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

CAMT 2017, Fort Worth Texas

I recently attended CAMT, Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching.  Best Conference EVER!

There were two big ideas that ran throughout the workshops that I attended:

The first big idea was that mathematics must make sense.  We can put all the pretty fonts, and cute pictures, but if we are not purposeful with our planning to help our students make sense of the math, we haven’t really helped them grow.   Keynote speaker Sandra Herbst got us giggling, and brought our process standards to life!   But still, the math must make sense.

My personal highlight of the whole event was meeting my math hero, Annie Fetter (@MFAnnie).  Her number one mission in life might be creating opportunities for math to make sense to students.  A dream come true:  I got to attend one of her featured sessions.  She did not disappoint!   Asking students to describe what they notice, inviting them to wonder and ask questions……it was all there!   It turns out that her videos available at the youtube channel “Math Forum” are little glorious little summaries of her important ideas.  Check them out!

A personal favorite:


And finally, my all-time personal favorite:

I love this one because is is about letting our students know what we care about–that we actually like math!


The second Big Idea from CAMT came from the first day Keynote Speaker, Ken Williams.  (@unfoldthesoul) I am so sad that every educator, math or otherwise, could not hear his wisdom.  His whole talk was full of little gems to hold to our teacher hearts: “Every time we base our expectations on limiting labels, we take another step toward land of Ts being obsolete.”  “No teacher has ever referred to a student as ‘low,’ and expected them to learn at high levels.” “Labels are fine until they change our expectations. When we label Ss it is usually to limit them.”


CAMT was an inspiring 3 days and I can’t wait to read more from Ken Williams and hear more from Annie!

#AnnieFetter  #KenWilliams      #CAMT2017inspiration       #mathinspiration

Have you tried SPLAT! by Steve Wyborney?

Browsing tweets last week, I stumbled upon a new blog and gift of AWESOME number sense lessons by Steve Wyborney!  He calls them “Splat!”

When I saw them, I knew I was on to something really special!

The next day, I shared them with a little over one hundred teachers in my district.  In his introductory blog, he has a video that explains the Splat! lessons and how they build in complexity.  Rather than explain it myself, we watched his video.  In each of the four sessions, the teachers gasped at the first Splat!  Really.  After the video, I showed them how easy it was to access and download the lessons.

Every group left sharing that the best thing of the day was Splat!   Way to go, Steve!

I have introduced Splat! to the teachers at my school as well.   Here is what happened:

Second Grade:

I started with the 3-10 SPLAT! slides.  I showed the first few slides…how many dots, how do you know? Then…..SPLAT!

Belly laughter–from deep down inside them, bubbling up and dancing in the air!   When you have laughter in math class, the filters of fear or “I can’t do this” disappear.   The students were so excited that they were sharing their thinking, and they couldn’t even stay in their seats.  They were standing, and laughing and talking.  It was so joyous!  It was so awesome for me to hear the deep thinking as they were explaining what was under that splat.  It was so much fun, we decided to do another one!   There was still laughter on the SPLAT! moment, but they were anticipating what would happen so we had a count down and they called out “splat” at just the right moment!   Again, deep thinking and every student was participating and actively engaged.  There are sometimes behavior issues in this class, but not during Splat!

First Grade:

I started with the 3-10 Splat! slides.   Again, great discussions, great partner talk.   There was connection to the quick images work we had done previously, so these students knew they had to tell us how they knew how many dots.   We were able to formatively assess some here, as well.  Some students needed to count all the dots, some recognized a group, then counted on, and some saw groups and “just knew it”.  They enjoyed this immensely, and the teacher is looking forward to trying it with the “Numbers to 20” set.

Fifth Grade:

Splat! is for upper grades, too!   Anything that Steve Wyborney does, always includes entry points for all grade levels and builds in complexity.  This grade began with “Multiple Splats”.  At first, they were hesitant…the work seemed a bit easy, but then, we asked them to explain their thinking.  We were able to get to some really precise language about multiplication and division.  Finally, on the slide that has the transparent splat, we asked them:  How could we represent this Splat! with an equation?  Oh, My!   We uncovered a great many misconceptions, especially around the use of parenthesis and order of operations.   (Grade 5 in our state standards includes both of these.)  We kept with it and ended up spending a solid 15 minutes discussing why certain equations would work and why others would not. We can’t wait for the next Splat!

