Culture and the kitchen sink

I was finishing up a whirlwind site-visit at a school last week, trying to collect my thoughts. It had been a ping-pong kind of a day, bouncing to several different classrooms, meetings with teachers, tours with students, a quick look at a school. In the short time I had between exiting the school doors and catching my plane I was trying to piece together why the student-staff culture was so exceptional at the school.

Student and staff and student-staff culture and its tending-to has been drifting to the forefront of my mind lately as the supreme thing that a school ought to work on (to be fair though, other things often drift to the forefront from time to time, so take it with a grain of salt). And I was struck by the culture of the school. Not because there was a lot of “rah-rah” stuff going on. There wasn’t a pep rally or a celebration ceremony or anything. Shoot, I didn’t even host a common practice of assembling a student focus group to get their perspective. The culture – student to student, student to staff, staff to student and staff to staff – was just professional and kind.

Going through my notes from classroom observations and conversations I had with teachers, even old notes from phone calls I had with the principal and other staff, I was trying to put my finger on just what it was that led to that series pleasurable interactions I had and witnessed in the previous eight hours.

Maybe it was the student focus group the teachers had just hosted in which they were able to put in practice some of the things that came up. That could be it.

Or, perhaps it was their practice of including students on staff meetings: yes, afternoon staff meetings! That’s remarkable! Surely that’s what it was.

But wait, maybe it was because they had their students sit in on the hiring of a new front desk attendent. That’s a pretty unique thing! Maybe that’s what I should tell the other schools I support to do to build school culture.

One teacher had a wall of celebrations of students by students. Sticky after sticky was placed around a periodic table and the words “We celebrate ~periodically!~ (this was a Chemistry class). Things like that tend to build a positive culture, no?


You know what though? Despite being a small school (about 400 high school students, 9-12) they had a “book nook” / library. When a couple of students were giving me a tour, they showed me the Book Nook. It is unattended four days out of the week, but operates as a library and study area for students that need it. It is unlocked and had a sign in/sign out and book checkout sheet. Students can come and go as they please. Man, that shows the kind of trust in students we want, so that’s probably it, right?

Maybe it was because the school didn’t have bells to signal the start and end of class. That tends to engender trust and professionalism.

Then it dawns on me: none of these things produce exceptional school culture. All of these things produce exceptional school culture. It’s all of these things that are producing the culture that I just experienced, and certainly more practices that I didn’t witness.

Attending to student and staff culture requires the kitchen-sink treatment. No one practice is going to be sufficient. Three consistent practices probably isn’t enough.

In fact, in isolation, many of these practices would probably be inert, if not deleterious, to student-staff culture. “Trust cards” is a great example of a fine practice that is useless if it’s the only means of establishing trust and mutual respect: “You can use the bathroom when you want but if you’re not in your seat by the time the tardy bell rings you get points taken away.”

I guess that’s what makes it so difficult to treat. If you – as I have often communicated! – host a student panel or focus group, that’s lovely, but it alone will not change the culture. “Trust cards” won’t change the culture. Including students on the hiring process won’t change the culture. Shadowing a student for a day won’t change the culture. But maybe all of those things together – and even more things – will. If you’re looking to improve the culture at a school, you can start with a few changed practices, but to expect significant results, consider a long-term, sustained kitchen-sink approach.


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On sequestering math

I struggle with how “special” we treat math in schools. It’s not uncommon for math teachers and departments to run professional development apart from all other subjects. Or use different classroom norms. Or instruct entirely differently. Or blog or tweet exclusively about math. Math teachers have their own software, their own language, different and separate from the rest of the school.

The entire design of New Tech Network schools, for whom I work as a Math and School Development Coach, purports that schools work best when staff practices, protocols, norms, and buy-in are all aligned. For example, entire staffs are committed to the same norms, the same school culture, and the same protocols. So I’m often biased toward thinking about how kids are experiencing school, rather than just math.

