Episode #66: Implementing Change with Teachers: An Interview with Mike Flynn
Today we speak with Mike Fynn, a national speaker on teacher education, the director of mathematics education at Mount Holyoke College and all around super nice guy! Mike shares with us how to spark change amongst teachers you work with, how to make habits that stick, why some moments from math class stick with us and some don’t, and how we can “break the script” to help students learn math at a deeper level.
- How to spark change amongst teachers you work with.
- How to make habits that stick.
- How to elevate moments in math class.
- How “breaking the script” helps students learn math
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Mike Flynn: The author stated there are four elements that make a memorable moment. And memorable moments have at least one if not all four of the elements, and it’s elevation, pride, insight and connection, and so the acronym EPIC, and so that helps me remember it. So each one, I’ll just talk about briefly. So elevation, they talk about memorable moments, rise above the every day. They provide happiness, they stand out in our mind and they give specific strategies-
Jon Orr: That there is a Mike Flynn, a national speaker on teacher education, the director of mathematics education at Mount Holyoke College and all around super nice guy.
Kyle Pearce: We chat with Mike today about how to spark change amongst teachers you work with, how to make habits that stick, why some moments from math class stick with us and some don’t. And finally, how we can break the script to help students learn math at a deeper level. Jon, are you ready to get to it?
Jon Orr: 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 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. Welcome to episode number 66, Implementing Change With Teachers. An interview with our friend Mike Flynn. Jon, are you ready to dive into this great conversation with our buddy, Mike?
Jon Orr: Of course, Kyle, of course. We are super pumped to bring you this episode. And as always, we are also super pumped to hear all of the reviews and the ratings we see on Apple Podcasts. And before we get into our chat here with Mike, we want to give a quick listener Make Math Moments’ shout out to one of these awesome listeners and reviewers.
Kyle Pearce: Yes, Jon. Did you know I think this is our first actual review from South Africa. And today, it’s GeorgesJ007 who left us a five-star rating and review. We are super pumped to put a notch up on the board for South Africa. Jon, what did GeorgesJ007 say?
Jon Orr: Makes my morning drive to school enjoyable. Such great ideas that can be implemented when I get to school on the same day I hear them. It’s my first year of teaching and these podcasts give me the energy to go to work with a positive mindset. All the way in South Africa and the advice is still relevant. Thanks guys. Awesome stuff.
Kyle Pearce: Thanks guys, Awesome stuff. Thanks so much to GeorgesJ007 who left us that awesome five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. We are now approaching 200 ratings and approaching 100 written reviews on Apple Podcasts and we can’t thank the Math Moment Maker community enough. Keep them coming because the more ratings and reviews this show gets, the more educators will actually see it appear in their favorite podcasting app. All right. Now, before we get into this episode with Mike, we want to let about how you can get your hands on a valuable resource. Jon, tell them about it.
Jon Orr: Yeah, if you’re listening to this episode in the week or two it goes live, then you know that spring conference season is upon us. We attend various conferences throughout the year and a big question that we always have is, is the conference going to be worth it? In episode 15, we give you five tips on how to get the most out of the conferences you attend and also what you can do if you can’t attend a conference this year.
Kyle Pearce: After you listen to this episode, head on over to makemathmoments.com/episode15 to learn how you can get the most out of conferences from a pretty awesome episode. Plus, we’ve got a resource that you can take with you to those conferences to maximize your learning. You could download the Make Math Moment Conference Companion from makemathmoments.com/companion.
Jon Orr: You could either print it out or use it digitally on your device, it has places for you to keep report information like contacts you meet, new ideas and hashtags. It even has a small scavenger hunt style reminder list along the edges. Download that conference companion makemathmoments.com/companion.
Kyle Pearce: All right, let’s get to our chat with Mike.
Kyle Pearce: Hey there, Mike. Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. We’re so excited to have you on the show today. How are things wherever you are? Where are you coming to us from?
Mike Flynn: I’m coming to you from North Hampton, Massachusetts. And it’s great, things are going really well. I’m still on family leave right now with a newborn. My wife and I just adopted a little baby, and so we’re home with her and just soaking in all of that energy.
Jon Orr: That is awesome to hear. Congrats on that. Mike, we know you a little bit. We’ve met a few times, we’ve seen your presentations, but maybe our listeners haven’t heard from you yet. Would you take a moment and help our listeners understand just a little bit about yourself and what you do and how you got into education?
Mike Flynn: Yeah, that sounds good. So I’m currently the director of mathematics leadership programs at Mount Holyoke College, which is a small college out here in Massachusetts. And we basically run a Masters of arts and math teaching program and do a bunch of professional learning for coaches, teachers and administrators in math education all throughout the country. Before that, I was actually a second grade teacher for 14 years where I just loved math, science, all of the STEM work. And what brought me into education was, way back in high school, I took a course called pure education, which was all about going into elementary schools and teaching kids about the dangers of peer pressure and drugs and alcohol and all of that.
Mike Flynn: And the big culminating thing we did was a lesson for sixth graders and when I went… I did it more just because a lot of my friends were taking the class and I didn’t really think about education at all, but my teacher after she saw me do my lesson for the class said that I really should think about a career in education. She said, “You really have a knack for this and I think you’d be really successful in it.” And that stuck with me and I actually Switched majors when I went to college and got an education from there.
Kyle Pearce: Oh that’s fantastic. Fantastic to hear. Here in Ontario, we have some similar programs, but I don’t know if it’s exactly structured like the program that you went through. Like for us, we have different co-op opportunities where kids can go in and try out different career paths, but I really like this idea of actually going in. And really, it’s kind of a community building experience it sounds like. And I’m sure that had an impact on not only you but probably your peer group. Would you say that that might be the case?
