Student Voice and Building Classroom Norms

Last week, I wrote about Pair Drawings, one of my favorite ways to establish classroom norms at the beginning of the school year.

Starting on the first day of school, I want my students to know these two fundamental norms. (1) Learning mathematics is a collaborative effort. It’s something we do together; it’s not something that I do to you. (2) How you respond to frustration when you’re struggling reveals more about your talents and character than your ability to avoid struggling altogether.

Simply telling my students these norms won’t be as effective as having them practice these norms and uncover them for themselves by reflecting on their experiences. That’s why I appreciate Pair Drawings so much.

But the learning students make from this activity won’t endure unless we do two things:

1. Allow students to see themselves reflected in these norms.
2. Post a physical, visual reminder of the classroom norms in the right place.

Here’s a way to do that.

Pair Drawings: An Activity to Build Classroom Norms

Welcome back math nerds!

This is my favorite time of year. Clean slate, clean classrooms, fresh ideas, and refreshing optimism. I also love this time of year because I love building classroom norms and setting the tone for the classroom culture that is necessary for productive and rich mathematical thinking and discourse.

Starting on the first day of school, I want my students to know these norms:

Learning mathematics is a collaborative effort. It’s something we do together; it’s not something that I do to you. 

How you respond to the frustration of struggling reveals more about your talents and character than your ability to avoid struggling altogether.

But I don’t want to tell my students these norms; I want them to practice these norms and uncover them for themselves by reflecting on their experiences.

“Pair Drawings” is one of three activities I use in the classroom to build culture and outline norms at the beginning of the school year.

Which Passion Describes You Best?

I facilitate a lot of lesson studies, lead workshops, and orchestrate other professional learning opportunities with teachers around the country. I’ve learned that teaching is a professional and personal act of passion. We teach who we are, and we have deeply held cultural beliefs about our work. Teaching is an action that is informed by our beliefs, and before any good, productive professional learning can happen, we need to hold space to share these personal beliefs with each other.

I often start my work by having teachers reflect on their passions and identity as a teacher. In the past, I’ve used the National School Reform Faculty’s document called Passion Profiles, but I’ve found the document has some limitations. So I created my own based on their amazing work and my experiences of what works.

I’ve inserted the full activity in this post.

What do you think? Is this valuable to you as a teacher? As a facilitator or leader? How can we make this better? Feedback welcomed. Please share your thoughts in the comment section or keep the conversation going on Twitter (@mathgeek76).

“Elicit” and Our Role as Illusionists

Question:  If someone asks you what “elicit” means, could you nail the definition?  Try it. How’d you do?

Confession: I was an English Literature major in college. I tutored college-level math and fell in love with teaching because of math. But back then, words and expression and theater were my jam. And in many ways they still are.

I was co-writing an article the other month about instructional routines that elicit student discourse in the math classroom. And at one point, the word-nerd in me paused to ponder, “What the does ‘elicit’ really mean? Is it an invitation? Is it a pulling or a pushing? What other words have the same root as elicit? Illicit? Were they opposites? Did they have related etymologies?”

I figured it was worth exploring and down the rabbit-hole I went. Once again.

Clothesline Math and the Power of Discourse

I want to share with you a video that shows the raw power of using Clothesline Math in your classroom to promote student to student discourse.  I share this video because I want you to see how clothesline activities generate student to student discourse and promote student thinking and math development.  And I want you to feel empowered to use this tool in your classroom.  And I invite you to share what you learn in your elementary, middle, or high school classrooms.

Making Data and Stats Matter More in K-6, Part 2

Welcome back math geeks!

I love teaching young students about data and statistics.  And I enjoy finding ways to make data and statistics matter more to young students.  But I’m troubled by two curriculum practices about how we teach students to think about data and statistics, especially at the K-6 level.  This post is Part 2.  In my first post, I wrote about how data is often represented to students in heavily scaffolded textbook pages that rob students of the opportunity to purposely engage in thinking, wondering, and discourse…and a solution to this practice.  (If you missed Part 1, click here.)

In this post, I’ll outline another troubling practice and my attempt to help to teachers work around this obstacle.

The Objectives of Objectives, Part Three: Joy

One of the reasons why we teach is because we want our students to experience the JOY of mathematics. Mathematics should be about questioning, wondering, and the joy of discovery…and math classes should leave students wanting to know more math and do more math thinking. We cannot build an appreciation of math through content standards alone. Math classes should be filled with opportunities for students to have voice and a choice. At the very least, they need a voice in making meaning of problems and a choice in how they go about seeking a pathway to a solution.

But sometimes we (or our textbooks) squash all the joy out of a math lesson. We rob them of their right to notice math things, wonder about math ideas, or do messy math stuff. And lessons that focus on “measurable outcomes” with “explicitly defined objectives” often euthanize mathematical curiosity.

The Objective of Objectives, Part One: Invite

Why we teach must align with how we teach. In other words, our professional identity (the reasons why we became teachers in the first place) must be congruent with our choices and our practices in the classroom. When purpose and practice are not aligned, both teachers and students waste energy fighting needless friction in the classroom and learning suffers.

One habit where I continue to see a misalignment between purpose and practice centers on how we post, frame, communicate lesson objectives to our students. All teachers want students to be inspired, motivated, engaged, and curious, yet I’ve witnessed a lot of teachers euthanize student intellect by spending the first 5 minutes of a lesson reading aloud and unpacking a lesson objective that is written on the board.

Two Engaging Proportional Reasoning Tasks

I hope that there are other 6th (and 7th) grade teachers out there that might find this analysis useful if they are looking for ways to increase student engagement, thinking, and discourse around percents, fractions, and proportional reasoning standards. This engaging learning opportunity can be used at the beginning of a unit as an inquiry-based exploration and pre-assessment. It can also be used as a way of assessing student learning in the middle or the end of a unit. It’s a low-floor opportunity that allows for students at all levels to participate. It also allows for rich discussion and sense-making because solutions can be reached via multiple strategies.