Focus on fewer & Do it Better

In teaching two new grades, at a new school, without using the same curriculum that my old school had (CMP 3), but instead using “teacher designed” curriculum, I’m worried that I’m going to be overwhelmed in my new classroom if I try to do too much. So I think I’m going to lay out a few ideas that I want to stick to within my classroom – some are old (i.e. I’ve used them before, and I find them to either transcend the specific content/grade level OR I want them to!), while others are new this year. I hope that in spelling out these priorities, I’ll make sure to do each of these well. I know that there is no way I can hope to incorporate EVERYTHING all at once in the same year, or I’ll wind up dropping too many things!

First, things I’ve used in the past that I definitely want to keep using:

  • I have used the idea of “convince yourself, convince a mathematical friend, convince a skeptic” since I first did Jo Boaler’s Online Course back in summer of 2013 when it first came out. I really like this, especially since I can call my students to be skeptical. I plan to continue using this, but I want to think of better ways to teach my students to say “I’m still skeptical because…” (oh, I guess I can just use a sentence starter like that one, huh?)
  • My Understanding – reflection writing prompts HW on a daily basis. I want to think more about how these are graded (just completion? Just for word count? What makes a quality my understanding?), as well as how these are used in class time as well as outside of class time.
  • Clipboard with seating chart to check HW at the start of class/during the warm-up –
  • Calling my Do Now a warm-up because we need to get our brains ready for math!
  • Share-Check-Discuss routine: Students have completed a handout of some kind with problems that all have one answer. They get into small groups of four, and go around the circle, reading off answers (i.e. person 1 reads #1, person 2 reads #2, etc. until there are no more problems). Each person reads only one answer at a time. The listeners check or circle the problem depending on whether they got the same or different answers. If they got different answers, they circle it, but they’re not allowed to ask any questions or discuss or mark it wrong yet because they don’t know who has the incorrect answer. At the end of the handout, they go back to the top, and say “Which problems did you circle?” and they only discuss their questions about that – and try to come to a consensus about what the correct answer is and what the logic is in the wrong answers that were chosen. There’s an emphasis on convincing each other which answer is correct because you don’t know who’s answer is right just because you disagree. At the end of this routine, I often will put up an answer key so that no group leaves thinking they got something right because everyone agreed on the same wrong answer. Sometimes, I’ll go over the most “problematic” problem of the set or I’ll ask them for a post-it note from each group for any questions they couldn’t agree on or they still feel like they need more information/details about.
  • Ultimate Guide to Solving Equations – though I do want to edit it, I think it is an invaluable resource for helping students manage all of the possibilities when solving complex equations. I’ll make another, separate post, about this item (which I will soon be selling in my TPT store).


Second, things I’ve used in the past that I might want to keep using OR I might want to use if I modify:

  • A couple of “catchy” sayings to help students remember things. I’ve used, “When in blue, you write it too” to help students with note-taking difficulty know when to copy something from the board. I’ve used “Check yourself before you wreck yourself” to help students remember to check reasonableness (and formal checks for solving equations). I’ve used “check your row before you go” to remind students to look at their desks and clean up around them. I like them, but I’m not sure how much my students actually benefit from them.
  • Accountable talk stems – I’ve used these in the past (but I didn’t my most recent year teaching), and I think I’d like to use them again. I’ll do a whole separate post at some point about these because I have some thoughts on paring down to just the essential ones, and which ones I think are best to use in a math classroom that’s the right kind of environment for me.
  • UPS Check – it’s essentially Polya’s four-step problem solving process. I rolled this out last year as part of a school-wide initiative at my old school. It stands for “Understand, Plan, Solve, Check” and it’s catchy when said “UPS Check.” Plus, I found that by modeling it explicitly and then asking students to solve problems using it, when a student said “I’m stuck,” I was able to direct them to the U phase and say, “Have you understood the problem yet? Go back and do those four things again.” (where the poster said stuff like “Read the problem carefully,” which we discussed to mean underlining and annotating, “Write down the question in your own words,” and “List the relevant information that’s given in the problem.”


Third, new things I want to incorporate based on what I’ve learned about recently:

  • Biggest one here is number strings and number talks and using them in conjunction with each other to develop my students’ number sense.
  • Which one doesn’t belong? I’d like to use these on a semi-regular basis (maybe once per week?)
  • Specific math discussion types (from Intentional Talk) as relevant to my problems.
  • Desmos – I think I want to tell my sixth and 7th graders to download it onto their phones, even though we might not use it very often (since we don’t do a tremendous amount of graphing, and from what I can tell, it’s BIGGEST POWER is in the arena of graphing – but maybe we would do more??)
  • Using google classroom, since I’ll no longer be required to use E-Chalk (and I need to think more about how exactly I’m going to use this, beyond just posting HW assignments online, since I don’t think there’s as much technology available at my new school as their was at my old school).

I feel like there were a few other things I was planning on including on this list, but now I can’t seem to remember any of the others. I’ll add to my list as I recall more.


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