Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Intervention strategies

@TmathC tweeted about possible presenters and sessions at Twitter Math Camp 2014 next year.

Selfishly, I wanted to think of a session I could present on so I could justify to the boss (my wife) that attending #TMC14 was within our means. Instead, I looked through the list found here and saw something missing: a session dealing with intervention strategies or techniques for helping students who struggle in math class. Then it dawned on me, whenever I attend CMC South, I rarely see sessions dealing with intervention for students who struggle in math. Why?

Intervention, to me, is not reteaching, relearning, or repeating the same lesson to students by yelling it at them in a louder voice. By the way, don't tell Sadie you're reteaching. I'm right there with her on the Blame Game. Let's face it, every student comes to our class lacking some type of prerequisite skill, some more than others. It's not about blaming the previous teacher, previous curriculum, the "apathetic" student, the "unsupportive" home, or any other scapegoat. I know I've let students down in the past (and currently) and feel bad as they move to the next grade level. However, I want to be a better, more effective teacher, especially for students who typically struggle in math class.  

I doubt I'm the only one who could benefit from more intervention strategies and techniques. I believe every teacher who actually cares about their students would appreciate more intervention strategies no matter where they teach, what they teach, or who they teach. Being at a new school this year, I really could benefit from more intervention strategies.  Most of my students this year need intervention badly. They need help with numerous elementary concepts. I need more strategies to help students become better math students. I need more strategies to help students increase their number sense.

I'm not looking for a silver bullet. I'm not looking for someone to tell me to reteach it using similar worksheets, but change the values of the coefficients, or numerators, or integers, or percentages. I love the #MTBoS and all the great resources, but I feel it lacks this crucial element: intervention. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm absolutely ignorant of some rich resource somewhere. I'm asking for help. Do you know someone who writes about intervention? Are there reputable intervention programs/sites online? What intervention strategies do you use that are effective? Please share. Go to the comments and list blogs, sites, or people I need to follow who have intervention strategies I can use. Thanks in advance.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Weekly POPS

Have you ever tossed a puzzle at one of your students? Y'know, the puzzles kids can play around with using their hands and minds? It's crazy, right?! It's fascinating to watch a student display a wide range of behaviors: curiosity, engagement, perseverance, frustration, and an earnest desire to know the solution if they get fatigued and stumped. I have a couple bins full of puzzles in my classrooms that do this to kids. Students rarely have a chance to play with them, but when they do, they go bonkers in a good way. Occasionally, you'll hear a triumphant yell when someone solves a puzzle. Other students look in disbelief. It's hilarious. My collection of puzzles ranges from the Bedlam Cube (now known as Crazee Cube), to Cannonball Pyramids, to the Rubik's Cube, to Tangrams, to ThinkFun puzzles, to other miscellaneous puzzles I've picked up over the years. A few weeks ago, I was driving home and wanted to know if there was something I could do in math that had a similar magical effect on kids.

Have you ever tossed a puzzle at one of your students? The ones on paper that require logic and critical thinking? Those are crazy too! Kids can really get into them. Around the same time I was thinking about the power of physical puzzles, my school wanted to revamp our weekly intervention/study-hall period. I thought students could benefit from working on logic puzzles, patterns, or Get to Ten. I went to a resource called The Colossal Book of Short Puzzles and Problems by Martin Gardner in which Fawn recommended. I came across this Billiard Balls gem in which I remade for my students:

So I got to thinking and thought of some inspirational people/things from my PLN. I've always wanted to incorporate Fawn's Visual Patterns into my classroom more, especially with it's beautiful new makeover. Fawn is also known for her weekly problem-solving tasks. I've also wanted to incorporate more PoWs from the Math Forum. The Math Forum has an abundance of problem-solving tasks that range in difficulty across grade levels. Sign up, yo! Last but not least, Dan Meyer had impeccable timing and recently wrote a very invigorating post on [Fake World] Conjectures that has created quite the buzz in the comments. Personally, he struck a chord with me as he ended it saying:
Find those puzzles in the real world, the fake world, the job world, or any other world - it doesn't matter.
His post and quote made my day (with a smile).

The result of all these crazy things: Weekly POPS.

