A Learning Experience

I can’t really remember how I got the idea but I remember negotiating with my boss about being able to do something I wanted to do before I left this position. My main idea started off small but eventually evolved into what I offered:

  • A course for teachers
  • The course to be focused around small group instruction in math
  • Only attract teachers who wanted to learn something new

I asked a friend (and co-worker) to help me with the course, he said yes so with these main ideas in mind we started writing up our course description and figuring out the logistics of the course: how many days, where to hold it, how many people etc.

Here is what we came up with:

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Our complex area did not provide any funding for substitutes and/or stipends.  Basically the only benefit teachers got from this course was what they personally learned from it.  My co-worker and I were going to be happy even if only 5 people showed up.

We limited the class to 20 people because of the space we had and the amount of follow up we could handle. We ended up with 23 teachers enrolled!  We were SHOCKED!  As day 1 drew closer and closer my nerves increased.  I could only really think about day 1 for now because I didn’t know how the course would evolve with the teachers in it and their needs and wants.

We decided on day 1 being an overview day.  Driving questions for the day turned out to be:

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There were more than just these questions answered  but this was the main gist.  Day 1’s plan really laid the ground work for days 2 and 3.  There ended up being a few routines that started on day 1 and continued to day 2 and 3. These included the math entry task, the task breakdown, troubleshooting workstations, and goal setting.

Math Entry Task


I’m a true believer in providing teachers opportunities to engage in mathematics as learners.  This section was provided on all 3 days of the course and allowed me to provide learning opportunities for K-5 teachers that normally don’t get to engage in mathematics.

The entry tasks rolled out like this:

Day 1 – Robot Stepper

Day 2 – Noah’s Ark Task

Day 3 – Central Park by Desmos

Task Breakdown


After every math task (see above) they had to breakdown the task with their teacher vision.  Here are the task breakdown questions for all 3 days:

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Day 1
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Day 2
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Day 3

Troubleshooting Workstations


This started on day 1 as “Obstacles and Worries” that they had about implementing work stations.  My main goal for this was to see their fears so I could make sure to address them throughout the rest of the course.  Day 1 produced a chart full of them.  On Day 2, my colleague and I choose 3 big worries and obstacles from their day 1 list to conduct a PLC style session. We posed their questions/worries right back to them. We asked them to use their professional knowledge to collaborate and come up with ideas of how they would address these issues:

On Day 3 this section looked pretty much the same except the troubleshooting statements were a little more specific and came from Debbie Diller’s book, Math Work Stations: Independent Learning You Can Count On, K-2.

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The best part of this section of the course was that you could see their progression of learning from their worries and obstacles to day 3 troubleshooting answers they came up with!

Goal Setting


Everyday in the last hour or so, teachers were given time to reflect, set goals and share their goals with the group.  This helped to keep themselves accountable for actionable steps (next steps) they would take with the information they learned from each day.  It also helped them figure out how Ian and I could help with the follow up we wanted to provide between days.

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After Day 1 forming this structural routine for the course we moved forward….

As I already mentioned day 1 was an overview.  They got to play some stations (6 different stations) that had a variety of activities (various grades, various concepts).

On to Day 2……

I wanted day 2’s focus to be around implementing workstations.  So now that they got their feet wet on day 1, I wanted them to dive deeper on day 2.

We made day 2 really about the contents of workstations.  We focused on activities that could be placed at stations.  This day was the most prep work Ian and I did for this course.  We made 2 workstation boxes for each grade level.  Lucky us we had no 3rd grade teachers so we only had to make 10 different boxes!!!  Each box had a minimum of 2 activities and we only reused 4 or 5 activities from day 1.  Teachers sat by grade level and switched between 2 roles during this investigation time.

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After they were at the station for 10-12 minutes they switched roles and switched station boxes for 10-12 more minutes.  I then proceeded to ask teachers to step into their teaching role and break down the tasks in their grade level boxes.  In addition to the task breakdown they were asked to come up with variations for differentiation for the games also.

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There were a lot of smaller pieces to day 2 but this was the main course!

Overall look of day 2:

  • Play station games
  • Figuring out station games big idea
  • Where to put it in their teaching
  • Little sprinkling of differentiation

Best part of day 2 was when we gave away all the station boxes as prizes and we even got a variety box of goodies to give away from 52pickup!!!  TEACHERS WERE STOKED!

Day 3: The hardest day….

So now that they have a good grasp on workstations it was time to discuss: “Now what?”

Day 3’s focus was on assessment and what happens with the small groups the teacher pulls.  I really struggled with this day because I thought it would be the hardest for teachers to agree to.  Most teachers I work with want an assessment already made and don’t want to create  one or take the time to engage in the deliberate assessment process.  In addition, I often see teachers using just paper and pencil test to formatively assess their students.  Teacher’s often forget an important piece to the classroom: The sayings and doings of their students.  So I tried to integrate data collection an other formative assessment strategies in to day 3.

To address the assessment piece, I created a speed dating style activity.  Each station had an iPad and an index card.  The index card had a previously played activity written on it.  The iPad had 2 tabs open for them to use:

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Teacher’s only had 7 minutes to get familiar with the station activity and create a question that they could use to assess students’ understanding of the concept the activity addressed.  The results of this speed dating was two fold:

  1. Teachers practiced creating quick formative assessment questions for stations.
  2. We now have 6 different formative assessment questions for 6 different activities that you could use in your class when you use one of these activities.

But this wasn’t my favorite part of the day (but I did love this part).  My favorite part was sharing with teachers Kassia Omohundro Wedekind’s Math Exchanges.

We read a portion of her book that she does such an eloquent job of describing Math Exchanges but beyond that she specifically talks about why math exchanges and not small groups.  This part of the day I knew I’d be pushing teachers thinking about small group instruction.  Most of my teachers see small group instruction as a time to address student’s with the same ability during that small group meeting.  I really want to provide them with examples of how to go beyond that one way method of seeing this time with students.  I shared with them how I did my math exchanges (2 years ago) with 2nd graders.  I shared audio of student’s conversations and pictures of what students were doing.  Best part about it all is no one had anything to argue in their reading.

At the end of day 3, right before they did their goal setting activity and evaluation, I thanked my teachers for joining me on this journey of learning.  This was an idea that I wanted to try for myself. To try for teachers but mainly I was being selfish.  And they rode the wave and helped me with my learning.  From the looks of it they did a bit of learning along the way also.

If you have more specific questions about this course, feel free to email me, I’d be delighted to expand on what I share here or fill in the the holes of what I didn’t share.

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A Learning Experience

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