Episode #48: Three Levels of Learning Goals – A Math Mentoring Moment
This week we chat with an eighth grade teacher in his 6th year of teaching trying to hash through resource overwhelm, assessment techniques, frameworks, and community building.
In this Math Mentoring Moment episode Aseem Kelly shares with us the three levels of learning goals in math class, how to choose the best resources for your students, and how to narrow your focus so that your students can succeed.
- How to choose the best resources for your students;
- How to narrow your focus so that your students can succeed.
- How to avoid teacher overwhelm;
- How to choose and help students work toward a learning goal.
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Aseem Kelly: I want them to learn visual models or I want them to learn multiple representations, bigger ideas. And then there’s even this bigger idea, which is I want them to be creative problem solvers. All three of these are happening simultaneously and you somehow, as the math teacher, have to juggle that with 30 kids in your class and get them all to some place. And I think that it’s just a hard job that we have, but it’s a wonderful job that we have. I’m wondering specifically [crosstalk 00:00:27].
Kyle Pearce: That is Aseem Kelly an eighth grade teacher in his sixth year of teaching, trying to hash through resource overwhelm, assessment techniques, frameworks and community building.
Jon Orr: We chat with Aseem in this math mentoring moment episode about the three levels of learning goals in your math class, how to choose the best resources for your students and how to narrow your focus so that your students can succeed. Here we go.
Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the making math moments that matter podcast. I’m Kyle Pearce from tapintoteenminds.com.
Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr from mrorr-isageek.com. We are two math teachers who together-
Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of educators worldwide who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark engagement,-
Jon Orr: Fuel learning-
Kyle Pearce: And ignite teacher action. Welcome to episode number 48. Three levels of learning goals, a Math Mentoring Moment. Let’s do this.
Jon Orr: This here is another Math Mentoring Moment episode where we chat with a member of the Making Math Moments That Matter community, like you who is working through a challenge. And together we brainstorm ideas and next steps to help overcome it.
Kyle Pearce: We want to give a quick shout out to Moose Cad who left us a five star rating and review on iTunes. I love the name. Here’s what Moose Cad says,-
Jon Orr: “Let the listening begin. Just found this podcast and have listened to the first four so far and I am hooked. Exactly what I have been looking for in my math teaching.”
Kyle Pearce: Thank you for that five star review Moose Cad. It might be my favorite username to date.
Jon Orr: We chat to Aseem today about choosing learning goals and narrowing your focus. If you want more professional learning, we encourage you to register for the Make Math Moments Virtual Summit. Yes, that’s right. We’re running a free online math professional development summit for K through 12 educators.
Kyle Pearce: The Make Math Moments Virtual Summit is running on Saturday, November 16th and Sunday, November 17th. And will feature sessions from past and upcoming Making Math Moments that Matter podcast guests such as Jo Boaler, Andrew Stadel, Semel Singh, Dr. Nicki Newton, Skip Fennell, and his team of formative five authors and so many more.
Jon Orr: Register for this year’s summit at makemathmoments.com/summit.
Kyle Pearce: Listening to this episode after November 17th, 2019, you can still head to makemathmoments.com/summit, to add your name to the wait list for the next Make Math Moments Virtual Summit.
Jon Orr: Head on over to makemathmoments.com/summit. All right, let’s jump into our conversation with Aseem Kelly. Hey, there Aseem. Thanks for joining us on the podcast today. We are recording this in the middle of summer, right in the middle of between July and August. But I just heard from you before we hit record, that it’s the end of your summer and you are starting school very, very, very soon. How are you doing today?
Aseem Kelly: I’m great. Thank you so much for having me and Jon, especially for coming back from your camping trip in the wilderness to the real world. Appreciate it.
Jon Orr: Yeah, it was awesome and refreshing to do that and I was off the grid for exactly seven days. Completely off the grid, which was a nice refresher for me.
Aseem Kelly: That’s awesome. Yeah, but school’s starting pretty soon. So next Wednesday school starts. We’re already doing some teacher training. I just moved to a new school, so I’m doing a little bit of some new teacher orientation stuff.
Kyle Pearce: Fantastic. Well, so you’re going to be in a new school. Why don’t you go ahead and tell us a little bit more about yourself. Where are you coming to us from, how long you’ve been teaching, and maybe just a little bit of background on your teaching journey.
Aseem Kelly: For sure. So I became a teacher in 2013 so not that long ago. This is my sixth year of teaching. I taught in Los Angeles, California, for a solid four years. It’s like where I kind of got my grounding and a really progressive school in Los Angeles Unified and just last year moved to rural Southern Illinois and it’s very different. My wife is beginning her medical school journey out here and so I kind of moved with her and started at a new school last year. Wasn’t a great fit. I’ve been teaching high school mostly ninth and tenth grade since I started and it’s actually met, not only am I changing schools again this year, but I’m teaching eighth grade for the first time.
Kyle Pearce: Ah, interesting. Really interesting. I find it interesting when I hear people moving from California to basically anywhere else. I find that people tend to move to California, and it sounds like you’ve headed a kind of a little bit closer to Jon and I. Jon and I are just on the other side of the Detroit River. So we’re about a state over from you here in Windsor, Ontario. Just outside of Windsor, Ontario. Wow. What sparked that move? Was it your wife’s continuing her journey on career advancement?
Aseem Kelly: Yeah, so she’s doing program where she gets an automatic admittance into their medical school and so we decided to move for that and she’s doing amazing in school, so I don’t regret the move at all. It’s been really cool to see her do her thing.
Jon Orr: You did mention something a little bit more curious when you said it’s very different teaching in rural Southern Illinois versus LA. Do you mind elaborating on that difference?
Aseem Kelly: Yeah. Let’s see. The school in Los Angeles was something called a pilot school. I don’t know how common pilot schools are, but I think that everybody knows the difference between public and charter schools. But this school was a public Los Angeles Unified School, but we had a lot of autonomy as teachers, so teachers were a part of budget decisions. We were a part of hiring decisions. We got to be a part of lots of administrative decisions, curriculum decisions, scheduling decisions.
