Episode #277: Banishing Boredom: How #MathPlay Breathes Life into Dull Math Classes

Mar 18, 2024 | Podcast | 0 comments



Episode Summary:

Ever wondered how to transform math class into every student’s favorite subject? Join us in this episode as we dive into the world of #MathPlay with Libo Valencia, a passionate high school math teacher from New York and author who believes in shaping the future of mathematics through engaging and playful teaching strategies.

Explore the transformative power of Math Play with Libo Valencia, where we unravel how this approach can instill a lasting love for mathematics in every student. Discover why math class should be a highlight for everyone, and learn practical ways to infuse elements of Math Play in both elementary and high school classrooms.

Your journey to creating a math class that students love starts here – hit play and ignite the joy of mathematics in your classroom!

What You’ll Learn:

  • Understand how Math Play can cultivate a productive disposition towards mathematics for all students.
  • Explore the secrets behind making math every student’s favorite subject through engaging #MathPlay.
  • Gain insights into incorporating the foundational elements of a “Math Play” activity that sparks genuine student engagement and understanding.

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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00:00:00:03 – 00:00:17:21
Libo Valencia
And as time goes by, I’m trying to do more and more. I’m also doing it with my daughter because now we’re just doing, Oh my God, we’re just doing badly with multiplication because you can’t do multiplication in third grade. And I love it. It’s amazing. So a lot of times I see opportunities or something happens and then we’re like, Oh, this will be a great opportunity for Matt.

00:00:17:23 – 00:00:22:14
Libo Valencia
So to go back to your question, after seeing how positive it was with my daughter, I could ever.

00:00:22:14 – 00:00:43:21
Jon Orr
Wonder how to transform math class into every student’s favorite subject. Join us in this episode as we dive into the world of math. Play with Lego Valencia, a passionate high school math teacher from New York and author who believes in shaping the future of mathematics through engaging and playful teaching strategies.

00:00:43:23 – 00:01:16:24
Kyle Pearce
Explore the transformative power of math. Play with Lebow, where we unwrap Ravel. How this approach can instill a lasting love for mathematics in every student. Discover why math class should be a highlight for every student and every person, and learn practical ways to infuse elements of math play in both elementary and high school math classrooms. Your journey to creating a math class that students love starts here.

00:01:17:00 – 00:01:46:17
Kyle Pearce
So put your phone in your pocket, your earbuds in your ears, and let’s ignite the joy of mathematics in every classroom. Let’s go. Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I’m Kyle Pearce and.

00:01:46:17 – 00:01:49:08
Jon Orr
I’m Jon Orr we are from make math moments dot com.

00:01:49:10 – 00:02:00:00
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.

00:02:00:02 – 00:02:13:00
Jon Orr
And we do that by helping you cultivate and foster your mathematics program like strong, healthy and balanced tree. So if you master the six parts of an effective math program, the impact that you are going to be doing will grow and reach far and wide.

00:02:13:02 – 00:02:30:06
Kyle Pearce
Every week you’re going to get the insight you need to stop feeling overwhelmed, gain back your confidence and get back to enjoying the planning and facilitating of your mathematics program for the students or the educators that you serve.

00:02:30:08 – 00:02:33:13
Jon Orr
All right. Let’s jump into this episode with LeBeau.

00:02:33:15 – 00:02:57:04
Kyle Pearce
Hey. Hey there, LeBeau. It is awesome to have you finally here on making Math Moments That Matter podcast. It’s great to see your face again. Some of you are wondering what is he talking about? For those who are a part of the virtual summit back in November 2023 fifth Virtual Summit. LeBeau, you were a big part of that summit doing a presentation.

00:02:57:06 – 00:03:05:04
Kyle Pearce
Well, before we dig in and go down memory lane here, tell us how things been going in your world and where are you coming to us from today?

00:03:05:08 – 00:03:21:24
Libo Valencia
Oh, well, thank you so much for having me. I feel so honored to be with you guys tonight. I feel extremely honored. I see I’ve heard some of the conversations that you had. I was very honored to present on the summit alongside we like super mega rock stars and learn from everybody. So thank you. Thank you so much.

00:03:21:24 – 00:03:40:02
Libo Valencia
I’m very excited to be here tonight. Right now, I am in Brewster, New York, and it is cold. We just had as Golden Eagle Day. We I have an early dismissal tomorrow or something. So it is cold now, but 2024 is three as well. Thank God. Everyone’s healthy, everyone’s good at home so we can go play.

00:03:40:07 – 00:03:58:08
Jon Orr
Love it, love it. And it has been a cold snap here too, in southern Ontario. So we feel for you for sure. LeBeau, We’ve met. Kyle said we had you on the summit, but through all our listeners, we have given you a great intro in the episode, but we want to hear from you. So do us a favor of being from Brewster, New York.

00:03:58:08 – 00:04:03:09
Jon Orr
Fill us in on your teaching role, your role in education. What are you currently kind of working on?

00:04:03:11 – 00:04:23:03
Libo Valencia
So I currently work as a high school teacher. I teach secondary mathematics in New York. I have been teaching for the past 16 years at the high school level. After I finish my first master’s in pure mathematics, I had the opportunity to teach at the college level, so I took it. It was one of those things. As I was working on my degree, I felt like, You know what?

00:04:23:03 – 00:04:44:03
Libo Valencia
As I’m closer to retirement, one day I will get to work at the college level. But obviously that in itself and I started working at the college. I’ve been doing the college for the past seven, eight years and I love it. I enjoy it. It is a different kind of setting. I really enjoy working with teenagers and helping high school kids and whatnot, but the college is also something that I feel like I could do as well.

00:04:44:08 – 00:04:57:23
Libo Valencia
I enjoy it as a to the Four Worlds and now I have two daughters at home, four year old and nine year old, and now I’m exploring this side of me on official elementary school. So I’m doing everything I’m doing elementary, high school and college.

