Episode #158: Don’t Ditch Your Lesson Model; Reverse It! – A Math Mentoring Moment Episode

Dec 6, 2021 | Podcast | 0 comments



We speak with Lenny VerMaas from Lincoln Nebraska. Lenny has spent 28 years as a middle and high school classroom teacher followed by an additional 16 years working to support math teachers! Lenny shares with us struggles and strategies he’s learned and overcome over the years he’s helped teachers. 

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

  • The importance of students experiencing problem based lessons;
  • How to support teachers when creating and delivering lessons;
  • How to reverse the “I Do, We Do, You Do” teaching model; and,
  • The importance of planning the details that matter when planning lessons.
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!


Lenny VerMaas: One thing why I really like the open-middle problems because they have low floor where students can get some of the answers, but is it the most efficient. And so, providing them with ways that they can build from that. I think teachers need to see the support that's provided. And I would just go back again and say like you did, that the more of these support material that the teachers have and even just getting the idea, one thing that-

Kyle Pearce: We speak with Lenny Vermaas from Lincoln, Nebraska. Lenny has spent 28 years as a middle school and high school classroom teacher followed by an additional 16 years, working to support math educators. Lenny shares with us struggles and strategies he's learned and overcome over the years he's helped teachers.
This is another math mentoring moment episode, where we talk with a member of the Make Math Moments community, who's working through problems of practice and together, we brainstorm possible next steps and some strategies to overcome them. Jon, you ready to do this thing?

Jon Orr: Let's hit it. All right.

Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Make 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. Welcome my friends to another math mentoring moment episode, where we get to chat with a fellow math educator from the Make Math Moments community. You math moment makers out there are doing amazing things. It's always nice to get to connect with you. And today, we get to chat with someone who's had more experience in education than both Jon and I combined. It's Lenny Vermaas.

Jon Orr: Yeah. And we've had the pleasure, actually, I've had the pleasure of meeting Lenny and sitting in one of his sessions at the Nebraska, what do you call the NCTM?

Kyle Pearce: What do you call that? That's, I think it is.

Jon Orr: And it's Nebraska. Basically, it's Nebraska State Conference a couple years ago and he had a packed house and Lenny is great to listen. Funny and wise, he's got so many great insights for you coming up. You want to stick around, so let's get right to it.

Kyle Pearce: All right, here we go. Hey, hey there, Lenny. Thanks for joining us here on the Making Math Moments at matter podcast. We're super excited to have you on. When we were checking out our mentoring moments, application form and I saw your name in there, I have seen you on Twitter for quite some time, and I thought, "It's about time we get Lenny up on this show here." So, Lenny, tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you coming to us from? And can you give us a little bit of insight into your teaching backstory?

Lenny VerMaas: Yes. I'm more experienced than many of the teachers that you interview because I've been a veteran teacher for a long time. My passion has always been to help students, and I've added parents and teachers, to experience the joy, wonder and beauty of mathematics. And that's been my lifelong goal and will continue to be.
My first teaching job was at a school where I graduated from. Norris is a consolidated school district South of Lincoln, Nebraska, so it's several small towns that got together and have a consolidated school district. And for 28 years, I taught middle school and high school math there. My wife is an elementary teacher, as many times teaching runs in family and it's given me an elementary perspective. And I really enjoy working with younger children as well, though my teaching experience was middle school and high school.
And then after 28 years there, I moved to an educational service unit for 18 years. An educational service unit is our intermediate agency. So, we work with schools and teacher in districts, several districts that were around the Lincoln area, but not Lincoln. I always enjoyed sharing with other teachers when I was teaching at the state and NCTM conferences. And Jon was actually at our state conference, I think right before when the COVID kind of hit in 2019. So I got, enjoy hearing him in person.

Kyle Pearce: You're right.

Lenny VerMaas: ... and seeing him. And that moved to the issue, provided an opportunity to share with more teachers, but less opportunity to work with kids. And I would say that I really miss that directly working with students. In teaching at Norris, I taught my brothers, my own children and several of the children of my fellow classmates. But it really provided me an opportunity to get feedback from former students, which they'd come back in 10, 15, 20 years later and say something about math and teaching. I was excited about math and thought that that was enough to be excited and be able to convey that to my students.
In looking back, I did a lot of mimicking, so I would do it and then we would do it together and the students would do it, which I know now is not the best. But I do think that I asked teachers or students to explain their thinking because I had many parents and students kind of expecting me to just show them how to do it, which I did not. I helped them understand it, I think or mimic what I was doing.
And my favorite story with that is my daughter who was, I don't know, I taught her in eighth grade, but came up one time and was having problems with something. And she asked, "Show me how to do it or are you going to help me understand it?" I said, "Well, I'll help you understand it." She says, "Well, I can do that myself." But that was kind of the process that we went through to help them do the problems.
I am a long-time Math Moment podcast listener. It was my first podcast. I've listened to everyone through the...

