Sunday, October 23, 2016

Number Talks and #ObserveMe

At #TMC15, a math coach told us about modeling Number Talks in all of her classrooms. It took me a year to set it up and give it a try, but as of mid-October, I've done almost 100 Number Talks. I've got a few more scheduled and should be done by the end of November.

I read about the #ObserveMe movement through Robert Kaplinsky's posts on Twitter (original post: So I wanted to merge the two ideas and have teachers observe me doing Number Talks. I created a template for teachers to record the strategies that students use and the questions that I ask. 

My first Number Talk debrief meetings had me asking "How do we get past compliments?" So I reached out on Twitter and asked this question. David Wees and Robert (and Michael Pershan) offered some thoughts. Their advice and my takeaway was that it really depends on the questions that we ask. I started by asking for Evidence of how I support language learning. This felt too much like our evaluation system. Teachers told me "I liked it," "good job," or "you did very well." These comments felt good, but didn't help me improve.  David Wees responded to the post below with great comments in my Google Doc. He affirmed my instincts and offered suggestions. This all happened within minutes of the tweet and in time for me to adjust before heading out to try it. I so appreciate the #MTBoS for the support and push to improve.

My new #ObserveMe Questions:
How could I better support language learning?
How could I better record student ideas?

These questions improved the feedback. A few teachers made suggestions that I incorporated:

  • Leave the sentence frame up so they can use it when responding.
  • After the pair share, have them tap their chin if they had a chance to talk and tap ear if they had a chance to listen.
  • Be careful with hand signals. Don't introduce too many at once. Now, I do thumbs up and thumbs sideways at the beginning and add the "same sign" when we need it. I was using a "same sign" that actually meant "yellow" in sign language. A teacher let me know and demonstrated the sign for "me, too" in ASL and I've switched it. 
  • Another coach noticed that I was modeling Sheltered Instruction strategies and building a culture of equity. 

One Teacher's Notes:

Questioning: This teacher recorded nine "questions" that I asked. I notice that three of them are actually commands. Two of the questions are yes/no questions (asked at the end for some quick closure - could have been statements instead). Two of the questions were to probe into student thinking. One of them was to compare and contrast. Two more were about choosing efficient strategies for them. 

Hand Signals: I had the opportunity to hear Ruth Parker talk about Number Talks at the Northwest Mathematics Conference. She cautioned against asking students to use hand signals if they used the same strategy. It's important to make sure all students feel comfortable sharing and aren't discouraged if others don't agree. But, I am also concerned about student engagement during Number Talks. 

Pair Share: She also cautioned against using a turn and talk because it forces students to share before they are ready. I don't want to let go of the chance for students to rehearse their responses. But I think I'll be careful about pressuring students to share if they aren't ready. Again, I think the turn and talk opportunity increases student engagement and supports language learning. It also helps younger students have a chance to share. Otherwise it's hard for them to sit and listen to others when they have an idea to share.

Student Names: Before each student shares, I ask them to spell their names (and you can see I don't always get it right). Student names are such an important part of their identity. Writing their names with each strategy shows student ownership of the mathematics. This set of student responses reminded me of a "Which One Doesn't Belong?" (

The Debrief Meetings:

Questions I ask in the debrief meetings (these have evolved and I like these best today):
What did you notice about how your students responded?
What did I do that is similar to what you do?
What did I do that is different to what you do and that you might try?
I also make connections to our curriculum and where they could do Number Talks or facilitate Math Talk in this way.

I had a great opportunity with another coach from my district for her to observe one of my debrief meetings. I knew we had limited time, so I started with the second two questions all at once. We had a nice discussion, but it wasn't very focused. Afterwards, we stood in the parking lot and she coached me! She asked great reflective questions: how did you feel about that? What was your goal? Did it work? I was able to realize that (just like in classrooms) when rushed, we don't get as deeply into ideas as when we do less with focus. Hmm... 

Some responses from teachers:

An email:

Some notes on the feedback sheet:

***I'm still curious about how other teachers maintain and ensure engagement during Number Talks. What do you do? (please share in the comments)

55th NWMC Recap

55th Northwest Mathematics Conference

October 21-23, 2016

After an easy drive through the Columbia River Gorge and into Yakima Valley, we arrived at the Howard Johnson in Yakima. The first conference event was a Maker Space Showcase of students and programs from this area in Washington.

