Holiday Giveaway – the gift of professional growth

Here’s an idea that has been really fun this year. It begin with recruiting support from administrators who work with math teachers at each of our secondary sites. They helped finance buying the book prizes. The remainder were provided by my office in Curriculum and Instruction. I chose to focus on Tracy Zager’s book, Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had, because that was a learning I was interested in spreading around the district. It is more suited to my intermediate teachers than high school teachers, but there is so much good discussion about what it means to teach mathematics that I feel it is worthwhile for all of us. Perhaps in your district you would pick something different. Whatever awesome book you choose, you are getting great professional learning materials into the hands of interested teachers, so it is all a win. In addition to the book, I decided to give away a “Day of Desmos”. This is producing a list of wonderful and willing teachers for me to work with in the next semester.


Once the prizes were established and gathered, I sent the following email to the math teachers at each site, signing my name and the name of their supporting administrator. I included a link to a google form, where they put their name in for each prize they were interested in.  Winners of prizes contributed by site administration will be chosen just from teachers on their site. Winners of district office prizes will be chosen from everyone in the district that signed up for them.  I have a near infinite supply of days of desmos, so woo hoo – everyone there is a winner!

Here is the email I sent out:

The gift of professional growth

Why: Because we are grateful for you and the work you do every day with the students in your classroom.

What: We want to give you something to enrich your teaching and demonstrate the respect and friendships we have developed working together.

When: During the last two weeks of December, we will be giving gifts to teachers, based on their interest. Below find a chance to check out the gifts and put your name in a drawing for those you are interested in.

Start making your wish list here:

Book: Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had by Tracy Zager         Video description here          Companion website and discussion forum here  

Set of posters:  10 posters that call out habits of mind exhibited by mathematicians (based on the 10 chapters in Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You’d Had by Tracy Zager)

zager posters

Day of Desmos: Leeanne will come in a teach/co-teach your classes with a desmos lesson that supports whatever topic your students are currently studying. It can introduce a topic, replace a lecture style lesson, or practice applying something you already taught – Your choice!

Surprise: smaller gifts for your classroom

Sign up to participate in this holiday giveaway here (here is where the link went)

Looking forward: New Year, new resolutions. The learning you receive can be your present to yourself, your students, your PLC, and your team in the coming year.


The teachers are excited and emailing how much fun this is.  The administrators are excited because that was pretty easy and painless. I am excited because I get to show my appreciation for them AND give them awesome resources to improve their craft.  Win, win, win!

Over-scaffolding: the loving art of loosening our grip

Parenting is an ever-changing job.

In the youngest years we are required to give our children instruction and advice on how to do every minute life task: how to angle their foot to put on a shoe, how to walk safely in a parking lot, how to put their pee in the potty, how to pick up the edge of their long t-shirt before putting pee in the potty. Those things are eventually mastered and we smile as we watch our little ones handle them all by themselves. Then we move on to new tasks: how to pick out a matching outfit, how to make a bed, how to clear dishes, how to put those dishes in the dishwasher,  how to put the laundry in the hamper, how to take the laundry out to the washer and run it through. For most of my kids-at-home parenting years, these tasks did not seem to stick as well. They were learned, but never seemed to be owned. But when my children moved out, and had to do it themselves, that training finally came to fruition, and now they manage all of those things with ease and grace. I never have to call my 26 year old and ask him, “Did you wash your work clothes? Are you wearing clean underwear?” But they’ve been through the stage where they had to decide it was important to them to have clean dishes to eat from and clean clothes to wear to work. Clean clothes for a college chem lecture did not seem to be equally motivating at first, but happily they eventually began to see the advantages of not stinking to high heaven when sitting by an attractive co-ed, and they reassessed their prioritizations.


Maybe those early tasks are mastered with independence earlier because we let them go. When a problem arises – like pee along the front hem of a t-shirt – we can step in and provide some additional instructions and advice. We do not stand and watch our nine year olds put pee in the potty and critique their technique.  We provide scaffolds as needed when problems arise. And then we step back.


Stepping back has been the hard part of parenting. All of my early on the job training was at the level of minutiae, and detailed instruction with constant reminders were essential. But gradually, if we let them, they grow to be able to figure a few things out for themselves.  Maybe if I had let it happen my kids would have learned earlier that underwear with skid marks were not a good idea to wear to gym class and they better get a load through. Maybe if they had to scrape yesterday morning’s oatmeal off their bowl on a semi-regular basis, or their ice cream got served up in their dirty spaghetti bowl, timely cleaning of dishes would have seemed more important.


