Monthly Archives: August 2020

Growing Toys #mtbosblaugust Post 12


Many years ago, we used some smaller versions of these toys. Somewhere in the cave of files, I’ve got a lesson someone shared with me. They used alligators and the plastic box was referred to as the Gator Garage. Anyone have recollection of that?

Virtual Class Pets?

So I wonder if I just share a picture with students, get some input from them…quantities we could measure, relationships we might expect -will it be linear or otherwise, make predictions.

Will cola make it grow differently than water? Will it really reach 600%? How big would it have to g we t for that to be true?

We could collect data daily. Create a visual model, description the relationships and attempt an algebraic model.

Just jotting some thoughts down so I have them stored outside my brain. Any input or suggestions would be awesome and appreciated!

Interesting Ways for Students to Be Right & Wrong #MTBoSBlaugust Post 11


I have looked literally ALL summer for notes I took from Eli Luberoff’s NCSM Session on March 30. I have thought about it numerous times and because I took notes on loose leaf as opposed to in a notebook, the loose leaf ended up in a stack of unrelated papers for some reason. I usually try to start a notebook for my summer learning and into the next school year. I had not started one yet – I mean, we would be back in school right after spring break, right?

I wanted to find those notes though – because all that he said really resonated with me. As we did the task that day and he shared – I truly realized the benefit of how they plan the Desmos tasks. I knew this was a structure I wanted to follow to benefit my students. The task was Turtle Races (title is actually Eli NCSM20, Code: F2TX97 – if its still open).

Warm-up: Tell a Story.

Benefit #1

After watching the Turtle Race clip, we were asked to tell a story. By lowering the entry point, it will let more students ENTER the door. Start with tell a story – this allows underrepresented students to join-in.

Next we were asked to create our own Turtle Race by sketching graphs for up to four turtles, using a different color for each turtle on the graph.

Create your own Turtle Race.

Then we could click play and the clip modeled our graphs on the race track.

Benefit #2

Have students to create their own by changing the shapes/slopes, shifting shapes with transformation, etc. So often math is about getting information created by someone else – but we all know when the actual work is student created in classtime, it becomes more meaningful students become the thinkers and creators, not just consumers of mathematics. Yes!!!

We spent some time dragging points and creating shapes, then observed and described the shape shifters and how they affected our shapes. All of the students had their own shapes, but the transformations were the same.

He shared a cool math picture and then a Paiget quote – but I did not get either saved/written down. But went on to say Mathematics is diverse. Mathematicians are diverse. Math is still alive.

Our final task began with students dragging points to create a parabola that would pass through the red gate. Our first challenge was to create an equation that make a parabola that would pass through a different set of gates. Then press TRY IT. What I have loved about watching students in Desmos through the years – they are okay with getting a wrong answer – when they know they can try again. And most of the time, they do not give up. Or when they get stuck, they have a conversation with someone… perseverance and communication.

Benefit #3

These types of problems, like Parabola Slalom have built in differentiation.

Students get to “try it” without penalty. You can change the challenges to have them use 1) more points, 2) try equations, 3) try with more gates. Looking at several student examples:

  • y = -x2+3
  • y = -5x2+3
  • y = -.25x2+3
  • y = -.2x2+3
  • y = -0.02x2+1
  • y = -(x+4)(x-4) – 10.5
  • y=-(x2-16)-10.5
  • y = -.4(x-1)2+5

What do we notice? What do we wonder?

The final tasks was asking people to build their own challenges. Again, the built in differentiation continues. John Merrow- typically, students work on different tasks, but at what cost? This types of task allows students to join at their comfort level – “the same task, but at different depths.” I love this idea.

Again, Eli sharing that day was a big a-ha for me. Things I’ve done on occasion, not necessarily together with intention – that can truly benefit all learners.

Always, Sometimes, Never: Getting to Know Your Students #mtbosblaugust


I think my first true memory of Always, Sometimes, Never was a second semester Geometry course during undergraduate. My professor’s exams ALWAYS had true false and you were asked if it were always, sometimes or never true. If sometimes, you explain when and if it were never, you rewrote the statement to make it always true.

As a teacher, I remember experiencing these from the Discovering Geometry book. But was fully aware of using them… Was it Making Thinking Visible? More Good Questions? 75 Formative Assessment Classroom Techniques? or the FALs from Mathshell? Uhm. Likely all of the above.

Always, Sometimes, Never #75facts

As an anticipation guide prior to lesson or unit

As a carousel activity to share thinking.