00:04:58:04 – 00:05:04:18
Jon Orr
I love it. That’s exactly how it goes, right? You go into the field of where your kids are.

00:05:04:20 – 00:05:27:20
Kyle Pearce
Well, you know what? I can definitely relate not only from having the children. John and I both were in the high school math classroom. I had done some teacher courses as well. So kind of have that working with the older educators or the older students will call it. And then also when I went into my role as a K through 12 math consultant, it really taught me a ton about those K2.

00:05:27:22 – 00:05:51:15
Kyle Pearce
I see K to six, but really K to eight grade levels, which there is so much wonderful, wonderful stuff going on that I just had no idea about. And I’m sure we’re going to dig into that here today through your math play and so many things there. But before we do, we don’t want to forget we’ve got one question that we ask every single person who comes on this podcast, and that is he’s ready.

00:05:51:15 – 00:06:03:13
Kyle Pearce
I can see you. Yes. To share your math moments. So, my friend, when you think about mathematics, math class, what moment pops into your mind? We’d love to hear about it.

00:06:03:15 – 00:06:19:15
Libo Valencia
So there is actually. Oh, my God, there’s actually one thing that pops into my mind not only right now, but a lot of talk when I’m talking about math. And that is I was born and raised in Columbia. So for the first 15 years of my life, I live in Colombia speaking only Spanish and then my family, like we moved to the States.

00:06:19:19 – 00:06:40:00
Libo Valencia
And back then John spoke like no English whatsoever. And I started at White Plains High School in New York. And as a newcomer, as an immigrant, you start taking classes where you’re learning English. So a lot of the classes were like callback. They like ESL classes, but my math classes were like regular classes or classes where like people spoke English from the beginning and it was so they’re like.

00:06:40:00 – 00:06:47:08
Kyle Pearce
He’ll be fine. There’s just numbers, right? You don’t need to worry about that. I mean, I know there’s some other words in there that it’ll be fine. It’ll be fine, Right?

00:06:47:08 – 00:07:06:06
Libo Valencia
Exactly. And I really like that was so beautiful because I did well overall in taxes. But even the lines speak the language. I feel like a fish in water once again. I always felt like math wasn’t my, like, safe place. I was 15 years old. I was moving to a different country. A lot of things were going on when I was in that math class.

00:07:06:06 – 00:07:22:19
Libo Valencia
I didn’t understand what people were saying, but I understood the math. I knew what they were doing. I knew where they were going. So it was in that class that I knew that, Oh my God, mathematics is so universal I could go to any planet. And if they’re doing math, I’ll sit down there, like, do the math with them.

00:07:22:24 – 00:07:43:08
Libo Valencia
So to me, having that experience of somebody coming from a different country, not knowing the language, but being okay and being comfortable with that in that math class was really, really eye opening. It also like open opportunities because I feel that in that class, even though I didn’t speak the language, it was easier for me to learn it because I felt like I understood there was this level of comfort.

00:07:43:11 – 00:07:47:23
Libo Valencia
So I was kind of relearning it English in English, right? It was amazing. Give it a lot of time.

00:07:47:23 – 00:08:07:24
Jon Orr
Yeah, Yeah. I find that fascinating in Mostar because I think of the contrast. I think math class, we’ve heard so many math moments on the podcast. I think this is going to be episode 277, right? So we’ve heard 276 math moments over the last five or six years. So most math moments are always how math class has alienated someone.

00:08:07:24 – 00:08:27:18
Jon Orr
This is not for me. This is the I don’t see myself here or you got that sense that it’s something that’s like pushes back on you and it doesn’t make you feel safe. It doesn’t make you feel welcomed in that class. Like we’ve heard a lot of those and yours is the opposite, right? Like you being not having learned English going into that, it’s like it’s a joiner.

00:08:27:18 – 00:08:49:00
Jon Orr
It’s like that. Like you said, a universal subject brought you closer, you know, it brought you into that world. And I think that’s a fascinating story and I love it. I’m curious about like we always ask this follow up as well as that stuck with you. You’ve obviously seen that as that joining safe experience. How does that influence the work that you’re doing with students?

00:08:49:02 – 00:08:51:13
Jon Orr
How does that influence what you’re doing in the classroom?

00:08:51:15 – 00:09:11:21
Libo Valencia
So back in Colombia, I was a good student here. I was I was a good student. I was able to pick up English quickly and then got a full scholarship to attend Lehman College. And it was kind of like interesting because like when I became a teacher, I went back to White Plains High School and told for a couple of years when I finished my master’s, I went back to Lehman College and I’m still teaching at Lehman College part time.

00:09:12:00 – 00:09:30:24
Libo Valencia
So I feel that I was able to like, go back and give in a little bit. So like to answer your question to me, the how like it has influenced my work with students and now with my daughters is like in my mind, there is no reason why math shouldn’t be like everyone’s favorite class. To me, like math class should be everyone’s favorite class.

00:09:30:24 – 00:09:54:24
Libo Valencia
There are so many things and I feel that this social like thing, phobia of mathematics, that that is so common and it’s like so socially accepted is because of probably the way that is thought that because it hasn’t changed over like, you know, many, many, many years. And I do feel that like even when I learn it right, a lot of times I felt in math class, even though I feel like a strong student, I experience some level of success.

00:09:55:04 – 00:10:10:23
Libo Valencia
I didn’t always enjoy math class, right? To some extent. He was always like, okay, we’re going to do this. And you could always like sort of like pray they get like knew exactly what was going to happen, which is not a negative thing. But I feel like there’s so much more to mathematics that we don’t take advantage of.

00:10:11:01 – 00:10:28:24
Libo Valencia
I see it more with my daughters who are now like in breaking in third grade that they get to play more, they get to do more things. And like Derek Experience I didn’t like because my experience at the elementary level was in Colombia is 100% different than what my peers are experiencing right now. So to me, like, that’s beautiful.