Still, even with that alleged common understanding, I’ve heard so many times from non-math teachers, “oh, that’s the math department, we just let them do their own thing.” Or, from math teachers, “oh, this is math, we do it differently in here.

It’s also quite rational behavior for teachers. If I have limited time for planning and reflection (if any), I’m not going to use it to explain what we’re going over to teachers who won’t give precise feedback. And If I’m employing instructional software as my teaching tool, my peers have literally nothing to offer me.

Is this OK? Is this best for a student’s schooling experience?

I often wonder how are students experiencing and witnessing this. Do they see the disconnect between math departments and the rest of the staff, like the way children intuit when parents aren’t getting along? Do they experience firsthand the pedagogical isolation of a math class compared to the (more often) aligned approaches of other subjects?

It makes me wonder if there’s an upper limit to how great a school – or even a math department – can be if they’re so often sequestered from the rest of the staff.

I worry sometimes that perhaps a great folly of all these rich math resources online is that they can allow math teachers to remove themselves from school norms and ways of being (editor’s note: I want to emphasize the word “can” here, not that it does, but that they can. Are we cool, now? Cool.) Great tasks and lessons are the technical solutions. A staff coming together to determine how to best support students is an adaptive one. (For more an the technical vs. adaptive terminology, head over here.)

So how can math teachers engage productively with the rest of the staff?

At the most successful schools I work with, there are a few common threads, which I wrote about at the beginning of the school year. I would like to highlight/reiterate the notion of, as a staff or grade-level department, examining samples of student work across subject areas. In addition, consider intentionally inviting peers into your classroom. Facilitating a really cool task sometime in the next couple weeks? Send an invitation and/or record yourself so others can see what you’re doing, and perhaps by proxy, get oriented to what fun math can actually be! Follow it up by inviting yourself in to a non-math classroom to observe and learn.

To be sure, the discipline of math is peculiar, to the point of being existential. There are certain teaching moves that are special to the discipline. There are attitudes within students unique to the subject developed over time that we must examine and treat. And to be fair, every subject has their own discipline-specific ideas and norms. Math classrooms just seem to take it to the extreme in terms of looking different.

This is the tension I find myself in: just how different is math as a subject? When is it appropriate and beneficial to think about math-specific teaching strategies vs. general strategies? To what degree does math’s “specialness” hinder or help the overall goal of a school where students and adults feel connected and successful?

I’m not sure I have any concrete answers to these questions, but I do know a couple things: that teaching math is enhanced by leaning upon fellow awesome math teachers and their lessons AND students experience school best when overall teaching practices and norms are aligned.

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Protocol me maybe (teaching edition)

Facilitating is really hard.

We miss things. Perhaps is little misconceptions that we hear but don’t make it to our brain because we’re too busy taking roll and pointing out where to pick up missing work for the umpteenth time. We (ok, I) need to figure out a way to slow things down, so we can better listen, think, and respond appropriately. That’s incredibly challenging to do ad hoc.

Some of us, either through hard work and reps or a divine gift bestowed by R’hllor, have a knack for being able to do just that on the fly. The rest of us have a ways to go.

Also, it’s really difficult to ensure that all kids are speaking. Even in classrooms where the teacher knows better than to call on the quick hand-raisers, we do it anyway, because it keeps things moving. The use of protocols in a classroom can be a way to facilitate better and more equitably.

For one, they can give kids equal voice. Too, the give us time to process and develop a better response than an on-the-spot, seat-of-your-pants teaching moment.

Here are a four protocols I like to utilize in classrooms.

  • The Know/Need-to-Know process. This was/is my go-to means of kicking off a problem. Students identify what they know about the problem and what they need to know (either content-instruction related or additional-info-needed related). I’ve blogged at length about this one, and others have made it even better.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 10.03.35 PM

(Editor’s note: if you have students with IEP, consider giving them this along with the task the day before so they can come in with pre-ideated Knows and Need-to-Knows.)

