Episode #114: How Do I Catch Up My Absent Students Without Jumping To The Procedure? – A Math Mentoring Moment

Feb 1, 2021 | Podcast | 0 comments


Today we speak with Adrianne Burns – a middle school math coach and interventionist from Wisconsin. During our chat with Adrianne, we discuss a challenge that is on her might right now and we’re sure is on yours too! What issue are we talking about? Well, that HUGE issue of student absenteeism and what we can do to help students who’ve missed that problem-based lesson that sparked curiosity and fueled the sense making in the rest of your students. 

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.

You’ll Learn

  • How we can avoid handing students formulas and procedures after their return from an absence.
  • How can we stretch context so that we can streamline a unit. 
  • How to use purposeful questioning when students miss class.
Start your school year off right by downloading the guide that you can save and print to share with colleagues during your next staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or just for your own reference!


Adrianne Burns: ... We're doing the rich tasks, and the conversations, and the discussion, and all of that. Then these kids who are absent, I've always struggled with how do you help give them that information without it becoming that direct instruction? The one example that always sticks out to me because crosstalk-

Kyle Pearce: Today, we speak with Adrian Burns, a middle school math coach and interventionalist from Wisconsin. During our chat with Adrianne, we discuss a challenge that is on her mind right now, and we're sure it's on yours too. What issue are we talking about? Well, that huge issue of student absenteeism, and what we can do to help students who have missed that problem-based lesson that sparked curiosity and fueled the sense-making in the rest of your students.

Jon Orr: 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.

Kyle Pearce: Let's hit it. Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce from tapintoteenminds.com.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr from Mr. Orr is a Geek.com.

Kyle Pearce: We are?

Jon Orr: 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: Fuels sense-making.

Adrianne Burns: And ignite your teacher moves. John, let's get ready for another jam-packed episode. But first, let's take a moment to say thank you to all of you, Math Moment Makers from around the globe who have taken time to share their feedback and their love by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts.

Jon Orr: Yeah, this week we want to highlight Lenny VerMaas. Lenny, I've met from Nebraska, who has also left us a five-star rating and review.

Kyle Pearce: And actually, Lenny was one of our winners. We had a five giveaway of Building Thinking Classrooms for entering into the draw by sharing his five-star review on Twitter. Lenny said, "Math BT to build curiosity. I would recommend Making Math Moments That Matter for any teacher that want to help students enjoy learning math. Each week provides strategies to engage students. MMM was my first podcast. And it was about a year ago, and now I'm hooked. Can't wait for new episodes each week. I've been able to listen as teachers and math leaders share their strategies with the world."

Jon Orr: Wow. Can't thank Lenny enough for taking the time out of his day to not only listen, but to help us increase the number of ratings for over 300 from around the globe, and actually over a hundred reviews.

Kyle Pearce: Fantastic. Fantastic. If you haven't taken a moment to go and give us an honest rating and review on Apple Podcasts, we would certainly appreciate it. And make sure to share it to social media with the hashtag MMMGiveaway. Because we often do review giveaways, and every single one of them will be entered into our next draw.

Jon Orr: All right. Now, let's get into our discussion with Adrianne.

Kyle Pearce: Hey there, Adrianne. Thanks for joining us here on the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. We're super excited to have you on. We've been in contact on Twitter for so long. You're now a member of the Making Math Moments or a Math Moment Maker Community, which is great. We love, love, love connecting with folks that were kind of, I guess, looking over your shoulder. How are you doing today? And how's your world, given the current fall situation where a lot of people are in hybrid models, distance models? How are things going in your world?

Adrianne Burns: It's going okay. We're plugging along, trying to figure out the school year. This year I am in the math maker academy because of the distance learning resources you have in there has been very helpful trying to process how the school year is even going to look for us. And having kind of those resources and conversations in there has been very beneficial since we are navigating uncharted territory, my school doing the blended learning is not anything any of us have ever really done before. Even in the spring, we were all virtual. So trying to figure out how to balance those two components. It's nice to kind of have those resources and that community to be able to problem-solve with.

Jon Orr: In this time, Kyle and I, just like you and everyone else, we re working in kind of lockdown mode or total virtual mode back in the spring time. But as we kind of get started up we're adding more resources, because I'm back in the classroom, Kyle's kind of doing a blended thing. So we've got lots of discussion points to talk about in our academy. Adrian, let's learn a little bit more about yourself. Where are you coming from? Tell our listeners about that. How long have you been teaching? And maybe give us a little backstory on your teaching journey.

