Episode #141: The Transition From Gradual Release to Problem Based Learning – An Interview with Jordan Rappaport
We chat with Jordan Rappaport – a teacher from Toronto, Ontario. Jordan’s journey stretches from traditional teacher to Make Math Moment Academy member to regional presenter and most recently, a new member of the Make Math Moments Curriculum Writing Team. In this episode Jordan shares his expertise on how to begin the transformation from an “I do, we do, you do” lesson structure to a problem based lesson format, where and how to get started with problem based lessons, and he shares a strategy you can use to ensure you meet the needs of all students in your classroom.
- How to begin the transformation from an “I do, we do, you do” lesson structure to a problem based lesson format.
- Where to get started with problem based lessons?
- How to get excited about teaching mathematics every day.
- A strategy you can use to help meet the needs of all students in your classroom during a problem based lesson.
How Much Does The Aluminum Foil Prank Cost? – Robert Kaplinsky Task
Jordan Rappaport: So the kids, they didn't use sticky notes, but we use pixel art to create all of these amazing superheroes inspired by the task and again, for me as an educator, it just goes to show the power of the task, how we as educators use that task to make those math moments really meaningful for kids and then the power of-
Jon Orr: Today, in this episode, we chat with Jordan Rappaport, a teacher from Toronto, Ontario. Jordan's journey stretches from a traditional teacher to Make Math Moments Academy member to regional presenter and now Jordan has joined us as a Make Math Moments curriculum writer. Yes, that's right. He is writing the tasks, some of the tasks up on our tasks website.
Kyle Pearce: Holy smokes, that sounds like quite the journey. I'm really interested in diving into this conversation with Jordan, and today you're going to hear him share his expertise on how to begin that transformation from where he began, which actually sounds an awful lot like our beginnings, Jon, from that I do, we do, you do Gradual Release of Responsibility lesson to a problem-based lesson format. Where and how to get started with problem based lessons, and he also shares a strategy that you can use to help meet the needs of all students in your classroom while you're teaching through this approach. Jon, I'm super excited to dive in here with our new friend and colleague, Jordan Rappaport. How about you, my friend?
Jon Orr: Let's do this.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments that Matter podcast, I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We are two math teachers from makemathmoments.com, 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-
Jon Orr: Dual sense-making-
Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Welcome my friends to another episode of the Making Math Moments that matter podcast and today, we're really excited to introduce you to someone who we've learned an awful lot about over this past year, through the Academy. I've had an opportunity to see him present at recent online conferences, and he's hopping on board to join us as a part of the Make Math Moments curriculum writing team.
Jon Orr: Yeah, we're really excited to share the conversation here with Jordan, as he's joined our team. He's been writing problem-based units and lessons for you to use in your classroom. So really looking forward to getting into it because he shares such great insight into how to get started with problem based lessons and units, but also what you can do to get that curiosity going in your class. So let's get into it. Here we go.
Kyle Pearce: Hey, hey there, Jordan. Thanks for joining us here on the Making Math Moments that Matter podcast. While Jon and I don't really need to know a little about yourself, the folks who are listening may want to know a little bit of your backstory. So first off, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you coming to us from and give us maybe a snippet into your math teaching backstory.
Jordan Rappaport: Sure. Well, first off, thanks for having me. Always a pleasure to get together and chat with you guys. So I'm coming from Toronto, Ontario. A little bit of a backstory on me, I guess. Well, first and foremost, I'm the proud dad of three boys, Micah, Lucas and Sam, and I'm approaching my 16th anniversary with my wife. So definitely kudos to her for sticking with me for this long. That certainly-
Kyle Pearce: All that testosterone. I have the opposite problem.
Jordan Rappaport: So in terms of, I guess, my journey and how I evolved into where I am right now, I guess it can be traced back to really when I was a teenager in high school. The adults around me would always say things like, "Jordan, you're going to be a teacher," or they would mention how I understood and connected really well with kids but being a teenager at the time and knowing everything, I really wasn't interested in what they were saying because I had all the answers.
So after high school, I went away to university with about eight or nine friends from home and in hindsight that might not have necessarily have been the best decision I've ever made. Because you see, the actual school part of university was not necessarily high on my priority list or even on my radar, to the point where after my first year I had accumulated a total of one half of one credit. So try explaining that-
Jon Orr: I remember ever guys like you.
Kyle Pearce: You just tell them that that's usually what people get. inaudible these days.
