Episode #58: How We Started Math Council and Why You Should, Too!

Jan 6, 2020 | Podcast | 0 comments


Today we speak with Craig Guthrie and Brenda Delduca as they share their insights, wisdom and experience on starting up a math council in their school. Craig and Brenda both joined our very own Kyle Pearce among others in an international project with Canada and Norway. 

Stick with us as they’ll also share what they learned about the power of student voice from visiting schools in Norway and how they brought that learning back to their school.

You’ll Learn

  • EdTech will not be the saviour of your classroom. 
  • What we can learn from the student-teacher relationship in Norway. 
  • How including student voice will change your school and math classroom. 
  • What is math council and how can you start one in your school? 
  • What you need to consider when running a math council.
Start your school year off right by downloading the guide that you can save and print to share with colleagues during your next staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or just for your own reference!


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Brenda Del Duca: Well, I remember in the early math council days of, I say, Tecumseh Vista because that’s where it started, but the importance of math coaches in the classroom because some students thought they might feel more comfortable with a student helping them than their teacher. And so, I think it was just hearing from our students things that they thought would help students feel more comfortable learning math and-

Jon Orr: You’re listening to Craig Guthrie and Brenda Del Duca share their insights, wisdom and experience on starting up a math council in their school. Craig and Brenda both joined our very own, Kyle Pearce, among others in an international project with Canada and Norway.

Kyle Pearce: Stick with us as they’ll share what they learned about the power of student voice from visiting schools in Norway and how they brought that learning back to our school, Tecumseh Vista Academy. Cue up that music.

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 Math Moment Makers worldwide who want to build and deliver math lessons that spark engagement …

Jon Orr: Fuel learning …

Kyle Pearce: And ignite teacher action. Jon, I’m super excited for this episode because we get to enjoy my friends and colleagues in a fantastic episode about student voice. Are you ready for this?

Jon Orr: Of course, Kyle. Of course, I am also excited to chat with our good friends. Before we get to our discussion with Brenda and Craig, we want to share with you the great learning and reflections that are happening after teachers are listening to the podcast. It’s amazing to us to hear these reviews. It’s comments like this one from Rose that fuels us to keep making these episodes …

Kyle Pearce: Inspiring. It is so amazing to hear so many different people with different experiences. I can’t wait for the online workshop. Counting down the days. Thank you both for doing this great work.

Jon Orr: We absolutely get supercharged when we read a review like this one. It’s amazing to us that we’re helping teachers here like Rose change her classroom routines.

Kyle Pearce: Before we get into this talk with Brenda and Craig, we are super excited to share another professional learning opportunity for the Math Moment Maker community as we get geared up like Rose is for the online workshop coming later this month.

Jon Orr: In our brand new webinar, we will be unpacking how to turn your textbook into a curiosity machine by applying the Make Math Moments three-part framework, including sparking curiosity with the curiosity path.

Kyle Pearce: So, be sure to get yourself registered for one or more of the webinar dates that we have available by visiting makemathmoments.com/webinar.

Jon Orr: So, while we encourage you to have a look at the webinar signup page at makemathmoments.com/webinar, toss in the dates in your calendar. Never fear if your schedule changes as we will email you the replay link after the last webinar is delivered.

Kyle Pearce: Fantastic. This is a free webinar experience, so make sure to check it out. And we also want to take this moment to give you a quick heads up that our online workshop Making Math Moments That Matter has just opened for registration.

Jon Orr: We run this online workshop twice a year. Registration is open now and closing on Friday, January 31st. You can learn more about how you can get involved and access this amazing professional development opportunity in your own home at makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop.

Kyle Pearce: If you’re listening after the January 31st, 2020 registration deadline, you can still head to makemathmoments.com/online workshop to join the waiting list in order to get notified for your next opportunity to participate.

Jon Orr: That’s makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop.

Kyle Pearce: And now let’s get onto our talk with my good friends and colleagues, Brenda and Craig. Hey, Hey, Hey. We are super pumped for today. We have two wonderful guests on the podcast today. We have Craig Guthrie and Brenda Del Duca. Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. How are you doing this evening?

Craig Guthrie: I am doing wonderful guys. Thanks for having us on. We are really looking forward to this opportunity to spread the word about math council.

Brenda Del Duca: And it’s with much excitement that we get to reflect together on this amazing journey that we had with our leader, our colleague, our friend, Paul Bisson, with this transformational work focused on student voice agency and action began through and ford mathematics pedagogy and learning.

Kyle Pearce: Fantastic. That’s awesome. And I’m so happy that you mentioned Paul. I know Paul’s name is going to come up throughout this episode, but before we dive in too deeply, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves? Maybe we’ll go back to Craig. Craig Guthrie, tell us a little bit more about your background, where are you coming to us from and tell us just a little bit about yourself.

Craig Guthrie: Well, I’ve been an intermediate teacher for 22 years now and about seven or eight years ago, I transferred to Tecumseh Vista when it opened and I had the pleasure of working with Kyle Pearce.

Kyle Pearce: What? This guy right here.

