Episode #223: Strengthening Your Math Team – A Math Mentoring Moment
In this episode we casually chat with middle school math teacher and department chair Shawn Hershey. Shawn recently took our Make Math Moments District Assessment and received his customized report and improvement plan and he’s here to chat with us about optimizing the math program at his school.
This is another Math Mentoring Moment episode where we chat with a teacher like you who is working through some problems of practice and together we brainstorm ways to overcome them.
- What to focus on first when helping your your fellow teachers shift their pedagogy;
- How can I use small goals to achieve large goals in the classroom;
- How the 6 parts of an effective math program support each other; and,
- How we can decide what pedagogical strategies are most important right now for our teams.
- Shawn is one of the founding members of the Make Math Moments Academy
- Make Math Moments 3-Part Framework
District Math Leaders:
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Shawn Hershey: So our main focus, and again, I didn't understand the tree or anything at this point, but we were really worried about our MTSS process, which I know you guys were talking about, tier one, tier two, tier three. So I have been solely focused on that tier one side after taking that course with you guys and the tier two then, we were finding, because I was trying to find my role then, I felt like I was in classrooms.
Kyle Pearce: In this episode, we chat with middle school math teacher, department chair and founding Make Math Moments online workshop member, Shawn Hershey. Shawn recently took our Make Math Moments math program assessment and received his customized report and improvement plan and he's here to chat with us about optimizing the math program at his school.
This is another math mentoring moment episode where we chat with a teacher like you who is working through some problems of practice and together, we brainstorm ways to overcome them. All right, John, let's hit it.
Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I'm Kyle Pierce.
Jon Orr: And I'm John Orr. We are two math teachers from Make Math Moments.com. Who together...
Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of Math Moment Makers worldwide who want to build and deliver problem-based math lessons that spark curiosity...
Jon Orr: Fuel sense making...
Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Welcome, my friends, to another math mentoring moment episode, and guess what? We're going to be talking about, not just teacher moves, but leader moves here on today's episode. We are so excited to welcome Shawn to the podcast. When we saw his name in our booking calendar, we both got excited. We both wanted to hop on the call because we've seen Shawn kind of from a distance as he went through our online workshop and we are working closely with him at that time back in 2018.
Jon Orr: That was a while ago.
Kyle Pearce: Yes. And it's been great to see him hacking away at the academy courses as well as some of the work that he's been doing in between. So we are so excited to hop in. John, what was your sort of big takeaway or piece that you took from this particular conversation with Shawn?
Jon Orr: Yeah, no, I was impressed with this conversation and excited afterwards because we jumped on this conversation just to chat with Shawn, just to see how things are going and we hit record. Through the conversation, it came out that he's had such a transformation from five years ago into what he's doing now and being the department chair and meeting with his math teachers. And he's so reflective on the development they've made as a team and he's asking great questions about how his district program can improve and he's done a lot of learning with the assessment and the report we sent him on the six different ways to improve a math program and he's on his way.
He's thinking about how the pieces fit together and you're going to hear that. He's starting to make connections on how the leaves of the tree, our resources are connected to the roots of a tree, our content knowledge. So he's making those connections and he's starting to make plans and there was an 'aha' moment you could hear coming up, where he starts to realize the leadership, the trunk of the tree, is so important and he's got to figure out how to wrap that around and help his district move forward. So we're ready to share that conversation with you and here we go.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome stuff. Let's dig in.
Shawn Hershey: I was actually in your very first workshop.
Kyle Pearce: I remember.
Jon Orr: You're a founding member.
Shawn Hershey: This sheet right here is what I created after I left that workshop. Now, I didn't know about your six parts, but I left there and I wrote down goals starting in 2018. So you guys did that workshop in 2018, correct? 2019...
Jon Orr: You've got it.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Fall of 2018, I think it was.
Shawn Hershey: This says 2018 through 2025, those were my goals. I left your workshop and I thought, "This is it," So I set these goals. Now, you have expanded my... Like, "Okay, I got to really do more with this." But I was like, "Okay, we're going to work." And like you said, you got to just chew at it a little bit at a time. But I felt like the most important thing was for me and our team to develop our conceptual understanding. If there's anything you guys taught me is, it's not procedures, right? No, you guys call it 'don't rush the algorithm', which, I use that with them but I mean, we talk about procedures and I just was going over how we drastically changed our eighth grade proportional unit by just thinking of open number lines instead of teaching the slope formula, M equals Y, two minus Y, one over X, two minus XY, just like, "Dude, that makes no sense."
But we step away from the table knowing it's just the distance between two numbers on the number line, whether you're decreasing or increasing and that has opened up access. So that idea, I just want to let you know, I know you guys can talk to me, but I just want to let you know, when I look at this and what you guys... I'm like, "Ah, I see what they're talking about." It's just not even just that, it's... And the one off stuff so thanks guys for putting...