Adrianne Burns: Yeah, so I'm in Wisconsin, near Green Bay by the Packers, as usually, the reference point most people know. And I am in the middle school, I'm a math coach and interventionist. And I have been teaching for over 20 years at this point. And I've kind of flowed between things. When I was first in school, I wanted to teach elementary school. Second grade was my ideal. And I had my middle school certification as well. And after I student-taught in a middle school and I did a long-term sub in a middle school, just started working in middle schools. And absolutely love it and can't even imagine trying to teach second grade at this point.
So I taught math for six years, and then I actually got my master's in educational technology. And moved to my current district as the computer literacy teacher, is what the class was called at the time. Now it's digital literacy as technology takes off. And there's so much more for kids to know. I did that for about eight years, and then we restructured our schedule to more of a black schedule. After the common core came out, we just needed more class time for math. And so they kind of rearranged the schedule and had to shuffle staff around.
So I, at that point, shifted back to math. And in my hiatus, while I was teaching computer literacy, is when the common core came out. And so when I was back in the math classroom, it was very different than the math classroom I had left. And that was, I think, Kyle, when I started following you, my friend had kind of got me on Twitter and you were doing all of your logs and your three-act tasks, and there was a lot with the proportional reasoning and all of those things that I was trying to learn about middle school math. And I did a year in eighth grade math and then moved to seventh grade math. So most of my recent classroom experiences have been in seventh grade math.
And then I did a professional development with US Math Recovery, which is basically professional development on the research of children's development and the mathematical reasoning. They were training our middle school and high school teachers. So we had a better foundation of where the kids were coming from. And when there were kids who struggled in the middle school, how we could better support them. And I just could not get enough of it, and I spent a few years really just trying to learn as much as they could about elementary math. Because, again, that was all the whole conceptual understanding and all of that was very different for me.
And through that, when my school created a math interventionist and coach position, I jumped at the chance to do that just to spend more time really digging into struggles students have and how we can better support them in middle school and how we can build those foundational skills. So the past three years, that's what I've been doing, is the interventionist piece and then the coaching piece. And it was funny, because with the coaching piece, my administrator said she loved what I'd been doing in the classroom and wanted me to be able to support teachers and help them do that in their classrooms. And I was doing, at the time, a lot of the rich tasks and 3 Act Math, and all the curiosity, and that stuff that had been on your site, Kyle.
And the way I was doing that in my classroom, much like you guys have talked about, is you try something and you fail forward, and you change it, and fix it, and fail forward. So then I was in this coaching role trying to think, okay, well, I can't really have the teachers do that because I'm supposed to be more knowledgeable. And that was actually when you guys started doing the Make Math Moments stuff together. So it was really perfect timing for me that you guys started doing that, because you had all of those frameworks and all of the stuff I was trying to figure out, you have kind of laid out there for teachers. So I guess I've been riding on your coattails for quite a few years.

Kyle Pearce: Well, listening to that backstory and I'm hearing so many things, especially now. Think of how relevant that is. So you had gone into and taught in the information technology sort of space, we'll call it, right? Tech integration, or whatever the title was, you were doing for so long. And obviously, I'm sure that is helping quite a bit now as we've done a lot of online learning recently and now a lot of hybrid models going on. But then also to kind of have the opportunity to be teaching math at so many different grade levels is probably such a blessing.
Now that you're in this math coach and interventionist role, you've had an opportunity to kind of dab in different things through Twitter and the MathTwitterBlogosphere, whether that's 3 Act Math and all these wonderful tools and tasks that are out there. And now, how cool is it that we get to chat with you about all of those things?
So before we go any deeper today on this Math Mentoring Moment episode, we've got to know what would be your math moment. When we say math class, what pops into your mind? Given your career has spanned all kinds of math, but let's go way back to when you were a student, what moment pops into your mind when we say math?

Adrianne Burns: Yeah. So every time I listen to your podcast and my brain kind of wanders always to the same memory when I was in middle school. Well, technically, it was junior high. So it was seventh, eighth, and ninth grade. In seventh grade, they wanted to move me into eighth grade math. And my mom didn't want me skipping a year. So we didn't do that. And then in eighth grade, they again wanted me to skip and go into, it would have been algebra or was that pre-algebra at that point, I guess. And my mom agreed. So I was in this advanced math class.
And I was only in it for a quarter. Because at the end of the quarter, I had a B, which of course won't goodness, and I was feeling very lost and confused. So I switched back to the regular grade level math class and actually ended up working independently at my own pace, kind of just in the back of the room, and I made through that math book and then started in the pre-algebra book.
And every time I think back on that, I think about the work of Joe Bowler and the mindset and wondering if someone had, I guess helped me... Did I just give up and think I can't do this, and I didn't really have to work hard at math before, and wasn't used to that? Did they just need someone encouraging me. But then I've also, sometimes when I reflect to think about the middle schoolers that I work with and how often we tend to put pressure on these kids and we push and we push for them to do all of these things.
My principal and I talked about it at one time, sometimes you just need a win. And it's okay to be good at something. And oftentimes we think when you're good at something, how can I get better? Where's the next step? And there's a difference between growth and, I think sometimes in our culture how we push too far, which I think we see in some of Joe Bowler's research in terms of acceleration and all of that.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Never good enough is sort of a thought sometimes, or maybe the message that might be received.

