Sep 092016
 

To my last post, “No more broccoli ice creamDavid Griswold challenged me with a very serious and thoughtful reply.

The phrase, “No more broccoli ice cream” came from this meme that I saved. I collect these memes, just because the provide interesting fodder for conversations about math in class.

textbook math is like broccoli ice cream

So who is Denise Gaskins? She is a home school parent who specializes in K-6 math (I am inferring this from her website and the books / content she talks about. I could be wrong about the grade levels.) She tweets and has a FaceBook page under the name “Lets Play Math.” It is clear she has a focus on making math fun, interesting, and engaging. At that age, my experience is that learners are very much into mathematics. I saw this bulletin board in a hallway last year.

2015-09-28 12.56.29

If you zoom in, you will see that almost every single one of those 4th graders said their favorite subject was math, or they enjoyed math, or they were good at math. 2 out of the 15 had no positive mention of math. A bulletin board next door to it had a similar proportion. When I saw this board, I wrote a post called “Where does the joy go?” This issue is one that I have been struggling with for a while. Why are young children excited about math, but junior or high school learners typically are not?

I believe it is because at some point, I and my fellow teachers stop thinking about math as joyful, and start thinking about it as “serious work.” We can’t have fun solving these equations, this is “serious business.” But that is true of all subjects in high school. It isn’t just math teachers, but English teachers, history teachers, and other teachers. We turn our subjects into these “serious business” topics that must be “mastered” and “assessed.” If you don’t pass the classes, then you can’t graduate, you can’t be successful in life without knowing “algebra.”

[yes, I used a lot of scare quotes in that paragraph because I do not want anyone to infer that there is an agreed upon meaning of those terms.]

Here is what David said in his questioning of my post:

I’m not sure I completely agree with this, or Lockhart for that matter. There are a lot of people who find joy and beauty in the curriculum, and there are lots of ways to encourage and celebrate that joyousness without throwing too much out. Will some people hate it? Sure. I didn’t like AP US History very much, though I liked my teacher. But I had friends who thrived there. And I’m okay with that.

Personally, I don’t think the ice cream metaphor is realistic. Math isn’t ice cream. Nothing is ice cream. No field or subject is as universally loved and delicious as ice cream, certainly nothing with any practical application. Math isn’t ice cream, it’s vegetables! So maybe “textbook math” is steamed broccoli and it’s up to us to add peas and roasted cauliflower and sweet potatoes (maybe even with some marshmallows on top) and even pickles, but the fact is some people don’t like ANY vegetables and some people like simple steamed broccoli the best and some people like ALL vegetables and, importantly, all of them are part of a well balanced diet. So our job is to be a math nutritionist.

The first paragraph I will not reply to, because it is his personal feelings and I don’t think there is anything there to discuss. It is real.

The second paragraph is the challenge. “No field or subject is as universally loved and delicious as ice cream.” But … I don’t like ice cream. I eat it maybe one time every four or five months, because my wife wants to share something.

And, guess what? Yes, math is as loved as ice cream at the lower grades. I have observed 4th and 5th grade classrooms where the learners are excited, joyful, and enthusiastic about math. The bulletin board above is anecdotal evidence.

I think we need to stop saying it is the subject that is like vegetables, and accept the fact that it is the way we teach the subject that turns it into vegetables.

Watch this video (it is 5 minutes) of these middle school learners struggle and succeed in math.

There is honest to goodness joy there.

They ate some yummy ice cream in that lesson. Why can’t we do that every day?

To answer David. Is math like vegetables? I think it can be. Is math like ice cream? I think it can be. The choice is mine.

If I get to choose whether math is more like vegetables or like ice cream in my classroom, I will choose ice cream (even though I don’t like ice cream).

I choose this not for myself, but for my learners. And David is right. Not everyone will love every subject. I am okay with that. But if I choose to present math like brussel sprouts instead of chocolate fudge peanut butter ripple, then I have denied some learners even the ability to choose whether or not they enjoy math.

And then, how do I make my pre-service teachers understand that it is a choice they can make too? [Wow, that is a whole different can of worms.]

So, is math like ice cream? For my classroom, for my pre-service teachers, the answer must be Yes.


