Episode #186: Helping Parents to See The “Why” In Math Class – A Math Mentoring Moment
In this Where Are They Now? episode, we speak with Tom Marker, a 6th grade teacher from Ohio. Tom is back to update us on how he has progressed moving students away from relying on algorithms towards reasoning and applying strategies when solving problems.
After an update from Tom, you’ll hear the current pebble knocking around in his shoe as he seeks to find balance when it comes to the expectations he holds for students in his classroom and how he can help the parents at home better understand the “why” behind how math is being taught in his classroom.
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.
- How to ensure that expectations are the right balance for your grade level;
- How you can ensure that you are promoting more thinking in your classroom than mimicking;
- How can we define different levels of success for our students; and,
- How we can communicate classroom successes with stakeholders at home.
Egyptian Multiplication via Howie Hua on Twitter
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Tom Marker: We do reflections in the math class, on our Google Forum. And we do it on our baseball team. And one of the questions we always ask, is start, stop, continue. What's something we're doing in the math classroom, that you would like us to stop doing? What's something you would like us to start doing? And what's something you'd like us to continue doing? And we do it with the baseball team too. And a lot of times the things that they want us to stop doing, are the things that they don't understand the reason that we're doing them. And that's the same in the math classroom, right? I want you-
Kyle Pearce: In this, Where Are They Now? episode, we speak with Tom Marker, a sixth grade teacher from Ohio. Tom is back to update us on how he's been progressing, moving his students away from relying solely on algorithms and moving more towards reasoning and applying strategies when solving problems in math class.
Jon Orr: After an update from Tom, you'll hear the current pebble knocking around in his shoe, as he seeks to find balance, when it comes to the expectations he holds for students in his classroom and how he can help his parents at home, better understand the why, on what's happening in his classroom.
Kyle Pearce: This is another Math Mentoring Moment Episode, where we talk with a member like you, from the Math Moment Maker community, who's working through common problems of practice. And together, we brainstorm possible next steps and strategies to overcome them.
Jon Orr: Now, before we dive in here and queue up the music, have you submitted your math class pebble, that's happening in your shoe right now? I know there's one rattling around in there and you just want to noodle on it. You want to get it out and you want to chat about it. Hey, we'd love to chat about it with you. So, join us over at makemathmoments.com/mentor. Fill out a couple sentences and we might chat with you here on this podcast real soon. All right, Kyle, let's get to it.
Kyle Pearce: Here we go.
Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We are two math teachers from makemathmoments.com and 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, fuel-
Jon Orr: Sense-making.
Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Welcome back my friends to another episode of the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast, where we are doing another Math Mentoring Moment Episode. This time, we're checking in with Tom. I don't know, Jon, I distinctly remember this conversation, way back from, was it 124 episode-
Jon Orr: 129.
Kyle Pearce: 129.
Jon Orr: Efficiency in mathematics and math classrooms.
Kyle Pearce: 129. I guess, my memory doesn't serve me as well as I thought. So, 129 is the episode number, where Tom came in. And Tom had really great things going on and his struggles were more, it sounded like, just things that he wanted to make sure that he was doing well. And in this conversation, Jon, I don't know if you got the sense that, I feel like he's in the same place, where he is got some ideas, he's doing a great job with them and he just wants to make sure that he's doing it to the highest degree that he possibly can.
Jon Orr: Yeah. I agree, in the sense that he wants obviously, the best for his students. But, I'm going to argue Kyle, he's not in the same spot. It was clear that he had progressed from where he was-
Kyle Pearce: Oh, for sure. Yes, yes.
Jon Orr: Last year when we had talked to him. And back then, he was talking about how to help kids understand the algorithms. And we hadn't really maybe, talked specifically about the why, behind some of the algorithms. He was dabbling in that, but then he wanted to give kids real strategies to use outside the classroom, things they could take with them to the next grade, but also in life, when we talk about good strategies, which it was great. And then, he's progressed from there, to keep going in that realm. And he's had lots of new strategies. He's been trying to get his students to understand. He's been working with how to get kids to think deeper in this last year. And that has been awesome. And in this conversation, we talk about how to strike up that balance between, setting great expectations for your kids, but then also communicating those home, so that parents understand what's happening in the classroom, versus what they think might be happening in the classroom. So, you're going to hear all about that. So, stick around and hey, maybe you will pick that up as well.
