Episode #75: Would You Rather Math – An Interview With John Stevens

May 4, 2020 | Podcast | 0 comments


In today’s episode, we welcome Math Moment Maker, John Stevens to the podcast! John is an instructional coach for mathematics and technology, who not only supports the teachers he works with throughout his district, but educators from around the world with his many resources. 

Dive into this episode with John and we’ll unpack how you can facilitate debates in math class using his free online resource, wouldyourathermath.com, how to bring parents to the table with his Table Talk Math resources, and a great resource parents can lean on to help their children avoid the dreaded summer slide.

You’ll Learn

  • How you can spark and facilitate arguments and discussions in your math class. 
  • What wouldyourathermath.com can do to change your classroom culture. 
  • How to help parents bring math to the table so they can support their children. 
  • What you can do to help your students eliminate summer slide.


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John Stevens: If you go to wouldyourathermath.com/users-guide, there is a little PDF that I put together about some possible ways that you could incorporate these into your class. The teacher needs to do the problem him or herself. The assumption that, I’m just going to give kids the prompt and let them run with it, I as the teacher would love to know, here’s some possible places that this could go, because if the entire class chooses the $25 per hour, then this isn’t a Would You Rather, this is a consensus. I want to be able to throw something else into the fire, and say, “Well what about-“

Kyle Pearce: In today’s episode welcome Math Moment Maker, John Stevens to the podcast. John is an instructional coach for mathematics and technology who not only supports teachers he works with throughout his district, but educators from around the world with his many resources.

Jon Orr: Dive into this episode with John and we’ll unpack how you can facilitate debates in math class using his free online resource, wouldyourathermath.com. How to bring parents to the table with his Table Talk Math resources, and a great resource parents can lean on to help their children avoid the dreaded summer slide. Let’s hit it.

Kyle Pearce: Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. I’m Kyle Pearce from tapintoteenminds.com.

Jon Orr: I’m John 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. John are you ready to interview, John?

Jon Orr: Yes, of course. It sounds kind of funny. John is going to interview John. That’s happened to a lot of us John’s around the place. Of course, Kyle, we are super pumped to bring you this episode. But before we do that, I want to and we want to share a little info about an upcoming opportunity for you.

Kyle Pearce: Yes, as the world is engaging in emergency remote learning, it’s likely that you’ve managed to piece together the technology to provide students with new learning through videos available on YouTube, or maybe even you’ve started creating your own.

Jon Orr: You’ve also worked hard to plan and prepare methods for your students to access practice problems through online tools, many tools and digital handouts.

Kyle Pearce: These are all important and necessary steps to getting your math classroom organized for this emergency remote learning experience, but there’s just one thing missing, moments.

Jon Orr: When we lost our ability to facilitate lessons with our students in a face to face environment, we also lost our go to and almost are automatic strategies to make math moments for our kids.

Kyle Pearce: It might even feel impossible to create math moments that your students will remember for days, weeks, months or years, but it is possible and we want to help you get there.

Jon Orr: Join us in May for a new webinar on how to make math moments that matter from a distance. We’ll be showing you what we’ve been doing to make math moments for our students while teaching remotely.

Kyle Pearce: Register for our free webinars during the week of May 11th at makemathmoments.com/webinar.

Jon Orr: That’s makemathmoments.com/webinar. All right, let’s get into our chat with John.

Kyle Pearce: Hey there, John, welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter Podcast. We’re super excited to have you on the show today. How are things over on your side of the world?

John Stevens: They’re fantastic. I’ve got the weather in my favor. I’ve got a great job, a great family, a lot of cool things happening on my end of the world.

Jon Orr: Awesome. You get to say how great the weather is and us Canadians, we’re always obsessed with weather. I think I’ve asked so many people, “Tell me about the weather today.” Because I just want to think about it because it was pretty cold to hear. I think today was one of the coldest days we’ve had in a while. I think the high for us, oh, I’m going to go Celsius, though for you.

Kyle Pearce: The conversions.

Jon Orr: Yeah, the high for us was like a five or a six. Kyle, quick convert that for us.

Kyle Pearce: Like 42 or something like that?

Jon Orr: Yeah. John, tell us about your weather in California. Come on.

John Stevens: It’s a rough 30 degrees Celsius right now or not right now. Well, not right now, it’s a little bit later. Although I will say I’m not complaining about our weather, but I will say that I just got done with a two and a half week period where our power was cycled off because of the fears of the fires in California.

Jon Orr: Right, you’ve had some risks there. You had some risk last year too, right?

John Stevens: Yeah, it’s just become the new norm in California; southern and northern especially. We are right on a foothill. We get some high winds are called the Santa Ana winds and they come howling down and upwards of 60, 70 mile an hour gusts, with the fear of them knocking over a power line and sparking a brush fire, the power company has started to shut down power to be a little bit proactive in the defusing of forest fires.

