Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Today was the first day of working as an EnCOMPASS fellow in Philadelphia. The Math Forum and Drexel University are our most gracious hosts. Make it a point to meet anyone from The Math Forum at your next math conference. They are such wonderful, interested, caring and giving people.

The Math Forum had us hard at work today as we used Google Hangouts to connect Philly fellows with offsite fellows, looking over PoWs (Problems of the Week) and the EnCompass software. You know when you work with the Math Forum, you're going to get a good helping of them asking us fellows, "What do you notice?" and "What do you wonder?" Since we're working on giving feedback, Annie Fetter gave us another gem: What would you love the software to do?

Another great part about the hangouts and looking over The Math Forum's site, is that I was able to listen to many other teachers share how they used The Math Forum's site and resources. In doing so, it gave me a chance to explore their site and peel back more layers of resources, support, and strategies I didn't know existed. For example, check out these beautiful links:
Our work hours were from about 8am to 4pm with a few breaks and lunch. Every working minute was productively spent engaging in some type of activity: discussions, gallery walks, reflections, exploring, commenting, etc. By the end of the work day, I was mentally exhausted. I've felt this way before. Sometimes at all-day conferences where you talk math all throughout the day and evening with people I've felt this way. I always need some type of break, some type of release or chance to decompress. I can't talk math all day nor want to. I might think or look for math all day, but talking it can be exhausting. Maybe I'm a wimp. So be it. However, I want to talk about more than math with people at conferences or some gathering like today's institute. I find it interesting to listen to people tell stories about non-math topics. So, thank you to everyone for sharing and not making it all about math.

This made me think about the daily mental exhaustion of a student. Let's randomly pick a percentage. How about 60%? I don't know. Let's say students are actively engaged 60% of the time at school? Okay, please disagree with me and pick your own percentage. This is super informal. Whatever you pick, take it and raise it to a percentage you'd like them to be at and don't make it 100%. Be realistic.

I raise my expectation to 85%. I'd like my students to be actively engaged in school 85% of the time, with 95% being my ultimate goal. I felt The Math Forum was able to gather some great things from people today because they broke it up and kept us actively engaged at least 90% of the time. I was exhausted, but it was a good exhausted. It wasn't like sitting in a chair all day at a conference listening to presenter after presenter deliver a one-way PowerPoint. Think of students and either subjecting them to a high level of engagement or subjecting them to teacher after teacher of un-engaging classroom time.

This post is longer than I anticipated. I want to think about this more, so here are questions I will continue to ponder:

  • What is constructive engagement and how should I (or we) define it?
  • What does constructive engagement look like in my class?
  • How do I get my students to be positively exhausted at the end of the day? 
  • On average, what percent of the time are students engaged in my class? at school?
  • How can I increase this percentage by un-engaging (breaking up the class time) them at times?
  • Would homework exist or should my students need a chance to decompress from my class? Did they get their fill for the day?
  • Would homework simply be blogging (as reflection), like I'm doing right now?



  1. I also have been thinking about this lately. As teachers, we expect students to go full steam in our class, but we often forget that they have other classes that expect them to go full steam. We complain when we don't have our prep periods and how we need them to prepare and breathe, but my students don't have a prep.

    I want to think about how to include some time for them to breathe, but I don't know how.

    I, too, am exhausted.

    How tired must THEY be?

    1. You raise a strong point when you say teachers dislike missing their prep period and that's so true. I think that fact that we're acknowledging this state of exhaustion is helpful in moving forward. I think we can utilize brain breaks with our students.

      An example:
      Have them all stand up. Have them pick something from a category without sharing out loud. Then start having kids sit down as you peel off different characteristics. Once you get down to about 5 kids (or at any time), try and have students guess the items of the students still standing.

      For example:
      Stand up. Pick your favorite sport.
      If your sport uses a net in any way, sit down.
      If your sport is only played my males, sit down.
      If your sport is won by having the lowest score, sit down.

    2. If you are not aware, brain gym, different from brain breaks, uses specific movements and exercises to access different parts of the brain. When students need to decompress a bit, brain gym is quick and productive alternative.

      Besides thinking up a bunch of brain break activities hurts my brain! Brain gym has a set of exercises that can be easily recycled. The downside is that you need to be trained in the program.

    3. I'm a little aware of brain gym, but forgot one needs to be trained. I agree that coming up with a bunch of brain breaks would definitely be a challenge, but would still occasionally use them.

  2. hi andrew, could you link to the page on the math forum where you found those great links? thanks!

    1. Here's the link:

      You'll need an account with The Math Forum... totally worth it.

      If the above link doesn't work, here's how to get to it once you log in to your Math Forum account:
      -Click on the top tab "Problems & Puzzles"
      -The top of the right column should be titled "Problem Solving and Communication Activity Series". Click on that.

  3. During the day, I think students' prep period is their lunch (and recess at my school) time. A chance to talk about the non-school topics with others and let loose. For this reason, I don't like to pull students into my room at lunch (or recess) for extra help or to make up work if I don't absolutely have to do so. If they request to work with me at lunch (or recess), that's different. I am available for help and try my best to get them back to the lunchroom (or playground) for a few minutes with their friends before their next class. I have coworkers who disagree with me, but I think it is important to have that decompression time from the morning classes before the afternoon ones begin.

    1. Hi Chris,

      These breaks (nutrition and lunch) are surely important to both teachers and students. I'm curious what you would do during the classroom time to break up the learning process. What small way can you give the kids a break so that they re-engage with the activity it might be at a higher percentage than when you ended the task?

  4. It is perhaps just a small thing, but I am committed to repeating an experiment of mine from a few years ago. I would set a timer on my computer that would gently chime (I used music of Steve Reich as a gentle warning) 3 minutes before the end of class. This was our signal to stop and reflect while packing up for our next class. Students were not dashing for the door and I had a couple of minutes to talk with them about what class had been that day. This worked really well at my last school but I foolishly did not carry that habit over to my new school here. I am committed to trying this again this year. A small brain break but I thought it was a valuable practice.

    1. Sounds valuable to me. Thanks for sharing, Dardy!