Episode #107: How To Believe In Your Math Educators – An Interview with Mary Kemper
Mary Kemper is the Director of Mathematics for Coppell ISD in Coppell, Texas. She’s an Apple Distinguished Educator, and the outgoing president of the Texas Association of Supervisors of Mathematics. In this episode we chat with Mary about what professional learning and support needs to look like; how to nudge teachers without causing overwhelm; what to stop doing in your professional development sessions and how to build a sustainable PD model.
- What professional learning and support needs to look like;
- How to nudge teachers without overwhelming;
- What to stop doing in your professional development.
- How to build a sustainable PD model.
Mary Kemper: Who would want to follow a leader who's not going to advocate for you. So, you got to be strong, lead boldly, then you have to have a vision, a plan. It has to be really clear. When people talk to me about teaching and learning math, they should already anticipate the words that are going to come out of my mouth, because it's really, really clear. Even though that's a really short phrase that is a lot of work, develop a vision. You need to involve people, you need to involve students and parents and community. There has to be a really clear vision on what teaching math looks, and everyone needs to be a crosstalk.
Jon Orr: That there is Mary Kemper. Mary is the director of mathematics for Coppell ISD in Coppell, Texas. She's an Apple Distinguished Educator, and the outgoing President of the Texas Association of Supervisors of Mathematics.
Kyle Pearce: John, you forgot to mention a dear friend of ours from the ADE program. In this episode, we chat with Mary about what professional learning and support needs to look like, how to nudge teachers without causing overwhelm, what to stop doing in your professional development sessions and how to build a sustainable PD model. Let's do this.
Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce from tapintoteenminds.com.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr from Mr. Orr is a Geek.com. We are two math teachers who together ...
Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of Math Moment Makers worldwide, who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark curiosity.
Jon Orr: Fuel their sense-making.
Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. John, are you ready to dive into an awesome, awesome conversation with Mary?
Jon Orr: Of course, Kyle, of course we are excited to chat with Mary. As you mentioned in the intro there, we've hung out with Mary a number of times from our ADE days, Apple Distinguished Educator days. I think with the first time was back in Miami, but let's get ready for this episode. This is going to be a jam packed episode. But before we do that, let's say thank you to all of you, Math Moment Makers out there from around the globe. Those, to you specifically, who've taken the time to share feedback by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts.
Kyle Pearce: Yes, this week we want to highlight Erin, who gave us, John, another five-star rating and review that said ...
Jon Orr: "Excellent resource. This is one of the best resources out there for teachers of maths. I love that I can regularly challenge my thinking about my teaching practice and pick up new ideas along the way. This is awesome for kick-starting conversations with colleagues too."
Kyle Pearce: Oh, we can't thank Erin enough, who sounds like may be outside of North America with that maths reference in there. We thank Erin enough for taking the time out of your day to, not only listen in, but to help us grow the podcast with positive ratings and reviews.
Jon Orr: If you haven't taken a moment to go and leave us an honest rating, please do so over on Apple Podcasts. We will definitely and certainly appreciate it.
Kyle Pearce: Because Erin shared a screenshot of her review on social media, this Math Moment Maker has been entered into our rating and review contest for one of five copies of Book by Peter Liljedahl's new book, Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, Grades K-12.
Jon Orr: Right there, Kyle. Right there, awesome. Here's the details on how you, listener, can win. Here's step one. Head over to Apple Podcasts, or on your podcast platform and leave us, if you can, a rating and review.
Kyle Pearce: Step number two is to take a screenshot of that review and share it on social media, ideally, Twitter or Instagram mentioning @makemathmoments, or you can go ahead and do the same in our free private Facebook group, Math Moment Makers K-12.
Jon Orr: Step number two, on that post, be sure to use the #mmmgiveaway. That's going to help us search for your winning review.
Kyle Pearce: That is absolutely it. You are in. Right now, we are up only a handful of ratings and reviews. I believe we are under 20 at the time of this recording. So, my friends, your chance of winning is fantastically huge. Go ahead and make sure you go leave that rating and review and let us know about it, following those steps, and pretty soon you will likely have one of five copies of Peter's new book, Building Thinking Classrooms.
Jon Orr: Yeah, we'll be giving away five of those books, but to get in on this, please go and do this right away as time is running short. You'll need to get that rating review in by December 31st, 2020.
Kyle Pearce: Now, if by chance you are listening after December 31st, 2020, we get new listeners all the time, go ahead and follow the same steps. Do the same process because we are going to be holding another draw in 2021. So, we will search that hashtag and we'll make sure that your rating and review is included.
Jon Orr: Now, let's get to our awesome discussion with Mary Kemper.
Hey there, Mary, welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. We are extra pumped to have you on the show today. How are you doing? Let everybody know where you're coming from.