Thank goodness, in spite of me, they are making their way to being amazing and wonderful young men who can problem solve as things arise and handle life. I wish I could say I was as good at learning the parameters of my new role. “Did you call your landlord about that broken garbage disposal?” “Did you check reviews on that car repair shop?” “If you hang your clothes right when they come out, you won’t have to iron those dress shirts so much.” “Is that sweater dry clean only??? You really should check washing instructions before you buy. You can’t afford dry cleaning every week.”


When they are young, we tell our children what to do because we are applying our priorities to our life. It was a priority for me to get them out of diapers for my life, not just because eventually at 5 they’d be glad to not wear diapers to kindergarten.  But when they are adults, their actions and decisions have to come from their priorities. Fortunately life has a wonderful way of providing timely feedback to help us all make decisions around adjusting priorities. As parents, it’s important for us to learn how to get out of the way and let that feedback get to them.


Adulting is hard. . . and then it’s not. It’s up to us to give them the chance to get there.


So lately, I have been thinking about how this plays out in the classroom.


The current buzz word is “over-scaffolding”, which translates to helping more than students  really need. If we insist on owning the responsibility for all the thinking, they will eventually stop trying to think.  Instead we need to carefully structure activities that help only as much as they need.

This is extra tricky because students grow at differing rates. I used to think that was about ability, but now I think it is mostly because of the access or lack thereof to appropriate feedback. The student who waits in his group for others to decide on a solution path is never trying out his own ideas and learning what works and what doesn’t, or why it’s important to, for example, isolate the radical before squaring both sides of the equation.


Imagine if class begin with two or three simple equations on the board
equation 1

and you ask your students to work individually to play around with and figure out the answer. Many would use their natural number sense to guess and check, but a few would use their equation skills they are comfortable with and reason about what they might add to the new situation. It’s likely at least a few will come up with “ Well, if that equals five, then before the square root it must have been twenty-five.”

However they approached it, encourage them, still all by themselves, to check their answer and see how they did. Guess-and-checkers started with this, because they are still trying to make sense of the numbers.  But for many whose heads are full of procedures, they have let go of this sensemaking move, and only do it as the last step in a procedure if that is what their teacher requires.  So here we see the first of the difficulties we often cause for our students – we teach compliance over thoughtfulness. I am beginning to think the most important thing we can teach them is to seek and use feedback -especially feedback they seek out and create from their own efforts.


Next, gather answers. Listen to methods and value all of them. Form hypotheses together about how this might work.

Some guess-and-checkers will be be persuaded to the “square both sides” method, but others will continue to trust their better skill – number sense. That’s okay. Children learn at different rates. We need to give them the opportunities to learn. So up the ante with the next question. Give the higher students a chance to explore the edges of their thinking, and the slower ones a chance to clearly see the limitations of their method. Again, gather answers, listen to methods and what has been learned. Adjust hypotheses.


You might have to keep raising the level of difficulty several times before the strong-number-sense/poor-equation-sense students decide that maybe there is something to their classmates methods.  Here are a few ideas:

equation 2

Finally, when they are mostly won over, together compile the methods they have figured out with your careful guidance, using their own developing number sense and feedback-seeking skills.


Scaling parenting to 35 kids in one classroom is hard. But continuing to tell 100% of them exactly what to do is preventing them from growing up and owning their own learning. I challenge you to build a thinking classroom, one that respects the strengths of all your students and gently prods them to the next step in their development. Encourage them to try something and see if their answer makes sense, and to think for themselves about how to approach a problem.

When problems arise, as needed, give just enough help and then get out of the way.

Be watchful, be positive, and even prepare in advance some scaffolds they might need, but give them as needed.


And I encourage you to be patient with yourself in the process. Learning, real learning, takes feedback and adjustments. It’s messy. So you won’t be perfect the first time, but you’ll learn. And guess what – learning can be exciting and fun! And helping the children in your class, the children I am sure you love,  grow to an adulthood that doesn’t require the scaffolds of childhood, can be the most rewarding part of your job. It is why teaching is such a rich and rewarding profession. Let it be that for you.