Next school year, I am returning to teaching mathematics

This school year has been awesome working with students with IEPs develop into self-advocating people who are able to help their teachers help them learn best.  I’ve loved it.  I get to think about the whole person rather than just a 58-minute math student more so this year than previous years.  My main takeaway: The more comfortable the students are with the content, the more variance they will tolerate with the delivery or assessment AND the more comfortable they are with the format, the deeper the content objectives will be mastered. Many people will read this and say “well, yeah” but I promise this takeaway makes instructional protocols really important to think deeply about and purposefully introduce, teach, and reuse.  Teachers should really only have a handful of ways to teach new material, review objectives, and assess mastery so students are able to stretch their legs within the method and truly show what they know.

But for the 2015-2016 school year, I will be returning to a more traditional teacher’s role and teaching mathematics again (due to mainly budgetary reasons, not because I wish to discontinue my role this year).  At first, I dreaded this move back to mathematics, but now I am more excited about it, mostly because I hope to be able to incorporate the many things I learned this year (about students, my school, interdisciplinary work, educating a person rather than teaching a subject…) into my practice.

At the moment, I am thinking about how to incorporate Mentor Texts and Document-Based Questions into mathematics (particularly Algebra 1) so that students may use the same learning protocol in MANY content areas, rather than just humanities.  So, the main takeaway from this year (see above, bolded) leads me to want to try more exciting mathematics through student-known methods.  I am excited to collaborate with the teachers who have taught with these instructional protocols for years (and those who tried it out for the first time this year) to build up students’ ability to think critically in all content areas.


My Favorite Mistake Remix

Caveat: much of my work this year involves … first making sure that classrooms are safe and productive learning environments and then second helping classrooms that are mostly on the traditional spectrum become more awesome (aka student-thinking-centered).

One “tool” I’m thinking about today is this “favorite mistake” activity.  I first heard it as a Do Now review where the teacher quickly looks through student answers to the Do Now and then posts his/her “favorite mistake” for everyone to discuss.

In many of the classrooms I’m in, students are much more focused for the first 2/3 or so of class, and become less focused/productive near the end.  One idea I’m toying with is a remix of My Favorite Mistake …

With about 15 mins left in class, post one (high leverage) problem and two solutions.  Every time, there is EITHER one accurate/one mistake or two mistake.  Students think/write/decide in partners and then vote and discuss (this, tailored to the context and teacher, and more fleshed out).  Followed by some sort of exit ticket/reflection about the entire class.

I hope this idea will help give more focus/thinking/interest to the end of class.

So, I’m also not really a math teacher this year…

I’m taking a year off from teaching the high schoolers to work with the teachers.  I’m really excited to visit different schools, students, and contexts as I support Boston Teacher Residency Graduates.  For the past week, I’ve been working with people to get their classrooms up and running.  I’ve been giving the same advice a lot, so I thought I’d consolidate it.

1) Keep it simple.  Better to do fewer things more in depth/well than be scattered.  If you have shortened periods, don’t try to cram things in.  As my boss put it, students will remember the “how” more than the “what.”

2) Don’t forget the “how”!  Especially at the beginning of the year, it’s important to outline expectations for how things get done.  Make sure you know how you want everything done and can explain it concisely.

3) What’s the purpose?  Backwards plan even “Unit 0.”  Know exactly why you are doing each activity.  Tell students why and how what they’re doing connects to the course.

4) Be positive and enforce your expectations.  Do it.  From Minute 0.

Happy first day of school, BPS teachers!

So, I’m not going to be a math teacher next year…

It’s starting to feel official.  I’m not going to teach math next year.  Instead, I’ll be teaching Learning Center, our school’s version of Resource Room.  I’m excited to differentiate and supplement the curriculum of students with diverse needs for their other 5 classes.  It’ll be a new challenge and I am ready to think deeply about not only mathematics, but also language arts and writing, literature, US and World history, language acquisition (of French, Spanish and English), and the sciences.

This summer I am planning on writing the curriculum, reviewing the content taught at my school, reading all of the books that the little ones read, think deeply about and create sustainable systems, and plan the first few units.

Hooray for new challenges!  Huzzah for differentiation!



One Teacher’s Attempt at Teaching Metacognition in her Math Class

In my classes, students have many opportunities to show what they know and make revisions on their work.  But more importantly, they think about their process of learning. 

