“Oh my gosh — Taryn?! She used to be so afraid of math in 4th grade. I am so happy she is participating.”

These words made my heart sing, but I was also completely surprised. Taryn is part of a small group of 6th grade students that I have worked with weekly at The Skokie School, since January during what we call “Forum Fridays”. Student participation is not based on test scores or classroom performance, but on interest in math problem solving and desire to be part of a mathematical community. Students who come are ones who enjoy working on non-routine problems and having a safe place to share their thinking, and want to do more of this type of math.

What do I notice about the Taryn I work with? She is confident, engaged, invested, and loves problem solving. According to Taryn’s 4th grade teacher, she had math anxiety two years ago. That makes me wonder: Has her participation in the Math Forum played a role in this transformation? I would say “Yes!” based on my observations of how Taryn and other students have responded to this problem solving opportunity.

Taryn’s description of the Math Forum is as follows:

It’s a super fun experience where you can answer the Problems of the Week by submitting your work and possibly including a notice and wonder. I feel like it’s a really, really good way to express your problem solving skills and to help build them up. I’ve been featured in the commentary and I feel very accomplished inside. I think other kids should join the Math Forum so they can have that same experience. One of the things I enjoy is that they have such creative problems that I enjoy answering and that you can get feedback about your work and build off of that and become a stronger problem solver.

She feels so accomplished inside. Though that may be something every math teacher hopes for in their students, how often do we actually hear a student express that feeling about doing math?

My interest was piqued when I noticed at last year’s NCTM conference that the Math Forum was merging with NCTM. I was particularly interested in the idea of having students serve as mentors to other students, thinking what a unique challenge that would provide. I brought the idea to the 6th grade teachers I work with and they were all interested and opened trial accounts. I went into each classroom and did a “notice and wonder” for “San Pedro Babies”, the October 31 Pre-Algebra Problem of the Week (PoW).

The teachers signed their students up for accounts to allow them to submit their work for “San Pedro Babies” and other PoWs, but left it optional for students to try it. Then something powerful happened…the mathematical strategies of a few Skokie School students were highlighted in the Solution and Commentary that Max publishes after every PoW — and it was like they won the lottery. It’s safe to say the level of excitement extended from the students to the teachers, to the principal, and even to the superintendent! Something about sending your mathematical thinking off and having it actually read and responded to by real mathematicians (Max, Annie, and Suzanne) sent energy waves through the school.

At that point, I asked for volunteers from one class to meet with me to explore the mentoring idea. A group of 6 girls and 2 boys who had been solving the PoWs regularly showed up and said not only were they interested, but honored to have the opportunity to become problem solving mentors. We analyzed several of Max’s Solution and Commentaries by highlighting and discussing what Max noticed about student work submissions and what questions he asked the students. The students noticed that Max was always interested in their opinions and brings out his personality in his commentary. In their words, “He makes a connection with you!” They noted the questions he asked in his Solution and Commentary:

**Questions asked by Max:
**

- What question does the wrong answer answer?
- How could you stretch your thinking? How could you continue the problem?
- Are there different short-cuts or more efficient strategies?
- How could you explain another’s thinking?
- How did you decide to…?
- Why is…. a good idea?
- What are you doing consistently?
- How could you represent your work?

Certain problems are available for mentoring, which means students who submit PoWs can receive feedback on their work from volunteer mentors. All of the Forum Friday students had received feedback so we analyzed that as well and added to the list:

**What the mentors did:**

The Forum Friday group is now in the process of choosing a problem for a 4th grade class in the district which they will introduce to them after spring break. They will then take their turn providing Solution and Commentary to 4th graders in the way they learned by analyzing Max’s, and will become problem solving mentors to those younger students. They are beyond excited about this experience and are also begging to know if they will have the opportunity to do Math Forum next year when they move on to 7th grade in a different building.

Beyond the mentoring group, other students are involved in the Math Forum in a variety of ways, all of which have organically grown from teachers trying this math experiment. Some teachers require their entire class to do a notice and wonder each time a new PoW comes out as an entry point. It is then the student’s choice to continue solving the problem. We have seen this strategy successfully provide greater access to problem solving among reluctant participants.

Other students are choosing problems that interest them from the Math Forum Library, some even challenging themselves to solve problems from the Algebra or Geometry categories. One day during a skills period I looked around and saw four different problems being worked on, none of which had been assigned, all problems of interest to those students. I’ve also witnessed students work on one challenging problem over the course of weeks (“Making a Six-Pointed Star,” Geometry PoW, January 16). Building perseverance is key mathematical practice and is best developed when students have access to challenging tasks they can dive into. The Math Forum is a tremendous resource for this.

