# Better Questions: Math Rocks Meets Open Middle

This year I have been leading a cohort of elementary math educators in my district. We met for two full days in July – you can read about that here and here – and throughout this school year we’ve met every other Thursday after school.

In December, our meeting focused on the work of Robert Kaplinsky, specifically his IGNITE talk about productive struggle and his website openmiddle.com.

At the start of the session, everyone reflected on what “productive struggle” means to them. This is important because as certain phrases become popular in education, they quickly become jargon. I wanted to ensure everyone had a chance to think about how they interpret the phrase and share that with the group. Then we watched Robert’s IGNITE talk.

The image that stood out most to me from his talk was the one of the mom riding the bike for her child. It seems so silly, and yet there are many instances as teachers where we can find ourselves doing the thinking for our students instead of letting them try either on their own or with our support.

At the end of the video, Robert puts out a call to action for teachers to create opportunities for students to productively struggle. And why not start by having the Math Rocks participants do some productive struggling of their own? Regina and I posted 10 problems around the room. We let everyone loose to do some math for 15 minutes. They dove right in!

All 10 problems came from openmiddle.com. If you aren’t familiar with the open middle problem type, here’s a brief summary: (You can learn more here.)

• they have a “closed beginning” meaning they all start with the same initial problem
• they have a “closed end” meaning that they all end with the same answer
• they have an “open middle” meaning there are multiple ways to approach and ultimately solve the problem

After debriefing as a group and sharing information about open middle problems, we came back around to the idea of productive struggle with this video from Michael Pershan. The whole thing is interesting, but for the purposes of our discussion, we watched the first 30 seconds of the video, and then we watched from 1:45 to 5:45.

By this point, we had made our case and it was time for the participants to take a stab at designing their own open middle problems. They had a choice of writing one from scratch or taking an existing problem from our curriculum and redesigning it as an open middle problem. A nice surprise is that our adopted textbook, Stepping Stones, already uses open middle problems in many lessons and activities! They don’t name them as such, but that’s essentially what they are.

We shared out the open middle problems they wrote. Afterward we gathered them together in this document if you’d like to see our first attempts. We closed the session with their homework assignment – giving their students an open middle problem and reflecting on it in a blog post. If you’re interested in learning more about open middle problems – especially learning from teachers trying them out for the first time! – check out our open middle blog post collection.

The consensus from the group seems to be that they can initially throw kids off if they’re not used to being asked questions like this, especially for those kids who want to neatly and easily come to the correct answer, but the questions provide opportunities for the type of thinking and struggling we want our students to engage in and we need to be using them more often.

# A Day in the Life of a Curriculum Coordinator: Tuesday

Here are links to all of the posts I wrote this week:

## Tuesday

So in stark contrast to yesterday, today was quite the whirlwind! I started the morning at our office where I checked email, drank a cup of coffee, and chatted with Regina about our fraction PD sessions tomorrow.

Before I knew it, it was time to head out to the principals meeting to present about the upcoming STAAR math test. The principals meeting was being hosted at Dell this month instead of at our Admin office. When I arrived, a panel of Dell excecs was imparting leadership wisdom and answering the principals’ questions.

After the panel discussion ended, our elementary science coordinator spoke about the successes of implementing the Writing in Science program in our district over the past 4 years. It was really impressive to see photos and videos of the program in action, and it reaffirmed that the next chance I get, I need to attend one of her trainings to learn more about it! We have a couple of instructional coaches who are already looking at how to adapt and extend the components of Writing in Science to math, and they’re planning to share this during a summer PD session in July. I can’t wait!

After that inspiring presentation, I had my turn at the podium. The session went well and I got some good questions from the principals. One of them was if I’ll be repeating this session for the teachers. It got me thinking that I could probably do it as a webinar that teachers can attend live, but those who can’t attend could watch a recording of it after the fact. Now I just need to figure out the logistics and schedule a date!

On my way back to the office, I decided to stop for lunch at a local restaurant. It’s close enough to the office that I was able to call Regina to invite her to join me, and she convinced our elementary social studies coordinator to come along. That was my calm moment for the day. I enjoyed getting to eat and talk without worrying where I was off to next.

After lunch, I headed back to the office to answer emails before heading out to a meeting at one of our elementary campuses. While I was back in the office, I realized that we have more interest in our upcoming Developing Number Concepts session than I can accommodate in one day. Rather than turn people away, I’ve decided to add a second session a week later. This way we’ll be able to host almost 100 teachers, up from the original 60. I’m really excited that so many people want to attend this training!

Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to email principals about the new session before I hopped back in the car and headed over to one of our elementary campuses. Since October, principals have been meeting in groups once a month to take various Heinemann online courses together. The elementary curriculum coordinators were each invited to join one of the groups.

My group is made up of about 6 principals, and we’re taking Steve Leinwand’s Making Math Far More Accessible to Our Students. It’s been a lot of fun! The material is great, and the discussion it prompts among us is so valuable. Today’s session was about the importance of using multiple representations and supporting students’ language development in mathematics. We had a great discussion at one point about strip diagrams, and I was clapping on the inside when one of the principals referenced the notice and wonder strategy as a way to make sense of them.

It was during this meeting that I realized I’m getting sick. Boo!

I have a full day of PD planned for tomorrow. I can’t be sick! Well, I can. If necessary, Regina can lead the sessions on her own. I just don’t want to do that to her. I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep, but I still went over the 4th grade presentation with her when I got back to the office just in case!

At 3:30, an instructional coach followed shortly by a team of 2nd grade teachers showed up to our K-2 open planning session. The 2nd grade team are our regulars. They come each time and plan the assessment for their upcoming unit. It’s awesome! Today I worked with them to create assessment items for a geometry unit. We also had a 1st grade teacher show up. She worked with the instructional coach to plan activities for an upcoming addition unit. So, not a huge turnout, but incredibly productive for those who were there!

