PLC Essentials

As a specialist I regularly support and work with PLCs and wanted to reflect on PLC practices and successes I am seeing at the campuses I work with.

Firstly, PLCs should be centered around four essential questions:

  1. What do we want students to learn? (standards and learning targets)
  2. How will we know if they have learned? (common assessments)
  3. What will we do if they don’t learn? (interventions)
  4. What will we do if they already know it? (differentiation)

With our new curriculum documents, I am really seeing teachers have authentic conversations around #1 and #2. The teachers I work with are writing learning targets together in their PLC rather than first turning to what activity they’re going to do each day. This shift enables teachers to know what exactly will need to be in the activity with fully fleshed out learning targets. Both the schools I work with are writing learning targets based on standards and this rich conversation is helping teachers understand and know the standards even better. I hope we can start to write “success criteria” soon in which we identify the thought process that our students should go through to have success on their learning target. I recently went to a training on this and I think writing success criteria is a crucial step for allowing students and teachers to measure learning. By making these visible, students can also start to take more ownership in their learning.

Another key component of the PLC is creating common assessments before the activities. It is so important for teachers to know what students will be assessed on before actually teaching it. The commonality of the assessments enables teachers to look at their assessment data and analyze misconceptions and errors. One goal I have is that I want to be more of a part of this data debrief this year and help teachers identify interventions they can do daily/in the moment as well as after an assessment.

Lastly, PLCs are not meant to be just an hour meeting separate from the daily work in our classrooms. I love to see and hear the teachers I work with collaborating in the hall in between classes together. The way in which they authentically and naturally talk about how well it went in their class or seek out advice about the lesson is inspiring. I’m not even sure they realize they are addressing the 3rd and 4th PLC questions when they do this, but as a specialist, I get to see how these discussions lead to positive changes and additions in their classrooms from period to period. With this collaborative environment I see more student success and teacher efficacy.

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Pre-AP PD

This week, I gave a Pre-AP/GT training for my district and I have to say, I learned a lot in preparing and delivering it. As a pre-AP/GT teacher, I thought I was doing best practices by giving my students real world scenarios and extending their thinking with scaffolding probing questions, and while this was great, I had NO idea I was lacking a huge component of pre-AP by actually connecting to AP topics and/or the AP exam. In my training I hoped to have teachers learn about our district’s philosophy and framework of Pre-AP, analyze data from the AP, and then take this knowledge to find ways to “Pre-APify” their performance assessments and projects.

After the introduction of Pre-AP, we dove into some AP data and provided teachers an opportunity to see AP topics and how students performed on the topics in the test results. Then, I showed teachers this performance assessment which I actually had to tweak for this training…as I mentioned, I was missing that piece linking to an AP topic. This new version still asked students to find midpoints and distances on a map then I added the part that had students extend their thinking with an AP connection of optimization.

After presenting this task, I created a process for teachers to do the same with their own tasks and projects. I had teachers sit by content and map out their year of performance assessments/projects. By sitting together in content teams, teachers were able to discuss ideas they had done and collaborate on how one teacher’s idea might look in their own classroom. We rarely get a chance to talk to other teachers from other schools, so I think (and *hope*) this was a really valuable collaborative time. Some groups even made a Google Folder and compiled project ideas together. As they mapped out their calendars, I asked teachers to list the AP topic they thought they could incorporate into their project, then they noted the Pre-AP routines, practices, and formative assessment structures they do as outlined in our district framework. They did this with a document I created that organized their thoughts according to our Year at a Glance documents. Next time we meet, I am planning to have teachers create the lesson plan and student materials needed to make these projects/tasks happen.

This training really opened me up to exploring higher level content and how we can help our students be exposed to them early on in Pre-AP. It put me a bit out of my comfort zone, too, because I haven’t studied these topics in so long so I had to admit I wasn’t always sure how we could connect the topic, but that I would research along side them. I wanted to have all the answers and an easy way to incorporate the AP topics, but it’s harder than I thought to really understand how to provide authentic opportunities!! For example, one group is thinking about doing a project on roller coasters and polynomials and in the moment while they were brainstorming I wasn’t sure what AP topic connected. But since the training, I have been researching some ideas about rates of change (average and instantaneous) with polynomial graphs and I think this could fit perfectly. I hope we can scaffold some questions as to how to find the rate of change on a polynomial graph and why this is important/what it affects in roller coasters. Finally, one teacher mentioned that they would like to have AP teachers involved in collaborating ideas to connect Pre-AP content to AP topics, and I totally agree…they would be so helpful in this, so I hope to have some AP teachers present next time as well!