Craig Guthrie: That guy right there. And not only that, I’m working with them today in a different environment. So, I think he’s following me. Yeah. So, Kyle convinced me to kind of try out a TLLP, which is a Teacher Learning and Leadership Program sponsored by Ontario Teachers Federation and the Ministry of Education. And lucky for me, I received the grant. And my proposal at the time was all about iPad use. And I received enough iPads for one-to-one use in the classroom. And I was able to convince Paul to let me teach nothing but math. And that’s when I really kind of reached out to Kyle and said, “You know what, I’m teaching all the seventh, eighth math here.” He was teaching all the grade nine. So, we kind of did a lot of sharing and learning together and that’s really kind of where I went on the math trajectory. I just kind of got ahold of the math and ran with it.

Jon Orr: Awesome, Craig. Thanks for sharing that. And we’re going to dive into that a little bit later. Brenda, could you do the same? Could you fill us in on a little bit of your background? What do you teach in and maybe even just a little bit, we’ll get Craig to do this too, but how you got into teaching?

Brenda Del Duca: So, this is my 29th year teaching. I have had 18 years in the classroom. This is my 19th year as a classroom teacher. And I’ve taught mostly kindergarten through to grade six, all parts of the curriculum. I had 10 years in program in a variety of roles. Student work study was a role that really impacted me the most and impacted who I am today and really helped impact the work we did together on math council. That’s where I did get to work with Craig and I met Craig and I met Kyle at Tecumseh Vista in the role of student work study and my last program, I was a math coach. But after 10 years in program, I decided that it was time to return to the classroom to try to put some of this theory into continuous practice.

Kyle Pearce: That’s fantastic. Thanks so much for sharing. And I can remember just like yesterday when you were doing some student work study work at both Craig and my former school, a K through 12 school Tecumseh Vista Academy. And I remember being quite nervous someone was going to come into my classroom and try to document student voice and I’m so happy that we had that experience because it really has made me change the way I look at teaching and really just made me realize that I knew so little about my students.

Kyle Pearce: So, we are going to dive deeper into this. So, you have a journey behind you. Both you and Craig are tenured teachers and I say you have this experience in this wealth of knowledge and yet we’re still talking about some of the things in the past and there’s still such a journey to still explore. So, I want to shift before we forget, we want to ask like we do every time. We’ll start with Craig. We want to go to your most memorable moment from math class. Now while this can be as a teacher, oftentimes we try to get you, if you can remember way back to when you were a student, what do you think of when you think about math class? Let’s start off with Craig and then we’ll shift to Brenda.

Craig Guthrie: Well, I can remember in grade 11, I had a teacher that used to make you stand up at the board whether you knew how to do a question or not and basically humiliate you in front of the class when you weren’t able to answer the question. And I can remember just being terrified of going to that class. I wasn’t a bad math student. I was middle of the road, but that process just turned me totally off of math.

Jon Orr: I can definitely see that Craig, and you’re not alone in that. And we’ve said this on the podcast before too, is that so many memories that people share here on this podcast are about standing up in front of people and doing math at the board or sometimes it’s around the world or sometimes it’s mad minutes. It’s often these timed-base tests in front of people and it’s amazing to see how that practice that seems so common when we’re in school has totally, totally shaped people’s views and total experiences of math class, sometimes good but sometimes bad and it leaves like Craig you just mentioned that kind of a bad taste in your mouth. Brenda, we shift to you and could you let us know what would be your memorable math moment?

Brenda Del Duca: Well, like Craig, mine happened in high school as well and I think as an elementary learner, understanding was just central to math for me and I just thought that was normal until entering high school and then each year subsequently understanding seem to be less important and memorizing seemed to be what you needed to do as it became more about rules and procedures. And then that became confusing to me that I didn’t understand what I was doing, but I just had to memorize what formula to use and when. And since it was based on memorization, I would often then forget once the test had happened and then I started to think maybe I’m not that good at math. And I started to question myself until I went to faculty of education.

Brenda Del Duca: I believe I was fortunate that I went to York University and central to their learning was the constructivist approach, the constructivist belief, which conceptual understanding is rooted within that and we have to learn how to use manipulatives to teach these higher order concepts to. So, I think then when I returned to that, when I had my own classroom, that’s what I tried to do, realizing that maybe I was valuing than the conceptual understanding a little more than the procedural because I didn’t value the procedure because of my high school experience.

Kyle Pearce: There’s so many people out there that whether they struggled with that memorization of steps and procedures or whether they actually were able to, oftentimes at the end you found these two groups of students, even though maybe their marks might show otherwise, oftentimes you still have these two groups that don’t feel confident because they don’t know why they know what they know.

Kyle Pearce: So, you have one group that maybe struggles with it and they feel like, well, I don’t know it because I can’t remember it. And then you have another group of students who they might be able to answer questions but they still don’t feel like a confidence, right? Like they don’t own the math, so they don’t actually feel all that confident in mathematics at the end. And I think that leads to quite a bit of the negative perception that students often have.

Jon Orr: And Brenda, I can’t help but think that you had that procedural kind of memory drilled in about what high school math which supposed to be or what math is supposed to be. And when you went to school to learn in your teacher’s college or in your university program to learn about conceptual understanding and how that was important, I’m wondering if it’s like that negative experience pushed you to go, I need to be able to understand. I need to be able to show this to my students better than I learned. I don’t know if you agree, but it helped you maybe become a teacher who focused on the conceptual understanding earlier in your career than say me or Kyle who did not have that aha moment until later in our careers where like we just focused on procedural for 10 years in teaching before we were like, no, actually we’re not helping our students.