Kyle Pearce: All right, let's do it.
Hey, hey there, Tom. Welcome back to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. It has been a little while since we spoke with you last, I think it was episode 129.
Jon Orr: Yeah, 129.
Kyle Pearce: When you joined us, yeah.
Jon Orr: Way back.
Kyle Pearce: And just for everybody who's listening, just to recap what we were talking about, we were talking about efficiency in math class. We were talking about... I even remember this idea of trying to get students to be a little bit more open to having that struggle. We hit on things like balance, what is the right balance between conceptual and procedural and all other things? How are you doing since the last we spoke there, Tom?
Tom Marker: I think it's going really well. I taught in a class this year. I shared an open-wall classroom with another teacher and they went on maternity leave. So, I took over about 50 kids in one room, myself, two intervention specialists. And we did have a substitute teacher in, basically just to help out and didn't do much of the teaching. So, it was interesting. But, the year went really well. It was an awesome year and things went really well. So...
Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. Do us favor, remind any listeners who listened a while ago, a year ago, or new listeners who maybe haven't listened to that episode yet. Take a moment here, remind everybody where you're coming from, what you're teaching, what grade level you're teaching, that thing. We won't go into the backstory, like we've done in the past. We can let all those guys go back and listen to, what'd you say Kyle? 129, that's right. Tom.
Tom Marker: Yeah.
Jon Orr: Fill us in on where you're coming from? What's your role?
Tom Marker: Yeah. So, sixth grade math teacher, Olentangy Orange, which is just North of Columbus, Ohio. A suburb of Columbus and I teach sixth grade math. Next year, I'll be taking on an accelerated seven, eight class as well, which is basically sixth graders that are taking seventh and eighth grade math in one year. And so, it'll be just sixth grade courses and one excel, seven, eight course, with the idea that those kids will all take algebra as seventh graders.
Kyle Pearce: Very interesting. And something that caught my attention already. Just, filling us in on your current situation where it sounds like there was a team teaching thing going on, and then one of your colleagues had to go on leave. And now, all of a sudden you've got 50 students that you're working with. More than one adult in the room, which of course, is really helpful. Can you paint us a bit of a picture? How did that go? Was that an enjoyable experience? Do you think that you were able to do some of the things that you had been aiming to do, the last we spoke? How did that go overall?
Tom Marker: So, I teach four classes, four, we call them cores. So, one of the cores had two intervention specialists in there as well, but the other three cores were just myself and about 50, 55 students in an open-wall classroom. I enjoyed it. I thought just as we got going through the year and kids became more comfortable discussing and sharing ideas and stuff, it really opened it up. And it gave us a lot of different voices in the classroom. But, I do think I missed the boat on some kids. When you have that many students and trying to make sure you don't let anybody fall through. And I'm actually on a new book right now. And I know you guys mentioned it several times on the podcast, with the Creating Thinking Classrooms. And I see how it's just going to flip the way I do things next year. I think, had I read it before this year, I think, the 50 student classroom, 55 student classroom, would've went a lot smoother than it did. But, I have some ideas going forward, which I think will help.
Jon Orr: It can definitely help there. And it is definitely, I would say, hard to manage when you have that many kids, for sure. Observations, conversations, it's going to be tough to manage with lots and lots of students. Tom, if we stretch back to where you were a year ago and fill in some gaps a little bit along this way as well, that conversation that we had, Kyle talked a little bit about what we talked about, but what I remember as well, is you had voiced, your goals were to help kids with, not necessarily, algorithms in class, but give them tools that were going to be useful outside of class.
