Saturday, March 7, 2020

Moving Toward Better Collaboration

How often do you have discussions - real, deep, serious discussions - on how to best teach a topic?  In my 22 years of experience, these discussions do not happen often enough and that's truly a sad thing for the future of math education, if not education in general. 

In the month that I've been home from ICMI25, I have had so many ponderings and discussions on the future of teacher collaboration on a personal and district level and I keep having that weird squirmy feeling that I often get when I feel that I'm moving from my comfort zone to my learning zone.  I know most of us would not describe a squirmy feeling as a positive thing, but for me, it's always that point at which I feel I'm at the cusp of a breakthrough in my personal / professional journey, that feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Which brings me back to my original statement.  Last week, I was in a meeting with several other Geometry teachers and during a lull in the conversation, I asked them how they teach the Pythgorean Inequalities and how to help students remember which inequality is for the acute triangles and which or the obtuse triangles.  I personally teach the inequalities using a hands-on method and some "Notice / Wonder" questions, but I also struggle with keeping the inequality sign straight in my head.  A couple of teachers answered me, some reiterating the pattern of the c^2, which I already know, but only one of the responses really answered my deeper question on how to help students remember and I took it back to share with my students. 

I've thought about this exchange several times over the past week - I'm a veteran teacher and for the first time in 20+ years of teaching, I have a solid way to help my students make connections to what they discovered via our in-class activity for this topic.  But how students have I deprived of that because I had never asked?  How many newer teachers use just the textbook (our "primary resource") and never dig deeper into "what is the best method to teach topic X?"  How many teachers (myself included) teach the way we've been taught and not using what we know to be best practices?  How do we change that paradigm?  How do we get to a point of shared lesson planning and lesson creation and not just shared pacing? 

The learning journey that I started at ICMI is picking up steam.  I'm excited to explore these questions and more with my colleagues and my district.  Where will this journey take us?  What challenges will we face and overcome?   How will this impact our students going forward?  I really don't know, but it's a journey I know is necessary for growth.

Friday, February 7, 2020

My week at ICMI25

For the past week, I have attended the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction Study Conference at the University of Lisbon.  This lovely building has been a place where I have learned so much more than I ever expected from the math education research community.

The city of Lisbon is beautiful, full of a rich history and some of the kindest people I've ever met.  I am so very grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity and do not know how to adequately express my appreciation to the organizing committee or to the participants of ICMI25 for welcoming me into this shared learning space.

Today is our closing ceremony and I can't believe that the week is almost over and it will be time to go back to my classroom.  Please don't get me wrong - I miss my students, my family, my routines - but I have learned so much during this week and I don't want that to end either. :)

Last spring, when I was approached about attending ICMI25, I was extremely nervous.  I've never travelled internationally and what could I really bring to the table?  I have had the opportunity to learn with and learn from some of the greatest minds in math education research this week and I'm sure if I had known that prior to attending, I would have been even more nervous, and probably some major fan-girling would have occurred. :)

Some of my take-aways this week -

  • The food is amazing.  Last night, I had a pepperoni pizza that was quite good, even if I've not mastered the art of eating pizza with a fork and knife :)  Also, while I've enjoyed everything I've had, some things like cold cuts at breakfast or that bacon isn't the bacon of my world, has been interesting.
  • The people are even more amazing.  Over this week, I've had some very deep / rich conversations and I've learned that if you truly want to see some passionate people, just ask a researcher about their area of interest / focus in their research.  I've been so impressed by the work that is being done here and I've made some wonderful connections this week.  I look forward to the collaborative partnerships that will result from this conference.
  • Turning on the lights of the hotel room was about a 10 minute puzzle for me until I finally realized I had to insert my room key to make the lights functional :)
  • Coffee is a bit different here than back home and take-out coffee cups don't seem to exist in the hotel.  However, I greatly appreciated the daily coffee breaks for a shot of caffeine as I am working 6 hours from my normal time zone. :)
On a more educational note...
  • In my working group this week, I had the opportunity to learn from 18 different papers / presentations and I was able to take away something from every single paper, even if my take-away wasn't quite what the researcher had in mind.
  • The problems that I see in the USA aren't limited to the USA.  For example, one of the presenters spoke about teachers in her country using the mathematical representations from their textbook without really knowing WHY they are using them.  I think that is an issue we encounter as well and it's important to ask ourselves WHY is this the tool / representation that I am using to communicate with my students and fellow teachers?  What is the benefit it gives to build understanding?  
  • One of the most important learnings for me personally has been the defintion of collaboration as it applies to teacher development.   This gives me a much greater insight into how to define our district "collaboration days" and how I can take this information back to my school to strengthen our program.  
  • I'm fascinated by the idea of "Lesson Study" and want to learn more, especially on how to incorporate it into the realities of my teaching life.  From what little I've understood, it seems very time consuming for implementation, so I don't know how to incorporate it in a way that isn't quite so overwhelming.  There were several papers written about it, so I'm sure I'll be doing more reading over the next few weeks.
  • In a sense, this week has been very affirming to me from a classroom perspective.  I've read papers and listened to presentations regarding quality classroom questioning practices, anticipating student responses, peer feedback regarding lesson plans and assessment, multiple representations (graphical, tabular, verbal, algebraic, pictorial), and other topics that have been areas of focus for me over the years.  I've been glad to learn that I am on the right track regarding my own classroom practice, even though I have a long way to go.

