Category Archives: Professional Development

Collaborating and Learning Coast-to-Coast

At the end of August, I was fortunate to be selected to participate in a project through Illustrative Math, Smarter Balanced, and the Teaching Channel focusing on the fraction learning progression of students in grades 3 – 5.  We are working on creating,piloting, and revising both instructional and assessment tasks that will live on the both the Illustrative and SB digital libraries.  Video of this work in action will also be captured by, and live on, the Teaching Channel website. Our team is a unique mix of educators from coast to coast. Jody (IM Project Lead & Orange County Math Supervisor), Chepina (Math methods professor from KSU), Alicia (5th grade teacher from Washington state), Jennie (Alicia’s math coach) and me…5th grade teacher on the opposite side of the country! Aside from this immediate group, we have many others at both Illustrative and SB offering guidance and feedback along our way.

The first phase of this work was using a multiplication of fraction task as the center of a professional development for Orange County educators as well as the filmed lesson for the Teaching Channel. Due to the distance between us, Google immediately became our best friend! We shared documents and created our presentation in the Drive, shared thoughts and ideas through Gmail, and had many Google Hang Outs to collaborate and meet each other virtually! It was so exciting to be working together on something we all feel so passionate about…student learning around mathematics.  We worked through the task together, thought about the 5 Practices in planning the lesson and designed a type of lesson study around our work.

After the PD planning was almost complete, I did the instructional task with my students, filmed the lesson, and uploaded it to Teaching Channel Teams (if you haven’t checked this resource out, I think it is an amazing opportunity for groups to collaborate around video). All of the team members viewed the lesson, made comments, and offered suggestions to improve the lesson when Alicia teaches it in the upcoming week. As an aside, the channel allows for time stamping on the video comments so you can jump right to the point of the comment, great stuff. We planned the afternoon of our PD day around this task and used work samples and video of my students to help build deeper teacher understandings around how students reason about fractions.

Planning complete, and I am off to Orange County after my half day last Friday! After a long 6 hour flight and a nearly missed connection, I arrived at the John Wayne Airport 3 hours earlier than the time my body was saying it was! That evening I got to “meet” Jody and Chepina for the first time….but not really! Google had made it feel like I already knew them! I met up with Alicia and Jennie the following day and we had such an amazing PD day. Who doesn’t love teachers who come to a professional development on a Saturday?!? We had such an interesting group of college professors, CGI reps, public and charter school teachers, and a Smarter Balanced representative. We looked at coherence of the standards along the grade levels, read the fraction progression document, did some math as learners, and reflected on that same math as educators. The math conversations were amazing and the personal ah-has in terms of fraction work, happened at every turn! I even met a new math tweep (@edtechbydarin – 5th grade math teacher) and coerced Jody to hop back on to check out Twitter (@jody_guarino)! Follow them both, they are great!


Next week, I will be heading out to Seattle to see Alicia teach the same lesson I taught and that we revised together. Jennie will be in the room coaching during the lesson and then we all film for the Teaching Channel on our collaboration and reflections on student work. I cannot wait to see how Alicia’s students do with the new and improved lesson. We changed up the number talk and adjusted the wording of the task. I will post pics and update with the task and some sample student work soon! Here is just a glimpse at some of my student work that guided our conversations about the lesson…


Next steps are going to be writing some formative and summative tasks within fractions! Exciting stuff, so glad to be a part of it!


PS – This $15 for internet on the plane has been the BEST thing ever! I may blog so much more if I am traveling to the west coast!

Professional Books #mtboschallenge

My plan was to just do the Sunday Summary #mtboschallenge, however I have been seeing some tweets lately about books for elementary preservice teachers so I thought I would compile a list of my favorites. This summer I have read more professional books than ever before so this will be a list of books from past years, this summer and my reading to-do list.

In the past years my favorite books in which I constantly reference, reread and recommend are:  Classroom Discussions by  Chapin and O’Connor,  Mindset by Dweck,  Number Talks by Parrish, Young Mathematicians at Work by Fosnot, Extending Children’s Mathematics by Empson/Levi, What’s Math Got to Do With It by Jo Boaler and Beyond Pizzas and Pies by Julie McNamara.

This summer I finally had time to dive in and had time to read more than a few books and my twitter feed:

Principles to Action, NCTM – I like it for looking at what makes a good task, what a teacher does, what students do. I have just picked and chosen things I have wanted to read about so far in this book. Have not read cover to cover.

