Going Back Again

One of the perks of being an instructional coach is going into classrooms and co-teaching with fabulous teachers.   

I arrived as the second grade students were doing an introductory activity with polyhedron.   The teacher had given each student a collection of pictures of 3-D objects.  The students were invited to sort them in any manner that they would like and label their sorts right on their desks.  Most chose to sort by polyhedron and non-polyhedron.  There were some that sorted by vertices-no vertices, polygon faces-non-polygon faces, numbers of faces, and descriptions of bases.

Next, the teacher gave clear, simple directions for a gallery walk.  While the children walked around and looked at each other’s work, the teacher and I talked quickly about what they would do when they got back to their seats. We decided to ask them to look at their own work, and decide if they wanted to make any changes or revisions to their work.

This turned out to be very powerful.   We watched students happily erase previous work to sort in a different way they hadn’t thought of. ( Most of the time, students hesitate at erasing their work!)   As they worked, we kept asking them questions, and watched amazed at how much further their thinking and explanations went.   There was a buzz throughout the room.  100% of the students were on task and engaged in great conversations.  

If she had not asked them to go back again, they wouldn’t have gotten the chance to explore new ideas and try out new vocabulary.  They wouldn’t have had the chance to justify their thinking for a more complex sort.   

When they wrote about what they did, many wrote how they had changed their sorts, and explained what they learned!



This is a great example of a little change that has powerful results!

#GoingBackAgain    #courage   #polyhedra         #powerfulStrategies

Courage: My challenge for the year!

Instead of a New Year’s Resolution, which I know I will break, I choose a word to focus on each year.  This year, personally and professionally, my word is “courage”.   Here’s why:

Courage:   One word for change

I live in Texas, but visit family in California every year.   I travel with my dogs, and so I make the trip by driving, often by myself.   I really enjoy the time to think, and listen to music, and you drive through some beautiful country.  

As I drive, it is not uncommon to see a box moving truck towing a car behind it, as the occupants head off to a new adventure.   Usually it is young people, beginning their life as students, or with new jobs in new cities.  Usually.

This December, we passed a the box truck towing a vehicle, I checked the mirror to make sure everything was clear, and noticed there was only one person the truck.  And I was stunned!  It was a much older woman, with her white hair beautifully coiffed driving along to her new adventure by herself.  

Seeing this sent my mind racing!  I watched for her at every rest stop because I wanted to ask her about her story.  Perhaps it is good that I never had the chance, because I am left with my own reflections.

What stood out the most for me was her courage.  Moving is an adventure, but it involves change, and that takes courage.  Courage to make make the decision.  Courage to make the plan, and make the changes.  Courage to drive (and tow) a big truck all by yourself. This beautiful woman was courageous in making what was obviously a big change in her life.

Big changes take courage.

Little changes take courage, too.

As a teachers, we are faced with changes in the students that we teach.   The needs of the students have changed from what they were even five years ago.  We are finding that we need to address emotional and social needs of students, we need to make sure they are fed, we need to help them face new circumstances in their lives, and help our students find their own courage.  

To do this, we need to make changes in how we teach.  The ways that we taught in the past may not work for the students we have now.   We need to have the courage to look for new ways of reaching our students and help them prepare for their lives with new technology and ways of working and collaborating together.  We have to have courage to make big changes and small changes.

As I reflected and drove along towards my family, I decided that with the new year, my word to focus upon professionally would be courage.   I want to have the courage to speak up for those in need, to make changes for my students, even if it is uncomfortable for me.

When I moved by myself from California to Texas, that took courage…so I know I have it.  I need to remember that, and challenge myself to keep being courageous to make the little changes that will make my classroom a better place and prepare my students for their futures!

Math Noticing #2

I was reading through the NCTM newsfeed this morning, and I noticed a topic near and dear to my heart:   Nixing the “butterfly method” when dealing with fractions.   Over and over, teachers and math coaches aired their concerns over teaching this trick, because it does not lead to deeper understanding of the underlying math concepts.

I could not agree more!   I have had teachers tell me that they fall back on the butterfly trick when either they are feeling pressed for time, and they just want to give their students something that works, or that they are not really confident about the concept themselves.

In the Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere (MTBoS), Tina Cordone wrote a book and created a website called “Nix the Tricks”.   This website is well worth a visit.

