How do we teach data literacy through the context of science inquiry?

In December, Dan Meyer asked during his keynote address at CMC North, “What’s Your Question?” He went on to highlight how math, science, and literacy all converge in the practice of critiquing reasoning. Given the rise of fake news and alternative facts we have a responsibility to educate children to be critical consumers of information and data.

Dan Meyer’s talk, along with insights from “playing” with the integration of science, math, literacy, and technology with my amazing colleagues Jennifer Wilson and Vanessa Scarlett, has lead me to my driving question, How do we teach data literacy through the context of science inquiry? From that, additional questions have surfaced. Can we completely remove data standards out of the math program and completely teach them in the context of science? Are there technology standards that support the work we are trying to do with data in science? Do the expectations of data literacy in NGSS and Common Core Math align? Do teachers have the content knowledge to effectively teach data literacy?

As we go down this road over the next several years, here are some of my initial thoughts and findings:
· The data standards in the mathematics standards are designed to be taught and developed in the mathematics classroom. The math standards at any specific grade level are not sufficient to get to the depth of science understanding and thinking that we are looking for. For example, bivariate data is placed in 8th grade so that students have the ability to calculate the equation of a line, slope, and have experience with coordinate grids. Students can and need to use a scatter plot to see patterns in bivariate data as early as third grade. Although calculating the line of best fit, slope, or equation for the line adds value and precision to the conversation, it does not warrant waiting until 8th grade. Our first hand experience with students validates this.
· The data standards are typically taught in the context of a math book and not involving real experiments and student generated data. We have observed what we have intrinsically known, data taught within context is much more accessible to all learners. “Because raw data as such have little meaning, a major practice of scientists is to organize and interpret data through tabulating, graphing, or statistical analysis. Such analysis can bring out the meaning of data—and their relevance—so that they may be used as evidence.” NGSS
· Some standards such as mean are not introduced until 6th grade due to the need for students to be able to divide using decimals. By utilizing technology (Google Sheets or Excel) students in 3rd grade can easily calculate the mean and have an understanding of what is being done, without having the mathematical skills to hand calculate it.

Keep in mind that we do not believe in teaching standards early because a student is high. We have spent a significant amount of time educating our teachers and parents about our philosophy of going deeper, not ahead. We believe the shifting of some of the data standards allows us to go deeper in our science understanding and depth of thinking and that these shifts do not undermine this philosophy.

Here is our first draft at creating a scope and sequence to teach data literacy in the context of hands-on science inquiry. We would love your feedback and suggestions.

K-6 Data Skills Progression Draft

8 Deadly Sins of Teaching Math

My “friend” Fawn Nguyen just posted

7 Deadly Sins of Teaching [Maths]

I feel they are worth sharing. The first 7 sins come directly from Fawn. I added an 8th, because 8 > 7.

Giving extra credit. I don’t care where you teach, how old your students are, what your zodiac sign is, you’re going to have at least one kid who’ll ask for extra-credit “work” at the eleventh hour of the grading period. Don’t do it. Say no and walk away because the tears might come streaming down his/her face and you have to ration the use of Kleenex. And you should be ashamed of yourself for giving students extra-credit points for bringing in copy papers, sticky notes, dry-erase markers, tissue boxes, doughnuts. Yes, you should send me some.

Giving timed multiplication drills. Maybe there’s a well-documented success story behind this madness that I’m not aware of, but to me, it perpetuates the myth of faster-is-smarter. This practice raises self-doubt and affirms the why-should-I-even-bother mindset.

Giving out the equation. That’s like giving away life’s secrets to someone who flies to Paris to have lunch. Meaning, they don’t need it, nor did they ask for it. Your students’ conversations, their conjectures, their models — are all at the heart of a math class. To give away the equation is to passively (and aggressively!) dismiss our students’ abilities to think for themselves. It’s okay to eventually give them the equation in due time, just don’t start with the equation. Imagine if I just gave my students the equations for slope and area of a circle.

