Its summertime so that means spending time with my punahele. We are getting ready to leave the post office and she is playing with my iPod as she loves to do (normally to pick songs) and she decides to play with the timer.

G: “Ok, you have 5 mins on the timer to get home.”

Me: “It will take me more than 5 mins to get home. It usually takes about 7-8 mins.”

G: “Ok, 8 mins on the timer to get home.”

Me: “Ok”

We are almost home when she says.

G: “Ok you have 4 mins and 40 seconds to get home.

M: “Oh yeah?! So how long has it taken us so far?”

<Thinking time>

G: “4 mins and 40 seconds”

Me: “Oh yeah?!”

G: <Rethinking her answer> “No wait!”

We just pulled into our driveway.

G: “Stopped the timer! We have 2 mins and 56 seconds left.”

Me: “How long id dit take us to get home?

G: <Thinking> “5 mins and 4 seconds”

Me: “How do you know?”

G: “Well I added the 4 to 56 to get 3 and then 5 more to get the 8.”

Me: “You added 4 mins?”

G: “No 4 seconds”

Me: “Well technically it is 4 hundredths of a second”

G: <Rolls eyes>

Me: “So why did you add up to 8 mins?”

G: “Because we set the timer for 8 mins.”

Me: “YOU set the timer for 8 mins! So would we have made it home in 5 mins?” (original timer setting)

G: “No because it was above 3 mins”

Technically it is below 3 mins but I let this slide and got smart by recording the rest of the conversation.

One of student learner objectives this year was to create a bank of formative instruction resources for classroom teachers to have access to. My reasoning:

I know a lot of book resources that have great activities.

Teachers don’t have the time to read through these books to find the activities.

So I decided to setup a list of resources that referred to books and page numbers so teachers can just reference the activities quickly. Another thing is that these activities can be used as formative assessments because teachers can bring observations and student work from activities to their data team meetings. To add more to it I focused on activities that spanned multiple clusters and standards so that teachers could use these activities multiple times but add formative instructional pieces (i.e. exit slips, sentence frames, etc.) that focus in on the specific cluster or benchmark.

I am going to be honest…..I am scared about sharing this because it is not perfect and when you put stuff out there then you are opening yourself up for scrutiny. But I’ll say this: These are working documents! So know that links and resources will be continuously (crossing fingers) updated or added to. I already have more links from some blogs that I have to add in and would also love to get more resources from all of you.

Now I know most of my stuff listed is NOT free but I wasn’t looking for free. I was looking for focused! I get it, stuff is GREAT free but sometimes you get what you pay for and my focus of this project was to provide resources that I know are quality. Sometimes those quality items cost money and sometimes the textbook you are using has quality stuff. With that said if anyone has page numbers or sections of instructional resources (i.e. textbooks) that you love to use I would love to add them on here.

So please share quality stuff so I can keep updating it. Send me comments, links, more resources, etc.

Also, next year I will be working on grades 3-5 and then hopefully moving up from there.

I have never been very personal on my blog about teaching but if you’ve ever chatted with me (on computer or in real life) you have gotten a little clue into how much teaching students (math in particular) means to me.

There is no question that I should be in this profession. There have been times where I have asked myself: “Maybe I care just a little too much.” But as I think about every single student I have had contact with there is no way I can live with myself if I held back on the amount of caring I have for each and every student that I encounter.

These students that come into our lives are our future. They are the ones that will be our neighbors, our engineers, our congress people, our voters, they are the future of my community, my island, my state and this country.

I feel extremely privileged to be given the opportunity to help mold our future generation. If not me, then who else? I remember reading one of Fawn Nguyen’s post that we are lucky to do this job. We are lucky to get the chance to educate some amazing human beings. Are they amazing when they come into my class? Most likely NOT! Are they better people because they’ve taken my class? DAMN STRAIGHT! But overall, am I a better person/teacher/human being because I’ve had the honor to teach them? This is a given!

Each and every student of mine knows that every move I make inside or out of the classroom is for them.