Brenda Del Duca: I think so. But then I do think where does the procedural fit in? And I think it did help Craig and Kyle in our board or on the math task force and we had the math vision and with the math proficiencies that I’m sure you have within your board too, Jon, well, this ministry, right? But the procedural competence, it’s helping. And when reading that chapter in adding it up, I’ve only read that at one chapter. It’s helped me understand the placement of the procedural that it’s my understanding from reading that, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that we’d want to start with the conceptual and then introduce the procedural because if we start the other way, then it’s hard for kids to develop the conceptual because they just keep wanting to use the formula or the procedures. Is that true?

Kyle Pearce: I think you nailed it because once you have, let’s say a procedure memorized, it’s very difficult for us to sort of convince ourselves like our own minds that really care about the why, like when you already know something, you’re just kind of, I just know it to be true. I don’t know why it’s true, but it’s just something that I’ve always known and it definitely makes it so much more challenging for sure.

Jon Orr: It’s like that mindset that if you’re going to start with procedural, you’re imagining math to be this, I need to get this done kind of mentality instead of this understanding or uncovering bigger ideas. It’s kind of like, let’s just get this done. Let’s move on. Let’s apply this procedure to solve this problem. Yup. Check our answers, moving on, instead of the actual mathematics, the exploration, the discoveries, the hypothesis part and thinking about making conjectures and sometimes proofs, which is so much mathematics that we want kids to do in that you can do through conceptual understanding and building of conceptual understanding instead of going straight to procedures.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Awesome stuff. So, yeah, thank you so much for sharing that memorable moment or moments I should say because Craig and Brenda have shared there, so I’m going to ship back to Craig here because earlier on, you mentioned this TLLP, this teacher learning and leadership program through the Ontario Teachers Federation and the Ontario Ministry of Education. Like imagine that, the teacher union and the ministry of education are working together just like they should, which is fantastic.

Kyle Pearce: Help us understand a little more about you mentioned that the project was focused in on iPads and in math and your own classroom, but I want to go a little bit deeper. Like, what did that project lead to that we’re really here to talk about tonight? How did this thing get moving and where does it take us?

Craig Guthrie: Well, one of the interesting things that I noticed and you noticed too, when we did the technology in the classroom that we thought the technology was going to be the end all be all and solve all our math problems. And we quickly realized that that wasn’t the case. We’re really no farther ahead than when before we had the technology. So, that was one thing that came out of the TLLP in terms of me for my own personal learning. But the big thing that came out of the TLLP was the NORCAN Project and NORCAN is a partnership between Alberta, Ontario, and Norway. And it is built on the model of a TLLP. And Kyle and I were fortunate enough to be invited to be a part of this project along with St. John Pereyma in Oshawa. And we really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

Craig Guthrie: So, we would travel to, we met with our partners in BAMF and got to know all these Norwegian teachers and all these Alberta teachers, which was super cool at the time because I had never been out of Essex County and met other teachers. So, this for me was like amazing. Then we went to Norway and that’s where things kind of really began to roll for us. And Paul Bisson, who came to Norway with us, he saw the big picture. He was a visionary. And while we were in Norway, we had a presentation by the president of the Norway student union. I believe his name was Christopher Hansen. And Paul was absolutely floored that Norway had a student union and this individual represented all the students in Norway and would actually sit with the minister of education and sit down and talk about student issues in terms of their education.

Craig Guthrie: So, when we came back to Windsor, Paul had this big idea and it was kind of like a perfect scenario who was myself and Kyle in the building. We had Brenda in the building doing student work study. We had some funds through this project and we had Paul. And Paul announced to us one day that he wanted to start this math council and we had no idea, at least I had no idea when he brought it up what the heck a math council was and he kept talking about wanting to elicit this student voice. And Brenda, maybe you want to chime in here because I know he had some discussions with you about student voice before we really got that ball rolling.

Brenda Del Duca: Right. When he came back, he was so inspired after hearing math student union president and what they talked about in Norway relating to student voice and what the students did, simultaneously back at our board, we had just started the math task force as Paul was talking about sharing what his learning from Norway and wanting to bring student voice into the NORCAN project. Then math council was kind of just formed of instead of bringing only adults to the meeting, educators, the math task force had educators, elementary and secondary, university and college professors, trustees, that Paul thought, what if we bring students and students and their teachers and what if the students and their teachers actually talk about math pedagogy and math learning.

Brenda Del Duca: And then Paul and I started to, and I can’t remember Craig, we all reflected, do we not Craig and Kyle, on Michael Fielding’s work, the one quote I think really guided what we were going to do in math council where Michael Fielding in 2004 says, but so far as I am aware there are no spaces physical or metaphorical where staff and students meet one another as equals as genuine partners in the shared understanding of making meaning of their work together. And I think that really pushed every decision that we made together. Would you agree?