  • Notice and Wonder. Max has written about this before on his blog and in his book (no, seriously, why haven’t you bought this yet?). This is great for data explorations and interesting visuals and diagrams. See also: See/Think/Wonder. Notice and wonder allows access for all students to describe what they’re seeing and generating authentic wonders.


  • Gallery walks. Once students have solved a problem, they post them around the room and students circumnavigate to each solution for a prescribed period of time (say, 5 minutes). While observing solutions, students are asked to make comments and ask additional questions via post-it note or some other asynchronous medium. Be sure to require at least one comment and at least one question per student per gallery walk “exhibit.” We want everyone’s voices here.
  • I like / I wonder / Next Steps. Another feedback protocol, the sentence starters are exceptionally helpful for students. Five minutes of “I like…”s, another five of “I wonder…”s, and five for “Next Steps” if there are things to potentially do after the feedback.

There are also a bunch of great protocols from, say, NSRF that can be used to facilitate discourse on non-content oriented stuff. I’ve used the final word protocol such that students can demystify, clarify, and expand upon a text. The block party protocol is great to do with students and adults when you want to get them talking about a text or selected parts of a text.

Just a couple quick tips upon using protocols:

  1. Stick to the protocol. You’re going to seem like an overbearing ogre at first, but among the chief value of protocols is giving equity to student voice. The moment the protocol is abandoned you are paving the way back in an inequitable discussion.
  2. Use a protocol iteratively. The power of protocols comes with repeated use. Once students have mastered the protocol itself, it’s incredible how rich the content-oriented discussions can become. I’d say use a particular protocol no less than three times a month.

A small while back a teacher described the use of protocols as “scaffolding for adults.” The context was in staff collaboration, but I think it works well for classroom instruction too. In an ideal world, kids would be quick to voice ideas and we’d be just as quick to answer them in a way that produces sense-making. Until then, we can use protocols to help us get there.

What are some of your favorite in-class protocols?

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On designing tasks to elicit questions

Some interesting criticism of my most recent post on question mapping from Dan: the idea of considering questions you want your students to ask that will enable the teacher to more readily get into content.

There seems to be two strains of criticism, which I’ll attempt to distill here.

Criticism 1: By designing tasks to elicit specific questions, you are not allowing students to offer up their genuine questions and denying them a mathematical voice in the classroom.

Either I was unclear or it takes a pretty disingenuous reading of my post to land here, with me dismissing every question except the one I’m hoping to hear. In case it was the former, let me be clear: student ingenuity is great. There’s nothing better than when students ask a question I hadn’t thought of and we can explore it together. Students asking interesting questions is literally the best part of teaching. Full stop.

Perhaps the phrase “the right question” landed wrong and/or is ill-phrased (happy to take alternate phraseology in the comments!). But yes, I am looking to elicit (and hoping to promote and answer) content-oriented questions or questions I can address with content.

Which brings us to the second strain of criticism, the one I think Dan was getting at in his follow-up to a commenter,

Criticism 2: Lashing a prescribed question to a non-routine task is not realistic and it’s folly to rely upon a task to elicit particular questions. 

From (Harel, 2008):

For students to learn what we intend to teach them, they must have a need for it, where ‘need’ means intellectual need, not social or economic need.

My desire in all classrooms is to have students engage in problems that demand an intellectual need, preferably (but perhaps not necessarily always!) aligned to content I am to teach. That need often manifests itself in the form of students asking questions. In a response to a commenter, Dan says (emphasis mine):

I am interested in question-rich material that elicits lots of unstructured, informal mathematics that I can help students structure and formalize. But I never go into a classroom hoping that students will ask a certain question.