00:10:28:24 – 00:10:43:06
Libo Valencia
I’m like learning with them. I’m like, okay, like, let’s do it like this. So to me is like a math class should be a class where we get to explore things that we will make connection to older subjects and the math conversation should now be limited to just like our classroom.

00:10:43:08 – 00:11:07:09
Kyle Pearce
I love it. And you were talking about how you feel that math class. Like, why isn’t it every kid’s favorite subject area? Your energy hearing you talk, seeing your session back in the summit. And for those who haven’t seen lesbo session, you can check it out inside the academy, in the outro, in the bumper, I think we’re going to give away a coupon code for those who may have missed it.

00:11:07:10 – 00:11:35:19
Kyle Pearce
We’ll get you into that academy so you can hop in there and check out some of those 2023 virtual summit sessions. But Bo, when I hear your energy, your passion, I find it hard to believe that you aren’t drawing some of those kids in to see some of that beauty. So bravo and good on you for that. And I think this is a really great opportunity for us to kind of dig into some of the work that we know you for.

00:11:35:19 – 00:12:03:01
Kyle Pearce
I’ve never been in your math classroom. I’ve never been in your college class. I’ve never seen you working with your daughters, but I’ve seen some of your work around math play. And I’m wondering, can you help us understand the idea? And really what I’m curious about here is I’m going to guess that somewhere along the line you’ve probably recognized that not every student has the experience or has had the experience that you had.

00:12:03:03 – 00:12:19:22
Kyle Pearce
Right. I’m going to guess that you’ve had those classrooms and you could probably, like all of us can think of those students, probably many students who enter into the classroom. And, you know, they are. You know what, Mr. Pierce? I’m not a math person. Like, just don’t call on me. They give you the warning, that sort of thing.

00:12:19:22 – 00:12:39:22
Kyle Pearce
And meanwhile you’re going, No, no, no, no. This isn’t how it’s going to be. So I’m curious, did the idea of math play come along when your daughter’s were born, or was this something that you were already thinking about in implementing in your high school classroom? I’m really curious. And then we want to take a deep dive into like, what is it?

00:12:39:24 – 00:12:41:23
Kyle Pearce
What does that look like and sound like for you?

00:12:42:04 – 00:13:03:13
Libo Valencia
So I feel that I’ve been very, very lucky, very blessed in a way during the first and I’m going to say this and some teachers in the audience, like I say, like, what is you talking about? So I feel like for the first five years of my career, I taught new classes every year. And my supervisor at the time in my life, people, I was like, Oh my God, oh my God, I’m going to teach geometry.

00:13:03:13 – 00:13:27:03
Libo Valencia
I’m going to teach Algebra two. And I was so happy. Well, like, so my coworker says, like, What are you talking about? Like, that’s when you prep. Well, like, I was, you know, I was like, Yeah, I’m going to run out of classes before I run out of years. And, and like, that was so powerful later on because like, very early I got to experience algebra, geometry, Aldridge’s trigonometry pre collagen cold spell in a way that really quick.

00:13:27:03 – 00:13:45:21
Libo Valencia
I know, but he prepared me to like, okay like I know what students are supposed to be coming in with and leaving with going into this class. Not only that, but I also had the opportunity to teach what you would consider like the honors level or the advanced level, the AP level, the standard level and the remedial level.

00:13:45:21 – 00:14:01:13
Libo Valencia
Right, or the essential level. So in a way, I got to work with students that were like little levels, right? Ready to go, everything done. I get it. I’m ready for the next thing. And student that, oh my God, as far as yeah, I don’t want to do this. I’m not. I’m that person. And so it was like this thing.

00:14:01:13 – 00:14:22:08
Libo Valencia
So back like early in my career, my goal was to, you know, make them fall in love with math. So I will do applications and I will do different things, try to bring in technology. I became so like any technology that I saw out there that I could use and implement that will engage my students, I will try to use not just like because of safety, but okay, like this serves a purpose.

00:14:22:08 – 00:14:37:09
Libo Valencia
It gives me, for example, immediate feedback. So I’m able to provide immediate feedback for 20 students, but we’re using the software just program the program idea, be able to do it. So yes, I’m going to do it. And a lot of time we don’t have all the answers. But I found over the years that students are the best tech support you could have.

00:14:37:11 – 00:14:58:09
Libo Valencia
So I to go back to a question, I always wanted to make it a fun experience, so I will try to implement the right things. But again, this was at the secondary level and the college level and a lot of the curriculum right, I think is the same in Canada is like predetermined. So the state of your for the most part all say like okay, these are the things that they have to cover and then at the end of the school year, they’re going to take a state assessment called the Regents exam.

00:14:58:14 – 00:15:13:07
Libo Valencia
And even if you were in a school where it doesn’t take the same assessment, they are different things, right? I cannot just show up and say, I’m going to teach you whatever I want. You kind of like validating because people buy some things. So it did really start with my older daughter. So I have two daughters, Mariana and Madeline, my older daughter.

00:15:13:07 – 00:15:31:02
Libo Valencia
She guys she makes it seem so she make it seem like parenting is so easy. That’s how we got through to having the second one. And then the second one, like, listens to nobody. So my oldest daughter, when she was young, I couldn’t wait to something. You can imagine, right? I couldn’t wait to start, like, teaching her. And this is like before, like she was like, like three.

00:15:31:02 – 00:15:48:21
Libo Valencia
Or do we start, like, counting things? Like, I was showing her numbers. I was so obsessed, and we started doing this map, so I would see Mariana Islands and so map like, hey, we will like, explore like numbers and shapes and different things to the point that my daughter will ask me, like, are we going to play or are we going to do math play?

