Be the Reason

I’ve been thinking a lot about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and the value it plays in school. A few months ago, we had a training on techniques and strategies from CASEL, and it has started to weigh on my mind in two ways- in my role as a teacher support in planning and classrooms as well as personally as I think about my own son going to school soon. I think a lot of elementary teachers are natural when it comes to SEL, but sometimes it gets lost in middle school and high school. Most secondary students are shuffled to 6-7 classes a day and from the second the bell rings they are often talked at, instructed to sit down, and stop talking. This is not every teacher or every classroom, please don’t take offense at anything I say in this post, but I think as educators we need to be reflective about not only what we are teaching kids, but also how we are teaching them. Additionally, I am a complete advocate for consistent and strategic systems such as posting on your board each day the materials students should have out and ensuring students learn routines, but again we need to be aware of how our students are doing, not just what they are doing. Moreover, in secondary land, if there are 7 classes a day you might dread a class…just saying. I’ve been there, but let’s be reflective. Why are you dreading this class? Have you tried changing your mindset? Have you tried creating a new environment? Are your structures simply about getting work done, factory-like, with little to do with the whole child? If so, something might be missing. The moment I started adding SEL (without knowing it was SEL) into my routines I saw an immediate change in my students and myself. It’s about the kids and YOU enjoying what you do every day, every class. I hope this post can shed a light on building our students up, fostering a positive classroom environment, and being the reason your kids come to school.

CASEL identifies three “signature practices” for SEL instruction in classrooms which include welcoming inclusion activities, engaging strategies, and optimistic closures. Many are simple and quick ways teachers can check that they are fostering a safe and valued classroom. Here are some ideas I have pulled from CASEL and ones I did in my classroom that really made an impact.

Welcoming Inclusion Activities: 

  • Greet students by name at the door (there are some specific teachers I think of right off the top of my head that I work with who do this EVERY single day and I can see the respectful rapport they have with their kids because of it). I know emails come, papers stack, and life happens, but if you make this a habit every day and every class period you are gearing up for a great start to class and bringing your attention to what matters that moment, your students.
  • Whole group greeting activities (this may sound cheesy to high school teachers, but kids love and need these. I used to ask my students questions like, if you were the weather today, what would you be and why? If your day was a movie, what would it be and why? I didn’t do it every day and I could have been better at it…in fact I know one teacher who intentionally planned these questions every day and wow, his room was an inspiration to me. You can pose these whole group to share out or just share with a partner/table group. You don’t have to spend more than a couple minutes, but the payoff of knowing how your students are feeling and will respond that day is huge. Imagine knowing a kid is having a bad day before you start the lesson or conversely, what an awesome way to start the class celebrating something from a student that can set the tone for the lesson.
  • CASEL has several quick strategies here (https://schoolguide.casel.org/uploads/2018/12/CASEL_SEL-3-Signature-Practices-Playbook-V3.pdf). I like the Greeting Frenzy and Four Corners. Read over them and try them out!

Engaging Strategies: 

This is all about letting kids talk, work together, and engage in meaningful conversation. A lot of teachers fear what will happen when they let their kids talk, so rows start being the norm and direct instruction takes over the majority of the class period. But our kids need to communicate to dig deeper and learn from each other, and it’s our job as educators to encourage that in a safe and purposeful way. Below are some ideas.

  • Think, ink, pair, share. This is a common practice I used and I see a lot of teachers use, but it should never be overlooked. I like that CASEL added the “ink” portion to this protocol to ensure students are able to write about what they are thinking. It’s so valuable to let students have independent process time, conversation, and voice in the classroom and a protocol like this perfectly captures it all.
  • Lead4ward has an amazing list of strategies called their Instructional Strategies Playlist geared for all grade levels. I really like the Careless Clueless and never underestimate the power of a snowball fight (see Think and Throw)!! These may be new and stretch the structure of your class, but try it, I think you’ll see and hear great things!
  • CASEL has more quick strategies here (https://schoolguide.casel.org/uploads/2018/12/CASEL_SEL-3-Signature-Practices-Playbook-V3.pdf). I like Pass it On. Read through and try some out!

Optimistic Closure: 

CASEL explains “optimistic closure is not necessarily a ‘cheery ending’, but rather highlights an individual and shared understanding of the importance of the work, and can provide a sense of accomplishment and support forward-thinking.” I love this because I think SEL is not about the dichotomy of separately supporting a student’s emotional well being and their academic learning, but rather blending these two to solidify learning and progress a student’s knowledge.

So to summarize and emphasize, SEL should not be in addition to your workload but rather incorporate and enhance the good teaching you’re already doing. In a few weeks, I am attending another training by CASEL on working SEL into your PLCs. I am excited for this because I think if teachers feel SEL in their own practice, it will seamlessly transpire to students.

Here’s a quick checklist I made while you’re planning to ensure you are including SEL:

  • Am I greeting my kids at the door each day, each class?
  • Do you know the general (or individual) energy of your students before starting your content?
  • Are your students talking to each other?
  • Who is asking the majority of the questions?
  • Did the bell dismiss your students or did the learning?

