Last week I attended Twitter Math Camp 2015 (TMC15), one of the most powerful and enjoyable professional developments I have ever participated in. In subsequent posts, I'll share some of the content that I learned and my goals for applying that in my classroom this year. But what I've been thinking of most since I returned home on Sunday is 'Why is TMC such a powerful and joyful experience?' and 'How can I get more of that in my life?'
"No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship." (James Comer)
At its heart, teaching and learning is all about building relationships and communities. We know and recognize this for our students. Why do we not know and recognize it for ourselves? What is good for students is good for teachers. Teaching can be a lonely profession. We need to be given time and a space to connect with other teachers who have similar goals and who will push our ideas of what good teaching can and should look like. To some extent, I have been able to do this within my workplace. But the community of teachers that I connect with the most resides within the MathTwitterBlogoSphere (#MTBoS)- an online community of teachers dedicated to improving their craft. We blog for each other, we Tweet to each other, we create awesome professional resources for each other. And once a year, we have a math teacher family reunion at TMC where we showcase some of the best things that have been happening in our classrooms. The sense of community is powerful and very welcoming, even to those who may have shown up to TMC not knowing a single soul. Everyone leaves with friends and a feeling of deep connection.
Recently @MathButler created a directory of the MTBoS. Here is what the map of online math educators looks like right now:
Let me tell you what I notice and wonder when I see this image. I notice that there are a huge amount of online math educators in New York and California. I feel jealous of their ability to easily get together. I notice that some states, like Wyoming and Montana have no online educators and I wonder why. I notice that there are only two in Utah. One year ago when I returned from TMC14, that number inside of Utah was a one, not a two. Let me tell you how that made me feel. Alone.
When I talk to math teachers in Utah, it seems to me that morale has reached a dangerous low. Many of us work in environments where we do not feel valued by our community or supervisors. With recent changes to the state mathematics standards (which I fully support and endorse!), I find that I am in the position of constantly defending my work to nearly everyone I talk to. It is as though the pail in which I keep my teaching energy has developed a leak. I do not yet know how to mend the holes that are causing the leak, but I do know that if I am not active in finding ways to refill and replenish, I will run dry and have nothing left to offer my students.
Build the Community You Need
That solitary number one in Utah on the map was the primary reason I contacted UCTM about creating this blog. I wanted more of the community I felt at TMC back home in Utah. I don't know how effective I have been so far at creating this community, but I do know that I'm not alone any more.
When I noticed the 'two' inside of Utah, I did a search to find the other Utah math teacher. Turns out that Lori Kalt (@MrsLKalt) also teaches 8th grade math in my district and was also going to be attending TMC15. We made our travel plans together and spent almost all of our time at TMC making new friends together and learning together. I feel that I've met a kindred spirit. I'm excited to have someone nearby with whom I can discuss the new ideas we're reading about and trying out in our classrooms.
So our online community of math teachers here in Utah is growing. Slowly. And I'm ok with that. I recently listened to a TED Talk by Zeynep Tufekci entitled Online social change: easy to organize, hard to win.
The growth of the MTBoS has been described as a paradigm shift or a movement in the world of mathematics education. How has this been possible, considering the difficulty of creating sustainable change online? What has the MTBoS done that so many other movements have failed to do? The answer lies near the middle of Zeynep Tufecki's TED talk, " The magic is not in the mimeograph. It's in that capacity to work together, think together collectively, which can only be built over time with a lot of work." And so I would like to say thank you to all of the people who put so much time and work into creating and sustaining this wonderful community called the #MTBoS that fills me when my teacher-energy bucket is nearing empty. Thank you to Lisa Henry, the lead organizer of TMC whose dedication and efficiency knows no bounds. Thank you to Fawn Nyugen for inspiring me and reminding me that teachers can be leaders and that it's the connections we make that count. Thank you to Elizabeth Statmore for sharing from your heart and constantly broadening my ideas. Thank you to Mary Bourassa and Alex Overwijk for sharing about activity-based learning, spiraling, and vertical non-permanent surfaces - I'm taking the plunge this year! Thank you to so many others that I won't even try to name them all.
Join the Community!
I know that there are more than two of us in Utah who are dedicated to improving the craft of mathematics education. Please join us. We want to get to know you. We want to learn from you! Add yourself to the MTBoS directory. Join our #eduread book club (we're starting to discuss What's Math Got to Do With It next week, and both Lori and I are excited to participate in the discussions). If you're nervous about using Twitter or blogs or don't know how to get started, look here for some how-to's. Or just send me an email and I'll come meet with you and help you get started. Or we can just meet for ice-cream sometime and share stories. I believe there is power in sharing our stories with each other. If you would like to share some of your stories here on this blog, fill out this form and we'll make it happen. I tell my students that every voice in my classroom is important and that it's important to create a community where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas. It's time start realizing that what is good for students is good for teachers too. Let's put it into action!