Three years ago I had the honor and privilege of having a squirrely (like all freshman are), sassy (to keep me on my toes) and yet loving and sweet boy in my class (which I will call IPA). He had that attitude towards math class that gives me my drive…..to be the best teacher I can be! Which pretty much means he hated math. Well….let’s just say it wasn’t his strength. Every lesson plan, every activity, every move I made in class was to get him (and any other similar students) to start SLOWLY changing their minds about math and learning in general. I was DETERMINED to get him to at least appreciate math for its functionality, beauty, structure, or any other awesome reason people are attracted to math. He was my drive, for the past 2 years, to be better. To look for and write better lessons, to have high expectations, to break lessons down so all students have access to the content. Without IPA (and many other students like him) there is no way I would’ve pushed myself as hard as I did. There is no way I would be as determined year after to year to write better lessons. There is no way that I would be where I am today in my profession. We all have these students. We have the hardest ones that we are pulling our hair out over but if they weren’t here where would we be. We have those students that challenge us EVERY DAY but still they are in our rooms at recess and after school and we think “I thought he hated my class and math.” We have those students who we see grow into young adults that we are proud to say “I had the privilege to be his teacher.” IPA was one of these students.

A week ago we lost IPA in a car accident and that is the reason for my overly personal post here. Since his death, I’ve been reflecting on all the great teaching moments he has given to me: toll booth conversations, math arguing, arguing about the quality of his work, arguing about him being smarter than he actually thought he was, the reason for being a better math teacher, the reason that I ultimately do this job!!!! I can’t express enough how lucky I am to have had IPA mold who I’ve become as a teacher.

As teachers we often get caught up in the politics, the power, the rigamarole of the profession. Don’t forget your reason for being here!!!! Remember that day in and day out. See your students’ faces, hear your students’ voices because one day they won’t be there any more. Be proud knowing that you gave every student everything you could offer them and more! You are the change agent! You are the lucky one that ultimately has the opportunity to mold and be molded by the future of your community, your island, your state and country.

I am proud and grateful to have had the opportunity to teach IPA and many other students like him. And I will never take that for granted! NO matter what tests, initiatives, or ratings get dumped on our profession. I am proud and honored to be a teacher of the future.

I got asked to do an Ignite session by Suzanne Alejandre from the Math Forum. If you’re not familiar with an Ignite session, its 20 slides in 5 mins. Slides advance every 15 secs whether you are ready or not. It was an awesome experience and I hope to do it again sometime. My presentation wasn’t the best but it wasn’t the worst. I have so many more ideas/topics that might have been better but they only came to my mind after my initial presentation. Again why I am hoping to get asked to participate another time. My presentation had lots of pictures of student work and some had expressed interest in seeing these pics more in-depth. So I wanted to post the slides that had student work and were referred to in my presentation. Most of these pictures were chosen to show more support of why students need routines like counting circles on an everyday basis or because some of the students strategies were just AWESOME! None of the strategies were fabricated or altered by me as the teacher. They were jotted on the board as students verbally described their mental math. Please feel free to ask questions about counting circles, student work, strategies or maybe clarification on why I even included these pictures in my presentation. And I hope you are already using the counting circle routine in your classroom! If not there is no better time than now! P.S. If you aren’t in the up and up with what the Drexel Math Forum is doing with math education and students, CHECK. IT. OUT!

The other day a colleague of mine sent me a text with this picture of their counting circle time (4th grade class).

She followed up with this text a little while later.

She reminded me of the prodding and pushing that I do after this routine has been set in place and students start getting comfortable.

Students won’t venture out and try something new unless we push them a little (a lot in many cases). If we don’t push them they’d still be counting on their fingers by 1s! My colleague refreshed my memory of the similar things I’d say to my students:

“How can you get better at different strategies if you’re not TRYING new strategies?”

“You CAN’T use _____ strategy!”

“You must use a strategy you never used before.”

“I want to hear your least favorite strategy and why?”

This is where the setup of your counting circle is first tested. Is your environment safe enough for students to try and make mistakes but also be brave enough to share it? Is your “team” really working as a “team”? Are you being less helpful and allowing students to learn from each other?

