It’s Elementary!

Posted by on Oct 2, 2016 in Elementary, Leadership | No Comments

Submitted by

 Margaret Williams
Teaching and Learning Specialist for Intermediate Mathematics
Anoka-Hennepin ISD 11

Sometimes an idea keeps coming up in surprising places and surprising ways. At first it intrigues you. Then it pops up again and again. You start thinking someone out there is trying to tell you something.

Twitter Math Camp was held this past July at Augsburg College. Tracy Zager, elementary teacher, coach, editor, author and blogger, spoke at TMC about inaccurate but persistent perceptions around teacher content knowledge versus pedagogy. Her point was that elementary and secondary teachers can and should be learning from each other. We must set aside our fear of discomfort and talk to each other. I loved her authenticity and her willingness to be…vulnerable about math. Tracy’s message was haunting. Below is a link to her keynote:

Disclaimer – Tracy uses a few cuss words. She’s a passionate woman.

Back at the office, My colleague, Lynn, and I anxiously poured over Lucy West’s book, Adding Talk to the Equation. She’s put together some strategies for improving the math talk experience for students. Some of the talk moves she describes are not new. It’s still interesting to read her take on the subject. A new idea that intrigued me was her strategy of having the students sit in a circle or horseshoe. Wait! That’s not new. I’ve been watching that seating arrangement in Cognitively Guided Instruction videos for years. Still, I hadn’t used that structure in my own number talks. Lucy’s reasoning made sense. Being able to make eye contact with the speaker is more engaging. It’s also easier for the teacher to check in with children who need a little extra support.

We couldn’t wait to try it and, what the hey, let’s videotape it and show it to our teacher leaders in K-2 from all 24 of our elementary schools! What a great (and scary) way to share a new idea AND model vulnerability. I went to one of our high poverty schools and gave it a shot. It was humbling. Definitely NOT perfect. I learned that 5 year olds need VERY specific directions on where and how to sit. They sometimes (read: often) say very random things. But oh the possibilities! We talked about groups. They looked at 2 color dot configurations for 4 and 5 and some kids noticed they didn’t need to count. They saw groups and put the groups together. Wow! This was on the 6th day of school!

Then something else happened.

Lucy West had been sending emails about her upcoming trip to Minnesota to the team organizing her visit. She referred, in one email, to a Ted Talk by Brene Brown on the power of vulnerability. Amazing stuff! Letting ourselves be vulnerable opens us up to new levels of trust, connecting and joy. Double Wow!!!

I encourage you to let yourself be vulnerable with your own practice this year. Lynn and I will do the same. Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you try that number talk. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re stuck. We’re in this together and that, dear friends, is a great thing.

Margaret is the K-2 Teaching and Learning Specialists for Elementary Math with the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Want to connect? or @nanstermath

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