Even math teachers are teachers of reading

Every teacher in our building is to consider him/herself a teacher of reading. To support our school improvement initiative we are to introduce one reading/thinking strategy each month, share artifacts in our PLCs, discuss the successes and challenges, and consider next steps.

Today I modeled a think aloud that focused on monitoring. I’m not saying the think aloud was flawless, but I have to say it was the best gift I could have ever given a student—the gift of how to become an independent learner and thinker.

The students are starting decimals as integers today—a perfect opportunity for a think aloud. I modeled the monitoring process using a section from the textbook on adding integers. I wrote it in advance so I knew what to say. The first thing I did was state the purpose for my reading this section.

Think aloud1

As I read the page, I stopped at certain points and jotted down what I’m thinking, noting examples, catching things I overlooked in the margins, etc.

think aloud2

I finished reading the page, got out some paper, and did the first problem. Now it was their turn to practice.

I handed out copies from the Big Idea textbook on adding rational numbers and instructed them to monitor their thinking by jotting down their thoughts as they read. As they read silently for 10 minutes I observed their annotations and discovered most of my students don’t monitor as they read.

No one wrote a purpose for reading.  I stopped the class and said, “Write down why you are reading this and the answer isn’t ‘Because Mrs. Dooms told me to.’” A few kids were getting warmer, but not hot.

student annotation1
The calligraphy is an actual student response.

One student wrote, “I’m reading to learn how to solve the problem.” I asked her to be more specific. “I’m reading to learn how to add rational numbers.” Bingo!

student annotation2
Digital recreation of an actual response.

I walked over to another student who wrote, “Is this a division sign?” I asked him, “Is there a fix up strategy you can use to answer your own question?”

“I don’t know.”

“What about re-reading? What’s the section about?

“Adding rational numbers.”

“So what sign do you think that is?”


student annotation3
Another actual student response–recreated.

Another student wrote, “Am I supposed to be doing these?” I put that section of the think aloud on the screen so he could see, yes, indeed you are supposed to do the problems.

I closed the think aloud by saying, “I’m not lying when I say to you, ‘You don’t need me.’ If you slow down, read closely, and monitor what you are reading you can learn this without me.”

And with that I handed out practice problems on adding negative decimals. “You can get out your math notes or you can open the textbook to page 278 to remind yourself of the integer rules.”

No one pulled out their resources. They wanted me to show them. I let them struggle.

Table after table I checked student work. “Not yet,” I said when I saw a wrong answer. “Why don’t you take out your math notes or open the textbook to page 278.”

A couple of students took out their notes or book and after some time they began practicing correctly. Another table was getting it. Then another.

But one table was still struggling. I had stopped there three times previously, each time suggesting they take out their math notes or open the book. Finally I said with brute force, “Get-out-your-math-notes-or –textbook-and-open-it-to-page-278.”

By the end of the block most of the students were practicing correctly—except that one table. They’re scheduled to attend math lab or stay after tomorrow.


Days 42 and 43: Careless mistakes with decimals; exponent reflection

Observations on the careless mistakes students make, plus how I have been careless too.

180 days of math post-its

We’re heading into decimals as integers. I want to make sure the students know place value so I gave the standard classes a pre-test on adding and subtracting positive decimals. Before the pre-test, I talked about attending to precision and I specifically asked the students to rewrite the problem vertically to avoid careless mistakes.

Students shared their work on the whiteboard and we talked about each problem.  Of course I had a few who did not take my suggestion to heart. I didn’t have my smartphone handy to capture the actual student work, but below is a recreation of a mistake one student made with the first problem.

decimal mistake

This was a great mistake because it generated a conversation about place value, but I was soooo disappointed the student didn’t rewrite the problem to solve. Perhaps the problem was too easy so they didn’t feel it was necessary to rewrite it…

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Turning Expo markers into microphones

Over the summer I played along with Dan Meyer’s makeover series by spicing up a textbook problem using the distributive property. Today the kids completed the open ended Variety Show task and it was a hit in more ways than one. They collaborated, persevered, and constructed arguments. All while having fun.