5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions by Smith and Stein – This is something that I think more teachers need to think heavily about…..great practices to instill in teachers planning process. Read this cover to cover.

Agents of Change by Lucy West – We are moving into a content coaching model in our schools this year and after seeing Lucy West present, I appreciated her upfront, honest approach. Her book did not disappoint.

Faster Isn’t Smarter by Seeley – This book is a great reaffirming reference for me for use with parents and teachers.

Powerful Problem Solving by Max Ray and Math Forum – Read this cover to cover. Very fast and fluent read because it is filled with interesting, applicable activities and student work.

Connecting Arithmetic to Algebra by  Bastable, Russel, Schifter – I saw Virginia Bastable speak this summer and was drawn to her message. I have read the first few chapters of her book and interested in more work with teachers this year in making claims and looking at repeated reasoning.

Future readings I have sitting on my shelf or being shipped:

Putting the Practices into Action by O’Connell and SanGiovanni

Connecting Mathematical Ideas by Boaler and Humphreys

Intentional Talk by Kazemi and Hintz

So much to learn, so little time to read coming up….I anticipate Investigations being my major reading in the near future!

Happy Reading,


#ISTE2014 Reflection

This was my first ISTE conference so I was first completely impressed with the sheer number of attendees and organization of such a massive conference. Throw in the number of passionate educators present and it makes for an unbelievable and somewhat overwhelming experience. I wanted to jot down some of my overall impressions, takeaways, and random thoughts before summer work kicks in and I forget everything by the time school starts! I looked at the conference from two perspectives, first as a classroom teacher and then as a person responsible for the math professional development in our district.

As a teacher…

1 – I loved, loved, loved the number of educators on Twitter. The #ISTE2014 hashtag was blowing my phone up every minute of every day during the conference.  The amount of multitasking going on everywhere was amazing! I have never seen so many people engaging in technology, learning, spreading the word to others, and walking at the same time 🙂 I felt connected to the many sessions I could not attend or that closed before it even started due to capacity (that was a bit frustrating at times). It truly demonstrated the need to be a connected educator and the value of networking with colleagues around the world.

2 – I was excited to see the focus of my sessions more about the student learning than the technology in and of itself. The tweets reflected the same emotion and I loved that!

3 – I got SOO many exciting ideas to use for Open House, management, and  parent communication ( Thanks to Erin Klein:)  however I do find I struggled just a bit to relate some of my tech learnings into my math classroom. I am not one to use technology for the sake of using it and my classroom thrives on student discourse. I LOVE to hear the students talking about the math with each other and I am not a “flipping” fan. Don’t get me wrong I love to use Educreations, Minecraft, Aurasma,  Nearpod, and Padlet on the ipads, but even then, I need to improve upon using them to make the math more authentic for the students. The presenters at ISTE definitely provided the inspiration and wealth of tools I can look into when doing my planning. Teachers are doing AMAZING work out there and it was so inspiring to see that during the Sessions.

4 – As a presenter as well, I loved all of the support in the room! From sound to video, to ISTE representatives, to Apple Distinguished Educators, there were tons of people on hand to make sure it was perfect! Well Done!

5 – The Expo was packed with exhibitors. I was excited to chat with @Schoology as a new LMS for my classroom and for my K-2 teachers, I found a great new product from a company called Osmo ( Check them out! There were many more interesting ones I chatted with,  however after being in heels all day, my feet could not make the trek around to everyone 🙂 One thing I find intriguing at every conference I attend, is I always have to ask myself, do the vendors here convey the mission/vision of the conference organization itself. For example, at NCTM, I find vendors selling programs/products that, in my humble opinion, do not support the Mathematical Practices and vision of what best practice is in the classroom. In the case of ISTE, I saw a vendor with bubble sheet reading software that worked with any document camera (and of course his example was a math sheet…ugh) . Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing how fast it could read the bubbles and plop a grade into their accompanying grading system, but is that truly what we see as a vendor who should be at an educational conference? Just like at NCTM, do we want a timed test program to be supported by an organization who’s vision is to “…ensure equitable mathematics learning of the highest quality for all students…” I always just find that interesting.

6 – I had the opportunity to participate in a live #satchat. It was such an amazing opportunity to meet face to face with all of the avatars I chat with on many Saturday mornings! Definitely a highlight!!

