Episode #109: Transitioning From Elementary to Middle School – A Math Mentoring Moment
Today we speak with Shawn Seeley from the Tahoma School District. Shawn is seeking advice on transitioning from his 4th grade class into teaching middle school math at a new school all while teaching 100% remotely. Whew, that’s a lot of changes to start his school year.
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 transition from teaching elementary to teaching middle school.
- What do I value in my classroom and can I share that with my students.
- How to start the school year as a new teacher.
- What my lessons should look like when teaching online.
- College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM) [Curriculum]
- How To Make Math Moments From A Distance [Complete Guide]
- Exploding Dots [Resource]
- Dan Meyer & 3 Act Math [Episode #89]
- The Concept Holding Your Students Back [Proportional Reasoning Course]
- Wooly Worm Race [Fractions 6-Day Unit of Study]
- REGISTER FOR OUR UPCOMING WEBINAR [Live: January 12th, 2021]
Shawn Seeley: I'm making this big jump from fourth grade to seventh grade, and I'm very excited for it, but I'm also wondering, man, that's going to be quite the change going from having these students all day and where if I wanted to, I could usually like, "Oh, we need a little bit more time on this math lesson. I'm going to cut into our writing time a little bit today or whatever." Now, I will be unable to do that and so I'm going to be held rigidly to our time block and then doing that online too. I'm just trying to wonder what tips do you have or what thoughts do you have on crosstalk-
Kyle Pearce: Today we speak with Shawn Seeley from the Tahoma School District. Shawn is seeking advice on transitioning from his fourth-grade class into teaching middle school math at a new school, all while teaching 100% remotely. Whew, that's a lot of changes to start his school year.
Jon Orr: Yeah, you're absolutely right. My friends, this is another Math Mentoring Moment episode, where we talk with a member of the Math Moment Maker Community and in this particular case, a super active Make Math Moments Academy member who's working through struggles and together, we're going to brainstorm possible next steps and strategies to help overcome them. Let's do this.
Speaker 4: Well, it was like you roll this dice and then you make a equation.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce from TapIntoTeenMinds.com.
Jon Orr: I'm Jon Orr from Mr. Orr is a Geek.com. We are two math teachers who together with you, the community of Math Moment Makers worldwide who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark engagement, fuel learning and ignite teacher action.
Kyle Pearce: All right, all right. Let's get ready for another jam-packed episode, but first we'd like to take a moment to give you the heads up that we've been busy adding new full units to our Make Math Moment's website, including one of our most recent six day units called the Wooly Worm Race.
Jon Orr: Yes, in day one of this unit, student curiosity is sparked by watching a short clip of a bunch of wooly worms or-
Kyle Pearce: Wooly worms.
Jon Orr: ... in other words, caterpillars-
Kyle Pearce: Okay.
Jon Orr: ... racing up a string. What will the students notice and what will they wonder? After acknowledging the student voice and addressing as many notices and wonders as we possibly can up front, we challenge them to first estimate and then determine how far the winning caterpillar climbed.
Kyle Pearce: The part I love about this unit the most is that throughout each of the six days, students are prompted to represent the distances traveled by each caterpillar using a concrete or visual model to compare, order and even add fractional amounts.
Jon Orr: Throughout the unit, we even get students converting between fractions, decimals, and percentages to help build fluency and flexibility with these fractional representations that tend to be proceduralized a bit too quickly in a learner's journey.
Kyle Pearce: Best of all, you can access all six days of this unit and run them in your classroom, straight from the web. Yes, right out of your web browser by visiting makemathmoments.com/wooly. That's W-O-O-L-Y.
Jon Orr: Yes, that's right. The content is openly accessible for you to run from your classroom and even the full day one teacher guide and planning supports are available for you to gobble up. Get on over to makemathmoments.com/wooly to get started with this fantastic six-day unit to put an end to the frantic fraction frenzy that so many of us face when trying to overcome this huge conceptual struggle for so many of our students. See you over at makemathmoments.com/wooly to run this task in your classroom today.
Kyle Pearce: All right, let's get into this fantastic conversation with our friend from the Make Math Moments Academy. It's Shawn. Hey there Shawn. Thanks for joining us here on the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. We're super excited to chat with you and actually, we were super excited to not only chat with you, but also to chat with Zoe. How are you doing today?
Shawn Seeley: I'm doing really well. Thanks. Yeah, Zoe was super excited to talk to you guys and we've listened to every episode and when I was taking her to school with me in the mornings, she went to my elementary and she'd always asks, "Dad is there another Kyle and Jon that we can listen to?" She's always dancing in the back to the intro and outro music.
Kyle Pearce: Amazing. Amazing.
Jon Orr: Awesome. Awesome.
Kyle Pearce: That's awesome to know that, even though we're talking about all kinds of math geeky stuff, that even the young kids can appreciate some of the fun conversation.
Jon Orr: She's going to be a superstar teacher before she's eight years old.
Kyle Pearce: Hopefully she doesn't start critiquing her own teachers like, "Well, you know I heard-"
Jon Orr: "This is what they said on the show the other day."