Kyle Pearce: Oh, geez, we definitely hope you all in California are staying safe there for sure. John, we’ve met a couple times and we know a little bit about you, but could you do our listeners a favor, if they don’t know about you, could you fill them in on some details? For example, could you say what your role is in education and maybe a little bit of backstory of how you got into teaching and your math teaching story?

John Stevens: Sure. Right now my role is as an instructional math and technology coach for an all high school district in Southern California. I’ve been doing this… This is going on six years. Prior to that I was a middle school and high school math teacher. Taught everything from intervention, eighth grade math to Algebra 1, engineering robotics and design course, service learning, gifted and talented education, and then Algebra and geometry.

John Stevens: Pretty wide range for a secondary math teacher, but what got me into teaching is actually baseball.

Kyle Pearce: Baseball.

John Stevens: I was dissuaded by a number of people from jumping into education because they felt like… And my parents included, I’m not throwing my parents under the bus here, I’ll redeem them later, but I was steered away from education because my parents were worried and some friends of mine were worried that I would not enjoy it. Five sections of the same course over 180 days for 35 years, it doesn’t fit my personality. I’m too erratic, I’m too spontaneous and the boxing in that education can do to a person, the fear was, I wouldn’t enjoy it, and I would get out of it.

John Stevens: I bring this up because first of all, thank you, mom and dad, I love you. Second, it is the reason why I feel like I was able to have some success because I wasn’t that step in line, do as I’m told, on the pacing guide every day, follow the book type of teacher. There were risks taken, and there were things that I tried, because I needed something different. My kids wanted something different. With that combination, it allowed me to be able to take some risks and try some things that I may not have, had I been one that said, “Yeah, I’m just going to do what I’m supposed to do every day.”

Jon Orr: That’s actually really interesting, because when you’re talking about that story and sharing that story, I feel like I actually did fall into that trap early on in my career where it was this idea. I remember one semester I taught three of the same course, back to back to back. I thought to myself, wow, in my mind, leading up to that, having early in your career, it is new to you, because you’re planning things for the first time, you’re trying things, you’re messing up, and then you get a chance to redeem yourself the next time. But then I got to this place where it was that monotonous, just flip the page, keep doing things over and over again. It was actually making me want to consider getting out of education.

Jon Orr: It wasn’t until I found a way, someone inspired me through conferences to actually make some change and start innovating that I started to actually see and truly find that joy. Did you find that when you got into teaching, did you find that your personality, this idea of being a little more sporadic, being a little bit more innovative and liking to do things a little differently, did you have that right from the get go, or was that something that you may be suppressed initially and followed the routine of what “people would say teachers do?” Or were you able to actually access that from day one?

John Stevens: No, day one, I was a hot mess. It was bad. I graduated with a degree in math. Initially out of college, I wanted to work for Raytheon or Lockheed Martin or Boeing, and I wanted to create algorithms that would solve world problems and was again steered away from education. I said baseball got me to it. I wanted to coach baseball, and I wanted to give back to a sport that I had played since I was four.

John Stevens: When I took the interview for the school districts that I did, it was, all right, I’m going to coach baseball, and I’m going to be a teacher. I was going to be one of those people that stepped in with that role. I quickly learned that I wasn’t going to make it if I was going to be that kind of person. Just my personality type, just my ambition, it wasn’t going to end well for me.

John Stevens: Probably… Well, before day one. My degree is in math, I have no teaching credential, I get my keys. I get my pile of books, and I get my classroom. I go and set up my room. The instructional coach for our site, her name is Mandy, she comes in and she lends her hand and we have a good conversation about what it means to be a teacher. Because again, remember, I had no teaching credential courses.

John Stevens: My thought going in was, “I’m cool. They’re going to be cool, we’re going to be cool. This whole respect thing, as long as you respect me, we’re going to be good.” Middle school kids have a little bit different definition, sometimes of what respect and being cool means. It was very new to me, and it was a very big gut punch coming out the gate. This is not how things are going to go. The thought in my head and what actually comes to.

John Stevens: Probably, I want to say October. It would have been second month of school, I realized that if I was going to stay in this profession that I had to change, I had to do something different. That was where things changed, it’s where we stepped outside, and we did different types of projects. In the spring of my first year of teaching, I brought in the general manager of a billboard company and he spoke with the students about a scale drawing project that we had done. He talked to the kids about the billboard industry. At the end of it, he chose one of the kids drawings and Lamar Advertising put up a billboard in our community of our student’s drawing that represented the relationship between the school and the city.

John Stevens: Those types of projects, in my first year and my second year of teaching really gave me the impetus to say, “I can do this. As long as there’s a structure in place, I can take these risks, and I know that I’m going to have support from the community, my boss, my colleagues, and definitely the students.”

Kyle Pearce: Nice. I envy that you realized that early and then you credit it to your personality and that’s great. I think we’ve said here on the podcast before, I envy you is because it took me years to figure that out or to figure out to make these changes. You got to help those kids probably earlier than in my career. I always say, I wish I could go back and start again and talk to those kids that I taught for eight years in that very traditional high school math class, very much like I was taught.