And then, we did talk about how to hold back on some algorithms and introduce some ways for you and the students to build some conceptual understanding as well first, and then introduce algorithms along the way. Fill us in on where you were then, in your own words. And then, what has happened since then, on your journey? So, thinking pedagogically, thinking about some of the aspects you've tried in your class, and then landing where you are now.
Tom Marker: I don't want to say that... Sometimes, I read things, or I'll see things and I'm like, "Man, I already do that in my classroom." And it affirms what I'm doing and I think, it's working in a positive way. One thing that's been big, and I don't know if I'll use the right terms. There's so many terms out there, but problem strings and getting students to what I call it... Because, I also coach baseball. So, in baseball we teach things like, we're on a progression, right? And one thing builds to the next and you learn some things in this piece, that are going to get you to the next step. And then, you use those prior skills and keep adding upon those. And I think, I've done that a lot in the classroom. I was just talking to somebody the other day about multiplying with decimals and starting off with whole numbers, and then putting a decimal in and talking about what that looks like.
And so, for me, I've really tried to stay away from the algorithms and not race to the algorithm. That's been a big, big push in my classroom and get away from the gimmicks, the is, over, of and the keep change flip, or fractions and things along those lines. And I've really worked hard to try to find ways to teach the why, behind it. And then, eventually arrive at the algorithm. I don't know the exact name. There's a guy that does a bunch of Tiktoks, unreal. And so, a lot of what he puts out there, I really like, because it helps you understand the why, behind it. And he does it in such a way, that I try to read a lot of stuff on Twitter, and then filter it to my kids in a way that they can understand.
And I take a lot from him, I take a lot from... There's a, Would You Rather? And again, I forget the lady that always puts out the, Would You Rathers? But, shows different ways to solve problems. And then, I'll always show those to our students and say, "Do you have an additional way to add into there? And then, is the algorithm the most efficient, or the best method in this way? Or, do you have a better way to do it mentally, that makes you do it a little bit more efficient?"
Kyle Pearce: I love it. And it makes so much sense and you made the connection to baseball. And again, before we hit record, I said, "Thanks for wearing the Jay's hat, making the Canadians feel good here." But, also connecting it to baseball, it's the same idea, where there might be certain routines in baseball that you do, but every situation may, or may not make that routine make sense, right? So, there's certain times, that we do certain things in baseball, where it makes perfect sense. And then, in other times maybe, it doesn't, right? So, it's very situational. I really like that. So, some of Howie's work there. I wonder if maybe, you were referencing, maybe it was Pam Harris, who does some of her Strat chats on Twitter, which are really cool as well, where the problem she's selecting elicit certain strategies. They lend themselves to certain strategies. And I always find that really, really helpful too.
So, I'm wondering, what is on your mind lately? It sounds like a lot of the things we had chatted about, you've been feeling pretty good about them. You had an interesting scenario with 50 students coming together, but what's on your mind currently? So, you're reading Peter's book of Thinking Classrooms. Where's your head at? What's that pebble kicking around in your shoe right now?
Tom Marker: For me, the biggest struggle right now, is making sure that I don't have a standard that's too high. I know that sounds probably, I don't know if it sounds right to everybody, but you get kids in a classroom, especially with 50, but even at 20, there's varying levels of understanding, there's varied backgrounds. Kids are coming from different elementary schools. So, they may have heard different terminology, or used different strategies and some may just have an algorithm. So, I just think, trying to get my students to be thinkers. And I think, with the book that you just mentioned, that I'm reading now, is not to rush into even content. They talk about using non-curricular thinking tasks and trying to get students to understand what the environment's going to be like, throughout the course of the year. What's this class all about? And I got to get away from just pushing content and more about getting the environment of learners in the room and getting them comfortable in that situation, first and foremost.
And I think, making sure that the standard is the standard that we want students to think, period. We don't want them to get answers. And I think, a lot of times, I've got to do a better job of working with the support staff, whether it's a tutor, whether it's a parent at home, whether it's an intervention specialist and just helping them understand that we're not in the business of answer getting, we don't want just answers. We're in a business of understanding what's going on with math, in the world and things along those lines. So, what I've been really hard to implement, character traits and things along those lines into the math class. I use a lot of Desmos and there's so many things within Desmos that you can incorporate, that are non-math specific, but they can tie back into the math. So, I think that's my biggest thing, is how do I get the struggling learner to be in that thinking classroom and to feel like they belong, I would say.
