Mathematical Mindsets Book Club

For the second year in a row, I had intended to participate in the MTBoS blog challenge, and for the second year in a row, I managed to post exactly zero times in January.  So… it’s February 1st and I am going to re-commit to reflecting on and cataloging some (hopefully) interesting math-related happenings.  January has been a busy month for workshops and classroom visits, so I have lots on my mind to write about… now to set aside the time to get it on the screen which seems to be the more complicated thing for me.

Yesterday was the start of our new Math book club (we hosted Making Number Talks Matter in the fall).  This time around, we are reading Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler and our district’s entire Math Enhancement Team (our full-time Numeracy teacher and 5 of us part-time Math Liaisons) is participating, so we opened the book club up to teachers from Grades 3-10.  We have 21 teachers signed up and we will meet monthly until the end of April.  We have adjusted things slightly based on the feedback we received from our Number Talks follow-up survey and to better accommodate our secondary teachers.

This book is quite different in focus from the Number Talks book, so I have been really pondering what our sessions should look like.  We have only set aside an hour for the meetings, and I really want to make the most of that time, and also to make sure that teachers find the meetings valuable and worthwhile.  The Number Talks book was very practical and hands-on, and we had lots to talk about as teachers began implementing Number Talks in their classrooms.  This book is a little more theoretical and part of our goal is to shift the mindsets of our teachers as well as impact the way that they are approaching their math instruction.

I decided that we should start with a math task (given that this is a math book club and we are all math teachers).  I am a frequent reader of Dan Meyer’s blog and have been very interested in his posts on recreational math and becoming a better math teacher through DOING more math.  I think we (especially as elementary generalist teachers) don’t DO enough math just for fun, and it is hard to get kids excited about doing math if we don’t ourselves believe that doing math is fun.  (After all, how much buy-in would we get if we tried to get kids excited about reading and then admitted that we NEVER read ourselves… there are so many interesting double-standards around literacy and numeracy instruction).

Anyways – we started with these Zukei geometry puzzles that I have been itching to try since I saw them on Twitter in the fall.  I wanted to make sure that I chose a task that would be accessible and relevant for my elementary teachers, but also interesting for our secondary teachers and I think these puzzles did the trick nicely.  We had a nice hush over the room and some interested chatter – I was definitely hooked – they are challenging in a nice way and sparked some interesting table conversation about precise definitions for geometric shapes.  I realize that it has been a long time since I have thought about the exact definition for a rhombus…

After taking about 10 minutes for people to get settled and work on the puzzles, we dove into discussions.  This book has so many interesting and thought-provoking ideas, it was really hard to narrow down the discussion questions.  I was aiming for 5 and I ended up with 8.  Some of these questions are adapted from the Mathematical Mindsets #mathbookchat that was happening on Twitter in the fall, and others are just things that really resonated with me as I read through the Chapters. mathematical-mindsets-questionsI had intended to leave some time at the end for a whole-group debrief, but the discussions were going well at all the tables and I am a terrible timekeeper (definitely one of my biggest weaknesses as a teacher and a facilitator), so we ran out of time.  My table had a really great mix of expertise – Grade 4, 5, 7 and 8 teachers – and our discussion was so engaging and thoughtful.  It was a really fun experience.

At the end of the meeting, teachers left with two resources that we had printed off from the YouCubed website: Classroom Norms and the Building a Mathematical Mindset Community card.  For “homework” we asked participants to read Chapters 4 and 5 and to try some kind of activity in their classroom on growth mindset or mistakes or brain science and math learning or…

A few of my take-aways from this week:

  • I am really loving the book study structure for offering professional learning – I love that I get to be a learner/facilitator right alongside our participating teachers and I love that I can offer resources to teachers who participate in these groups.
  • I am continually grateful that I have the opportunity to work with individuals and groups of teachers.  Teachers are such creative, thoughtful and passionate people, and it is exciting to be with a group of people who are excited about improving their practice.
  • My office is a mess – I really need to figure out a system for organizing and re-using leftover handouts and activities from workshops…

I am really looking forward to diving into task creation across the grades with our teachers in late February!  Are there any other math/instructional coaches out there who lead book studies with their teachers?

