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.



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!

When people come observe, I feel I should apologize.

But that feeling doesn’t last for very long.  


I run a class in such a way that the students do what they need to do, and I try my best to stay out of their way.  Sure, I communicate what they need to do, through Criteria for Success indicators and some sort of loose agenda posted.  And I supply them with resources (oh the resources!).  But for the most part, they move from one things to another as they earn it. Yup.  They need to earn the work, the next step, the homework.  And do the kiddos work to earn it.  

In a two week period, I had 5 visitors to my E block class.  The students were unphased by the visitors.  (And amusingly enough, they just approached the people as if they were an additional resource, just like an anchor chart, textbook, or calculator.)  Because of the way that class works, I am able to sit with the visitor for 8-14 minutes and answer any and all questions about what the visitor observes or to give a bit of background to the work.  But usually the first thing that pops out of my mouth is an apology: “Sorry, you don’t get to see me teach today; this is how the class works.”  Sure, I am not at the front of the room leading the children to the wonders of mathematics.  But that’s how I roll.  (And yes, there are days that I am, but I usually don’t like it.)  But the piece that makes other people/observers/evaluators more nervous about the work that we do in lovely room 054: we aren’t all together for very long.  One observer told me he measured we were in “whole-class” mode for 3.5 minutes.  Total.  Of 58 minutes.  And I kinda thought that was too much time for that particular class.  

I am often in negotiations with other people about what I am doing should be considered teaching.  Or maybe a better word is facilitating.  Or herding.  But regardless of the title, the children are learning some mathematical thinking.  And to be independent.  And to consult peers.  And use multiple sources to improve.  And make and meet personal deadlines.  And self-evaluate their learning.  And that effective effort leads to improvement.  And personal accountability is better than any other sort of accountability.  And that everyone in our community has and uses strengths to improve.  

And I feel much of that above list more important than the children mastering most of the math content required.  

So I guess I should stop apologizing for doing what I think is best for the kiddos that I have. 

And the beginning of the year…

Cycles run my life.  


Much of my life is planned to the minute.  There is a beginning and a redoing.  And things are never done.  So, in this beginning of the year, it is like many others.  There are children I’ve taught before.  In each of my classes, I have at least one student who I will teach for the third year.  They know me.  They know my really, really bad jokes.  They know that it is not unusual for me to lie on tables, jump on chairs, or high five people who are just trying to raise their hands.  They know.  They’ve done this before, bless their hearts.

There are new children, too.  The ones who are terrified of me, well, because, I am scary.  They don’t know why I am shaking their hands when they say “Oh, my God” (my name nor title is God).  They seem not to be able to understand why I don’t seem to understand the “E-word” (the word easy is NOT allowed.  For real. Because you have no right to talk about a task, only about yourself).  And I even heard one turn to another and ask “is she ALWAYS this amped?”  To which, as if right on cue, responded with “you’ll get used to it” in time with me.  These little ones will know soon, and best effort to them.

It’s a cycle. Everything cycles.

And both generations of students will be able to pass their knowledge to my future students.  Hopefully, they’ll learn some math in the process.



And now for Geometry…

Much my teaching career has been focused on algebra.  You know, the subject that most adults feel they should tell me that they hated and never use… sigh.  Well, while teaching algebra, I have always taught other things as well, this year, my primary class (in time) will be…geometry!  (But, with my residents and my work with Langer, who knows, algebra may still take most of my time…)

So now I need to think deeply about geometry.  And read many thing about this visual land of mathematics.  Hooray geometry!


But what about the year-long projects?  I truly have NO idea what a year-long project would look like in a geometry classroom.  Sure, in an algebra classroom, systems of equations are PERFECT: these problems use ALL of the objectives from the year and have multiple entry points.  But what does that look like in geometry?  

…And what about the units of study?  I have outlined some sort of thinking about that but there seem to be MANY (seemingly unrelated) topics mushed together, which didn’t particularly help my little ones last year.  Are there lovely curriculum maps that exist (and make sense)?

And focusing on the mission-driven work of community leadership and the multi-dimensions of social justice? Last year we looked at tiny houses (environment) and shipping food donations (resources for all) but all in all, the work wasn’t driven in the mission, for the most part.  Ideas of how to do this more?


Oh, I have much to read, write, and plan about… huzzah geometry!