Building Mathematically Powerful Classrooms PD

Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Lets face it, Math is not one of my strong suits. 

It has taken awhile to relearn the content, and on top of that, learning how to teach it to others. My math co-teacher was nothing short of amazing, and she knew I really wanted to be better at teaching math. So, once news went out that there was going to be a summer professional development opportunity for Building Mathematically Powerful Classrooms, she signed me up. I'm so glad she did!
The PD gave out binders full of supplies and handouts for the two days.
A little more background information - my co-teacher used various strategies in class that I didn't quite understand. I've been accustomed to the I Do, We Do, and You Do method that this made my brain crinkle. 

Here's what she used:
  • Problem of the Month
  • Math Talks
  • MARS Tasks
Let's first talk about the Math Framing Questions. This was what blew my mind because it linked everything that my co-teacher did into one picture, whereas before, it was unclear to me. The PD begins by introducing teachers into 5 different dimensions: The Mathematics, Cognitive Demand, Access to Mathematical Content, Agency, Authority, and Identity, and Uses of Assessment.
  • The Mathematics: How do mathematical ideas from this unit/course develop in this lesson/lesson sequence? 
  • Cognitive Demand: What opportunities do students have to make their own sense of mathematical ideas? 
  • Access to Mathematical Content: Who does and does not participate in the mathematical work of the class, and how? 
  • Agency, Authority, and Identity: What opportunities do students have to explain their own and respond to each other's mathematical ideas? 
  • Uses of Assessment: What do we know about each student's current mathematical thinking, and how can we build on it?
What really got me was the Cognitive Demand, Access to Mathematical Content, and Agency, Authority, and Identity. What I saw in the classroom closely related to both dimensions. My co-teacher put her foot down and told me to let the students struggle. That's how learning begins because they have the tools, they just need time to struggle with the problem using all those tools. We don't need to throw them a bone each time.

An example of a problem teachers were given to solve - I tried.
This leads me to the Problem of the Month. With all these tools in their belt, what's a fun way of having students use all of them? Problem of the Month. Now, this isn't to be graded. It's a packet of problems from levels A - E that all students should work on. Students are using all the mathematical ideas they have learned to attempt solving these challenging problems. I LOVE this idea. It also works really well with Kagan, since Kagan mentions sponge activities for students to work on when they complete all their in class work. Cognitive Demand, check.

I got to level D of the problem of the month packet
and my brain politely declined the challenge.
Personally, I think Access to Mathematical Content and Agency, Authority, and Identity are really closely related. They both deal with creating an environment where students feel confident and comfortable with sharing answers, participating in class discussions, and being okay with struggling to solve problems when around their peers. This goes hand in hand with Kagan also. Basically, giving enough opportunities in class to share answers, class-building, and team-building enough to ensure that students are comfortable with one another to compare and contrast their methods and answers. 

6th Grade Math Talk used as a Do-Now.
How I Modified: I had the student break down the word problem.
What operation will we use? What is the important information?
Instructions for students to follow, we chose to have students write down their plan instead.
Great social skills practice! I had the student breakdown the problem for his partner.
My co-teacher worked in these opportunities by implementing Math Talks. Problems with multiple methods of solving are shown to the class. Students are timed and are told to indicate how many ways they can solve this problem with their fingers. Afterwards, students share the different ways they took to solve the problem.  We used Kagan to have students share their methods in their groups and then had a whole class discussion of how many ways we can solve one problem.  Access to Mathematical Content and Agency, Authority, and Identity - check.

Whole Class activity for students after Math Talks.
Every student has a chance to see other ways of solving problems.
Last, but not least, we've arrived at Uses of Assessment. This is where MARS tasks come into play. My co-teacher used this as a pre-assessment before each new unit. This was a great way of figuring out grouping and gathering data on student strengths. You can find out more at HERE! It even gives free MARS tasks for you to use!

We decided that in order to accommodate/ modify we would front load
the information before the MARS task. Assignments depended on student ability.


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