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Day 174: A More Beautiful Question

I’d say over the past 10 years, I have been reflecting about and trying to improve my questioning techniques with my students.  It seems to be a common thread in much of my lens as I plan each year, attend PD and read.  I have noticed over the years that my questioning is getting better (although it’s got a long way to go…will I every be a master questioner?!).  a more beautiful questionI bring this up because over the last year as I became a proficient Twitter user, I saw lots of tweets about teacher and student questions in the classroom and references to blogs about classrooms where math curriculum is explored through student questions.  This was a new twist on questioning that has sparked my interest.

One book (and author) that seems to be referenced often is A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger.  I decided I wanted find out for myself what the big hoopla was all about!  I added it to my list of books for my summer reading.  I ordered it and some others through Amazon and it came yesterday!  Excitement!!  I began to read just the beginning and I ended up reading two chapters.  And I need you to know that I don’t have that kind of time right now to be reading that much, but I just couldn’t put it down.

Here are some quotes I’ve already jotted down:

p.8 by Warren Berger giving the definition:

A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something – and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.

p. 16 by Stuart Firestein on the potential of a good question:

One good question can give rise to several layers of answers, can inspire decades-long searches for solutions, can generate whole new fields of inquiry, and can prompt changes in entrenched thinking.  Answers, on the other hand, often end the process.

p. 23 by Tony Wagner, a Harvard education expert and Paul Bottino, a Harvard innovation expert on “expertise”:

Known answers are everywhere, and easily accessible.  The value of explicit information is dropping…the real value is in “what you do with that knowledge, in pursuit of a query.”

p. 18 by Stuart Firestein on questioning:

Questioning is a very sophisticated, high-level form of thinking.

And this particular quote got me wondering, if I value questioning and want my students to know that I value it, I must assess it.  Which led to me asking, How can I assess a “good” question?  What are the components of a “good” question?  How can I help my students grow their ability to ask those “good” questions?

What are some books you are planning to read this summer?  What is motivating your choices?  How do you anticipate using the gained knowledge in your practice?

Day 170: Summer Dreamin’

I’m noticing that my posts are getting shorter and shorter.  It’s not that I don’t have a lot to say, it’s just there’s so little time to give to all of the things I want to do.  With spring weather here, I want to ride my bike on the week-ends, walk my Harvey-dog, read books, make cards, grow vegetables, and do all of those things that rejuvenate my teaching spirit.

I so value the reflection that blogging has helped me achieve this year!  It continues to be a great sounding board.  I shared my blogging goal with my end-of-year evaluation meeting and my supervisor was stunned that I had kept up with it DAILY for the WHOLE year.  I’m pretty amazed as well.  Although at times (like right now) I feel swamped, like a moth to a flame, I also am drawn to write something reflective.  So what could that be?


One of the things I do about this time of the year is think about what I can get done in the summer.  Maybe I should re=phrase that; what I want to get done in the summer.  Here are some questions to ponder:

  • Plan/organize my room (will it be a new room with windows or my current room with no windows?  how will I make it more inviting to kids without windows?  How will I keep my sanity?)
  • Think about my courses: what works, what needs tweaking, what needs to be let go, what needs to be added?
  • Think about our department SIP goal of retention: what needs to be retained, should I think in a SBG way, how will I address those missing/weak skills withing the already crammed curriculum, can GradeCam and/or Navigator help?
  • How will I organize for the Comprehensive Evaluation next year so that I cover my bases, collect evidence and data, and genuinely use the experience to inform my practices?
  • Can I develop a community outreach component to my AP Stats program?  What would it look like, who should I talk with, when should I start it, how will I get community contacts?

Just like going to a 4-star restaurant, my eyes are bigger than my stomach.  My plan folder is getting jam-packed with this ideas to think about, that book to read, new techniques to incorporate next year…  And when summer actually arrives, I find I haven’t mastered the balance of rejuvenation time, family time, me time and school planning time.  Maybe this year will be better.