Mike Flynn: Oh, for sure. I think all of us as 18 year olds, we’re still kind of idiots, right? You are doing the crazy things, and it was really important for us to actually step outside of our egos at that time and to really think about the needs of this younger generation coming in. And it was pretty powerful for us as seniors. I think it was really powerful for the sixth graders that we were working with and it was a really good experience. I hope that programs still exists. I don’t actually know if they still do it.
Jon Orr: That’s awesome, Mike. We ask all of our guests this one question, we want you to think back into like your education as a student, and you just said one that helped shape what you wanted to do with your life. But when we say the word math class, what pops into your brain as sticking with you and your experience?
Mike Flynn: Yeah. Normally, I’m sure you get a lot of positive comments when people think about math moments for themselves, and what’s interesting for me, and it usually surprises a lot of people to learn this about me since so much of my life now is in math education is, as a student I never really liked math. I’d actually say I probably hated math growing up. And a lot of it is because of the way I experienced math. And I’m not sure how all of you experienced math or your listeners how they’ve experienced it, but for me, math was very much a lot of emphasis on speed, a lot of sit and get lots of worksheets, working in isolation. And that’s not at all how I engage as a learner, it’s not anything that I…
Mike Flynn: And particularly the speed piece of it, because something that’s unique about me as a learner is I always had a slower processing speed. In reading, I’m a slower reader, in math, I’m slower at performing calculations, but I’m careful. I’ve always been a big deep thinker as a student. And any classes that emphasize speed and especially high pressure speed shut me right down because it wasn’t that I couldn’t do the math, but that environment was not conducive to learning. And so a moment that stands out for me was in third grade, this particular teacher, she was a really nice teacher, but in math it was all about the speed of our facts. And she had the big wall up. And of course, my friend and I were way in the back and I knew my math facts, I just under those high pressure situations I couldn’t perform.
Mike Flynn: And I was so frustrated being shamed like that, and so what my friend and I decided to do is when the teacher went out to do a recess duty, we sneaked back in her classroom and went into a class and she had all of the drill sheets that she would use in her closet and we went and took one of each of them for ourselves and then just took them home. We completed them, which didn’t take me that much time actually. I mean, it was pretty efficient, I could do that. So we completed them all, brought them all in and hid them in our desks. And then each day, she would give out that day, wherever you were, that’s the test you got. So she’d hand me my threes tables and I’d have to work through those.
Mike Flynn: And so I would, as she’s pass the papers out, I would take the one that she gave me, stick it to my desk, take the completed one out and put it on my desk. And then we all would cover our papers, that’s the way we were encouraged not to ever look at each other and stuff. So it was easy to hide. And then I pretended to live out. And the thing is both Scott and I went from zero to hero in that. We blew through the whole list and we were was so proud of us and everything. But the reason that stands out is, I realized how to game the system, that there was no accountability on our knowledge and understanding. It’s like, if we just played this…
Mike Flynn: And so that shaped who I became as a math student in a lot of ways. I just figured out, what was the thing I had to do to make the teacher not so frustrated with me or make them happy. And then that’s how I got through math. But there were pockets where I had teachers where rich problem solving was accentuated. I remember taking AP computer science and that was like the first time I experienced real math where I actually got to like, if you’ve ever done computer science, it’s like you’re constantly problem solving and it’s not easy and there’s no clear path, and that’s exactly the learner kind of I was.
Mike Flynn: And it was the first time I really felt like I just truly loved math, but I didn’t define that as math. I loved that class out of the computers. So anyways, that’s a little bit about me. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I actually learned to love math, and I can talk about that experience too if you’re interested in that.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, no, absolutely. I’m listening, there was so many things that hit me. Obviously, we’ve had very similar conversations with so many guests, like so many people who are doing great things in the math education world who have had similar scenarios or similar experiences to you. Jon and I present on two groups of students oftentimes, and I almost feel like it’s like two groups of educators that we speak with. And there’s the group like you’ve experienced, where it was like, “Oh geez.” Like you felt, like you were pretty good at it, but you just weren’t able deal with that high pressure, that stress, that anxiety that it caused. All of those negative responses too, the overemphasis of answer getting.
Kyle Pearce: And then there’s this other group, and Jon and I fell into this other group where we thought we were good, but really we just learn how to game the system really early. We were lucky in that we could come up with these facts quickly. But boy, oh boy, did we not know how to problem solve at all. So it was like, at the end of the day, we ended up in the same spot except we didn’t feel that same stress or anxiety. We almost had to realize that we didn’t know math as well as we were told we did because our grades said one thing, and at the end of the day, if any problem hit us that we didn’t already know the answer to before we started, we would push it away because we didn’t want to look like we didn’t know the answers.
Kyle Pearce: So regardless of which group you fall into, I feel like we’re all struggling with this same thing because of some of the ways that we’ve learned and taught mathematics for so long. So it’s so great to see that folks are actually starting to shift their mindset around it. And the other piece that really resonated with me when you told that story, I’m painting this picture in my mind, and Jon and I have seen you do a couple of presentations in the past and I always like how you bring up a story. It makes it so memorable. So being that it’s the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast, I would love to do a little pivot here to talk about one of your talks that we saw recently.
Kyle Pearce: This one was back in April at NCTM where you had focused a talk around the Heath Brothers book, Switch, which is how to change things when things are hard. And I think it’s a great conversation for us to have because there’s so many people listening in the Math Moment Maker community who are listening right now and saying like, “I want to make changes in my classroom.” Maybe your story resonates with them or maybe Jon and my story resonate with them, and they want to know like, “How do I do it differently?” So I’m wondering, can you help us with like what about that book? What made you even pick up that book in the first place and how did it lead to the talk?
Kyle Pearce: And we can dive into that talk after. Why did you think it was useful to share with the teachers you work with?
