Episode #131: Teaching Math At A Distance – An Interview with Theresa Wills
Today we speak with Theresa Wills, the author of the new book Teaching Math At A Distance. Theresa is an assistant professor of mathematics of education at George Mason University and a past middle school math teacher.
Stick around to hear how to run math routines online with success, optimal strategies for engaging students online, how we collaborate online in meaningful ways, how we can use the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussion in an online space, and guidelines for creating rich online interactions in math class.
- How to run math routines online with success;
- Optimal strategies for engaging students online;
- How we collaborate online in meaningful ways;
- How we can use the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussion in an online space; and,
- Guidelines for creating rich online interactions in math class
Theresa Wills: When I say, "Hey, kids, keep working on this task. Even if you have one answer, keep finding many more," well, the way we do that online is we duplicate slides in your shared presentation. My name is on slide three, and when I've got that answer, I also duplicate it and I'm now working on slide four. It's really the pieces with online and kind of the how do you do it, but that's the same thing you were always doing in the face-to-face. Once you found one way, you tried another, and you just kept on your paper. The teacher was moving around the class. Now, the teacher is moving between slides to see all the crosstalk
Jon Orr: Today, we speak with Theresa Wills, the author of a new book, Teaching Math at a Distance. Theresa is an assistant professor of mathematics of education at George Mason University and a past middle school math teacher.
Kyle Pearce: Stick around to hear how to run math routines online with success, optimal strategies for engaging students online, how we collaborate online in meaningful ways, and how we can use the five practices for orchestrating productive mathematical discussions in an online space. Finally, some guidelines for creating rich online interactions in your math class. Jon, are you ready to hit it off here with Theresa?
Jon Orr: Let's do this.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: I'm Jon Orr. We are from Make Math Moments, and we're two math teachers who, together...
Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of Math Moment Makers worldwide, who want to build and deliver problem-based math lessons that spark curiosity, inaudible sense making.
Jon Orr: And ignite your teacher moves.
Kyle Pearce: Jon, we're going to be hoping into this great discussion with Theresa Wills and the focus here is going to be all about engaging those learners online. I know we've had tons of people asking us about how we can do this better. I think we've got the anecdote here today.
Jon Orr: Yeah, and I'm really excited for this. We are speaking with Theresa in this interview, where she talked about writing this book and working on this way before the pandemic hit, and the timing for the resource came out at the right time. I'm really looking forward to sharing the lessons that she has here for you with you guys. Let's get right to it.
Kyle Pearce: All right. Here we go. Hey there, Theresa. Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter podcast. It's awesome to have a chance to chat with you. Right now we're recording this in the evening time. We're wondering though, how are things going over in your world these days?
Theresa Wills: Yeah. I'm here. It's evening in Fairfax, Virginia, where I'm located. We're about to get a possible first snow day on Wednesday, so my kids are super excited about that. Not sure how it's going to work in this virtual environment, but stay tuned.
Jon Orr: Great. We had kind of a snow day a couple weeks ago, and that's exactly what happened. Everyone was like oh, no big deal. We've got this covered. Everyone just go online. It's something that everyone seems to know what to do now, but I feel like snow days are now a thing of the past. It's like everyone is just going to hop online and we're going to keep that rolling. Theresa, can you give us a little bit more backstory to let our listeners know a little bit more about yourself? What's your role in education, how'd you come to that role? Give us a little story here about your path in the math education world.
Theresa Wills: Yeah, sure. Started off as a seventh grade math teacher. I still find my home in middle school math, and it wasn't long before I learned about math coaching and really fit well in that position. I still feel like a math coach. Currently, I'm an assistant professor at George Mason University in the math education leadership department, where we actually graduate folks in the math specialist or math coaching program. In that position, I get to coach coaches, but I still go into the classrooms regularly, the K-12 classrooms, and work with teachers shoulder to shoulder. I love the coaching. It's where I feed my soul and be able to show off new innovative things as they come up.
