Summer Thoughts and Takeaways

This summer has been different compared to other years. Certainly different than last year when everything was shut down. I think the hectic pace of this past school year has many educators taking a break from school related work. Instead, they are focusing on other activities. Being outside, reading, cooking, gardening and other tasks have taken the place of planning for the new school year. I think this is a good thing. It is unfortunate but not shocking that many teachers left the profession last year. Teacher burnout is real and educators need time to decompress after the 20-21 year.

This summer I have taken a step back from working on creating /editing my Desmos decks and planning school tasks. I have not touched google slides and my school backpack remains closed – at least for now. I am taking a stats class this summer and learning something brand new. Feeling the struggle of learning something new is refreshing in a way and a good reminder of what students go through when new content is introduced. Even with the stats class on my plate, I am able to prioritize taking time for other activities. I have been able to read for enjoyment and work in the yard more this summer than I have in the past. My book list includes American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (highly recommend this book!), A Promised Land by Barack Obama, and am taking recipes out of The All-purpose Baker’s Companion. I have not learned how to make sourdough like many of my colleagues, but my skills are improving.

The last few weeks have been refreshing. I have limited the amount of time on social media and have focused more on less tech-related activities. I still check-in, but am enjoying the outdoors when the weather cooperates. The last three weeks have me thinking about how teachers should have a work/life balance for the 21-22 school year. I don’t think happened last year. I feel like educators are more productive emotionally and physically when they are able to manage and balance their responsibilities.

Although it will be much different, there may be certain aspects of the 21-22 school year that will continue from last year. I am assuming that this upcoming school year will minimally resemble last year. We are still awaiting guidance from the state on social distancing requirements and masks. Will there be remote classes? Will social distancing still be required? What about sharing materials or the new variant? So many questions and not enough answers. It is still not going to be a typical school year, but that is okay. It is all about balance.

Let us grab a few self-care takeaways from the summer and use them when school starts back up in the fall.

New Learnings and Insights for Next Year

Back in May I decided to register for a college level statistics course. I decided this for a couple reasons: 1.) The credits could be used to receive a teaching math credential that will be useful in the future 2) I have always enjoyed analyzing school/student data as it relates to different types of assessments. I did not take the class in high school or college. A few of my graduate school classes required me to analyze data and set goals based on certain criteria but nothing was formally titled education statistics. I would characterize myself as a rookie in the stats knowledge department. With that being said I do not remember that last time that I took a non-education college level class. Near the end of May I confirmed my registration, purchased a textbook and found a used TI-83 calculator on marketplace.

The class is from a nearby community college but I opted for the “anytime” class as it work better with my summer schedule. The class started at the beginning of June and ends close to August. It is the first time experimenting with an “anytime” class so I was not sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the class was in Canvas (that’s what we used in school!) so I already knew my way around the platform.

The class opened up last week and I took a gander and what was inside the modules. The class has 11 multiple choice quizzes that you can retake up to three times. I am a fan of retakes, but you have to retake the entire quiz and not just the questions that you had incorrect. I am planning on giving feedback on this after the course has finished. There are lecture notes and power point slides for each chapter. Besides the quizzes, there are also Excel and TI calculator assignments, a mid-term and final exam. Old school are the two words that came to mind after reading the syllabus.

The assignments open and close on certain dates so you can only go ahead so far. This is not a self-paced course. Last week I read chapter one and completed the quiz. Many concepts were new to me and I had to retake the first quiz. Before the second attempt I took out the highlighter, reviewed the concepts online and found a few Desmos AP stats decks that were about the chapter. The second time was better but not by much. I decided to move on and not dwell on the need to chase a perfect score. As the class continued I took an additional quiz and performed better but still did not feel like I was was thriving in this “anytime” class. I am learning new concepts and feel like I grasp certain skills better than others. I think part of this is due to the format of the course and most classes that I have taken are more structured with some type of in-person requirement.