Jordan Rappaport: I'll be honest guys, this is definitely not something I'm proud of but years later, I really do recognize the value of having gone through this experience or that experience. I think it really speaks to the importance of embracing the journey that we're all on and I'll tell you, it took me a long time to come to believe that because really, I was always sort of that guy saying under his breadth, "Journey? What journey? This is my career," but it wasn't until I fully embraced the journey I was on that I truly found myself on a path to discovery.
So came home after year two, took some time away from school, worked a little bit, eventually coming back to university at home, but really not making the commitment to becoming an educator, until taking a sociology of education course, the last semester of my undergrad. Truthfully, at that point, my credit accumulation and subsequent marks in those first two years were proving to be a bit of an obstacle to being accepted into any teacher training program at home.
So what I did was I took, at the time, what I consider to be a really big leap of faith. I applied to the University of Western Sydney in Australia, was accepted and then made the decision to spend a year studying on the other side of the world. I or we, my girlfriend at the time, now my wife ended up traveling through parts of Asia for several months after graduating before coming back to Canada, settling in Edmonton for a year while my wife did graduate work in speech pathology at the University of Alberta.
Then while my wife stayed in Edmonton for another six months to finish studying, I came back home to Toronto to start my career, applying to every position and sending my resume out to every administrator imaginable. Eventually, and honestly, I think I must have gone on about 60 interviews, and I eventually landed a four month temporary contract, which evolved into a permanent position at a different school in the district that I currently work in and it was at that school where I stayed for 16 years before transitioning to my current role and curriculum.
Jon Orr: Wow.
Kyle Pearce: That is a journey, and I really appreciate that you reflecting on that journey and being honest here with us, because I think your story speaks to a lot of things that we talked about here on the podcast, but a lot of things that is going on with our education system. In one of our last webinars, we talked about this idea of what our marks and this idea of like your first year of university was just holding you back from getting into teacher's college here in Ontario but you're flourishing as a teacher now. So it's like, why are these marks such a barrier and I'm really excited to dive into that with you, but we got to get to our Math Moment, which is the title of the podcast. So Jordan, you know what's coming here. Let us know when we say math class, what's a moment that sticks out to you, in your experience as a student?
Jordan Rappaport: Right. So quite honestly, guys, there are a bunch. Now, the one that I always draw upon when reflecting on both positive and memorable experiences that I went through as a student growing up is this. Now, while I don't quite remember the exact year, I think I can actually pinpoint the genesis of my journey as a mathematics educator to probably around 2008, 2009. I was about four or five years into my career and I actually got started as a special education teacher, teaching in a community or a self contained class with a small cap on class size.
So in terms of my growth as a math educator to that point, it's safe to say that there really wasn't much and for the most part, I was defaulting to what was familiar with what I experienced as a student growing up. Now was this supportive of students? Probably not, but I'll be honest, I was likely still in that space of just needing to get through days.
Now, it was towards the end of the school year that I was informed by administration that I was going to be transitioning into the role of a grade eight homeroom teacher with a full timetable, inclusive of grade eight math, which I hadn't thought of, seen or touched since I was in grade eight.
So to say nervousness started to set in would be a bit of an understatement, but if we can fast forward to Labor Day, the day before the start of the next school year, and I remember this distinctly. This was before kids, so it was just my wife and me and I remember confiding in her that I was literally scared out of my mind to be teaching math, like actual scared out of my mind.
So the school year started and what did I do? Well, I did what I did best at the time, and that was default to what I knew. Students in rows, textbook questions, what should I do? Now it's your turn. Let's take it up. Now some practice questions and then how about some homework for a little bit of added flavor. Didn't take me too long to realize that, hey, this really isn't working. First, I, meaning me as the teacher, I'm finding this to be really boring.
So if I'm finding this boring, I can only imagine what students must have been thinking, and then plus by judging by the looks on most students' faces, they definitely weren't buying what I was trying to sell. This went on for a while until I finally said to myself, "Okay, enough is enough," and committed to making a change.
I'll be honest, I had no clue what that change was, who to ask, where to look, or even if any other approaches existed, but you know what, I figured I had to start somewhere. So with search engines, and Google being what they were, and are, I set out on a quest to find something, really anything that I can engage students with and I'll be honest, I wasn't necessarily concerned or even thinking about content.
It was all about engagement I was after, and I remember, after trying a whole bunch of stuff that didn't work, I eventually landed on something. It was like an epiphany for me at the time. It's something called Problem-Based Learning, and for me, that was like taking a little peek down the rabbit hole to a whole new world of possibilities. So I did what I ordinarily do when I find something that speaks to me at my core. I jumped headfirst down the rabbit hole, and 10, 12 years later, here we are.