Well here is a point of real disagreement between me and Dan. I am hoping students ask certain questions: Who will win the race? When does the energy efficient light bulb pay for itself? How many sticky notes will cover the file cabinet? How many push-ups did Bucky the Badger do? These are questions I can synthesize into content. It’s more than hope though: with careful craftsmanship, I’d like to be able to predict what students will be curious about because I want to align it with my very real need to teach through my content standards in a meaningful way. Sometimes I’m able to, sometimes not. With practice I get better. These are the questions that evince intellectual need for the content I’m intended to teach.

I’ve never facilitate Bucky the Badger and not had “how many pushups did Bucky do?” be the overwhelming question in the room. I can safely predict (more than just hope) that this will be the primary question asked by students, and wouldn’t you know it? I have a “second act” ready to give you to aid you in your journey.

The point of Question Mapping is to consider how students might engage with the content in order to design a better, more clear task to hopefully alleviate the first two of four artifacts that Fuller et al describe as “problem free environments”:

Four categories of problem-free activity emerged from our analysis and reflection:

1. The situation or immediate goal is not understood by students.

2. The goal of the activity as a whole is unclear.

Problem-Based Learning contends that students learn best when there is an intellectual need for a concept. To me, student questions are the best evidence of that need. So as I teach content, yes, I am (hopefully!) designing tasks that gets students asking questions relating to that content while they are immersed in that scenario.

Anyhoo, comments, clarifications and pushback are welcome in the comments!


Harel, G. (2008b). DNR Perspective on Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction, Part II. Zentralblatt fuer Didaktik der Mathematik 40, 893-907.

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Question Mapping

I’m really good at enjoying the cleverness of a scenario and grafting (sometimes seamlessly, sometimes less so) it onto a mathematical standard (or two or three). I’m less good at starting with a standard (or two) and designing a scenario that appropriately and precisely maps onto it. Sometimes that results in a problem that doesn’t – in a targeted way – address the standard I’m hoping students will take away from it. Sometimes I wind up developing four problems that require students to develop a polynomial expression using the same idea without really introducing anything new or extending it. We do a lot of standards mapping and curriculum mapping, but rarely do we do question mapping.

For example, I’ve facilitated and messaged this problem followed by these problems. The scaffolding and teaching (I hope!) will address different standards. But the problems themselves don’t necessarily necessitate different methods or manipulation of polynomials or quadratics.

The crux of Problem-Based Learning is to elicit the right question from students that you, the teacher, are equipped to answer. This requires the teacher posing just the right problem to elicit just the right question that points to the right standard.


The Experience of a Student in a PrBL Classroom.

In order to achieve this dance, there might be subtle differences in the way a problem is posed. Consider this an attempt to get better at that backwards design approach and to ensure that we’re eliciting the right question.


A design path of a task in a PrBL Classroom.

1. Start with the standard. Hey, here are some standards!

2a. What is the question that you want students to ask that points to the standard?

2b. What might be the language and vocabulary in which students ask it? Because students probably won’t ask “how do we find the roots of a polynomial?”, but they might ask “how do we find where the curve crosses the x-axis?”.

3. What is a possible scenario or task that will elicit that question?

[Optional?] Check your work: Are there other standards that this scenario might address? Are there other ways to solve it that skate around the standard you’re aiming at? Maybe consider giving it a trial run by posing it to a colleague and see if they get close to your intended question?


OK so let’s try this.

  1. I’ll pick a standard. How about this one.
(+) Understand the inverse relationship between exponents and logarithms and use this relationship to solve problems involving logarithms and exponents.

2a. What is the question that you want students to ask that points to the standard?

How do I find the inverse of this here equation that has an exponent (or logarithm) in it?

Perhaps something along the lines of y=ab×.

2b. What might be the language and vocabulary in which students ask it?

How do I find the solution of this here equation that has an exponent in it?

3. What is a possible scenario that will elicit that question?

Me thinking: Well there are lots of applications of things with exponential growth and decay. Populations, investments, radiation and half-life. Perhaps a solicitation letter asking students to analyze bacterial growth of a certain strain?