David responded on Twitter with these series of tweets. I think they add a great deal to the conversation.

 

Thank you David for making me think.

Aug 312016
 

The last #BlAugust post this year, and I wanted to end on some good things.

MTBOSBlaugust2016

Monday was a banner day for me, full of firsts. I hit “Finalize” on my very first ever NSF grant. It is a Robert Noyce Scholarship grant that, if we get it, would be a $1.1 million dollar grant for scholarships for learners in the program I teach in. This is huge. 63 scholarships over 5 years of $10,000 each, as well as travel and other programs for the Noyce Scholars. It is in the feedback process at the school, but on 6 September the “Submit” button gets pressed. So exciting.

I also received notice on Monday that Megan Schmidt’s and my proposal for “Statistics & Social Justice” was accepted at the NCTM 2017 National Conference. This means that we are not speakers at both NCSM and NCTM 2017 Nationals. This is my first national speaking opportunity. I am very excited that I get to work with Megan on this.

I also taught the first section of Knowing & Learning in Mathematics & Science on Monday. This was the first 3 credit course that I have been able to teach at the University. Even more special, is the fact that I was allowed to plan the course from the beginning. So, as a doc student, my CV now says that I built a University course. How cool it that!

Then, walking across campus yesterday, 3 amazing young women ran up to me and gave me hugs. These were juniors in high school when they were my learners, and they had just finished their first day of college. Their excitement and wanting to tell me about it was so amazing to experience. And then, a former learner who is in her senior year of high school at a community college program messaged me this:

Hey Mr. Waddell! I hope that you are doing well! I just wanted to let you know that I am taking a Math 122 class (for Elementary Education Majors) and our professor today reminded me of you and some of your classroom policies but also your view on math that still sticks with me and that is that there is no one way to do a problem…because of this, our professor does not use the word ‘step.’ Instead, he says ‘move.’ So like, “what’s the next move you are going to take?” Anyways, I know I’ve said it a million times, but thank you again for being such an awesome math teacher and helping me love math again.

Having experiences like this just reinforces the fact that it is about connections, not content. It is about people, not math. The math will come, the learners will want to learn math when we teach them as people and make connections with them.

Finally, the we are starting off the year with a new member of the team at UNR. We have a third Master Teacher with us, and we are all working together very well. The hiccups that come with a new member joining a team have been small and inconsequential. Working with terrific people is such a rewarding experience, and it will make this year go by quickly.

But I hope not too fast. I want to enjoy this for a while.

An remember, Be Awesome to One Another! Always.

Aug 292016
 

One of the last #BlAugust posts this year. Not the last post this year for sure, however.

MTBOSBlaugust2016

Today is kind of a big day. I have to submit a NSF grant proposal today. That is a big deal. So much work and effort goes into this proposal, and then the chances of getting it are slim.

So there is that, but the biggest thing today is it is the first day of classes in my second semester at UNR. Oh, AND I am teaching a 3 credit class I have been working on half the summer, and it is the first time this course has been taught at UNR.

That is why I am a little nervous. There is a lot going on, lots of moving parts in the class. It is a survey course of ed theory called Knowing and Learning in Mathematics and Science, and there area ton of readings, interviews, and projects.

I haven’t been nervous about teaching anything for 10 years. This is kind of a new feeling all over again, and …. it is different.

I guess the fact I am nervous means that I care how the class develops. That is a good thing to realize.

Oh, and if these reasons to be nervous aren’t enough, I also got the email from NCTM this morning saying my proposal for Statistics and Social Justice with Megan Schmidt was accepted. This means I will be presenting at both NCSM and NCTM on this topic.

So, nervousness, celebrations, a little excitement thrown into the mix.

Yea, I am a mess today. I need a nice cup of coffee and some relaxing music I think.

Aug 182016
 

Continuing on the #BlAugust train! Yay.

MTBOSBlaugust2016

To help set the stage for the Big Questions of Knowing and Learning, I will be using the results from this survey. I asked on Twitter for teachers to take it, and it will be required for my learners to take it. (Same questions, but a different set of instructions and explanations on the prompts.)

I will take the results from this survey to juxtapose their responses so we can evaluate what it means to Know, to Learn, and to Believe.