Kyle Pearce: Yeah. "crosstalk was on the episode the other day and he said this." Yeah. Awesome stuff. Shawn, fill our listeners in a little bit about yourself. Where are you coming from? Where you're located? What do you teach in? How long have you been teaching? Give us a little backstory there so everyone gets to know you.
Shawn Seeley: Sure. Yeah. I live in Black Diamond, Washington, which is smack dab between Seattle and Tacoma the bottom crosstalk-
Kyle Pearce: Sounds like a crosstalk company. Yeah.
Jon Orr: Yeah. inaudible cheese company-
Kyle Pearce: The crosstalk is right at the bottom of the scariest ski slope ever.
Shawn Seeley: Well, it's actually... I think it's a reference to their old... It's an old coal mining town so they have black diamond. But yeah, it's really neat area. I teach in the Tahoma School District and up until recently, I taught fourth grade. I taught that for three years and before that I taught fifth grade for a year in another district. Now, I'm taking a jump and a bit of a leap here to seventh grade at our local middle school.
Kyle Pearce: Oh, fantastic. Fantastic. Now for us, we wish we got to do things. We actually mentioned this on a recent recording we were doing where, both Jon and I were saying we felt like we were working backwards, teaching in the high school and then now trying to unpack some of the learning from prior years. It's like you've got a little bit of a different experience. I'm sure you still felt that way teaching fourth grade and maybe being curious about, "Hey, what would first grade and second grade look like?"
But ,you've got this gradual progression up to the seventh grade, which is really exciting. I know that you want to dive into some of those ideas, but before we do, we ask every single person who comes on to this show and you would know this, you and Zoe would know this, so I know you've probably already thought this one through, what would be a math moment that you remember from your own learning experience?
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. Oh man, I could fill a whole podcast full of this, but if I had to pick a singular moment that was formative for me as a young student, it would be my sixth-grade year. I had a teacher who, unfortunately, was not the most kind and understanding person. She had a bit of a reputation for being pretty harsh. I had started out in sixth grade. We had tiered our math already and so I had tested into the higher-level math, just based on some tests.
As we started in the higher-level math, I started getting a grade that I wasn't feeling good about. I talked to my teacher, I said, "Can I go to the regular math? I think I'll get a better grade if I go to the regular math." He said, "Well, if that's what you want then we'll go ahead and let you do it." Then I go to this class and it's with this other teacher and when I got there, a student raised his hand to answer a question and she goes, "That's absolutely wrong. I don't know how you got that answer. What were you thinking? Are you even paying attention?"
That's all it took for me to go, I am never raising my hand. I am going to be quiet and just hope I pick up on something back here. That whole experience in that sixth-grade year solidified for me that I was not a math person. I didn't feel like I really understood what we were doing. I was good at memorizing and so I had my math facts down and all of that but from then on, it was like, "All right, I don't want to do math and I just want to sneak under the radar and get the grades that my parents are going to happy with and check out."
Jon Orr: That's a very insightful moment. It inaudible me say, for you to say learn about you're not a math person and probably you changed that tune later on. But, I also wonder, often these days when we ask guests about their math moment, because we're talking to teachers, that math moment has stuck with you for many different reasons, other than say that one I think too, because usually I think they tie into your teaching style one way or the other. I'm very curious, Shawn, I guess in your opinion, how do you think that moment has affected or influenced your career or your teaching style in your own classroom?
Shawn Seeley: Honestly, it is like the thing that has made me who I am today as a teacher. I had some amazing elementary school teachers and I'm actually, all except for that sixth grade teacher, I am and still in contact with actually. I gleaned a lot from particularly my fourth grade teacher who I ended up working for later as my principal, when I taught fourth grade. He was kind and caring and understanding and taught through stories and made connections and made it a really safe place to learn.
Then that sixth grade experience and so now what I do is, I tell that story to my students pretty early on in the year. I let them know that that is not the classroom that I'm going to have, because I want my students to know that we make mistakes. We have a little bit of a cliche, but it's on the wall and it says, "In this classroom, mistakes are expected, inspected and respected." I let them know, "Hey, if you're not getting stuff wrong and we're not making mistakes, then I'm wasting your time because clearly, you know everything already."
We joke about it, but the kids really pick up on that and they... not right away, but I guess they... once they see someone else that's willing to raise their hand and put something out there, where it's the rough draft math kind of idea like, this is a half-baked idea. I'm not really sure about yet, but I'm willing to share it out and sometimes it's not right and then they all wait and collectively hold their breath like, "Is he going to really do what he said?"
I go, "Well, that's interesting. Can you tell me about it and what made you come up with that?" Then we have a conversation about it and then the kids realize, "Oh, this guy is serious. He wants to know, and isn't going to put us down."
Jon Orr: Walking the walk, right? I mean-
Shawn Seeley: Right. Yeah.
Jon Orr: Yeah. We talk about this a lot where, it's easy for us to put that quote up on the wall like you'd reference, which is an amazing quote by the way but it's a lot harder to actually put it into practice. We have all these positive messaging around our rooms oftentimes, and sometimes as much as we want to be that teacher, sometimes it can be hard and it sounds like you've definitely taken the steps in order to ensure that you are doing those things.
We often reference, sometimes some of those may be what we would deem as negative moments like you've referenced early on, we can at least glean something from them. It sounds like it has influenced who you are as a teacher, whereas maybe had that not happened, maybe it might not have been so important to you to be able to bring that out in your classrooms so we try to find that silver lining.
