Math Intuition

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Over the past two days I’ve been reading and rereading chapter 8-9 in my summer book study. Chapter eight discusses how mathematicians connect ideas.  From what I see in classrooms, this connection of ideas is often directed by the teacher and involves some type of classroom discussion that helps students construct understanding.  Intentionally setting aside time to have math discussions and connect ideas from students is worthwhile.  The prime example of Debbie (the teacher) allowing time for Gunther (student) to put the calendar in the shape of a clock was especially a memorable portion of this chapter.  That opportunity wouldn’t have occurred if the teacher didn’t take the initiative to intentionally plan to use manipulatives to have students construct their own understanding through a math discussion.  Having these student math discussions gives educators feedback in whether students are attempting to make/create connections and whether their overgeneralizing. Creating opportunities for student to make these connections is important.

Chapter nine emphasizes the need for mathematicians to use intuition. I appreciate how the chapter indicates that math is often perceived as a very logical content area.  It’s truly not, but the perception still exists.  Tracy states in the chapter that she’s come to see “mathematics as a creative art that operatives within a logical structure.”  I had to reread this a couple times to let it sink in. I’ve heard it over and over again that someone is “not a math person.”  What I find interesting about this is that mathematical intuition is developed.  Since it’s developed over time it can change.  I tend to tackle this issue quite a bit and address it at the beginning of the school year during Open House. Providing students with opportunities to develop this personal intuition can be a game changer.  It’s up to the teacher and school to create memorable experiences for students to develop math intuition. That’s a responsibility that each teacher takes up when they open their classroom doors. By increasing their math intuition, students may also increase their math confidence. Educators need to carefully think about the different math experiences that we provide for our students.  Those meaningful experiences aren’t always found in general textbooks.

After reading these two chapters, I started to think of what perceived/real barriers stop teachers from intentionally creating these opportunities.

I think sometimes teachers feel as though they’re required to follow word-for-word the scope-and-sequence that’s provided by a district.  This can be the case when a newly adopted text is revealed and teachers are highly encouraged to follow it to a tee.  Some texts even tell teachers what to exactly say, what questions to ask, and predicted student responses.  I’ve been though many different math text rollouts and this occasionally happens.  I see it more at the elementary level though. Having common assessments with a specific timeline that everyone needs to follow can also provide pressure for teachers to fall in line with a particular lesson sequence.  Deviating from that sequence may cause issues. I find that there’s a balance between what a district curriculum office deems “non-negotiable” and room for academic freedom within a sequence.  I’ve been told in the past that a district text is a resource, but for new teachers it may be more than that.  There can be a lot of anxiety, especially if certain parts of your instruction model have to follow a pre-determined sequence and is used for evaluation purposes.

Teachers need to feel comfortable in giving themselves permission to use their own intuition.  That may be easier said than done and it depends on your circumstance.  Despite good intentions, a published text won’t meet the needs of all of your students. I believe that’s why open source resources are frequently shared within the online teacher community. Supplementing or modifying lessons/questions with resources that match the learning needs of your students happens on a daily basis.  Dan’s Ted talk hits on that point.

I believe educators have permission to do this while still meeting a strict scope-and-sequence.  Teacher confidence also plays a role with how willing someone is to try resources outside of the textbook.  Elementary math teachers need to feel empowered to be able to use resources accordingly without feeling as though it’s going to be detrimental in their evaluation.  I think that sometimes teachers don’t exercise their academic freedom to the highest potential because it’s perceived as going against a district’s plan.  Having math coaches available and supportive administration is also important in changing this perception

The work that we do is important.  Creating mathematical intuition happens through repeated experiences.

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Sometimes those experiences are beyond the textbook/worksheet and educators have the ability to make them meaningful.  I’ll be keeping this in mind as I prepare for the new school year.

Look Who’s Talking

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I’ve been able to check off a few books on my summer reading list.  I’m now in the process of reading one book in particular.  It’s been a slow process through this book, but worthwhile as I’m actually thinking of how this applies to my practice.  That takes time. Yesterday, I was on a reading tear and made it through chapter seven.  This is where I ended up paying most of my attention. The chapter is related to asking questions in the math classroom.