From a professional development standpoint….

I was absolutely blown away by the organization and setup of ISTE. There was something for everyone and more! There were workshops, IGNITE sessions, lecture sessions (with some recorded so attendees could watch from the tv in the hallway in case of overflow), Playgrounds where teachers were encouraged to play with the technology and experience what it was like to be a student, and Poster Sessions which I can best describe as an overwhelmingly exciting “science fair” with tables set up and manned by teachers and students describing the exciting work being done in classrooms around the world!

The format of each element was genius and definitely something I want to bring back and use in my school/district. I think starting our opening district meeting with and IGNITE session showcasing district happenings would be an amazing, invigorating way to launch the school year. I also love the feel of a Playground in which teachers just play with the math and can choose the topic that best fits their needs. A district/school hashtag where we can easily share resources and ask questions would be amazing…now to just get everyone on Twitter:).

Overall it was a great experience and I still continue to learn on the #ISTE2014 hashtag! It is full of passionate educators focusing on learning, not simply the technology. Thank you all for a wonderful conference! Looking forward to Philly 2015!

To PD or Not PD..That Is the Question

The past two years as Math Specialist, I was in a position in which I was continually planning and attending Professional Development on a regular basis. I am a learner, so I frequently got frustrated and a bit upset when teachers complained about attending the PD. I would hear such things as, “I need time to grade my papers” or “Sub plans are such a pain to write.” How could they not love these learning experiences as much as me?

Fast forward to this year, I am back into the classroom, and I completely feel their frustrations. I have papers that need to be graded, I despise sub plans, and most importantly, l have lesson plans that I need time to think about & dig deeper into. Time, as always, is a high commodity. So, as I was in my classroom Thursday evening, writing sub plans (or more accurately procrastinating by finding anything in my classroom that needed to be done BESIDES writing the plans) I found myself thinking that it would be so much easier to not attend the PD (it was by choice I was going) and just stay in the classroom on Friday. No sub plans, and I would have my planning time to get the paper grading and lesson planning done.

This was it, this is the point where teachers (me included) need to step out of their immediate surroundings, look at the bigger picture, and ask themselves the following questions….

1. How can I continue to improve student learning in my classroom if I don’t dig deeper into my content area(s)?

2. How can I grow as an educator alone?

3. How can reflecting on my own teaching with others improve my classroom experiences?

4. How can what I know about teaching help others in my network?

5. There is always SO much more to learn. Not a question, I know, but it is my driving force as an educator.

And….How great is it to have breakfast and lunch made for me and I can use the bathroom anytime I want 🙂

Needless to say, I always try to attend professional development when offered the opportunity and after leaving my PD on Friday I just found myself smiling. I love talking to others with the same passion for mathematics and teaching as myself. I learn so much and just flat out have fun while talking about impactful issues in education. We all want what is best for our students and staff and work together to make great things happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I am picky when choosing my PD. It must be relevant. I have sat in a mandatory PD or two (hundred) that have not been what I needed, but I try to find at least one thing I can take away. Even through the bad experiences, I grow. If a presenter is not engaging, I think about what I can do when I facilitate to be engaging. If the content is confusing, I think about how I can clarify things when I facilitate a professional development. I don’t let one bad experience kill all professional development opportunities for me. They are independent variables, like a die. One roll does not impact the next. One bad professional development does not impact the next one.

In the end, I owe it to my students to go. If I am learning more, they will be learning more.

Happy Saturday,


Why We Need Two Teachers in Every Classroom…

This job takes two brains to handle the thoughts of these students.

In class on Friday, one student made the comment that he didn’t really like adding fractions on the clock because it could only be used for certain fractions.  When I asked him to expand on that, he explained he could only do halves, 3rd, 4ths, 6ths, 12ths and 60ths easily and what if he wanted to do other fractions like 1/8 or 1/24?  He said he couldn’t do that without breaking the minutes up.  I am excited at this comment especially because this student is one whose parents have taken him to Kumon math for years for “extra help” and he is most comfortable memorizing procedures over thinking about the math. He thinks changing to “common denominators by multiplying the numerator and denominator by the same number” is faster and easier than this clock.

Upon reflection, I think it is interesting that he stayed with fractions of the fractions we were working…why not pull out 1/9 or 1/11? But my first train of thought in the moment was changing the whole. I wanted to see if he could put the clock in terms of a whole day, 24 hours, 2 rotations around the clock being the whole instead of one. That way 8ths and 24ths would be more apparent.