At 5 o’clock, I helped Regina load up her car with the materials we need to take with us to the PD session tomorrow, and then I headed home. At this point it’s becoming clearer and clearer I’m under the weather, but I’m still holding out hope I’ll feel better in the morning.

# A Day in the Life of a Curriculum Coordinator: Monday

I’m always a sucker for a good blogging initiative. As luck would have it, my online PLC, #MTBoS is kicking off just such an initiative this week! If you’re interested in joining or if you just want to find out what the MathTwitterBlogosphere is all about, head on over to the ExploreMTBoS site.

We were given two options for blog post topics this week. The first is to write a post about one good thing. The other is to write about a day in the life. The assumption is that you’re a teacher and you’ll write about a day in the life of a teacher. However, I’m not a teacher currently. I’m the elementary math curriculum coordinator for my district. I don’t imagine many people know what I actually do – Dan Meyer had lunch with my secondary counterparts last week and was surprised to hear our jobs weren’t terminated once the scope and sequence was in place – so I thought this is a timely opportunity to share a sliver of what my job entails.

We’ll start with Monday. If all goes well, I’ll write a short post each day. If all does not go well, then you might just get Monday. At least I can guarantee one day in the life!

[UPDATE] – I did manage to write a post each day:

## Monday

In many ways today was not a typical day which is why I’m hoping to write a few posts this week. On the other hand, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a typical day in my job, so today’s post might be just as representative as any other day I could have chosen to write about.

The first hour of my day I spent reviewing, editing, and finalizing a presentation I’m giving to all of our elementary principals tomorrow. I have about 50 minutes to do an overview session about the state math test (STAAR) and give some tips and advice for how teachers and students should spend time between now and then.

SPOIILER ALERT! I’m going to tell them their teachers should stay the course. The year is only half over and there are still a lot of concepts to introduce. If anything, now is a great time to revisit how things are going and work together with grade level teams to ensure they are providing the best lessons and experiences they can during the upcoming units. Teachers can and should review concepts along the way, but massive test prep is not called for at this time.

While putting together the presentation, I got to try out Snap & Read, some new software our Special Education Department purchased, though it’s going to be available as a general instructional tool for all students. It’s a Chrome extension that allows users to highlight text and have it read out loud. I didn’t get to do a whole lot with it, but it was nice to discover how quick and easy it is to use. Students should be able to pick it up immediately!

The rest of the day I prepared for a PD session I’m leading on Wednesday. This year I received funding from our superintendent – a huge thanks to Dr. Flores! – to purchase multiple copies of the books Beyond Pizzas and Pies and Beyond Invert and Multiply for our intermediate elementary teachers. In addition, I also received funding to provide a full day of PD to one grade 3 teacher from every campus and one grade 4 teacher from every campus.

There’s a lot of information in the books, so my partner Regina and I opted to do two half-day sessions for each grade level. Back in December we facilitated part 1 for each grade and this Wednesday we’re facilitating part 2. We didn’t have enough money to bring grade 5 into the fold so we’re offering them a 2-hour session on an early release day in February.

Normally I have a lot of different tasks to jump between each day, but somehow I only managed to schedule PD prep today, and I sure needed the time! Regina is handling the grade 3 session which left me with the grade 4 session. I had to figure out what I was going to cover from the 3 chapters I chose for this session, make slides, plan out activities – specifically modifications I wanted to make to the activities shared in the book – and get copies made of all the materials teachers will use.

All in all I’m happy with how the session has shaped up, and I look forward to working with the teachers on Wednesday. Now I just have to hope we can get through everything I planned! That’s one area I’m still learning with regard to PD planning. I feel pretty good about the amount of content in my sessions, but I find that I always tend to put just one too many things in every session. Or two or three, but usually it feels like it’s just a bit too much.

I also did some odds and ends throughout the day whenever I needed a short break from PD planning:

• I shared a reminder about this week’s open planning sessions on our grade-level Google communities. Once a month, Regina and I host two open planning sessions after school – one for K-2 teachers and one for 3-5 teachers. All teachers from the district are invited to come and collaborate together on upcoming math units. Regina and I are there to help answer questions and take part in the process. This year is the first time we’ve offered this. The sessions aren’t attended by a ton of folks, but the teachers who do come let us know how valuable they think the time is. I actually just got an email this afternoon from an AP who shared some feedback a teacher gave her during a pre-observation conference: “Going to open planning was the best decision we’ve ever made. It helps us understand the TEKS and pace our unit.” Hooray! I think this also counts as my one good thing. 🙂
• I emailed a vendor to get a quote for some books I’m going to purchase for our K-2 teachers. For each campus we’re purchasing multiple copies of books 1-3 in the Developing Number Concepts series by Kathy Richardson. (Another thanks to our superintendent, Dr. Flores!) Regina and I will be leading a full day PD session on those for K-2 teachers in February.
• Speaking of, I emailed back and forth with a couple principals who are hoping to get a few more teachers signed up for the February PD session I just mentioned. Win!
• And finally, I watched an Ignite talk that one of our instructional coaches shared with me. Gradual release of responsibility has come up somewhat frequently recently and we’re still trying to wrap our heads around what it should/could mean in math. My fear is similar to what’s shown in the video, that it becomes all about what the teacher is thinking and getting students to merely reflect/parrot that.

There you have it. A day in the life of an elementary math curriculum coordinator. This was a fairly calm day, and I am so appreciative of that. Tomorrow is looking to be a bit more hectic. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to blog about that when it’s over.