Aseem Kelly: So teachers were really running the school. All teachers had some administrative duties and it was a lot. It was a lot of extra work because teachers were in charge of the scheduling. There were also a lot of extra allowances within that. So for example, every teacher pretty much had two conference periods to be able to get their administrative duties done and their teaching duties done and it was a super student led school. Everybody was pretty much onboard with the vision. Coming here to Southern Illinois, one thing I’ve experienced which is hilarious, is just the people in California aren’t the nicest people. I’m realizing it. We’re not the nicest people. Like I remember when I got to Illinois and people were talking to me in the grocery store and I’m just like, “You’re a stranger, why are you talking to me?”
Aseem Kelly: So people out here in the Midwest are really, really friendly and really willing to connect with people. Schools are run very differently out here. Teacher led schools, I haven’t found very many out here where I live. I haven’t found very many schools, period. There’s only a few schools within like a 30 mile radius of me. So that’s been different. Districts are a lot smaller. Superintendents have a much bigger role than they did in a big urban district like Los Angeles. So lots to get used to, but I think that I’m really taking it in stride and enjoying it here.
Kyle Pearce: It sounds like you’re coming from a scenario where there was a lot of autonomy and really a lot of confidence and those admin duties you had referenced that teachers had. So really it was like teachers were leaned on to be leaders and at least at that particular school, it sounds like that was something that seemed to be working or quite positive anyway for your experience.
Aseem Kelly: Yeah, I was really growing. I mean it was my first four years of teaching, so to be trusted with administrative duties was pretty exciting. To start off like that.
Jon Orr: Before we get into some of your successes and challenges, can you give us a little bit more backstory on maybe why you wanted to become a teacher? We love hearing these kinds of stories and I think our listeners do too. So what made you get into this kind of profession?
Aseem Kelly: Well, I started in college as a bio-engineering major and I really hated engineering. It wasn’t what I was wanting to do. So I radically made a switch to anthropology. And once I started learning about human beings and once I started learning about how much I care about working with people, I love math and physics and so I decided to minor in math as well and it kind of just seemed like the most natural place where my frustrations with the world met my passion and my skillset. And I think that there’s a lot of things in the math education in America that frustrate me, especially being a black male. I think that I see a lot of kids who look like me not succeeding and not doing as well as their counterparts at other ethnicities. And so I feel that a little bit more urgently and I felt like it was the place where my passion met my skill set and it kind of just took over and it’s what I do night and day is teach.
Kyle Pearce: Well we’re so happy that we have this time to chat with you today. Before we dive in, we want to ask a question we ask every episode of this podcast and that is when we think back or when you think back to your experience in math class, what is a math moment that has stuck with you?
Aseem Kelly: I think the first one that comes to mind is in eighth grade, I guess it’s like two in one. Well, in seventh grade I had my very first math teacher who looked like me. He was a black man. I remember it was like a magical experience for me. It was just like the first time I saw somebody who looked like me in a position of authority like that in the classroom and he was very well known as the best teacher at the school and like the toughest teacher at the school and that was really exciting.
Aseem Kelly: But at the same time, I also remember that in seventh grade we took algebra one. And in eighth grade, he kind of let those of us who did very well in Algebra 1, there were only five of us, he let those five of us kind of do an independent study on our own of geometry during our eighth grade year. And we were kind of alone studying in the corner while the rest of the class was doing algebra one again. And I remember feeling very flippant about that. Like, yep, I’m in the good group. And those other kids just didn’t do what they were supposed to do. And I remember that stuck with me because when I started to learn about math education more and I started to learn about equity more, I realized like, “Man, we were really just favored and tracked and put into that higher level,” when I bet a bunch of other kids probably could have really flourished doing something like that but weren’t given the opportunity. So it was a little bittersweet of a memory.
Jon Orr: I can relate somewhat to some of those memories where you’re seeing certain students in groups of students and I had that same thing. I used to get these stickers for the math I did, but not everyone was getting those. And it was kind of like it was felt great at the time and I didn’t get it until later. That’s something maybe could have been a little different in that class. And I’m wondering how that has affected your teaching right now and maybe has allowed you to experience some success. Do you mind sharing a recent success that you’ve had in your role as a teacher?
Aseem Kelly: So I got started teaching in 2013 and I feel like MTBoS and I teach math, like that community has just been on fire. I feel like since I began and I feel like I’ve had so many resources to start off with and I hear from teachers who like start off teaching really traditionally and then they have to kind of like unlearn some of those old habits. I feel like I’ve had a lot of resources kind of from the beginning. And because of that, I think last year I incorporated so many different types of activities and I remember having one student, he was trapped into the lower math class the year prior. And so he was a tenth grader in my ninth grade math class. And when I first had him on Desmos and I had him do, I’m sure you guys have seen it, like it’s a Desmos pet house project where they make like a little house out of lines and they do domain and range constrict constraints.
Aseem Kelly: And I’ve never seen a more complex pet house before. I will say that. And he just was so involved artistically and so involved with. He wanted to know how to make shading and he wanted to know how do I make circles and he wanted to know how do I make dotted lines. He learned so much additional math from that one little linear functions project. I think that I’ve allowed space because I’ve been given these resources, I’ve been able to allow students space to be mathematicians in ways that they wouldn’t have necessarily gotten to have space in a traditional classroom.
Kyle Pearce: Oh, that’s fantastic. And you had referenced, well there’s a couple things there that I’d love to comment on. The first one is the MTBoS as you mentioned. And I teach math. Those are two hashtags that seems just referenced. So if you’re not on Twitter, those are great hashtags to check out. Jon and I have an episode early on in the podcast. I think it’s in the teen episodes. It might be on episode 15 or 19, have to double check that and we’ll put it in the show notes, but just talking about the value and the benefit of being online and even if you start as a lurker and just sort of follow those hashtags, you don’t have to necessarily post, but you can find all kinds of really cool things. And this Desmos pet host project, will definitely put some links to some really interesting Desmos projects that you can do.
