Tag Archives: Jo Boaler

Summer PD: Day 2 Mathematical Flexibility

Summer Literacy and Mathematics Professional Learning
June 5-9, 2017
Day 2 – Mathematical Flexibility
Jill Gough and Becky Holden

Today’s focus and essential learning:

I can demonstrate mathematical flexibility to show what I know in more than one way.

(but , what if I can’t?)

Learning target and pathway:

Mathematics is a subject that allows for precise thinking, but when that precise thinking is combined with creativity, flexibility, and multiplicity of ideas, the mathematics comes alive for people (Boaler, 58 pag.)

…we know that what separates high achievers from low achievers is not that high achievers know more math, it is that they interact with numbers flexibly and low achievers don’t.  (Boaler, n. pag.)

UED: 8:45 – 11:15  / EED: 1:15 – 2:45

 Slide deck


Productive struggle with deep practice – what do experts say

NCTM’s publication, Principles to Action, in the Mathematics Teaching Practices, calls us to support productive struggle in learning mathematics. How do we encourage our students to keep struggling when they encounter a challenging task? How many learners are accustomed to giving up when they can’t solve a problem immediately and quickly. How do we change the practice of how our students learn mathematics?

Effective teaching not only acknowledges the importance of both conceptual understanding and procedural fluency but also ensures that the learning of procedures is developed over time, on a strong foundation of understanding and the use of student-generated strategies in solving problems. (Leinwand, 46 pag.)

Low floor, high ceiling tasks allow all students to access ideas and take them to very high levels. Fortunately, [they] are also the most engaging and interesting math tasks, with value beyond the fact that they work for students of different prior achievement levels. (Boaler, 115 pag.)

Deep learning focuses on recognizing relationships among ideas.  During deep learning, students engage more actively and deliberately with information in order to discover and understand the underlying mathematical structure. (Hattie, 136 pag.)

Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways — operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes — makes you smarter.  (Coyle, 18 pag.)

Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors, and correct them —as you would if you were walking up an ice-covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go— end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it. (Coyle, 18 pag.)

The second reason deep practice is a strange concept is that it takes events that we normally strive to avoid —namely, mistakes— and turns them into skills. (Coyle, 20 pag.)

We need to give students the opportunity to develop their own rich and deep understanding of our number system.  With that understanding, they will be able to develop and use a wide array of strategies in ways that make sense for the problem at hand. (Flynn, 8 pag.)

…help students slow down and really think about problems rather than jumping right into solving them. In making this a routine approach to solving problems, she provided students with a lot of practice and helped them develop a habit of mind for reading and solving problems. (Flynn, 8 pag.)

This term productive struggle captures both elements we’re after:   we want students challenged and learning. As long as learners are engaged in productive struggle, even if they are headed toward a dead end, we need to bite our tongues and let students figure it out. Otherwise, we rob them of their well-deserved, satisfying, wonderful feelings of accomplishment when they make sense of problems and persevere. (Zager, 128-129 ppg.)

Encourage students to keep struggling when they encounter a challenging task.  Change the practice of how our students learn mathematics.

Let’s not rob learners of their well-deserved, satisfying, wonderful feelings of accomplishment when they make sense of problems and persevere.

Boaler, Jo. Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching (p. 115). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. (p. 20). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Flynn, Michael, and Deborah Schifter. Beyond Answers: Exploring Mathematical Practices with Young Children. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2017. (p. 8) Print.

Hattie, John A. (Allan); Fisher, Douglas B.; Frey, Nancy, Visible Learning for Mathematics, Grades K-12: What Works Best to Optimize Student Learning (Corwin Mathematics Series) (p. 136). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Leinwand, Steve. Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All. Reston, VA.: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014. (p. 46) Print.

Zager, Tracy. Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had: Ideas and Strategies from Vibrant Classrooms. Portland, ME.: Stenhouse Publishers, 2017. (pp. 128-129) Print.

Anticipating @IllustrateMath’s 6.RP Overlapping Squares

To anchor our work in differentiation and mathematical flexibility, we use NCTM’s 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions by Margaret Smith and Mary Kay Stein.

