Episode #84: When The Tension Overtakes The Room – A Math Mentoring Moment

Jul 6, 2020 | Podcast | 0 comments


Today we speak with Ryan Foley from Spokane, Washington. Ryan is a 6th grade math and science teacher, who became a Making Math Moments That Matter Certified Teacher after taking our online workshop! What you’re about to hear is another Math Mentoring Moment episode where we speak with a math moment maker like you who is working on a problem of practice. Together, we’ll brainstorm a plan for overcoming these challenges. 

In particular, we chat with Ryan about how to select and sequence your student work while running your lesson; why planning with purpose will allow you to be more flexible in the classroom; and how to build purposeful practice into your lesson plans.

You’ll Learn

  • How to select and sequence your student work while running your lesson. 
  • Why planning with purpose will allow you to be more flexible in the classroom. 
  • How do I build in purposeful practice into my lesson plan.


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Ryan Foley: What I’m really having trouble with is that selecting and sequencing phase about who to talk to first, and then really the consolidation phase thereafter. When do I pull the kids back? Is it when the tension is about to overtake the classroom? And with the fast finishers, I got a question for them, and how do I make best of use of that time? And then on-

Kyle Pearce: Today, we speak with Ryan Foley from Spokane, Washington. Ryan is a sixth grade math and science teacher who became a certified Making Math Moments That Matter teacher after taking our online workshop.

Jon Orr: What you’re about to hear is another Math Mentoring Moment episode, where we speak with a math moment maker like you who is working on a problem of practice. And, together, we brainstorm a plan for overcoming these challenges.

Kyle Pearce: In particular, we chat with Ryan about how to select and sequence your student work while running your lesson, why planning with purpose will allow you to be more flexible in the classroom in the moment, and how to build purposeful practice into your lesson plans. Jon, are you ready to get into another Math Mentoring Moment episode?

Jon Orr: Here we go.

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

Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr from mrorr-isageek.com. We are two math teachers who together …

Kyle Pearce: With you, the community of 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 this week’s episode, When The Tension Overtakes The Room: A Math Mentoring Moment. So Jon, why is this a special Math Mentoring Moment guest?

Jon Orr: Well, today, the guest is another Making Math Moments That Matter certified educator, which means that Ryan, here, recently completed our online workshop. And you, a listener, can also become a Making Math Moments certified educator. Kyle, let us know some details on that.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, that’s right there, Jon. Our workshop’s a 12-week training course on how to make math moments that matter. At the time of this recording, we’ve had over 700 educators through the program, and over 200 are currently engaging with us and leveling up their skills so they can help their students this fall. We run the workshop twice a year, so head to makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop to learn more.

Jon Orr: That’s makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop. All right, let’s jump into our conversation with the Making Math Moments That Matter certified educator and Academy member Ryan Foley.

Jon Orr: Hey there, Ryan. Thanks for joining us here on the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. We are so excited, so eager to have a chat with a fellow math moment maker from the academy and actually someone who’s taken some time to dive deep into the three part framework. How are you doing today?

Ryan Foley: I’m doing really good. Thanks for having me on.

Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. Ryan, do us a favor and our listeners a favor, why don’t you fill us in a little bit about yourself, where you’re coming from, and also what grades are you teaching and what’s your role in education?

Ryan Foley: Yeah, well, my name is Ryan. I teach over in Spokane, Washington. I’m a sixth grade math and science teacher. I’ve been teaching for about 11 years now. I began in a middle school track over in Nampa, Idaho. I was a science and math teacher there, just sixth grade again. And after three years in Idaho, I decided to move to my home state of Montana, where I picked up a fifth grade job, and I did that for three years.

Ryan Foley: And then, I decided I wanted to try my hand in outdoor education. And yeah, quickly learned that there was not a lot of money to be had in outdoor education. And I was just a young dad at that point, I have two little boys. And so, I met my wife during that time, and I was finishing up a master’s degree in science ed, there was a job over here in Spokane, which is where my wife is from, and so I picked up a science ed position in an elementary school and I did that for two years. And then, got the itch to go back to the classroom, and I was able to pick up a sixth grade position in the same school. Fortunately, I was able to focus in on math and science, and team teach with an awesome lady who is an expert at the ELA.