Kyle Pearce: I had done a variation of that with some of my students who were your traditional, I guess remedial math students where I was teaching these students who had come to me out of elementary school. It was a grade nine class as well. And they typically didn’t have a great experience with maths. And when we did those Desmos projects for mine, I had it where they could really do whatever they wanted. So a lot of students had picked logos of teams they liked or just different designs that they were inspired to do. And again it was one of those scenarios where this was a number of years ago now and I remember almost, I felt out of my comfort zone because I had students coming up to me, we really only studied linear relations and didn’t do anything outside of that. So when students were saying like how do I make this one curve, I remember feeling this stress and anxiety, like we’re not really supposed to even be doing that yet.
Kyle Pearce: But kids were coming and making circles and they were Googling and they were doing all kinds of great things and the designs that they came up with it sounds like were very similar to the experience you had as well, which is fantastic. So thanks so much for giving the Math Moment Maker community an awesome resource to grab from this episode. So now I’m wondering if we can maybe switch gears a little bit. You’ve shared with us a recent success through what you’ve learned online and resources you’ve run into and the successes you’ve had in your class using those resources. I’m wondering do you have any struggles or challenges that you’ve experienced along your teaching journey? What’s on your mind lately that we might be able to dive into?
Aseem Kelly: Yeah, just have about a million challenges is all. So we could just go through those one by one. That’d be great.
Kyle Pearce: Perfect.
Aseem Kelly: So I spent some time kind of like just trying to think through my experience cause it’s a little murky so I’ll try to consolidate it a bit. Like I said, I started with so many resources and my very first year of teaching I was given a curriculum and it was a really good curriculum. CPM, it’s really doing a lot of good things. And my second year of teaching I tossed it out completely and immediately jumped on the train of I need to create new tasks and create new ideas. And I was doing 3 ACT tasks and Desmos tasks and read about thinking classrooms. And I think that there’s just so many different resources out there that I started implementing even just starting my second year of teaching.
Aseem Kelly: And I feel like very, very quickly I got overwhelmed. I mean like I could list a million of the different resources that I list but or that I’ve used. But there’s just so many different… I think I will just because it kind of leads into the question that I have things like even Jon, the work on FreshGrade that you’ve done about assessing students and making a portfolio. There’s this guy Dane Eller in Texas. He has these amazing website of amazing tasks and he does stuff with standards based grading or even old classics like Tomlinson’s book on differentiation or understanding by design or fond winds, visual patterns. There’s so many and then there’s even full curriculums now like the illustrative math open up curriculum that’s free and open resource now. And I feel like there’s just so many different resources out there.
Aseem Kelly: And then your guys’ podcast is amazing and getting people aware of so many different resources that are out there. And I think that I’m at a point now where I’m overwhelmed in two very specific ways and they both leave me saying, “Where should I focus and what’s most important?” And I think that that’s my main question, “Is where do I focus and what’s most important?” And I think that that comes up in two ways. So one, it’s like in the five practices episode you guys talked about step zero, sub one and zero sub two the first two practices. Actually the very first one actually being having a clear learning goal. And I think my first question is, “Where do I start and what’s most important with finding a good learning goal in a lesson?” I think that I have been so inundated with tasks that sometimes it’s really hard to find a learning goal and to know what my learning goals should be or in what sequence it should be.
Aseem Kelly: So that’s one is where do I focus in terms of finding a good learning goal in a particular lesson. But then there’s a bigger thing that I think I’m realizing is, where do I focus and what’s most important when choosing professional goals? I think that there’s so many different aspects of math education that are being talked about online and in communities. There are so many frameworks given so many assessment tools, excuse me, so many different tasks and lessons and I feel like it’s hard to know as an educator in what season I should focus on what aspects of my professional journey, like is this the year that I’m going to focus on grading and assessment? Or is this the year that I’m going to focus on community building in my classroom or is this the year that I’m going to focus on like I’m going to try implementing some stuff from thinking classrooms?
Aseem Kelly: There’s so many different avenues to go through. And I think that it’s probably like a really individual question because I think that people are in so many different places, but I’m wondering if there’s a way to kind of delineate for people and for myself, just depending on your situation, how do you choose where to focus both in terms of instructional goals and in terms of professional goals. So big question that has a million questions in it so.
Jon Orr: So, right-
Aseem Kelly: That’s where I’m at right now.
Jon Orr: So let me summarize a little bit about what you’ve articulated here that you’re feeling a lot of pressure and also overwhelmed because there are so many great resources out there and you’re not sure where to focus. And also you’re left wondering what’s most important. Should I be using this resource? Is it more important than that resource? You’re also wondering how do you find a learning goal? Where should the learning goal be? And also what that sequence is? Does that help summarize a few of the things-
Aseem Kelly: Yeah.
Jon Orr: … that you’re working on.
Aseem Kelly: Yeah.
Jon Orr: And then you also have some wonders about where to choose professional goals and frameworks and assessment tools. And there’s so many things out there and you’re just left overwhelmed at what to do here.
Aseem Kelly: There you go.
Kyle Pearce: This is like when you go to Netflix and you’ve completed the last season of of for me it was Suits, recent Stranger Things. I’ve been watching Suits for three years. You just watch Stranger Things and you’re like, “Now what do I watch?” And you look at everything and it’s like, “That looks good and that looks good, but I don’t know which one to do first. Like which one is going to be the best bang for my time.”
Aseem Kelly: Except the only difference is that kids’ education is at stake.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, it’s not just my time fill at then in the evenings for sure. For sure. Yeah, it actually matters. I is basically what it comes down to. Does that help a little bit summarize?
Aseem Kelly: Yeah, totally.
Kyle Pearce: So I guess I’m wondering, so you mentioned a little bit about how you’ve tried to narrow your focus. Your thinking, “Like what is my focus, what are the most important things?” Do you want to elaborate a little bit more about how you’ve tried to narrow this focus? Because it is the math resource world is huge and it’s not only just out there for us to benefit students, but there’s a ton of people doing this as part of their living and they want you to use their resources because then that district or school board will adopt that and pay, what it costs to run that curriculum or use that textbook or use that online tool that you have to pay for. Like it’s a business out there too. So what have you done so far to narrow a little bit of that focus?