How am I pushing students to higher expectations but continue to support them through the learning process? I force them to try new strategies by “being mean” (for lack of a better word). If my colleague wouldn’t have implemented the “no more counting on rule” do you think “E” (lower right corner) would have shared such an AMAZING strategy? Would “S” (left corner) have pushed herself to look for a pattern?

Here is another example of how counting circles allows teachers to push the standards for mathematical practice and also to push the mathematical habits of mind. We are forcing kids to find better, harder or easier ways to solve problems. To defend their answers and maybe strategies. To look for patterns in the numbers.

Now that counting circles are becoming a more solid routine, start pushing your students the same way my colleague has and see how your students rise to the continuously increasing high expectations. You might be surprised!

Ok so I didn’t come up with this idea out of nowhere. I was reading this awesome book–> Number Sense Routines by Jessice Shumway and I had this awesome class of students who were lacking in number sense. They were also a class of students who were very used to being unsuccessful in math and most of them did not enjoy interacting with mathematics. After reading through chapter 4 (Counting Routines) I thought my high schoolers would be much more receptive to sitting in a circle and counting than using visual routines (Chapter 3). So I decided to try it. If you are going to dive in and try this I HIGHLY recommend reading chapter 1 and Chapter 4 (if you can read the whole thing, please do). Chapter 1 discusses what number sense is and talks about subitizing, unitizing and lots of specific skills that most math teachers never thought of. My definition of number sense was almost verbatim described in Chapter 1 of this book! In a nutshell, its a great book for any math teacher even though the book states K-3 grades.

Moving on to WHY? I came up with this idea. You can read about it here (THE BLAME GAME) and read through my #TMC13 presentation here. In a nutshell, I am unable to live with myself if I allow students to graduate high school (pass my class) without having mental math strategies. It is equivalent to allowing a student to graduate from high school without being able to read. I refuse to be part of this movement anymore.

So I start this idea with my high school class of 12 students who’s only relationship with mathematics was very negative. To be completely honest, these students’ relationship with school was very negative and they were kind of ready to give up on school all together.

Counting circles in general seem on the surface like a routine that is just done 10 mins a day however it is much more than that. They help start a culture change in your classroom. They give students the opportunity to own math, to be successful in math, to “create” and share their strategies, to make mistakes and learn from them. They are asked to verbally describe their mathematical thinking not just write it like we have always asked kids to do. You will find that students are NOT used to these kinds of activities in math. Learning a new way to feel and be in math class (at least if you are doing these in gr 4-12) is not a FUN process for students. They are scared! School has trained them, for s0 long, to conform to learning as a feeling of success and ease at all times. For anyone that has actually LEARNED anything this is very far from the truth. The learning process is messy, ugly, scary, tiresome, filled with failure, extremely hard and you normally pick up scrapes and bruises along the way. So when you start counting circles in your classroom it is extremely important to start slow. Start with something students will be successful with: Gr 3-5 start with counting by tens starting on either a decade or non-decade number, Gr 6-8 start with counting by tens on a non-decade number, Gr 9-12 start with counting by tens on a non-decade number. (These recommendations all depend on where your students are, do not start with these if you know they will be unsuccessful)

When I started this with my class I started with counting up by 1s. Yup I know what you might be thinking…”Why 1s? That is too EASY?” YOU. ARE. EXACTLY RIGHT! My students were so hesitant to do math that I had to start with 1s. I had to build their trust with me and the trust within themselves. Everyone can count by ones so I knew that my students would have NO excuse not to be able to participate. I also wanted to change their mindset about mathematics and the relationship they have had with mathematics (extremely negative). So I needed a hook. I need to show them that they CAN DO math, that they aren’t unsuccessful ALL THE TIME. This is where you start the culture change in your classroom! You are giving them the opportunity to change the mindset have had about themselves for years!