00:15:48:21 – 00:16:05:22
Libo Valencia
Because like, play was usually outside with her toys. Well, it was like in our basement and we got to explore. So it really did start with my daughter and like, see, now I had a lot of freedom because it was in our basement. I have all the matters that you can imagine. We have them in our basement. So I have all kinds of toys and I didn’t have a curriculum.

00:16:06:02 – 00:16:22:21
Libo Valencia
I did have something to follow. I could spend hours playing with her and it was so fun. And I saw that what I started to notice was that my daughter was like super engaged and we were like, play together. And I always pretended I didn’t know a lot of things that I do know just to make sure that it’s okay.

00:16:22:21 – 00:16:49:21
Libo Valencia
Mathematics now to know. And at the beginning she was like, No, no, like reluctant like, Oh, I don’t want to do this. I don’t understand it. But it became a process where, like, she became comfortable and through play through dramatically, she learned so much that I think she would have to learn, like if I was following the, like, predetermined curriculum, it was so badly and also developed it gave her like best stamina to like, stay with problems and to have this confidence that even if I don’t know something at the beginning, I’m going to be able to figure it out.

00:16:49:23 – 00:17:08:10
Jon Orr
Yeah, I love it. I love it. And I’m curious because it’s like math play. You’ve written a whole book on this, and math play started with our kids, and I think that happens for a lot of us who are very involved in trying to make sure our kids have that really positive connection to mathematics in school. And you’ve clearly done that.

00:17:08:10 – 00:17:15:07
Jon Orr
How is what you’ve learned with your daughter and what was engaging her? How did that transfer into the classroom?

00:17:15:08 – 00:17:15:22
Kyle Pearce
Oh my goodness.

00:17:15:22 – 00:17:32:02
Libo Valencia
So the crazy thing is like this was like right before COVID or during COVID because my daughter is nine. And then it was like she was starting to do do bad. So I feel that the results that I saw it, she was always engaged. She was learning. She was doing things that she was going to learning like first grade in kindergarten.

00:17:32:05 – 00:17:50:18
Libo Valencia
So I was like so happy and excited. So I started like, couldn’t help think like, Oh my God, will this approach work with my high school students? And they like, of course, I got nervous, right? I’m like, Oh my God, no, let’s leave it the way it is. It’s working. I was working at the time in a new district where I was not tenure, so I was ten years into this where I was getting into a new district.

00:17:50:21 – 00:18:03:15
Libo Valencia
So I’m like, Oh my God, no, maybe I shouldn’t do this. But I feel sort of like a responsibility. I’m like, This has been so effective with my daughter. Why wouldn’t I try with my students? And it’s like that kind of thing that when I was trying to go to sleep at night, I was like, Oh my God, I need to try this.

00:18:03:15 – 00:18:19:03
Libo Valencia
And if he fails, then he fails. Then I’m going to be to sleep because I tried it. It didn’t work. It’s okay. But like, I couldn’t let it go. And I was like, Oh my God, like, I need to. What if it works? And then, of course, I was in the back of my mind. I could hear some of my colleagues saying, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

00:18:19:03 – 00:18:33:16
Libo Valencia
If what you’re doing is working, don’t try something new. But I decided to try it and I just at the time I was teaching like algebra, geometry, algebra to Brooklyn College. So I decided to try geometry. I was like, I think teaches geometry for a long time. I got it. Like, I think this is the place to start.

00:18:33:18 – 00:18:53:08
Libo Valencia
And I started like my first monthly lessons with my geometry students where I remember, like the first activity, like vividly we were doing like, right triangles. And I asked them to take a picture of a right triangle around their house, around the school, come back, show me that picture, and then prove or disprove that it’s actually a right triangle using a method of their choice.

00:18:53:12 – 00:19:07:14
Libo Valencia
Now, it sounds overwhelming, and I was so nervous that they were going to leave and not come back or come back and say, Oh, I couldn’t find anything. But they came back and they were like they were eager to show the picture. Oh, look what I found. This looks like a right triangle. I think that this might be it.

00:19:07:14 – 00:19:22:14
Libo Valencia
And then they’re like, Mr. Nonsense. So how do we move as they like do however you want? So saw it was so beautiful because it was so organic. Some of them use the Pythagorean theorem. Some of them use like, Oh, because I had them upload that picture to your address so they could like play with it and see it on a grid in one.

00:19:22:14 – 00:19:43:10
Libo Valencia
Not so. Some of them started using like slow some of the mixture to the angle, so it was so beautiful that that matter like could actually wait. So at the beginning I didn’t attach any grades to it. I made it like an exploration type of thing to see how we go. But because like I saw that the students liked it and they bought into it, I started doing more things.

00:19:43:14 – 00:19:58:18
Libo Valencia
So like we’re now I try to do like at least one math activity per unit of study. And as time goes by, I’m trying to do more and more. I’m also doing it with my daughter because now we’re just doing, Oh my God, we’re just doing math with multiplication because she currently doing multiplication in third grade and I love it.

00:19:58:18 – 00:20:14:24
Libo Valencia
It’s amazing. So a lot of times as I see opportunities or something happens and then we’re like, Oh, this will be a great opportunity for Matt. So to go back to your question, after seeing how positive it was with my daughter, I could have helped think like, Oh my God, I need to try this with my students. So I tried it with my geometry students.

00:20:15:02 – 00:20:39:04
Libo Valencia
Then I started with my brick. As soon as I tried with my college students and experiencing similar results. Now, it wasn’t always like an entire lesson of math quickly, but it could be your do now, your activation, it could be your consolidate, it could be part of the experience, it could be a way for you to review. So there are different components, and I use them in different classes for different purposes, like with my honor students or with my standard level students.

00:20:39:09 – 00:20:43:12
Libo Valencia
But there’s like more than a room at the secondary level for us to do that.