Jon Orr: Super cool. It's pretty awesome that you're in a role of coaching coaches, because I'll be honest and say, I've had the awesome experience of being a coach myself. I'm in a now, we call, a district consultant position, which really means it's a bit of everything. A little bit of coaching, a little bit of coaching coaches, a little bit of coordinating. All kinds of things like that. I'll tell you, becoming a math coach is one of those things that I think people underestimate becoming a coach, because you might be doing some pretty cool things in a math classroom, but as soon as you're thrown into this world of working with other educators, all of a sudden it's like you've got to relearn the game. The fact that you're diving deep in that area is super, super cool.
Jon Orr: Theresa here, as we dive deeper into the episode, we're coming up on a question that folks who listen to the podcast quite a bit know is coming, and it is the question, it is the title of this podcast, and that is where we ask you to describe a memorable math moment from your past. We're curious to hear, when we say math class, what moment pops into your mind from your past that you're willing to share here with the audience?
Theresa Wills: Yeah, sure. I was pretty much your average math kiddo; never pushed into accelerated classes or anything. Just kind of coasted through. By the time I hit algebra two in high school, I remember I hit this wall that I just can't memorize anymore. I've always had memorization issues, but at that point, I stopped. It was in conic sections. I don't know if any of you all remember that time, but I was talking with my teacher afterwards and he's like, you know what you're talking about. Why don't you just do it? I was like, I can't remember the formulas. We were using those TI-83 calculators and he said, why don't you try to learn to program it? You're thinking logically through the steps, so I did. I programmed this cool conic section program and actually got published on the TI website in the 90s. Super cool. That's when I realized that I'm a logical thinker. I think step by step and I derive, and that's why today, as a mathematician, I still add on my fingers because I trust it, I'm really fast at it, and I can derive it every single time.
Jon Orr: That is super interesting. Actually, kudos to you also getting your program on the TI website.
Kyle Pearce: In the 90s, did people even know what a website was? Not only were you doing something cool on the TI-83, but like, oh what's that, and it's on a website. What's that? That's pretty cool.
Jon Orr: Yeah. That is really cool, because I was a guru. Not when I was in school, Theresa, when I first started teaching. I was like, I'm going to be a master of the TI-83, because when I was in school, they just got them into my class and everyone was like, what are these things? Awesome stuff. I'm always curious about this. When people share their math moment with us, I'm curious how they think. How do you think your math moment has influenced you as the educator you are today?
Theresa Wills: Oh, gosh. That's probably one of those pivotal moments for me because I had a teacher who cared about mathematics and not arithmetic. He really kind of made me think logically about stuff, problem solve, and work through the steps. I loved the challenge of trying to figure out the line of code that didn't work because that was the line in my logically reasoning that wasn't working. That's carried me through everything, and to the point now where I feel like my niche is math routines and rich tasks and discussion, and it all leads back to that line of code that didn't work. It's the discussion that the piece of it go together. It's not about quick show and tell. Here's one person's solution. Here's another. No, it's this line of code, and it stretches out. If you have a gap, that's where the students have a gap in the connections also. That experience there leads me to rich tasks and rich discussions and where I am as a math educator now.
Jon Orr: I love that. I think we've talked about it. I like to quote what you described it. Your experience in algebra two is what I call when the wheels fell off for you. The sad reality is that because you were driving a vehicle that wasn't really mathematics. For me, it was a little later when the wheels fell off for me. I was in university and I basically could memorize my way through. I was, I'll call it, quote unquote lucky in the current system or the system that I grew up in anyway, where people said I was good at math. Whatever that meant. We've talked about this at length on the podcast and that experience, I would argue, is the experience that so many students have, but it just happens at different points. For some students it's in grade one, some students it's in grade seven, others in algera two, others in wherever it is along the way if we're not truly engaging in mathematics, where we're just memorizing formulas. Those wheels will inevitably fall off for people, so every time I hear someone share a story similar to that, it makes me feel like we're making moves in the right direction.
