Category Archives: 5 Practices

May Day, May Day #MTBoS30 #5pracs


Thursday night, I printed off a packet of handouts from a session I’d led at KCM conference in 2012, simply because there was a data collection activity “Look Out Below!” I wanted to use in class on Friday.  As I flipped through the pages, I was taken back by what I used to do.  And it made me sad.  I walked in Friday morning, straight over to a colleague’s room and asked for accountability these last few weeks of school.

Multiple times the past several months  I have been directed back to 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions, Smith and Stein 2011. I read the in book even participated in a chat.  The following school year, I implemented a few lessons purposefully using this structure.  I found that the FALs from Mathshell often followed the same format.  It led to great discussions, thinking and sharing in my classroom.  So, what happened?  A rut.  I still used the structure, but not intentionally planning NEW lessons, just recycling the ones I’d become comfortable with.

Last November, I attended an ACT Boot Camp sponsored by@UKPIMSER, one of the strategies shared was the 5 practices!  This winter, we had 8 Non-Traditional Instructional Days in our district- where students / teachers participated in learning tasks during Snow Days.  Our department used NCTMs Principles to Actions book, focusing on the 8 Mathematics Teaching Practices, one of which was promoting whole class discourse, and using Smith & Stein’s outline.  This spring, I have come across several chats mentioning the 5Practices for discourse.

Just today, I read @marybourassa’s post Day 80 Ropes and Systems, that described how she used a chart to track observations and conversations inspired by this book.  I also read @bridgetdunbar’s Teach Math as a Story post as well as watched @gfletchy’s Ignite Talk on becoming an 83%er – one who is asking questions to effectively engage students… We must focus on task planning – better questions (Frank’s hot sauce!) in order to listen to our students rather than for their responses.  (S/O @maxmathforum 2>4 Ignite!).

As soon as I arrived home, I grabbed a box from the shelf to get out my #5pracs for a revisit.  And all these treasures were there with it!20160501_145551.jpg

As I flipped through my book, I found these notes…penned on the last day of summer break, on a final trip to the water park, I’m assuming 2012…reading while my daughter and her friend splashed in the wave pool.

I was preparing for the first few days / unit of Algebra 2…

So, here’s my goal for the #MTBoS30 challenge: to revisit #5pracs and plan a couple of intentional lessons, ask better questions, monitor observations and conversations – maybe even record with my phone in pocket and see if  can accomplish some of the “Try This” Smith & Stein have outlined in their book.

I’m asking for accountability, MTBoS.  Mayday! Mayday!

The title, I thought was fitting, rather than sink these last few weeks – which normally kick my butt, I am determined to finish strong in an effort to leave a great impression with my budding, almost 10th graders – allowing them to see that math is more than just math.

from etymonline:

mayday (interj.) Look up mayday at Dictionary.comdistress call, 1923, apparently an Englished spelling of French m’aider, shortening of venez m’aider “come help me!” But possibly a random coinage with coincidental resemblance:

“May Day” Is Airplane SOS
ENGLISH aviators who use radio telephone transmitting sets on their planes, instead of telegraph sets, have been puzzling over the problem of choosing a distress call for transmission by voice. The letters SOS wouldn’t do, and just plain “help!” was not liked, and so “May Day” was chosen. This was thought particularly fitting since it sounds very much like the French m’aidez, which means “help me.” [“The Wireless Age,” June 1923]


Better Questions Week 3 #MTBoS



I’ve pondered this challenge for a couple of days.  So many options!  But a tweet from @mathymeg07 led me to a post from @MrAKHaines blog Math Pun Pending.

The post was celebrating a variety of strategies his students had use to answer the question:



He wrote:  When I wrote the question, I had anticipated that students would use a couple of different strategies. What I didn’t know was that my 25 students would use a combined seven correct solution strategies to solve this problem.

Two parts to my post:  1. How can I make this an open question and 2. How can I use student samples to develop a better lesson in the future?

How can I make this an open question?

A.  Name a point that is NOT on this line.

B.  Name a point that this line passes through.

Thanks to @PIspeak‘s TMC14 session in Jenks, I urge students to “Support your claim with evidence/reasoning.  I want to see your thinking!”

How can I use student samples to develop a better lesson in the future for my classroom?

I appreciated the fact that he never explicitly taught “the teacher’s efficient strategy” but allowed group discussions and support to drive the lesson.  Students shared ideas.  The last paragraph  in his post says, “My students are acting like mathematicians, y’all. They’re using their toolkit of math ideas to solve problems flexibly. I couldn’t be happier.”