Kyle Pearce: It’s almost like, I just wish I had woken up a little bit earlier so that I could have helped some more students understand math, like math a little bit better. John, you’ve shared some very vivid moments from your teaching career here, and very memorable moments. That’s one thing that we always ask our guests is about memorable moments, but I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing a memorable moment of you being in math class as a student? We always like to stretch back and think about what math looked like for you and what you thought about that. Do you have a memorable math moment as a kid or a student?

John Stevens: Oh, man, I’m going to sound old right now.

Kyle Pearce: Let’s hear it.

John Stevens: My experience, I had a very positive experience growing up through school, and I think it was because I fit well into a routine based system. I grew up in a one to 35 odd classroom. I did well in it because I could memorize and I could do a procedure. It wasn’t until college where the professor asked, why does this work, or I need for you to derive this formula on your own. That’s where things struggled for me.

John Stevens: In the memorable stuff really is, is this feeling that procedural success through school, the one thing that bucks the system, and one of the teachers that I look up to Mr. Scouten, I don’t know how your textbooks were or are, but at the end of every chapter, there was a small project that you could do. A lot of teachers shied away from that, which they still do. Mr. Scouten loved those opportunities. He would assign these projects and they were civics minded. They were like the PBL of the ’90s. I got the opportunity to do these projects in his class, and it empowered me to think about mathematics differently.

John Stevens: We still did a lot of the procedure based stuff, but he found ways to create those math moments for us, that gave us a reason to enjoy what we were doing in the class leading up to that.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, that’s really interesting. I find too, because I have a position at the district office, oftentimes, I’ll find this box of old math books, old math textbooks, things that have been shunned years ago and replaced with newer material. I love grabbing a copy of one of the old ones and dusting it off and having a look. When you look inside of them, there’s still some fantastic ideas that we’ve had decades ago in some of these textbooks, but again, like your highlighting with your teacher and your experience is that it’s really us as the educator that we choose whether we’re going to shy away from an idea and stick to what we know or whether we’re going to actually take a chance and try something different.

Kyle Pearce: It’s like you’re saying, the PBL of the ’90s. It’s like, there’s probably some amazing things that are in some of those old resources that we just never tried, because we were too afraid to try or maybe the teachers in that era were too afraid to try it. I think taking that chance is so important. I see that in some of the work that you do in terms of not shying away from those opportunities.

Kyle Pearce: I’d love to shift this conversation just a little bit to a particular resource that I know anyone from my district and folks who work with John and I in online workshops, as well as live workshops, oftentimes we share different resources out there. One of the resources that we commonly share and we know people are loving is a resource called, Would You Rather.

Kyle Pearce: If someone’s listening to this episode, they might not have made the connection yet that actually John, you actually have headed up this idea of Would You Rather Math. I’m wondering, can you help for those who don’t know what it is at home, can you articulate what is Would You Rather Math? I guess, where did it come from? What inspired you to do this and create this free resource for people to be able to openly access online?

John Stevens: Yeah. For people who don’t know about wouldyourathermath.com, it is, like you said, it’s a free site that people can access. The entire premise of it is giving students an opportunity to use math as a way of creating an argument and holding a discussion about something with which they may disagree. It started selfishly, because I was tired of the social studies and the English teachers having all the fun with debate.

John Stevens: You have all of these rich conversations in social studies and in your English classes, you bring up a Shakespeare play, or you have this short story and you start talking about the protagonist and the antagonist and you start talking about all of these things are in history class, you talk about which side was on the right side of history. In Math, 3X equals 12X equals 4, put a box around it, move on to the next problem.

John Stevens: I didn’t want that. John had mentioned, it was nice that I was able to realize things early in my career. I didn’t start Would You Rather Math until year eight. I was still… Yes, I did some cool stuff early on, but there were still a lot of things that I look back on and realize, man, the first through fifth year, even first through seventh year me was nowhere near where I wanted to be. Would You Rather Math allows me now as an instructional coach, when I get to go in and do demo lessons, or when I hear other teachers using it, it brings me pure joy because we did one yesterday.

John Stevens: I was with a second year teacher, a phenomenal teacher. She had posted the idea of Would You Rather make $25 an hour or $48,000 a year in your dream job? The conversations that started off. It’s Monday morning, it’s 7:20 and you’ve got freshmen, they’re not super eager about, let’s math right away this morning. You put this prompt in front of them, and she totally managed this. Just watching how she owned it.

John Stevens: She allowed the students to advocate for themselves and empowered them to not just make a decision, but justify it. Lo and behold, the mathematics was there. It was a rich mathematical conversation about something that is a reality. There are jobs where you have the security of a $48,000 a year paycheck, and there are other jobs where you have the flexibility of a $25 per hour hourly wage. Getting the kids to talk about that really was the premise for Would You Rather. That is giving kids a platform to talk about real issues and real things using mathematics.

Jon Orr: It just occurred to me one parallel that we used to omit from math class and Kyle and I talked about before but in a different context, in one of our live workshops, and it’s this idea that when you’re doing a math problem, Part A will say, build an equation from this word problem. Then Part B is like solve the equation, then Part C says verify it, and then Part D is like, what assumptions did you make?

