Episode #54 What does an effective math block look like? A Math Mentoring Moment
Today we speak with Rob Baier, a math learning specialist from southern Pennsylvania who is wondering what a truly effective math learning block should look like. What you’re about to hear is another Math Mentoring Moment Episode where we speak with a math moment maker like you who is struggling with an idea and together we brainstorm a plan for improvement.
Stick with us as we frame out with Rob what his 80 minute block should look like to fuel student sense making.
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Rob Baier: So you know just today I listened to your spiraling podcast episode. It was fantastic. It was funny because it kind of generated some thoughts in my mind about just spiraling just in general. And then I even started to ask the question, “What if we made some data informed decisions with our warmups or even within like the stations and centers?” And so we dove into the state data for the standardized tests and what we looked at was like basically I’m not about teaching to a test, I’m about let’s make data informed decisions. So if there’s a standard or an anchor that’s only worth two points out of 52, do you need to spend two weeks on this thing? No. [inaudible 00:00:25].
Kyle Pearce: You’re listening to Rob Baier, a math learning specialist from southern Pennsylvania who is wondering what a truly effective math learning block should look like. What you’re about to hear is another math mentoring moment episode where we speak with a math moment maker like you who’s struggling with an idea and together we’re going to brainstorm a plan for moving forward.
Jon Orr: Stick with us as we frame out with Rob what his 80 minute block should like to fuel student sense making. Hit it.
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 all of you math moment makers to episode number 54, What does an effective math block look like? Let’s do this.
Jon Orr: But before we get to our chat with Rob, The Making Math Moments That Matter podcast is excited to bring you another giveaway. This time we’re giving away another five free registrations to our full online workshop titled Making Math Moments That Matter.
Kyle Pearce: The online workshop is your complete course on how to spark curiosity, fuel student sense making, and ignite your teacher moves in your math class. The only workshop has helped over 400 educators from all over the world hone their lesson creation and deliver skills so that they can make math moments that matter for each and every student.
Jon Orr: We run the online workshop twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. So spring 2020 registration will be opening on Friday, January 17th and closing on Friday, January 31st. You can win a spot in the spring 2020 session by entering the draw over at makemathmoments.com/giveaway. That’s makemathmoments.com/giveaway.
Kyle Pearce: Listening after January 16, 2020? No sweat. We’re always actively running giveaways, so check out makemathmoments.com/giveaway to learn about what draw we have running right now.
Jon Orr: Remember, you got to play to win. Dive in at makemathmoments.com/giveaway.
Kyle Pearce: If you’re interested in learning more about registering for the workshop, be sure to check out makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop.
Jon Orr: That’s makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop. All right. Let’s just into that conversation with Rob. Hey there, Rob, thanks for joining us on the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. How are you doing today?
Rob Baier: Hey, I’m great. How are you guys?
Kyle Pearce: We are doing fantastic over here. It is a Tuesday night when we’re recording this and Jon and I are really, really excited to have a great conversation. Can you do us a favor here, Rob, and let those who are listening know a little bit about Rob Baier, where you’re from, what sort of got you into this whole teaching math gig, and any of those other little details to help people get to know you.
Rob Baier: Yeah. So, again, I’m Rob Baier. I’m a math curriculum at Intermediate Unit 1, it’s in southwestern Pennsylvania about an hour south of Pittsburgh. I’m originally from Ohio. My father was a custodian when I was growing and he worked his way up to be a principal in the same district. Worked really hard and got to be a part of education basically my whole life. Then I taught after I graduated from Robert Morris University, which is right outside Pittsburgh right by the airport. I ended up moving to North Carolina for a few years with my wife, we were newly married, couldn’t get a job, had to go down there. I was around some great math educators down there.
Rob Baier: Right as the common core was rolled out I was able to jump on with that and help with their crosswalks and really dive into the curriculum side of it and how the crosswalks from the actual old curriculum and the standards that they had and how it ties in with this new common core thing. Then I took a leap of faith with my wife, we had a kid, and said you know what we need a new background with family, go back to Pittsburgh. So we moved back to Pittsburgh. I taught in the inner city for a few years, ended up getting to be a head boys’ basketball coach at a school in southwestern PA and ended up being their K-12 math specialist for a year. Then they moved me into the classroom for a few years before I went into administration for about seven months. During my time in administration it didn’t seem like it was exactly what I wanted at the time, and then this kind of fell into my lap and I got really lucky. I’ve been very blessed throughout my whole career with how things have worked out for me.
Jon Orr: That’s a great story and I am glad you have filled us in a little bit about that. I know that we’re going to talk with you today about some of your recent successes, but also some struggles that have been on your mind lately, and we want to walk through with that with you and share some strategies. That’s coming up for sure. But before we do that we definitely want to ask you about your math moment. So if you’re a listener of the podcast we always ask everybody a moment that they remember when we say the word math class, stretching back into their experience and how that impacted them one way or the other. So, Rob, could you fill us in on what is your most memorable math moment?
Rob Baier: So I have two that really stand out. I’ve been thinking about this for a while since I knew I was going to be on the podcast. The first one for sure is when I was in third and fourth grade we had something where we were with the same teacher for first and second grade, and then a different teacher for third and fourth grade, but it was the same exact teacher. I had a teacher in third and fourth grade and her name’s Kim Spellman from Ohio, she knows I’m going to say her name because I’m telling you I adore her. She’s a person that taught for my dad eventually when my dad was a principal. But what I remember most is that I remember walking into her room and she had an XY table on the wall and she didn’t tell us what it was. She just said there’s a rule that when you go from one side to the other there’s a rule. She challenged us weekly on trying to figure out what this is.