Kyle Pearce: Oh, very cool. Awesome experience here. You’ve had quite a few different experiences, it looks like, going from different grade levels, different schools, different states, even different subject areas, trying to hop into outdoor education, and then now into math and science. Very, very cool. Before we get moving along here, Ryan, we want to make sure that people at home, the Math Moment Maker community gets to know you really well. So, we want you to dig back into your memory bank and think about a math moment. When we say math class, when you’re thinking back as a student, what pops into your mind to share with the Math Moment Maker community?

Ryan Foley: Well, I always listen to your podcast, and I always appreciate this question and just the variety of answers. And it’s something I think about when I’m listening to you guys. And the one that always comes up to my mind was in seventh grade, I was placed in an advanced math class. And I was always the kid in class who always really wanted to know why, and so I was always a kid raising my hand and my teacher, “Well, why does that work? Why does that work?”

Ryan Foley: And I remember, at one point, I was sitting next to this other student, another Ryan by the way, and he was getting just a little bit annoyed with me because I kept asking these why questions and, “Why does that work?” And, at one point, I think he just really told me to shut up. He was just mad at me. He’s like, “Man, just let it go. It is what it is. Just accept it.” And I just remember that moment because I kind of did. From that moment on, I was just more kind of silent in my wonderings. And I was just like, “Well, I guess maybe I do ask too many questions, and maybe I should just accept even when it is fuzzy in my mind.” And that kind of just stuck with me as I went on in my career.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. You know what? I’ll tell you right now, as you mentioned that, I have never talked about this on the episode, but I clearly remember, I wasn’t necessarily the Ryan that told you to be quiet, but I do remember being the kid that was very complacent. I would sit there and it was like if I understood or I thought I understood, great. And if I didn’t, I was like, “Oh, well, that’s the way things work,” and I just sort of sat back and let it happen. And I do remember having some friends that weren’t okay with that. And it sounds like you were one of those students who was like, there’s got to be a reason why, and I really appreciate you sharing that because I feel like this might be our first episode, I don’t know if Jon can remember any episode, where someone’s come and shared a math moment that resonated in that way with me.

Kyle Pearce: Jon, what’s your thoughts when you hear that? Were you this Ryan or were you the other Ryan who sort of was like, “Come on, let’s just move along here?”

Jon Orr: I think I’m more like you, Kyle. I don’t know if I would have been outspoken enough to tell this Ryan shut it.

Kyle Pearce: Maybe you’re just too kind.

Jon Orr: Yeah. I’m really sad, actually, that this other Ryan told you that because this is what we don’t want in our classrooms now. But the truth being told is I probably was that kid also, who was like, “Let’s move along, man. You just need to copy this stuff down and move on.” And I remember having a conversation, this is probably a little higher grade level, I think it was maybe grade 12 in calculus, is that I quite quickly figured out when a teacher was doing a proof on the board versus examples. And we’re copying this proof down, and we’re trying to like, “Oh, how would we ever figure this out on our own?” And you, Ryan, you’re probably like, “Man, this is great because it’s explaining why this works, or how this comes to be.”

Jon Orr: And I remember stopping writing down, going, “Wait a minute, this is proof. He’s just showing us where it comes from. This is not an example, this is not going to be on the test.” And I remembered to stop copying. And then, every time he did a proof like that I never copied it down anymore. For some reason I had already lost that kind of wonder about why math works. And I really sad Ryan, for you, that you had to go through that kind of shutting down moment because it could have opened different doors. Who knows what could have been, if you weren’t, say, shut down so early.

Ryan Foley: Well, I find it formative in my teaching, now, because we want to encourage those wanderers. And so, it’s something I always bring up every year for my students, and something that I’m always kind of thinking about in my instruction.

Jon Orr: Let’s dive a little bit deeper here, Ryan, as we get into thinking about the struggles you’re having, or the challenge you wanted to discuss here on this Mentoring Moment episode. But before we get there, would you mind sharing a recent success you’ve had in your role?