Link to Steve Wyborney’s blog

Try Splat! with your students.  Be sure to comment on Steve’s blog so he knows we appreciate how much work went in to providing us with this AWESOME FREE RESOURCE!

Share how you used it with your students!  Let’s learn together!

#SteveWyborney    #SPLAT   #laughterinmathclass  #numbersense  #numberroutines


Thoughts about raising hands….

Many years ago, I was asked to come watch a teacher during her instruction.  I was new to coaching, and wasn’t sure what to do, so I just took notes on what the students were doing.  I noticed that only the same few students raised their hands, and so they were the only ones talking.  I started logging what I saw.

During the debrief, I shared my notes with the teacher.  We brainstormed some things to do or try to get all the students involved.  She came up with a “secret signal”, and we added some wait time to think, as well as time for partner talk.

She asked me to come back in a few days and watch again.  The difference was stunning.

The secret signal was a fist held under their chin.  She would tell them to get ready to think and place their fist under their chin.  When they had a thought to share, they put their thumb up, keeping it under their chin.  When she saw that most of the students had a thumb up, she asked them to tell their talking partner about their thinking.  She carefully listened in, and after a minute or so, asked them to share out with the group either their own thinking or what their partner had said.

Every single child was learning!

My thoughts on the benefits of a “secret signal”

  • Every student must participate – even quiet or reluctant learners.
  • Students who may be confused, or have a fear of their thinking being “wrong” can signal quietly and secretly.  The teacher can step in and support their partner talk.  If a student has no real ideas of their own, they can share their partners.  For example, “My partner said….”
  • Students who are learning English and may not be ready to share out to the whole class will benefit, because they get the think time, and the partner sharing time to rehearse speaking their thoughts.

I am really interested in what other teachers have tried to get all their students talking and participating.  Leave your ideas in the comments and let’s learn together!

#thinktime   #studentengagement



Purposeful Planning?


I have two little dogs, Henry and Molly.   Henry is scary smart.  Molly, well, not so much. Henry and Molly are small dogs, but unlike most small dogs, they do not bark.  I taught them that it is not ok to bark. . Their training really went forward when I enrolled Henry in formal training.   The trainer would tell us the skill we would be teaching our dog that night, break it down into little steps, and then showed us with her dog, what mastery would look like.   At home, I would practice with Henry and Molly together-she learned by watching Henry.   I now have 2 dogs, that on hand signals only, will sit, stay, lay down, and wait.   Anyone, even a small child, can give the signals to my dogs, and they will do the behavior.

When I was going through the classes, I couldn’t help but notice the structure.   There was a standard with an attached behavior.  There were little goals to help get us to the final goal. Finally, we were shown what mastery looked like.   This is the same process we go through as teachers in designing lesson plans to meet the needs of our students.  

We teachers begin with the end in mind.  We have state standards to tell us what mastery looks like.  The art of teaching is that middle ground:   How will we break the goal into little steps that our students can practice, and build on those steps to the final mastery? How will they show us that they “got it”?

I had a master teacher who told me that lesson plans do not need to be complicated or lengthy to be powerful and purposeful.  Do I have the learning target? (The standard written in kid-friendly language.)   Do I have the bigger goal broken down into do-able steps?   Do I have student centered tasks?    

Every day, I get to see how purposeful planning benefits our students.  The teachers make it look as easy as breathing, but I know that they put a lot of work into making sure that every detail, every teaching move, is carefully planned to ensure student success.  I can’t copy every strategy or move someone else does for their students, but I can borrow and adapt.  These little changes (innovations???) like planning what questions, or how the students will talk today, are small changes with big results!  

When I was in my classroom, I found that the most stunning change was planning my questions.   For example, instead of telling my students how to make adding easier, I asked “Does anyone have a different way of combining these numbers?”    Someone in the room always did, and then we could talk about it and name it.  The strategies became “Oscar’s way” or “Brianna’s way”.  Sometimes, we would use the math language.  It depended on the “way” that was shared, but the student who shared it always got to have “credit”.
So, here is the challenge:   What innovation (small change) have you made to your planning that yielded great results in your classroom?    Share in the comments!