Mike Flynn: Well, first I’ll credit my wife with recommending the book. So she’s often that person who loves to read. She goes through lots of books, lots of different genres, and she really enjoyed that book and just said, “You really should read this.” Not even thinking from a math point of view, but just life in general. I mean, change exists everywhere, it doesn’t matter if it’s in education or with your family, any of that stuff. So she just encouraged me to read it so I did. And of course you’ve read it too, it’s an amazing book because there are just so many connections to our lives professionally, personally.
Mike Flynn: And anytime I read a book that’s not a mathy book, I can’t help but start to think about a math lens with it. And a lot of the work that we do as educators is around the change effort, whether we’re changing students or we’re trying to change teachers or administrators or school districts. And so at the time, I’d also had an experience where I was coaching at a school, I was working to do some professional learning and I had run into a grade level of teachers and then one teacher in particular in that grade level who I classify as fairly resistant to the ideas that we were trying to promote. And this one individual is really rude and it started me on this journey.
Mike Flynn: I was so surprised at his reaction to change in math, and surprised at the anger that I perceived in this where I left feeling really frustrated that he got into my head during my session. I don’t think I had a great session working with them. And over time, I realized that it’s my job as a leader of math ed and working in this school that I need to figure out a way to connect with this person. And then it got me thinking about, “Well, why do people resist change anyway?” And so I had been reading the Chip and Dan Heath book and I was like, “I just want to go all in on this.” So I actually dedicated a good chunk of a year to research this whole idea of change.
Mike Flynn: And the Switch book was written so well about it, it had that framework with the elephant and the rider and the path that it made it so clear, so that just became a big focal point of the presentation. I guess for your listeners who haven’t read the book yet, I can explain quickly what I mean with the elephant rider and a path. Chip and Dan Heath, when they try to think about our brains, the way they describe it is they say our brain is of two minds, basically, which is we have an emotional side of our brain and a logical side of our brain. And to give an analogy of that, they see the emotional side of our brain as a big elephant that’s powerful. It’s where our motivation and our drive come from, it’s what makes us want to change, that feeling we get to move ahead, or the feeling we get to resist is all from our elephant. It’s how we feel. That’s the elephant part of our brain.
Mike Flynn: The logical part of our brain, they see as a rider sitting at the top of the elephant trying to control elephant and moving the elephant in places. The rider is the one that plans and organizes. And when those two parts of our brain are in concert, so for instance, let’s say we had a health issue, I talk about this in my talk that if you had like a heart attack for instance, that you luckily survived from, that’s going to make you feel something. You’re going to feel really motivated to make a change. You had a real big scare and now you want to change something. When your rider kicks in, your rider starts planning things like exercise, eating healthy, you make charts and lists and everything that you’re ready to do to help make this change and you start your path on to a healthy lifestyle.
Mike Flynn: And as long as those two are in concert, you’re good to go. But what happens a lot in our lives is that the elephant and the rider don’t always agree. And so, let’s say a year later, you’re wanting to stay on this healthy eating kick, but it happens to be girl scout cookie season and the elephant really would like some girl scout cookies. The elephant is so powerful that it overrides our rider and we’ve all had these experiences. Anytime we’ve wanted to try a change effort and then we failed at it, it’s often because our elephant had a different motivation at that time and we’ve caved in to the elephant there.
Mike Flynn: So they look at our brain in those two places. And the third part of the framework that the authors talk about is the path that the elephant walks on. And the path is the environment, it’s where you are. So it’s your house if it’s a personal change, it’s a school if we’re thinking about educational change. What I love about the book is that the authors give real concrete ideas about how do you work with people who have elephant issues, who have issues with motivation? Or how do you work with people who have rider issues, like they’re totally motivated but they don’t know where to go and how to do these next steps? Or what if they have path issues? What is the structure of the school isn’t conducive to that change effort? What can we do to actually make it more conducive to that?
Mike Flynn: And so the book really helps us think about, how do we support change efforts so that we can reduce or even eliminate the resistance that we often experience with that. And it’s a really attainable book that I highly recommend everybody read.
Kyle Pearce: Jon and I have both read that book. We really, really have learned a lot. And even just by what you explained there, I’m sure that it’s resonating with people like they can picture, “Yes, that is me.” The hardest part about it is even though you now are aware of it, actually doing what you need to do in order to make sure all three of those things align can be really difficult. This might not even happen outside of a single person. I’m picturing when a husband wife and I’ll say my wife let’s say, says, “Hey maybe we need to eat more healthy.” And she’s sort of the rider, thinking logically, rationally.
Kyle Pearce: And sadly, I feel like I’m the elephant most times in those cases because I’m the guy that wants to eat the cookies and cheat. But this happens within our own brains as well. And I don’t know, Mike, have you had the opportunity to check out the book Atomic Habits? We’ve mentioned it on the podcast before. If you haven’t, it is a super cool read.
Mike Flynn: I haven’t, but I’m definitely going to write that down because it sounds right up my alley.
Jon Orr: Yeah, it’s an awesome read because it builds on this. The Heath brothers did a great job of talking about that brain aspect and the dichotomy between the two, whereas Atomic Habits breaks down big things you want to achieve.
Kyle Pearce: Kind of like the how.
Jon Orr: Yeah. Exactly.
Kyle Pearce: Like how we can actually do it now.
Jon Orr: It takes this big thing you might want to make a change of and it says break it down to its atomic levels. You can break one big goal down into many, many, many small goals. And then if you can achieve these small goals like these minor, minor things. T like the example we’ve given here on the podcast before is like if you want to be healthier and be physically fit, don’t think about running the marathon or don’t think about running that race or just don’t think about losing weight. If you want to become a runner, think about just putting your shoes on when you wake up in the morning, and that’s it. That’s step one.