Jon Orr: I'm wondering, listening to clearly this experience for you, going back and I'm picturing you're saying that one line of code that didn't work, that's where I think the true learning is. It's like, that's the part that you remember. You don't remember all the things that were just routine. You weren't thinking about them at all. They just were automatic, but that line of code that sort of breaks down, where you have to really think and really work your way through and try to figure things out, reason all the way through. I'm wondering, what did your early self look like and sound like in the classroom, because for me, I'm describing these wheels falling off for myself, and I didn't realize it when I first started teaching, so I continued to teach that way. I continued to promote students memorizing steps and procedures and I pre-taught everything. There was no such thing as a rich task in my early classroom. It was all just me telling. I'm wondering, what did your early self look like? Did this have an influence on you right away, or was it something that you came to realize over time about your past and connect the dots a little later. We're always curious to see what that might look like, sound like; how your early self might maybe differ or is it similar to the way you approach things now?
Theresa Wills: I was very, very fortunate my first year teaching. I had a math coach who cared, and I remember it was October when I hit... October of my first year of teaching when I hit this moment of realizing that teaching the step by step, because I was like, great, I can coach. I can teach step one, do this. Step two, do this, step three, do this. That's when she said, that's where I get this phrase that I use all the time now, are you teaching them arithmetic or are you teaching them mathematics? Well, that might seem like the same word to so many people. What I see the difference is is what a computer can chug and do versus what somebody can teach. What somebody can problem solve or write the code. I keep coming back to coding, but that's the way that I see my world is, a variety of steps, but I've learned through coaching is it's not about telling somebody those steps. It's about being there when the wheels fall off and celebrating that moment and saying okay, now is where we get to actually problem solve. Let's get dirty, let's think about this, let's figure out what's happening.
Theresa Wills: It was in October of my first year of teaching that that happened. For the next couple years, I was kind of a hot mess of inspiration and innovation. I always wanted to try something new, but I definitely didn't plan out, I didn't anticipate things the way that I do these days. That's kind of part of that passion and excitement in early teaching. Then I started to realize the importance of taking your time, doing the math beforehand, and all of those things that we talk with teachers about these days. Early on, there's so much power in math coaches. My first math coach had an amazing impact on me. I like to be there when teachers feel those wheels falling off and celebrate them.
Jon Orr: Awesome. Awesome stuff. It is great that you had the math coach, because I reflect back on my first years and I didn't have a math coach. It was like what Kyle said. I remember teaching the way that I was taught. I think you're so right; so much of math teaching for certain people is still very robotic, and a computer could do it, and it's really the problem solving behind it. Not necessary the problem solving of teaching kids how to problem solve, but like you said, it's the problem solving of, and I'm going to use your phrase here, that missing line of code. It's like what is it about this lesson that didn't work today. It's that part we can't replicate. We can't train a computer to teach our math lessons that I have done it. We could probably train a teacher to do it the way that I had done it, but no one could really train someone to say, what are the ins and outs of what's happening in the classroom, the dynamics, and how do it treat these kids so they're human beings? There's so much to go into teaching. I think you've articulated some great points there.
Theresa Wills: You actually bring up a really good point that when we're not teaching robotically, when we are teaching the problem solving and finding those moments, I've got to tell you, in this world of virtual learning, that is what makes teachers so amazing. You cannot replace a teacher, even in the virtual setting. You can't just throw up a YouTube and say hey, watch this. Learn this stuff. What you're talking about there is all the things that teachers that. That's that extra bit that's not just the robotic part.
Jon Orr: Yeah. You brought up the YouTube example there. That was a common, I think, thing that some math teachers had done maybe 10 years ago that hey, we're going to teach 21st century learning and we're going to teach kids how to learn on their own. From when I saw a lot of teachers trying that, it translated into everything you want to learn is on the internet. Turn to the internet and just ask it and it will tell you.
Theresa Wills: What do you ask it?
Jon Orr: What about that is sparking curiosity in students? I'm going to just ask a computer and then it's just going to give me a video to learn. I was like, no. We have to do so much more in mathematics to drive learning and spark curiosity and build wonder in what we're learning. There's definitely lots to becoming a teacher and being a teacher. You've got your hands full as being a coach of coaches, so you've got lots to work with. If we turn our attention to your book, because I know that we wanted to definitely chat about your book. We've seen more and more of your work as many districts around the world are turning to remote learning during the pandemic. Kyle's school board, at the time of this recording, just went completely online in his area again, kind of back to lockdown, just like we were in the spring, but the timing of the book, Teaching Math at a Distance, seems perfect given our challenges right now. I'm wondering, was this something you'd been cooking up, or was this like COVID-19 is here, I want to address this right away and the book was created right away in lightening flash speed?