Jon Orr: I used to skip Part D. You would do A, B, C and D, like A, B, and C, and then you get the answer, and you check your answer. Then the assumptions you make are like, well, we already did this math problem, let’s move on. But lately after thinking about more real world scenario problems, like you’ve suggested, Part D was an amazing discussion moment to have about, what assumptions did you make?

Jon Orr: I was just reminded of that, when you said, that’s what Would You Rather is really doing in Math class. You get to have these real world discussions about real things. They’re these assumptions you make about math problems that we don’t ever talk about, but Would You Rather Math gets you to talk about those things. Like you said, there’s the risk of having an hourly job, but a flexibility, but also you’ve got the stability of the other job. You don’t usually talk about that in math class, those are those assumptions that I used to skip all the time. That’s where the richness of math test can come from.

Jon Orr: It’s an amazing thing that can open up your classroom and change your classroom culture for sure. One thing I’m always interested in is lots of ideas get shared like, Would You Rather Math, and [inaudible 00:20:19] Math problems and lots of other resources.

Jon Orr: I have always wondered, how do teachers start that in their classroom? What does the lesson look like for you? I’m wondering, if you think about, wouldyourathermath.com and some of the prompts there, I’ve seen teachers just throw it up on a screen and then say, “Go.” And then that’s it. Then they’re like, “Okay, what did you guys do?” That’s it.

Jon Orr: I’m wondering, what best practices have you seen to implement the prompts on the website? Would you mind sharing, maybe some of the best practices you’ve seen or how you’d say, “This is the way you’re going to get the best bang for your buck when you use this resource?” What would the beginning, the middle, and the end look like? Do you mind sharing your thoughts on that?

John Stevens: Yeah, they’re on the website on wouldyourathermath.com. If you go to wouldyourathermath.com/users-guide, there is a little PDF that I put together about some possible ways that you could incorporate these into your class. For the teachers, I get the opportunity to support. It first starts with and this needs to be said, the teacher needs to do the problem him or herself. The assumption that, I’m just going to give kids the prompt and let them run with it, I as the teacher would love to know, here’s some possible places that this could go. Because if the entire class chooses the $25 per hour, then this isn’t a Would You Rather, this is a consensus. I want to be able to throw something else into the fire, say, “Well what about this on the $48,000 per year?”

John Stevens: Being able to work both sides of the problem I think is very important for the teacher going in. I did, Would You Rather Wednesdays, and that would be another thing that I would encourage is to not over saturate your classroom with these types of prompts, because the novelty wears off. Because the luster of it, here you go, another Would You Rather, all right. That’s why for my class, it was once a week. I would either find or create something.

John Stevens: Another thing that I’ve been talking with my teachers about is, don’t try to find something, don’t overwork yourself to try to find something that is directly tied to the lesson standard that you’re working on for the day. As an example, one of the ones I know you guys know, would you rather have a stack of quarters from the floor to the top of your head or $225 cash? That one has a lot of really, really good conversation in there.

John Stevens: I did that one with my students right before we were talking about the Triangle Sum Theorem. Stacking quarters has nothing to do with the fact that three angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees, but I wanted to give kids the chance-

Kyle Pearce: Unless there’s the 180 coins.

John Stevens: Unless there are 180 coins and you can put them in to a triangle, and that would be a good conversation maybe. But the reason, the rationale for me to do that prompt with the lesson coming up about the Triangle Sum Theorem is, in order to answer that question of which one you’d rather have, you really have to get comfortable manipulating decimal values.

John Stevens: We know that kids often do better with decimal values as it relates to money. I wanted to give kids that chance to wrestle with that prompt and then say, “Okay, now we’ve got three angles here. Go through the Triangle Sum Theorem, start talking about how they add up to 180.” Then I feel as the teacher more comfortable dropping in some angle measures that aren’t whole numbers, that I can drop in 35.75 degrees instead of just 35 degrees. The kids have seen decimal values in the warm up, in the introduction of the lesson. Not feeling like I can’t use this prompt because it doesn’t address the content standard that I’m supposed to be addressing that day.

Kyle Pearce: Right. Something in our district, we’ve been talking with educators around our district around this idea of trying to include math talks into our lessons. We tried to frame out this idea of what might fit as a math talk. I would argue that, a Would You Rather… Some of them could probably be bigger than a math talk, for sure. But you could be grabbing some of these to use intentionally for your math talk. It might be like your number talk for that day.

Kyle Pearce: It sounds like what you’re suggesting is that sometimes it might be good that it doesn’t actually relate to today’s concept, because maybe it gives us an opportunity to build that number fluency. Like you had said, you’re hitting on some ideas that maybe we’re not going to see for a little while in this particular unit of study, if I’m focusing on angles of triangles and quadrilaterals. It’s this idea of interleaving ideas and bringing them back to the table. Would you argue that in some ways, maybe, it might be helpful to almost avoid the topic that you’re actually after? Because I’m with you on this, sometimes we drive ourselves nuts. We spent two hours trying to find an opener for a lesson, a really good way to get kids talking early in our lesson, we spent two hours prepping that. Then it’s like the actual lesson we’ve prepared that day tanks a bit, because we haven’t actually focused enough of our time and attention on making sure that that actually goes well.

