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Make Math Moments District Mentorship Program
Empower Your Students (and Teachers) Using A Professional Learning Plan That Sparks Engagement, Fuels Deep Learning, and Ignites Action!

Episode #169: How Do You Create A Math Moment Maker?

Feb 21, 2022 | Podcast | 0 comments

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Today the tables have turned! In this episode Jon & Kyle switch over to the other side of the interview and are put on the hot seat! 

Jess Michalchuk, a Grade 7 educator from Foam Lake, Saskatchewan working towards a Masters of Education, interviews Jon & Kyle about memorable math moments from their teaching experience, their thoughts on leadership and innovation in mathematics and much more!

Stick around and you’ll hear stories from Kyle and Jon’s classrooms, how they got started on changing their pedagogy, and what it means to become a math moment maker.

You’ll Learn

  • Why you need to use a “high/low/buffalo” routine. 

  • Why random grouping does more for your culture than you think it does. 

  • How taking risks can change your career. 

  • What does an innovator and changer do in math class? 

  • Are you using language that causes shaming with students.

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FULL TRANSCRIPT

Kyle Pearce: Today the tables have turned. Yes, that's right friends, in this episode, both John and I are going to be switching over to the other side of the table-

Jon Orr: The dark side.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Yeah. We're going to be put in the hot seat. Today, we've got a special guest who's going to be interviewing us. It's Jess Michalchuk, a grade seven educator from Foam Lake Saskatchewan, who's working towards his masters of education. And today he's coming on to interview us about some memorable math moments from our teaching experience, some of our thoughts on leadership and innovation in mathematics and so much more.

Jon Orr: Yeah. Stick around, and you're going to hear stories from both of us and our classroom experiences, how we got started in changing our pedagogy and what it means to be a math moment maker. Kyle, here we go. 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 John Orr. We are from makemathmoments.com and together with you...

Kyle Pearce: The community of math 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 you my friends are going to be diving into an episode here where Jess is going to be doing the interviewing and Jon-

Jon Orr: Yeah, that's different for us.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. I felt very sort of out of place, like how does it start? Who goes where? Who does what? But you know what, at the end of it, I don't know about you, Jon, I feel like the conversation was pretty rich. It was great to go back to share some of our memories from our teaching experience, some of our challenges, some of our, you know, we'll call them dead ends that really we discuss why they weren't dead ends in the end and so much more. How are you feeling about the conversation?

Jon Orr: Yeah, it was like you said, it was great to reflect and share our journey and think back on what maybe are some of those key moments that changed the way that we were doing things. So it was good to reflect. And I think Jess got a lot out of it and Jess is working towards an assignment project and he reached out to us and said, "Hey look, can I interview you for this project?" And we said, "Hey, why don't we record it and see how it goes." So it turned out well, so we want you to listen. So, hey, let's not waste more time. Here it is.

Jess Michalchuk: Hey, Kyle and John, very excited to be on your show. This is pretty overwhelming, excited, anxious, all this stuff, just to be a part of podcast, first time ever.

Jon Orr: Hey Jess, we are excited that you could join us and we're super pumped to chat with you on your project and answer questions and hey, we flipped the tables, right Kyle? We're getting interviewed today and it's a nice little change.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It's probably more odd or weird feeling for John and I, because it's like we're in a completely different sort of mind. Headspace is I think what I'm after, but we're super excited. So yeah, thanks for hopping on-

Jon Orr: Fire away.

Kyle Pearce: Let's rock and roll.

Jess Michalchuk: This is part of my project and my class is learning through leadership and main themes are innovation, change, leadership. And based on what I've just done in my math class, I teach math seventh grade, using your resources from the website and a couple of the courses that I've taken, I feel like you guys are a great fit to learn more from. So I'm going to start off, I got a question. I don't know if who wants to go first, but so under those three categories, innovator, change, changer or leader, you got to pick one and other very interconnected, but if you were to say, I am this one over the other two, what would you say and why?

Jon Orr: Jess, I think I just view myself as a classroom teacher and I'm a high school teacher. And so I guess the best one that I feel like describes me is a changer. I feel like I've done a lot of change in my teaching over the course of my career. And I think I'm trying, and this is part of the mission of Make Math Moments is to help other people change their career and also the pathway that they're on because I was a very traditional teacher for many years, but I think I was also a teacher who would dabble in say technology and trying to engage my students in a certain way. But my lessons very much looked like the way that we've described them in previous episodes of, hey, I'm going to introduce the topic today. Oh, we're going to take up the day's homework from before.
So now I'm going to say, hey today, we're going to learn about this. Here's some examples. Let me show you how to do them. Hey, you try this one, I'll take it up. You try this one, I'll take it up. Now you just do a whole whack of them. And then the last 25 minutes is for you to practice your homework. That was for me for a long time, but then I would slide in, oh, I'm going to do a lesson on the Texas instruments TI-Nspire. It was like, I went to a workshop up on that and was like, okay, that seems pretty cool because it almost had like a little mouse built into the TI-Nspire. For those of you who are remembering those calculators, it was like the first way we could graph parabolas and show how things changed very quickly.
It was before Desmos time. It was before the internet had such a power of online resources. And I think I just made small changes to my practice that eventually built upon each other. And it was one small change here, taking a little bit of a risk and doing something different than the rest of my colleagues, and then trying to help my students understand math at a deeper level. And then that pathway just evolved into more and more change. And then you look back 15 years later and you feel like you're in a completely different place. And I think a lot of us will do that at over the course of our career. But I feel like when I look back, that's a completely different teacher than I am now, but it wasn't like there was one moment that made, hey, I was there and now I'm here.
And it was a switch. It was not like the switch. And I think a lot of people when we have conversations about change and pedagogical change in teaching practice and mathematics, when people want to become all of a sudden something different and see that difference, they think it's a snap change and it's this thing, like I was this now I'm this and it's completely different. And for me, it wasn't like that. It was a gradual change over years. And I think it's hard to help people see that that change does take time and we can't just jump from one person into another without going through that change. And you know what, and I don't think I would change that. I don't think I would go back and go, could I jump from here to here really fast? I think going through all of those lessons over the course of my career led me to where I am now.