In the revision process in the lovely room of 054, students receive their previous self-assessed work with each standard assessed and feedback given.  Students are then given the option to revise their work.  If they choose to, the little ones use the Revision Criteria for Success (see below) to improve their work and sentence starter (see student work) to reflect upon their changes.

The Revision Criteria for Success (CfS):

In order to revise your work for reassessment, follow the Criteria for Success.

Your successful revisions include:

  • New work shown on a separate sheet of paper;
  • New work stapled to original work;
  • An improvement statement for each standard you have improved (use the template);
  • (as applicable) a retake of the same objectives.

In my geometry sections, we recently finished a unit about classifying polygons in which we focused on standards in the strands of Problem Solving, Communicating Clearly, and Geometry.  Here’s the adventure of one student, Student K, towards her mastery of the standard and more importantly thinking about what she needs to continue to improve going forward.

Company Logo Project – Performance Task on January 23rd and 24th, revision on January 27th

Students created a logo of a known company using appropriate notation and relationships. 

K submitted her work after the two days of class and it needed major revisions to demonstrate mastery of many objectives.  She used the Revision CfS and submitted her improved work.  See the work below to read the sentences she wrote about each standard and how she improved each one.


This sentence frame encourages/forces students to think about how the improved project is lots of working pieces and different aspects of the product demonstrates mastery of different standards. 

Mystery Figure (Stage 4) – Original Performance task on February 11, revisions on February 12

In this multi-part, whole-year project, students show their ability to do the unit task with the same coordinates unit to unit and for Unit 4: Classify, students classified the polygon formed with their points.  K submitted her work, received feedback, and opted to make revisions on one standard (see work sample below).


K’s original work had the more traditional “math” work (Problem Solving and Geometry) fairly accurate.  However, she still needed to improve on writing a claim with mathematical evidence and reasoning (Communicating Clearly). In her revision, K made her mathematical facts become a strong statement.

Unit Assessment – MCAS problems.  Administered on February 12, revision on February 13.

After the guidance of their Mystery Figure project as a review, students independently attacked the MCAS practice problems, which served as our end of unit assessment.  The standards addressed on the assessment appear below.


Note that K somewhat accurately assessed her work in terms of the Problem Solving and Geometry standards above.  She opted to only revise one standard – solution.


As she submitted her revisions, she remarked “Ms. Always with the writing!”  She then began her portfolio, filled with writing.

Portfolio for Unit 4: Classify – End of Unit (February 13)

In this four-page template, students review their work from the unit, examine the unit objectives in multiple ways, reflect deeply about a product that demonstrates their mastery towards the unit goals, create and solve their own problem, describe and reflect on their growth, and assess themselves overall in terms of effort, achievement, independence, and community leadership.

On the bottom of page 3, students describe the other important skills involved in this unit.  K’s work is below.


After reviewing her work, K determined she needed to improve on writing up her work verbally (versus algebraically or pictorially).  She noticed that nearly all of the revisions in this unit involved a Communicating Clearly standard and she needed to focus on that for the next unit.

Unit 6 has just begun.  In the pre-assessment on February 25th, as K self-assessed her work, she realized she needed to describe her process in words as well as showing her calculation.  Huzzah! She is already consciously improving on the goal she set in the previous unit.


(Note for the concerned reader:  K’s process is inaccurate.  Fear not, this is just the pre-assessment.)

(Exercise for the eager reader: Identify why her math demonstrates a common misconception around proportional thinking.)

So that’s the story so far.  Please let me know if you have any questions/comments/concerns about the process I use to incorporate metacognition into mastery of Problem Solving, Communicating Clearly, and Geometry standards.    

A “typical” class

I try to think deeply about what my life would be like if I was given more freedom than I currently have to run my classroom the way I would like.  I know that I have TONS of autonomy at this point, but due to the relationship with a teacher prep program, my awesome big people/student teachers need to teach in a somewhat more typical format to progress in the program.  So with that said, here’s a “typical” format for me:

Welcomes, Learning Log, Revision, Unit Work, Exit Ticket

Welcomes: Students arrive to my lovely classroom and choose which kind of chair they would like to sit in (rolling office chair, saucer chair, typical school chair) and move furniture to sit in their zone.  They are greeted with hellos and welcomes from not only their teachers but also their peers.  If applicable, students receive a handwritten thank you note about their leadership contributions to class and other peer-nominated recognitions and accomplishments. (The students get VERY excited about these notes, usually thank the class for the acknowledgement, and then carefully place the cards into their folders to bring home.)  Students transition to the Learning Log portion of the class as they have settled into the community.

