Episode #108: How to Overcome “Dead Air Syndrome” Teaching Over Zoom – A Math Mentoring Moment
In this Math Mentoring Moment episode we speak with Marnie Geltman; a 6th grade math/science teacher from Queens, New York. Marnie shares how transitioning from an active and hands-on face to face classroom to a completely online model is killing engagement.
Together we brainstorm how to deal with “Dead Air” fear on Zoom, how to get your students to take risks, and how to engage students while teaching strictly online.
This is another Math Mentoring Moment episode where we talk with a member of the Math Moment Maker Community who is working through struggles and together we brainstorm possible next steps and strategies to overcome them.
- How to overcome “Dead Air Syndrome” while teaching over Zoom;
- How to eat the “Distance Learning Elephant”;
- How to get your students to take risks in your online classroom;
- How to engage students while teaching strictly online.
Marnie Geltman: A couple of my students who had really struggled in class actually did much better online for various reasons. Some of them just had trouble being in school and the social aspects of it, but I felt everything was able to be more individualized and personalized. And I was able to divide my class into more groups too, because we weren't in the physical space. Yeah. And just-
Jon Orr: In this Mentoring Moment episode, we speak with Marnie Geltman, a sixth grade math and science teacher from Queens, New York. Marnie shares how transitioning from an active hands-on face-to-face learning environment to a completely online model is killing.
Kyle Pearce: Sure it is. Together we brainstorm how to deal with dead air fear on Zoom, how to get your students to take risks, and how to engage students while teaching strictly online.
Jon Orr: This, my friends, is another Math Mentoring Moment episode, where we talk with a member of the Math Moment Maker Community who's working through struggles. And together, we brainstorm possible next steps and strategies to overcome them.
Kyle Pearce: All right, 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 mrorrisageek.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 sense-making-
Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Welcome Math Moment Makers to another episode here with a fun, fun friend from the Math Moment Maker Community.
Jon Orr: Let's get ready for this jam-packed episode while we shout about online learning and transitioning to online learning. But before we do, let's say thank you to all of you Math Moment Makers out there around the world, especially you who have taken the time to share feedback by leaving us a review on Apple podcasts.
Kyle Pearce: This week, we want to highlight Tara, who gave us a five-star rating and review that said, "The best math podcast." Oh my gosh. That just fills our hearts. "Kyle and Jon really know their stuff, I have learned and continue to learn so much from them. They have truly helped me to become a better math educator. Keep up the great work guys."
Jon Orr: Wow, we can't thank Tara enough for that one. It's humbling to see that kind of stuff. Right, Kyle? But we want to thank Tara also for taking time out of her day to not only listen, but also help us grow the podcast by leaving the review and the rating on Apple podcasts.
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely. Absolutely. Tara, thank you so much. To you listening at home right now, if you haven't taken a moment, go ahead and pause to leave us an honest rating and review on Apple podcasts. Because you know what, it would definitely fill our hearts. But that's not it. Right, Jon? There's more to it. Not just our hearts that can be full right now.
Jon Orr: Yes. Because Tara's heart could be full because she actually is now entered into our draw. Our rating and review contest because she shared her review, a screenshot of that review on social media. And you can too, share your review on social media to enter our contest to win one of five copies from Peter Liljedahl's new book, Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, K through 12. Kyle, tell them how they can enter and win.
Kyle Pearce: Yes. You know what? The detail's pretty simple, pretty simple. First one is you're going to head over to Apple podcast and leave us a rating and review. If you're on a different platform that has a rating and review system, go for it. Figure out how to leave that rating and review and you can participate too.
Jon Orr: Step two, take a screenshot of that review and share it on Twitter or Instagram, mentioning at Make Math Moments or in our free private Facebook group. Share that screenshot in that group, which is called Math Moment Makers, K through 12.
Kyle Pearce: And then finally, step three, on the same post, just do us a favor, it will make finding your review easier if you hashtag it with hashtag MMM giveaway. Make Math Moments giveaway. MMM giveaway.
Jon Orr: And that's it. That was it. Just three easy steps and you are in. Right now we've got a handful of ratings and reviews in, and their chances of winning, I would say, is pretty high. We're giving away five books, so that's going to be a great win on your end. I know that so many folks are enjoying that book. I'm seeing a lot on social media. I know Kyle's got that book in his district, we have that book in our district, it's being spread around schools to school. So we're giving away five copies of that book. Right, Kyle?
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely. So five copies. But make sure, in order to get in on this rating and review giveaway, you'll need to get your rating and review in for this particular contest by December 31st, 2020.
