Monday, August 24, 2015


Dear Chris Shore,

Thanks for introducing Tustin Unified to Clothesline during your awesome professional development workshop!
You, Math Projects Journal, and Clothesline rock (David Lee Roth style)!

With all of my math heart,

*Check out Chris' post on Clothesline (link coming soon).
**I highly recommend inviting Chris to your district/school for math workshops.

Where do I begin?
I used to have a number line in my old class. But it was static. All of the benchmark numbers were taped to the wall. I used it often, but not often enough.

Flash forward to Chris' workshop last week. He introduced Clothesline using this great quote from Tim McCaffrey:
You better believe my ears perked up when I heard "master number sense maker". Check it out!

When I worked with teachers in Irvine today, my ice breaker was asking the teachers,
"How long does Dyson think it should take you to dry your hands with their machine?" 
I've never posted this picture online because it's my favorite ice breaker to do with teachers at conferences and workshops. However, I will use the context to illustrate how I introduced Clothesline to about 150 teachers, coaches, administrators today.

As teachers were discussing, I went around and asked
  • two teachers for a guess that's too low (3 and 5 seconds)
  • two teachers for a guess that's too high (30 and 40 seconds)
  • four teachers for a guess that's just right
I used a big black marker to write the numbers on the red papers for the first four teachers with their "wrong" answers. I then had them place the red papers on the 25 feet long clothesline hanging on the side wall. I had the last four teachers write their "just right" guesses on the green slips. 

You'll notice the green slips might be hard to read from a distance. I did this on purpose so that we could get the visual effect (from a distance) of placing their green slips accurately on the clothesline using correct spacing (sorry, no pictures), based on where the red slips were originally placed. I reminded the teachers that this is a dynamic number line. You can move the numbers along the clothesline as you please. Please note that the teachers (in this case) were doing all the work, thinking, critiquing, and adjusting. In other words, students should be doing the same in my class as I help facilitate the conversations.

Throughout the rest of the day, I worked with teachers grades 7-12 during three breakout sessions. Therefore, I made a handful of cards for each breakout session to correspond to numbers or expressions relevant to them and their content area. Here's a sample:

I love when Chris used colored papers to focus on the numbers being placed (or in question). Notice the "benchmark" numbers are on white paper.

The clothesline is 25 feet long. I think this is plenty long. I went to Home Depot and bought a 100 ft. clothesline. I made three cuts to make four lines of 25 feet. I used a flame to burn the ends of the rope so they stay in tact.

I noticed Chris used these to stack equivalent values together vertically. Brilliant. See above for examples that could stack.

THE NUMBERS (or expressions)
NCTM suggests using 3x5 cards, but then you have to use more clothespins, making the number line more static. Chris suggested using strips of paper. Using strips of paper allows the number line to be way more dynamic, allowing the numbers to slide along the clothesline or making it easy to place the numbers or take them off without the use of clothespins.

Many teachers loved the idea of using variable expressions. Here's how I determined x for each group. I asked the three teachers in possession of the variable expressions to share how long they had been working in the district. For example, three teachers shared 12, 13, and 15 years. Therefore, 40 was the value of our variable, x.

Whenever I give a professional development workshop for teachers from now on, I will be using Clothesline. IT'S AWESOME! It is a master number sense maker. If I happen to be at your district or school doing PD, I'll bring a handful of clotheslines to raffle off (or give away). At the end of my last session today, it was awesome to have two excited calculus teachers be extremely thankful for receiving a clothesline. One walked away saying, "I'm going to use this Wednesday." Their first day of school! Calculus!

Last, but not least, test it out at home if you have the chance. My five-year-old son and I had fun this past weekend. He threw me a few surprises.

Clothesline 1
I just tossed up a few numbers on the clothesline for him to first get acquainted with the idea of numbers on the clothesline. "Move the pieces of paper so they make sense to you."

Clothesline 2
My son caught me off guard when he pursued something he was interested in. 1, 2, 3, 6.

Clothesline 3
I wanted to see how my son did with spacing the numbers.
"Show me where four and five go."

I'd love to hear about your Clothesline experiences.
Check out Kristin Gray's great post from the other day. I love how much she anticipates student thinking in preparing for a successful Clothesline activity.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Counting Dots

A teacher asked me about the Counting Dots activity I did in her teacher workshop I facilitated a couple weeks ago. I did the Counting Dots activity as a follow-up to Max Ray's Ignite talk: Why 2 > 4. I believe we teachers need to experience how valuable it is to listen to each other share strategies. If we're going to do it in our classrooms with students and value student thinking by listening to them, then we need to practice ourselves. You know? Build that muscle memory.

I was inspired by Dan Meyer's 2014 NCTM talk titled Video Games & Making Math More Like Things Students Like. You can find his specific reference to Counting Dots at the 30-minute mark. This link includes Dan's NCTM session and references to Ruth Parker's work, who according to Dan popularized Counting Dots.

I also made a video of the exact slides I used with teachers, a few extensions to counting dots, and a behind-the-scenes for anyone interested in making their own.

Questions? Let me know.


Featured comments:
Graham Fletcher shares an insightful article on Subitizing.