Jon Orr: And it’s like if you can master step one, then think about step two. Once you have your shoes on, just go outside. And if you could do that, then you’re on your run. And if you can break down these big ideas into these small things, then you can change your life. I find that that goes hand in hand with Switch and something that we’ve also mentioned about changing your life and it goes is about this idea hand in hand is about this idea of like don’t break the chain, which is like if you can set up a streak, we’ve referenced this app on our phones called streak, which all it does is allow you to like check off that you did this task today and it keeps an ongoing streak.
Jon Orr: And instead of thinking about, “Do I want to keep doing this day to day to day, like run every day?” Don’t think about running, just think about, “I don’t want to break this streak I have going because otherwise I have to start all over again.” That idea can also help with mindset, these habits and making these changes in people’s lives. So those are huge things about life. But if I steer this talk now to go math and helping teachers change, even helping kids change. Mike, how are you using the lessons from Switch to work with teachers?
Mike Flynn: So if you think about the framework with elephant, rider and the path, one of the things that I’ve been doing and I’m encouraging the coaches that I work with and school leaders, is to look at the change efforts with that framework in mind and think about what are the possible elephant issues that people might have. So for instance, in a school I’m working with, one big elephant issue is that the change feels very daunting. Lots of schools have that issue where they try to change too much at the same time, kind of going back to that Atomic reference that you had that they’re thinking big picture and not thinking about the small steps to achieve that.
Mike Flynn: And so one of the things that we’ve been doing is using the idea that we’re Chip and Dan Heath say that if you want to motivate the elephant, one thing you can do is shrink the change. So what we started to do is take these big lofty goals, these outcomes that they’ve set, and we looked at what the sub steps would be to achieve that. So for instance, if one of the three goals is that they want to have student centered learning. Well, if you’re a teacher that’s really thought about your job as being, I do, then we do, then you do, where I’m just going to stand up and deliver some direct instruction, then you’ll practice what I show you and then I’ll assess you on it.
Mike Flynn: Going from that to student centered learning is massive, and that spooks a lot of people’s elephants so the motivation, it won’t be there for them. So if you take that big lofty goal and you break it down to sub steps that people could do. So for instance, it might be first of all, learn how to facilitate a number talk, learn about number talks is like a nice, easy, attainable first step. Then facilitate one number talk per week is a very attainable goal where people not only don’t feel intimidated by it, but they also get the success of achieving it.
Mike Flynn: It also goes to that other book, which I know you probably talk about, which is The Power of Moments, also by Chip and Dan Heath where they talk about multiplying milestones, taking this long range journey here and breaking it down to sub-steps where people get intermittent success along the way that motivate them. So that’s one way I’ve been using the Switch book is to shrink the change for folks or looking at path issues. Lots of times when we look at schools, there’s a great quote that book, Switch where they say, “What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.” And when you talk to school leaders and they’re saying, “Yeah, well the teachers just aren’t doing this. We have all these great manipulatives, we invested all this money, but they’re just not using them.”
Mike Flynn: And so they’re blaming the teachers right away. But if you walk around the schools, one thing that we discovered was that they had all these manipulatives but they didn’t actually think about how to situate them in the classroom. Even little basic things like how do you store them, and are they accessible? Do students have to do the walk of shame across the classroom to access them or are they readily available right at the tables where kids are working? All of these little things help shape the path.
Mike Flynn: So in this other school that I was working at, that was an issue. So what we started to do was find ways that we could have the manipulatives readily available. It was just a natural part of the class and because they were already out, they were being used, there was no having to dig through the closet to bring them out, kids could see them, they didn’t have to do the big walk of shame. So applying the ideas of motivating people’s elephant, directing their riders and shaping the path in the math classroom and in the school settings, that’s how I’m doing that, taking these ideas and saying, “Well, is this a rider issue and if so, what can I do to address the rider? What can I do to address the elephant?” And it’s been working fabulously.
Kyle Pearce: That’s awesome. I really appreciate you taking the time to let us in on what that might look like and sound like. What I’m envisioning is like the path in many cases is the responsibility of someone like yourself in your role or like Jon and I when we’re going in and trying to help either a teacher or if it’s with a school or with a team, helping them to see that path, but by breaking it down, it’s almost sometimes the path. I think we have to see the path further into the distance than they do, and we can’t just have them see the end goal as the final result. And manipulatives is a great example.
Kyle Pearce: I know in our district, we were really trying to get teachers using manipulatives. We had done surveys through our math taskforce and what we realized was that manipulatives weren’t being used, especially as like we got out of primary. In primary, obviously we saw a lot of use, but then they dwindled away and some of those walk of shame issues were there. But then what we realized is like we cleared a bit of that path, we didn’t realize that’s what we were doing at the time. We got teachers using them more. But then what we realized is that, “Wait a second, the end goal we want is for teachers to be using them effectively, where appropriate.” And what we realized over time is that even though we got usage up at first, a lot of teachers still weren’t sure why they were doing what they were doing.
Kyle Pearce: So it made us reflect and say, “Wow, this path is a long path and we have to break it down and give those little pieces along the way and ensure that we clear some of those obstacles.” So that I think is such a spectacular read. Obviously, if folks have an opportunity to see you do the presentation on that particular topic, I think it would be great for them. But now, I can’t help but think that this next piece we wanted to chat about, which is that book by the same two authors, The Power of Moments. Jon and I, I remember, and maybe Jon, you may or may not remember this, we were in British Columbia on a jog in the morning before we had to go do a presentation.
Kyle Pearce: And we were talking about how the Heath brothers, they have this like magical ability to take ideas that are really complex, like based on research and based on brain science and based on all of this really complex stuff that comes from white papers, and they’re able to chunk it down to a place where you can pick up this book and go, “Wow, that makes sense.” And when we picked up this book, The Power of Moments, the reason we did was because we had already been talking about how we were going to create this Making Math Moments framework and so on and so forth. And this book blew our minds, that really they had implemented The Power of Moments in our opinion, in essentially every book that they had written, or the ones that we had actually read anyway, they have a many other great books.