Jon Orr: And if you're listening after December 31st, 2020, go ahead and do the same process as above because we'll be running another giveaway quite soon.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Now, let's dive in to our discussion here with Marnie. Hey there, Marnie. Thanks for joining us here on the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. How are you doing this evening?
Marnie Geltman: I am doing pretty well. Yeah. Thank you for having me. It's great to be here.
Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. Awesome stuff. Marnie, tell us a little bit about yourself for Kyle and I, and also our listeners. Where are you coming from? How long have you been teaching? What's that teaching journey look like for you? Fill us in on a little bit of your backstory here.
Marnie Geltman: Sure. So, I am coming from New York city, the borough of Queens, and I have been a public school teacher in the New York City department of education for 13 years. So I taught first in the Bronx, and then for the last five years I've been in Queens. Really close to where I live, so it's been great. The past four years, when I moved to Queens, I got the chance to be able to teach just math and science, which had been my goal for a while. This year, with everything happening in New York City public schools, I was moved from fifth grade math and science to sixth grade teaching everything. So that's a little bit different this year, but the great thing about it is I looped up with a bunch of my students from last year, which is always something I had wanted to do. So I have a lot of the same students that I was working with last year.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Awesome stuff. I know for me, teaching math is something I love. It would probably be a good struggle for me to have to get thrown into a different subject area. Just to remember what that feels like to start from scratch all over again. Very interesting. I'm wondering now, what does it look like in your context, in your borough of Queens for your classroom structure? Are you in a hybrid model? Are you fully online? Are you face-to-face? Give us a little bit of that backstory.
Marnie Geltman: Right. So New York City public schools did open for in-person. I within my school am a remote teacher, so I'm the all remote sixth grade teacher. A lot of teachers in the building are doing what's called a blended or a hybrid model. So they have students in person, but we don't have enough capacity for the students to come every day. So students are coming once every three days, we have three cohorts, and then the other two days they're learning from home. So I'm teaching from an empty classroom in my building to a computer, but the rooms next door to me have students in them. So it's a really strange year, honestly. There are so many less kids in the building than usual.
Jon Orr: Yeah. In our school, when we walk down the halls, our kids are in classrooms, but not to be in the hallways. We don't even switch between periods anymore, we're just all in one room. And it seems weird when the bell rings. Normally, halls fill with students and it's very congested, but now it's empty. It's like a ghost town. I totally echo that. I'm wondering, Marnie, one of the question we ask everybody on the podcast is, if we think back to your experiences in your education and think about math class, when we say the word math class, what comes to mind? What's a moment that you remember or sticks out to you for some reason. Could you share that with us and why does it stick out for you?
Marnie Geltman: Yeah. I mean, when I think about math class, it was something I was always good at when I was really little, like elementary school. I liked it. Fifth grade really pops into my mind because we studied decimals and I was really good at decimals. I lived in Maryland, I didn't live in New York. They sent me to a championship for decimals and I competed against all these other kids in the same county. So when I was that young, it was something that I thought that I was really good at and I really liked, but that changed as I got older.
Kyle Pearce: Interesting. Interesting. I'm wondering, how do you feel that moment or those moments may have influenced how you teach? Do you look back to those times and do you try to think of why you felt you were good at math or maybe the influence that maybe your parents or your home life or your teachers may have had on you? How might that influence how things are going in your classroom now?
Marnie Geltman: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think, again, when I was young, like fifth and sixth grade, my teachers encouraged me, I thought that I was good at math. As I got that older, up into algebra in high school, it became a lot more difficult. I didn't like math as much. And then when I went away to college, I chose a school where I knew I wouldn't have to take any math class because I wanted to avoid it. That's how terrible my high school experience was. But I think because I wasn't as good at upper level math, high school math as some other math teachers in my school, I think that it helps me be able to see from ... I work with a lot of kids who have special needs and IEPs and I think it helps me to see things from their vantage point, that math isn't always easy.
Marnie Geltman: When I was growing up, it was taught by a lot of rules and procedures and it's not easy for all kids to memorize a bunch of rules and procedures. It's also not very much fun. When I think back now, I always liked math, but I guess it wasn't very much fun, it was just easy for me to do. The way that I try to teach math now is for students to make sense of it. That math should make sense, it shouldn't just be a bunch of things that you memorize.
Jon Orr: Yeah, for sure. And that's something that we definitely share resources and ideas here on the podcast about. I'm wondering though, Marnie, this transition you had, you went from decimal queen, doing so well that it influenced your memory, to being like, oh, I want to not take math ever again. And I actually choose my university so that I don't take math class. Fill us in on that. What happened during that transition? How do we go from, we're loving it, but then ah, ooh, hating it? Was it that you just felt like it was all procedures and memorizing or where did the wheels fall off there?