Kyle Pearce: You know what, like even backing up and just sort of mentioning like for me I remember, as you’re telling this story like I remember and Craig sort of already alluded to it that, Craig and I were there and I recall our focus being so in our class like how we were going to shift teaching in our classroom, like had no idea that there was something that could be bigger than let’s say our 30 students or in high school our 90 students throughout the day. To us it was so much more narrow and Paul came back with this much larger vision.

Kyle Pearce: And I definitely remember the quote, but I definitely didn’t know it early on. That was something that I think you and Paul both … You were both on the same page. It was like right away you knew probably based on your student work study work and your efforts and all of your research behind that, that you both like kind of could see it. Whereas Craig and I were sort of on the outside and we were just like, I guess we’ll try it and see where it goes. And we were so happy that we did for certain.

Craig Guthrie: And that’s exactly what it was. It was just like, okay, we’ll go along with this because it’s Paul and we would have done anything for him. But what it led to was absolutely extraordinary and that actually led to you talk about some of the enjoyable math moments. This was some of my most enjoyable math moments for me. What we did here was groundbreaking professionally for me.

Brenda Del Duca: For me, it was too like as a student work study teacher and since I work with both you, Craig and Kyle, that to me as a student work study teacher, student voice only meant using students as data sources and I felt like documenting their voice was really including their voice enough I guess or what more could we possibly do. And the student voice monograph, the capacity building series that I think really pushed our thinking and I think is what excited us all that we could move beyond the continuum of expression maybe to shared leadership as I remember some of our students talking about, right Craig, that they even felt math council got to the furthest part on that continuum. So, I think that was with that excitement that Paul really wanted saw, the vision for this work.

Jon Orr: It’s very interesting for sure. I want to back up just a little bit like you guys have been talking about student voice in class and math council and I think I want to make a few things more clear for myself but also for the people listening. It sounds like Norway had this student union, which you said before had kind of meant that it led you guys and them to be like all of a sudden this group of people that was including students and educators deciding on what? Like can you guys remember back what you saw in Norway? Can you tell me a little bit more about the student union and what was going on there?

Craig Guthrie: Kyle? Maybe you can chime in here because I actually ended up having to go home sick that day. I landed in Norway super sick and I survived the morning. It didn’t make the afternoon.

Jon Orr: I guess I’m imagining like the kids and the teachers are deciding on math lessons or are they deciding on how to teach math? What was going on in Norway?

Kyle Pearce: I remember looking around the room and actually, Bill Toews, who was my former administrator on the secondary side of Tecumseh Vista Academy. I remember him kind of looking over at me and saying like, “Who is this?” Like this is a student. It was a high school student. I think he was in the 12th grade at the time. But he was leading the student union of the entire country of Norway. And essentially, he was the voice at the table when policies were up for debate. It could be anything from like issues within a school where the student councils at each school would put forward issues that they were having and things that they wanted to change. And then really it was all about coming to the table and essentially like negotiating to ensure that, hey, like now I think about it, I think it makes perfect sense that you would do that because the whole reason we go to work every day is for students. Shouldn’t we have their voice there?

Kyle Pearce: And the number one thing I think most of us thought before the student speaker actually came up to speak in front of the NORCAN group was like, oh, if there’s a student union, they’re going to want things like, no lates policy. Like you did come into class anytime you want or sign out anytime or do whatever you want. But it wasn’t about that. Like it honestly was like you almost got rid of the silly stuff because it was like you actually gave them a voice to do something meaningful and really try to help students become more activists in their communities and advocate for their own education. So, to me it was mind blowing.

Kyle Pearce: And I know for Paul, it was like his whole thought process changed when he heard this student who was almost like it clicked for him. Like he was thinking about these ideas, but he didn’t know how he could do it. Like unfortunately, we’ll never know. Paul left us too soon, a few years back, and we all miss him greatly. But just to think of the way that he made us and the staff at Tecumseh Vista as well as others in the NORCAN project, the way he got us to think differently about what was possible in education in particular, but specifically in math class was really just astonishing.

Craig Guthrie: And going back to the union president, you noticed it too, in the classrooms, there was a different dynamic between the students and the teachers in Norway. There was less that authoritarian approach, like students called their teachers by their first name. It was really a productive relationship and you can kind of see how that whole system was built on that.

Kyle Pearce: For sure. For sure. I definitely noticed that. I remember actually, and this is just popping into my mind, when I go on school tours, we went to a bunch of different schools in Alberta and I remember specifically going to Olds, Alberta and getting a checkout how things were there, and they had some really cool programs going on and we’ve been to prima And Ontario and like great things going on in all these schools. But something different about Norway, like I would go off and wander off from the group because I tend to just I just follow my nose and see what’s going on. And I walked into one classroom and this was about a 10th grade class or year, whatever they would call that. I can’t recall now if it was 10th grade or if there was like year, two of high school or whatever it was.

Kyle Pearce: And I walked in and I’m looking around and the kids like are kind of working but like kind of social at the same time. Like it was pretty lax in there. And I kind of looked around and I was like, “Well, where’s your teacher?” And the one student looks and he goes, “You’re from Canada?” And I’m like, “Yeah. I’m like one of the people from Canada.” He’s like, “Oh, my teacher’s with you today.” And I’m like, “Oh well, like where’s your supply teacher?” They’re like, “What?” I’m like, “Well, where’s your substitute teacher?” And they’re like looking at me sideways. It’s like there’s no teacher today. They’re with you, silly. And I was like, oh, all right. I guess that’s okay. And I just kind of walked out. So, there was just no teacher today and they just had some stuff to do.