Adrianne Burns: Yeah. My mom has said she's surprised that I became a math teacher because of my experiences in math. But I actually really liked just working at my own pace in the back of the room because I am one who tends to need a little more time to think and process. I think I was always in my head trying to figure out those conceptual pieces. When I first started teaching math, I just thought, "Oh, I'm a visual learner. So I teach this to my students in a visual way."
And then when I got back into math and with the common core started getting into that deeper understanding, it was like, "Well, this is what I've been doing and trying to figure out and trying to explain to kids." And so for me, it's one of those things sometimes I've looked back at it feeling bad about that experience, but now, every time I reflect, I start to feel better like that was exactly where I wanted to be and needed to be and helped me get where I am.

Jon Orr: When we reflect on past experiences, it's kind of like a double-edged sword, it's thinking about like, I wish I had maybe had a better experience, but then you know that you got the experience that got you where you are now. It could be a whole different world. Like if you think of the butterfly effect that every little thing can affect you to go onto the next path and also to kind of like build on your idea or just to think about the way you presented that idea that we push and push and push, but maybe we don't need to push all the time. It just reminded me of this thing called the Peter principle, which is like... It's more like a business principle in the sense that people rise to their level of incompetence.
So if we take it out of the context of school for a moment, that if you're in a business, if you're really good at sales, what happens? You get promoted. And when you get promoted, you go on to being a manager. But oftentimes really great salespeople are really terrible managers. And so then all of a sudden, you get this level on your business where you are not performing at optimal level anymore. You actually were doing really well below that, and you should have stayed there to keep doing well, but you got to this point where you're not so great. But no one ever goes down in business, right? It's in a level. So it's like you stay there, and then it's just all of a sudden this competence level. So there's just weird phenomenon.

Kyle Pearce: Or an education, right?

Jon Orr: Yeah.

Kyle Pearce: By going, let's say from teacher to department chair to vice-principal or whatever. It's very rare where people start going the opposite way because they sort of feel like, well, I don't want to say failed at that or I'm good at that.

Jon Orr: Once you get to be a vice-principal, you might've been a great teacher, but not so great vice-principal. You're right, Kyle, no one's going to admit that. But thinking about students, sometimes that's a weird thought to have too, because you want to push kids to strengthen and go to the next level and always kind of maximize your potential, is something we always say, right? And try to push kids to do. But, Adrianne, I think you're right. That's like there's all of this, let's give kids wins, or let's make them feel confident where they are. I don't know. I just had that thought then it was a kind of a double-edged sword too, for sure.

Kyle Pearce: Let's switch gears here a little bit. Let's talk about your current role. Would you be able to share with us a recent success?

Adrianne Burns: Yeah. I've been trying to focus on my successes at the end of each day, because otherwise it feels very stressful right now. So I have some small intervention groups that I work with. And this year, I decided most of my interventions that I do are not grade-level interventions, we're not working on grade-level material. It usually focuses around multiplicative reasoning, fractional reasoning, some of those foundational things. There are some students who sometimes still are just using counting strategies. So even just trying to get some of that additive thinking.
And so what I decided to do this year as I started all of my groups so I could kind of informally assess and see how they think about things. And I have decided to use Cuisenaire rods, because they are my absolute new favorite. And I've learned a lot from Simon Gregg and Mark Chubb and all of their different posts. And so we really just started by doing some activities with the rods and building different numbers.
I was a little worried at first that the kids might think... Because they know they struggle in math. They know that's why they're coming to me. And you pull out the rods and you're like, "Oh, which one is the number five? And then how many ways can we build five?" And it sounds like such an elementary thing to do, but as we were doing it, they start noticing patterns, and we think about how many combinations were there to make three, and how many to make four, and how many to make five. And they start to notice these patterns.
And just in case someone wants to play around with this, you actually get a different pattern. I let the kids decide if four plus three is the same as three plus four or not, because in the rods, the order of the rods matter. And these different patterns started to emerge. And it was just so much fun to watch these kids think, and the way they worked through it, and noticing the patterns. And something that I thought was going to feel very elementary, just was so rich and so deep. And so I'm just really excited about the work I'm doing with those kids. That's been my win, is that that's been going really well.

Kyle Pearce: Fantastic. The part that makes it difficult, especially in, let's say your role where students are coming to see you and maybe they might be in the back of the class, or it might be in a small group to the side, or maybe they actually have to leave the room to go spending some time with you as the interventional teacher. But the part that I think is so important as well as for, hopefully, some of the classroom teachers are also using these concrete manipulatives, not just for students who are struggling because they are so powerful, just like you've alluded to here that when you get working with some of these concrete and visual representations, these math models that we're using, students are able to use their reasoning skills.
And that's something that is so easy to leave on the table. Like when we talk about sense-making here on the podcast, finding ways to allow students to make sense of mathematics, it can be done with symbols, but oftentimes some of the most richest conversations happen when we're using some of those concrete and those visual models, be it a number line, or a bar model, or whatever it might be that you're drawing out.
Thanks for mentioning both Simon Gregg and Mark Chubb. We're definitely going to link up some of those resources. Mark, actually, isn't too far up the road from John and I, a couple hours up the 401 here in Ontario. He's in the Niagara Region, and he's a great resource. Simon. I'm not too sure where assignments from, but love his work.

Adrianne Burns: I think he's in inaudible.

Kyle Pearce: Yes, definitely a little further than Mark is from John and I. But awesome. So thanks for sharing those. Now, with this Math Mentoring Moment episode, typically, we bring on guests to come on and kind of riff on things with the guests so that the three of us can kind of put our brains together and try to overcome a challenge. So what we want to know from you is, what's on your mind lately? What could we riff on together? Any struggles or challenges that we might be able to dig into here?

Adrianne Burns: Yeah. So it's been something that I've been trying to figure out for a while but it always kind of went to the back burner. But now, especially with our current situation, and we have a lot of kids who are being quarantined, whether it's waiting for test results or because of contact with someone and they end up being out of school for almost two weeks, and with our blended, we have the face-to-face time and the virtual. So the virtual days aren't an issue for those kids who are quarantined, but we're trying to make the most out of our face-to-face times, and we're doing the rich tasks, and the conversations, and the discussion and all of that.
Then these kids who are absent, I've always struggled with how do you help give them that information without it becoming that direct instruction. The one example that always sticks out to me because it's a task I love so much is with compound interest. There's a Robert Kaplinsky task with Futurama, where if you're not familiar with Futurama-

Kyle Pearce: Oh, yes. I've used it.

Adrianne Burns: So Fry is cryogenically frozen for 2000 years, and he goes to the bank with his debit card that had, I forget, 97 cents or some odd cents on it. And at whatever percent interest after 2000 years, and you have the kids try to figure out how much that is, but they only know simple interest, because they learn simple interest in seventh grade and eighth grade gets into compound interest.
And so it's this wonderful task where you just first let the kids stumble through with a simple interest. And they obviously realize that when you have to calculate year after year for 2000 years, they're not going to be able to do that, and they get to start to look at the patterns and generalize that formula, so that by the end of it, you have the compound interest formula, but they have such a deeper understanding of all the parts of that and why they're there. And then a student who's absent, it's like, "Oh, we had this great discussion, here's the compound interest formula." I don't know how to recreate that understanding for them after the fact for students who missed.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. That's definitely something that I think we all go through. And no matter how we present our material, is a struggle of absenteeism, and what do we do? How do we help kids the most when they come back? How do we help them be there? There's a lot of complexities around that. I think we can definitely chat about that, but I think we all have been in that situation where a kid is away, missed a great activity, but now, what do I do? Do I just hand them the booklet and say catch up or do I restructure class? There's a lot of questions that we could go, but which one is optimal? Which one's best for everybody or best for that student? How do we manage all that?
But before we keep going on that, Adrianne, what have you done so far? In that situation, in your class, what had you done? Or what have you seen done with the teachers that you work with that too? I guess we'll start there.

Adrianne Burns: Well, I've tried showing student samples or a sample of like... I sometimes take pictures of the work that we do in class and then we can refer back to it later and kind of show... So kind of like the idea of in a number talk, someone's explaining their thinking. And so being able to do something like that with it, where I have, here's some of the work we did. But then I'm still just kind of explaining to them the work we did. It doesn't always connect with them or resonate with them really what that is.
I've been thinking about, especially now that we're creating some of these virtual lessons too, there's so many possible ways to deliver some of this content virtually, but then I also wonder, again, we have an 80-minute math block at my school, so am I really going to expect student who was absent to be doing an 80-minute type lesson to make up for it. So trying to think of if there's a way to modify or condense somehow.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. And that was going to be, I guess my next wonder, was sort of what does that look like or sound like now? And you've painted us a bit of that picture, right? You had mentioned you give them the quick summary, and at the end, it's sort of like, look at what happened, boom. This thing popped out. When we do that, I wonder if it's like we're hoping that it's like the student was there, but we know they weren't there. So I wonder, are there any thoughts on how might you be able to recreate maybe a mini experience of that?
And when I say that you use Fry's Bank, that Dan Meyer problem, a great task, John's used it, I've used it, and we'll include that link in the show notes. I wonder if we need to have that opportunity to be as curious for that particular student if there's a way that we might be able to give them a question to chew on that might be different but might still help them arrive at a similar place? Do you have any thoughts? Is that ringing any bells for you or giving you any thoughts? Or maybe I need to be more clear on what we're riffing on here?

Adrianne Burns: No. And that makes sense and it gets me thinking about, even just like the structure or routine of what the student does after their absence. So typically, they have to study hall time, and that's when they would come to me and I would go over what they missed. And usually they do that once. Right? They come, we talk about what they missed, and then they can go on their merry way. But maybe structuring it more like they come to me and I can give them some sort of, why don't you take this? Whether it's a notice and wonder, think about this question and what do you think about that? And have them take that with them and come back a second time. Then they have something invested in it and have given it some thought, so then when we have that conversation, they're more engaged and involved in it.

Kyle Pearce: I'm wondering about, say what a classroom or a normal progression of lessons for you look like right now, maybe paint us a picture. Is this lesson one on, if we're talking compound interest, you did some simple interest before, we're going to sub compound interest, we're going to do some switching up the terms and the interest rates to see the effects of all of that. Are you progressing from one topic to the next in that, say, unit, and then moving on to another unit, or are you doing something different, say progression-wise, in your lessons?

Adrianne Burns: The way our curriculum resource is set up is there's quite a bit of spiraling through. So each chapter has two, maybe three sections. So it starts with one topic and then it kind of switches to another. And then that topic that we had in the first section, we might finish up in a different chapter, if that makes sense, to give them time to practice some of those things, and then we revisit it. So it kind of is like that spiraled curriculum.
So the compound interest one, with eighth grade math, it doesn't really get revisited because they don't do much with. At that point, we're just looking at, can you tell the difference between linear and exponential growth? The exponential growth is really more in the algebra curriculum, and eighth grade is mostly the linear. So that piece is more like, I guess, the end of that whole conversation, if that makes sense.

Kyle Pearce: Right. And you mentioned how the curriculum has sort of a spiraling effect going on. And those who have been listening to the podcast for quite some time know that John and I tend to really advocate for some of the benefits of spiraling, not unintentional spiraling, of course. We do want to keep common ideas together and do it in a synced way. But one of the benefits as well is that over time, if a student is absent quite a bit, it gives this opportunity for them to fall back into place without too much, we'll call it missed-time. There's definitely a beauty there when we're using problem-based lessons and spiraling, that can help us work on some chunks, because we're going to come back to them at a later date as well.
So typically, when we spiral, we try not to do a one-and-done sort of experience, where we do this big unit and then boom, it's gone. So if a student's away for a week, they've almost lost half the unit or whatever it might be. So there's huge benefit there. But it sounds to me like, you're wondering, what about that individual lessons? So if we go back to Fry's Bank and we think about that particular lesson about compound interest, how do we help that student when they show back up?
And I wonder, might there be a condensed version of that question where there's no video, there's no notice-and-wonder? Because, again, that was an 80-minute period that student missed. That's an 80-minute moment that that student missed, right? So, we're not going to be able to recreate it in the same way, but I wonder, is there a way, and I'm going to throw it back to you here, Adrianne, is there a way that we can kind of frame a question for that student to think on, whether it's in study hall, as you mentioned, or even if it's just at the beginning of class to give that student an opportunity to kind of reason through something and allow them to kind of be put in a position where there's a little bit of reasoning going on and then maybe some connecting that can happen near the end?

Adrianne Burns: It's a lot to think. But no, you're right. If you look at it, and maybe just start by looking at what really was the problem posed without necessarily the video and the notice-and-wonder, or even with something like the compound interest in the lesson or in the activity, the kids are working their way to the formula. But we could also work that in reverse, right? Like give them, here's the formula you're going to need, but let's unpack it and looking at the different parts and trying to maybe understand the structure of it.

Jon Orr: And if we think about this as a whole, there's some teachers listening right now, going, those kids missed, and we want them to be there as much as possible. This is why we try to make Math Moments That Matter in our classes, we try to create these lessons so that kids are curious, but it fuels their sense-making and it should stick with them longer. When they're there, we create those moments, and if they miss a day, it's like Kyle said, that moment is gone. But if you do this on a regular basis, it's not a just a one-and-done thing, then when the kid has missed, they're like, I missed that great moment.
I have found, when teaching this way, especially with problem-based lessons on a regular basis in my class that generate curiosity, I've had better attendance. So it's almost like this preventative measure that we can get kids who's like, "I'm not going to skip ninth grade math class or eighth grade math class. I'm going to make sure I try to go. Math class is actually the class that makes me feel great about school." Versus maybe some of the other experiences they've had in the past.
And when sometimes when we think about this, teachers are listening, going well, "Well, if they missed, am I going to reteach that lunchtime. I don't have time for that. I've got to do this marketing. I've got to do tracking for COVID now. And I've got so many other things on my plate." And so it's like, "Well, what can I really do?" And I often think about, if I was teaching the way I taught for the first 10 years, which is very traditional, which is exactly what you described, in the sense that if a kid missed, I would hand them the formula and say, "Here's an example. Copy it down." That's what I used to do every single day.
And that was what my math class looks like. And that's what math class looks like. I still think for a lot of kids in our country, and North America, and across the world. And so when a kid misses, and we do that, because some of us are like, I can't spend more time trying to recreate that moment because it's gone. And so handing them that formula saying, "This was this rate moment with Fry. We talked about this. Here's the outcome of where we went."
Kyle mentioned this condensed version, but then it was like, "Today, we're going to do another great thing that's going to create a moment and it's building on the moment we did yesterday." So I tend to think that they missed it, but you're not hurting them any worse than I used to. Almost like I can't recreate it, but I'm still going to help them by giving them the condensed version.

Kyle Pearce: And something else that I was thinking there is just this shift from, when we're typically sharing, we're constantly talking about how we want to spark curiosity. And of course, we want to keep doing that with our students and with that whole group. But when we're in this a triage moment, and there's nothing worse than like you come in to school and you're ready to go for another great lesson, or at least in your mind, you're hoping is going to turn out to be a great lesson, and then in walks the student who missed yesterday and you go, ah. It's like your stomach drops and you go, "Now, what do I do? How do I help?"
And you had mentioned as well, and John referenced it as well. For a really long time, we would have said, "Okay. Here's what we did. Here's this handout. Get yourself caught up and we'll carry on." And I did that for many, many years. And that was back when I was still in that procedures-first sort of mentality.
My wonder is, when this is happening, is there a way that we can shift to deal with this triaged moment where a student's walking in? Can we shift from the focus on curiosity for that particular student, for that particular moment, and really shift right to fueling sense-making right off the bat? Which means getting to the point with that student. That really is going to require purposeful questioning.
So if I think about the big idea with the compound interest in Fry's Bank, is this idea that, "Well, what does he need to know?" "Okay. Well, he needs to know that I'm going to earn this much interest every single year, based on the balance at the end of every year." So that's one thing they need to know. But then the second one is sort of like taking that context and basically giving them that problem and sending them off and saying, "Hey, I want you to just work on this problem." It could be written out in a word problem, it could be however you want, but basically, that's what we did.
It's like a nice summary. It's almost like, in my mind, I'm picturing taking a reflection question that you may have given the group the day before, that this particular student had missed. Oftentimes, when I give them a consolidation prompt, I'm thinking about... Typically, I restate the scenario, what had happened, and then I tweak it a little bit to ask them to unpack it, if I changed something.
You could essentially be giving them this consolidation prompt, having them work through it. And it's like they have missed the notice-and-wonder, they have missed this curious moment, the collaboration, all of the great things that are happening in the classroom, but they're still being given the opportunity to reason through this problem so that some of those connections can be made. Because in all those years that I did hand over the formula, even if my intent was to help them understand it later, it's almost kind all-for-not.
There's a resource, and we'll put this in the show notes as well. The Adding It Up document is a book from the National Research Council. Basically, when you go through this, they talk in chapter four about the mathematical proficiencies. They mentioned how the urge to understand conceptually, after you've already been giving a set of procedures, decreases significantly.
You'll probably find that with a lot of students. Once they already know an algorithm, it's much harder for us to inspire them to want to know the why. It's like they just know the steps. They're like, I just want to put this into the machine, whether it's the algorithm or in the calculator, and I just want to pump these out until it's done. Versus giving them this opportunity to wrestle with an idea and be able to make some sense of it.
I guess I'm kind of throwing this idea out there to you. And I don't know if that seems reasonable or realistic, or maybe it seems unrealistic for you, but this idea of being able to kind of look at that lesson and almost go for that big idea that you were after, and being able to put it down in a couple sentences for that student to be able to sit down and wrestle with. And then be able to have that discussion with them. I want to flip it back to you. What are your thoughts on that? Does that seem reasonable? Or do you have a different idea that's popped into your mind as we're riffing here? Because we'd love to get your perspective on this.

Adrianne Burns: Yeah. I like that idea. When I think about... The example I gave is the one that sticks in my head, and I think it does because in that unit, the ending point of it, do you know what I mean? It's not like... Because we have other ones. If I think about in seventh grade when we work on percents, we do a lot of days of different percents and building on it. So, you said, if a student is absent, it's different in that situation, because the next day we're going to continue on that same concept, that same topic. You have to do it right away. Do you know what I mean? You can't, "Oh, come see me during study hall." They need what they missed so they can participate in what we're doing in class.
And thinking about how to really summarize that and just get two questions, I would ask at the end to summarize, to see if the students have that understanding, giving some of those right away so that that student is ready to engage and listen and have that conversation of what we did yesterday so they're ready to participate for the day. Versus, I think there are other tasks and activities and things where it's not as urgent that they need that right in this moment.
Then I think there might be more options in terms of how to address that and work with that student. But I liked the idea of just getting to that fueling the sense-making. Because that's really what they need in order when I'm conversing with them. Because so often, I feel like I'm explaining this to you and I can't really tell if it's making sense to you, and in the end you just nod and go off and do the homework. So to have some of those focus questions to get them thinking and leading that conversation with that.

Jon Orr: Yeah. Something else that we recently, I guess in the last six months to a year, have been focusing on, that I think could help, is having a context that stretches across a unit, or across a series of lessons that are all kind of tied to the same context. Like taking one idea, like Kyle's got on our makemathmoments.com/tasks website, which has a number of tasks.
In there, we've got like five or six-day units. And one in particular I'm thinking about is we've got one that's making chocolate milk. We're looking at some proportional reasoning, but on day one, you do this curious task. But on day two, you're still in that same context, you're still talking about making chocolate milk, but you extend it into, say the next lesson, and it builds on what you did before. And so it's like not a brand new feeling to the kids, it's kind of like, "Oh, we did this yesterday. Can anyone kind of recap what we did yesterday? What was the video like? What was our main lesson goal yesterday? Can you share that with the group?"
So it's really nice, because then all of a sudden you can get into a math talk. And that's all built into the resources that are on the website. It's laid out for us teachers to go through that unit. But even if you were thinking about a topic that one of our tasks isn't addressing on our website, I think extending context can also assist with, say absenteeism that is not a brand new example that were never seen before. It's like we're still in that realm, but we're just tweaking it a little bit.

Adrianne Burns: Yeah. And I've noticed those in there. And I liked that because I've always done when I was in the classroom, where I had my 3 Act Tasks, and you got through all 3 Acts, and wrapped it up in a tiny little bowl that day. Because there's always more that you can dig deeper, or you want to explore, or it relates to this next thing that we're going to be teaching. So I looked through... I don't remember which one I looked through. But it's very cool how it set up.
And it just continues that... It feels like it's really still that same... I don't want to say the same task because that sounds like that would be boring to do the same task for so many days. But for kids to understand that context, you're not always having to start over with, "Okay, now let's understand this and then we can get to the meat of it." That would help then if they are absent because they are still in that flow and it's not totally foreign to them.

Kyle Pearce: I'm picturing, specifically, for so long I was trying to find slash create curious tasks. And in my mind, it was like, if I could get a curious task for every single day of the school year. That was my unreachable goal, but it was like something that I was loving if it was possible. I wanted to do that. And what I realized now is that, by riding the coattails of those contexts, I don't have to focus so much on the curiosity because I already have them. But it's like you already invested in the trilogy of whatever your favorite movie is. John's amazing at these Sci-Fi Movies that all have four and five and six or whatever versions of them, but you get the idea-

Adrianne Burns: crosstalk.

Jon Orr: Do you want me to name them? Is that what you're looking? crosstalk. It sounds like, "No, the names of these movies."

Kyle Pearce: No. Please don't. Yeah. So you've got Lord of the Rings. You don't have to spend as much time on getting people into the storyline because they already know it and they're already interested and they want to keep going further. So I'm kind of picturing with Fry's Bank. It's like, okay, I missed, let's say the start of this little. We'll call it a mini-unit. We don't want to give the impression that it's like this entire concept over two weeks or whatever, but let's say it's like three days, four days. You could, on day two where the student comes back to school, by keeping that context and maybe even replaying the video just to kind of re-spark some of the memories they had from the day before, have a student restate what happened the previous day. Then maybe you could even introduce Fry's brother or whoever.
And it's a slightly different scenario giving the students this opportunity to do it again and get a little purposeful practice in there. But then where you keep the students, I find on day two or further with one context, is by changing something. It's like you pull the rug on something that would be surprising. In a perfect world, Fry's video would be a simple interest problem. And then on like day two, it's like, I don't have to show any video. I could just tweak it and say, what if the interest was paid this way? Now things get really interesting.
I guess what we're saying is when students have missed some time, if there's a way for us to bring back yesterday's lesson, not because it's simply a recap... I used to do this all the time. I would recap the day before, and it was like the kids were zombies, right? They didn't really want to rehear what we did yesterday, they just want to get onto what we're doing today.
But if it's related to today, then they sort of know. It's like the storyline is continuing here, and Mr. Pearce or Mr. Orr is going to have, or Mrs. Burns is going to have this interesting scenario that might just be them speaking it verbally. It might not be a video, it might not be even an image, but it's going to play on what we already know to be true, and then now something has changed. And when you think about all good storylines, that's sort of what's happening, right? Like you're on this journey, and then all of a sudden something goes wrong. And in math there's so many opportunities for us to do that.
So, I wonder if that's in our mind about yesterday's lesson in saying, so how am I going to take yesterday's lesson and just turn it into a dumpster fire, where by just changing the context just a little bit, and then all of a sudden we're now bumping into this new idea, this new place. And again, I was the simple interest compound interest scenario where it's like all of a sudden you're like, whoa, I just turned that thing right upside down. And it doesn't require as much effort to get that curiosity going.

Adrianne Burns: Yeah. Now I want to go back and start looking at some of our tests to think about... Because I like that, to think about that condensed version and what is really that sense-making and what questions can we give those students just, like you said, to chew on so that they can start to dig deeper into that and get engaged, especially if it is something that is more than one day to get them into that.

Jon Orr: I'm wondering right now, Adrianne, as we kind of get close to our hour marker here, is we've chatted about a lot of different ideas around helping address this absent issue, which is a big issue. And I don't know if we have any solid solutions here, but we did do some nice brainstorming, I think, and it makes me want to redesign some of the things that I've implemented in my classroom. But what would you say, out of this conversation, is you say your biggest takeaway? And how are you feeling after the call?

Adrianne Burns: What I'm thinking about most right now is, part of it is I think it is going to depend on what activity or what lesson a student misses. Because being able to kind of look at that spiral that our curriculum has. Because there are some things where if a student misses, it's going to come back and so is this the time to make sure they know it? Or is it not really essential at this point and we're going to pick it up again later?
And I think choose in problem strings, how problem strings help open up students' minds to a certain strategy by asking certain questions in a certain way, gets them thinking in that direction. If there's something similar to that, as I look at just that sense-making part in some focus questions, if I ask those questions in a certain way, is that going to help those kids, maybe in a more condensed amount of time, get to that thinking?

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, absolutely. So it sounds like lots to still think about here in... Like you're saying, it's really going to depend, right? And we use that a lot, both in the podcast, in our online courses, in the Academy. We always say it depends because there's so many things, so many moving parts, but the way you're thinking about it right now from sort of a high level, it's almost like you have to analyze, where am I at? Are we coming back to this idea? Is it essential for tomorrow's lesson or today's lesson?
And then if it is, maybe that's where you look at it and say, okay, so how do I make these lessons more connected based on the content or on the context, I should say? So, clearly, if I need yesterday's lesson that the student missed for two day's, and I'm worried about that for that student, then how can I make... We know the contents connected, how do I make the context more connected so that we can make it feel like this is a student who's shown a little late for the movie, but by participating in watching the movie unfold as we are kind of working through day two, they're connecting the dots in the part of the movie that they missed?
Now, obviously I'm using an example of a movie. We don't want them sitting back, we want them participating. But by keeping that context together, that might be a way for them to get right back on track and almost start filling in the gaps through, even just the conversations students are having in the room. I'm super excited to hear how this goes.
And I'm wondering, Adrianne, are you up for maybe checking in with us if we were to touch base, maybe nine to 12 months from now, just to see how things are progressing, see if maybe any of these ideas turned into something, or maybe you found another way to address this problem and maybe you'd be able to come back and share with the Math Moment Maker Community?

Adrianne Burns: Yeah. Absolutely. I'll solve all the problems and then just come back and tell you about it.

Jon Orr: Excellent. That's exactly what we're hoping for. This has been a great chat. We are looking forward to kind of touching base and sharing more ideas on this topic or another topic when we come back. So thanks so much for joining us this evening. And we wish you all the best in this school year and all the challenges that are coming our way.

Adrianne Burns: Yeah. Thank you very much.

Kyle Pearce: Thanks so much again to Adrianne for chatting with us. We look forward to her growth and speaking with her again in the near future.

Jon Orr: Are you interested in joining us for an upcoming Math Mentoring Moment episode where you two can share a big math class struggle? Apply over at makemathmoments.com/mentor. That's makemathmoments.com/mentor.

Kyle Pearce: In order to ensure you don't miss out on any new episodes as they come out each week, be sure to smash that subscribe button on your favorite podcast platform. And don't forget about YouTube. We've been doing a ton of YouTube Lives these days. So get on there, hit the subscribe button so that you're notified the next time we go live.

Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode and full transcripts that can be read from the web or download and take with you, head on over to makemathmoments.com/episode114. That's makemathmoments.com/episode114.

Kyle Pearce: Well, until next time, my Math Moment Maker friends, I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm John Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.

Jon Orr: A high five for you.

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