In the end, that’s what we all want – students thinking on their own, making sense and being confident enough to explore a problem with their own ideas.  So, how does this tie in with the Better Questions prompt?  My outline of the lesson feels a bit like those I’ve used from Formative Assessment Lessons, but I feel it lends itself to students doing the thinking, talking – I only provide the materials and support to make desired connections that will lead to the learning goal.

I’ve been following the #T3Learns chat from Wiliam’s book.  In chapter 3 of Embedding Formative Assessment, it suggests using student sample work. How might I structure a lesson, utilizing student samples of this question?  In Principles to Actions, MTP3 states Effective teaching engages students in making connections among mathematical representations to deepen understanding of mathematics concepts and procedures and as tools for problem solving.

  1. Begin with the same question. Allow students to write a response. (3-5 min)
  2. Place students into small groups and allow them to share their approaches. (5-7)
  3. Allow groups to explore student samples, making note of different ideas, what they like/ways to improve, questions they’d like to ask the student. *maybe as a gallery walk? (15-20)
  4. Discuss their findings as a whole group. (10 in)
  5. Connections to/between the different mathematical representations. (5-10 min)
  6. Written reflection:  (3-5 min. possibly use as a start up / bell ringer to begin class with following day – providing an opportunity for retrieval of previous days information?)
    • my strategy was most like:____
    • the strategy I liked most was ____ because ___
    • the strategy I found most difficult to understand was ___ because ___
    • Which approach was most efficient?  Why?
    • What do you think was the BIG IDEA your teacher intended for you to learn/understand?
  7. Transfer…provide a few, different contextual problems that allow students to connect the mathematics to something tangible, maybe in a problem posing situation (should this be small group?  individual? ) (5-15, would this be better as follow-up the following day?)

Timing is often an issue for me.  I want to provide students with enough time to make sense/discuss, but not so much time it feels long and drawn out.  Are the times I have listed appropriate?

Please offer suggestions.  How have you used a similar approach successfully in your own classroom?

Barfing Monsters Day 2 & Day 3 #MTBoSBlaugust Post 18


Here’s the version of their documents/ideas we used in class this past week Day 2& Day3.

After discussing a few of our friends issues from Day 1 – Students were asked to work alone on Day 2 – where Blurpo was burping up graphs.  After a while – I asked students to turn and discuss their responses with a neighbor – discussing any differences they may have had.  We then had a whole class debriefing utilizing desmos.  It was a great way to introduce them to desmos.

The sliders really helped when students commented the parabolas – one was wider than the other and others argued they were the same graph, only transitioned down 2 – which made it appear wider at a certain point because the original was “inside” the translated one.

I also had some pipe cleaners to demonstrate the width actually held the same.

What I like most about this day was the 3rd graph, they had to provide the burped up version – and the last graph, where they were given the burped version and had to describe the “eaten” graph.

I used this to share how their brains were processing the patterns to provide structure to apply the pattern to a new questions.  And how being given a “backwards” problem required their brain to think in the other direction as well.  When many of them continued the original pattern and was wrong, they realized their mistake and was able to correct it.  Our brains just grew!  Twice!  We talked about how it was not a misconception (they didn’t understand it) but a mistake (not paying attention) that they were able to correct on their own- not needing me to tell them “how” to do it.

Day 3 is a perfect intro to visual patterns.  Students were given the choice to work on their own, in pairs or a small group.  Linking blocks were available for those who wanted to “build” Spikey’s patterns.  I enjoyed observing their different approaches to building/drawing the patterns.  It was fun listening to their discussions of how to continue the patterns or figuring out how to find the number of blocks required to build the nth pattern without actually building/drawing it.  Again, the power of SMP at work.

These are some of the strategies I saw/heard along with some of the equations a few developed.


It was a great way to allow them to see how others were viewing the patterns.  And when asked which method was better? Silence.  Finally, a student says, well I liked mine best until I saw ___’s and it makes more sense to me now.  But we all agreed there were multiple approaches and the one we should choose is the one that our brain sees.

We only used different equations to show they would result in the same number of blocks needed for a given step.  I didn’t do a very good job of connecting their equations to the methods used to build the patterns – something I definitely want to improve in the future.

Again – I want to shout out to @cheesemonkeysf and @samjshah (was @mathdiva77 in on this as well?) – thanks guys!