Jess Michalchuk: And just when you mentioned that, I still kind of remember, it just sits in the back of your mind. It's like, I got to do something different. I want to try something. And I was that way, like, hey, I'm trying this. And then I walk in and it doesn't work. And you're just like, what? This should work instantly for me.

Jon Orr: Right.

Jess Michalchuk: And now I look back, because it's been a few years, and it takes time. Everything you do new is a new skill and you got to keep practicing. So I do appreciate that and I like how I can relate to that. So I'm not sure I would fit on the map of your journey, but at least I know I'm going in the right direction.

Jon Orr: Cool.

Kyle Pearce: That's awesome.

Jon Orr: Kyle, what about you?

Kyle Pearce: Well, I'm like, listen to that and I'm nodding and I think there's probably a lot of teachers who can relate to what Jon said, and Jess you're sort of nodding as well, kind of like, okay. Yeah, I got this. And even thinking of like, it is such a slow process and of course, anything we can do to maybe speed up that journey is something that we would advocate that all educators do. But with the caveat being, no matter what you do, it's still not going to be like a, hey by tomorrow, it's ready or by next week, or maybe even next semester. And I just reflected on before we hit record, Jess, you had mentioned that you went back and listened to episode one and Jon and I, we probably should go back to listen to episode one, because I'm sure there's so many things that we didn't realize back then when we listened the first time and compared to the way we do things now that are probably different.
Maybe other people may not see the same changes, but I'm sure we would see it. And that's three years of doing this weekly. And I don't know, I could totally relate to that. When I think of those three titles, Jon, I was like you, I was like, oh geez, I'm scrambling to write these down because I want to, you know, so we've got innovator, changer and leader. And I would say for me, I think I thought for a long time, I'm picturing Jon with his TI whatever it was 83, 98, whatever-

Jon Orr: Nspires.

Kyle Pearce: The Nspires, right. The actual CAS. So you could program them and do all these things. I knew back then when we were trying these new ideas that I thought I was an innovator and then I quickly Googled it while Jon was talking and the definition is a person or the definition Google told me, I don't know how official that makes it. But it says a person who introduces new methods, ideas, or products. And something that I think Jon and I have realized over this journey and I'm sure there's a lot of other educators who feel the same thing is that it's pretty rare when you actually, from the ground up, create a new idea, when you actually create a completely new idea.
Of course you could have spins on it. What I realized is that I'm actually, it's not one of these three, it's just a learner. And I would say if I had had to pick one, I'd probably say changer just from my own perspective of changing what I'm doing in order to iterate through this process. So much like Jess you were saying, it's like you go in, you try it, and it doesn't work the first time and okay, I'm going to change that again.
And I'm going to change that. And of course we're inspired to try to help other people change and have their epiphanies. For me, that's the one that I guess resonates with me the most is that most of our ideas, even the three part framework we always talk about are really a bunch of amazing ideas that are out there. But they're all either in isolation or maybe not fully understood. And we try to bring them together and tried to continue iterating these ideas together into a system, into this framework to see, hey, can we make this something that we can do with some relative consistency? We always say relative because it's never perfect. And there's always days where you're off or you didn't feel like it went so well. But for me that's the one that I'm going to, I guess, resort to, but I wish that fourth one was in there, which is again, learner, just like learning. And when you learn to do better, you do better. Which is the pretty famous quote there by Maya Angelou.

Jess Michalchuk: Yeah, just how you're describing the innovation piece, I just think of it as awareness. So you're teaching 10 years ago and you're at that point where you become aware, it's like this isn't working and then there's ideas out there, even between you two, there's probably people out there doing stuff that stole ideas from you and building on that and trying new things and innovating from what you've created. And definitely I would say you guys are changers based on your story. That kind of stands out too.
And I know you mentioned Dan Meyer all the time and is it three act math classes, right? Yeah. And so, and I've tried a few of those too, and yeah, it's just this worked and I feel I'm at a point now where it would work better just with a little bit of practice. And so I would say for your implementation of innovation, so you've had lots of ideas coming at you and you're making these changes, is there one that was the difference maker or the one that stands out? Maybe one of the first things you tried. I know, Kyle, you talked about your one to one classroom piece.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, absolutely. That's what pops into my mind is maybe not necessarily the big shift, but I think it definitely helped me with shifting what I was looking for. And I think for quite a long time, I resorted to technology. I think this is still a thing that we see a lot in education. A lot of district goals have technology involved and now they've broadened it to 21st century competencies and things of that nature. That is amazing. But I thought it was the technology itself was going to change things for those students. And we say those students, those students who come into math class, are already feeling defeated. I know, Jess, you're teaching grade seven, I know you're teaching some other grades as well, but students oftentimes, by the time they get to grade seven, a lot of students have sort of made up their mind as to whether, or maybe their mind has been made up for them, as to whether they're a math person or not.
And when we think of those students who are coming in already defeated, I thought technology might be the thing that would change that. But the reality was is I had to think bigger. So I went down the rabbit hole. I'm so happy I did. I spent so much time and energy and effort putting grants together, proposals, learning how to deploy class set of iPads without any help from IT departments, because we didn't have any iPads in the system yet. And doing all those things, I learned so much, but I would say the thing I learned so much through that work and I hope people can think of this as a way to maybe look at themself and think, when you put a lot of work into something, sometimes it feels like the end result isn't what you were hoping for.
And I feel like that's a perfect example for me is I've spent so many hours after school, before school, during school trying to make this program change things for students. And what I realized is that it can be helpful, but technology itself wasn't of the answer. I was sort of like going down the wrong rabbit hole to find the fix for this math class problem. And what it made me realize is that, hey, maybe I need to zoom out again and start looking around. And that's when I started going to conferences and hearing people speak, Dan Meyer, as you've already mentioned.
But then also a lot of other educators who were talking about these things like strategies and math models, I'm like, what's a math model? What does it mean to use manipulatives in my math class? These were all brand new ideas I had heard of them, but I didn't think there was anything there worth digging into. And for me, I think that experience even just to realize that you can put a lot of effort into something, and even though that thing itself may not have produced the results you were looking for, I think what I learned from that was that helped me to look in a different direction. Had I not done that, I could still believe that today and still be hitting that same wall and spinning my wheel. So the effort is worth it, even though it didn't necessarily maybe do what I was hoping or had intended for originally.