Mary Kemper: I'm doing really great. I'm here in Sunny, North Texas, and I'm spending time at home like everyone else in the world. I'm still attempting to balance day job, parenting. It's interesting, exciting, awesome, historic, stressful all at the same time.
Kyle Pearce: That is probably the best way you could summarize that using individual words. I know, for me, and we were chatting about it a little bit here before we hit record, I'm feeling the exact same way, and I'm sure there's so many people out there. There might be some people that are like, all one way or the other. Some that are loving, maybe the freedom of being at home to do this. I think most educators aren't those people because they're like, my job is really, really tricky to do right now. Clearly, we're referencing the COVID situation all over the world.
As we record this, it's June. This episode will be coming out later in the year. So, who knows where we'll be, hopefully back, but I'm just like you there, Mary. I want to make sure that, when things are hard and challenging and stressful, like you've shared, it's like, I'm trying to get in this habit of realizing that there's so many other benefits that are there that I don't get on a regular basis like, not rushing around all the time, being able to spend more time, sporadically throughout the day with my children, which is great.
But yeah, enough about the COVID situation. I want to know a little bit about Mary. Mary's working from home right now, but what is your role in education, and whereabouts are you coming to us from right now?
Mary Kemper: Yeah, I started as a secondary math teacher, like y'all. I'll go ahead and jump to I'm in Texas, so I'll say y'all a lot.
Kyle Pearce: It's like Kathy Yanchus episode part two.
Mary Kemper: That's right. I love Kathy Yanchus. I taught middle school math and loved it. Then, we moved to the Houston Area, and I taught high school, Algebra 1 at a ninth grade campus. A mentor of mine approached me about a curriculum job, like what I'm doing now, much like a coach supporting fifth through eighth grade math. You'll see the pattern in this whole mentor thing in my story, but I worked with middle school teachers on curriculum and instruction for quite a few years before a mentor said, "I think it's time for you to start supporting high school.
I transitioned to high school. Just about that time, we moved back to North Texas, and I was hired as an Algebra 2 teacher in high school instructional coach. I loved that job, but it didn't last long before a mentor said, "I think you should look into this K-12 math director position." In no time, in fact, the day I interviewed, I got a call that, "We're not going to even do multiple rounds, this is it. You got the job." I've had that position for seven years now, and I work with pre-K-12 in this district, in Coppell, and it's a dream.
I work with teachers and campus administrators. I work with the other core content areas, and digital learning, and librarians, and ESL facilitators. I really do love that. That's where I am now. I would be happy if this is all I do, if that doesn't sound terrible, but I feel like I have a lot of work to do, but I really love what I do, and that's really comforting.
Jon Orr: Nice. You must've been early into this when we first met you, I think way back in 2015?
Kyle Pearce: That would be '15 or?
Jon Orr: crosstalk 2015 when we were in Miami, and you must have learned a lot in your role since then, but Mary, I'm always curious about this. We talk often on this show about progression of teachers from one place to another, and obviously this is probably going to make up the bulk of our conversation here today, but I'm curious to see or hear about what early Mary teaching look like. What did it look like in your classroom early in your career as a teacher? I'm curious to see if it was something like mine or Kyle's. Were you like light years ahead of us? We always like to compare back to where we are now, to where we were then, to where we want to go.
I'd love to hear about maybe a story, or what did it look like in your classroom, or what did it sound like in your classroom the first few years of teaching?
Mary Kemper: It wasn't good, but I didn't know better.
Jon Orr: I feel so much better now, because crosstalk.
Mary Kemper: It was just like y'alls. I mean, it was the same way I was taught. I would open a blank document, and I would start drafting example problems in preparation for a lecture style. I would expect the kids who would come in and sit in rows in assigned seats to copy down what I wrote. It's painful to even say, and it didn't go well. I don't know if I even knew it wasn't going well, but I will tell you that it did not take long for me to start trying new things. I didn't have the networks that I have now. I don't know if, technologically, if we were in the same situation with things like Twitter and video conferencing and things like that 19 years ago, I would have been fast-tracked to more successful lesson design, but I did start trying some things.
I remember some collaborative projects. I had my kids working on things like Barbie Bungee, and collecting data with some data collection devices that connected to our calculators. I was trying, I just didn't know where I was aiming, but I do remember thinking this isn't working. I don't like this. I do remember coming home from work my first year of teaching and just laying on the floor and announcing to myself, I cannot do this for 30 years. In retrospect, I couldn't do that for 30 years, but it wasn't teaching in general, it was that, what teaching looked like to me then.