Teaching from one source. No one source is that good. The creators of that source would be fools to not concede that point. It’s like eating out at the same restaurant or boasting that you can make chicken 50 different ways. No you can’t, and nobody cares. Let one or two sources be your structural outline, your mainstay, then supplement it with your favorite lessons or other teachers’ favorite lessons. Remember, any well-crafted lesson outside of the textbook that you can bring in is your gift to your students. Tell them that. And with our prolific #MTBoS, you cannot afford not to supplement.

Talking, talking, you’re still talking. I pretty much end every workshop with this reminder: The more you talk, the less your kids learn. I plan each lesson using this as my go-to guiding principle. Math is a highly social endeavor, so for the love of Ramanujan and Lovelace, please stop talking so much so your kids may talk! Every question you pose is an opportunity for your kiddos to ponder [quietly by oneself first] and share their thoughts with peers. Every question! If you fret that your kids don’t talk in class, then I wonder about two things, 1) Do students feel safe enough to talk in your class? and 2) Is the question you’re asking interesting/worthwhile/challenging to even bother? (I must have asked hundreds of lame, boring, worthless questions, but I’m not giving up. I practice and get better.)

Keeping up with the Joneses. That colleague whose hair and complexion are always perfect is just not as funny as you are. That teacher whose students all adore her probably owns a cat that wants to kill her. And that “amazing” teacher whom everyone talks about probably sucks at everything else in life! And he might be a compulsive hoarder of all things creepy! So, don’t mind them. We’re not here to compete with one another. We’re here to make mathematics rock for our kids. There is one you and 24 hours in a day. Make time for yourself, make time for your family. We all have s#@$&y days that rob us of our wits and sensibilities, but recognizing that and committing to having a better day tomorrow are worthy endeavors. Our students need us more than they care to admit.

Being an a%$hole. No one wants to learn from someone who’s mean and angry and bossy. When we try to establish authority in the classroom, we may inadvertently end up being perceived as this person. The meaner we get, the less students want to have anything to do with us, so the angrier we get. It’s a vicious cycle, and everyone is losing. We’re the adult in the room, charged with a magnificent duty to establish a learning culture, which will not happen if we don’t behave like an adult. Children are said to be resilient, but they are also impressionable, and their impressionable minds are vulnerable — vulnerable to criticism, to shame, to false praises.

Giving mixed messages. Live the expectations you have for your students. Everything you do sends a message to your students. Send the message that you love math. Show them how to be curious, how to make mistakes, and how to learn from your mistakes and from the mistakes of others. Show them your wondering by asking “what if” about a problem the class has solved but you find interesting enough to take it further. Show them how to listen to the thinking of their classmates and how to ask questions to help you better understand their thinking. Show them how to be excited when presented with a challenging problem that initially looks way to hard to solve.

Technology Integration

In February, I facilitated a professional conversation with the UCSB Math Project Leadership cohort around the use of technology in the math classroom. My belief at the time was that technology was not valuable unless it allows me as a teacher, to do something better than I can already do without technology or provide access that was not previously available. With the help of the amazing workshops and presenters at NCSM, and presentations by Janet Hollister and Fawn Nguyen at UCSB my thinking has greatly changed.

Our students live in a digital world. They must be able to read, write, and think in that world. Our math classrooms must include blended learning opportunities. In my classroom, students engage in face-to-face problem solving with rich tasks, using real hands-on manipulatives, charting their thinking on paper, and presenting their thinking to classmates for constructive feedback. This is the norm. Although a few apps appear in my classroom, I do not teach in a blended classroom. I am not integrating technology; technology is just a guest visitor. Students need opportunities to read problems delivered on the computer, use virtual manipulatives, record their thinking on the computer, collaborate with their peers and receive feedback on the computer, and use technology to do the calculations.

My thinking has changed and my classroom needs to change. Doing these things digitally did not meet my previous belief about technology integration as I was already doing these things as well, using my old school environment. I now believe that students need to be able to operate in both the physical, face-to-face world and in the digital environments even if it is not “better”. Higher education, the job market, and our students demand it. I have changes to make and learning to do!

My next post – If you’re not doing a rich task, the platform (paper and/or digital) is not the issue.