Jon Orr: Got you. So, a struggling learner in a thinking classroom, and are you experiencing that? You're seeing kids who feel that they don't belong? Or, maybe, let's dig a little bit there, on what you're seeing? What you're witnessing? How are you identifying this, as a big issue you want to discuss?
Tom Marker: I think every student feels like an A is success, right? And a B, is slightly less successful and a C is non-successful, or you're not getting as much success as the A. And trying to get students to understand where they are. And just growing from that point, is a success. And I think, so many times, even as a teacher, or a coach, or an intervention specialist, or support staff, or tutor, or whatever, if the student's not getting all the right answers, you feel like they're not successful in that classroom. And so, for me, sometimes I tell kids that a hard-earned C, when you came in with maybe, lower level understanding, and you only understood 40% of the content, and now you understand 70% of the content, that's a success. And so, just getting kids to see their growth in math and not link it directly to a letter grade, I guess. And so, it's hard. It's really hard, especially this day and age, is to get parents to understand that sometimes, a hard-earned C, is a really good year for a math student, who's enjoying the learning process.
Kyle Pearce: Right. And you got my wheels turning here, because you bring up something and I know there's people listening that are shaking their head, they're saying, "Yup, Tom has referenced something that they're struggling with as well." And I'm going to bring it back to the baseball. And I'm wondering, in baseball, especially when you think about a ball team, whether it's majors, or I know you're into college ball and you coach, I'm wondering on a baseball team, there's all these various strengths, right? And as a coach and as a player, when players are there, what's different about that scenario? Because, I feel like in baseball, or in other sports, there's almost like the player, the athlete knows when they've grown quite a bit. And then, usually at the end of the season though, something that's really different, is we don't have to say, "Oh, you were a C-ball player this year."
"You were a D-ball player. So, great job going from a D to a C." I'm wondering, how might we maybe, leverage some of what we do in sports, or in things outside of school. And are there any elements that we might be able to bring into the classroom? Does that trigger anything for you as a coach? What does that look like? Or, sound like for you as a ball coach? Do you have the same challenge? Or, do you feel like your athletes feel differently about the progress that they've made?
Tom Marker: We talked to our guys and so, I told my baseball team, all the time, stories about my classroom. And then, vice versa, my classroom always hears about baseball. And my job, I tell them, I work really hard to blend the two, to blend coaching and teaching into the same... Your goals are the same. You're trying to grow people, whether it's in the math classroom, or whether it's on the baseball field. For us, the way I explain it to our guys in the baseball piece of it, is I say, "You belong in this program, if you're adding to it, or taking something from it to grow yourself."
So, you're either adding to others, or you're taking away something. So, similarly in a math classroom, did you add value to the conversation? Or, by being around the conversation, did you take something that helped you grow? And so, for me, that's how you can reflect each day, whether you... "Man, I really added a lot today. I had a great idea that I put out there. Or, I listened to his idea, or her idea. And I took away from that and I'm going to grow from that piece of it."
So, I tell our kids in the classroom and our baseball players, that, "Whether, you're taking away something from the environment, or the activity, or the experience, or you're adding to the experience for others, that's when you know you belong." It's just, try to get something out. And I told him just like a teacher, right? Whenever I go to a professional development opportunity, I may speak up, or I may sit back in the back and just try to take in as much as I possibly can. Can you take one nugget from that math class? And for me, it's to get kids comfortable in them. I don't want to say... Comfortable sometimes, is a bad word too, in the sense that you don't want to get so comfortable that you become lazy, or that you become stagnant in your role.