But these tweet from @MrsSheenanMath and the thread to follow it…

… made me want to jot down shared ideas – file them in a doc or keep so I can quickly add to as I see or think of more. I love the idea to use non-math ASN to get to know students, what they are thinking, their experiences. I created a doc where we can share ideas, build a list! Please add to it!

Always Sometimes Never, NON Math

Overlooking the Needs of Students Who Are Significantly Behind: (Un)Productive Practice #MTBoSBlaugust


While watching the webinar last spring, this one the one that caught my attention most. You can watch here – Juli K. Dixon addresses this one around the 45:00 min. mark. I cannot find any blog posts on the site, but I am sure this is one she will be sharing more about.

I appreciate her acknowledging that teachers are well-intentioned feeling that if they work hard enough, they can catch students up. However, teachers will burnout and students will fall further behind.

What are we doing to support these students? With RTI and Multi-Tier Support Systems, we often focus on basic facts – this is not the best used of our time, not the most important. Juli shares, students with extended time will get those facts. We we want to reteach everything – we simply cannot do it. She suggests focusing on strategies that will extend beyond the basic facts, strategies that can be used to figure things out as opposed to “just knowing.”

Instead, she encourages us to look at our current year – and focus on prerequisites and teach them for understanding. This is where our energy and time can make a difference. For example – figure out the 3 most important topics, consider what is prerequisite here asking what do we need to be able to do to get there? Here is a slide with examples she shared.

As I rewatched this segment, I was reminded of ideas shared in our Routines for Reasoning chat last spring. We challenged each other to revisit the last chapter in August to choose 1 routine we would consider using in our classes as we started back. I committed to starting with Capturing Quanitites during the first few weeks of our classes. I feel that this would definitely be a supporting strategy for learners who are significantly behind.

Capturing Quantities supports Mathematical Practice 2 by focusing students io consider the important quantities and relationships in problem situations, we are helping them develop their ability to reason quantitatively and abstractly.

The info-graphic from Fostering Math Practices site captures the flow of the routine.

We begin by giving students a scenario and asking

  • What can I count or measure in this situation?
  • An important quantity is…
  • A relationship we know is…
  • Create a diagram – how can I represent the quantity and relationship?
  • Share with someone – ask, how did you represent? Then I did this… and explain your diagram.
  • Together, come up diagram that best represents the scenario. Share diagrams.
  • A gallery walk in a sense is where I visualize this – students are asked – Do you see the quantities and relationships in this? Where do you see the quantities and relationships in this?
  • Then students are asked to meta-reflect…
From Capturing Quantities, Fostering Math Practices

This. This is what I struggled with as a student. How the heck do I make sense of planes, trains and automobiles leaving stations at different times going it different or same directions. I saw immediate value in this routine. Giving students the question stem – but now question and letting them make sense of it.

Juli shared the 3-Reads strategy also and it will be a part of our learning environment this year as well. However, for 9th grade students – CQ is a step in that direction – it is actually embedded in 3-Reads. Give students the scenario, removing the question stem.

  • Read 1: What is the situation?
  • Read 2: What do the quantities describe?
  • What mathematical questions could you ask?
  • Then add the question stem back and allow students to compare their questions with the actual.

Now to consider ways I can implement Capturing Quantities remotely. Sharing ideas, diagrams. It is doable. I just need to ponder it a little longer.

Bitmoji Fun #MTBoSBlagust


Everyone can have their opinion. I need a little break from the logistics of formulating my plans for this semester and this is a fun little thing for me to play with.

Room 148

Today I decided to put on a plain t-shirt and put on a little school spirit! So I screen shot my Bitmoji, zoomed in and added my own lettering and artwork. I copied the image to KEEP, opened in the browser, copied the image, pasted it onto and voila! Then pasted my mini-me into my Bitmoji Classroom.

Small Group Instruction – Another Possible (Un)Productive Practice #MTBoSBlaugust


2018 Ignite at 21:40 (5 minutes)

Global Math Department (1 hour)

DNA Math (Blog Posts) Discussion of the TQE structure.

I feel that Juli’s description of small groups looks like small groups, grouped by ability, often/everyday, teacher calling up each group to work with them on “their level” – maybe moving the questioning to a lower level, leading a lot of the discussion.

Some things I jotted from her webinar –

  • at times whole group may be better
  • have concurrent small groups where they actually work on the same task, teacher visiting the groups (this looks like my classroom often) – as opposed to pulling groups up for help
  • ask students “as a team, justify/explain…”
  • having time as a teacher to observe evidence of learning as well as gaps in understanding.
  • moderate heterogeneous grouping – no outliers – in ability
  • worthwhile tasks / questions to engage student reasoning

I am not sure what small groups looked like in my classroom pre-2002, if I even had any. When I did my NBCT, it was the first time I really remember planning small groups with intentional discussion. Even then, the activities were still very leading. I have no idea how I actually grouped students. Most of my small groups were about collecting data and modeling with it.

