Sep 062015

In my Feedly this morning popped up the article by Larry Ferlazzo called, “Disappointing NY Times Article On Teachers & ‘A Sharing Economy’.” Okay, let me be more blunt. I am not disappointed in the NYT, I am frustrated and a little ticked off. It stems from this article in the NYT: A Sharing Economy where Teachers Win by Natasha Singer.

Read the article. I call foul AND shenanigans. How much did TeachersPayTeachers pay for this fluff piece that was nothing more than an advertisement for teachers selling out other teachers.


Maybe it is because I am active and love the #MTBoS (that is the MathTwitterBlogo’Sphere, if you are not familiar with it.) I embrace the sharing, the collaboration and the freely giving of resources that the math teachers do on Twitter, their blogs and the internet in general.

The article should have been titled, “A sharing economy where teachers win, but collaboration dies.” Sure, some teacher just made $1000 by selling her lesson plans to a 1000 different teachers for a buck. She won, but collaboration died. Is she seeking feedback from people who have used her lessons? Is she improving them by discussing and talking about how others have used them? Probably not. It is in a store, and people are buying it. There is no reason or need to improve it.

Meanwhile, in the #MTBoS, teachers are making, sharing, improving and resharing lessons all the time. They are coming together to make better lessons. And then, they talk about these lessons, which spawn more, better lessons. This is a collaborative community where ALL teachers win, and more importantly, our learners win. And our learners continue to win. Over and over again.

Seriously, look at the amount of resources freely created and given away.

First up, websites created by teachers collaborating:

  • Let’s start with the MTBoS Directory. No one claims this is an exhaustive list. It requires teachers to add their names to it, but there are currently 344 teachers in the list, all with an online presence, and all sharing things.
  • – created by Tina Cardone and teachers all over the #MTBoS who contributed tricks. You can download the most excellent book for free.
  • Fawn Nguyen’s Visual Patterns and Math Talks. Both are excellent sites. I have used the Visual Patterns site frequently in my high school classroom, and am working on learning more about Math Talks and implementing them in the college classroom where I am now.
  • Would you Rather Math is a site I used regularly in my teaching as well. Great questions, created by and curated by John Stevens.
  • Michael Pershan’s Math Mistakes. See an interesting math mistake? Submit it to this site and have a discussion on the thinking the learner made while making the mistake. We can learn more from mistakes than we can from correct work.
  • Dan Meyer’s Google spreadsheet of 3 Acts lessons. More on this to come. I am working on an idea taking shape out of my current position as a Master Teacher with a UTeach model school.
  • Mary Bourassa’s Which One Doesn’t Belong. So Mary saw Christopher Danielson’s great shapes idea, and realized that there was some amazing math thinking that could be done. BOOM, another collaborative website created.
  • Open Middle Dan Meyer introduced the idea, Nanette Johnson, Robert Kaplinsky and Bryan Anderson ran with and created the platform.
  • Desmos Activity Bank A site created by Jed Butler out of the need to share Desmos files, first showed at TMC15 at Harvey Mudd College.
  • MTBoS Activity Bank created by John Stevens (second time his name is on the list) to collect and curate some of the awesome materials created. Anyone can submit their own, and searching is easy.
  • The MTBoS Blog Search also created by John Stevens (I don’t think he sleeps). This site allows you search the blogs of a long list of math teachers for lessons, content, whatever you are looking for.
  • Robert Kaplinsky has a Problem Based Search Engine, to find those specialized lessons that are, you guessed it, problem based!
  • The Welcome to the MathTwitterBlogoSphere website has a further collection of collaborative efforts that includes some of the above but is even larger.

But that isn’t even all of it. There are teachers who are collecting curriculum, links or materials and sharing it all back out; lock, stock and barrel. These teachers have “Virtual Filing Cabinets” full of lessons that have been tried and tested, re-written and shared back out. Some call their pages VFC’s, some are just curated sites of materials.

And then there are great organizations giving away curriculum:

  • Illustrative Mathematics, free ever-more-complete curriculum that is CCSS aligned and incredibly high quality.
  • Shells Center/Mathematics Assessment Project, good as lessons, problems or assessments. I forget about this site until I am desperate, and then kick myself because it is just so good and thorough.
  • Mathalicious has free lessons and paid lessons. I have used them in class. They are worth paying for!
  • Igor Kokcharov has an international effort in APlusClick. Lots of great problems and lessons.

And this list is FAR from complete. It is what I pulled together in 15 minutes of thought. And this list does not even begin to talk about the 180 blogs

So, NY Times and Natasha Singer. You blew it. You didn’t show teachers winning, you showed teachers selling out. If you want to see winning teachers, click on any link above and read their sites.

The above are all winning teachers. TeachersPayTeachers is an example of teachers losing out on this kind of collaboration.