Kyle Pearce: So I’m wondering, did Switch lead you to pick up this book, The Power of Moments? Tell us a little bit more about that because I camped in San Antonio this past July, we saw you do this talk and we felt like we were brothers from another mother or something because it was like we were all on the same page and yet Mike and Jon and I have only had the opportunity to meet just a handful of times in the past. So what’s the story behind that? Did Switch leads you to this or did your wife recommended it again or what led you to here? Because I think that book really impacted how we do everything now, whether it’s in the classroom, whether it’s how we present or how we even set up the conversations in this particular podcast.
Mike Flynn: So Megan got me started with Switch and it was so good, then I started looking at what else they’ve produced, so then I read their book, Made to Stick, which is like some ideas survive and others die or something like that, I forgot the subtitle there. And so I did a talk for school leaders that was all around how do you turn adversaries into allies? It’s like the sequel to my Understanding Resistance in Math Education. By the way, you mentioned if people wanted to see that presentation on Understanding Resistance where I referenced Switch and everything, on my website, mathleadership.org, NCTM actually recorded that session that you guys saw and I have it video export on my website under presentations if people wanted to watch that presentation there.
Kyle Pearce: We will add it to the links for sure.
Mike Flynn: Oh sure. Excellent. So Made to Stick, I integrated into this talk around how do we get all stakeholders behind an initiative that we want, so parents, school board members, administrators, everybody. And so I used some of chipping in his book for that, and then after reading that book, it really got me just excited about their work, so pretty much now if they write something, I’m going to read it. And so the third one that I had read was the Power of Moments. And again, I saw these math connections and I’m like, the psychology of why we remember things is what got me excited. And so then I started to just make notes in the margins of like, “Yeah, this is like three-act tasks. That’s how you build elevation. And this is… “
Mike Flynn: And so I went through the book with that lens and then thought, “You know what? This might be another presentation.” And I know it was funny, I actually saw after I had developed the presentation, I saw something through Robert Kaplinsky, I think he was promoting some of your work and I saw the Power of Moments or something, I forgot, Making Math Moments, and I thought, “Oh, oh, I wonder if you guys were in the same place? There’s a moment where I actually, I called Robert and I’m like, “Hey, Robert, are you doing stuff with Chip & Dan Heath because I just spent like six months developing a talk on it, and I think I reached out to you guys to just to make sure we were doing like parallel supportive things and I wasn’t stealing funder and it’s nice to know that like… “
Mike Flynn: I sort of dove into the psychology and you guys have the pragmatic practical piece of it. So I liked that our two talks are very supportive of one another. But anyway, that’s what got me into it, I’m now just a big fan boy of the Heath Brothers and whatever they write. So the one thing I had to worry about is like, I don’t know if I can make another math presentation with a Heath book, I think I’ll then just [crosstalk 00:31:03].
Jon Orr: I was going to ask you, they just came out with Decisive: How to Make Better Choices and I just finished reading that one and I was just going to ask you is, do you have anything in the works on the Heath Brothers and Decisive?
Mike Flynn: It’s actually, I have the book, I haven’t ready yet. I have a different book from a different author that I’m pursuing as my next project, but I’m still in the thick of the Power of Moments right now.
Kyle Pearce: You know what we’re realizing, Jon and I are realizing is that taking great work, like the work from the Heath Brothers and like we said, basically they take everything they teach in their books and they put it in practice or it’s already been in practice. It’s like they’re breaking down what they do, which is amazing. And then I find like if you could take that and apply it to your context, like you said, when you reached out to us, it was like, “First of all, thank you for having the thought to hey, let’s just double check, make sure that everything’s aligned for what we’re saying and what’s you’re saying.” And when we realized that like you’ve taken the same idea and you’ve put it in this place where it’s like more for the leadership role. We’ve done it for how you’re going to do this in the classroom and I think really all three resources are super helpful.
Kyle Pearce: Get people to get their hands on that book and then go and experience from the leadership perspective and then come and check out what some of that might look like in the classroom, I think it’s fantastic. So grabbing these books, we learn so much and then finding a way to put it into our own context I think is what makes it so much easier for us to implement ourselves. It’s like that reflective practice. I’m sure after that six months of designing those talks, you probably at the end felt like, “Wow, now I really get, I thought I got it initially, but now it’s like this is making way more sense to me, I’m sure.”
Jon Orr: Mike, do you mind, now that we’ve talked about the book for a little bit here, but we’ve never really elaborated on the book and the framework that the book provides for building powerful moments and saying like why certain moments are more memorable than others, but do you mind talking about the framework a little bit and how it relates to again, math, teaching and learning.
Mike Flynn: So the framework is really simple. As you know, they opted not to go with the acronym EPIC for their elements there, but I like it. I flipped the letters around. So the author stated that there are four elements that make a memorable moment, and memorable moments have at least one if not all four of the elements. And it’s elevation, pride, insight and connection, and so the acronym EPIC. So that helps me remember it. So each one, I’ll just talk about briefly. Elevation, they talk about memorable moments rise above the everyday. They provide happiness, they stand out in our mind and they give specific strategies that we can do to boost elevation, to actually create elevated moments. And the recipe they give for that is that if we boost sensory appeal, if we raise the stakes and if we break the script, do those three things that will create an elevated moment.
Mike Flynn: So we think about things in our regular lives, like weddings for instance, there’s so much sensory appeal there with the flowers and the music and everything. That’s why ceremonies and things stand out because we’re doing that. We’re breaking the script because you don’t do that every day and there’s higher stakes in getting married. So you put all those three things together, that’s why wedding stand out. But in a math class, if you look at like a three-act tasks for example, and one I use is the money roll task that I created where it starts with a video of me walking out and holding a roll of dollars to the camera. And then I step back and I basically like do a bowling motion and roll that bills out and it goes right off screen, and that presents this math task for people then trying to figure out how many dollars are on the whole roll.