John Stevens: That was the teacher that believed in putting out a warm up or a do now an intro that related to yesterday’s topic that also connects to today’s lesson. Because, you’re in math class now and I need for you to be thinking math. For a 14 year old, heck, for any student coming in. Look, I just got done having a really, really deep conversation in my history class about this war that happened and who was on the right side of history. You think I’m ready to start talking about systems of equations? No, I’m not.

John Stevens: I just got done doing this really intense thing in P.E. and I had to rush to go get my clothes on and changed. Just to get to your class before the bell rings, I’m not ready to do that. There’s a time and place to have those kinds of things to open a lesson, but what I’m trying to do with these tasks, especially now is I’m trying to get your brain to make that pivot from whatever you were doing prior to this class, I want you to be able to construct an argument and critique some reasonings of others using a math lens.

John Stevens: Whether it’s something super realistic like the hourly wage or annual wage or whether it’s something silly like if you’d rather have this many peeps or this many peeps, or take this route or that route, that is irrelevant to me. I just want to make sure that you come in, you feel like you can offer something, you can contribute something to this class. Any prompt that I put up there should be something that any student in the class feels comfortable enough that they could share something.

Jon Orr: I love that message of that low floor, that everyone can access the actual conversation, the mathematics is so important. You hit on something that I think we sometimes forget, as we’re planning our math lesson, sometimes we’re thinking of, what to do. We get a lot of emails from people who listen to the podcast or visit the website, or whatever it might be in our travels along the way. They get into this resource overload. It’s like, we totally forget to think about the intentionality behind why we’re doing what we’re doing. What I’m hearing you’re saying is like for you, there’s a number of different purposes that you’re using. Not only is it to get a student to get into this math mode, but I’m hearing this idea of really getting kids to start that math discourse and get them talking, get them… I find the longer I go when I present anything, whether it’s to students or to teachers, the longer I go with me talking and then listening, the harder it is to get them to try to talk later.

Jon Orr: I’m curious, since you’ve started these types of routines using Would You Rather and I know it’s just from seeing you on Twitter and having conversations with you in the past that Would You Rather is not the only tool that you’re using in your class as class warm up. Like you said, you did your Would You Rather Wednesdays, but could you speak to any maybe shift in terms of your classroom environment since you’ve made maybe that shift to get kids talking and debating and getting some of that fun, like you said, from the literacy classes or the language classes or the social science classes that it seemed like in math class, we just never really took advantage of in the past?

John Stevens: Like I said, this is something that came in year eight of teaching, and soon after that I was brought in as an instructional coach. I don’t have my own classroom. I get the laboratory of 127 math classrooms across my district. Then when I get a chance to do workshops and work in other schools, I get the opportunity to try things out there, but it has changed the way… For teachers who are implementing this on a fairly consistent basis, it’s changed the things that we value in math class, because we are making this shift. The shift is very slow. The shift is very methodical and very calculated as a system. But there are teachers who are implementing, Would You Rather, and which one doesn’t belong, an estimation 180 and visual patterns, and these modeling representations of mathematics.

John Stevens: What I see from people in my district and the teachers that I support when I get the chance to do work outside of it is that people are feeling like they can let their kids talk more. You’re hearing more noise in the classroom. That makes me happy, it really does. Today, I was walking up and down, I was supporting 14 different teachers as they were trying out a task and there was noise in the hall because every classroom I walked down kids were discussing and debating which dimensions they should be going with for their handicap access ramp.

John Stevens: They were using the Math to be able to defend their decisions. I think that’s the kind of stuff that Would You Rather and all of the resources that the folks in the Math community have been building as of late, are affording us the opportunity to do.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, I think that’s been one of my biggest shifts in my classroom is that using those resources of yours and the other people that you’ve mentioned in those websites have changed the culture of my room to be more opening to kids expressing ideas and using Math to justify things verbally. It’s been a game changer for me. John, before we move to talk about Table Talk Math, because I think we definitely should, what do you think would be the biggest piece of advice you could give teachers or even just starting teachers who want to use wouldyourathermath.com? What’s biggest piece of advice you could leave our listeners with? What would that be?

John Stevens: That’s a big one.

Jon Orr: We’ll let you slide in a couple of extra if you want.

John Stevens: This one’s not as important, but it’s just one of the little picky things is to go through this with your students. I see sometimes on the website that I’ll get like 35 comments in a 20 minute period. I know… They’re bouncing around and they’ve got the same web host. What that looks like to me is that that teacher has said, “Hey, go on the website and answer some of these, Would You Rather prompts. That’s devoid of conversation. Maybe they’re having the conversation and then as a group, they’re putting in an answer, but for me, I’d love to see and hear a whole group discussion or a large group discussion and be able to gain different perspectives and vantage points about it.

