Our Kids Are Not Swiss Cheese!

This blog post was co-written with Rachel Lambert and available on both blogs.

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A couple of years ago, Rachel Lambert and myself were talking about how students in special education are conceptualized. We were sick of hearing about the “gaps” and the “holes” in our student’s learning. One of us, (probably Rachel!), blurted out – “Our students are not Swiss cheese!” We laughed, since this summed up for us how learners with disabilities are both over-analyzed and under-educated, always seen as the sum of their deficits, not their strengths. What follows are two recent experiences we’ve each had in which the idea of thinking of students as Swiss cheese has resurfaced. 

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Beginning the School Year with a Productive Disposition

There are many ways to start the school year in math class, some are better than others. Building a culture of risk-taking, mistake-embracing, hard-working, respectful students who view themselves as mathematicians is no small feat.

Why is this important? Because research says that the way student’s view themselves in math class can predict future attainment levels in math class. Also, developing a productive disposition towards mathematics is a key to any student’s success in school. So should we focus on developing classroom norms or beginning the year with math tasks? Tracy Zager, author of Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had, weighs in.

Whether we choose to start the year by jumping into a rich task on the first day, or by engaging in a reflective study about what it means to do mathematics, or by undertaking group challenges and conversations to develop norms for discourse and debate, we must be thoughtful about our students’ annual re-introduction to the discipline of mathematics.

So this year in order to re-introduce our students to math, we developed a collection of activities specifically chosen not only to engage students meaningfully in mathematics, but to also develop a productive disposition to mathematics as well.  Continue reading

We Need YOU!

The weeks after the NCTM Annual Meeting and Exposition are usually a time of personal professional reflection and consideration about the future direction of the organization itself.

During Congressional recess, Senators and Representatives go back to their communities and hold town halls to hear the issues that are important to their constituents.

In Tracy Zager‘s recent blog post reflecting on her own experience at the NCTM conference, she says the following [emphasis added]:

From where I sit, the merger with The Math Forum, the emphasis on #MTBoS representation on all NCTM committees, the MTBoS keynote in Nashville, and the support of our fringe events like Game Night and ShadowCon are meaningful. I’m all for pressing NCTM to be what we need it to be. But I’m also all for recognizing the big shifts made over the last few years. Change comes faster within the (unstructured, unregulated) #MTBoS than it can within the (highly structured, institutionalized) NCTM, just by the nature of the beasts. But good change is happening nonetheless.

The blog post you are reading right now focuses on the idea of “#MTBoS representation on all NCTM committees.” Recently, Carl Oliver, Tina Cardone, and I began two-year terms on the NCTM Publishing committee. Our first committee meeting will be held soon and we’ll all have more specific information afterwards, which we’ll be sure to share. So, in an effort to begin with transparency, this particular post is meant to be a kind of digital town hall.

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As #MTBoS constituents, please share your answers to these (or other questions) in the comments section…

  • What issues are important to you regarding NCTM publications (magazines, books, and journals)?
  • How do you currently use NCTM publications in your professional life (in or out of the classroom)?
  • How can NCTM publications be the most useful to you in your professional role?

To be completely honest, as #MTBoS committee representatives we cannot promise to address everything, but we’d like to begin this adventure knowing what’s already on YOUR mind!

Pi Day (with minimal mention of digits)

Today, we celebrated our belated Pi Day! It was delayed due to inclement weather…

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Though my #MTBoS friends were there to comfort me in my time of need!

Our spring trimester focus is always financial literacy. So, we spent most of last week researching recipes, planning for a shopping trip, going to the bank, shopping for ingredients, and making pies. Yes, I said it. We made pies for Pi Day, sue me! Now, finally the time had come to eat our pies, but first…we had to do some more math!

First we reviewed of some of the digits of Pi, highlighting that when rounded to the nearest hundredth it matches the numerical date of March 14th, which is subsequently known as “Pi Day” for this reason. I also wore my Pi shirt, which gives the students an opportunity to see that there are A LOT of digits in this number known as Pi and that I’m a nerd. We did, however, skip the traditional digit memorization activity for several reasons including working memory and tedious boredom.

Instead we estimated, explored, and discovered the circumference formula with our pies and some string.