Kyle Pearce: Right. Picturing as well, I'm remembering vividly, I mean, my first year teaching bringing home a bunch of assessments. I've alluded to it before on the podcast, we talk about it a little bit in some of our webinars, just this idea of me sitting there and spending the entire night assessing and somehow being shocked at the results that students weren't doing well. But in reality, I had no radar on how were my students doing, it was a lot of me talking and saying what they should do and advice giving, but not actually watching them do math and really helping to coach them along.
I always wonder about that. How do we get on this path? I think a lot of it has to do with beliefs, and I'm sure it'll come up later in our conversation, because we do want to talk to you about professional learning and what that looks like. But I think most first year, second year, maybe even 10th year teachers, it can be sometimes, where you're just trying to get your traction. It's almost like you have two paths, so you can sort of stick to the only thing that you've ever known and try, and just try and try and try to make that work somehow. Sometimes it works out okay, or it gets better, or you can start doing that experimenting.
It sounds like your journey was like that, that you weren't going to just sit there and hope that things were going to fall into place, or that the next year students were going to be different, but you thought maybe I'll take that bull by the horns a little bit and see where you can go with it.
Mary Kemper: Yeah. Right on. I do remember just collecting stuff. I felt like my classroom felt empty because I didn't have things. It was hard for me to describe, but I needed them to touch and to have tangible things. I remember, and I did not realize how much I had collected until I moved to a different school district. I just had bins of things like cups, and fabric, and pins, and cars, and Play-Doh. It was just like, I don't know when I'm going to need this, but somehow my kids are going to need to use this stuff. I ended up collecting a lot of things in the classroom, just in case.
Jon Orr: How does that make you feel now? What kind of priority are you putting on things, or is it like, we got to get things in people's hands, or is there more of a focus now for you? What do you think?
Mary Kemper: Well, it's about seeing the math and doing the math, and that what I was doing ... I didn't know about the developmental progression of math. I didn't know about things that people like Graham Fletcher have so eloquently described. I just thought that you just start with this algorithm at this abstract, and ask the kids to copy and paste, basically what you're doing, not deviating much at all from your process, or even having to think very deeply, just repeatedly do this. But what I really needed, and I didn't know it at the time, was this critical thinking, and I needed this tangible.
I needed them to see the math and do the math, and think about the math outside the classroom that happens in their world and enjoy it. Why would you not enjoy coming into a classroom when you walk in and there's playing cards, or cups of Play-Doh, or matchbox cars out for you to just experiment? That's really what I wanted them to associate with math. That thing, it's not about like some list of materials that are needed for every single classroom, and scaling out, like everybody needs to tubs of whatever, but rather it's, I just want you to see and touch and experiment and explore with the math, if that makes sense.
Kyle Pearce: No, for sure. For sure. My original classroom, I tried to put a little bit of decor up there and tried to make the class nice, that sort of thing, but the actual learning was, bring your notebooks, bring your pencil, and that's the tools we have. It sounds like you've grown since those early days. I know John and I have both grown. We continue to try to continue growing in that area. That's super helpful to set the context for so many people who are listening and may or may not know of Mary, and we'll talk about your Twitter profile and a few things a little later in the episode.
But now, I want to make sure we don't miss out on this question because it's a question that we have asked on every single episode, and it's about math moments. We want you to dig into your past. We've heard a little bit about, it sounds like your experience in the classroom as a student was barely similar to ours, where these early years teaching, we were teaching very similarly to the way we were taught. We're wondering, is there a defining moment for you, or a moment that at least pops into your mind when you think back to math class as a student, what do you think?
Mary Kemper: I have three, and they're short, but I'll tell you how they're connected, or you can see how they're connected. First is in fourth grade, and in fourth grade, in the '80s, was all about long division. We had board races. That meant, on the chalkboard, two kids at a time calculating whatever, using long division, as fast as you can. Winner's names, I would never do this, winner's names were posted on these pull down window shades that were like overhead screens they pull down to block out the light, and they're royal blue, our school color. Anyway, my name, that's one thing I remember, was our names for winning the fourth grade board races for long division up there in the classroom.
Obviously success meant speed on the board races. Then, fast forward to my sophomore year when it was my last day of school, my sophomore year, and my Algebra 2 teacher had asked us to stop by to find out what we made our final grade in the class. I swung by her class, and she said, "You don't deserve the grade you got because you didn't ever do your homework." I thought, how can you mix ... first of all, of course I did my work, but how can you mix me up with another kid? It's the last day of school? Don't you know me by now?
But obviously there, everything was about homework and grades. Not my favorite class clearly. Then, onto college, when I was in graduate school, I took this educational psychology statistics class with this award-winning professor, and he was fantastic, by the way. He taught through analogies and storytelling. It was a small class and we were all seated around this big conference table during class. You only earned one grade in the class, and it was at the very end, and you schedule a one-on-one appointment with him in his office that smelled of burned coffee. It was fantastic.