Kyle Pearce: She could sense a pandemic was coming.
Jon Orr: What inspired you to write it? Give us a little bit of backstory on the book.
Theresa Wills: Yeah, absolutely. Gosh, this book has been in the works of my brain for quite awhile. I've been teaching online in this way that so many people are just discovering for a decade. I've been trying to promote it to anybody who listens, but in a field where the audience isn't there, it's really tough to be able to talk about your work. There's plenty of online learning, but what I was trying to say is, let's do not only the things we're doing in the face-to-face classroom, but let's do those same things online and try and give more access to students. I'm talking engagement, participation, student voice, interactions, small groups, rich tasks, math routines. All of those things, but not in a prescribed watch this video, this one. We are live. We're in real time. We're talking to one another and we're seeing the mathematics appear on the screen, much like I would see on a student's paper. That was the message I was trying to get out. Where I was working with schools or even universities to talk about this, there wasn't quite the need.
Theresa Wills: As soon as the pandemic hit the United States, unfortunately, there was a need. Beginning March 12th is when everything hit for me. I felt this responsibility. People were saying hey, how do you do that? A couple of moms were asking me on the playground and I was like oh, this is how you do it. They're like, whoa. You should tell somebody. At that point, I started conducting a free one-hour PD every single day from March 12th to mid-August. Over 170 hours of free PD later, there was this network of teachers that said hey, you know what? I think we know how to do this. Let's try and do this. It wasn't shortly after the spring that Aaron Null from Core in Mathematics reached out to me and said, I think you have a message to say. I said, yep. I think I do. It was amazing because for someone who doesn't consider themselves a writer, the ideas just poured out at lightening speed like they'd been inside for 10 years in the making.
Kyle Pearce: Wow. That is incredible. Like you said, obviously such a crazy time that we find ourselves in and at the end of the day, you had something that you could share to help people through this really difficult time. I'm sure there's so many educators out there, those who are maybe hearing about you for the first time through this episode, hopefully they will go check out Teaching Math at a Distance or checking out your website. I'm wondering if we can dive into some of these things, because as you had mentioned, it's like, no. We're not going to do online learning differently. I think that's something that can be really hard for people to get over. We already addressed the YouTube idea. Okay. I could go, and there are people out there. I'm not going to lie. I've done some YouTube videos over the years where I've got thousands of views. Someone wants to learn how to do these things, so they're timely and they're helpful for some people, but I really wouldn't advocate that be their first experience with the idea.
Kyle Pearce: We want to introduce concepts in mathematics through exploration and investigation, and we want to pique their curiosity. What I'm hearing from your work and even on your website, there's so many different resources for educators to gain some access to. Maybe we can chat a little bit about some math routines, because I know there's a lot of people listening that might be doing online learning, but maybe are resorting to more, we'll call it asynchronous approaches, maybe based on I'm not sure how to engage by class in a discussion, in a rich task together. I'm wondering, do you have any sort of routines that you'd be able to share with folks or any maybe getting started tips for someone who's either new to this online thing or maybe is not feeling super confident with leading a synchronous session. Is there anything that you would say to them to help them rip the Band-Aid off and get going with some of these more synchronous and engaging routines that they might be using face-to-face?
Theresa Wills: Absolutely. We talked about the power of math coaches early on, and this comes right out of the coaching textbook for me. Math routines, in other words, seven minute warm-ups that you do every single day, are kind of, in my opinion, this gateway into transitioning from teacher directed to student led. In seven minutes, I can work shoulder to shoulder or virtual screen to screen with teachers, and we can implement a math routine. These routines, I don't try and recreate the wheel. Things like which one doesn't belong, would you rather. There's so many great ones out there. What I try and do is showcase how to do this in a virtual environment. I'll work with a teacher working on warm-ups and routines. That's usually just enough to say, oh wow. All right. I've got this. I'm ready for the rich task. I'm ready to plunge in for more.
