Sunday, June 3, 2012

Implications for Future Work

As this school year begins to come to an end, and I reflect on my action research, I am grateful that I have had this opportunity.  I think that after coming together for the past eight months, the JBA math team is stronger, and I know that I for one have a deeper appreciation for the subject that I once hated.  Because of our work together, my Principal has signed me and the 7th grade math teacher up for a three-day professional development on becoming a learning team leader through Teaching Matters.  She picked us with the idea that she and I will facilitate PLCs with the Math and ELA departments at our school next year.  We had our first training this past Thursday where we learned about team building, norms, and protocols (I was proud, being a Bank Street-er, I was already familiar with norms and protocols).  I am not sure if this opportunity would have necessarily happened had I not done this action research this year, but I am very excited and looking forward to seeing where this training takes not only myself, but the JBA math team next year.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Some of the struggles that I have encountered through doing this action research are balancing doing math together with my colleagues and sticking to our agenda.  A teacher's time is limited and therefore very valuable and there were at least two occasions where our math team meetings went longer than we planned because we got so wrapped up in doing the math.  The more times we met, I felt like we got better at pacing our meetings so that we did some math together, but did accomplish other things on our agenda as well.  Another struggle I encountered was finding "good" math problems for the team to do.  I didn't want to bring in problems that were necessarily too easy or too challenging to do, but I wanted to bring problems to the group that were thought-provoking or at the very least, we could bring into our own classrooms.  In my opinion, examples of some of the interesting problems that we spent a good amount of time on were: How much is your time worth? and Tiles in the Bag.  Not only do I remember doing these with the group, but I feel like I left with good problems that I was excited to do with my scholars afterward.  Having already done the problems with the math team, I felt like I was better prepared to give this problem to my own scholars.  

One of the highlights that I encountered through doing this action research this year is that I realized that if I want my scholars to enjoy thinking and doing math, I need to enjoy thinking and doing math, and what better way to do that than with my math colleagues.  There were a few meetings were we brought in problems that we had encountered in our own lessons.  One major thing I learned about collaborative professional development and getting together with math colleagues and doing math problems together is that the problems don't have to be these big, multi-step tasks, they can be simple.  By doing math together with my colleagues, my own appreciation and understanding of mathematics grew, and when I think about it, shouldn't that be the ultimate goal of any professional development?  

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Back in September, one of my own professional goals for this school year was to find a way to professionally collaborate more with my math colleagues. Being the 8th grade math teacher, I wanted to understand where my scholars were coming from in 6th and 7th grade math.  Mathematical understanding is something that develops over time, and just like I wanted my 8th graders to be ready for high school math when they left me, I wanted my incoming 8th graders to be ready for 8th grade/ Integrated Algebra.

 To begin working on this goal, I asked myself the question "What will I learn about collaborative professional development by getting together with math colleagues and doing math problems together?" and started this blog  to document my action research journey.  Beginning in October 2011, the JBA began meeting regularly after school, and in addition to talking about work and lesson plans, we began doing math together.  Oftentimes I would be the one bringing math problems or tasks that I found to the group, but there were a few occasions where the other math teachers would bring in a math problem for the group to do.

Some meetings we started off doing problems and would spend 10-15 minutes on them, other times we would get so engrossed in the math, that our whole meeting would be simply doing the math, and talking about it.  For me personally, it was a positive experience getting together with my fellow math colleagues and taking off our "teacher hat" and just be this group of people discussing and solving math problems together.  I believe that my action research blogging journey shows that what I have learned most about collaborative professional development, so far, by getting together with math colleagues and doing math problems together is that you build a team by constructing community knowledge.  One of my biggest fears back in October was that even though I was trying to bring the math team together, I wasn't trying to run the math department.  As we continued to meet together every other week or so, I found that that became less of a concern and I think that doing math together was part of the reason for that.  Doing and discussing the problems together made everyone equal on our math team.

I hope that as a team, we can sustain what we have been doing through the exhausting test-prep season.  Even though we won't be able to meet as a whole group for a while because most of us will be out scoring state exams over the next few weeks, I am looking forward to collaborating with my colleagues to close out the year strong for our scholars and for ourselves as a team.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Since it was Spring Break this week and I didn't formally meet with my colleagues, I wanted to share this article that I got in this week's Accomplished Teacher by SmartBrief email, Numbers Game: America's Struggle to Make Math Fun.  