Jon Orr: They’re running their own show that day.

Kyle Pearce: They were running their own show and it was really cool too because it was actually a student up at the board actually working with a small group and they were kind of huddled around. He was trying to and they’re still joking and doing what kids do, but at the same time they were actually working on the math and the one student was actually trying to like assist their peers. There was nobody standing on desks or hanging from the lights or climbing out the window like we all imagine. And sometimes I wonder about just how little trust we have in our students and I get it, lawsuits and all of these things that we have here in North America. But to me that was just one of those moments where, boom, like such a different experience.

Kyle Pearce: So, I want to keep going a little bit further here because something that came out was this vision Paul had of math council. Both Craig and I were kind of like, we don’t know what’s going on. We’re just going to follow Paul and Brenda and we’re just going to see how this thing goes. I want to shift to Brenda now. Brenda, can you like help describe what is math council and what’s going on there? What would this look like if someone was to walk into the school tomorrow and a math council was going on?

Brenda Del Duca: Well, I think Craig, you and I, we spoke about this too, but maybe this even kind of goes to like if someone was going to want it to do this, that these might be the components. Like kids are doing math with their teachers. We’re doing math. We’re learning together side by side, elbow to elbow. We’re engaging in the math learning. We’re collecting some data from students have collected it from their classmates, from the school. They’re coming back and they’re puzzling over it.

Brenda Del Duca: What does this data mean to us? And then what can we do? And I think that’s kind of like the marriage of student voice agency for action, right, that when together we’re collectively thinking about what can we do together make a difference. So, as long as we’re doing the math, collecting data, hustling over it, making a plan, I think that’s a math council.

Jon Orr: Brenda, when you say you’re collecting data, are students collecting assessment data or are you talking about investigating in a math problem and they’re kind of brainstorming and strategizing and coming up with a plan? Is that what you mean?

Brenda Del Duca: So, correct me if I’m wrong, Craig and Kyle, but in math councils I had been a part of since, we’re collecting some data of things that we’re wondering about, like attitudinal data, so they’re going out and asking their students, their classmates, their peers questions.

Craig Guthrie: Yeah.

Brenda Del Duca: That’s how we started. Right? How do you feel about math?

Craig Guthrie: Yup. That’s exactly where we started.

Brenda Del Duca: Was that the first question? So, then it is those responses that I feel at first our students are well-equipped to provide answers for. Because Paul, I think when he asked teachers to bring students to math council at that time, I think we picked grades six, seven and eight teachers. And we asked I think for three to four representatives, but everyone kind of was able to do what they wanted. And you could decide which students you were bringing for various reasons and maybe you can talk about the students you chose to bring, Craig, how you chose them.

Craig Guthrie: In hindsight, I think I made a mistake in who I chose and that’s because I didn’t really see the vision. So, I chose my best students. The ones that ace every test, have no problem participating in class, have no problem speaking in front of a group. And while they were great, now that I look back, I probably wouldn’t have chose them because that’s not necessarily the voice that we were trying to elicit from this. Like we were really trying to get to those reluctant learners.

Craig Guthrie: We actually started math council with this video. You’ve probably seen it. I think it was a Super Bowl commercial and it was about a cat that would lie around the house all day and act like cat. And all of a sudden one day he decided he wanted to be a dog and he started running around doing all these dog things and you realize how great the world was now that he was a dog.

Craig Guthrie: So, our model kind of came to be like, let’s be more dog. So, let’s convert those cats into dogs. And that’s kind of how we ran with it. And just going back, Brenda, we were talking about teachers and students working side by side. We really tried to eliminate that authoritarian barrier. Like I’m your teacher and you’re my student kind of thing. Like Paul would go as far as to say, you know what, we’re on a first name basis here, so you’re calling me Paul. Of course, no kid would take him up on it.

Brenda Del Duca: Unless they were in Toronto, they did.

Craig Guthrie: Right, in Toronto. But not back home.

Brenda Del Duca: No.

Craig Guthrie: But it was really meant to create that partnership, like I’m learning along with you. And the conversation was so incredibly valuable. I mean, my big takeaway at this goes back to one of my big math moments was when I was sitting with one of the girls and she looked at me. Out of the blue, she looked at me and said, “Mr. Guthrie, no more sports questions.” And I’m like, “What are you talking about? Everybody loves sports.” And she said, “I don’t know anything about sports. I’ve never watched sports. I don’t care about the sports questions.” And that really hit me because for years, I thought I was being really creative with all these football Pythagorean theory questions.

Kyle Pearce: Every math question is a sport question, right Craig?

Craig Guthrie: Yeah, pretty much.

Kyle Pearce: Craig was getting up every morning excited to go to work and thinking all the kids were too, and guess what? Not true.

Craig Guthrie: Well, I said to her, I go, “Well, what would you like to see?” She says, “I’m into the arts.” And I said, “Well, we have a problem because I’m not into the arts.” So, we actually would sit down, but once a week we’d sit down and she would actually craft some questions that I could give to the class. So, what we would put up, like I’m just using Pythagorean theory again, I can put up the sports questions for whoever wants that or I’d put up an art-related question for whoever wants that. So, for me that was a huge eye opener.