I look forward to the next time we meet and hope these projects give students more challenge as they explore AP topics.

7 Steps to a Language Rich Classroom

I recently gave a professional development focusing on the book, 7 Steps to a Language Rich Classroom. If you have EL students in your classroom and/or struggling learners, this book is a great, easy read. I was actually trained several years ago on these strategies so it was nice to have background knowledge as a participant and be able to take things I liked from the training and make it my own as a presenter. My goals in the training were 1. To increase student participation in a teacher’s classroom and 2. Develop strategies for EL learners to help them acquire and use academic language in the classroom.

I began the training with this video as a way to simulate what it feels like to be a struggling learner without scaffolds or procedures in place to help process the information. After debriefing, we then dove into the book as I presented chapter 2: Have Students Speak in Complete Sentences. I chunked the chapter and asked participants to read sections focusing on key question/sentence stems. The groups paired up and discussed using sentence stems before sharing out (sentence stems is one of the strategies the book highlights as helpful to ELs and struggling learners.) After the training, one participant commented that she got more out of this training than most others because I forced them to use these sentence stems in their conversations, therefore structuring and focusing their table talk…in other trainings she said she and her group would veer off and side talk. That was my intention and with that validation, I will definitely continue to use sentence stems in my future trainings! 

I then Jigsaw-ed the rest of the chapters

(1 Teach students what to say when they don’t know what to say

3 Randomize & Rotate when calling on students

4 Use total response signals

5 Use visuals and vocabulary strategies that support your objective

6 Have students participate in structured conversations

7 Have students participate in structured reading/writing activities)

by having participants create a summary poster with explanations of the chapter strategies and key quotes. After each group presented, I asked participants to record what strategy they planned to use in an upcoming lesson during the first few weeks of school. I told the participants that in a few weeks after school has been back in session and teachers *hopefully* feel a bit more settled, I will send out an email following up with each participant as to how the strategy they chose is going and if I can do anything else to help them with that particular one. I am excited for this because I feel like at the end of some trainings, I receive so much information and have grand plans, but I don’t actually follow up with my ideas. This way I can help teachers stay accountable to themselves and also provide support. Stay tuned for how it’s going and new tasks I get!

Developing a Professional Development

I am starting to plan a professional development for our district and I wanted to put together some ideas before my colleague and I meet together next week to continue planning. After being inspired by MTBoS on Twitter, I suggested an idea of presenting some things I have discovered from the group/hashtag that I love. Our theme then transformed into “Tech Tools for Teachers.” Below are some ideas I am thinking of incorporating. Feel free to comment about expanding upon these ideas or including others.

  • #MTBoS- This is such an incredibly rich resource, but I don’t think a lot of teachers in my district know about it. I want to show teachers the hashtag and allow them time to post to it or search for ideas they may be looking for…maybe they will become a found one of Dan Meyer’s “lonely math teachers” http://blog.mrmeyer.com/2018/lonely-math-teachers/.
  • Open Middle (https://mrstaplinsmath.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/open-middle/)- I showed this resource to a couple teachers I support as well as other specialists I work with and they loved the idea of this enrichment for students that is already created and easy to use. I want to show this to teachers and then allow them time to explore or create their own “open middle” type problem.
  • Desmos Card Sort- I found this resource while looking for a card sort activity for some teachers. I love how easy it is to use and how a teacher can quickly create graphs or use images (http://learn.desmos.com/cardsort/).
  • Lead4ward App- This is not something I found through #MTBoS, but falls under our tech tools. I know a lot of our district uses Lead4ward, but I’m not sure they know about the App. I was introduced to it at a Lead4ward training (btw I HIGHLY recommend the training) and loved the on the spot resources it provides, especially the “Quickchecks.” Again, I want to give teachers time to explore and plan.

I know this is a lot of kind of random resources, but I think we can find a way to connect them all and allow teachers the time to discover new things to use in their classrooms. Any other ideas for our training?! Comment below!

Quiz Quiz Trade

It’s been a busy start to school and I haven’t written in a while, but I’m back at it tonight. I wanted to share a quick formative assessment you can use with your students that a teacher on my team shared with us. This is meant to be used with something that students can do and say quickly. We used it to check student’s understanding of Functions and Relations after teaching/reviewing it the day before. My coworker, Nicole, created cards of graphs, coordinate points, tables, and mappings that were either a function or relation with the answer on the back (thanks for making these, Nicole). We gave our students one card each and explained the directions:

1. You will show the picture side of your card to another classmate and ask, “is this a function or relation?”

2. If your partner gets it right, they will ask you the same thing about their card.

3. If you’re right, trade cards and go quiz someone else in the room. If either of you get it wrong, be sure to explain why before trading cards and moving on.