Ryan Foley: Yeah. So, this year I’ve really been focusing on opening my classroom with opportunities for students to engage in a positive way with math. And one of the things I do, and I think I’m doing well this year, is like a middle school background. You might have something like a bell ringer or an entry task, and I’m designing those to be really low floor, high ceiling kind of tasks for the students. Very visual, lots of movement, stand up, pair up, share up kind of stuff. And then, thereafter we go into like a lot of estimation. And we spend the first, maybe, 20 minutes of my math block, my math block’s about 80 minutes long, on doing stuff like this.

Ryan Foley: And the goal being, I want my students to have a dopamine hit early on in the lesson. And I want them to feel positive early on because I think if I can get them feeling good about themselves early on, then I can get them leaning into the content when we get into the task, or the lesson at hand for that day. So, I think I’m doing well in that aspect.

Kyle Pearce: I love when I’m hearing this because we, actually, just recently recorded an episode and I don’t know if it would be live by now, by the time this one will go live. But the episode we were recording, we were chatting, and we were just talking about how important it is to get kids into the lesson quickly. And one of the best ways to do that is to get them talking, and get them engaged, and get them excited. I love how you’re talking about it’s visual, there’s movement, you got them pairing up, sharing up. I love that phrase that saying, and estimating. So, that, to me, is huge.

Kyle Pearce: And, actually, when you said that dopamine hit, it actually reminded me of one of the lessons in our online workshop where we actually talk about some of the different chemicals in the brain, and how they work, and different ways that we can actually utilize brain science to help us leverage some of those moments with students. So, to me, that sounds awesome.

Kyle Pearce: I’m curious, could you give us an example of one that might’ve happened over the last week? Something that you’ve done as one of those sort of entry tasks that you got kids going, those bell ringers that got them moving or talking?

Ryan Foley: Yeah. I’m going to thank Jon on this. A lot of the stuff that you presented when I took your online workshop, so which one doesn’t belong, Andrew Stadel’s Estimation 180. I use quite a bit of Steve Wyborney’s Cube Talks and Splats!, and stuff like that. And so, I think the reason … we’re right now on kind of a kick on Estimation 180, where we are taking a too low, a too high best guess of how many pages are in a book. And there’s like a string of them in there of like seven days. And so, we talk about range, and what’s an acceptable range to be within. I incentive it with the kids, I keep little Life Savers or something if they’re plus or minus 20, or something like that. So, kids like to compete with each other and try to convince each other, “No, this is it,” and we talk about our strategy. So, I would say that’s probably a recent success we’ve had there.

Kyle Pearce: Nice, that’s fantastic. Yeah, it sounds like maybe leveraging some of those ideas from the math fight lesson that Jon put together for the online workshop. I know Jon does live when we go to conferences quite often, and that one’s definitely a crowd favorite.

Jon Orr: Thanks so much for sharing that with us. I’m curious, now we all know, as math educators, that there’s always a problem of practice. And when I say a problem of practice, that’s being very conservative. There’s many problems of practice that we’re constantly feeling and working through. I’m curious, are there any that you have on your mind lately? Is there anything that you want to dig into with us here while we have you on this Math Mentoring Moment episode?

Ryan Foley: Oh, absolutely. I’ve written down a couple, but they all kind of focus in on the same thing. And so, the time in class that I’m really kind of having a struggle with is after the productive struggle phase of, okay, you got kids to lean in on that low floor, high ceiling task. You got through and you piqued their curiosity. And then, we have the productive struggle. I see we were up at our white books and we’re doing the math. Then, I step back, I’m scanning the room.

Ryan Foley: And what I’m really having trouble with is kind of that selecting and sequencing phase about who to talk to first, and then really like the consolidation phase thereafter like, okay, when do I pull the kids back? Is it when the tension is about to overtake the classroom? And with the fast finishers, I got a question for them, and how do I make best of use of that time? And then, on the back end, how much do we get to practice what we just were working on? And so, the selecting and sequencing phase to the consolidation phase is something I’m kind of struggling with right now.