Rob Baier: I remember getting this right and seeing the look on her face, like she would run screaming down the hallway, “Math is the best thing,” and like she giving us high fives and just making us feel so good. This is years later and I’m still thinking, my lord, she really made an impression on me on how kids should feel in math. And it took me until the past five or six years to kind of realize that wow, it really does go back to how she made me feel.
Rob Baier: The other one was my first year of teaching in North Carolina. It was my first year ever teaching. I was really having a hard time with kids not understanding the way that I was teaching. I did a lot of direct instruction. I am avid listener to you guys, so we all our struggles, right. So I was having a hard time and the kids weren’t getting it. I had a call with my dad one night and I said, “I just don’t get it,” he goes, “Well how are you teaching them?” I said, “Well, I’m trying to show them the way that I did it.” He goes, “You never did it the way that anybody else did. You kind of did things in your head and you kind of pieced some things together. You got to find out what the kids know and find out how you can help them find success.” And so that day and that time period was right around the time that I ended up finding Dan Meyer’s Ted Talk and next thing I know I blinked and I’m here with you guys.
Jon Orr: I blinked. Yeah everyone listening right now is like come on, it wasn’t a blink, there’s a story there. There’s a journey there. There’s so much learning.
Kyle Pearce: That’s right. Yeah-
Rob Baier: There’s so much learning. But it kind of feels like a blink.
Kyle Pearce: But the time flies though and I can definitely relate there, Rob, when you say it seems like a blink. I think you said it was about eight years ago when you sort of had that epiphany and for me it was seeing Dan Meyer live and then the Ted Talk and all those things. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew I wanted to change how I was going things because it was like this a-ha moment, right, that we’re going to eventually figure this thing out. We’re still working to figure it out, but we feel like we’ve made some progress. I think it sounds like you have quite a bit as well.
Kyle Pearce: I want to take a moment just to back to your grade 3/4 teacher, Kim Spellman. It sounds like what a fantastic teacher to have in that position to be teaching young children about mathematics. I know teachers that maybe they aren’t super comfortable teaching the math and they do a great job of making students feel like math is something that everyone should enjoy. What I really fear is when there is a teacher who maybe isn’t feel so comfortable, maybe didn’t have their own best experience mathematics and maybe they just feel like they’re not sure how to go about it in the best way. When that not so positive vibe is in the classroom, even if they don’t do it intentionally, that could have such a detrimental effect on students and here you’re talking about a teacher that obviously it was quite the opposite, right. So I’m hearing it was almost like she was distilling this productive disposition with all of her students, just really trying to pump your tires about mathematics and how awesome it is to do. So to me that makes me feel really awesome to hear. So I want to thank you for sharing that story.
Kyle Pearce: I’m wondering if we could chat a little bit about a recent success that you’ve had in your role. We like to definitely talk about that, make sure we’re talking about some of the positive things going on before we get into maybe a challenge or something that’s on your mind that you’re hoping to spitball with us tonight so we can try to figure out how we move forward. So what’s a recent success that you feel you’ve had in your role?
Rob Baier: Well I kind of feel like I’ve been on a string of success ever since I got into this role. It’s one of those things where one thing after another’s been happening. I’m now the Membership Chairman for the Pennsylvania Council with Teacher of Mathematics. I was their conference chairperson. I get the opportunity to present at the state conferences and work with all different types of educators across the State of Pennsylvania. I get to work with amazing teachers in our region. We serve 25 districts in southwestern PA and approximately 52,000 kids that I could potentially and directly impact. The teachers that I’m working with in these districts, they’re phenomenal. They’re ready for a change. They’re bright eyed and bushy tailed as they say. They really get excited about math.
Rob Baier: The worst part about my job is that I don’t get to be around kids anymore. I miss that. I miss that connection with the kids. But it’s pretty cool when I’m showing an open middle task at a training and I see teachers have the a-ha moment. When I show a 3 Act Math or I do notice and wonder, among so many other things, that every time I show a new strategy or show a new resource and see teachers get excited about it and then get emails asking me questions. It’s nice because I know that even though I’m missing the kids, I get this opportunity to be around all these amazing educators that they’re going out and doing some just rock star things. Especially kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers, I can’t do what they do. They’re saints. They’re amazing people. They build a foundation and they’re doing things like my third and fourth grade teacher and making sure that the kids don’t hate math.
Rob Baier: I’ve been on this string of, to me this past almost two years, has just been one big success. I mean a month and a half ago I got to meet Dan Meyer in person because he was our keynote. I got to hang out with Robert Q. Berry, the NCTM President. And then I got to hang out with Annie Fetter. And now I’m on the podcast with you two.
Kyle Pearce: The trifecta.
Rob Baier: I’m having a really, really great time right now.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, though, podcast, hey, this is great and all, but I like that one, two, three punch that you have there, a little combo that you got to hang out with. So fantastic. That’s so great to hear. I think, again, it’s like I can tell in the energy in your voice that you are bringing that positivity. It could be really scary for us as educators to think about change and you know you kind of remind of my experience today. I had the pleasure working with some grade nine teachers and we have a colleague who’s new to the role, his name’s Mark Bodette at my district, Greater Essex County District School Board. He’s super pumped to be in this role and he’s excited to learn new things about this role and he’s just excited to be working with teachers.