There is so much to learn and so much that can be learned, that it can be overwhelming at times.  I want to implement all the things, but I know that's not feasible.  Over the next few weeks, I really need to focus on what I can do to take what I've learned this week and implement it in my context.  I need to go through the papers I've read and hopefully get a chance to read some of the papers from the other themes to narrow down to the top few things that I think can create sustainable and reasonable change in my classroom and in my site.  

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Reflections on Teacher Collaboration

This week, I have been attending the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction (ICMI) Study Conference in Lisbon, Portugal.  To say this place is stunning is an understatement.  I've never traveled internationally, but Lisbon is an absolutely gorgeous city and I am so honored to be attending this conference.

The theme of the conference is teacher collaboration and I'm here to share about the power of social media as a tool for teacher collaboration.  I'm surrounded by some of the top minds in mathematical education research and I have been soaking up every bit of knowledge that I can.

Throughout this week, one thought that continues to go through my brain is how to make better connections between the research that I am reading and learning about to my actual classroom practice and that of my district.  Obviously these researchers have spent many hours working with teachers in their study on how to improve their practice, but how does that research get into classrooms around the nation / globe?  What can I do to share what I've learned here with my colleagues back home and really work to increase our professional knowledge and improve student learning as a result?

The ultimate question I keep coming back to is this... what is effective teacher collaboration?  What does it look like?  What does it sound like?

The structure of the conference is unlike any conference I've ever been to, but I honestly love how it is structured and how it could be adapted to the classroom.  In my Working Group sessions, we have a variety of papers that were submitted detailing the research.  Each presenter has 10 minutes to present, then another participant has prepared a 5 minute response to the paper.  All of the papers were made available to us to pre-read and generate questions for the authors via a shared Google document.  As a classroom teacher, I can see a scaled down version of this model being used for classroom presentations, where students submit their project / paper / presentation, then do a short summary for the class, a peer reviewer gives a response, and everyone is asked to reflect via a Google document to ask questions.

During some of the presentations, I've definitely seen strong connections to topics discussed often in the #MTBoS, such as productive discourse among teachers via social media, vertical non-permanent surfaces, and the role of the "5 practices" model with anticipating student responses.  But again, I come back to the core question - what is effective teacher collaboration?

Is it a book study?  Is it a discussion on teaching methods?  Is it those 5-minute spontaneous hallway conversations?  I think it *could* be, but is that the norm?  How often do we sit down with our colleagues and truly lesson plan?  Not just pacing out the chapter / unit, but discussing appropriate tasks, quality questions, anticipating student responses?  How often do we really dig into the quality of our assessments or assignments?  Are we actually assigning "exercises" vs "problems"  (and what separates an exercise from a problem?).  Are we gathering and sharing and analyzing data to help us improve our instruction?  Are we recording our lessons and truly listening to the quality of the questions we are asking?

Now don't get me wrong - these things take time and as a classroom teacher, time is something that is sorely lacking.  I have 160 students each day, plus another 20 in my Advisory.  I have lessons to plan, papers to grade, plus other responsibilities at school and at home.  How can we build these structures to accomodate the realities of classroom teaching?  How can we put systems and processes in place that benefit student learning without putting unneccessary burden on the teachers?

