Teach it Tuesday: New Year, New Plans

As this new year is off and running I though I would follow up on last years RESOURCE post with some of the new things that I’m planning to try this year. Currently I’m starting up a grade 6 class but jobs haven’t been filled yet in our district. I’m feeling a bit jaded with the job process this year… well a lot jaded to be honest. BUT I’m feeling very excited and enthusiastic to get going with this school year and I have lots of exciting ideas that I want to try out!

Advisory:
Along with trying Karley’s Fika and Feel Good Friday regulars. I’m going to bring back the Thursday Thought Blocks, and I’m excited to add in two new things this year. Growth Mindset is something you’ve all been hearing lots about for the past couple of years. This year I’m going to dedicate an Advisory block once a week to learning about growth mindset and practicing some of the essentials. The other new thing I’m going to do is dedicate a few minutes each day to a guided meditation practice with my students. I’m hoping with the regular practice students will start to internalize the practice and we can be calm (well as calm as middle schoolers can be) to start the day.

Language Arts:
I have heard about the Global Read Aloud for a few years now but have never been in the position to actually take part. I don’t know what grade I will be teaching yet but I’m really leaning towards doing Pax (unless I get grade 8). Has anyone else participated in this before? Would love to hear some feedback!

Math:
After taking Jo Boaler’s online course this summer most of my focus for planning has been in math. I’m going to start off the year using the Week of Inspirational Maths lessons and I really can’t wait! I think this will be such a good way to introduce a year of working differently in math. I’m also keen to start the Collaborative Math Teams approach in my classroom and I’ve signed up for the course. I just really hope that I can find someone else to do this with me at the school I end up at – It would be great to have a partner to run things by!

Since I don’t know what else I will be teaching yet in terms of Science/Socials/French/PE I haven’t done too much planning in other areas. I would love to hear about some of the exciting things you are planning on trying this year! Let me know in the comments.


Meaghan

Guest Post: Math Teams with Nikki Lineham

We are very excited and honoured to have Nikki Lineham guest post for us today.  Nikki is a brilliant and masterful teacher in our school district; she specializes in teaching math using pictorial, symbolic and concrete methods, while keeping the learning process creative and engaging for both students and teachers.  Meaghan and I have worked with Nikki in various Pro D sessions and we have also both used Nikki’s math resources (available through her website Educating Now) in our respective classrooms.  Thank you, Nikki, for sharing your knowledge and passion for teaching math with us here on Tale of Two Teachers!  We hope all our readers enjoy Nikki’s post.