In a short time, the Math Forum has grown into a place where students are engaged in problem solving, excited about math, feel confident about their growing abilities, and want to do more. It can be implemented in a wide variety of ways and is a wealth of opportunity for students to learn what the purpose of learning math is: to solve problems. In Taryn’s words: I can use skills I’ve already learned in math class and apply them to more challenging real life situations so I can feel like I’m actually using the skills already. It also teaches me perseverance which can actually help me in other parts of my life and school in general.

]]>On behalf of the 2017 NCTM Annual Meeting Program Committee, we are excited to invite you to attend the NCTM 2017 Annual Meeting and Exposition! Below you’ll find just a sampling of the exciting events that are planned for this premier event in mathematics education! Come join us at NCTM 2017 to build your knowledge of teaching mathematics and your professional network. We welcome YOU to BE a key part of our conference theme: Creating Communities and Cultivating Change! For more information check out the conference page.

]]>- a math topic that you find difficult to present to students? Looking for an activity suggestion?
- your room environment?
- how to best assess student learning?
- where to find a particular journal article that you saw but can’t remember where it was?
- using technology as a tool to help students understand a particular concept?

Read **Suzanne’s blogpost** to view questions and even some community responses gathered at conferences last fall. Read comments to her post from NCTM Community members:

Megan Schmidt Wendy Menard Andrew Stadel Monica Tienda Chase Orton Craig Russell Casey McCormick Natalie Perez Mary Wren Thomasenia Adams |
Arjan Khalsa Henri Picciotto George Reese Laurel Pollard Gabe Rosenberg Rick Barlow Kristin Gray Dan Meyer Steve Weimar Tracy Zager |
Robert Kaplinsky Barbara Boschmans Anne Paoletti-Bayna Seth Leavitt Lois Burke Crystal Lancour Sheila Lettiere Norma Gordon Peg Cagle Brian Shay |
Cal Armstrong Ed Dickey Skip Fennell Bryan Meyer Kevin Dykema Zachary Champagne Scott Leverentz Chris Bolognese Rene Grimes |

Do you have thoughts to add? We’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment on Suzanne’s **blogpost**.

Do you have a question to ask? Check out our **#askT2T** page and the **T2T Teachers’ Lounge** to keep these conversations going.

**“The Miseducation of Number Sense in America or How to Lose $1 Billion in 365 Days or….”** Dina Williams @ADinamita1A humorous look at number sense and misunderstandings at California Mathematics Council Southern Section (CMC-South). CMC – South videos here.

**“Unraveling the Truth, or How Knitting Makes Us Better Mathematicians”** Monica Rock and Gretchen Muller @Grettamuller ‘needle you’ and show you how knitting made them better mathematicians at California Mathematics Council Northern Section (CMC-North). CMC – North videos here.

**“Mathematical Mastery from Ancient Africa to Urban America”** Chike Akua @ChikeAkua takes a look at the origins of mathematics from Ancient Africa and how to relate this information to today’s diverse student population. Explore and learn alongside with him. NCTM Philadelphia Regional videos here.

Here is a full list of PrimaryPoWs with **Teacher Packet [pdf]** links that include teachers’ stories in the **Teaching Suggestions** section:

3095 Try It Out

3191 Helping Hands

3215 Trail Mix

3359 Clowning Around

3467 Birthday at the Ballpark

3539 Pizza Night

3767 Apple Celebration

3791 Up, Up, and Away!

3803 Reading Superstars

4067 Ben’s Ice Cream Cone

4115 Who Has More Apples?

4175 Name That Shape!

4211 Picture This

4307 Growing Up

4439 The Eagle and the Bear

4451 How Many Berries Did I Eat?

4487 What Do I Have in My Bag?

4547 Building a Tower

4595 How Big Is Your Foot?

5027 Charlie’s Gumballs

Do you and your students have stories to share with us? We’d love to include them in our Teacher Packets! Please contact us.

]]>I used to think the same way. I have to cover x, y, and z by the end of the year and I wouldn’t have enough time to do the Math Forum Problems of the Week or problem solving or (fill in the blank of your favorite thing we don’t get to). This year I decided that I was going to do the Algebra Problems of the Week (PoW) with my Algebra 1 classes. On the first day of the new AlgPoW cycle, I project the scenario for my students. Our current routine is that I read them the scenario, students list their noticings and wonderings as I read it to them and for a moment or so afterwards. They then get about 2-3 minutes to share their noticings and wonderings with a partner. I then ask each group to share one notice, which I compile. Even if all of their noticings are up there, they have to tell me which notice they had and I add an asterisk to indicate that more than one group had it. After each group has had a chance to contribute, I ask for any additional noticings, which I add to the list. We repeat this for their wonderings. This whole process takes about 15 minutes total.