Kyle Pearce: That is a fantastic story and it's interesting, because when we're asking people to share some of their memories, sometimes we have memories, maybe it's our own memories or maybe it's just something we bumped into where we've seen that or heard that happening and it sounds almost identical to the way I envision the beginning of my career, except the only difference was, is that you were sitting there scared to teach math in grade eight. I wasn't scared to teach high school math, but I should have been.
I went in with the same tools you went in with, and I went in there chest out, confident, hey, we're going to do this thing and I vividly remember feeling a lot of those same feelings that you felt, which was kind of bored and especially a semester where I had to teach the same class two, sometimes three times in a day, where when you go through a boring lesson one time, it's like one thing, but then it's like, oh, I got to do this two more times. It's like, you can almost feel this negative sort of energy in the room.
Jordan Rappaport: Absolutely.
Kyle Pearce: Maybe people aren't mean about it, but it's just not enjoyable. It's like, not a place that you really want to be and like you said, I wonder what the students are feeling or thinking. Sometimes you have a class where students sit there and they comply, and they just sort of, hey, I'm going to do whatever I'm supposed to do. Then you could also have the other end of the spectrum where students tell you exactly how they feel, and sometimes not in the nicest way.
So clearly, that experience that you just shared with us has had a huge influence on how you're teaching today. I'm curious, do you recall ... I know, for myself, I vividly recall the moment when I bumped into problem-based lessons. I didn't even realize that's what it was at the time. To me, it was 3-Act Math Tasks, and I was looking for the same thing. It was for engagement.
I didn't realize how, I guess, complex and interesting the math itself was. I was looking for any opportunity to get students to look my way and for me, it was Dan Meyer at an OAME conference and that for me was like whoa, light bulb went on and I was like this could be different. Of course, the journey then began a big long journey that we're still on. So I'm wondering, do you remember what resource you bumped into and I guess, take us a little bit further down there. How did it go as you started unpacking that? Did you fall on your face at all? Did you feel good? crosstalk.
Jordan Rappaport: Exactly. No obstacles, no bumps on the road. Everything went famously well. No, seriously. I'll be honest, those first few resources, I don't remember. I didn't catalog them, but I know I access them through my district's math page on our board's website at the time. If I remember correctly, there was a model where consultants at the time came into schools and were working with teams of math teachers using a four Cs protocol, where we would co plan, co teach, co debrief and co reflect on a lesson and it was all framed around Problem-Based Learning.
Having that opportunity, again, to actually build the problem, be able to deliver the problem, reflect, and then to be able to refine and tweak and then apply that into my practice moving forward, again, was a huge aha moment for me, just in terms of the possibilities that were out there to be able to engage students in meaningful mathematics that they could connect to.
I do remember distinctly how I landed on the discovery of 3-Act Tasks. So similar to what you mentioned, Kyle, I have seen Dan present at OAME. It was a couple of years ago, but watching his TED Talk video on math class needs a makeover. So it was that and Dan Finkel's, five principles of extraordinary math teaching, which honestly, like 10 years, 11 years later, I probably still watch those videos a couple of times a year, just because I find them so valuable, so inspirational.
The messaging in there, I think still holds very true today, and really still influences not necessarily the tasks that I'm building or the tasks that I'm using to engage with students, but really how to approach mathematics, teaching and learning, and how to support students through an asset-based lens and in an environment where all students see themselves as confident, capable problem solvers.
I can also pinpoint, it was probably around, I don't know, six or seven years ago, where I actually did discover my first 3-Act Task and it was actually two tasks in particular, Donut Delight, and R2D2 sticky notes that completely reeled me in hook line and sinker. So I was very fortunate. So in my career, I did mention earlier that has a special education teacher, I transitioned into great a teacher and then there was about a five year period where I was either teaching a straight grade eight homeroom or a combined seven, eight homeroom.
Then that five year period elapsed, and then I had a conversation with my administrator and at the time, she put it out there for me that would I consider a transition down to grade four. So transitioning from grade eight to grade four. Never having taught really in the junior division apart from physical education, and perhaps a couple of rotary subjects as well.
I remember distinctly telling her, that for me to continue to grow as an educator, I can't find myself getting complacent. Because if I get complacent, I get comfortable and I'm not going to grow in my comfort zone. So then I followed that up to her with, I need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. So I transitioned down to grade four, which was a big jump, for sure, but at that point, I felt I was gaining confidence in my practice, and certainly learning a great deal in terms of mathematics education, going on any professional learning opportunities that came my way really to grow and evolve my practice.
