Episode 242: Helping Students Find the Why – A Math Mentoring Moment

Jul 17, 2023 | Podcast | 0 comments



Episode Summary:

In this “Where Are They Now?” episode, we reconnect with Tom Marker, a dedicated 6th grade teacher from Ohio, who continues to inspire us with his dedication to improving his teaching strategies. 

We dive into another conversation with Tom where we tackle: 

  • Helping Students Break Away from Calculator Reliance: Tom explores effective strategies to liberate students from overreliance on calculators. Discover how he empowers his students to develop mental math skills, fostering a deep understanding of numerical concepts and building confidence in their own mathematical abilities.
  • Nurturing Curiosity for Lifelong Learning: As educators, it is crucial to cultivate and sustain students’ natural curiosity for learning. Tom shares his insights on how to keep that flame alive, ensuring students remain engaged, motivated, and eager to explore the fascinating world of mathematics.
  • Embracing Flexibility for Strengthened Number Sense: By encouraging students to embrace flexibility in their problem-solving approaches, Tom unveils the transformative power of fostering a strong number sense. Explore how this flexibility enhances students’ mathematical reasoning, adaptability, and overall problem-solving skills.
  • Building Confidence through Problem Strings: Tom takes us on a journey into the world of problem strings—a powerful tool he employs to boost students’ confidence in mathematics. Learn how problem strings can provide students with a supportive and structured environment, allowing them to tackle progressively challenging problems while fostering a growth mindset.

With each passing episode, Tom Marker continues to inspire educators, parents, and learners alike, offering practical advice and unique perspectives on mathematics education. Join us as we delve deeper into his ongoing successes, challenges, and the transformative impact he continues to have in his classroom and beyond.

Tune in to this engaging follow-up episode as we embark on a riveting conversation with Tom Marker, dedicated to unleashing the full potential of our students through innovative math education strategies.

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. 

What You’ll Learn:

  • How to help students break away from their reliance on the calculator;
  • Why it is so important to help students keep that curiosity for learning going as long as we can;
  • Why giving students the freedom to be flexible with their answers will strengthen their number sense; 
  • How you can use problem strings to build students’ confidence in mathematics;

Attention District Math Leaders:

How are you ensuring that you support those educators who need a nudge to spark a focus on growing their pedagogical-content knowledge? 

What about opportunities for those who are eager and willing to elevate their practice, but do not have the support? 

Book a call with our District Improvement Program Team to learn how we can not only help you craft, refine and implement your district math learning goals, but also provide all of the professional learning supports your educators need to grow at the speed of their learning. 

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00;00;00;09 – 00;00;23;23
Tom Marker
I would say the students perspective and how they view math has grossly changed in a positive way. I hear from parents who send emails the positive emails and from students feedback as well, but just as far as them saying I enjoy the struggle, the productive, I enjoy looking at math from a different lens. I enjoy seeing how it plays into the future or being able to solve problems.

00;00;23;24 – 00;00;24;06
Tom Marker
One of our.

00;00;24;15 – 00;00;48;13
Jon Orr
You’re listening there to Tom Barker, a sixth grade teacher from Ohio, and actually this is Tom’s third time on the podcast. We’ve brought him back to continue exploring his journey in. She is teaching strategies on what’s going on in his math class. So he’s here to kind of continue that journey. Talk to us about changes that he’s made since the last time we chatted, and we’re eager to dive right in.

00;00;48;18 – 00;01;18;25
Kyle Pearce
This is another Math mentoring moment episode where we chat with a teacher just like you, who’s working through some problems of practice. And together we brainstorm ways to overcome them. Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I’m Kyle Pierce.

00;01;18;25 – 00;01;21;13
Jon Orr
And I’m John or we are from Make Math Moments. Tor.com.

00;01;21;23 – 00;01;31;15
Kyle Pearce
This is the only podcast that coaches you through a six step plan to grow your mathematics program, whether at the classroom level or at the district level.

00;01;31;20 – 00;01;37;29
Jon Orr
And we do that by helping you cultivate and foster your mathematics program like a strong, healthy and balanced tree.

00;01;38;17 – 00;01;52;11
Kyle Pearce
The trunk represents leadership in your organization or the classroom pillars in your math class. The roots of your tree represent mathematics, content, knowledge, and what it means to be mathematically proficient.