But, I want students to get comfortable in a math class, where they can ask, to me, the most important question, which is why? Even with our baseball players. If our baseball players walk out of a training session and we get done with something, and I actually had them reflect, or we do reflections in the math class on a Google Forum and we do it on our baseball team. And one of the questions we always ask is start, stop, continue. What's something we're doing in the math classroom that you would like us to stop doing? What's something you would like us to start doing? And what's something you'd like us to continue doing? And we do it with the baseball team too. And a lot of times the things that they want us to stop doing, are the things that they don't understand, the reason that we're doing them.
And that's the same in the math classroom, right? "I want you to stop assigning Alex homework." Which, is an online platform. "I want you to stop assigning that." And if I don't have a good reason for assigning that to a student, or the student doesn't understand why they're being assigned that, it would probably stop doing it. So, a lot of times, you see the stop piece of it, whether it's in baseball, or math, it's because they don't understand the why, behind what we're doing in the... And sometimes, the "Stop doing" is something that they're absolutely right on too. And when you ask that question, you have to be vulnerable, right? Because, they're going to say some things that may catch you off guard, but 99% of the time, they're probably right. Whether, it's baseball, or math.
Jon Orr: These are great messages, I think, that you're sharing with us and you're sharing with your students. I especially, like the aspect of, "You belong here, if you're adding something, or you're taking something away." That makes a ton of sense and you've given us some great examples on how that relates to the math class, but also your personal experience. And you did say one of your big wonders, or things you wanted to dig on here, is having kids feel like they belong in the classroom. And then, you also have mentioned along those lines of how do we define, I think, success differently for different people and how does that work in the classroom? But, you're also giving us some great insights of how you're achieving those. So, Tom, I'm wondering is the real issue here, helping the kids understand this? Or, is it helping the parents? Or, where is this big issue for you?
Tom Marker: Well, you mentioned the parents. I think, we, or even myself mainly, have to do a better job of really getting people to understand what goes on in the math classroom these days, right? How it's really changed for the better? And so, anybody has strategies out there, we have an open house, we have a curriculum night. But, in my opinion, it's not long enough, or it doesn't give us enough time, or opportunity to explain that. Does somebody have something that they put out to parents in an email? But, then again, how do you know it got read? But, a way to articulate that, it's really not new math, that everybody's so frustrated and upset with. It's actually thinking math. Because, I think when we talked last time, we talked about algorithms and I tried to explain to my students, this day and age, nobody's going to sit down and do three by three multiplication with the algorithm, when computers are doing that for us.
And so, we would rather understand strategies and ways to do it better. But, I think like you said, being able to articulate that to parents, as well as I think, at times, and not so much with me, but just the administrators and people that are going to field questions from parents about why are they doing it this way? Why are they challenging my students to think so much? We can get the answer so much quicker, if we just write out this and do the matrix, or the lattice method, or whatever. I can get the answer with, keep change, flip. Why is he forcing my students to use manipulatives and think about it this way? So, yeah, I think that's a big challenge. Do you have a way that you articulate it to parents, administrators, curriculum directors, math coaches?
Kyle Pearce: Yeah. A lot of what you've said is, I think, the answer to this challenge with people outside of your class. It sounds to me like, you're doing an excellent job with your players, your team, your students, whichever group you're working with, in terms of making sure they understand the why. Or, when they don't, you're giving them an opportunity to tell you about it, right? So, I love that stop idea, right? So, stop, continue.
Jon Orr: What's the other one?
Tom Marker: Stop, start, continue.
Kyle Pearce: Start. Yeah, there you go. Stop. Start, continue. So, on that stop, I think you're doing, it sounds like a great job, with really getting a sense as to, do students understand why we're doing what we're doing? And then, if not, it forces you to think, "Oh, okay, I have to help that student understand why I assigned that." Or, like you had mentioned, you might go, "Well, wait a second, maybe they're right. And maybe, we should stop it." I wonder if there's something like that, that could... Maybe, it's not ready for say, your parents and your admin, because I don't know if they know enough about it. So, like you were saying, they need more time to understand the why. And your messaging is very clear on thinking. I heard the word thinking a lot, in this conversation and in the last conversation we had. And really, it's all about helping them to be better problem solvers, better reasoners, right?