John Stevens: That’s been the pet peeve. It’s not a big one, but it’s one that to use this resource with fidelity, really, it involves a large group, it involves a discussion, a conversation. Not just, hey, go on, answer this question so that we can start the lesson. But the other one, the one that I really want to encourage, especially for the folks who have not yet tried Would You Rather Math is to try it more than once. There’s a very good chance, just like anything that we do the first time, it’s not going to be as good once we get comfortable with it, to try, Would You Rather, and then set one up already.

John Stevens: “Hey, we’re going to do this one on this coming Wednesday after I listen to the podcast or after I go to one of your workshops, or go to the online course, I’m going to try the Would You Rather, and then I’m going to schedule one for one week after that, because I know that I want to give this a second chance.” That way, it gives the teachers a chance to learn from some of the things that happened in class. It gives students a little bit more consistency in what they hear and the format. Because a lot of times again, they’re not used to having these conversations in class. It may not start out as this fluid, beautiful discussion that teenagers or preteens just jump out of their seats waiting to have a debate using Math, it may take some time for it to flourish.

Kyle Pearce: Right. I really appreciate those tips, because actually, you gave two there, and there’s also one earlier that I think was really important, and I want to make sure that people really think about it. It’s the idea that you had mentioned earlier about making sure that you do the Math ahead of time. That to us, we talk about the five practices quite often, this idea of anticipating is so important, because if I’m actually going to facilitate a conversation.

Kyle Pearce: It segues nicely into the second piece you just mentioned about not just sending students to go pick a random one and go solve it, and this is just some independent work time. We want to get kids talking about this. If I want to actually facilitate a really meaningful discussion, then I have to, in my mind, have a… If I don’t even know why the two things are being compared on the website, because let’s be honest, the reason why it’s a Would You Rather is because there’s something interesting going on there. If I’m the facilitator of the discussion, and I don’t even see different perspectives on why one might be better than the other, it’s going to be a really dry conversation.

Kyle Pearce: Then finally, you also mentioned this idea of scheduling it in, trying it out, and then also just to make sure that if it doesn’t go well the first time, try not to… I know it’s so easy for us to be like, “That didn’t work, my kids didn’t like it.” But I wonder if we were to take a step back and say, “I wonder if maybe I missed a teacher move, because I’m brand new at this? I can’t expect myself to be an expert at this yet. Rather than writing it off, if let’s say that first time, it doesn’t go so hot, it’s like looking back and reflecting.

Kyle Pearce: If you have an opportunity, I know, John, you get a chance to go in and work with teachers, is there an instructional coach that you might be able to team up with? Even if they’re not familiar with the resource, let’s tag team this and let’s try this together, and maybe they’ll notice something as I’m doing this with my class or I’ll notice something as a teaching partner does it with their class that maybe is harder to see when you’re in the moment. I really like those ideas, and I’m hoping folks at home are taking those notes down and saying, “If I’m going to give this a shot, just make sure that we give ourselves the time and the practice to try to make it go, let’s say better than that first time. That first time is never going to be super, super smooth.

Kyle Pearce: John, I want to segue here. We’re looking at the time, we don’t have a ton of time left with you this evening. But we do want to definitely shine some light on another resource that you provide, which we think is a great one, not just for teachers, but in particular for parents. John, I know you know, that our John from Make Math Moments also has a special place in his heart for helping parents out in creating this positive thinking and positive vibes and positive mindset around mathematics.

Kyle Pearce: John has his resource called Math Before Bed. You also have a math resource that folks can access for the home, and it’s called Table Talk Math. I’m wondering, can you tell us a little bit about Table Talk Math? What inspired you? What is it, for those who don’t know, and what inspired you to take on this task of bringing math to the table?

John Stevens: Well, first of all, I will definitely say that I enjoy and I appreciate the work that John has done around Math Before Bed. Love the work, love the prompts that are put out there for parents to have that conversation with their kids. It parallels a lot with what I’ve done with Table Talk Math. It started because I got the opportunity to write a book for teachers called the Classroom Chef.

Kyle Pearce: Great book.

Jon Orr: Great book.

John Stevens: This taking in the classroom… Thank you. It got a lot of good feedback, and we’ve done a lot of workshops for teachers and training. We do all that and it’s for teachers. What happens is that the teachers go into their classrooms and they try these things out and they have great experiences with them and the kids love them and the kids go home to their parents and the parents look at it and think, what are you doing and why? I want to help you, I want to be there for you as a parent, I want to make sure that I’m giving you the best support I can. But this isn’t the Math that I grew up with.

John Stevens: We see that on Facebook, we see that on Twitter and parents put this stuff out there, not because they’re trying to shame anybody, but they’re frustrated, they haven’t seen under the hood of what Math education looks like in 2017 and beyond. Maybe a little bit before them, but not the current stuff that’s happening, the progressive things that are happening in math classrooms all over the world.

