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Welcome fellow Recovering Traditionalists to Episode 128.  Today we are looking at Doing Things Differently with Rosalba Serrano, Marian Small, and Shannon Kiebler.

Rosalba, Marian, and Shannon are all presenters at this year’s Virtual Math Summit on February 26th & 27th and each of their sessions encourages us to do things differently in our math classrooms.

The summit is completely free for educators to attend. 

If you want longer access to watch the sessions, and more interaction with some of the presenters, you can do one of the paid levels of the summit.  We have a VIP level that is $19.95 and gives you 30 days to watch this year’s sessions plus you get to attend the live Implementation sessions we are doing with some of the speakers throughout the month of March.

The other option is to become a member of the Build Math Minds PD site for $39/month.  This gives you access to this year’s summit sessions for as long as you are a member and you can attend the live Implementation sessions just like the VIP.  But as a member you get access to all the past 5 years of Virtual Math Summits, plus the hundreds of other PD training sessions we have on the site.

Let’s dive into the sneak peaks from these ladies.  Rosalba Serrano is up first and this clip comes from her keynote session about Equity-Based Math Practices in Action.  In this clip she is encouraging us to look at our students differently.  Instead of looking at what they don’t have, focus on the strengths and help them use those strengths:

Rosalba: “We have to understand that all students have different math strengths. We tend to focus on weakness and we really need to see it in the lens of all the strengths that are in my classroom. And let’s talk about that a little bit. You see, all students that come in with different strengths, they can serve as resources for learning and for teaching mathematics. Right? We can use that to our advantage. Multiple math competencies are an equity based teaching strategy that necessitates effort on both the policy side and the practice sides. So let me break that down. On the policy front, teachers and schools must fight initiatives that track students by abilities, whether through broad multicourse tracks or so-called ‘high’, I’m doing quotes here, and ‘low students,’ or within class tracking that divides kids into groups based on ability. We really need to cut that crap out.

    And that starts with fighting the initiatives that our schools are putting in place for that. Now on the practice side, it’s our job to select high quality projects. Again, that’s very crucial. Now, here’s a problem. Some teachers assume that those tasks that require high cognitive demand, that they’ll be too difficult for our struggling students. We have to allow struggling students to creatively leverage their skills, their knowledge, their strengths, as they engage with the problem. It is not okay to constantly look at our classroom in a deficit view. So what does that look like in a classroom? So structure student collaboration to use varying math knowledge and skills to help the students solve some type of complex problems.

    You want to present tasks that have multiple entry points. Those are the low floor, high ceiling tasks, right? Where everyone can really participate and add in what their strength is. They can add in at the level that they’re at. And I’m going to be honest. What happens here when you give these tasks, is that the levels of confidence in the students increase, right? Because they’re engaged with problem and they’re making contributions. How many times have you given a task and the students felt like they can’t contribute because they’re not as smart as Jackie in the class, right? So they stay quiet.

    When you build an environment where everybody has a strength and they feel it, they know it. They’re coming in. And they’re saying, yes, I know that this is my strength and I want to improve. And I want to build on that. That’s a positive environment. Now, what you don’t want to do is have predetermined levels of ability, right? So ability grouping, and this is what we call, I can’t stand these words, but when we call them the high group, the remedial group, the low group, the on-level group, the advanced group. I mean, what does that really even mean? Honestly, those are really social norms that we created, and it’s a systemic problem in education.

    So we really want to have mixed ability grouping in order for people to contribute and learn from each other. We don’t want classrooms where we don’t allow students to engage in tasks that are hard, right? So we want to avoid these sequenced tasks. And by that, I mean like that step-by-step procedural stuff.  Where it’s like first do this, then do this, then do this.  Because it’s really not pulling in that gray matter in the brain that we want students to be using as they’re learning. And we also, and this piece is a little bit controversial, but what we don’t want to do in our classroom is require students to show mastery of, I don’t know, a concept before giving them the complex problem. So for example, we don’t need students to know or have all the skills of subtraction and all the strategies of subtraction before giving them that juicy problem. What tends to happen is we give these juicy rich problems at the end, and we only give them to certain students. So that’s literally an inequitable practice.”

Up next is Marian Small.  Marian is another one of our keynote speakers and her session is about Meeting the Needs of All Math Learners Grade 1-8.  Her session is all about giving students different math tasks than the type we are used to:

Marian: “Now, here’s a different question, which I created using a different manipulative. These are stacks of linking cues. And I only made the stacks a different color, just to make it easier to talk about. I made yellow stacks of five and red stacks of eight. So, kids have either yellow stacks or red stacks or a combination of yellow and red. They can have as many stacks as they want, but there is a rule: you can never split up a stack. Once you have a stack, it’s glued together; you can’t break it up. So you have a lot of fives, you have a lot of eights available to you to use. Now, the actual task is: how could you show a number like 18? Like could you?? So kids have to think about it. Well, how would I show 18? Oh yeah. I could show a five and a five and an eight.