00;01;52;14 – 00;02;11;09
Jon Orr
Like a tree requires soil, water and sunlight. Your mathematics program requires a productive educator mindset and the belief that all students can achieve at high levels. Your professional learning structure or your professional learning plan is represented by the limbs of the tree.

00;02;11;17 – 00;02;32;06
Kyle Pearce
The branches of your tree represent the development of educator pedagogical content knowledge, including effective teaching and equity based teaching practices. And finally, the last section is the leaves of the tree representing resources, tools and the classroom environment.

00;02;32;06 – 00;02;39;16
Jon Orr
If you master the six parts of an effective mathematics program, the impact of your math program will grow and reach far and wide.

00;02;39;25 – 00;02;54;08
Kyle Pearce
Every week you’ll get the insight you need to stop feeling overwhelmed, gain back your confidence, and get back to enjoying the planning and facilities of your mathematics program for the students or those educators that you serve.

00;02;54;21 – 00;03;17;15
Jon Orr
So we’re going to jump right into the conversation with Tom. But if you stick around, you’re going to hear the nuggets that Tom brings for you to make those changes in your classroom. He talks about breaking away from reliance on the calculator and how we can do that. He talks about problem strings and how that’s changed the mathematical confidence in his students.

00;03;17;26 – 00;03;29;26
Jon Orr
And he’s also going to talk about how do we keep that curiosity a little longer with our students, because that actually can drive the relationships in your classroom. So let’s get dig in.

00;03;30;01 – 00;03;38;01
Kyle Pearce
Here we go. Tom, welcome back to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. How are you, my friend? Long time, no chat.

00;03;38;06 – 00;03;47;13
Tom Marker
I’m doing great, thank you. Yeah, just into the summer mode and trying to wrap some things up for the school year and switching over to a new middle school. So, yeah, it’s busy. It’s been busy. Yes.

00;03;47;13 – 00;03;56;16
Jon Orr
Fill us in. Tom. We chatted with you way back on episode one, 29 and again, I’m one of these six. You’re making the rounds now. You’re almost tied with Peter Little at all. So yeah.

00;03;57;23 – 00;03;58;25
Kyle Pearce
And James Chance and.

00;03;59;03 – 00;04;11;16
Jon Orr
James Tanton, right? Three and a half. I think his quote, he says, But Tom, fill us in on the last time we chatted. What’s new? What’s changed? Give us maybe a win and then maybe something that you’re like, oh, I wish this went differently.

00;04;11;16 – 00;04;25;03
Tom Marker
I would say I’ve been involved a little bit with the building thing in classrooms to try and implement that a little bit more. And I think it went well for the most part. I think we’ve developed some more creative thinkers and kids that are willing to take a little bit more risks. So I think that’s been an improvement.

00;04;25;16 – 00;04;43;05
Tom Marker
I will say state test scores come back. They’ve come back in Ohio and those are always just depending on how you understand the data and how you implement the data. I think some people will take it as wins and losses and they know how students do. But for me, being a baseball coach as well, we often talk about the wins don’t always show up on the scoreboard.

00;04;43;05 – 00;04;58;18
Tom Marker
And I think that’s true in the math classroom as well. I think some people may look at percent proficient as a winner. A lot. Austin I think we may even talk about that in previous talks with you guys. But to me, I’ve seen a lot of growth in our students, just in their, I’d say, eye contact and student skills.

00;04;58;18 – 00;05;17;16
Tom Marker
And maybe that doesn’t always show up on the passing of test scores, but whether they’ve grown as a student in their ability to articulate things in the math classroom or their willingness to take risks, I’ve seen a lot of improvement there. So the test scores, the test scores, and I think some of them did really, really well. Some of them may have wished they did better on a single day in a snapshot.

00;05;17;16 – 00;05;21;13
Tom Marker
But overall, the course of the year, I think we’ve made some huge strides.

00;05;21;26 – 00;05;48;04
Kyle Pearce
Huge, huge. And something else, too, I think that’s really important. Like you had said, I want to dig a little deeper on this idea of maybe sometimes some of the changes not showing up on the scoreboard. And I think that’s true, especially in math class, because the reality is there is such a long journey. So when you implement anything in your math classroom, oftentimes it’s not year one when all of a sudden everybody hops on board and everything is looking great.