Aseem Kelly: So I think that this past year I’ve kind of tried to categorize the millions of resources into four or five major categories. And then each of these past two years I’ve been asking myself which of these five categories is the most important to me right now in the situation that I’m in. Because my students and the school I was teaching in last year is a very different school than the one I’m teaching in this year even though they’re both in Southern Illinois and so that’s actually changed a bit. Like last year. I think that I’ll say that the five that I’ve written down here are professional community building like the MTBoS. I teach math like that’s just a way to get to know people across the country and across the world. And then there’s different frameworks that are available. That’s number two, is frameworks. So stuff like 3 ACT Math understanding by design thinking classrooms.
Aseem Kelly: Number three I have as grading and assessment tools the formative five and doing William’s work on formative assessment. Then I have number four is tasks and lessons, which is all the little one off tasks or full curriculum sets that are available. And then five is just building community in your classroom and building relationships with kids. And I think that last year my full focus was just on building relationships with kids because there were so many places where the math wasn’t even the most important part. I feel for so many of the kids there, the school was just so… I think that they were really struggling to build relationships with students and build relationships between students. And so that was my number one focus was, even before the math, was these relationships are the most important thing. I think here at the school that I’m teaching at currently, relationships are a bit more solid.
Aseem Kelly: I think that they’re doing a lot more work socio-emotionally, and so now I’m thinking that the most important for me might be to, because I still feel kind of alone at that school, I think that for me it’s the professional community building aspect and reaching out to different people on [inaudible 00:24:45] boss. Not even necessarily worrying about what tasks I’m going to teach that day, but focusing on my relationship with other teachers because I’m no longer at a school where every single math teacher is on the same page. And so I think that that’s kind of how I’m doing it right now is just categorizing and trying to figure out what makes most sense to me professionally. But then for the instructional goals question, man, I don’t know. I’ve just been trying to figure it out.
Aseem Kelly: There’s so many different things I’ve tried. I could list them, but I just don’t feel like they’ve worked. I feel like I’ve tried a million different things to choose appropriate instructional goals and maybe it’ll work for a lesson, but then for a unit or a sequence of lessons, I feel like sometimes the main point of that unit is lost. So I guess really I have two separate questions. They’re connected by my feeling of being overwhelmed. Maybe we could just talk about one of them to narrow things down, but I feel like they’re two different things.
Kyle Pearce: First off, I just want to make a comment and say how clearly your a very reflective educator, which is fantastic and in some ways that might feel like a bad thing for you, right? Because you are so reflective that now you have all these ideas and you’re very aware that there’s all of these things that we can constantly be getting better at. And that’s a good thing. As long as we don’t overwhelm ourselves with that thought as well, right? I mean, if we’re just ignorant to it, then we just sort of wake up every morning and keep doing what we’re doing. And I was that teacher for a while anyway, and I found like I was changing things, but I just didn’t know what I was changing or why I picked that one to change. So here it’s great to see that you’re really thinking it through and you’re kind of organizing yourself, organizing your thoughts in order to try to direct your attention to the one that you think is, I guess, the highest need for yourself professionally, but also for your students in the classroom.
Kyle Pearce: So you had listed about five ideas here. And I’m going to read them backwards. You talked about community. You said that was something that you’d been spending a lot of time on. You talked about tasks and lessons, so that was kind of a group of like, “What is it that I’m actually going to be doing today? What curriculum might I be using?” Talked about grading and assessment. That’s a huge challenge that many, many people struggle with. And we’ve talked about this on the podcast before. You have frameworks in there. You know Peter Liljedahl was on here with his Thinking Classroom framework. We talk about 3 Act Math tasks all the time, like even five practices. Number one though, I missed number one as you introduced that. Do you mind sharing number one? Which one was that?
Aseem Kelly: Professional community building.
Kyle Pearce: So we have professional development, which is great as well and that’s kind of one of the bigger ones as well. So I want to roll back a little bit. One of the first things that you had shared with us earlier in the conversation was this idea that in one of your first years you had been given a curriculum and it was the CPM curriculum. We’ll link to that in the show notes for those who want to dive into that. You had mentioned that you had sort of put that on the back burner or kind of shoved it aside and started going out there and looking at all these different resources that are available to us. I’m wondering what wasn’t working for you or wasn’t jiving for you that made you sort of set that one aside and sort of move on to something else? Was there anything in particular that sort of pops out at you?
Aseem Kelly: My answer now probably is different than the answer I would’ve given you right when I did it. I think right when I moved on, I probably would’ve said, “Oh, there’s too much reading the kids have to do to get through to the math behind it. Kids get really frustrated. The group roles don’t always work out. There’s so many different little things.” I probably would have said, but I think retrospectively, I think that I would say I wasn’t very good at implementing it and I don’t think I had the tools that I needed to implement the curriculum. And so in education, something you get really used to really quickly is, at least in the education spaces I’ve been in, is you try something, it doesn’t work, you toss it, you do a new program, you toss it, you’re doing a new program. Like it’s just such a common reality. I feel like in education space is this to just be inundated with new programs and new ideas and just try new things.
Kyle Pearce: Well, something that pops into my mind I know is that oftentimes we’ll see people like when Jon and I will go and do live workshops or we go and in my district I get to go into schools and work with teachers and PLCs and I think helping ourselves, and I’m glad that you’ve sort of recognize this, that initially it’s sort of like, “Ah, it’s the resources fault.” And I did the same and I think for a number of years I was sort of anti-textbook and even though I never said to people not to use textbooks, I have teachers that still nowadays sort of say, “I’ve ditched the textbook”. And they want to high five me and I’m like, “Oh, that’s not necessarily what we want people to be doing.” What I realize now is that I wasn’t very effective using the textbook that I had.
Kyle Pearce: And it sounds like you’ve come that same conclusion with CPM. That curriculum, no matter what we pick, really a lot of it has to do with our teacher moves when we’re using those resources, right? So whether it’s CPM which I’ve seen some really cool things in CPM and I’m sure you recognize that now that “Hey, maybe had I done it a different way,” and even kind of like stretching across to some of these five categories you have. Even if like I was to change the framework of how I delivered some of those lessons, maybe I would have had a different response, right? You had mentioned group roles didn’t always work out well. For me I used to sort of do things the way they were presented to me instead of me sort of reflecting and going, “How could I take this idea or this task or this lesson and how could I take what’s there and modify it to suit the students in front of me?”