Firstly, I want to thank Meaghan and Karley for inviting me to be a guest blogger for Tale of Two Teachers; I’m honoured, as I have a boatload of respect for these two dedicated teachers and I love reading their posts and empathizing with their journeys. Although I’ve been teaching for 15 years, I still feel like I have so much to learn and try. This is one of the reasons why I love my job so much; I have the opportunity to try out new strategies and approaches that I read about. Not only that, but because I work with several teachers, I can try out these ideas in many classrooms, using trial and error to make the lessons so much better. Rarely do I ‘nail it’ on the first try, and having the opportunity to refine multiple times each week (sometimes even in one day) allows me the chance to share what I know really works with other educators. This is the approach I took when learning how to set up and use collaborative math teams in math classes. Trust me, there was a whole lot of trial and error before we figured out the recipe for success.
The reason that I’m so passionate about these math teams is that I saw, first hand, in multiple classrooms, how powerful of an impact they had on both teachers and students; teachers were so inspired by the level of student engagement and learning and they had time to better assess and meet the needs of their students during class time and they felt less exhausted after lessons.  I also feel very strongly that we ought to be focusing more on competencies (as we see in our new curriculum) rather than solely on the content, as we have been conditioned to do. When students are in these teams, the roles are assigned (based on Complex Instruction) and criteria co-created, students become deep thinkers, collaborators and excellent communicators. Here are some of my observations from the classes I had the privilege of working in.
In a grade 6 class, I was blown away by the questions that the students started asking after a few weeks of working in teams. Because of all the work we did around creating growth mindsets and developing criteria around the competencies, students changed from ‘doing’ math to thinking about math (they were also still doing math). They started asking questions like, “When does infinity start?” and, “Are there such things as negative fractions and decimals?”. Students became curious and excited about learning how the math worked and how numbers were connected. One lesson, when we didn’t give the students any methods for multiplying decimals, but rather asked them to make predictions and explore in their teams what it means to multiply decimals, they were literally begging us to teach them the method (how often does that happen?!).
In a grade 8 class, after about two months of working in teams, when we moved into learning about rates and ratios, we literally didn’t have to teach a single method of solving. Students used their math reasoning, communicating and conceptual understanding to solve rates problems based on what made sense in the given contexts; the students could clearly explain their procedures. This proved to me, once again, that if students have conceptual understanding they can develop procedures, conversely, if students have memorized procedures (without really understanding them) and then they forget the procedure or rule (which happens all the time), they have nowhere to go.  When students get stuck like this the learning stops and they become entirely dependent on you, or someone else, to show them the procedure again. To be honest, we gave them the problem on rates as a way to prime their brains for learning the procedure, not expecting them to actually solve them without learning the procedure. Yet again, my expectations were surpassed.
After watching in amazement how these teams transformed students into mathematicians, I wondered, ‘Why on earth aren’t we all doing this?’. One thing I realized is that, generally speaking, teachers tend to be control freaks and giving up control to allow students to struggle and problem solve on their own is a tough transition (but so worth it). Teachers are also incredibly busy with the gazillion other tasks during their days and it’s challenging to find time to frequently read articles and books. I did read a few articles and books on how to use these teams and still had a lot of trial and error, so it wasn’t a quick and easy change to make. This is why I spent my summer creating a course on how to use these math teams so that it can be easily done by any teacher. If you are interested in learning more, please join me for a free webinar that will give an overview of how to use the math teams and if you really want to dive in, then sign up for our 12 part course that provides detailed day by day support on how to set up and use these teams in your classroom.   We have a number of teachers signed up and taking this course already and are offering you an opportunity to sign up at a 25% discount (use code: TALEOFTWO). Course registration closes at the end of September.

Cheers!
Nikki Lineham

 

Math: The Struggle is REAL!

I have struggled with math for as long as I can remember.  In high school I was the one who attended grade 11 and 12 math help three mornings a week and still shed tears over it every other day.  Throughout my prerequisite math studies for my B. Ed. I failed a stats course (the only class I’ve ever failed…too bad it cost $300). Upon handing in my final exam I was certain I did not pass my Math 360 course, which used to be a mandatory B. Ed course at UVic.  My life has been filled with many frustration filled math related tears and over time I have grown to strongly dislike math.

I am proud to say that the times, they are a changin’ over here in Mrs. Alleyn’s math world and that is largely to do with Nikki Lineham’s fantastic math website, Educating Now. Nikki is a brilliant middle school teacher leader in our district; Meaghan and I are both fortunate and grateful to have had access to her website through our respective schools.  Nikki’s site is a business, and therefore runs by paid subscription, so I won’t divulge the inner workings of her lesson I’m blogging about today, but I do want to share how the lesson went for my grade 8s.  I also want to share how Nikki’s work has turned me in to a more confident math teacher, which is something I never thought I’d ever be!

Today in math my grade 8s and I were working on the concept of “preservation of equality”, that is: “What does the = sign really mean?” My class came up with all kinds of answers to this question, but not a single student was able to tell me that the = sign actually means to BALANCE both sides of the equation.  I was so pleased that no one was able to tell me that = means “balance” because it meant I had found a weakness in their understanding (and, my own understanding, if I’m honest!) We then worked with the concept of a scale/teeter totter and I ended up holding various objects in my hands, arms outstretched, pretending I was on one end of the teeter totter and Charlee, my 1.5 year old daughter, was on the other end.  We talked about what would happen and came to the conclusion that because I am obviously heavier than Charlee, the teeter totter would launch Charlee high in the sky.  We then discussed what might happen if Joel, my husband, joined Charlee on the teeter totter.  Obviously his added weight would raise me into the air.  We then discussed how we could even out the weight between my family on the teeter totter and decided that if Charlee came to my side, perhaps she and I would balance Joel.  It was so interesting to me to use my family in the analogy because I had never thought of the = sign this way before.