Kyle Pearce: Right. So, it sounds like some of that data, so, it was great to get that clarification that it wasn’t like collecting data to see who could improve their math mark or who’s improving in a certain concept. But it was more about again that student voice and really just analyzing like how students were perceiving math class and what did they like or what didn’t they like. And so, obviously these sports questions aren’t the end all be all. Mr. Guthrie is one thing that you got. Are there any others? And maybe we’ll go to Brenda here if you recall of any. And then we’ll go back to Craig to hear some of the others. Like, what were some other things that popped out here that you thought were noteworthy? Maybe they were surprising or just important for the group in that particular math council to actually hear.

Brenda Del Duca: Well, I remember in the early math council days of I say Tecumseh Vista because that’s where it started, but the importance of math coaches in the classroom because some students thought they might feel more comfortable with a student helping them than their teacher. And so, I think it was just hearing from our students things that they thought would help students feel more comfortable learning math. And as I was reflecting on this, preparing for this podcast tonight, it made me think of John Hattie’s work and when he talks about know thy impact.

Brenda Del Duca: And I really think that it is through the eyes of our students, through the voices of our students that we know what our impact is as educators and if we need to make a change, shouldn’t we ask our kids what that change might be? And I think John Hattie’s earlier work and I think Craig, you have a story to share about this too. But when he would talk about feedback to teacher as being a really impactful form of feedback, I never really understood it when I first read his first book. But through math council, I gained understanding how them telling us what matters to them, what makes a difference is a powerful form of feedback.

Jon Orr: Yeah, it makes so much sense that, and I know that joking with Craig and thinking about sports questions, but it makes so much sense that we really need to gather the feedback not just about math learning but about who our kids are and what’s impacting them the most. And, I think this idea that you guys have brought back from Norway and Paul’s vision on what it should look like in your school is so eye opening. Because I think that we get narrow focused like tunnel vision on like let’s amp up math and then we don’t actually stop and ask the kids how can we help you better as a group or as a school?

Jon Orr: Because the interesting thing is it’s like teachers ask students all the time, how can I help you better? Like you did with that student Craig, or how can I help you understand this math part better. But to go to the lengths that you guys have done on structurally on the system, the schoolwide policies or the schoolwide structures to help those students. Is there anything else that popped out of this that you learned from the students that made changes in your school or your building?

Speaker 5: Yeah, a couple of things. One, students across the board hate worksheets. I think that’s all good that came out loud and clear. But one of the big things that came out of it and this kind of floored me was the students wanted immediate feedback and keep in mind, we’re going back five years. I think we’re doing a much better job with it today. But to hear grade six students say, “I want to know exactly what I’m doing wrong and how I can get better at it.” And for me that kind of led me down that standards-based assessment, no grades assessment kind of classroom because that’s what the students were saying. And I was surprised. Like I always thought know they were content to get whatever percent on their test. But no, they actually wanted the feedback.

Kyle Pearce: Well, it’s funny, Craig, because you know when I think about just my experience, Jon and I both coming from the secondary panel, from the high school side of things, I would always think to myself, my kids aren’t doing anything with the feedback and Jon and I have had a lot of questions about that, especially after some of our assessment workshops that we’ve done. I wonder if it’s just like when you go year after year after year with getting the feedback so late into the future, like I’ll get to that. I’ll mark that and get it back through.

Jon Orr: Or do just check marks.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Or it’s just check marks and I don’t get the feedback that I actually need and it’s not timely, then it’s almost like kids eventually will be content because they just know it’s not going to change but yet, here through the student voice, it kind of allows that to come to the surface so that at least we have this awareness. It doesn’t mean that we have like the fixed today, but it’s something that we can focus on as a team to try to move forward to.

Kyle Pearce: So, I want to keep going here and I know there’s going to be people listening and I know in some people’s minds, they’ve got like a vision of what this could look like, sound like. And Craig, you and I actually had the opportunity recently to chat about this because there’s actually many schools in our district are kind of like tinkering with this idea. Some have math councils off the ground. Others are like they’re kicking the tires trying to figure out whether this is right for them.

Kyle Pearce: Are there any like go-to strategies or maybe tips for someone who might be listening right now and they’re like, “Wow, this sounds like something that would be amazing to do because of that amazing amount of information that I’m going to get from my students.” Like what might be some of those? Maybe we’ll go to Brenda first, like something that you’d say like maybe a tip, a strategy, a suggestion and then we can go to Craig and we can go back and forth a few times.

Brenda Del Duca: So, one thing that Craig and I spoke about earlier is we caution against replication, right? Because I think sometimes when people try to replicate exactly what we did at Tecumseh Vista and what we’ve done at other schools, then I think it lacks the meaning and the deep understanding. And then you’re not going to have the same impact that you would have if you iterated this or if you innovated this or adapted this. And so, as I said earlier, and please disagree if you think so. But I do think doing math, collecting data, puzzling over the data, taking action, if you have those things with students and teachers sitting at the table together, I think you’ve got a pretty powerful math council.

