CTA’s Good Teaching Conference South 2014 – Anaheim

I got the chance to attend and present at CTA’s Good Teaching Conference South this weekend in Anaheim. So while my spouse and the girls enjoyed some Disney adventures, I presented about our lesson study and with the Teacher Leadership Cohort. I believe the attendance at the conference was around 700 (originally planned for 400). But I think with the Pre-GTC Common Core focus, teachers and schools were ready to learn all they could about CCSS.

My first session went well with a nice group of about 36. My second session was standing room only! They added about 20 chairs and closed the session. A little overwhelming, but still a good crowd. Thanks to my Principal and our Secondary Math Coordinator I had some good resources to share. Also thanks to Gabriela Orozco Gonzalez, Norma Sanchez, and Monica Cooper for the friendly faces and support in my big session (they had to con their way in!) I had a fabulous facilitator from CDE too.

GTC Pic 2

That’s me with the crowd

GTC Pic 1

John Hattie activity








It was a great experience  presenting and I also learned a lot in the sessions I attended. I would recommend any of CTA’s conferences –  great speakers! And it was a nice way to rejuvenate and refocus at this time of year (when spring fever is in full bloom). If you are interested in viewing my Prezi you can find it here

And if you want to apply for CTA’s Teacher Leadership Cohort apply here (apply by March 24, 2014) – it is an AMAZING experience.

Math Practice 3: Higher Level Questions and the Mistake Game

After a bit of frustration with Math Pratice 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others, a colleague sent me this link to “The Mistake Game”. So I thought I’d try it to see if it helps students critique the reasoning of others. All students want to be smart and making a mistake is scary!

But first I wanted to teach higher level questioning skills. So I started by showing them this graphic of Depth of Knowledge:

DOKThen we brainstormed questions they’ve been asked on tests or assignments in any of their classes that relate to different depths of knowledge.

Then we played a couple games: 20 questions and The Great Brain. Really this only takes about 10 minutes max so it is worth the time.

20 Questions:

  • One student is a secret celebrity
  • The rest of the class asks questions that have a “yes” or “no” answer – but only 20 – to try to figure out who the celebrity is.

The Great Brain:

  • Three students are one entity known as The Great Brain who can answer any question you could possibly ever want to know like “Why is the sky blue?”
  • The students answer in order, one word at a time, which turns out to be funny, full of gibberish and a lot of fun.
  • Make sure to preface that the questions are “school appropriate.”

So, as a recap, the 20 Question questions are “low level” depth of knowledge – not a lot of thought needed to answer them, not much brain activity, just recall. The Great Brain questions are only fun if they are “higher level” and require more than one word answer. They mostly start with “How…”, “Why…”, and “Explain….” The Great Brain questions are the ones we are going to use in the mistake game.

We played the mistake game and I offered some extra credit for the students who could ask higher level questions. They did great! It took a little time and was a little scary – but very worthwhile.

Test corrections became Mistake game #2 and was awesome! First, the students asked to “do that mistake thing again because it was fun.” So after our unit test, we played again.

I handed back their tests and assigned 1 problem per group to present – and to pick a mistake that someone in their group made on the test. Instead of students hiding their tests from each other, they actually brought them out, picked apart their work together and shared their mistakes. I found myself walking around the room saying, “Oh, yeah, that’s a good mistake! Quite a few people made the same one.” A good mistake!

Best.Test.Corrections.Ever! No one had to stay after class and ask for extra help. They got it. They asked great questions. Everyone was happy with their mistakes.

Time to put Math Practice 3 into practice (outside of the mistake game): a partner test.

I hoped they would start to critique each other after this game while they worked on this one real world problem. As I walked around, I heard them critiquing each other and not just accepting the other students’ ideas. Were they just showing off for me when I was in hearing range? Did I need my teacher team to come and observe? Well, fortunately the school district Principals decided to walk through our classes that day – and suddenly in walked 8 outside observers! Yay! (really who says “Yay” when a bunch of administrators suddenly descend on your classroom?) But yay! The observers were able to confirm that yes, indeed, the students were actually explaining well and asking questions! Yay for math practice 3!

Now to keep it going….for a short review next week I will have students in groups choose a small object from their backpack and create 2 low level and 2 high level questions.

AND now in class, I won’t accept anything other than a high level question – no more “I don’t get it” for my students!

Living on the Edge

As we walked into the “other” middle school across town, one of the teachers teaching the lesson was running back in with a new package of rubber bands and a receipt. Apparently during a bungee test run the rubber bands they originally purchased were too tight – so he had to run out and get new smaller stretchier ones:

Big Ones

Big Ones

Little Ones

Little Ones

Barbie's ankle anchor

The original large rubber bands would be used as anchors for Barbie’s ankles.

Next we assembled what one teacher dubbed “pre-packaging” – but first we had to free the Barbies from their childproof packaging.