In the eyes of most students, questions are often given to them, not something that they get to ask other students or even the teacher.  The ratio of questions they’re required to answer far outweighs what they ask.  I’m not arguing that there’s something wrong with that ratio, but Tracy and others in this chapter make a case to why educators should allow more opportunities for students to ask, wonder, and notice.  I think there’s value in providing these opportunities, although the management involved in that process seems challenging at times.  While reading, I came across a terrific quote by Christopher.

One of the bigger issues is the last highlighted sentence: “Quit before angering child.”  When I read this I actually laughed out loud and then started to realize how often this happens in the classroom.  Ideally, all students would be willing to make a claim, be receptive to what others have to say and then change their claim accordingly.  Some students are much more willing to engage in this type of math dialogue, while others would rather not.  There are different activities and procedures that can help move students towards being more receptive to asking questions during claim dialogues.  Notice and Wonder, 101questions, problem posing, riffing off problems and independent study options can help students ask more questions and encourage them to be a bit more curious.  That curiosity can spur students to ask more questions.  All of those are great resources, but there’s an important piece that needs to be put in place beforehand.  I believe Scott makes a great point.

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Each child has their own tolerance for struggle.  That struggle can turn into frustration quicker for some more than others.  This happens with children and adults. I think most educators have been in situations where a student makes a claim and then retracts it after its been shown that their response wasn’t quite right.  That student then disengages and it’s challenging to get them to be assertive afterwards.  How can this be avoided or is it possible to avoid these types of situations?  I don’t know the exact answer to this, but understanding the level in which a student can struggle without frustration is important.  Struggle is part of what happens in any math class. That productive struggle is what’s often needed before students construct their own mathematical understanding.

Enabling students with tools and models can help in these struggling situations.  I’ve also seen this struggle occur during whole class guided math conversations. Some students shut down when they are called out by another student.  They think that disagreement means that they’re being challenged or attacked. That’s not the intention, but it may be perceived that way by other students. It may be helpful to model what appropriate math dialogue looks like.  After the modeling, practicing that type of math claim dialogue and providing opportunities for questions can help smooth out the process.

I also believe some students are not used to making a claim in a verbal format.  Students are definitely used to talking.  Ask any teacher.  Also, they’re probably familiar with providing reasons why they agree/disagree on paper, but communicating it in a verbal format can cause some issues. Providing these students with sentence starters, using technology that can be shared with the class, or using other appropriate means can help students engage respectfully in a productive math dialogue.

I’ll be keeping these ideas in mind during my planning process.

 

Attending to Precision

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Last week I read through chapter five of Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had.  Reading this chapter made me wish that school was still in session.  There were times when I was reading that I stopped and reflected on how I manage expectations in the classroom.  Specifically, I thought about how I emphasize the need to be precise during math lessons.  More often than not, the precision aspect is related to computation mistakes as well as issues related to missing or incorrect units.  I address this so many times during the year.  So many that I can’t count the amount of times that it’s mentioned.  I think most math teachers have been there.  In most cases I’ve observed students being able to show their understanding of a particular concept, but they don’t show it on assessment.  A label might be incorrect or a one-digit calculation completely changes an answer.  I see this all the time with adding units related to linear, square, and cubic measurements.  A student may get the answer correct, but the label doesn’t match.  I have issues when students place cm^2 when the label should be cm^3.  There’s a big difference there and it has me questioning whether the student understands the difference between area and volume.  There has to be a better way than just reminding students to check for errors or make a reasonableness check.

A couple of the examples that were showcased also emphasize using precise language.  Avoiding the word “it” and being specific are highlighted.  I find myself repeating certain phrases in class.  Not using “it” to describe a particular unit would be on my repeat list.  Instead of using that devil of a word, teachers can emphasize and have students label the ambiguous “it” into something more accurate.  Incorrect labels are a killer in my class, so this is something I continually emphasize.

Estimating can also play an important role in attending to precision.  My third grade class uses Estimation180 just about every day.  We made it all the way to day 149 last year.  We were pretty pumped about that much progress.  It was a productive struggle and heartening to see how much progress was made.  As time went on students became more accurate with their estimates.  That thought process transitioned to other aspects of math class.  I asked the students to have reasonableness checks before turning in an assignment.  The check doesn’t always happen, but when it does it’s a golden opportunity.  I’ve had some students use a checklist to record whether they’ve estimated first to see if their answer is reasonable.  Again, it’s not always used but I believe it benefits students.