Kyle Pearce: Because in reality, when we’re writing curriculum of any type, we’re essentially writing it for the middle and not my entire class isn’t going to be that one group. I have to sort of think about how am I going to stretch this, how am I going to move and actually pivot what’s there in order to dive a little deeper with it. So it sounds like you’re hoping to figure out how do I get the most bang for my buck when I’m doing all of this work and where should you focus on in order to get rid of some of the other things that, I hate to call it a distraction cause everything you’ve mentioned is great, but if I’m getting overwhelmed then it actually is a distraction.
Kyle Pearce: So I’m wondering right now if you’re zooming out, it sounds like you said professional development tends to be kind of where you’re focusing on or at least the community trying to build that community up. Do you feel like you’ve been able to sort of start that sort of relationship in person with some teachers in your new building? Or are you still kind of in that relationship building stage? How are you doing on that front?
Aseem Kelly: Well yesterday it was literally my first day in the building and my first day getting to know teachers. The school is awesome and they’re doing a lot of community building between teachers and so that was really great. I think that, yeah, it was definitely a good opportunity to get to know other teachers, especially math teachers in the building. I really quickly want to go back to something you said though that when you said distraction, I think that that’s such a good word even though it sounds so negative. It’s interesting because when I think of the five practices and I think of how important it is to choose an instructional goal, if the instructional goal is not appropriate or if it’s not clear, then the rest of the five practices don’t really lead you anywhere. They’re just connecting different people to different ideas, but they’re not leading the kids anywhere.
Aseem Kelly: And I think that my frustration with choosing instructional goals is that there’s instructional goals, and then there’s teachers are not just instructors. There’s a million different things going on. And so I think I’ve had these millions of things going on in the back of my head that literally are exactly that they’re distractions from having a clear instructional goal. And I’m even thinking about what you said about curriculums and how people talk about the textbook. And I think it is a very common thing to talk about how textbooks don’t work or aren’t the way to go. But I think that textbooks and curriculum can be a support to lean on in terms of like, I’m not going to think about the actual task or lesson I’m going to use, I’m going to use the ones that are in front of me, but the way I’m going to implement them is completely different.
Aseem Kelly: You can have very clear instructional goals that way because they’ve already been kind of lined up and outlined for you. But I think that didn’t sit well with me for a long time. It felt like I needed to create my own and I don’t know if other math teachers out there are feeling the same pressure of we should be creating our own lessons and I need to have, make a visual pattern and I’m going to combine it with this other thing that I heard about and that’s going to be my lesson today. But how important that instructional goal is and how easy it is for that instructional goal to get lost.
Kyle Pearce: For me, everything is about that instructional goal for that lesson in that day it’s, we have to start there and it’s what do I want my students to know? What do I want my students to do? What am I wanting my students to understand? We have to think about those things when we go into lessons. I used to be the teacher that you know would be like, “Ah, that lesson looks really fun and really engaging and really awesome for the kids to do, I want to try that.” And it’s almost like you feel a lot of temptation to throw out or throw it into whatever you’re going to do that day, even though it might not make sense in terms of your flow and your progression of ideas and in your unit planning or your curriculum planning. So I used to be like that and I had to hold back and go, “Okay, no, what do I want my students to know, understand and do on these ideas?” And then I’m going to slot activities and resources and lessons in that fit that.
Kyle Pearce: So it always has for me, it has to start with the learning goal to begin with. And then a lot of us don’t throw out those maps, those learning goal maps cause we have somewhere to begin like the textbook. When I started to teach through activity and task, I didn’t throw everything out the door and say, “I’m going to start from scratch and I’m going to build my own progressions.” We can’t do that when we start teaching from the beginning as teachers to start off, in your early career, you need that map. You need that kind of roadmap to help you understand some of those connections. When I first started teaching, I thought I knew all the math, but what I didn’t know, was how all the ideas connected together and I didn’t understand that until later.
Kyle Pearce: I didn’t understand that until I started to teach and use those roadmaps that were there before me to see, “Oh you know what? This would work a little better if I switched the order of what the textbook says to do.” Textbooks will be 1.1. That’s like day one do this day to do this. And you would get the feeling with your students which order that should go in after you’ve done it a few times. So I’m not throwing everything out the window and thinking I have to build it from scratch. It’s if this lesson hasn’t been working for that particular group of students, how can I change it? How can I modify it? How can I make it more engaging? And then there’s resources to fill those things out there and frameworks to help you kind of design how that lesson might go versus what the textbook says to do.
Kyle Pearce: So when we think what those learning goals are and what are our main goals are for our students, think about right now, seeing if you ran into a kid five years from now or two years from now or at the end of your school year and you asked them, “What did you remember about my math class?”, or you can even just think what do you want them to be able to do or what do you want them to say when you say, “Think about my math class, what did you learn from my math class?” What would you want that kid to say?
Aseem Kelly: I think for me, I’d want them to have more, especially now that I’m teaching eighth grade, I’d want them to go into high school with a sense of, “I have mathematical agency, I can do math. I can think through a problem that I have no idea how to start and I can use all the tools that I have at my disposal to try to creatively make sense of a question or have an idea.” I’d want kids to tell me, “I learned that math is messy and I learned that math is powerful and I learned that I could be creative.”
Aseem Kelly: It’s more of those more enduring understandings about what math is and what math can do that I’d want them to learn. And I think that that’s also what makes learning goals hard. Because today I want you to learn the Pythagorean theorem. I want you to learn the proof of the Pythagorean theorem, but really what I want you to learn is how powerful visuals are. How powerful it is to draw. You draw a box on the end of a right triangle on all the three sides and you see something amazing. It’s just there’s these deeper understandings that I want them to come away with the enduring understandings.