Mike Flynn: And so we go through that task, but if you think about a three-act tasks, we’ve boosted sensory appeal because of the bolting media nature of it, like all of your tasks. That’s exactly what they do. We raise the stakes because in the course of facilitating this kind of work, you’re making your thinking public, there’s debate, you have your critique and the reasoning it with one another. Any of that makes you vulnerable. And then there’s also sometimes with three-act has a competitive nature that sometimes comes up where different groups that are trying to really make sure they get the right answer and they’re checking in with what other people are doing. And then of course we’re breaking the script because a three-act task is not what math is normally thought of or how mass class is normally thought of.
Mike Flynn: And so that’s why a task like that is an elevated moment. That’s one example. It doesn’t have to be as big as the three-act tasks, but just applying those three recipes, boosting sensory appeal, raising the stakes and breaking the script is a way that you can create a moment of elevation. So the second part of the framework is pride. And for that it’s any moments where we’re either successful or we persevere through our challenge is moment where we feel a sense of pride, and that’s a huge memorable moment for people. And what’s interesting sometimes is that lots of times we think of pride is like a successful moment, but it does count is anytime that we’ve struggled through a challenge, even if we weren’t successful, the fact that we stayed with it, counted.
Mike Flynn: The pop culture reference I use with that is the first Rocky movie where we assume just the way Hollywood works, that he’s going to win in that first movie, but I’m sorry if I’m spoiling it for any of your listeners, but he doesn’t win, but he goes the distance. He goes 12 rounds with Apollo Creed, so that’s a moment of perseverance. And if we think about what we want from our math students or even teachers if you work with teachers, you want them to be able to persevere through these challenges and you want them to have moments of success. And so they give very concrete ways in which we could, I mentioned earlier, multiply milestones. We take a big journey and we break down, so we have a big math goal of students using numerical reasoning for addition.
Mike Flynn: Well, there are some steps that prepare kids to get to that level, and if we actually use that model and develop moments where we can celebrate those minor successes along that larger journey, then it’s a huge way to boost those moments of pride in students. And so that’s the pride piece. The insight element. So moments of insight or when we gain insight into ourselves and into our world, or I like to say, into ourselves and into mathematics, that we provide moments where students can either develop a deeper, richer understanding of a mathematical idea. And that’s typically through representations and through collaboration and making connections with other students’ thinking and pulling all those ideas.
Mike Flynn: I think of Peg Smith and The Five Practices, all of that to me is how we develop insight, like giving rich tasks that allow students to make sense of the mathematics. Those provide moments of insight. And I think also when you push kids out of their comfort zone, you can give them self insight into what they’re capable of. That’s the other thing the author talk about is like you’ll learn a little bit about yourself too, and so that’s another critical piece. And then the final framework is connection. And what I really love about connection, and I had to read that chapter a couple of times to really get a sense of like what that looked like in the math world. And then it just finally hit me when they talk about Harry Reese in the study where he was doing the questioning of…
Mike Flynn: So for your listeners, Harry Reese did a study where he brought college students together who didn’t know each other, and he had had them, I think they had a rating scale of like the connectedness they felt with like family members and friends and different things. And so they would rate different people on the scale. And then he had them work with strangers, and they would go through a series of questions together and it was three rounds and each round the questions got more personal. So like the first one was like, “Describe a perfect day.” And by the round three the questions was like, “If you were to die today without being able to talk to anybody, who would you regret most not having talked to or said something to them? Why haven’t you done that?” That’s super personal.
Jon Orr: For sure.
Mike Flynn: What they found, what Harry Reese found with that is that after the study, the people had to rate their relationship with their partner in the study. They were a stranger at the beginning of this study and they actually rated their partner higher than they rated some of their relatives in terms of their personal connection with them. And what they found was that you form bonds, you deepen ties with people, you form connectedness when you have what’s called reciprocal vulnerability, like reciprocal escalating vulnerability. That’s what happened in Harry Reese’s study, where it wasn’t the questions that made them close, it was the fact that when the first person asked the question and then the other one responded that the other person then also shared something personal.
Mike Flynn: So you and I if we’re talking right now, and then you share something, a vulnerable story a time when like you were unsuccessful as a teacher or something, for instance, if I say, “Yeah, that sucks. Yeah, I feel for you.” That’s it. I haven’t done anything to reciprocate that sharing a vulnerability. But if I instead share a story from my professional experience where maybe I didn’t feel like I was a great teacher at a time, and so what I’ve done is I’ve reciprocated that vulnerability, and so we then become closer as a result of that. And that’s how relationships form. So where does this fit in the math world is, I think math class is a very vulnerable place, and when we can embrace that vulnerability, then I think it opens all of us up to learning because in math, out of any other subject, I feel like there’s so much posturing that happens in math.
Mike Flynn: And I was very guilty of this as an adult learner, when I actually went back to professional learning, I was so guarded as a learner because I thought I was supposed to be the expert in everything and I’m around these other teachers and I didn’t want to be wrong in front of them, and so if I didn’t know something, I would just hide it. And that, it impacts your learning. If you hide the things that you don’t understand, and the instructor says, “Are there any questions?” And you don’t ask the question that would really help you understand something because you’re afraid of how you might be perceived, you don’t learn as much from that.
Mike Flynn: And I’ve remembered, Kaneka Turner, who some of your listeners might know, she’s an amazing math educator. She and I were in the same professional development organization, we were both trainers for the investigations, math curriculum. And we got into it around the same time. And part of the work of being a trainer is that you have to do math with adults, as we would go to these retreats and do math with like lots of really brilliant teachers, and I was terrified there because I just didn’t have any confidence in my own math ability. So I’m sitting there thinking I’m the only one, and Kaneka, she and I ended up working together and she opened up to me about how she wasn’t comfortable with this particular math, that she wasn’t really sure what we were supposed to do, and she didn’t really understand it, which then allowed me to say, “Yeah, I don’t either. And I feel like maybe I don’t even fit in with this group and stuff.”
