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As you can tell from the fact that it is Sunday–and almost time for the second mission from the leaders of the Exploring the MathTwitterBlogosphere project–I am struggling with my post.  Glad whomever is in charge of Mission #2 did not post at 5:02 am today!!

I am a teacher on assignment.  My contract is a half-time (50%) position, so I work 92.5 days a year.  (I do other stuff the other half of my time with other groups of fabulous educators.)  It’s a great deal.  I work with great people–people who are learners and who are truly committed to making their classrooms an awesome place; a place where learning happens every day, where kids are asked to explore their assumptions, values, and beliefs about math, where opportunities exist every day for kids to build confidence, to reason, and to communicate their thinking.  However, I don’t have my own classroom.

This year, I have the great fortune to spend a lot of time in Tami’s classroom.  (She blogs at shouldbequiltin’.)  She lets me hang-out in her 2 math lab classes.  As the organizers and designers of the instructional sequence for the kids in her classes, we have chosen to focus our collaboration and planning for these 2 classes on providing an environment that supports kids building their confidence as learners, as people, as mathematicians.  One way we do this is to include opportunities for mathematical discourse in the learning we organize every single day.  We believe that it is essential for the kids learn to advocate for themselves, to ask questions, to become invested in their learning, to identify what they can do, and to figure out where their understanding starts to break down.  Hard stuff for kids who have not felt particularly confident as learners or as mathematicians.

So…we started out our year with a planning and organizing conversation that included everyone from our 2 middle schools involved with math lab.  We talked about what we didn’t want our classes to be like and what we did want for the kids who spend time with us each day.

As a learning team, we decided that we wanted to change how the  instructional sequence was designed and organized, it should match our philosophy about learning and what we know is good for kids.  We are about kids having enough opportunities to make connections, to see how topics, ideas, and concepts are related, and to build perseverance.  We are not about marching through worksheets and workbook pages from the intervention materials the publisher of our textbook series provide, teaching the same content the same way with a different set of exercises.  We are about using the quality resources shared by colleagues from the MathTwitterBlogosphere and from other high-quality sources. We are about offering our students awesome, quality, interesting tasks to investigate, talk about, reason through, get frustrated about, and make sense of, all in support of them building confidence as learners and in their math skills.

We include number talks (Number Talks by Sherry Parrish), counting circles (Number Sense Routines by Jessica Shumway), and/or estimation tasks (estimation180 by Andrew Stadel) as starting points for the day’s work.  The rest of class is dedicated to kids working on tasks that relate to and support the content they are learning in their math classes, or building concepts that will support the next big topic they will work on in math class, and/or pursuing tasks that explore essential understanding and big concepts in math.

All of this is a very LONG response to the prompt that asked each of us to discuss what is one thing that happens in our math classes.  The bottom line-we believe that our students are mathematicians and we have set up our classes to ensure that they believe that as well.

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. I am interested in number talks. Do you use them with older students? Middle schoolers? Are your classrooms full inclusion?

    October 14, 2013
    • We use number talks with our middle schoolers. We have seen great growth in their mental math and computation strategies after just 2 and a half months of school. Lots of confidence and willingness to share ideas. Our math lab is an elective-and we evaluate at mid-trimester and at the trimester. We have about 2/3 of one class who will be moved into the regular elective rotation and we will be starting a new session, with mostly new kids. We also have some upper elementary classes in the district who have used number talks and have found that kids their kids have developed good reasoning skills as a result.

      October 14, 2013
  2. I love the mission that ya’ll have about students making connections and persevere. That’s also a huge goal for our math team this year. Our school is using Connected Math Project 3 Curriculum this year and I love that it is all about making connections through its explorations, but sometimes it’s so hard to not to let students struggle and persevere. I look forward to reading more about the strategies that you’re using to build that stamina with your students.

    October 14, 2013
    • Am really interested in your thoughts on Connected Math Project 3. Have seen some of the previous versions of their materials and find their tasks really interesting. Thanks for sharing the resource.

      October 14, 2013
      • So not only is it my first year teaching–I also teach at a new school. Everyone in our department who has prior experience were teachers in HS. Given that, so far my opinion of the curriculum:
        -overall their activities (which they call problems) are great. Students are to explore a series of questions and then we can make connections to content. The units are broken up into investigations that have 3-5 problems each that are very much connected.
        -I do like that they have everything online and there are also additional resources such as assessments, guiding questions, extension problems, etc.

        So far here is what I’ve learned:
        -sometimes the lesson becomes too much about the activity, We had a major fail with the product game (check out a very similiar adaptation by It took way too long to explain, students did not get it and the big idea about multiples did not follow from this.
        -some problems have way too many questions for students to explore, so we’ve been selecting 1-2 good ones.
        -some problems do not have any rich questions tied to them, so we’ve come up with our own.
        -It’s definitively going to take time. Thankfully my admin is supportive of the idea that we want to push quality and not quantity so we’ve been spending at least 2 days on each problem. But this also means we’ll be weeding out the most important problems/activities to do.

        I think we’re going to get better with time, especially with regard to making it accessible to all of our students who have a range of abilities.

        October 19, 2013
  3. Thanks for the interesting and thoughtful post – I’m commenting as part of the MTBS (is this the acronym?) Challenge and I’m really curious to learn more about how the “Math Labs” you describe work? Are they intended as extra support sessions, or do they allow teachers to take time to explore topics more deeply or in unique ways? Or perhaps they are some of each? How do students get selected for the lab classes?


    October 14, 2013
    • Page-appreciate all of you comments/questions. A bit of background for you: We realized from our data, that our interventions were not getting the results we wanted for our kids, despite the resources (money, time, and teachers) we were committing to them. So we took some time to decide what we really wanted our interventions to do for kids and what that could look like. What we came up with was step 1 of an ever changing journey. We have a ton of data and we used it to set some criteria that fit our school and allowed us to organize the classes using a set of criteria-state test scores over a number of years, an assessment that included some open tasks and multiple choice questions, and a whole range of other data, including teacher feedback, grades, etc.
      Right now, the math labs are part of the elective wheel, so they have a second period of math. We have a common philosophy and that is to be responsive to the kids-lots of time and extra work in planning and organizing as we uncover needs. We support them by connecting to their math class, providing opportunity to build mental math and computation strategies, encourage them to ask questions in math lab-we are seeing a transfer to their math classes-and that is one of the biggest indicators that we are on the right track.
      We are looking at kids at the mid-trimester and trimester, using a variety of criteria, to determine if math lab continues as their elective, or if they will move into the elective wheel. We have a lot of flexibility in the design and planning for each class, so we can take our time where it matters and explore topics more deeply. We meet regularly with admin, and they stop by at least once a week and join in the conversation. That’s a big part of the success we are seeing in our program-the commitment of our admin.

      October 14, 2013
  4. Helping kids learn where their understanding starts to break down is a fantastic idea. Helping them figure out that piece will be a lifelong skill they can apply to any discipline. Sounds like a great way to organize class 😉

    October 14, 2013
  5. I love your philosophy about learning and the focus that it places on engaging students. I am a pre-service teacher (interning/student teaching). Sadly, all too often, I observe teachers who are complacent, afraid to change, and stuck in the worksheet rut.

    I am not familiar with all of the activities you posted, so I have some research to do! 🙂

    October 14, 2013
  6. I love your philosophy about learning and the focus that it places on engaging students. I am a pre-service teacher (interning/student teaching). Sadly, all too often, I observe teachers who are complacent, afraid to change, and stuck in the worksheet rut.
    I am not familiar with all of the activities you posted, so I have some research to do! 🙂

    October 14, 2013

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