Kyle Pearce: The grade nine teachers, I don’t know if it’s just maybe the last time I was working really closely with our secondary teachers like we did today was a couple years ago, and I just felt like the vibe was super positive and just like you’re saying people are ready for change. I don’t know if it’s just your district and my district feeling it, but I think things are catching on. Which is so great. People are starting to open their eyes and their minds to just different ways to go about it. So that’s fantastic. We’re wondering, now, let’s kind of pivot into some of what we’re hoping to focus this particular conversation on, which is maybe a current challenge or maybe just a wonder that you might have and something that’s just on your mind lately. Do you mind sharing with the audience what are you thinking about lately? What’s this area that you’re hoping to focus in on and do some learning about currently in your position?
Rob Baier: So several months ago I was working with the district and they were talking about being able to amp up a little bit of their math instruction. At the time they only had around like 40 minutes, 42 minutes, of math instruction for a middle school math class. They were finding that it just didn’t seem like it was enough. So they were able to rework their schedule, in turn make block schedules. So they came to me and they said, “Hey, what do you know about block schedules?” I mean I used to teach in block schedules, but we talked earlier, I don’t think I did it correctly at the time. So I said, “Well, let me dive into it a little bit.” I started looking around and researching and trying to piece some things together.
Rob Baier: There was nothing that was out there that was a one-stop shop so to speak, but I had several different resources. Then I reached out to you guys about what are your thoughts? I have some thoughts and at the time I have seven different sample lessons of what it could look like in an 80 or 90 minute class and I have some ideas of what that kind of looks like depending on the day. It’s not exactly evidence based or research based yet, in my opinion, but it’s something that I want to dive in more and try to learn a little bit more about.
Jon Orr: So what I heard here is you’re looking at reshaping some of your blocks and people are thinking like I’ve got to expand this and I’m looking at an 80 minute block and how do I fit components in there and go about changing some of those things. Is that what you’re asking?
Rob Baier: Yeah. Because ideally we want all these different tasks and all these different things that go along in our classrooms and as soon as teachers get that 80 or 90 minutes, often times they think, “Hey now I have extra time. I can do double the lessons.” That’s not exactly what you want to do. You want to dive in a little bit deeper. Sometimes they think, “Oh well that just means I get to do longer direct instruction and more procedural practice.”
Kyle Pearce: I can talk slower.
Rob Baier: Yeah, I can talk slower. And then on top of that, after and 80 or 90 minute block, they’re like, “Oh, and then I can give multiple pages of homework.” It’s like, guys, let’s talk about this for a second.
Jon Orr: Maybe I missed it before, but can you tell me what the block time was before the switch?
Rob Baier: Anywhere between 40 to 44 minutes is what they had. And since this has popped up and I’ve kind of developed these seven samples and still reaching and still trying to learn because I don’t know if this is perfect, since that’s popped up from that one district I’ve had five other districts reach out to me in the last three months asking for the same thing. So it’s obviously something that’s a shift that we’re working towards, so I’m trying to learn just more about it to make sure that I’m on the right track and then obviously any time that I can gain resources from anybody in this avenue, especially people who have been successful, that’s what I’m trying to do.
Jon Orr: Okay, gotcha, I gotcha. I think we’ve got some strategies we can share with you for sure that can be helpful. But before we kind of dive into that why don’t you let us know a little bit about what you’re doing currently to address this? What do you picture an effective math block looks like, sounds like? And how are you kind of trying this now? And you said you mentioned trying to get hands on some some resources, maybe there’s some resources that you’ve used already and that will give us a nice picture of where we can move forward from.
Rob Baier: So basically you want to start every class with, and I think you guys call it minds on, I call say a hook or a warmup. It’s funny because I used to model my classes, my lessons, after a TV show because in my mind I thought, “Hey, TV shows get us hooked for some reason and we stay throughout the duration. And then sometimes at the end of the class, or at the end of the show, they leave us hanging and leave us wanting more.” So I tried to pattern many of my lessons after that to where maybe I start a 3 Act Math in the middle of it and maybe we get through Act 2, but we don’t quite get to Act 3 because the bell rang. So I go, ah, guys-
Jon Orr: Day ruined. Kids are like, “Mr. Baier, you didn’t time that right,” whereas back in your mind you’re twiddling your fingers going, “Excellent.”
Rob Baier: Exactly. And it’s a middle school or high school math class and the bell rings and kids don’t get up because they’re going, okay, come on, come on teacher, tell me more. That’s kind of how I envision it. So with this block I’m envisioning some type of a warmup or a hook, and those warmups could be a number talk or math talk, an open middle. Maybe we start off with a 3 Act Math, maybe some which one doesn’t belong or two truths one lie. to justify your answer, just starting a debate, I think Chris Luzniak just is getting ready to release a book on October 31st. Oh, I got to hang out with him too at the PCTM conference.
Kyle Pearce: The quad.
Rob Baier: Look, and it was all within a three day period, so I’m like really pumped. But things like that just to get the juices flowing. Sometimes teachers think oh well I need to do the standardized assessment warmup. If you do that there’s ways that you can make that better. Taking away the four answer choices and taking away the question and have them come up with their own problems and turn that into a discussion. What can we solve based on what’s given? So it’s kind of like the beginning of three read protocol, you know. So those are some things in terms of the warmup or the hook just to get kids engaged into the lesson and get them ready.