4. Your goal is to quiz everyone in the room before time runs out!

Honestly I was a little nervous of doing this activity because I have some very active classes, but this helped start our class with a kinesthetic activity to get some energy and talking out in a productive way. We did this as a quick 4 minute warm up, so it was something they could stay on task with that was different than a traditional paper to pencil warm up…the timer that I displayed on the board also helped regulate it for my more active classes. I also would encourage you as a teacher to play along…I got a card and played with them which helped me hear which students knew the concept and which needed more intervention on the topic.

Happy quiz-quiz-trading!!

Exterior Angle Sum Theorem

extI made this quick activity for students to discover the exterior angle sum. I just printed several quadrilaterals and pentagons, cut out the exterior angles, and put them mixed up in a Ziplock bag. I gave students 5 minutes to work with a team of 3 to somehow figure out what all the angles added to. I didn’t give them much direction beyond saying they needed to put the color edges together to discover it. Walking around the room, students kept calling me over to check their hypothesis as got really into it to be the first to figure out the theorem. It was a quick way to have students discover a simply topic rather than me just directly telling them…and it worked…two groups found it out in the 5 minutes!

Entry Cards for Review

I can’t take credit* for this idea, but it is one I am loving and want to share…it’s quick entry question cards. Here’s how they work: I made about 10-12 cards and as each student came to the door, I stopped them, showed them a card and asked them the question. They told me their answer and if they were right, they got to come in and the next student behind them got a different card. If they were wrong, I told them a hint to help them answer correctly and then after they did, they were showed a new card with another question until they got one right and could come inside (if you have a long line of students, you could send them to the end of the line). Just be sure the questions are quick enough to answer in a few seconds. Kids liked this as another way to review before the test and to quickly check for understanding, I even had kids say, “ask me another!” I’m definitely going to start doing these more often with spiraled material and also on quiz/test days like today with the material for the test. capture-1

*Credit: A teacher from my team saw another teacher do this a few years ago.

New Beginnings

It’s been a while since my last post back in, eek, February!! But, a lot has changed and kept me quite busy. On May 31st, my husband and I welcomed our sweet baby boy, Roe, into our lives. And as if that wasn’t excitement enough, the following day, I accepted a position teaching at a different high school in our district. Summer was incredible with Roe. I learned a lot about being a mom and as I continue to learn more every day, I am so grateful my husband and I had 2 and a half full months with him at home.

School started last week with teacher in-service and the students arrived this following Monday. I was overwhelmed with how welcoming the teachers at my new school were. In-service gave me the opportunity to get to know the math department and work closely with my Algebra 1 team of teachers. I am looking forward to the year with these colleagues and so as I start out the new year, I want to make some new goals for the year.

#1.Utilize the textbook with distinct plans: This year, we are piloting a program at our school using the Springboard Algebra 1 textbook with fidelity. I, and several other teachers in the district, tried using the textbook last year, but because of its challenging and seemingly daunting approach, we all ended up abandoning the textbook and reverting back to comfortable ways of teaching the content. Now, typically I am not even an activist for using math textbooks, but this book had been so aligned with our state standards and rigor, that the district found that those who did use it more often in the classroom saw higher results on our state test and better academic performance in the classroom. So, our school agreed to be a pilot school for using the textbook with fidelity. Knowing that data will be drawn from our school, and most importantly knowing that previous data has proven high student success rates with this textbook, I want to stay ahead of myself with using it. I want to be sure I have done two things in planning each lesson with this new book (I  often do these while planning in my head, but writing it down here might make me more accountable…and I think these might be my goals for our Texas Teacher Standards, so I’m pre writing them out here).

1. Prepare for student misconceptions and errors (in planning each lesson, I will mark  an “E” in the text where I predict this.)

2. Create questions which delve deeper into student understanding and inquiry.

#2. Help students be organized: To do this, our team is using interactive notebooks with our students. I usually require binders and am pretty good at having students put things in their binders for the first month or so. But, after that I start to forget and before I know it, students have exploding binders and all hopes of organization have been crushed (along with their precious notes). I think our interactive notebooks are going to be a really beneficial place to keep their notes (foldables and non foldables) and examples as well as a great way to teach students how to stay organized. I’m excited for the team to help me stay on top of this as we work together to build these with the students.

