Sunday, August 12, 2018

Becoming the Math Teacher Book Study, Part 4

With school beginning next week, I'm super excited to implement so many of these awesome math strategies and questioning techniques with my new class! Welcome to part 4 of Becoming the math Teacher You Wish You'd Had book study! If you miss the first three parts, you can catch up here:
Connecting Math and the World
How many times have you had students ask, "Why do we need to learn this? What does this have to do with the real world?" (I'm embarrassed to admit that I always silently ponder this whenever I teach about probability; will I need this other than going to Las Vegas? LOL) Chapter 8 is all about how mathematicians connect ideas. An idea I LOVE and will definitely implement is to ask families and community members to share how they use math in their daily lives. In the past I have a friend in marketing research who has come in to my class to share how her company actually graphs and uses survey and focus group results to analyze the data make business predictions! Having adult speakers share how they use math in "real life" gives validity to the math learned in school.

Fourth grade teacher, Jennifer Clerkin Muhammad, expects her students to make (visual) representations of their work to build understanding. After giving students a few minutes to solve a problem and represent it visually, she tells her kids to walk around the classroom (with representations drawn on a whiteboard) and to compare representations. Students must find a representation that was different from their own, but that they agree with.  What a great way to encourage solving problems in multiple ways and not feel there is a rush to get to THE right answer! As students circulate, Muhammad observes and "eavesdrops" in on conversations, choosing a few representations to discuss with the whole class. According to Jo Boaler, the purpose of being able to represent our work is to help make sense for ourselves, as well as how to communicate and justify our ideas to others.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


Hey friend! Grab a cup of coffee and give us a listen as we discuss 1st day plans, tips and tricks. A new podcast episode is now playing HERE!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

3 Tried & True Tips to Start the Year off Like a Boss!

 Oh my goodness, the countdown is on! In just one week, I start YEAR 32; eek! I came across this hilarious (yet accurate!) post on We Are Teachers: 8 Back to School Emotions all Teachers will Recognize. Read it HERE
In my earlier years of teaching I used to spend the time before school focusing on the physical aesthetics of setting up my classroom (and it sure was cute!), but my focus has shifted over the years. Now I spend most of my time planning how to create an inclusive and respectful community, classroom culture, and to develop relationships. This is why I look forward to each new school year with excitement and anticipation!
Most importantly, cultivating community and the expectation of acceptance, growth mindset, and kindness within my classroom is first on my list of goals. We begin each school year creating a class mission statement. You can read more about that HERE.
My rug is a focal point in my classroom, where my small group instruction, read aloud, and morning meeting take place. We begin most days with morning meeting (think bigger kid version of pre-school circle time). You can read more about that HERE.
Learning to collaborate with others and use teamwork also helps to develop community. A very fun (and silent!) team building activity is the Cup Challenge. This is a great first day of school activity! You can read more about that HERE.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018


Exciting happenings at Tried and True Teaching Tools! I've teamed up with 3 teaching friends on a new endeavor! WE TEACH SO HARD...A podcast for teachers who love to talk shop, talk trash, and talk life. Enter our CELEBRATORY GIVEAWAY & CLICK THE LINK BELOW!

Friday, July 27, 2018

Becoming the Math Teacher Book Study, Part 3

I hope you're enjoying this book study as much as I am! There's so much to reflect on that I'm having a hard time narrowing it down. If you missed the first 2 parts, you can catch up with Chapters 1-3 HERE and Chapters 4-5 HERE.
Mathematicians Rise to a Challenge
Since so many teachers are required to use their district-mandated math curriculum, former high school math teacher Dan Meyer gave a TED Talk called Math Class Needs a Makeover. If you have not seen it yet, you must watch it HERE.  He compares the difference between reading a word problem in a textbook and demonstrating the same problem in real life. Meyer argues that "students lack initiative, perseverance and retention because they spend most of their time plugging in formulas without understanding the mathematics." (p. 114) Our goal should be for students to learn and understand math by working on problems, NOT just to get the write answers to textbook problems. Amen!