Jon Orr: Hey, no problem.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, that is so great to hear. And to be honest, way back then, like you're saying, it's like the deeper you go... Exactly. Literally, just now, we've finally been able to get it all into this thing we call the tree and really what it is, it's almost like you have to zoom in and zoom back out and then zoom in and zoom back out. So it sounds like you had almost been guided towards that conceptual understanding, those roots that we call, of the tree, and you've been doing a lot of great work there. But then you're probably seeing that, oh, it's not just that, that there's so many other pieces too. So it's great that it's sort of coming together for you as well.
Shawn Hershey: And just the mindset, which is like the soil case. It's like, we actually moved 12 kids from direct instruction, we call it special ed, if you know what I mean, our special ed, to the direct ed, and they're actually flourishing. That hasn't happened in 10, 15 years. So that mindset of, these kids can do it. Plus the teachers now pushing back on our psychologist saying, "No, don't put them in direct instruction. Just leave them in my room. We can work with them." Just to understand my role, I'm not a classroom teacher. I'm actually a math interventionist.
Kyle Pearce: Yep.
Jon Orr: Okay.
Shawn Hershey: But my school gave me an open schedule.
Jon Orr: Nice.
Shawn Hershey: So I create every day. So I actually go in and push in with the kids, but I also do small group instruction when needed. So I was actually getting in every classroom, like you guys said, where you kind of zoom in and zoom out and we talked about how one teacher was doing this thing then the next year they're learning about, let's just say integers. One teacher was doing a number line, the next teacher was doing integer chips. So our kids were trying to go back forth. Now we only have 40 minutes to teach a lesson so we did have to be a little cautious. And so we looked at which one was the best, but the kids were constantly trying to relearn something or a different strategy. I'm not saying either one's bad, but you almost have to, okay, so which one's going to be the most beneficial? So we kind of looked at open number line and how it flowed through, not just from second grade on, but the whole way up through. So we were trying to pick that model for conceptual understanding, but...
Kyle Pearce: I love that.
Shawn Hershey: Yes.
Kyle Pearce: Nice.
Shawn Hershey: Yeah.
Kyle Pearce: Well it sounds like you've definitely identified the importance of alignment across different classes, across different grades. And something that research has taught us is that pockets of success actually don't lead to long-term growth for students. So if they come into your class and they have success with using the number line and then they go to the next class and they never see it again or it's a different model and you're not talking with that teacher. It's clear that you've identified that as an area that, as a team, if you can find a way to build in those PLCs or any type of professional learning that you can do where everyone comes together.
Shawn Hershey: And that's the biggest mistake I think I made is, I really should have created these goals. If I'm understanding, when you guys identify leadership as my biggest area of concern to work on, my district's professional development thing, they're more worried about behaviors right now. So math isn't really on the radar. It is, but it isn't. I know that piece hasn't come there so when I look at it, I think leadership. You guys also look at leadership as... Not mine, sorry, our math team. You're in the middle school. So it's not me. I'm not the leader kind of thing. Yes, I'm the department chair, but we got to come together and we got to figure this out now. And now that I think I'm starting to understand these better, so.
Kyle Pearce: Sure, of course.
Jon Orr: Sure.
Shawn Hershey: Could I run through them with you? Because you guys... Okay, good, good. Okay. Because this is now going to take us to the next level because we've seen a lot of success. We actually were forced from the bottom in our county.
Jon Orr: Whoa.
Shawn Hershey: And our test results were now number two. Our teachers are phenomenal. Now, understand, this has been since 2018. So...
Kyle Pearce: That's amazing. That is so rare for that to happen. So good on you and them for sticking to that. That's one of the hardest pieces when we're working with districts, that we find is that it's sort of like, how do we fix it now instead of taking time to grow and do the work that needs to be done?
Shawn Hershey: And I agree with you and that's where, with this coming through here, it's like you're getting to that next... When I first learned about double number lines from you guys, and I've created a decimal lesson, I'm like, "Ooh, okay." This is kind of getting them to see they actually do have importance in real life. And then we were kind of taking that idea but I noticed, with my teachers, it's like a rubber band. You know how you start to stretch a rubber band, it's about ready to break, you got to bring it back in and that's where I think you guys zoom in, zoom out. Do you guys do that with teachers where you feel like they're getting to that breaking point of, "Okay, this is too much Shawn," You got to bring it back in?
Kyle Pearce: Oh yeah.
Jon Orr: Yeah, for sure.
Kyle Pearce: For sure.
Shawn Hershey: Well, we got all them to actually not use the textbook anymore. So you guys are like... Remember how you guys talked about the textbook? You got to know the standards?
Kyle Pearce: Yes.
Shawn Hershey: In eighth grade we don't even have one. We actually created keynotes. I was doing professional development right after that because I wanted to visualize that because that actually helped me understand things. So when you guys then got to the point where... Okay, so some of our teachers still wouldn't let go of the textbook in the one grade. You guys then ran that transforming your textbook.