    Or you might ask a very specific question, like, ‘How would I show 32?’ And you could have four stacks of eight to show 32. So those are, I’m going to call them, ‘warmup questions.’ But the real question is: are there numbers you can’t show? Wow. Are there things you can’t show if you have only fives and only eights? And I kind of think there are. Now, this is what I call ‘low floor/high ceiling,’ because I think a lot of kids will realize, well, there’s no way to show two or three or one or four. So yeah, you can’t show those. And that would at least give them access to the problem. But there are other kids who are going to be figuring out something bigger, like: I wonder what all the numbers are that you can’t show because I bet there are even some big ones you can’t show. I don’t know, but I bet there are.

    So, there will be kids who want to extend themselves, that’s where the high ceiling comes in, and have the opportunity in a question like this. Because I didn’t say, “Name three numbers you couldn’t show” because then nobody extends themselves; they just say, “one, two, three.” I kind of made it open, so the kids could say lots of numbers or not so many numbers. And the different kids will do different things depending on where they’re at, what their needs are, what they’re ready for.

    So it might be, kids could realize: I can’t show one, two, three, or four. I don’t think I can show six or seven either because, if you have five and you have eight, but you don’t have six or seven, that’s not going to work. Maybe some kids will realize that I can’t show nine, 11 or 12. You could show 13 though, because five and eight is 13. But no way to nine. Yeah, there’s a way to do 10; not 11 or 12. So, do you see that kids will go different places with this? Some kids will realize there are even more numbers you can show and go even further.”

Our last sneak peek into how we can do things differently in math class comes from Shannon Kiebler.  Shannon is doing two sessions and this clip comes from her full length session Every Voice, Every Day:

Shannon: “I ask a question, how can I get everyone involved and have all voices? So in order to do that, I want us to think about this ratio. There’s a current ratio that says that math conversation in classrooms should be a 70/30 ratio, meaning 70% of the time students should be talking, and 30% of the time teachers should be talking.

    Now, if you’re in a traditional classroom and you do something like an I Do, We Do, You Do classroom, you’re more of a 90/10.  Meaning 90% of that is teacher talk and 10% of that is student talk. In order to raise that student-centered classroom, we are trying to push ourselves towards a 70% student conversation.

    Now, as a classroom teacher, I’m talking the whole time. I’m talking throughout the whole math class, but I’m doing it in a facilitator’s role. I’m asking questions, I’m guiding with some questions. I’m digging deeper with students. But I’m only actually telling, showing, modeling 30% of the time. So where I’m giving a lecture and I’m explaining kids how things actually might work or how I want them to do it, I’m really trying to limit that to 30% of the time and have students do most of the thinking, the reasoning, the defending the other 70%. So this ratio is our goal as we try to get everyone on our train.

    Why the 70/30 rule? Well, here’s some ideas. One is it gives us more opportunities for feedback. The more we hear from students, the more we know what they actually understand. I can put something on my whiteboard or something in a notebook that looks identical to what my neighbor has down and not have any idea what’s going on. The more I have students have conversation and share their thinking, the more I understand what they know, and that in turn gives me more opportunity for feedback.

    It limits the amount of teaching that teachers do. What we find is the more time that teachers talk, the more they over-teach. We actually keep just explaining things, and we over-teach concepts, instead of allowing students to own the conversation and to own the learning.

    The 70/30 rule allows for fluency, specifically with our language learners or our dual language learners, that they are students that need to practice language. Even our native speakers are not really fluent in mathematical language. The more that students talk, the more they are going to build fluency with the language. We don’t learn a language by just listening and watching. We learn it by trying and speaking and making sense of the language.

    A 70/30 rule is also going to help produce a more satisfied student, a student that’s more like my son who really dislikes talkative teachers. He just wants to get to it. He understands what he’s supposed to do. He wants to try the learning on. He wants to get his hands dirty. He wants to get to the lesson. When we hear students say, ‘My teacher talks too much,’ I can combat that with the 70/30 rule.

    Then, of course, it’s a student-centered classroom. We want students at the center. We don’t want the teacher at the center, not the Sage on the Stage. We want the student. We want the student doing most of the work, most of the thinking, most of the talking. So that’s why we’re going towards a 70/30 rule.

    So I’m going to give you six strategies for improving your ratio of student-to-teacher talk.”

If one of these ideas about doing things differently in math class sparks your interest and you want to learn more, come register for the 2022 Virtual Math Summit – it’s free.  You can attend just one session or all 31 sessions.

I hope these snippets helped build your math mind about how we can do things differently to help our students build their math minds.

This episode is brought to you by the Build Math Minds professional development site.  It’s an online site full of PD videos designed specifically for elementary teachers to help you build your math mind so you can build the math minds of your students.  If you are interested in getting in-depth Math PD at Your Fingertips, become a member of Build Math Minds.  Just go to and depending upon when you are listening to this, enrollment might be open or you can join the waitlist and get notified when it opens again.

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As you start off the school year, I want you to keep in mind what is really important as we're trying to teach mathematics to our students.