Monday, October 6, 2014

New Glasses

I have a new set of glasses. With my new role as a Math and Digital Learning Coach in my district, I get to spend a lot of time in the classroom with teachers and students. Let me explain the set of glasses.

When my son was born, I received a new set of glasses. When my daughter was born, I received an additional new set of glasses. As a new parent, I saw the world in a completely different way than I had before being a parent. The oversimplification for me was the stuff that I used to think was important before being a parent, instantly (and gladly) received a huge shift the second I started caring for and loving another human being that I called my son and daughter. The perspective from behind my parent glasses continues to change and update with time as my children mature. It's AMAZING! If you're a parent, regardless if your child is adopted or biological, you know what I mean. If you're not a parent, you simply have no idea. No offense. Trust me, I had no idea either. And if you're a parent and don't know what I mean, then please check yourself. But chances are good that if you fall into this latter category, you probably aren't reading this blog to begin with.  I'd imagine anyone who does read this blog is in education, and why would you be in education if you don't care about children, yours or someone else's? This could possibly be the harshest thing I've ever said on this blog. However, I feel that if you're in education, it's your duty and responsibility to care about children. I digress. Back to the new set of glasses.

We obtain new sets of glasses throughout our life. By the way, if you haven't figured out by now, anytime I refer to glasses, it's in the figurative sense: how you perceive the world around you through the lens created by your position, role, and/or relation in life. My new set of glasses as a Math and Digital Learning Coach allow me to be a student again. Some might think I should see the role of a teacher differently. This is true, but I think that's putting the cart before the horse here. I get to be a student again. And by being a student again, it helps me refocus as a teacher.

With my new set of glasses, I get to feel like a student again. Which is humbling and powerful at the same time. It has allowed me to focus on the student perspective of learning, exploring, and receiving knowledge as opposed to the teacher perspective of preparing activities, assessing, and delivering knowledge. Think how one role greatly affects the other.

I remember when I first started subbing and was helping students with math questions. At the time, I hadn't done math in a few years, so I was rusty since it wasn't fresh in my mind. Therefore, I was literally working alongside the students trying to figure out how to solve these questions. I was trying to tap into anything I could remember, which usually meant I had to derive some solution or maybe even take the long route to the correct answer. It was exhausting, thrilling, honest, raw, and exhilarating all at the same time. That moment in time flooded my head tonight on my drive home. That was such an awesome feeling, because I felt like a student of math, exploring and persevering. It made me want to pursue teaching. But then I got my teacher glasses and my student glasses went out of focus at times. It wasn't the glasses' fault. It was me. And I'll be the first to apologize for some lousy teaching moments because I lost focus. I wish I had a mulligan for one year in particular: 2012-2013. I tried a lot of new instructional/grading/facilitation/pedagogical strategies and shifts that were not necessarily well received. But let me tell you, I not only learned what to do that year. I learned what NOT to do and I am eternally grateful for the students and parents who (indirectly) made me strive to improve and refocus on the student perspective.

The point of this post was for me to reflect on the power of having these new (or rediscovered) glasses. I'm seeing that students need less and less from the teacher so that they are given the time and room for more ownership of their learning. That's an awfully general statement so I will explain. I believe that students benefit more when the teacher keeps the lesson introduction, question, or objective simple and succinct. The students respond better when the teacher is actively listening to them, not for the correct answer as Max Ray would say. I noticed that teachers are able to better listen to students when they ask interested questions like, "Can you tell me more about what you did here?" or "I didn't get all of that, can you explain it to me again?" or give simple commands like, "Walk me through what you did here." or "I noticed you did ____, please explain that."

As the student, I'd want you to ask me questions that show me you care about what I think and not judge me because I'm wrong and you feel you need to fix me (or my math work). With my glasses, I see students are drawn toward visual representations of mathematical situations: rectangles, patterns, estimations, soda, water bottles, etc. instead of just pure numbers (pure math). With my glasses, I noticed that students appreciate someone interested in their work. I noticed that students like to share with each other, especially when they know how to do something correctly. I noticed that students like to hear a voice other than the teacher.

I was able to notice many of these while maturing as a teacher, but for some reason they are more profound now. I hope these are some examples of how I see the teacher doing less and the students doing more. When I had my teacher glasses on and lost focus of the students' glasses, there were times when I (mistakenly) thought that I had to put on a show for my students or needed to run around like a crazy guy checking every paper or student whiteboard. Have you ever caught yourself saying something like, "My hair could be on fire, and they wouldn't care." or "I'm up there doing a song and dance, and it doesn't matter."? I know I've said something like that. That's exactly my point. I was doing too much, and the students were doing too little. That's exhausting.

If you've made it this far, thanks. I don't plan on rambling/ranting like this in the future. I'm simply happy to have rediscovered those student glasses. Throughout the year, I'm sure I'll continue to sharpen the focus on both my student and teacher glasses. My takeaway is this: by regaining focus on the student perspective of education, I'm able to improve my focus on the teacher perspective so the teacher is doing less in order to create more opportunities for the students in the classroom.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Number Sense Conversations

I've put the elevator speeches to rest. Today's two minute speech went well... I think. As one event concludes, I'm excited to resume my ongoing thoughts about number sense and students.

Working with teachers and students, I can't help but be inundated with thoughts about things I miss, look forward to, and will be challenged with this year in and out of the classroom. However, there's one thing I crave more than anything else, and that's working with students, which usually entails having number sense conversations with students.

Today, I had rich number sense conversations with students in Math 7, Math 8, and high school Algebra classes. As I sit here and put the finishing touches on the slides for my upcoming conference workshop, Get Students to Argue in Class With Number Sense Activities, I can't put to words how valuable it is to allow students to talk about math in math class. That's an oversimplification, but we seriously need to provide our students with opportunities to talk to each other, even argue with each other. Mathematical Practice 3:
Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
Steve Leinwand sums it up best:
These nine words may be the most important words in the entire Common Core effort. 
Last December at CMC North, I was honored to give an Ignite talk about something I'm passionate about: number sense and student conversations. It's titled: Number Sense: I Don't Like This Game Anymore.

Students are hungry for number sense conversations in math class. I really do believe. If you don't believe me, just put up this picture in your class and ask your students, "How long would it take to use all of that?" Then ask them to convince you of their conclusion.

As October quickly approaches, I look forward to seeing you at an upcoming conference this school year. In the meantime, I hope to post more about number sense.

Number Sense,

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Common Core Elevator Speech - Day 7

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6

This is my final elevator speech in this series. My 120-second elevator speech for tomorrow is to focus on rigor. Yes, that's difficult to capture in 120 seconds. However, this is what I'll be going with.

I love how teachers are hungry for modeling with mathematics. That in itself, can be one of the most vital elements to rigor in mathematics.