NCSM Highlights

I just finished 3 full days of NCSM (National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics) Conference in Oakland. There were so many amazing presenters that I did not attend presentations by Jo Boaler, Dan Meyer, Matt Larson, Bill McCullum, Cathy Seeley, Deborah Ball,…

Here are highlights of some of the presentations I did attend:

• Jason Zimba – Procedures are for procedural tasks. There are too many tasks in our world to teach a procedure for each one. We do not have an infinite amount of memory. Do not teach procedures for conceptual tasks.

• Patsy Kanter and Steve Leinwand – The best way to teach the 9 multiplication facts is to do x 10 minus one group. (9 wants to be ten –nibbler 9) So 9 x 8 should be solved as 10 x 8 = 80 minus one group of 8. 80-8 = 72.

• Sherry Perish – Has written a Fraction, Decimal, and Percent number talk book, which should be out at the end of summer 2016. I can’t wait!

• Doug and Barbara Clarke – Researchers from Australia – Talked about productive struggle as controlled floundering or the zone of confusion. If genuine learning is to take place, you have to be in the zone of confusion.

• Max Ray – Have people give I notice / I wonder feedback. “I notice that you _______. That was awesome because _____________” “When you said _________________, I wondered __________________________.”

• Annie Fetter – Orally read a math task that is not posted for students. Have them share, what did you hear, what do you wonder to promote listening comprehension. She also talked about writing and the revision of writing in math. We revise our writing in ELA on improve our writing and improve the clarity of our thoughts. Why not write and revise in math?

• Lizzy Hull Barnes –Program Administrator for Mathematics and Richard Carranza, Superintendent – San Francisco Unified School District – In 2014 they passed a board policy and curriculum pathway that does not permit ability grouping until 11th grade. They have the highest math achievement on the Smarter Balanced assessment out of all large urban school districts in California. In every grade level in SFUSD, the number of students whom scored at or above grade level on the SBAC was above the state average in 2015. They believe that all students can learn and have data to support that heterogeneous groups in mathematics, do not take away from the achievement of the high students.

• Francis (Skip) Fennel and Gary Martin – Why not let students use calculators when there is 30 years of research that states that calculators do not take away from computational skills.

• Nicholas Gilbertson and Jia He – In-depth conceptual understanding of the division of fractions is not easy to develop.

• Loria Allen – Do a rich task everyday, and when we do, know what we are looking for from the students.

• Connie Schrock and Kit Norris – is a really great game.

• Marilyn Burns – 1 on 1 interviews allow a glimpse into student thinking in a way you can not access with paper and pencil, especially with primary students.

• I also met with Sheela Sethuraman from CueThink. Great conversation about the use of technology and she made me wonder more about technology integration. I am looking forward to trying CueThink with students. My favorite implementation idea is having an older buddy class teach the program and give feedback on the work of little buddies.

• I wrapped up my conference with Ignite talks. Graham Fletcher was amazing. He very clearly stated, “If we want our students to talk more, we need to talk less.” Ask questions to help students develop understanding, and when they do share their thinking, stop rephrasing or clarifying their words. It takes away their ownership and tells the other students that they don’t have to listen to the ideas of their classmates.

What an amazing 3 days!

Quick Clips Common Core Math

Over the past few years I have heard over and over from parents that they just don’t understand how to help their children with their math homework anymore. I have heard similar concerns from teachers. How do parents help their children with strategies they have never seen or heard of before? Parent and producer, Les Mayfield approached me with his frustration and his proposed solution. From that conversation, Quick Clips common core math videos were born. We have created 36 strategy videos to help parents and teachers understand frequently used computational strategies.

How Do I Help My Child With Their Problem Solving Homework?


We have increased the amount of problem solving this year and have included a weekly problem solving homework. With the new homework we have received many questions from parents. This is a letter that was created in response to helping parents understand why we are doing problem solving and how to support their child in the process. I used two great resources to help me articulate my points.
1. Powerful Problem Solving by Max Ray
2. Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics by Van de Walle, Karp, Lovin, and Bay-Williams

Each week your child is coming home with a problem solving problem. This weekly assignment probably stands out because of the purposeful struggle that these problems create. The problems that we select each week are “genuine problems”. They are problems that students have no prescribed or memorized rules or methods, and for which they do not have a perception that there is a specific “correct” solution method. This is in contrast with other math homework that has a series of math problems that students have practiced similar questions in class and may have a desired approach. In fact, the weekly problem solving problem most likely will not align with what we are working on in class. This traditional approach has not been successful for helping students understand or remember mathematics concepts.