If you have struggled with not wanting to teach a trick, but didn’t know what else to do, or that was the way you were taught, and you want to deepen your own understanding, visit this site!

You can download a FREE pdf of her book Nix the Tricks.   It is full of all the math “tricks” and alternate ways of teaching so that students have understanding instead of tricks that hold no meaning for them.

Tina Cordone explains it best:

If students do not understand, they are not doing math. Do not push
students too far, too fast (adolescent brains need time to develop before they
can truly comprehend abstraction), but do not sell your students short either.
The world does not need more robots; asking children to mindlessly follow an
algorithm is not teaching them anything more than how to follow instructions. (page 2)

I really enjoyed perusing the list of tricks, in between cringes, and look forward to a deeper read.

More to come!

#TinaCordone    #MTBoS              #NixtheTricks

Awesome math noticings #1

My district (Round Rock ISD, Texas) has an advanced elementary math course called “Math Rocks”.   It is to help teachers deepen their understanding about mathematics, build curiosity about math, and build relationships between other teachers in the district to bring math instruction into the 21st century.

As we began our meeting yesterday, our last of the calendar year, we asked the teachers to reflect how their math instruction is going, and how it has changed from the beginning of the year.  I had the opportunity to just sit and listen how teachers shared that they are now eagerly looking forward to teaching math every day!   Math time has become fun!

One of the common ideas shared throughout was the impact of number talks in their classroom.   (I am going to need to do another post on that one!)  Teachers shared how their students are learning to talk to each other, politely disagree with each other, and justify their answers.

When a student asks “Is this right?”, the answer is “I don’t know.  How could we find out?”

Students are talking about  concepts deeply and teachers are noticing a huge difference in the ability of students to reason about their number sense and their math problem solving.

They still struggle with students retaining concepts, but they know it requires patience, and constant repetition before these concepts become understandings.

The common theme throughout is that it is worth the investment of 5-10 minutes per day of the math block for number talks, Estimation 180, and open middle problems and other rich tasks.  It makes a difference and supports the work of problem solving and learning during the core part of the math lesson.

Math really does rock!!!!

#MathRocks    #RRISD   #NumberTalks




My first Ed-Camp Experience!

I had never been to an Ed-Camp before.   It was like taking what I knew about PD and turning it inside out.  Gone were the HOURS of prep.  Instead, I joined a community of about 120 people at Region 13.  As we arrived, we were fed breakfast, and we started making connections with people.  We were also asked to use one color sticky for something we would like to learn about, and another color sticky to indicate something we could share information about.


I ended up facilitating rich discussions on innovative math strategies.  I just shared my favorites, all blogged about here before, Splat!, Estimation 180, open middle problems, and numberless word problems.  Then, others shared their ideas.  In this session, I ended up doing a lot more talking than I thought I would, but there was still a great deal of sharing going on.

In the second session I facilitated, I really only got the group discussion on supporting ELLs started.  The session took off and there was such rich discussion from teachers and educational leaders (coaches, curriculum folks, and administrators) I just sat and absorbed it all like a sponge.  I got some great ideas, and shared a few, too.  I shared about my favorite book, Talk Read Talk Write by Nancy Motley.  The tip I took fits right in where we are going with our ELL PLC this year.  We will be asking observers to look for specific supports such as posted vocabulary and sentence stems.  The suggestion was to add asking observers look for collaboration strategies, too!  So simple, yet so powerful!  It adds purpose to what we do every day!

I also attended a session on how to do Hyper-docs, which may be one of those life-changing things…..but the BEST session of the day, was the very first session I attended by Margret Daniels.  She teaches at the Boys Preparatory School in Austin.  She is an amazing teacher and human being.  Her session was fun and informative!   At the end of Ed-Camp while they were drawing door prizes, Margaret and I sat together and chatted.  I learned so much from her.   I also felt like I had a new BFF/colleague in education.  This is what Ed-Camp is really about.  Making connections to people and collaborating about common issues.

I will be looking for addition Ed-Camps to attend!  I can’t wait!!!

#EdCamp    #Region13       #collaboration          #newfriends          #MargaretDanielsRocks!!

Number Talks:  This is the second in a series on number talks.

