Making a Math Class Kids Will Love, Part 2: Goal Setting (and Collaboration)

I finally did it! I unlocked the magic behind SMART goals. And, hey, it only took me, like, a school year and a little more 🙂 We started goal setting as a school-wide focus a couple of years ago, and I just couldn’t figure it out with my 4th graders (see my post about that struggle).  I tried. I read. I read lots. I tried something else.  I collaborated. But nothing seemed to stick.

Enter my brilliant friends, Monica Maynor and Shayla Johnston, who (somewhere between the two of them) came up with an easy to follow progress monitoring sheet perfect for the kids to use and reflect upon themselves. Monica had the idea of having the students record their pre-test scores on a bar graph on the front of the page. Later, we take the exact test as a post-assessment, and the kids mark this test right beside it.  They are then able to see in bold colors or pencil scratches the gains they made during the module.  We teach through the use of Learning Targets and on this sheet there is a spot for each lesson and a short reflection on why they met or did not meet the day’s target. Perfect, right? All that was missing was some goal setting in the little box that remained.

So we discussed our goals. With the momentum of our newly organized goal setting sheet, I knew exactly where to go…

“I want to be a better mathematician.” Me, too! But…how will you do that or decide that you are?

“I want to get better (or faster) at multiplication (division/subtraction/addition).” Me, too! But…how will you do that or decide that you did?

“I want to be the best in the world at math!” Me, too! But…that’s not my only job, nor is it yours! Think that’s doable?

Time for a quick lesson on SMART goals!  We talked about SMART and ran all of the above (and a few more) through the test! They helped me with a few of my own goals such as getting into grad school and running another 5k. They loved it. We turned each of our goals into something…

Specific: We always have a number. 7/12 learning targets, increase post score by 40 points.

Measurable: Kids can see if they’ve done it or not.

Attainable: Goal is to gain, not make a 100…not everyone will. Especially if one started with an 18. Bringing that up 60 points to a 78 shows tremendous learning!

Relevant: Keeping in mind the idea: how is this important to my future success as a 4th grader? In middle and high school?  Why do I need this in the first place?

Timely: “By the end of this module…”

After we wrote, we did a “whip around” quickly sharing our goals out, helping to fix any that are missing an element of SMART, in particular the S, M, and the T.  We are on our third module, about to begin our fourth tomorrow, and we’ll follow the same procedure, checking in to make sure we have a SMART goal in this way. Many sound the same, but we are all working on the same work, so that is to be expected. Besides, save the uniqueness for the celebrations when we end the module!
My kids now understand how and why they met their goals or know they still need help. When I am ready to form small groups for tiered instruction, I use these goal setting sheets and their reflections to guide me. This, sometimes more than a post-test, tells me how well they comprehended the module.

This level of voice in their reflections is starting to come through stronger as we move into the fourth module.  I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring. They’d never know to have this conversation had they not set a goal and had it to reflect upon. It only took me a year, a couple of good friends, and a lot of collaboration to figure out how to do set SMART goals that work for kids, but learning takes time, even for us big kids!

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Making a Math Class Kids Will Love–Part 1: Talk

Until I was 27 I hated math.  Yes, I know I am a math teacher and a self-proclaimed “mathemagician”, but it’s totally true.  When I ask on the first day of school, “Who really loves math?”, I see 3-4 kids raise their hands (enthusiastically).  In the others I see fear, sadness, disappointment, a challenge, and I see myself.  An awesome article written by one of my favorite mathematicians attests to the fact that failing at math is different feeling like you are bad at something else. I make a promise on the first day of school. “By the time that you leave, you will LOVE math! A bold promise, and I need help.  That’s where YOU come in!”  They are baffled.

How do we change this fear of failure in the math class?  My first step is to let down the walls and share.  Nothing helps more with fear than facing it, right? Check out this TED talk by my favorite astronaut (now) on this planet.

This sharing brings a whole new set of challenges.  How do you say, “Whew, this answer is WRONG!” in a way that will empower your friend?  How do you let them know that they totally read the question incorrectly and spent 20 minutes barking up the wrong tree?  What do you do when someone tells you that your hard work, as we always say, “that you put your heart into”, is just not cutting it?  What do you do when your partner does nothing? (every group I was ever in during my school days…) How do you address it without being bossy?

