Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Math Workshop Musings: WE ARE the GOOD STUFF!

Years ago, my district adopted the Bridges Math Program. Thus began an era of teacher angst, quiet and loud rebellion, and desperate determination.  I gnashed my teeth along with my colleagues, but I vowed to give it a fair shake.

Today,  I find myself reflecting on how I've changed as a math teacher.  The Bridges Math Program changed how I teach math.  I am now a manipulative-based math teacher.  I use games consistently, and push myself and my students to see math everywhere. As painful as it was leaving the traditional math program we had had, Bridges did one thing for my pedagogy: It made me reclaim my creativity.

You see, I was that student who never had to really work hard in school, unless I was learning math.  My mom, a teacher herself, tried to help me, but we were like oil and water together.  And so, I would end up at the dining room table with a box of Kleenex and my father, who quickly became the delegated math teacher in the family.   It wasn't until I was in college that I realized that I am good at math.  I had a lovely professor who valued my outside-the-box thinking. That semester, I learned that I am a creative mathematical thinker. 

This past week, my principal observed me teaching math for the second time this year.  Usually, I'm observed teaching writing or reading for my evaluations.  I used to be a literacy coach in our district.  It's content with which I am confident.  But this year, I requested that she observe my math workshop.  I've had one huge goal this year: My students will be able to explain their thinking, especially their mistakes.  This breaks down to these three things:

  1. My math workshop will be student-centered.  My voice is secondary to their voices.
  2. I will expect my students to make their thinking visible.
  3. My students will view math creatively, and their outside-the-box thinking will be celebrated.
I accomplished these things using many traditional methods. But I also tried some untraditional things too!  When students made their thinking visible on graffiti boards or in their math notebooks, I copied them and put a clip art frame around them.  I hung the "frames" on the wall, as if they were works of art.  Students signed their math as they would a painting. 

When a student said something in math class that "gave us goose-bumps," I wrote it down, as if I were quoting a famous author.  I displayed their words on our math wall on fancy sentence strips, as I would a quotation of Einstein's.  

We tallied up all the different ways we could solve one story problem.  Students named their strategies like "Jared's Break Apart Strategy" or "Cassie's Leap Frog Strategy."  These strategies were displayed on the wall, and students began trying each other's problem solving routines. 

I also used thinking routines from Ritchart's  Making Thinking Visible. We used these weekly in our math journals, and I often used my visible thinking organizers as comprehension checkups throughout our math units.

We also connected mathematical concepts to non-mathematical situations or stories. For example, we described mixed numbers and improper fractions as long lost twin siblings that ran into each other at the airport.  Mixed Number dresses in suits and ties while Improper Fraction wears flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts, often sticking French fries up his nose when he eats in public.  He is improper, you know!  We told stories about the geometry families. 

My proudest math moment this year, so far, was this past week. My administrator was in observing. She leaned down to ask one of my students about how he thinks decimals relate to fractions.  He launched into the long lost twin story, explaining that decimals are actually a triplet sibling that no one knew about until now.  "They're siblings because they represent the same amount, Mrs. S."
No doubt, Mrs. S. now understands decimals a bit better. 

Made my heart sing.

That's what a non-traditional resource like Bridges has done for me.  It's not perfect. Nothing ever is.  The traditional resources were far from perfect, as well.  However, after 24 years of teaching, I've learned that a resource is JUST that...a resource.  It is not curriculum. It is not good teaching.  It is not differentiation. It is not thinking made visible.  It is not good pedagogy.  It is simply a resource.  The good stuff starts with us. We're the good stuff.

                                                                   Until next time, teach on, my friends!
                                                                       Tracy @

If you want to learn more about the "good stuff" I use daily, see below!