Rob Baier: From there we do some type of a class mini lesson, anywhere 10 to 15 minutes, I try to limit that. And then depending on what the next task would be, whether if it’s a skill practice or a procedural practice, which we know is important but it shouldn’t be the staple, they do something like that after the mini lesson. And then it’s an 80 minute block or a 90 minute block, give the kids a break. Let them have a five minute break. If they need to pull out a phone to take a five minute mental break, do that, for the older grades. For the younger grades it’s when you do the restroom or some type of a fun game or something, get their minds away from it just for a little bit because you just have them sit for a little while before you break into like some math center stations, small groups. And that, to me, should be kind of the bulk of it. Then always end with some type of an exit ticket or reflections or something along those lines.
Rob Baier: We are really big in Pennsylvania right now on college and career readiness. So I’ve talked a lot about do some type of a warmup and review skills and then how about you do a virtual field trip or bring in a guest speaker that talks about math and how math is used in their field. We have a lot of farmland where we are, and maybe it’s a dairy farm or maybe it’s somebody who works at the local fairgrounds or a local pizza parlor, or you know for you guys Tim Hortons. So anything along those lines to bring somebody in that talks about math in their field and showing kids that truly math is everywhere from the chair you’re sitting on to the paint that’s on the walls. It’s all mathematical. So that’s another model that I have if that’s something they go into.
Jon Orr: So let me just recap, I like recapping just for me myself, and I’m sure that the people listening appreciate a little recap. When you’re thinking about your classes and your time slots in your framing of what that lesson might look like in this new longer time slot. Instead of telling teachers just make it more practice or more homework or we’re going to lengthen the procedural part, just to more textbook work, or maybe you don’t do homework at home anymore, you do it in the class. There are those pitfalls that people might fall into by just lengthening the time. You mentioned those things, but the interesting thing is I wonder how many people will be scared to all of a sudden teach the 75 to 80 minute classes. How am I now going to fill the time slots? You know like what am I going to do? And people are kind of wondering that.
Jon Orr: So you’ve said that right now, currently, you’re kind of doing at the start class you’re doing some sort of warmup, a hook, to kind of get thinking going and from a variety of different sources. And then you’re doing like a class mini lesson, which is say 10 to 25 minutes on say the topic. Can you tell me a little bit more about what that mini lesson might look like? Like what are you sharing with the teachers that you work with what the 10 to 15 minutes look like? Could you outline what those minutes look like, sound like for us? Like what you would encourage for the teachers you work with.
Rob Baier: So it’s funny because of everything that I share with these teachers you’re right that they are nervous and a little scared to jump into this. And the question you just asked never comes up. They just look at it as okay this is my chance to do like a direct instruction piece, and honestly I have not fully tapped into that part of it yet. So that’s one of the areas that I was hoping I was going to bring up, you beat me to it. I was going to bring up like what should that sound like because I know it needs to come up, it just hasn’t yet. Because when I taught the stations and the centers and what that looks like, that’s where they focus on the most because that’s what’s the most new to them.
Kyle Pearce: Right, right. And it’s really interesting too because you had mentioned so many different things that they could do for let’s say a warmup or for minds on, whatever we want to call it to get that spark of curiosity going. And when we think about the math block and how it’s organized, you clearly have some experience with different strategies like you had mentioned number talks or some might even call it just a math talk of some type, or open middle problems and 3 Act Math. I’m wondering, in your mind, do you see those sort of resources and strategies happening at the same point? And then is that mini lesson, are you seeing that happening in a classroom as something that’s kind of disjointed or kind of separate from those initial activities?
Kyle Pearce: The reason I ask is because often times what we as educators tend to do is we’re in our comfort zone, I teach a math lesson a certain way so for myself if I think of the way I taught for the majority of my career, I would come in, I’d take up homework and then I would deliver my direct instruction lesson, it was the gradual release of responsibility which now I do not really use a whole lot at all. But at that time that’s what I did and then as I started to bump into these other things, so whether it’s a which one doesn’t belong of if it’s a open middle or a would you rather, whatever it might be it was like in my mind what I was thinking was that I was going to take what I was currently doing and I was going to somehow squeeze that tighter. So it was like if it normally took me 75 minutes to do that, I’m going to add in an open middle and I’m going to put it at the beginning and now my 75 minute, my typical lesson, now is going to be 65 minutes. I’m somehow going to figure that out. But it was like nothing else changed so it was just constantly adding more and more and more.
Kyle Pearce: And obviously that can be an overwhelming feeling. So I’m wondering do you see that mini lesson, like are teachers feeling like that mini lesson is the shrunk version of their more traditional approach to the lesson? Or is it somehow tied to maybe some of those other pieces that you had mentioned previously, like if they’re trying number talks or 3 Act Math and so on?
Rob Baier: So that part did kind of come up today with some fourth and fifth grade teachers that I worked with today actually. They asked me about can this warmup, can I put that throughout the lesson, through that whole block? The answer to me is yes. If you want to extend into the actual lesson itself, so like in essence of work teaching, analyzing data. If we start off with just a graph, the New York Times does what’s this graph saying or something along those lines, and you can pull up a graph and you can talk about what does this say? Tell me everything you know about this graph. That can, to me, go right into that mini lesson talking about the different parts of the graph and what story is this graph telling us. So I definitely think it can be an extension.
Rob Baier: The other thing I tell them is you could put those same things that we use as a warmup as part of your stations. You can have an open middle station or open middle center and allow the kids to kind of work through that. Once we get to talking about centers there’s some other ideas that I have popping up. So yeah those are some things that I think, I haven’t been able to formulate it fully in my brain.
