Saturday, October 22, 2011

First Steps ~ Moving Towards a Math Workshop

I recently finished reading Math Exchanges by Kassia Omohundro Wedekind, and experienced an awakening of sorts. I have met with two colleagues (who have read or will be reading Math Exchanges) and we are now ready to start making some changes to our math blocks to better meet the needs of our students. I have many ideas running through my head and so to help me organize my thoughts, I am just going to create a list of things I plan to change and/or try.

Before I begin, I should probably say that my school is an Everyday Math school. I do like Everyday Math but I often wish I had more flexibility with my time and I feel that my students need a deeper understanding of number sense and more problem solving. These are both present in Everyday Math but I think my students need more. I generally follow the Everyday Math program fairly closely but I want to have more of a workshop feel than I currently do. Everyday Math lessons follow a predictable format: mental math and reflexes, a whole group lesson, practice which can include independent work, partner work and games which is similar to a workshop model. After doing some thinking and talking with my teammates we decided that we can use most of these parts and create more of a workshop feel on our own. So we will still use Everyday Math but will begin to tweak things more and more as the year progresses.

Below are some of my ideas of things that I want to try and/or change.
  • The first thing that I plan to do is to be more open to "going with the flow" of ideas that come up naturally in any math related discussion. I will not keep one eye on the clock and worry about "getting finished" on time. I will follow the students' thinking and have them share more with the rest of the class. This will help foster that workshop feeling that I am trying to create.
  • The next thing that I want to add is to begin to use what Kassia Omohundro Wedekind calls Mathematician Statements. These statements are just lists of things that mathematician do. Some examples include: Mathematicians ask themselves questions and Mathematicians persevere. This will help to develop the workshop culture by labeling the actions that mathematicians do as they solve problems.
  • I also plan to add small group meeting times or Math Exchanges to our day. I'll start with meeting with one small group each day towards the end of our math time. These groups will be heterogeneous and will change over time. My goals for the small group meetings are to be able to work more closely with students because they are in a smaller group, to have more time for students to share their ideas with each other, and to be able to gather data about how each student approaches problems and what they know and can do. I also hope that students will feel more comfortable sharing their thinking in a smaller group. 
  • Another way that I plan to add more math to my day is to do some math during our morning meeting. I have two books that I am planning to use to help me with this. They are Doing Math in Morning Meeting by Andy Dousis and Margaret Berry Wilson and Number Sense Routines by Jessica Shumway.
  • I will also use many of the ideas in Number Sense Routines to add to the mental math portion of the Everyday Math lesson. I have ten frames that I made years ago and haven't used much lately at all. I can't wait to dust them off.
  • I also made many games that I read about in a book by Constance Kamii years ago. (I can no longer remember the name of that book.) I plan to use these along with other activities like counting collections (from Math Exchanges) to provide choices of things for students to work on while I meet with my small group each day.
  • Keeping notes on student strengths and next steps will also be part of my small group time each day.
  • Finally, I want to take Kassia Omohundro Wedekind's advice and teach my students to live like mathematicians. I want us to notice the math that is all around us all the time and to take the time to bring it up and talk about it.
So this is where I plan to start. I still hope to continue to move towards a more full-blown math workshop but I am starting here and will continue to revise as we move through the rest of the year.

Note to Self: This post is getting long but I wanted to add this note to myself about things to add to our math workshop later. Remember to think about how number talks can fit in and to add technology as one of the choices - things like explaining your thinking in a Voice Thread or in an app like Show Me or Screen Chomp on the iPad. Those can also be future posts.

Friday, October 21, 2011


I have recently been experiencing an awakening of sorts. I teach first grade but that hasn't always been the case. I started my teaching career in middle school. I taught sixth grade my first year of teaching and then I was moved to eighth grade teaching Math and Algebra. I have to say that this wasn't my choice but I also must say that I ended up loving it. I taught middle school for 9 years and really became a "math person". I loved teaching math and helping students try to really understand math. I lived, breathed and dreamed math.

Fast forward to the present (skipping over several years of teaching 3rd, 4th and 5th grades) and I am where I have always wanted to be. First grade. One big difference between teaching middle school and elementary is that in elementary school you must focus on so many different content areas. I have to admit that I haven't been living, breathing and dreaming math while teaching first grade. I have really been focused on literacy. I have been working hard to create reading and writing workshops where I can meet with small groups and confer with individual students. I love doing this but recently something has been happening with my math teaching.

This summer I ordered a couple of professional books about teaching math and then after school started, I heard about another book, Math Exchanges by Kassia Omohundro Wedekind. I ordered that, too. I couldn't find the time to read them but the changes in my thinking were triggered. I started to really think about my math teaching and began to try to remember the things I truly believed about math and how students can best learn math. I knew that I needed to make some changes in my math teaching - especially in the area of having students think for themselves and solve mathematical problems. Then came the Math Exchanges blog tour and I jumped in. It was the final push that I needed to actually begin to read the books I had and get started with my changes.

While reading Math Exchanges, I started noticing student thinking more often in math and asking students to share their thinking - something that used to be second nature to me but that I had let fade away in first grade. One day we had a spontaneous discussion about whether zero was even or odd and I was hooked. I loved how my students were so excited to try and figure this out. They had a very heated but polite discussion about zero and eventually came to an agreement that zero was even based on the patterns they could see on a hundreds grid.

I have been able to finish reading Math Exchanges during my Fall Break and I have so many plans to change the way things work in our math block.  I still have more reading and learning to do but I can't wait to start making little changes each day - more to come about those changes in the next post. Thanks Kassia for spurring this math "awakening" in me.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Never Too Old for a Good Read Aloud

My daughter is in middle school and can read on her own but we still have a family read aloud time almost every day. We started when she was a baby, reading board books. One night her dad read to her and the next night I read to her. This pattern lasted for years. Recently it has changed to just her dad reading aloud to her each night but the dog and I still always listen in, too. I am not sure what brought about this change. It could be that she knows that I love to be read to also or it could be that her dad does a great job of reading aloud or it could be that she and I now have another way that we share books. She and I will read aloud a different book at some other time of day - she reads a while and then I read a while.

We have shared so many great books this way and can connect so many things from our daily life to the books we have read. I don't want these read aloud times to ever end. This made me remember reading about a father and daughter who had a "reading promise" and they ended up reading aloud every night from when the daughter was in fourth grade until she went to college. It made many news sources and the daughter has now written a book about it. I hope that our family can continue to read until our daughter finishes high school also.

Reading aloud is for everyone. The other night when my husband was reading from Clementine and the Family Meeting, the latest book in one of our favorite series, I was so touched by a passage he read that I was prompted to write this post. The passage was about a family meeting between Clementine, her little brother and her parents. The parents were sharing the news that the family was going to grow by adding a new baby. Clementine is not happy about this at first and says that the family "is moving too fast" and that they are "not ready". The passage that touched me was her mother's response:
"Oh, honey," my mom said. "Life is always moving too fast and we're never ready. That's how life is. But somehow that's just perfect."
I know that this passage will come up again in future conversations with our daughter. It will help us talk about how we all feel that things are moving too fast but that sometimes that is okay.

Reading aloud is a great way to bring up issues that can be challenging. We have read books about divorce, cerebral palsy, autism, financial difficulties, growing up, middle school, family relationships and more. It helps to have some of these topics brought up in a book so you can discuss them from a distance and not feel quite so personally involved.

I love to be read to and I think that many others do, too. Do you?