For example, looking at the teacher responses from Twitter, we can see that the teachers mostly all agreed that “Nurture” had the largest impact on ACT, SAT, and AP Scores. Notice, however, the difference between asking about “Success in AP Calculus” and “Success in Science”.

calc  science

Notice all the “3” responses in Science? Those responses are interesting. For whatever reason, the exact same teachers who responded to this survey thought that “Nuture” is more responsible for success in AP Calc than it is for Success in Science. Or, rather, there were more teachers who weren’t sure if “Nuture” was as responsible as “Nature” so they selected a neutral response.

That is interesting. That brings up the immediate question of Why?

Juxtaposing these type of responses on the first day with college learners will give even more variety of responses (at least I hope the responses are varied.)

Also, look at the responses to these questions.

theory

It makes sense that teachers would be almost identical in responses to these two questions, but I am hoping for a more varied response to the question from college students.

Using their own responses will be a common theme in the course. Each day they will have to enter their reading responses into a google form. This allows me to read their responses quickly, sort and categorize them, and then select items for discussion in class that afternoon.

In addition, I will be using the Annenberg Learner video called “A Private Universe”.  If you have not seen the first video on the page, do so. The video is dated (1980’s) but it is well worth the 20 minutes.

The video starts with the interviewer asking questions at a Harvard graduation about why there are seasons, and then moves into the classroom to uncover learner’s misconceptions.

This is a wonderful video to show my learners how even though teachers may think they have taught something, the learners don’t know correct things or didn’t learn correct things from the teaching.

How do we Know? How do we Learn? [which ends up at How do we Teach?]

The main projects  in the class are two Clinical Interviews, and a deeply, well thought out lesson plan.

Along the way, we dive into the different theories of knowing and learning, so the learners can select one for their own lesson plan and utilize it well.

So, the first day will involve discussion about their own ideas, discussion comparing them (novices) to experts (teachers), interviewing clinically (A Private Universe), and a closure with ….

….

Not sure.

I have not done closures on this type of material before.

A simple written reflection seems too … blase? standard? uninspired? Yes. Uninspired.

I need to think deeply about closures, next.

 

Aug 122016
 

Another #BlAugust post, but this is an fired up post.

MTBOSBlaugust2016

I was going to blog about my Knowing and Learning preparation today, but a comment from a college learner in my program made me more and more upset as I thought about it.

The learner (I redacted the name to protect them) said,

“I was just discussing this with another educator. He is an elementary school teacher in his third year of teaching. I’ve been buzzing a lot about how I am going to be an innovator in the classroom rather than passively following orders even if I disagree with the resulting pedagogical approaches. This educator essentially told me to “protect” myself by doing what I’m told.” (emphasis added)

Stop and think about that bolded sentence a moment. That means this three year veteran of the school district feels that he must protect his job by just following orders, regardless of what is best for the learners or learning. The teacher asked a follow up question,

“And when the parents complain? When administration comes after you? What then?”

The district here in my city is incredibly supportive. It is focused on learning, engagement, and encouraging teachers to take some risks and try to push boundaries in the best interest of the children.  Yes, I have heard that at the elementary level the curriculum is more scripted, and yes, I have heard that there are schools where the principals can be assertive in making demands of the teachers.

BUT, to instill this kind of fear in a still new teacher (he has only taught 3 years, he is still at the beginning of his career!)

I am stunned.

I am really … stunned. That is the only word I can come up with. Because this teacher that teaches in fear is passing that fear onto substitutes (my learner is a sub in the district), and that fear will be passed onto pre-service and future beginning teachers.

I call foul.

What have we, as educators, done to allow this fear to foster and fester?

What, as educators, are we doing to push back against the fear?

What, as educators, are we doing to take back ownership of our profession so that we can teach with positivity?

keep-calm-and-change-the-world-72

Teaching is a political act. We need to recognize this fact. We need to act accordingly and not allow others who are not educators to define our classrooms and our teaching.

I am fired up over this, which is a great place to be at the beginning of the school year.

Want to know what my learner said?

I didn’t want to answer instantaneously because the topic deserves so much more thought than I can possibly perform in but a moment, so I responded by saying, “I may not have the answer or strategy now, but that’s why I’m in school. That’s what I’m actively working towards figuring out.”