Kyle Pearce: Wow.

Lenny VerMaas: ... all 141 episodes. And some of them, even a couple times. And one of the things I thought I was knew a lot when I was a teacher. And when I went to staff development, I found out there was a lot I didn't know. And as the last few years where I've done podcasts and in you're sharing, I've learned even more from what you have provided. So, I really thank you for all that you've been able to provide with that.

Jon Orr: That's awesome. As we were saying in, before we hit record here, that 142 episodes is a lot of hours, Lenny, for you to be listening to. And we definitely applaud your dedication to craft, to teaching it to the kids continuing so far into your say "retirement," even though it's not really retirement. It's just continuing to do the same work that we're all doing.
And you're right, I think I first met you in Nebraska when we were at that conference together a couple of years ago before all of this and you were presenting. You were doing such a great job presenting some great resources to your packed house. It was a packed house for Lenny. He's definitely super sought after as a speaker at that conference.

Kyle Pearce: So, all right, Lenny, let's dig a little bit deeper here. As you know what's coming up since you've listened to so many episodes. We want to know what your math moment is. So, if those of you who are listening right now, this is your first episode, every guest, we ask our guests what their math moment is, which is like stretching back, thinking in their classroom, thinking when they were a student.
When we say math class, what immediately comes to mind? What is that image that just pops in there when we say math class and it's different for everybody. But Lenny, let us know, what is your math moment?

Lenny VerMaas: I would have to say that I've done this 141 times because every time I listen, I have to will say, "Oh, what would I say?" So, this has been-

Kyle Pearce: He answers it himself.

Jon Orr: Little recollection.

Kyle Pearce: He's riding his bike. And all of a sudden, we ask that. He just says it aloud to nobody in around.

Lenny VerMaas: Yeah, it's been fun to do. But as you can imagine in teaching 28 years as a staff developer for 18, I never add those together. I've had lots of math moments, but I have two, one from high school and another one from teaching. And you want to remember when I was in high school, would've been the late '60s.
But I had a high school math teacher, Wayne Johnson, who was way ahead of his time when I look back at the way I see teachers doing now. He was just an excellent teacher. My senior year, I had him for Advanced Math, which would probably be like a pre-calculus class, a physics class and a science problems class. And so, this comes from the science problems class, but he really created my love of math.
But back in the day before we had the technology, one of the problems we've tackled was finding the velocity of a golf ball, hit off the tee. And we couldn't use the technology because it didn't exist. So, we made a pendulum with a piece of wood and we hit the golf ball into this pendulum. And I don't remember how we did it, but we did the momentum and how far the pendulum went to calculate the speed of the golf ball.
It's also in looking back where I realized that out a memorizer, but an understander. And I can't go back to when I learned facts and so on, but it really relates well in Trig class. Some kids would the say like the sin of 150 degrees and they would just know the answer. And when I got the sin of 150 degrees, I had to get a mental picture of where that angle was. And it said, "Well, it's a 360, 90 triangle, the Y side is the sin and it's a short side, so it's a half." So, it was a process that I kind of went through, but its kind of, I think maybe how I taught math, is not as much memorizing as understanding what you're doing.

Kyle Pearce: That's awesome and-

Lenny VerMaas: As a teacher, my favorite math moments and I have many, but I picked one. A lot of them deal with students where they collect information. And the one I'm going to share is a bouncing ball activity. The challenge was I had several balls types of balls. So, I had a tennis ball, basketball, super ball, all different balls. And the problem or the goal was, I was going to crawl up a ladder and drop the ball from a height about 10, 12 feet. And they had to predict how high the ball was going to bounce. And they did that by dropping it from various heights and recording how high it bounced.
And we would do, at that time, we just did a linear and just plotted it and kind of predict what would happen. But it was amazingly accurate. So, I would crawl up the ladder and I would take their ball up and I would drop it and they would stand beside the ladder and they would put their hand where they thought it was going to bounce and it would really work well. For the most part. Some of them worked because of the care that they took in collecting data, but it mount, bounce, and so, it was fun for them to kind of get a confirmation.
But with many of my activities, I have kind of a little trick that I put in there. And this one was not a math as much of doing what the math, but I had purchased from a science fair somewhere, a super bowl and then a ball that looked exactly it that did not. So, what I would do is and it was like marble size.

Kyle Pearce: crosstalk.

Lenny VerMaas: I'd crawl up the ladder about midway through. So, we'd done maybe six or 10 where they were really good at getting it. And then I'd drop that ball and I'd switch it when I went up the ladder and I'd dropped that ball. And I'd just watched because I knew it was happening. All the kids' eyes they followed the ball down and then back up and then they'd go right back down because that ball would just sit on the floor. And they would say-

Kyle Pearce: What a trickster.

Lenny VerMaas: So, it was one of those things that they enjoyed doing and it was fun. And then I would drop real super bowl. So, it was a fun activity.

Jon Orr: I love it.

Lenny VerMaas: And so, I have several of those kind of activities that I like to do where you put something in it to kind of catch their interest. And some of that sparking the curiosity as well that you guys share frequently.

Kyle Pearce: And I'm hearing that theme and a few things that you've mentioned. You sort of hinted at a method that I think we have all experienced and have all used. You had mentioned how you sort of did a little bit of that. I do, we do, you do, but something that was really important that you had mentioned is that you really, I think you yourself mentioned about this idea that you weren't a memorizer, you were an understander and that was sort of your, it sounds your main goal, your main focus for students, so you've got that curiosity going on. I'm hearing about estimating and predicting going on.
A lot of these ideas, a lot of these elements from the three-part framework that we use and even your bouncing ball activity, also throwing in some humor there a little trick ball is always important as well. We're sort of hearing and I know Barbie Bungee is one of those activities that seems to have legs literally and figuratively, right? The Barbies have legs, but then also the activity is something that a lot of teachers seem to do.
And Jon was mentioning here in our chat about an activity called Vroom, Vroom, which is wind up cars and students estimating and predicting. And I'm seeing this theme here that when we get those students in there and actually getting them thinking and predicting and estimating, not only does it engage students, but it also gives them that opportunity to actually make sense of the math.
So, I'm wondering, how do you feel your math moments sort of influenced who you became as an educator and continue to develop as an educator, even though you're now into retirement, you're still learning as you go. And I'm just wondering, is this something that you think would have happened anyway or was it maybe Wayne Johnson that maybe had that spark that sort of led you down that path? How would you sort of classify or articulate sort of who you've become as an educator so far?

Lenny VerMaas: I think Wayne had a big influence on that. And again, I think when you first get in the classroom, it's just kind of surviving the first couple years and as I was working with new teachers, I always share that. As I went forward and moved forward, I definitely look for activities because I think that's where the students really get involve. I did several activities where you'd blow up a balloon and run it down on a string to see how far you could get the balloon down and rolling the ball down a ramp to see how far you could get it to go, so a lot of activities.
One activity that kind of pointed out something to me that I've grown to embrace a lot is that I like the saying, "Students don't care what until they know you care." And so, I kind of share that slower, but students really don't care what you're going to share with them until they know you care. And I had, in my trig class, we did a parabolic collector. So, we did parabolas and then they had to design a solar collector that they would heat up. And we actually had a temperature probe we put in the middle. And it was a fun activity. Some would be flat, some would be narrow, and we'd take it out and test it.
And I had a student who come back to me many years later and said, "Oh, you remembered that solar collector activity." And how much fun he had and stuff like that. And so then I asked him, I said, "What do you remember about parabolas?" "Nothing." But he remembered that activity and the purpose of a parabola is to concentrate the signal for solar collectors kind of at the point. So, it was something that I think had an impact on me that you need to get students and activities is a good way to get that.
And another one I liked is that and I just picked this one up that how to is greater for, and that is listening to students is greater than listening for answers. And I think as a teacher, when I work with teachers, I would constantly say, "Don't pick up the pencil, let the students do the writing." I had kind of that where you're like, "Well here, let me show you how to do this," and take their pencils. But I really think you need to listen to the students and instead of for, what you want them to say. I think that's important as well when you are working with students.

Kyle Pearce: Definitely. I like the way you said that there, that the to is greater than for. And I think it's something that we've picked up along the way. But definitely something that I wish I knew when I first started teaching, right? So, there's all these things that you had when you first start teaching that you have this image of the way your math class is or the way you're going to teach and it's like morphs over time. But if you could go back in time and tell yourself all these things, that's one thing I would definitely say to myself is that I should listen more than definitely teach.
And then I really respect the fact that you said that students are going to, they're not going to about anything that you're going to do in class, unless they know you care. That's another thing that I wish I had learned a long time ago because it wasn't until I think I realized that my classroom started to change and how I treated my students as human beings instead of kids who are supposed to just get this math stuff that I'm supposed to kind of shove down their throat.

Jon Orr: And it's easy when you're early in your career, right? And Lenny, you mentioned this, right? Where you're just kind of holding on for dear life, right?

Lenny VerMaas: Right.

Jon Orr: Trying to get through, trying to figure this out. And I think it's so easy to get wrapped up into the stuff. And you're just worried about the content you're worried about, "Am I teaching this correctly or accurately?" There's even concepts where maybe you haven't seen these concepts in a number of years and you have all these distractions and it's so easy to forget that there's 30 some odds students in front of you who are kind of watching you in your own world, trying to just keep it together. When if we flip that around and we sort of go, "You know what, the content? We're going to figure that out." We can't completely ignore it.
But if I can just hone in on these people here in front of me and show them I care and create that culture, all these other pieces, I think will fall into piece or into place so much easier than say if we just really focus in on that content. Because you look up eventually one day and you realize holy smokes, "I haven't made as much of an effort to connect with these students than I should have," right? And that's obviously going to have an impact on the learning.

Lenny VerMaas: It's so important that as you're teaching and gaining experience that and many times, I'd to go back and apologize for what I didn't do, but I think you continue to learn. And a lot, I'm a big growth mindset person. And so, Jo Boaler is has really impacted a lot. And I think I did a lot of that before, but I have some more formal ways to kind of express that and how students are struggling, but that's important. And I think that's a one thing that teachers and parents need to realize is that when you struggle, it's not bad.
Matt Larson, who is actually was NCTM President, but was from Lincoln and so actually know him. But he shared that parents don't to hear the word "fail." So I liked what he said was is "Expend energy to learn." So, students need to expend energy to learn. And a lot of times with students and teachers, they'll say, well, our students probably are more, "Have you played a video game?" And they'll say, "Yes, all of them have." And I said, "Well, did you ever get killed?" And "Yes, I have." And I said, "Did you quit?" "No."
That's what I want them to experience for math is that mentality of being able to keep going and the power of yet, and being able to, "I don't know how to do this yet." I know with my grandkids, it's been so entrenched in them that whenever they say, "Well, I can't do this." I just give them that look, and then they'll say, "Yet." So, there is a lot to be said about that growth mindset and the persistence.
I think teachers, a lot of times when they see students struggle, they like to jump in and help out. I think that our energy would be better expended to help the students and the teacher realize that that struggle is a big part of learning. And that's what you really need to be able to experience it, to be able to learn.

Kyle Pearce: Right. The question I was going to bring up, Lenny, that at the beginning of this interview, is that you had mentioned that you had first started teaching with the, "Yes, I do, you do, I do, we do, you do" model. And you had said, I think I'm going to quote here is you saying, "What I know now is not the best." And I was going to bring this back and throw at you saying, "Why?" But I think you've answered that by saying that the struggle is so important for students to learn, right? Is that you don't get the struggle if you just show them what to do and then ask them to repeat it.
So, I'm going to kind of steer this conversation to the pebble that's currently in your shoe. The thing that got you going right now. And so, that's what usually are episodes on mentoring moment episodes are all about, is about you and giving you some guidance or you probably could give us the guidance, but we want to chat here with you about what's currently eating at you and then we'll keep kind of digging at that. So, what did you want to chat with us about specifically today?

Lenny VerMaas: Well, specifically with the one thing is as I work with teachers, a lot of teachers and some of it is elementary teachers, but I know middle school and high school teachers are more entrenched in that, but elementary teachers get it because I think they feel comfortable doing reading. And reading is very much. And it's one thing that Anita Archer said is "I do, we do, you do," and I kind of cringed when I heard that, because at that point I was really thinking that that's not the best way to learn math. And I think we need to realize that we learn math different. And so looking for ways to be able to kind of flip that upside down.
And I know the one thing that you have kind of proposed and shared is more that you do and then we do and then I do kind of doing it backwards, but I've kind of come on a couple ways to be able to, I think, format that a little bit better. So, it's starting with the student doing the "you do." So, you give them a problem, like any of your tasks, the three act task. And you kind of let them in and you create that curiosity and then that's what motivates them to get started, so it's a "you do."
And then I do think you need to make sure that if it's not a low floor activity, that they can't get started on that you give them some hints as you go through. And I know SanGiovanni has shared that I think at some point you need to stop and ask some probing questions. What did this group find out that might help some other ones get it started? Or individually going around and kind of making sure that they're asking questions to get them going, but leaving it very much "I do."
And then the "we do," one thing that you've talked a lot about is a five practices book and I think that's so important when you do the "you share," so I like you do, you share, and then I make the connection. So, the students share their ideas. And I think it's good that it comes from the students because they can see that the students are doing it. And then you finish up with you make the connections between the things that are being shown. And so, I think that that really helps to build those skills that they have.

Jon Orr: I want to jump in here and just talk about this kind of backwards model that kind of mimics what we chat about. And maybe just thinking about you've got a lot of experience working with teachers who have been using maybe this model and other models is I'm wondering for our listeners here. When you have helped teachers work through the, "Hey, you do first." And then when we have the consolidation and connect stage, I'm wondering what struggles from teachers do you see?
What do you hear? What are some stumbling blocks for teachers who are like, "I've always wanted to do the five practices or build it with thinking classroom." And I know it starts with kids doing problems first. What kind of big struggles do you see with the teachers? What are specific stumbling blocks that prevent teachers from kind of getting going? What are you hearing from the teachers you work with?

Lenny VerMaas: I think one thing that and you hear this many times, we always teach the way that we were taught. And so that's how they were taught and I will share that. I think it's more important to teach the way you wish you had been taught. And so, I think it's important for them to experience an activity. And one of the stumbling blocks I think, is finding that activity to begin with. And that's where you guys and many others have, I mean, there's, anybody that can't go on and find some resources, Dan Meyer has so many and so, Graham Fletcher does and just a wealth. And I have a lot of those linked on my site, but I think finding activity.
And then having the it might not work well the first time, so you have to be persistent and try it again, just like you want the students to do. But being able to help the students or the teachers see that, that that's a better way to do it. But I think just taking that first jump and always, someone shared that, "You just need to do it. You just need to try it. It might not come out the way you want, but you need to start." And I think you have, but there's a lot of support there to be able to do those activities.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. And I think, as you mentioned, first off, I think this idea of the way you wish you were taught, I think is such a key piece is kind of thinking what didn't maybe work for you or what didn't resonate with you as a student can be a good way to thinking. While those supports are out there and those tasks are out there, it's something we're hearing as well. And all three of us are sort of in similar roles, in many cases where we're trying to help other educators. We also don't want to force them either, right?
We don't want to model what we're saying not to do, right? Where it's like, "Hey, just follow us. And then we'll do this together and then we'll do it together and then you go do it on your own." We sort of want to power them to do that work on their own. And that's definitely something that, and I'm sure you've seen, Lenny, in a lot of our most recent units that Jon and I have been producing is really trying to have those teacher supports there. So, teachers get the big idea and the strategies, the models that we're trying to uncover in that lesson.
Because I think, and I know this is me, I'm speaking from my own experience. When I started to shift my practice, we tend to flip all the way to the other side. It's like that pendulum swing of education. And as soon as a teacher thinks of doing it differently, they think they can't make it look or sound anything like what they were doing previously. That means, "I can't say anything to students." When in reality, I think you've articulated it pretty clearly that we're not actually doing it a whole lot different. We're just sort of flipping the order of the way we're going to do things. Because at the end of the day, we've got to make sure that students walk away with that big idea. Right? We don't want to just leave it to chance that students figured it out.
When you did your bouncing ball activity, I'm sure at the end of the activity, you didn't sort of go, "Okay, that was great. And let's move along." Now, it's like what did we learn here? What are the big ideas here? What can be said or the relationships here, the patterns that we're noticing and really giving students this opportunity to sort of consolidate. And if students don't make those connections, that's where we do sort of take that lead. We need to sort of step in and bring in that explicit instruction. So, I think that's so key.
But one thing that I know we're working on is really trying to provide resources that teachers can leverage, even if they're not so sure how to do this style of lesson. We call it a problem-based lesson. We really want to make sure that they have those supports there, so that they can anticipate what might happen. They've pre-planned what to do if a student does this or if they do that or if they miss the whole point. What are we going to do then? Because of course we don't want to sit there feeling we have no next step.
I'm wondering for you when you're working with educators and you're trying to help them shift, I know those challenges. We've highlighted some of the challenges that educators have. But have you had any sort of methods or modes or models that have helped teachers make that first step? Because I think that's something, for those who are coaches and consultants listening right now or maybe a teacher who tends to take the lead in their school and wants to help other educators, trying to figure out like, "How do I get started? How do I encourage teachers to sort of get the courage to move forward" can be really helpful.
Has there been anything that's worked for you or maybe you might want to share something that hasn't worked? I know what doesn't work is me going in there and saying, "Hey, do it this way. That has never worked very well for me." What sort of bag of tricks do you have there, Lenny?

Lenny VerMaas: One thing that I would share is that I think it's important for them to experience an activity. So, I've actually done the ball activity with teachers, so they get the idea. And I've done three act tasks with teachers and so, I think it's important that they get that. But I would agree with what you said that a lot of times, I think when we flip it, we think that you give the kids a problem and then you let them struggle with it. And I think it's important that you provide them with that support as they're going through them.
And that's one thing why I really the open middle problems because they have low floor where students can get some of the answers, but is it the most efficient and so, providing them with ways that they can build from that. I think teachers need to see the support that's provided and I would just go back again and say like you did that the more of these support material that the students have and/or the teachers have, and even just getting the ideas. The ones that you have shared and the other activities like that, so that the teachers will see, "I think this is something that I could do and try."
And again, I always applaud at the end, you always will say, "Reflect back on what you did because a lot of times you might do an activity and it's going to be maybe another year before you do it again. But take some time to reflect on what you learned, what worked well, what would I do different. And then you can mold that as you're going, moving ahead.

Jon Orr: I always find that to be one of the toughest things, especially the classroom teacher, because you're constantly like, "I ran this lesson, I ran this activity. We did all the things that I was thinking of doing. And then it's like, "They all left the door." I got another class coming in and I got to do that again or I got to do a different lesson with them. But then it's like at the end of the day, you're like, "Okay, well, now I got to get ready for tomorrow lesson."
So, it's like scheduling time to reflect is tough. And it's like we can reflect on the fly like, "Hey, I would do this differently next time." But then say writing it down or figuring out how to record that, so that you remember that next time is definitely tough. And that was actually probably, I don't know about you, Kyle, that reflection is probably why I started to blog in the first place is after my daily lessons, I would pick something, like one thing, to write about. And I just put it up on the blog website and that morphed into me thinking about my lessons more and more and more and more.
Lenny, what would you recommend to teachers for that reflection? Because it is that tough thing when we have kids coming in, going out, multiple lessons a day. What are some tips that you would share with teachers to say like, "This is how you could work in reflection into your practice?"

Lenny VerMaas: One of the things I like about the five practices is that anticipation stage. And Kyle, I think you mentioned it, where you anticipate the questions the students are going to ask and you actually write them down. "And what am I going to say if a student is stuck here?" So, you're thinking about those ahead of time.
I know at some point in my teaching, my lesson plans when I first started teaching were very detailed. And then as I started teaching more, had been doing it more, I would just kind of wing it. And I found that I was not asking the deeper question. So, I would kind of put some, "Well, I want to ask this question because it's going to be a deeper question." And so, I would write this down and make sure that I use those with the students, so that it would cause them to think a little bit about what they're doing."
But Five Practices, if you follow that, they really have you anticipate what's going to go and then pre-planning that. Thinking about ahead time. Now, you're not going to get them all because especially the first time you do an activity, you're going to get students that, "Oh, I never would've thought of that." But at least you've thought about it a little bit ahead of time. And then I think taking some time at the end to kind of jot down some of those ideas and keep them.

Kyle Pearce: I really think it's interesting. I have a visual in my mind of the super detailed lesson plans at the beginning. Then sort of going to the wing. And I think everyone goes there in their career. It's like, "Okay, I think I got this." But then you realize over time, you're like, "Maybe it's not as easy as that." And then you go back to more detail again, but it's almost like, what it sounds like to me is you eventually work towards more important detail. Because if I go back to my original lesson plans, they were super detailed, but there weren't very good details in there, if you know what I mean?
So, it was like I had step-by-step-by-step, every single thing I was going to do, but I didn't have those great questions in there. It wasn't like I ditched great questions. It was like I just realized that that wasn't helping so much. But over time with that experience with sort of seeing the difference when you are intentional, that word intentional comes up a lot for us now is being intentional about what we're after. We can skip some of the other details, but "Boy, oh, boy, do I want to make sure that students get this, this and this?" I think that's so key.
And I think it's great to have you on the show to sort of give people wide lens of how you continue to grow and you constantly grow and you never stop growing. So, I want to thank you for coming on the show to share that with our audience. Lenny, I'm wondering, I've got a bunch of takeaways myself. Jon and I always say, every time we do a podcast episode, it's awesome. The is a form of reflection for us because we get to talk about sometimes repeating concepts or ideas and approach them from different lenses and get different perspectives.
If a listener is on their bike ride, just like you, listening to this episode and you want them to have something, a key takeaway they remember from this episode. So, if they're ever scrolling through the website and they see, "Oh yeah, there is that episode with Lenny," what are you hoping? What's the big takeaway you'd to leave with them here today?

Lenny VerMaas: Well, thanks. The one thing I would say, and I think you said it a little while ago. I think another component that we really haven't touched on that I hope to do more is with parents. And I think parents need to know what our expectations are. I think it was maybe just a couple of episodes ago. You said, "We're not teaching new math, but we have new expectations of understanding." And I liked the way you put that because I think we need to share with parents that it's not the same expectations, it's the same math, but we want them to understand, be flexible on their learning and all that. And I think that that's important.
I think for teachers moving forward, I would just say that there's no better time like the present. And if you want your students to be able to do these things and learn from struggling, you need to experience some of that yourself. It may not work the first time, but you just need to do your best and try it and then modify it and work. And I'll go back to my, because when I'm riding my bike, I will text myself a couple of times when I have so really good that comes up. So, I'm stopping on my bike and I'm typing a text to myself, so I won't forget it.
But I think that reflection part is so important when you're doing activities and having the great materials that you have and taking a look at all of the things that are there. I think this is a unique time. I think podcast are a very good way to do that. There's a lot of resources there and there's just so much information that you can take advantage of and be able to help your students enjoy the joy, wonder and beauty of math. And I think we need to make that shift.
You also shared the video or the YouTube about the five ways to change math. And I think that is when parents hear math and kids even, they have this preconceived notion of, "Oh, I didn't ever learn that." So, I'm very much known for when parents say, "I never liked math." I just say, "Well, that's not, it's not hereditary. Jo Boaler says, 'Everyone can learn math.' Unfortunately, maybe you didn't have a teacher like me to help you enjoy it, but you can find that joy there. And don't tell your kids that, that's what you think because it does pass down."

Jon Orr: There you have it. Lenny, where can our listeners learn more about you or get in touch with you? Give us a couple of places that they can reach out.

Lenny VerMaas: Well, as you shared I am very active on Twitter. So, my Twitter is @Lenny VerMaas. I have a website which I'll share, and it's a bitly. It's just bitly Lenny V. And I have lots and lots of activities. Every time I listen to your podcast or you add something, I just added the video YouTube on there, so I keep adding to it. But it has resources for...

Kyle Pearce: Awesome.

Lenny VerMaas: ... parents, for teachers and broken down with activities, so there's lots of resources there. And I would add my email address. I'm retired, so I love it when somebody emails me and ask a question or wants more information. So, my email address is lennyvermaas@gmail.com. It's kind of an inside joke, but my last name VerMaas. It's V-E-R-M-A-A-S. My father would share that when somebody doesn't email me and they say, it's not working, I'd say, "Well, look at the end, because they spell it as A-S-S." He says, "We might act that sometimes, but that's not how we spell it." So, I'm more than happy crosstalk.

Kyle Pearce: That's good.

Jon Orr: I love it. And if they-

Lenny VerMaas: I'm more than happy in any of those places to be able to connect and share activities.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome.

Jon Orr: I love it. And if they want a face-to-face connection with you, just check out some of those back roads in Nebraska, just start with the Lincoln and they might find you biking. So, look for the guy who's pulled over-

Kyle Pearce: And texting.

Jon Orr: Texting himself, a couple reflections, and you found your guy right there. So, Lenny, it's been fantastic to have you on the show. It's awesome seeing how active you are in the Twitter community, as you had mentioned. We'll make sure to include those resources there. That bitly page is going to be full of awesomeness. I know it. Yeah, Thank you so much for sharing some of your journey with Math Moment Maker, community.
Some of the struggles that we all continue to struggle with, that gradual release of responsibility model. That's a hard one to shake. I think you've really given our listeners a lot to think about there. And I'm hoping that we'll get to catch up with you at a face-to-face conference sometime soon, once they all start running again. Hopefully, the ones in the fall are going to actually happen. So, thanks so much and we will be in touch online soon.

Lenny VerMaas: I'm looking forward to hearing my favorite part. You're closing here.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah.

Jon Orr: All right.

Kyle Pearce: Oh, yeah, we forgot about that. We're going to do this one live today.

Jon Orr: All right. Lenny really wanted us to do it. For those of you listening. We usually record the ending separately, but Lenny really wants to hear the high five. So we're going to do it right now.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, here it is. Well, Math Moment Makers, that's it for now. I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm John Orr, and.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.

Jon Orr: And high five for you.

Kyle Pearce: There it is.

Jon Orr: I was-

Kyle Pearce: Thanks, Jon. There, Lenny. Have a great one.

Jon Orr: Take care, Lenny.

Lenny VerMaas: Okay. Thank you very much.

Kyle Pearce: As always, and as we mentioned in this episode, Jon and I learned so much from doing these particular podcast episodes. Getting a chance to listen to different perspectives from different parts of North America and around the world and today was no different. How are you going to do some of that reflecting that Lenny recommends that all teachers do. Are you on the bike like Lenny? Are you going to pull over right now and send a text message to yourself? Maybe you're using that voice memo app on your phone or Siri or what's the Hey Google or whatever device you're using right now. Make sure that you take some time to pause, reflect and think about those key takeaways, so that it doesn't wash away footprints in the sand.

Jon Orr: Yeah. You could share with your partner or share with a colleague or just do what Lenny says. You could actively reflect by thinking about that anticipation stage of the lesson planning journey there. So, that's what we want to do or you could, hey, head on over to our free private Facebook group, Math Moment Makers K-12 and share over there, or any social media @Make Math Moments, our Twitter and Instagram handle.

Kyle Pearce: Yes. And I know this morning, Jon, when I woke up, I went into the academy and the community area and I responded to some posts in there as well. So, academy members make sure that you're heading over to that community area. Share what you're working on, update those progress logs, and let's keep growing together.
In order to ensure that you don't miss out on any, any new content that we're sharing, make sure to hit that subscribe button if you are listening on Apple podcasts or on Spotify or whatever podcasting platform. And even now, like this episode right here, it's on YouTube. Make sure you go and ring that notification bell, so that YouTube will let when we have a new video coming out just for you.

Jon Orr: As always show notes and links to any resources we mentioned here in this episode, plus complete transcripts you can read from the web are found over at makemathmoments.com/episode159. That's make moments.com/episode159.

Kyle Pearce: Jon, I don't know if we have to re-end this because I think...

Jon Orr: Yeah, I think so.

Kyle Pearce: ... we ended this with Lenny.

Jon Orr: Let's do it again.

Kyle Pearce: But we're going to do it again anyway. Until next time, Math Moment Makers, I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us and a big high five to you.

powered by


Download the Cheat Sheets in PDF form so you can effectively run problem based lessons from a distance!

MMM From A Distance Cheat Sheets Smaller.001


There is a LOT to know, understand, and do to Make Math Moments From a Distance.

That’s why so many Math Moment Makers like YOU have joined the Academy for a month ON US!

You heard right: 30 days on us and you can cancel anytime. Dive into our distance learning course now…

Make Math Moments From A Distance Course
LEARN MORE about our Online Workshop: Making Math Moments That Matter: Helping Teachers Build Resilient Problem Solvers.

Thanks For Listening

To help out the show:


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Pedagogically aligned for teachers of K through Grade 12 with content specific examples from Grades 3 through Grade 10.

In our self-paced, 12-week Online Workshop, you'll learn how to craft new and transform your current lessons to Spark Curiosity, Fuel Sense Making, and Ignite Your Teacher Moves to promote resilient problem solvers.