Prompting Questions with Visuals

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Questions are one of the biggest things I miss about having my own classroom – both asking and receiving. Thinking about how to ask better questions and also how to elicit better questions used to occupy a large portion of my planning time, and while I still get to do that on occasion, it’s much less frequently now.

One of the primary ways that it has been happening for me lately is through 3 Act Tasks and #VMathPLC (both of which could be entire posts in their own right!). Long story short, I’ve been trying out 3 Act Tasks wherever I can throughout my district and one of my biggest takeaways is how much better visuals can be at encouraging student questions compared to words. Give kids a word problem and they groan. Give them a picture (or show them a video) and all of a sudden there are all sorts of comments and questions!

Let me get more specific. One particular afternoon, I was supposed to be doing a 3 act task with an enrichment group of fourth graders. The original plan was Dane Ehlert’s Cookies task…which I had successfully done a week or so earlier with a similar group of kids at another school. However, as luck would have it, the video wouldn’t work, which, of course, I didn’t find out until I was standing in front of the students trying to pull it up. Yay for a think on your feet moment! Luckily, I remembered seeing Mike Wiernicki’s Olympic task that only relies on a picture rather than a video, so that became plan B.

Now, here’s the thing. Not only had I not prepped this lesson, but I really wasn’t expecting it to be that engaging for the kids…I mean, I had promised them a video and now they were getting a picture instead. In my head, that was like promising a cookie and then handing out broccoli or something. But, what else was I to do? So this went up on the board:

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And I asked, “What do you notice? What do you wonder?” The comments and questions poured forth…I was amazed! Observations about different colors and types of soda, about the rings representing the Olympics, about this display having to be from a while ago, etc. Questions about who made it, how many soda there were, how much the whole display cost, and more! And all I had done was show a picture.

I could go on and on about the awesome work these fourth graders did (they chose to try and figure out how much the display cost), but the biggest takeaway, and really what I intended to write about when I started, is that visuals, whether it be video or just a still image, have huge potential for creating meaningful student questions. That recognition of course, leaves me wondering about how to bring that type of experience into more classrooms on a regular basis, what the best ways are to integrate visuals with our curriculum (or how to pull from our curriculum to create them), and how to give teachers the knowledge and the freedom and the tools to do so. I also wonder how much of the engagement I’ve been getting is a novelty effect – the visuals are different than what they’re accustomed to with a math task, so of course they’re exciting. Would that wear off with time? How much would be too much? Are there more or less effective times and ways to use visuals? Just the start of even more questions I’m sure!

Sharing & Collaborating: A Favorite

Well, two (technically now three) weeks in, and I’m already behind. But, rather than focusing on that, here’s to catching up! I’m pretty linear, so I’ve got to do week 2 before week 3…anything else just won’t feel right to me. 🙂 So here goes…


Hands down, Google Drive is my absolute favorite for sharing and collaborating with teachers in my new role as a coach.* Whether it be trying to get resources out to multiple teachers in multiple buildings or working with teachers on common unit planning, Drive makes it possible. A topic assessment needs to be revised? I make the revisions and share it with my teacher leaders. A grade level is struggling with a particular concept? I look for resources I’ve developed or that are free online, stick them in a designated Drive folder, and they’re immediately available for use! An administrator meeting is coming up? I create an agenda and share it with the literacy coach so that we can both add our own items as needed. And that’s only the beginning.

Because my district has Google Apps for Education (GAFE), I also utilize Google Classroom in conjunction with Drive. Each grade level has its own “class”, as does my group of teacher leaders. For many teachers, this is an easier way for them to find resources, and for me, I love that I can create a document and share it out so that everybody gets their own copy. I’ve found this particularly helpful for sharing meeting agendas with my teacher leaders – they can see ahead of time what we’ll be working on, and can add their own notes about the topics beforehand as well as during the meeting.

Finally, my favorite part of my favorite is how it’s allowed me to create more authentic professional development with teachers. Lately we’ve been doing a lot of work around unpacking the standards and planning units accordingly. For each grade level team that I work with, I create a new folder and share it with just those teachers. Inside the folder, I put copies of templates that I’ve created, whether for unpacking the standard/s, thinking about differentiation, developing an outline for rotation activities, or whatever else is relevant to the team. Here are a few examples:



When we meet together only the headings are there…everybody opens up the document on their laptop and we start discussing and filling it in as we go. Because they are Google Docs/Sheets, whatever one person writes, everybody sees! It’s an amazing tool for keeping our conversation focused while also letting everybody contribute. Plus, whatever we add stays there in the shared folder for teachers to reference as often as they need once our PD is over (and has the added bonus of creating a record for me of the work that I’ve done with different grade level teams). Being able to facilitate these conversations through this collaborative editing work is by far my favorite coaching tool. Yay technology!