Jon Orr: Right. I’m just thinking about what you’re saying about warmups. Sometimes I view warmups, like you said, they could span the whole class. So it’s like a minds on, we usually refer to here in Ontario as a warmup that leads into what the lesson’s going to be all about or a link to the lesson. And that’s one way you can think of a warmup that if you choose an open middle problem and use it at the beginning and have your students engage in that and they’re getting a lot of discussion, you have them up at the walls, you have them up at the whiteboards or you provide them whiteboards and they’re discussing those solutions, and those solutions are kind of shared around the room, and then that might link to what you’re doing today. You can make that link. So you can always choose those warmups to link and I think a lot of people do that. It’s like I should choose a warmup that links to what we do here today and it kind of just can keep going. It’s kind of like just the beginning of our exploration into this topic that we’re looking at. That’s one way you can use a warmup or a minds on activity.
Jon Orr: But lately, for the last little bit, I’ve been, and I know Kyle has and other teachers, use the warmups sporadically in a sense that they don’t necessarily need to link to the current content of what we’re doing that specific day. I’m a strong believer in the idea of mixing it up. One way for that is you’re continually bringing back old concepts to start class as kind of like review, but not review. You’re putting these old or new concepts into the forefronts of their minds and now they have to think, okay, I think I’ve seen or I remember doing this type of problem before or using this skill before, but now what they have to do is reach back into their brains and make those connections. And the idea is that the memory retrieval becomes stronger because now they continually going back into get that.
Jon Orr: So I’m a big fan of mixing them up for that purpose and that kind of links to this idea about spiraling that we’ve talked about in the past, that we don’t want to always just say we’re in this silo, this unit, we’re always going to do proportional reasoning, we’re always going to do integers as a unit and the minds on has to be integers and the lesson has to be integers. I’m a big fan of kind of mixing it up, especially at the beginning in there. Not only for retention, but one big benefit of that is the problem solving process. If it’s not just about integers or if it’s not just about proportional reasoning in this unit, the students have to think a little bit deeper about what is this concept that I need to use here to solve this problem or engage in this activity. And they’re on their toes because it’s like, oh, if I’m in the unit it’s got to be about proportions, but now you’re mixing that up a little bit and you’re building some of those problem solving processes for them so that they are more resilient students.
Kyle Pearce: You know and, Jon, something that I wanted to just throw in there as well and it connects to what you’re saying there, Jon, where it’s kind of there’s those two ways to go about it and I look at even if, let’s say, you’re a teacher who’s diving into this idea of number talks or math talks and I look at the Sherry Parrish resource for example all around number talks where often times these are strategies and you do them year long. And you do them, you can use them as a warmup, they’re a great way to sort of activate prior knowledge. But they don’t necessarily, and often times they don’t actually connect to the lesson from that day, especially if you’re using that resource just kind of as a daily routine, or maybe it’s a three day a week routine or whatever you choose to do.
Kyle Pearce: But then on the other hand we could look at a similar approach, which would be using let’s say Cathy Fosnot’s mini lessons which are like number strings, just like the Sherry Parrish number talks books, except with Cathy Fosnot she also has some resources and units that you can actually use where the mini lessons actually help serve the purpose. So she’ll have like a mini lesson set up between two of the lessons in her unit on the big dinner, I think it’s called. And in between days one and two of that unit there’s a mini lesson that’s used and specifically crafted to help sort of link some of the pieces to kind of take like yesterday’s concept and really bring you back to build on that concept and then also help set you up so that your strategies, your chops, are ready to go for the next day of the lesson.
Kyle Pearce: So there’s some different ways that we can approach this, but something that I guess really for me listening in and especially for those teachers that are doing those mini lessons in their block, I’m picturing how I do my math lesson. Is my lesson, whether you call it a mini lesson later in the block or whatever you want to do as you described earlier, is it a direct instruction lesson? Or is it actually a task based lesson? I know, Rob, you know this because you listen to the podcast quite a bit, for us we like to select a very specific task in order to elicit certain thinking and then at the end we would call the mini lesson at the end of the task really more of a consolidation. So sometimes some direct instruction is necessary if some connections need to made, but really we try to build off of the student work.
Kyle Pearce: And I find while that does take practice and a lot of planning, helping the teachers to see that the stuff we’re doing before that point in the lesson we don’t want to make it look like an add on or something separate and now I’ve got to get to the “work”, like we got to get to the note or we got to get to that meat and potatoes. We want to make it the point of everything we’ve done to this point is to naturally lead us into this place where now we can consolidate and it’s like even the direct instruction piece doesn’t really have to take place in most cases, it’s more of a connection making, right, and the teacher facilitating that discussion and then helping the kids to summarize the big ideas that we’ve pulled from that specific lesson to ensure that every student in the class has an explicit understanding of what it was that we were trying to achieve that day.
Rob Baier: So you know just today I listened to your spiraling podcast episode. It was fantastic. It was funny because it kind of generated some thoughts in my mind about just spiraling just in general. And then I even started to ask the question, “What if we made some data informed decisions with our warmups, or even within like the stations and centers?” And so we dove into the state data for the standardized tests and what we looked at was basically I’m not about teaching to a test, I’m about lets make data informed decisions. So if there’s a standard or an anchor that’s only worth two points out of the 52, do you need to spend two weeks on this thing? No. You could probably spiral it in or use it in small chunks as a warmup or as part of a center or station, like so to speak what does this graph mean? Analyzing data and using that in small chunks then teaching it as almost like another mini mini lesson at the beginning. Like how you said that it doesn’t necessarily go right with that lesson that day, but in the big picture it will because it’s all connected.