After that chance to mingle, we went out for a "Tweet Up." El Mirador had handmade tortillas and spicy salsa! Great conversations. Go #MTBoS. Thanks to Chris Shore and Molly Daley for joining us!

Saturday Sessions (October 22, 2016)

Letting Go: Using Number Talks to Transform Our Practice
Ruth Parker (@DrRuthParker)
"Which answer are you defending?"
This is a question I need to incorporate into my number talks. I frequently assume they are defending the right answer (which they usually are), but clarifying would help.
In the third grade example, lots of students are using number lines to describe their strategies.
One question: how do you ensure 100% engagement during number talks?
"Would you tell US?" Answers are for the group, not teacher.
Respond with appropriate language - don't make a big deal about things like "minused."
Don't recommend using = sign in posing problem. 81 - 26 is better than "81-26 ="
Allow lots of WAIT TIME!
"Can you help us understand why..."
Model teacher curiosity
"Graduated pressing" - press softly when students aren't used to this type of activity, but press more as students are comfortable. Understanding their thinking is the ultimate goal.
Not a time for fixing mistakes during a Number Talk. It's a time for kids to fix their own thinking.
Never put them on the spot.
Build an environment that creates curiosity and engagement.
Students don't have to talk - they want to talk.
Number talks are about Educating, not Training. Train means to drag behind. Educe is to draw forth.
Number talks are about expecting and TRUSTING students to have mathematical ideas.
Number talks are about developing mathematics about sense making.
It's just 15 minutes that can deeply change our practice.
Finishing students thoughts can take agency away from them.

Doesn't think hand signals of agreement belong in number talks. Hmm... Again, I have an engagement question...
Doesn't think turn and talk belongs in number talks either. Hmm... Again, I think this helps engagement and providing a sentence frame can make it less painful. "Let anyone who wants to share, share." Don't pressure kids that aren't ready.
Don't rescue students.

Number Talks are the Mathematical Practices in Action

"It's time to bring joy back into mathematics and the teaching of mathematics!"

(I'm modeling Number Talks in all of my K-5 classrooms - blog to come...)

Using Problem Strings to Promote Discourse and Access Big Mathematical Ideas
Karen Prigodich (@karenprigodich)
I arrived late, but enjoyed the fun problem strings for doubling and halving! We made conjectures and talked about big math ideas. Karen is always fun to watch facilitate. I picked up a new question - "how did you see it in your mind's eye?"
Problem Strings resources: (Cathy Fosnot)

Math Coaching Matters
Cynthia Hockman Chupp (Gervais School District)
Coaches wear many hats. Coaches can be in isolation. We're often the only ones in our roles in our districts.
Course for coaches - reflect on successful coaching, set goals, support for teachers, collaborate with admin, and identify district needs
What makes a successful math coach? What qualities and behaviors?
Books: Building Teacher's Capacity for Success and The Mathematics Coaching Handbook
Article: "Being a Successful Math Coach: Ten Guiding Principles" by Chris Confer
Understanding group work
Also recommended: Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler and Small Steps, Big Changes by Chris Confer (What if we spent 80% of time on things that matter most? And 20% on things that won't make a difference in student achievement?) article - Anyone Can Learn to High Levels
One-to-one collaboration - continuum of self-reflection (unaware, conscious, action, refinement); lesson modeling with pre- and post-conferencing
Pre and post conferencing is something I need to work on. I am pushing for the post-conference, but I haven't pushed for time before a lot of my model lessons or observations.
Questions for pre conference:
   What is the lesson about?
   What instructional strategies will be modeled?
   What should they be looking for? Count "turn and talks," record questions, etc.
   Clarify who will deal with management
Post Conference questions:
   What did you see?
Collaborating with Administrators - what are the classroom look-fors? Clarify non-evaluative role. Share goals - what are admin priorities?
Accuracy, Efficiency, and Flexibility - the dimensions of fluency
Sharing Graham Fletcher's first Ignite on Fact Fluency
Public recognition after seeing things in classrooms - Tip of the Week (with pacing reminder)
Celebrate out loud on a regular basis (a little concerned about evaluative implications...)