Kristi Story, Becky Holden, and I worked together during our professional learning time to meet the goals for the session shown below.

From  NCTM’s 5 Practices, we know that we should do the math ourselves, predict (anticipate) what students will produce, and brainstorm what will help students most when in productive struggle and when in destructive struggle.

The learning goals for students include:

I can use ratio reasoning to solve problems and understand ratio concepts.

I can make sense of tasks and persevere in solving them.

I can look for and make use of structure.

I can notice and note to make my thinking visible.

Kristi selected Illustrative Math’s  6.RP Overlapping Squares task for students. Here are the ways we anticipated how students would approach and engage with the task.

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Our plan for helping students who are stuck includes providing and encouraging the use of a graphing tool such as graph paper or TI-Nspire software installed on their MacBooks. We also intend to use the following learning progressions.

I can make sense of tasks and persevere in solving them.

I can look for and make use of structure.

Finally, we also want our learners to work on how they show their work.

#ShowYourWork Subtraction

When mathematics classrooms focus on numbers, status differences between students often emerge, to the detriment of classroom culture and learning, with some students stating that work is “easy” or “hard” or announcing they have “finished” after racing through a worksheet. But when the same content is taught visually, it is our experience that the status differences that so often beleaguer mathematics classrooms, disappear.  – Jo Boaler

Boaler, Jo, Lang Chen, Cathy Williams, and Montserrat Cordero. “Seeing as Understanding: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for Our Brain and Learning.” Journal of Applied & Computational Mathematics 05.05 (2016): n. pag. Youcubed. Standford University, 12 May. 2016. Web. 18 Mar. 2017.

Stein, Mary Kay., and Margaret Smith. 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Goal work: learn more math, study the Practices

The math committee met this week to work on our goals. We agreed that, for the rest of this school year, we would spend half of our time on learning more math and the other half studying to learn more about the Standards For Mathematical Practice.

We met this week to learn more math and to discuss Chapter 1, Mathematical 1: Make Sense of Problems and Persevere in Solving Them in Beyond Answers: Exploring Mathematical Practices with Young Children by Mike Flynn.

Yearlong Goals:

  • We can learn more math.
  • We can share work with grade level teams to grow our whole community as teachers of math.
  • We can deepen our understanding of the Standards For Mathematical Practice.

Today’s Goals:

  • I can make sense of tasks and persevere in solving them.
  • I can reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • I can look for and make use of structure.


Learning Plan

3:05 5 min Quick scan of Jo’s YouCubed article (pp. 2, 11)
3:05 20 min Solving equations visually to make sense of the algebra
(Learn more math)

productive-struggle-4 productive-struggle-3

3:25 5 min Book Club warm-up

3:30 20 min Use Visible Thinking Routines to guide discussion of Chapter One: Make Sense and Persevere
(deepen our understanding of the SMPs.)

3:55 5 min Feedback – “I learned…, “I liked…,”I felt…

Read Chapter 2: Reason Abstractly and Quantitatively

Update on PD (Goal: Scale our work to our teams.)

When we set purposeful team goals, we help each other make progress, and we use our time intentionally.

Flynn, Michael. Beyond Answers: Exploring Mathematical Practices with Young Children. Portland, Maine.: Stenhouse, 2017. Print.

Van de Walle, John. Teaching Student-centered Mathematics: Developmentally Appropriate Instruction for Grades Pre-K-2. Boston: Pearson, 2014. Print.

Number Talks: how AND why

Listening informs questioning. (Berger, 98 pag.)

How do we know learning has occurred? How do we know how learning has happened? What if we pause and listen to learn?

If both sense and meaning are present, the likelihood of the new information getting encoded into longterm memory is very high. (Sousa, 28 pag.)

How would you add 39 to 67? Would you use the traditional algorithm? Would you need paper? How might we teach flexibility, sense making, and numeracy to build fluency and confidence?

Number talks are about students making sense of their own mathematical ideas. (Humphrey & Parker, 13 pag.)

How might we seize the opportunity to confer with our learners to see if they are making sense of what is being taught?