Theresa Wills: Specifically, what structures do you use with the routines, I tried to list out on my website, I've got so many routines and the structures that go along with it, but I have a very different lens that I look at this with. I don't try and say, when you do this routine, this is the structure you use, because the one thing I learned when raising my first kiddo is that everyone's got advice but nothing ever works for your own kid. That's probably the same case for your classroom. Instead, I'm very purposeful about it. When I do which one doesn't belong, I want first to do a visual. Then I want to know their rationale. Then I want them to have accountability, so one I can grade, two, I know if they're three, and three, I can put an idea to a student name.
Theresa Wills: What I tried to do on the website, in my inaudible here is talk about a routine and the purposeful steps you could choose to take so that when you're ready to implement it you can either chose my recipe or you can grab a couple ideas from other ones and put them together into your own; something that works for your own classroom. We started off with coaching and we're going to end with coaching. It all comes into purposeful planning, and math routines are a great gateway to get into that purposeful planning for student led instruction.
Jon Orr: I'm curious about your structure. You said you wanted every task, so it didn't matter if it was which one doesn't belong or would you rather, or maybe it was an estimation problem, but you said every single one of those you're trying to put this structure, which was it's visual, get a rationale, have some accountability, and I think I missed that last one.
Theresa Wills: Those are just three. There are so many. There's some routines such as how do you get every kid to participate? There's little strategies I'll do in there, including something as simple as the emojis in a chat box, or having every kid raise their hand before we start calling on some students. If you tink around with it and look through some of the different routines, you'll see these kind of hidden pieces of oh, this is specific to online learning. When I say hey kids, keep working on this task. Even if you have one answer, keep finding many more. Well, the way we do that online is we duplicate slides in your shared presentation. My name is on slide three and when I've got that answer, I also duplicate it and I'm not working on slide four. With my original work on slide three, new work on slide four. When I finish that, I make a duplicate for slide five. It's really the pieces with online and the how do you do it, but that's the same thing you were always doing in the face-to-face. Once you found one way, you tried another and just kept on your paper. The teacher was moving around the class. Now the teacher is moving between slides to see all the different strategies that students came up with.
Jon Orr: Got it. As a teacher who's listening here, I'm trying to piece this together in their classroom. I know that lots of us have had experience trying this in our own virtual room because we almost all had to, but let's say there are teachers listening right now and they're like, I want to go tomorrow and I want to try this in my virtual classroom. What are some good tips or maybe a specific example you can share with us that might make the light bulb go off and go, that's what I've been doing wrong this time. This is what I'm going to change and it's because Theresa showed me an example of what to do.
Theresa Wills: Sure. I think probably the easiest way of getting more student participation, getting more student voice, is releasing ownership. That's kind of scary for some of us. It was scary for me the first time I did it. I use Google Slides as a platform because I can hit share and everyone can edit it at the same time, but gosh, it's a little scary to think that all 32 of my students are going to be editing the slides at the same time. There's a little structure I might put up there at first. It might just be that I share it for the seven minute warm-up and we see how it goes. What's happening there when we give up this ownership is they're the ones who are now leading the math lesson, they're the ones who are putting their work on. It's less control for us but also less of us telling and more of them showing.
Theresa Wills: That kind of first step is checking out. I've got templates. It seems like everyone is making their own templates for Google Slides, but the important thing is share them in an editable way. Don't be the owner and the only one writing on it. Make sure that your students are the ones doing it. Oh yeah, there'll be a lot of mistakes early on. Celebrate them, talk about them, and do short little spurts so the students can get used to those.
Kyle Pearce: I love it. It's such an important message as well. So often I'm chatting with teachers. In math, it just seems it's almost like students are trained at such a young age to not have any mistakes on their math paper. They don't want to have eraser marks or they don't want to have to redo something, so they often times sit and wait. When in reality it should be quite the opposite. It should be it's brainstorming, it's messy, it's experimentation, it's scribbling on the page. Obviously, in the digital work, we should obviously be honoring that, even more so just simply because it's so easy to copy those slides and to move something around and to fix mistakes as we go and when we notice them as students and as learners. Super cool.