Learning Log: Students have a weekly yellow Learning Log (LL).  (I have it color coded so it is easily spotted in bags and on tables and resist using yellow for other handouts.)  I then sing, yes, I said sing, the names of the kiddos that have retrieved their LL and have started to record the topic for the day and started the Do Now.  The topic is a student-friendly objective truncation and finishes the questions “How do we…” or “Why do we…”  The Do Now, oh the Do Now, is a short prompt, usually to review a skill from previous units (and then is evaluated for accuracy) or a primer for the upcoming lesson/topic/unit (and is evaluated for completion).  Students earn a stamp to show they have successful met the day’s requirements of the Dow Now and students may move on to the next agenda item.  Do Nows are not timed, but rather students move on when they have finished the requirement.

Revision Work: I am a HUGE believer of students make significantly more progress when they receive feedback from previous work and then have a structured way to make revisions.  While I have days dedicated to revision (and are called the super original name of “revision day”) for longer assignments or projects, I like to have the transitional time between the LL to the unit work dedicated to help students iron out misconceptions and errors, and build confidence before moving forward with the new material.  Students receive the previous day’s exit ticket or work with written feedback (not advice) with the question “do you want to revise this work?” Students look over their work, read their work and feedback, and then decide if they want to revise.  I’ve yet to have a student say no if there was anything that could be improved.  But I always pose it as a question, a choice, so students have more power in their world.  Students correct their work, write about how their new work shows improvement on each standard, and independently complete an alternative form of the same assignment.  All of the pieces get bundled together and reassessed.  During the revision process are able (and encouraged) to seek help from any person, book, anchor chart, or previous work in the room.  (I am still working on how to have students use the internet as a resource.)  Students don’t want the answers from one another because of the whole explain-your-improvements and now-do-a-similar-problem situation but they do request explanations and they make up problems together to practice the skill on their own.  (And, does it make me excited to see when they make up their own problems to practice.)  Once the kiddos have turned in their revision work, they move onto the unit work.

Unit Work: Once students have transitioned from their LL and revisions, they are ready for continuing their work on their unit mastery!  I try to have a 3+ day string of mastery check points.  Everything gets bundled together, with explores and practices, everything color coded by part so that students may see where they are in terms of the progression and timeline.  Students move at their pace, to a point, through the material.  The students are given an approximate timeline with a bit of extra flex time built in.  The students read through objectives and standards and look at the Criteria for Success and exemplars.  They ask questions and find resources to help them move through the tasks, seeking mastery.  The tasks change depending on the day and unit but the students move forward.

Exit Ticket: With roughly 7 minutes left in class, it’s Exit Ticket Time!  Private think time happens in the lovely room 054 and students work independently on the exit task.  If the students have more time before the end of class, students return to their unit work.  Students pass in their ET and say their goodbyes for the day as they leave.

That’s a typical day in my room!  Huzzah!

This Work is Challenging

Some of the things I talked about doing last year came to fruition.  Many didn’t.  It was pretty disappointing for me.  I did more creative/thinking-focused/choice-incorporated/knowledge-building assignments.  Students begged for “math class” – to many students, a place where the teacher explains exactly what to do and how.  I tried to give purpose for my choices and show how rewarding this work could be.  Maybe (maybe) now in late February, students have (kind of) come on board.

I did more product-focused assignments.  Making sure that the product-making didn’t become rote, that the product required new and deeper thinking, communicating to students how that deeper thinking looks, what that deeper thinking is was truly challenging.

I gave students far more work time (and far less me-talking time).  Even with lots of rich tasks and choice, management is challenging.  45 minutes of work-time is a lot of time for a 9th grader.  Keeping students focused remains my personal hardest struggle.

Maybe I’ll too hard on myself?  But this is just to say, this work is challenging.  Planning (and using good research) to teach in a way I believe in did not just magically make everything click.  I am more happy, mostly, with what the students’ are learning and how much they are thinking, but it has not been, so far, everything I imagined.