Before we dive in here and dive deeper into common problems of practice and start riffing away, I'm wondering, we want to give you an opportunity here, Shawn, to maybe share a recent, big win for you. It might be from the classroom, could be during this remote learning experience, or maybe it's something else that happened over this past year that sticks out in your mind as a big win for you, maybe in your own teaching practice, or maybe it's because of something that happened for or with your students.
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. I've got a few if that's okay.
Kyle Pearce: Well, yeah. Sure.
Shawn Seeley: That were kind of all different styles and scenarios here. One that I just absolutely love was this last summer. Here we are in the summer of 2020, it was the summer before COVID summer. I was doing one-on-one tutoring in our local library and this girl was going into fifth grade, was very bright, very intelligent and just an amazing kid and she just wasn't confident in math, even though she could do the procedures, but she had no idea why.
Whenever I met with a student the first time, I gave them a couple of tasks questions and said, "Hey, I'm going to take some notes and just watch you do your work and don't worry about what I write down. I'm just observing what you do so we can see what we want to work on." She gets a multi-digit multiplication problem and flips through the algorithm and like nobody's business and then I said, "Hey, could you tell me, you got the answers right, way to go. You're just killing it. Do you know why that works?"
She looks at me and I could see almost tears in her eyes like there's, I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm doing it right. I said, "Do you want to know why?" She's like, "Yeah, we can actually figure out why this works." I said, "Why do you think it works?" She goes, "Well, can I tell you what my teacher told me?" I was like, "Please." I don't know if you're familiar with a turtle multiplication method.
Kyle Pearce: It's not ringing a bell for me.
Shawn Seeley: Oh, really?
Kyle Pearce: Maybe Shawn you can elaborate for me.
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. You stack your numbers like you would the standard algorithms style, and then you multiply your ones by your ones and your ones by your tens, et cetera. But when you're doing it, apparently you draw a turtle head around the ones and the tens and ones for the bottom and top numbers. Then when you get done with a number, you make an eye and then you cross off the number because you already did it. Then when you get to the tens place, when you put that zero down there, because you're multiplying by tens, you put a turtle egg. The turtle lays an egg.
She knew it. She was clearly a kid who paid attention in class and she was explaining it perfectly like, "And then the turtle lays an egg and then you do this." She got done and I went, "Oh, wow, that's really cool. Can I ask you another question?" She goes, "Sure." I go, "What in the world do turtles have to do with multiplication?" She stared at me for a minute and she's just trying to think there's got to be a reason that my teacher did this and then she starts laughing and she goes, "Nothing." I go, "Yeah, absolutely nothing."
Then we pulled out some tiles and base 10 blocks and we started constructing area models because I asked her if she could decompose numbers and she knew how. By the end of our hour-long session, she was just so confident and she could make the connections to the algorithm and hearing from her and her mom, by the end of our time tutoring together said that she wants to be a math teacher now and just really cool to see that confidence built up in those kids.
Jon Orr: I was just going to jump in here. I just Googled turtle method multiplication and I'm seeing tons of pictures of turtle heads and people are saying, "Do you turtle head and the turtle head method." I have to really struggle to see where the turtle head is. It's like, I see this loop around the numbers, but that's it.
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. There's some video on YouTube if you want to go down the rabbit hole.
Jon Orr: Oh yeah.
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. I have a blog that I haven't touched in a while and I feel bad about it, but I wrote about that whole experience I had with that student and just has really stuck with me and reinforced the idea that, man, I know you guys talk about it a lot. We really need to work on that conceptual understanding before we get to procedural fluency. Because, if kids are anything like me, once you, as a kid, when you learned how to do it and get the right answer, then sometimes all we get focused on is that the answer getting and not sense-making.
I was going to say the other one that really stood out to me was during this remote teaching, emergency remote teaching, I should say, during the spring, we were doing a lot of asynchronous instruction, but then I offered one-on-one or small group Zoom mentoring help. We were multiplying a fraction by a whole number and the parent wasn't able to help their kid. They knew how to do it, but they didn't understand what they were doing and their son was saying, "Well, Mr. Seeley always talks about why, and I want to know why now. I don't care about the answer, I want to know why." I was really proud of him for pushing that. And so-
Jon Orr: That's something that could be really... I mean, it's hard on parents, especially since many, anyway, not everyone but many kind of had experiences similar. You had said, Shawn, you were a memorizer. I know that's the way I was and that is hard for parents to understand the importance there. It's great that your students are obviously understanding that importance. Maybe they might struggle to articulate it, but it's like they have that need that want for it.
Shawn Seeley: Right. The mom emailed me and said, "I'm pulling my hair out here," which I'm sure a lot of parents were doing over that time. We had a one-on-one Zoom session with mom and her student was there and I pulled up one note and I was sharing my screen and we're writing it out. It was some problem about packages of hot dogs and he ate three eighths of however many packages of hot dog. I mean, it was a ridiculous question. But really making sense of the why we do what we do and then the mom was like, "Oh, I think I get it now."