How Teachers Support Productive Struggle in the Classroom
Melinda Knapp (@KnappMelinda)
Shares NCTMP2A Teaching Practices - Principles to Actions Book
Effort to make sense of mathematics
What are the observable actions of teachers and of students that show productive struggle?
Vicious cycle of helping students too soon, students become dependent, teacher becomes the only authority in the room, and teacher helps more.
We over scaffold with the best of intentions.
How do we break this cycle?
What does productive struggle look like with the students you work with (or should it look like)?
What has been challenging for you about supporting productive struggle?
How do we do this work on a larger scale? Kids get better at struggling if it happens beyond our own classroom.
Productive struggle is essential to learning - teachers must believe this.
Students' perceptions of themselves are important to increasing productive struggle.
What are the routines and strategies in class for students to experience productive struggle? (sociomathematical norms)
Students need to be taught to ask good questions to move through struggles.
Warshauer (2015) suggests 4 strategies to encourage productive struggle -
   Teachers acknowledge that struggle is part of learning
   Teachers give time and avoid stepping in too soon.
   Teachers encourage reflecting on work and not just in getting correct answers.
   Teachers ask questions that help students focus on their thinking and encourage them to look at other approaches to problems.
Math Labs or Math Studio experiences can help teachers learn about encouraging productive struggle.
High cognitive demand in necessary - or there won't be productive struggle.
Student-to-student discourse supports productive struggle.
We're questioning to find out what they're thinking, not just their answer.
Purposeful Questions to encourage productive struggle
   What do you already know? What do you need to know?
   What do you understand, so far?
   What makes sense to you? What does not make sense to you?
   I wonder how we can decide which one makes more sense?
   What are some math ideas that might help you?
   Or math focussing questions
Students should say "she's going to ask us..." Build up the norms that math work makes sense and everyone should question.
Math Studio or Learning Walks can be a place for teachers to learn about supporting productive struggle.
Productive struggle can be a them for co-planning and co-teaching.
Productive struggle can arise from purposeful questions and increasing discourse.
Teachers had to be comfortable experiencing productive struggle.

Students (and teachers) have to re-imagine themselves as students and mathematicians.

Reflections on Making Number Talks Matter: Things I Wish We Had Said
Ruth Parker (@DrRuthParker)
Mind blowing back and forth between Ruth and Steve Leinwand were a biproduct of this session on Number Talks.
Some quotes:
What was an efficient strategy FOR YOU?
Anticipating how students will solve problems is valuable for teachers
"If the goal is for the lesson of the day, you are creating illusions of learning"
"Math ought to be okay and joyful!"I also met a person that had been my tweeting twin in the morning. Meeting #MTBoS people in person is a fun part of going to conferences.

MATH CENTERS For Maximizing Math Minutes
Marcy Cook (@MarcyCookApp)
I was able to sneak in for a few minutes and play a math game with tiles. Always fun to hear how Marcy facilitates games and math learning.

Learning, Planning, and Teaching Together: Designing Job-Embedded Professional Development
Kendra Lomax and Becca Lewis (University of Washington)
(@KendraLomax and @lewisbecca)
Instructional activities on to give teachers common routines to then discuss across classrooms
Routines for Reasoning (secondary version of Intentional Talk...)
Learning Cycle: Introduce, Prepare, Enact, Analyze
We often Introduce, but then don't allow or monitor teachers work around the ideas.
We can analyze what was learned about content, student thinking, pedagogical moves, and teaching practices.
Math Labs include active observers - engaged in listening to students and then analyzing together.
"Teaching is so complex. Lots and lots of things can come up in the debrief."
What do you notice about the students?
How does the teacher orient students to each other's thinking?
Choral count by 200s - start at 5000
When we do this, we are looking for patterns in numbers
Restate Ss; If you agree, thumbs on chest; asks "what place value"
How does the teacher highlight the mathematics that is happening in this task?
(I had to sneak out early to meet with the Yakima committee - bummed to miss the end!)