00:20:43:14 – 00:21:08:13
Kyle Pearce
I love it. I love it. And what I think it comes down to is that there’s kids, you have young kids and it’s working for them and then you know what’s going to happen to your young kids. They’re going to grow up, but they’re still just kids, right? And I think at the end of the day, sometimes, especially in high school, I find this or maybe even in the middle grades, where all of a sudden it’s like everyone’s trying to prove that they’re no longer kids.

00:21:08:13 – 00:21:40:09
Kyle Pearce
It’s like this big rush to stop being a kid that you might get maybe some initial push back. But I think when you hit the elements of what play really is, it’s explorative, it’s inquiry, it’s investigating, it’s just playing, it’s just playing. And when we do those things and I think one of the pieces that I’m sure takes time for people to work into what does it look like in my context and my grade level with my students, with my curriculum, with my whatever it is.

00:21:40:11 – 00:22:08:24
Kyle Pearce
The reality is, is that when we give people not just kids, but people in general, the opportunity to grapple, to think, to play, to tinker, to wonder. We do something at math moments. We do a lot is this idea of notice and wonder that protocol. And that’s really just a segway into giving people the opportunity to be curious, to explore and to just ultimately play.

00:22:09:05 – 00:22:42:15
Kyle Pearce
So I’m wondering for those who are listening, what advice might you give to some educators who are thinking to themselves and they’re thinking, you know, I mean, this idea, it’s not like we’re just going to snap our fingers and then my entire lesson is going to suddenly be this playground, right? I don’t think that’s the goal or the intention here, but I’m guessing that some people are thinking it’s like, I wonder what would be my first step to try to just add a little bit of that play element to what I do in my math class.

00:22:42:15 – 00:22:44:22
Kyle Pearce
What might I do or where might I start?

00:22:44:23 – 00:23:01:06
Jon Orr
I want to add to that. I want to think about like when I think about first step, maybe there’s like elements that we should look for when we’re trying to design our lessons, or we want this first step of math play to happen on a classroom. Is there like, what do you use as a guide or kind of like a framework?

00:23:01:06 – 00:23:11:07
Jon Orr
Or maybe it’s just like things you look for to be like, That’s exactly what we need there. Are there things that separate regular activities versus math play activities, like how do we get started?

00:23:11:09 – 00:23:28:16
Libo Valencia
So there’s two things that come to mind. Number one is I feel that you’re going to be more successful and feel more comfortable if you try math like a math play activity with that class that you told in the past. So if you’re like in a class that you’re comfortable, okay, I already told this class for like whatever, a couple of years, a few years.

00:23:28:20 – 00:23:51:06
Libo Valencia
I’m comfortable with the curriculum, with the pace, I’m comfortable with the material. Also attaching a grade or like making like, Oh my God, this is going to be a big portion of your test is going to be like a test grade, because then it defeats the purpose, because then the kids are thinking, Oh, they’re going to be thinking, Oh, well, no, this has to be perfect because miserable NCEA is going to go over who’s going to grade it.

00:23:51:08 – 00:24:17:04
Libo Valencia
So I feel that one key component for a measure of successful math activity is that students must have some level of choice in how they demonstrate mastery of what we’re doing. So like a good place to start will be like a review. Let’s say that you want to run our review session for like an upcoming test. That could be a great opportunity for like doing a math activity, a math activity could be like finding a real war application.

00:24:17:07 – 00:24:41:07
Libo Valencia
So like we’re in a geometry class, I have students go to the cafeteria, walk around the school and find a parallelogram, and then prove that it’s a parallel. Make a video where you explain that is actually a parallelogram. Because let’s face it, with the technology that we have nowadays, pretty much like any question or like almost any question that we give students what they have, that is computational students can do like this or like somebody can do for them.

00:24:41:13 – 00:24:58:22
Libo Valencia
But what I found is like, if there is a level of they’re going to do something right, this is my problem. Like, I’m putting this together, I’m gonna make this video explaining like this application or this property of like, whatever it is, it’s helpful. Also, another thing that comes to mind is when I went to school, I used a lot of worksheets, right?

00:24:58:22 – 00:25:19:07
Libo Valencia
And repetition. I remember back in Columbia when I was in eighth grade learning like factorization. I will do hundreds and hundreds of factorization problems because I wanted to feel like, Oh my God, I’ve done so many questions that there’s no way my teacher is going to surprise me. Well, like nowadays, with the technology at our fingertips, tools like George, decimals like math, you got a lot of this practice, right?

00:25:19:07 – 00:25:36:18
Libo Valencia
Can be done through like one of those applets. I remember one of my breakout classes, we were doing polar coordinates and when I was a student we then had a worksheet because we’re going from moving in a rectangle, X and Y. Now we’re doing R and theta, so we got to figure out the radius and we got to figure out right the angle of elevation.

00:25:36:21 – 00:25:54:04
Libo Valencia
And then what we had students do was like, I found this letting you address where students complete a game of Battleship in polar coordinates. And guys, I’ve never seen that level of engagement. I pair up the students, so instead of them, like using a worksheet, they were playing a game and they were trying to, like, hate each other.

00:25:54:07 – 00:26:12:19
Libo Valencia
You play Battleship using polar coordinates and the students didn’t want to stop doing the work. They didn’t want to stop playing another example that comes to mind is within our unit of conversations with students learning about circles and ellipses and parabolas and hyperbola and you name it. We did one of the math things that we did was a map.

00:26:12:19 – 00:26:34:05
Libo Valencia
Our project and this can be so powerful because it’s Basil Story’s interest. I’m going to say like, Kyle, do whatever you want. Do something that is related to your favorite book, to your favorite movie, to your favorite character. And sometimes I feel like I get the sense that some people might think, Oh, Napoli is good, but he might not be math thematically rigorous or, Well, we have time.

