Episode #154: Making Changes While Staying Aligned – A Math Mentoring Moment Episode

Nov 8, 2021 | Podcast | 0 comments



In this episode you’ll hear Ryan Kinzler, a 8th grade teacher from Pittsburg discuss his concerns over blending his traditional curriculum resources (such as the textbook) with high impact strategies and problem based lessons. In this discussion Ryan realizes how to feel confident with the choices he makes in the classroom and how small moves will result in big impact. 

This is another Math Mentoring Moment episode where we talk with a member of the Math Moment Maker Community who is working through problems of practice and together we brainstorm possible next steps and strategies to overcome them.

You’ll Learn

  • How to stay aligned with your department when your teaching approach varies; 
  • How to blend the resources you’ve collected with your curriculum; 
  • How to change your pedagogy one lesson at a time; and,
  • How to feel confident about the choices you make in your classroom.
Start your school year off right by downloading the guide that you can save and print to share with colleagues during your next staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or just for your own reference!


Ryan Kinzler: I almost feel like I revert back to a guided practice sort of thing, if that makes sense. I'm trying to get myself out of that, especially because I read Peter Liljedahl's Thinking Classrooms book. I'm trying to get myself out of that being 100% guiding you through everything. But I feel as though that that's still the Achilles' heel. It's almost like all this fun stuff is at the beginning, and then I let it slide.

Jon Orr: In this episode, you'll hear Ryan Kinzler, a great teacher from Pittsburgh, discuss his concerns over blending his traditional curriculum resources, such as the textbook, with high-impact strategies and problem-based lessons. In this discussion, Ryan realizes how to feel confident with the choices he makes in the classroom and how small moves will result in big impact.

Kyle Pearce: This is another Math Mentoring Moment episode where we talk with a member of the Math Moment Maker community who's working through problems of practice and, together, we try to brainstorm some possible next steps and strategies to overcome them. Jon, are you ready to dive in here with our good friend and academy member Ryan Kinzler?

Jon Orr: Let's do this.

Kyle Pearce: All right. Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We are 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: Fuel sense-making-

Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Friends, again, we are welcoming another member of the Math Moment Maker community. In particular, it's Ryan Kinzler, who's joined us on a journey in the Make Math Moments Academy and is hopping on the show here today to chat about a problem of practice that I think we've all had. I think we'd all be lying if it's not something that we're continuously working on, right?

Jon Orr: Yeah, definitely. I think Ryan's issue ... I guess not his issue, but his problem of practice, like many of us have, is that we see these great strategies, these great high-impact strategies, from this resource and this resource, someone shares this one at a conference, or you get these ideas thrown at you and it's like, "Well, how do I do it all? How do I do all these things, but then also bring them into my set timing with my department?" We're all moving together at the same pace. So how do I morph those two ideas together in this discussion?
You're going to hear us talk about that. Talk about some small moves, small decision-making that has to happen. I think you're going to get a lot out of it. So stick around.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Let's have a look at how we can stay aligned, but still have some differences with our department members. Here is our conversation with Ryan.
Hey, hey there, Ryan. Good morning. You're joining us early in the morning here. Thanks for coming on the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. We love having these mentoring moment episodes where we get to chat with members like yourself from the Math Moment Maker community. How are you doing today? Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you coming from? What is a little bit of your teaching backstory, just to give some folks some context?

Ryan Kinzler: Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you guys very much for having me. I'm really, really excited for this. I'm coming from the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. So getting ready to start the school year. We go back, I believe, on Thursday, the teachers go back. So coming soon.
I'm currently teaching eighth-grade math. It's my third year in this district. Before that, I taught in a really small district, seventh through twelfth. So I taught everything, from seventh graders one period to twelfth graders the next period. So that was pretty fun. Yeah, so I graduated from Penn State, grew up from the Pittsburgh area my entire life, really haven't left.

Jon Orr: How long have you been teaching?

Ryan Kinzler: This is year seven for me. I will be starting year seven.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome, awesome. It sounded like you've had a bit of a varied experience. So in this district for a few years, you had an opportunity to teach a wide span of grades. Probably a great experience, but probably difficult in the moment, I'm sure, as you're shifting from one to the next. So probably glad it happened, but maybe happier now that you get to focus in on a specific grade for a little while. Why don't you keep us rolling here?
From Pittsburgh, there's a question we ask every guest on this episode. It was interesting because over 100 and now we're over ... By the time this goes out, it'll be over 150 episodes. I find when we ask our guests about their math moment that they remember, it really helps to frame out that context and take us on a bit of a mathematical journey with you, be it always positive from start to finish or, for some people, maybe not starting so positive and, we'll call it, a recovering relationship over time. For you, Ryan, what's that math moment that pops out in your mind when we ask you that question?