To be able to reason their way through something, is so key. I wonder, if maybe, working towards having an open call, an open class, after school thing, where maybe, your parents come in, you actually engage them in a task, so that maybe, they can experience it. And obviously, it's got to be a well enough selected task, where no one feels that they're not at a place to enter into the task, because that's really scary for adults, right? Parents might come in, feeling like, "I'm not really a math person." Some other options too, might be even just sending home short, little snippet of something. So, whether it's you doing it, or whether it's something, maybe a Howie, one of Howie's videos, right? A short, little clip and be like, "Hey, this is a good, and he's really great at keeping it short, a minute, two minutes, on why we want to do X, Y, or Z differently."
So, just little, tiny things might be enough to breadcrumb that group, whether it's an admin, who's maybe, not understanding, "Why does Tom's class look different, than the way I remember math class." Right? Some admin are super supportive of that, others maybe, aren't, right? If they're hearing pressure from parents. So, I think, ensuring that they have some opportunities. Not all parents are going to engage, right? Or, take you up on it. But, I wonder if that's, just this little thing, if it was, call it a once a week thing, where it's like, "Hey, here's some homework for parents, but it's not hard. It's just something really easy and accessible for them to have a look at."
Tom Marker: Now, honest. And I could phrase this completely wrong. I talk to my students about this sometimes, but I remember, I don't know if it was your podcast, or something, because I'm so addicted to Twitter, it's a bad thing. But, I remember reading something about Canadian Math Standards, almost like power standards. And I though, reasonableness of the answers, was one of the things that kept showing up in the standards, in the math standards. Am I right on, reasonableness of answer? I felt like there was four, or five main concepts all around math.
Kyle Pearce: So, there's two. There's the practice standards from Common Core. Is Ohio Common Core? No.
Tom Marker: Yes, we are.
Kyle Pearce: Yes you're. Okay. So, you have your Math Practice Standards, where some of that language comes out through those, and then ours are called the Process Expectations in Ontario. Different provinces have different curriculum, much like the pre-Common Core era in the US. But yeah, our Process Expectations are very non-content based, right? They're very process based, problem solving strategies, all of those pieces there. So, it may, or may not have been something referring to those.
Jon Orr: Yeah. And I was thinking along the lines of what Kyle was suggesting, for communicating to parents and other stakeholders, in the sense of, I think when we try to show people a different way of thinking, or a different way of trying things, not necessarily, it's about math, it could be about other things, a different way of your batting stance, or the way that you're going to approach the ball. I think, people have to experience a small success, so that they then become believers. I think, when Kyle suggests, get them in the room and give them a task, so that they can experience that success and go, "Ah." That's one way to do it.
But, I think also, what you could also be doing, is if we can't get them all in the room, because that might be a logistical thing, but it could also be sending home, or communicating home, small, little successes. Celebrate successes with a certain student in saying, "This is where they were, this is where they are." Or, it's highlighting a strategy that was useful in solving a multiplication problem with decimals, or maybe it was adding, or fractions. And they had used a certain strategy, that you want to highlight.
And it's something that maybe, when you're thinking about Peter's book in The Thinking Classroom, you might highlight a strategy here with the full class, but it might also be something you're like, "You know what? We could highlight this strategy and send that home." So, it might be, even a short video could go out to the parents, by whatever your communication method happens to be. It could be just a picture of a work and a short explanation from the student to say, "This is how I solve this problem." So, sometimes I think, parents get worried at home, about what's happening in the classroom, because they don't see success. Because, if a student comes home and is like, "Ah, math is just so tough." And it's like, "Here are the questions I have."