Or maybe we go abstract and posit something like:

What is the intersection of these two functions? (Or “what do you notice and wonder?”)



I’d also suggest that the practice of Question Mapping might actually help in facilitation as well? Namely that you have a question in the back of your pocket that you know you need to get the students to ask. And if they’re not asking it you need to pull it out of them with leading questions or other bread crumbs. For the problem draft above, I’m not moving on until we establish the questions in 2a and 2b as the impetus for the lesson.

It might be fun (and enlightening) to have a curriculum map of questions along with your standards. And shoot, you’d have your semester review already written months in advance.

Posted in problem based learning | 8 Comments

Global Math Department 12/15/15 – Designing Systems of Teacher Learning around Student Work

I’m chatting with the Global Math Department on 12/15/15 about using student work as the driver of teacher learning. Consider this post a repository for pertinent links, my slide deck, and a comment section for further conversation.



Link to working google doc for the session:

[Global Math Department 12/15]

LISTEN: Podcast in which we with Belleville New Tech facilitators about using Looking at Student Work (LASW) to drive teacher learning: [School Innovations Podcast Episode 305: Looking at Student Work, Driving Instruction]

WATCH: Video of a staff using a protocol to analyze student work

More on Looking at Student Work (NTN Website)

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Shuttling vs. Driving to the Airport

A quick Would You Rather today.

I was inspired by a teacher asking students to model airport parking as a means to get at linear equations. I thought I’d frame it similarly, but using the WYR format, because I like the WYR format.

I live a good distance away from a major airport, and I travel quite a bit for a living so I think about this all the time. I have to balance a flat, $80 fee (for both ways) vs. paying for parking (per day, the big variable here), gas, and tolls.



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Complaining about what students don’t know vs. learning how to teach that stuff yourself

It’s a lot easier to complain that students don’t know, say, their multiplication tables than to actually teach multiplication.

Setting aside the oft problematic mindset of a teacher complaining about what “these kids” don’t know for the time being, consider actually teaching to the gaps you feel are present.

Let’s be clear: not a single one of us have entered the school year 100% satisfied with where 100% of our students are at math-wise. There’s always something that was allegedly “covered” in previous years and for whatever reason was not retained by the students. A couple years ago I was at a relatively well-off suburban school where 99% of their students graduate and go on to college and even those teachers were complaining about what their students did and didn’t know.

Often under the guise of unspecific complaints about students “not knowing their basic math facts” or “numeracy”, teachers sometimes pass blame upon students, The Calculator, or their prior schooling. What I often don’t see happen is addressing those gaps in knowledge. Sometimes a cursory remediation worksheet is handed out, and after-school tutoring is offered, but many times I don’t see teachers actually teach to those gaps. Y’know: teaching kids these lugubrious “basic math facts.” Even more specific complaints about how students “don’t know how to do fractions” (whatever “do” means) are ripe for teaching opportunities, rather than tsk-tsk-ing.

Which is unfortunate because there’s never been a more robust cache of resources to remediate in a healthy, fun way. It reminds me of that bit from Arrested Development where Lucille Bluth brushes off her poor raising of Buster because “kids don’t come with a handbook.”

[Ron Howard voice] In fact, there are countless books that address the very learning gap you’re complaining about. NCTM has so many publications that would probably be perfect. Or go here and click on the grade lower than you. Shoot, just go to amazon and type in what you feel your students are struggling with.


If you feel your students lagging in a particular area of their learning, I’d suggest rather than complaining and sending them to a worksheet or instructional video, consider doing some learning yourself and find a book, blog, text, paper, resource, or teacher to teach you how to teach to this area. I’ve learned so much from my non-grade level colleagues about teaching number sense, rounding, fractions, ratios / proportions, and even an alleged area of expertise of mine: algebra (thanks Andrew!).