Kyle Pearce: Yep. We ran that.
Shawn Hershey: inaudible never call you, I walked out for whatever reason, I was going back and trying to watch them. I had to ask you for permission to get in, but then the teachers at least got on that and then the keynotes started pulling them back in but that's problem-based because now we had context to talk about,
Jon Orr: I love it.
Shawn Hershey: It's cool stuff they were working through there. So that idea there, where would that fall in? Would you say that's a conceptual understanding or is that resources?
Kyle Pearce: John, I don't know about you.
Jon Orr: I'm thinking it's a bit of both.
Shawn Hershey: I do too. We're all working together, right?
Kyle Pearce: It's hard to make a resource without having your own mathematical proficiency. And it helps to build both, to be honest, if it's being done well.
Shawn Hershey: Yeah.
Kyle Pearce: When you're thinking about strategies and models when you're putting these together, because anybody could put together a resource that's procedural and sort of rushes to the algorithm, does all the things that we were advocating not to do or only do. When you're digging in, it's almost like, again, you need bits of all of these pieces, otherwise those resources are going to be really, really, if you picture it like leaves, wilted and not very healthy looking, right?
Jon Orr: And you think about the six parts of the tree and the leaves being the resources. There's a couple ways to look at those resources in a sense of, they could be in isolation by saying, "What resources are we using now and do those resources, do those textbooks, this tool over here, does this classroom activity, does that fit in with the learning that we've done along the way that helps with our pedagogical content knowledge and our mathematical proficiencies?" So you can look at it as an evaluation tool and go, "Look, these are my goals for the year. This is what we want to work towards in our classrooms. Does this resource, or does this curriculum help with that or hinder that?"
But the way you've described it, Shawn, is that when you start to create resources, you start to build in those other pieces of your goals along the way. So that's where they kind of very much will blend together, is that you want to use these other areas of the tree to evaluate the other areas, like the resources.
Shawn Hershey: Yeah. Okay. So it is both then? It's not isolated, is it?
Jon Orr: No, no.
Kyle Pearce: It really can't be...
Jon Orr: It's all the same tree. It's all the same tree.
Kyle Pearce: Not keeping it done well, right? That's the key. You could try to do anyone. And I think that's one of the pieces John and I learned, well, I say a long time ago, we were doing a long time ago, and it was only in the past maybe five or six years that we sort of started to realize that John and I really focused on, specifically, the leaves in our own classrooms but we didn't have some of the other pieces. We didn't have the conceptual understanding in order to... We could develop an engaging lesson, but it didn't necessarily help students understand math. It helped them show up to math class, it helped them lean in math class, it helped them like math class, but they didn't walk away any more confident with the mathematics itself. They just hated math class less. So that's a part of it, but it's like, as soon as you start adding in these other pieces, you start to go, "Oh my gosh."
And not to mention that, if they leave our class and then enter into the next class and it's back to square one, the way it was the year before they entered our class, they start to rethink things again and go, "Did I actually fall further behind because now I don't know how to do the algorithm," Or "I haven't memorized the algorithm like I did in a previous class." So there's so much there and I think you've kind of come to your own realization that, yeah, it is so interconnected and that's why we thought the tree was such a great metaphor for it to kind of represent that connectedness.
Shawn Hershey: Yeah. And that's the other... Your circle lesson for circumference with the time.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah.
Shawn Hershey: I had to change a little bit because like I said, we have 40 minutes, so a lot of times where you would love to say, "Well, what do you think?" And you take all of them and you narrow it down and yeah, we do that, but we have to do it a little more confined. I did that lesson, but when I was talking to the teachers, we always just did, "Just plug it in." But you really were there like, "What do you think?" And then you have the diameter there and then the teachers took... So I did this with teachers by the way, and the one teacher walked out, she goes, "I now know what pi means." She just thought it was 3.14, but you know what I mean? What I said is, what do you want in there? Do you want the kids just to plug in the formula or do you want them to see that a diameter, that the circumference is about three times plus a little more?
Kyle Pearce: Yeah.
Shawn Hershey: Where do you want the kids, because that's what you guys always challenge of someone is like, "What do you want the kids to be able to do at the end? Just plug it in and put it in their calculator? Or do you want them to see that piece?"
Kyle Pearce: Yeah.
Shawn Hershey: Because then what I did is, I took a circle and I unwind it. In the keynote, I made it unwind and then I just let the diameter there and then I laid it on it and then just said it like it was just one of those pieces. We're really focused on that, which, I guess, is not the leadership trunk.
Jon Orr: I would say that's one of your pedagogical content knowledge pieces of what kind of teacher moves are you using in your classroom? What kind of questioning, what kind of style of delivery are you using to showcase the content knowledge that you want students to understand, the resources you're using. So that's more of a teacher move to go, "Hey, we're going to follow the curiosity path and we're going to be building curiosity. We want students to lean in, we want students to be engaged in that way, but also wonder and notice and have all of that benefit of the engagement that leads to the sense making piece along the way."
