A Question and A Choice

On Friday, I was having an “off” day. I was absent on Thursday dealing with a stressful family situation, and didn’t feel like myself upon return to school. One of my students started to explain, and then argue, about reasons why he didn’t have the work from the day before.¬†My mood was making me impatient and easily agitated, and I didn’t respond well to the student. I continued around the classroom checking the work of other students, and a conversation so short, but so powerful, occurred; and I’m still thinking about it two days later.

Student: “Ms. Kohn, how is your day going?” He knew something was wrong.

Me: “Okay.” I lied.

Student: “Have you been giving high fives today?” He knew I needed one.

Me: I paused. The student already knew the answer to this question. He knew I hadn’t been in the hallway giving high fives. It was High Five Friday. And he hadn’t gotten his high five yet. In that brief moment, I knew I had a choice to make. This student reminded of this choice in a moment that I needed it the most. I could choose to turn my day around. I could choose to shake myself out of the funk I was in. So I did.

I smiled. I raised my arm and high fived that student. Then, I high fived some of the students around him. During the next passing time, I resumed my usual post in the hallway and high fived everyone that walked by.

Those seven words, and a simple motion, completely turned my day around. Thanks, student.

Note: If you want to read more about the power of high fives, read this.

NCTM Regionals Nashville – My Favorite

After a whirlwind trip to Nashville attending the NCTM Regional Conference, I was able to check two items off my bucket list: 1) Go to Nashville 2) Present at an NCTM Conference. I had a great time presenting on strategies for teaching English Language Learners in math class, and will be posting more about that later. However, I want to first share my favorite moments and takeaways from the rest of the conference.

Favorite Airport Art: The Dancing Sound Wave
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Favorite Robert Kaplinsky Quote:
It’s actually impossible to pick just one. I’ve been following Robert’s work for years, and I was very excited to finally get a chance to see him in action. Robert’s session was “Motivating Our Students with Real-World Problem-Based Lessons” and we worked our way through the famous In-N-Out Burger problem. I did this activity with my students a few weeks ago, and they are still talking about it. It was so rewarding to see Robert lead us through the activity, and explain all aspects of the lesson. He stressed that you need to start with application (the burger), and then marry the context with the math content. My favorite quotes:

  • “Convince me that you’re right or convince me that I’m wrong.” – Math Practice 3
  • “You should be spending most of your time figuring out how to implement your lessons rather than what the lesson is going to be.” – So true. Robert stressed the need to anticipate what the students are going to do and think so that you are ready to react and respond.
  • “My goal in life is to be the least helpful teacher ever.” – This is something I know I need to work on. Students need to struggle, and I need to let them. It’s a necessary reminder to focus on the hints we can give our students (because we’ve planned for the lesson implementation) that are just enough to keep students going, but not enough to deny them of how they’ll feel after successfully solving a tough problem.

Favorite Teacher Move:
Robert demonstrated how he gives enough wait time after asking a question. He physically counts down five seconds by putting his hand in the air and then bending one finger down at a time. Wait time is so important; this move is easy to implement and it makes you accountable for all five seconds.

Favorite Meal: Brunch at The Pancake Pantry

Several people, (and Taylor Swift!), highly encouraged me to visit the Pancake Pantry. I was told I would need to wait in line, but that it would be worth it. I waited for one hour, and then treated myself to Banana Nut Muffin and Caribbean pancakes. Very worth it.

Favorite Card Sort:
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Kimberley Williams presented a session titled, “Are We There Yet? Increasing Rigor in the Math Classroom.” She discussed Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) and explained how you could increase the rigor of a task depending on the type of question you ask, using the DOK chart. We looked at several examples of how one topic could be portrayed at each level:
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But the most helpful part to me, was when each group was handed a set of cards and asked to sort them among the different levels. It can be difficult to differentiate between them, so it was helpful to discuss with my table. I could see this activity being done with staff members at school to help everyone figure out the levels.

Here is the card sort:

Favorite Non-Session Activity:
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I loved volunteering at the Math Twitter Blog-o-sphere booth and helping newbies learn about all the awesomeness the MTBoS has to offer. Check out the Exploring MTBoS website here!

Favorite Task Progression:
Brian Shay ran an excellent session titled, “How to be a Super Model-ing Teacher.” He led the crowd through this Illustrative Mathematics Task:

The session reminded me to check out several great sites for modeling tasks that I don’t often check: Illustrative Mathematics, Mathematics Vision Project, and NRICH.

Favorite HonkyTonk:
Line Dancing at the Wild Horse and practicing the Texas A&M Yell Chant with some fellow MTBoS-ers!

Favorite Estimation Activity:
How old is Athena, the goddess of wisdom? How old is Nike, the goddess of victory, perched in Athena’s right hand?


Found at the Parthenon

Favorite Session: Kate Nowak’s “Plan a Killer Lesson Today”
Kate started off the session by asking everyone to think of a topic we dread, and I immediately thought of Radicals. Simplifying them, adding them, everything. I dread it. And she said her goal was to find ways to adapt lessons we already have, so that we’re not throwing out all our “standard” lessons and just starting over. Kate’s suggestion is to invert the lesson: You do, Y’all do, We do.

Her strategies for inversion:
-Ask about a pre-requisites
-Ask the question backwards first
-Give sample items with the question
-Engage in MP8

I have seen and used some of Kate’s work before, but I’ve never really thought of the lessons as strategies that I could use in my classroom… until now. I really needed to hear her thought process and think about how this could work in my classroom. I’m going to re-write my lessons on radicals so that I start by asking the question backwards first. I am going to give students a set of radical statements that are true, and ask students to see if they can fill in some blanks to create more true statements. Stay tuned for a future blog write-up.

Favorite Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Singer:
Again, impossible to pick just one. I was lucky enough to attend on a night when five (5!) Hall of Famers were performing, and they were honoring Jean Shepard for her 60th anniversary as a member. The show was simply magical.
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Favorite Guideline for Increasing Task Rigor:
During their session on the “Impact of Task Design on Students’ Attitudes about Mathematics”, Ziv Feldman and Jeneva Moseley recommended several guidelines for increasing task rigor:
-Ask students to provide multiple solution strategies
-Ask students to provide mathematical justifications
-Ask students to create their own examples and non-examples

Although I use these strategies often, it was how they asked students to provide another strategy that really stood out to me. See part c below:
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I love how simple the phrasing is, yet it creates the need for a second method.

Favorite Design Principle to Develop a Problem Based Learning Classroom:
Geoff Krall shared five design principles for developing a problem based learning classroom, and it was the 5th one that really got me: “Don’t go it alone.” He said partner up, select 2-3 tasks that will produce rich student thinking artifacts, implement, and debrief. You need to have an “accountability buddy.” So rarely do we actually have time to debrief a lesson on our own, let alone do it with a colleague. It was another useful reminder to focus on lesson implementation, and the value of teamwork.

Thanks to NCTM and all the presenters for a great conference that completely reinvigorated me as we head into the winter season!