So I asked him if he could think of a way we could change the clock to do 1/8 or 1/24 without breaking up minutes? His first reaction was no, so I said “That is interesting because there are 24 hours in a day, so I feel like this should work.” Possibly leading him too much but at that point I could see the glazed look in some of the students eyes and I felt like I was losing the class’ attention. I told him that during math workshop that day he could chat with me about it or he could take that thought and work with some more for Monday.  He said he wanted to think about it over the weekend…I think mainly because he didn’t want to miss the Math Workshop activities, so we will see what he has for me tomorrow.

After school, I am recapping this lesson for Nancy and saying how difficult I thought it would be for them to grasp two rotations of the clock as the whole for the 24 hours that would allow for 8ths and 24ths more easily.  After listening to me ramble for about 5 minutes about this idea, she casually says, “What about military time?” UMMMmmm…DUH. Where was she during that class period??  This job really does take two brains.

So needless to say, I have amended my lesson for tomorrow. I am handing them this military clock and letting them talk about what fractions we can work with easily that are the same as our first clock and which one’s are different. Design addition equations we can solve with this clock that we couldn’t do on the other clock without breaking minutes.


Don’t get me wrong, I still want to get to changing the whole on our original clock, but I think after working with this clock, it may be more accessible for more of the students. I will post later to update on this lesson to show how it went…but good or bad, the questions and thinking that led to this lesson are so worth it!


Meaningful Math Conversations…

I am a true believer that content coaching is a necessity in the improvement and sustainability of math instruction, however we all know that finding time to even use the restroom during the course of the school day is close to impossible! So how do we find time for these important conversations to happen and more importantly, we need to be fortunate enough to have a position in our school that does just that, coach.

Last week, my class was working on finding fraction/percent equivalents using a 10 x 10 grid.  They did great with the fourths and eighths, but then we hit 1/3!  As I walked around and talked to the students, I saw a range of strategies: shading one out of every 3 squares, shading one out of every 3 rows, then squares, and some just knew that three 33’s was as close as they could get with whole numbers and had just shaded 33. No matter which strategy they chose, the “leftover box” was leaving many perplexed.

After quite a bit of struggling with what to do with this leftover box and some happy to just settle at 1/3 = 33%, Nancy (our math specialist, former 3rd grade teacher, and partner in crime with all things math) came into the room.  She helped me by chatting with a group about their thoughts on what do with this 100th box. Class, unfortunately, had to wrap up to go to lunch, and I wasn’t comfortable that some students had had sufficient time to think about it, so I left the class with that leftover box as food for thought that night.

Over lunch, Nancy and I were talking about what she had heard from the students and she made the statement, “It is amazing how they don’t make connections to all of the sharing brownie work we did in 3rd grade when trying to count off by 3’s in the grid..” For those who use Investigations, you will  know the exact lessons to which she is referencing, for those who don’t you can probably infer the context 🙂 We discussed the difference of the contexts for students, the array work they do in 4th grade and then tried to figure how to make that connection for my afternoon class. Tall job for the 15 minutes left of lunch, AKA speed eating.

I typically start my class with some type of number talk, so we sketched out a number talk that focused on the brownie problems of years past. Lunch ended and when the class came in the classroom, they headed to the carpet for a number talk.

I did the following sequence of problems, sharing strategies as we went:

How can four people share one brownie?

How can four people share 6 brownies?

How can four people share a pan of 21 brownies?

They did an amazing job and were very confident in their strategies and I definitely put them into a “fraction state of mind.” We then went into finding our percentages and even the strategies for finding the percents equivalent to fourths and eighths seemed smoother and then when we hit 1/3 and that leftover box was much less mysterious.  There were still a few who struggled but I definitely could see more perseverance and entry points at problem solving. They seemed to make a connection to the brownie problems at the beginning of the lesson.

This entire rambling of my thoughts really boils down to one thought….Improving instruction is about finding time to have those meaningful math conversations. Had I not had that conversation with Nancy and changed my number talk for the second group, the lesson was going to have the same fate as the first.  That conversation helped me make math connections that I could then make my students. Would I have loved to have more time to think out this lesson and retry it the next day, of course, but did Nancy and I improve it…absolutely!