I mean, if you need a specific recommendation, I’d consider learning how to facilitate some number talks via Elham and Allison’s Intentional Talk and go from there. Or follow ’em on twitter and get their awesome advice for free! (But seriously, get their book.)

Also, we’re not talking about shutting everything else down classroom-wise, lest you’re worried about losing precious class time. While coverage is overrated, let’s put that aside for now, shall we? We’re talking 10-20 minute activities and discussion here, maybe a couple times a week. Stop complaining and start learning how to teach this stuff. If we want students to learn, we probably ought to do some learning ourselves, no?

Besides, teaching these skills and concepts is fun. This has probably been my biggest takeaway of the year so far: leading number talks is so fun, I’d do it even if I wasn’t addressing learning gaps.

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Lectures, various types

“I lecture, but I do it in a dynamic, interactive way!”

Teachers are sometimes justifiably defensive about their lectures. In many circles, lectures are a four-letter word. This flies against not only hundreds of years of pedagogical practice, but cuts against the teacher-as-expert model of instruction.

Of course, there are good reasons for that too. Lectures can be too long and a not terribly good medium for conveying information. I do think it is a good medium to generate excitement and momentum about a topic, as well as brief explanations of the pitfalls in a particular concept.

This isn’t a pro- vs. anti-lecture argument. This is just a brief atlas of four different lecture models, with animated .gifs of course.

Lecture Model 1: Teacher talks


This is our lecture hall model. The lecturer talks aloud, leading listeners through a topic.

It’s not as bad as it sounds though, potentially. This is basically our TED Talk model and people love TED Talks. Provided the material and/or the presenter are interesting enough, this is a perfectly fine model of information and interest conveyance. If you can pull it off and retain interest, more power to you.

Lecture Model 2: Teacher talks –> Teacher questions a student –> Student responds –> Teacher talks


This is actually the lecture model that inspired this post. When teachers claim their lectures are “interactive”, a lot of times this is what they mean. I’m not sure this is terribly interactive. It can be! But it also can not be.

This is probably my least favorite type of lecture, and probably the most prevalent. Under the guise of a “dynamic, interactive” lecture, it often becomes a “gotcha” lecture and “can you recite what I just said?” lecture. It’s basically the tactic I use when my kids start to tune me out.

Certainly there are benefits to such a lecture, but unless you’re being incredibly precise about it, it’s quite possible for a student to go the entire time without engaging with the topic at hand. I suppose the option is usually on the table: “students are free to ask questions in the middle of my instruction!” But in practice, unless that’s truly a norm the lecturer often goes unquestioned.

It’s also inefficient. Consider a 30-minute lecture in which only one person is talking at a time (the student or the teacher). That’s 30 minutes of “discourse.” Even in Lecture format one (outward), you’d have 15 minutes of outward lecture and then 15 extra minutes to do something to get other kids talking. This lecture could easily have been replicated via Zaption or other interactive videoing program.

Lecture Model 3: Teacher talks –> Teacher questions a student –> Student responds –> Student responds


This is what a “dynamic, interactive” lecture ought to look like. This is what I think teachers are going for when they go down the path of Lecture model 2; it’s more difficult to pull off, takes more time, and allows enough grey area that some teachers aren’t willing to cede.

I’m talking about the teaching move where a student responds to a question about something and instead of the teacher confirming, denying, or expanding on the response, a fellow student responds. The teacher sets the conversation in motion but the students become the primary questioners and conversationalists. We see this modeled well in literary circles, but not often in math class.

To encourage this dynamic, a teacher may prompt “Jane, what do you think about Jack’s idea?”, “What words in Jim’s statement resonated with you?”, or, as Kate adeptly incants, “Hey, so-and-so, would you explain your understanding of Bianca’s solution?” Some classrooms have gotten so good at this that the prompt is no longer needed. In Brette’s classroom it became a norm that students would routinely ask things like “can you prove that to me?” and “how are you certain about that?” Music to any lecturers ears.