Planning:  You’ll need to think about where you will conduct the number talk, how you will record student thinking, whether you want to record on paper or on a white board.  You’ll want to record on paper if your purpose to save the student thinking for reference.  For example, if you are trying to get students to count on to subtract, having a reference chart will be helpful for students outside of number talks.  When they can see that Oscar counted on by 100, then 20, then 3 to find the difference 464-342, they may try this as they are solving problems elsewhere in math block.  On the other hand, if you are planning a number string, you could record student thinking on a whiteboard, then take a picture of it before you erase it.  

When planning for number talks, you must start with your purpose.   Is there a skill you want your students to try out?  The books “Number Talks” by Sherry Parrish, and “Making Number Talks Matter” by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker have number talks sorted or grouped by strategies.  For example, if you want students to thinking about counting on in subtraction, you will find many suggested strings or problems to try.  This will give you an idea of the types of problems that will work well for eliciting specific student thinking so you can create your own, too.  Establish the purpose for the number talks as you plan, then look for talks that will support your purpose.  The embedded purpose will always be there:  To give your students and opportunity to practice and develop flexibility, fluency and accuracy in their computations.  

Number Talks: First in a series

Number talks:  This is the first in a series of blogs on number talks.

Number talks are everywhere in elementary classrooms!   There are numerous blogs, books, videos, and talks on number talks.   There are even many definitions.  The one I like  comes from our Curriculum Lead, Brian Bushart:   “A number talk is a powerful tool for helping students develop computational fluency because the expectation is that they will use number relationships and the structures of numbers to add, subtract, multiply and divide.”   I like to add “and it’s fun, because we are playing with the numbers”.  

A number talk is NOT:

  • A time to teach how to do something.  Occasionally, I will slip a “lesson” in to show a strategy I want to highlight.  It takes the form of “I once saw a student named Oscar solve a problem like this in this way:___________”   I am very stingy in using this, because a strategy or way of thinking is more powerful if it comes from the students.
  • A story problem….these are great opportunities for talking and learning, but they are not number talks.  
  • Computing on paper–although some students may need a sticky note for “holding onto” thinking.  This is a support for differentiation as your students may need it.
  • Long…not more than 10-15 minutes.
  • A time to “correct” student thinking.  Again, as students discuss their thinking, it is far more powerful to glean that “aha!” moment from their peers.

A number talk IS:

  • A numbers only math problem carefully selected by the teacher  to provide practice on a specific skill.
  • A single problem, OR a string of related problems.
  • Dot arrangements-yes these are for students of all ages!  
  • An opportunity for students to try out and make sense of the thinking of others.
  • Mental computation
  • Formative assessment-and you will learn a LOT about your students’ thinking!

Getting Started:  

If you have never included a number talk in your math time, be kind to yourself and start small.  Like one every week to week-and-a-half.  As you get more comfortable with number talks, you can plan them more frequently.  Most teachers I work with plan them about 3 times a week.  

  • Planning:  The Why, the What, and the How.
  • Establishing norms in your classroom so that number talks are “safe”
  • Setting up the routines in your classroom
  • How to record your number talks.
  • How to gather data throughout the number talks.

Share you have learned with others so that number talks spread!

Some favorite resources for Number Talks:

  • Number Sense Routines, by Jessica Shumway
  • Making Number Talks Matter, by Cathy Humphreys and Ruth Parker
  • Number Talks, by Sherry Parrish.  This one has TONS of possibilities, as well as a DVD of sample number talks with real kids.  
  • Follow #NumberTalks on Twitter!  Then follow some of the folks there!



Digging Deeper: Math Rocks Mission #3

Math Rocks, Mission #3:

Our mission last week watching this talk, a ShadowCon2016 talk, by Graham Fletcher, and become inspired to look deeper into our state standards.   As I read what teachers have written and  shared, I have noticed so many writing about the process standards!   How exciting!   For teachers in Texas, the process standards tell us HOW the students will approach learning math. The teachers are now planning how to bring life to mathematics using the verbs found within the process standards!   Yay!  It is going to be fun!