Nov 092013

Peg had a very busy Friday at NCTM Las Vegas, giving 3 different presentations in 1 day. The first was for newbies to the NCTM conference, the second was the resource presentation I already posted about, and then there was this presentation entitled: Pedagogical Judgment & Instructional Choices for Building Mathematics Classrooms.

I thought this presentation was the best one of the two I attended, mainly because it allowed the audience to get inside of her head and see what she thinks about. Short answer, she thinks about helping kids succeed. A lot.

That also means she is not thinking about BS like micromanaging homework, parents, etc. She thinks about how to support learners, how to know what they know, and how to demonstrate what they know.

This is going to turn into another “link fest” post because she cited some resources that I need to link to as I go. With good reason. She also could have used another 4 or 5 hours instead of the 1 she had. I would love to sit down with her and spend some time one on one just talking and learning from her.

Point 1: Management of Homework.

She started with a simple question, “Why are you assigning the homework?”

Are you assigning it for practice? Why? Are you assigning it as pre-learning? Why? Are you assigning it for some other reason? Why?

Are you THINKING about the homework you assign? Do you care more about the homework then your learners do? If so, you really need to stop and think about what you are doing.

This conversation immediately put me in the “Rethinking Homework” by Cathy Vatterott discussion that has occurred in my school and department. Other people mentioned Alfie Kohn’s “Rethinking Homework” article and discussion. I am embarrassed to admit I had not read that article, but I have rectified that deficiency.

Here are some quotes / statements on homework by Peg that I captured because they really struck home:

Distributed Practice not focused practice & one topic practice.  Focused practice does not show the long term results in research. [I would love to see and read the research, I am a research junkie.]

Assigning something the learners have never seen before is a way to get them to persevere.

Instead of reviewing, have the learners write the test questions. You will be surprised at how difficult they make the questions.

Turn homework into a way to take possession of their own learning. 1. Teach someone else how to do it. 2. Exeter type presentations

Teach parents to Ask, Don’t Tell. Teach the parents to ask questions instead of trying to help do the math and tell the learners answers.

Point 2: Putting work on your walls

Are you putting the perfect work on your walls? If so, think about what message that says to the rest of the class who are not there yet. If you only celebrate the perfect work, you are devaluing the work of the F, D and C learners. Their work is not important, so it does not count. Is that really the message you want to send?

Public displays of work should create an “Institutional Memory for the reminders of what happened in class.” That is a very different use of displays of work than most teachers do.

Point 3: Assessment

How do the learners inform what you do in the classroom?

At this point, Peg was running out of time and she listed off some resources that are impactful on this discussion.

Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black wrote an important article entitled, “Inside the Black Box”. (another source is Peg strongly recommends reading the thinking about the impacts of the article. A follow up article that should be read as well I think. “Working Inside the Black Box”

Peg also recommended Dylan Wiliam’s “Embedded Formative Assessment”. This is a book I have not read (shocking) and I know is very well regarded in the #MTBoS community.

And then Peg slipped in some gems on assessment, grades and feedback that where pure gold. Seriously, pure 24 caret gold. These are things she has done in her classroom to encourage learners to take ownership of their learning.

Give the homework back to a group, with comments only, no grades, and the comments written for the group on a separate page. The learners have to then go through everyone’s homework and correctly matchup the comments to the correct problem on each person’s homework.

On EVERY CHAPTER Test, Peg required (as in not optional) a correction and reflection. The grade was such, that if a perfect test taker failed to turned the reflection (because there was nothing to correct) they ended up with a 89% on the test.

Yes, that is correct. The reflection & correction was worth 10% of the test grade, and not doing it took you down an entire letter grade.

Again, no grades on the actual test handed back, only comments. They can look online for the grade or speak to you one on one if they want to know the score.

These are ideas I will be implementing.

Finally, somewhere along in the conversation, Peg plugged the PCMI, the Park City Math Institute as one of the absolutely best Professional Development she has ever done. I may have to look into it in a serious way. Especially since it is on my end of the country.

Feb 042013

Homework, to give, nor not? How much to give? How much is too much? What purpose does it serve? What is the purpose in assigning it?

I will be honest, I don’t have answers to these questions, but I do have some research, some documents downloaded that may help you shape your own answers to these questions.

by John Dunlosky, et al.

Let’s start off with some super new research (Jan 2013) that identifies 5 very useful study skills that make up homework and 5 that do not help. While this is related to homework it is not about homework. I feel we as teachers need to think about why we are assigning homework, and to make it completely useful we should follow some best practices. I read about this article online, and then followed the links to find the free download from the Association for Psychological Science. Thank you for providing the research for free! This article could shape the homework assignments given to make them more useful to the learner; and one hint, practice testing was found to be very useful!

by Joseph Murphy, et. al.