Let it be known that my grade 8 class has a very wide range in mathematical competency – I’m talking a range from about grade 4 to grade 11.  I think the best part of today’s lesson is what came next…

After some more work with numbers and teeter totters and balancing my grade 8s set out to complete their learning task, which was to create five questions solving for x, while using the teeter totter concept to help them answer their questions.  Check out the differentiation that occurred once my students let loose:

Are you freaking out as much as I am freaking out over how awesome this learning task is? My struggling learners were able to use the teeter totter to help solidify what the = sign means; therefore, bringing them to a deeper understanding of algebra. My very advanced learners were able to differentiate the task to meet their level of ability, while still being challenged by the pictorial component (let me assure you, my strongest math students are rock solid when it comes to doing math in a procedural manner, but they do struggle when they need to show their work conceptually, as you will notice above).

As I sit here writing this post I am in awe that I taught this lesson today.  I keep thinking, “I did this!? I understand this!?” Today’s lesson was a huge learning experience for me and for many of my students.  I was not taught math like this, but our redesigned math curriculum calls for concrete, pictorial and symbolic representation of student learning, which is why I am so grateful for Nikki’s lessons and teachings.  Nikki’s work has certainly made me a more confident math teacher.

P.S: Meaghan and I, along with a handful of our teacher friends, plan to take Jo Boaler’s new online, self-paced math course this August.  Click HERE to check it out and let us know if you want to join our math posse.  We are certainly interested in collaborating about math over the internet with our international teacher friends and readers!

Note: Tale of Two Teachers is in no way financially affiliated with Educating Now. We simply love their work and both use it regularly in our respective classrooms.This post was written with permission from Nikki Lineham, teacher in SD61 and part of Educating Now. 

Karley

Online Math Game!

Hey everyone!

I know, I know, Meaghan and I have both been entirely neglecting our blog lately.  We both have busy lives right now, perhaps busier than ever before!  I may have created a New Year resolution around the concept of “keeping things simple”…another blog post for another time.

For now I’d like to share with you all the online math game that has completely captured the hearts and minds of my grade 7 students.  I am incredibly grateful to a colleague at my grade 8 school for sharing this resource with me.  I just tried this math game last block with my grade 7s and it was hands down the best block of math I’ve ever experienced as a teacher…and I did nothing.

The game is called Prodigy Game and you can access it HERE. Prodigy Game requires the teacher (or parent) to create an account to work from – this process literally took me less than five minutes.  After I created my account I printed off the three step directions for my students so that they had very easy, clear instruction on how to join my account and create their own avatars in order to play.  My students’ process of logging in and creating their avatars was super high energy and fun!  When I was setting up my teacher account I chose the math curriculum prescribed by the game because our BC curriculum is not an option; however, the standard grade 7 math curriculum seemed to work well for my class and we didn’t run in to any issues with questions being too hard or frustrating to accomplish.

My students spent the entire math block (around 45 minutes) playing Prodigy Game in the computer lab.  I witnessed fist pumps when questions were answered correctly, I heard exchanges of, “When you get enough points make sure you buy the pony!” and I even experienced a face to face mini refresh lesson on lowest common denominators.  This game is golden, you guys.  And free.  And so incredibly easy to use.

For me, I think the best part is that now that we have worked in Prodigy Game for a block of time I can go in to my teacher account and see where my students excelled and struggled.  I can see which questions and curricular content is specifically challenging for them.  I can also (this is the coolest part) create my own assignments for either my whole class or individual students and have the students complete my assignments in game playing format.  I especially love this feature because it means I can create lessons for my most struggling learners and they still get to be part of my class and participate in the exact same game as every other student.

This game is genius!  I caught one of our special ed teachers in the hall after math and exploded with excitement while telling her all about this game.  She promptly high-fived me and told me to send her the link, but I already had – ha!

Our math block finished today with one student asking this question as he walked out the door…”Mrs. Alleyn, so…can I log in at home and keep playing this math game?”

My reply: Heck YES!

Try it out with your class or your own children and let us know what you think!