Regardless of which standards we  were digging into, the common thread was “I never noticed that ___________ was/was NOT in the TEKS before!”   My own personal moment of clarity was regarding recall of the facts in 3rd grade!   Now, we teachers are committing  to including this new understanding in our teaching, whether it means that we are going to go deeper with our students, or “stay in our lane” because something that I  have always done is actually found within the standards of a different grade level.  


And this is just in math!  


I’m wondering what would happen if as a collaborative group, we “dug deep” into the standards in every content area, and looked for those pearls of understanding?!?!  How do we make the time for something so important?    I’m still reflecting about that.   More to follow.  





I lived in Los Angeles for a time in the ‘80s, and grew to love a couple of guys on the radio.  In the ‘90’s, as I still followed them, they coined a phrase “EGBOK”.  It stands for “Everything’s Gonna Be OK.”   You could even get buttons or T-shirts.  Anytime life got a little rough, someone would say “EGBOK”.  It was part of the common language at the time.


I realised today, that I got the gift of EGBOK as I begin this new year.  Like teachers everywhere, the beginning of a new school year is full of emotions–highs and lows.  You have a fresh start—a high, followed by new teachers and new students—a low, a high and everything in between.  Data is coming in from last year–a definite bit of stress, and then you have to get your classroom ready, attend meetings, professional development, more meetings, get your own kids ready, and readjust from having some glorious and well-earned time off.


I have a new AP this year.  What a gift she has turned out to be!  She is calm, sensible, and knowledgeable.  She loves kids and wants what’s best for them.  While I was talking to her, I just felt better.


When I got back to my desk, I realized, she is like an EGBOK button.  Everything IS going to be ok.  It will be a little crazy for a while, but I have an amazing team of teachers to work with, and there are people to collaborate with and share the load.


My next thought was:  We need to be EGBOK buttons for our students!  They have a new class, with different kids, new teacher, new school supplies to get, maybe they are changing schools.  Maybe they live in circumstances that mean they don’t get new supplies.  It is OK.  Maybe they are filled with anxiety because they struggle to learn.  It is OK.  Their teacher is going to love them. Their teacher is going to support them.  We will be the EGBOK buttons for our students…that little place of calm, and caring where they will know in their hearts that everything really is going to be ok.


We got this!   EGBOK!  


#EGBOK    #ILOVEmyNewAP  #newschoolyear         

Math Rocks Reflection: July 26, 2017

Today, I had the privilege of co-facilitating the beginning of a new, advanced math teacher’s cohort in my district called “Math Rocks”.  I am working with the most amazing group of 3-5 teachers.  These teachers are courageous, passionate, empathetic math leaders who want to grow as math teachers.

We began our time together thinking and reflecting about our feelings surrounding how we learned math as a child.

I have always, for as long as I can remember, loved playing with numbers.  I was never interested in learning formulas but give me a number, and I could break it apart and find patterns within the number and “play” with the number for days.

In elementary, middle and high school, I didn’t have to study very hard.  Putting the book under my pillow was usually enough.   It wasn’t until college that I encountered experiences that were all to common for the teachers in our cohort.

I had two experiences that stood out in my mind today:   The first was when I told my adviser that I wanted to specialize in math as I earned my credential.  She reached out, took my hand, and said “Oh, Honey.  Girls don’t do math-they do language arts”.  This was in 1995.  The second was in calculus.  It was nothing but learning formulas…I couldn’t make sense of it.  It was HARD.  I kept asking a young man in the class to explain, again, and again.  Finally, he’d had enough.  He grabbed my big, ol’ texbook, snapped it shut and slammed it on my desk saying “You are so stupid”.  Believe it or not, his remark didn’t crush me.  I had already had plenty of positive experiences and I love math.  What I got from that experience is a taste of what it feels like to be a student who struggles with math.  And then someone says “What’s wrong with you—it’s easy?!?!?!?”  Recipe for math anxiety right there!

Teachers today opened their hearts, and allowed themselves to be vulnerable as they shared their early experiences in math.  Some were positive, but for many teachers (and adults) math was a scary experience. Stress and confusion were all too common.  I was heartened to hear how the teachers want the math experiences of their students to be different from their experiences.

Today, we had laughter, hope and a determination that all students will consider math a subject open for them.  It is a journey that we will make together, so that we can guard the tender hearts of our students, and provide them opportunities to make sense of, and love math too!


#MathRocks  #ILOVEMath