John Stevens: I wanted to build on that. Therefore, I wrote Table Talk Math. It started out as a newsletter. We’re sending it out every week, give them a new prompt, a new idea that parents can try out at home. It went really well, a lot of parents are signing up for it and realize that a lot of parents aren’t signing up for it and figured I’d bring in some experts.

John Stevens: Nat Banting came in and talked about fraction talks, Annie Fetter talked about noticing and wondering. Fawn Nguyen talked about visual patterns, Mary Bourassa talked about which one doesn’t belong, Andrew Stadel talks about estimation. All of these things, they’re concepts and ideas that parents can use as they’re driving their kid to school or as they’re sitting down at the dinner table, hence, Table Talk Math, or a number of different situations where opportunities around us that we can use to bring Math to the table.

Jon Orr: I used to get those newsletters or I guess I still do get those newsletters. AI found them quite handy for my own kids and lots of great insight, lots of great little tidbits that you can… Like you said, you can be sitting at the table, or you could be sitting in the couch with your kids and have a short conversation. That’s also what’s really great about some of the ideas is that they can be just short little conversations with your kids to get them thinking about Math at home.

Jon Orr: I’m so glad that you’ve written that book for parents because I think that’s a huge piece that parents want to help their kids, they just don’t know how to help their kids. I think that you fit that piece in there nicely to show them one way they can, or many ways that they can do that with their own sons or daughters.

Jon Orr: I’m not sure if you listened, but the episode that went live this week at the time of this recording, which is Episode 49, we just talked with Hillary and Matthew who wrote the book Adding Parents To The Equation. They also had that same idea is that there’s some great resources. I think the more we can get into parents’ hands, the better not only our parents can be but our students can be, and the more successful they can be.

Jon Orr: That is some great stuff. I think Kyle wants to jump in here and ask something. Kyle, go ahead.

Kyle Pearce: I just wanted to mention too, I think why these resources… Table Talk Math and John, your Math Before Bed. I know Hilary and Matthew have both of your resources in their book, they have a huge list of resources in there as well. Something I think about and I’m a math educator, and I’ll be in the car and sometimes I’m thinking of, you know when you have so many ideas, but you’re like, which one should I bring up for that conversation? That’s what I find really handy about those newsletters and really just all the different tools that you have available to parents through Table Talk Math.

Kyle Pearce: We know that it’s important for parents to be talking with their kids about Math, but sometimes it’s like we’re spinning our tires on what do I actually ask them? I know, John, you also have a resource and I think it would be a great opportunity for those who are listening and are unaware of it, I really think that they should be aware of it, is when you’re going away for summertime, and you’re looking for something to do in the summer, summers are busy, but at the same time, you get these larger chunks of time. Sometimes I’m wondering, I’m like, “What could I do? What sort of activity could I do with my daughter, Talia who is in grade two, or my son who’s in SK, which is Senior Kindergarten here in Ontario.”

Kyle Pearce: I know that you have actually recently teamed up with some fabulous educators to offer some opportunities for parents to look and better understand what’s going on in the Math world, and then also, what could I do to even take that to the next level? I’ve got Table Talk Math has this idea of this ongoing ideas that I can use, prompts I can bring to the table to have conversations with my kids. What else could they do if they wanted to go a step deeper?

John Stevens: Well, I’ve mentioned it and John and Kyle, you both have mentioned it as well. We’ve got the newsletter that is free, send it out, “Hey, here’s a prompt. Here’s some sports stats that you can look at, or here’s some weather things that you can start talking about mean, median, and mode or little prompts that hopefully just promote and provoke some insight, some conversation from a parent to a child or even a teacher to his or her classroom.”

John Stevens: But to what you’re alluding to, I realized that we are only getting so far in education and there’s a book by Malcolm Gladwell called Outliers. I don’t know if-

Kyle Pearce: I love Gladwell.

John Stevens: A lot of good stuff in there. The thing that I wanted to be able to address is the support of parents. We have a lot of parents. I get the opportunity to do parent workshops and I get warned sometimes by some administrators or some groups that bring me in. We’ve got a pretty passionate group of parents, we know what that translates to, and they just want to be heard.

John Stevens: When I get the chance to talk to them, they just want to help, and they don’t know how and they’re frustrated. With this Table Talk Math summer course, what I did was I brought in four other educators from around the United States, and then I ended up doing the course for incoming third graders. What we did was we created a series of lessons that were all standards aligned, and it covered 75% of the course that you just finished. If you just finished grade 2, and you’re entering grade 3, 75% of your course, would be grade 2 material, and then 25% of it would be an introduction to what grade 3 content you would be doing, as a way of saying, “Hey, here’s a little bit of an advantage or an edge that you’re going to get because you are going through this.”

John Stevens: There’s a video that goes with every lesson, there’s a handout that goes with the lesson, there’s extra practice problems that go with it. It really just is the video tutorials that all of us have put together are geared toward the student and the parents. They’re not the cute, bubbly, fuzzy, GoNoodle videos, which are cool. But as a parent, I’m not going to sit through a GoNoodle video and try to use it as an educational tool, I’m going to have my child watch it. Whereas these are things that parents can sit down and watch with their child.