Insights and To-dos Drawn from 1000 Classroom Observations since 2010
Steve Leinwand (@steve_leinwand)
We have guidance now - what math? what is really essential? (the math practices) how? (NCTMP2A)
We have support now - PLCs, coaching, assessments with performance tasks
We have made progress.
"What an amazing time to be teaching mathematics!"
9 most important words - "Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others."
2.5 years after NCTMP2A - there's agreement
Look to our North and South - but need to look to East and West - look to our colleagues.
Video our teaching and take to staff meetings - look under publications for list of resources
Number string, math workshop task, exit ticket - lesson structure
Observing a room - he doesn't sit in the back like an evaluator - sit on the side to engage
Story problems - they should care about "Jan."
Honor students ability to make sense of mathematics
I love student friendly objectives - not performance objectives, but what students will learn about.
How big is the book? Name 6 ways to measure it.
What does it mean to MEASURE something?
Put in every lesson "What did you learn today?"
"I always call on the special ed kids because no one else does."
I loved it when Steve noticed an error in his presentation and stopped to edit the PowerPoint. Modeling fixing our mistakes.
"We are charged with making math work for a much greater proportion of students."
"You have ever right to feel overloaded when you don't have the support, the coaching, etc."
"This is different, difficult to do, requires time and risk-taking"
This takes, collaboration, coaching, and high-quality aligned assessments.
Our typical classrooms have not made these shifts. We make excuses.
No one can do it all, but you can pick two and start making some changes. It's about the kids.
From 1994 - "It is unreasonable and unprofessional to expect professionals to change by much more than 10% a year, but it is just as unreasonable and unprofessional for professionals, in this era of change, to be changing by much less than 10% a year."
You can't do math class justice in less than 60 minutes.
Daily, cumulative review at the beginning of each lesson is necessary.
2-4-2 Homework idea - 2 on the new skill, 4 on prerequisites for tomorrow, 2 deeper problems asking for explanation
Too many of our questions are DOK 1.
I, We, You is so wrong for mathematics. You, We, I is what we need to do.

What begins our to-do list?

  • more on going cumulative review
  • fewer mindless worksheets
  • rational homework
  • daily exit slips
  • higher order questions
  • discourse
  • more productive struggle
  • more technology
  • more collaboration

When the rate of change inside an institution is much less than the rate of change outside an institution, the end is near.
Steve Leinwand

Sunday Sessions (October 23, 2016)

I spent some time Sunday morning driving Chris Shore to the airport (returning a #TMC16 favor). I also talked with some exhibitors and made plans with the Yakima committee for promoting the Portland conference. I did attend one session before the closing keynote. And I got to meet Ryan Adams!

Helping Teachers Grow: Supporting the Transformation of Classroom Instructional Practice
Karen Prigodich (@karenprigodich)
How can we impact our sphere of influence?
What elements support teachers' readiness to transform their instructional practice?
How can we nurture these elements in our work with teachers?
Research/What to DO
Transformative PD: changes in deeply held beliefs, knowledge, and habits of practice
   create cognitive dissonance
   allow time and support to wrestle with dissonance
   embed learning in their situations/practice
   respond to new learning with a new repertoire
I will email Karen for the PowerPoint of research - too much to capture!
A few highlights -
Gains in achievement happened only with making conjectures and explaining strategies, sharing multiple perspectives, and building conceptual understanding from discussion of mathematics.
Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching (Deborah Ball)
Teaching cannot be broken down into manageable and achievable pieces. It's too complex.
Theoretical Framework - Mezirow's theory. We have a need to integrate new learning into what we already know. Tools for working with adult educators: Critical Reflection, Discourse, and Reflective Action.
What are the beliefs in the way of making a change?
WOOP - wish, outcome, obstacle, plan

Closing Keynote:
Michael Stevens (@tweetsauce)
VSauce Youtube Channel:
Youtube allows him to perform and explain.
"You should watch my videos because then I get a view."
But really, you should watch his videos because they include some cool mathematical and scientific ideas.

Thank you to the conference organizers and program committee! I love attending the Northwest Mathematics Conference when someone else plans it. I'm looking forward to next fall in Portland, Oregon! Details: