Episode #123 : Growing Your Assessment Practices – A Where Are They Now Math Mentoring Moment with Nathan Vaillancourt
In this episode we catch up with Nathan Vaillancourt who was on episode 28 of the podcast. This time around Nathan unpacks where he was in his journey the last time we spoke and the progress he’s made since then. He also shares how he’s transitioned to more of a standards based grading practice to help him with instruction and the creation of assessments.
This is another Math Mentoring Moment episode where we chat with a teacher like you who is working through some problems of practice and together we brainstorm ways to overcome them.
- Unpack where Nathan was in his journey the last time we spoke and the progress he’s made since then;
- How he’s transitioned to more of a standards based grading practice to help him with instruction and the creation of assessments;
- How being purposeful with assessment questions can make your teaching life easier; and,
- How to be more ‘targeted’ with your instruction and assessment practices.
Nathan Vaillancort: When I got to the end of the course, and I was just looking at how things had gone, and this was why I decided to make the changes I was doing over the last couple of years. I can't believe that I ever taught that way really. And so I've been trying to get into trying to do some more engaging tasks with the kids to uncover some more of the curricular content. And I think that's where my crosstalk.
Kyle Pearce: In this episode, we catch up with Nathan Vaillancourt, who was on episode 28 of the podcast. This time around Nathan unpacks where he was in his journey the last time we spoke and the progress he's been making since then, he also shares how he's transitioned to more of a standards based grading practice to help him with instruction and the creation of his assessments.
Jon Orr: This is another math mentoring moment episode where we chat with a teacher like you, who was working through some problems of practice. And together we brainstorm ways to overcome them. Stick around and listen in as we get all caught up and talk all things assessment with our good math moment maker friend, Nathan, hit it.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We are from Make Math Moments. And 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 curiosity, fuels sense making, and ignite your teacher moves. Welcome back to a where are they now episode with Nathan, where we're going to check in on his assessment practices and his growth in that area. If you remember back in Episode 28, he was discussing with us the way he was trying to teach, whether it aligned with how he was assessing. So let's check in with him. We're really excited to catch up and see what things he's got going on in the classroom. Right.
And before we do check in with Nathan, we want to take a quick moment to invite you to check out the Make Math Moments Academy. Educators in the academy like Nathan, who is an academy member is doing a lot of growth, a lot of learning along the way, have been sharing their past successes and challenges and goals as they plan to continue developing their mathematical pedagogical practice and content knowledge in the community area. Some of them are already hacking away at our latest mini course titled Assessment Per Growth. We're going to talk about some assessment strategies here with Nathan that are all in our mini course in the academy.
Well, other members are using the brand new curiosity test tool that has exclusive tasks with full teacher walkthroughs and how to guides. So join the Make Math Moments Academy so you too can eliminate the guesswork and stop throwing everything you've got up the wall in hopes that something might stick. Learn more about the academy to see if it's the right fit for you by heading to makemathmoments.com/academy. That's makemathmoments.com/academy. And without further ado, here's our chat with Nathan.
Hey there, Nathan, welcome back to another episode of The Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. We are super excited to chat with you. As always for our where are they now episodes. I don't know, Kyle, I think we've done a few of these now. And Nate, I know it's been a while since we chatted with you. I think Kyle correct me, we usually ask folks, let's check in with six to 12 months. But it's been more than that, right? It's been more than that Nate, it's been over a year. So how's it going?
Nathan Vaillancort: Things are going awesome. I am now teaching 100% virtual like a lot of people are. So our school board created a brand new secondary school for all the students who opted out of the face to face option this year. And so that's where I am. So it's an interesting challenge for sure.
Kyle Pearce: For sure. And it's kind of like this unknown. I mean, I would definitely commend you for obviously taking that on and essentially trying to do something that, at least here in Ontario, isn't a common experience doing online courses. I know some did exist in the past, usually, maybe one course out of a student's schedule might have been opted online due to an offering issue or a scheduling conflict.
But now going fully online, in my district we also have, well, I guess it's two virtual schools. We have an elementary version and a secondary version. And talk about so much, so much learning. So I'm hoping that we'll be able to kind of get your perspective on how things are going. With that, I'm going to guess that that has introduced a new pebble in your shoe to sort of kick around and try to figure out. But just to quickly recap back to Episode 28, I can't believe it was back in June 2019 when we recorded that.
Nathan Vaillancort: That's a whole another world.
Kyle Pearce: That episode would have been released later than that. But we were going through this today, and we were thinking, holy smokes, I can't believe the time has flown. Yet, Nate, I think why we don't feel like it's been that long ago is because you've been pretty active in the Math Moment Maker community, both in the Facebook group, but also online, inside the academy, commenting in the forum area, and also joining into our live Q&A chats that we have over Zoom about once a month.
I feel like it was just yesterday, but I think it's just because we've engaged in conversations over time. So that's fantastic. When I look back at Episode 28, what we saw were assessment was a big topic of conversation. And by the way, I also want to mention, too, for those who haven't listened to Episode 28.
Nathan Vaillancort: Get back there.
Kyle Pearce: I would hit that pause button, go back, get a sense, because I think something that's really cool for the listener too, is kind of seeing how people's perspective sort of evolve. They develop over time, you get new experiences, new ideas. And for you to take assessment on, assessment and evaluation is one of the toughest ideas in education, I think, to grapple with. So I think it's awesome that you're taking it on. And in particular, we're talking about, how do I adjust my assessments to match the way I'm teaching? How do I take down or record observations and conversations that you have with your student? Do I have to do in a specific way? Do I have to bring a notepad? Or is there some other ideas we might have?
And you also were talking about whether you needed to use that same tool or piece of evidence to assess every student, almost is if I decide on this one tool, then, obviously, I'm going to use bunny ears here and say, is it fair to make sure everyone does that same assessment? And we talked obviously, about fair and equitable assessments. So lots of big ideas. Holy smokes. I'm wondering if you were to go and think all the way back to that conversation, what would you argue is maybe one of the biggest changes or thoughts or maybe just growth areas for yourself? And then we'll dive in from there and try to figure out where do we go next.
Nathan Vaillancort: So it's funny, because I listened to that episode earlier today in preparation for our chat. Listening back and seeing where I've been in just a year and a bit since we last, I guess, formally chatted, it seems like so much has happened in that time for me professionally. Ironically, it seems like now assessment seems to be the part of my practice that I have. I don't want to say a handle on necessarily, but that's where I've been focusing so much that I feel like I have a decent grasp of how I want to approach things in terms of, I know I was talking in the last episode about observations and conversations and that kind of thing. And I think now that I've sort of switched my practice full into the idea of spiraling and rich tasks in my classroom, that those ideas of being able to observe and have conversations with the kids really comes fairly easily to me now.
Kyle Pearce: That's amazing.
Nathan Vaillancort: I thank you guys for that. And I've made the switch over to standards based grading, which was something that we chatted a little bit about. And that's really made probably the biggest impact on how I've approached my assessments. And it's really made things nice in terms of keeping track of where kids are, and for myself, being able to communicate with the kids and their parents and the admin precisely where they are in their learning that has made the world of difference. So like I said, it's kind of ironic now, looking back to how much difficulty I was having with it when we last chatted to where I am now.
Jon Orr: Let's dive into that, just for a moment, to give people the picture of the transformation that you're having, because that's a lot. And by the way, it is amazing to hear that so great that you can hear your own growth on the podcast. And then I'm sure later you'll reflect on this episode, and you'll hear even more growth. But let's kind of go back in time to right after that chat. And then maybe even before that chat, give people kind of a snapshot of where you were before we talked last, and then maybe like what were some of the very first next steps that you did on that journey? Because like Kyle said, we were talking about a lot of different pieces of assessment, but maybe give everyone like a quick snapshot of what that looked like before for you. And then again, like I said, what was that next step for you on that transformation?
Nathan Vaillancort: So basically, where I was at that time, I was really just making this switch over in terms of my teaching practice, in terms of moving away from a traditional, I guess, lecture style math class into more collaborative tasks for the kids to do. And so my issue was trying to align how I was assessing the kids with how I wanted to change my day to day practice. And so where I was was basically a traditional pen and paper math test, kind of sit by yourself, do it for 70 minutes and hand it in type deal.
And so in terms of what my very next step was, was to take a closer look at how I was constructing my assessment. So I didn't necessarily throw out the tests, necessarily, which was one of the things we talked about. But what I did do is take a closer look at exactly what I was putting on the test, what I was asking kids to do. So in the past, I may have just looked through some questions, test banks, or that kind of thing. And here's a question that kind of catches my eye, that's great, I'll just put it on there, it sounds good.
But moving forward from there, I made sure that I was really paying attention to the outcomes that I wanted to get from the students. So making sure that I was being more intentional about what I was asking from the kids. And that was really my first step towards the standards based model. So at that time, I wasn't necessarily delineating the tests into the different standards, but I was making sure that I was paying closer attention to exactly what I was asking from kids. And from there, it was just kind of those incremental steps until eventually, my assessments are all delineated by learning outcome.
Kyle Pearce: It sounds like so, again, one thing I want to highlight again, was like, by all means, we don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, right? I'm envisioning myself. And actually, as you were reflecting a little earlier, just a few minutes ago on going back and having the opportunity to listen to your own perspective. And sort of, I'm sure there was a couple spots where you're like, "Holy smokes, I'm not thinking like that, or I'm thinking differently about certain ideas." I sort of wish I could go back, because really, the only opportunities I have with my own teaching experience is when I come across some of the old materials that I've put together on my hard drive, you pull something up, and I look at it, I go, oh, that is not what I would do anymore, or that would look different, or I would change something.
So I wonder, you had mentioned, when you're putting your test together, it sounds like you sort of had some intentionality there behind the questions you were picking it and sort of maybe even how they were worded, or what you were asking students. Are you able to articulate maybe what it was that you were looking to change about those questions? And I wonder, how did it help you learn more about what your students knew, understood or could do in your math class?
And I might be extrapolating a little bit here, but it sort of sounds like before, by picking some questions that sort of look good. It's almost like we're not thinking ahead as to what we want to actually know from our students, like what we want to learn about our students, what they're able to know, understand or do. So I'm wondering, any thoughts on that? Was there anything in particular that you were trying to sort of get from the questions that you are now selecting for your assessments?
Nathan Vaillancort: I mean, my big goal was to be able to make sure that I had a better idea of what each question was asking. And so I feel like before, I wasn't necessarily aware of where that question fit in the context of course curriculum. And so now, when I'm looking at the test questions, I'm looking specifically in terms of how do they relate to this specific expectation that I want to get? So that's where I'm starting my test. Whereas in the past, I would have finished with that. It was a question first expectation later kind of deal, if expectations at all. Now I've flipped it completely around the other way.
So looking at these are the expectations I want to get, I want to see from my kids on this particular assessment, whatever it happens to be. So then it's allowing me to be more selective about which questions I choose. And not necessarily about how I word it, there wasn't necessarily anything wrong, I feel, with the questions that were on the test before. But I feel like maybe they were too heavy in one expectation versus another. And I wasn't really even sure which question necessarily corresponded to which expectation. So now, I'm tracking that, and I'm tracking that with my students. So I give a tracker for them to keep in their notebooks. And so that allows them to figure out and to know at all times where they are in their learning, it allows me to know that.
And so then when it comes to different parts in the semester, or the quadmester we're in right now, we can have a conversation together about where they are now, and what it is that they need to do to go forward. And so in the passing a test where I just had sort of questions picked willy nilly, and the test just had an overall mark, when it came down to, well, sir, what can I do to... I mean, they always ask, what can I do to get a better mark, right?
Jon Orr: That's not going away.
Nathan Vaillancort: Exactly. And so I try to get, well, what do you mean, what can you mean to learn the concept better, but that's another story. But now I have a better idea of how to guide them from there. Where in the past, well, okay, you got a 60 on this test. But what exactly does that mean? I mean, I could go through it question by question and say, okay, well, you didn't do well on this question, you did well on this one. Now it's there in my gradebook, in my recording, spreadsheet, they have it in their binders. And so everyone's on the same page, and it makes things a lot more seamless in that respect.
Kyle Pearce: Right. And I'm kind of taking what you've said, and I'm kind of in my mind getting a good vision, because I can vividly remember the way you described how you were creating tests pre this last conversation we had, sounds very familiar to myself. Where I would go, and I would, again, try to fill up the 75 minute period. It's a test day, I got to make sure it's not too short, not too long. And I would just put these questions in there without really thinking about what it was I wanted to find out from my students.
But it sounds to me like since you've sort of put this learning goal where the standards based grading approach in there, now as you're selecting problems, I can imagine, I wonder, because at the time, I had no idea, but I wonder how many assessments I gave students where it was so heavily weighted in one section where students who may have really done well with some other ideas in a unit, but I just didn't actually give them the opportunity to demonstrate it. It sounds like you've got sort of a better handle on like, okay, I want to know that they are feeling confident and comfortable with these ideas, and here's some questions that I can ask on an assessment to help give them that opportunity.
And my guess is, how did that impact you with trying to address that question that you shared? Which is, what can I do to get better? I know students frame it as to get a better mark. And for some students, that's the driving point. They're like, "I just want that number to go up." But I'm wondering how did that process allow you to maybe offer students another opportunity to continue to get better in an idea, versus I know for me, the old school way was, hey, we were done that unit, it's sort of in the book, and your next opportunity will be on the exam. Which now looking back at that, I think, holy smokes, what a last opportunity to try to encourage students to sort of dive deeper in their thinking. So I'm wondering did it influence any of that end of things? Or is that an area that you're still working on? Or what does that look like, sound like for you now?
Nathan Vaillancort: Definitely. In the past, when that kind of thing happened, it was, well, sir, can I take the test again, type deal. And when I did say, okay, fine, you can retest or whatever it is, they did a retest, and they sat down, they took, it may have been similar or completely different, or maybe it was the same, who knows, but they sat down and they retook the whole test. Even if they did okay on some, they sat down and they did it all over again.
Now, it allows me to be more targeted, I guess, in how I want to proceed with them. So we can have a sit down, we can talk a little bit about what exactly the expectations are, the learning goals were that they didn't do quite so well on. We can have a little bit of some time to work through some of those issues, and then they can just demonstrate their learning on that particular learning goal for me, whether it's one on one with me, here's a question based on that. Or maybe it might be on a new piece of assessment. But that way, they don't necessarily have to re demonstrate things that they were okay on, or things that was a little bit harder for them to, when everything's lumped together, it's harder for them to focus on what exactly they needed to get better.
So when it's broken down into, well, let me just focus in on this one thing, it helps them focus obviously, on what it is they need to get better on, and then it helps me service them to the best of my ability.
Jon Orr: It's always kind of like, I've always had that toyed with or conflicted with what happens at that point, should they have to redo the test? The whole test, or only part of it? If they do part of it, are they just going to practice just a whole bunch for that one skill, and then forget all the other skills? Or should we try to have consistency? And you want to see that consistency over time. That's kind of why I morphed into rolling assessments more saying like, these questions from what we did two weeks ago are still going to be relevant on the next assessment, or these ideas are just going to keep rolling. And then I get a better sense of consistency at skills over time. That's always kind of been on my journey for assessment, because I think we're always on a journey, right, Nathan?
And people say like, "What's the best way to do it?" I'm like, well, this changes for me, it changes for you, it changes with the kids as they come in. And I know that you've done some transformations here. And I want to know a little bit more about what was happening. I asked you what was your first move, and it sounds like you targeted your tests to be more about the standards or the learning expectations.
Before we get to the next move, I want to know did that make things easier for you in the classroom? Or was that more work? Teachers who are listening right now, Nathan are like, okay, well, they are also struggling with what are the best techniques for me to use in my classroom for assessment, or they're coming up with these things that it's like, I'm teaching this way, but it's conflicting with how I'm assessing. I think that's where you were. And I think they're also wondering like, "Is this going to be more work for me?" We're in a pandemic, this is tough. I think, initially, it might be a little bit more work. But is this easier for you now? What benefits do you get, other than seeing where kids are understanding and what they're not specifically after the test? But was it easier or not easier? Give them a sense of what they're in store for?
Kyle Pearce: What are they up against.
Nathan Vaillancort: I mean, anytime you try to change what you're doing in such a drastic way, it's definitely going to be more work initially, right. And I think that's really why so many of us resist that change for so long. I know that was how I saw all the good things going on around me and was eager to jump in. But the magnitude of it was just what kept me back. So I'd be lying if I said that it was less work right off the bat. It definitely takes an investment of time.
And I know for myself, I was really the only one doing it at my school. So I didn't really have anyone in the building to bounce any ideas off of. So that made it difficult, and maybe a little bit isolating. But I stuck with it. And now that it's done, at least for the courses that I have, or that I was doing, when I go back to reteach them, at least those ideas are there, and that structure is there. And so when it comes to doing it again, the process is already streamlined. And it's made it a lot easier, especially now that I'm fully virtual, and which is its own set of issues. Now, I don't have to necessarily worry about the assessment parts of things. I have different things to worry about.
But that kind of once it's done. I mean, I'm still tweaking things here and there, but the majority of the upfront work is done and so my life is definitely a lot easier now than it was before in terms of, my grade books are more streamlined, it's really a lot easier to communicate. And I feel like I'm not marking as much in terms of, I don't have to necessarily count points because I've gotten rid of a point system. And so in the past, I'd be going over kid solutions, looking for half marks here and half marks there. I don't have to worry about any of that anymore. So I think it was definitely worth the large upfront investment of my time.
Jon Orr: And it's probably like the conflict, is like the weight has been lifted too. Maybe you don't feel that way, but I felt like that. Once I kind of made that shift to go more standards assessment, then say the point system or a unit test, specifically, I felt like, I was like, ah, this makes... That weight was lifted to say like, my teaching style is not conflicting now with the way I'm trying to assess.
Nathan Vaillancort: For sure.
Kyle Pearce: Fantastic. And I would agree with both of you on that, I think it's anything worthwhile takes deep thought. And I think sometimes the thinking is maybe even the hardest part. I don't think educators in general are scared of work. But I do think what is scary is like trying to think things through and sort of take a chance, because you really are, you're taking a chance when you're maybe going off the beaten path. And maybe some people in your department or in your school or in your district aren't on that same path, it can be lonely, it can be scary.
So it's great to hear that you're seeing the fruit of that thinking and that upfront cost, that upfront investment is starting to pay off. And I'm even thinking too, going back to that whole test retake scenario that you brought up, Nate, about a student coming back. It was like really, in the past, the only thing I could think to do was like have you rewrite one. And that was a lot of work too, right? Whether it was just adjusting values and keeping the context the same or giving a brand new test. It was like a lot of time, a lot of effort.
And now we can kind of look and go, well, here's sort of where the struggles are, let's really target that and use that word yourself. You said target, easier to target. And I think that's when you know assessment is working, you're truly getting assessment information when you can articulate where students are performing well, and where students are running into a few hiccups along the way. So that's awesome.
And I'm wondering, thinking back again, so you listen to that episode, you've obviously noticed some changes. Were there any other notable changes, maybe it's in your thinking, in how you approach anything, when you listen back to that episode, and you kind of go back and go, holy smokes, I can't believe I said that, or did that or was struggling with that. Because maybe you're in a different place. Were there any other ideas or thoughts that came to mind as you're reflecting?
Nathan Vaillancort: I don't think so. I think we spent so much time talking about assessments previously that, like I said, I find it ironic now that that seems to be the part of my practice that I am having the least issues with nowadays.
Jon Orr: So we got a couple minutes here. I'm really glad that you shared the transformation of where you were, where you are now. And it gave us a good where are you now kind of sense. And I know that like Kyle's suggesting is that where most people are right now. You being teaching online, I'm wondering if we can chat for just a couple minutes here more on like what's on your mind lately? What pebble in your shoe can we chat about? And maybe send you on your way to think more or steer you in a direction that can help you in your teaching today?
Nathan Vaillancort: Well, [Peter Lily Adele's 00:28:04] book just came out. And I've been deep diving into that. And so this quad just started a couple, I guess, a week and a half ago. And so I've been trying to really implement his thinking classroom framework with my current class. So when we first went online at the beginning of September, everything was in such chaos that I sort of reverted. I don't necessarily know if that's the right word, but I felt terrible. I was just in such upheaval that I just slunk back things that were familiar and easy, which was just lecturing at the kids. It was easy for me to do that because everything was up in the air. It was so chaotic. The kids were online. I wasn't getting any visual or verbal feedback from them.
Jon Orr: Understandably so, I think we all kind of did that definitely for a time. And are still doing that some of us.
Nathan Vaillancort: And so when I got to the end of the course, and I was just looking at how things had gone, and this was why I decided to make the changes I was doing over the last couple of years, just I can't believe that I ever taught that way, really. And so I've been trying to get into, trying to do some more engaging tasks with the kids to uncover some more of the curricular content. And I think that's where my focus is now, trying to find good, rich tasks that I can align with my curriculum expectations.
I was doing this last year with my grade nines. And I found it, I wouldn't say easy, but maybe easier. Because the younger grades, they're the earlier grades, even in high school are more hands on, more concrete. Now I'm in grade 11, I'm teaching a grade 11 math class right now. And this is where we start to get much more abstract. And so trying to find good tasks that can introduce those concepts to them is proving difficult for me. So that's really where I'm struggling, because we started off the class with few days of good, rich, non curricular tasks, because those are easy to find. But trying to extend that now into the curriculum content is proving to be a little bit of a struggle for me.
Kyle Pearce: I bet. Going back to what you had mentioned, where you kind of go back to what is familiar, and I think what is most familiar to so many of us is, especially at the high school level is like a lecture style lesson. That's how most of us experience most of that instruction from probably the middle years onward. And so that is a place that, even though you've made significant jumps and gains in terms of your pedagogical practice, your assessment practices you've outlined here tonight, you still have this sort of place that feels most comfortable. And I think as soon as you get pulled out of that comfort zone, and you go online, and like you had said, you're looking at a sea of profile pictures, in many cases, right? Because I'm going to guess most students aren't putting their camera on or maybe only a few are.
Nathan Vaillancort: I'd be lucky if it's even a profile picture. Usually, it's just an initial.
Kyle Pearce: There you go, just the initials of a student. And just how uncomfortable that is, when you don't get to hear and see, and essentially use all of your senses, like you get in the face to face classroom, right? Where you can see students' facial expressions, and get their gestures and just their body language, it really tells you so much. It's really a part of the assessment process that I don't think we give much weight to, but we probably should, based on all of the experience we all have in these online environments.
So I'm wondering, you've mentioned like having a little bit of a struggle, I know that Jon and I always come back to talking about more important than the task itself is definitely looking at the questioning and how we introduce an idea, more so than let's say the context being super flashy. And I know, if you go and look at a lot of three-act math tasks, for example, which Jon and I, for many years have used those, and we still love that structure.
The context itself, I don't think matters nearly as much as how we ask the question. So I'm wondering, is there any way you can share? It sounds like what you've done so far, as you had mentioned, non curricular tasks. Do you have any thoughts on what does it look like now that you've sort of shifted your attention more towards curricular focus tasks? And where those hiccups are? Is it bumping into trying to find a specific task that is kind of ready to go, or is there a possibility that you might be able to find more, even out of your teacher guide or out of your textbook, and maybe sprinkle some curiosity dust over top of it?
Nathan Vaillancort: So I guess, maybe tasks isn't necessarily the right word. So, I'm not beholden to the idea of a three-act task type deal where there's necessarily a context behind it. What I really want kids to be doing as much as possible is doing some math. So it doesn't necessarily have to have a flashy context or whatever the case is, but as you say, the idea of the questioning aspect, being able to ask a good question in such a way that they can start working on something right away. And that we can sort of get to the learning goal afterwards so we can consolidate at the end. So the idea of flipping the classroom the other way, doing the work up front, and consolidating near the end. So trying to find that line of questioning, I guess, that allows them to get to work on something as quickly as possible, was giving me some issues.
Jon Orr: What have you tried that way so far in that kind of getting them to work on a set of problems or a problem, and then it brings out what you need to talk about? It sounds like you've tried something like that. But what was your success level with that so far?
Nathan Vaillancort: I tried to, early on, we're still doing mostly review from what they have done in grade 10. So with a little bit easier in that respect with material that they have seen before. So we're starting with trigonometry, which they all should have done in grade 10. We all know how that goes. So we were giving them a couple of triangles. And basically, I asked them, right, so what information can you tell me about this triangle?
So there were a couple of sides labeled, a couple of angles labeled. And it was basically here go at it, what can you tell me about it? What information can you deduce, calculate, whatever it is about these triangles, and basically sent them off that way. And I found that a little bit easier with something like that, where they had some exposure to it prior as we go along, and we come up with some things that are maybe new to them. That's where I am dreading, I guess.
Jon Orr: I think we got some suggestions here for you. I've had some success. And I feel pretty good about working with my senior level courses and generating engagement. Because it looks, I think, a lot different than what we do with our nines in our grade eights. And those classes, because there's a wealth of proportion problems, or a wealth of linear and measurement problems just waiting for us to kind of use in our classrooms. But when you get into those senior classes, it's tough.
We've chatted about this on the podcast few times. And we'll point you to a couple episodes that we talked, because we talked about a problem strings, where you kind of set up a series of questions that they can work on at the boards, which is great for Peter's kind of thinking classroom that kids can, this progression of problems as they get tougher and tougher, by the end of the progression, if you structure it right, they're working the whole hour or the whole time. And then you're being there as a guide, and answering questions along the way. And you're not actually doing examples, they're doing the examples you might have done anyway. But they're doing them first. And if you structure them low floor enough that they can get into it, then by the end of that progression, you've kind off-taught the lesson, which is what I've been using in my senior classes more regularly than, say three-act math tasks, because there's not a lot of those.
Another couple of resources we want to point to you is that we know that you're in the concept holding your students back course right now with us, that's running currently. But we also want to invite you over into the academy. So we've unlocked that actually for you, Nathan, this evening so that you can access all of our courses in the academy. And there's one in particular we want to point to you, because it's this common problem of how do I make a three-act task? Or how what do I do if I don't want to use a three-act task? We've got a course in there called how to transform your textbook into a curiosity machine. So it's like using your already existing resources to modify so that you can generate that curiosity.
So that's in there, we want to point that to you. And then as I said, we'll point a couple podcast episodes your way after we hang up here, because it's just not on the tip of my tongue, Kyle, unless they're on the tip of your tongue. Because I know that we chatted with a teacher just about this. I think it might have been Carmen Sinatra. I'm not sure Kyle, what do you think?
Kyle Pearce: I think you might be right. And actually that episode, as we record, I know...
Jon Orr: It's not aired yet, I think.
Kyle Pearce: I think it's coming up shortly. But we will have to double check that for you there, Nate. But like Jon's saying, I really think that particular course or the concept to holding your students back, no, not that course. The Transforming Your Textbook Into a Curiosity Machine, gives you some things to think about, about how we could take what seemingly ordinary problems and some typical tweaks. We do talk about the curiosity path in there as well. That is something that we generally talk about in much of what we do, but then we actually go ahead and we take some typical problems and we try to unpack them a little bit and sort of like take them from their sort of boring old word problem form. And we try to sort of bring some elements of curiosity in there.
So hopefully that will be something to help you over this next little while. I'm wondering now that you've had this opportunity to reflect on the growth over this past year, more than a year. And we've had a chance to hear, I know we've learned a ton. And actually, we're very inspired by all the growth and the thinking that you've been doing in your own world. I'm wondering how are you feeling now as you sort of look ahead to try to continue along this journey, and really try to make some changes in your classroom during a pretty difficult time? We don't want to under emphasize how challenging it is to teach online in general. And you're looking to add some spice to that world.
So I'm wondering, how are you feeling now? And do you have any thoughts on sort of what your next step might be as you continue this journey that, sorry, if anyone's listening, and they think it's ever going to end, it's really kind of a forever journey of trying to get better and better at this teaching practice thing. How are you feeling, and what are you hoping to try doing next?
Nathan Vaillancort: I'm really excited to continue on this path. I'm definitely an all or nothing kind of person when it comes to making that change. Took me so long to do it. And it's not baby steps, it was pretty much all in, in terms of spiraling and tasks and switching my assessments to standards, it was all at once, it wasn't sort of let's do one thing now, and then try something else later on.
