Monthly Archives: July 2014

TMC14: Start, Stop, Continue

There’s been a ton of reflection by almost every TMC attendee.  Before I forget why the conference was so powerful here’s a “Start, Stop, Continue” reflection on #TMC14.


+ Using higher quality assessments & projects like the ones the algebra 1 group collaborated on.  Tests & quizzes are the weakest part of my class, mostly because I don’t give them.  Students need that feedback and I do too.

+ Asking HOW students get their answers.  Steve Leinwand (@steve_leinwand) gave us that challenge in our first keynote session.  His keynote resonated with me more than any others we had because it was actionable and exposed an essential part of quality math education – students need to show their thinking and then we can all learn from it.

+ Having awesome discussions with my kiddos @PiSpeak led a phenomenal session about having debate in math class.  In super brief sum: He provides structure which allows the students to get comfortable.  He also provided us with practice turning any problem into a debatable one and that was enlightening.  All with sentence starters too so it is certainly doable on my own.  This for me connects directly with Steve’s Keynote – have students explain their thinking to each other.

+ Interactive Notebooks.  This is the second conference I’ve been to this summer that emphasized the power of INBs.  Our biology teacher used them and continues to sing praises of INBs.  Now that I know what they can look like in math class, I’ll join in.  @jdmahlstedt shared this phenomenal resource on all the types of INBs that the blog-o-sphere has defined (I’m hoping to fall in the middle category)

+ Having “New Job Swagger.” I am a new Math coach for my school and attended the Coaches/Specialists discussion facilitated by @MathProjects and this was the most important session I attended.  Did I leave with a dozen things I can implement in 2 weeks? No. But I did leave with the most important thing: Confidence that it will all work out and I’m going to be good at this.  So I (literally, right now) decided I’m going to have swagger.  As I said many times to myself first year “If you can ride a bike 3,800 miles, you can teach 80 14 year olds algebra” My new mantra: If you can ride a bike 3,800 miles, you can coach adults to achieve greatness.

+ Convince a geometry teacher to do @MathProjects’ Princess Dido lesson.  Mostly because I wanna have fun outside on the field, oh and teach one of the most phenomenal lessons ever. If only I taught geometry, the fun we could have…..

+ Using/promoting body scale number lines.  I went to a flex session where we played around with them and so many things just clicked for participants.  Multiplication could truly be seen as a scaled growth.  My mind was blown (and still hurts a little in the best way) from our discussion about i and the complex plane.  I want my students who have oodles of energy this outlet to see the math in front of them and BE the objects.  I think there is a lot of potential for great (or at least engaging) classes.


+ Being a passive member of the MTBOS -> Especially the “twittersphere” There are so many great teachers working to be better and I should make myself a part of the conversation.  Then I can grow all year instead of just one week a year. I’ve kept an eye on twitter these past 3 days and almost every conversation is engaging and interesting.  I can’t wait until we have kiddos and get to sharing our successes and struggles.


+ Using the resources I do & how I plan/implement content.  My morning session was reaffirming because my working group was very aligned on how we teach and what a make a good lesson (and we based that off of a problem I had planned on doing already).

+ Playing with math.  @mathequalslove encouraged us to do that with hexaflexagons and mobius strips – both of which I’ve played around a little bit with.  I shared hexaflexagons with my class last May and it was amazing.  I’ll definitely add in mobius strips to the repertoire.  More importantly, @mathequalslove frustrated me by not letting me have all the answers before the session ended (silly time constraints and silly glue for needing time to dry).  I want my students to feel the same way about math – drawn in with a need to finish a problem.

+ Using NRich.  I attended @VeganMathBeagle’s session on NRich after having used it a few times at the end of the year (it might be because I read about some of them from her blog).  The tasks were always good and provoked some heated math in my class.  I’m excited to use them throughout the entire year.

+ Using Desmos because it is FABULOUS.  I’m surprised by the rate that they grow and put out amazing content.  Now I just need to spread the “good news” to my other teachers and life will be wonderful and full of beautiful, free, graphs.

+ Pinching pennies to make it to LA for #TMC15

Final thoughts

As I finish reflecting on my sessions and experiences TMC14 was incredibly supportive of me in my role right now.  No session I attended made me think “Jake, you don’t know anything and you are in trouble. You are incredibly unqualified.” Instead, many of them let me thinking “Okay, you knew most of that.  Just put a pretty bow on it and share it with your teachers”  For someone who has been in the classroom two incredibly short years and am now a Coach,  I’m thinking a week before I begin: “Jake, You’ve worked hard. You and your students have done amazing things.  You are ready to help your entire department, and school, become phenomenal”  I’m ready for whatever lies ahead, thanks in part to everyone who took part in TMC14.