Too many students struggle to learn math because they don’t have strategies to make sense of math scenarios or to work towards solutions on novel, challenging problems. When students reflect on their work and revise, their learning skyrockets, especially for students who have been struggling with problem solving. It’s not enough just to focus on getting the answers; we need to support them thinking about their thinking and learning from the problem-solving process.

To support students to make sense of and learn mathematics, it is vital to listen to their current thinking, value their ideas, and provide interesting follow-up questions or ideas that support them to reflect, revise, and rearrange.

    Strategies to support your child in their problem solving problems

• Do not tell them the answer or show them how to do the problem. That removes the problem solving and the thinking.

• Go through the problem solving template with your child. The template was created as a guide to support your child through approaching novel problems.

• Try different strategies

• Draw a picture or diagram
• Guess, check, revise
• Make an organized list
• Find a pattern
• Use objects
• Make a table
• Work backwards
• Make it simpler

• Have students reflect on what strategies they have tried, where they got stuck, or why a strategy did not work.

• Support your child in developing grit and persistence. If your child has worked on a problem for 20-30 minutes and has not reached a successful conclusion, celebrate their hard work and effort. Put the problem on hold for the night and come back to it the next day when they have more energy and can approach it with a fresh perspective.

Problem Solving Template

Growth Mindset

Thank you Lisa for sharing this with me today. It is worthy of me sharing it with a larger audience.

We were taking the beginning of the year Number Talk assessment today, and a student turned and said, “This is so hard!” The student next her said, “That’s a fixed mindset,” to which student 1 said, “I know, I am not done, I am going to struggle through this.”

I LOVE growth mindset.

Celebrate good times…

Making Claims

Three years ago Ron Ritchhart, from Project Zero introduced a thinking routine called Claim, Support, Question to me along with the rest of the MUS staff. He introduced it with a game called Sprouts. This simple routine has revolutionized my teaching. In a nutshell, Calm, Support, Question supports students in making conjectures or claims about anything they notices in their math lesson and guides them in proving or disproving those claims. This routine has created opportunities to make the students thinking visible and allows me as the teacher to identify misconceptions, deepen student conceptual understanding, and push student thinking far beyond the expectations of the content standards. Claim, Support, Question encourages students to behave like mathematicians and provides opportunities for students to develop the mathematical practice standards.

I presented how we use Claim, Support, Question at CMC South and CMC North with the game Werewolves in the Night. This year I have switched to using the game Poison to introduce the routine for a strategic purpose. Poison is a very simple two-person game played with 10 objects in a cup. Opponents alternate turns, taking either one or two objects out of the cup until all the objects are gone. The person who takes the last object is poisoned.

MUS has adopted a new curriculum. Like the game of Poison, on the surface many of the lessons look to be very simple. Also, like the game of Poison, when you provide opportunities for students to make claims and ask questions about things they notice, the levels of thinking, connection making, and conceptual understanding are endless. This can be true for any curriculum or lesson that is open ended and inquiry based.

With Claim, Support, Question I learned that:
• some 3rd grade students think that between 500 and 800 can only mean 650.
• some 5th graders believed it was coincident that 4.5 x 36 was equal to 45 x 3.6 even though they just got a 100% on their multiplying fractions unit test.
• some students believed that one game of Werewolves in the Night can be played for eternity.
• during a number talk, a 3rd grader claimed and supported with evidence that multiples of 6 also contain multiples of 2 and 3.
• that a math lesson can be so open ended and exciting if the teacher is willing to let it go in a strategic direction and has the math content knowledge to know where it is going.

Once teachers have invested time in teaching their students to make claims and support them with evidence, games, number talks, math lessons, and classroom discourse have never been the same.