You'd go in his office, and he had his feet propped up, and he would ask you questions until he had a gauge as to how much you knew. You just had to be prepared to come in and have a conversation about additional statistics. That clearly was like, you had to really understand in order to go in there and be prepared. That was one of my favorite math classes, even though it wasn't like a straight up traditional math course, because it was a graduate statistics course, but that was true understanding and that was amazing. There we go, my three memorable moments. But the board races and the Algebra 2 teacher, and then Dr. Thompson was fantastic.
Jon Orr: Yeah. Listeners of the show, I think know that a lot of people's memories of early math class, especially grade four or lower, or in that middle grades area, a lot of memory's tied to speed and math, or a point-based systems and math, or getting your name written on the board and showing off, or even my memories were getting stickers in grade four for doing math above and beyond.
Kyle Pearce: Always been a sucker for stickers.
Jon Orr: I know, I was. Mary, you said you wouldn't do this anymore, but I think there's still lots of teachers out there still point-based systems. I'm thinking of ClassDojo teachers giving points for participation, and taking them away, which you can do in ClassDojo, and I think we could talk a whole episode on that taking away points for kids not participating. I think Kyle you've mentioned here before 99math, something like that, but the speed and success always pick a pain point for many people, and definitely lots of issues there.
Mary, let's move into mathematics professional development. I know this is a focus of your work, and we're eager to chat with you about that. So, to kick things off here, like you are the director of mathematics for your district. We know that you're extremely passionate about this area. We even chatted about this before we hit recording about these things. So, we're eager to talk there. Now, there's lots of people who listen to this podcast who are in similar roles and use the podcast for professional development. We're eager to talk about or hear what your beliefs are, your strategies, what goes into good professional development in your opinion? Then, what do you like to do? Then maybe also, what do you not like do, or what do you don't do anymore? Maybe start off with one of those two.
Mary Kemper: First, before you even start to make a plan, you need, as a leader, to look inward and ask like, do you believe that your teachers, given the support, materials, time, opportunity, do you believe they can design and facilitate learning for all kids at high levels, with critical thinking and reasoning? Do you believe your teachers are capable of doing that, given what they need? If you don't, you need to work on yourself first, because they'll see right through that. But who wants to follow a leader who doesn't believe that you are capable of growing?
In a similar way, you would want your teachers to feel that way about their students. I say this a lot, but your kids and your teachers, they deserve the best in the world. You have everything you could possibly need. We were talking earlier about stuff or things. You can teach with practically nothing, like just junk and stuff and conversation, but you have to be an advocate. You have to advocate for that high quality teaching. You have to speak up when you see barriers. It's not about being a comfortable adult. It's about advocating for kids or advocating for other adults. People know around me to not say things like, "Oh, I'm not good at math, I was never good at math, or well, we can't provide this in all the languages we need, or we can't provide an extension."
Too bad. This is what we do. It's about student learning, and the kids deserve an advocate in their teachers, and the teachers deserve an advocate in their leaders. Who would want to follow a leader who is not going to advocate for you? You got to be strong, lead boldly. Then you have to have a vision, a plan. It has to be really clear. When people talk to me about teaching and learning math, they should already anticipate the words that are going to come out of my mouth, because it's really, really clear. Even though that's a really short phrase that is a lot of work, develop a vision. You need to involve people, you need to involve students and parents and community.
There has to be a really clear vision on what teaching math looks like, and everyone needs to be on the same page about that. Now, you still need to keep moving forward while you're working on these things, but it's going to be a lot easier when you have this vision and you have this strength behind you. It's like, when salespeople or reps contact me and I try to decide like, is this worth our budget money or this or that? It's really simple for me. Is it aligned to our vision? Is it going to support our cause? Is it going to further math teaching and learning according to what we believe in our district or not? If not, I have a very canned response I give them.
If it does, even if I don't have money, if it does, I'm going to make notes because I'm going to advocate for it. Anyway, if you believe your teachers can be successful and you're prepared to be an advocate and you have this clear vision, you need to know, so I'm hoping you have, but if you have not, I encourage you to put it on your book list. Francis Su's book, Mathematics for Human Flourishing, have y'all read that?
Kyle Pearce: crosstalk last week. Yeah, fantastic.
Mary Kemper: Oh, okay. Yes, I feel like I have a lot in common. He grew up in Texas. He went to college in Texas. He loves math. Anyway, he quoted Simone Weil in every being cries out silently to be read differently. I've used that quote, every being cries out silently to be read differently, so many times lately. I feel like that's true about my teachers too. It's not about seat time and checking off, have you attended this professional development, like check, you're done. I'm done with you, you're done with me. Move on.