Freaking awesome.

One challenge I have now is to make sure this future teacher, and EVERY future teacher, leaves the program with the skills and answers to this question.

Fired. Up.

 

Aug 112016
 

#BlAugust Continues strong! Creating a habit of writing is something I need to work on both professionally and personally, so this challenge is definitely useful to me. Thank you Shelli!

MTBOSBlaugust2016

Wow, I have earned my second Star of the Week from Meg Craig! Awesome!

Stars of The Week

As I was getting ready this morning, I had a thought. (Hey, you. In the peanut gallery, pipe down. 🙂 )

Yes, I had a thought. I realized that over the last 4 weeks, I had not once asked myself the question of whether I am the “right person for the job” when it comes to building the Knowing and Learning course.

Not once.

I was presented with the challenge, I said yes, and I just went to work on it. No questions asked.

It is a huge amount of work. I have 30 books checked out of the library, and I have a folder with around 70 articles in it right now. I have read them all, and have re-read them as I am building daily questions, and working on how the structure and flow of the class.

But not once have I sat there wondering “are they crazy for asking me to do this?”

I asked myself that a lot when I was in business. I asked, “Am I the right person for this? Am I capable?”

That impostor syndrome is so deadly. I have asked myself that a couple of time times as I have been working on the PhD. I got over it quickly, but I still wondered.

Not once about this.

And I realized something. It is because I love this. I love the philosophy and the thinking. I love the teaching and the maths. I am doing something I love.

Thanks Christopher. You were absolutely right.

Every day when I pick up my phone, his words ring through to me.

2015-09-30 13.08.00

Find what you love. Do more of it.* He said “that” but I was character limited, so I shortened it to “it.”

A daily reminder. Do more.

When you are doing what you love, you KNOW you are the right person. You may not always know how to accomplish the goals, you may not know everything you need to know, but you know that you are the person to learn those things and do those things you need.

No question about it.

This was a great thought to have today. It is my 47th birthday.

 


*If you want to watch the video of his speech at TMC15, the video is available on Youtube. It is in two parts, “Math from the Heart.”

Aug 102016
 

Another #BlAugust post! Doing great and creating habits here.

MTBOSBlaugust2016

This morning I was walking to the the office across campus, I saw a person standing outside a building looking around. He looked kind of lost, which is not unusual on campus this time of year, so I asked if I could help him. He was looking for the science building, so we started across campus.

Now, it used to be that I would have just showed him where he wanted to go and said goodbye, BUT, I am working hard at being more outgoing.

So, after a moment of hesitation, I reached out and said, “Hi, I’m Glenn Waddell” and offered my hand. He said “Hi, my name is xxxx xxxx” and offered his, and told me he just dropped off his daughter for the R.A. training.

Bells went off in my head, because the last name was kind of unusual, so I asked if his daughter was yyyy xxxx?

Sure enough, it was. His daughter is a sophomore participant in NevadaTeach!

So, because I was willing to shake his hand and introduce myself, I had the privilege of walking across campus with the wonderfully nice person, telling him how much I loved his daughter, and telling him a little more about the program.

You know what. We just cemented a relationship that will last. On a university campus, he randomly bumped into someone who not only knew who is daughter is, but knew her enough to say nice things about her and give him a mini tour of the campus. That is the kind of outreach that will last a long time.

I hope I made that persons day. I hope he drives home thinking about what a wonderful place UNR is, and how supportive NevadaTeach is.

And I learned that shaking a hand and making introductions isn’t that hard (although I know it, and I do it, and I still hesitate so often) and it pays off tremendously.

I made someone smile and feel good today before 9am.

My day is complete.

Now, get back to work, Waddell!

Aug 052016
 

Hitting number 5 for #BlAugust on the 5th of August. Excellent. So far so good!

MTBOSBlaugust2016

Transitioning from teaching mathematics to teaching theory is difficult. Not because of the content, that is just reading and understanding what I read. No, it is difficult because of how I define teaching.

Telling isn’t teaching. I decided a long time ago that I was a constructivist teacher, and so to get learners to understand the meanings of mathematics and practice the skills of solving, decomposing, composing and all of the other essential practices of good algebra, all I had to do was practice questioning techniques and direct my questions towards the goals and standards I was teaching.