Jon Orr: Got you, so let me just rephrase. So, from your learning, from the online workshop, which we heavily teach about the five practices for orchestrating productive mathematical discussions in one of the modules, you sparked their curiosity already, you’re into the fueling sense-making piece, you’ve got them up at the boards, they’re doing some work, they’re showing you some of that thinking. And then, like the five practices, this is the time where we’re trying to not only help our students at the boards, but also selecting which strategies we want to share with the group. And then also, how do I sequence those? Who goes first? Who goes second? And then, also, how do we connect all of that together?

Jon Orr: And then you’re saying after that, what do I do next? Do I practice next? Or do we do it again next, that kind of thing. Does that summarize where you’re wondering at that point, Ryan?

Ryan Foley: Yes, that sounds pretty accurate.

Jon Orr: Yeah. And so I’m wondering if we think about all of that so far, one question that Kyle and I usually try to dig a little deeper with is, can you paint us a little bit more of a picture there on what you have had success with so far doing that? Like what have you tried at that moment? We teach some specific stuff about different ways we can sequence and select at that stage. But can you tell us a little bit about what have you tried so far that you’ve seen work? But then, also, maybe what have you tried that didn’t work for you?

Ryan Foley: One thing that has worked and it was just recently, I think back to today, I used one of Dan Meyer’s tasks. We’re working on dividing fractions and he has a Nana’s eliminate task that hits that standard in our sixth grade. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with that one.

Jon Orr: Yes.

Ryan Foley: Yeah. Anyways, so we presented the task, we get into our notice and wonders, and then they go for it too. And we do the visible, random groupings, all things are great. And then, what went well for me today was thinking back to what you guys were talking about on the online is, all right, you want to select from the most concrete, and move to the most abstract. And so, when the tension was about, okay, we’re about ready to be done with this task I pulled them back to their seats. And then, I purposely selected a couple students to go stand by their white boards. And we followed them with their eyes and have them present. And I moved it from more of a visual pictorial representation into some students are discovering the Keep, Change, Flip algorithm to dividing fractions. I haven’t taught them that yet. I withheld just showing them that, but they’ve been kind of discovering that, and so that’s kind of where we ended that today. So, we moved our progression from there.

Ryan Foley: Where I’ve really kind of struggled with is the lesson’s almost over, man, we got to transition now because we’re swapping out classes, a new class is coming in. And I just didn’t plan enough time on the back end. We come back to the seats and there’s just a rush of like, here was the learning target for today. Here’s a strategy that might’ve helped make this a little easier. Man, we don’t have time to practice this today, right now, we’re going to try to get to it tomorrow. So, that’s been my struggle right there.

Kyle Pearce: I’m sitting here just reflecting on some of the things that you said, and clearly you’re very reflective on the progression of the lesson. And I can tell, and I’m sure Jon, you probably would agree with me that in listening to what you’re saying, you have a very clear understanding of, first of all, you talked about the things that were going well, which was this lesson starter, starting low floor, getting kids talking, getting them interested, getting them to lean in. And then, selecting useful tasks using Dan Meyer’s task there, and taking that and starting to select and sequence student work, and student thinking.

Kyle Pearce: A lot of really good things going on here. And we really like how you’re using the word tension, because we do talk about that a lot in the online workshop. This idea of in a traditional math lesson, oftentimes, the tension gets really high, really fast. And then we, as the teacher, sort of steal it, and sort of take all away by like giving away answers to students. And it sounds like you’re allowing that tension to build enough, and then trying to figure out what to do when that tension rises. And I’m just wondering if we think back to this, in particular, example that you have, and you talked a little bit about how dividing fractions sort of emerged here. I love how that you’ve held back on the algorithm, you haven’t rushed to the algorithm. You were saying, you didn’t tell kids to keep one the same, change the operator, and then flip the other fraction. And they were sort of discovering that and emerging that on their own, which is cool that they’re picking up on this. Or maybe they remember it from a previous year.

Kyle Pearce: If we’re thinking about this lesson in particular, can you tell us a little more of what does that planning stage look like before that lesson? What were you thinking about as the big idea? Like when I’m thinking about what I’m hoping students will walk away from, what am I hoping that they will hear or have understood by the time they walk out of that door? And I know sometimes we set ourselves really high expectations. We don’t always meet that expectation but, if you could wave that magic wand, what might that have looked like in terms of what students might have gained from that experience, do you think?