Prep 2

Each “package” was a large ziploc bag that included:

  • 1 Barbie with a rubber band anchor tied around her ankles
  • 9 rubber bands (size 19)
  • 4 rulers
  • 4 markers
Barbie Packages

Barbie Packages

Barbie Packages

Barbie Packages

And one extra mermaid

And one extra mermaid

We also realized that Barbie needed to have her arms above her head and her hair tied back to make it easier to see the height of the jump. Accuracy could prevent a broken arm or a fatality.

After our assembly of packaging we got down to the nitty gritty. What were our goals for the lesson and what did we want to look for during the lesson?


  • Math applications
  • Creating a scatter plot with a best fit (trend line) and writing an equation
  • Understanding and applying slope and y-intercept
  • How to use data to make a prediction
  • Team work
  • CCSS Math Practice 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  • CCSS MP 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  • CCSS MP 4: Model with mathematics
  • CCSS MP 5: Use appropriate tools strategically

Look Fors: Each observing teacher would script the following while observing the lesson:

  • Team structure (participation and communication)
  • MP1
  • MP3
  • MP4
  • MP5
  • Pacing, timing, transitions

Each lesson started with the last 1.5 min of this video http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=bungee%20jump%20victoria%20falls&sm=3

Then we were into lesson #1. I was scripting MP3. Amazingly it all went very smoothly. With the students fully engaged in the lesson, the time (and Barbie) flew by – but no rubber bands did (to my amazement!) Unfortunately, most groups only got to complete their data and set up their graphs. So the homework became completing the graphs, line of best fit, and making a prediction for the 5 meter jump Barbie will take later in the week.

Lesson 1 Lesson 2 Lesson 3

Debrief Time:

We tweaked the data table and removed the column for averaging the 3 jumps. We also added a place for a prediction after the data was collected but before the graphs was complete. And then a space for a final prediction. We were hoping for more discussion, critical thinking, explaining. We also talked about what would happen if we didn’t tell the students to start with one rubber band and add one each jump. What if we gave them 9 rubber bands but no instruction on how to collect their data? What would happen then? In the interest of a 45 min class, we decided to keep the lesson as is – but if we teach it in our block days at the other school we could add this for a point of discussion/critical thinking.

MP 1 and MP 5 went well – no tweaking needed.

But MP 3? In general, the students were too polite. They accepted each other’s reasoning too easily. They let the “smart” kid lead without question. Do we need sentence starters to help the critiquing process? Do we need to teach higher order questioning skills? Or should we use the “mistake game“?


Starbuck’s, cookies and the Hulk are necessary for a good debrief

Lesson #2: The teacher also added this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVE5eqel5-M Again no abuse of rubber bands or Barbies, but lots more discussion, even some arguing. Several of the groups decided to find averages anyway “We’re geniuses!” one group proclaimed when the idea came to them. Adding that line about a second prediction helped facilitate MP 3. And some groups wanted to jump to the scatter plot before making the prediction. Really? Isn’t graphing just more work? Apparently not. Leaving the graph axes blank prompted quite a  bit of discussion as well. What scale should they use, how should they be labeled and why? This class got a little bit farther on the worksheet.

Lesson 5 Lesson 4 Lesson 6

Follow up? Once the students complete their predictions they will explain how and why they made them to the class. Then Barbie will jump from 5 m and we are looking forward to video and/or vine to see which group  will give Barbie the best ride. At the other middle school, we will also attempt the Barbie Bungee. Anyone have some Barbies you’d like to donate? Email me bransom@smmusd.org

Lesson Study #3? Yes! We all agree this is valuable so let’s do one on quadratics! This time our high school cohort can teach it since they’ve taught quadratics before.

Thanks to our team of 8 for participating and making this an awesome day!

Are you Brave Enough to Bungee? Lesson Study Part 2

After the success of our first lesson study we were eager for more. Not only was this successful for our students, but also for the teachers – we enjoyed collaborating and this has been ongoing through email and one planning meeting. We are all feeling more comfortable and positive about the CCSS, we work well together, we have a whole team to collaborate with, and it’s FUN! Besides, we may never have taken such a leap to try out these “new” lessons on our own without the support of our colleagues.

And speaking of  leaps, one teacher on  our team emailed this lesson:

Barbie Bungee http://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=2157

which I promptly ignored because let’s stop and think about this:

34 (or more) 13 and 14  year olds  +  rubber bands + Barbie dolls + kids standing on chairs, desks, ladders or possibly platforms up to 160″ off the ground = chaos (at the minimum).  Possibly disaster.

I am not brave enough to Barbie Bungee. I can honestly tell you that I would NEVER attempt to do this on my own. NEVER.EVER. EVER. The end.

But not quite the end… thanks to our lesson study team. They are eager to take the leap.

One member of our team organized Lesson Study 2 with Barbie Bungee and he even recruited another teacher. He’s facilitating this time.

So we had a planning meeting. Since the lesson is already well-planned we focused on pre-requisite knowledge, what we need to teach before the lesson, what problems we may encounter, as well as follow up, organization of materials and graphics, and we are set to go! 2 teachers will teach this on Tuesday and we will debrief and improve as we go. Thankfully I’m not teaching it this time, but at least now I am considering teaching this after I see it in action.

