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.

A Learning Experience

The struggle is real

In the 60s and 70s, we learned about sending our troops away to war and having them return to an unsupportive environment where they were ridiculed for performing tasks that our government “asked” (really forced) them to complete.  We learned that these soldiers were being forced to enroll in the military and then asked to “fight for our freedom” and what did they receive in return?  Protests and ridicule about killing innocent people in a foreign country.  How has our support for our troops changed?  Well for one, joining the military is voluntary (sometimes).  What else has changed?  We support our soldiers while they are away and send them care packages filled with goodies they don’t have the luxury of having while fighting in another country.  We also don’t protest and ridicule them for the jobs they were being asked to do by our government.  We instead focus our attention on the systems that are asking our soldiers to perform these tasks.

This is somewhat how I feel right now in my profession as a teacher

Yes I know, to make an exact correlation to what soldiers went through and teachers is not a fair comparison however I am going to attempt to point out some similarities.

1.  Teachers are the ones fighting on the front line.

Teachers are the ones in the classrooms with students EVERYDAY! Day in and day out!  They are dealing with students hormones, foul language (just being honest here), sassy attitudes, loving attitudes, emotional baggage, insecurities and much much more.  In addition to all this, teachers are being asked to teach through it all in a way that reaches every kid with all different thought processes, make sure they are engaged and pass this assessment to make our school look good.  Us teachers are doing the work!!  We are soldiers on the front line.  We are the ones signing up for this job and being asked to do things that we sometimes don’t agree with and sometimes things we can’t LIVE without doing (teaching kids)!

2.  Teachers are getting ridiculed for doing jobs that a bigger system is forcing them to do.

If you asked the most dedicated, student focused teacher the question: Why do you do this job? They would answer with something similar to: I want to make a difference in students’ lives! (This is why I do this job!) Teacher’s don’t want to: judge students, fail them, test them once a month (sometimes more), be the mean guy (even though sometimes its a job requirement), make kids endure standardized testing, let them fall behind, and all the other shitty things we have to do.



Why else would we do this job???  For the money???  HA!  We do this job for similar reasons that soldiers want to “fight for their country”.  The benefits of working with students outweigh  the negatives (it’s getting harder and hard to say this).  Right now as a teacher, our systems (public systems) are forcing these negatives down our throats.  All the positive things and reasons that motivate us are getting pushed away by people making decisions who AREN’T even educators!  Some of them have never taught a day in their lives!  On top of this who is being ridiculed and blamed?  TEACHERS!  Similar to the way soldiers were being ridiculed to do things they didn’t agree with and being chastised about it , our teachers, who are the main workers on the front line, are being asked to push aside what they know is right for students, to check off boxes on someone else’s agenda!  And who’s being blamed and put down for it????? #facepalm

3.  Teachers aren’t being given what they need to be successful.

Everyone knows teachers don’t get paid enough.  But what everyone might not know is that teachers work more than what we get paid for.  Now you people with the “but you get paid during the summer” argument might want to check yourselves.  In Hawaii, we are 10 month employees which means we DON’T get paid “during” summer.  But instead our 10 month salary is being stretched out over 12 months so that we  don’t have to worry about not getting paid for 2 months.

Now check out the #DITLife blog posts, where teachers from across the nation decided to share a day in the life of their typical teaching day.  I’m amazed at how much time these teachers give to their profession.  As a teacher, I am getting paid for a 8 hour day.  But how much do I actually work? If I kept a record everyday I would definite be going into overtime by Wed or Thurs.

Effective teaching takes time.  It takes time to plan deliberate lessons that are engaging, standards based and rigorous.  It takes time to plan for 7 different preps a day (being the only HS math teacher, I taught it all and had to plan it all).  It takes time to give specific descriptive and timely feedback on students’ work (formative assessment).  How much time are we given to do all this?!  ONE HOUR!  ONE HOUR!!!  ONE HOUR to plan for 7 different classes, give feedback on student work, make copies for tomorrow’s lesson, differentiate your lesson, this list could go on and on!  Teachers are expected do a quality job without being given a reasonable amount of time.  This also doesn’t include all the administrative things we have to attend: data team meetings, academic and financial planning meetings, leadership meetings, this list could also go on and on.  In a nutshell, the first thing teachers need to be successful in this profession is time to do all this and they don’t get it.