Kyle Pearce: Accountability. Just I did it, I got through that or they got through that, right?
Mary Kemper: Yeah, and are you ready to learn? Are you prepared? Is now a good time? Do you have the supports that you need? Always remember about the different needs of your educators, and what they benefit from, and what sparks their interest. Back to the advocacy, I ask really tough questions in terms of professional learning. I'm not pushing it on them. In a sense, I come in with a solution. So, sitting with a group of teachers, believe it or not, not too long ago, they said, "I don't understand why we need this because what we're doing is working."
Immediately, I took the opportunity to say, "How do you know it's working?" I don't need them to tell me how it's working. It's not about me. You say-
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, it's about them thinking. Right.
Mary Kemper: You say it's working. How do you know it's working? If this is what the students need to be able to do, how are they showing you that? Then, have you thought about extending the learning and giving them an opportunity to think critically in this way? Do you think your kids could do this? Basically, how are your student showing they understand? I divert all the questions to the students. Okay, so all of that. Then, when professional development, in terms of structures, if you want to think about that, it's everything from formal, in-person, six hour day professional learning, to one-on-one conversations.
I just, the other evening, had a text message conversation with one of my teachers. It's just a matter of informal and formal, but always going back to that vision and having the resources, the really clear opportunity to share a model with them. I model the work with them, I model teaching with their students, which I'd love to share a little about my learning lab model soon, but basically laying a path for them to follow. I do have the plan, like this is the vision, this is where I want everybody to get to. So, I've got that clear path and I've got a lot of things in my back pocket, but I'm helping to close that knowing, doing gap based on what they're doing in the classroom and how I want to keep them progressing.
I have high expectations for my teachers because I believe in them, and I believe they can do it, but I don't pressure them in terms of beyond, just beyond their comfort zone. Just, have you thought about trying this? Will you give me a call when you're ready to do this? Or, I have this great new book, will you tell me when you have some time to read it because I would love to read it alongside you. Really just having that opportunity to keep them moving forward. I have a big plan, it's not a secret, but I don't burden people with it, if that makes sense.
That's a lot of generic talk about my professional learning, but if you notice, I didn't talk about ... I guess I'll get to what I don't do. I don't think about initiatives or programs or products to buy. I work on developing a sustainable system that is dependent upon the success of my educators and their knowledge, because I believe if the educators are equipped, and I can pour myself and everything I have into my educators for their content and knowledge and their pedagogy skills, then we'll have everything we need. Yeah, there's some great products and resources that will be helpful to help, in a sense, duplicate the teacher, if that makes sense, in the classroom.
But generally, it's not about like, oh, we're going to buy this program for this much money and see how it works, and now we're going to do this and train everybody in that. There's this interesting line in educational funding. Once you become a little bit more successful and more successful, the funding becomes less and less, if that makes sense. So, we're going to pour money into the areas of greatest need. Well, we're progressing forward, granted we have a lot of room to grow, but I'm doing this with a sustainable built from the bottom model, where I've identified those priority standards, those things that we are going to have a guarantee, a guaranteed and viable curriculum for all kids.
If all kids understand this, then we can tell their parents and then we can help support them. We can extend and enrich upon that. In elementary school, our guaranteed and viable curriculum is based on priorities related to numeracy. That means our in-house developed the universal screeners are about teachers sitting individually with kids because assessment really means to sit aside, and sitting with them and assessing their numeracy skills with a really strong rubric, and then intervening on the numeracy skills, and then monitoring the progress toward those very specific goals related to the numeracy skills.
All of that is how we guarantee that our kids are learning those concepts we deem as the most important benchmarks in a sense.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, I wanted to, before we get too deep into it, I just wanted to comment and say, what really resonated right when you started talking at the beginning about having that belief in your educators and a vision, and then asking those really tough questions, those three things, which you clearly articulated, how you use those, to me, those are really ... It comes back to this idea that mindset is key, and that the end goal of that vision is probably big ideas, that what you want for students when they leave. It's a big thing.
I like how, what I'm hearing is, it leaves a lot of space for teachers to get there in different ways. It sounds like you're when you're asking those really tough questions, that you're not coming in with the answers, but rather asking the for teachers to reflect on. I feel like it allows you to provide this model so that teachers, you're meeting them where they are, and essentially, they're meeting themselves where they are, because they're the ones that are doing the reflecting and you're there to support them with getting in that again, that same direction.
We want to get to this end goal, but it's not about let's get this X, Y, or Z face-to-face PD done and checked off the list. I think that's spectacular, and it really reminds us, I know John's probably nodding his head as well, but it reminds me a lot about what we read in the book, Coaching Habit, which is something we've mentioned a few times on the show before, this idea of staying curious and asking more questions and doing less advice-giving, I think it's so helpful, and it's fundamental for educators to believe in themselves.