00:26:34:05 – 00:26:51:07
Libo Valencia
We’ll do that. I have students that roll over a hundred equations when they were doing that met our project not because it was required because I only require them to use at least one type of function. So they could have done eight or ten, but they wanted to do 100 because he becomes meaningful. He feels like, Oh my God, like I owe this.

00:26:51:07 – 00:27:06:13
Libo Valencia
This is my project. I want to use pictures of SpongeBob and I want it to be perfect for Mr. Valencia. So things like that where they have. And so I feel like your questions a class that you got in the past because you’re comfortable doing and giving students some level of choice.

00:27:06:15 – 00:27:23:02
Jon Orr
Love it. Choice is so important. And I think that first part where you said, like we have to be comfortable in our class, we have to be comfortable with our curriculum before we can dabble in this kind of math. Playland We’ve talked about that here on the podcast a lot about that comfort of the content and comfort of what you said.

00:27:23:02 – 00:27:41:22
Jon Orr
You’re in a very unique situation, which I think probably led you into being in a great position to engage kids in these activities because you taught every subject, because you taught every level. And I think both Kyle and I were in schools that allowed for that too. And we taught every class from the lowest to the highest of different levels.

00:27:41:22 – 00:27:57:02
Jon Orr
Different and I think so you’re right. Like we have to have that comfort level before we can start to experiment to go what is working, because we know that we can. I think a lot of teachers will say, I have to cover the curriculum, I have to get through it all. And if you don’t, it’s the first time you’re teaching that course.

00:27:57:02 – 00:28:27:08
Jon Orr
The second time you’re not sure where you can give and take, right? You don’t have that comfort where you can go. Like I can insert this math problem here and here and here in that I’m still going to be able to make sure that kids are getting what they need and how they need it. So if you think about if we do these things, if we are engaging our students in this way and we are implementing the math play techniques that you’re talking about, and we do this well, let’s say we do this well and we do this consistently, where do you see the state of mathematics in the future?

00:28:27:12 – 00:28:49:03
Libo Valencia
I see it, to be honest. I get to write it over the past, like all the six year I’ve been teaching, at least like one class or two classes of juniors, 11th graders applying to college next year. So I get to write a lot of college, read letters for my students, and a lot of times so what I do, one of the things that I do is I give them a form to do over the summer that they fill out.

00:28:49:03 – 00:29:10:19
Libo Valencia
And as I say, like, really? Like what? What’s one thing that you’re proud of? It doesn’t have to be methylated or, you know, in my class. What’s one thing that you did in my class that you don’t like? Things like that just to get more input in a lot of times students remember old I remember when we build the Pringle circle and then we had to write the equation of best fit for it and instead of using a circle, I use an alleged and it was like a perfect fit.

00:29:10:23 – 00:29:38:10
Libo Valencia
And they also all cards and you could almost see through like what they’re writing that they remember. They don’t remember like. Mr. Valencia Right. But they remember how they fill in that lesson because it was meaningful or they might even in their college essays, they might say like, oh, like I’m really proud of this math. Our project one thing that the first time that we did the math, our project, somebody from the Mathematical Association of America saw it on Twitter and now X, and they were really childish, like, Oh my God, this is so cool.

00:29:38:13 – 00:29:56:03
Libo Valencia
We would love for you to, like, write something about it, how you go about it. And some of that work got to be displayed for the Mathematical Association of America. My students were like sharing that stable like on their social media. Now they’re sharing about math in their social media. We’re doing the right thing because like, that’s the world.

00:29:56:06 – 00:30:16:11
Libo Valencia
So I feel that if we continue to do this, not only like one of the main goals of my math book, math is for everyone, like mad. There is a place in mathematics for everybody. And it’s not this scary thing that you get it or you don’t get it. And we go, you know, we’re like horses. They go like this and it’s you don’t get there’s only one path and there’s only the few, the chosen ones that know the path.

00:30:16:11 – 00:30:38:10
Libo Valencia
No, that’s like, that’s not the case. You might be like a different path, but there’s a little bit for everybody in mathematics. So I feel that if we continue to do this, as in society in general, I’m not going to see mathematics at this thing that it’s okay for me not to be good at math. I feel like every math teacher in the world can relate to, like at some point had a conversation where you said, like even at the doctor’s office, right?

00:30:38:13 – 00:30:54:06
Libo Valencia
And when you say like, Oh, this is what you do for a living, I’m a math teacher. I hated math. I thought you could be doing grocery shopping at the lines and I could be way like one of my math blue shirts. And people are going to be like, Oh my God, you like math? Really surprised. You like math.

00:30:54:06 – 00:30:55:07
Libo Valencia
You teach math.

00:30:55:09 – 00:31:14:13
Kyle Pearce
You reminded me we would go to conferences. Jon’s been on some of these ones, but some of my staff at my former district was we would go away to conferences and we’d be in Ubers and we would ask the Uber driver their opinion of math. And it was always negative. They were always ripping it. But sorry I jumped in there and I meant to hold back, but I couldn’t.

00:31:14:13 – 00:31:46:02
Libo Valencia
I could not because that is the case and is like acceptable, like it’s okay for kids. And one of the things that I think I wrote about is on the book is that I feel that a lot of teachers pass their math phobia, like their math fears through their students, and a lot of parents do the same thing because I feel like within my family, right, I’m the only managed to my family like I see it and I’m like, Oh, no, those are like, I almost like go like this when I hear, like, for example, like a crazy, like talking to like their kid saying like, Oh my God, I can’t believe they gave you

00:31:46:07 – 00:32:05:03
Libo Valencia
this much homework. Or like, why are they doing it like this? Because now, like, all these feelings go straight into the kids and, like, all math is this thing that I’m not supposed to like. I’m not supposed to be good at it. And so I feel that with math. Blake it could be a starting point for us, like change that to show people that you could play with math.