POPS stands for:

  • Patterns (or puzzles like the Billiard Balls above)
  • Order of Operations (Get to 10 or Get to 24)
  • Problem-Solving

Patterns (or puzzles):
I will include a pattern either from Visual Patterns or one I create. As you can see from the handout below, it's similar to Fawn's form. I am adding a section for students to describe the pattern in their own words. If I decide not to do a pattern that week, I'll do some type of puzzle like the Billiard Ball puzzle above.
Order of Operations:
Students are to use the four given numbers and mathematical operations, symbols, and/or notations to get to the values of ten (or twenty-four). As you can see from the handout, students need to write the expression and evaluate it correctly using Order of Operations (or PEMDAS).
Definitely one of the most important parts of the Weekly POPS, problem-solving. Right now, I'm finding old PoWs from the Math Forum's library to share with my students. As you can see from the handout, be sure to include the Math Forum's copyright information when photocopying. I'm looking for students to organize their work, demonstrate their solution strategy, and think critically.
My goal with Weekly POPS is to get students to really think critically and problem-solve. Why? because they so desperately need it. It's challenging, demanding, and necessary. There's a slight puzzle feel to POPS. Students have really been into it this week.

Students receive the POPS every Friday and have a week to complete it. They'll turn it in the following Friday and receive a new POPS. I've invested a lot of time in class this week going over my expectations, but will use Monday and Tuesday next week to show my classes student POPS that are exemplars, average, and sucky. I told them, "You earn a zero on your POPS, it's the same as POOPS."

I look forward to this adventure with my kids. Here's a folder with the POPS I've created so far. Feel free to join in the action. If this link is broken, please notify me and I'll fix it, unless your name is Fawn.

[UPDATE]: Check out Piles of Tiles that can be used in place of patterns. (12-27-2013)


Monday, November 11, 2013

Why I Blog (maybe)

Kate Nowak challenged us to share a few thoughts on blogging as she prepares to be a featured speaker at NCTM. I have a few minutes to share so here it goes.

1. What hooked you on reading the blogs? Was it a particular post or person? Was it an initiative by the nice MTBoS folks? A colleague in your building got you into it? Desperation?
I was hooked on blogs when I discovered I could use things others had created. I discovered that my teaching could improve by learning from others who were humble and honest about the mistakes they made. A close friend of mine who teaches science sent me Dan Meyer's TED talk and my blog reading increased from zero minutes a day to about 240 minutes a day: time-suck!
2. What keeps you coming back? What's the biggest thing you get out of reading and/or commenting?
I keep coming back because I get the opportunity to observe other teachers (even if it's a snapshot) without being in their classroom. Anytime I've been in another teacher's classroom, I've learned so much. It doesn't matter if the teacher was good or bad, I was either learning what to do or what not to do. Reading other blogs is a similar opportunity for professional growth.
3. If you write, why do you write? What's the biggest thing you get out of it?
I write to document things, reflect on things, and share something I'm proud of. If I had time to blog about everything I do, I would. However, it would become white noise for those who take the time time to check in. Therefore, I write about things that stand out to me: great experiences, cool lessons, or things I'm proud of. It's not intended to be perfect. I hope to keep it raw. I'm not the best writer. Somehow, I happen to write a few things that a few people are interested in. That positive energy keeps me going.
Specifically, I blog at two places now: Divisible by 3 and Estimation 180. Divisible by 3 is reserved for all the things I've mentioned above. I blog at Estimation 180 to keep people updated on new estimation challenges I posted and/or any stories behind the challenges. I enjoy when a story is attached to a mathematical experience. 
4. If you chose to enter a room where I was going to talk about blogging for an hour (or however long you could stand it), what would you hope to be hearing from me? MTBoS cheerleading and/or tourism? How-to's? Stories?
From my experience, I enjoy a keynote speaker who is both inspiring and interactive. I like the sessions where the speaker is well-spoken, engaging, inspiring and challenges me as I leave the session to become a better teacher. However, I don't want the entire 60-90 minutes to be spent by them just showing me pictures, videos, quotes, or other things that are one-directional. I also need to be challenged by actually being forced to do math, tasks, or be given the opportunity to explore what they're presenting on. Make it feel like a classroom where I get a healthy mixture of inspiring talk and engaging tasks. Kate, I'd love for you to share the good, the bad, and the ugly about blogging. Then have me get out my internet device (phone, tablet, or computer) and either explore a list of blogs or even create a blog. Put up a list of blogs that do different things. Have me explore them. Give me some questions/tasks:
1. Compare and contrast the blogs.
2. Which blog would you find yourself using most often, least often, never?
3. What kind of blog would you like to create?
4. What suggestions do you have for these people blogging?
5. ...and so on

Give your attendees a Google Form to fill out so you can document the answers. By this point, you've already shared with me your inspiring thoughts on blogging and you're getting me involved. Get me to experience blogging while we have time together. Don't make blogging a homework assignment for your attendees.