Kyle Pearce: I'm wondering, if I were to go to your book, first of all, I think your book is super attractive. People want to read it because they're like wow, I'm in this online environment, but I'm wondering from you, from the author's perspective, sometimes there's a nugget in there. There's a section in there that sort of it's a place held deep or close to your heart. What would that section of your book be if someone was to pick up the book and look at it? What section is that little section, that little nugget that you think wow, I wish more people would pay more attention to this part?
Theresa Wills: Oh, gosh. That would go to my favorite mathematician, math educators out there, you may heard of the lovely book, The Five Practices; Peg Smith, Mary K. Stein's work. They have completely inspired me; everything from my early work to my dissertation to where we are here. There is something amazing when you can give a rich task, put students of all ages... I'm talking first graders all the way through in-service teachers, put people in small groups, and letting them dive into this rich math. Online, there's so many more representations that you can do that. I couldn't even do it in the face-to-face classroom. Not only that, but every single student is immediately writing, drawing, or pasting onto that slide. There's not one leader in the small group. It's everyone is contributing, but what I love about The Five Practices is how well it works online.
Theresa Wills: What this is essentially is you give a rich task, you anticipate early on what are all the different ways students could solve this? You go and you give the task to the kiddos, you select just a couple ones that you're going to present, so I'm going to copy this one representation on slide five, copy this one representation on slide nine, and this one on slide 10. I bring it down to my own slide. Then I'm asking students to make connections between those.
Theresa Wills: Earlier I talked about that missing line of code, and I think this is why I make such a connection here with Smith and Stein's work in The Five Practices, because it's the conversation that happens after they had a chance to dig into the mathematics. When we see these different representations and how they build upon each other to really unpack the understanding of what's happening there, I see the same connection to making sure I don't have a missing line of code, making sure I don't have a missing representation, but also, since the students are the ones that supplied all those representations, it's just a feast for me to go out there and be like oh, I want a little bit of this, I want a little bit of that, I want a little bit of this. My job is easy because there's so many opportunities for representations. That's my favorite stuff. That's my work. That's where I'm constantly trying to improve on and teach more of. It's all about the many representations and how it connects to rich tasks and The Five Practices.
Jon Orr: Yeah. The Five Practices is a huge influence in our work. We've chatted with Peg a number of times. Not all here on the podcast, but she's presented in our virtual summit I think both years as well in her work and Mary K. Stein's work is definitely influential and has changed the way we've taught. At no time in my past teaching self was I a person who would have thought that there was multiple ways to represent, let's say, solving an equation or a linear relation rate of change. I would have just shown kids how to do it instead of seeing what emerges and then trying to connect it together, which like you've said, is the missing lie of code. Yeah. Totally great section there I think people should be checking out.
Jon Orr: I had one more, I think, wonder that I think many teachers who are in a remote space are wondering about or worrying about. It goes to the fact that lots of teachers who have changed their classrooms to be more collaborative and more engaging in class for discussion, they've had group work or collaboration work. I think when they go to online they just are like, I don't know what to do. I think that's one of the most common questions Kyle and I have had since March when all of this went down, because we also held weekly coaching sessions online for our academy members. That was the most common question we had was how do I now do that great group work? How do I get collaboration out of this when all of a sudden we're all at home in our own homes and we're all online? What are our best practices for group work? Theresa, what would you say to them? What are some good practices you've come across for group work?
Theresa Wills: So much of what we do online is exactly what we do in the face-to-face classroom. We just need to consider and anticipate things a little differently. Let me kind of walk you through this. I want to have a lot of collaboration. I want students to talk when they're in small groups. I want them to put representations on the slide. I want them to compare to each other. All of these wonderful things. I wanted that in the face-to-face also, but I didn't just start on day one and say all right folks, four in a group, have this rich talk. It didn't happen. I had to scaffold this and kind of do this gradual release in my face-to-face classroom. Some of this gradual release I learned from kindergarten teachers who, in my opinion, are just the best teachers in the world because they can somehow or another get kiddos to walk down the hall without licking the wall through a series of songs and routines.