I remember using an Amusement Park task from Key Curriculum’s Algebra I. I modified it to use geoboard to map out the park. Students found was to find the distance between rides/attractions. Later, each student was given a set of points to plot, found lengths of sides and slopes of the rectangles. Then they shared their information with the group and they looked for/discussed found patterns. The goals were really about parallel and perpendicular slopes. That was likely the first time the group had to actually “find” something on their own. I feel like I’ve grown since then.

Around 2010, I was part of the KLN and began reading A LOT. I began paying attention to Wait Time and Wait Time 2. I started actually planning the use of THINK-INK-PAIR-SHARE. I discovered the Math Shell Site and FALs. The Making Thinking Visible and Five Practices really began reshaping my practices and planning.

The past few years, I’ve been using Visible Random Grouping, some classes daily. We were not necessarily working in groups for every task, but it gave them a varied group to discuss with when I asked them to turn and talk. I found that VRG removed some of the class status. It sometimes “forced” students to work with and talk with new people. I rarely had issues with anyone having to work with someone they did not get along with – they just did it, without complaint – it was the norm and it really wasn’t questioned.

As I mentioned FALs – one thing I love about those lessons is the idea to group kids homogeneously by their approach. Not ability. Not correct solutions. But by thinking. I am often amazed at how the groups play out when I consider their approaches. It really does provide a good opportunity for richer discussions.

As I began planning for the possibility of virtual classroom, using Kirch’s WSQ structure – I see the idea of choice in student practice – maybe Here is what I want you to be able to do, here are 3 options –, a small group working on a similar task (maybe a virtual card stack), or meeting with me to ask questions, get some one-on-one help. I am still formulating how that might look within MEET. Again, I am mentioned Flipgrid as a possible back and forth discussion of how-to, answering student questions.

My small group activities are what I worry about most with virtual instruction. Is it possible to communicate electronically? Yes. Students do it all the time. As teachers, we collaborative electronically as well. But how effective will it be academically? I just don’t want to waste time when I have students synchronously. I want to have that part ironed out and working prior to doing it with the students. Maybe I need to let them share some ideas on how to accomplish this task as well. They are quite tech savvy.

A few things Juli has me thinking about as we set up Norms for Discourse Virtually:

  • Ask students to provide explanation / justification with their solutions.
  • Make sense of others solutions (encourages discourse)
  • Communicate when you don’t understand or don’t agree

I’ve been skimming the Distance Learning Playground and it really stresses the importance of setting norms online – just as within the classroom. It is challenging to think about what I want it to look like, my end goal and what norms/procedures will help us get there. Planning is more crucial than ever before.

Possible (Un)Productive Practices #MTBoSBlaugust


2018 Ignite at 21:40 (5 minutes)

Global Math Department (1 hour)

DNA Math (Blog Posts)

Rigor, as it relates to the shifts associated with recent state standards, is often defined as the need to include conceptual understanding, procedural skill, and application in mathematics teaching and learning.

Considering this definition, Juli shares the idea that Conceptual is the why and Procedural is the what and that conceptual should be taught ahead of the procedures. One example she shares that I found helpful was division of fractions. Most of us have been taught flip the second and multiply. But as a kid, I always wondered – Why does this work? And who knew to do this?

Juli uses the context of baking cookies and butter, great illustration. I’ll use the idea of money and coins. 3 divided by 1/4. Okay. Lets use the context, $3, how many quarters (1/4) are in $3? 12 quarters. Let’s try how many quarters are in $4? 16 quarters. And again, how many quarters (1/4) in $5? 20 quarters. Then pause and allow students to notice, share what they see, what’s happening mathematically. THEN we can model the procedure… 3 / (1/4) -> 3 * (4/1) = 12, etc.

The big idea is to allow students to play with some math ideas in a context they can relate to, then bring in the procedure and using their thinking and ideas, help them see the connections.

There are times in Algebra the context is a little hazy for me. But even just looking at big ideas and allowing students the space to notice patterns, describe those patterns and then generalize them with the math is a win. (Sara!) What Juli shares as being possibly Un-Productive is that fact that we soft often neglect the opportunities to help students make these connections. And that is so easy to let go. We can sometimes plan an awesome discovery lesson, but without the end discussion to wrap things together, students will walk away, “HUH?!?” and frustrated.