I read books like the Princples to Actions,  5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Math Conversations, and Mathematical Mindsets. Moving into other deeper books on questioning like The Art of Problem Posing, or Powerful Problem Solving just extended those skills and allowed me to become a good math teacher.

There are no standards for Educational Theory (although I have other professors syllabi from other programs.)

There are no books to teach me how to teach Educational Theory (yea, I looked.)

Shoot. Now what. I feel like this.

climbing the hill

This course has no skills to practice (good writing is a skill, of course, but there are no skills to practice for the course alone). This course is a purely theoretical knowledge course. Out of the theory, the learners will be able to place themselves into a tradition, and develop skills within the traditions. But, … I am faced with a conundrum.

How to teach what could easily be a lecture course, pure and simple, without falling into the easy trap of creating ppt slides from the readings and going over them?

To keep myself from doing this, I have not allowed myself to even open PowerPoint. The only docs I have open are Word planning docs and the pdfs of the readings.

Good, step 1 complete: Define the boundaries.

Step 2: what is the goal of each day? What do I want the learners to walk out the door after 1.25 hours knowing?

Step 3: What questions am I going to ask prior to class to focus the learners on the readings?

Step 4: What questions will I ask in class to elicit deeper understandings of the readings and prompt discussion?

Step 5: What activities will we do in class that reinforce the readings and create deeper understanding of the material?

Whew.

As I look at the list, I realize something. Were I doing this course as a lecture course, the list would not change at all. The exact same steps, questions, and problems would be there for doing a lecture class as a more involved, engaging, discussion course.

Doing this process has given me a much better appreciation for the amount of effort that goes into teaching a theory course. No wonder the philosophy courses I took in grad school (the first time) were taught off of copies of copies of notes. Once you go through all this effort to develop questions and activities you don’t want to change them.

Is that really an excuse? I don’t believe so, but it is an explanation.

I am through the third day with steps 2 and 3. I have some activities in mind as well. But, with respect to step 4 I am at a total loss still. I need to know my learners better, but I can’t go in cold.

This is tough, but so much fun.

But I am not sure or confident that the questioning skills I have spent the last 9 years practicing apply here.

Aug 012016
 

I have been thinking about what the phrase “Teaching is a political act” means, and how the decision influences my actions in the classroom with learners.

As I have been thinking about this, I realize the while the learners may engage more and learn mathematics at a higher level, some of their parents may be upset at the non-traditional and non-textbook orientation of the class. So what am I to do when my classroom is buzzing with excitement, the learners are engaged and focused on mathematics, and a parent files a complaint with the principal that I am not teaching out of the textbook.

My personal reaction is a giant … er … well it would not be appropriate to say out loud my first reaction. It would not accomplish anything.

So assuming I have sound pedagogical reasons for doing what I am doing. Assuming that I have solid arguments for the class going where I am taking it, and assuming that in the end, all the standards required of me are deeply uncovered and learned, how do I respond?

I really didn’t have an answer to that question. The current political climate on Facebook yields a glimpse of how those conversations end up; a shouting match. No winner.

So how do both parties walk out winners? How can we all, parents, teachers and admins, walk away from the meeting accomplishing something positive. That is the question.

I didn’t know or have a clue until I was listening to NPR and heard about “noncomplementary behavior”.
 And an NPR article about it here.

Essentially, complementary behavior is mirroring what the other person does. If they are warm and friendly, you are warm and friendly in response. However, if they are cold or angry, you are cold or angry as well.

Noncomplementary behavior flips the script of conversations, which is difficult, but worthwhile.

I have been attempting (which means not always succeeding) to do this on Facebook conversations. When someone gets hostile and angry, I respond with niceness and facts. I can see doing this when parents are challenging my classroom as well. When they are hostile towards the political acts of teaching, I respond with positivity and facts.

This has the potential to be very powerful, but it takes practice. Complementary behavior is so easy to do, and it is natural to do. It takes some will power and some effort to be noncomplementary. Read the articles. Try it. I think it is easy for teachers to practice, because great teachers are constantly positive anyway.

 


 

This is the first  post I have made. Shooting for 1 post per day this month!

MTBOSBlaugust2016 Thank you Shelli Temple!