Jess Michalchuk: Early on when you started this, did you find that discouraging because there's a few moments this year where I put in so much time to create these lessons and get in the front of the room and yeah, it was a couple of them were such flops. And I'm just like, oh, why did I spend so much time? You take a little bit time off and then you're back to the drawing board and moving forward.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. I feel that way a lot. And Jon, you've had a lot to experience with the tech piece too so I'm sure it'll segue nicely for you to sort of fill in. But it's funny because I recently had to edit something that I haven't looked at in like five or six years. And I saw all of these old files that I hadn't gone into and I opened up a bunch of them and I looked at them and I was sort of like, wow, I spent so much time on that stuff. And I'm not using any of that anymore.
But I could look at it and say, wow, I wasted my time. But again, I really believe that is the time spent, that energy that you spend is the learning. And the learning is the part that is most valuable out of all of this. Had I not done that work and so much other work, who knows?

Jon Orr: Yeah, you might not be in this position.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. And we're still not quote unquote there yet. We haven't solved all the math class problems, but I'm guessing that we wouldn't be in the position we are now where we're going, okay, we feel like we're now on this path and moving in the direction that we really want to be moving in.

Jess Michalchuk: And just add to that, because when you talk about being a learning, a teacher is kind of complacent and just keeps doing the same thing over and over. You really forget what it's like to be the learner and on the learning side. And that's anything if my master's course has taught me is it's like, holy man, okay, I'm a student again. I've got due dates. I got to manage my time better, all this stuff. Then you got this anxiety about getting something done because you're coaching, you're being a dad, all that stuff. And it's created some great conversations with my students even. I asked them, it's like, how do you guys feel about firm deadlines versus a bit loose deadlines? Because right now, my prof's like, "Ah, as long as you're in by the end of the course, I'm good." And for me it freaks me out. It's like, I need, tell me, Sunday, this is due and I'll have it done Sunday. If not, well, yeah, I might do it Sunday.
crosstalk.

Kyle Pearce: It's almost harder to think about. You're like, now I have to plan it. It's like, I want my professor to do it for me.

Jon Orr: That's something that, like you said, like being a student again helps you think about these things you might not have thought about. And I think being in different situations also help with that and experiencing different educators in your school or seeing what's happening down the hall. I know that a big influence on me, I was going to say a couple, but I thought about this soon as you said that is that a few years ago, so maybe five or six, God, probably more than that now, we started to in our school do a lesson study, which is teachers would get together and we would plan one lesson and together one of us would go and deliver that lesson and the rest would watch, observe, see how the kids react to it. And the nice thing about when we started that it was cross-curricular.
So it wasn't just math teachers planning math lessons. It was an assortment of teachers planning a math lesson. And then an assortment of teachers would plan a science lesson and he got to go into other classes and see what it's like in another room and see how kids respond into different teachers and the lessons that they're providing. It's like being a student again and seeing what's happening in other places gives you different ideas. And I know that has opened my mind to you different experiences too. And thinking about, I said before that I was a little bit of a risk taker in trying new things, but then I think I became even more so when I saw other ideas being shared in the school themselves you got to see, because a lot of times we don't see what's happening down the hall from us and you're in isolation, you're in your class with a bunch of kids and you think this is the way you're supposed to do it.
Then if you don't seek out new experiences, like Kyle said, going to conferences is such an eye opening experience or doing professional development, but also just witnessing and seeing other colleagues and how they're handling the same kids you're working with can be such an eye opening experience.
I know that early in my career that helped me change the way, like Kyle, you had mentioned that not only technology helped bridge the gap into new experiences for you, but then you said understanding models and actually thinking about questioning and how the math relates to other math and connections. I know that the more we dive into the actual understanding of the mathematics ourselves also is so important. And I think my earlier self was that I know math. I know the math behind all this stuff. I don't have to think about that. But when I reflect now, when I said, I know math, I might have known math at one time, but really I think I had the surface level of knowing math. I knew how to do it procedurally. I knew how to get a problem done. But I hadn't thought about, Kyle always wants to bring up the two types of division when we talk about dividing things. And that's something that blew my mind and I had never even thought about it in... I have a degree in mathematics or... Go ahead, Jess.

Jess Michalchuk: Sorry, just with the knowing math, that would be the procedurals, like the memorizing piece of it?

Jon Orr: Yeah.

Jess Michalchuk: Is that what you refer to?

Jon Orr: I guess so. It's kind of like when I said, I know math, it's like you could throw a math question at me and I could solve it.

Jess Michalchuk: Yeah.