After reading through another chapter today I decided to reach out to coach at the college. The college offers help through Zoom. I clicked on a Zoom link and was paired up with a tutor to help talk through some of the problems. We discussed the skills that I had questions about and some of the concepts started to make more sense. In more than a few cases I had a conceptual understanding of what the problem was asking and was able to estimate correctly, but I was not using the the formulas correctly. Go figure. It is usually the other way around in the classroom! I felt much better after the session and things started to click much easier. It was time well spent.

After the Zoom session I started to think of a few takeaways that might be applicable for next school year:

1.) Sometimes you need to talk with others to grasp a concept. Digital resources are pretty awesome for learning new things, but some topics that are much better in-person. In this class you get zero feedback with passive digital resources. For the quizzes I received a correct or incorrect. I had to debate with myself whether it was worth it to retake the quiz not knowing what was incorrect the first time around. With a human you can receive feedback and take action based on the communication. What is your retake policy?

2.) It can be frustrating when you do not understanding something after reviewing it multiple times. I wonder how our students feel in this same situation and what feedback/re-teaching opportunities exist?

3.) What type of support is given to students that have questions outside of class time? This happened quite a bit during remote learning.

4.) How do we normalize the struggle that occurs when a student does not show that they understand a concept after multiple attempts. Please do not say growth mindset.

5.) How comfortable are students when asking for help?

6.) How do students know what to expect when it comes to assignments and quizzes? What formats are you using? Communicating the format and showing students an example can help ease anxiety.


I am learning new skills and am finding the small wins during this journey eye opening. It has been a while since I felt the struggle of trying to learn something new that is not in my wheelhouse. I am looking forward to the journey telling my students about the process next school year.

Digital Weekly Math Reviews

This school year has been a bumpy ride. Many teachers have been asked to teach students in-person and online at the same time. Along with the hybrid model, time with students has been limited, which can cause retrieval issues. I’ve noticed that students need more retrieval opportunities with more feedback this year compared to years past. More check-ins and reviewing has been necessary. Out of necessity comes a different approach. For the last couple months I’ve been using a digital math review practice at the beginning of each week. I’ve been finding different ways to use Desmos to help students think about their own mathematical thinking. I have created a few original decks in the process, but have had the most success with copy –> edit with other decks. There are so many brilliant Desmos users (I’m looking at you  RCS Desmos Team!) that’ve already put together amazing decks with CL self-checking abilities.

The Desmos activity in this post was primarily used to review math concepts. My rookie level CL skills gives the students a higher, lower, or just right designation. The small written feedback has been helpful so far. The deck begins by reviewing math concepts explored during the unit.

The next slides offer students an opportunity to review the results and go back to change them.

Students take around 5-10 minutes to complete the task. From the teacher dashboard I can tell how each student is doing and if additional review is necessary. I’m hoping as I learn more CL that I can make these types of practices better. Feel free to use the activity by clicking here. I’m looking forward to seeing what you create!

Digital Math Tasks, Predictions and Reflections

Student feedback and goal setting have been different this school year. The students that I teach have been learning from home and in the classroom. The district has moved back and forth between remote and hybrid models since August. Students have recently been back in the classroom and and it’s not possible to use shared paper materials. This has been one of the most challenging problems this year. Therefore I’ve needed to rely on digital means for instruction and manipulatives. This has impacted how students receive feedback and set goals.

I’ve been using Desmos more than ever since my lessons are digital. It has pushed me to find ways to use the platform so students think more critically about math. Through the process I’ve learned more about how to create better tasks that enable students to reflect on their math work. I’ve found so much support from the Twitter Desmos community. I’ve slowly been learning more about Desmos CL and how to incorporate it into my decks so students are able to process the concepts they discover and receive feedback. I started using CL more frequently after reading Julie’s fantastic post. For the past month or so I’ve been working on creating self-checking tasks with small wins here and there. Last week I found a recipe that has been somewhat successful for formative checkpoints. I used it with a few different classrooms last week with multiple choice questions.

Here’s how it goes. Students synchronously complete a list of multiple choice questions related to a specific skill. I added the sketch pad for students to show their work and used teacher pacing to make sure students only have access to the question slides.