This article talks about "America's cultural problem with math... and how a brave group of educators and entrepreneurs think they can change that. With games and competitions, museums and traveling road shows - and a strategic sprinkling of celebrities - they aim to make math engaging, exciting and even fun."  This is something that I struggle with on a daily basis.  Growing up, I was a "good math student" but I struggled with it constantly.  I could study and pass tests, but it wasn't until I started teaching with math really started coming together for me.  I have been in the middle of many lessons with my 7th and 8th graders, and all of a sudden, something clicked and the math made sense to me.... more than 10 years after I first learned the material.  Back then, knowing why things worked it math didn't matter to me.  I was able to memorize formulas and procedures, but it was only recently did I start "doing math."  Math wasn't fun then, but I was still able to be successful with it later on.

To me, the most interesting quote from the article is "While he applauds the tournaments and treasure hunts and most especially the math museum, veteran math teacher J. Michael Shaughnessy says it will take more than good PR to boost math's appeal. It will take a cultural revolution.  Every time he hears a parent tell a child, "I've done fine without math," or "You don't really need to know that," he quietly but urgently interrupts.  "That gives kids permission not to try hard at a subject that's really challenging for everyone," said Shaughnessy, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. "It's doing national damage."  My catchphrase this year in my Integrated Algebra classroom is "Trust yourself" because ultimately that is what I want my students to do.  It's not my math, or some ancient person's math, it's just math.  And yes its confusing sometimes.  But it's OK to struggle.  And part of what makes that struggle so worth it, is trusting yourself   and trusting the math.

What am I learning about collaboration?
I love reading articles like this and I think it's important for teachers to be able to read and share information that is important to them and their teaching whether it's through a weekly email newsletter, blog, or PLC.  We can't do it alone.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How much is your time worth?

For our math team warm up this week we spent the first 15 minutes of our meeting working on a Figure This! problem from the NCTM.  The problem asks:

Would you rather work seven days at $20 per day or be paid $2 for the first day and have your salary double everyday for a week?

We spend the first 5 minutes or so working individually (it was interesting that all of us automatically went to work on our own first, rather than just start talking about it) and then came back together and shared out our thoughts.  We all agreed that we would prefer the second option because we would end up with more money after seven days, but any days less than seven, we would prefer the $20 per day.  I asked everyone in the group to share out how they approached the problem and it was interesting to see and hear how people organized their information.

What am I learning about collaboration?
I am curious to see what other Figure This! problems are out there because I think that these would be awesome to do with my 8th graders.  This problem in particular is an interesting problem to think about because it deals with money and bring up the idea that you'd only want to choose the second option if you were working for seven or more days.  I think this problem would lend itself great to discussions on how we represent data as tables, equations, and graphs.  It was awesome to see my colleagues approach this problem the same way I hope my students would approach it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Filling Glasses problem

During our math team meeting this week, I shared with the group the Filling Glasses problem.  We were not allowed to write anything, just talk with our partner on matching glasses to four unusually shaped glasses with the graphs that best describe the height of the water in the glass over time.  We spent about 10 minutes talking with a partner and then the pairs shared out with the whole group and we discussed whether we agreed or not, and justified our responses.

I really enjoyed this problem for a few reasons: (1) although it was annoying at first, not being about to write anything really made me think about how I communicated my thoughts to my partner, (2) its not a "typical" kind of problem, yet totally real-life based, (3) I felt like I got a lot from listening to my colleagues comments.  My co-teacher liked this problem so much that he and I decided to use it as a warm-up for our CTT class one day to see how that would go.

What am I learning about collaboration?
The math problems that we have been doing have been a great way to "even the playing field" during our team meetings because they make all of us responsible for sharing.  Although I have gotten better at it, there have been many lessons with my scholars, where the bell rings in the middle of the scholars working, and the lesson really has no final share-out.  Being mindful of these problems have really emphasized to me the importance of bringing a lesson (or a problem) back together at the end and the share out main ideas.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Six Keys to Successful Collaboration By Braden Welborn

Got this article in an email today and thought it brought up some interesting points on teacher collaboration.  The two points that resonated with me the most were clarity of purpose and individual commitment.  I feel with our math team meetings after school, I am lucky that the 6th and 7th grade math teachers are just as invested in working together to improve student achievement and our practice.  I think the article sums it up best at the end when it says "There's no magic formula for successful collaboration.  But this dialogue demonstrates that teacher's know a great deal about what works - and what doesn't work."

What I am learning about collaboration?
What a great way to empower teachers with that last statement!