00;05;48;04 – 00;06;08;14
Kyle Pearce
And the other piece that I think is really important for us to remember is that test scores are often compared to a different group of students, right? That trailing data where you’re looking, you’re going, Hey, this new class, I tried all these new things and then they ended up scoring similarly to last year’s class. But wait a second, that was a different group.

00;06;08;14 – 00;06;28;18
Kyle Pearce
Imagine if there was a way for us to be able to see what would have happened if we went one way versus another with the same group of students, which I know we don’t have the authority or the ability to do in this world, but I think that’s something that’s really important for us to remember in education is that the mini wins are really important.

00;06;28;18 – 00;06;54;13
Kyle Pearce
It sounds like you had some anecdotal sort of evidence that suggested that you making some gains in certain areas. So I’m wondering over this past school year, what would you say would be if you had to pick one thing and I’m sure there was many that you were trying to improve pedagogically for your students, but what would be like the one area that you would say that was most important to you to trying to sort of make some gains?

00;06;54;13 – 00;07;15;13
Tom Marker
And I think that is breaking down barriers. Right. And I would say the students perspective and how they view math has grossly changed in a positive way. I hear from parents who send emails, the positive emails and from students feedback as well. But just as far as them saying I enjoy the struggle, the productive, I enjoy looking at math from a different lens.

00;07;15;13 – 00;07;41;21
Tom Marker
I enjoy seeing how it plays into the future or being able to solve problems. One of our big things is proportional reasoning and percentages and then telling me when I go with my parents to a restaurant, I can calculate the tip quickly for them. Or I can say that’s probably not fair and have conversations about that. And so I think that’s the cool part is hearing about how conversations with their parents about math, that they don’t feel like it’s math class, it’s real life application.

00;07;41;21 – 00;08;03;08
Tom Marker
And I think that would be the biggest win. And I also think that true growth, it’s not a linear progression, development isn’t linear. You’re not going to just continually get better at that. You’re going to have pitfalls. You’re going to have days where there’s some struggles or content, where it’s more difficult for a student to understand. But I would say the biggest gains would be the conversations that I hear them having with their parents.

00;08;03;16 – 00;08;06;05
Tom Marker
And outside of the class.

00;08;06;05 – 00;08;36;04
Jon Orr
That is a huge gain. And what a gift to give to the parents. What a gift to give to the kids. When I say give, it’s something that they created you created with them. It’s a team aspect for sure. Tom, what would you say when you think about that big win and you think of that big change? What changes did you put in place this year, last year over the course to create this atmosphere, to create these wins, what do you think is probably you can contribute some of the actions that you’ve taken to kind of build that.

00;08;36;11 – 00;09;02;13
Tom Marker
Think we talk more about approach in the classroom and more about character traits and more about resiliency and problem solving. We talk more about those things as opposed to talking strictly about curriculum. And I think in math, getting over those hurdles and nervousness, our students are more inclined to ask the why nowadays or in the challenge. And I think a lot of times students come into the classroom and think they just need to listen as opposed to challenge.

00;09;02;13 – 00;09;18;26
Tom Marker
And I tell them all the time, challenge my thinking or if you have a better way approach, feel free to speak up. I think a lot of times they think asking why is disrespectful or saying I don’t fully agree with that way is disrespectful. And I think we’ve created a community of learners within the classroom where we challenge each other.

00;09;19;03 – 00;09;33;05
Tom Marker
We joke around a lot, but also have the seriousness when it’s needed. But I just think the challenging piece and the research piece and telling students look up ideas or try to find new ways, get on YouTube. What’s the big talk right now was a chat, was it.

00;09;33;12 – 00;09;34;04
Jon Orr

00;09;34;10 – 00;09;52;24
Tom Marker
Yeah, and people are so nervous about it, and I love it. I think hearing different voices in that regard is probably not a voice, but seeing how it’s described or spoken about differently or explained differently, I’m all about. But I think if you’re just given drill style questions and not very deep level thinking and questions, yeah, then you’re probably a little bit worried about that.