My students have made incredible strides just in their noticings and wonderings over the course of the first 12 weeks or so of school. The quality of their noticings and wonderings is far superior to where they were at the beginning of the year. Now they are looking more for the mathematics and their wonderings are more mathematical than they were at the beginning of the year.

Do we solve every problem in class? No. What will happen next is I will give them the Problem of the Week that has the question. They are expected to work on it outside of class. Right now, I am working with them to focus on attempting and revising a solution. When we have work time in class, they can be working on the PoW. I have some students who diligently use their class time to work on the PoW so that they can bounce ideas off of other students or ask me for some direction. Other students will work on submitting it online. Out of my approximately 70 Algebra 1 students, about 20 of them consistently submit at least one draft to a PoW. This is probably the biggest area I am struggling with right now. I would like this number to be higher. Since it is my first year doing this, I am just kind of going with the flow right now.

What is my goal with giving my students the PoW? I want them to be exposed to mathematical situations. I want them to be able to find the pertinent mathematics in a problem situation and be able to use it to solve a problem. My hope is that by the end of the year, my students are more confident in attempting these types of problems because from what I have seen on the PARCC exam, these are skills they will need to be successful on them. But most importantly, they are skills that they will need to be successful in solving any type of problem in life. Will they encounter quadratic equations in their daily lives? Probably not. But will they encounter problems? Yes. Being a good problem solver is an important life skill. If I don’t cover all of the material in my course, yes, they’ll be lacking a little bit when heading to the next course. But if they are good problem solvers, they’ll be able to figure it out and apply what mathematics they do know to the situation. The mathematics will come. Meanwhile, I will keep plugging away at helping my students be better problem solvers. I know it is time well-spent. I can see the improvement in my own students in just over 12 weeks (we are doing our 7th Noticing and Wondering / Problem of the Week).

So, Teacher, wherever you are, give it a try. And I don’t just mean give it one try. One is not enough. When we began, this is where my students started (you will find it at the beginning of the post). This is where my students were after 2 PoWs. This is where my students were after 4 PoWs. And now you see where my students are today (scroll further down in the post). 15 minutes of class time to do Noticing and Wondering every 2 weeks plus another 10 or so minutes of class time to pass out the problem and give some further direction (such as sharing all of the noticings and wonderings or having students look back at their own lists) isn’t a lot of time.

You don’t need to give up a whole day of instruction. A little bit at a time will help your students out. If you have a PoW membership, you can find PoWs that will work with what you are teaching right now, which will let you work with two things at once – reinforcing your content and teaching problem-solving skills. It took me three years to finally get there and I don’t regret doing it at all with my students. Just try it. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

This was originally posted by Lisa on her blog: An “Old Math Dog” Learning New Tricks.

]]>Classroom teacher and EnCoMPASS participant Andrew Stadel is excited about using CueThink. He recently posted on his blog: **“ I was giddy exploring this app for the first time; seeing how well it could support students through the problem-solving process, seeing the functionality for feedback, and having a teacher dashboard. …Think of the potential.”**

Do your students have access to iPads? Are you working with them to make sense of problems, talk mathematically with their peers, and persevere through the problem-solving process?

The best way to tap into the fun is to take a video tour on their website at cuethink.com and download the application. Already have a registered CueThink account? Take the next step and have your students Notice and Wonder using the CueThink platform.

Need support? sheela@cuethink.com and norma@cuethink.com are just an email away.

Help us by taking our brief survey.

]]>“**Why 2 is greater than 4: A proof by induction**” by Max Ray at the Key Curriculum Press Ignite event at Bartini’s during the 2011 NCTM conference in Indianapolis.

“**Ever Wonder What They’d Notice? (if only someone would ask)**” by Annie Fetter at the Key Curriculum Press Ignite event at Bartini’s during the 2011 NCTM conference in Indianapolis.

“**Unsilence Students’ Voices**” by Suzanne Alejandre at the Key Curriculum Ignite event at the 2012 CMC-North conference in Asilomar. Read the full paper here.

If you’ve never seen an Ignite talk before, prepare for a high-energy, fast-moving talk! In an Ignite talk, the speaker has exactly 5 minutes, and 20 PowerPoint slides, which automatically advance every 15 seconds… whether they’re ready or not!

Here’s Annie’s take on “Use appropriate tools strategically”:

If you liked this Ignite talk, check our AMTNJ 2014 Ignite Talks page, where we’ll be continuing to unveil one new Ignite talk a day from our event at the Association of Math Teachers of New Jersey 2014 meeting.

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