Jon Orr: High school math I felt like I don't need to bone up on my math skills. I know how to do this stuff. But when we dove into the underlying concepts of how it connects to other math or other concepts or why these things work, like why this works or the development, it's so rich and it was something that I never considered.
And it was once that came out and all of a sudden there was that to think about, it was like, what you said, Jess, it's like I became a student again. And it also opened my mind to lots of other possibilities. It's like I am now a student here in mathematics because there's so much depth, even in elementary school, middle school mathematics that I'd never thought about even having a high school or a university degree in mathematics. But it opens my mind to other possibilities, like what you said, it took me down a whole assessment journey that I was on for and still on for years now on how do I as assess my students better? And what does that really mean? It basically gave me permission to say like, what do these things mean? And how can I learn more from it?

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, I just want to add to that too, because when we talk about trying to make change, so go back and if we sort of side by side what Jon's just said and go back to my experience with technology, technology was the only idea I had because I thought math was just the procedure. I thought that's all there was. And now it's like as soon as this other door was opened and in my district, I was on this journey already, but I couldn't notice or name what it was that I was doing differently. And we started looking at the five proficiencies as the National Research Council outlines them in the adding it up document and NCTM talks about them quite a bit, but it was like procedural fluency, which again, I wasn't fluent with procedures. I just knew a procedure.
So I wasn't fluent with it. But then you have conceptual understanding and that's the big one for me that was like, oh, there's a reason why other than rules of algebra, which is how I think a lot of us in high school math sort of learned is like you knew algebra and you followed the behavior of the patterns of algebra and they've managed to carry you along. But you start to realize that there's actually concepts underneath that are all interconnected. And then it starts to, again like Jon, your assessment journey. It's really difficult to actually do a significant amount of learning in assessment and evaluation if you're not really sure what else to do in math other than a procedure, because you're like, you either know it or you don't, and that's it. And really the only option you have is like, you can have a cheat sheet or you can't.
And that's the only choice you have. But then when you start to look at math as something different, you start to realize like, whoa, what am I assessing? What am I evaluating? What matters and what doesn't matter anymore? And again, it's like more and more doors start to open and you start to go, oh my gosh, there's so much more here. And while it can be overwhelming to think about how much there is to it, I look at it as like, how exciting is that?
Imagine doing 30 years of just memorizing formulas or telling kids to memorize stuff. That to me is like, wow, that would be a long 30 years. But right now it's like, we're all learning this together. And it's like every time you come into a new course or a class, you feel like it's another attempt at doing it even better. And to me, I'm like what a cool opportunity, where our job, where you can feel like you're getting better and better at it and it's more enjoyable with every time that you do it. That to me is the game changer for me anyway.

Jess Michalchuk: I'm going to thank you guys right now. Because I honestly just had, within the last couple weeks, a moment like that. So I've signed up for your course, The Transforming Textbook. And to me, it's just so nice. It's like, you don't really have to do anything major. You're just going to make this little switch and the way you guys phrase it is so simple. But then it's to implement it, it's like, I don't know how to do this. So after watching that first episode, you guys were the teachers, I was the student, and then I went through it because I've tried a few of your tasks before, and it, again, I just didn't know what I was doing, wasn't sure what I was looking for or how to get the kids involved. And so anyways, watching that and just being the student, it was so cool to see, even as adults, how many different ways we got to the answer.
Or how many ways you see. And so to me, I'm starting to understand now and I know you guys are friends with Lana. She's my math coach for our division. And I've had her in my class and that's what I watched her teach. And to me that was like, okay, this works for me. I got to see someone do it. It's that visual, put it together. And I wanted to do one today, because I knew I was going to be on with you guys. And so I did the one with the beans where you dumped the bag of beans out and it was interesting. And one of the first things that came up with them was I've still gone on the board there. How is this related to math?

Kyle Pearce: The classic. That's the classic.

Speaker 4: Yep. And so don't worry, you'll see. We'll keep going. And it was just such a cool moment because I use a lot of the tips and tricks you guys show me as teacher and student and yeah, we had a lot of fun in class today. You could just tell the kids were curious, asking questions, working together. I have all their stuff posted on the wall and every sheet, there's so many different ways they regrouped or counted by ones, counted by twos, all that different skip, it was just cool.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. Something that I feel like more and more, and it makes our life, your life harder in that moment to try to process all of that. But at the same time, it's like, you start to see the brilliance in every student. I remember a class where I had some kids who tried hard and some students who I would always say were not trying hard. I would even go as far as to think I thought they were being lazy and in reality it was like, they didn't really have anything to offer. There was no entry for them.
And now you start to see every student has something valuable to share and they're at a different place in their journey just like educators. Like we're all at different places in our journey. But to me that is such an exciting place to be. And then to think, hey, that student who is counting by ones and it's like, hmm, I would love it if I can help nudge them along, what do I ask them next? Where do we go next with that student? So good on you for trying and putting it to work. So awesome stuff.

Jess Michalchuk: Yeah, and one of the other things you mentioned in that course was don't give them answers. It's like, you got to challenge them. And it is like in my blood, it's no matter what I do, it's like, I got to give you an answer, I got to give you an answer.

Jon Orr: Yeah. It's hard not to.

Jess Michalchuk: You know you got to back off. So do you guys have any stories to share? Do you remember those moments that similar to what I had today? Jon, do you have anything that pops out?