Innovation Math Rocks #5


My personal goal as an instructional coach this year, is to support innovation in my work with teachers.  I’m lucky to work with amazing teachers.  They have a strong skill set and use best practices.  They are doing everything not just right, but awesome!  And yet, there are those students in every room that the teachers struggle to connect with, to make learning fun, and to draw that child in so that the child sees themselves as a learner.   

A quick internet search, and I found definitions for innovation as being a new method, or the application of a better solution to meet new requirements.  

Teaching is no longer a “one size fits all” craft.  What we were doing before may no longer meet the needs of students who are growing up in a world very different from even a few years ago!  

I was approached by our third grade math teacher for suggestions on getting her students talking more.  An invitation for innovation!

Third grade students in our district are analyzing graphs, with the intent that they not only will have a chance to review characteristics of graphs, but practice addition and subtraction to describe relationships between the information in the graphs.

We decided to try a “notice and wonder” strategy.  This is a little change that can bring big results, and boy did it!   I have been using this for years, but found it best described in my favorite book Powerful Problem Solving by Max Ray-Riek.  

The first one took a bit longer but here is what we did:

  1. Taught the students to put their fist under their chin.   When they have a noticing, and are ready to tell a partner, they put their thumb up.   
  2. We asked them to look at the graph, and think of something about that graph to share with a partner.  (We circulated through so that we could support students who had not put a thumb up, yet.)   
  3. We asked them to tell a partner their noticing, and then keep sharing more noticings with each other.
  4. We listened to the noticings, and then brought everyone back and charted some of the noticings.   We knew who we wanted to ask, because we had been listening.  We really focused on kiddos who were being very quiet….we asked them first.  Once their thinking was validated by being put on the chart, they started smiling.  They were more involved.
  5. We next asked students to think of a question they could ask.  “Imagine you are a teacher.  What questions about this graph could you ask your class?” We asked for the same minute of think time, the same hand signal, and the same partner talk.  
  6. We charted their questions.   Sometimes, the students would ask the same question in a different manner.  This allowed the students to have a rich conversation about the language in the question.  
  7. We highlighted  2-3 questions.  (She teaches math 3 times in a day.)  Then, we sent them to their seats to go answer the questions in their math journals.    Almost all the students asked if they could answer more than two questions.   
  8. Finally, we came back to share answers to the questions.  This turned out to be an opportunity for number talks!   Did anyone find the answer a different way?  Do we all agree on the answer?

Here is the graph.

I find it very challenging to come up with good questions that will provoke student thinking and discussion.   While they all came up with good questions, my favorite:   How many students did NOT choose softball?   Love it.  I wouldn’t have thought of that.    These third grade students thrived with this innovation in instruction!  This little change made sure that every student had a voice!   
#Math Rocks   #Innovationinteaching #PowerfulProblemSolving #noticeandwonder   #ShadowCon16

Beginning of the Year Classroom Rituals: My reader-life!

Every teacher friend I know looks forward to the beginning of a new school year, both for the new-the pencils, pens, and notebooks, and the rituals.  Rituals like favorite books, welcome packets, back to school night, and most importantly, the rituals that create a classroom climate that is co-created by your students!

When I was in my classroom, my favorite beginning-of-the-year ritual was sharing about my reading life!

In our meeting space:  “Gather around Class, I’m going to share with you all about my reading life.”  Out comes my favorite books-the autographed copies, the picture book treasures, my favorite National Geographic or Texas Parks and Wildlife magazines.  Out comes my copy of Endurance:  Shackelton’s Incredible Voyage.  This may be my favorite book, ever!   It is way above my students’ level, so I have to have a few copies of  Antarctica: Journeys to the South Pole, so that they can read about Shackelton, too.  Finally, I pull out my cell phone, and quickly flip to all the reading I have tabbed there:  news, weather, Flipboard, and 2 e-readers filled with books about animals, cookbooks, and the classics.

I pass out the books I have brought and invite my new students to share about their reading life…..and we start making connections that will foster learning throughout the year!

How do you share about your reading life?