Ryan Foley: Well, this lesson came in after like a mid unit assessment. And, to be honest, we didn’t do all that hot. And our curriculum has the students really grappling with models, visual models of dividing fractions. And if you ever worked with dividing fractions, and tried to create visual models it’s really not that intuitive. And there’s quite a few ways of going about it. And then, you get into the whole conversation of how much in one group, or the other part of division that I’m blanking on at this exact moment.

Ryan Foley: So, my goal with this lesson was to almost use Dan Meyer’s task to give kids a positive experience with dividing fractions. Again, to get them that dopamine hit, as I said early on, and to kind of assess within their conversation where are we at with this? Because the task itself is not too hard. The problem itself wasn’t all that challenging. And when it happened, I was able to go around, and I see that most of my students were able to kind of nail it. And I was pretty pleased with that. So, my learning goal for today was to simply kind of move into more of a positive feeling for these students to keep them going for the next half of … I kind of set them up for the next half of this unit.

Jon Orr: So, I’m thinking about some of the things you said there, I’m glad that you’re setting them up for some success there. If we go back to you one of your struggles, that I just want to touch on now, which is when they are at the boards and you’re assessing what they’re doing. That’s one of the things I love about seeing my students at the boards is that I learned so much about what they know, what they can show me, and where their learning is. And it’s that information that you gain from that that helps decide what to do.

Jon Orr: And I think managing that tension and managing when do I pull them together? When do I go, “Okay, now we’re going to go look at that solution. When am I going to go look at that solution?” And all that sequencing, it’s kind of an art, and it sometimes takes some practice. And that’s why we like that you used that word tension because you can feel tension, right? You can feel that, okay, they’re about to explode. They’re about to be like they give up and they’ve got that-

Kyle Pearce: Positive tension or a negative tension, right?

Jon Orr: Yeah. So, if you think about that in our workshop, we discussed the hero’s journey and we think of this map or this curve that we draw that the tension can build. And it’s like, we’re at the top here. When you feel that it’s okay well, maybe it is the time that we need to go and look at a solution.

Jon Orr: And sometimes it’s the more experience, Ryan, that you have with students working at the walls. And you’re making sure that you know what your learning goal is. If you know what your learning goal is, then you know where you want to go to. So, sometimes you’ll see a solution on the wall that you know, because you plan it out in the pre-planning, you mapped out all the different solutions that are going to come out for that problem. And so, when you see it you’ll know, okay, I can talk about that one if we need to, and I can go over there and talk about that one, if we need to. But if you know what your learning goal is, you can see this whole thing unfold. And so, when the tension’s rising it could be, I saw the solution over there. Let’s all pause for a moment. Let’s go talk about this one part of the solution. Can you guys just outline how you got started? Okay, let’s go over here and talk about this solution. And can you guys show us what you had done next?

Jon Orr: And it’s also, if you saw it. Now, if you didn’t see those things, this is the chance for you to go, “Okay, we got to actually teach this strategy to the group because it didn’t come out. My learning goal wasn’t evident, it didn’t show itself. So, now we should either do it at a board or we’ll go back to our desks and we’ll do a quick example on it if we need to.

Jon Orr: Kyle and I say a lot of the times is, it depends on what that looks like. And I think what we’ve said in the past too is that that flexibility that you have in the room, you can only be that flexible if everything starts in your planning stage, because if you plan those solutions out, and you know that they’re going to pop out, and what are you going to do if they don’t pop out? If you will think about that all in advance and have it all mapped out, then you don’t really have to think on the fly. You’re all ready to go. You knew it was going to happen, so then it just takes over. So you don’t have to figure that, “Oh, wait a minute, there’s a solution here. I haven’t seen yet. Now, I have to figure out how that ties into things.”

Jon Orr: So it really, for us, comes down to a lot of planning ahead, and getting very clear on what you hope to consolidate in the end, and what you hope that learning goal’s going to look like. And that anticipation of those solutions, I think, is where most of that work is done.

Jon Orr: Kyle asked you before, it’s kind of what does that planning look like? So I think it’s like, we got to make sure that we really plan well, what the end will look like of those lessons.