And the parents' like, "I don't know how to do this, because I'm trying to solve it the way your teacher does, but you don't know how to do it." So, then there's a fight, right? And then, parents are like, "I got to call the teacher." Or, "I got to call the vice principal." Or, "I got to call someone to see, what's going on here?" You probably don't get calls from people that are like, they either understand it, or they've helped their kid, or the kid didn't have a problem to begin with, or struggle with anything. So, it's like, what could we do to send some of these small successes home to highlight, "Hey, these things are working." Because, if they can see that, "Hey, these things work, or these things are helpful. I might be more inclined to be on board to help my kids, also feel those successes." So, that might be a strategy that you could also communicate, if there's that disconnect that's happening between what's happening in the classroom and the strategies you're doing and what kids are showing at home, or what parents are seeing at home.
Tom Marker: That's helpful, that's helpful. Yeah, I got to do a better job of that for sure. So...
Kyle Pearce: I love it. Well, we've got quite a few ideas here floating around. I'm wondering what might be your biggest takeaway from either, your experience over this past year, or so? Or, maybe, from our conversation tonight, in terms of some next steps for you, as you look ahead to the next school year?
Tom Marker: Twofold. I think, I love the idea of just sending some stuff home for parents to see, especially maybe with a video, or like you said, highlighting certain strategies. And for me, I think, it's getting students to understand what exactly fun is. And I've been trying to define, I just got done with a youth camp and we had youth camp Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday for our baseball kids. And I defined for them, I tried to explain to them in baseball, "Fun for me, is defined as doing difficult things well. That's fun." And so, when you sign up for a baseball team, if you're winning every game, 18 to nothing, eventually it's not fun anymore. And so, in the math classroom, I think about it very much the same way. If the math problems are always basic and I already know how to do them, and I'm just going through them, that's not much fun.
But, if I have strategies and I'm a really good problem solver and I can reason through certain problems that are difficult and I can do the difficult well, then it becomes fun. And so, just trying to get parents to understand that productive struggle is a positive, it's the only way they're going to have fun. Because, we've had parents who'd say, "Should my kid be in a different core?" Or, "Should they be in a different class? Because, they're struggling and they're getting that hard-earned B and they're showing really good skills and they're developing really strong student skills. They just don't have the 98%/100% that they're used to having." Right? And to me, sometimes 100%'s very scary. It's like that team that goes 25 and 0, in the Summer. And you're like, "Man, I don't know if that's a good thing."
And I think, 100% in math... I mean, I don't get too caught up in sixth grade scores. I don't think, Harvard's calling to ask what you got sixth grade math. But, 100%'s scary. If you knew 100% of the material, the whole entire time, all the time, that's why I think we need to go to standards-based grade as well. But, that's a whole nother discussion for another day, because the 100%'s like, I don't understand what that says about the student's journey in your math class, if they got 100% all four quarters of the year. But yeah, I think taking the big takeaway, is just how to communicate at home. That one, that we're taking care of your math student. We're going to push them, we're going to grow them and hopefully, they're going to have the right type of fun in the classroom and the right thinking in the classroom. And how do I articulate that at home? So, that parents aren't calling in worried about their student.
Jon Orr: Right. And that's a great takeaway and I'm glad we've come to that realization for you. And I think, what you were talking about before about this war, that there's an aspect of being bored, there's an aspect of being challenged too much. That's about managing flow. I know Peter talks about that in his book, about where's the right flow? If we can get kids challenged enough, but not too much, but also not bored, then we're in the sweet spot and that's an important place to be, if we're going to build thinking classrooms, if we're going to use problem-based lessons, or lots of different routines. Tom, I want to thank you for joining us here. And again, hey, we're going to hold you up here and see if your game for another check-in next year. I don't know. Hey, would you be up for that next year?
Tom Marker: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
Kyle Pearce: I love it. It's great to see the journey of so many educators. We're getting so many more of our Math Moment Makers coming back on to update us on the journey. It's so great when we see the growth. Tom, I know we don't know you face-to-face personally, but just based on the last conversation we had, and then hearing where you are now, it's clear to us that we see that, you as an educator are growing as well. You probably notice, Jon and I are growing as well. We're all growing. And clearly, you're putting a lot of time and effort into what you're doing in the classroom. And every single little bit of that, is paying off and it's paying dividends in the long run. And I think, the more we do this as educators, the easier it becomes for us to demonstrate that to our students.