Kyle Pearce: Ripped the Band-Aid off.
Nathan Vaillancort: Exactly. So now to continue that, I think is really where my focus is on. I actually just had a conversation with my vice principal today, because I actually have an evaluation this year. And I told her sort of what my plans were for my course in terms of spiraling and in terms of tasks, and you're doing that online. I'm like, I guess I'm just a sucker for punishment.
But after the disaster I had in the beginning of the year, when I sort of went back to the old ways, it was really no question to be able to continue on. It really reaffirmed that I'm sort of on the right path for myself, for my own mental health, and my own peace of mind, and also for the benefit of my students.
Kyle Pearce: I'm thinking too, in a way, I wonder if going back to sort of what you were comfortable with is kind of a blessing in disguise, right? Just going back there and being like, "Okay, I think this is going to be easier and more comfortable and things will be better." And then you just set it where it was, I can't recall if you said disaster, but you said something like that, where it didn't work out very well. So what I'm hearing from you, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm sort of interpreting is like your attitude is like, "Well, if that didn't go so well, then obviously, what do I have to lose, right?"
And I think sometimes having nothing to lose is like the permission you need in order to make serious change and actually try it, because it's like, well, that didn't work out so hot. So I mean, even what's the worst case, it's going to be like that? And if that's the case, you're like, well, at least I tried something, maybe I'll learn something along the way.
Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. I'm really liking where this is going, Nate. And as always, we definitely are looking forward to checking in with you in six to 12 months again, and I'm sure we'll get it before the 12 months is up this time. So thanks so much, Nate. And good luck in all of your online work, and crossing fingers that you are back to face to face very, very soon.
Nathan Vaillancort: Thank you very much, gentlemen. It has been a pleasure.
Kyle Pearce: Hey, thanks so much, Nate. We'll talk to you soon. We'll see inside the academy now too, not just inside the course. So we're looking forward to continuing in the learning with you.
Nathan Vaillancort: Great, thanks, guys.
Jon Orr: Well, there you have it. That was Nathan, another math moment maker like you who is constantly thinking about his teaching practice and assessment strategies. We appreciate Nathan and his honesty, and he's always been showing such growth over the last say year, year and a half that we've been chatting with him.
Kyle Pearce: This was another math mentoring moment episode with many more to come where we will have a conversation with a member of the making math moments that matter community just like you who is working through a challenge, and together, we're going to brainstorm some ideas, just like we did here with Nathan, and try to find some next steps to help overcome it. If you want to join us on the podcast for an upcoming math mentoring moment episode where you can share a big math class struggle, apply over at makemathmoments.com/mentor. That's makemathmoments.com/mentor.
Jon Orr: And before you switch over to another podcast, we want to invite you to check out the Make Math Moments Academy. Nathan is an academy member we chatted with all things assessment here in this particular episode. But our math moment makers inside the academy have been sharing past successes and challenges and goals. They've been developing a lot of strategies to use in the classroom. We've just released a full course on assessment that we talked about a little bit about here in this episode, but so much more in depth in the academy. So be sure to head on over to the academy and check that out. Kyle has been busy creating tasks galore, Kyle?
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely. We've really been working on our problem based units. And these are like complete units of study. You can go and access them. And actually day one of each of the units currently is wide open, including the teacher guide. So you get a sense of what that looks like and feels like, but day two through day five or six, depending on how long the unit is, the guides are inside the academy, but all those walkthroughs are there and available for you.
And again, we've got right now the opportunity for you to dive in free for 30 days. So go check it out, have a look around, and we bet that you're going to really really love using some of those problem base units. So check it out at makemathmoments.com/academy. Again, that's makemathmoments.com/academy.
Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode plus full transcripts can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode123 again, that's makemathmoments.com/episode123.
Kyle Pearce: And that's my little guy's birthday. So happy birthday Landon. Landon is turning seven today. So if you're listening, wish him a happy birthday. Until next time, my friends, I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.
Jon Orr: And high five for you.
Kyle Pearce: Happy birthday.
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