00:32:05:03 – 00:32:19:05
Libo Valencia
It’s fun to be good with that. And there is other things that you could do beyond the classroom that are relevant to mathematics is not just this thing I always like tell people that is that this saying that this is how we teach it, right? There’s one path. You get it up, you don’t get it too bad you’re not going to be good at math.

00:32:19:08 – 00:32:36:21
Libo Valencia
And that’s it’s another thing that I have noticed is that teaching at the secondary level for like 16 years, a lot of times, regardless of the level, whether there is like an advanced class, a standard class or like an essential level class one, students get to us. They have a predetermined math identity. They like the times in ninth grade.

00:32:36:21 – 00:32:55:06
Libo Valencia
Oh, it’s too late, right? They already come in. I’m good at math. I’m horrible in math. I don’t like math. So they let those experience early experiences define themselves and then they carry that. And everything that happens is just like, Oh, see? Like I’m not good at math because I don’t understand multiplication, I understand division, I don’t understand fractions.

00:32:55:06 – 00:33:14:00
Libo Valencia
I don’t just that. So it becomes this cycle that keeps feeding into, oh, math is now my thing and also even for students that are like good in math and like perform well in it, they don’t always enjoy it. They do well in it and they’re responsible. But you can see it, right? They’re not always enjoying it to the point where we can all enjoy it, right?

00:33:14:00 – 00:33:19:20
Libo Valencia
Because it’s not this thing that all is only for the few people that get it. No, it shouldn’t be like that.

00:33:19:22 – 00:33:38:15
Kyle Pearce
Oh, so true. 100%. And you said a lot of really good things here, but I’m going to give you this one opportunity here as we look to wrap things up from this awesome conversation. And I’m going to ask you if there’s just one thing, because you’d given people a lot of things to think about here, a lot of great ideas.

00:33:38:17 – 00:33:48:13
Kyle Pearce
But if there was just one thing that the listener could take with them from this conversation today, what do you hope the big takeaway will be for those listeners.

00:33:48:15 – 00:34:12:09
Libo Valencia
To be give yourself an opportunity to make a mistake, right? Because I can say like, go try math and maybe it’s not going to work. So like, give yourself that grace to like, make them mistake, try something. Because everyone talks about the growth mindset. Everyone, right? It’s like everywhere. Like everyone does, oh, the growth mindset. But how many people do really want to try something like that?

00:34:12:09 – 00:34:27:17
Libo Valencia
They don’t know if it’s going to work, right? Because you don’t wanna think that. It’s like, I don’t want to do that. So why did the administrator’s coming one day? My main message is try it be with you. Try. A lot of times we ask our students to try things that they’re not ready to do or like we kind of push them.

00:34:27:17 – 00:34:43:06
Libo Valencia
We should do that. We should be modeling that, right? Like try something. You don’t know if it’s going to work. I tell people that I might seek this is my secret, like top secret. When I’m about to try something that I don’t know is going to work, I reach out to my administrators and I tell them, these are, you know, my supervisor.

00:34:43:08 – 00:34:59:14
Libo Valencia
I’m going to be trying something new. I’m I try this activity for the first time on Thursday. At this time, feel free to stop by. So in my mind I’m good because he they come and he doesn’t work. I did tell you in advance that I’m trying for the first time now. That’s what I do. And a lot of times, most of the time it goes well.

00:34:59:18 – 00:35:28:04
Libo Valencia
But you have to be willing to try to take that step because amazing things could happen and you could connect with your students. I feel that whether you teach not just read, but whatever we teach, part of our goal is to connect with our students right beyond what we teach. I feel that dramatically. I’ve been able to connect with my students at a different level because I learned about them, because I’ve learned things from them, not only how to learn a tool or like things about and things that they like, things that they’re passionate about.

00:35:28:06 – 00:35:41:20
Libo Valencia
Because if you think about mathematics, if you’re just following the curriculum, there’s not a lot of room for that. But once you start giving, there’s opportunities to play and explore. Then the students can open up and you can have like a different type of connection with them.

00:35:41:22 – 00:36:04:00
Jon Orr
Love it, love it. Thank you so much. LeBeau That is a great message. I think so much comes down to connections that we make with our students. And if this is one more thing that can help us make that connection with the students, then we can’t not afford to take that risk and take that opportunity. Libby, I want to thank you for joining us here on the Make the Math Moments That Matter podcast before we say our goodbyes.

00:36:04:02 – 00:36:09:11
Jon Orr
Where can everyone who’s listening right now learn more about you? Your book math, play in math, play in general.

00:36:09:13 – 00:36:30:19
Libo Valencia
I feel that the best supplies are number one. I’m pretty active on Twitter. My three handle is admissible NC 24 and the hashtag that usually is at any time that I do. And that’s an activity when my daughter with my high school students, I do hashtag madly and I share with the world. I also have a website legal Valencia dot com where you can find links to the blog, links to past presentations.

00:36:30:22 – 00:36:45:16
Libo Valencia
My blog, even like a mathlete. Sure, if you want one for like casual Friday. So there’s a lot in there. I have a YouTube channel also admissible as of 24 where I have some conferences about like math and also some tutorials on different tech tools that I’ve used.

00:36:45:18 – 00:37:04:18
Kyle Pearce
I love it. This has been awesome, my friend. We are so honored to have you here on the podcast finally in 2024. And hey, we’re wishing you all the best as start off the year on the right foot and we look forward to staying in touch with you, my friend, and enjoy the play.

00:37:04:20 – 00:37:22:03
Libo Valencia
Thank you. Thank you so much and thank you for the opportunity to both present at this virtual summit. So they have me like I feel so honored. I almost feel like a super rockstar hanging out with you guys. So thank you so much. I am so thankful and I appreciate what you’re doing for the Mac community like worldwide because you guys are so international.

00:37:22:05 – 00:37:31:07
Libo Valencia
So thank you so much and please continue to do the work and anything that we can do to like help promote the joy of mathematics, we should All Absolutely.