And now we have 2 high school colleagues coming in to be part of the observation/debrief team! So now our team has grown from 4 teachers and our secondary math coordinator to 7 teachers and our math coordinator!

Here’s two more links with modified lessons and videos if you’re interested:

Lesson Day!

Lesson Day came and went…

  1. We started in my classroom at 8:00 for some prep. I had already modified the lesson to include a little more initial collaboration based students’ prior knowledge (this was spur of the moment). This also cut down on teacher talk time (which I personally love).
  2. During my lesson, we found the collaborative activity to take longer than expected. But this could also be due to the fact that the original lesson made part of it independent work – where we made it all partner work. Partner work always seems to take twice as long – but we feel is more powerful in this case.
  3. I also added a little closure discussion since we are on a block schedule and I couldn’t let them leave without this!
  4. At our first debrief, we decided to cut the collaborative tasks in half and make an exit card as formative assessment instead of closure. This was also easier to assess than the students’ collaborative work. During our debrief we went over our time and missed our break (ah, the life of a teacher!)
  5. During lesson two, the timing was diligently maintained by the teacher and all went smoothly.
  6. At our second debrief, we added a written reflection to the exit card – from my perspective this is a little peek into the student brain – but I am a SCWriP Fellow (South Coast Writing Project) so I am partial to writing across the curriculum.
  7. We actually took our lunch break.
  8. And lesson three (at the middle school across town) went well too.
  9. In our final debrief we came up with some great follow up lessons and activities to extend the math concepts and to focus on Math practice 3 as well as multiple methods to solve the same problem. We also talked about team building activities that would encourage student collaboration. My personal goal is to  spend about 10 minutes a week on this.
  10. Our objectives were met and we were all so impressed that the students were able to solve some complex equations with very little direct instruction – and they understood why. There was a lot more collaboration going on than anything else!
  11. I will use the exit card as my bellwork (warm up) tomorrow since I didn’t have that part during my lesson. That way I have a good formative assessment.

What was best of all?

  • We had a great productive and fun day.
  • We have a deeper appreciation and understanding of the other middle schools in our district.
  • We have built a team that works effectively together and  will work well together in the future for the benefit of all our students. How many teachers can say that they collaborate effectively across schools in their district?
  • We are planning to have a lesson study in the spring again with Algebra – and possibly a Core 7 or Core 8 lesson study as well. With the guidance of our Seconday Math Coordinator, our next lesson study will focus on teaching the lesson twice (instead of three times) so that we can spend more time perfecting it in between (our first debrief was rushed).

Now that the ball is rolling, we hope to keep the momentum on our collaboration…

Video and pictures to follow if I can get them linked to this site?

In the meantime, if you’d like a great lesson on building and solving equations that really focuses on student collaboration and understanding of why and how we solve equations, feel free to email me! bransom@smmusd.org

Planning Meeting #2

Ok, we firmed up our schedule (parking, room #s, conference rooms), made observation assignments and completed our lesson planning.

Observation assignments: We wanted the observers to specifically look for:

  • teacher-student interactions
  • student-student interactions
  • student questioning

For these last two we are specifically looking at Common Core Math  Practice 3 where students explain their own thinking and critique the reasoning of others.

Lesson: We took a two day lesson and split it where we thought would be best for a “pre-lesson” and our lesson study lesson. We also talked about the feedback we wanted to give on that first lesson – and how soon we should give it. It is suggested we wait until after the second lesson.

We then created our own “Do now/Bellwork” so the students would recall the “Pre-lesson.” One of our teachers will make a handout to mimic the collaborative activity handout for this.

We are modifying the collaborative activity handout to make it more obvious and splitting it into two different colored worksheets: One for building equations and one for solving. We are also making this a partner and full group activity so we have more discussion.

We’re not sure of the timing of course, as we think it will take longer than the original lesson suggested. But that’s all part of our lesson study – to see what we need to change in between each teaching of the lesson – and that definitely includes timing.

Finally, we talked about doing a second lesson study in the spring that would involve a kinesthetic portion. Another teacher has volunteered to facilitate, so our cross-school team can continue to improve our teaching!

The subs are requested, the date is set, now to make copies and get ready to teach!

Effective Practices PD

Today at our all school PD, our administration guided us through a meta-analysis by John Hattie - Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement,

What’s cool about it? The top 4 effective practices as they relate to achievement – and especially #4:

1. Student self report (students)

2. Piagetian Programs (students)

3. Providing formative evaluations (teachers)

4. Micro teaching (teachers).

Yes, we work on #1 in AVID and Spark – getting students to report their grades and reflect on how to improve them

Not sure about Piagetian programs, but maybe that is a topic for future PDs?

Formative Assessments? Yes! Our department co-chairs have planned a day where we can work on this with our grade level colleagues (and summative assessments).

But #4 is pretty similar to lesson study – studying our own teaching and lessons! It’s nice to know we are on the right track in improving student achievement!