Jon Orr: For sure, for sure. We've had lots of moments over the years when you're trying to Make Math Moments. So I guess when I think about moments, the one that comes to mind is a collection of moments that morphed into like, it's almost like a feeling that you know you did something right. And I guess it's like when you've shifted class to do what you've just described and you've got students who historically not loved math class, it was not their favorite subject coming into high school. And when you are running class with a few big ideas in mind with safe inaudible like psychological safety is a big thing that I try to make sure is in our classroom culture is that we want to make sure it's a safe environment. We want to work together every day. You might have read about Peter Liljedahl's random grouping where he has kids, randomized groups.
And I think he argues the randomized groups helps keep things fair and keeps discussions flowing. But for my students, I say we're randomizing groups because we want to work together and we want to feel safe with each other and we have to get to know each other to do that. So in order for us to get to know each other, we have to work with each other on a regular basis. I had a year, my old self, that I remember at the end of the year, this is one of those moments where I remember I needed to change something. Kid sat in rows and I did a lot of examples. A kid asked me a question. I think I was working with somebody else at the time. And I said, "Why don't you go over and talk to Joey?"
And the kid said to me, "Who's that?" But it was like the end of the year, it was June. And we had gone all semester and this kid didn't know who Joey was in my room. And I felt it was immediate. It was like it hit me like a truck that I'm like-

Kyle Pearce: That's a problem.

Jon Orr: There's something wrong here. Yeah. There's something wrong here that this student doesn't know the other kids in the room. And that has always stuck with me in a sense to always strive for the opposite of that. So I randomize my students coming into the door every day so that we know everybody and everybody knows each other. And only if we know each other and feel comfortable working with each other are we then going to be able to share ideas with each other and strengthen our mathematical understanding because there will be less barrier to being brave and sharing thoughts on different questions when we're working at the boards or maybe we're doing a large group discussion, but that is one thing that I remember.
And so when I go back to this memory, this kind of collective memory, is when kids walk in who have traditionally hated math class or not enjoyed it, and over time, after a couple weeks, you could almost see a calmness on their face that this is the right spot. And it's hard to describe that when you see kids who normally hate math class or said they hated math class and all of a sudden it's like, they're the first ones to come in the room while it's still break time, because it's like, I know it's going to be okay in here. Or I know this is going to be an enjoyable experience.
I know that I'm valued here in this room. It's hard to describe that because they don't say that, but you can see it sometimes on their faces. That's the moment that says, hey, we're doing something right. This is the right move to make. Maybe the test scores aren't out of the world compared to say a guy who's teaching them how to memorize down the street. But my students are becoming better problem solvers, but also feeling a connection towards mathematics and that's something relevant in their lives.

Jess Michalchuk: It's just so cool because I don't group kids enough like you just mentioned. They always want to go with their friends and inaudible grouping.

Jon Orr: It's tough.

Jess Michalchuk: I took in some comments from the kids today and I call it high, low buffalo. It's a great parenting strategy too if you guys want to use it. At the end of the day, we always with kids and it's what's one of the highlights of your day. What's something low and it's important to talk about things that didn't go well. And then the buffalo, we stole this from a book, I can't remember the name of the book. So thank you author and book, whoever gave this to me and my wife. And then buffalo is just whatever, hey, this happened today. It was a surprise. Loved it. And you share it.

Jon Orr: Nice.

Jess Michalchuk: So you should try. I'm sure your kids would love it at home. But this was one that came up with that was, I didn't expect to have fun with a person that you partnered me with. And I was just, they didn't put their name on it so I can't say who it was right now, but I was like, that was cool. You're working with someone you probably never have, and you had fun in math class doing math. So another one of those things where it's like, yes, today had a lot of little successes.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. I love it. And building on that grouping idea and the random grouping idea is a lot of the things that we talk about on this podcast, students don't always love it right out of the gate. And I think that is sometimes a bit of a shocker to teachers, to educators, when in your mind, I think we've all been trained to think that getting students engaged, the buzzword engagement. To get student engagement, I feel like we've done so much gimmicky engagement over the years that it's not real engagement. And it's like with gimmicky engagement, kids usually approve of it immediately. But when you start shifting your teaching practice, so random grouping is one of them, students will visibly be upset with it. And you can imagine why, because at first Jon's talking about psychological safety, but what's going through a lot of students' minds, especially as students get a little older, once they get into the junior, intermediate grades and then they start going into upper grades, with every year, it's like that becomes actually more scary at first.
It's like getting out of that comfort zone of like, I would much rather sit in my own little bubble over here or always work with these two students or these three students, but I don't want to have to talk to that new person. I think as adults we're like that too, like if I'm at a social gathering, I'm like, I would much rather hang out with the people I know than to necessarily have to go meet someone new. And usually when you're forced in that scenario, you feel better about it. And I feel like in math class, there's so many things that we do now that students initially balk at, and that makes your progress or your journey really, I guess, hard at first and to go back to like my educator math moment.
I remember the first year that I really went all in. I was still doing this one-to-one iPad thing, but I knew it wasn't on its own doing it. There was some benefits to it. I'm not saying it was bad, but it didn't do what I was hoping to do. And that's when I started getting more into this problem based thing. But I was probably at the phase where you feel you're at there, Jess, where like, you feel probably many days you're feeling like you hit a wall or something didn't go right and you're trying to figure it out. And should I just give up on that? I had a lot of that going on and this one class, I was like made the commitment. I'm like, I'm doing this. I'm not going to just do it once in a while.
Because once in a while wasn't working either. Doing review day fun problems is like, it didn't change anything. It's like, I got to go all in on this. So I did. And I had one student who I knew, because came into our high school as grade nine, first year of high school here in Ontario. And we had a meeting with the grade eight teachers to learn about different students. And this was the top student, the top math mark from this feeder school. And this student after first few days was really just negative, like negative vibe. I'm like, I don't know, that's maybe just the way they are, whatever. And at the end of the first week, the student in the hall was almost in tears and was like, "I cannot stand the way you're teaching."
I was like, oh my God, like it hurt my soul. And I'm like, wow, I can't believe this. And I legitimately felt like maybe I'm on the wrong path. Again, this student must know, this student has a high mark. And I stuck with it, stuck with it, the student eventually started coming around. I realized well after the fact that really this student was like us, like all of us in this conversation, that was a memorizer. And I was taking that tool away from her. And I basically use this story, I talk about it on a lot of episodes where it's like, this student felt like I was basically taking away the crown, the math crown from this person because this person couldn't beat all these other students to the answer because it was like thinking and this was really pushing her. And it's a story I will never remember because that whole semester, I was like, okay, she stopped, she wasn't as vocal as we went on.
I'm like, okay. And she was doing well. And she was coming around, but it really, really stuck with me. And it wasn't until the next year in grade 10 when she stopped me in the hall, it was just in passing, classes are in between and she stopped me and I said, "How's math going?" She's like, "Honestly, it's horrible." She's like, "I used to hate your class." But she's like, "I realized that you helped me learn how to think." And she's like, "All we're doing is memorizing right now." I was blown away by that. It like, it took me, I wanted to say to her, "Do you know how many nights I lost sleep over you and what you said?" But ultimately at the end of the day, that student had the realization, it just took a really long time.
And it was like, now I can notice and name that behavior in a student, but it is so hard for, let's say a teacher who's like, I want to try this journey. Let's so they go into the transforming your textbook course that you're in. They go in and they're not ready for some of the students, especially your stronger students who are like, "I can't." They're just like, "Give me the formula and let's be done with this." And that is a really, really hard thing. But for me, that was a huge learning experience. And now I know when I have students like that I'm like, I now know how to talk with them and explain why I'm doing what I'm doing. At the time, I couldn't really explain or articulate it. But again, one of those memories that I'll forever remember it. And I'm just so happy that I didn't bail when so many times I did think about it and I managed to stick it out.