Games can be great opportunities for students to be reminded to attend to precision.  Some games are great for this, others aren’t and bring an anxiety component to the table.   I was reminded of the negative impact of timed tests and elimination games.  I’m not a fan of timed fact tests in the classroom and haven’t used them for years.  More recently, I’ve used timed Kahoots or other elimination games.   Some students are more engaged when there’s a competition component.  This chapter brings awareness to how emphasizing speed can be damaging.  Most of the time these games are low-risk, but they do bring anxiety and can cause some students to withdraw.

Guided class activities like pattern creation can be helpful in reminding students to attend to precision. Using student-created patterns ( ___, ____, 56, ____, _____ ) to develop unique solutions can be utilized to show understanding of numbers.  Students can create a multitude of patterns with this.  It also challenges students to find a pattern that no one else has.  I’ll be keeping this in mind as I plan out next school year.

It seems that students will always need to be reminded to add correct units, review their work and attend to precision.  Having strategies and tools available to address this will be helpful moving forward.

Making Math Mistakes

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This summer I’ve been reading a few different books.  One of them is Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had.  It’s part of a book study that started a few weeks ago.  Kudos to Anthony for helping start the study.  I’m slowly making my way through the book, following the tag and listening to people’s comments on Voxer.  My highlighter has been busy.  I appreciate all the different teachers that Tracy showcases.  I’m currently in chapter four, which is related to making mistakes in the math classroom.

I believe making mistakes is part of the math learning process.  I don’t think I’ve always communicated that enough.  Some students that I see come into the classroom with an understanding that mistakes are evil.  They’re not only evil, but I’ve seen them used to humiliate and discourage students and peers.  I believe these types of behaviors tend to crop up when the culture of a classroom isn’t solid.  Of course there are  many other variables at play, but a classroom culture that doesn’t promote risk-taking isn’t reaching its potential.

Tracy showcases different teachers in chapter four.  All the educators highlighted seem to be able to communicate why it’s important to look at mistakes as part of the math journey.  This chapter is full of gems.  A couple takeaways that I found are found below.

  • The math teachers that are highlighted seem to understand that mistakes are opportunities.  When they happen, teachers have a choice to make.  Modeling and showing students different ways to react to mistakes is important.  Students need to be able to understand and be accustomed to making mistakes in stride.  This can be a challenge since some students stall or immediately stop when they run into a mistake. Mistakes shouldn’t be perceived as failure. If a student makes a mistake they need be able to have tools and strategies to move forward.  They need to also find the underlying reason to why the mistake or misconception happened.  Having a misconception investigation procedure in place for these instances is helpful.
  • Using classroom language that creates safety is key.  Teachers need to be able to have phrases in the bank that empower students to participate and take risks.  I found that the teachers highlighted in the book often ask questions related to students explaining their reasoning.  They also set up the classroom conversation so that students build upon each others’ responses.   Students speak their mind about math in these classrooms.  They’re not afraid to respectfully agree or disagree with their peers and explain their mathematically thinking.
  • I noticed that the teachers played multiple roles during the observation.  Teachers often gave students time to work with partners/groups to discuss their mathematical thinking.  This time of group thinking and reporting happened throughout the lessons.  Teachers often anticipated possible misconceptions and guided the classroom discussion through students’ thinking.  The teachers asked probing questions that required students to give answers that displayed their mathematical thinking.  Teachers didn’t indicate whether an answer was correct or incorrect.  Instead, educators asked students to build upon each others’ answers and referred to them as the lesson progressed.