Once students finish the questions they visit a slide where they’re asked to reflect on the questions. They also draw on the sketch pad how they think they performed. During this time students revisit the questions in order to make an accurate prediction.

Then the final slide opens indicating correct/incorrect answers. The prior slide is copied over and students reflect on their performance compared to the estimate.

The student responses comparing their results to the prediction were stellar. Afterwards, the class had a conversation about the questions that were more challenging than others and why those stood out. I’m hoping to expand on this idea in January.

Feel free to use/copy/change the activity. It can be found here.

Remote Parent/Teacher Conferences

Like many teachers, I had remote parent teacher conferences recently. It was a different experience for sure as mine have always been in-person or over the phone. I’d say around 80 – 90% of my conferences are usually scheduled on back to school night in August and parents come into the school in November to discuss their child’s progress. This year was obviously different. Based on a recommendation from my school and team I decided to utilize a sign-up genius this year. It was fairly seamless and my parents were able to sign up without much trouble. Each parent signed up for a 10 minute slot to discuss their child’s math progress. Ten minutes can go in a flash during conferences so I tried to organize as much in advance as possible. In the past I’ve tried to include student reflections as part of the process and I wanted to do the same with our Zoom-ified conferences this year. I used this Desmos deck.

Students started to complete the card sort about a week before conferences by reflecting on their progress and determining which skill fit a category. Students reviewed their Canvas/SeeSaw history and analyzed their work compared to the standard. I gave class time for students to complete the Desmos task.

As the individual conferences proceeded I brought up the above screen and mentioned that this is the student’s perspective and we’ll discuss how accurate that perception is compared to what I’m seeing in the classroom and work that’s being produced. As I went through the categories I moved or kept the skills in place. The good news is that most of the skills were in accurate categories. When change was needed it tended to be one column over.

I then spoke with the parent about additional opportunities to address certain skills. Each grade level had a different screen in one Desmos deck.

This made it easier to move through each screen with the parent as one session ended and and a new parent entered the waiting room. I also used the advanced zoom function to make the slide as large as possible for a parent to see as some were on phones during the conference.

The conference time went quickly and by the time we finished that slide time was up. The conference were completely digital and I’m hoping that this might be something we consider as an option moving forward.

Math Reflections in Desmos

It’s hard to believe that my school year is about 25% complete. Ask any teacher and they’ll probably say that number isn’t correct. It certainly doesn’t feel like it right now. Report cards are right around the corner followed by Zoom conferences. While thinking about conferences earlier this week I started to brainstorm a few ideas of how to help briefly communicate how students are feeling about math in relation to their achievement. I’ve used student reflections and goal setting for that in the past with moderate success. Google Form reflections have been used to showcase students’ perceptions of their understanding of certain math concepts. The data I received was useful but organizing it into a presentable format wasn’t ideal. Also, time is certainly important this year as I’m not seeing kids as much this school year and I needed a different way to collect the data. This year I decided to switch my strategy after reading @mathycathy ‘s tweet.

I took the idea and changed the three categories for my 3rd-5th grade students. I then took the skills associated with the test and wrote them out as a text cards. Groups of problems were categorized with certain skills. Students reviewed their digital test and dragged the cards to a category.

Students then reflected one last time to make sure each skill fit a particular category. I think most questions came from students wondering if the blue or green categories applied. There wasn’t much of a question for those in the “I can’t solve problems yet” category. Students then completed the last slide.

This slide is directly from Cathy’s task. If students didn’t have any questions they’d write “none at this time.” Many students wrote questions about the test. They wrote down questions about particular test questions that they might be confused about or extra help that might be needed. I was glad to see that many students advocated for themselves with this model.

I’m planning on using this during parent conferences this year over Zoom. Student perceptions are important and being able to communicate where students think they are compared to the expectation is an important piece. At some point I’d like to have students use goal setting after reviewing their assessments. I’m looking forward to seeing how this pans out with my other classes throughout the year.