Marnie Geltman: Yeah. I mean, I remember it being okay through middle school. Not liking it as much, but I still did well and could understand. And I think geometry is fine too. It was trigonometry, I think, where it really started to not make sense to me and to not really be much fun. And, I don't know, I know pre-calculus was where it really, really went way far down. I still did okay in trigonometry, but pre-calculus, I just remember doing really poorly on the tests and not understanding the way that my teacher was explaining things. And she would sit with me after I'd taken the test and try to explain to me. And I remember saying, yeah, that I understood. But of course, it wasn't doing me a lot of good at that point. So yeah, all my memories of math class from pre-calculus would have been my junior year, just sitting there feeling like I didn't understand a thing that she was saying. None of it made sense to me.
Kyle Pearce: This is such a common experience. And it's not always so dramatic, but it does happen where the wheels, and Jon already said it, we use that term quite often on the show, talking about the wheels falling off. And I've always said that if we are teaching procedures first and oftentimes what's mostly memorization of procedures, for some students, and I was that student, the wheels didn't fall off for me in grade 10 or 11 or in pre-calculus or calculus. It was once I was in university. And it's almost like everyone gets to the point where your brain can only handle so many steps without a connection. It's like, phone numbers is seven digits long. A lot of people can handle seven, some people struggle handling seven digits. They're all disconnected, they're all unrelated. If we had 13 digit phone numbers, that might be really difficult for some people. But some people might still be able to do it.
Kyle Pearce: And I find math class, when taught that way, can often be like that. And it's really hard when we've been praised for being so good or being able to do those procedures so well or recall those procedures, that we're convinced that that's what math is. And that can really cause us some struggles later. So thanks for opening up to us and being vulnerable with us. Let's get to some positivity here. I'm wondering, what is a recent win that you can share with us from your math teaching? Maybe it's recently as today or this week, or maybe it's something from the school year that pops into your mind as a teaching success you can share.
Marnie Geltman: Yeah. I mean, I think as recently as maybe this spring with the remote learning ... although I feel differently about it this year. But in the spring, schools were shut down in March, we spent time just taking attendance and trying to find students. But then we really got back to the teaching and I had two different math classes, math and science classes I was teaching. What I liked about remote teaching was that I really found that online it could be a little bit more personalized. I found that this wasn't true of all students, but it allowed some of my students who really wanted to go on to excel. And a couple of my students who had really struggled in class actually did much better online for various reasons.
Marnie Geltman: Some of them just had trouble being in school and the social aspects of it, but I felt everything was able to be more individualized and personalized. And I was able to divide my class into more groups too, because we weren't in the physical space. Yeah. And just being able to do activities with them. I use the Jamboard a lot, I don't know if people are familiar with the Jamboard, to do sense making activities. And they are able to having groups of students all writing on the board at the same time and then coming back together to talk about their thinking.
Jon Orr: Those are some great wins. I'm really glad that you brought up the silver linings of teaching online and making the best of teaching through a crisis. And we've been talking with a lot of teachers about that over the last, say six months in the Academy and also on the podcast. But everyone seems to be finding silver linings like yours, where we've heard teachers say that you're giving kids voices that normally wouldn't have voices. They're finding that they're getting more engagement versus, you didn't see that engagement with kids when they're in class. But now that they're doing so much more online, we're hearing all sorts of things with teachers like you who are doing little groupings. My kids' own teachers, they did some groupings like that where my kids would log on and they would be in these small groups on their virtual classroom or their Meet, their Google Meet and doing pretty cool activities.
Jon Orr: So I'm glad you shared that silver lining. And I think it's sometimes easy to remember that this is chaos and a tough situation because it's not the normal. And I feel like it's almost going to be the new normal, which is sad, but it could be. I'm super glad that you shared that win. I'm wondering, Marnie, what else is on your mind right now? What can we brainstorm about today? What's a struggle or a challenge that you're experiencing that you want to just share with us now, and then we can hash it out together?
Marnie Geltman: I'm finding remote teaching a lot more challenging now. I mean, as I said, I'm with the same kids, but first of all, it's a sixth grade curriculum, which I have not taught before. I think the curriculum that we use is not a very good curriculum, especially for students who are ... I have English language learners.
Kyle Pearce: And which is it?
