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Back in the Classroom

August 28, 2014 Leave a comment

The teachers in our district have embraced the Integrated Mathematics, but we still have a lot of questions about the task based learning approach of Mathematics Vision Project.  I love the curriculum, but we are changing drastically how we teach students and that takes time.  I volunteered to return to the classroom to teach a few lessons so I could experience the new curriculum.  It is one thing to sit in my office and imagine how great it is and another to stand in front of a group of 16 year old students asking them to create and use mathematics.  Here are a few things I learned from my day back in the classroom:

1.  Teaching is exhausting.  My voice was gone by the end of the day and my feet were tired.   I was both physically and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.  I forgot this part of teaching.

2.  I love students.  Kids are fun and will say and do the most outrageous things.  I work mostly with adults in my job, so I forget how  refreshing and innocent 9th grade students can be.  (And maybe not so innocent.)

3.  Task based learning requires a different method of planning.  I used to rely on my math skills to make it through a lesson.  I could create a problem off the top of my head and demonstrate it for a group of students.  When we are working a task and a student tries a different approach, I need to know if that pathway is valid and where it will lead.  There is no glossing over a task.  I need to know that task and be prepared for anything.  In other words, I need to work the task myself.  I can honestly say I did not work all the demonstration problems myself when I used to teach.

4.  I need community.  I used to teach with my door shut and in isolation.  I planned my lessons by myself.  I was happy to share what I created online or with a teacher down the hall.  I was also more than happy to steal from other teachers, but I never had conversations with others about what actually happened in my classroom.  This week when I taught Math 1 and Math 2, I invited a group of educators to sit in the back of the room.  It was great to talk with them afterwards to receive feedback.  If we want to improve as educators, we must be open to letting others observe and provide feedback.

5.  I work with some great teachers!  It was nice to see the routines other teachers established in their classrooms and to reap the benefits of teaching a class where the students knew the expectations.  It was so nice to hear the teachers excited about the new curriculum.  One teacher told me that his students, who typically struggled with math, were understanding deep concepts and were able to teach others after the task based approach.  Our teachers have experienced so much change in the last few years and I admire their ability to adapt.

My new plan for my job is to make sure that I step back into the classroom on a regular basis.  I don’t want to forget the joys and challenges that a classroom teacher faces.  I don’t want to create or implement theory that doesn’t translate to practice.  Plus, I really love working with kids.

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Mathematics Vision Project: Task Based Learning at its Best

July 1, 2014 10 comments

Recently our district has decided to pursue the Integrated Mathematics approach for high school math.  I am really excited about this transition.  Due to the lack of curriculum resources, we decided to use an online, free curriculum.  The Mathematics Vision Project is an integrated curriculum created by educators from Utah through a grant from the state.  I have looked at the curriculum online and love it, but it wasn’t until I went through their two day training that I realized it is truly the best math curriculum I have ever encountered.  Here is why I love their program:

1.  Task based learning focused on the learning cycle.

Task based learning is the rage right now with Common Core.  Our state, Tennessee, put teachers through intensive training on how to teach math using tasks.  The problem with this is teachers were left to create their own tasks or find random tasks.  In order for task based learning to work, the tasks must be sequenced appropriately and build on the previous learning.  MVP does this.  They have different types of tasks for different purposes and they are sequenced to build on each other.  The learning cycle involves Developing Understanding, Solidifying Understanding, and Practicing Understanding.  When you look at the tasks in a unit, the tasks are labeled as one of these.  This helps for both students and teachers to understand the purpose of the task.  Some tasks only develop the understanding.  Later, only after a teacher can guide a class discussion, are students expected to apply and practice the new learning.  This idea of different types of tasks for different stages of learning is critical.

MVP 1

2.  The have low threshold and high ceilings.

I was amazed with the multiple entry points for the tasks.  It felt as if any level of student could do something.  Often with tasks though, the mathematics is “dumbed down.”   This is not true for MVP.  The tasks are rich and have high ceilings.  If you have a group of student who finish early, there is always something in the task to stretch the learning.

3.  Story contexts throughout the module.

Take a look at Module 2 in Math 1.  It starts with a rich task about two children starting a pet sitting business.  The purpose of this first task is to start students down the pathway of thinking of multiple constraints on a variable (systems of equations).  Students will use this context throughout the entire module adding a little more information with each task.  Students should feel as if they are invested in a Problem Based Learning approach, broken into small, obtainable chunks.

4.  Not just what to teach, but how to teach it.

Most curriculum contain what a teacher should teach, but little about the best methods for teaching.  This is the first curriculum I have encountered that explicitly helps the teacher know how to teach the standards.   Each problem or exercise has a purpose:

  • Teach new knowledge
  • Bring misconceptions to the surface
  • Build skill of fluency
  • Engage students in Math Practices

5.  Meaning full homework and practice.

Practice is done by experts… Doctors practice medicine and Lawyers practice law.  Why would we send home practice when our students have not mastered the material?  This creates frustration and with Common Core, it leads to parents posting crazy math homework on Facebook.  MVP has amazing, thought out homework assignments.  They divide the homework into three categories:

  • Ready:  Things a student needs to review to be ready for upcoming work.
  • Set:  Things we did today in class that you need to practice to solidify understanding.
  • Go:  Things students should be “good to go on.”  This is review material.

Each assignment also has links to online videos to help review concepts students may not remember.  (I know in reality, that my students may not have done the homework, but I could use this as starters and exit tickets in my class.)

6.  Flexible Curriculum

Since the MVP curriculum is online, it can be updated at any time.  This means if something isn’t working or their are mistakes, they can easily be fixed.  This is not true of traditional text books.  The MVP team did hint that they are currently working to align the tasks and material to release them in a traditional math pathway.  This means that if your district does not do Integrated Math, you will still be able to use the MVP curriculum.

Overall, MVP offers a great curriculum and fantastic professional development.  I encourage you to attend an event and at the least, take some time to review the material.

 

Common Core & PARCC Sample Items

February 18, 2014 1 comment

I have been working on planning professional development for my district on Common Core State Standards and the PARCC assessment.  There is so much information on the PARCC website and it can be overwhelming for a teacher to navigate it.  My goal is to try and weed through the information and present only what is necessary and beneficial to teachers.

PARCC recently released sample questions in their intended environment.  This means the computer-based tools such as drag-and-drop, multiple select, text highlighting, and an equation builder are all active.  It is a great opportunity for teachers to see what computer skills are necessary and how students will navigate the assessment.  This sample assessment does not reflect a complete PARCC assessment.  The questions on the online assessment are all previously released sample items. The one frustration that I have is that  the questions are separated by grade bands and not grade levels.  In my experience, teachers want to focus on their grade level, although I think it is important to be aware of what comes before your course and where students are heading.  To help teachers and administrators, I have created the following documents to support teachers while they are looking at the online PARCC environment.  The documents address each questions content standard(s), grade level (course), and math practice.  Detailed scoring guides and explanations of the questions can be found on the PARCC website under the respective grade band.  Please feel free to provide feedback in the comments.

PARCC Computer Based Samples Grades 3-5

PARCC Computer Based Samples Grades 6-8

PARCC Computer Based Samples High School