Okay, this article is a bit dated, but when I was researching homework for a paper, I didn’t find much that wasn’t shrill and emotional. It is relevant, because I think some teachers haven’t changed much of their homework planning from 1987 when this study was done. Again, I really think about why I am assigning this or that as homework, there are different uses for homework, and what use am I using.

by Etta Kralovec, John Buell and David Skinner

This short little 9 page section out of an older edition of a book entitled Taking Sides: Clashing views on educational issues by James Wm. Noll gives a pro and a con to the question. It is short, and gives both sides of the debate. In math, I think we have to give some homework. I am firmly on the Yes side of the question, but it does come down to the purpose of it.

by Nevada’s Northwestern Regional Professional Development Program for Educators

Okay, I have said “purpose” several times in this post, because that is something that resonated with me closely when I went through the training our RPDP did for our math department a couple of years ago. It was based around Cathy Vatterott’s book “Rethinking Homework” that I found to be very useful in shaping my own ideas. The Whole Homework guide above is a 138 page document created by our school district to give blackline masters, thinking guides, and tools to our teachers to help us think about homework in a more constructive manner. All in all, I recommend both the Guide and the Rethinking Homework book.

As always, I hope something here is useful to someone.

Jan 282013

Last week I posted research and articles on vocabulary in math, this week I have a topic of reading and writing in math class, including some mathematical poetry. Sounds interesting, right?

by James Henle

This paper offers six different versions of mathematical poems, both traditional and modern. I really liked the fact that it offers Pascal’s Triangle as a modern mathematical poem. A very different way to look at it.

by Patrick Bahls

While the author uses examples from Calculus in this paper, the justifications, descriptions, and everything else about the concepts are applicable to any math classroom. Very well thought out and very thorough treatment of why we should use some poetry in our writing assignments in math class.

by Vicki Urquhart and McREL (an organization)

This 24 page document goes through the research on using writing in math class and then gives strategies and methods to incorporate more writing in the math curriculum. There are some good ideas here, although most of the content is geared towards elementary school concepts.

Finally, some websites that have content related to this topic.

Pat’s blog, (which I love because of the ongoing “this day in math” series) had a posting on Math, Shakespeare and some good ol’ Limericks. Great article, expecially when combined with the poetry articles above.

A college professor, Derek Bruff, had a great posting on How to read a math textbook. This is a skill that is too often not taught, just assumed. Although we all know reading a math textbook is radically different than reading other textbooks.

An entire website dedicated to Writing in Math Classes by Dr. Annalisa Crannell has lots of good resources for the math teacher. Again, it is geared to Calculus, but there is enough there to figure out how to use it in other classes at the high school level as well.

That is all for today. Hopefully, as always, it will help someone.

Jan 202013

I think like most teachers, I read a lot. When I say I read a lot, I mean a freakin’ lot, and I save articles that I think will have an impact on my teaching either now or later. This means I have an folder with a couple of hundred research reports and articles. Over the weekend the question was posted on Twitter whether or not anyone has anything to share on vocabulary in math class.

I has some articles and emailed them to the couple of people who requested, but it made me think that a terrific #Made4Math series would be to post some of the articles. It will be doubly good because it will force me to re-read the articles.

So today, I start with vocabulary in mathematics.

by Kathryn Sullivan

This article is short, and it gives a good introduction to many of the “little” words that we use in math class often that really does create problems for many learners. What surprised me was that it wasn’t words like add, subtract, etc. It is words like “the,” “each,” “how,” etc.

by Suzanne Irujo

This article is short (6 pages) and breaks down the different parts of English that are used in math class. It definitely makes you think about the difference between Academic and Informal uses of language. In math, it is almost entirely Academic use, which causes problems for the learner (especially the ELL learner.)

by Dr. Madeline Kovarik

This 20 page research paper gives some great insights into how important the use of and development of vocabulary is in the math classroom, and then it gives some curriculum insights into how to achieve good vocabulary learning. I need to study this paper some more, because I have only recently found this paper, but on first reading it seems a valuable addition.

is by the AISD Elementary Mathematics Department.

It is an elementary level research paper, but that is okay because it has some great insights into learning vocab and bridging the Academic vs non-academic language usage. It included black line masters, ideas for helping ELL and below level learners. It is completely of use to the secondary level teacher as well.

In addition, I found a book online and downloaded it. It is a good book on the issue, but there is no way I will post the pdf file. It is still copyrighted and would be a HUGE violation.

The book is “Teaching and Learning Vocabulary: Bringing Research to Practice” by Elfrieda H. Hiebert and Michael L. Kamil. I have found some great ideas in the book, but it is a little long and very dense reading. Here is a short review of the book to see if it is something you would like to purchase.

I hope this helps someone.