Jon Orr: Yeah. It’s such an insightful tip for teachers is that just because it worked exactly the way you’ve done it at your school doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get the exact same results if you plop that somewhere else. So much of it I think we think that we adopt a procedure or a routine that we see from teachers or from other classrooms or even you see things online and you’re like, “I’m going to do that in my classroom,” and you’re like, it didn’t go exactly as is. And it’s like because you have different people, you are different and schools are different. So, it’s very insightful that don’t take something and copy it. Try to build it and make it your own. So, thanks Brenda. That’s a great tip, for sure.

Brenda Del Duca: I forget that. Did I say the last part? So, like Craig and I, we discussed this and like just trusting in that process. Like sometimes we would go into those early math councils and we would have an agenda and we’re like hoping for the best and I think that’s what you just do. You trust and then you’re amazed at the results.

Kyle Pearce: It’s interesting too because like those words came up when Craig and I were discussing recently because that is something that we naturally tend to do is kind of go to while they did it this way, so we’re going to do it that way. Or coming in like too structured where it’s like we’re going to do exactly this and then we’re going to do that and we’re going to do that and it’s all going to happen in this timeline whereas we need to, I love how you said it, just trust that process.

Kyle Pearce: Craig, can you build on that? Is there any other ideas that are popping into your mind right now? And I know this is fresh in your mind because you are actively helping some schools get math council off the ground. So, what are some other things that we should be considering?

Craig Guthrie: I am, and actually, I probably should have mentioned that in my current role, I am a consultant with the school board now. I do have the opportunity now to go out into schools and get these math councils off the ground. And I’ve seen dozen math councils now and not one of them looks the same. It’s different for every building. Every building has their own needs. Every building has their own technical structure. So, again, like Brenda said, I really caution trying to copy what one school’s done. The school that I’m working with now actually has a scenario I haven’t seen where they have three, four teachers that are all free on the same period.

Craig Guthrie: And originally, the plan was that they would provide in school mass support, but somehow one of them got the idea like why don’t we get up this math council up and running? So, one teacher is going to take the students and the other three are going to go out and release the teachers so the teachers can come back to the table. Because the thing that is so important with a student voice is the idea that teachers are at the table and listening.

Jon Orr: So, it’s not like you present this list of things that the kids are looking for and they’re not in the same room and the teachers look at it somewhere else. And I’m like, yeah, yeah, yeah. Like these are not like these, but it’s done all together in the same room.

Craig Guthrie: Right. And those teachers that are there, like I think Brenda, I think you mentioned it earlier that you’re actually better off not even asking kids something than you are eliciting their opinion and then doing nothing about it. So, like I think you need a couple of teachers that are really going to champion the because in the building and are willing to set it up. But if you can get teachers and students at the table, I don’t think there’s any wrong way to do it.

Kyle Pearce: And is it fair to say Craig to that, this is something I’m wondering about maybe some challenges or some hurdles that people might have in their minds right now and they’re going, “Okay, this sounds great and all, but what about this?” And I’m wondering in my mind is like what if students come and they say like something that they don’t like that really is either really difficult to change or is something that really like structurally we can’t change. Like for example, I don’t like report cards. Like in Ontario, that’s something we have to do. It’s part of our mandate.

Kyle Pearce: So, I’m wondering like what would you do in that scenario if let’s say something like that were to come up or students say something like we don’t want to come to school on Fridays or whatever. Like just something that you know you can’t really change. How do you handle something like that? Maybe we’d go to Brenda for this one.

Brenda Del Duca: We’re having honest conversation going back to that Fielding quote, right? Like we are in a genuine partnership. So, we’re honest with the students too. It’s so funny because how many years now have we been doing this? When did this start?

Craig Guthrie: Five six years ago.

Brenda Del Duca: Right. I haven’t ever heard anybody, any students say something like that, but they may say something that we feel we can’t do. And I think we just face that honestly and say why we don’t believe we can do that. You know?

Craig Guthrie: In Norway, like those ridiculous situations never come up. I’ve never experienced it in any math council because would you sit down next to students and the students recognize that we’re partners in this, they take it serious. They realize that you know not doing report cards is a nonstarter.

Jon Orr: These are all amazing tips and I know that you guys were in this program but I did not realize now just until today, tonight that some of these awesome benefits that are coming out of what you guys have been doing in your school. If I’m a teacher also listening to this and they’re wondering how they can get started, what are some resources that you’ve used or you can point them to, to kind of keep going with this? Maybe some reading or websites or maybe something else. What resources can teachers go to right now to learn more?

Craig Guthrie: The one that really kind of got us started was the ministry’s Capacity Building Series document called Student Voice, Transforming Relationships from the Numeracy Secretariat. And that’s really what we kind of used. Some people went off and did a little more exploration and research into Student Voice from some of the professional research that was done. But as far as majority of the people in math council were concerned, that was the document we used.

Craig Guthrie: Brenda and I also wrote, we kind of documented the whole process as we went. And to be honest with you, I’m not a good documenter, Brenda. So, in hindsight I’m like, it’s amazing that we actually did document everything. So, we sat down and we wrote down, this is how we started. These are the resources we used and I’ve got that document I can share with you and you can feel free to send it out.