Shawn Hershey: So our main focus, and again, I didn't understand the tree or anything at this point, but we were really worried about our MTSS process, which I know you guys were talking about tier one, tier two, tier three. So I have been solely focused on that tier one side after taking that course with you guys and the tier two then, we were finding, because I was trying to find my role then, I felt like I was in classrooms and we were kind of getting that situated for three years or so. And then we really focused on the MTSS. So our math meetings when we meet, I'm just letting you guys know, has been really focused on what I've learned on how we help students with interventions. Because you guys had Juliana Tapper on and was talking about that and I really got a lot from her.
Kyle Pearce: Nice.
Jon Orr: Awesome.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Yeah, and you're absolutely right. It's interesting because it's a chicken versus the egg sort of thing. Which one comes first? And I think, especially after the pandemic, we found ourselves in a really tough spot because tier one, not only does tier one instruction have to improve in so many classrooms all over the world, the problem is that tier one instruction won't get us out of this mess alone. So I mean it's like, our problem is even larger now. So it really does make teams have to pause for a moment and sort of try to figure out, where do I put my attention now? It doesn't mean that we never bring our attention to the other part, which is exactly what you get in that customized report that you received.
We're not saying there's no other parts of the tree we want to focus on, but we do have to pick something to sort of zoom in on and begin with. And it sounds like your team has focused on that tier two as, maybe, that goal for now, and that may very well be exactly where you want to be right now. But at the same time, we also want to zoom out a little bit and just sort of make sure that we know where we are relative to the other pieces and know that there's work to be done. We will get there, we're going to plan ahead and think about those things but...
Shawn Hershey: Writing that down.
Kyle Pearce: Let's make sure that we don't overwhelm ourselves because that's one of the biggest challenges or problems that I see we have in education in general, but also, specifically in mathematics is that, there are so many pieces that we need to work on if we just take tiny little bits and try to put tiny little bits together. It's like there's no impact, right? You don't see change, people start to get negative, they start to think like, "Oh, this idea's not a good idea," Even though maybe it's a great idea, it just hasn't been well implemented yet. So it sounds like by picking something to focus on, that's a great place to be and it gives you... I think you had a bit of a realization around the idea of ensuring your team is sort of all in the same place, maybe in the same head space as to where you're going.
Shawn Hershey: When you said about the tier one though, what I really was focusing on them is, when we start doing problem-based lessons, we start looking at how we show math visually, conceptually. You will actually decrease your MTSS kids. But you're right, there's always going to be that special ed kid. But give you an example, like this year, what we're celebrating now is, we used to have 30 plus kids in direct instruction. Now we're down to, either between 15, 20, but we only have one kid in the pipeline for this year in sixth, seventh and eighth grade. So to me, that's a huge win. And you guys said, it was you specifically, John, that was talking about it in that podcast, was celebrating those wins. What are they? I think that's a win. It's not even just what the data... Because sometimes I think data sometimes hinders us. It doesn't help, but I mean, we're given these assessments, but the assessments are for growth, right?
So if we're given assessment, I don't need to give you three benchmarks plus an additional 15 minutes of this data created from a computer thing that I just don't really agree with. I think it's the teacher but we can use that assessment, make decisions about this kid and then have a conversation. And like you said, sometimes the conversations need to be geared towards, not, what's the kid's weakness, but what's the kid's strength.
Kyle Pearce: And something that you said that I think is really important as well, the fact that you've been on this journey since 2018, also says a lot about making goals, sticking to them and following through. So that tier one piece, by helping to solidify the instruction that the majority of students are receiving, that is a huge help to ensure less students fall away. They stop moving away from that pack, that group in tier one.
Shawn Hershey: Yep.
Kyle Pearce: And ultimately, you now, it sounds like, have a process where you can provide something in particular for students who may need that additional, you call it direct instruction, but essentially, it really is that. It's, we're going to sit down, we're going to target, specifically, what will be helpful for you, the strategies and the inaudible that are going to be helpful for you to get you to the next place in your journey. And are they also engaging in the tier one or are they actually going to the tier two at the same time tier one is happening?
Shawn Hershey: Oh, this is never easy.
Kyle Pearce: No, never.
Shawn Hershey: So what we have done is, we separate tier two and tier three from this. Number one is convincing the teachers that they're also part of tier two.
Kyle Pearce: Love it.
Shawn Hershey: So that alone was like, "Okay, during ninth period, are you guys pulling in small groups?" Now, I can do tier two, but what we find is, like I said, we have 40 minutes, so I never want a kid to miss instruction. I never agree that you inaudible because if a kid comes to me for, quote, unquote, interventions, they miss instruction. Now I'm in the middle school, so we know... Have you guys heard of Robin Codding?