Using Jigsaws Decreases Prejudice

I’ve been reading Robert Cialdini’s Influence for the past couple weeks which is about how we are designed to comply with certain requests.  I read this tonight and am blown away and had to blog to think through this:

Studies have shown that, compared to other classrooms in the same school using the traditional competitive method, jigsaw learning stimulated significantly more friendship and less prejudice between ethnic groups. Besides this vital reduction in hostility, there were other advantages: Self-esteem, liking for school, and test scores improved for minority students. And the white students benefited, too. Their self-esteem and liking for school went up, and their test performance was at least as high as that of whites in the traditional classes.

Cialdini PhD, Robert B. (2009-05-28). Influence (Kindle Locations 2955-2958). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. [emphasis mine]

I’m blown away by the consequences of this study he summarizes way too briefly.  I can decrease hostility by having students  get information from one another through the jigsaw method (where each person in a group is responsible for a different part of a passage or problem).  WHAT!?!?! Oh, and test scores will increase for everyone?!?!

This to me asks so many questions:
+ Is it any cooperative group work where you have to get information from “teammates” that would have this outcome? What other kinds of assignments could add onto this impact?
+ Why haven’t I been told this before when I’ve been introduced to the method many, many times?
+ Could jigsawing reduce fighting between students (or even groups of students like gangs) at school? Or, if not reduce fighting at least promote cooperation in classrooms?
+ What impact could a dedication to this one cooperative learning strategy have on my school?
+ Are there great examples of jigsawing in math classrooms out there?  I can think of some ideas (different problems or parts of problems in each group or possibly reading a text/problem).

I’ll definitely be spending some time jigsawing all year because there look to be huge benefits.  We’ll see what happens!

Aside: Cialdini cites the study and another study on group behavior in this part of the text.  I can find the reference for you if you’d like – its a little hard on the kindle.


Today I came across this TED talk from Hans Rosling titled “The Best stats you’ve ever seen” and wasn’t too excited by it until he mentioned that you can use this tool!  Rosling’s website Gapminder lets you manipulate data and explore different relationships.  It even includes a way to track changes in time which lets you see changes.  Its super exciting to me!

Instantly I thought about how I could use this in class – find a relationship that interests you and then try and explain it.  Guess what – someone already did that! I see potential for an end of year project like theirs because our students have not been taught these social science researching skills and that is what I did in college.  Of course this all depends on what I teach…..


A relationship I found that I'd love to investigate between incomes and HS graduation rates in US states.

 Average Salary V. Graduation percentage in US states. I’d love to investigate further.




Book Reflection: Do I really have to teach reading?

The Book: Do I really have to teach reading? by Cris Tovani

This book was recommended to me before I began TFA Institute in 2012 by one of my favorite High School teachers. In fact, it is her copy of the book I read….I’ve been meaning to get hit back to her forever but just got around to it…..whoops. I ferociously read it in 3 hours at Panera this weekend – a wonderful advantage of summer 🙂


Tovani gives plenty of reading strategies and examples on how they can be implemented in the math class. For example she described a double entry diary with the quote or fact on one side and a reflection or explanation of its importance on the other.  One main thing that stuck out to me was her explicit calling out of math teachers who probably complain most about reading.  As a math teacher we have to teach how to read word problems.  Math teachers will read all the way through a problem then identify the given and what is needed, including variables. I do this without thinking – I have to remember to teach that explicitly.  The book was full of strategies and hints.  Tovani also includes plenty of examples from her classes which make it such a quick, beautiful read.

To be honest, i picked this off my shelf to get it off my to read list. I didn’t expect much out of it but did get quality info. I know that I am also responsible for teaching reading now – the PARCC test requires that my students can read and break apart complex problems like never before. I will have to teach students what that means and how to do it. I also think Tovani provides some insight to keeping students involved with a text.

My favorite thing I am certain to implement are her conversation calendars. Relationships have always been a weak spot for me so by creating a structure to build and maintain relationships and dialogue is wonderful. It is also simple and gives students immediate feedback on the days work and their effort.

(I just re-read this to get it out of my edit que and have picked up so many other things that are so important: group work, my goal of implementing text sets slowly [sub work in part])

Once I start creating strategies to dissect PARCC problems I’ll be sure to come back and skim this post and my top secret google docs with more notes.