Marnie Geltman: It's Go Math. And I mean, anything can be adapted, but New York City actually stopped using that curriculum a couple of years ago and went to enVision, which I also don't think was much better. But things can be adapted. I think a lot of the problems in it are really too wordy and aren't really about teaching the math. The way some things are worded are just really tricky in terms of, it feels like they're trying to trick kids, not actually teach them something. But I tend to throw those out, those problems like that. But yeah, I think remote teaching is a lot more harder with a group of kids you don't totally know. I used breakout rooms a lot in the spring, but now I'm putting them in breakout rooms and going around and none of them are talking. Or they're talking and they're stopping when I go into the breakout room, I'm really not sure.
Marnie Geltman: Yeah. And also finding ... because the time I have is a lot less, we had a double math block in school, which a lot of people don't. But I could do the direct lesson and problem solving and games and all sorts of things you can fit into 100 minutes. And a lot of the things I like to do, like playing games, are harder remotely. And when I use the Jamboard, it does seem to go pretty well, they all like writing it up. But I worry about, I have a class of 33, that it's hard to monitor if all the kids are really participating. And who is really understanding and if everybody's really getting as much out of it. So yeah, it's definitely been a challenge.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Interesting. It sounds like a lot of common themes that we hear a lot about some of the struggles of teaching online. I'm wondering, can you tell us more, let's dive deeper here. It sounds like you have some challenges. And I guess what we're hoping to do is get to maybe some of the root of the problem. So if we think of some of the challenges you've shared so far, you had mentioned about kids maybe not interacting or talking, that discourse doesn't seem to maybe be the same as it was in a face-to-face. Sounds like time is a bit of an issue. Some of the things are more difficult remotely. What's that holding you back from getting at? And I guess, what else can you share with us here so that we can dive deeper and try to maybe take a little bite, as they say, take a bite out of that big elephant? What do you do to eat an elephant? You take one bite at a time. So let's keep digging here.
Marnie Geltman: Sure. I mean, I think, one thing, there are various ways to communicate online besides kids just talking. So we use Zoom and they can type into the chat. And so some part of it is technical issues. Not every kid in New York City has a device. Most of my students do, but then some of them will have cameras not working or microphones not working. But that's, of course, not something I can do from my end. So I like to give kids the option, if they don't want to unmute and talk that they can type into the chat. At the point that on Zoom, if you're familiar with Zoom, that you're sharing your screen and having the kids talk and type into the chat, it is, at one time, a lot to manage. That's why I like to have them write on the Jamboard, because then I can just look at the Jamboard and see what they're doing.
Marnie Geltman: I can't see from the icons who's doing what, but then it tends to be one student really dominating and a lot of the others will stand back. So I try and think about more ways to get more of them to participate instead of the same students all the time. I have tried assigning them different jobs in the breakout room, but again, I like to give them a little bit of choice and they all seem to always want to do the same job all the time. It's the same person who writes on the Jamboard, it's the same person who is going to share back with the whole class. So I guess I'm trying to think of ways to get them to be willing to take some risks or take on something that they might not be so comfortable with.
Jon Orr: Gotcha. So I was just about to ask a question, trying to narrow down where you felt like the real struggle for you is or how we can help you. But I think maybe you just said that. You said, "I'm trying to get them to take some risks." You're trying to get more engagement. Does that sum up some of the struggle that you're having right now? You're wanting some more engagement, maybe it's compared to your live in-class, face-to-face classroom, but you're not getting that the way you want to online. Does that sum up? Or help me understand how we can help you here.
Marnie Geltman: Yeah, no, I think that's it. Engagement can be measured in different ways, but with a limited time. And yeah, I just like to know that more of them are engaging and understanding what we're doing.
Kyle Pearce: And I'm wondering, so that we can do a little bit of a compare and contrast for thinking about maybe some of this risk taking, can you paint us a little bit of a picture. And I've got some, I guess a hypothesis of some of the things maybe that you might do in a face-to-face environment. But just so that we're a little more clear and we're not making assumptions on this end, what might a lesson look like or sound like if you were face-to-face with your students? And maybe we can try to figure out, how do we try to help ... not necessarily mirror. I know it's going to be different, but to be able to try to pull at some of the things that maybe some of your students in your face-to-face class were able to do, or maybe this might've been a struggle there as well. But I'm going to argue that any struggle face-to-face is probably going to be increased online. So let's get a better sense of what that might look like face-to-face if we were able to be in that environment.
Marnie Geltman: Sure. Well, yeah. Face-to-face, every day starts with some type of a warm-up. It was usually different. I would do something like, which one doesn't belong or sometimes a number string or something with estimating to get them interested. Something that was usually somewhat quick, would be built up from the beginning of the year so they all knew the procedures. But always giving them individual think-time and then chances to share out. And then after that, we would go into the lesson. Depending on what I'm teaching, it's different on different days. Sometimes it does start with more direct instruction. More often than not, recently, I give them a problem or something to work on, either with partners or in trios. And I really have them work it out and try to figure out their own answer and what they think about it before I tell them anything.
Marnie Geltman: I would drive my fifth graders crazy because they'd be like, "Ms. Geltman, just give us the answer. Tell us if we're right." And I'm like, "No, you can develop strategies. You guys can check your own work. You have to figure out if you're right." And that would always drive them crazy in September and October. And then they got used to it. And then have the students present, basically. It's the ... I'm going to blank on this, but it's the, New York City has the algebra for all. I don't know if you guys are familiar with that. But the process of then selecting which problems to have them present in a certain order so that they can get to the point of the lessons themselves. So-
Jon Orr: Oh, okay.
Kyle Pearce: That sounds like five practices.
Marnie Geltman: Yes-
Jon Orr: Maybe like a variation?
Marnie Geltman: That's five practices.
Jon Orr: Oh, okay. So I'm just going to do a quick recap and I'm going to ask another question that go a little bit deeper. You are starting off with some kind of warm-up, got juices flowing, gets kids talking. You've got some estimations of which one does it belong, you're talking about a number of string happening. And then when you said you go into a lesson, you said it's more direct instruction or it's a problem that kids in partners or trios would work on. I'm wondering what that lesson or that problem looks like for you. A typical problem, is that just, here's a word problem, go ahead and solve it? Or how is that set up for you? I'm trying to gauge what that interaction and engagement looks like face-to-face, so that when we try to move this online, how can we give you some tips to make it a little bit more engaging? What's it look like face-to-face? That problem. General problem. Is it just, hey, here's the word problem, guys. Go ahead, work out. Let's talk about strategies after. Or is there something more to that?
Marnie Geltman: Yeah. I mean, it's not just a word problem from the book. I try and pick tasks that are high floor or low ceiling, that have multiple entry points. I mean, to give you an example, from fifth grade, last year, one of the units we do is volume. So to start it off, and this actually takes place over two days, but we give the kids unifix cubes. And each partner gets 24 unifix cubes and ask them to build as many rectangular prisms as they can. And then they chart the different prisms that they can ... all the different rectangular prisms they can build. And usually it goes into a debate about whether ... If the box is faced a different way, it's actually a different rectangular prism. So yeah, then everyone charts it and we share out and talk about the different connections between ... I'm going to blank on this too. But ideas like something that is hands on that has multiple entry points that allow kids in the different ways that they learn to be able to access basically the content of the lesson.
Kyle Pearce: Got it. Got it. Yeah. So it sounds to me like a pretty standard problem-based lesson. I don't mean standard by not effective, I think that would be a great way to get students engaged. And I'm picturing in my mind that there's a context here. It's a challenge. You're giving students this opportunity for them to try to argue it out. I might even maybe throw in an estimate in there, how many different do you think you could do? Is it two or is it 20? And getting them talking and all those things. I love this idea of a debate in there. Now, I'm wondering, if you were to teach a similar lesson and now you're in this online world, would that picture you'd painted a second ago, would it be a similar picture or how does that picture change currently, given the restraints and the, I guess, restrictions of online learning?
Marnie Geltman: Yeah. I mean, I think it changes because the kids don't really have manipulatives at home. I have looked into online things, but in a case of volume in particular, it's hard to find things that actually work online. You can get manipulatives like the Cuisenaire rods and things like that that are really good for fractions. But yeah, I guess I just feel like it's hard too. Because the kids are not all physically together, it's hard to replicate that same experience. I mean, certainly, I could give them the same type of problem, but I guess it's hard to visualize how they can work it out as well when they don't have the tools that they would have in a regular classroom.
Jon Orr: That's true. So the lack of manipulatives can be restricting in the sense of which activities you can do, which activities you're not going to be able to do, or how do you find a substitute and is it a valid substitute? Even if we do find virtual manipulatives, are those manipulatives easy to use? One. Easy to access? Two. And then, does it simplify the activity, does it take away from the activity or does it add to it or it just make it harder? I think it depends on the activity in those cases. So the case for this particular activity, I think you can still do some interesting things online. But let's go back to the start of, say this activity. Let's paint a picture for the online start of your class, go through end of your class. What does that look like now, so that we all of a sudden can inject some tips in there to bring back the life that you had in your face-to-face?
Marnie Geltman: Yeah. So again, I'm teaching sixth grade math, which I'm less comfortable with. I'm finding the first unit anywhere in our curriculum is a lot of review from fifth grade. I mean, I have about half an hour to 45 minutes now. I usually start with an online game. For fluency, basically, I try to use a couple of different websites for fluency and none of them are working well. So I start with a game that's multiplication fluency, since the unit we're in right now is a lot of multiplying and dividing and prime factorization and all that. Because again, I think it gets them engaged. They really like the games. Basically, I demonstrate the game for them. I find, with the fifth and sixth graders, they're not so great at reading through directions. So we don't necessarily play the game during the 30 to 45 minutes, but I will more often than not demonstrate a game for them. Maybe let one of them try it.
Marnie Geltman: And that takes about the first ... I just try to keep it to five to eight minutes. And then after that, we usually go into the lesson. I mean, where I teach, you have to have a learning target up, that sort of thing. So again, I use the Jamboard. What I do, instead of doing a bunch of problems ... I mean, now I have been doing a lot of direct instruction. The first unit's basically dividing large decimal numbers, multiplying larger small numbers, dividing decimals by whole numbers. But what I do is slow down and focus on the sense-making of it. I always have them estimate first. So at the end, with the decimals, they're placing the decimal point by estimation instead of doing the routine of counting. And I have the students talk through it, so those that can unmute and ask them to explain their thinking.
Marnie Geltman: And I usually keep going, even when they make a mistake or say a wrong answer and then ask all the kids to look at it and give them feedback about it. I only have time to do about three problems, so I choose the problem strategically so that I know if they're going to encounter all the mistakes they might make. Like with dividing, a lot of time it's placing the zero. And then with the decimal numbers, it's dividing a decimal number by a whole number and ending up with a really small decimal. So yeah, I try and include all the different problem types that they are going to encounter in the lesson basically. And then put them into breakout rooms to work on it together. And then we come back in the whole class and share out their ideas and their solutions.
Jon Orr: I think Kyle is going to talk, but he's on mute.
Kyle Pearce: Sorry, I was on mute. I was just chatting away all by myself. So thank you so much for painting a clear picture because I'm totally feeling it. I've had a lot of conversations, not only with Jon and with some of the Math Moment Makers in our Q&A sessions, but also many educators in my district that I feel like when we got thrown in the online world, it's almost like we get knocked down a few pegs from our expertise. So you painted this picture in the face-to-face environment where you're starting more with problems. You still said you had some direct instruction lessons, and those still happen here and there. And I know that we're all working to try to make problem-based lessons as often as possible. But then we get to online learning and it's almost like we get this distraction where we're so over focusing on the technology and how are students going to connect and is the internet connection going to be okay, is everyone's mike working, and all of these distractions going on that we tend to resort back to what we're most familiar with.
Kyle Pearce: And I think for most of us, most of us coming from an experience where we were probably in a math class where there was a lesson and the teacher is there trying to give some examples and trying to almost anticipate the different struggles that we might have, these are all really common things. And when I think back to working with decimals, actually we just did a workshop for some educators in my school district recently about working with decimal tenths and starting to operate with decimal tenths. And something I might mention here that might be worth maybe thinking about as you're planning these lessons and trying to think of how you might deliver them online is thinking about backward design. And my colleague, Yvette Lehman, got this on my radar because it's how Jon and I have been doing things for a long time, but we didn't really have a name to put on it.
Kyle Pearce: But backwards design is all about trying to figure out, what are your desired results. So, what do I want students to know, understand and do? And then we start thinking about, what's the evidence that students are going to show me? So through observations, conversations, and product. And then finally, from there, once we've identified those two things, we can start thinking about planning the learning experiences. And part of this process for me is trying to think of, what are all the things that kids are going to have to do before they are able to tackle this new idea? So if it's dividing decimals, for example, if I'm thinking to myself, okay, this is pretty procedural. I'm now trying to think of, how do I backwards map this to figure out, what do students need to be able to do before we get to this place?
Kyle Pearce: And then, I want to think of the experience I want to give them. And when I say experience, to us, that's that problem-based approach. Like, what question could I ask them? And give them that opportunity to wrestle with it. And something I heard earlier, you had mentioned early in the conversation was about this worry or concern that you had that like, what if students aren't actually engaging? Or it's hard to tell if they're engaged in the lesson because they are at home. And I think when that happens, when we have that thought in our mind, we immediately start to think about, okay, well, I'm going to do more talking so that there's no dead air. And in that online environment, there is a lot of that. And we have to almost put that to the side and say, you know what, there's probably going to be a couple of kids that may not engage. Maybe it's their home environment, maybe it's something else.
Kyle Pearce: But if I can think of that provocation, that opportunity for them to actually wrestle with a problem and then come back and be able to share that out, it might save us from having to do a lot of that talking upfront. So I'm going to pause there. I know we mentioned a lot there, but I'm wondering, what are your thoughts on that? Are there any takeaways there, anything that we could go deeper in, really try to help you with moving forward here?
Marnie Geltman: Yeah. Well, I think first of all, the dead air on Zoom is like... because I had developed a really good in the classroom of wait time, but I don't know why it feels so much longer online. Any dead air is like-
Jon Orr: It's so new to us, it's so scary. Right?
Marnie Geltman: Yeah, it's very scary. And the funny thing is, sometimes I mute all their microphones because sixth graders will all start yelling over each other, the five of them are talking. And then I forget I muted all of them and they can't unmute and Zoom and they're waving their hands at me. I'm like, "What are you guys talking about?" I did that today actually.
Jon Orr: I was just going to add, one thing I did at one time ... I'm back in the classroom face-to-face now. But when we were online, one thing to fill dead air was to play music really low. It's like background music, like an elevator or something. It's like, just have the music, which you can just queue up on your computer. It'll play in the Zoom and when you share your screen. And so you could play it real low and it takes that silence out and then-
Kyle Pearce: Is it the edge? Is it an edge?
Jon Orr: Yeah. It just takes the edge out and then kids can still wave when they want to talk, and then you can mute the music or bring it down. And it relieves a little bit of that weirdness. Because in the classroom, you're used to that weirdness. It's like, you can hear the murmurs of them discussing or thinking and then talking. But online, you don't get that. Like you said, that dead air, it feels awful. You got to fill it. But maybe just playing a little bit of music lightly can just take that pressure off of you so that you don't have to fill it. Something's filling it, and you're waiting for them to do some thinking. And I think one of the tips we got from Peter Liljedahl is that he would give them a problem and they would all just wait for him to solve it. He used to do it like that. And then he explained to us, and this is from episode 21 of the podcast.
Jon Orr: He explained that he'd just walk out of his classroom and then say, "I'll be back in 10 minutes. I got to go photocopy something." And then when he comes back, he's like, "What? Did you guys not talk about this or solve this? I got to go back and photocopy something." And he did that for a day, until it clicked into his students that they were going to have to be the ones to do the thinking. He wasn't going to be the one. And so it's like, sometimes I had to find myself doing that a little bit. When I first went online, it was like, I'm not going to talk here guys. I'm going to wait for you guys to give me something, either in the chat or give me something in the live session or one of the two. And so I think it might take getting used to, but I think you're almost setting those routines, setting those standards of, this is what our class is going to look like, might help.
Marnie Geltman: Yeah, I think you're right. I was also just thinking, as you were talking too, that something that might help is giving them problems ahead of time so that they can have the individual think-time when we're not actually in class. That way I'm using my time in class more wisely.
Kyle Pearce: That's actually a really cool idea as well. I love how, even through this discussion, just different ideas. And this is something I find with every conversation I have with an educator is, it just makes me think a little differently about how things could go. When I'm on my own, you go through the motions. It's really hard sometimes to notice and name some of the feelings you have and some of the things that are happening because you have so much going on. When we just talk it out, I feel like a lot of these new perspective come in. And something else too that I am now hyperaware of since doing a lot of PD online. For example, Jon and I, we've traveled around the world really doing different PD sessions, conferences, full-day workshops, sometimes multi-day workshops.
Kyle Pearce: And we've loved the experience doing all of those things. To us anyway, there's nothing like doing it face-to-face. And we tend to find ways to engage the crowd. But going online and doing it online so much lately has really made me realize I've become hyperaware of how important it is to have a good question. And what I realized is that if I don't craft my question precisely enough and not saying that the question has to be the perfect question, but the way we frame the question can really impact someone's motivation to want to engage with it. And I see this because I'm now doing PD with adults where I think as educators, we are the first ones to want to opt out of participating when we're in a PD. You're tired, sometimes we're a little more concerned about maybe what our colleagues think. We don't want to be looked at as maybe the keener or whatever it might be. It's easier to opt out and turn anonymous online.
Kyle Pearce: So I think this experience, while it's hard, we're feeling for you. I know there's a lot of people that are listening who are going through similar struggles and I'm going through these struggles as I try to lead sessions online with educators. I think it's going to make us all better if we reference or if we think about this importance of the question we're going to ask. To truly get people, and in this case, for you it's going to be your students, to engage and truly think through the problem and allow you to do maybe less of that direct instruction. And I think the direct instruction piece, it comes out of us when we're uncertain. Maybe when we're not confident that ... not saying confidence like, you don't think anyone's engaging, you're just uncertain if they are. So when we're in uncertainty, we resort back to what we're familiar with and what we know will fill some of that dead air, that Zoom dead air we were talking about a little earlier. So I'm really going to challenge you to maybe think about that.