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Betsy DeVos & the Rights of Students with Disabilities

This blog rarely veers into discussions of national education policy, but after the events of last night’s confirmation hearing for the Secretary of Education nominee, that time has come.

The nominee, Betsy DeVos, is an advocate for school choice (pro and con). Essentially, she believes that federal education dollars should follow students to the schools they choose to attend (public, private, religious, charter, etc.) and not directly to the schools through state funding. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado summed up some of the pitfalls of school choice, “There’s no practical difference between being forced to go to a terrible school and [choosing] between five terrible schools.” As a teacher of students with disabilities in a private institution, I understand that not all public school settings are appropriate for every student. However, I am personally against the dismantling of public education in favor of privatization.

One aspect of the hearing that struck me, as an advocate for students with disabilities, was DeVos’ lack of understanding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). When asked about it directly by Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, this was the exchange that followed:

Should the rights of students with disabilities be left up to the states? Should we be taken back to a time when students with disabilities were excluded from education in favor of exclusionary special classes or, worse, institutionalization? The correct answer to that question, if you were still on the fence, is no.

However, evoking such a dark time in our country’s past, such as Willowbrook, may seem hyperbolic, but when a nominee for the highest education job in our nation displays a staggering ignorance of a federal law which protects the rights of an often neglected population of students, well, nothing seems too unrealistic to consider. We must consistently grapple with the follies of the past in the hopes of not repeating them.

IDEA is important because it explicitly protects the rights of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment where all stakeholders, especially the students and their families, give input on how to best meet the student’s educational needs. To mistake or be unaware of this federal law is unforgivable. Period. And as Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, whose son has cerebral palsy, said “It’s not about sensitivity, although that helps. It’s about being willing to enforce the law so that my child, and every child, has the same access to high-quality public education.”

UPDATE [1/19/17]: Senator Maggie Hassan discusses IDEA and Betsy DeVos with Chris Hayes on MSNBC

 

An Instructional Routine for “Which One Doesn’t Belong?”

We are currently studying geometry. The standards for geometry list one important understanding to develop before 4th grade, “Reason with shapes and their attributes.” If you click through the link you can read more about the specifics, but the activity that gets students reasoning about shapes and their attributes the most, in my opinion, is Which One Doesn’t Belong? This activity allows students to share their thinking about shapes and their properties without the fear of being wrong. Why? Because every answer is correct as long as you can justify your reasoning! You can read more about how I implement “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” in my class and you can use it for more than just geometry.

But this post is about how I used this activity as a basis for an instructional routine. Continue reading

Beat the Back to School Blues…Play a Math Game!

Coming back from winter break can be hard. Everyone is sleepy, unfocused, and daydreaming of the holiday gifts that await them at home after school. And that’s just the teachers!

But seriously, getting back into the groove of school is hard for everyone, and can be especially hard for students with disabilities who thrive on clarity of expectations and routine. Creating the perfect situation for students and teachers to transition from a holiday break can be a challenge. So this year, we played games!

When visitors come into my room and see “games” on the agenda they assume that means “free time.” That, however, is not the case. As Van De Walle, Karp and Bay-Williams write, “A game or other repeatable activity may not seem to incorporate a problem but it can nonetheless be a problem-based task. The determining factor is whether the [game] causes students to be reflective about new or developing mathematical relationships. Remember that it is reflective thought that causes growth and therefore learning” (63).

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Tips from Marilyn Burns (Source)

Marilyn Burns describes why games have been a staple of her teaching repertoire, “Games can motivate students, capture their interest, and are a great way to get in that paper-and-pencil practice.”  Further, in their book, Routines for Reasoning, Kelemanik, Lucenta, and Crieghton relate that learning experiences for students with disabilities must be: authentic, meaningful contexts, multisensory, language rich, and full of opportunities for multiple practice. Games provide all of these features. They are by definition, competitive. Competition is, itself, a meaningful, authentic context. Most games are inherently multi-sensory. While playing games students must communicate with each other, thus creating language rich environments. And finally, most good math games make students do as many (or more) problems as they would on a paper-and-pencil worksheet.

Since my students have a wide range of academic abilities, it is necessary that we have access to a wide range of math games. Here are the math games we play, and please let us know which ones you love so we can play them too!

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