I can take a number of the strategies identified in the observations and apply them to my own setting.  I see benefits in having a classroom conversations where students explain their math thinking.  That productive dialogue isn’t possible unless the culture of the classroom is continually supported so that students feel willing to speak about their thinking.  Students aren’t willing to take risks and explain their thinking to the class unless a positive culture exists.  That type of classroom needs to have a strong foundation.  That doesn’t take a day, or a week.  Instead, this is something that is continually supported throughout the year.  Next year I’m planning to have students use the NY/M tool again.  I’d like to add additional pieces to this tool.  I’m also planning on using more math dialogue in the classroom.  I believe students, especially those at the elementary level, need practice in verbally explaining their mathematical thinking to others.  That verbal explanation gives educators a glimpse into a student’s current understanding.  I also believe that giving students more opportunities to speak with one another about their math thinking will help them develop better explanations when they’re asked to write down their math thinking.

I’m looking forward to starting chapter five on Monday.

 

End of the Year Feedback

 

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My school year ended last Wednesday and I’m now getting around to looking at student survey results.  This year I decided to change up my survey and make it more detail oriented, as I wasn’t really getting enough valuable information before.  Instead of creating my own (like in the past) I came across Pernille’s gem of a survey.  I know that she teaches at a middle school, but I thought the survey would be valuable for my kids just as well.  So I basically copied all the questions into my own Google Form, created a QR code and had students scan the code to complete the survey during the last two days of school.  Students already knew their report cards grades and they were asked to place their names on the feedback survey.  This is the first time that I’ve taken the anonymity out of the equation.  In doing so, I was hoping that students would answer the questions more honestly, which I believe actually ended up being the case.  The survey took around 15-20 minutes of time and it was pleasing to actually see students put effort into this task.  I had 54 total responses.  Of course there were absences, but I thought that size wasn’t bad, seeing that I have approximately 60 kids that I see in grades 3-5 every day.

Like I do every year, I critically analyze the results.  I look at survey results as a risk, but also an opportunity to see what the kids perceive.  They don’t always communicate what they’re thinking and this is a small window-like opportunity to catch their perception.  I tend to question the results every year, but have come to peace with an understanding that I look at trends, not necessarily every number.  Like most data, I find the individual comments to be the most beneficial.  I won’t be delving into that too much here, but here are a couple key findings:

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Students averaged a 3.43 for this question.  Part of me is glad that it wasn’t below three as I don’t want students to perceive the class as being light on challenge.  I want students do be able to put in effort, work hard, set goals and see that their effort has produced results.  This doesn’t always happen.  Also, the word difficulty is subjective and what someone determines as a challenge, they might not consider it difficult.  This is becoming even more evident as my school continues to embrace growth mindset philosophies.

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Okay, the good ole homework question.  I gave homework around 2-3 times a week and it’s used for practice/reinforcement.  Students rated this as a 2.85, which means I should be giving more, right?  Haha.  I believe students analyze this question and compare the amount of homework received in their homeroom vs. my class.  Over the years I’ve given less and less homework.  Early in my teaching career I used to give homework Monday-Friday, but have reduced that amount during the last five years.  It’s interesting to see the students’ perspective on this heavily debated subject.  Maybe next year I could add a question related to whether the homework helped reinforce concepts for students?  We’ll see.

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I really like this question.  It’s risky as I don’t want the numbers to be the same, but it’s also beneficial because I truly want to see how students’ perceptions of their own growth have changed.  The first question came up with an average 7.67, which I was pretty pumped about.  Most students that I see perceive math as something positive.  Having that perception helps my purpose and it’s a also a credit to past teachers.  The second question rang up as a 9.15.  This was a helpful validation to show that students perceptions about math can change over time.  It also emphasizes the larger picture that math is more than rote memorization/processes and it surrounds our daily life.  I also wonder whether removing the anonymity portion influencd this score in some way.

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This question made me a little anxious.  I feel like knowing a student and developing a positive rapport is such an important component.  It came in as a 4.13.  While looking over the data I found that students that didn’t perform as well rated this much lower than those that did.  Spending time asking about students’ lives is important. Time is such  valuable commodity in classrooms and ensuring that you know a bit more about students can benefit all involved.

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Some students said that I could attend their sporting events or ask about what they did over the summer.  Other students said that I could’ve used a survey at the beginning of the year and not just at the end.  Ideally, it’s probably a decent idea to give a perception survey at the beginning of the year to get to know the students.  I didn’t do that this year, but will most likely put one together for next year.  It’s on the docket.