Each year within the first three days, I have the kids write down all of the things they hate hearing from a partner.  When we read them aloud most kids are shocked that anyone would say those things.  But when I ask, all nod, they’ve been the one saying them.  I ask, “Why do we talk this way? Is it because we are mean?  I don’t think so…”

“I want my partner to get the answer right, too.”

“Sometimes their work makes me think of other work, and I realize that we both have the wrong answer!”

“I want to help, but sometimes I am the one who has the wrong answer. What do I even say?”

“I know some of the right things to say, but it’s not enough.”

We generate questions to ask our partners instead of tell them.  They start with “I” instead of “you” and use the word “help” a LOT.  “I am confused on this part, can you show me what you did?”  We talk about how to be the best model for our peers, what it looks like and doesn’t look like. We talk about specific, not general questions.  “This is confusing” is replaced with “I don’t understand ____, can you help?” We talk about how when you try to use strategies, you ALWAYS bring something to the discussion.  I use a problem solved last year (wrong answer) and the kids discuss what he would have brought for them to talk about.  We discuss strategies, not answers, and how focusing on the strategies focuses on the thinking rather than the answer.  We want to question and make our partners think thus building our learning community in strength and knowledge.  We are in the boat together, I tell them.  What you say matters.

And of course, we discuss part of Golden Rule…how would I want this said to me?  If you can’t think of the “right” question or way to say it, just go with your gut.  I listen for what they actually say and ask them to repeat aloud what their partner said that “helps them grow as a mathematician” (or scientist!)  I collect the language on an anchor chart so that they can reference it, and they write what they like or use in their journals.  It’s no miracle, just talking and celebrating.  Well, two things I do best 🙂

Not everything is perfect.  I had to talk to a student about making fun of another student’s work, and I simply asked him “Does this support our learning environment?” and he immediately knew. Of course they need reminders, they are humans. But this partnership is something amazing which holds the kids accountable in different ways, releasing me from having to manage group behavior and tattling all year. WE establish what WE want to happen, and only WE can get there.

No one is going to love math, or school for that matter, simply because their teacher is nice to them.  From day one, the words we use and the way we treat each other establish the culture of mistake making, challenging, and thinking deeply, all in a safe environment.  This is a team effort. My kids will love math this year.  I know this is true, but it doesn’t happen because of me.   It happens because of the way that they pull each other along and spur each other to greatness.  That conversation happens every second in a math (and science!) class that kids love!

Hoping in 2015

The year begins today…PD in action with lots of happy faces, hugs, and so much thinking that I think I need another summer break 🙂 Then our beautiful principal gives the question and 10 minutes to reflect: what hopes we have for our kids in 2015-2016?  We have all been thinking all summer about plans and analyzing data, but our hopes we have for them? Wow, that is one of my favorite words like EVER. That’s something I can really get excited about…

So what do I hope?

I hope they are as ready as I am.

I hope they are brave when I am not.

I hope they push me to learn more.

I hope they listen to each other.

I hope they feel loved.

I hope they catch my enthusiasm for learning.

I hope they have fun.

I hope they laugh a lot.

I hope they are kind.

I hope they look back at this year and remember that I made them feel like a million bucks.

Honestly, I can’t say much more than this…my hopes for myself are summed up above.  If I can do all of this for a student, I am doing all I need to do as an educator!

Surrounded by Smarties (but not the candy)

I spent the last few days in AWE of my colleagues. I have always known I was working with some very intelligent people, but to be back with them sharing what they know after they have spent their summers preparing, I just have to say I am beyond impressed. And I was reflecting a little, NOT during class, of course!
Last month we met as a leadership team to discuss our problem of practice and goals for the new school year. Our focus centered around “connected impact”. Our forward thinking Assistant Superintendent had some really good illustrations to prove the point–we really don’t need a new book, binder, or program…what we need to solve any problem, issue, or conflict is the connections we have. There is SO much experience, intelligence, and knowledge just down the hall, across the district, or in our PLNs.
“Connected” teachers know this. We reach out and ask for what we need. We share what we have without that old fear that someone probably already knows…right? But what are we doing to reach those who are not connected? Do they know they have something to lend to the community? Do they understand how much they are needed? As teacher leaders it is important that we encourage each other, “spur each other on” with this idea.

My humble friends who believe they have nothing to teach another, watch the video I show to my students each year, “Obvious to You, Amazing to Others”.  Such a perfect way to say it…you have knowledge someone needs.

Everyone has something to share and lend to the conversation. We are surrounded by smarties! It is our job to encourage others to see their influence and get connected to make an impact with other educators maybe they never knew they even had.