And clearly, your message here that we heard again tonight, is very clear, that you try to help students understand the why, you try to help them. Doing hard things, sometimes, it's very difficult for students to understand, right? And you're helping them to explicitly understand that hard things is not a bad thing, right? That's actually a good thing. So, good on you for that. For those who are listening and are looking, they're going, "Yeah." We mentioned Howie's short video clips, also on our Math Moments YouTube channel, you'll find that there's little videos, short videos, sometimes five to 15 minutes. Jon, for example, just did one last week, about solving equations on number lines with number lines.
So, using little bits like that, can be helpful for parents to go through that progression and to understand, "Oh, okay, I understand why this is and how this works." So, that might be another place for people to consider, but whatever you do, just, yeah, those little touchpoints with parents can go a really long way. So, glad to hear that you're going to consider that. And my friend, until next time, we will check in with you. And of course, don't be a stranger on social media, because we know you're on Twitter and we will see you there.
Tom Marker: Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. Take care, Tom, talk soon.
Kyle Pearce: Have a good one, my friend.
Tom Marker: Thank you.
Kyle Pearce: Well, Math Moment Makers, as always, both Jon and I love having these conversations. In particular, not only do we enjoy Math Mentoring Moment Episodes in general, but when we have a chance to do the, Where Are They Now? Episodes and hearing that growth. And Jon, you articulated it really well in the introduction. Just, how there was a clear shift in that thinking. He's in a different place now, than he was over a year ago, which is so fantastic to hear. So, if you haven't checked out episode 129, or maybe you did, and maybe you want to give it a re-listen. It's so great and it models, or mimics something that we need to be in tune in our classrooms to, as well, is that long-term change. It's so easy to assess students where they are and we're just constantly assessing them, but to be able to actually go back and revisit conversations, right?
And it makes you think about how we assess students. Is it a worthwhile opportunity for us to record a conversation with a student every once in a while, near the beginning of the year? And then, near the end of the year? That's one of the big takeaways I'm having, is just hearing some of that change and where Tom's in a different place, now. Of course, we always talk about it, the struggle never ends. There's always something new that we're going to be working on. But, you can see that he's making progress on his journey. And now, he's even looking to try to affect parent understanding of what's going on in the math classroom, which I think is so helpful, right? When you can open up that line of communication, get parents on board, get stakeholders on board, to support students and teachers on this journey together, as a team and great things are going to happen. So, awesome on Tom. We really appreciated him taking the time to check in with us and the Math Moment Maker community.
Jon Orr: Yeah. And we would love to talk with you on your pebble in your shoe. We'd love for you to come on here and chat with Kyle and I and talk about what's rolling around there. We brainstorm next steps, so that you can go back to your classroom the next day and try those, or maybe the next year, if you're are on Summer holidays, like we are just about to be. But, hey, please do that. Head on over to makemathmoments.com/mentor, fill out a couple sentences there, to let us know what you're working through. And we would love to hop on a call with you, just to work that out. So, hey, you can be on the next Math Mentoring Moment Episode.
Kyle Pearce: Fantastic. And Jon, people are listening, or watching this somewhere. So, we're going to ask you, we're going to hope, ask you this small favor to stop and hit that subscribe button, or hit that like button, if you are watching on YouTube. And that goes a long way. If you are on Apple Podcasts, rating and review is super helpful. And we thank you again for taking time to hang out with us, for yet another episode, what is this episode? 186. Lots of math love going around here.
Jon Orr: And hey, show notes, links to resources from this episode, plus complete transcripts that you can read right on the web, or take with you. Head on over to makemathmoments.com/episode186. Again, that's makemathmoments.com/episode186.
Kyle Pearce: Well, Jon, you know what that means? Right?
Jon Orr: I know. I know. I know it.
Kyle Pearce: Until next time, Math Moment Makers. I'm Kyle Pearce.
Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.
Jon Orr: And a big... High five for you.
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