Brenda Del Duca: And the really great thing about that, right Craig, like we had the students in to and they layer their comments on top of this as well. So, again, we were really using that monograph to really push our thinking. We spoke about Fielding and two other researchers that really have guided my thinking on student voice agency and action are Dana Mitra, if I’m saying that right, M-I-T-R-A and Caroline Lodge and they’ve written a lot about student voice within the pedagogy of learning instead of just in the social constructs of school. So, really pushing us into teaching and learning conversations with our students. So, that has really guided some of our work too.

Jon Orr: Awesome. These are great resources. We are going to put all of this in the show notes, so thank you very much on that. Where can people learn more about you guys or where can people find you online? Like let’s say they are listening and they’re like, you know what, I want to reach out to Brenda. I want to ask her some questions. Where can people find you online, and Craig after.

Brenda Del Duca: I don’t have a large social presence. They’re welcome to email me or I’m on Twitter at Mrs. Del Duca.

Jon Orr: And Craig, where can people find you?

Craig Guthrie: Yeah. They can get ahold of me on Twitter @CraigGuthrie4, and as Brenda said, they can also email me.

Jon Orr: Fantastic. Fantastic. All right. One last question for both of you before we say goodbye and it is, if you could say one thing to Paul Bisson, someone who had such an influence on our NORCAN experience and now really how we think about teaching in general, but specifically teaching in the math classroom, what would it be? Let’s start with Craig.

Craig Guthrie: Well, I would like to thank Paul for being the best administrator that I’ve ever worked for. He provided me with many, many entertaining moments throughout my career. But the one thing that I really value about Paul is that he always pushed my thinking. He was never content with status quo. And I basically followed him along. Because I had so much respect for him, I thought of Paul is talking about this, then it must be right. And I learned so much from him.

Craig Guthrie: I still to this day go back to the last week we spent in Norway a week before he died and it was just the two of us in Norway in December when it gets dark at 4:00 and gets light at 10:00 in the morning. So, we spent a lot of time together in a tiny little hotel room and shared many discussions about life and everything. I really appreciate those times that I had with him.

Jon Orr: Thank you, Craig. That’s beautiful. How about Brenda?

Brenda Del Duca: Well, earlier in the month of the same month that he had passed away, I had heard an indigenous speaker speak and she said that her hope is for her grandchildren, she doesn’t have children yet, is that they feel such a sense of belonging wherever they go. They can show up as their whole self without feeling that they need to tuck parts of themselves away. And Paul Bisson, the moment I heard that I thought of Paul and that he always did that for me and anyone who was in their presence, his presence, and that really inspired me to grow and be the best person that I could be at that time because he always made me feel that I belonged.

Jon Orr: That’s beautiful. And I couldn’t agree more with that statement. I’m also going to share my thought in that really, Paul helped me, and this is Paul Bisson, who openly would say that he wasn’t comfortable with mathematics as a student. He even didn’t enjoy teaching it when he was teaching, but as an administrator, he found a way to open my eyes and so many other people’s eyes to how we could be better math learners, better math teachers. And he essentially opened me outside of my own classroom experience, my own practice. I wish I could thank him in person for that. So, he’s had such an impact on me and on so many people like Brenda and Craig here. And I’m just so happy that we were able to share a bit of his story through Brenda and Craig.

Jon Orr: So, again, I want to thank you both, Brenda Del Duca, Craig Guthrie. Thanks so much for joining us tonight on the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I hope we’ll be able to catch up with you sometime soon.

Brenda Del Duca: Thank you.

Craig Guthrie: Thank you.

Jon Orr: Take care guys.

Kyle Pearce: We want to thank Brenda and Craig again for spending some time with us to share their ideas and insights with us and you, the Math Moment Maker community.

Jon Orr: And again, we want to remind you about our brand new webinar coming up, where we’re going to be unpacking how to turn your textbook into a curiosity machine by applying the Make Math Moments Three-Part Framework, including sparking curiosity with the curiosity path.

Kyle Pearce: So, be sure to get yourself registered for one or more of the webinar needs available by visiting makemathmoments.com/webinar. While we encourage you to have a look at the webinar signup page at makemathmoments.com/webinar to toss in the dates into your calendar. Never fear if your schedule changes as we will email you the replay link after the last webinar is delivered.

Jon Orr: We also want to take this moment to give you a quick heads up that our online workshop, Making Math Moments That Matter has just opened for registration.

Kyle Pearce: We run the online workshop twice a year, so registration is now open, but we’ll close on Friday, January 31st. Learn more at makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop.

Jon Orr: If you’re listening after the January 31st, 2020 deadline for the workshop, you can still head to makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop to join the waiting list in order to get notified of your next opportunity to participate.

Kyle Pearce: That’s makemathmoments.com/online workshop. And in order to ensure that you don’t miss out on any new episodes as they come out each week, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcasting platform.

Jon Orr: Also, if you’re liking what you’re hearing, please share the podcast with a colleague and help us reach a wider audience by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts and tweeting us @MakeMathMoments on Twitter.

Kyle Pearce: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode58, that’s makemathmoments.com/episode five-eight.

Jon Orr: We release a new episode every Monday morning, so keep an eye out for our next episode.

Kyle Pearce: Well, until next time. I’m Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.

Jon Orr: And high fives for you.

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