Jon Orr: I wonder if you would help me design a picture here and also maybe link back to something that Andrew Stadel has shared. Have you heard of Andrew’s Classroom Clock Talk?
Rob Baier: I don’t know if I have. Go ahead.
Jon Orr: I think back in at the San Francisco NCTM Conference in 2014, I think it was, Andrew did an Ignite Talk on the classroom clock. Imagine drawing a circle, like a clock, and at the top of the clock is the start of class and then it circles all the way around and then that’s the end of class, like a full rotation from start to end. Your new classroom would be like an 80 minute time slot there. So like time zero would just start at the very top where 12:00 might be, and then 80 minutes at that same spot. What I loved about Andrew is that he compared what his classroom used to look like and then how he changed his classroom at that same time slot. Here in Ontario in our classes, I know in high school classes for sure, our time together is 75 minutes with our students, so it’s kind of similar to the 80 minutes.
Jon Orr: Andrew outlined his clock, which was similar to my clock when I started teaching, which is similar to Kyle’s and may be similar to a lot of ours, and we’ve talked about this here before and also on our webinars. But that first 10 minutes of class wasn’t a minds on for me for a long time, it was just homework take up. It was just like we’re going to put that up on the board or you’d walk around and check off names. That was just the beginning of class. So imagine like on this circle you’ve got this piece of a pie that’s about 10 minutes out of the 80 minutes kind of sectioning off your time slot. And then for me the next 30 minutes of my time slot was my standard lesson, where it was introductions, definitions, examples. So that’s a huge chunk of the pie almost coming right down to the 6:00 time slot if you’re imaging the clock, which is almost half our time right there. And so that would be like where all we do is just what Kyle had said with the guided, I do, you do, we do.
Jon Orr: And then after that it was practice time. It was just like the rest of the time is for you to do the homework and whatever you don’t get done, you take it home. And you know what the last five to 10 minutes was on this clock? So it’s like we’re almost back to the top if we’re going around, we called this like stand by the door time. Kids would just be like okay the bell’s going to go. And I’m okay because you-
Kyle Pearce: [crosstalk 00:35:39] homework 20 minutes ago.
Jon Orr: Yeah. Right. It was like a long time. And you know that practice time for me was always the time that I had to, especially in some of my classes where kids were ready to be done. You know they just didn’t want to do the homework and there were disturbances. And that’s when I had the discipline issues is during a lot of that time because they’ve been sitting the whole time in these 75 minute blocks. When Andrew shared how he changed his clock, and so he redrew the clock with the same time and start, the same end. But that first 10 minutes now, that same piece of the pie so that sector of the circle, is now that minds on warmup where that’s the first thing they’re doing coming in the class, it sets a good tone for the room, it’s right away into good thinking, good communication, good discussion. This is the part I feel like does the best for our classroom culture.
Jon Orr: And then you know the next piece of the pie is kind of what Kyle was saying. It was like you purposefully as a teacher has chosen a learning goal for the day, or maybe it’s multiple learning goals you’ll explore. You know, when you’re introducing a big idea you might introduce a couple big ideas that are related in one activity, and you start to narrow down later. So that next section of the pie is quite large because in that section of the pie you’re kind of doing problem solving, practice, instruction, and then more problem solving, and then maybe more practice all kind of together. It looks differently every time you do it because it’s not like a set in stone kind of thing.
Jon Orr: Like what Kyle said it’s you’re going to put our students in to situations where they don’t know how to solve problems and we’re being resilient problem solvers when we do that. And then the kids will, you know you’re attempting the problem and we’re not having them sit down, we’re having them stand up. We’re putting our whiteboards up along the walls and they’re in groups where they’re randomly chosen so that they know they’re randomly chosen so there’s no hard feelings about I’m not in the group that’s the weak group or I’m not in the strong group, or I’m not the strong one in the weak group, or I’m not the weak one in the strong group. It’s random and that’s from the learning that we’ve done with Peter Lijedahl and the vertical non-permanent surfaces have been a big role in that too because then the kids will discuss more and put ideas down faster.
Jon Orr: And then sometimes what happens in that is what Kyle said, you’re using the kids’ ideas and strategies to solve problems. And keeping in mind what learning goal you want to bring out. If you see it on the wall, then you can call everybody over to talk about that. Or if you see one that’s almost there and it’s kind of like a version of it that could be something different and it’s connected, we want to connect those things together. Pause the class. Go have a discussion about it. And then you give them the next problem, like a string problem where it comes next it’s like the next little bit where it pushes their learning a little bit forward. There’s really good ways to use that chunk of the time that normally we just sat there.
Jon Orr: Then the practice can happen still in that time slot, like you can still practice and then keep going. Like way Kyle said before is that the consolidation kind of comes at the end. Instead of stand by the door time, instead of practice time, this for us often times lately has been a note, has been where we consolidate the efficient strategies that we came out, which is totally connected to the learning goal, happens at the end. Sometimes we just call this the real flip classroom. It’s not the flip classroom with the videos where we watch the night before and come in, like that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about flipping the model of what a classroom time should look like. And the note for us happens more at the end where we consolidate those strategies. Before it was always happening at the beginning and we were just telling them the strategies instead of letting those strategies come out.