Lecture Model 4: Teacher talks –> Prompts students to talk –> Students talk


Not unlike Lecture Model 3, in this case a teacher prompts additional thinking. The teacher may talk for about 30% of the lecture time. There is a lot of “turn and talk…”, and “tell your elbow-partner…”, and “in your groups, discuss…” and so on. At this point, a teacher becomes untethered to the front of the room and can join in the small conversations, prompting additional questions or deeper thinking.


Next time you’re lecturing, I encourage you to think about the animated .gifs and consider diagramming the conversation, replete with arrows and dots. Researchers do this regularly. Consider becoming a researcher in your own class by tracking the conversation. Invite a peer in to do it for you or video yourself and watch it back. If you’re going to lean on the lecture as a tried and true means of conveying critical content, at least make sure you spend some time diagnosing the lecture model itself.

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Starting with the What


The Golden Circle

It’s become almost de rigueur to “Start With The Why” or at least to share that title track from the Simon Sinek TED Talk playlist. I often use it to structure my talks or professional developments. I don’t necessarily disagree with the mantra. However, in practice, I seem to often get more out of teachers only once they implement the “What.”

The start of the school year has seen a lot of the “What” thus far. The “What” in the teachers I’ve had the pleasure working with, has fed the “why”, not the other way around. That is, when a teacher facilitates a 3-Act Task, or a Would You Rather?, or a Which One Doesn’t Belong, or a Desmos Activity, or PBL or PrBL Unit, their practice changes as a result of the succeeding reflection. Jo Boaler’s Low Floor / High Ceiling tasks actually start to find and bubble up the cracks in student learning (or in teacher practice). Starting with the “why” feels almost like getting teachers to reflect on something that hasn’t happened yet, or at least the way I clumsily package it. Perhaps even more often, a teacher may be falsely reassured that he/she is attending to the Why if they don’t ever offer a compelling What. A teacher that assigns solely rote problems may never expose the gaps in his/her Why: I want kids to be good problem solvers, and just look at all these problems they’re solving!

I wonder if that’s in part due to the fact that most of us are kind of aligned with the “Why.” We all want students who are persistent problem solvers and like math. That’s true of basically 100% of teachers. You don’t need to build buy-in around that “Why.” The part where we differ and where teachers have had disparate training experiences is in the “How” and “What.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 9.01.17 PMOne of the more successful coaching experiences I had last year was with a teacher I never had the chance to “pre-brief” the Why. She was hired early in the year, but after school had started. And she took the resources and started trying stuff out. It was through the reflection of those facilitation experiences that she grew as an educator. We never talked about the Why around inquiry or student engagement or anything like that. At the end of the year, she was rocking and rolling with Problem Based Learning, using many of the tasks that had been provided and developing some of her own. Early this school year I’ve had the pleasure of seeing teachers implementing a lot of “Whats” and the reflection and feedback has pointed to the Why, rather than the other way around. And when things go poorly we can talk about that as well. Oftentimes it’s when the tasks break that teachers reconsider the inner sections of the Golden Circle (the How and Why).

Similarly, the most influential PD activities I’ve participated in or facilitated are those that involve some sort of student work analysis. Once we have a What, we can start to pull apart how it points to (or doesn’t) our Why. Or only then do we start to develop our Why. I love Math Mistakes because the tasks and student work provided elicits conversation about the purpose of mathematics and how we teach it.


Does mindset change practice or does practice change mindset? Or does practice change practice?

Of course it’s possible that I’m using the lens of my own predisposition to break and try new things. I didn’t really start reconsidering my practice and how I did things until I tried something quite new and foreign to what I’d been doing before. Only after I made a huge mess did I start thinking more deeply about my craft, including the Why. While I’ll probably continue Starting With The Why ™ for my own planning and reflection, I’ll probably ease up on my emphasis about its importance.

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