Education ∪ Math ∪ Technology

Month: February 2015 (page 1 of 1)

Treating Teachers Like Sense-Makers

Your workshop was so interesting. I learned so much!” ~ An actual comment from a participant in one of my workshops yesterday.

Too often we ask teachers to listen for an hour or even two to someone talk nearly non-stop about what they know with perhaps a question thrown in once in a while. Since very few people can talk in an engaging way for this amount of time, it’s no wonder that so many people check out of this kind of experience.

But this experience is even worse because most educators have the background experience to engage in the ideas being discussed almost immediately but lecturing at teachers does not take into account their prior experiences. If someone lectures at teachers for an hour, I assume that they actually do not understand their topic or teaching well enough to think through how someone might engage in the topic more directly (the only exceptions are a keynote or a class size that numbers in the hundreds, very little else is possible without technology).

Yesterday I gave teachers a very brief introduction to one of four potential technology tools they might want to explore, and then I gave them access to the resources they would need to explore the tools. While they did this, I circulated around the room. Once it looked like they had made a decision about which tool they intended to explore more deeply, I asked them to group up with people exploring the same tool.

Then I continued to circulate around the room and made a note who seemed comfortable with the technology, who needed support, and who was vocal and who was not. I checked out who attempted to make things with the tools for themselves and who seemed more content to explore things already created. I used the information I gathered to decide when to pause the various groups’ discussion and work and how to structure the ensuing conversation and what questions might be useful to ask. I used the experiences the teachers were developing from the technology to inform the rest of the session.


A program written by a participant


I asked teachers to try and fill in a lesson plan template and choose a goal. Most did not, and so I decided to model a potential use of the technology using a Noticing and Wondering protocol. We then discussed what goal this activity might support and what this activity would look like if we tried to use pencil and paper.

At no point did I treat the teachers like they were incapable of figuring out how to use the technology themselves or thinking through for themselves how the technology might support their teaching. I certainly gave them opportunities for feedback on their ideas and offered them support when they seemed to need it, but I treated them as people who think and the ideas they had as being important to surface.

After all, this is all just good teaching, and don’t educators deserve that?


Creating a Formative Assessment Tool in Google Spreadsheets

In the project I’m involved in, teachers are expected to give students a beginning of unit performance assessment task both to preview the mathematics of the upcoming unit for students but also to give teachers a sense of how students understand some of the mathematical ideas from the unit. The tasks themselves are drawn from the MARS tasks available through our partnership with the Silicon Valley Math Initiative.

At the beginning of the year, we made two major shifts in our beginning of unit diagnostic assessments. The first is that we selected tasks which aligned more closely to mathematical ideas that one might consider pre-requisite ideas for the unit. The next is that we developed a more sophisticated protocol for teachers to make sense of the student work.


In prior years, we expected teachers to use a rubric to score the student work and use the scores to make decisions about what to do next. Unfortunately this process has teachers compress the information from the student work into  a single number for each student, and then we had to provide a tool to help teachers unpack the score into mathematical understandings and then have them decide on next steps. This means that a huge amount of potentially useful information for making decisions about the student work is lost in the conversion to a number which unnecessarily complicates the decision-making process.

Information Compression of Scoring

Instead, we developed a protocol and a spreadsheet tool so that teachers could look at the student work and systematically record the strategies the students were using as well as how successfully students used these strategies.

In order to develop the protocol and the spreadsheet tool, I took a sample of student work on the task and grouped it according to different types of mathematical strategies students used for each question on the task. I then decided on language that would communicate those strategies to teachers and created a set of instructions on how to go through the student work and record the strategies systematically.

Given the amount of time this takes, we decided to restrict this to just the beginning of unit assessments and suggested to teachers that instead of looking at every single student’s work, they could select a random sample of 20 to 30 students to look at in depth. We also attempted to make it clear, that while we strongly suggested that teachers try using this tool, this was not a mandated part of our project; instead the mandate is for teachers to give an initial assessment to their students and then systematically make sense of the information provided by the task.

Once we have the spreadsheet tool ready for any given unit, our data researcher uses Autocrat and a custom script a member of the New Vision Cloudlab team wrote to distribute the spreadsheets to teachers and then pre-populate the spreadsheets with their student names.

One theory I have with this work is that an excellent way for teachers to develop their knowledge of how students approach mathematical tasks and consequently understand mathematical ideas, is to systematically look at student work and record and analyze the actual strategies students have used, as represented by their written work.

An interesting finding we have so far is that although not all of our teachers are using the spreadsheet tool, many of them are systematically sorting their student work by different strategies used and making sense of the student work and then deciding on instructional next steps, based directly on the student work itself. This is very likely an idea generated by the use of the tool as we had not witnessed large number of teachers in our project using this protocol until this year.

Our hope is that by the end of this year, we will have tasks and tools available for each of the twenty units we are developing as part of our resource support for teachers.


Thinking Through a Lesson

Today I’m working with a team of technical support personnel, who are not educators, and introducing some ideas they can use to help support teachers in their use of technology. I was reminded this morning of the Thinking Through a Lesson Protocol (TTAL) developed by Peg Smith, Victoria Bill, and Elizabeth Hughes it occurred to me that this is the kind of tool that could be useful for educators to use when planning lessons to decide if they should have a technology component (and for educational technologists to recommend to teachers to use when planning lessons involving technology).

Whenever I plan a lesson, I look for the coolest technology first.

In my experience when I first started using technology in my teaching, my planning protocol went something like this:

  1. Find some cool gadget or activity and say “Oooo, I have to use this.”
  2. Shoe-horn it into a lesson even if it didn’t always make sense.
  3. Wonder why my students didn’t learn a whole lot from the activity.


The advantage of the TTAL protocol is that it puts the goal or focus first and helps prompt someone planning a lesson to think through how each part of their lesson supports their overall goals for students. I also think that although the TTAL protocol was originally developed for use developing lessons with a mathematical focus, it could be fairly easily adapted to be more content-agnostic.

The overall protocol goes something like this:

  1. Set up and select a task based on your goal.
  2. Support students doing the task.
  3. Share and discuss the task.

I recommend reading the entire protocol because there is obviously more nuance to the protocol than what I am describing. For example, the TTAL protocol recommends that you do the activity you are planning for students to do, both how you would do it with your knowledge and experience but also to anticipate how your students would do the task with their different knowledge and experience.

A critical idea to keep in mind when making choices about activities for lessons, including ones that involve technology; what your students think about is what they will remember and what they remember will dictate what they will be able to do.