* Honestly, it would have also been my favorite as a teacher if it hadn’t taken so long for Google Docs to get up to speed with equations. But, since it wasn’t at a time when I was in need of formatting seventh grade math activities, Dropbox became my go-to. With the switch to coaching, I chose to go fully Google so that I can access everything I need regardless of where I am and what tech I have available.

(At Least) One Good Thing

This has been a crazy week – one of those where you hope you’ve caught all the important emails as they came in because you haven’t had time to actually read them all and you have about 50 million tabs open on your computer because of all the things you’ve started to do but haven’t yet finished. Despite being at the end of a double PD day with a family math night in the evening, I know that if I don’t write this now, it’s unlikely to get written. (Also, I don’t currently have the brain power to write up a model lesson using Cuisenaire rods to understand fractions on a number line, which is the other option for being productive!) So, here goes…

At first I thought it was going to be hard to find one good thing – nothing has really stood out this week or been so amazing that I’ve shared it with everybody I know. But then I actually thought back over the last few days, and I can’t help but come up with a plethora!

On Monday, teachers were incredibly engaged during their monthly math PLC…to the extent that I got paged via a whole-school announcement to come answer a question for a particular grade level! One grade level was exploring some new curriculum that they’re going to be testing out, another was reflecting on a new instructional model they’ve just started implementing, while still others were having phenomenal conversations about next steps and how to support students. It’s an honor to work with teachers who are so dedicated to what they do!

On Tuesday, I got to network with other math specialists and coaches in the area during the morning and had the unexpected chance to catch up with former colleagues in the afternoon. Not a particularly productive day in terms of output or direct work with teachers, but so refreshing to remember that I’m not in it alone and that the challenges exist across grade levels and contexts.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to start co-planning some fraction lessons with a teacher, talking about sequencing of skills and instructional supports and student engagement and so much more – all of the things I really miss thinking about on a day-to-day basis now that I’m without a classroom to call my own. I was also able to meet with another teacher to discuss a book we’ve both been reading (Putting the Practices into Action: Implementing the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice, K-8 – highly recommended!) and just touch base on ideas and resources for integrating the SMPs more fully into the classroom. Once again, a super rewarding part of my job.

And then today, on Thursday, although tiring, my two PD sessions went extremely well, the student whom I tutor totally rocked her modeling and explanation of subtraction with regrouping, and I got to watch families doing math together for an entire hour while having fun! What else can I ask for??

I suppose the moral of the story is that there’s good everywhere. I know there was at least one night earlier in the week where I called up a friend and ranted for at least ten minutes straight…but I can’t now recall what it was that was bothering me so much. When I think about my week, what I remember are the good things. And that’s the best thing!


Why “primemathblog”?

1. Why a blog?

Because one of my goals in 2016 is to become better connected professionally with the world outside my district…and because Explore MTBoS makes this a great place to start! I’m looking forward to giving myself time and space to reflect more deeply on my work and beliefs and to sharing thoughts and resources with a larger community.

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2. Why math?

I care about math partially because of the positions I’ve chosen to accept/pursue, but also because it’s helped me to narrow something so huge into something a bit smaller. Although being passionate about effective teaching and learning in elementary mathematics is by no means a small thing, it is slightly more manageable than education overall! Math is a place in which I both feel challenged and feel at home, and I love helping to create that same experience for others, whether that be students or fellow teachers.

3. Why prime?

Well, first of all, because prime numbers are my absolute favorite (to the extent that I set my alarm clock to a prime number every morning!). But, beyond referring to a number that is only divisible by one and itself, the word prime also has the following definitions:

Primes image(noun) the most flourishing stage or state

(adj) of the first importance; demanding the fullest consideration

(verb) to prepare or make ready for a particular purpose

These describe so well what I hope to accomplish in my work every day – to bring elementary mathematics to its most flourishing stage by making it of first importance and preparing teachers for this purpose!