So, with these in mind, the first week is almost over. I definitely miss and want to say thank you to the faculty and students at my old school that I was at for 7 years. Although I will miss them all, I am really looking forward to the year ahead with a new group of teachers, students, and traditions. I’m grateful for those who inspired me over the years and am motivated to continue learning and growing in this new adventure.

 

Julia Robinson Math Festival

This weekend I hosted a Julia Robinson Math Festival at Trinity University for students from my high school and one of our feeder middle schools. I stumbled across the Julia Robinson organization from a math colleague I follow on Twitter and reached out to him to find out more. He generously shared resources with me and as I began planning, I was happily surprised at how easy the organization was to work with by giving me financial and organizational support along the way.

Two of my past Trinity professors helped me work through the details of hosting the event at Trinity and also helped sort through the math problem sets that we thought would work best. We chose the following problem sets to be set up at tables for students to move through at their own pace: Indecisive Director, Leo the Rabbit, Tilings, Space Chips, and Tower of Hanoi. The math professor I worked with invited a few other university professors and undergraduate math club students to help run the tables (it was awesome to have the chance to facilitate the morning’s events and watch the learning take place instead of myself being a table leader at only one table). I also loved having the opportunity to reconnect with my university professors through this event.

There was so much success that took place…here are some of my favorite moments…

1. As students came in, I could tell from most of their initially shy demeanor’s that they were a little unsure of what to expect from a “math festival.” However, the university professors and undergraduates passion for math quickly transpired to the students. I watched as they adamantly listened to the professors and undergrads give hints, not answers, at how to work the problems. The way the table leaders facilitated their tables enabled kids to have many “ah-ha” moments that were really fun to see.

2. Several problem sets involved unique patterns that middle/high school students are not often exposed to in the general curriculum. One professor commented to me that a lot of students were trying to find the slope between the numbers but he had to stray them away from that and help them to look for a different type of pattern…I told him we focus so much on linear and geometric sequences and that students were not used to thinking there could be another type of pattern. The exposure to problems that were so different and complex required them to think creatively and again enabled them to have some exciting “ah-ha” moments. One student stated towards the end of the event that they felt like a lot of the problems were interconnected…a really interesting comment that proved they were finding patterns within the patterns.

3. The hands on activities of the Tower of Hanoi and the Space Chips were a hit. Kids loved creating physical things and I think they didn’t even realize they were using math especially in the Space Chips problem set. I am excited to use these when we get to 3D area and volume!

4. When the time was winding down at the event and parents were arriving to pick up their students, I made a quick announcement thanking the students for coming and putting in so much hard work into the morning. Not one student got up…I had to remind them several times that their parents were there to take them home, but they all wanted to finish up the problem set they were working on!

5. We had a very diverse group of students in attendance (G/T students, pre-AP and non pre-AP students, middle school, and high school students) but every kid found success at the event by finding patterns, creating something, or solving a puzzle without the direct help of a teacher telling them what to do. One girl who often struggles in my Geometry class told me at the end of the event (without me asking) that she had fun, she’s looking forward to next year, and can’t wait to come back!

6. Finally, I didn’t see a single cell phone out the entire morning…no need to say anything else about the level of engagement! 🙂

Thank you to all the table leaders (high school and middle school teachers, university professors, and undergrad students), the two university professors I coordinated the event with, my Twitter colleague, and those who work for the Julia Robinson organization…it was a truly successful morning of learning!

House Reno and Geometry

My husband and I have been renovating our house (HGTV/DIYnetwork style, sadly without the help of Chip and Jo from Fixer Upper or Yard Crashers) and I realized it was the perfect opportunity for some real world geometry. The inside is almost completely done with a new kitchen and new flooring, so next we will move on to the outside. I put together an assignment for my students to help us calculate how much our renovations would cost using area and perimeter of polygons and presented them the idea of helping us be sure our calculations were correct as well as deciding a best option for an additional dog run area we have been designing. My kids totally bought into it the relevance of this assignment and the meaning behind it as I could tell they truly wanted to help us make our house the best it could be. After class, I even had a student tell me they were building a new house and asked if we could make a math problem out of her house plans! 

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Side note: Our patio and deck plans are not actually a rhombus and a perfect parallelogram, but it made for more challenging and relevant math. Everything else was real data, decisions we are trying to make, and plans we want to do!