Jess Michalchuk: Yeah, when you get pushback when you're trying something new and there's not many success strings to pull on to keep you moving. So good for you for pushing through that.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. It was scary stuff. It's that herd mentality, right? It's like it's so much easier to continue down with the group, the groups going this way and it's like, hey, if we all go down together, at least I don't feel when you're down this path by yourself, it's a lonely road. And then it's like, you almost feel like everyone's going to laugh at me when they didn't do it and you fall on your face. And that's a really tough head space to be in for sure.

Jess Michalchuk: And the other thing I found too, because I would say I'm leading in the change right now with what's happening in our school. And because you don't have anyone to lean on or go chat with that has those experiences, it adds a challenge where you doubt yourself and then and I have Lana who's been great with, I can email her and get a pretty quick response. So I have found someone now and again, it just takes time to figure out myself as a teacher and how I'm going to be making this evolution, which pushes me into a professional development question for you too. Because I'm starting to figure myself out finally, which is great, but do you have a story of a professional development that you enjoyed or was so helpful that you're like, yes, this was, and I know it all adds up and it all builds to what where we're at. But I would say with Lana showing me how to do it and then practicing it myself was for me was the game changer.

Jon Orr: Right. If I think back to some of those, we've been talking to a lot of moments that have influenced where we are now. And I think this one does that too. I went to a professional development workshop, an all day workshop many years ago. And I've talked about this on the podcast before too. It was from Marian Small, educator here in Canada, a big name, works with lots of publishers, written lots of books on good questions. She introduced in that workshop to us educators something called open questions, which we're like, what do you mean open question? And so she explained, what's an open question, what's a closed question? How do you ask open questions? And what does that help you with? Why would you want to do that? And that was one of the very first professional development sessions I had gone to that started this journey that changed the way I was asking questions in my classroom.
Basically it helped my students get low floor, high ceiling before I knew to call it low floor, high ceiling. And so when I started to use her techniques that she taught there, I got the book, one of her books that she wrote and implemented a lot of these open question type lessons in my day to day lessons, that's really where I got so much more engagement than I used to. We're using little whiteboards to write down things and hold them up and show. And it was an eye opening experience to say, look, I went and got professional development that started to change things. And I think when I look back, that was one of the very first new ideas that I implemented that kept me going down this path of changing, not just bringing technology in the class or changing some of these other things, but actually focusing on the types of questions I was asking my students.

Jess Michalchuk: Yeah. And yeah, now that you say open and closed and terms like consolidation, I just read that there's actually two ways to divide I believe is what you mentioned earlier, Jon, so there's all these terms coming up and it's like, oh, okay. Yeah. I get how that goes. And then Kyle, is there anything for you that stands out with professional development moment?

Kyle Pearce: There's so many and some of them I almost feel like is almost not worth mentioning because we talk about them so much. Again, Dan Meyer was sort of like my a-ha. I was doing the tech thing and it was like, I saw his work and that really helped me with this curiosity, how do you get kids to want to answer a math problem? That was a big journey for me. Huge, huge. But I would say one of the ones, and I have mentioned this before, we actually just had James Hansen and Ted Cohen on the show about proportional relationships. And we talk about how Ted and James, myself, and a group of many others like Phil Darrow, and all kinds of really big thinkers in math education space came together to have this discussion around proportional relationships. And at that time I was digging in, really looking at models and looking at the progression of how things worked.
But what I realized when I got there was I didn't know anything in reality, but the beauty was is that everybody there also had, I wouldn't say they felt the same as myself, I think they had a lot more experience in their journey. But it was like everyone was debating different ideas. There was no like these people know this and you don't. It was like everyone had a different perspective on how to think about things. And I'll never forget, we spent a whole morning where people were talking about their like, "Well, wait a second, well, what's definition of a blank?" So it's like, "Well, my definition's this." So their argument was based on that understanding and this person had a different definition. And what I realized was like, wow, I don't actually have a definition for a lot of things that I'm teaching, like a real understandable, clear understanding of what it was, ratios, rates and all of these things.
And when I left there, it just made me realize two things. It made me respect the fact that you had all of these people who, I guess in my mind, I just assumed were all on the same page because they were so far down this journey. But in reality, they were in very different places. And they all had really awesome ideas to share, different perspectives. And it had me thinking like, oh, okay. So I was like, I need to shift from feeling like I need to know stuff about math to being just more open to listening to what people think. And that's what's really, I find now, like I throw an idea at out there, but then I'm clear about the fact that I'm like, I'm not exactly sure how it applies to this. And it's like, I'm more, I guess, open to just learning with someone.
And that to me was a big shift and it really helped me open my eyes to some other people like Kathy Fasno and her work. And what I've realized is her work started to resonate with me more because she's very clear with what she means with big ideas and models and strategies. So I was like, at that time it was like a perfect mix. And I started going down that rabbit hole a little bit. And a lot of our units are actually designed with the way she designs a unit, a lot of the same structure and thinking behind it. So I guess for me, it's like those were huge in going from this shift of like, because I speak at a conference or because we have a podcast, we have to have the answer for everything to, oh no, there's a lot of people that have different thoughts and opinions, but they're not necessarily the end all be all. They don't necessarily know everything.
And that even after 30 years in this game, some people are still on the journey trying to uncover more and more about the math and how we should teach it with students. So I guess it just opened my eyes to this, wow, I'm never going to get there. It's just like, I'm just going to continue feeling like hopefully feeling like it's making more sense to me and I'm making more progress, which is exciting and will want to keep me teaching longer and longer.