Kyle Pearce: In my mind. I’m picturing you going from like this really specific thing that I feel like, I don’t know if it was intentionally done, but in my pre-service I felt like everything was so, so granular and I focused so much on all these tiny, tiny little pieces. And when you do that, I recall Joe bowler mentioning this even just about how curriculum writers write curriculum and they break it down, they silo it down into these little tiny parts. And what ends up happening is you sort of lose all of the connections that you began with, right? So now it’s almost like we’re sort of trying to figure out how do we work backwards there? And I feel like you just did that when you were talking about the Pythagorean theorem. You were visualizing like, “Okay, so I want you to be able to do the Pythagorean theorem that’s like this little tiny granular piece.”
Kyle Pearce: But then you are sort of going wait a second, “No, what I really want you to be able to do, is I want you to see and visualize how the mathematics works and not just with Pythagorean theorem, but that all of these things that we’re doing in our course, like there’s ways it all makes sense, right?” And it all connects and there’s a way that we can actually tackle these problems by using what we know instead of just sort of memorizing some steps and procedures.
Kyle Pearce: So it sounds like you’re kind of going up a level and I feel as you kind of back yourself up and then start to really picture like I’m picturing a web of your entire course and you sort of spending some time, I know you’re only a week out here, about eight days from starting the school year, but even to just take a whiteboard and sort of what is it that I need to teach this year and get almost like a mind map going where you’re looking at, “How do these things connect?” What about this over here? What about Pythagorean theorem is connected to something over here? And I mean obviously probably the algebra connects this idea and this idea and the conceptual link the visuals. So how might I use some of that in this big picture thinking? Here’s the challenge for us as educators, we need to be able to kind of see it both ways because kids aren’t going to see this big picture yet.
Kyle Pearce: So it’s almost like we have to be able to do both. It’s like we have to be able to go down to some smaller pieces, but then once we’re doing these smaller pieces, we have to have some sort of way to help kids start putting those pieces together. And I feel if we’re thinking about that as we plan out our course, when you had mentioned how do I sequence these different topics, if I’ve got this big picture and I’m kind of going, “Okay, once they have a handle on this idea over here, I’m going to start doing a little bit with this idea over here, but then now how am I going to bring those together somehow?”
Kyle Pearce: And it doesn’t mean it has to be this magical lesson where fireworks are going off. So you have your head wrapped around those things. And I’m going to argue that it probably can look different depending on the courses or sorry, the person teaching the course and how you bring those things together. But I think the key is that you see it some way both in that more granular sense and in that more big picture, like these big chunks. And that might help you with answering that question of at the end of the school year, like Jon had said, what am I hoping students will achieve and it’s easy for us to say I want them to be a good problem solver. I want them to be critical thinkers. Those are definitely huge and I think those are the most important.
Kyle Pearce: But then if we are thinking, “Well there is this content stuff too that I’m required to teach,” what would you hope students were able to do? And there’s some things I’m going to argue in every course that are like big things that you’re like, “This is key.” And then there’s other things that are, “Okay, these are more nuance, these are more the really granular pieces.” And not to say we don’t do those pieces, but it’s how do I make sure that kids get the big idea that I want them to see those big pieces. Are you seeing that as something to kind of wrap your mind around a little bit?
Aseem Kelly: I am. I think that actually this is the first year that I’ve actually done something similar to the process that you’re talking about with the whiteboard and making a map. And I think that that was the first sigh of relief that I’ve had in a long time. So I think that you’re right on the money with that. You’re right. It’s such a juggling act of we need to be granular, but then there’s also this bigger level of, it sounds like you’re talking about three different levels. There’s the Pythagorean theorem, which is the most granular than there’s a little bit more abstract, which is the idea of, “I want them to learn visual models,” or “I want them to learn multiple representations, bigger ideas.”
Aseem Kelly: And then there’s even this bigger idea, which is I want them to be creative problem solvers. All three of these are happening simultaneously and you somehow, as the math teacher have to juggle that with 30 kids in your class and get them all to some place. And I think that it’s just a hard job that we have, but it’s a wonderful job that we have. I’m wondering specifically, Jon, I think you’re in the secondary classroom, right? You’re in high school and I’m thinking, I know that you guys have both talked a lot about interleaving or spiraling and I’m curious because Jon you just talked about how you originally used the textbook and used the sequencing that was there for you and realize how great the sequencing was.
Aseem Kelly: But I’m wondering, I guess how do you unit plan or how do you create your instructional goals? What’s the methods that you use to, cause I even watched your… I think you had like a video a day about your classroom and you see how you’re moving from topic to topic, but it really felt like you guys were going somewhere. I think that’s the part that’s hard for me to wrap my mind around. Like Kyle said, about making the maps. That’s a great way to see the connections. But I’m just curious for you, is that what your process looks like or how do you delineate learning goals for the year?
Jon Orr: Yeah, like if I’m just starting a course for the first time and I haven’t taught it before, then I’m usually using, primarily using, our already existing resource. So maybe it’s somebody else’s day by day or maybe it’s the textbook and I can interchange things that I want, but I need to follow a map for sure the first time. But like I said before that after I’ve taught it many, many, many, many times I start to feel like where I can interchange things. And so that’s what we did with when we spiraled, say my grade nine math class and that’s when we did the 30 days and 30 minutes videos. I was mostly following my grade nine and in grade 10 applied math classes. And for those classes, after teaching them many times, I got a sense that I would do a few days on a particular big idea like we’ve just talked about and then move on to a different big idea, but kind of jumped strands too.
Jon Orr: So the idea behind spending some time on one strand and then moving to a different strand for a couple of reasons. One is that I wanted my students, one of my big ideas overarching big ideas is I wanted them to problem solve and I was teaching through tasks and bringing the learning. I had a particular learning goal in mind of what I to accomplish that day, but they didn’t and we would do a task and it was kind of a mystery of what we were trying to solve or what we are trying to… For them they didn’t know what learning… I guess I should back up a little bit and thinking about this, I compare it to the textbook. If you want your students to actually problem solve and you’re teaching out of a chapter three and chapter three is all about proportions and proportional reasoning and you do a problem and you say, or 3 Act Math tasks or another attack activity where it’s a little bit of a mystery, which is the great part about 3 Act Math tasks, right?
