The need for change

I am in my 10th year of teaching and while I still enjoy it, there is an overwhelming need for change.  There have been many change agents that have moved my progress along.  Professional development at my district has been eye opening and has definitely influenced my instructional decisions on a day to day basis.  Taking the time to read has made me realize even more that I still need to make even more changes. Books I highly recommend are:

  • 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions, Margaret Smith & Mary Stein.
  • Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All, from NCTM.
  • Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, Jo Boaler.
  • CCSS Math Frameworks for Grades 6-8.

Not to mention the huge change from legacy standards to Common Core Standards.  For the past two years I have attended CMC and listened to Robert Kaplinsky, Dan Meyer, Andrew Stadel and Fawn Nguyen which motivated me to sign up on Twitter so I can follow  them and their ideas.

Still unhappy with the structure of my classroom, I emailed Fawn Nguyen to ask about the structure of her classroom.  Through collaborating with her, I changed everything for the second semester.

First Semester Structure:

  • Students come in, copy agenda and immediately grade HW.
  • During HW, students come to a consensus about answers and strategies used.
  • Lesson for the day from CPM textbook (instructional strategies from 5 Practices embedded within lesson as I anticipated student strategies).

Second  Semester Structure:

  • Back to Warm Ups
  • Review Homework (HW)
  • Classwork is now split between Tasks and Lessons from the text.  The goal is to do 1-2 tasks a week like Fawn, however if a task has a lot of “meat”it obviously takes more than one day.

I noticed while working with CPM (a textbook our district is piloting) that I didn’t have time to do the warm-up in addition to grade and go over HW. So first semester I eliminated warm-ups completely.  But the more I read and evaluated my students, I realized that I needed to implement warm-ups that build Number Sense, not just practice problems (especially if they practice them wrong). So I modeled my HW similar to Fawn’s model.  HW is still assigned, however I don’t stamp, grade or enter it in the grade book daily like I used to, which now gives me time to do meaningful warm-ups.  I also give them all of the answers to the HW so they can self check at home.  The catch is that they have to show their work and they can’t redo a test or quiz unless they have shown an effort to keep up with HW.  I spot check every now and again.

My new HW is modeled after Jo Boaler’s book Mathematcal Mindsets.  Students are now given reflection questions based on the task or lesson which are turned in for a grade.  I wanted HW that is more meaningful, allowing students to reflect and make mathematical connections or ask questions that can be found belowHW Reflection questions blog

Students typically answer one reflection question a night based on the task.  Most of the time I choose a list of reflection questions they should be able to answer from the lesson, and the students to choose one of those.  I do have a higher turn in rate with the reflective HW assignments than I do with HW from the text.  And when I read their reflections, they actually “get it” which is rewarding for me.  Students are making connections like I’ve never seen before.

Homework Reflection Questions

10 thoughts on “The need for change

  1. This is so great to read. Steve Leinwand talks about expecting teachers to change their practice 10% each year. It’s fair to say that you blasted past that amount. Thank you for sharing this and all the kind words.

    Next time you see me at In-N-Out, be sure to say hi! Ha.


  2. Thanks so much for this reminder. Suffering from Teacher ADD, I need the structure of the week like you have it listed. Curious though, as students enter the class, what would I I see happening if I was a fly on the wall. Do they get started right away on the warm up? Do they need you to get started? I’ve always liked having a task ready for them when they enter. Thanks again!


    1. Hi Travis!
      When my kids enter the room about half of them (should be ALL) copy down the Agenda in their school planners. I do have to remind them to get out their pink sheet. This is the handout where they do all of their warm-ups. In the past, I have timed the Agenda slide for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes the slide changes to the warm-up and the kids move on accordingly. This worked well when I did warm-ups in the passed. I also gave the slide change a sound so they knew something was happening. If you don’t have an agenda that the kids need to copy down, then you can have the warm-up already showing and they can get started right away. Since I’ve changed form doing meaningless problems to these new warm-ups the kids are interested and want to complete them. The pattern ones are the hardest and is where there is more resistance. Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.


      1. Thanks. Yes it does! I have an agenda on the board to. Sounds like you use ppt to plan/structure your math period. I find myself always running out of time with 45 minute period. Thanks for the inspiration!


  3. I appreciate you sharing the Homework Reflection Questions. I had forgotten where I had seen that before and was looking for it! Now I know to go back to my Jo Boaler materials. I love Jo Boaler and I look forward to following you now!


    1. Thank you! I love Jo Boaler as well. I also started writing only questions on test and quizzes instead of grades. It has thrown them for a loop but starting to show them what is really important.


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