Kyle Pearce: No.
Jon Orr: The name sounds familiar, but I don't know the...
Shawn Hershey: She was kind of the guru, but she's a researcher. See, I like you guys because you were teachers. So a researcher can say this is great, but sometimes they never tell you how to apply that in your classroom. But one thing I learned from her, which was cool, is, in reading, you have your five building blocks of reading, which is comprehension, fluency, phonemic awareness, phonics and vocabulary, and they work off of that. But in math, it doesn't work that way. And what she said is, you have your top three. So I'm just giving you an idea how we do a tier two. I'm sorry I'm not trying to go further, but I'm just giving you how we...
Jon Orr: Yeah, yeah, no problem.
Kyle Pearce: For sure.
Shawn Hershey: So in K through five, it's single digit operations, but when they hit middle school, your proportional reason course. It's all about ratios, portions, percents, expressions and equations. I don't worry about basic math facts up here when I'm talking about intervention because we can always hand you a calculator. We're trying to build on concepts. So what I do is, right now, we identified, through our own assessments, 11 kids in seventh grade that couldn't solve a two-step equation. Well, that's a standard. So I actually bring those kids down... So that's a tier three now, by the way. So now I'm going to tier three and goes, I got two or three kids in front of me. I teach them the lesson, I break it down to a half hour. But with two or three kids, sometimes I'm dealing with the nuts and bolts, but then I get 15 minutes of interventions. And so, we start it with a two-step equation.
Yeah, if Kate couldn't add and subtract, okay, that's fine, I got you a calculator. But we were working on, okay, can you solve? This is where you then do your question of, can you solve a one step equation? Do you even know how to combine like terms? And we started diving back. So I got three in my room, but now we're working individually. Hey, guess what? It's eight and a half weeks later and I went from 11, we're down to six.
Kyle Pearce: Love it.
Shawn Hershey: And you and I both know they need that piece going forward. So that's how we do. And if they're with me, tier three is all an addition. It's either one-on-one or two on one because Robin Codding said research says two on one isn't as effective as one on one in mathematics, as long as inaudible. So that was kind of cool. So it doesn't have to be one on one, which was great, and you must meet with him at least two times a week to make any...
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, I was going to say, I'm like, if you can manage that third as always... That can be a game changer. I know it's tough, like easier said than done, but the more often the better. But again, there are restrictions to that, of course.
Shawn Hershey: We make it fit our system. That's what you guys always... It is what it is, this is what we got.
Kyle Pearce: You do what you can.
Shawn Hershey: Roadblock. How can we get around that? And she said...
Kyle Pearce: One thought I wanted to share with you before we maybe tangent off into another area is, you had mentioned this idea of, I love the idea that you're looking and going, okay, we're in the middle grades, we've got these concepts, we're dealing with proportional relationships, proportional reasoning, algebra now is kind of... Algebraic reasoning is around since kindergarten, but now we're talking about actually getting into algebraic representations and things of that nature. So I love the work that you're doing there. One thought, and I don't know if we'll have an answer on how you could fit it in now, but maybe something to add to your wonder list is, how can we incorporate some of that number sense fluency and flexibility into that world, simply because... Yes.
Shawn Hershey: I got you a my list. Yep.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, I love it. I love it. It's that piece...
Shawn Hershey: Is that what you're thinking?
Kyle Pearce: It's that piece. That piece is so huge because it's almost like, are those concepts that helpful? Say, solving two step equations. I know it's an expectation or a standard, but in reality it's like, what is really going to be the... Oftentimes it's like, what has hindered this student to this point? And oftentimes it does come up with that fluency, flexibility with number and operations. And it could be something as simple as a very targeted problem string, which may only be a six minute activity. If I could squeeze six minutes in there, and it's super intentional, and maybe this might be something, John, you and I, we could even do a webinar on it is, really getting to it. No rabbit holes. When we do number talks, oftentimes people go down the rabbit hole and they're like, "Here's a strategy, here's a strategy, here's a model, here's the way I did it. I did it this way because I just want to be as creative as I possibly can."
It's like, no, no, we're going to do this specific strategy, this specific model, and I've got these three problems we're going to do in a specific order so that you get the low hanging fruit and then we get you to something harder, and then the next time I see you, we're going to continue that little string and that can really go a long way to strengthening some of the work that you're trying to do in those middle grades as well.
Shawn Hershey: When you work with schools on math talks, training a teacher for that is also.
Jon Orr: It's work.
Kyle Pearce: It's work.
Shawn Hershey: Well, I guess what I'm...
Jon Orr: Support work, repetition.
Shawn Hershey: Am I allowed to ask you this question or am I getting off topic? But how do you guys... Okay, so you guys do this all the time. That's an ultimate goal of mine. It really is like math talks. What would you do as a first step to convince people? Now, I think I'm only now ready to even tackle this myself.
Jon Orr: Right.