Karley

 

 

Get Outside

It has been ridiculously beautiful in Victoria the past while so I thought it would be a perfect time to talk about how to get your class outside – and not just for a run around or free play!

Math

On Friday we started our review at the beginning of our integers unit so I was trying to think of ways to keep the review fun, engaging, and meaningful. We were going to start with number lines so I thought we would grab some sidewalk chalk and take our number lines outside.

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After they drew out their number lines (-10 to +10), in groups they walked    he lines to answer some mental math questions. It was a great way for me to see their confidence with integers – some kids were taking the lead, some were following, and some were asking questions. We had a lot of fun with this one and it was great to get outside and be active for some math.

Language Arts

Here are some of the times I have taken classes out in the past for Language Arts:

  • Silent Reading
  • Discussion groups
  • Readers’ Theatre practice
  • Writing poetry (especially Haiku’s)

Social Studies

For our most recent Social Studies project we were making videos (I will post more about this soon) and that meant that we were outside for a whole double block while they were filming “How to be an Ancient Greek” video. I love to see how kids use the environment around them to set the stage for the projects they are working on. It’s amazing how the slightly rolling hills become a battlefield and the trees become the perfect stage for their performance.

French

I haven’t done this one in a long time but it was a lot of fun the first time (original post here).

French Corners: For this game, I use four different verbs that they know how to conjugate (usually avoir, être, faire, aller) and put each verb in a different corner. With everyone in the middle I yell out a conjugated form of one of the verbs and they have to run to the corner with that name (e.g. “Je suis” and they run to être). If we are outside, after a couple of rounds for practice I have it become a race and the last one to the corner has to shout out the next conjugated verb from the middle (with help if needed).

Daily Physical Activity (DPA)

On the day we don’t have a PE block in our schedule we always do have a DPA time. Sometimes we do the weight room or yoga but lately with the great weather we have been getting outside for some games!

One of my favourite (originally from summer camp) games to play with them is called “Aces.” For this game you need 2-3 decks of cards shuffled and mixed together. Each team gets half the deck and each player gets a card. Your team’s goal is to have the most cards at the end of the game. You need to run and tag the other team and then you show your card to them, like the card game “War” the higher number keeps both cards and takes them back to their group leader. If you run lose your card or have two cards from winning you must head back to your leader to get a new card. The trick is if you get an ace (the lowest card) then you will lose to anyone BUT if you make it all the way to the other leader without getting tagged then you get half of their deck of cards to take back with you. This game usually lasts about 30-45 minutes in middle school I find and most kids are running the whole time!

What ways have you been getting your class outside lately?

Meaghan

Teach it Tuesday: Drawing Circles

A main part of the new curriculum in BC are the core competencies: communication, thinking, and personal/social. I have been trying to be a little more deliberate to incorporate these into my planning. Here is one activity that I tried the day before Spring Break, and considering the timing it went really well!

Materials:

Each group needs:

  • Large paper
  • String
  • Pencil
  • Compass or geotool
  • Meter stick
  • Instruction sheet

Instructions: I took some of the bonus questions from a different resource that I can’t seem to find again. If anyone knows the source please let me know and I will update to include the link.

Document: Drawing Circles Challenge

Front – On one side of your groups paper you need to draw the following circles:
A. Circle with a diameter of 80 cm.

B. Circle with a radius of 10 cm.

C. Circle with a diameter of 5 cm.

D. Circle with a radius of 0.5 cm.

Back – Try as many of these challenges as you can:
A. How big does a circle need to be to fit two smaller circles with 4 cm diameter inside? Draw it!

B. Draw a quadrilateral (rectangle, square, parallelogram) and see if you can draw a circle inside that touches all four sides of the quadrilateral.

C. Using only circles, can you create a familiar shape (star, heart, etc.)?

How it worked for us:

Hard at work

Hard at work

For my class I gave very minimal instructions for this assignment. We reviewed briefly how to use the geotool to draw circles (slightly more complicated then a compass for some) and then I gave them the materials and sent them on there way. I really wanted this to be a collaborative problem solving activity and it became just that! It was very interesting to see how students worked together and came up with solutions.