Hope that helps. Good luck Kate!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

CMC South 2013

Here's my recap on CMC South 2013... or how I developed a man-crush on Robert Kaplinsky.

Thursday night:
I drove out to Palm Springs and met up with Karim and Fawn. We found a nearby casino, math-chatted, and then landed at the roulette table where $20 lasted me for a good chunk of time. I broke even and called it a night.

Fawn and I spent the first session reviewing our presentation in the lobby on my laptop. Poor Fawn, I think she was regretting her decision to present with me.
We reached a point where we couldn't think of anything more to review so we walked over to Robert's session at the Hilton. Lucky us, we were able to sit with John Berray, Avery Pickford, Breedeen Murray, Karim, and John Stevens.

You can read a better recap of Robert's session at Dan's blog. Robert did a fantastic job. He really did. Therefore, I guess I should explain my man-crush now, right? I think Robert has such an edge right now that the #MTBoS, math community, and those in education can all benefit from. Follow him on Twitter, use his lessons, read his blog, and get him to your school for some trainings or to observe... because he's totally willing. He has an edge because he's still in the classroom working with both students and teachers in his district. He's eager to ask questions that will make him better while at the same time will share the mistakes he's made and how's benefited from them. He delivered a stellar session that was informative, humble, resourceful, fun, engaging, honest, and necessary. Seriously, we need more Robert Kaplinskies out there working with both teachers and students. Follow him on Twitter, use his lessons, and read his blog. Lastly, if you get a chance to meet Robert and spend five minutes talking with him, you'll quickly see that he's interested in what you do and is more than willing to be in your classroom so he can observe and learn. He eagerly wants to improve his craft in education, learn from others, and find ways to be more effective at what he loves doing. Very inspiring!

Fawn and I presented after lunch. The title of our session was:

It was such a pleasure to collaborate and present with Fawn. She came up with this great math task and I look forward to presenting with her again at CMC North. She's probably dreading the thought of presenting with me again! Not to spoil anything for our CMC North session, we had attendees use snap cubes to build something that involved income and a building cost. The task required strategy, problem-solving, collaboration, and a lot of calculations. Groups were required to present their calculations, information, and reasoning on their giant whiteboards. How vague was that description? Don't worry, we'll post more after CMC North. In the meantime, here are some pictures from our session:
The man! Robert Kaplinsky!
Avery Pickford: our winner!
Some attendee quotes a la Quotes of the Week style
Thanks to all those who helped enter calculations, pass out things, clean up or kept us on track during our session.

We were able to make the last half of Jo Boaler's presentation after we cleaned up our session and headed back to the convention center. I look forward to taking her class in April 2014 and my take-aways from her session were:

  • Get rid of timed tests because "Math should never be associated with speed."
  • Give students more diagnostic feedback and tell them "I'm giving you this feedback because I believe in you."
Keep an eye on her site

I rolled in casually late to Michael Serra's Polygon Potpourri session. No need to describe the fun found here as Dan already recapped it.

CMC South wouldn't be right without attending a Brad Fulton session. He's interactive, funny, and engaging. Next time you get a chance to see him present or give a workshop, be there! His focus was on Math Talks. Fawn shared a little insight on his session here. However, she took it a giant step further and generously created a space for us at to share student thinking and giving students a voice.

After lunch, Fawn and I went to Avery's session. Dan did a recap and Avery did two posts: part 1 and part 2. Check it out! Unfortunately, I had to leave early to go get my materials and set up my presentation. My take-away was working with the Locker Problem and Avery sending me this resource. I've never tried the locker problem, so it was a bunch of fun to play with. He also shared this gem which he demonstrated with snap cubes using the document camera (very cool!):

I presented last at CMC and wanted to thank those of you who were able to make it, even if I was your fourth choice after seeing Dan Meyer's sold-out arena. The title of my presentation was:

Overall, I think my session went well. I wish I could give this talk again, after a little more refinement. I could've used ten more minutes to better connect with the 8 Mathematical Practices. However, there was a lot to share, interact with, and discuss. I learned a great deal from my attendees; especially on rating the level of difficulty with estimation challenges. My attendees got a sneak peek at Days 176-180 of Estimation 180 and I hope you had as much fun as me. I look forward to sharing more with you about this session in a later post.

My CMC regrets: I wish I could've attended the sessions by Karim, Breedeen, and the dynamic duo of Matt Vaudrey and John Stevens. I've linked their names to their sessions. I look forward to CMC North. Maybe I'll see you there.