Shawn Hershey: Because the truth is, when I heard about that, I agreed with it and then I was trying to do it, but I never felt like I could force someone. Does that make sense?
Jon Orr: Yeah.
Kyle Pearce: Totally. For sure, for sure.
Shawn Hershey: Okay, because I still got to build myself, man.
Jon Orr: Yeah, no, and you're asking what's the first thing you do when you're working with a team to help them understand that this is a powerful tool to use in the classroom, right?
Shawn Hershey: Yeah, that is my question.
Jon Orr: So, Shawn, when you think about your teachers that you're working with now, what kind of pebbles are they experiencing in their classroom? That conversation that you have with them, what would you say would be one pebble they have in their classroom that you could help alleviate, you could help remove? You don't have to answer that right now, but that's actually how we start, is thinking about how to position ourselves as we come in to work with teachers and provide them certain strategies. It doesn't have to be a math talk, but it's about positioning ourselves to alleviate that pebble in their shoe. What can we help with? Is the thing that you need help with is that kids are not being resilient problem solvers? They're not engaging in the discussion, or maybe they're like, it's so dead quiet in my room? Or maybe they're off topic all of the time. There's always these pebbles that teachers will say when they vent.
And when we say, "Okay, look, these are all things that we're dealing with?" "Yes." "Would you be open to a strategy here that can help alleviate blank?" And then that's where you step in and go, "Okay, well, here's one technique that I've been using or we could use or this is the way we position ourselves." And it's really that mindset piece of the tree. How do I convince a teacher that there is a solution to their pebble, and this might be the thing? And a lot of times, it's following the curiosity path. It is the math talk. It is setting up the model that we can use in our classroom. A lot of these pieces of the tree, a lot of these pieces that we use in our three-part framework are answers to a lot of those pebbles that they have, and we can step in and help them with their mindset and go, "Look, I don't have to convince you anymore because this is the answer to that problem and if we get good at it, all those problems go away," Or, "That problem will go away."
So that's the first thing we do, and then the nuts and bolts of the procedure or the nuts and bolts of the actual activity, that comes later. But the first part is that mindset and that change, that beliefs of that, oh, we are going to work towards this goal to alleviate that problem and we're going to use this strategy to do it.
Shawn Hershey: So what you're doing is, you're trying to ask people what their problem is so that you then change the mindset in the soil to get to the branch. I got it. I got it.
Jon Orr: You got it. Wow, look at this.
Kyle Pearce: He's piecing all the trees together. He's got all the trees.
Shawn Hershey: You're not telling them what to do,
Jon Orr: And then there's fruit on the tree after.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, totally. It's like science class. It's like there's a cycle here and I'm loving the light bulbs that we're seeing going off, which is great. And just to add to what John was saying, it's like, almost to get them to highlight, which, essentially, I think you've realized this, you already said it or mentioned it earlier, but we're trying to help you get to where you need to be through questioning. And we want to do the same thing for our educators and almost like helping to ask the questions that are going to get them closer to that place. And then once they're there, and when you're ready and they go, "Well, how do you actually do a number talk?" Or when you ask the question, what is a number talk? Because when I ask teachers, I'll be honest, my interpretation of a number talk five years ago is very different than what a number talk is today, to me.
I used to say things like, really, a number talk was like a warmup. It was like Estimation 180, it was like, which one doesn't belong? And those can be helpful if your intentionality is estimation or if your intentionality is getting students talking and building math discourse. But when I look at a number talk, when we're talking about number sense, fluency and flexibility with number in operations, my number talk definition is completely different now and it's, I want kids, and it's more like the Kathy Fosnot definition where it's all about helping them to see the behaviors of the numbers and the operators through a specific strategy and a model, and the model will be the tool. So there's no calculator, we're not going to do any of this with a calculator and we're going to do it so targeted that I'm not going to allow the rabbit hole thing to happen because a lot of people look at number talk as a way for every student to share every strategy in the universe.
And there is a time and a place to maybe do that, maybe first day of school or the first week of school where you want everyone participating. But then I want to get to a place where I go, "Okay, I want students to know, I'm going to give you turn and talk time so everyone will get to share but ultimately, at the end of today's number talk, I want every single person to know this new idea, this new model and this new strategy and I'm going to push you to do it." And the example I use is, I'm going to be going to coach hockey in just a couple hours time. I have some kids on the team, young kids on the team, who can stop facing right and they want to stop facing right every single time. And it's like, no, no, no, no. Today I want you to stop facing left.
And they're like, "But I'm going to fall." And I'm like, "Exactly. We need you to work on that. I don't want you to just do the thing you already know how." So if a student's going, "Every time I add two numbers, I always take two from that and give it to this one. And then now this is a friendly number and I put them together." That's great. That's called compensation. But if that student does that every single day as their strategy, they haven't learned anything new. So the whole goal there would be, I want everybody to have something new. Or if you already knew the strategy, amazing, you're going to practice that strategy and that model today. But guess what? Tomorrow or the day after, it's likely we're going to have something new for you to try. So it's less about students coming to the table with all of their strategies and more or less us building on what we know they've already practiced and done, and intentionally nudging them along so that they see more and more these behaviors or these patterns that are number sense and operations.