Because it's one thing for us to believe in them, that they can continue to grow and meet the needs of their students, but if they don't believe in themselves that they're able to get there, and that we truly do care about helping them along their journey, not along helping them on our journey, that sort of like mapped out road that a lot of teachers feel like we're sending them down when we're engaging in professional learning. I think it's really important. I think it's an awesome segue for us to dive in a little bit on.
I know you have all kinds of different models that you've used in the past, but one that has, I'll call it a special place in your heart, I suppose, one that you really find useful and effective is this learning lab model. So, we're really curious, because John and I don't know the ins and outs of it. What does that model look like? What is the learning lab model? Did you read about it? Is it a modification of something you've read, or done, or a combination? What does it look like and sound like, and what do you like about it? Why is this model one that you like so much?
Mary Kemper: Well, I'm going to start with, it was totally not my idea, but it's based upon our friends in the literacy world. We have literacy consultants come to our district and use a model like this, and it was well-received. The educators were able to begin to successfully implement the vision of literacy instruction as a result of professional learning like this. One of my campus principals reached out and said, "I think I want to try this." After many, many meetings and conversations of planning, we were able to kick this off.
Really, what I had from the principal was the support in terms of funding for substitutes, so that the teachers could come out of the classroom during the school day, and then her support in terms of being a cheerleader for the plan to her teachers, and being real positive about it, and so that, when they came in, they were ready to go. This is what it looked like in general. Each team of educators would come in and be with me for three phases. Let's say when the fifth grade team came in, teachers who taught fifth grade math, even teachers who were not math teachers, but taught fifth grade at that campus, as well as their counterparts who taught students receiving special ed services and things like that.
We had a group, each group that came in had a focus on a different grade level. They would come in, and for about 45 minutes, there would be a learning opportunity for them. It would just be teachers and me in the room, and I would guide them through a learning experience. Then we would take that learning into a classroom, that knew we were coming, into that grade level classroom. I would serve as the teacher, and it would be a lab class, and then we'd come back together and debrief. Let me go back to the learning part when they were with me.
I, very strategically relying upon the great work by John Van de Walle, pulled some or design some problems appropriate for the grade level to work on. For example, in kindergarten, the problem was five plus three, all the way up to fifth grade was 936 divided by 18. What I asked the teachers to do, so a picture the teacher's sitting at a conference table with me with appropriate grade level manipulatives and tools at the table. We give them the problem, and I would say, our goal is to solve this problem through the entire spectrum of possibilities of the kids using invented strategies.
Everything from Lincoln cubes to rekenreks, to hundreds charts, paper pencil, everything. Our goal was to show all the different ways, along the developmental progression of learning, that this problem could be solved. The teachers were amazed by how one single math problem could really pull out lots of great conversations. That's one thing that I do all the time in professional learning is do math, and we're doing math together. Then we had this collection of student invented strategies, and we talked about developmentally, which one would come first?
What is the earliest math that we're seeing at the table? We talked about that and we talked about the relevancy of, are the cubes connected or not? What color are they? How are they organized? We really dissected every single student vintage strategy. Then, eventually, we built this beautiful continuum of these strategies, like laying them out on the table in order. We took pictures of it and we talked about it, and then what we did was we went into the classroom for the lab class. The students sat on the carpet around me, the teachers were in the room, and I presented to the students the same problem the teachers had just done.
I explained to the kids, "My friends here," the teachers, "have just done this problem with me, and now we want you to solve this problem." I told them the biggest challenge, I love elementary school, the biggest challenge is I don't want you to solve it right now. I just want you to think about how you would solve it. So, I gave them the problem, and then each teacher took one of the student vintage strategies, and then now it's like, I use this rekenrek to solve it, or I use this number line to solve it. Each teacher said, that claimed a strategy.
Then the students were to use their own metacognitive skills to think about which strategy they would feel most comfortable using to solve this problem, and then they self assigned into small groups led by these teachers. As a small group, they engaged in conversation around that strategy to be sure everybody was on the same page and really, truly understood how the strategy could be used to solve the problems. Then the teacher used that opportunity as a mini lesson time to build a small bridge to the next developmentally appropriate student vintage strategy, if that makes sense.
What would come next in their learning? Then there was a mini lesson time where they said, "Well, I see that you did this, what if we looked at it like this." They help the students move forward one small step developmentally to solve the same problem. Then they gave the students a parallel problem and had them use the new strategy. By that time, it was time to go, and then the students reflected. I debrief with the students and give them some reflection prompts, and then went back to the meeting room with the teachers and we reflected on how it went, and talked about the struggles or the strengths, and what they could do to immediately implement this type of thing in their classroom.
