Thursday, June 8, 2023

Shifting our Thinking

Ugh - how is it that another 6 months has gone by since I last posted?  Often, I will have an idea for a post, jot it down, then by the time I get home, the idea I had that I thought sounded good no longer has any appeal.

But, summer is here and it's a time to reflect, grow, and learn again!  

Last week, I was excited to be involved in a workshop in my area called Exponential Growth.  It is co-sponsored by one of our local universities and our regional STEM alliance.  They have several different workshops, but I was in one for instructional leaders (math coaches, etc).  The workshop was JUST what I needed to jump-start my summer planning and I'm excited to work with my cohort over the next year.

During the workshop, we looked at growth vs fixed mindset and looked at book Principles to Action with regard to what we would like to see in a math classroom and the Effective Teaching Practices.  We looked at productive and unproductive beliefs and sorted them into our ideal classroom and our less than ideal classroom.

We also looked at a variety of tasks and how many of them could be used across the grade level bands.  One of my favorites was this fish pond task...

Our instructor gave us a handful of these colored goldfish (found on Amazon, of course!) and several fish pond mats.  I didn't end up taking a photo until our last mat, which was a make your own problem.  As a result, it's kind of hard to see the point of the mats, so bear with me...

On the first mat, the little "bridges" between the ponds had numbers showing the total of the fishes between the two.  For example, the number 7 was between the purple / orange.  The number 9 was between the purple / blue, and the number 8 was between the orange / blue.  It was our job to figure out how many goldfish were in each pond.  As teachers, we all knew that we could do this with a system of equations or a matrix, but to start out, we just played with the fish and thought about what would happen if we took one of the purples away or added another orange.  Our group was given a variety of mats, from basic to more complex and finished with the one shown on making our own problem.  It was a great way to look at a system from a more concrete standpoint and would be a fabulous low-entry task for a variety of levels.  Our instructor mentioned that she would never teach systems again without starting with a task like this and move from the concrete to the abstract.

I was so inspired after the first day, that I decided to start my summer reading!  I quickly picked up this book from Cathy Seeley as my first summer #EduRead.  I had read one of Seeley's books before, but this book seemed to tie into the workshop perfectly as it was aimed more at admin / instructional coaches in building a great math team.  In the book, Seeley talks about the importance of carefully selected tasks and using a structure she called Upside Down Teaching.

This sent me down another rabbit trail on Upside Down Teaching, which Seeley also calls the "I-We-You" structure.  The idea is to start with a task for students to tackle first, then follow up with classroom discourse and the overall connections.  For me, this also ties in to my personal goal of engaging students with a task or activity that helps to make the entire process more "sticky" with regard to learning.  

What probably bothered me the most about this Upside Down Teaching model was the section in the article about choosing tasks.  I completely agree that choosing good tasks is key and I think many math teachers would agree about the difficulty of choosing just the right task for the lesson, but what floored me is that in Seeley's article, the description of what makes a worthwhile task is from 1991!!  For OVER 30 years, we have known about the importance of quality tasks, but we still don't see that displayed on a regular basis in many classrooms, including my own!  

What I appreciated most about this rabbit hole was that it allowed me to think about my goals for this next year and to make a commitment to bringing more quality tasks into my classroom and to explore this Upside Down model and how it would apply to my classroom.