Jul 282016
 

Yesterday I posted about deciding if teaching really was a dichotomy between agency or conformity, and I decided that yes, it really is a dichotomy. It is impossible to be a teacher and straddle the ideas of teaching to change the world or teaching to reinforce the world as it is.

And then Andy Pethan hits me with this:

I wonder if you can put student thinking and classroom behavior on independent axes. For example: you want to be a +10 on creating student agency in your classroom by encouraging thoughtful questioning and being approachable about nearly everything as the adult in the classroom. At the same time, you want a consistent environment that matches the reasonable expectations and rules of the entire school (potentially a -10 depending on the school). You can be open to discussing rules with students and offer a pathway that may lead to changing your rules or advocating for students who want to change a school rule (encouraging agency), but doing this while continuing to live within the rules (conformity). Over the past 5 years I have become both a more consistent school-rule and personal-rule enforcer while becoming better at encouraging students to question, wonder, and appropriately push back in the academic and rule-realms. I feel like this is the direction I want to keep moving in, but I’m curious to see where this discussion goes.

Because I am kind of a little mathy and like visuals, I turned that question into this graphic:

Axes of behavior

To which the question then becomes, does “rule following” end up on the x-axis (B position) or y-axis (A) position. And if rule following ends up on the B axis, then can a teacher be in the middle somewhere or only at the two ends. OR, if rule following ends up on the y-axis, can a teacher navigate the line in a positive sloped direction (whatever that slope may be).

Option A or Option B?

My personal take on this is that in this case, we are not talking about a dichotomy, but a continuum. It is clear to me that a teacher can be in the middle. A teacher could have some very strict rules of behavior (no bubble gum for example), but allow learners to sit on the floor or wherever is comfortable for them to learn. A continuum is possible in this case, where it wasn’t possible in the case yesterday.

Therefore, the first question is where does rule following land? Is it opposed to agency, or is it compatible with agency?

  1. Can a system  start off learners while they are young and teach them to be strict rule followers, and then as the learners age and develop more maturity teach them to be questioners? (This would be a negative sloped line from position A to the right instead of the positive I drew initially, OR it would be the blue dot moving from the left to the right each year.)
  2. Can a system start off with equal parts rule following and agency, and balance the two in the middle year after year while the learner is in school?
  3. Can a system stay fully in the rule following (okay, that is easy, of course. See North Korea, or some of the hyper-strict charter schools here in the US.) Do we want that? We are currently allowing it to occur here. Jose Vilson at TMC16 shared the fact that in New York, some of the charter schools are so strict that children have literally peed themselves while trying to learn math facts.
  4. Can a system stay fully in the agency mode from kindergarten through 12th grade? What would that look like? Maybe more like the High Tech High‘s or along the direction Chris Thinnes advocates for.
  5. Can a system have certain rules that are followed consistently, but then teach learners to question everything else?

Those are the five options I see. Honestly, I don’t see how the positive sloped line is possible. How can anyone teach simultaneously to be more of a rule follower and to be more of a questioner. That is ruled out.

I think this conversation is one that every single teacher has to have for themselves. I know for myself (and I speak only for myself on this) I fall into the #5. My personal graph looks like this:

Personal question v rules

I placed the line at 1 for a reason. I had 1 rule in my classroom that I enforced.

“Your behavior must contribute to the learning of every person in the room, including your own.”

That’s it.

I was pretty comfortable with pretty much anything else as long as everyone was learning and could show they were learning. My classroom was loud. It had learners sitting on the floor. It had learners looking at notes or Desmos on their cell phones (and yes, that means they occasionally did a little Facebook or texting).

This is how I personally balanced the two goals. Having a classroom that was conducive to everyone’s learning, AND teaching agency and allowing learners the freedom to make decisions for themselves.

I think I had lots of room for improvement. I think I made mistakes, but I think as teachers, this balance is crucial. Would this work at the Elementary level? I don’t know. Would it work in Middle School. Again, I have no clue. Did it work for me in high school? yes. Not always. It burned me. I had learners push it too far. But I was able to pull them back in the end.

I don’t know if that answered Andy’s challenge, but it does clarify his question for myself. I look forward to hearing from others on this issue as well.