This is the challenge – and joy – of teaching by listening to students. (Humphrey & Parker, 13 pag.)

If interested in additional examples of number talks, both the how and the why, listen to Jo Boaler and her students from the Stanford Online MOOC How to Learn Math: For Teachers and Parents.

Do we believe our learners – every one of them – are capable of developing proficiency in mathematics?

How might we show what we know more than one way?

How might we continue to send the message I believe in you and mean it?

What if we listen to learn?

I am grateful to Kristin Gray (@MathMinds) and Crystal Morey (@themathdancer) for their leadership and facilitation as a dozen #TrinityLearns faculty participate in an online book club (#mNTmTch) for Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding Grades 4-10 along with over 600 educators across the globe.

Berger, Warren (2014-03-04). A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas . BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING. Kindle Edition.

Humphreys, Cathy, and Ruth E. Parker. Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding, Grades 4-10. Portland, ME: Steinhouse Publishers, 2015. Print.

Sousa, David A. Brain-Friendly Assessments: What They Are and How to Use Them. West Palm Beach, FL: Learning Sciences, 2014. Print.

#TEDTalkTuesday: believe and change the future

Many teachers try to be comforting and sympathetic about math, telling girls not to worry, that they can do well in other subjects. We now know such messages are extremely damaging. (Boaler, n. pag.)

What if the messages are different? What if we send the message I believe in you? How might we change our future?

Brittany Wenger: Global neural network cloud service for breast cancer detection

Wenger began studying neural networks when she was in the seventh grade. She attributes her interest in science to her 7th grade science teacher.  As a high school senior, she won the grand prize in the 2012 Google Science Fair for her project, “Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer.”

How might we offer opportunities for integrated studies and human-centered problem solving?

What if we send the message I believe in you? How might we change our future?

Boaler, Jo. “Parents’ Beliefs about Math Change Their Children’s Achievement.” Youcubed. Stanford University, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

What we don’t remember about the foundation…

I wonder if, when the house is finished, we forget the foundational infrastructure required for function.  How does water get into and out of my house? Who ran the wires so that our lamps illuminate our space? Who did the work, and what work was done, prior to the slab being poured?

When we recall a basic multiplication fact, it’s like flipping a light switch in our house. The electrical wiring allowing us to turn on the light is linked to sound, safe, and deeply connected infrastructure. (K. Nims, personal communication, August 30, 2015)

Just like the light switch is not part of the foundation, memorization of multiplication facts is also not foundational. It is efficient and functional.  Efficiency must not trump understanding.

We need people who are confident with mathematics, who can develop mathematical models and predictions, and who can justify, reason, communicate, and problem solve. (Boaler, n. pag.)

Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 7.45.22 PMStudents who rely solely on the memorization of math facts often confuse similar facts. (O’Connell, 4 pag.)

Students must first understand the facts that they are being asked to memorize. (O’Connell, 3 pag.)

What if we have forgotten all the hard work that came prior to the task of memorizing our multiplication facts?

Do we remember learning about multiplication as repeated addition? Have we forgotten the connection between multiplication, arrays, and area?

Conceptual understanding of multiplication lays a foundation for deeper understanding of many mathematical topics.  Memorizing facts denies learners the opportunity to connect ideas, exercise flexibility, and interact with multiple strategies.

The goal is to have confident, competent, critical thinkers. Let’s remember that a strong foundation has many unseen components.  What if we slow down to develop deep understanding of the numeracy of multiplication?

Second, going slow helps the practitioner to develop something even more important: a working perception of the skill’s internal blueprint – the shape and rhythm of the interlocking skill circuits.”  (Coyle, 85 pag.)

How might we serve our learners by expecting them to show what they know more than one way?

Boaler, Jo. “The Stereotypes That Distort How Americans Teach and Learn Math.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 12 Nov. 2013. Web. 30 Aug. 2015.

Coyle, Daniel (2009-04-16). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

O’Connell, Susan, and John SanGiovanni. Mastering the Basic Math Facts in Multiplication and Division: Strategies, Activities & Interventions to Move Students beyond Memorization. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2011. Print.