I already have a list of topics that I want to discuss with my administration when I get home about this idea.  I would really like to see my site / department develop a theme-based model of a PLC where we are able to dig in throughout the year into some messy work centering around a topic of concern for our site / department.  We currently have 6 "collaboration days" built into our schedule, but after attending ICMI, I think there is so much more that we could be doing with those 6 days.

Thank you, ICMI, for this opportunity to learn more about teacher collaboration and what it can look like in day-to-day practice.  Thank you for providing access to research that impacts the classroom from around the world.  I am so very grateful for this opportunity to learn with and from so many amazing teacher educators and researchers.

Monday, January 20, 2020

#MTBoS2020 - Change can be scary!

Earlier this month, I posted that one of my goals was to blog at least twice a month in 2020.  Thankfully, I ran across this tweet by Jennifer Fairbanks yesterday to help support my goal:

If you want to join the #MTBoS2020 blogging challenge, you can sign up here.

As for the rest of my goals, they are just rocking right along.  I've been able to keep up with my exercise goal and have mostly lost the weight I gained over the holidays.  And I've continued to email parents (although I need to do this weekend's emails still!).  So all in all, I'm considering this a win! :)

I had my students share some of their 2020 goals as well based on a tweet I saw over Winter Break.  It has really warmed my heart to read their responses, plus it just makes my room look awesome! :)

So on to some other changes in 2020...

When I left my classroom in December, I had a Promethean board with an overhanging projector and an aging Lenovo laptop.

When I returned in January, I had a 70" TV connected wirelessly to a Surface Pro.

I knew the TV was coming as my room is a pilot room for updated technology.  But it still caused a bit of anxiety as I figured out how to use it. :)  Overall, I've been pleasantly surprised at how well it works, although my students do miss the larger Promethean board, even though the picture wasn't as clear and the bulb was dimmer by the day.  The TV has a clear and crisp image, but due to the layout of my room, there's often a glare from the windows and the perspective angle is a bit challeging for some of the tables, but it's now been 2 weeks without any major snafu, so that's a win, right? :)

But school isn't the only place where change is happening...

At the homefront, our family is growing by one!

In early November, our eldest cat, Allie, passed away after living a very good and very long life.  Also during that time, our other cat, Kenzie, had been diagnosed with diabetes, so we were learning how to manage her illness and giving her 2 shots a day.

A few weeks ago, hubs decided he was ready to maybe look for another kitty to add to our home and had been casually looking at the various adoption sites.  Saturday morning, he sends me a picture of a kitty that had been taken in this week at Animal Welfare and he wanted to meet her while we were out running errands.  Thankfully, when we arrived, she was still available and this little darling will be coming home after her spay surgery later this week.  Isn't that face just adorable?? :)  She doesn't have a name yet, so suggestions welcomed!

But the biggest change / scary moment in my life is coming up in a few weeks when I will be travelling internationally for the first time in my life, plus I'll be travelling all alone.

In my "One Word" post a few weeks ago, I mentioned that my word this year was Courage because I need some courage to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. 

When I shared with my students about going out of the country for the first time, several students started sharing their best travel tips.  One of my students is a bit concerned about my safety while travelling alone and started a list of tips and hints on my whiteboard.  My personal favorite is to not get involved with the mob, mafia, or drug lords....:)  If you have tips to add, please drop them in the comments :)

Friday, January 17, 2020

#MyFavFriday - Sharing some Love

How are we already two weeks into the new semester? 

Third quarter traditionally is the slowest for me, but I suspect that won't be the case this year as every couple of weeks I have something on my calendar... a day off, professional development, enrollment, parent conferences, then spring break!  It's going to be important to slow down and just be present in the moment, cherishing those times with my students and colleagues, as before we know it, this year will be gone and my kiddos will be moving on to the next chapter in their lives.

As part of being present and really appreciating those around me, I wanted to do a #MyFavFriday shoutout to a few special people and their thoughtfulness over the past month..

Upper left - One of my Geometry students is extremely artistic and has been an absolute delight to have in class.  During the last week of school in December, while trying to study for finals, he decided to create custom shrinky dink lapel pins for all of his teachers.  Mine is a ladybug, of course! :)  I don't recall what he made for each teacher, but every one was individualized based on that teacher's likes and/or subject matter. 