00;09;52;24 – 00;10;01;17
Tom Marker
But I think having kids utilize the resources that are at their fingertips is okay. I think I don’t know. I don’t get too worried about those things.

00;10;01;23 – 00;10;24;10
Kyle Pearce
I love it. I heard you say something in that description of what has been going on in the classroom. You’re articulating this students feeling almost open and willing to accept that productive struggle. And then also you highlighted how they’ve maybe shared with you how they’ve leveraged some of their math flexibility or their fluency that they’ve developed to use outside of school.

00;10;24;10 – 00;11;02;00
Kyle Pearce
And that reminded me, you mentioned that it seems like students are now more interested in understanding the why. I remember your pebble was about parents and helping them to understand the why do you feel or do you sense that they’re starting to see that? Is that pebble starting to sort of get kicked out of that shoe as they start to witness and observe their own children acting maybe differently, having more of a productive disposition towards the mathematics, Is that helping you get, I guess, further down that road, or do you feel like that’s still a pebble that you’re kind of working on?

00;11;02;07 – 00;11;03;16
Kyle Pearce
Where’s your head? Out there?

00;11;03;19 – 00;11;21;29
Tom Marker
Want a teacher in an unbelievable district olentangy city schools? I don’t know how familiar you are with it, but it’s an awesome district and my daughter’s in fifth grade. And I think one thing that’s helped me as a sixth grade math teacher is the way that they’re teaching math at the younger levels. And I see them with my fifth grader I saw when she was in fourth and third grade as well.

00;11;22;07 – 00;11;40;22
Tom Marker
And so my wife still will see the homework or the work that my daughter’s working on and question say, my mother in law is why aren’t we just doing the old school long division and having those questions and I try to stay quiet so I don’t get myself in too much trouble. But they’re teaching them so many good ways and methods of solving problems at the young levels that it’s making my job easier.

00;11;40;22 – 00;11;59;28
Tom Marker
As a sixth grade math teacher. So where I was worried about parents wondering why are we doing it this way or this method and questioning the whys, I don’t see it as much anymore, but I think it’s because our district is doing such a good job and as a whole. I’ve talked to teachers in PD that have read building thing in classrooms and have implemented that and are getting away from the calculator.

00;11;59;28 – 00;12;24;05
Tom Marker
I teach sixth grade math. I don’t remember a student using a calculator maybe until we’re working on projects at the very end of the year and we were seeking answers as opposed to understanding the why. But but students don’t ask about calculators at all in sixth grade math, at least what I deal with, unless it’s something and we tell them all the time, if it’s something ridiculous that we’re dealing with, or maybe they’d get the answers more important than the understanding that go ahead.

00;12;24;05 – 00;12;26;22
Tom Marker
But it’s a testament to our district, I think.

00;12;27;00 – 00;12;57;22
Jon Orr
I love it. Yeah, I love it as well. Let’s say a teacher is listening right now, and when they hear that you’re not using a calculator in the sixth grade, they’re like, Oh my gosh, how do I get my students to kind of break away from reliance on that? And what would you say to them, Tom? Give us maybe something that you’re doing in your classroom, a teacher move that kind of says this is how you can do it, too, and make sure that you’re focusing on this or you can do it this way to help kind of break students away from that kind of crutch to go straight to the calculator.

00;12;57;29 – 00;13;15;11
Tom Marker
Think you have to be really strategic in the questions that you ask and the prompts and the problems that you put in front of students, because I think oftentimes we don’t think out those problems ahead of time. So I think that’s one thing is just to make sure you’re not asking questions that have I want to say ridiculous answers.

00;13;15;11 – 00;13;32;09
Tom Marker
But those problems where you’re like, Oh, man, I didn’t mean to give that student a question that ended in this repeating decimal or whatever the case may be. I think you have to be strategic and the problems and the problems that you put in front of students. And then also, I think, to give the students the flexibility to be close to answers.

00;13;32;13 – 00;13;51;14
Tom Marker
But I think a lot of times say, for instance, we were given a 20% tip of $3, $13.79. I think to be close is really important. If you’re saying 20% and you’re saying, okay, that’s going to be 274 is close, you don’t have to be exact to be in a ballpark in real life, mathematics, I think a lot of time serves you well.