00:37:31:07 – 00:37:32:19
Jon Orr
Thanks so much, Leo. Take care.

00:37:32:21 – 00:37:57:19
Kyle Pearce
We appreciate you, my friend. Take care. Well, what an awesome episode, Annette, Great conversation there. John. We had been looking forward to chatting with LeBeau for a while. We had the chance to check out his session from the 2023 virtual summit back in November 2023. That replay is up in the academy. And actually, John, I think we’ve got a little coupon code for our friends.

00:37:57:21 – 00:38:43:14
Kyle Pearce
Do. Yeah. If you head on over to make math moments dot com forward slash academy you can use the coupon summit three zero summit 30 and that will get you 30 days in the academy to not only check out LeBeau session but all of his virtual summit sessions and actually any of our academy courses and problem based units 70 plus units in there so head on over to make math moments dot com forward slash academy and use that coupon code summit 30 and take do it soon because we don’t know how long that coupon code is going to be active for so get on it Summit 30 over app make math moments dot com forward

00:38:43:14 – 00:39:00:00
Kyle Pearce
slash academy. But John let’s talk a little bit about our math classroom tree here John what areas we have six parts of our math classroom what parts of the tree we’re lighting up for you from this conversation with LeBeau.

00:39:00:02 – 00:39:18:10
Jon Orr
Yeah, and if you’re not sure exactly on the six parts, we’re not going to go into all six parts. I’m going to highlight one in particular from this episode, but you can head on over to grow your math program. Com Watch our video on what are the six parts outlines those six parts so head on over to grow your math program dot com.

00:39:18:14 – 00:39:47:11
Jon Orr
You can also do our survey over there and that can give you your free report but specifically this episode I think when LeBeau talks about math play in it for me, I think that’s a fundamental belief in shift in your mindset as an educator. And I think even though he gave practical examples of like what this might look like in the classroom and how to kind of structure some things and think about how to make your classroom, kind of the way that a math play lesson could look and feel.

00:39:47:13 – 00:40:10:01
Jon Orr
I think still it’s that fundamental belief in a mindset shift in a teacher’s mind to make this shift to kind of say, I am going to engage my students in this way. I’m going I’m going to explore the joy of mathematics as my almost like my y like almost like how can I always be striving for math play and the joy of mathematics?

00:40:10:01 – 00:40:28:00
Jon Orr
Like I know he said every unit he’s trying to figure out how can he engages students in some sort of math play for that unit? But it’s almost like if you could think about it a little bit more deeply, it would say, like, every time I’m doing a lesson, how do I bring out the joy of mathematics here?

00:40:28:00 – 00:40:54:20
Jon Orr
Or how do I bring out some element of play in this particular lesson? Because we want to be able to play with mathematics, we want to be able to explore mathematics, we want to be able to grapple. You would use that word child, you know, grapple with mathematics. So I think that’s a fundamental shift. That’s the soil, the water, the sunlight of our tree that we need that soil and water and sunlight so that we can strengthen the roots of our tree and we can strengthen the limbs of our tree in the leaves of our tree.

00:40:54:20 – 00:40:57:15
Jon Orr
We need that in order to do a lot of the other things.

00:40:57:17 – 00:41:13:12
Kyle Pearce
I love it. I love it. And I’m going to pick an area of the tree that I feel like we don’t talk a ton about because I think both you and I know that this is an area that people spend a lot of time maybe overemphasizing, but in this case, I do want to bring it up and I am going to talk about the leaves.

00:41:13:12 – 00:41:38:08
Kyle Pearce
That’s the resources, that’s the supports that we have in order to run our program. And why I’m bringing it up is not because we’re going to go run out and buy a curriculum necessarily that has all of these play elements in it already. But ultimately, why I want to bring up the leaves is because I want you to look at your leaves of your program, the resources that you’re already using.

00:41:38:10 – 00:41:59:23
Kyle Pearce
And I want you to just think about how do we just add those little tweaks, how do we add little pieces? We’re not going to throw them all out. We’re not going to rip off all the leaves and throw new leaves on our tree. Just throw a new curriculum in here. There’s great curriculum out there that can help you to do those things, including our problem based units can help you along this journey.

00:42:00:04 – 00:42:23:13
Kyle Pearce
But you really want to start thinking about what do I have now? What am I most comfortable with, and how do I use what I was planning to do tomorrow or next week or next, whatever I was planning to do? Before you listen to this episode, what are the little pieces, those little elements that we can add in that can add in a little bit of that play, which can go a long way.

00:42:23:13 – 00:42:46:15
Kyle Pearce
So sometimes just adding something small can make a big difference in terms the outcomes. So that’s what I’m going to have. You think about sun, soil and water. As you said there, John, mindset and belief is huge. And again, how do we take our resources that we’re already using and start looking for ways that we can integrate a little bit more of this play?

00:42:46:17 – 00:43:13:20
Jon Orr
We want to thank you for listening to another episode of the Make Math Moments That Matter podcast. And if you could, we want you to share this with a colleague. You know, send this episode to somebody in your school, somebody who maybe in the classroom next door, maybe it’s in another building. But share this episode with someone you think that would get a lot of value from it and that would be the one thing that you could do to help spread the word about the podcast, Grow math joy in other buildings.

00:43:13:20 – 00:43:20:13
Jon Orr
So please do that. Spread the word. And if you haven’t already hit, subscribe and we will see when the next episode cow.

00:43:20:15 – 00:43:25:05
Kyle Pearce
Well, until next time my math moment Maker friends I’m Kyle Pearce.

00:43:25:05 – 00:43:26:07
Jon Orr
And I am Jon Orr.

00:43:26:10 – 00:43:28:22
Kyle Pearce
High fives for us.

00:43:28:24 – 00:43:42:19
Jon Orr
And then the high five for you.

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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:

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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,
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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.