Drawing the large circle with the string took longer than I expected but I absolutely LOVED the conversations about radius and diameter that came from the activity. Communication and creative thinking came out in full force for this activity! I also loved that the creative part of it allowed for different students to take leadership roles than normally occurs with math group work.

We used almost a full double block to complete this (two 43 minutes periods) but keep in mind that it was the Friday before Spring Break so focus was not the easiest… If I were to do it again I would definitely keep it in a double block and I would follow up with some meaningful reflection/discussion.

How do you bring the core competencies into the math classroom?

If you use this activity, I would LOVE to hear how it goes!

Meaghan

How I Teach Math (for now…)

Along with this post is a new math activity on our Teachers Pay Teachers site – Take a look here.

As you probably know, teaching is one of those things you do which is ever changing. Even if you are doing the exact same lesson in the exact same unit with the exact same grade at the same school… something WILL be different! That’s because our students are always different. And it is one of the things I like most about teaching because I find it new and exciting all the time. So with that in mind, this is how I’ve been teaching math as of right now, the moment I’m writing this… Ask me tomorrow and it might have changed – ha!

Goals

One of my goals this year was to really work on how I teach math effectively. My learning (or Pro D I guess) started with the opportunity to test out the Educating Now website and continued through the For the Love of Math conference. Along with both of those resources have been MANY long conversations with colleagues, friends, family… Really anyone who would listen and answer my questions! About a month ago I realized that I was starting to teach math in a way that really worked for me.

Note: Most of these ideas are from other people that I have adapted to suit my needs. I apologize if I have not been able to give proper credit to sources but I had so many conversations that I can’t necessarily remember who said what. Please know that I am beyond grateful to everyone and anyone who has helped me on my (math) teaching journey.

Interactive Math Notebooks

IMG_3460I started this in January and I absolutely love how well they are working in our class! Most of my information I have on them is from Runde’s Room (she has an AMAZING resource on her Teachers Pay Teachers site that is worth every penny!) and then I have adapted my own activities from there. Basically every time we start a new section for math we have some sort of interactive notes that will become an entry in the notebook. Some helpful tips:

  • Keep a table of contents current on your board somewhere so kids can check that they are up to date.
  • Make your own notebook as a demonstration that can also be given to students who were absent to catch up
  • Have each student glue an envelope in the front cover of their notebook to keep spare pieces
  • Make sure you have lots of scissors and glue!

Small Groups

I started doing some small group lessons in the fall but hadn’t found an effective way to incorporate them into my practice. This is the one area that will definitely change as I continue to teach math because it really depends on class dynamics. Right now I am using a practice one of my administrators told me about: after each whole class lesson I assign some practice questions and then I ask students who are not quite understanding to meet me at the back table. There are a few students who by myself or their parents, have been told to come each time, there are quite a few who make the choice to come each time and then there are a few who come to the back as necessary. Together we work through a couple questions and using the small whiteboards I can quickly check to see who is understanding or not. This has been a great support for some of my students and I have noticed a big difference in their understanding.

Math Stations

This is another time I use small group teaching too. On Fridays we have a double block of math in which we usually do math stations. Although with Pro D Days and early dismissal we haven’t done this quite as often as I would like! For the math stations I have 5 or 6 stations set up that we rotate through in the double block. Usually the stations look like this:

1. Basic Facts Practice (a routine we have set up in our classroom)

2. Problem Solving (whiteboard markers and window space make this a fun one!)

3. Small group teaching (I go over a new lesson or extra practice similar to the above small groups)

4. Unit Specific Game (This is where I love TPT resources – Especially the free ones)

5. Basic Facts Game (The dice game Pig is a favourite)

6. BuzzMath (Sometimes we do this one on the iPads)

Assessment

This is one of my favourite new practices I have learned from a colleague! For our assessments we are now using a 4 question assessment for each Prescribed Learning Outcome (PLO) from the curriculum. Basically, my teaching team and I have sat down and created these assessments that have four leveled questions relating to the topic. The first question will show a basic understanding of the topic, usually something covered in a previous grade. The second question will be a very basic, practical application of the concept. The third question will show the application of the concept in context and the fourth shows higher level thinking either through problem solving or combining multiple concepts. This is such an easy way to get a snapshot of a students understanding and it takes away the pressure of the big math test.