What are other ways you incorporate SEL in your classroom? Which “signature practice” is your strength? Leave a comment to continue the conversation!

 

Sources:

What is SEL?

Resources

 

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UbD Reflections

I recently attended a training on Understanding by Design (UbD) and had some big “ah-ha” moments that I have been thinking about. Several years ago I also went to a week long UbD seminar in which I wrote and published a UbD unit through Trinity University.  I learned an incredible amount there (if anyone gets the opportunity to attend with a Trinity colleague, DO IT!!), but I still feel like I have a lot to remember and expand upon as I deepen my knowledge of UbD. We are in the middle of refining our district curriculum and as it models a UbD template, we are carefully tuning our Transfer Goals, Understandings, and Essential Questions before moving on to Stage 2 (Performance Assessments). So, below is some synthesis of my learning in these three areas.

Transfer has been a bit hard for me to grasp, so I called the presenter over to our table to discuss a bit deeper. I finally understood when she said that transfer is what we want our students to be able to do when they graduate. Then she asked, after 13 years in our district, what is our goal for every math student to be able to do when they leave us? That’s big! This made me think, and she confirmed, that because Transfer Goals should be developed and deepened over time, they could be consistently written across grade levels. How cool would it be for a kindergartener to read and see the same goal for themself that year, in 1st grade, 2nd grade, 3rd, all the way to their senior year in high school!? How successful would you feel knowing every year you are working towards the same big goal and you will achieve it by the time you graduate? Students do see these with our state Process Standards (for example 1.(F) states the student will analyze mathematical relationships to connect and communicate mathematical ideas) and this is the same description across every single grade level TEKS. Right now we put all our process standards as our Transfer Goals in our units, but do we need to pick the ones that actually apply to that specific unit? I’m not sure. Do we create new ones that are in student friendly language? If these are our broad goals we want students to master within their educational career, how are we as teachers communicating them to students…they’re written in our curriculum, but are we being explicit to students and how can we have them have ownership/buy in over them?

Understandings came to light when the presenter had us think about something we know and understand as well as something we know, but don’t quite understand. For example, a lot of what I know but don’t understand is technology based…I know a text message I send on my iPhone will reach the person, but I don’t understand the Cloud and how it got there. My husband is a basketball coach and during this March Madness time, we have been watching A LOT of basketball. He truly knows and understands the game. Often times before an announcer describes a foul or talks through why a shot attempt was missed, he says exactly what happened. He knows the plays and he understands not only the rules of basketball, but also the intricacies of the skills and how they work together to see the big picture of the game.  To enable our students to reach understanding we have to help our students see the big picture and why/how things work together. To do this we take a set of skills (TEKS) and combine them into one understanding. They should be written as, “the student will understand that…” They are uncovered over time and connect ideas and concepts.

Finally, Essential Questions, are maybe my favorite to think about because these lead to really engaging and intriguing questions that the teacher and/or students can ask. An essential question should be open ended and does not have one single answer. As they are revisited throughout the unit they spark further questions and justification. I am excited we are bringing these into our units and want to help teachers find ways to not only spark discussion with their students, but also keep them alive and visible throughout the unit.

Because so much of this UbD template is not only for the teachers in their planning, but also for the students to take ownership, dive deeper, and make meaning of their learning, I am continuing to wonder how we make these visible throughout the unit. One colleague mentioned they used to post Understandings and EQs around the room to refer to. Does anyone else do UbD consistently and have ways to display/refer to them in a meaningful way? How do you help students wrestle with the ideas throughout the unit? Leave me your thoughts and ideas!

Source: Dr Sandra N Kleinman, MAC McTighe & Associates Consulting

“Flashy Poster Syndrome”

Do you ever find yourself using a lesson you found from the internet or one you created thinking it had high potential for learning, and then quickly realize after you used it that while the products may be beautiful and artistic, no real learning happened? I’ll admit it…I have! I remember a couple projects I gave where I wanted students to summarize their learning, connect to a real world topic, and display their learning visually, but somehow the end result was a bust as far as students transferring their knowledge. While I am glad I have had many successful projects and lessons, these, deemed “Flashy Poster Syndrome” lessons, are the ones that weigh on my mind because I wonder why it just didn’t work.

On Friday, we had a little book study at work with the book, Facilitating Teacher Teams and Authentic PLCs, and this rubric below jumped out at me as a way to intentionally vet lessons like the ones I described above to achieve “high quantity and quality of learning.” As the book stated, I think this can be very useful in PLCs if teams are finding themselves deciding on an activity that had been used in years past or one pulled from the Internet. By using this tool to analyze the activity, the focus of the conversation becomes more proactive rather than reactive. Therefore teachers can spend less time discussing “What do we do if our students don’t learn?” and more time discussing, “What’s the best way to teach this so that our students learn it in the first place?” (This aligns with DuFour, FuFour and Eaker’s 2nd PLC question: How will we know students are learning?)

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This quick check list can help teachers have an “evidence-based” conversation and although you do not need to come to consensus on the exact “scoring”, it rather focuses on strengthening the lesson for student learning.

*Notes: 1. If using this as a team, it is safest to use this with a lesson that is not specifically tied to one individual on the team because “there is a vast psychological difference between scoring a stranger’s work found on the Internet and scoring a colleague’s work.” 2. Do not always throw out high maintenance tasks, but give that thought when planning. 3. I LOVE the questions the book asks to determine rigor: “Who is doing the thinking here-the teacher or the students? Who is asking the questions-the teacher or the students?”

 

Source: Facilitating Teacher Teams and Authentic PLCs, Daniel R. Venables

Purposeful Student Talk

I recently went to a Solution Tree conference (which was awesome BTW. . . if you get a chance to go, GO!) and a powerful quote stuck out to me that connected the idea of student talk vs. teacher talk.

A great teacher is not “one who explains things so well that students understand” but “one who gets students to explain things so well that they can be understood.”

-Reinhart

As I reflected on this, I realized this captured a main goal of mine as a specialist in working with PLCs and addressing the second question of PLCs: How will we know students are learning? To answer this question, I think teachers need to implement strategies that empower students to communicate mathematical ideas to prove their understanding and not simply rely on the teacher doing the talking. So, when I got back from the conference I talked with my PLCs and they agreed that this is an important issue and wanted to create time to discuss specific strategies teachers will implement to have students purposefully talk (this idea of purposeful talk also came from a principal I work with. Thank you to that principal!) Since talking to them and thinking of ways in which we could do this efficiently and effectively, I have seen more and more research and ideas supporting this idea of teacher talk vs. student talk. For example, a few days ago I was reading a book by Deb Teitelbaum and she wrote, “the rule of thumb for calculating the amount of direct instruction your students can handle is to take their age in years plus or minus three.” That means freshmen students need a break from direct instruction/teacher talk about every 11 minutes. Then today I was tagged in this video (thank you to that AP) which explains this idea of teacher talk and gives the shocking research that on average, “teachers ask an average of 200 questions per day and students ask an average of 2 questions per student per week.” After seeing all these supporting claims, it was reconfirming that what I’m doing is important and necessary work. So, I decided I needed to finally finish this post and here’s how we’re making this purposeful student talk happen.

At one school, the team of teachers is taking every Tuesday to look at the week ahead and plan out one strategy per day that they can commit to doing. We started this week and it was a really successful and engaging experience. We are drew from Lead4ward and 7 Steps to a Language-Rich Interactive Classroom strategies. Each teacher has the Lead4ward App (if you don’t have it, download it now!) and almost all have been to a training I did on the 7 Steps. So it was a great way to not reinvent the wheel and instead, turn to these resources that have been proven to be successful as a quick way to align strategies to instruction. I typed up their ideas in a Googledoc where their lesson plans are housed as they wrote them on the physical notes/practice papers that they had already planned for the students that week. I loved how it gave the teachers a broad overview of the week while also zooming in on specific strategies to increase student learning and communication each day. This week those teachers are using total response signals (7 Steps Strategy), sentence stems (7 steps strategy), and a summarize response (Lead4ward). I think this conversation of stopping the teacher’s instruction and allowing students to process, talk, and do was really powerful! It also helped teachers process how they wanted students to be grouped and when in the lesson they would be purposefully talking.

Next week, I plan to do a similar task with my other school, but instead we will use a Chalk Talk protocol to generate strategies together. I am looking forward to how this method of discussion flows and seeing the teachers engage in this meaningful planning.

 

Chicken Wings and Math

This hilarious Twitter post just went viral and shows kids (and adults) why we need math. After seeing the post, I started thinking how could we incorporate this into a math lesson, because clearly we need some simplifying or justification on what is going on here. If you read this article in Today, you can see several other mathematicians are thinking the same thing. What’s the deal with the 25th wing? According to the menu, each wing costs either $1.10 or $1.15 (why is it sometimes more?) until the 25th wing, and that one is only $0.55…but the 26th is back to $1.15…?! The internet reacted and “there’s gotta be a better way to convey this information!”

WingsSo, teachers, we could use this as a lesson to talk about so many standards!! I’m thinking in just Algebra I there are several. For example, TEKS A.3B, rate of change. Is it constant? Should it be if I’m buying multiple wings? When does it change? TEKS A.2A, domain and range. Is the information discrete or continuous? Why? What’s the least amount of wings and most? And that scale…it was going up by 1’s, then 5’s, then 10’s, then what? Can I even a certain amount like 55 wings? A.2C, writing linear equations from a verbal description. But it’s not linear, so maybe we need A.4A and A.4c to look at correlation coefficient and writing equations from data. Whew. I think this could definitely apply to all levels of math-elementary, middle, high, college! Let me know if try it out and what your kids think.

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.

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! 

Mathemagic

Several years ago someone introduced me to this TED talk called “A Performance of ‘Mathemagic.'” I want to leave it here for any teachers who may need a time filler after testing, an opener/closure to a lesson, or just the general public who want to be amazed. I could watch this over and over again…and teaching 6 classes a day for five years, I definitely have.

Side note- Arthur Benjamin came to Trinity a few years ago and knowing that he asks members of the audience to come up on stage and participate, I decided to bring my calculator and see if I got picked…I did!! That was a pretty awesome day! 🙂