Jess Michalchuk: And just totally relates to your story would be leadership. And with all the work you two are doing in the math world, that is leadership. You got an idea. You can't quite put your finger on it, you get someone to help you out. And yeah, you just keep being that awareness. That was, yeah, that's a very cool story. All right, I'm going to switch gears. So I'm going to give you guys the question you guys ask your guests. And so on every podcast, what you'll do is you ask a moment from their K to 12 experience. And so my understanding is you've already done that. So this would be some math moment that you remember from your teaching career that you influenced you as the educators that you're currently in.

Jon Orr: I usually share one and I shared in the past about getting this sticker of multiplication, but I think I'm going to share a different one here today. And this one, it's kind of like yours, Kyle, that you've shared over the time where it was an eye opening experience. And I think we shared a lot of those here today in this discussion. But I remember being selected to go, this is probably grade 10 or 11 or something like that in high school, selected to go to the university in town for an enrichment group. It was the University of Waterloo's contest. People were going to be there. They were going to go through a contest, getting ready session. And I had never done anything like that before. I thought obviously I was selected because I was good at math. Otherwise, why would the teacher recommend me to go to this?
And I remember sitting in this room with all these other high school students from the same town, different schools. And instructor for the session said, "We'll, start off with an easy one," and put up this question. And this is, if you're a high school teacher, it's one of those questions where it's like, okay, there's 68 cows in this field and then there's also, or I guess I phrased it wrong already. It was like, this is not the actual problem.

Kyle Pearce: Wasn't that easy, hey Jon?

Jon Orr: Yeah, no, this is the thing. It was like, oh, there's cows and chickens in the field and there's 68 feet. And then there's also so many heads. And so it's presented like that at this session. And if you're a high school teacher, this might is a system of equations type problem.
But at the time, I was a high school student, and I remember thinking that I was selected because I knew what I was doing, but I had no clue how to even approach this problem at all. And I'm looking around the room and everyone's writing stuff down and I'm like, "This is the easy problem?" What did I get myself into? It was one of those experiences that I think even then I knew that what I thought was being good at math was this, hey, I can follow your instructions teacher, but actually come to actually problem solve and thinking about what math connects to a problem here and how do I approach a problem, I had no clue how to do any of that.
And it was something that I, as a teacher, moving away from that as something that I always wanted to even way from the start of my teaching career, wanted students to become better problem solvers. And I always wanted the focus to be on problem solving and how do I solve problems to begin with? And even my traditional self tried to make sure that we did that, but it's so much clearer now how we can build problem solvers through Making Math Moments.

Jess Michalchuk: I would agree. And again, my experience today, just pushing those kids to think a little bit differently, you start to see that struggle. And that's why I chose today to put them in partners. I think you recommended putting them or they didn't have to be in partners, maybe they could be side by side and ask a neighbor if they need it. But I gave them partners thinking, okay, this will be a little bit of a security blanket if they need to try something new. All right, Kyle, you got yours ready?

Kyle Pearce: I do. And actually it's interesting because I was thinking about, I wanted a memory from early in my teaching career that kind of popped into my mind and it connects to what Jon's talking about. His moment, his memory that he just shared where he's sitting there and isn't sure where to start relates to what I was going to share. And it was like, I remember vividly in my first few years of teaching, I had more classroom behaviors probably because of course I was a new teacher and probably didn't have very good classroom management strategies, but also something that perpetuates students being disrespectful or like completely going against everything that you're hoping for in your classes when they're feeling like Jon did in that moment.
Except a lot of those students weren't picked to go to this math thing, so thinking that they were strong in math. They're sitting there feeling the exact opposite. And my moment was, I ran into a student from my very first semester of teaching math. It was a grade 11 class. It was what we call the college pathway grade 11 course, which oftentimes, you'll get a common feel from educators is like, you might have behaviors in there because it's like some students are in this college path, which is again, it's supposed to be so you can get into college for your program. But ultimately what lands a lot of students there is the fact that they don't feel like they are any good at math. That's the reality. And sometimes that's the door closer for some of them to, they might have wanted to go to college anywhere instead of university and that's fine and dandy.
But the reality is you can still go to college and take the higher level of math. And they end up in this course. And there's a lot of students who feel almost like they've given up or I'm just going to try to get through this. And I remember this group, it was a dandy little group I'll tell you that much. It was a hard course, a hard class. And I ran into one of these students who gave me a really hard time. And it was like, I ran into them. It was a little festival here that they have, it's called Sun Splash, ran into them. So it's summertime, there's like a festival thing. There's a band playing in a little tent over there. And I run into this student and it was like, I'll never forget the feeling I got, which had me rethinking how I had been teaching and how I treated students, because my stomach dropped because it was almost like, I'm like, oh man, I was embarrassed to talk to the student.
And my embarrassment was because I feel like I actually didn't treat students who weren't trying hard in the class with as much respect as I should have. And that's me going back to trying to be firm and trying sort of lay down the hammer. And I just remember saying to that student, "I'm so sorry." And the student said, "No, no, I should be sorry." The student knew that they were not doing me any favors. But at the end of the day, as the adult, I felt like, wow, I didn't handle that well, and it just made me think, it's like whenever I have students in front of me to just think about that moment a few years down the road, I think it was about five years down the road when I ran into the student, think about how you are treating them.
And Jon talks about psychological safety, making sure that every student feels valued in that room. And I feel like I could have maybe done a lot of things different back then to maybe change that dynamic a little bit. It doesn't guarantee that some students wouldn't have given me trouble, but it's like as long as at the end of that I don't feel worried to bump into them five years later because I don't feel like I handled it well, that just is something I think about now as being very cautious about how we speak to students, how we treat students, how we handle them when they're being disrespectful or when they're maybe stepping out of line. That was a big moment for me and it's something that I still think to this day of really thinking ahead before maybe reacting, trying to be more proactive in how you handle some of those tougher situations.