NCSM-Jo Boaler-Promoting Equity Through Teaching For A Growth Mindset

1As you can see from the picture, it was a packed house! After waiting in line for fifteen minutes, I was so lucky (and excited) to get a seat to hear Jo Boaler speak, even if my seat was in the next to last row.

Jo opened the presentation with Dweck’s research on mindsets. “In the fixed mindset, people believe that their talents and abilities are fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that; nothing can be done to change it. In the growth mindset, people believe that their talents and abilities can be developed through passion, education, and persistence.”

Jo states that the fixed mindset contributes to one of the biggest myths in mathematics: being good at math is a gift. She referenced her book, The Elephant in the Classroom (added it to my reading list) and showed the audience various television/movie clips that continue to perpetuate this mathematical myth.

Jo then moved from Hollywood to the science behind the learning.  She briefly discussed brain plasticity,  the capacity of the brain to change and rewire itself over the course of one’s lifetime. When learning happens, synapses fire and create connections.  These synapses are like footprints in the sand, that if not used, wash away. To illustrate this plasticity, Jo showed the variation in two child brain scans, one child from a loving home and the other living in extreme neglect.  At this point, the neuroscience has me completely transfixed, so interesting.


Jo went on to discuss the London “Black Cab” Drivers. To become a Black Cab driver, one must pass a test called “The Knowledge” consisting of 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks. I had to Google it to find the image because I thought DC was bad…


Brain scans have shown that Black Cab drivers have a larger hippocampus after studying for and passing this test, demonstrating neuroplasticity, the brain changing/rewiring as new things are learned.

She shared a letter from a high school math department against using algebra II as a graduation requirement. The letter, in so many words, implied that certain students can’t learn, whether it be because they are minorities or due to lack of maturity, and would not be able to pass this requirement.  The reasoning in the letter goes against brain research that shows that every child can excel in math. I am so impressed with Jo’s use of research to dispute the comments we hear all too often, even at the elementary level.  Research shows that every learning experience changes one’s “ability,” yet we used fixed ability language often, “high kids and “low kids.”

Jo read a quote by Laurent Schwartz, “What is important is to deeply understand things and their relations to each other.  This is where intelligence lies.  The fact of being quick or slow isn’t really relevant.  Naturally, it’s helpful to be quick, like it is to have a good memory.  But it’s neither necessary nor sufficient for intellectual success.” I think that needs to be a poster every classroom wall!

So how does mindset impact how students view themselves? Jo shared 7th grade data in which students with a growth mindset outperformed fixed mindset students. Growth mindset students demonstrated more persistence in challenging situations and the gender gaps were eliminated in SAT levels.

Jo posed the question to the audience, “What do you think encourages a fixed mindset in a student?”  As we discussed our thoughts, I checked out Twitter only to find there were a few folks tweeting about this particular session, so we shared our ideas:

Jo suggested that student grouping, assessment & grading, and the math tasks we use in our classroom all contribute to creating a fixed mindset in a student. She presented this block pattern to the audience:


Typically, teachers would ask how many blocks will be in a certain figure number, leading to an input/output table response. Jo suggested asking students, “What you see happening?”” How do you see it growing?”
She showed video of a group of students working together for over an hour, sharing how each saw the pattern growing/changing.  They were engaged, following different pathways through the problem, creating arguments, and persevering. Ah, the Math Practices again…I do love seeing them in action! She suggests that when tasks are open and engaging, a growth mindset is developed.

I have to confess, I was reading some tweets about Jo’s session from other #NCSM13 participants at this point. I heard Jo mention Gauss and Cathy Humphries, so I jotted them down to check out later.

My attention was quickly drawn back in when Jo said, “Grades are not that important.” Thank you and thank you! She stated that diagnostic feedback of classroom observations leads to higher achievement in students. Then, the popular topic of timed tests arose.  According to neuroscience, math should never be associated with speed.  She shared numerous honest, yet sad, student reflections regarding timed tests. A 4th grader said he/she feels,”nervous because I am scared I will not finish or make a mistake.” A 2nd grader said he/she feels “that I am not good at math.”

Mistakes are good, mistakes grow synapses and yet students are pressured to NOT make them. Why? Jo stated that students have been brought up in a performance, not learning, culture. Jo ended with the message that teachers and students should be encouraged to have a growth mindset and how we teach will impact each student’s mindset. Awesome session!
Jo Boaler: