to practice friendly language. We use sentence stems or closing statements that they choose from and high five before heading back to their seats.

Finally, we close and reflect on the process. This also launches what is perhaps the most important part of the routine; the reflection. I make sure to save time for us to think about and discuss how much our responses were improved and strengthened as a result of speaking and listening with others. Students often marvel at the change in their responses, and this piece is not something to skip.

One of the ways I’ve used this routine is to reinforce key terms or big ideas during a unit. This example is from a week ago when my students were exploring theoretical probability. There was some confusion between it and experimental probability, so I started our class with Stronger and Clearer, simply asking, “What is theoretical probability?” Below, you can see the initial draft and revised draft of one student. Being able to talk helped add detail and specific language to her response. The right image shows the note-taking tool students used to jot things down that their partners said during collaboration time. They use this information to revise their initial drafts. My favorite moment was when one student said, “Wow, I knew way more than I wrote down at first!”

Stronger and Clearer Each Time can also be used when students are solving problems, where the prompt becomes the problem and the discussions are around solution methods and justifications.

How will you use Stronger and Clearer in your classroom?

Friday, January 24, 2020

Math + Retrieval Practice = Sustained Learning

Retrieval practice is a hot topic in the Twitterverse right now, and for good reason; it is a high-yield and easily implemented strategy that works.

The idea behind retrieval is that bringing information to mind (getting information OUT of students' heads rather than cramming more IN) boosts memory and helps to disrupt the forgetting curve. A team of cognitive scientists has compiled an amazing set of research and tools at I highly recommend spending a day reading and learning there, and checking out the books Make it Stick and Powerful Teaching to understand current thinking in cognitive science about this strategy, as well as awesome, practical strategies.

Two non-negotiables for effective retrieval practice:

  • Retrieval practice is practice; a formative experience that is not graded.
  • Feedback is an indispensable part of the process. Close the loop.

I've fallen in love with several strategies over the past 1.5 years of trying this in my classes.
Here are 3 of them that I feel are particularly powerful for my mostly emergent bilingual mathematicians (examples follow after the table):

This is a Retrieval Grid I used recently with my Algebra I class to ease back in after winter break:

Here are some picture prompt responses:

(I am working on being more systematic about collecting work samples, and will store them here when I have them, and I also Tweet them out from @anneagost).

For those of you in the Chicago area, I hope to see you at MMC next weekend to talk more about these and other tools for retrieval practice in math class!

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Take that Math Talk, Flip it and Reverse It (Backward Math Talks)

Despite the title, this post is not an ode to Missy Elliott (though maybe I should write one of those sometime).

How many times have you participated in a math talk at a professional development session with other adults and seen many awesome representations and strategies come out? Have you then gone back to your school, excited to try that same prompt with your students, only to find that the number of strategies is 1 or 2...or none, mentally?

So, what is the disconnect? Well, for one thing, students have varied prior experiences and so the models and strategies in their toolboxes also vary. More than that, though, is that once we learn algorithms, it is hard to go back to truly experience the building of conceptual models. Sometimes well-meaning parents teach their children to solve problems the way they learned, using the algorithm. Sometimes the pressure of high-stakes testing makes us feel like we need to introduce it so that students can tackle those questions independently. Whatever the reason, early introduction of algorithms happens, and it is harmful. 

Algorithms are still a goal, eventually, but when we get there we want students to be able to think about what they're doing. Quantity gets lost in algorithms. Kids need to be doing mental checks and asking themselves, "Does this make sense?"

Fluency is bigger than answers.

(Based on research from Add it Up)

So, if students do not use the models or strategies I am hoping to see during my math talk, it is up to me to get them into our conversation. This is where my girl Missy comes in.

If students aren't familiar with the various strategies and models I want to see in a math talk, no amount of wait time is going to magically transfer them into their heads. Why not provide the models and have students work backward to make sense of why those models represent the problems we pose?

Take, for example, 16 x 25, as in the example at the top of this post. Rather than ask, "I want you to find the product of 16 x 25 in as many ways as you can," we can ask:

In this particular example, my goal is to help students see how we can break apart factors and use the associative property to make the problem easier to solve mentally.

Pam Harris has some great examples at her site, that show lots of different visual models for various operations, like the one below, as well as problem strings to get those SMP juices flowing.

I wondered more about the idea of "learning backward" and came across a TED Talk by GM Maurice Ashley that really resonated. You can check it out here.

Toward the end of the talk, he mentions the adage of youth being wasted on the young, which made me think:

So, instead of being frustrated when students don't have the strategies and models we wish they did, let's work to "flip it and reverse it" by taking ownership of the solution with backward math talks to promote sense-making and rich discussion about mathematics.

I have found this planning template useful. You can access it here in Word form.

Happy planning! Please share any that you try in your classroom with me @anneagost!

We are not martyrs. We are not trees.

I've had some travels in my teaching journey. I began working at a school I had done some of my college observations hours in and was he...