Jess Michalchuk: I have those too. I have a list of kids. That's going to be my feeling and I've already got the apology written through my head as well. That just totally reminds me of Brene Brown and shaming. And that has changed the way I speak to kids. And I recognize the way adults speak to kids sometimes as, you know, shame does a lot of damage with relationships. So that was a big moment for my career, reading a few of her things and recognizing that.

Kyle Pearce: That's the best way to describe it. I've read some of her work. My wife listens to her podcast and speaks about shaming. And that's exactly what it was. It was my approach was sort of that shaming approach. And I think that describes it to a T and it's like, ah, don't want to do that. And if I could go back, I would undo a lot of that.

Jess Michalchuk: Oh, you have to be there. You got to experience it. but I'd be the same. I would undo quite a few conversations in my youthful years of teaching. Well, I really enjoyed our time together. I learned so much from you two. Anytime you watch a podcast or you're doing a lesson, you just wish you could pick up the phone and just have that conversation. So I feel like this was that conversation. And this point in my learning and moving forward with my math progression here, the timing was right on, spot on. So I appreciate you two having me on your show and being able to ask you as many questions as I could fit in with our time. So my gratitude is through the roof right now. Thank you.

Jon Orr: It was great that you could meet with us. And it was an honor to chat with you tonight and hey, maybe down the road, we'll flip it back and we'll interview you and see how things are going in your classroom in say next year or six months from now. What do you think?

Jess Michalchuk: Hey, I would be all in for that. I'd be very excited.

Jon Orr: Awesome, awesome stuff. Thanks so much, Jess, for this and looking forward to that chat.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Yeah, it's been a pleasure, my friend. And I'm curious, do you want to drop a link to your podcast? It sounds like you're an expert here at the interview process. So good on ya. Is there any links or social media or anything that you wanted to share with the Math Moment Maker audience to maybe reach out and touch base? Maybe they've got some interest in some of the work that you're up to.

Jess Michalchuk: I'm not on social media very much. And I do have my podcast in the works right now, so I don't have anything online, but I guess I could leave my Twitter account. And it's funny, I have no idea what my handle is. So we'll have to leave it in the description of the episode.

Jon Orr: We'll leave it later.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, no, no sweat. I just wanted to give you that opportunity. So good luck. Let us know if we can be of any help, if your podcast questions, that sort of thing. We love helping folks. So thanks again for coming on and providing the audience with a unique take on the Make Math Moments podcasts. So have an awesome him night and we're looking forward to catching up with you again soon.

Jess Michalchuk: Awesome. Thanks guys.

Kyle Pearce: As always Math Moment Makers, both Jon and I learned so much from all episodes. You know what? Even these random, out of our regular format style episodes, just like this one here today. So our question to you is, how are you going to hang on to the new learning? Was there anything that resonated with you? Maybe fire it out on Twitter and tag us at Make Math Moments or throw it into our Facebook group, K to 12 Math Moment Makers on Facebook and share it with the world. Get people chatting. Get people talking about your notice, your wonder, whatever it is that you're working on from this lesson here today.

Jon Orr: Yeah, we'd love to engage with you on whatever you are working on. But in order to ensure you don't miss out on the new episodes that come out every Monday morning, each week, we've been doing this for Kyle, I think it's been over three years now.

Kyle Pearce: Oh my.

Jon Orr: Be sure to subscribe. Hit the subscribe button if you have not yet done this. If this is the first time you are listening to us, hit that subscribe button so you can get the notification of the next episode when it comes out on Monday mornings. Hey, if you've listened to many episodes, you've probably already subscribed. Hit that subscribe button anyway, and do that on whatever podcast platform you're listening on.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. I love it. And Jon, I got to say, one of my favorite things to do right now is these little short YouTube videos that we've been releasing weekly that are like little mini lessons. So if you're not watching this episode of the podcast on YouTube and you haven't hit subscribe, head on over there because we're providing all kinds of lesson walkthroughs, all kinds of ideas and tips to share in your classroom bite size so you can take them with you. Head on over to YouTube, and friends, show notes, links to resources, and complete transcripts to read both from the web or download and take with you can be found over at makemathmoments.com/episode169. Again, that's makemathmoments.com/episode169. Well, until next time, Math Moment Maker friends, I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: Hi fives for us.

Jon Orr: And a high five for you.

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