Day 125: Intellectual Need in the Math Classroom

I can’t believe I’m out of the classroom AGAIN, but I just couldn’t miss the opportunity to hear and interact with Dan Meyer in his workshop: Intellectual Need in the Math Classroom offered by our local educational service district.  So many good things today, but I did come away with one nugget that I’ll be ruminating on for the rest of the year (teaching life?!).  Dan started the workshop by posing the question: How do we engage students in difficult mathematics?  And he suggested the three biggest responses (by teachers and textbook companies) are:

  1. Make math real world
  2. Make math job related
  3. Make math relevant

We then took a humorous look at these “suggestions” in action: interesting covers (because we want the kids to like what we have to offer, so we’re desperate), have career interviews or real-world connections dropped into the middle of a unit (make the work seem related to job acquisition), try to have real-world problems (do something to a real-world picture to link it to the math we’re studying – but almost lying to the kids?) or try to take an uninteresting problem and re-work it to try to connect to what kids might relate to (but does an image of Starbuck’s coffee make the problem about exponential growth any more engaging?).

In Dan Meyer fashion, he offered a Dandy Candy Video and activity (which can be found at 101Questions) to look at strategic moves to engage students at the beginning of the class.  And through the debrief of our experiences, we revisited the question:  How do we engage students in difficult mathematics?  And Dan’s answer is:

  1. Start a fight
    • instigate an intellectual (or emotional) fight
    • get them arguing with each other and you
    • use student answers to get their opinions out
  2. Turn the math dial up slowly
    • start with their everyday experience
    • make the problem vague and bring in the math as needed
    • have students guess high and low answers, best and worst, etc. along the way
    • slowly add vocabulary and layers of “math” to the experience
    • you can always add to their experience.  You can’t subtract what has been done. So think before you give the “math” component
  3. Create a headache – to provide the “aspirin.”
    • ask questions to get the students to think more deeply
    • ask student to describe how to do something without the math tools – they’ll “beg” you for it eventually, if you don’ violate #2
      • for example, ask students to describe a precise location without a precise tool (grid system.
      • in the Dandy Candy example, ask to determine “the best.”
    • challenge their thinking to the next level: more precise, more efficient, best way

It was an invigorating day, with lots of conversation and pushing on our everyday practice.  I really appreciated Dan’s disclaimer that you don’t do this every day – you’ll burn out quicker than a flame in a hurricane (my analogy).  He suggests only one of these kinds of activities per unit.  Lure the students to the mathematical water through an engaging and meaningful activity, but then its okay to provide direct instruction as needed to develop skills and sense-making activities to develop concepts.  I have always believed balance between activity-based instruction and direct-instruction makes for the most productive and growing classroom.

I’m always thrilled to talk with other educators to learn new things and today provided that opportunity for me.  It was a delightful and fruitful day.



Day 119: Learning Progressions as a New (Old) Practice?

One of the PD’s we had today was called Focus on Learning: Pathways, Checkpoints, Adjustments.  A big part of the workshop was around writing learning progressions for a particular lesson.  Jennifer Wilson shared some of the work she and Jill Gough have done in creating posters around the Mathematical Practices learning progressions.  Here are some examples created by Jill and Jennifer:


This is the biggest idea that stuck with me during this day.  Lots to ruminate on!


Day 0: Change your words, change your mindset


It’s Labor Day Monday and so I did a little “fun” labor to get my classroom ready.  Here’s my Fixed/Growth Mindset board (based on a post by Sarah Hagan @mathequalslove) that I finally finished for the first day of school and I am so happy with it….thank you Sarah!  I think it makes a great statement to all of the students (not just mine) that pass by my classroom. Will have to weave it into my classes, probably via openers or exit slips, but I want my students to begin shifting their self-talk and thus their mindset to a Growth perspective. My principal even stopped by, saying “Wow, that’s a great board!” and we spent a moment talking about the Fixed vs. Growth Mindset.  Sure hope it opens up other conversations with my colleagues.  And tomorrow is the “Big Day!”  I am so excited to meet my new students!

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