00;13;51;14 – 00;14;08;09
Tom Marker
Now, obviously, if you’re a doctor and you’re dealing with doses and things along those lines, you’re going to be pretty poor. But I think in talking to and having the conversation about precision and about accuracy and when it’s vitally important, when it’s not, but I think that’s important. I also think problem strings have changed the way you operate my classroom a lot.

00;14;08;09 – 00;14;33;00
Tom Marker
And just seeing how to work from seeing patterns and understanding those things and how important it is to know that if you know 10%, you know, 5% and 20%, and then, you know, 25% and make those connections and see it on their own. And we’ve done a lot of things with problem strings in my classroom where students will pick up on it quicker than other students, whether it’s we go from 10%, I use percentages a lot, anything with proportions but 10% to 40%.

00;14;33;00 – 00;14;40;01
Tom Marker
And then they see 4%. They’re like, Well, how am I ever going to figure out 4% or a better student might catch it quickly. And I think that’s important for sure.

00;14;40;01 – 00;15;00;28
Kyle Pearce
I love it and I’m so happy you just gave me some excitement because I think problem strings are massively helpful. Those who are listening and are leveraging our units of study that we have on our website, day two and day four of each unit typically have a problem string like you’re describing, trying to emerge a specific behavior of the mathematics.

00;15;00;28 – 00;15;21;11
Kyle Pearce
Right? And I love your focus on proportional reasoning. Such an area we know from research where we lose so many students, right? They decide that they are no longer math people because they do not have that fluency, that flexibility. They don’t have that tools, the models. And it sounds like you and your district are doing a fantastic job with that.

00;15;21;20 – 00;15;51;12
Kyle Pearce
Now, I want to end on I don’t want to take us down from a positive end to this school year, but I’m wondering, as you go into summer, this is one more recording. And for those who are listening heading into the summer time, what’s on your mind now? It doesn’t necessarily have to be a massive problem or pebble, but I’m wondering where is your head at in terms of what are you hoping to kind of put your thinking towards in order to continue this really positive trajectory that it seems that you and your students are on for next year?

00;15;51;22 – 00;16;13;08
Tom Marker
I think every year, again, I’m a baseball coach as well, but as a teacher or as a coach, I just hate that there’s times where we lose one or two students and how do we make sure that doesn’t happen and how do we make sure that everyone has an enjoyable and everybody’s you’re always going to have students who don’t enjoy it or players that don’t enjoy the season or whatever the case may be, but it still eats at me that we lose students at times.

00;16;13;08 – 00;16;29;07
Tom Marker
And I think even speaking to test scores, sometimes we’ll get a test score back and we’ll say, I kind of knew that was going to happen. Well, why did we let that happen? First, that student was struggling all year. I knew that they weren’t going to perform well about the course of the year. But then I guess I would challenge it to say, then why did we let it?

00;16;29;07 – 00;16;45;04
Tom Marker
Because if we knew it, then why did we let that happen? And so I think it’s me finding a way to better utilize my teacher support, whether it’s other teachers in the room, aides in the room, even really strong students in the room, how do we leverage them to make sure that we don’t have anybody fall through the cracks?

00;16;45;17 – 00;16;57;06
Tom Marker
I think as teachers, we always say that and I’ve seen it in teacher meetings or we’ll say so-and-so’s been struggling all year and we’re in January. Why haven’t we fixed this yet? If we know what’s happening, what are we doing to find out and make it better?

00;16;57;06 – 00;17;19;18
Jon Orr
So that’s huge because how many middle school teachers, high school teachers are in those positions where, you know, the student is struggling and you’re not exactly sure what to do to get them over that ledge, or maybe you miss them along the way. That is a huge concern and should be a huge concern for us in our classrooms.

00;17;19;18 – 00;17;47;02
Jon Orr
When I think about that, I think about systems, I think about what is it in my classroom system, my moves, my outside kind of structures and procedures. When I’m thinking about planning lessons and follow ups to lessons in assessments and follow ups, assessing its that can catch those gaps, I’ll say, Tom, what kind of systems are you putting into place or have you put into place to help catch those students and not let them slip through those gaps?