So you’ve decided what you are going to count by and what you are going to start at….Now what?! YOU COUNT IN A CIRCLE! I normally ask for volunteers (“who’s wants to start for us today?”) and we start there and I decide to go counterclockwise or clockwise. Depending on the number of students my classroom (I have done it in as big of a classroom as 30 5th graders) I normally go one time around the whole circle and sometimes more. It really depends. When I am starting the routine and want them to get used to the routine I make sure that the focus of the counting circle is not on the math but more on feeling successful (hence the choice of starting easy) and the way the routine functions. So students count around the circle and I’m paying attention to what they are saying, how much time it is taking them to answer, any fingers being used to count or any other type of non-verbal clues students are showing me as to how hard the adding is for them or strategies they are using to find their answer. In addition to this pay attention piece, I am writing their answers on the number line as we go around the circle.

This is an important visual piece to counting circles that makes it attainable to all. Also it allows me as a teacher to hear any mistakes students might be making with place value or verbal descriptions of numbers. It also gives students who don’t have a lot of mental math strategies to use the number line to look for patterns to help them with another aspect of the counting circle: Stop and guess (I will get to this shortly)

As students are counting I am writing the numbers they said on the number line and I am also pay attention and making note of any common errors I see. As a teacher you already know some hard transitions for students to make while counting. For example:

Counting up (or down) by 10s on a non-decade number common error happens when counting to the next place value unit and also the teen numbers (i.e. 97, 107, 117,..)

Counting up or down by tenths common error happens when counting to the next place value unit (9 tenths and one more tenth makes the next whole number not 11 tenths)

The basic errors that happen can all be pretty much pinpointed to place value unit changes. As you do more and more counting circles you will see common errors and will be able to anticipate errors so you have an idea of what you want to ask in the stop and guess part.

While we are talking about errors another part of the counting circle is that I (THE TEACHER) DOES NOT correct ANYONE! If a students says an answer I write it up and I DO NOT EVEN HESITATE!! I keep counting, I keep on moving along. I wait to see if any students will speak up or if there are lots of whispers happening after a couple other people have said their numbers. If a students says something I make sure that the way they say it to other students is using what a colleague of mine calls “synergizing” language. For example: “Can you please check your answer?” “I want you to check your answer” The key to this is that students are NOT being talked to negatively. You do not want to hear “that is WRONG!” This ties back into the culture change in your classroom you want students to feel safe and comfortable to make mistakes and learn from them instead of them being reprimanded and feeling stupid for making those mistakes.

After you count around the circle, see some common errors, now is the time to stop at someone. This is where my paying attention part allows me to decide where I should stop. I normally stop on a number that students made errors on or in the past I have seen students make errors on or if I want to see IF they are going to make a common error. When I stop at that student I write his/her name under the number and then I choose how many people down the circle they have to guess. For example: “What number is Ashley going to say?” <–Ashley might be 6 people down the circle from the person I stop at or 7 people or whatever you decide based on what you see students struggling with previous) In the example below, we stopped at Kauhi and I asked them “When you figure out what number Megan is going to say, put your thumb up.”

Now we be patient and wait. We give kids as much time as possible. I have done this in a class of 30 fifth graders and I will wait and expect them to also wait patiently while everyone is able to come up with an answer. If someone doesn’t put their thumb up we continue to wait until they are ready or at least pretend they are ready.

Now comes the fun part! NUMBER TALKS!

I have students share ALL their answers. EVEN the ridiculous ones! I can’t stress enough how important this is…ALL ANSWERS!! Take them all! The wording I use “What answers do we have?” “Are these all the answers? The number you were thinking about in your head is on the board?”

After I take all answers from any students I ask for volunteers to share HOW they got their answer. This piece I am not going to describe because it is basically a number talk and you can find lost of info on the internet about number talks but I have also added my video of jotting down one of my students strategies. I normally try to take around 3 DIFFERENT strategies and I make sure to put the students answer, their name and to write ONLY WHAT THEY TELL ME VERBALLY! NO ADDING TEACHER THINKING IN!! VERY IMPORTANT HERE!! We are asking kids to be verbally specific about math and I want them to learn that their words are not specific enough or maybe they are but I write exactly what they say. I often here “you know what I meant” and I tell them “I am only writing what I hear you say” This forces my students to think about the way to verbalize their mathematical thinking (addressing SMP 2, 3, 6). After they have shared sometimes I have to verify the answer so I will start where we stopped and continue to the person we were guessing and confirm what is the correct answer. This normally only has to be done in the first half of the year because after they get accustomed to the routine they are critically thinking about answers and are able to catch their own mistakes more often and don’t need the validity piece. After the number talk is over the counting circle is over.