It was one day where Donut Delight, and this was when I was teaching grade four, appeared in my inbox out of nowhere. I've no idea how but somewhere in the math heavens was looking down upon me on that day, and I went through the task. In a similar way to when I first discovered problem-based lessons or problem based units, the rabbit hole just expanded exponentially, and I could not believe what was before my eyes.
I said to myself, we've got to do this task, like tomorrow. So we went through the task. I didn't do it the next day. There's obviously a little planning and a little more familiarity that needed to happen on my end, but we went through the task the next day and I still remember to this day, how impactful that lesson was on creating such a positive, memorable experience for all of the students in the class, like all of the students in the class.
From the very first video when they're showing the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, how they're made to engaging students with a quick notice and wonder, to all of the sequels and extensions that were built in, it was absolutely phenomenal. Now, I taught grade for that year. We didn't go with all of the extensions that were building and all the sequels that are building in the task. We didn't go through everything because at the time, the kids weren't necessarily ready for it. So the next year, I was teaching grade four, five class.
So many of my grade fives that year, were actually my grade fours the previous year. So with that group with the four, five group, we then approached going through the extensions and the sequels that we didn't have a chance to grow through while those students were in grade four. Fast forward to the next year. I'm teaching a six, seven. So sure enough, many of those sixes crosstalk. So we continue to work our way through the task.
Fast forward the following year, I'm teaching a grade seven class. Guess what, several of my grade six students the previous year were my grade seven students and throughout the course of that four year period, we were able to work through all three acts, and then all of the sequels and the extensions that were built in. To this day, I still use that task with classrooms that I might be supporting, with educator groups that I'm working with.
That was the one that really hooked me in and then R2D2 sticky notes as well. My experience using that task was really so student-driven that after we got through the test, and honestly, Jon, like the kids love seeing, you put all the sticky notes up, and it was awesome. Total engagement and deep, deep, rich learning, to we got to the point where students, they didn't want to finish. They never wanted class to end.
To the point where the bell would go, and they'd be like, "Mr. Rappaport, is it okay if we don't go to French?" I'm like, "No, you got to go to French, but I'll be here during lunch if you guys want to continue." Then that went on for a full week, to the point where kids were like, "We're into superheroes, we saw what Jon did with those R2D2 sticky notes. I bet we can one up that and we can build our own."
So the kids, they didn't use sticky notes, but we used pixel art to create all of these amazing superheroes inspired by the task and again, for me, as an educator, it just goes to show the power of the task, how we as educators use that task to make those math moments really meaningful for kids and then the power of student thinking and student learning to really take it in a direction that I had never envisioned.
It was just ... We're talking that was probably about six years ago now. From beginning to end, those memories are so vivid and the reason is, it's not necessarily the mathematics that I am recalling as the biggest piece for kids. It's that positive experience that students are going to draw upon when thinking about "Oh, yeah, I remember that time with Mr. Rappaport where he said his buddy Jon was building this wall with sticky notes, and then we got to do our own." My hope really is if any of the students in that class reflect back on that experience, they're going to remember how they felt during that time that we worked through that task.
Kyle Pearce: What a cool story, and, again, I think we all have these different tasks that we tried for the first time, and while I'm sure that you probably have used those tasks again, in the future, and probably feel like you can facilitate them maybe more succinctly than you did the first time. For me, it was Hot Coffee by Dan Meyer or actually, I think Hot Coffee and Taco Cart were two of the first tasks that I had tried. We'll make sure to link all this up in the show notes, but two things I really wanted to hit on here.
First off, part that I really enjoyed or really liked that you shared with everyone is this idea of writing a context. I feel like we spend so much time creating contexts in our math class, like creating this problem about some random idea over here and then another problem completely about something different, all around the same concept in math, rather than taking a context and building on that.
You were able to do that not only for multiple days, but you were able to do that over multiple years, with this group that you followed up, which is super cool. Then the other piece that I really like is how you were able to take some of these ideas, especially in an elementary setting where you're teaching all subjects or a good chunk of subjects to the same group of students all day where you can get cross curricular and take a context, build on it, bring it into art, and bring it into literacy block or whatever it might mean.
I think that's a really, really cool thing and I'm going to let the cat out of the bag here, Jordan. One of the reasons we invited you on the podcast, because you were on our radar, actually, probably over a year ago when you first joined us in the Academy, and you'd join us on some of the q&a calls that we do and you were always sharing, just like you are here on the podcast. Sharing great ideas, big wins, challenges like all of us are facing.
It was great to get to know you in that experience and since then, I've had the opportunity to be one of the, what they called, I think, the technical host for your OAME session on assessment that you had shared recently. Actually, now, we've actually asked you to join us in writing curriculum for Make Math Moments. I'm wondering if someone who's listening and they're sitting there thinking, and they're on this journey. They might not realize that the journey has begun yet, because maybe they're still teaching in a Gradual Release of Responsibility model, just like they were taught.
Or maybe they've just started kicking the tires of problem-based lessons, or maybe they're much further along, but they're still feeling like there's some pieces missing. They're listening to you and they're likely looking at your journey and going wow, like, there's a lot of growth, there's a lot of learning going on there. What sort of advice might you give someone who's maybe earlier in this journey, and they're trying to get over, we'll call it like that first hump of conviction that yes, this work, this effort is worth the while. What might you share with them, what might you recommend with them and where should they get started, I suppose?
Jordan Rappaport: I've been very fortunate in my journey. I've learned from the best. So what I mean by that is, once that rabbit hole was opened up for me ... I'm not going to call it a mission, but maybe it was a bit of a mission, I was on a mission to consume as much learning as possible. Not all of it was something that I was able to apply into my own practice, because it might not necessarily have met with the students I was servicing at the time, or didn't resonate with me as an educator, but I consume learning, and I wasn't afraid to try things out, knowing that there's probably a better chance that things are going to fail miserably than I would experience success, and you need to be okay with that.
Then my approach over time, and my mindset was, everything is feedback for us. Everything is information and everything that kids are doing in class in terms of how they are responding to us as educators is also assessment for us and feedback for us. So if things failed miserably and like I said, they failed more often than I can even remember, I committed myself to believing that it's not really failure in that kind of traditional sense of failing.
It's information for me, and then it's incumbent upon me to be able to use that information in order to improve my own practice. So it was really committing to that idea of really try everything. Some things are going to work, some things aren't, but it's a matter of being reflective and refining practice over time.
Listen, I've been an educator now 17 years. So I can confidently say, I'm on year 17 of my journey. I don't know where the journey is taking me and that's actually part of the allure of being on this journey, and with each new opportunity, it seems like a new chapter is being written. I've also been extraordinarily fortunate to surround myself with really strong critical friends, who are going to tell me what I need, when I need to hear it.
So having that inner circle, where if I'm playing with ideas, want to try something out new and I'm not quite sure how it's going to work, developing that confidence to reach out to a trusted friend or colleague and say, "Hey, you know what, Jon and Kyle, I'm thinking about doing this. This is going to be my approach. This is how I'm going to respond, if I see this. What do you guys think about that?" Having a few of those trusted critical friends, to be able to give you their honest assessment and honest feedback back to you is only going to help you grow as an educator.
I was fortunate the last four years, yeah, the last four years where I was at my school to work with, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most supportive administrator I could ever imagine. Any idea, any hare-brained idea that I thought at the time that I had, that I wanted to try out with the kids, as long as everyone was safe, no fire hazards or anything like that, he was good with it. Why? Because I was demonstrating a level of taking a risk in order to support the students that I was servicing.
That support only grew and was ongoing throughout my remaining years at the school and honestly, it was in that type of environment where I truly felt supported and safe to try new things that I was really, really able to grow to the point where ... So just sort of a sidebar, but not really and let me just preface this by saying if any of the listeners out there are going to try this, make sure you have a really good relationship with your administrator.
Jon Orr: This sounds like caution. Don't try this at home.
Jordan Rappaport: Big time. So Robert Kaplinsky has a task on a site and it's tin-foiling one of your colleagues cubicles. So I saw that, and I'm like, "Hey, that sounds like a good idea. We're going to try something out like that in class." So this is when I was teaching grade seven and I brought it up with students in the class and I was like, "Okay, what do you guys think about maybe tin-foiling another classroom?"
We got to talking about it. And the conversation went in many, many different directions. Then one of the students in the class said, "Okay, that would be fun, but what if we tin-foiled the principal's office?" So I'm thinking, okay, this is totally doable. Let's see where we can connect. Where's the mathematics here, because we're not just going to tinfoil the principal's office for fun, although that would be kind of fun, but we got to connect it to curriculum.
So we're talking about tin-foiling the principal's office. So now we're talking about concepts of measurement, surface area. We've got to go out, we've got to buy the tinfoil. So let's go out and find the best deal and let's price match and sort of all those pieces. So aspects of proportional reasoning found its way into it. So really, really cool and students did all the planning.