John Stevens: There are a series of 12 lessons for each of the courses, spaced out, sent out every five days. Most summer breaks are about 60 days. That way, this provides continuous summer learning all the way through the time that they start their incoming grade level.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome. I saw some snippets of those courses like one from Chrissy Newell and there’s some great stuff in there. I think you’ve had lots of students and schools through that program from last year.

John Stevens: Yeah, this was the pilot year and we had about 30,000 students who had access. There were a few districts that signed up, there was a county that signed up, a lot of individual schools, and then some individuals who could not get their school to sign up, ended up making that decision and getting an individual license that way.

John Stevens: In the process of partnering with some pretty big textbook companies as a way of offering this through their platform, and that way more kids get the chance to do it. The cool part that I’m pretty proud of, and I’m very proud of is the five of us who have run the course have agreed that we’re not going to take profit from it, we’re going to take whatever profits come from this and we’re going to put this back into classrooms.

John Stevens: At the beginning of the year, we were able to purchase classroom supplies for teachers, we were able to fund certain things and really put that money back into the community in a way that helps kids and their families have what they need to start the school year.

Jon Orr: I don’t know if you at home are thinking about John’s overall theme here. But John, the theme that you’ve been talking about here today is clearly support. You are supporting so many people with the work you’re doing. You’re supporting teachers with the resources online and the teachers in your district, but you’re also supporting parents with many resources.

Jon Orr: Now, you’ve got your Table Talk Math book, you’ve got these courses for kids and parents at home. It’s just a great amount of support that you’re providing, and I think the community definitely thanks you. It’s been a fantastic evening speaking with you today. We chatted about so many great stuff. But John, where can folks learn even more about you? Can you give us some links and some ways to access you so that if they want to get in touch or just learn more about you, hit us up with some info.

John Stevens: For as many projects as I have, I have just as many ways of getting in touch with me. I think the easiest-

Kyle Pearce: The telephone number is probably the easiest.

John Stevens: Probably. I’m not going to put that one up yet. But if you follow me on Twitter, that’s the central hub for the social media side of it. You can follow me at Jstevens, S-T-V-E-N-S 009. Feel free to email me john@tabletalkmath.com.

John Stevens: Then the central location for a lot of the work that I do, including my blog, the books that I’ve written, the other work that I do is fishing4tech.com, and that can lead you to a myriad of options of some of the things that I have my hands in.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Thanks so much for that.

Jon Orr: Fantastic.

Kyle Pearce: Well, John, listen, we want to thank you again, the comments made by my John over here… It’s so hard when there’s two Johns on the episode, but his comments about support and the great work that you’re doing. Again, ditto to that. Thank you so much for all the work you do for the math education community, and we hope that we’ll see you either face to face at an upcoming conference, or we’ll hear your voice again on the podcast sometime in the future.

John Stevens: Yeah, I hope so.

Jon Orr: Awesome. Thanks so much.

John Stevens: Thank you.

Kyle Pearce: Have a great night. We want to thank John again for spending all this time with us to share his insights with both John and I, and you the Math Moment Maker Community.

Jon Orr: As always, how will you reflect on what you’ve heard from this episode? Are you writing these things down? Have you drawn a sketch note or tweeted out your biggest takeaway? Calling a colleague is also a great thing to do. Be sure to engage in some form of reflection to ensure the learning here sticks with you.

Kyle Pearce: As a reminder, from the top of the episode, we want you to join us for our new webinar in May, the week of May 11th, and it’s called How to Make Math Moments From a Distance. John, what are we going to be doing in this webinar?

Jon Orr: In this live webinar, you are going to learn how to deliver problem based lessons in a meaningful way, how to reach all students regardless of their mathematical readiness through the use of emerging mathematical strategies and models, and how to do all of this and get the engaging lessons over the internet, synchronously or asynchronously.

Kyle Pearce: Best of all, we’ll be giving away lots of math goodies, including tools and resources to up your Make Math Moments game as we lead conceptual lessons from a distance.

Jon Orr: Register for a date and time that works for you and you’ll receive the replay sent to your email afterwards. Register at makemathmoments.com/webinar.

Kyle Pearce: That’s makemathmoments.com/webinar. Remember, in order to ensure you don’t miss out on any new episodes as they come out each week on Monday mornings at 5:30 AM Eastern time, 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 tweet us your biggest take away at Make Math Moments on Twitter, Instagram, you can even find us on Facebook.

Kyle Pearce: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode75. Again, that’s makemathmoments.com/episode75. Well, John, until next time, I’m Kyle Pearce-

Jon Orr: And I’m John Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us, and high fives for you.

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!



In our six module (16 week) online workshop you’ll learn how to build and adjust your own lessons that engage students, build deeper understanding of math, and promote resilience in problem solving.


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LEARN MORE about our Online Workshop: Making Math Moments That Matter: Helping Teachers Build Resilient Problem Solvers. https://makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop

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