We're explaining why we do what we do and it was just a really cool experience too. I give that mom a ton of credit, because it is so easy to just go, "Well, this is the way I do it and so there's the answer." But for the mom too to model for her kid, "Hey, let's ask and see and let's learn together," and that was really cool.
Kyle Pearce: Right. It's often easier in the short run to just jump straight into these kinds of techniques, especially for parents who are just remembering that, even though they may have learned the why behind it when they were young or maybe not, but it's definitely easier to do that and it's tempting to just get that done just to move on because that's all they remember in the end anyway. It's hard, I think most people don't remember why these algorithms will work the way they work, they just remember them. As I said, even though maybe they did or were shown how they come out to be, but it's hard to go backwards once you know it.
Shawn Seeley: It's funny because, a little bit of a embarrassing confession here, when I was in fourth grade and we were learning multi-digit multiplication, I was sick for a week and it was the flu or something. I don't know if you guys have been exposed to this terrible thing called lattice, but we learned lattice before we learned the standard algorithm and so I was there for lattice and I had no idea why it worked, but I could make the box. I could put the slashes and I could put the numbers in and add them up.
Then I missed the standard algorithm. Well, no one cared that we knew how to do the standard algorithm, they just wanted the answer at that time. I did not learn the standard algorithm for multi-digit multiplication until I taught fifth grade and I had to teach it with decimals. I sat down and I looked at the teacher guide and I went like, "Oh. Oh my gosh, that makes perfect sense. Wow. If somebody would have explained it to me the way this teacher guide did, that would have been great." But it's fun to tell parents that the algorithm is not always needed even.
Kyle Pearce: Shawn, can you share with us any big struggles or maybe a big wonder you have experienced in your teaching journey that you want to dive into here today with us? Anything on your mind that we can dig into and then come up with some strategies to move forward?
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. I know that we're going to be starting our year a hundred percent online, remote at least through our first quarter, which will be interesting. There's going to be synchronous and asynchronous learning involved and we're not sure what our schedule looks like yet, which is we're getting down to the wire here. Everyone's like, "Hey, come on. Let's go so we can start planning."
But, I'm making this big jump from fourth grade to seventh grade and I'm very excited for it, but I'm also wondering, man, that's going to be quite the change, going from having these students all day and where if I wanted to, I could usually like, "Oh, we need a little bit more time on this math lesson. I'm going to cut into our writing time a little bit today or whatever." Now I will be unable to do that and so I'm going to be held rigidly to our time block, which I believe is going to be about 60 minutes and then doing that online too.
I'm just trying to wonder, what tips do you have or what thoughts do you have on the process of going from elementary where in fourth grade, I mean, I'm dealing with whole numbers, positive numbers. We just touch on decimals and fractions really and then now going into seventh grade. I'm thinking and I'm just wondering, I know in fourth grade you'd have students who show up who maybe don't have all of the prerequisite skills, which is always something that we always deal with every year but now in seventh grade, I'm wondering, does that get amplified if those kids didn't have those underlying concepts and they've been socially promoted through the system and now here they are in a grade seven course?
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, for sure. Just repeating back some of the ideas here, I think Jon and I feel very similarly when it comes to the uncertainty moving forward. We are actually going back here in Ontario. We will be in schools and depending on how things go, it might change, there might be some blended models happening, but it sounds like we're going to be going back, but the schedules are going to be changing.
For example, Jon is going to be going back to a quad master system, where he's going to be essentially with one group, one course of students in high school for half the day, which is scary. It's almost the exact opposite worry that you have.
Shawn Seeley: Yes, like half the class, double the time.
Kyle Pearce: Right. You're sort of worried, you're like, "Shoot, we only have 60 minutes." Jon's like, "Oh my gosh, I have a lot of time here. How am I going to do this?"
Jon Orr: Well, but you also have to cram in a course in two and a half months instead of crosstalk.
Shawn Seeley: It's like I have to wander through a fire hose there.
Jon Orr: Yeah.
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely. Absolutely. Wondering what that might look like, sound like, and I'm wondering if we were to dive deeper, if you were to describe what part about that. You've already described... we heard you mention this idea of one benefit of elementary teachers and even some middle school teachers, depending on the setup and where they are, have this flexibility if you're teaching more than one subject to the same group of students that you can say, "You know what? Today we're going to borrow a little bit of time here," or even do a cross curricular activity where you can be trying to address multiple learning goals or expectations at the same time through one activity. Here you're feeling a little more hindered. If you had to narrow down, can you tell us more about what specifically is making you maybe sweat or get a little anxious about that time being a little bit more defined, a little bit more restricted?
Shawn Seeley: Yeah, I guess for me, it's really looking at that model and I guess more than anything, it's the fact that we are doing it synchronously. I think that's the expectation that they've set and all but nailed down, is that we're going to have this synchronous remote instruction within that hour block. That's what makes me a little bit apprehensive, a little bit nervous that I'm going to be on a Zoom meeting with 30-ish kids that may or may not have their cameras turned on. It seems that that's the new idea that some students might feel uncomfortable or things like that.
But yeah, teaching to a screen I think is going to be a new thing for me and then also starting that year off. I know you guys have had episodes about this before, but starting it off remotely in a new environment where, if it was at least at my old elementary school, everybody knows who I am. You know the teachers and whatever and seeing them around, but now I'm this new guy that these kids don't know from Adam. Yeah, just an interesting how in the world do you start it off and then retain their attention for 60 minutes while talking to a potential blank screen?
Kyle Pearce: Potentially no one.
Shawn Seeley: Yeah
Kyle Pearce: Shawn, let me ask you this, just so I get the change right, the way you described it. I was imagining your grade four class, in classroom, you taught all subjects, correct? Is that how that went down?
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. Initially, I taught all subjects and then I had worked with my fourth grade team too. We started rotating students through our science, so we could focus on a single science subject and then this last year I taught math for two classes and my partner teacher taught reading for both of our classes.
Kyle Pearce: But you dropped the other subjects in the inaudible?
Shawn Seeley: I did. Yeah.
Kyle Pearce: That was where you were referencing that you would borrow some time from history or geography or that kind of stuff or social studies. Okay. Then, now when you move to seventh, I'm guessing some of your conflict, your struggle is that you're more like me. As a high school teacher, I have my one block of math that I teach to a few different groups of students, but I only teach math. Is that what's happening?
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. I'll be teaching math for the first three periods. It will be seventh grade math, three periods in a row and then I teach science for seventh grade for two periods then I have a planning period.
Kyle Pearce: Okay. That's what I thought. I just want to make sure that I saw that transition being from teaching all subjects and then to just having your one block of math for different groups. Your struggle is that... What does that shift look like being like, I'm so constricted to my hour of math and then I have to repeat that a couple of times during the day, and you're struggling with what everyone is struggling with right now, which is how do I do this remotely? How do I keep this engagement going? How do I teach these kids about all the things I value in math, in math class, in schooling and learning while they don't even know me. I'm not even there to see them and I might not even see what they look like for the first two and a half to three months of the school year?
Shawn Seeley: Oh yeah. I was having a conversation yesterday with another teacher and I said in the classroom I can read the facial expressions and all of that when I'm doing my monitoring and assessing, the five practices and I'm walking around and checking in with students. I was like, "inaudible, we're going to have breakout rooms in Zoom and I'm going to go into one breakout room and not know what's going on in these other ones." Yeah.
Jon Orr: That brings me to a question, Shawn, thinking about say remote learning and what those lessons might look like for a grade seven class is, what did you do with your grade fours since March? What's been happening? What did it look like for you remote learning style? But already knowing the kids is one thing, but I'm just going to lay the land here for us so we can get a picture of what you're used to doing.
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. It was vastly different than what the requirements are going to be this time, but we were actually restricted to teaching two math lessons a week and then we were only supposed to teach two ELA lessons a week and they were supposed to be asynchronous. Beyond that, there wasn't a whole lot of guidance and so I went down the... I'm not proud of this, I went down the Khan Academy route, it was just something I could easily grab on to.
Then I supplemented that with my own videos that I would make and so I did screencasts or things like that and then I have Camtasia and I'm a bit of a computer nerd, so I was putting animations in and doing noticing and wonderings that way. Then we would have those optional Zoom meetings, where kids would pop in or I'd pose a question on Google Classroom. It would show up in a stream and I'd say, "Watch my little notice and wonder video. What do you notice and what do you wonder? Let's have a conversation about it through the stream." But it was very hard to have any real dialogue with students. Now it looks like, potentially, it will all be live with some independent practice asynchronously.
Kyle Pearce: Right. Right. That to me, that sounds like definitely a positive, because when you're limited to asynchronous experiences, that could be difficult. I also heard you doing what I know Jon had tried doing as well here in Ontario. We gradually went into this COVID experience and it began with pretty much a lot of districts saying, everyone goes asynchronous because it's chaotic, parents are working at home. Is there enough devices out there?
A lot of people were stuck doing that, but then the negative was, if you did do these Q&A calls, a lot of teachers found that they weren't very well attended. That you'd probably get that same group of students that might stay in during a recess or after school to get a little additional help and it's oftentimes missing that group of students that you wish was there. It's the group that just wants to keep striving and that's great and all, but that's not who you're really hoping shows up.
Now, with this opportunity to go synchronously, I feel like that will open some doors for you to go for that math lesson that you're really after, because when I'm hearing you had mentioned Khan Academy, I know I had even recommended this to some teachers who were really struggling to get going during this COVID experience. I said, "Listen, now is not the time to be beating yourself up over being the best version of yourself as a math teacher, because this is brand new. We're all brand new at this."
But I think what you have here moving forward is this opportunity where maybe Khan Academy might be some after the conceptual learning experience has happened. They tend to be a little more procedural and if we go back to earlier in the conversation about the turtle method, it wouldn't surprise me if there's a Khan Academy video that has the turtle method in it. My wonder is, maybe us zooming out and looking at some of the things that you're hoping you can ensure you have as you're moving forward in this new world that you're going to be entering into and maybe some of the things that you don't want to necessarily overemphasize.
Again, we don't want to say algorithms or procedures are bad, but like you had mentioned earlier, like a standard algorithm, for example, isn't something that every person in the world must have to be successful mathematically. I guess the big question is, what do you value? We already know this. I think everyone listening can already tell what you value and then I guess the question we'll put back to you is, how might you start unpacking this experience, this environment that you're going to be teaching through to ensure that what you value, which I'm going to argue is this concepts first approach versus a procedures first approach, how can we pull that out?
When you look at this new grade seven curriculum, I'm wondering, how are you feeling about just the content in general, when it comes to familiarity with it? Not necessarily whether you can do it or not do the math, but more or less what it is you have to teach. Is there any uncertainty there or still some work to be done around trying to think through how it all connects and what's most important to you and to your students as they move forward? I'm wondering if you can maybe speak a little bit to that, because that might be something that might be hindering you from feeling confident as you move forward here into this new grade.
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. We're using CPM and so I'll be teaching the course too for CPM and I have the curriculum here and I've perused through it. As soon as I opened it up, it was all of this group work it's designed to be done in the classroom. I'm like, "Oh gosh." I'm thinking, "I'm having a heart attack over here. What am I going to do?" I went on CPM's website and after I get my login and they have some resources there for the recommendations for remote learning. That was beneficial for me to peruse that.
They're saying, "Hey, focus on these core questions and have the extensions available." But it looked like it had a bit of a routine that I feel I can implement that fits with more of my teaching style anyway, where you start off with a noticing and wondering, or a question, do a quick poll and see how the kids are doing. If they're doing really well, then you can go ahead and put them into these breakouts if they're understanding the concept and then check in on them and then you bring them all back together and have a closure activity and have some discussion and dialogue and things like that. I'm feeling pretty good about that flow, I guess, but I guess, yeah, really for me, it's the newness of it all, if that makes sense and just all of it all at once.
Jon Orr: No. I think it gives us a good snapshot into things that we all have to consider, especially when you start from scratch or start something new. I think you have to also give yourself permission when you start a new grade or a new course, that there's going to be a different balance. If you taught grade four for a number of years then, when you first taught that grade, there was probably this balance between your comfort level with the landscape of the content like what Kyle was referencing, is that you don't know how it looks in the end.
You don't know how topic A comes out to be related to topic F in the progression of what that course looks like and you learn that over time of teaching it. You know when you can start to go, "Okay, I know that I would later be teaching in unit blank, this topic, but it's coming out right now so now we can talk about it because I know it's going to come up and I can design maybe a small activity to strengthen that here or a warm-up. I can do this noticing wonder warmup or this estimation 180 warm-up now, because I know I'll do it late."
You learn these nuances that connect and when you teach a course or a grade for the first time, you don't see all that upfront. You're trying to figure out how to do all that. You're like, "I want to do what I was doing in grade four, but I got to do it here, but it's going to take way more time because I just don't know that landscape yet." There's a balance that has to happen because you're not only trying to do that, but you're also trying to piece together what the lessons look like, now we're going to throw in that you're going to do all of that online and hey, it's different than the way you did it online before.
In your case, Shawn, you've got a lot of new things coming at you. I think you have to give yourself that permission that you're going to have to balance it so it's manageable for you. That might mean picking a couple of things to work on here and slowly developing some of these things over time. One thing you might want to think about is like Kyle brought up this, what do you value question? What do you want the kids to know right away about learning? What are the things you're going to value and how do you show that to them immediately or right away the first week or the first couple of weeks so that lay a land for them? If you're valuing discovery and growth for assessments, how do they get to see that? How will they learn that from you?
There's a lot of balance for sure that's going to happen for you. I think it's like, we want everything to work out right away and I think it's like, what are the questions? What are the things that you want the kids to see? How do you want your lesson to flow? Then slowly work in some of these other things. I guess the question for you is, what would you start with? What's your first week going to look like? How would you plan that out? What tools might you use? That might be how you can start it and then slowly build from there.
Shawn Seeley: Yeah, absolutely. I guess yeah, more than anything I want to model for students that productive struggle and the importance of what they are learning and being curious. More than anything, I tell my students every year, "I don't promise much, but I do promise that if you are engaged in your learning and if you are asking questions when you're not sure, and if you're just trying it, if you're willing to just try and stick with it, I promise you're going to learn it."
Then some of the kids halfway through the year, they're like, "Hey, this guy's... you're onto something here." But, I guess that's what I want to model. I know you guys have talked about playing 1-2 NIM or something like that at the beginning of the year and just some engaging activity where you can express some of those classroom norms and expectations naturally through the activities. That's where my mind is at right now.
If I were doing fourth grade, I would have used James Tanton's Exploding Dots, because they start off with a lot of review on place value and as I had gone through fourth grade multiple times going like, "Why is multi-digit multiplication so hard?" It's like, "Oh, the place value understanding is not there." But yeah, just absolutely thinking about that, creating that culture and that environment and that excitement for math.
I listened to the Dan Meyer episode which aired yesterday in Real Time. He talked about secondary teachers that love math, but not necessarily have that love and passion for students, but more at the elementary level it's sometimes it's flipped. I feel like I'm in this cool groove now where it's, man, I love working with kids and I love those relationship building and all that stuff and so I've got that along with this passion for learning and math and science.
It's funny, all of my former elementary kids are, "Mr. Seeley is the math nerd and man, this guy gets excited about math," and then it catches on with them through those relationships. I'm really hoping that that comes across virtually and with this new group of students, because I just want them to know that, you are a math person, every person is. Hopefully, by the time they're in seventh grade, they haven't had that experience where they're like, "It's not for me."
I guess that's more what I'm looking at too is like, man, I really hope the kids haven't given up yet. For those ones that have, or have those dispositions about themselves, to help them reveal the truth on that, that, you are a math person and you are capable and you have it within you and let me help you discover that.
Kyle Pearce: It sounds, and we hear it throughout this entire conversation that, your philosophy, your approach, what you value is definitely in place. Here in Ontario, those who are listening from Ontario would know that our elementary curriculum just had a revise. It's been revised, it's been released, some changes have happened and some of the things that they've really highlighted, which I really like in this Ontario curriculum, which has been done through the math practice standards in common core is this idea of how important the math processes are. Which again, the math practices would be very similar.
They've also included social, emotional learning skills in that and there's a graphic and I'll try to grab it to throw in the show notes, but it shows that we have to think, and I got the sense from what you were sharing in your struggle is, a little bit of a concern about how am I going to get through this content? I'm using little bunny ears, air quotes, because that is something that we talk about a lot. We are constantly concerning ourselves with checking off this list of all these expectations, all these standards that we must bring into the school year.
Sometimes, maybe this opportunity as a lot of us are thinking about how either your class dynamic is changing or like Jon, his schedule is compacted and the days are longer, but the number of days is shorter. You're dealing with a tighter timeline. What I think could be helpful as we reflect further and as you begin planning for this upcoming year or continue planning is zooming out and going back to what you had said that you didn't want to guarantee too much or promised students too much, but those things that you want them to have, this ability to essentially be resilient through productive struggle, to be able to be a problem solver, to be able to use tools and representations.
We heard this through your math moment or your big win that you were sharing with the turtle method and just really saying that, which is more important? I think it helps me to calm myself when I'm feeling like I'm going to be pinched for time, all of us will be this upcoming school year and all of us were in this past COVID experience. When you look at it and you go, "Okay, I've got all this content," and we've talked about this on a few episodes where, I've got my arms in the air here and I'm trying to use my arms to describe like, "Okay, what's the overarching, the stuff I really want students to become fluent with?" I don't want to tell you what that is because I have some thoughts on what that could be. I know proportional relationships becomes a really important thing-
Shawn Seeley: That was the thing I was thinking of while you were talking. Yeah.
Kyle Pearce: Yes. Working through that proportional reasoning, all those skills and building flexibility and fluency with number. Those are things that we want students to continue working with. I'm like, I've got that very high up on my personal list, in terms of content. But then there's all kinds of other content that are there and sometimes we forget to ask ourselves why they're there. A lot of times the content, in my opinion, isn't necessarily there so kids remember the content itself.
A perfect example in high school would be completing the square. Jon and I bring that up as an example. Completing the square has not served me well in the real world, I don't think ever, but it was there, in my opinion, and I don't think I necessarily taught it this way for a number of years or was it taught this way to me, but I think it's there as this opportunity for you to essentially use this content as almost like a bank of ideas of how you might create that productive struggle.
As a tool to help you get to these big ideas that you're already trying to do anyway, so it's not competing, it's to support this work that you're doing. It's just what we emphasize is the important part. Rather than me thinking, I want to help students understand concepts, be able to deal with productive struggle, to be able to problem solve, all of those things and then there's all this content they need to know. I'm going to argue that it's less of content they need to know, but these are good reasons or good ideas over here in the content area for me to squeeze in.
Some of those content pieces, especially this year might not be top priority, or maybe they're not going to serve as well to help me reach these other goals over here. Just to be clear for anyone listening, I'm not trying to give people a free card to only worry about half your curriculum or half of your standards, but looking at the standards through a different light, and maybe that might help you realize that, huh, it's not about a memorization of a certain skill, we all know that a lot of students won't retain that anyway, it's about experiencing. It's about working and struggling through these problems.
These are a lot of the things that I know you, Shawn, have experienced through our online workshop and having engaged in some of our proportional reasoning course that you've sampled out as an early academy member. These are things that I think as you're framing it out, trying to ease the burden on your shoulders in terms of the amount, the sheer amount of stuff I've got to "cover." We always say uncover like Alex Overwijk always told us. We want to uncover curriculum for the reason of serving those math practices or process expectations and helping students with those social, emotional learning skills.
While those things, I know it doesn't make the struggle go away, but I want to turn it back to you and give you an opportunity to think about what we've been talking about in this episode. Are there any takeaways that you have? How are you feeling now, now that we've had this chance to chat in terms of what maybe your next steps might be as you continue to get closer and closer to this new grade seven experience?
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. As we're having this conversation, it's funny because sometimes just talking about it honestly is the difference maker, especially like I used to talk to colleagues about stuff like this and that doesn't happen as much now. My wife, bless her, she is also a teacher. She's going to be teaching second grade this next year. She goes, "Shawn, I don't want to hear about math anymore. Let's talk about something else." But as we're having this conversation, forgive me, I'm forgetting the name, is it Cathy Fasano, that had the landscapes? Is that right?
Kyle Pearce: Yep. That's right.
Shawn Seeley: I'm imagining these landscapes, as we're talking about the connections you were talking about. When I teach fourth grade, I'm so familiar with what comes before and what comes after and how that's connected in the progression of understanding that this will lead to this and this is connected to that. It's like a big web and it's the landscape.
Coming to seventh grade, even thinking because I've looked through some of the example work and problems in my curriculum, I'm looking at that almost through the eyes of a fourth grader, because I'm so familiar with that and going like, "Oh my gosh, that's where this comes in. Oh my goodness. That's why it's so important to have that fractional understanding as we get into probability and things like that."
Then also looking at focusing on those... I just pulled up here in another tab, it's from Achieve the Core. They have these major where to focus. It's a focus document for each grade. I was like, "Oh yeah, I forgot that even existed." It highlights these major supporting and additional clusters for each grade, and so where to focus and to spend that time and to really use these standards in the curriculum to teach those mathematical practices.
When I want students to make sense and use structure or to have that dialogue and critique the reasoning of others and things like that, using these standards in the curriculum to get those math practices into the kids. Because ultimately, that is that important piece in my mind that they can do those practices, that they can see themselves as mathematicians and build their confidence and have that conceptual understanding as I teach these standards through my curriculum.
Kyle Pearce: Right.
Jon Orr: Yeah. Yeah. These are all good next steps for you. I think we could recommend maybe one more next step. As Kyle said, you are an academy member, and actually one of our founding academy members and also workshop participant. You've got access, and I'm sure that you've been diving into all the courses. We've got a course on distance learning that's been helpful for many teachers, but moving into the grade seven landscape, you might want to check out the concept, holding your students back, which you also have access to already.
Dive through that course as a means to give you the background on proportional reasoning as it's going to be a big building block for sure in the grade seven landscape there for sure. You have access in your account already and other people actually listening to that can access that course by heading to makemathmoments.com/proportions.
But, Shawn, we want to thank you so much for joining us here in this episode, in this conversation. We always learn a lot from our guests and hopefully, and it sounds like you have and have some next steps. We just want to thank you one more time for joining us and wish you all the luck come this school year, putting in those actions.
Shawn Seeley: Yeah. Thank you very much. Thank you for taking the time and chatting with me. I really appreciate it. I've actually checked out that proportional reasoning course. I started it and I need to get in there and get after it again.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah.
Jon Orr: I definitely, based on what you're sharing and I know how important, especially the middle grades when proportional relationships start to explode through ratio reasoning, and then revealing rates, and then getting into that proportional relationships land, lots of great nuggets in there so definitely check it out. We look forward to following your journey along in the discussion forum area on that one.
We want to wish you nothing, but the best as we move forward into this new school year there, Shawn. Hopefully you and Zoe are enjoying as you listen to this episode in your car when it does come out. Hopefully, it brings a smile to both of your faces and we want to thank you for being such an awesome math moment maker out there. Thanks for hanging out with us and we hope to chat with you again soon.
Shawn Seeley: All right. Thanks guys.
Kyle Pearce: As always both Jon and I learn so much from these Math Mentoring Moment episodes, but in order to ensure we hang on to this new learning so it doesn't wash away like footprints in the sand, we must reflect on what we've learned. An excellent way to ensure this learning sticks is to reflect and create a plan for yourself to take some action on something that you've learned here today.
Jon Orr: A great way to hold yourself accountable is to write it down or even better, share it with someone, your partner, a colleague at school, or with the Math Moment Maker Community by commenting on the show notes page or tagging at Make Math Moments on social media or head to our free private Facebook group, Math Moment Makers K-12.
Kyle Pearce: Are you interested in joining us for an upcoming Math Mentoring Moment episode, where we can share a big math class struggle and work through it together? Apply over at makemathmoments.com/mentor. That's makemathmoments.com/mentor.
Jon Orr: Have you checked out the Wooly Worm Race six-day unit of study yet? If you're seeking ways to Make Math Moments while exploring fractions, decimals, and percentages, then you got to get over there.
Kyle Pearce: There are many big ideas that emerge throughout this unit, but we thought we'd share just a couple of them like fractions can be represented in a variety of ways. How you partition the whole determines the fractional unit. As you partition a whole into more parts, the smaller the size of each part and many, many more. Some of these things, some of these big ideas, maybe we realized, but we didn't actually help to emerge in our lessons.
Jon Orr: Best of all, you can access all six days of this unit and run them in your classroom, straight from the web browser, by visiting makemathmoments.com/wooly.
Kyle Pearce: Yes, that's right. The content is openly accessible for you to run from your classroom, in your classroom, and even the full day one teacher guide and planning supports are available for you to gobble up.
Jon Orr: Get over to makemathmoments.com/wooly to get started with this fantastic six-day unit to put an end to the frantic fraction frenzy that so many of us face when trying to overcome this huge conceptual struggle for so many students.
Kyle Pearce: See you over at makemathmoments.com/wooly and get running with this task in your classroom today.
Jon Orr: In order to ensure you don't miss out on new episodes as they come out each week, be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and help us grow this podcast by leaving us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts.
Kyle Pearce: Show notes and links to resources, including full transcripts from this episode can be found over at makemathmoments.com/episode109. Again, that's makemathmoments.com/episode109. Well, my friends until next time, I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us and high five for you.
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