Upper right - One of my colleagues was also super crafty in December, making these custom keyring lanyards.  I have had one of those stretch coil keyrings for years, but this lanyard is quickly becoming one of my favorite things!  I love that it's easy to loop around my arm and easy to find when I set down my keys in my classroom :)

Lower left - One of my Forensic Science kids was absent for a week as she had gone to visit family in India. Upon her return, she came in after school to make up a lab and we started visiting about her trip, including the food.  The next day, she brings me this baggie of homemade traditional Indian snack foods - how precious is that??

Lower right - Another colleague and I have a shared love for pens - I mean, seriously, can you be a teacher without loving a good set of colored pens?? :)  But this was my very first stand up pen caddy and I have to say that I love it!!  It's the perfect size to hold about 15 pens and so convenient on my desk without being obtrusive.  Definitely one of my favorite new additions to my desk this semester!

Monday, January 6, 2020

#Made4Math - One Word

It's the first week of January and this is my 2nd blog post of 2020 - yay for keeping my blogging goal so far! :)

It's also the first Monday back to school for the spring semester and that alarm clock is definitely NOT my friend!  During the summer, I do a great job of not messing up my schedule because the sun streams into my bedroom bright and early, but in the winter, it's just a little too easy to stay snuggled under the covers until the sun finally comes out.

I don't know about you, but the first week back to school for me is about reestablishing relationships, reviewing procedures, and the normal housekeeping details that come with a new semester, which includes setting up new notebooks!

This year, I decided to add a goal sheet to my notebook set-up and thought I'd share it with you too!

On the front, it asks them for their "One Word for 2020".

On the inside, it asks why they chose that word plus asks for two goals - one related to my class and one of their choice (personal or academic) plus 2-3 action items to help them achieve their goal.

My word this year is Courage.  The reasons are a bit more than I want to go into right now, but I need courage to release some control, courage to move out of my comfort zone, and courage to step up.

Click here for the PDF file!

Friday, January 3, 2020

Happy New Year!!!

I don't know how we made it here so far, but Happy 2020!  It seems like only yesterday that I was gearing up for back to school and now we're halfway through the year.

Overall, this break has been a time of minimal interaction with the outside world.  I have read a lot and worn down my tablet battery on more than one occasion.  I have rarely put on real clothes, instead living in leggings and t-shirts, and I have generally been an absolute hermit. I have succeeded in messing up my sleep schedule, but I have relished the daily naptime and the fuzzy blanket on the sofa.  I have accomplished very little on my to-do list, but I'm (mostly) okay with that.

Today was a restless day, a day of irritability as I face the truth that school starts back in a few days.  Tomorrow, I'll head to school to clean and organize, then Sunday will be all about lesson planning again before we start back into the daily routine of life.  So, it's time to take a step back and think about the big things I want to accomplish this year...

Goals for 2020


  • Exercise / Health - I made my FitBos 2019 goal of 135 hours, but just barely.  I had too many days where I was just not in the mood to exercise or the weather wasn't cooperating or my plantar facsicitis was acting up.  However, as of the afternoon of Dec 31, I had completed 135 hours and 4 minutes :)  This year's goal is 140 hours.  I also have need to lose about 20 pounds, so that's on my radar as well.
    • Specific Goal - Exercise at least 4 times a week.  Track calories via phone app
  • Reflection Time - This is an area where I've struggled a lot.  In 2020, I would like to get back to a regular routine of personal / spiritual reflection and devotional time, as well as my professional reflection time with blogging.
    • Specific Goal - Daily devotional time / journaling and blogging at least 2 times per month


  • Parent Contact - I started emailing "Student Shout Out" emails in August and while I haven't sent as many as I should, my goal is to have sent one to every student by the end of the year.  The responses I've received from the parents and students have been heart-warming and I really enjoy this time each weekend.
    • Specific Goal - At least 5 emails per week
  • Growth Zone - Overall, 2019 was good to me, but it also found me in my comfort zone a lot.  I didn't push myself as much as I could have or should have from a professional standpoint.  I'm at an awkward stage in my career where I'm definitely a veteran teacher, but with that comes a sense of disillusionment that frustrates me.  I'm not quite sure how to achieve this goal, or even how to articulate it, but I feel myself moving down the path of "ehh, no worries, that initiative will be gone within 2 years and a new one will take its place" and that's NOT okay with me.
    • Specific Goal - Download new podcasts to listen to during commute, start back with #eduread books

What are your 2020 goals?