Ryan Foley: So, do you have a question more so on the consolidation phase and it kind of reminds me of a conversation I had this past week. I was at a PD and I was sitting with a bunch of middle school teachers, and the presenter was presenting on the five practices and I was like, “Sweet. I’m already leaning in on this, I believe in it. This is something that is good.” And this guy turns to me, and I didn’t know this gentleman, and he’s like, “Man, I love this stuff but, at one point, I just need my students to find the hypotenuse 20 times, so they just feel comfortable with it.” And I kind of wrestled with that in my mind. I didn’t really respond all that much to him. I was like, “Well, yeah, I can see that.” And so, I knew I was going to have this conversation with you, and I wanted to ask you guys about that.

Ryan Foley: During the consolidation phase, is it important for us to do that, as he said, he calls him practicing free-throws by using a sports analogy. So, I was kind of wondering where you guys think on that?

Kyle Pearce: That’s a great question. And, actually, I had a conversation with a teacher in my district very similar to that one, wasn’t stated maybe the same way, but was sort of this idea of where does that purposeful practice fit in? And just kind of coming back, I want to segue based on a few things that Jon had said as well on the consolidation, and kind of going back, and you had mentioned that one of your overarching goals was to make students sort of feel positive with the idea of dividing fractions. We all know that, for many people, it was not necessarily a positive experience, right? It was probably more of a memorization experience.

Kyle Pearce: And just some things that I was thinking about is trying to always have that goal in mind, and then always trying to pick a math goal. Like what about dividing fractions would you hope students would get a little more clear on? So, that’s something to maybe think about and consider. And that might be maybe exploring explicitly the two types of divisions. Maybe taking that Dan Meyer problem, and then making another scenario that’s still with lemonade, I think you were saying it was the lemonade problem, still with lemonade, but then flipping the type of division on them. And then, maybe, the big idea in the consolidation is, obviously, dividing fractions there, but it’s also this idea that, “Wow, hey friends, did you notice something different happened in this other scenario over here?” So, that might be it. I’m not saying it had to have been it, but just an idea that popped in my mind.

Kyle Pearce: And then, also, thinking about which mathematical models. Maybe there’s a model that you wanted to emerge in that consolidation. So, like Jon said, getting clear on that might mean picking a concept from that topic, and trying to dive a little deeper, trying to dive into the conceptual piece, but not losing your original goal because I think your original goal was great. Keeping kids feeling positive about the experience because the hard part about the consolidation phase is that if I’m not addressing, if I’m not at least planning ahead of a specific thing that I want to tell kids about the math or elicit from their work, then it makes that consolidation phase feel really, maybe even contrived. Where you’re like, “We’re going to take up and share this stuff,” but then it just sort of becomes a sharing session, but there’s nothing of wisdom that I’m providing them as the teacher.

Kyle Pearce: And I’ve been there before. I’m still there sometimes, where the way the lesson goes, I’m like, “Ah, I thought I was going to consolidate this way, but the students’ solutions are working out the way I thought they were going to work out.” And you’re still going to find yourself in that place sometimes, but I’m thinking that might be something to maybe keep in mind.

Kyle Pearce: And as we kind of move along out of that lesson and after that consolidation, my thoughts are that we do want kids to walk away and do something afterwards, and that might be a consolidation prompt, it might be multiple problems. I’m personally going to say, this is more of a belief thing, is that I’m personally not going to assign them 20 hypotenuse problems. I’m sure that teacher was probably being a little bit exaggerated on the number of hypotenuses they wanted them to find. But, at the end of the day, we do need students to be practicing. And Jon and I are trying more and more to mention that on the podcast because sometimes I think people walk away assuming that we don’t do any of those things because we don’t ever talk about them. They’re not sexy to talk about because sometimes they’re not the most enjoyable part. But what is really enjoyable as if the problems we do give are selected purposefully, and they’re not just there to fill time, or to just create memorization. I do want to build automaticity.