For me, I see this as intentional planning to include time to help them make those connections. I mentioned in an earlier post – closure to class or a learning task is vital. I set a silent alarm on my fitbit that allows me to wrap up class rather than yelling things to kids as they walk out the door. I do a quick review of their responses, then I begin the next day by addressing the previous days take-a-ways. Its where we take many big ideas, reflect on them and decide what we can take away from it all. I feel like the FALs (MathShell) AND Five Practices (Smith & Stein) were great resources to help me formulate how I do this in the classroom.

For this year – I have a few ideas of how to still accomplish this task.

Simply within the MEET chat window, or within a shared jamboard, allowing students to post sticky notes and type the reflection in there. I can easily schedule a question in gClassroom that will appear toward the end of instructional time. I see flipgrid eventually becoming a great tool as well.

My big “new” thing this year will be the “homework” of watching the instructional video prior to classtime. This prepwork will be followed with WSQ gForm. I will encourage students to have these completed by midnight of the day, which will allow me to grab a quick look at them prior to our classtime online together. I can take their questions and ideas and incorporate them into our WSQ discussion we will have at the beginning of class to ensure everyone is moving in the right direction.

If you are unfamiliar with WSQ – Watch, Summarize, Question – check out Flipping with Kirch blog. Ultimately, I want students to do more with the Questioning, but in the first few weeks, I plan to encourage them to use it as a way to communicate their trouble, need for help or clarification.

Again, Juli’s posts have given me a chance to reflect on my practices and process how exactly/possibly I can modify and continue productive practices in a remote environment.

Leading with Vocabulary – Another Possible (Un) Productive Structure #MTBoSBlaugust


I continue to enjoy revisiting the notes and posts from Juli Dixon on possible unproductive structures in the math classroom. In one part, she discusses that sometimes the structures are from ELA perspective and not necessarily supportive for math instruction. My big take a way – thinking about our learning goals, are they procedural or conceptual and whether the tasks I am choosing are the best for that learning sequence.

I have struggled with implementing an effective Word Wall in math class. I’ve seen examples, I’ve given effort, but it has just not been my thing. I don’t skimp on vocabulary, I have been highly aware of literacy strategies for at least the past ten years and tried to learn and implement to the best of my knowledge what works for my students.

Some of Juli’s suggestions are to move the vocabulary instruction to the end of the lesson – so more students would have access to the concepts within the lesson, especially for ELL (Cummins, 2000).

She shares that leading with everyday language will allows understanding to transfer as academic language is introduced as long as the experiences are connected. Use everyday language in context, when you moved toward the procedures, the concepts support – bring the academic language into the conversation.

Vocabulary Rating Chart

As I consider ways I bring focus to academic vocabulary, I love using the vocabulary rating chart from NCTM that @mathequalslove shared several years ago.

Part of my unit organizer.

You can see the table on the right side of this page. This would be folded into a booklet and the right side is the front of the booklet for INB. I ask students before beginning the unit to rate their understanding of the vocabulary in a mathematical context. I am not asking them to know or memorize, just tell me what you know about. I walk the room and observe their levels from 1 to 4. This gives me some idea of what topics I may need to focus on.

As we progress through the unit, we may revisit the table, using a different color pen to mark and date. But I find it most helpful to do the rating toward the end of the unit, a couple of days prior to the assessment. I am able to observe any areas I may have missed and clear up misconceptions students have immediately. This serves as a great review/formative assessment. The goal is to have everyone at a 3 or 4 level of understanding.

Desmos and Polygraph

At the beginning of a unit, I like to share a related polygraph with students. This has been effective in helping me see what the students are seeing. I let the students “play” a few rounds of Polygraph using their everyday language/ descriptions. I love to take a few snips of their responses/graphs, etc. and use them in our class examples. By using their language, and asking for clarification – what did you mean by that?, I am able to help them make connections to the academic language throughout the unit. As a post assessment of sorts – we will use the same Polygraph – but this time, they are encouraged to use our academic vocabulary. I like to create a chart – prior to the task, asking them what words we’ve learned for our “math talk.” It is a great way to see growth.

Open Sorts

Hands down, one of my favorite lessons I ever taught was using Open Sorts with Mathshell’s FAL – Representing Polynomials, shared here. One of the things I love about the FALs is having students experience a task prior to the lesson actually taking place. I am able to see their thinking/approaches and build off of their responses. Within the FAL, students are given opportunities to view big ideas through their own lense, sharing and listening to their classmates. I too get a chance to listen and learn! Throughout the lesson, I am able to take their thinking and link it to the vocabulary/concepts which are the goal in the learning sequence. In the end, students reflect on the task, then are given a similar task as an opportunity to show their learning. Here is how I took apart the original student page and turned it into a Gallery Walk.