Jon Orr: There’s some mystery when you ask kids what to notice and wonder and they know that when the problem solving comes, if you’re teaching out of the textbook following that plan, then they know that they have to use proportional reasoning of to solve this problem. They’re just trying to figure out where it goes and the kids spend more time trying to think about where proportional reasoning fits in. Then actually just try to solve the problem. And so I wanted my students to problem solve a deeper level. I wanted them to reach back into their minds and think, what have we learned so far that I can apply to solve this problem? And it might not necessarily be proportional reasoning, which was what we did a couple of days ago. So part of spiraling was keeping them on their toes a little bit about reaching into their minds to pull out old learning and apply it to new learning.
Jon Orr: To strengthen those connections to help them. Part of it is that I wasn’t liking the idea that in September I would teach measurement and then never talk about measurement again. There’s so many connections that exist, so like Kyle said, that kind of brain, like that map, that web is out there that you can continually bring back strands to connect to other strands, so partly it was what you’re seeing and there was is once I got comfortable with the content of the course, I could say, “We’re going to spend about three to four days on Pythagorean theorem or two to three days on Pythagorean theorem and then what we’ll do is that was a part in our measurement strand and then we might switch to some patterning and bring in some linear relations work in, do some patterning for a week, and then we’ll switch to proportional reasoning.”
Jon Orr: Yeah, I’ve seen that. I’ll kind of mix things up that way for those reasons. But keeping in mind there’s a list of things that we do need to check off that we have introduced to the students to strengthen. But I could only get to that point because of the many times I taught that course and knew the connections between the concepts so that when we’re doing linear relations and we’re doing some patterning, when I saw someone use a proportionate table or a number line, we can talk about that and how it connected to the proportional reasoning stuff we did before. There’s a lot of connections that can be made and that’s where the five practices has been great as a framework for kind of structuring those lessons. So that’s kind of how I would do it when you plan those things out. But I wanted to touch on one of your main questions for today, which was this overwhelm of ideas and you were looking for what is the best?
Jon Orr: Where should I focus my time and energy and where should I leave things out? And for us you have to think like it’s been a journey. We have tried things and felt like, “Hey that worked and then that didn’t.” And I think that’s what teaching is. Every kid is different in your class and the more tools you can have at your disposal, the better you are equipped to deal with a student when you’re working with them one on one or in a small group setting.
Jon Orr: You will know what has worked for different kids if you try things out. So I think the answer for me is let’s not someone telling me what the best tool is right now and then I won’t look at the other ones. It’s no, try out the tools that you’re wondering what effect will this have? Look at what it will give you as an educator, what you will strengthen in your own learning, what your own teaching skills. So I would say if you have time to learn something and try out that activity, do it and make notes on what you learned. If it was a flop, you learn something. So I think it’s a journey for us and it’s through all of that trial and error where you’re going to become the best teacher.
Aseem Kelly: Yeah, I feel like I’m hearing a couple of different things in that one. There’s just the simple fact that when you start a brand new course, that’s really helpful to hear that you do go based off of some other pre-existing pacing plan or map. And I think that that’s really helpful to hear because I don’t feel like I hear conversation about unit planning or about maps that already exist that often, especially in professional learning spaces. I feel like the more exciting things to talk about are like the individual tasks are like, look at this thing I created on teacher.Desmos.com, but I think that it’s so refreshing to hear to go with a pre-existing resource and just teach through it.
Aseem Kelly: A second thing is just it takes time as a teacher. This is why teaching is a longterm profession and I think so often in this country, in the United States teacher turnover rates are insane and people are leaving the profession after just a couple of years in it and it is such a lifetime experience of constantly refining tools and figuring out what works best for you and what works best for your particular set of kids.
Aseem Kelly: And I think that you’re exactly right, trying different things is what has allowed me to even come up with this list of all the different resources out there because I’ve just tried so many different things while I look back and I’m like, “Man, I really could have used that CPM curriculum.” It now is leading me to a place where I feel totally okay using a preset curriculum and supplementing it with different frameworks or different grading system or whatever. It feels freeing to know that it’s okay to try things out and freeing to know that it’s also okay to take time before you’re at a place to, for example, do spiraling like not just something that you come into a course you’ve never taught it before and “Oh yeah, I have time during the summer, I’m totally going to just interleave these topics. No problem.”
Aseem Kelly: It’s not feasible. And so I think that it feels like releasing to be able to say, “Okay, those are the things I don’t need to focus on and my kids will still be great for it.”
Kyle Pearce: Sort of to summarize, we were talking about those different levels of granular to sort of that in between and then to the big picture and I feel the big picture I’m hearing from your takeaway here is, let’s not all try to just be a hero. I think it’s really hard because we want to help all children, and this is one of the struggles I’ve talked about on the podcast in the past is, I come in and would actually be the hero and save kids on problems and that robbed them of their experience, but then also on this level of the planning and delivering of lessons that each and every one of us don’t have to write our own curriculum.
Kyle Pearce: Now there’s a lot of learning that comes from doing that type of work, but let’s not get carried away with it, especially early on. Let’s start with something and going back to that CPM curriculum. If we push that curriculum aside and we try to go from scratch, then of course we’re going to feel overwhelmed. There was a lot of people that work on these different textbooks and resources and very, very knowledgeable people and experienced people that have a lot more experience than you or I did, especially at the beginnings of our career. So not to completely dismiss, but maybe taking those and either upping them right? So maybe upping the lesson to modify it some way. For example, in our Academy we just released a couple versions of a task called Spin to Win and that task is actually based on a resource here in Ontario called the guides to effective instruction.
Kyle Pearce: There’s the task inside of there that I read it and went, “Wow, this is an interesting task. Here’s how I would do it now that I’ve thought about it,” and that’s a test that we’ve taken and we’ve sort of upped it a little bit. We’ve added some visuals to it, some different prompts to it, things that this is how I would deliver this particular lesson. So it’s not like it’s brand new. However, a lot of people might look at that task and think, “How did Kyle or Jon think of these tasks from scratch?” And in many cases they aren’t from scratch. Thinking about the magic rectangle task that’s on our website, Jon and I built that based off of a word problem out of a textbook, but we did change the context of the actual problem, but the actual values were selected really specifically by the textbook authors.