Kyle Pearce: And then, you have to think about what does that look like, or sound like to me? What do I want my kids to be able to do? And I know, for my kids, I want them to be really flexible, meaning that I could toss them fraction division problems, and I could give them parted of division or quoted of division. I could ask them to show me on a number line, or a double number line, or a area model, or I can ask them to use more symbolic notation. I want those things to happen, but they won’t happen if I only do one task today, and I don’t really ask them to build on it. So, those are things that I think are really important for us to address. And I’m so happy that you brought it up because I think a lot of people have that question and, hopefully, they’re hearing that message that yeah, there’s definitely a place. And then, figuring out what that looks like might be just a little bit more specific to the teacher in particular.

Jon Orr: I want to add something, and this is what Kyle has just said, that when that teacher says, “I just want them to find the hypotenuse 20 times,” and I agree totally with Kyle here, that we are big fans of mixing up the problems. That they’re not just doing a worksheet where it’s, if it’s Pythagorean theorem and they’re finding that hypotenuse 20 times, it’s not the same question with different numbers and they’re triangle’s just rotated.

Kyle Pearce: There’s no thinking. They’re just starting to follow the same steps and procedures, they’re not actually thinking anymore. Whereas we want them to have to think it through and think like, is this even a hypotenuse, a problem involving a right angle triangle, or is it something different?

Jon Orr: Yeah. We’re big fans of mixing it up in the sense of make it a backwards question, make it a forwards question. But the other thing that I think we like to do too, is that because we want that automaticity is not only mixing it up, but what I’ve been a big fan of lately is putting in structures in place that change things up. Like getting them up, getting them moving, getting them working at the boards on the practice themselves, self-checking, peer group, peer assessing that work can be awesome.

Jon Orr: This hypotenuse is right in my mind because I’m going to be using and doing Pythagorean theorem tomorrow with my students. And the one way I’m going to get them to practice after we do some of the investigation part is I usually use the appointment clock structure where they all get a clock and they got some slots on there, and then they have to go and fill in some names before we do anything. And it’s kind of like, do you have a 12 o’clock appointment open? Yes. Okay, let’s write our names in, and we’ll do that again for three o’clock, and so on, and so on. And then, they have their Pythagorean theorem problem that’s kind of their master problem. It’ll be their one that they solve, and they have a full solution for, and they will make sure that they know that problem inside and out.

Jon Orr: And then, when it’s time to meet you with your 12 o’clock appointment you’re going to go and you’re going to exchange problems. And then, you work with that person. You do their problem, they do your problem, but they have a full solution, they have the back of the book answer. And so you can have a conversation with that new partner, and talk about that solution. And they’re the ones that’s going to check it. And then, there’s that peer interaction, that peer assessment happening right there and also self-assessment. And then, after that 12 o’clock you go and meet with your three o’clock appointment and so on. So, nice structures in place to build on the environment that you wanted to create already in your classroom. These are things that is a good tip to do for the practice. We definitely want to have that automaticity and there’s lots of different ways to do it other than just say like, “Hey, here’s a sheet. Get that 20 times hypotenuse calculated so that you can feel comfortable with it.”

Ryan Foley: Yeah, that sounds really good.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome. The only other thing I’ll add to that, I think structures are great for purposeful practice, like Jon’s saying. I think something that I’ve learned from my younger elementary colleagues is the use of centers, and being able to pull small groups, and things. I think there’s a great fit there as well, where sometimes you might have a learning center that might have maybe five iPads or five Chromebooks, and you have some sort of digital tool, like Knowledgehook, or whatever tool you’re using that you can use as a way for students to get some practice over there. They get amount of time over there. And then over here, there’s maybe a game this is set up.

Jon Orr: Or a open middle problem.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. All kinds of things. And then, while this is going on and students, some teachers allow them to self-select centers, this group gets to pick which center they want to do today, and they get to choose how long they want to do it. And then, while that’s happening, I could be pulling small group, and making sure that everybody is where they need to be. And even pulling a small group of students that are working above grade level. And I can make sure that I’m giving them what they need. So, trying to be creative with that structure, I think, can be really helpful.

Kyle Pearce: It is a lot of work, the planning is a lot of work to think it through. But I think that could, at least, provide you with maybe some ideas to maybe get you thinking outside the box a little bit. It seems based on all of your warmups, and all that intentionality you’ve shared with us through this conversation that that’s going to be something you’ll really enjoy doing is actually thinking through what that could look like.