Kyle Pearce: Before every single lesson, think of, what's that question that I'm going to ask that's going to be our provocation, and where might we go? And I'm going to reference a few things. Because I know you're a Math Moment Maker in the Academy and we do have a full distance learning course inside that Academy with some cheat sheets. And we actually go through some of our Math Moment units and Math Moment tasks from the Academy. So that might be something like a next step for you to check out and maybe have a look at and see if any of those tips help you along the way as well. But at this point, we're looking at the time and I'm wondering, what might be your next step and any takeaways that you might have from the conversation tonight as we try to learn forward as a group here?
Marnie Geltman: Yeah. I'll definitely take a look at the things that you suggested. I think one thing from the thing you just said I realized is that it's a lot harder now. It is so important to talk to other teachers and other people doing the work, and I think it's much ... Even though we're all in the building together in New York City, because of social distancing and all of that, no one eats lunch together, we don't have meetings in the same way. So it is, I think we have to be more intentional about having conversations with people. Pre-COVID time, I would bring this up at lunch with my colleagues and we'd work it out on the board and figure it out. So I think it's too, it's finding new ways to engage with other educators who are concerned about moving their practice forward.
Jon Orr: Awesome, awesome stuff. So now that we've chatted about a number of different things here in this call, how are you feeling now after this call and say going back to your classroom?
Marnie Geltman: I'm definitely feeling a lot more positive. I think there's always something new that I can try. And it's good to just, again, talk to other people who are really thinking about math instruction and having experience inaudible with all sorts of groups. So yeah, this definitely has given me ... feeling a little bit more hopeful than I did at the end of today.
Kyle Pearce: Oh, that's so awesome to hear. And like we said earlier, that elephant. Right now, we're all dealing with some form of a modified teaching life right now. And that might be the proverbial elephant. And if we're going to try to eat that elephant, we want to do it one bite at a time. And it sounds like you've picked that first bite to start with, which I think is a great place to begin. I know we just referenced the Academy and the distance learning course. We're going to post some links in the show notes. We also have a distance learning guide. That's up on the website that people can grab and grab some cheat sheets from it. If you want to dive deeper into the distance learning course for those who are listening, they can check out and learn how to become a member of the Academy at makemathmoments.com/academy.
Kyle Pearce: But for you, Marnie, I'm wondering, are you open to us maybe checking in with you a little bit down the road to see how things are progressing and see if we can maybe take a second bite? Or maybe it'll be the 10th bite by then, but to keep eating that big, big elephant?
Marnie Geltman: Yeah, sure. That would be great. I'm sure being able to check in and see how things are going or get a perspective would be wonderful.
Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. Awesome stuff. Marnie, we want to thank you so much for joining us here on the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. And we wish you all the best of luck going back into your classroom tomorrow and all the other days. And I look forward to chatting with you in the future.
Marnie Geltman: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
Kyle Pearce: Have a great night. We'll talk to you soon.
Marnie Geltman: Okay.
Kyle Pearce: As always, both Jon and I learn so much from these conversations with folks like you from the Math Moment Maker community. But in order to ensure that we hang onto this new learning, we've got to make sure that we do something to reflect so it doesn't wash away like footprints in the sand. For Jon and I, we write these show notes and we're going through and planning for the episode so it helps it to stick in our minds. What would be a good way for you to go ahead and do some of that same reflecting there, Jon?
Jon Orr: Yeah. You could write it down, you could share it with someone, your partner, a colleague at work or with the Math Moment Maker community by commenting on the show notes page, which we'll give you the link a little bit later. You can tag at Make Math Moments on social media or join us in our free private Facebook group, Math Moment Makers, K through 12 awesome.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome stuff. And you know what? While you're at it, if you haven't done your rating and review contest, go ahead and do that now. Take that screenshot, fire it up on social media and tag us up and you'll likely or highly likely walk away with a copy of Peter Liljedahl's new book, Building Thinking Classrooms.
Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. Awesome stuff. Are you interested in joining us for an upcoming math mentoring moment episode just like Marnie did on this episode? It's where we chat with you about class struggle and together we brainstorm how to overcome it. You can apply over at makemathmoments.com/mentor. That's, makemathmoments.com/mentor, and we're going to be choosing some people quite soon for another round of interviews.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome stuff there Jon. Show notes, links and transcripts, downloadable and readable from the web are ready for you at makemathmoments.com/episode108. That's, makemathmoments.com/episode108. Well Math Moment Makers, until next time, I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.
Jon Orr: And a big high five for you.
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