Jon Orr: Usually. Not always.
Theresa Wills: Right. These same songs and routines, we use them in the virtual space. If I'm trying to come up with collaboration, I'm going to start with a pair share. Two kinds in a group for two minutes and we're going to talk about something simple, like what do you like on your tacos and how many days a week do you want them? There's many right answers to it, it's going to help conversation flow, and then when students have met my prerequisites, things like everyone is using the microphone, they're taking turns, once they've met whatever I set as my prerequisites, then I can go into the next step, like hey, how about four kids to a group. We do a math task that is pretty easy. There's multiple right answers, but I'm feeling like everyone's going to be successful. The risk factor isn't there, but the math is and we're still practicing some of those things that I consider prerequisites to get to the meat of the collaboration.
Theresa Wills: Once kids are showing that they can give equitable talk time, they're interested in diverse opinions, and they value multiple representations, then I know hey, I can have a group of four or more for 20 minutes in a breakout room, and I know they're going to collaborate because I've been watching them on all these little gradual release steps on the way up to it. Yeah. Teaching virtually, there's so many of the same things that I've learned from face-to-face, and that's anticipating what students are going to do, anticipating the needs that they have. How do I not be scared of a microphone? Okay. Let's think about that one. Writing those out in steps and then slowly moving through those steps so students can get to the place you want them to be.
Kyle Pearce: I love it. There's so many key points there that I heard come through. I'll kind of address them. I'll try in the same order, but when you think about going online, especially if you're, let's say, a middle school teacher, we'll use, Theresa, your experience being middle school, in the classroom and there's so many things we take for granted when students come into our classroom because they were in the previous grade. If I'm teaching grade seven, well, they were in grade six. Things aren't that different. Of course, in your classroom, things might run a little differently and you're going to try and scaffold and you're going to try to do some gradual release things to lead up to the routine you're looking for, but it's not brand new. That's one of the pieces that I think has been so challenging for so many educators is that we get thrown into this online world and it's so easy to forget that this is brand new for everyone. Not just the teacher, but also the students. Some things that might seem obvious to us are not obvious at all.
Kyle Pearce: Today, as I mentioned, my son and my daughter were online for the first time. Early in the lesson, I hear Landon yell out, oh my gosh. There's thousands of fish. I'm like oh, that's kind of cute. Then I hear his teacher oh, that's great Landon, but during silent reading time, make sure to mute your mic. I'm laughing, giggling to myself because this is brand new for him. He's in grade one and I think having those ideas in mind and thinking about how do we create this environment. Jon and I like to say, how do we start off the school year without a hitch? We talk about that in a regular classroom. We've also talked about it the online environment. In the online environment, it's like you have to back up so much further in order to get some of those routines going. As you had mentioned, whether it's anticipating for a task or anticipating what are students going to do when I try to get them to engage in some sort of collaborative activity or some sort of online space that you're trying to get them to work in.
Kyle Pearce: These are all things that we have to think through and remember. It's hard work, but it's so worth it in the end. It becomes so much easier as we go. I'm seeing so many great things here. We're looking at the time. We don't want to hold you the entire evening, so we want to flip it back to you. I know you've got some awesome goodies for folks. Not only your book, so you can mention the title of that book again, but also, I know that you've got some other really cool professional learning opportunities for educators that I'm sure you'd be willing to share if we ask you to. Go ahead there, Theresa. How can Math Moment Makers learn more about you and get better at this thing we call math teaching, be it online or even face-to-face?
Theresa Wills: Yeah. Absolutely. Again, the book title is Teaching Math at a Distance: A Practical Guide to Rich Remote Instruction. I have a website, theresawills.com, and I try to keep a lot of video of what the classroom might look like. Every professional development that I do I record and pop it up there in it's raw form, so you're not going to get something that's all polished and looking intimidating. You're going to get exactly what it is. I also hold a free workshop every single Saturday at noon Eastern. You can go to theresawills.com/matherdays, and what I do in that one hour is I try to model what a one-hour classroom block of math would look like. A few minutes building on community, a few minutes working on a math routine, we just into a rich task, we have this discussion afterwards, and then I do a little Q and A for teachers who want to stay afterwards and learn how to anything from make the slides or not have to recreate the slides or tips on that.