Kyle Pearce: So, at this point, we’re looking at the time and we’re seeing an awesome episode forming up here. We’re going to turn it back to you. Are there any takeaways that are on your mind, anything that kind of popped out at you as something that you might write down on a piece of paper after we chat, or a few things that you write down and think, “Yeah, I think I’m going to start here and start trying to work on that,” as we get closer to ending for the evening?

Ryan Foley: Yeah. Actually, when Jon was talking about his 12 o’clock appointments that reminded me of some of the Kagan strategies I used in all the years, I’ve taught on just student practice. One of the ones I really kind of go to is what’s called the inside outside circle, where students have their problems, they are the outside circle. And then, it revolves around the inside circle, and talks to every student within that circle as they solve the problems, as they go around. I was like, “Man, well, that would be easy to put right into the back into my lesson.” I’d never thought of doing small centers right after being at the boards. I think that is an awesome thing.

Ryan Foley: And another thing, this really piqued my interest, was being more strategic and more thoughtful in my planning as far as what kind of solutions, what kind of problems, or which ways my students might answer the problems. Thinking that through, so I don’t have to have so much tension on myself during that time in the class.

Jon Orr: That learning center is this something that I’m going to be working towards too, in my classroom. I’ve done the head on, head on at the boards and at the desks, but I think I’m going to be also tapping into those learning centers too, even in the high school level. I think there’s lots of value there. So, awesome to hear.

Jon Orr: These takeaways are great. And what we would love to know is whether you would come back on and talk to us in about 9 or 12 months, maybe next year, and we can touch base on how some of these takeaways have impacted you over a year’s worth of teaching. What would you say about that?

Ryan Foley: Oh, I’d love to, that’d be awesome.

Jon Orr: Awesome stuff. So, we would like to thank you, Ryan, for joining us here on this episode of the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. We know that you’ve been in the workshop, you’re in the Academy, and we look forward to keep interacting with you with your learning ongoing there. And before we sign off, I think Kyle wants to say a couple words.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. I just want to say, thanks again there, Ryan. It was awesome learning alongside you in the fall online workshop. We’ve got another workshop cohort opening, for those who are listening, coming in April. We’re going to be opening it a little earlier than usual due to special requests, so awesome stuff. If anyone’s listening and they’re liking what Ryan’s putting down, I know I am. Clearly, you’re a committed educator and we’re so happy to have you on the show. It has been an honor to chat with you. And we hope you won’t be a stranger. Keep on saying hi on Twitter. And we will definitely be in touch with you over those 9 to 12 months.

Ryan Foley: Sounds good. Thanks guys.

Kyle Pearce: Awesome. Take care.

Jon Orr: Have a great night.

Kyle Pearce: As always both Jon and I learn so much from these Math Mentoring Moment episodes, but in order to ensure we hang on to this new learning, so it doesn’t wash away like footprints in the sand, we must reflect on what we’ve learned. Ryan is going to go and reflect on his learning by updating his progress log inside the Make Math Moments Academy. How will you reflect on what you’ve learned here with us today?

Jon Orr: A great way to hold yourself accountable is to write it down or, even better, share it with someone, your partner, colleagues, or with another Make Math Moments community member. By commenting on the show notes page, or tag us @makemathmoments on social media, or join our free private Facebook group, Math Moment Makers K-12.

Kyle Pearce: As I’m sure you’ve heard since becoming a Making Math Moments That Matters certified educator, Ryan has taken his teaching practice to the next level, and you can too. Just head to makemathmoments.com/onlineworkshop to learn more about the workshop and when registration will be opening up next.

Jon Orr: Are you interested in joining us for an upcoming Math Mentoring Moment episode, where you can share a big math class struggle apply over at makemathmoments.com/mentor. That’s makemathmoments.com/mentor.

Kyle Pearce: In order to ensure you don’t miss out on our new episodes as they come out each week, be sure to smash that Subscribe button on your favorite podcast platform, and leave us a quick rating, and review.

Jon Orr: Show notes and links to resources from this episode can be found at makemathmoments.com/episode84. Again, that is makemathmoments.com/episode84.

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

Jon Orr: And I’m Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us. And a high five for you.

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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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