Jon Orr: I know I’ve given a whole bunch of stuff right there, it’s kind of a summary of a whole whack of ideas and also what we’ve been talking about tonight. I just wanted you to imagine this clock that Andrew kind of always put down, something visual for me to think about of how I kind of structure that. And I would encourage you to like, and people listening, draw a circle and section off pieces of your time with your students to see what do you value in your classroom and where do you want that to fit in. And you can map it out that way. I think that’s a good starting point for us to think about, remind ourselves what we should be putting into your practice.
Rob Baier: You know it’s funny because as you were talking about, it’s starting to come back to me that maybe I had seen it at some point, but I forgot where I saw it because it’s been a little while. Maybe that’s why as I was trying to help develop what these sample block days would look like I was trying to limit the check homework time, and the direct instruction. I was actively trying to do that without remembering where I got that from. That happens a lot. I mean I’m sure you guys forget more than what you know sometimes, and then as it starts to pop back up you’re like, oh yeah, I did see that at one point, why haven’t I been using that? So thank you for that.
Kyle Pearce: No, for sure, for sure. As Jon was talking there I was sort of in my mind kind of organizing some of my own thoughts about this idea. We were so happy when you reached out to us about just talking about like hey, let’s just have a chat about what could an effective math block look like. And that’s the key word, it’s always like could or might. It’s going to be flexible, right. And in our district, at Greater Essex anyway in my district, Jon’s a neighboring district, our program team has spent a lot of time, in particular Yvette Lehman and Andrew Lewis-Longmuir, have spent a lot of time really trying to breakdown for an elementary classroom what that effective math block might look and sound like. For me, I think one of the big stumbling blocks we can run into, especially when we’re trying to shift our practice and utilize some of these great resources that are out there, is trying to decide where those resources best fit and trying to make sure that we don’t pigeon hole the resources as only for certain pieces.
Kyle Pearce: For Jon and I we have our three part framework. We always talk about sparking curiosity, fueling sense making, and igniting teacher moves or igniting our next moves. My wonder is, I see this happen quite a bit, I know it happened for me and I know it happened with Jon, is that you find this new resource and the thing that draws you to a specific resource might be the fact that kids are going to lean in, right. Like it’s something that’s curious, you know that it’s something that’s interesting, kids might enjoy, it’s going to engage them. I guess it’s like now I try to watch for that, that we don’t want to use a 3 Act Math task purely for engagement, we want to utilize a 3 Act Math task to get kids to lean in so that they can fuel sense making about a specific idea. So really for me it’s all about trying to make that connect somehow, with the exception of the initial warmup.
Kyle Pearce: So again like if it’s a number talk or if it’s a which one doesn’t belong, or whatever you’re choosing, maybe you have a rotation that you do. Maybe you do number talks three days a week and then Tuesdays you do something from either estimation 180 or something from which one doesn’t belong and then Thursday you might do a visual pattern. But at the end of the day if you’re working on patterning, why use visual patterns as a warmup when that could be the meat and potatoes of the lesson, right? The hard part is that we want easy answers as teachers. I know you being in your role as that district lead in mathematics, teachers are probably asking you sort of for like the magic framework. It has to be super flexible.
Kyle Pearce: In the show notes I will put a link to my district website where we have that flexible math block where we outline for our elementary teachers 100 minute block. That’s not happening everywhere, we promote the use of 100 minute block, but really the minimum is 300 minutes a week in Ontario from grade K through 8, or grade 1 through 8 I should say. But we really try to push this idea that hey, try to commit 100 minutes if you can a day and this is what that block could look like.
Kyle Pearce: And then something you mentioned earlier that I think is worth mentioning, or at least letting you share a little bit of your perspective on it, is the idea of learning centers or stations and my guess is that the intent there is that students can get some purposeful practice while doing stations and while that’s going on a teacher can pull small group and do some more targeted intervention with certain students. Not just with the same group of students every day, but actually going through the class and actually working small group with different students. That’s something that I was not effective at doing in my high school classroom, but when I get back into the classroom that’s going to definitely be something that I’m going to build in when I have that time for kids to practice. It’s going to be intentional time for me to pull small groups and really try to better understand where students are.
Kyle Pearce: So I’m wondering what does that look like or sound like to you? Is that something that’s popular in the districts you’re working? Is pulling small groups and using stations or is it only certain grade levels, your K through 5 teachers maybe or something along those roads? What’s your thoughts for where that might fit into an effective math block?
Rob Baier: So it’s actually extremely popular all throughout the 25 districts I work with. And then I work with a few districts that are outside of our area too that it’s extremely popular. What I often try to navigate through is making sure that they understand it’s a very flexible time. That often times they think stations, go sit in whatever station and after a handful of minutes or whatever, time’s up, time to go to your next station, you’re going to be turning all this in to me. That’s like how it always used to be, but it can be a little bit more flexible than that. Especially with what’s in those stations.
Rob Baier: So for like the younger grades they’re always talking about the kids are struggling with number sense and how can we build this number sense and when do we have time for that? And I said, “Well, in your stations, in your centers. You could have a subitizing station where you’re building number sense and working with base 10 blocks. Or having the kids play dominoes and subitizing that. Maybe you rotate that specific station, maybe some days it’s putting number sense and some days it’s problem solving through deductive reasoning.” I often tell them, I say we overthink this sometimes with those younger kids. We were trying to find the end all be all and trying to find some quick fix. Kids are struggling with deductive reasoning and I said okay, well, there’s this crazy game that’s call Guess Who? Maybe we could have one station where that one day the kids are playing Guess Who? and working through that. Or doing something that’s a modified version of Yahtzee where they’re subitizing adding numbers and building that number sense there.
