One Good Thing


In order, to reinvigorate my blog and hearty self-reflection, I’ve joined up with a community of like minded bloggers #MTBoS (who happen to love math and hope to inspire their students to feel the same).  You will see several focused posts that aim to start conversation and allow educators to reflect on their practice.

Commence first post: In every day there are ups and downs, focus on things that went well.

One week back into the new year and we have gotten over the sting of resuming work again after a glorious ten day break.  Students have gotten back to their old sleeping and waking schedules and the kids are ready to get to work.  This week we have started a new unit on Operations with Fractions.  We learned how we could use counting around the classroom to find and sense patterns within fractional numbers.  At first, the students struggled with figuring out the reoccurrences and how to predict what their number would be when the chant got to their location.  There was frustration when they were asked to change from 3/3 or 6/3 to a whole number since there was no visual during the exercise, but the kids rallied together.  Reluctant, unsure students had a “secret conversation” with someone sitting close to them and talked out things they were noticing about the pattern that was emerging.  All of the students that opted to have a “secret conversation” were able to reason through the equivalent values and come up with a number that fit the pattern.  Students that normally shy away from talking in a large group were able to participate and be peer teachers.  We completed several rounds with a few different fractional patterns and by the end of the routine everyone in class was able to participate successfully a few times.  This year our students have shown an amazing ability to take a risk and support each other through difficult tasks and material.  When count around the class was over for the day, the students sighed in disappointment and made us promise them that we would do it again next time we had math.

The students’ willingness to engage with new material that is cognitively challenging was a seriously good thing that came out of our teaching this week.  It was nice to focus on one of the elements of our lessons that could have taken a completely different turn, but ended up as a routine that we will be able to use again and again to extend patterns with all different types of numbers.

Can’t wait to check in next week. Until then #MTBoS

Making Number Talks Matter

With math at the forefront of our mindset revolution, several of our staff members have committed to a book study entitled Making Number Talks Matter.  We have embarked together on a journey to grow our own brains, just as we asking students to do daily.  Asked to deeply think about changing our own practice, the book study is getting at the heart of changing our practice to create deeper thinkers that can work adeptly with numbers and reasoning.  Teachers are thinking about the way they present material and how they question students to gain a greater insight into student thinking and even misconception.

The work with the book study is directly connected to the work we have already committed to this year with teaching our students about mindset, encouraging professional learning through thought partnerships, and strengthening our own content knowledge so we can better anticipate the needs of students.  I can already see the improvement in confidence and buy in within my students after only two months of using number talks as a tool for thinking about the way numbers work.  The students are showing flexibility and are able to extend their thinking from the number talks we use as activators to the curricular content we cover through the Investigations series.  The students are noticing wonderful patterns and regularities in the operations we have been studying.

I can’t wait to see what these kids can do as we continue in the study of new and exciting strategies that can be used to make working with numbers more efficient and comfortable.

Perfecting our Practice

IMG_3019As each and every teacher started their year, building community with students, encouraging connection over content at the onset, we honed in on the differences between fixed and growth mindsets.  We have already begun to see the fruits of our efforts and its less than a month into the school year. Students were excited to hear that their teachers believed that their brains could grow and change.  That they weren’t viewed as “smart” or “dumb” from the onset of this new school year.  Though it has proven to be challenging to get through to some of our students who have met with many struggles and obstacles in their school career, we are seeing a difference.

As a fifth grade teacher it is hard to filter out some of the information you receive about current students from previous years’ staff.  But I believe it’s equally hard for students to decide to break free of the mold they have helped to create for themselves.  We are seeing progress in our classroom however.  Students who felt too “stupid” (self-proclaimed) to participate in class two weeks ago are now voluntarily offering information, ideas and taking risks in the classroom.

IMG_3017 The students do need reminders here and there about embracing change.  It’s new to believe it’s okay to share if you aren’t sure your answer is correct.  But it’s also freeing to know that your peers can help you find your way through a maze of new material and concepts.  I am hopeful for our upcoming year.  We hope to set the foundation for Growth Mindset and further students’ abilities by focusing on Number Talks in mathematics and Vocabulary development across the school.

We have started our work with Thought Partnerships (small groups of teachers) that help each other focus and redefine their practice through peer evaluation and critique.  The hope is that through colleague community we can elevate our craft and see great gains in the classroom that will pour out into students’ everyday lives.


Making Room for Growth

As we prepare ourselves for another year at Silver Lake we are starting with carefully crafted professional development in all areas.  Guess what the underlying message of all content area PD is right now?  That we have to encourage students to think about learning, in all areas, as a continual process where they can see their mistakes as part of the process rather than a trigger for shutdown.

We ended last school year with information from Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck on how to create a math mindset that fosters growth.  Imagine that there aren’t predetermined genetics for who will be good at a subject and who won’t.  Imagine how freeing it will free to realize that repeated effort leads to increased knowledge.  Even mistakes build your brain!  Interesting examples were brought to the forefront, when pro football players miss a pass to they cry and pout in the corner?  No! They practice harder.  Why shouldn’t learning be just like this?

Recent vocabulary acquisition research has also proven that this growth mindset outlook can help students learn more words and word families to expand language acquisition.  Learning new words and making connections to more familiar terminology creates new pathways in the brain.  Students don’t have a set number of new words they can acquire, the number is limitless!  The more words a student knows, the more likely they will be to receive higher education, make more money at a higher paying job, and feel success.

I have been working on my argument all summer to use with adults who believe in a fixed mindset.  We are in a “new school” frame of mind when it comes to learning.  Most parents out there went to school (like me) and believed that students were either inclined to be good at writing or math or they weren’t.  I think it is safe to say that speed was looked at as paramount in determining your ability level in a specific subject. I’m excited that in this day in age we are helping to dispel the myth that speed equals smart.  We are going to work on teaching students that effort is what counts.  Not everyone understands concepts on the same timeline with the same tools.  All of us can understand anything we want to however, with the right amount of effort.

We will begin with explicit instruction in the area of growth mindset.  Educating students on the ways they can think about learning and introducing them to their own viewpoints so we can actively work to change fixed mindset.  We are then working to explicitly teach students the different aspects of of effective effort:

  1. Time- to do the job well
  2. Focus- No other distractions (TV, computer)
  3. Strategies- learn strategies to use when you meet obstacles
  4. Resourcefulness- knowing where to go and whom to ask for help
  5. Using feedback- analysis of work to determine errors and what to improve on (understand the criterion and teaching kids how to discern these criterion so feedback can be useful.
  6. Commitment- being determined to finish and doing the very best work.

Once students have been taught what effective effort looks like they can be cognizant of whether they are putting forth effective effort and will be able to identify what they can do to get better results.

Mastering Mindset

This school year the staff and students of Silver Lake Elementary will be working to develop a new mindset.  This Growth Mindset is evidenced in the most successful kinds of people across the globe, in athletics, academics, and personal passions.  People who exhibit Growth Mindset experience mistakes and use them as stepping stones and opportunities for further advancement rather than seeing a mistake as a failure.  Our mission is to help students and their families reframe the process of learning, seeing every opportunity as a time for brain growth and extension.  We are actively challenging the myths that limit people to specific subject areas and topics.  Since research has proven that there aren’t genes related to a person’s capacity for learning, we want to make sure to make all learning is accessible to all students.  This blog hopes to capture some our improvements in practice throughout the school year and provide a reflective forum to analyze the usefulness of the alterations and strategies put in place.

We would love to connect with other professionals and schools that are trying to implement some of the same strategies.  Please feel free to contact me (Laurie) or our school Principal, Cyndi Clay