Mike Flynn: So we had this conversation back and forth, which made us get closer, but it also was so nice for me to hear somebody else who was being an open about how they weren’t understanding everything we were supposed to do with this task. Well, it turned out the entire group was like that, like that was the culture they had established. And after that first day, we got to know everybody and everybody was in that space. And we found that with this group of adults, probably 36 of them, that it was a place that you could say, “Hey, I don’t get it. I don’t understand that representation or this math idea doesn’t make sense to me.” And there was no judgment. It was a place of collective learning where we all support one another.
Mike Flynn: So by airing something like a misunderstanding, people didn’t come in and rescue me, what they did is they found ways to ask more questions of me to get me to think about it differently. And what happened was, my learning deepened so much. And so when I’ve read this last one about connection in the Power of Moments, I’ve really started to think about like how do we establish that shared vulnerability in math class with students? How do we orchestrate that? And I think that’s something that we have to be very intentional as teachers to make that happen. We have to provide moments for that and actually talk about it, because once Kaneka and I got to talk about it with the other teachers, that’s when it was like put out there like, “Yeah, this is our culture, this is what it’s like here.”
Mike Flynn: And it’s like, “Oh, oh, now we know. We have to explicitly talk about it to understand that that’s how we interact in there.” And I think as teachers, we need to make that explicitly clear for students that this is a vulnerable place and there are times where you may feel like you don’t know something, but we want a community where we can share that openly. And once you have that community, then those moments of connection are going to thrive and it’s going to help all of your students move forward in their learning. So those four elements, elevation, pride, insight and connection when used in concert, in sort of woven into the framework of your math classroom, then I feel like that’s where we create memorable math experiences that students will take with them for years to come.
Kyle Pearce: That’s fantastic because for how many years? Like when I think about those four and I think about how they connect to what Jon and I, we tend to talk about sparking curiosity, fueling sense-making and igniting teacher moves. And buried within that, we’ve shared so many stories about how we focus so much on sparking curiosity, but that was like the only thing we focused on and many times our lessons would flop and that makes me think about these four pieces and I think we were working on that elevation piece, like breaking the script, getting kids curious, getting them to lean in on tasks, but we were missing these other pieces.
Kyle Pearce: Especially like the insight piece to me connects so much to fueling sense-making, like helping kids make sense of the mathematics that we’re actually trying to, we’re doing all this work for, like why are we engaging students in the first place? Well, it’s to help them understand the math and like build on their current conceptions of mathematics and really understand it and not just like game the system like you or Jon and I did when we were in school in different ways. And then finally, that connection piece, like if there’s no connection, we were talking about this on episode earlier in the year about the first day of school, like how important it is to really ensure that kids feel like they belong and that they can open up and be vulnerable.
Kyle Pearce: So these four, I think are key, they’re so important, and I’m so happy that you had the opportunity to share that up with us. Before we wrap up here, Mike, we know where you’ve got some other resources for our listeners and for educators out there. We know that you’ve written a book called Beyond Answers: Exploring Mathematical Practices with Young Children. Do you want to take a quick moment and just let our listeners know like a little bit more about that book and then we’ll talk about your upcoming grad program where you’re helping so many teachers?
Mike Flynn: Sure. Yeah, so Beyond Answers, I wrote that when I was still in second grade, I was still a second-grade teacher and I wrote it because at the time, when Common Core came out in the United States that we had, the standards for mathematical practice are probably one of the most powerful elements of the Common Core. But the problem with them is I feel like they’re underutilized and they were overlooked, partly because they’re just in the front matter and people just breeze over it. But the other part, as an elementary teacher and particularly primary grade teacher, the way they were written, it was basically inaccessible for me and my colleagues, I think.
Mike Flynn: There were times where we would have these debates, and these are folks who are deep in the math world, these teachers, we would have debates on what does it mean to reason quantitatively and abstractly? What does it mean to look for and make use of structure in first grade? And when you look at the actual language of the standards because they’re K-12, it gets really sophisticated very quickly. And so it was really frustrating for us as primary grade teachers to think about, “Well, how do we get kindergarteners to model with mathematics? How do we get them to reason quantitatively and abstractly?” And so I began this journey of just trying to make sensitive for myself as a teacher, and then I had more and more conversations with other teachers in kindergarten, first and second grade, and I began to get a clearer sense of what these practices look like.
Mike Flynn: And so that’s the start of the book. And the whole book is really looking at each of those practices in depth and understanding what it looks like in kindergarten, first and second grade. There’s classroom vignette, so I visited a bunch of classrooms and we’d record them or if teachers would transcribe what happened in their classroom for me, so their actual classrooms with dialogue and teacher reflections. So you can see an example of kindergarteners modeling with mathematics or kindergarteners looking for and making use of structures. Second graders engaged in repeated reasoning and looking at regularity. And so that to me is the big picture of what the book does is it helps people to really understand what it looks like, not just in K-1 and 2, but really in all the elementary grades.
Mike Flynn: And the immediate takeaway people can get from it is that in each chapter, there’s great resources and tasks and routines that teachers can implement right away, and then if they do a deeper dive into the book, that they will gain a much richer understanding of how to actually facilitate student centered learning where kids are actively engaged in these math practices.
Kyle Pearce: It’s so great that you’ve done that you’ve taken the curriculum, the Common Core, and it’s not just common core, there’s all kinds of curriculum from different places around the world where one teacher reads it, another teacher reads it, and the interpretation is so different. So I think that is so important for us as teachers to be able to dive in and obviously understanding our curriculum and knowing the curriculum is important, but then really trying to hash out like “What does that mean? How do I interpret this and what does it look like in my own classroom?” So I know that teachers will find that to be a great resource. We’ll ensure to have that link in the show notes.