00;17;47;18 – 00;18;09;21
Tom Marker
I mean, I really think at least in the middle school level, relationships is everything. Just trying to forge a relationship where they trust you as a teacher. Because I think a lot of times they probably had historical struggles in the classroom. And so I think it’s really important for us to find out why, though I don’t think any student walks into a classroom and says, I want to fail or I don’t want to do well, There’s always a why behind their actions and their struggles as well.

00;18;09;21 – 00;18;30;27
Tom Marker
So I think really working hard to get a relationship with the student to make them enjoy coming to class first and foremost. Probably the most important thing is students aren’t going to do well if they don’t enjoy being in the environment. And so just try to find a way to get them involved in the classroom. And I think a lot of times to at least in my experience, a lot of the struggling students are students who are maybe new to the school as a whole.

00;18;31;04 – 00;18;52;13
Tom Marker
I think we need to do a better job making students feel included or accepted in a new environment. A lot of students struggle because maybe they’ve had family dynamics or situations where they’ve moved in, switched schools. And so how do we get them to feel involved included and valued within your classroom? I think that’s probably a lot of times where the struggles come from.

00;18;52;24 – 00;19;05;28
Tom Marker
We just have to do a better job of that overall, maybe some the building, maybe they’re not new to the school district, but they are new to your classroom. And especially in school, sixth graders jump to middle school. It’s just different. They’re switching classes. We’ve got to keep an eye on the students and make sure they feel included.

00;19;06;09 – 00;19;29;19
Kyle Pearce
Absolutely. I think you just nailed it. I think as students move up through the grades, right, they start to become more aware, Right. When you look at students in grade one and grade two, they go into the class and they’re interacting with each other. They’re proud of who they are. They’re just having a blast. But it seems like every year students start to recognize, Oh, and they worry about being judged.

00;19;29;19 – 00;19;53;27
Kyle Pearce
They worry about what other people are thinking. And as we work our way up and you sort of triggered a memory of mine that I haven’t thought about in quite some time, but I think it’s worth all of us thinking about. As a former high school math teacher, I was in the classroom and I remember in the early years almost avoiding group work where I mixed up the groups because I didn’t want to put any students in an awkward situation.

00;19;53;27 – 00;20;20;22
Kyle Pearce
I was concerned for that to happen and it was almost like I avoided it. And it’s a little epiphany I’ve had here on this podcast. But what I recognize is, is that the sooner we can do that right? And you were talking about building relationships, teacher and students, but the sooner we can help those students all build relationships together early in that classroom environment and continue to do that work so it doesn’t become very clicky, right?

00;20;20;22 – 00;20;46;22
Kyle Pearce
It just emphasizes some of the work that Peter lives the halls work with random grouping has sort of brought as an aside to the math classroom is bringing students together so that everyone feels like they’re a part of that math community, whether they’re new to the school, maybe they’re just new to that group of students, right? If it’s a large school, maybe they’ve never been in classes with some of these students before and they might feel a little bit shy or introverted.

00;20;46;22 – 00;21;07;18
Kyle Pearce
So that’s a little take away for me that I’ve taken away. The other piece I wanted to comment on is this idea of relationship building and what we can do as educators. So for those who are listening and if you’re thinking about, Hey, I want to make sure that I start off next school year with a bang, we do have resources for starting the school year off, right?

00;21;07;18 – 00;21;35;20
Kyle Pearce
So there’s a series of activities. I know, John, we just recently shared out the math is like activity in a recent email for those who are on the email list. However, there’s an awesome resource. If you had to make math moments dot com forward slash star art. Those were thinking over the summer about, Hey, how am I going to start off next year so that I feel like the students know that I can be known, liked and trusted by them, that we could build that relationship.

00;21;35;20 – 00;21;58;07
Kyle Pearce
So just like we’re hearing from Tom here, that we can better identify earlier those students who may struggle a little bit more than some other students. So that time I vividly remember being that guy. I sort of knew this was going to happen at the end of the school year. I missed it. I didn’t do enough to help that student, so let’s do that from day one.

00;21;58;07 – 00;22;10;13
Kyle Pearce
My friend Tom, you’ve given me a big takeaway. Just reflecting on that. How about you, my friend, from this conversation? What’s on your mind now and what have you, I guess, gained from this reflective conversation we’ve had here today?