Theresa Wills: I've got over 25 of those already on my website, so if you want to see some math tasks, how they work online, which virtual manipulatives to choose and more, the tasks are from kindergarten through calculus. I've taught everything, so I try to include tasks that have a wide range. Yeah. I do that every Saturday. It's how I feed my soul.
Theresa Wills: You mentioned what's one other thing for educators, and I do have one piece of advice. That is to give yourself grace. I say that not because I want to be nice, although I kind of think I'm nice, but because it's important for students. This is one of the best things you can do to teach, because when you give yourself grace and you practice how you react to your own mistakes, and when you mess up you don't apologize. Instead, you showcase it to your students, you're showing them and you're modeling to them how they should deal with mistakes, how they should persist through productive struggle, you're teaching them how to problem solve, and what better time is there to do it right now when you're likely to make a mistake online. If there's one message I hope to get out there, it's make your mistakes, don't apologize, celebrate them, and show students that's what mathematicians do.
Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. Those are some great takeaways and last messages for our audience. We won't add any more to that because it's good stuff. Thanks so much Theresa for taking the time out of your bust schedule to hang out with the Math Moment Maker community. We definitely appreciate you and appreciate the time that you are dedicating to helping teachers navigate this online learning space. Thanks so much and we look forward to chatting with you in the future.
Theresa Wills: Sounds good. Thanks for having me.
Kyle Pearce: Thanks so much, Theresa. See you soon. Well, as always, it is so awesome to welcome great influencers from the math education space onto the show. This time with Theresa Wills, it was no exception. I know we took away some good nuggets for the next time you're teaching online. Maybe you're back to a face-to-face environment right now, but let's be honest, who knows what the future holds, so having these different pedagogical strategies in our back pocket, I think, is really a huge asset for us all moving forward. What do you think, Jon?
Jon Orr: I think totally with that. The lessons here can help not only now but also come the new school year and also for lots of different reasons other than just remote learning, so super excited that we got to share that with you and the Math Moment Maker community.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome stuff. In order to ensure you don't miss out on new episodes as they come out each week, we sure to smash that subscribe button on Apple Podcasts and any of your other favorite podcasting platforms.
Jon Orr: Also, if you're liking what you're hearing, please share the podcast with a colleague and help us reach a wider audience by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts and tweeting us at Make Math Moments on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Kyle Pearce: As always, show notes and links to resources from this episode and all of our other episodes can be found on our website, but for today's, it's at makemathmoments.com/episode131. Jon, it's getting hard to share this link because the numbers are getting so high. We are flying through episodes here. Remember, head on over to makemathmoments.com/episode131.
Jon Orr: We release a new episode every Monday morning, so keep an eye out for our next episode.
Kyle Pearce: Well, Math Moment Makers, until next time, I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.
Jon Orr: And a high five for you.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and we'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
DOWNLOAD THE MAKE MATH MOMENTS FROM A DISTANCE CHEAT SHEETS
Download the Cheat Sheets in PDF form so you can effectively run problem based lessons from a distance!
UP YOUR DISTANCE LEARNING GAME IN THE ACADEMY
There is a LOT to know, understand, and do to Make Math Moments From a Distance.
That’s why so many Math Moment Makers like YOU have joined the Academy for a month ON US!
You heard right: 30 days on us and you can cancel anytime. Dive into our distance learning course now…
Thanks For Listening
- Apply for a Math Mentoring Moment
- Leave a note in the comment section below.
- Share this show on Twitter, or Facebook.
To help out the show:
ONLINE WORKSHOP REGISTRATION
Pedagogically aligned for teachers of K through Grade 12 with content specific examples from Grades 3 through Grade 10.
In our self-paced, 12-week Online Workshop, you'll learn how to craft new and transform your current lessons to Spark Curiosity, Fuel Sense Making, and Ignite Your Teacher Moves to promote resilient problem solvers.