Author Tracy Zager claims that problems in textbooks often have too many parts, often missing the main math objective. Or the problems spoon feed students and give them too much information so that no thinking is necessary. I've noticed this when students blindly multiply numbers in a word problem because the chapter is about multiplication or the other practice problems were all multiplication. They need to develop an understanding of what the problems are asking, building on what they already know, and then figure out how to solve problems themselves. (p. 118)

Low Thresholds, High Ceilings, and Open Middles
I love the following "math problem as room" analogy by Seyour Papert (1980). The best math problems have low threshold (entry points accessible by all), high ceilings (allow for differentiation and deeper investigation), yet open middles (multiple solution paths to the same answer).
Check out this fantastic website, Open Middle . It's a free resource organized by strand and grade level. There are hundreds of "Open Middle" tasks posted!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Becoming the Math Teacher Book Study, Part 2

Welcome to chapters 4 & 5 of Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had by Tracy Zager. If you missed out on chapters 1-3, you can read about them HERE. This book is so meaty; I’ve been taking notes like crazy! 
Mathematicians Make Mistakes
During writer’s workshop, my students are only allowed to write with pen while collecting and drafting because I want them to initially focus on their ideas, rather than the mechanics of writing. However, I still always had them use pencil during math. You know the kids who are obsessed with not making mistakes, erasing their paper until it rips? My new rule starting in August will be to only use pens during math also. (I’m already bracing myself for the howls of protest. . .) I want my students to feel comfortable with making mistakes, crossing out, and moving on. Zager emphasizes, “…how we respond to those mistakes is often what separates a negative math classroom from a positive one.” (p. 56) Although it is essential that we teach students how to avoid, check for, and correct computation errors and that we expect students to be precise, there is a big difference between a small computation error and a teachable, interesting, juicy mistake. (p. 57)
Class discussions are not focused on correct answers, but rather, framed around reasoning and mathematical arguments. Rather than ask for an answer, 5th grade teacher, Julie Clark asks students, “What are you reasoning through? I want to hear some thoughts.” In her class, finishing the problem and finding the answer is not the end of thinking. I love this! Too many times, our students feel math is a race to find THE answer. Clark has students share methods and strategies, continuing to collect ideas until students have enough evidence to make connections and draw conclusions. She also does not jump in too quickly to rescue students from mistakes. By continuing the mathematical discussions, students internalize important concepts about math:

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Becoming the Math Teacher Book Study, Part 1

Happy summer! Although there are plenty of beach days, pool days & family vacations,  I love summer for having the time to delve into all the professional and pleasure reading books that have been on my "to be read" list! One that's been high on my list is Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You'd Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms by Tracy Johnston Zager.
I was one of those typical math-phobic students who was petrified of word problems and I just did not understand when and why to use mathematical formulas. All the numbers and rules made my head spin, so when I decided to become a teacher, I was determined to learn HOW to teach math and to make my students love it. 31 years of teaching and MANY math workshops, professional developments, conferences, and books later, I'm finally becoming the math teacher I wish I'd had! So you can understand why I was SO excited to discover my friend, Tammy at Tarheelstate Teacher and Brittany from Mix and Math were leading a summer book study on THIS book! Whoo hoo! This series of blog posts is not a replacement of their study, but will be a documentation of my own thoughts and ideas for how I will implement in the upcoming school year. (Keeps me accountable!)

Note: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to
Click on the image (book cover) below to order your own copy to join in this book study!
Chapters 1-2 cover our background and school experiences with math. "Excepting the occasional bright spot, a typical North American math class involved memorizing a litany or rules. Our days were filled with pages of calculations, times tests, procedures that worked according to incomprehensible codes. . . real-world problems that didn't have anything to do with our real worlds, and, above all else, a singular right method to follow or else we were marked down." (p. 4) This definitely struck a chord with me. I have vivid memories of asking my father for help in math (he had taught college math courses). However, when he would try to show me how to solve the problem, it was not THE way my teacher had said to "do it" and there would be yelling (by me) and tears (by me) and I still did not understand the problem!

However, when author, Tracy Zager, asked mathematicians to describe mathematics, they used words such as: absorbing, curiosity, invent, passion, explore, joy. . .  My goodness, those were certainly NOT words I would have used in relation to math!