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The responses that I received on the “Anything Else” question surprised me. I’ve never used this before so I wasn’t anticipating results, but I was pleasantly surprised.  About a third of the students mentioned class activities that they enjoyed or told me about how they’ve changed over the school year.  Some students commented about certain math activities that they thought were valuable.  Making it mandatory probably also played a role in why students added more than a “No” to the comment field.  In the future I’ll be adding an “anything else” question to my survey.


Well, now that the school year is over it’s on to planning the next!

Castle Area Project

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My fifth grade students just finished up a unit on geometry relationships.  They took the unit assessment with mixed results. I noticed that some students struggled a bit to complete problems involving geometry and formulas.  Specifically, students inconsistently used formulas correctly to find volume, area and surface area. Keeping in mind that there’s only three days left of school, I balanced the idea of having students complete a brief geometry project or dive right into a review packet.  I decided on the project.  The project is similar to another one, but has a Hogwarts type of feel and the focus is more on surface area.  I paired up students and told them that they have literally three days to complete this project as that’s how many days of school we have left.  Students were given an introduction letter that basically explains that their team’s job is to create a model of a new museum.  The museum must take the shape of a castle.

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After briefly explaining the difference between surface area and area the class was off to creating their kingdoms.  Students used nets and a map sheet to create a base for the castle.

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Students were required to subtract the circle of one of the towers from the square base.  That was interesting, as some students decided to count the squares, while others jumped right in and used a formula.  I gave students a formula reference sheet but also had them access the OpenMathRef page.  That was a fantastic resource as kids could manipulative the object to see how the surface area changes.  Students also noticed that they needed to measure the slant height of the pyramids and cones.  This was a new experience for them.

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Students cut out the nets and glued/taped them to the map.

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They had to make sure to cut out the nets correctly or they wouldn’t “close” and finish the shape.  Students filled out their formula sheets after or during the construction process.  One sheet was designated for the surface area and the other for floor area.

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Students have made progress during the last two days.

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Next week they have one day to finish.  I’m planning on having those that finish complete  a stop-motion video of their city with action figures.  I’m looking forward to seeing the student creations.


Side note:  On Friday students were given were given the opportunity to use the Crafty Cut app.  Kudus to Trever for finding this gem.  Basically, students are given a shape and they have to make one or two cuts to create an additional shape.  We only used the free version and it worked just fine for my fifth grade class.  I thought it helped kids see geometric shapes in a different light.

Memorable Moments

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My school year ends in about two weeks.  It’s tough to believe, but the school year is almost over.  The kids know it, the administrators do, and so do the teachers.  Classroom decorations are coming down and boxes are being packed. Summer is just around the corner and I’m in reflection mode.  Overall, it’s been a productive year.  I took a few risks and tried out a few new activities this year.  They mostly turned out well, and I’m keeping the majority of them for next year’s classes.  In a week, I’ll be surveying my kids and asking them about their favorite math activities and memorable experiences.  Through this process I’m asking students to reflect on their math experiences this year.  I’m also asking them to comment on how their perception of math has changed over the year.   In years past, some students have commented that they enjoyed certain activities, but what they remember is the activity, not necessarily the math involved.  This often comes up when my elementary students come back to see their teachers after moving on to middle or high school.

Other students comment that they enjoyed more of the procedural aspects of math because they were easier to complete and understand.  Looking back at my own math experience, I don’t really remember getting excited about learning certain math skills/concepts during an activity.  My memory isn’t connected to the particular skills that I learned during these activities.  The activities were meaningful to me and I’m assuming that the skills transferred, but I mostly remember how I felt in math class.   My math teachers, specifically the ones I had after middle school impacted my perception of mathematics.  I remember math activities, how my teacher viewed math, working with other students, math manipulative and math projects.  As my students reflect on their math journey this year I need to keep in mind the influence that teachers have along the way.

On a daily basis, students will use skills and make math connections that align with posted mastery objectives.  What students remember might be completely different than the stated objective for the day.  I feel as though part of my job is to have students make meaningful math connections on a daily basis.  Activities that spur these types of opportunities are beneficial.  Creating opportunities for these memorable math activities is part of the job and it’s one of the reasons that I enjoy opening up my classroom door in the morning.