00;22;10;19 – 00;22;26;25
Tom Marker
I like how you mentioned as you move up the grades and students start to feel different as they go through the grades. And it just made me think back to a question that I ask our students a lot of times because as a father of three and my daughter getting older, I always worry, At what age do students not enjoy school anymore?

00;22;27;02 – 00;22;41;08
Tom Marker
I asked our sixth graders because I teach sixth grade, which is to me the best grade to teach us because there still is a high level of curiosity, a high level of innocence. But, you know, I think it’s important to think about as students get older, they fall out of love with learning. Why does it happen and when does it happen?

00;22;41;08 – 00;22;56;12
Tom Marker
And it’s obviously fun for everybody. But as teachers, we’ve got to try our best to keep that curiosity level going and keep that innocence going as long as we possibly can. And that’s why I don’t want to move away from sixth grade, is just because I feel like there’s a ton of aha moments still occurred with sixth graders.

00;22;56;12 – 00;23;21;29
Tom Marker
But and then also lastly, I think, like I said before, my high school baseball coach, we just had a pretty successful season and I attribute it all to the physical connection between players and I think in sixth grade math, a fist bump after you get an answer right or you have a good question or you’re involved in the class or a high five, but as much as you can connect with students and that physical touch now that we’re kind of out of the COVID era, so the fist bump or the high five is vitally important in your classroom.

00;23;21;29 – 00;23;25;21
Tom Marker
And just making kids feel welcome and connected to everybody is so important.

00;23;25;27 – 00;23;46;11
Jon Orr
I think those are great takeaways and great takeaways for the listener to kind of think about and reflect on their classroom experiences and what they can be doing over the summer to get ready for that start of the school year. I think it’s so important to kind of stretch that curiosity a little longer. And if you’re teaching higher grades, how can you kind of think like Tom here?

00;23;46;13 – 00;24;05;00
Jon Orr
How can you think about kind of bringing that curiosity back into your classroom so that you can be in a position to build these relationships that we know go a long way to solving so many of the problems that we regularly feel in the classroom? So, Tom, I want to thank you for joining us here on the Mickey Mouse Moments, a Matter podcast.

00;24;05;00 – 00;24;12;00
Jon Orr
And hey, as always, we’re going to reach out again. Tom, Again, it’s been a yearly thing for us in chatting with you, so we’ve got to keep that going.

00;24;12;17 – 00;24;14;03
Tom Marker
Enjoy it. Thank you so much for having me.

00;24;14;12 – 00;24;17;08
Kyle Pearce
Hey, thanks for joining us and enjoy that summertime.

00;24;17;08 – 00;24;17;22
Tom Marker
Thank you.

00;24;19;01 – 00;24;42;07
Kyle Pearce
As always. Both John and I learned so much from every math mentoring moment episode in this one in particular I really like because it seems like we’ve met Tom, we’ve spoken with him so many times. I love the passion when he’s describing his math classroom, the community that’s been built. And really when I think about this, I’m picturing that in his math classroom.

00;24;42;07 – 00;25;04;29
Kyle Pearce
He’s talking a lot about the soil, the sun, the water of that tree. Right. He’s talking about the mind sets, the beliefs. And these are all things that we can heavily impact. And it sounds like Tom has obviously put a lot of thought and effort into that particular part of history, But don’t let the other parts go unnoticed.

00;25;05;01 – 00;25;23;14
Kyle Pearce
The part I’m going to bring up is this idea around the content knowledge and the mathematical proficiency piece, those roots of the tree, when he was talking about numbers, strings and just the fluency and flexibility he’s seeing develop in his grade six students, I think is just fantastic.

00;25;23;16 – 00;25;44;18
Jon Orr
I love it there, Kyle, and we’re excited to chat with him again for a fourth time probably next year. So stay tuned to continue Tom’s journey. If you want to chat with us about a current pebble in your shoe, then we encourage you to head on over to make Matt’s moments dot com forward slash mentor that’s make map Omnicom forward slash mentor.

00;25;44;25 – 00;26;02;10
Jon Orr
We got a quick little form there for you to fill out. All you have to do is put your name, your contact info and a little bit about the pebble you’re experiencing. And if you share that pebble there, we might reach out to you and have a chat here on the podcast and hey, if you have that pebble, chances are other teachers have that pebble.