And imagine what that could do for you when you get to proportional relationships. When students start to see how numbers are related and how... Holy smokes, when I did all those division number talks, those are really important now, when I'm in proportional relationships, because it's all based on division. You can say multiplication too, but more importantly is division. And I can't really get to the nuts and bolts of those behaviors until students have these behaviors over here and feel confident and strong with them. So there's a lot to unpack there but that, maybe, is a mini content knowledge piece. If you want to explore the roots with your team, that could be part of the roots. And then the actual physical process of the number talk could be considered your pedagogical content knowledge piece, right?
And then when you look at the resources, the leaves of the tree, you start to think, "Okay, well, which resource am I going to use?" Maybe it's Kathy Fosnot's mini lessons books are the resources we're going to use. You've hit three parts of the tree through doing one thing with your team.
Shawn Hershey: Wow.
Kyle Pearce: That maybe you focus on, we'll call it... I don't want to say it's like micro because it's small, but it's a specific goal that actually is going to help strengthen three, and I'll be honest and say probably all parts of your tree as you move forward.
Shawn Hershey: Correct. I mean, because to deliver that, you really have to know a lot of some of that stuff deeply when the kids... Pam Harris, when I get on with her, how you model students thinking to help them for them to reason.
Kyle Pearce: Totally.
Shawn Hershey: That's crazy, you know what I mean?
Kyle Pearce: Totally, totally.
Shawn Hershey: Now you said you can get it down... One of the notes while you were talking, because you asked what my team needs is, it's got to be quick.
Kyle Pearce: Yes.
Shawn Hershey: inaudible is 10 minutes, they're going to look at me like, "Nope, no way."
Kyle Pearce: My big thing is, if I can keep it short and sweet... Which, again, so it means it's not going to be like, there's no noticing and wondering, it's not a curiosity protocol. This is a, we want to continue, it's a routine that we want to get into. We obviously don't want to bore students, but the interesting part about math is that as students become more confident doing it... So if I can structure it in such a way that it's not so easy that it's boring and not so hard that I'm going to give up on it, but I get into that flow zone, you know, you get into that middle ground, you start to become engaged because your confidence and your ability, your strength starts to make you want to do it more. And you see this with, again, go back to sports. Students or kids, when they start a new sport, if they're not very good at it, oftentimes they're like, "I don't like this." Well, I don't like it either if I don't know how to do anything.
But once you structure it in a way where they have many successes, they start to enjoy it more and more and more, and then that machine just keeps on churning. So I would say building that in tier two instruction, if possible, but also building it into the tier one. Again, you can do it, you just have to make sure that you don't let it blow up into a 20 minute routine. Might start as a 20 minute routine because you have to get that routine down and kids have to understand what it is we're trying to achieve here, but within a handful of days, we can get it down to a place where we go, "Hey, we're only going to take five minutes to do this or six minutes to do this," Or whatever that timeline is. We might only get through three problems together. We don't have to get through a whole string of eight problems. We're just going to do these three and tomorrow we're going to continue where we left off and build on that same skill and build some momentum from there.
Shawn Hershey: That's perfect. Now, let me ask you a question. Because, again, I'm more about the long game. The math talks did not highlight, like you guys suggested it as a need right now. Are you thinking this is a need or are you thinking like, "Okay, Shawn, you might be working but I still need to get to these pieces here a little bit before I go to the..." Is that okay?
Jon Orr: I think what you want to do is sit down with the team and think about, what are the goals? What are our goals this year? And what are strategies, models? What are the initiatives that we're going to focus on this year to help with achieving our goals? But those goals really come from those pebbles that we talked about earlier. What can we do to help alleviate but also strengthen our own pedagogical knowledge, our own proficiency, help our students in that way. What should we focus on this year and what are the strategies and resources and tools we're going to use to help get there?
Kyle Pearce: There might be already too many things on your plate.
Jon Orr: Right.
Kyle Pearce: Right? If there's too many things on your plate right now, and not to say that you don't add it to tomorrow's lunch or next year's lunch or whatever it is, but just making sure that you can only do so much now. And it might be in your mind or maybe there's other people you plan with, but it doesn't make it to the entire group. It's almost like, "Hey, this is where we want to head eventually, but the time is not right at this moment." So again, it's just like that tree. It's like, you can't do everything all at once and it's not going to happen perfectly, but you just, essentially, have to kind of assess, like we did with our growth assessment that we've done with you is, sort of just to get you thinking about these different pieces. And then you kind of look at them and go, "All right, here's where we are and here's what we might do next." Because guess what/ What you do and what the next school or district does, it might be right for them, but maybe it's not right for you and vice versa, right?