Read on.

One emotion: Overwhelming Pride

I meant to post this awhile ago, but didn’t review it.  Then this article came out today so its still timely 🙂

Last Sunday  the Arkansas end-of-course results came back for Algebra 1 (mostly my kiddos and all I taught) and Geometry. And they were amazing 😀 Both courses had gains on the percent of students that were proficient or advanced (without that score students do additional course work to graduate). Algebra is what I do all day and we had a gain of 10% going from 49% to 59% even with losing an Algebra teacher for the second spring in a row. A personal huge positive, my students were 66% proficient or advanced so I just dream of having two teachers all year. I’m so so so so so proud.

The data doesn’t tell it all so here are two brief anecdotes about the results.

Number 1: Unexpected Growth

” I told the eighth graders that if they wanna learn they better be in Mr. Winfield’s class” – X

X was one of my students this year. She came late and came with a ton of energy. Somehow everything we did in class made math click in a way it never had before. One day this spring we were plotting points and she kept confusing her x and y coordinates and she told me “I always had another student do it because I didn’t get it” I said “If you don’t do it then you won’t learn it”
Months later we were graphing again and she graphs all by herself. We were both so happy! She finally got it!

Test results came back and she was one of my highest scoring students. Even with her vocal complaints X showed more mastery than almost every 9th grader I taught. I worked with her mom this summer and spread the good news. She was excited and told me the next day “I don’t know who was more excited, X or her dad. And X keeps saying its because you kept breaking down things and explaining and this year was the first year truly understood”

There’s nothing you can say to that, other than I’m proud, overwhelmingly proud of X. And all the students who made great gains from their hard work.

Number 2: A Fatal Error

I had until last Sunday always claimed that success in my class (not failing) would indicate your ability to succeed on the end of course exam. If you had a high grade, I was certain of your skills. Y. had an A in my class 3rd 9 weeks but started to slip up. Y. scored in the lowest score category. Z. was more of a problem but during review she stepped up her game and scored proficient (2 score categories higher).

Grades and tests shouldn’t be this far apart – yes there were behavior issues (suspensions) for Z and none for Y.  Yes, Y did his homework after I contacted home.  But he didn’t retain that information.  This is convincing me more that Standards-Based Grading may be something to seriously look at implementing.

Final Thoughts

Still, looking at the big picture I know there were huge gains and I’m still beaming with pride. I know PARCC is coming and is going to change results but I feel that this laid the ground work for a good way to teach – I just have to make sure my grading best represents student knowledge.

Oh, and thank you (yes YOU). If you are reading this you are probably a part of the #MTBoS and if you are your work blogs and philosophy made these incredible results possible. And thats why this year I’ll be a vocal part of the community – to make math class better for all students like X, Y and especially Z.

***doing my happy dance until September when the whole school will know about the students phenomenal work**

Book Reflection: Instructional Coaching by Jim Knight

The book: Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction by Jim Knight.
This text was highly recommended from the former 9-12 math coach, our consultants and even a random math specialist I met at AVID’s conference.  I had high hopes that this would be the one-stop shop to figure out what I was going to do as a Math Coach.


Knight is a leader on academia about Instructional coaches (ICs) and how to make them most effective.  He bases his model on partnership – not on authoritative rule.  Knight says that by asking questions to the teacher about the teacher’s goals you are more likely to get buy in (which I whole-heartedly agree with).  With the focus on a partnership, ICs must focus on relationships and be positive with their teachers.  Finally, Knight believes there are the “BIG 4” of coaching – what are the 4 things ICs can help coach with.  They are Behavior, Content, Direct Instruction and Formative assessments.  In his book he includes some strategies for each of these areas.


I am pretty underwhelmed by this text.  Maybe it is because I had just finished “Leverage Leadership” by Bambrick-Santoyo a week before which aligns much more with my needs or just all of the hype I’ve heard.  Maybe it is because my job will include more administrative duties than ICs with his definition.  Maybe it is because Knight consistently reinforced what I’ve already been told: Relationships with people make things happen.  Period. And even though I’ve heard it a million times, my biggest take away is still that I need to focus on relationships to create sustained success.  I also like how Knight broke down the four things ICs should focus on and gave solutions to each.  That could be helpful come fall.  I also picked up on his preference of the word “visit” over “observation” which I’ll definitely implement next year in my schedule I’ll be sharing with teachers.  Visits are much less intimidating and are informal – which my visits will be.  These big take-aways will supplement my plan I created after reading Leverage Leadership.

Personal Notes