Other things teachers don’t get to be successful is basic things to make their classroom function: desks and chairs (now ask if these items are in working order), basic supplies: dry erase pens or chalk, chart paper, a few computers, pencils, manipulatives, novel books, pencils, professional learning resource books.  Do we send our soldiers out without the tools they need to get their jobs done?  Do we ridicule them when they aren’t given supplies they need to do a good job and come back without the job done?

If you know me by now, you know I’m against the BLAME GAME.  I’m very solution oriented, I seek for ways to make the best out of shitty situations.  So whether you are a parent, teacher, coach, administrator or merely a bystander think about the struggles teachers are facing today.  What can you do to be a solution to this mess of education?

Parents – How can you support your child’s teacher by even just giving them positive feedback on something you like about their classroom?  How can you rally behind the teachers who are on the front line of education and working over their hours to make your child’s classroom a safe and productive place to learn?

Administrators – What are you doing to be a solution to your school’s structure and system?  Are you allowing teachers to make decisions based on what’s best for students?  How are you supporting teachers and parents in this huge transition in education?  Are you the leader that is the role model for all at your school?  How are you being the educational leader in all this?

Teachers – What are you doing to support your fellow teachers that are teaching along side you in the battlefield?  How are you being the role model for your students?  Have you committed to life long learning for our students as well as for ourselves? How are you striving to be that teacher you never had but always wish you did!?

Be a solution to our dilemma and not another grumbling voice that would much rather talk the talk but never really walk the walk.

I’m striving and struggling to be the change I want to see in this world.

Won’t you join me!?

The struggle is real

Expanding from #countingcircles

In my classroom, I started using counting circles to be a solution to the problem of students not being able to perform mental math or have any mental math strategies.  Counting circles has worked great for me but I’m ready to start expanding.  A friend of mine recommended buying Pamela Weber Harris’s new lesson and activities book that stems from her first book Building Powerful Numeracy for Middle & High School Students.  I purchase the new book and start thumbing through it.  I realize that she refers to her first printed book a lot.  This gets to thinking….I realize that I barely read any of it and it is sitting right there on my shelf!  So I got to reading!!!!!

This book is the expansion that I’ve been looking for.  Every move in this book is deliberate and calculated.  She discusses numeracy and the importance of it in our students’ math education, in order for them to be successful for more advanced mathematical concepts.

The part that I loved about this book is that she gives you sets (number strings) that you could use for specific strategies and/or specific classes.  She expands the number strings into Pre-Calculus and students (and teachers) see the application of strategies throughout different courses.

How do I see myself using this resource?

In December, I presented Number Talks to the curriculum coordinators in our complex area.  They were K-12 curriculum coordinators and my number talks session mainly focused on using number strings from Sherry Parrish’s book.  Not until my secondary teachers asked me about their grade levels did I make the connection to Pamela Harris’s resource and that I had her book for teachers to borrow in our professional resource library.  I borrowed out the books and looked through mine again and now I feel ready to start working with secondary teachers in implementing number talks as daily routine in their classrooms.  Pamela’s original book has the number strings I would use for my daily routine but her new book, Lesson and Activities for Building Powerful Numeracy, has amazing lesson and activities that you can just use straight from the book!  These are my favorite types of resources to purchase as a teacher because you can just use the activities right from the book which minimizing the adapting teachers have to make.  BUT…..She doesn’t stop there!! She also has sample dialogue between student and teacher for various activities in the book.  This is the best help for a teacher who needs that extra support to get their students discussing mathematics and/or explaining their reasoning.



I can’t wait to start sharing this new addition to my counting circle routine and to also help teacher who are ready to stop the blame game in their classrooms!


Enjoy fellow teacher friends!

Expanding from #countingcircles

[TMWYK] Time Elapsed

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.

[TMWYK] Time Elapsed

Student Learning Objective: K-2 Resources

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.



Measurement and Data

Number and Operations Base Ten

Operations and Algebraic Thinking

Student Learning Objective: K-2 Resources

My reason for teaching

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.

To learn, read.

To know, write.

To master, teach.

My reason for teaching


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! 11 12 13 14 15 16