Before we jumped into the task I handed out a Mathematical Collaboration Rubric which I modified a bit, courtesy of Cheesemonkey Wonders.

Then the fun began by showing one of the blind audition clips from the Voice.

“Why are we watching this Mrs. Dooms?”

“You’ll see, Steven.”

Each group of three then received one copy of the task. I projected it on the screen. We read it aloud. Then they went to work on the giant white boards.

Two groups had trouble getting started or didn’t take into account the parameters of the show: twenty acts, about 2 hours in length, the need to consider set up and take down.

About 15 minutes into the task, the mathematical thinking became more clearly: three minute acts, two minutes for combined set up and take down, one minute per introduction. Yet the task asked for three scenarios. They began to make adjustments.

variety show1

variety show2

“Do you think the host needs one minute to introduce each act? How could you estimate how long it takes?” I asked.

“I could pretend I’m the host!” said one student.

“Yeah. Introduce my act as the kid who jumps through hoops of fire!” said another.

Expo markers were suddenly transformed into microphones. One student grabbed three and bundled them together, “I’m Barack Obama talking on TV!”

Two boys went to the front of the room and we timed an introduction.

“Our next act is Zach. Zach, tell me what you’re going to do?”

“You’re gonna watch me draw a horse!”

“Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Zach, the artist, and his horse!”

They timed their intros and discovered one minute was too much time. “Where would you put that extra time?” Nearly every group chose to give the extra time to the acts. One student thought the time could be used to interact with the audience. “That’s a possibility,” I said.

After all groups shared out the students reflected on one section of the rubric.

I wish I could tell you EVERYONE collaborated beautifully. Unfortunately one group was a disaster. Instead of collaborating, they silently and begrudgingly took turns creating each scenario. Every time I checked on them, encouraged them to work together, it was utter silence.

How do you handle these situations?  Algebraniac, I just read your group task presentation. Did anyone in your session inquire about that?

Students’ graphing stories as graphed by MAP

Fall MAP scores, Measures of Academic Progress, are going home on Monday. I plan to briefly interview each student about their personal graphing story so they better understand their progress.  While I can easily disguise my students’ identity, I’m using the image below as talking points for this post. The image is from here.

Example graph.
Sample graph.

I plan to ask the student, “How does your personal graphing story describe your growth as a learner?” My intention is NOT to put the student on the spot, however I do want them to reflect, to recognize we are in partnership, and to help them create an action plan. The above example shows a student whose gap is widening. If this student is receiving special services I won’t talk to him/her about the widening gap, but I might ask them to look at their fall to fall growth from 4th to 5th grade and compare it to their fall to fall growth from 5th to 6th grade.

MAP graph2
Below each student’s graph is a breakdown of performance by strand.

I’ll then have them look at their breakdown of strengths and challenges. I’ll double check their understanding of the Geometry and Statistics and Probability strands then I’ll ask them if they know the meaning of Algebraic Thinking and Real & Complex Number Systems. I’m betting most won’t be able to explain so I’ll need to present them with some examples.

Addressing their weaknesses when we’re not in that unit of study is where I could use your help. Would setting aside one day a week to work on the strands be an effective use of time?

I’d appreciate your help.

What to do when you don’t know what to do

I’m reblogging this in response to Sam Shah’s request to write about a favorite open ended problem.

Curiouser and Curiouser

My students do not have much experience with non-routine problems. On occasion they’ve completed complex tasks, but certainly not enough, or a variety, for students to build self-efficacy. I’m trying to change that by living a SMART goal I created for myself. Last Thursday, day 8, I presented a formative lesson designed by the Mathematical Assessment Project.

The problem began: Emily doesn’t trust banks with her money. She has stored $24,000 in one dollar bills under her mattress. The rest of the problem can be seen below. This student’s attempt was typical.

After they worked on the task independently for fifteen minutes, I collected their work. I found myself providing the same feedback over and over. (My handwriting is atrocious. I know. )

As I reviewed their work, I came upon this response:

One or two students thought to estimate the size of a mattress, but their dimensions weren’t reasonable…

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