Rob Baier: But then you also have a station that could be more of a remediation. There are a lot of online remediation tools that are very popular in our region right now and there’s two in particular that people are kind of gravitating towards. So I say when they get to this one station then they do some type of remediation gap filler tool and then you have one that’s more the practice for the day for tasks and through procedural fluency if that’s needed. And then you also the opportunity to pull small groups when needed. And that’s all with the younger kids.
Rob Baier: As they get older it looks very similar for the most part, other than that deductive reasoning with the Guess Who? and then like I wouldn’t do that with older kids because then they’re just going to play. We want to help them a little bit through tasks and through maybe performance tasks with 3 Act Math within the stations. So there’s this idea that came out through my work this past month. One of the districts I was working with, there’s a teacher that her stations, she has six stations a week and she does it weekly. What she tells the kids when it’s time to go to the stations they have 20 to 25 minutes for their stations for that week, and she’ll say, “Here are the stations. By Friday you must complete them all. So you’re working at your own pace and you must complete them all.” And for the kids that need a little bit extra support, she may limit some of theirs and say, “Look, you don’t have to do them all,” and she brings them in and she works with those kids a little bit more in more of like an intense, like a tier two type through the NTSS or RTI or whatever it’s called nationally.
Rob Baier: So that’s an idea that I think I really like because it allows students to have the choice of you know what today I want to get this part done and I have like 20 minutes to really dive into it. And they’re tasks that aren’t going to take two or three minutes there. The tasks or activities or problem solving things that the kids can really dive into. So I really am starting to like that idea with middle school kids. That district all the kids have Chromebooks so they don’t always physically move to an area. They can work together and they pull things up on Google Classroom where they’re able to work on things on Google Classroom that maybe it’s a video that she recorded on like a little mini lesson that might help reinforce the skill that was taught that day. I’m really liking that idea in terms of middle school and high school. I think you can have some choice, but not that much choice with the younger kids.
Jon Orr: You know, Rob, what I really love about conversations like we’re having right now, and we’ve had some of these before, is that you comment and we wanted to chat about a particular struggle that you had and you shared that with us, which was quite brave of you to come here and do that. And then just through talking it’s like it’s not that Kyle and I have the answer. It always seems like we all come up with something great to share just from talking about it. You have shared so many great ideas of like what you want those classrooms to look like. It’s pretty amazing that just from speaking about it with us and you to us and us to you and we learned so much from you. It’s amazing to see that you can start to articulate what these things should look like. So I’m wondering, Rob, what would be your biggest takeaway from our conversation here today if you could think back on it?
Rob Baier: The biggest takeaway for me is I’m going to continue looking more into the 10 to 15 or 20 minutes mini lesson at the beginning. And what can that look like. You guys gave so many great ideas and so many great strategies on having the warmup sometimes being a standalone, sometimes it rolls right into your mini lesson. And diving more into that and to me that’s going to better what I do and turn better all the teachers that I’m working with. So I think that’s my biggest takeaway. Like I said earlier I was thinking about it, but there’s so many questions about the stations themselves, that’s been all my focus on the stations themselves and when you have an 80 or 90 minute block, how much homework, if any homework, should you be giving. And that’s the conversation that we always have. So you definitely sparked my curiosity on that and I want to dive more into that moving forward.
Kyle Pearce: Awesome, awesome. We really hope that we can check in with you like nine, maybe 12 months from now and just kind of see where you’re at along this journey because I think as we think this process through and we get a better understanding of what that might look like and sound like, it makes it a little easier for us to try to help others shift because then we can help them frame things a little bit, or maybe make it a little bit more clear. But it is a very complex situation. Not complicated, but just complex in that there are so many factors that we have to consider when we’re planning our math block. It’s really difficult to say there’s one right way.
Kyle Pearce: The one thing that I think we all can agree with is that everyone is trying to make an effort to kind of move away from this idea that I’m going to stand up at the front and I’m going to deliver all of the knowledge or bring all the knowledge to this particular room and really starting to help build more of this facilitator, this community of math learners. And being able to take what kids are saying, and when I say kids I mean teenagers as well in our secondary classrooms, taking what they’re saying, hearing their student voice, and then trying to take that and help make some connections. Really that’s, I think, what our biggest purpose is, is taking what they’re saying and helping them make some sense of it, right. It’s hard work, but I’m sure that you’re going to make some serious progress with the teachers you’re working with as you take this conversation, you do some reflection, and hopefully we can have you back on and share where you’re at and what the next steps might be.
Rob Baier: Absolutely. I’d love to.
Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. Awesome stuff. So we want to thank you for joining us here, Rob. We hope you have a great evening.
Rob Baier: Hey, thank you both. Thank you very much. I loved it.
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 that new learning so it doesn’t fade away like footprints in the sand we must reflect on what we’ve learned. An excellent way to ensure this learning sticks is to reflect and create a plan for yourself to take action on something that you’ve learned right here in this very episode.
Jon Orr: A great way to hold yourself accountable is to write it down or even better share it with a friend or your partner or other colleagues or in the staff room. Or with the math moment maker community by commenting on the show notes page or tagging @makemathmoments on Twitter or other social media, or in our free private Facebook group Math Moment Makers K-12.
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Kyle Pearce: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode54. That’s makemathmoments.com/episode54. Well until next time I’m Kyle Pearce.
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