00;26;02;10 – 00;26;26;25
Jon Orr
So I know that sometimes you can be nervous or you can be a little bit kind of hesitant to talk to the two of us and be broadcast. But everyone who has done that has made changes in their classroom, but also felt so great afterwards after the conversation. So we’re going to encourage you to do that, not only to help yourself, but help your fellow educators that are helping students just like yours.

00;26;27;00 – 00;26;58;16
Kyle Pearce
Awesome. And friends, head on over to the show notes page over make math moments dot com forward slash Episode 242. You’re going to find all kinds of great goodies, including links that we referenced here, including our how to start the school year off right guide. You can go check that out once again over at make math moments dot com forward slash episode two for two Well until next time my math moment maker friends I’m Kyle Pierce.

00;26;58;19 – 00;26;59;26
Jon Orr
And I am John or.

00;26;59;28 – 00;27;01;19
Kyle Pearce
High fives for us.

00;27;02;23 – 00;27;19;11
Jon Orr
And a high five for you. Oh.


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The Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast with Kyle Pearce & Jon Orr

Weekly interviews, strategy, and advice for building a math classroom that you wish you were in.


Download the 2-page printable 3 Act Math Tip Sheet to ensure that you have the best start to your journey using 3 Act math Tasks to spark curiosity and fuel sense making in your math classroom!

3 Act Math Tip Sheet


Each lesson consists of:

Each Make Math Moments Problem Based Lesson consists of a Teacher Guide to lead you step-by-step through the planning process to ensure your lesson runs without a hitch!

Each Teacher Guide consists of:

  • Intentionality of the lesson;
  • A step-by-step walk through of each phase of the lesson;
  • Visuals, animations, and videos unpacking big ideas, strategies, and models we intend to emerge during the lesson;
  • Sample student approaches to assist in anticipating what your students might do;
  • Resources and downloads including Keynote, Powerpoint, Media Files, and Teacher Guide printable PDF; and,
  • Much more!

Each Make Math Moments Problem Based Lesson begins with a story, visual, video, or other method to Spark Curiosity through context.

Students will often Notice and Wonder before making an estimate to draw them in and invest in the problem.

After student voice has been heard and acknowledged, we will set students off on a Productive Struggle via a prompt related to the Spark context.

These prompts are given each lesson with the following conditions:

  • No calculators are to be used; and,
  • Students are to focus on how they can convince their math community that their solution is valid.

Students are left to engage in a productive struggle as the facilitator circulates to observe and engage in conversation as a means of assessing formatively.

The facilitator is instructed through the Teacher Guide on what specific strategies and models could be used to make connections and consolidate the learning from the lesson.

Often times, animations and walk through videos are provided in the Teacher Guide to assist with planning and delivering the consolidation.

A review image, video, or animation is provided as a conclusion to the task from the lesson.

While this might feel like a natural ending to the context students have been exploring, it is just the beginning as we look to leverage this context via extensions and additional lessons to dig deeper.

At the end of each lesson, consolidation prompts and/or extensions are crafted for students to purposefully practice and demonstrate their current understanding. 

Facilitators are encouraged to collect these consolidation prompts as a means to engage in the assessment process and inform next moves for instruction.

In multi-day units of study, Math Talks are crafted to help build on the thinking from the previous day and build towards the next step in the developmental progression of the concept(s) we are exploring.

Each Math Talk is constructed as a string of related problems that build with intentionality to emerge specific big ideas, strategies, and mathematical models. 

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

Use our OPEN ACCESS multi-day problem based units!

Make Math Moments Problem Based Lessons and Day 1 Teacher Guides are openly available for you to leverage and use with your students without becoming a Make Math Moments Academy Member.

MMM Unit - Snack Time Fractions Unit


Partitive Division Resulting in a Fraction

Shot Put Multi Day Problem Based Unit - Algebraic Substitution


Equivalence and Algebraic Substitution

Wooly Worm Race - Representing and Adding Fractions


Fractions and Metric Units


Scavenger Hunt - Data Management and Finding The Mean


Represent Categorical Data & Explore Mean

Downloadable resources including blackline mastershandouts, printable Tips Sheetsslide shows, and media files do require a Make Math Moments Academy Membership.


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

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