Ryan Kinzler: Yeah. So listening to almost all of your episodes, definitely thought about this one for a while. I actually have two. They tie together, if that's okay.
So I guess the first one is, growing up, I was always really good at math. Looking back, I was definitely a memorizer. I was a very good memorizer. When I got calculus my junior year, for the first time in my life, I had absolutely no idea what's going on. I would come home crying. I would actually have homework. I was completely lost.
One day I got called into the guidance counselor's office. Mind you, I'd never been there my entire life, so I had no idea what was going on. I walk in and my guidance counselor's there with my calc teacher and my parents. They talked me off the ledge, relaxed me, and then I ended up doing fine.
It was at that point that I realized, a, I knew I wanted to be a math teacher at that point, because I finally understood what all my friends felt in math, which was confusion at points. I had never felt that before. It's like, "Oh, I know how to get over that now. So I'd like to be a math teacher as well."
So that's the first thing that led me down that path. Then I think something that really, I guess, transformed the way I view how I teach would be in college, I was supposed to take a class, but it conflicted with another class. So I couldn't take it. My advisor reached out to me and she said, "Hey, why don't we do an independent study?" I said, "Okay, sure. Let's do an independent study."
What we did was we actually dived into a textbook and I took a look at it from a completely different lens from before. It just really opened my eyes about what they were trying to do, how powerful graphs are. At that point, I did not like graphs. From then on, I love graphs now. So I think those two moments really shaped what I do and how I do it.

Jon Orr: I want to go back to that moment where you were in the guidance counselor's office, because I found that very interesting, like that was your moment you knew to be a math teacher. Can you just expand on that just a tiny bit? Because I'm curious there. It's like you had such frustration and then it was like ... Everyone probably said, it was like it's okay that it's frustrating. It's an okay thing. Then you're like, "I want to be a math teacher." I feel like there's more to that story.

Ryan Kinzler: No. Yeah. I guess until that point, I never really understood how everything connected. When I was forced to take a step back and try to understand what I was doing and how I was doing it, I realized that I could actually get to the why and not just the how all the time. I think that that is the thing that was missing.
A lot of my friends, they would always say, "I don't like math class. I can't do it. I don't know how you do this in your head all the time and don't have any homework." I was like, "Well, I get it." Then I started explaining it and doing things at lunch. I said, all right, I knew I wanted to be a teacher since second grade, but now I know it's going to be a math teacher. I know that for a fact.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. Something that's interesting to me, and it's interesting because, Jon, you had a question. I thought you were going to go to the same place I went to. In that guidance office, I was anticipating the conversation going very differently, because I've heard this conversation happen a lot. It might not be calculus, it may be in grade 11 or wherever, where a student goes down to the guidance office and it's usually not a tire-pumper conversation, or at least ... I shouldn't say usually. Oftentimes it's maybe you're in the wrong course conversation.
To me, that is not a positive approach. So I'm happy for you that you had this opportunity where you had support around you to say that, no, you can do this. It's going to take work. It's going to take effort. In reality, it might even mean that you're going to have to rethink how you thought math was learned, because before, being that memorizer, I had had a very similar experience. Mine was in university where this happened. But my conversation was not, "Hey, you've got this." It was, "You're in the wrong program."
That was something that for some might be motivating, that might be like, "I'll show you," or it could be the opposite where they go, "Oh my gosh. This person knows obviously enough about education. So I should probably follow their advice and just believe that that's true."
So I think that's really awesome. I'm wondering, how does that experience influence who you are as an educator? Clearly, you decided you were going to be a math teacher. Are you seeing that? Is that something you're trying to be intentional about with your students when they're saying, "I'm going not a math person."
Day one, we've all had that student where they come in and they go, "Don't ask me any questions. I'm not a math person," or something and they're trying to just set the stage, they want to get it off the table, get it off their chest that this is just how it's going to be. I've got to assume that that's not going to jive with you in your classroom.

Ryan Kinzler: No, no. I think what it did, to be honest with you, is it made me really patient, as far as understanding that I didn't realize this until eleventh grade. Teaching eighth grade, you have to let them reach those conclusions, just provide those supports as they're going, but understand that each student's going to reach that at a different point in time. So if I get two or three students in the first nine weeks, great, but I might not get all of them. That's okay. Just be patient and persist with them as far as helping them understand it. They can do everything that is set forth in front of them. They just might need to take different approaches, and we haven't found that yet.

Jon Orr: You're saying that this idea of, in grade 11, understanding the why, like that was an important moment for you to become a math teacher. I'm curious, did you ... You're in year seven, but in day one of your first year, has it always been an element that you're going to focus on the why behind things? I only bring that up because you've heard our stories before, is that I was like you're a memorizer, but it was probably not until years later as I was a teacher where I had that epiphany that, hey, I need to think about the why more and the listening more than, say, the teaching and then the mimicking.

Ryan Kinzler: I'm going to be honest, though. I think when I first started, I was a little more nervous and I wanted to do how it was done for me, even though in the back of my head, I'm like I'm definitely not reaching all these kids. This is how it's done and I'm going to do it.
I think I have slowly released more and more of that memorization phase behind me and gotten more comfortable trying to get the students to understand. I mean it's not necessarily the easiest thing to let go all the time, because that means you're not in control, but I think it's worthwhile, and I've seen growth.
I always tell my students, "I want you to succeed more next year. If you're succeeding next year, if that's continuing, then I know that's what I did for you was good." So, yeah, no. To answer your question, no. I did not start off with the why.

Kyle Pearce: I think that's so common, and I would've actually been maybe a little shocked. I know that my experience, again, was maybe a little different, where I had the, "Hey, you don't know math," conversation and yours was maybe a little bit more productive, and maybe that did change your thinking.
But I think as soon as you get into that classroom, I think we look around us and you go what's the norm? It's easy to go with the crowd. So you look around you. If you're in a progressive school, let's say, or district, you're probably going to approach things a little bit different, or at least try to.
But if you come in and things look the way that they've always looked in math class as you remember it, then you're like, "All right, I guess this is the way we're going to do it," because, again, there's a lot of experience there and it's hard to go against that when we're coming out and brand new in this profession.
So the one thing I will say is just from this conversation so far, I'm hearing a lot of positives going on there. So clearly you're reflective as an educator, you're making that progress to try to help students see the why and understand the why, and trying to ensure that all students have an opportunity to succeed.
I'm wondering what's on your mind right now? What's that problem of practice, that pebble in your shoe that is keeping you up at night, or maybe it doesn't keep you up at night, but it's the thing that you come back to and you're just riffing on, thinking, "Hey, I want to do something different here. I want to help solve this problem"? What's going on in your math education world right now?

Ryan Kinzler: Yeah. So I'm going to try to cut down the words on this because it can get a little wordy here. Essentially, my district was adopting some new texts for nine through 12. Since we teach Algebra and Geometry in the middle school, we were involved in that conversation as well. Long story short, COVID ended up pushing that, delaying it.
But sitting through the presentations, my head's going every single one of these is exactly the same. They're just changing in a couple of words, they're changing ... The diagrams are showing you ... They're exactly the same. It got me thinking, like, you have these traditional textbooks, which have good problems in them, but they lack a little bit more of the why, essentially.
You have these more progressive curriculum sort of things, like Open Up or Carnegie Learning, something like that, where they're really good, but if you don't follow them to a T, sometimes the students can get a little lost. Then you have these online resources ... And I could go through a list of people. I mean you guys, James Tanton, Visual Patterns, Which One Doesn't Belong, et cetera, et cetera. So I guess the question is how do you infuse all of those things together, especially if the main textbook is that traditional textbook?

Jon Orr: Right. So let's think about that traditional textbook in the sense of is it in your district like thou shall follow the traditional textbook to a T because every other teacher is following it that way?
From talking with teachers, from doing these interviews over the last few years, we run into situations where it's like that teacher has to follow along with what everyone else is doing. Then mow I have to figure out how to morph what we're supposed to be doing so that we're all together, and then throw in some lessons here and there of what I know is good, or is it the complete opposite where I have complete flexibility here and we have this resource, but I know all of these other resources are here and now I'm wondering how do I blend them? Where do you lie on that, say, spectrum, Ryan?

Ryan Kinzler: My administration is really good about allowing us to take risks and take chances and do things differently, especially with the pandemic last year, and even into this year a little bit. They're really supportive of that. At the same time, though, we have to stay locked in step with other teachers that are teaching the same courses as us.
So, yeah, there are some leeway there, but I also feel the pressure to make sure that I'm staying with the other teachers. I guess that's the difference. When I was at my seventh to twelfth school, I was the only person teaching these classes. So I made all the decisions all the time. Now you want to make sure you're staying with the other teachers. You don't want to have this completely different experience and then parents are calling the school, saying, "Well, why is this kid doing it this way and now their friends in another class are doing completely different stuff?"

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. So it sounds like alignment is a concern. But I wonder, because alignment, there's many different ways. When you say you want to stay with them, are you thinking in terms of pacing? Is it the approach or what homework looks like or doesn't look like, or is it maybe a bunch of those mixed together? If we were to dig together, what's the thing that maybe concerns you the most when you say staying with them, just so that we get a sense as to where that pebble really is?

Ryan Kinzler: I would say the order of the topics that are presented. I would say that that's the biggest thing. There are certain benchmarks at certain times of the year that you're like, "Hey, we should all be here. We should all be here." Sometimes if my class is the way they're viewing something, it might be more beneficial right now with this particular group of students to tackle another topic and then circle back, I feel almost as if that wouldn't necessarily always jive.

Jon Orr: I guess I'm wondering, is that concern there because there are set, standardized assessments that you're going to ... Like, hey, everyone's going to take this test at this marker in the course and we have to know where everyone is, or is it open and it's more of your pressure yourself that you're like, "I need to be with them because they're going to judge or the parents are going to call," but there's nothing like thou shalt make sure we do well on this test at this time?

Ryan Kinzler: I would say there's definitely more pressure that I'm putting on myself. But as far as standardized things, the only things that are standardized 100% would be a midterm and a final. That's it.

Kyle Pearce: So if, let's say, that midterm ... So it sounds like at least from a midterm perspective, there would be certain things by the middle that you want students to have a decent grasp on. So you wouldn't be able to, let's say, put off an entire concept to the second half. So there is, it sounds like, a bit of system pacing going on there, which, again, sounds like you can make sure that that happens. But how many other educators are there that you're working with?
The reason I ask is if there's four educators and they're all following the exact same order, and you're the only one that's going off over here, I totally know that it's so much easier to go with the group. Then that way you all can protect each other. You have a reason, we have a collaborative reason or a joint reason why we do things the way we do.
As soon as you stray, if something doesn't go as planned, then it's easy to place blame on something without necessarily it being the reason, without causation. We tend to say, "Well, Ryan did it different and this happened. So it must be because you didn't follow everybody else." Tell us a little bit more about that in terms of the logistics of maybe your department and those concerns that might cause you a little bit of stress.

Ryan Kinzler: No, I think at least in the middle school, there's actually four of us in eighth grade. But I think we all work really well together. I think we all each have different styles, but at the same time ... I don't know how to phrase this. I guess we all have different approaches, but we make sure that we are still locked in step. It's just how we get to that lock in step is all different between the four of us.
So, no, but they're great. I mean they're very supportive and we bounce ideas off each other all the time. So I don't think it's necessarily the fear of not being 100% locked in step with them. It's going that complete row different way of teaching, I guess.

Jon Orr: Right. Now you've mentioned resources, here, here and here and here, and some online resources and is year seven for you. So I'm wondering, what have you done up to now to blend? You obviously had blended some already because you probably use this lesson and use this, but then there's the old textbook. What does that look like for you? Like you're saying, your department is pretty supportive in what you're doing because you have a different style than somebody else. Sounds a lot like my department, where we all have different styles and are okay with that. What have you done so far to blend resources?

Ryan Kinzler: Well, it's like a year by year, I keep adding a little bit more stuff. When I first moved into this district is when I started using the vertical non-permanent surfaces and I started doing visual random groupings. During the openings of class, I guess, is a lot of times when I'll pull in the Visual Patterns or the Which One Doesn't Belongs or stuff like that as I don't want to say necessarily a warmup, but kind of a warmup, just to get them engaged. It's not always something that's 100% curriculum, I guess, to use that word.

Kyle Pearce: Or connected to that day's learning goal, maybe.

Ryan Kinzler: Right, right. It's more of get you thinking, get you up, get you moving sort of thing. As far as the actual instructional, after that gets going portion, I almost feel like I revert back to a guided practice sort of thing, if that makes sense. I'm trying to get myself out that, especially because I read Peter Liljedahl's Thinking Classrooms book. I loved it, like 100% loved it. I'm trying to get myself out of that being 100% guiding you through everything. But I feel as though that that's still the Achilles' heel. It's almost like all this fun stuff is at the beginning, and then I let it slide when we get into the meat of it.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. I think that's really common. Again, this is not suggesting that doing that warmup to get students engaged, get them to lean in. These are things that we do often. Sometimes it's nice as well even from a spiraling approach to intentionally make it not connected. I would say I don't want to always do that. Maybe keeping sometimes connected, sometimes it's not can be really good. I think it shifts gears. So those are all really good things.
Then it sounds like we've got a couple ideas here where you want to keep some sort of alignment in terms of topics. So that's one thing. But then it sounds like you've got a little bit of at least freedom from a departmental standpoint, where the department members seem to be pretty supportive.
I think it's really good as when departments do have different styles, like I know Jon talks about his department a lot and says everybody does have their own style. In a lot of ways, there's a lot of benefit to that as well.
It sounds like you've got a good thing going on that way, that if a student has Ryan one year and then they have one of your other department members the next year, they're going to gain different things. They're going to benefit in different ways because of those different approaches. So there's a lot of benefit to that. It's great to hear that you've got a lot of that support.
I have some ideas, I know Jon's going to have some ideas as well, for you to just think on. I'm wondering, what's holding you back from when you get to that lesson part? I'm going to throw some ideas as to maybe what they might be. But part of me, I know I would get stuck. You had mentioned this earlier, Ryan, when you said you started doing it the way everybody always has done it.
It sounds like you've got a bit of this, I guess, challenge worry that if you do change the lesson structure too much, that maybe the risk is too high. Like you had mentioned earlier, you that sometimes some students aren't benefiting, but you do know that there is a chunk of students who are. Like the way math has traditionally been taught in a gradual release of responsibility model, you are getting a good chunk of students, but there's that chunk that we're not, and that percentage varies.
So if you were to dig deep, what is truly holding you back? Because it sounds like your department members aren't going to call you out on it and go like, "Whoa, Ryan. Why'd you switch up your lesson style?" It sounds like there's something there. But what do you feel it is? Is it the worry that you're going to do these lessons and then find out three weeks from now that you're like, "Oh shoot, none of it worked." I know that was a fear of mine. What is your true worry here, if we can dig on that and maybe we can get a plan on how we might slowly unfold that idea?

Ryan Kinzler: I think the biggest thing is ... Come back to that pacing idea. So, for instance, if we're talking about functions and I take longer on that portion, am I not going to reach something else that I need to for them later in the year, essentially? I know that sometimes if you go slower at the beginning and make sure they understand, it could help you in the long run. But there's also that fear of, oh, there's only 80 days left. I need to make sure I get through all this stuff still. It's going to definitely be on the final or going to be on the state assessment. I feel the pressure to make sure that that occurs.

Jon Orr: Right. I definitely hear that. I think that is a common concern with every teacher, because this is the common question is that I want to teach differently, but how do I know I'm going to cover everything? How do we ensure that? It's like I need to ensure that I covered everything. Now, Ryan, can you ensure that everybody learned everything when you taught it last year?

Ryan Kinzler: I would certainly hope so, but probably not.

Jon Orr: Right.

Kyle Pearce: Not willing to put money on it.

Jon Orr: Exactly.

Ryan Kinzler: No. No, I would not.

Jon Orr: This is something we've learned from talking with teachers in over the few years now, is that I feel like we definitely have this, like, "I've got to cover it. I've got to cover it. I've got to cover it." But what is covering it? Is it just presenting it to kids and saying, "Hey, there. I did it because I squeezed it in." I taught it this quick way because I needed to get it in there and squeeze it in.
But did anybody actually do this well? It's like how do I balance where kids need to spend time over here versus over here? When I think about the covering, it's like, yes, I want to make sure my long-range plans hit all major topics, but can I ensure that everybody is going to learn them as deeply as I want? I don't think we can ensure that.
I think it's really important that we do plan those long-term goals so that you're like, "Okay, look it, I've got this much time to cover all of these things," but then it's like, "Okay, now I've got to break that down a little bit more and I've got to break that down."
That's what textbooks do. Textbooks do that already for you by saying chapter one is this and it's six sections long, because it's going to take you six days. Then in the next chapters are ... Like you know that if you follow a textbook, you're going to meet and cover all of those expectations. And so, if you're modifying that textbook and going off that book, it's like, well, how do I make sure that I cover everything?
But I think still we have to do some planning of I've got my long-range plans, I've got my short-range plans. I want to teach this way. This is something I think when we went to completely problem-based lessons approach early, a number of years ago, we're like, "Okay, I'm going to spend a couple days here." Then it's like, "Okay, well, now we need to talk about this idea, but I didn't leave enough time here."
It's like I think a lot of teachers, and especially us, we get caught up in like, "I really want that awesome activity to run, but we need to also remember what is the learning goal of the day." I think I always came back to that moment, it's like I'm planning out my long-range plans, I'm planning out my short-range plans, I'm planning out my day plans, still, the forefront of the day plan is like today the learning goal is this and what best activity helps me get that learning goal out to the student. Tomorrow might be an extension of that learning goal.
But I think we still have to make those short-range plans to meet the learning goal. Then once you have the learning goal, that's the day for that learning goal. Not to say that tomorrow, we might have to pivot and keep going with that learning goal. I think we still need to map out where those learning goals are going to show up. Kyle, what are you thinking here?

Kyle Pearce: I'm right on with you there, Jon. I know, too, like the other thing ... And you'd mentioned this briefly earlier, Ryan, about this in the middle aspect of traditional textbook, something web-based, or a more progressive maybe curriculum. You had mentioned Open Up Math, I think it was.
I'm going to go to the textbook because that's where I began my journey, that's where many of us began our journey, and oftentimes that's where a lot of us stay for a long time, and it doesn't have to be bad to do that. But one negative drawback that comes out from textbooks that sometimes we miss and it gets overlooked is that a textbook company typically is designing the textbook to hit everything as much as they can in a specific curriculum. They also try to do it in a way that it will be used in more than one place.
So, for example, here in Ontario, we have our own curriculum. They'll design the textbook. It's not just an Ontario textbook. They'll do the Ontario edition and maybe do a little bit of add, a little bit of subtract, but oftentimes it's cheaper for them to produce more than what's needed in order to cover their bases. This is good, but it can also be really bad.
What I found myself doing a lot was, all right, well, chapter three is this. So I would do all of chapter three, trusting that that was going to do what I needed it to do. But then later I would look at the curriculum and realize, wow, there was half of that textbook chapter, while it's good math, it's never bad to explore math that isn't in the curriculum. I spent a lot of time doing that and I was trying to hit all of those things.
So I think about solving equations. It was like we do this many examples to make sure they saw an example of every possibility. Whereas now we start to realize that we're like, wait a second, if I'm introducing solving equations, how do I do it in a way that doesn't necessarily cover every scenario, but get students' reasoning, so this less is more approach, where they have to reason through a problem and then it gives me the opportunity to give them the special case to work through and reason through that.
Even if, let's say, we don't cover all of these different special cases, it's like you're building this ability for students to be able to reason their way out of that special case if and when it arises, because they're not just relying on mimicking what Jon or I did up on the board or what Mr. Kinzler put up on the board.
So this is something that I think takes a lot of time and effort to work through, but it's almost like if you were to stick, let's say, with the same pacing guide as your colleagues, but you were to take, let's say, tomorrow's lesson and you were to look at that and go, let's say students could only take away one big thing tomorrow, and I'm not suggesting that we don't try to hit more of these ideas, but what's the big thing I'm hoping that every student will at least get a good chunk of?
It's not always going to happen. You're going to do it and some days it's not going to happen, but you're looking at that and you go, "Why am I doing this in the first place? What am I hoping that they'll have and that they'll take with them?" Then when they get to that midterm or that final, that if they were to be given something like this, do I have confidence that the strategies and models that they've been able to develop over time will be the tools that they can rely on rather than it being, let's say, how much they crammed the night before?
Because that's who I was. It sounds like, Ryan, that's who you were as a student, like, all right, well, day before the test, crank out a bunch of problems. It's like I know all the big red boxes from the notes and I'm good to go.
But imagine if we just had this ability to walk into an assessment and go, "All right, the question's asking me this. Because I understand what it's saying to me that I could actually reason my way through this and come up with a reasonable solution based on that."
So we said a lot there. I'm wondering what's popping in your mind now. Maybe it's more questions or wonders or concerns. Where are you at there, Ryan?

Ryan Kinzler: I think that's something that I'm learning just by listen to you guys. I focus so much on the long-term goals. Not necessarily even just in my class, just making sure they're ready for future classes, that sometimes I lose sight of what do I want you to leave today with? Sometimes that can help identify that, oh, I'm actually hitting more than I think I'm hitting. I'm covering everything. It's that you get tied into I need to make sure I cover every single little tiny thing. Whereas that might not always be the case.
I think the other thing that I'm hearing is sometimes I try to take every single good idea I see and put it into my classroom. It's probably not feasible, but I'm going to keep trying and trying and trying. Sometimes you've just got to step back and say, "All right, I'm going to try this one this year and if I like it, keep it. If I don't like it or if it didn't work, either tweak it or try something different."
That's why there's all these different things out there, because they're all going to fit your different styles. I think, Kyle, you brought up the fact that the textbooks, it's a mass audience that it reaches and not necessarily your target one. I think that we can bank these ideas that are online and maybe this year's class needs A, B, and C and next year's class needs C, D, and G. It's okay not to do the exact same thing every year. So you can still hit the different strategies that you're seeing online, but different ways and different approaches with different years of students.

Jon Orr: I think you've nailed some of the big ideas I think you've been struggling with. The other thing I was imagining is that a lot of us get caught up in the I see this, I see this, I see this, I want to do that, I want to do that, I want to do that, and then don't realize that, say, that teacher or those group of teachers that I'm seeing that are sharing these resources have also minutely changed their lessons over years. It's like I want that, but it takes time to have that on a regular basis.
So, for example, you read Peter's book and you're like, "I want vertical non-permanent surfaces," but it was like when we first stumbled across Peter a couple of years ago, we were like, "We're going to change this one part of this one lesson and we're going to see how that goes," and, "Hey, that actually produced these results and we had this kind of engagement and we had this kind of thinking happening. I wonder if I can do that ... not tomorrow because tomorrow we're doing this other thing, but maybe I can do that in that lesson down the road with that style."
It's like I think we get caught up on seeing a lot of stuff and trying to fit it all in, but realize that, hey, we're going to get there eventually. It might take a couple years to develop this as a program.
I think if you're trying to go blended again, like go back to this blending, and especially if you're trying to align with the teachers who are teaching in a different way but still be in the same spot, it's like, okay, go back to here's my learning goal with the best activity here. Let me try this activity today and see how that fits. Did I get that learning goal out that day? Because we've got to stay on pace.
That's how we did our lessons from a long time ago. We morphed by changing one lesson here and seeing how that went. Tomorrow maybe we went back to this traditional way, but we knew we were unhappy with it, but we weren't in a position to change everything all at once because it's just too much. So I feel like you're seeing some of that, too.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Something as well, like if I was to take this idea that Jon's sharing how over time you can slowly make changes, it could be something as simple as taking that lesson that you would normally do and thinking about what is the question that I could ask students to grapple with first? It's almost like you're just delaying a little bit of what you'd end up doing anyway.
So, for example, Jon, and I say it all the time, we would come in, we'd be like today, "We're going to learn about this. Here's the definitions," like the definition of the circumference is this, the radius is that. We'd try to preteach all this stuff and then I would do a bunch of examples.
It's like imagine if I could just take one of those examples. It doesn't have to be something different. It could be one of your examples. Now it's not an example. It's a question about it. It probably involves a visual of some type to get them estimating and sharing.
The other thing that it really helps us do, we always notice this, is that by asking them questions, it's not only helping them with curiosity, but it also helps you get a sense of where are they coming at this from? Whereas, before, I was just sharing stuff and it was the same thing to every group.
Like you had said, every group's different. Every group needs something a little different. Every student actually needs something different. I know it's hard to get down to that level of differentiation sometimes. But just taking that and slowly switching something around.
I might even encourage, Ryan, and I know being a member of the academy and having spent some time doing some of that learning, if you head over to the problem-based unit section, that continues to grow on our site. There's lots of problem-based lessons.
Pick that topic that you're going to pick. I just threw circles. Circles has been on my mind a lot lately. You could look at the going in circles unit and go, okay, if I'm going to be exploring area of a circle, what could I throw at students to get them thinking about it? Then it's like I could still be at that consolidation phase.
That could be where I make sure that I've "covered" what I'm feeling concerned I'm not going to cover. We always like to say it's like uncovering the curriculum. It's an Alex Overwijk quote that really stuck with Jon and I early on.
When we do this, we have to always remember that it's not about loose ends. It's not about just asking a student a question and hopefully they get it, or some will get it, some won't. We're still at the end. We're going to make sure that we consolidate this together.
We're going to give them some reflection prompts, like practice, that they can actually go and do to make sure that we're not just walking away from this thing as just an activity where kids remember the activity, but who knows who connected to the math.
So it might be a good place to start. You don't have to necessarily follow the entire problem-based unit, but you might look at that as maybe inspiration for how you can apply the three-part framework, because they're all set up in that way. You can still take some of those resources, your favorite Which One Doesn't Belong or your favorite Visual Pattern, and maybe use that as a guide or a structure to just slowly start making that progression.
One thing you can't do is just flick a switch and have it all change overnight. You certainly want to make sure that we're taking those small little changes so that you can feel confident as you go and you don't one day wake up in the middle of the year going, "Uh-oh. I don't know if we're going to make it through as much as I had hoped." We want to make sure that you're sleeping well at night and that you're feeling really good and confident about the program that you're putting forth.

Ryan Kinzler: I love all those ideas.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome.

Jon Orr: I'm wondering right now, at this time, Ryan, if you reflect on the conversation that we've had here, what would be your biggest takeaway from this conversation? Maybe think back so that your thinking before, your thinking now, and maybe part of your big takeaway is like what's your next step.

Ryan Kinzler: I think the biggest thing is, like how I was saying, I want that switch to just flip, and it's not going to happen. I need to learn to take the small successes and take those as wins, and just try to implement little bits instead of every single thing I see, because even though I like all the things, just because I'm throwing it at the students doesn't necessarily mean it's going to have the desired effect that it's designed to have.
I mean maybe pare down, like find the two or three things I really want to try this year, implement those, give it time to actually fail a little bit and build it back up and see what happens, and let, I guess, my experience here be the judgment on if it's working or not and not necessarily feel forced to plow everything into one lesson. I guess that's my biggest takeaway there.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. I love it. That's fantastic. I think that is an amazing takeaway and something that will hopefully keep you grounded and not overwhelmed. I find educators, especially educators who are reflective and who want to continually grow and learn, tend to get themselves in a scenario where sometimes we can stress ourselves out by putting too much pressure on ourselves.
You had mentioned earlier that a lot of this is really self-inflicted, where you're like, "I want to be the best educator I can be. So that's why I'm doing all this work," and we want it to happen now. We don't want to wait. We always feel like waiting is not helping our students as much as we could.
So I think in the end, you're really helping your students in the long run by taking those steps in very intentional ways, because you just said it, we could throw all this at students and it might actually have the opposite effect. Maybe the students are overwhelmed or maybe the intentionality is lost.
So I love that. Fantastic. We're so happy that you had the time to come on today with us and chat with us. I'm wondering, is there any place folks can maybe get in touch with you if they are having similar challenges, or maybe somebody out there is looking to buddy up with someone who's also teaching, let's say, in the middle grades and they want to stay in touch?

Ryan Kinzler: Yeah, sure. So my Twitter handle is weird. It's @CrushTheTurtle. So it's a Finding Nemo reference. It's a long story. We don't really have time for that one. But you can find me there.

Kyle Pearce: Crush the Turtle.

Ryan Kinzler: Yeah, and I'm in the academy as well. But those are the two places, really, that I'm on social media there.

Jon Orr: Also, one thing that we do with many of our Math Moment Maker guests is it okay if we contact you, check back with you in maybe six to 12 months, maybe next year, to see how things have developed, things have changed?

Kyle Pearce: Fantastic. Fantastic. My friend, Ryan, it's been a pleasure. Thanks for taking the time and being vulnerable, opening up some of these challenges that we're all facing. There's a lot of head-nodders out there probably dealing with a lot of the same challenges and wonders. So thank you for helping to push not only yourself, but the Math Moment Maker community along with you on this journey. We'll be catching up with you soon in the academy, but then also hopefully here on the podcast in, like we said, nine to 12 months as well.

Ryan Kinzler: Sounds great, guys. Thank you.

Kyle Pearce: As always, both Jon and I learned so much from these Math Mentoring Moment episodes, and we thank you, the Math Moment Maker community, for always reaching out to hop on the show with us and get vulnerable.
If you would like to join us on a future Make Math Moments mentoring episode, head on over to makemathmoments.com/mentor and you can apply today. That's makemathmoments.com/mentor.

Jon Orr: In order to ensure you don't miss out on new episodes as they come out each week, be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform, whichever that one happens to be, apple or Spotify. Kyle, I've actually just made the switch to Spotify.

Kyle Pearce: You're making the switch, eh? Making the switch.

Jon Orr: I did. I love it. I just stopped all the subscriptions on Apple and I just moved right over to Spotify.

Kyle Pearce: Wow.

Jon Orr: I listen to all my podcasts on Spotify.

Kyle Pearce: The flippening is officially happening. Make sure you hit that subscribe button. Also, we're on YouTube. Hit that notification bell ,and we will see you in our next episode. Jon, where do we find those show notes?

Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode, plus complete transcripts that you can read right on the web, is on makemathmoments.com/episode155. Again, that's make mathmoments.com/episode155.

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

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: That was Landon just yelling in the background. If you heard him, high fives for us.

Jon Orr: And a high five for you.

Speaker 4: (singing)

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