Dan Kearney shares more goodness from Steve Wyborney.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

How Do You Like Your Bacon (Math Modeling)?

During the past few weeks I've had the pleasure to work with and learn from teachers in various places in the country, facilitating district/school workshop trainings as they prepare for their school year. Part of our time together was working on problem-solving tasks and breaking down Mathematical Practice 4: Model with Mathematics. At some point, either before lunch or in the afternoon, I tossed up this Estimation 180 challenge and asked:
How long to cook the bacon, starting with a cold skillet?

I love this estimation challenge because it showcases many parts of the modeling process, especially the two following parts:
  • Identifying variables
  • Formulating a model
Here's why. Teachers instantly start asking questions like:
  • How do you like your bacon?
    • Crispy, charcoal, or like beef jerky?
  • What type of bacon is it?
    • Turkey bacon or real bacon?
  • Is it thick cut or the other stuff?
  • Is the bacon room temperature, cold, or frozen?
  • Is it cooked on a gas or electric stove?
  • How hot is the flame?
  • What is the percent decrease in size of one strip of bacon?
Teachers are identifying variables and asking for information that matters to them in order to formulate a model. I love it. I have also done this Estimation 180 challenge with students before and they have asked many of these same questions too. I love it.

I had a great conversation with Joe Schwartz and others at TMC15 about state tests lacking what the modeling process demands: asking questions. Why do the SBAC and PARCC tests not have students simply ask questions about scenarios? If we're asking students to identify variables and ask/search for information necessary to formulate a model and solve a problem, why don't tests place more of a focus on this? What if we presented students with scenarios a la the Math Forum and simply have students first submit mathematical questions that could be solved. What if we then followed it up with giving students a list of three to four questions they could solve and they pick one?

Another great conversation I had with Nathan Kraft and others at TMC15 was the idea that direct instruction can have a negative connotation in the MTBoS. A similar notion is that the instructional strategy "I do, we do, you do." also has a negative connotation. With problem-solving and mathematical modeling, direct instruction is not the focus. The focus is conceptual understanding. From my experience, I've learned that timing and placement of direct instruction is what matters. I've been catching up on reading NCTM's Principles to Actions and I highly recommend it to anyone; teachers, coaches, parents, administrators, students, and more. It's about 100 pages. Get on it! I think it paints a pretty clear picture why, how, and when conceptual understanding should take place in relationship to procedural fluency.

Principles to Actions really does a great job driving the point home that procedural fluency is important. However, procedural fluency won't stick nor have significant meaning if the students lack the conceptual understanding first. When I'm done with Principles to Actions and have had a chance to let it simmer in my brain, I plan to blog more about it. I also need to explore the Principles to Actions Professional Learning Toolkit.

Last, and certainly not least is literacy. I'm glad that one teacher at a recent workshop voiced her concern about teaching literacy in math and that the use of multimedia in a 3-Act task or an Estimation 180 challenge really doesn't strengthen literacy. I agree.

Trust me, I'm all about building literacy. However, the more I teach and work with teachers, the more I believe in the importance of making the conceptual understanding accessible first as a means to transitioning to procedural fluency and strengthening literacy by scaffolding. If I don't make the conceptual understanding accessible to my students, than I'm not scaffolding both the mathematical procedural fluency and literacy.

That said, I tried to imagine what Day 185's bacon estimation challenge might look like. I still love the visual and simple question and would still start with the current setup as the introduction to the task. Once students and teachers voice their questions, Act 2 information might be presented in text. Here's what I came up with (I know it could be better):
I have 20 minutes to prepare and eat breakfast before leaving for work. I need to cook 12 pieces of bacon for my family and the skillet only holds 6 pieces at a time. We like our bacon crispy, but not like charcoal. The gas stove will be at a medium to high heat. The first batch of bacon starts to sizzle one and a half minutes after I put the skillet on the lit stove. Five and a half minutes after the bacon starts to sizzle, it is about 65% cooked. Will I have enough time to cook all 12 pieces of bacon?
I'm not sure this blog post brings much closure. However, it has brought a greater focus for me as I prepare for the school year. I am more focused on
  • students asking questions
  • students building conceptual understanding first
  • teachers making conceptual understanding more accessible (as much as possible) 
  • teachers scaffolding their classroom activities and direct instruction to strengthen procedural fluency by building upon conceptual understanding
Does this sound reasonable?
How do you like your bacon?
Let me know. I'm on my way to finishing Principles to Actions.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

CA Teachers Summit Ed Talk

I had the honor and privilege to give an Ed Talk at the California Teachers Summit held on Friday, July 31, 2015. Across the state of California, teachers attended college campuses for breakout sessions, Ed Talks, and keynote speakers. I gave an Ed Talk at the Pasadena Convention Center titled, Estimation: A Gateway To Better Number Sense. Check it out.

I gave an Ed Talk at the California Teachers Summit on July 31, 2015.

I also had the privilege of meeting the other two inspiring Ed Talk presenters, Nicol R. Howard and Thema Bryant-Davis. The highlight of the day for me (and my son) was that I got to meet one of the Keynote speakers, astronaut Leland Melvin!
Nicol, Leland, and me
Ed Talk,