Pixel Reflections

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It’s nearing the end of 2019.  It’s hard to believe, but in just a few days it’ll be 2020.  Near the end of the year I like to take stock and think about last year and what ended up being successful and what didn’t.  Last year I came across an image on Twitter that showed a different way to reflect on the year.  Not sure where I exactly found it, but I believe the image was pulled from this site.  In 2019 I wanted to purposefully reflect more throughout the year.  I decided to jump on this trend of using highlighters, a notebook and pixels to analyze how I felt throughout the year.  I ended up creating my own sheet with rectangles modeled after some of the pictures that I came across.  I wanted to originally use squares, but that didn’t happen when I printed it to fit to the page so I just went with it.

Highlight per day

I tried to stay consistent with filling out the sheet daily and at the same time.  That didn’t happen every time, but I became better as 2019 rolled forward. As the year progressed I started to notice a few trends in my own analysis of how a day went.  I became more clear on what events/activities/notices indicated an amazing day compared to a frustrated day.  The list below is certainly not all-encompassing and isn’t perfect, but used as general guidelines as I filled out each rectangle.


Amazing (orange) – Feel well-rested, vacation time, visits with family, able to get outside in the sun, time to read, drinking my coffee slowly,

Really good (purple) – Feel productive, time to plan, able to get outside, exercised, get to bed on time

Normal (blue) – Feel good, able to accomplish what’s needed for that day.  Feeling a bit tired but productive, sleep patterns are a bit irregular,

Exhausted (yellow) Lack of sleep, too much or too little coffee, traveling day, didn’t exercise, wasn’t able to get outside, too much work, evaluations, not feeling as productive, starting to feel sick

Frustrated (green) – Sick, bad news about family, medical issues, rejection letters

Sad (red) – I ended up not using this one and probably won’t in 2020


Moving forward, I’m thinking of continuing this process in 2020.  I have my highlighters ready I think there’s power in being able to reflect and categorize how the days make you feel.  Taking the time to write it down has been a valuable experience.  I also have to be a more critical in how I categorize a day.  Everyday isn’t going to be perfect.  I need to be reasonable with expectations.  For example, does getting bad medical news for 5 minutes negate having a terrific day? Not sure and I don’t have an answer here.  Looking at the data is interesting as I can make generalizations, but my takeaway is the time spent being mindful of how daily events impact my perspective.

Here’s to 2020!

Monitoring Progress Towards Goals

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Around two weeks ago my students finished up a math unit and started a new one.  Students previewed the next unit by reviewing a study guide and looking ahead at the skills in their consumable math journals.  They then made appropriate goals based on the preview.  I spoke with the students afterwards and helped them reshape the goals to be more aligned to what’ll be explored during the next unit.  I wrote about this process here and then started to think about next steps.

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Some students created goals related to topics that we haven’t explored yet, while others felt more prepared to answer.  My students around about a 1/3 through the current unit. This week students checked on their progress towards the goal.  My intention was for students to become more aware of their goal and the progress made towards its completion.

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I think in the future I’d like to create some type of scale where students identify the progress made towards the goal instead of a met/not prompt.  I’m looking forward to revisiting and refining this idea as the year progresses.

 

Math Reflections and Sentence Stems

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My students just finished up the first trimester yesterday.  So we’re about a third of the way through the school year. In my mind this is a perfect time to reflect on the progress that has been made over the last couple months.  All of my classes started near the end of August and many of my classes have recently completed the second or third unit. It’s been a great journey so far and we’ve made progress.

Last week I had a class conversation about progress and what it looks like in math class. We discussed growth and how it doesn’t look the same to everyone.  To help facilitate the conversation I had students reflect on their unit assessments.  Usually, I’d have students fill out a form indicating questions that were incorrect and then they’d code the errors.  Students would then set a goal for the next unit.  That process is detailed here.

This time around I wanted my students to recognize their growth and how their perceptions change over time.  I also wanted students to preview the next unit and set a goal based on the preview. I modified a journal prompt from a colleague and decided to add sentence stems with space to write.  I didn’t give students much advice or guidance on how to complete this, but I told them that I wanted them to be honest with their responses.  The prompts are meant to have them reflect on their progress.