That's a lot, but that's the learning lab model, and it was well received, not because it was ... Well, it was fun. I mean, come on. But it was challenging. It made them think like, wow, and I can be such a math nerd too, to them. 936 divided by 18 is my favorite division problem, and this is why. I showed them like, did you know that 936 divided by 18, you could use doubling and halving. Did you know you could do this? What if you knew the multiples of 18, and what if you knew ... "How could you show this using an area model, and how could you show this using base 10 blocks?
Really, just have them think a little bit beyond their strategy as a teacher or as a student and how much you can grow around doing math and not just talking about doing math. That's the learning lab model. I shared with y'all a link to that so that you can share a link to my reflection on that.
Jon Orr: Yeah. We're going to put it in the show notes for sure. What I love about the learning model you've got here is it's got so many great elements of great professional development. You're doing the math with teachers, I think that's always a great element of professional development, instead of just talking about math. I know that's one of the things that you recommend too. You're leading a discussion, or doing a kind of lesson study model where you're working together and seeing it in action with kids, and the teachers get to observe.
That's always, in our opinion, a great one too. The reflection after is also so important. I love that you're pulling, like this is another thing of great models that you're doing. I think Kyle and I have done in the past before, where you're pulling like great thinkers and putting them together. You've got like John Van de Walle who's got his work, and you're like, I'm going to take that and I'm going to mold it with the five practices from Mary Kay Stein and Peg Smith. Then you're going to like, you know what? I'm going to blend that with Cathy Fosnot's Landscapes of Learning Webs. Then, you're going to take that and you're going to mold it with a couple of other things.
It's a beautiful thing to see it all come together. We really love that it's come out like that. It's something that we've always admired, and also it's something that we've always tried to do in our own professional development. One of our newest courses, the concept holding our students back is built on Van de Walle's work, blended with the five practices too. It's some great stuff in there. It really sounds like a great plan. Like you said, it's going to work wonders, and it sounds like it already has. Awesome stuff there for sure, Mary.
We keep moving along here, because we don't want to take up too much more of your time. We're getting close, but we do have to ask about one more thing here that you're working with teachers on, and this has got us curious. We talked about it a little bit in the intro before we hit record, but tell us more about podcasts and pedometers.
Mary Kemper: I just love listening to podcasts, and I know they may not be for everyone, but I will tell you that it's like, once you start talking about it, it's an accessible professional learning that anybody can jump on. If you just, here, let me just send you the link, or let me just talk to you a little bit about it, or reflect on it and just kind of sprinkle it here and there to spark their interest, there's just something about listening to a podcast during your morning commute or like y'all and I do, listening to it on my morning run, and being able to ...
Sometimes I listen to podcasts that drag a little bit, so I'll just speed it up a little bit, or a fast-forward just a moment through the intro, because I've heard the intro a lot, or I can go back 30 seconds or 15 seconds, and I'm like, what was that? Sometimes when I'm out running, I think, am I the only one listening to a math education podcast? I'm probably the only one.
Kyle Pearce: No, John and Kyle are too.
Mary Kemper: John and Kyle are too. One opportunity to embed this in professional learning, so don't think only professional learning can be six hours present in a meeting space, but rather, you can have one where they can come, and during a conference period or during lunch, or after school or before school, and walk, literally podcasts and pedometers, walk side-by-side with someone as you're listening to a podcast and pause and have conversation about what you hear, then you get a little physical movement. You get out of your space. Maybe it's just me.
Hopefully it's not just me, but when I listen to podcasts, there's certain things that I remember, and then if I'm listening to them on a run, I remember where I was when I heard that. It's really strange, but like I'm on a run and I'm in this specific neighborhood, or crossing this certain road, and I'm like, oh, that's when they talked about this. It's like, I'm now getting this mental model. It's like dual coding, and I've got this mental model for what I need to remember. Then later, when I drive by that spot, I'm like, that's where I heard about this.
And I'm the only one, it's only in my head. But there's lots of ways to incorporate that professional learning. Really, if you just think about it less as an event and more as an experience like ongoing, it's really beautiful. I'll tell you, I have some things I don't do anymore. I don't start my planning with a blank presentation, a blank keynote, a blank presentation file, just like I don't start lessons with a blank document anymore. In fact, many times my professional learning won't have any type of visual, which is hard now in the world of Zoom and Google Meet to not have a visual.
I'm reverting a little bit back there, but I try to keep it really simple. When we're in person, I try to have my professional learning, if we're going to meet in person, in a unique space. So, not in a formal meeting space, not in a conference room, or a boardroom, but rather, maybe in a collaborative space on a campus, in a classroom, maybe at a local coffee house or something like that to really think about the physical environment, but also really just make it more of a conversation than sit here, face the front, look at the projector. Because it's not about me teaching, it's about them learning.