Once this routine gets used regularly and gets built into your classroom it should take no longer than 10 mins. I normally only do one circle a day, everyday for 8-10 mins. That is basically it. I have added one more video for an example and I still working on more videos to show the various ways counting circles change based on classroom and students. There is no one set way to really do it. I am kind of outlined a good start here but there have been lots of days that I ask different questions: “What mistake do you see in today’s counting circle?” “Who is going to say (certain number?” etc. I am in the process of starting a website that will have a post a day for a counting circle progression. I am hoping to get that started by next school year. Sorry for the delay and thank you for being patient. For now I have compiled a album of pictures that I have taken for some important reason of my counting circles throughout the 3 years I have been doing them. Feel free to ask me on twitter (@wahedahbug) or via email (hhs.mathplc@gmail.com) if you would like a description about the picture or if you want to chat more about counting circles.

I am briefly going to just list some of the math “things” that counting circles address without really going into them:

Problem solving

Standards for Mathematical Practice: 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8

Perseverance

Linear equations

Patterns

Mental math strategies

Multiple strategies for 4 basic operations in all different number rings (whole numbers, integers, rationals, etc.)

Adding polynomials

Metacognition

Formative Instruction

Self confidence (in relation to mathematics)

Igniting math interest

Skill practice

Classroom Routines

So much more that I will be updating continually

Here is a good overall video of how counting circles works in my classroom. Please note that this video is with a class that needs a lot of support with counting circles so I don’t normally help as much but because I need to adjust to what my students need I have to give more support for this class of students.

Our fall break has started, technically tomorrow, but I wanted to write a blog post that reflects on my new job out of the classroom.

First things first…..

I MISS TEACHING STUDENTS!

I miss their attitudes, I miss the daily quirks and sayings that they bring to your classroom. I miss having the opportunities to interact with these amazing future adults of our world. I miss every SINGLE thing about teaching students in the classroom. [Yes I am tearing up as I type this, what a sucker!]

However, I LOVE MY NEW JOB! I love that I get to work with a variety of teachers: difficult ones, willing ones, new ones, seasoned ones, tenured ones. I love that I am getting to see so many different school structures: daily schedules, PLC times, PD times, school routines, classroom routines, etc. I love that I told myself if I get the opportunity to get into classrooms to help teachers be better that I couldn’t pass it up. I did just that! With this data teams and formative instruction job I am able to share about all the strategies I’ve read about in books and used in my classroom. I get to share my counting circles with grades K-5 (for now, but I will share K-12 soon enough). I get to work with teachers who are totally as passionate about teaching their students as I am. We nerd/geek out on ways to teach concepts and some are receptive and some not as much. But its ok!

I am learning a lot about elementary “curriculum”. I am dumbfounded at how many elementary teachers feel very inadequate when it comes to teaching mathematics but they feel too scared to let that be known. Instead they would rather keep teaching detrimentally than to come out and say that they want/need help.

I am learning a lot about how the DOE works! And I realize I don’t play politics well! I know you are TOTALLY SURPRISED RIGHT?! :)

I am starting the creation of my little networks with people all over the state. And sharing lots of resources from my lovely realm of amazing twitter teachers!

I am getting to work with some “big wigs” on what are important changes we see needing to happen in the schools and they are ACTUALLY LISTENING!

I am realizing there are LOTS of good things happening in our Hawaii schools but am also imagining what it would look like without the “box” boundaries.

I am learning a lot about Smarter Balance and was even asked to participate on a item writing project our state is doing :)

I am learning how to time manage in a TOTALLY different way than I have been asked as a teacher. I mean there are so many different things happening and you have to figure out how to get them all done even though they are somewhat disconnected but connected at the same time.

All in all….it is a bittersweet feeling to be out of the classroom this year because I am learning so much but also missing out on so much stuff.

Do I see myself doing this for a long time? NO WAYS!! Do I see myself using most of what I’ve learned these few years after I’m back in the classroom YOU BET!