Unit Plan and Assignments

When I go to plan a unit I usually look back at the curriculum from grade 6 to remind myself the basics that they should have. We always start our units with a good review of previous topics (I love using Math Aids for this, although not super interactive it is a lifesaver when it comes to prep time!) One of my biggest obstacles this year was trying to figure out what to mark myself, what to record, and how to help kids take responsibility for their own learning. What I have been doing for any assignments/homework that I give from the textbook is that the expectation is now that a completed assignment is finished, marked, AND corrected. The day the assignment is due I walk around with a clipboard and check students off for their assignments. Yes having students mark their own work is a bit of a risk, however you can usually tell who is doing the work properly and it really has put the learning back on them! It has also helped my student to make sure they let me know if they have had trouble or questions about their assignments.

Where Am I Going From Here?

I am going to continue with most of these practices for the rest of the year. My main efforts are going to be trying more project-based learning in math for our last few units. I am not quite sure how this will go but I will keep you posted! As far as plans for future teaching? The only thing I would like to change is to really increase my use of small group teaching. I’ve struggled a bit with the classroom management aspect of this with my current class but I think in the future I will have a better idea of how to lay out expectations and practice appropriate behaviour as we begin meaningful math practices.

I would love to hear your feedback!

What do you do in your math class?

My “Someday Job”…

So around here “Back to School” fever is just starting to set in. This involves waiting impatiently by your phone for calls about jobs, thinking about lesson planning, trying to fit in those last few “must do’s” of the summer and all the rest!

In amongst that I’ve started working summer camps as I needed a little bit of income after a summer of not working. The camp I’m running is a food prep/nutrition camp offered throughout the city at a very low cost to families. I was a little nervous stepping into the role as it isn’t within my realm of experience but I have really loved the mix of teaching and summer camp that it has brought. It’s really started me thinking about what my ideal teaching job would be. Now being a new teacher in a tough district means I will take pretty much anything and everything in the next couple of years until I build up my seniority but until then I can dream about my “Someday Job.” My “Someday Job” isn’t the for sure be all end all of my teaching career because I change my mind about what I want to do daily if not hourly; my “Someday Job” is just the job that I want to do for sure for at least a year because it has the components of a lot of my favourite aspects of teaching.

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A “dream job” kind of feeling…

So what would it be?

Grade: 7/8

I absolutely LOVE middle school! Most people I tell that too look at me like I’m a little insane but the ones who don’t, the ones who “get it”, just nod and agree because there really is no place like it! Every middle school I’ve been in has been different but there is something at the core of this age group that I just absolutely love. Grade 6 is a little on the young side for me so I’ve ruled that out. I absolutely love both grade 7 and grade 8 for very different reasons so I think a grade 7/8 split class would be my favourite (and yes I know most people don’t wish for split classes but I like the balance of combining age groups!)

Subjects: Math, French, English (and maybe Phys. Ed)

Math is my favourite subject to teach because I love using manipulatives, working out problems and watching those “Aha!” moments. French is a new one to this list – over the past year it quickly became a favourite because of the flexibility of the curriculum and the ease of tying it in with my passions in global education. English or Language Arts makes this list easily because I love watching students develop their communication skills and I love how much insight and connection you can gain through a subject that you can easily relate to their passions. And then there is PE… I love physical activity, sports, nutrition, and health education in general but I haven’t had too much opportunity to teach it at the middle school level. Elementary PE I could do in a heartbeat but I think I need some more professional development to feel totally comfortable with PE at the middle school level.

Other factors…

When I get this job I think I’d like to know at least 2 weeks before school starts so the panic isn’t as crazy as the “one weekend to plan everything” kind of stress. I don’t really care what school I’m at as long as I get to work with some of the amazing staff that I know in our district. Also, I’d obviously like to have a classroom right next to Karley so we can team teach, idea share, and blog about it all – We know that you readers would love this too right? Come on school district!

So what about you…

Are you in your dream job or “someday” job right now?

What grade/subject would it be? Or what school would it be at?

Meaghan