Saturday, September 28, 2013

What is Wisconsin thinking?

In response to the craziness that is happening on capital hill in regards to the CCSS and at

  • Everyone needs to understand that we had our own set of standards. These are more rigorous. Significantly at the upper end in that ALL students need to essentially pass Algebra 2 which is the top math course required by all 4-year schools not named Madison (which wants pre-calc...not calculus).
    The standards do not dictate instruction or impede students from moving "faster" than the core. In fact, in the Appendix of the CCSS for math the even direct an advancement course that would allow all students to get to calc (even though only 8ish percent of college majors require calc. It integrates statistics because almost all majors require stats.
    This is good for schools and Wisconsin. With the mobility of the nation we need a national set of minimum expectations for all students. That is what we have.

    Wednesday, September 25, 2013


    After tough days trying to figure it out today was a day of success.  In the past week 4 of the PLC's all tried strong math tasks to find huge success.

         - Pre-Algebra used a version of Dan Meyers taco cart
         - Algebra 1 created a task using Goliath.  Great Americas new coaster.
         - Algebra 2 created a task dealing with different shipping rates.
         - AP Statistics created a task that involved the game show "Minute ti Win It."

    Those fully completed noted tons of engagement and really good questioning.  One even said "kids who didn't really talk thus year became leaders!"  This us why we do TASKS.  Now, the great questions that followed:

          - how long is too long to use class time for a task?
    Depends on its purpose.  Is it a review of knowledge?  Then not too long.  However, if ur is increasing depth and the level of engagement and knowledge still being gained is deep, then keep going.  Can it serve as a summatives assessment?  Most teachers fight this due to the need for skill but uf the skill is embedded in the task then doesn't that make it ok?

          - how much information should we give students?
    The less the better.  However, more at the start of the year than the end.  Students are still mostly new to tasks.  We need to train them how to do them are what our expectations are of the product.

          - how far should we take the task?
    Simple, as far as students allow you to take it.

    All these tasks will soon be posted on the blog site. Check them out and key me know how we Dan make them better!

    Thursday, September 12, 2013

    It's all a big pile of knowledge

    I had the opportunity to walk the halls today talking to teachers fighting through the learning process of a new curriculum.  Mostly great reviews, "just a lot of really good options to choose from and not sure which to choose."  However, as I talked to more teachers and updated a few Principals it became more evident how vital PD is.  

    This may seem obvious but PD time is extremely hard to come by.  In math, especially in Elementary we are always working with ELA for PD time.  But can we do it better?  We need to teach everyone (teachers and administration) what it really means to have a standards based assessment.  That math assessments aren't always correct or incorrect,  that there are degrees of accuracy within those ranges.  That if teachers don't expect a specific level of quality in students mathematical writing they won't see the growth in writing they are looking for and with the new assessments students scores will be sacrificed.  That learning math doesn't just mean fluency, it means thinking in a manner that allows students to understand how to become fluent.  That enrichment should happen to all students, not just the those performing well.  That projects are not designed to be an end of topic item but something that students can slowly work on throughout an entire topic or set of topics.  

    Is this just Math PD?  Absolutely not.  This is just high quality instruction at its best.  Too often we get stuck in a manner of teaching that tends to be how we were taught.  It is doubtful that we were instructed through the lens of the mathematical practices, yet that is exactly what we have to do.  The CCSS has changed the game for the better.  It is up to districts to find a way to give teachers the time to catch up.  

    In reality, math is easy.  Teach to the mathematical practices while assessing to the standards and meeting the needs of our students through remediation and enrichment.  

    Sounds bad it isn't.

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013

    WMC 2013

    In a google search for Math Tasks I ran into a video of myself doing a presentation at the WI Math Conference in 2013.  Not sure my thoughts on me,  but I liked the content enough to post it.

    Tuesday, September 3, 2013

    What exactly is Mathematical Thinking?

    One of the comments I receive is, "Mathematical Thinking, what is that?"  I am going to steal part of a blog at Delvin's Anlge.  

    "What is mathematical thinking, is it the same as doing mathematics, if it is not, is it important, and if it is different from doing math and important, then why is it important? The answers are, in order, (1) I’ll tell you, (2) no, (3) yes, and (4) I’ll give you an example that concerns the safety of the nation. If you had any difficulty following that first paragraph (only two sentences, each of pretty average length), then you are not a good mathematical thinker. If you had absolutely no difficulty understanding the paragraph, then either you are already a good mathematical thinker or you could acquire that ability pretty quickly. "

    Mathematical Thinking is not doing traditional math problems or doing higher arithmetic. It is logic, it is sequencing, it is patterns, it is being able to think your way out of a box. Mathematical Thinking is a skill that is so highly sought that employers will pay decent money to anyone with a math major or minor. It is also something that is becoming so rare that those majors/minors are 14 of the top 15 majors on a recent ThinkAdvisor article declared as "Hot Majors." It is problem solving at its core. Not book problem solving but life problem solving.  

    But how do we do that in the classroom. We engage students in activities that entice them into thinking they are doing one thing when in reality they are developing a way of thinking. Many would correlate these to logic puzzles, Ken Kens, Zupelz... But they are so much more. Here is a very simple example that a 4th grader should be able to do. A beginners version of Mathematical Thinking for this prompt would be counting 6 books for each box and adding them. A better Mathematical Thinker would setup a multiplication array. In this example, students are asked to play a game. A student who shows basic Mathematical Thinking would realize they need to leave their opponent with 4 coins. A student showing strong Mathematical Thinking realizes they already won when there are 16 coins left, or better, declares winning after the first move (It happened to me, note - not by me!).

    As a teacher, what can you do to get students to think this way? That is actually the easy part.

    1. Expose students to this style of problem.
    2. Don't scaffold problems beyond the learning. Typically, we want to help every student. So much that we have a tendency to take the learning steps out of the problem entirely.
    3. Allow students to struggle. Note - struggle, not get frustrated.
    4. Allow students to work in groups. Talking among others helps connect their thoughts together.
    5. Help students when struggling by giving them one prompt. Then walking away to let them think some more.
    This is hard to do because, like stated earlier we like to help students. Seeing them struggle and sometimes fail ultimately makes us feel like we haven't done our job. On the contrary, it probably means we just need to find the right prompt to get the student to move forward.