Now the challenge was, how are we going to tinfoil the principal's office? He's in the school. It's going to take about a good half an hour. How are we going to do this? So as luck would have it, we're a single administrator school and whenever my administrator was out of the building, I would fill in the role as principal-designate.
So as it turns out, he's going to be out of the building the Friday before April Fool's Day. April Fool's Day was falling on the Monday and sure enough, I'm going to be principal-designate for that day that he's out of the building. At that point, we had done all the planning. It took us about two, two and a half weeks to plan this task. We had all the tinfoil, we're ready to go. He's going to be out of the building. This is amazing.
Thursday rolls around. He's like, "Oh, Jordan, my meeting got canceled. I'm going to be in the building tomorrow." I'm like, oh, no, what are we going to do? So as luck would have it, luck seems to follow me a little bit wherever I go. As luck would have it, I also had a relationship with the administrator at his previous school. So I quickly phoned her up and I say to her, and she's, again, next level amazing.
So I say to her, I'm like, "Okay, this is the plan. We need him out of the building. I just need him out of the building for like an hour so we can get this done." So she's like, "Okay, Jordan, don't worry, leave it to me." Sends him an email that they're having an emergency EQAO meeting at their school, they need to fill out a quorum. He needs to be there. So he commits to going, he's out of the building until about 10 o'clock. This is amazing.
So we arranged for the kids and myself ... There was about 10 students in the class that wanted to volunteer to actually do the tin-foiling. So we meet in front of the school, it's like 7:30 in the morning. We get all the materials and no one else in the school knows about this. So if you can picture a teacher with 10 kids in the principal's office, secretaries are there, they hear all this banging around and all this. They're like, "What the heck is going on?"
So I pop out. "We're in the midst of tin-foiling the office. Don't worry, we're just playing a little bit of a practical joke." So took us about half hour, 45 minutes. We tin-foiled everything in the office to the point where, at the time he had a snake in the office, and we were this close to tin-foiling the snake. We didn't, but in any event, he came back in the building at about 10 o'clock.
We saw him coming in and I pretended as though, as he was walking in that I was "disciplining," these students in front of the office. So he sees this going on. We open the door to the office, he's walking towards his office, hands full. One of the students in the class opens the door to his office, and sure enough, wall to wall, floor to ceiling tinfoil. He erupts in laughter. The kids go nuts. I go nuts and it was just such an amazing experience for everyone, but really speaks to the importance of having support and feeling supported so that as educators, we can try new things.
Because if we're not trying new things, like I said before, we get complacent and I know for me speaking contextually, if I'm not trying new things, if I'm not trying to grow or evolve my practice, then really how can I say I am truly servicing the students that I'm working with?
Jon Orr: I think it's a great message to leave teachers as something that you need to look for, and also search out is that support. I think we all have talked about that, sought that support. Maybe it's a colleague, maybe it's your administrator, but I think if you're going to start with problem-based lessons, finding someone I think is helpful, but also having that support to have your back is super important. I'm glad that you had that and I wanted to touch back on when you said, venturing down this path of problem-based lessons in your journey, how that allure of that journey kept you going.
I think that's resonated for me for sure because I was like what Kyle said. He's like, you're teaching your lessons. I don't know if I was actually bored about my lessons, but I felt like I could see the future of like, this is what it was going to look like every day but I feel like when I went down to that problem-based lessons, went down that path, just like you, Jordan, it opened my eyes to being like, I can see this. This is now going to be ... There is something here and there's a lot of curiosity here for me, but also for my students.
I wanted to touch on, now that you are writing curriculum tasks for the Make Math Moments, the tasks we have on our website, I wanted to get your take on some of the action items teachers should do. You kind of mentioned already, seek support is a super important thing but what is an action change? I call this the biggest, smallest change.
Something small you can change but has a huge effect on your classroom teaching and since you're writing these tasks for teachers to use in their classrooms, I'm wondering what would you suggest? It's like, it's got to be the biggest smallest change. What's something that's very like, we can do this tomorrow, but it's going to have a huge effect?
For example, I think, Kyle and I would often say like, "Hey, using whiteboards vertically became this huge change for us while we were using the problem-based tasks on our website," but I'm wondering what would you say is the biggest smallest change that teachers can make going into their lessons tomorrow?
Jordan Rappaport: So one of the biggest shifts in my practice over time, and I'll be honest, and I use the word time there. This can be somewhat time consuming in terms of the front loading piece when we're planning different tasks and activities, whatever it happens to be that we're going to be engaging in with students. But it's really taking the time before you deliver a lesson or a task to as best you can go through the task yourself. Really, that provides so many different opportunities to be able to anticipate how students might respond, and then conversely, how you might be responsive to students in the moment.
This accomplishes several things. So number one right away, it's just increasing your familiarity with the task and certain things that you could be listening for, or even more importantly, listening to. If we truly want to support students where they are in their growth and their development, we need to be able to be responsive to them in the moment.
So taking the time beforehand to go through the task as best you can and look, I get it, I know it, I've lived it. We're all super busy and timing doesn't always necessarily allow, but if we prioritize that in terms of the framework, or the process that we're using for planning to be able to take the time to go through the task, to be able to anticipate responses, and then begin to develop and construct either prompting questions, hints or extensions that are going to support students in the moment so we can keep moving them or nudging them along their developmental trajectory.
The reality is, and again, speaking from an elementary context, if I'm teaching a class of 25 students, by and large, I'm going to have 25 different entry points, and students are going to move along their developmental trajectory at a pace that is reflective of where they are in their learning at that particular moment in time. So I'll call it like a bag of tricks, but having that bag of tricks of hints, prompts and extensions in your back pocket, so you can truly be responsive to the students in the moment, that's really servicing the students where they are.
We talk about the art and the science of teaching. That's more of the art piece, being able to read the room, read body language, listening to students conversations, observing how they're engaging in the task, and being able to jump in at the right time with the right hint prompt or extension to keep what Peter Lilejedahl calls keep students in flow so if students are getting frustrated, they don't get too frustrated, or if students are ready to be pushed, they don't get bored, because you're able to jump in at the right time, with the right extension to keep moving students along their developmental trajectory. So that was the biggest smallest change was committing to making that a part of my planning process.
Kyle Pearce: I love that, and Jordan, reflecting as you're saying those things, I am going back to my first few problem-based lessons and at the time, when you're trying something new, there's so much that's different that it's really hard to reflect in a meaningful way. Of course you're reflecting going, okay, well this part went well, this part didn't, but trying to narrow down why things went the way they did can be awfully difficult.
So a couple messages I'm hearing. We talked about this idea of like finding colleagues to collaborate with, whether they're in the building or somewhere else, so that you can talk through those things but then I'm also realizing in this moment, I don't think I've thought about this, but in the Make Math Moment problem-based units that we create and now you are helping to create here as a part of our writing team, that is a huge part.
Obviously one of the reasons why we thought you would be a great fit for our team is thinking about those things ahead of time, and had I done those things early on, I feel fairly confident that the outcome of those early lessons could have been much different. Obviously never perfect, but had I thought ahead of what different students in my class may do, where they might get hung up, what sort of approaches they might come with and thought about the actual math that they're going to do and anticipating those solutions, and then again, having those purposeful questions ready to go, I think, is something that really could have been a game changer for me so much earlier.
So I think that's a big one. We were going to ask you for a big takeaway, but I feel like that is a big takeaway. So we're looking at the time and we don't want to take up the rest of your evening. So we are going to start wrapping up here, but Jordan, I want to let the community know, we are getting close to wrapping up your first problem-based unit with the Make Math Moments team and right now, can we share the potential title?
It may change by the time it goes live, but I thought it was great. I'm going to let you say it because you came up with it and I think it's kind of a cool title and hopefully leaves people a little curious for when it hits the task area.
Jordan Rappaport: So the working title right now, and this has definitely evolved is, Pop Goes the Volume. Now, in saying that I was actually thinking the other day about the evolution of this current unit and while the unit from a content perspective is ... And I use the word volume, while the unit from a content perspective is centered around volume, it definitely did not start out that way.
Now I can trace the roots of this unit to last summer while I was at a baseball tournament that my oldest son was in. As things evolve at these events, there was lots of snacks and drinks and stuff like that for the kids and the siblings and my youngest son, Sam, who was four at the time, happened to find a package of Timbits.
Now to know Sammy is to know that he's a pretty big fan of donuts and chocolate and candy and anything that he could really consume. Now with most of the adults focused on the game and with a box of Timbits in his hand, he ate one and then another and then another, and then another, and he kept going.
He's like the Energizer bunny of Timbits, and keep in mind that while he's working towards sending some sort of record, we're watching the baseball game. Eventually, it's in between innings and Sammy dropped one of the Timbits and after reacting in a way that you might come to expect from a four year old and ignoring the existence of any five second rule, I sort of wondered in my mind how Sammy would manage with a baseball size Timbit.
From there, the idea stuck and I kept it in the back of my mind, knowing that eventually some point in time, this is going to evolve into a task somewhere somehow. Then we started talking about me coming on board and writing for the community. I produced a draft copy of a lesson based on that context and now without revealing too much, what I can say is through the process of writing from this developmental framework, baseball-sized Timbits, although really tempting to eat, are really no longer in the picture for this unit whatsoever.
I think that really speaks to the collaborative nature that we're approaching building this unit in that, like I mentioned earlier, the importance of having trusted colleagues that you can bounce ideas and run ideas off of. That is clearly evident in the work that we're doing here, even as recently as Saturday, Kyle, when we chatted and we were just riffing on ideas, having that opportunity to be able to share thinking in a safe space has really ... Honestly, I'm just really grateful for it because it's opened my eyes to so many more things.
Jon Orr: Awesome. I totally agree. I think the support that we can get from each other and share that with the Make Math Moments community is going to be wonderful. And I'm really looking forward to your tasks coming in and actually probably by the time that listeners listen to this episode, it will be out and ready.
Hey, if you want to check out Jordan's task, you can all head on over to makemathmoments.com/tasks. That's where we have all of our tasks and our classroom units. Jordan is also coming up in November. He will be presenting at our third annual virtual summit. Right, Jordan?
Jordan Rappaport: Yeah. Super pumped about that. So the idea, I guess ... Can I share the idea?
Jon Orr: Sure.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, where it stands now. You might change your mind crosstalk where it stands.
Jordan Rappaport: So the idea right now where it stands is I'm going to document my process for writing this first unit, and then I'll deliver a presentation based on all the wins, all the non-wins, everything that I've gone through to go from watching my son eat a whole box of Timbits to creating this multi-day unit that no longer has anything to do with donuts. I'm hoping that that will be able to support educators in their journey as they begin to see what goes into being able to produce a unit.
Kyle Pearce: I love it. I love it. Jordan, it's been awesome bringing you on here and I'll tell you, you talked a lot about your journey, some of which we were unaware of as we have known each other, I suppose, from a outside of Twitter space for really only about a year, a little more than a year and we learned a lot about you today. I love that I'm seeing this awesome journey, even in just this last year and again, having an opportunity to watch you present. Folks, you're going to want to definitely check out Jordan's session at our upcoming virtual summit and my friends, for those who are eager and they're like, "I want to start writing awesome problem-based math lessons and tasks," definitely reach out to us.
We are always, always looking for other perspectives and really, we're trying to think of how do we be more culturally responsive. So having writers from different parts of the world is definitely something that we're really trying to achieve and my friends, it has been awesome. Jordan, we want to thank you for hanging out with us. Where can they find you if they want to find you in between now and the virtual summit? How can they get in touch with you?
Jordan Rappaport: So two best places, I guess, to reach me. You can always check me out on Twitter, @JRappaport27, or you can fire me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. 27 is kind of pervasive in a lot of my addresses and stuff like that. It's an old hockey number, but in any event, Twitter is probably the best and then shoot me an email. Always happy to connect.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome stuff. We want thank you so much, Jordan, for joining us and we will talk soon. Take care.
Jordan Rappaport: Awesome. Thanks boys.
Kyle Pearce: Have a good one, my friend. As always, Jon and I learn so much from every interview that we do here on the podcast, but remember, in order to ensure we hang on to any of this new learning so it doesn't wash away like footprints in the sand, make sure that you're doing some form of reflection on what you've learned.
I know for me, sometimes in the car, I'll leave myself a memo on my phone and just talk about some of the ideas that I've heard on a podcast, or maybe you write things down or maybe you do a sketch note. Whatever it is that you choose to do to reflect, make sure that you're doing something and make an intentional plan to take action on at least one small change from this episode here today.
Jon Orr: Yeah, and a great way to hold yourself accountable is like Kyle said, to write it down or even better, you can share it with someone like your partner or colleague or hey, we've got the Math Moment Maker community standing by to help you out. You can head on over to the free private Facebook group, Math Moment Makers K-12, or hit us up on social media like Twitter or Instagram, @MakeMathMoments.
Kyle Pearce: Absolutely, and remember, every Monday, we are releasing an episode and it really helps the entire community ensure that they're aware this podcast exists by hitting that subscribe button and also remember, ratings and reviews are super helpful. Not only do they fill our hearts with happiness and excitement and also that energy to keep this going, but it also helps with the algorithms out there so that more Math Moment Makers can find this podcast and do some learning and join the journey like you have.
Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode, plus complete transcripts to read from the web or download and take with you, head on over to makemathmoments.com/episode148. Again, that's makemathmoments.com/episode148.
Kyle Pearce: Well until next time, Math Moment Makers, 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.
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