Kyle Pearce: And then finally, the last thing, we don’t want to end this conversation without asking you a little bit more about your grad program at Mount Holyoke, which involves not just teachers being there live with you in the room, but I hear you have teachers from all around the world who join you in this super dynamic grad program. Can you tell us a little bit more about that before we wrap up?
Mike Flynn: Sure. Yeah. So we work with kindergarten through eighth grade math teachers and coaches. Those are the people that join our program, and it’s a master’s of arts and teaching mathematics. So the focus is on just math teaching and we take a deep dive into all of the math from kindergarten through eighth grade. And you’re right, we have people who are there live, but the classrooms are set up like TV studios in the summertime when we do our summer courses. So quick thing is that when I talked about in the very beginning of this interview that I switched majors to education, my original intent was to do video production. That’s what I went to school for. So I still get to use that part of my schooling before I switched to education. So I actually worked to design the system, we call it Dynamic Hybrid Learning.
Mike Flynn: We call it hybrid because we have online and on-campus people working together, and it’s dynamic because anytime I’ve seen this model done before, it’s usually just a camera off to the side. And anyone who’s online, it feels like you’re watching someone else’s class, you’re just sitting there and you’re not part of it. We break the fourth wall. So the cameras are positioned in ways that the people online feel like they’re sitting right in the class and the cameras move in the room wherever the action is so they can see all the other participants in the class. And then we see all of the people who are zooming in, we’re using Zoom as our platform up on the screen. And so everyone who’s there, whether you’re on campus or you’re in Mozambique, as some of our students are, that you fully participate.
Mike Flynn: And we actually do breakout groups and small group work. So we’ll assign everyone a task, we’ll give them the rich math tasks to do. And then we have iPads all in the room and we put the iPads into small groups. And some of the people on campus take the iPad to a different space with the different manipulatives they’re going to use. And on that iPad are a couple of people who are in different parts of the world, who show up on that little iPad, they also have the manipulatives they need at their house or their school, wherever they’re working. And then those four people engage in the math together. And there’s another group of four, some on campus and some somewhere else in the world.
Mike Flynn: And so the facilitators who are running these classes, visit the groups as if they were in a regular classroom. You just walk around the room except two of the people are on iPads, but we can still interact and talk with them and see their representations. And then we end the breakout groups. Everybody comes back in the whole group, we debrief. And so what our participants have said is it feels like they’re sitting right there in the class. It’s like as someone said it, “I’m online learning that doesn’t feel like online learning.” And that to me is always strive to do is to really break the rules of what we consider online learning. We map fully interactive rich experiences, and I think that’s what we’ve done.
Mike Flynn: So if people are interested, if you go to mathleadership.org, you can read about the master’s program, see if you’re interested in that. And I’m always happy to chat with people about it, but we have a number of participants from all around the world that are a part of it and we’d love to keep growing the program.
Jon Orr: I can envision what you just said in the classroom and it sounds like you are making amazing math moments for those people by, sounds like breaking the script for what online learning is supposed to look like, so awesome job there. I’m interested to check out mathleadership.org to learn more. Mike, we want to thank you so much, but before we finally hang up the call, where can our listeners learn more about you and the resources you have?
Mike Flynn: Mathleadership.org is my website and you can also follow me on Twitter @MikeFlynn55
Kyle Pearce: Awesome. This is fantastic.
Jon Orr: Awesome stuff.
Kyle Pearce: Thanks so much for joining us, Mike. We dove into so much great learning. I’m actually shocked that we managed to because we got such a huge amount of value here for the math moment maker community. We hope that you have an awesome remainder of your family leave with your new bundle of joy and I’m sure we’ll catch up with you soon, either here on the podcast or maybe in person at one of the upcoming math conferences in the near future.
Mike Flynn: Sounds great.
Jon Orr: Thanks so much for joining us, Mike. Take care.
Mike Flynn: You too. Thanks.
Kyle Pearce: We want to thank Mike Flynn again for spending some time with us to share his insights with us and you, the math moment maker community. As always, how will you reflect on what you’ve heard here from this episode? Have you written ideas down, drawn a sketch note, sent out a tweet, called the colleague? Be sure to engage in some form of reflection to ensure that the learning sticks. If you’re listening to this episode in the week or two after it goes live, then you might know that the spring conference season is beginning when we attend various conferences throughout the year. A big question we always have is, is this going to be worth it or how do I maximize my experience at the conference? In episode 15, we gave you five tips on how you can get the most out of the conferences you attend and also what you can do if you can’t attend a conference this year.
Jon Orr: So after you listen to this episode, definitely head over makemathmoments.com/episode15, to listen to that episode and get the most out of the conferences that are coming up for you. Plus, we have a resource that you can take with you to those conferences to maximize your learning. You can download the Make Math Moments Conference Companion at makemoments.com/companion.
Kyle Pearce: Yeah, that’s great, Jon. You can print it out or use it digitally on your device. And what was the coolest experience, but walking into a session last year at NCTM and seeing someone in the audience actually using the Conference Companion and we had to stop by and ask where they got it from. And it was really cool to catch up with a listener of the podcast. So make sure you grab that Conference Companion over at makemathmoments.com/companion.
Jon Orr: In order to ensure you don’t miss out on new episodes as they come out each Monday morning, be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast platform.
Kyle Pearce: Also, if you’re liking what you’re hearing, just like we mentioned at the beginning of the episode, make sure to share the podcast with a colleague and help us reach a wider audience by leaving us a review on iTunes or now called Apple Podcasts and tweet us your biggest takeaway by tagging @MakeMathMoments on Twitter or on Instagram @MakeMathMoments.
Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode66. Again, that’s makemathmoments.com/episode66.
Kyle Pearce: Well, Math Moment Makers, 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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