Do you teach math in Utah? We would love for you to write a guest blog post. Please fill out this form and we'll contact you ASAP!
Author: MaryAnn Moore
As I'm reflecting on my school year and how I can improve my practice, I've been thinking a lot about how to improve Problem-Based Learning (PBL) in my classroom. Let me use a musical analogy to describe the problem I'm uncovering. Yesterday I was reading a great blog post called Getting Kids to Practice Music - Without Tears or Tantrums.. In the comments, one reader suggested "For longer pieces, don't always start at the beginning. If you do, the result will be a wonderful beginning, a so-so middle and often a non-existent ending. Once something has been mastered, leave its comfortable safety and concentrate on the next challenge. Every part should receive the same level of attention." This resonates with me because, as a violinist, I have been there and done that. Sometimes, when I'm performing a violin concerto, I feel great at the beginning and then as the end creeps nearer and nearer, I can feel my anxiety levels begin to rise. The lack of attention that I have given to the ending is amplified by the fact that often the most technically difficult passages fall at the very end of the piece.
When I read blog posts and attend trainings about the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions, I encounter a similar tendency. We teachers could spend all day talking about how to select a rich task, how to monitor student work time. I've been in groups that have gotten side-tracked for nearly half an hour debating the most effective way to sequence a particular set of student work. That's all fine and dandy, but aren't we neglecting to practice the end? The Connecting?
As a I lead students through a task, I get excited about the beginning and the middle. I love the flashy "Act 1" prompt that gets students Noticing and Wondering exciting things. I love watching and hearing them branch off and try different strategies to solve the problem. I even like watching them wallow a bit with some of the mathematical concepts that are still a little and confusing nebulous. But as the task starts nearing its end, I start to feel anxiety because I realize that the load is now squarely on my shoulders to guide my students out of their different levels of 'unengaged-ness', 'productive struggle' and 'active confusion' into something that is hopefully an Ah-Ha! Moment resulting in a deep conceptional understanding of the mathematics content at hand. Yep, that's right, the hardest part of this concerto has landed at the end once again and, as usual, I've gotten so caught up in the beauty of all the other sections that I've neglected to prepare for the end. It seems to me that the Connection stage of the 5 Practices is where all the 'Magic Teacher Moves' happen. But since I'm no magician, too often my grand finales turn out to be what Smith and Stein describe as a session of "Show-and-Tell" with me trying fill the missing content pieces at the end. This inevitably falls flat.
It's time for me to start practicing my endings. As I've been looking for help in this process, I've been surprised by how very little discussion there is about the Connection process. Some of the teacher-bloggers to whom I've looked to as PBL Beacons are silent on this topic. Maybe it's out there and I'm just not finding it? If that's true, would you leave a comment pointing me in the right direction?
I was very intrigued by the conversation between Christopher Danielson and Dan Meyer in the comments of this post. I think a large portion of the online math-education world is leaning toward Dan Meyer's teacher-centered Act 3 'reveal' to summarize the lesson rather than the student-centered discussion method of synthesizing the lesson that Christopher Danielson describes. That makes sense because there seems to be a very clear formula for the 3-Act task reveal, which makes it easy to implement. Both strategies have their place in a math classroom, but I've seen fewer clear examples of the discussion-based, student-centered lesson closing/synthesis. I want to know the formula.
Here's where I'm headed now: I'm looking into good questioning strategies right now, since that seems to be the direction that Christopher Danielson and because it is discussed in the Connections section of the 5 Practices.
In the 5 Practices, Smith and Stein outline nine types of questions, focusing on numbers 3-5
1. Gathering information, leading students through a procedure
2. Inserting technology
3. Exploring mathematical meanings and/or relationships
4. Probing, getting students to explain their thinking
5. Generating discussion
6. Linking and applying
7. Extending thinking
8. Orienting and focusing
9. Establishing context
As a first step, I'm planning to read through David Cox's "First Idea; Best Idea..." and categorize each of the questions he asks his students. I will do the same with Max Ray-Riek's "26 Questions You Can Ask Instead" and see if I can find a pattern in these questions and when would be the most appropriate time to ask them in a lesson. I'm very curious to hear what other people have to say about this topic, so please leave a comment.