 

 

Investigations with Number Talks

Our last *sniff, sniff* book club meeting was held this week.  We are so appreciative of the teachers who signed up to participate with us.  We are so grateful for the rich and thoughtful conversations and collaborative trouble-shooting that went along with our study of Making Number Talks Matter.  We really believe that professional learning is so much better with colleagues and that setting aside time for professional learning is great for our students, but also helps us (as teachers) stay excited about our work on a day-to-day basis.

This week, we looked at Chapter 9 – Investigations.

We started our meeting with our usual check-in about how Number Talks have been going in the classroom.  It sounds like most people have established a good routine with Number Talks.  Some folks are taking a short break and shifting focus but planning to come back to Number Talks in the New Year.   We did some trouble-shooting discussion about how to deal with students who offer silly answers or make up strange answers that don’t relate to the question posed.  We talked about using phrases that help the student connect their answer with the question (can you explain to me where in the question you got the numbers that you are using in your strategy?).  We also talked about moving on from a student who is having trouble explaining his/her thinking clearly with a statement like: I’m having a hard time understanding your explanation and I would like us both to think about it some more – can I check in with you about your strategy after the number talk is over?

Next, we talked about our BIG IDEAS for the day:

investigations-big-ideas

And outlined how to do an investigation:

investigation-procedure

We then delved into exploring the multiplication strategy of halving and doubling using the general procedure for an investigation.  We started with the question 8 x 26 to try to elicit the strategy of doubling and halving.  Once we looked at all the suggested strategies, we focused in on doubling and halving and talked about the big question of “Does it always work?”  The group split up into partnerships to explore this question – we provided graph paper, colour tiles, rulers, paper and scissors and then circulated to try to see how the investigation went.

It was interesting to note that it is really difficult to be a skeptic in Math – the strategy might make sense to us, but actually thinking about what it takes to PROVE that it works requires much more depth to our thinking.  Many groups got started by discussing WHEN it would be good to use this strategy (ie. what circumstances/numbers make it an efficient strategy).  Some groups explored odd vs. even numbers, some explored big and small numbers, some tried to delve into fractions to see if it worked there.  Some groups worked with the colour tiles to make arrays and others used the graph paper to show the strategy visually.

Then, we wrapped up with a discussion – different groups shared their approaches and it was interesting to note how varied the ideas were.  We looked briefly at the questions offered in the book to guide small group work for this investigation:

  • Will it only work with even numbers?
  • What would happen if, instead of halving, you took a third of one factor?
  • Can you represent this strategy visually/geometrically?
  • What generalizations can you make?
  • Would this work for division?

We had hoped to have time to also have teachers choose another investigation: either the same difference strategy for subtraction or the halving-halving strategy for division, but we ran out of time.  I think participating in an investigation was really valuable.  I enjoyed seeing how much mathematical thinking (curricular competencies) is involved in this type of activity.  Of note – mathematical investigations take time, and it is worth setting aside some time to do activities like this in class.

Once again, a HUGE thank-you to our teachers who participated!  We will be running some more after school PD for intermediate math teachers in the New Year – likely a Mathematical Mindsets book study at some point – so keep an eye on your email in January for information on how to join in.

Hindsight

Math Poster Books and Co (1)

I stopped in our locally owned bookstore the other day and came across this sign.  Of course, I instantly noticed the “anything but math” comment and had to look more closely.  There are just so many interesting things about these responses…

For the past 6 weeks, I have been working as a curriculum coach in my district (a new position designed to help support teachers in transitioning to our province’s new curriculum), and we have been talking a lot about what we really want for our kids when they leave school.  We want them to be good people, and we want them to have the skills they need to be successful.  The content part is less important.  I am excited that our curriculum is starting to make this shift as well, and making it easier for teachers and students to focus on what is really important.

I think it’s interesting that pretty much everything (with the exception of “fresh avacado”) falls under interpersonal skills or real-world skills.  And of course, it’s also interesting that so many responses are math/money-related.  I am happy that financial literacy has been included in the curriculum starting right at Kindergarten.

So, what do you wish you had learned in school?