I am proud of my friends who presented this summer, and I can’t wait to see the influence we will all have as purposefully and personally connected educators.

“I Didn’t Know it Was My Last Time!”

I took my gingys to the pool yesterday, and of course, no one wanted to leave. “Cameron, it’s time to get off the slide…that was your last go…”
His reply, “But Mom! I didn’t even know it was my last time!”, caught me off guard for a second.
It made me giggle. I stood there and thought, “What in the world is he going to do that is going to be so drastically different this last time?
Well, he screamed a little more and I think he may have even leaned back into a slight lay as opposed to a sit. Big difference, y’all. It was his last time. Time to risk it all. “Alright, Mom, we can go!”

The last few days God has been drawing my heart to verses reminding me that life is fleeting, that our days are numbered. In particular James 4:13-15.
When I say “drawing my heart”, I mean this is popping up everywhere….I’m listening to a podcast on Malachi, BAM! Life is fleeting! Reading Acts (history!) BAM! Life is fleeting! I’m at the pool with my kid BAM! I didn’t know it was my last time….

This, along with the #christianeducators chat and a study I have been doing this summer (more on that later) have made me set some goals for this school year.

Real Relationships. with my family, with my friends, with my kids, with my colleagues. Nothing else lasts after I’m gone and nothing else has an eternal difference.

Words that Matter. I tend to waste words and use them without thinking. Each could be my last, each matters.

We all know we don’t know, but what we can count on is every day, every interaction, every word, matters.

And it might make me look a little crazy, but you’ll catch me going down the slide each day like it’s my last time!

Where’s the Grand Finale?!?

We started our Genius Hour presentations last week, and, honestly, I was kind of…disappointed. Some were flat. Some were messy. Some were just…there. After 8 weeks of passion based learning I was ready for an explosion of excitement and student driven learning. What I got instead was small bits of information and a huge Q and A session. Did I not model a presentation? (probably not enough…) Did we not evaluate the rubric together? (maybe it was too much…) Did we need more check in days? (maybe this wasn’t enough…) What could I have done better? Read more articles? Reach out to my PLN and coach? Ugh…
As teachers, we practice the art of self reflection, and most of us can turn this quickly into the art of self-loathing if we are not careful. I am no exception, for sure.
Each passing week, one little piece of something I wanted to control slipped away–the biggest being time, it just ran out way too soon. Now I am not one who needs to be in control of much, but when it comes to keeping things in order for kids, of course I want to excel. I felt that them running out of time was a complete fail on my part. Maybe I shouldn’t have jumped in…? But, again, this is learning. And it is messy. And sometimes we change it in the middle when it doesn’t work. And we talk about what we learned. And we move on ahead. Right? Right! I reflected on our first weeks together, on what GH really means, on Joy Kirr’s post to me welcoming me to the “messy learning”. I knew way back then it wouldn’t be perfect.
That being said many of my kids had to stop in the middle of some big plans
and teach us what they had learned so far because the end of the year is days away. And they stopped creating their hotels for the homeless, their stop motion videos, their comic books, their robots, and their family trees to make their final presentations.
Their presentations really didn’t set off the fireworks. They were pretty plain compared to the amazing things they have done with tech this year, hence my disappointment. That, coupled with the time management just had me ready to throw in the GH towel. (Oh, I can’t believe I actually put those words in print…)

But when I stopped thinking about myself for just a minute and watched my kids, I got a different perspective. See, their classmates weren’t satisfied with just a little bit of knowledge. They asked questions, then asked more, then more. I watched the mutual respect and admiration that I have grown to love and admire from this group spread like wildfire as they asked questions of the “expert”. “Really, who knows more about Lego stop motion videos than you guys anyway? No one else in 4th grade…” Directly from the mouth of one of my boys. Well said. They understood the power of what had happened. They knew that someone had learned something awesome about a subject unique to them, that only they could share it with us, that only they were the expert in our class. Now we were not just a class of mathematicians, writers, and readers but biologists, computer programmers, architects, film makers, bakers, and so much more.

So while I am back there with my clipboard sweating the rubric, beating myself up, and wondering why they didn’t listen to me, they are up there in the floor, listening to their peers, speaking encouraging words, and learning from each other.
CUE THE FIREWORKS!

And yes, I will be returning for the crazy, messy, fun learning known as Genius Hour! 🙂