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Students were able to follow the sentence stems a bit easier than past reflection prompts.   The wonder question was left vague for a reason as it presents a way to indicate student interest and curiosity.

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Most students were able to analyze their unit assessment and look for trends that were positive.  I wanted to communicate that they should be proud of what they accomplish. Some students even looked beyond the test and wrote down that they were proud of how they improved their understanding of x skill.  Other students stuck with the grade on the test and being proud of that aspect.  I really like the “something I want to remember …” piece as it reinforces that what students are working on and developing will be used in the future.

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Some students asked for more lines to write additional pieces that they learned.  Again, I found there tended to be two camps of students.  One group focused on the math concepts/skills, while others focused on the points/questions.

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The “PA” is a pre-algebra activity that we complete to start the math class.  It was interesting to read what students felt was the most difficult as some were more vulnerable than others. This year I’m emphasizing the idea that this class is part of their math journey and that we’re all mathematicians.

The next step was to preview the next unit and start to set a meaningful goal.

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Student went through their math journals and looked for words or skills that didn’t ring a bell.  At first students thought that everything looked fine and confidence was brimming a high level, but then they started to look at the wording.  The next unit explores box plots and percentages.  Based on the words/topics, students made a goal that they’d like to accomplish.

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I appreciate how the above student extended the skill to learn about percentages and sports.

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This particular student wants to become better at the “LCM box method” as it was explored last unit.


Students completed the page and then we discussed it together 1:1.  I asked each student why they felt that the goal was relevant and meaningful.  I’m looking at adding a progress monitoring piece to this goal as the class progresses through unit three.  Ideally, I’d like to revisit the goal every 2-3 weeks to see what progress has been made towards the goal and make adjustments as needed.  By doing this, I believe students are taking more of an ownership role as they can see progress made towards the goal.

You can find the entire template for the sheet here.  Feel free to leave in the comments how you’d use this or if you have questions.

Building Awareness and Knowledge

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During the past couple weeks I’ve created a brief routine of reading in the mornings. Sitting out on the deck, reading a book and slowly drinking my coffee has been time well spent.  I’m taking advantage now since this won’t be happening once school starts in about a month. One of the books is related to culturally responsive teaching and the other I’m just starting to dig into is about white fragility.  Both books are somewhat similar and I’ve been able to spend a decent amount of time reflecting on systematic education practices.

One particular takeaway in chapter four of CRT was related to building awareness and knowledge before making judgements. The author makes the case that teachers should widen their interpretation aperture when interacting with students. Aperture refers to the amount of light that is allowed in and out while taking pictures. Aperture is used instead of lens in this context. Widening that interpretation aperture takes time and a process is involved. The paraphrased process below is from the Mindful Reflection Protocol by Dray and Wisneski.


1.) The author discusses replaying student and teacher interactions in your mind.  That replay involves describing what’s seen. It can be challenging to replay conflicting interactions, but keep in mind that the replay is neutral – it’s stating the facts.

2.) Make assumptions and attempt to interpret the behaviors.  Teachers have to make so many decisions everyday and generally the interpretation falls into two categories:  intentional or non-intentional – positive or negative.  Behavior interpretation has the potential to be a sticky situation as it depends on the aperture of the teacher.

3.) The author suggests to offer alternative explanations.  What would a child behave in ____ way.  Do cultural norms or beliefs play a role in why the behavior happened?  How are directives given at home?  After reviewing the assumptions a couple times it’s time to check the explanation.  Explain the observation with other teachers.

4.) Hear from their perspective and check your explanation.  It might be helpful to go outside of your team to discuss this to receive alternative perspectives.  Here’s where it takes an extra effort to research and build more of an awareness of cross-cultural knowledge.  Trainings and PD can play a role with this.

5.) Make a plan of how to address similar behaviors and continue to review when you might be overgeneralizing situations.


Next week I’ll be reading about how to recognize common triggers and look at building learning partnership.  I’m also going to to be diving into chapter two of White Fragility.