Friday, February 24, 2012

Why Great Teachers Are Also Learners

This article was also in this week's email newsletter, and I thought it also connected very closely with my action research.

In her article, "Why Great Teachers Are Also Learners," Vicki Davis (2012) talks about how educators can inspire students with their own curiosity.  Davis states that "As a teacher, the most important asset I can teach my students is a love of learning. In my 10 years teaching high school, I have found that making a deliberate and transparent effort to continue my own learning allows me to inspire my students to follow my footsteps."  She describes nice best practices that have served her well throughout her career.  The three that resonated the most with me were: 

  • "Talk about the new things you're learning, and let your enthusiasm show,"
  • "Show students that you are willing to investigate," and
  • "Let students see you proudly sharing your learning."
What am I learning about collaboration:
My love of math has grown exponentially since I became a math teacher.  (Seriously, I was not a fan of math when I was in school.)  But I think since starting the Math Leadership program at Bank Street, and doing math with my colleagues this year in our team meetings, my love of math has grown even more.  I used to be afraid to try and solve problems more than one way.  Now, I get excited when  a student does.  I used to only focus on getting the right answer, because I thought that that was all that mattered.  Now, I love hearing a student explain their whole process... it's beautiful!  

Basically, since becoming a math teacher five years ago, my appreciation of math has grown.  But I don't think an appreciation is enough.  I can appreciate good art, or a good piece of music, but when you create that piece of art or music, that brings your appreciation to a whole new level.  My new thinking?  I don't just appreciate math.  I do math. And every single day, I strive to inspire my 8th graders to do the same. 

Davis, V. (2012, February). Why great teachers are also learners.  The Atlantic. Retrieved February 21, 2012 from

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Becoming a Teacher Leader

Being off from work this week for Mid-Winter Recess, there was no math team meeting to blog about.  However, in my SmartBrief weekly email newsletter, that I subscribe to, I did read two articles that I thought tied in nicely with my action research.  

In her article "5 Tell-Tale Signs You're Becoming a Teacher Leader," Ratzel (2012) describes five signs "that may signal that you're on the road to becoming a teacher leader."  Ratzel states that "If you find yourself yearning to take an idea beyond your classroom, you're probably ready to become a leader.  The first step might be as small as sharing a lesson plan with a colleague down the hall... Perhaps you will blog about how your students are using iPads to work on letter recognition, submit an article to your favorite professional journal, or share your knowledge in topic-focused Twitter chats. Or maybe your next step will be to help "unpack Common Core standards" for your department, or to offer to lead a workshop on bullying."

What have I been learning about collaboration?
My whole action research experience this year has been about what I am learning about collaborative professional development.  And since I started coming together regularly with my math colleagues at JBA this year, I have learned quite a lot.  We have shared lesson plans, discussed issues that are important to us and our teaching, and because of this action research, we have been doing math together.  On top of all that, I have been blogging about my whole experience on here, and reading about other fellow math leaders experiences this year on their blogs, and it's been great.  I honestly feel that we have become more than just a group of teachers, we have become a group of learners, and like Ratzel (2012) describes, I am finding myself "writing, advising, listening, collaborating, networking, seeking knowledge, and reflecting."  So collaborative professional development doesn't have to be this BIG thing that happens right away - it can start small.  It can start in a classroom, after school, once a week, with 3 or 4 math teachers coming together, simply, to do some math together.

Ratzel, M. (2012, February). 5 tell-tale signs you're becoming a teacher leader.  Education Week Teacher.  Retrieved February 21, 2012 from

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Learning Conference Tasks

Last year, the 6th graders at JBA had End-of-the-Year Learning Celebration Conferences, where scholars presented some of the things they have learned to their parents.  Being a 7th/ 8th grade teacher, I didn't participate, but I heard good things about it.  This website has some general information on Learning Celebration Conferences, and in addition, Sandra and I will be presenting about them this summer, so stay tuned =)

This year, as a staff, we decided that instead of 2nd marking period Scholar-Led Conferences, the whole school would participate in Learning Celebration Conferences (LCC).  To prepare, we had been working in small grade teams to come up with a menu of tasks for scholars to pick from, and during this week's math team meeting, we decided to try out each others tasks to get a feel for what our scholars would be doing.  Although we were in separate grade teams, the 7th grade teacher and I had previously worked together coming up with our LCC menus, so today we actually did each others math tasks.  