Teaching Kids Real Math With Computers- Ted Talk by Conrad Wolfram

This is a must see 17 minute TED Talk for all parents and math educators.

From rockets to stock markets, many of humanity’s most thrilling creations are powered by math. So why do kids lose interest in it? Conrad Wolfram says the part of math we teach — calculation by hand — isn’t just tedious, it’s mostly irrelevant to real mathematics and the real world.

Also check out Wolfram Aplha, an online calculator that can calculate just about anything.

Parents Join Nation Wide Boycott of Common Core and Why I am Not

The other day a parent shared with me this CBS story about parents boycotting the common core exam. I appreciate the press that our educational system is getting but wish it was more accurate. Based on this type of press and others like it in social media, I understand why anyone would oppose the common core. I on the other-hand do not. This is my response to the parent who sent me the video.

Thanks. I have not seen the video until today. I don’t have the same perspective as the woman in the video. As a parent, I am grateful that my children will be learning the curriculum outlined in the common core standards and not the retired California standards. I want my kids to grow up to be critical thinkers, sense makers, communicators, and problem solvers. These are all things that are brought out in the common core standards and were scarce in the retired California standards. With that said, there are many challenges we face with the transition to the new standards. The standards identify the content only. They do not identify the materials or instructional strategies. At MUS, as well with other districts, we are charged with identifying those strategies and materials in a very short time frame and in some cases having to develop our own as the transition period for common core is shorter than curriculum developers and trainers can keep up with. Common core is a change for teachers, students, and parents.

The common core is far from perfect. My biggest criticism of common core is the short transition period. The common core standards came out in 2010 but schools were held accountable to take the CST test which assessed the now retired California content standards until 2013. That means that most schools only had the 2013-2014 school year to completely revamp the content they taught, the curriculum, and the teaching strategies they use. In one academic year, teachers have been asked to undo what they spent at least a year of graduate school and many years of teaching mastering and totally revamp their role as a teacher. They have been asked to do this without all the supports they got when they first entered their career in education.

This change also has an impact on students. Students grew to learn that a good student sits quietly in class, listens carefully to the instructions and procedures of the teachers, and then quickly mimics those processes on their own. Now they are asked to try out their own ideas first, think about the ideas of others, and make sense of their learning. Kids never had to make sense of fractions or long division. Now they do. The hardest part of this change is students now have to make sense out of their current learning that builds upon their sense making from their past learning. The challenge is that the past learning they are building on did not have to make sense.

The CBS video has a particular focus on the testing of common core. I am not a fan of standardized testing and the need to rank schools by how well their students perform on a test. I do however appreciate the opportunity to see how much our children have grown and how they measure compared to their grade level expectations set by the common core standards. The parent in the video criticizes, “teaching to the test”. I believe that teaching to the test is a wonderful thing if we have the right test. The past California CST test did a great job of assessing how well students could select the correct multiple choice answer to a series of low level questions. Schools that taught to the CST test lowered their rigor as test taking strategies and the memorization of rules were more efficient than teaching students to think. With common core comes about a new type of assessment with few multiple choice questions and many opportunities for students to communicate their thinking and to analyze the thinking of others. If teaching to the common core test means that I have to teach my students to be critical thinkers, writers, and problem solvers then I support it. This is yet to be seen.

The mother in the CBS story also talked about how her 10 year-old child did not know what social studies was and listed that as another criticism of the common core. The common core standards actually promote more science and social studies as the language arts standards are explicitly connected to reading and writing in the content areas. Walk into any one of our classrooms at my school and chances are that most students would also say they don’t do social studies. They spend hours a day reading expository texts and writing about the impact of decisions on society. They debate, research, and respond to both past and current events. Is that language arts or is it social studies?

To conclude, I am grateful my 3 children will be educated in a common core world. I am grateful that we are educating our future workforce to be critical thinkers and sense makers. I wish educators and students would have another year or two before the high stakes testing begins to really strengthen our art of teaching. I wish curriculum developers had more time to really create better instructional materials rather than stick new labels on the old materials. I wish “the common core” did a better job of educating the public.