Jon Orr: Yeah. If you have too many targets, you're hitting none of them. And that's the important thing we strive to remember as well. Shawn, what would you say is a big takeaway from our conversation here?
Shawn Hershey: Well, the biggest takeaway for me is, everything's a moving part. That tree is growing everywhere no matter what happens, even if it is just a sap, like you said, but there's certain things that are just going on. The second thing is, teachers guide you. You ask them the right questions, that's when you step in to help. So when you're looking at making differences or what the teachers need, which is where I need to start, I got to get the team together and just start. I think that they need to see those six parts. These six parts make up our school, man. We don't need to worry about all six parts at the same time. Like you said, I don't want to overwhelm them, but as you're growing, how's your mindset? Do you believe in this? Do you believe that? Do you understand how to do this? You know what the simplest question have I made headway was? "Why do you divide the points you earned out of the total points to get your percentage?" And I said, "We all do that. Do you know why it works?" They actually didn't know.
Someone was saying you turn it to a decimal. Are you really? And it wasn't until you laid it in a ratio table where I was like, you're actually figuring out how much you earned per one question. And if these percentages are out of a hundred, you're... But you can show that in a ratio table.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, totally.
Shawn Hershey: And are you really doing that divided by the total or are you dividing the total and what you earned by that? That piece there is how your inroads came where, we don't have the conceptual understanding we think. How many years and I'd never understood why it worked?
Kyle Pearce: We're beating down this whole tree idea but the reality is, the tree is never done growing, right? Like a tree never stops, it, eventually, sadly, will die and be done. But the reality is, our conceptual understanding, I believe, will never be done. And that goes for you, it goes for John, it goes for me, it goes for all of us. So that is, I think, what makes math education, and education in general, so amazing is that there is no end to it and that every single day we can learn something new and everything we learn as educators, we can, in turn, use as a powerful way to impact and influence other students and helping them to grow and learn. So it's such a great way to, I guess, look at the profession that we're in. Whereas if you really, just for a moment, I don't want to leave on a downer here, but if we go back and think about procedures, think of how limiting procedures are in terms of the idea.
It's like, this is it. This is all division is. Like, division is this, do that, and then the learning is done. Whereas on the other hand, all of these other ideas, it leads to deeper learning, it leads to deeper understanding and that, I think, is what we want for kids. And if we can all, as a team, come together and your school being a mini part of this massive team of math educators, if we can all come together and sort of see and help to see that it is something that really has no end, it's a pretty awesome profession to be in.
Shawn Hershey: Yeah, I agree with you. Like you said, it just never stops. There's always like, you get someone on there and they start making you think a little different and it's like, "Oh yeah, we never thought of it that way." That's why it's neat when you guys bring the podcast people on, it's kind of cool how they think about things. Man, I can't thank you guys enough. I really appreciate you guys putting that workshop out. It's always a learning experience.
Kyle Pearce: As always, both John and I learned so much from having these math mentoring moment conversations and more and more, we're having more conversations around that whole tree that we're describing and developing that math program. It used to be a number of years ago, we were really focusing, hyper-focusing, on specific lessons and talking about how we might introduce different concepts. Still really important, but only a part of the tree. I hope what people took away from this episode is how important it is for us to pick a place to start and work on. And for you and John, I think that was with specific problem-based lessons. That's where we began our journey. But over time, you have to zoom out and sort of look at the whole tree. How is it developing, what's missing, what's being ignored, and how are we going to address it? It's so awesome to hear that Shawn has some ideas, some new ideas that he can take back and bring his team on board to start thinking about, how do we build on the good things that are already happening in our school?
Jon Orr: Yeah. And if you listen to this and you are thinking about the pieces of your tree at your district, and you are also curious about the report that we referenced, the assessment that you can go through to get your customized report to start making changes in your program, you can head on over to Make Math Moments.com/grow. That's, Make Math Moments.com/grow. Get your report and start changing your program now.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. John, we just created this assessment tool and it's only a couple of weeks old. By the time this is on the air, it's going to be a few more weeks down the road, but within two weeks, we've had about a hundred different district leaders out there who are curious about what's working well and where they can improve. Usually, people have a general sense of what's going well, and sometimes they have a sense of maybe what's not working or that there's something missing. What this does is really help them hone in on, maybe, some next steps and give them some focus and oftentimes, we hop on calls to have a conversation with those district leads. So really exciting work that we're doing.
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Jon Orr: If you heard any resources, links, ideas that you want to explore further in this episode, all resources are over at the show notes page. Head on over to Make Math Moments.com/episode 223. Again, that's Make Math Moments.com/episode 223.
Kyle Pearce: Well, my Math Moment Maker friends, until next time, I'm Kyle Pierce.
Jon Orr: And I'm John Orr.
Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.
Jon Orr: And a high five for you.
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