We decided that it would be best to work through the 7th grade tasks first, and then the 8th grade tasks.  The tasks are meant to do done without teacher input, but we wanted to be able to ask each other questions as we worked through them.  Some of the 7th grade tasks that I worked on included solving equations and proving the Pythagorean Theorem.  Some of the 8th grade tasks that the 7th grade teacher worked on included solving equations with variables on both sides, and a coming up with a geometric transformation dance routine.  We spent about the whole hour of our meeting time working through the tasks, asking questions, and modifying the tasks when necessary.  

What I am learning about collaboration?
Trying out each others tasks was really helpful for me this week because I had no previous experience with LCC, and the 6th and 7th grade math teachers had.  It was interesting, because several times, the way we approached a task, was different then how the teacher initially designed the task.  For example, the one teacher (as a scholar) set up a proportion to solve a sales discount/tax problem, while I had designed it as a straight multiplication problem.  It really reminded me that just because I am comfortable solving a problem one way, doesn't necessarily mean that that is how my scholars will approach it, and that good tasks have multiple entry points (which is something that came up during my action research last year).  

I think it was not only really helpful, but really important for us to go through each others math tasks during our team meeting.  Collaborating with the other math teachers helped me revise my own LCC menu and gave me a better idea of how my 8th graders will be approaching the tasks.  And although I am still nervous about the conferences, I definitely feel more confident and I am fairly confident that that wouldn't have happened if I had come up with the menu and tasks on my own.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tiles in the Bag

Earlier in the week, the 7th grade teacher told me that the next unit that she was covering with her classes was Probability and Statistics, which is a huge part of the 7th grade curriculum and makes up 30% of the State Exam.  Since I had taught 7th grade in the past, she asked me for any thoughts or suggestions.  I shared with her some of my past unit plans and offered my thoughts on teaching certain topics, and decided to share the Tiles in the Bag activity from Marilyn Burns during this week's math team meeting.

Burns actually has two versions of this activity, and for our team meeting, I choose Version2.  For this activity, I filled three brown paper bags with red and blue tiles.  One bag had 25 red & 5 blue.  One bag had 20 red & 10 blue.  And the last bag had 10 red & 20 blue.  I told my fellow math teachers this information and had it written on the Smart Board.  We chose a bag at random (I didn't even know) and then we went around, and each person drew a tile from it, noted its color (red or blue), and then replaced it.  One of the teachers kept a record of the colors on a sheet of paper.  We all took turns participating till we had 25 random samples with replacement.  After we had done that, we computed the percentages of red tiles for: the first five samples, the first 15 samples, the first 20 samples, and finally all 25 samples.  We briefly talked about the importance of being comfortable working with percentages and the misconceptions that scholars sometimes have with percents.  As a group, some of the things we noted were: "Not understanding that percent represents a whole," "Converting between fractions, decimals, and percents," and "Percents less than 1 and greater than 100."

Going back to the activity, we had to decide which bag, of the three possibilities, we think we used, and which bag would we have chosen if our decision was based on five samples?  Ten?  Fifteen?  How many samples do we think we needed?  We each took turns sharing what we thought and then explaining why.  After we had shared and talked with each other for about 15 minutes, we opened up the bag and actually counted the tiles. 

What am I learning about collaboration?
What I noted, as everyone was sharing out their predictions and reasoning, was how into the conversation I got.  I try to write myself notes during our team meetings, of things to remember to write about on here, but I found myself really listening to my fellow colleagues, and focusing on the math that is going on.  And although, it is challenging because I do want to keep these entries authentic, I think the fact that I am getting draw into the conversation says a lot.  I wasn't aware of it, but my focus wasn't "What am I learning about collaboration by doing this activity with my colleagues?" but "How can I use what I know about probability and statistics to come up with an viable argument to share?" I was thinking about the math!

Although I was very pleased with this experience and the other teachers thought that this was an awesome activity, it did make me wonder about what better ways I could possibly record data during our meetings?  That way, I could really focus all of my attention on the math we are doing, and less on gathering data for my action research.  Plus, with video clips I would have another record of authentic data, in addition this this blog, for my research purposes.  This may be something to look into...