One thing that was a huge aha for me was, when I invite educators to come, I used to say, for example, "If you're a middle school math teacher, come to this session." But now I'm really careful on my wording. I say, "If you teach, or if you have any impact on math, teaching and learning, you're welcome to come." That means, and I'll tell them that means campus administrators, ESL support, school counselors, anybody who supports children learning math is welcome to come to the session. Then, if their title does not include the words, math teacher, they'll still feel welcome to come.
Of course, they are, and they'll see they're welcome to come, but I need to get them in the door in order to do the math. Or same thing with, if you want to participate in a virtual learning opportunity or something like that, it's not just that anybody's welcome. They are, but it's really, anybody has any impact on teaching math. Another thing I don't do really any more is talk about math. We really do math, so I don't just say, "When the kids solve this problem," it's like, here's a problem, I want you to solve it, and let's talk about it.
We integrate a lot of technology in our district, but I don't make excuses. If I know it's going to take an extra 30 minutes because I'm afraid my participants won't have the app downloaded or I won't be comfortable with their Apple pencil or something like that, I look at that as an investment of time and recognize that cost benefit analysis shows that I need to allow that extra time because I know they're going to learn more and have a deeper understanding if they're given the opportunity to integrate the technology.
Kyle Pearce: Right. Actually, before we go too far in it and miss the moment, I just want to go back to just this idea that you've shared a number of high impact ideas. First off, going back to the podcasts and pedometers, I love the idea. I think, as you were mentioning like ... I'm picturing, I've never done this myself, but going with someone else and listening to a podcast, it immediately reminded me of actually the hosts of Math Before Breakfast. I'm not sure if you're a subscriber for their podcasts, but great show.
Actually, they do like the opposite of what you just shared, where they actually go for a morning run. What they talk about on their run is what the talk about on the show. I wanted to give them a quick little shout out, because that was what popped into my mind as you were reflecting on when you learn certain ideas and where you were when you learn them, I think that's so powerful. When you go back to now, when you're planning your PD, there's so many things. I'm over here nodding, going like, yeah. Some of the things you said you don't do anymore, I'm like, uh-oh, I still do that. Maybe I need to rethink that a little bit. Right?
It's again, asking yourself some of those hard questions, which I think is so important. Now, we're looking at the time here, Mary, and we have blasted through a complete episode with lots of value bombs for everyone. Usually, we ask people to get a nice get started tip, but I feel like, through your sharing of your different models and your idea around the learning lab model, which for those who haven't heard the episode on our lesson study, kind of like a variation of that. Going back and listen to that, I think is great.
I love the podcasts and pedometers as an idea. Also, I was hoping to get here, but we're not going to have time to do it today. You are like a sketch noting wizard. I want to make sure that, before we wrap up, you've got a lot going on in social media. You're always so generous to share with those on social media, and Twitter in particular. I'm wondering, where can people find more about Mary and your work around PD planning, sketchnoting? I know you have a lot of great reflections online as well. Where can they find more about you before we wrap this thing up and let you get on with your day?
Mary Kemper: Yeah, sure thing. On Twitter, I'm @MrsKemper. That's M-R-S K-E-M-P-E-R. My digital portfolio is on Bulb. It's called a bulbapp.com/mKemper, and I share a lot. I appreciate you acknowledging that. I feel like we're better together. I feel like sharing in the process takes a lot of risk rather than only sharing a final polished product. Yeah, I encourage everyone to keep creating and keep sharing and keep learning.
Jon Orr: Mary, thanks so much. I know that we have so much we could have kept talking about. We would love to bring you back on the show in the future. We really appreciate you taking time out of your day to talk with us here on this podcast, and looking forward to meeting up with you in the real world, whenever we can get back to hitting conferences, or meeting up. We would really love to meet up with you next time we see you. So, thanks so much, and take care.
Mary Kemper: Thank you.
Kyle Pearce: Thanks so much, Mary, we'll talk soon. It was great to welcome Mary onto the show. It's been a while since we've had an opportunity to connect, and I know it's been even longer since we've had a chance to connect face to face, given so many conferences have been on the line and not face-to-face, but we certainly hope that you felt that you had some big key takeaways to walk away with here today.
Jon Orr: Have you hit the subscribe button right now on your favorite podcast platform? Do so, and then you won't miss out on any new episodes as they come out each week.
Kyle Pearce: Fantastic. If you haven't left that rating and review, make sure you do so you can get in on one of five copies of Peter Liljedahl's book, Building Thinking Classrooms. Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode107. Again, that's makemathmoments.com/107. Well, Math Moment Makers, until next time, I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm John Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us and ...
Jon Orr: A high five for you.
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