Again, the time to listen, reflect and make sense is crucial. As a teacher, I have the opportunity to help students make the mathematical connections I want them to see within those discussions and final work.

I never was a fan of copying the definitions for vocabulary in math class. It always felt fake. I wanted my students to “experience” the vocabulary. After reading Juli’s thoughts and reflecting on what I seek to do in my classes, I feel like I am moving in a good direction.

Now, how do I transfer these ideas to remote learning? For my rating charts – a google form with a rating checklist will work. I can continue the Polygraphs during synchronous time. I plan to create some ABs in desmos and utilize collaborative Jamboards, slides and/or flipgrid in the gallery walks and FALs.

Scaffolding – Another Possible (Un) Productive Structure #MTBoSBlaugust


Scaffolding? Really? What I like about Juli’s presentation / posts, she addresses common structures I use and have used for years. Her sharing causes me to consider how I can be more intentional with those tasks, considering how they are having a positive impact on the learning or how I can modify/replace them if they may be unproductive. I come here to muddle through my thinking.

Video of Juli’s Ignite (start at 21:40)

She shares two ideas about Scaffolding – Just-in-Case and Just-in-Time of Blog 03 in her series of posts. I’ll try to distinguish between the two. Just-in-Case may bring issues with access and equity.


When I read that last sentence, I was reminded of a statement several years ago while reading a Wiliam’s Embedded Formative Assessment. He spoke of how we often just model for the students, “stealing” their opportunity to learn. I feel this is somewhat the same. WE jump in to help the students before they have actually demonstrated a need for help.

Unintentionally, we scaffold in such a way that diminishes the cognitive demand of the task. Consider ways you’ve scaffolded certain lessons. Questions you ask, statements that lead. Who is doing the work? the thinking?

Just-in-Time allows students to engage in demanding tasks, then assisting if necessary WHEN they struggle. We allow students to have processing time – to make sense. If they struggle, we give them just enough information or a question to re-engage them in the task.

Our goal: “Students are doing the sense-making.”

Possible Undermining Efforts #MTBoSBlaugust


Sunday afternoon, I sat in the sun, a lovely breezy day. I revisited my notes from the Global Math Department session with Juli Dixon on Ways We Undermine Efforts to Increase Student Achievement and continued reading her blog posts.

One thing I noticed she consistently used “possibly” undermine efforts – that it is not the strategies themselves that are causing the issue, but our choice of task/timing that may not make is as effective as it could be.

A time and a place… Juli’s Part 02 blog was about using gradual release of responsibility. She states we can overuse I do, We do, You do. Again, considering if our objective is conceptual or procedural will determine our approach. If conceptual, by simply changing the order, we may see better results.

She suggests the teacher isn’t the one “in control” the leader, but a facilitator. Provide a task for the whole group, questioning to lead them. Next to break it down to smaller groups, allowing them to extend their learning. Finally, the individual working to provide evidence of the learning goal. I feel like this is what I do a lot in class. But I also find myself using IDWDYD – but now I realize, it is likely when those tasks are procedural.

As I was reading this idea – I thought back on several FALs I have used in the past. I remember the moment I realized they were structured in such a way that supported the Five Practices routine by Smith & Stein. We begin with the individual exposing to a task. Offer feedback and give students a moment to revisit their response.

Then regroup based on homogenous approaches to the task. I loved this idea the first time I learned about it. Students are grouped by approach/thinking – not ability or correct answers. The smaller groups then consider student sample work. Some complete, some correct, some not.

And return to whole group discussion, using chosen ideas from observing and listening to the students. And finally, one of the most important things we often let go… closure, then plenary discussion, helping them make/see connections between varied approaches, solutions. [This is actually Part 05 Juli discusses in her posts, Neglecting opportunities to connect concepts and procedures] .

I’m not sure when I truly realized the value of reflection and connection at the end of the learning sequence. But I value it enough, I have an alarm set for 6 minutes before the end of class to ensure we do some sort of wrap up and reflection. The connection part may not take place until we finish the task the following day. But bringing things to a bit of closure and leading with some of their thoughts the following day have proved very important.

Here is where I’m going with this post. The key factor of good quality tasks, providing students with time to process, share and talk through their thinking is for the teacher to listen, really listen. I’m afraid I will miss something in a lesson if we are virtual. I will not “hear” a student question or they will be afraid to post. I want to find a way they can speak to me, so that I can respond and let them be heard.

I’ve worked diligently for many years to reframe my role as a teacher. I am struggling to see how what I’ve learned to do seamlessly – will transpose virtually. My hopes are that thinking about it – writing it down – sleeping on it will bring me some insight… tomorrow, or the next day.