Back before school started, when I had big dreams of being able to juggle the 8 schools I regularly visit for math PD and instructional coaching, raising two fierce and fabulous daughters, and making a bit of time to keep learning to play the upright bass, I committed to blogging regularly, and maintaining a regular twitter presence.
In part, I wanted to do both of these things to share some of the really wonderful practice I’m privileged to witness, and take part in developing. More broadly, however, I was sure that the Twitter Blog o Sphere (the TBos in #MTBos) could iterate my central approach to coaching improvement in math teaching towards an improvement in the approach itself.
In theory, this would happen because, through blogging and tweeting, I would reach more people to join in conversation about common problems of practice in math instruction, and those folks would try some of the approaches I’ve been part of developing with teachers, then tinker towards better in their own spaces.
This post is a major celebration of the first time MTBoS really worked for me, in this sense (took my idea, tried it, reported back in a way that I can learn from). Strangely, it wasn’t a stranger who gave me this gift, but a very talented fellow math teacher right here in WV. I’ve worked with Randy in several contexts, including curating the web for our favorite resources for middle and high school math, the WVMathTree.
So I know Randy, but we aren’t in each other’s daily life, and I hadn’t ambushed him with 8q5, a protocol for engaging students to persevere while solving complex math problems. In late September, he tweeted:
I had to know more, so I asked Randy to join me in co-blogging (yes, this *was* months ago… I’m doing my best, promise 😉 )
I had hit a wall with a group of students; they really wanted to be good math students, but up to this points their definition of a good math student was that I give them 20 of the same problem and they show that they could do them. Thus anytime they were presented something outside of that box, they would throw their hands up in defeat. This really made me sad because I wanted them to feel that hunger of productive struggle. That moment when you’re solving a puzzle and you get stuck but you are so close you can taste it! That’s how I feel when I do a challenging math problem, and that’s what I wanted for them. For me, the beauty of math is seeing how it all fits together, and to get a real sense of this, you have to be willing to explore and challenge your assumptions. These are the kinds of rich tasks I wanted my students to work on, but the “I just can’t do this” wall was blocking their mind.
I stumbled upon #8q5 on your blog shortly after and thought, “well this could help”. It claimed to cure exactly what ailed my class, and coming from someone that respect a lot, I knew I had to try it.
I passed out the rubric and explained it to the class. I let them know that we were going to work on a task that was not going to be graded right or wrong. Instead, they would be graded on their personal perseverance. They were on board, so I presented their task, and to work they went. The first 8 minutes went as expected; the students were quiet as mice and worked away. I wasn’t surprised as they were very well behaved in general. Then question time came and the real magic happened. I was used to their usual conversations being “I don’t know how to do this, please help” to… well… just watch this video I took.
I had to know more about the magical healing properties of this routine:
I have had several teachers give 8q5 a try since I started. Two were math teachers that I work with who got to hear my excitement after doing the routine for the first time. The other is a special education teacher that I am teaching a collaborative course with. She has been doing 4q3 and working up to the full amount of time with her students, but seems to be having good success with it as well.
I personally have been using this routine in my classes at least once a week, and the students really enjoy it too. Now that they know what to expect, they work through their questions then immediately get back to individual work without waiting to be prompted. Once I know most of the students are finished I set the timer for the 5 minutes. It became so easy to tell when they were finished because the room got really quiet again without needing any prompting from me.
I did put a little spin on the process; each student must write their question on the back of the rubric. After they finish, I go through the questions and we have a class discussion around these questions and make sure everyone’s question was answered before class is over. I decided to do this for two reasons. Some of the students were having trouble crafting good questions and would just say something like, “how do you do number 3?” This allowed these students to see a variety of questions outside of their small group.
This has really spilled over into our everyday routine because student now ask me quality questions on a daily basis and it really shows me that they are thinking about the problem and not just waiting to be lead. I know do this routine a minimum of once a week because I see the pay off even when I’m teaching without it. Also, they often remark that they enjoy the routine because they get to gather their thoughts and try hard problems without fear of being wrong. That’s a win-win in my book.
The journey of 8q5 has been so exciting to witness from afar… However, here, the trail goes cold. Did some of Randy’s followers try 8q5? Have you tried it? Did you find “magical healing” for an aspect of your class / learning / instruction that has been bugging you? I want to learn, #MTBoS… What could I do to know who tries something they read about on my blog? How can I generate more conversation about what works / doesn’t work for you, so that I can learn from you, your context and kids how to improve my own practice? Are there other tools or approaches that folks are tinkering with related to delaying student questions, then focusing on them?
HUGE thanks to the amazing Randy Revels, @revs_87, for generously joining me in this blog and in adventures in teaching and learning math. You are a gem, and I learn so much from each project we tackle together. Grateful is indeed an understatement.