Kyle Pearce: So we thought, wow, it makes sense to use these particular dimensions and now we’re just going to change the context a little bit so that it’s a little more curious. And also that it sort of creates this need for students to want to do the work. So kind of take that thinking and say, “Okay, where’s my starting point?” And it’s okay for it to be a starting point. And I guess don’t throw out a lesson or unit a resource until you’ve found what you’re going to replace it with. That’s a message. And I’ve done this, we’re not saying, “Hey, bad move there,” see Jon and I have both had this where we’ve said, “I’m going to do this on my own.” And then we push it aside and then we go and we try to find something, but then who knows what we’re going to come up with.
Kyle Pearce: Right? We might come up with something that’s 10 times better or we might come up with something that’s nowhere near as good and that’s not a really great situation as well. So it sounds like you’ve had a biggest takeaway and you’ve shared some of that, kind of visualize over this next week, what is going to be your focus for this particular week leading into the start of the school year so that you’re not distracted by the billion things you could be thinking about and they’re all valid things to be thinking about. But what’s the thing that you’re going to focus on this coming week to get yourself ready for this brand new school year?
Aseem Kelly: So earlier last year I decided because I’m teaching eighth grade for the first time I’m going to do it, exactly like Jon talked about and used an already existing resource. So I’ll be using the Open Up Illustrative Math resources that are available as Open Ed resources online and I have already kind of worked my way through the year long curriculum and have already started that process like that white boarding process that how you were talking about earlier.
Aseem Kelly: But I think that something I want to do for this week in particular, is I kind of want to have an artifact or maybe some kind of web that can fit on a sheet of paper on my desk or right next to my desk in my room so I can just have that to continue to look at because I feel like I’ve done the work to kind of think through those connections, but to just see it every day I feel will keep me grounded or bring me back to a place of like, this is my job, this is what I’m trying to do right now. Be patient and make those connections the best that I can with the kids. If I can make some kind of reminder to myself to do that. So I think that that’s what I’m going to do this week.
Jon Orr: Good, good start. For sure. You know one of your questions was about building community and talking with other teachers and in our Academy right now we have a very active forum on teachers on in there we have a water cooler area where teachers post questions and other people in that community answer and Kyle and I get in there and answer and a chat and some groups are forming. It’s a very vibrant community going on in the Academy which also has tasks and video lessons and I think you would be a great addition to the Academy and I think also you could benefit a lot from kind of continuing this conversation there and talking your way through some of the other things we would love to offer you membership into the Academy for free. Would you love to join us Aseem?
Aseem Kelly: Oh man, of course.
Jon Orr: Awesome. We will hook you up with the details after we’re done here and then you will be in and if anyone else wants to check out the Academy they can. We’ll put the link in the show notes. We are just about out of time. Kyle, you ready to wrap up?
Kyle Pearce: I think so. Aseem it’s been such a fantastic discussion. I’m so happy that we finally had a chance to, we had to cancel or reschedule and then Aseem had to reschedule with us because you know how summer goes, right? In our minds we say, “Oh, we’re going to have all the time in the world,” and then things come up. So it’s so great to finally get a chance to chat with you about some of these challenges and struggles, and I know Jon that everybody is at home nodding their head saying, “Wow, yeah, Aseem you have highlighted many of my challenges.” Remember you had said that you only had about a million or so, right? And as educators we all have those and it’s great to really just have this opportunity to chat with you openly about it. I know it’s helping people at home and I can’t wait to continue this discussion in the Academy with you.
Kyle Pearce: As we said, we’ll flip those details. Is it okay if we possibly check in with you and let’s say eight to twelve months to bring you back onto the podcast and see how things are moving along and where you’re at? I’m sure that the million challenges, maybe you’ll be down to like 999000 by that point, right? Which is a great progress, but just to check in and see how things are moving along so we can all continue this discussion. Would that be okay?
Aseem Kelly: That’d be amazing. Thank you guys so much.
Kyle Pearce: Well thank you so much, Aseem. We’ve had a blast and I know that the listeners have too, so enjoy your last week here and definitely keep us posted on how things are going inside the Academy. We can’t wait to see inside.
Aseem Kelly: Will do. Have a good one.
Kyle Pearce: As always, both Jon and I learned so much from these Math Mentoring Moment episodes, but in order to ensure we hang on to this new learning, we must reflect on what we’ve learned. An excellent way to ensure that learning sticks is to reflect and create a plan for yourself to take action on something you’ve learned here today. A great way to hold yourself accountable is to write down and even better share it with someone, your partner, your colleagues, or with the Math Moment Maker community by commenting on the show notes page, tagging @MakeMathMoments on social media or in our free private Facebook group, Math Moment Makers K-12.
Jon Orr: We chatted with Aseem today about choosing learning goals and narrowing your focus. If you want more professional learning, we encourage you to register for the Make Math Moments Virtual Summit. Yes, that’s right. We’re running a free online math professional development summit for K through 12 educators.
Kyle Pearce: The make math moments virtual summit is running on Saturday, November 16th and Sunday, November 17th and we’ll feature sessions from past and upcoming making math moments that matter. Podcast guests Jo Boaler, Andrew Stadel, Semel Singh, Dr. Nicki Newton, Skip Fennell and his team of formative five authors and many more. Register for this year’s summit at makemathmoments.com/summit if you’re listening to this episode after November 17th, 2019 you can still head to the makemathmoments.com/summit. To add your name to the wait list for the next Make Math Moments Virtual Summit.
Jon Orr: Head on over now makemathmoments.com/summit. Are you interested in joining us for an upcoming math mentoring moment episode like this one was where you can share a big math class struggle?
Kyle Pearce: Apply over at makemathmoments.com/mentor. That’s makemathmoments.com/mentor.
Jon Orr: In order to ensure you don’t miss out on new episodes as they come out each week, be sure to subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and be sure to rate and leave us a review.
Kyle Pearce: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode 48. Again, that’s makemathmoments.com/episode 48. Well, until next time, I’m Kyle Pearce and-
Jon Orr: I’m Jon Orr high fives for us-
Kyle Pearce: And high fives for you.
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