I participate in #elemmathchat on Twitter as often as I'm able. There are so many reasons I love these experiences. First, they make my world bigger. I get to talk math with educators from around the globe. These opportunities expand my thinking. Having access to a global network of teachers who are mathematicians has made me think about both math and teaching math in different ways.
These chats are held weekly from 9:00 to 10;00 PM EST. Each week is hosted by someone who pushes our thinking by asking questions. My favorite chats require that I do some math. Doing math with other educators and mathematicians enables me to participate in deep thinking and learning much like the learning opportunities I try to provide for my own students. This is beneficial on so many different levels. Having similar experiences enables me to be more empathetic. The chat is typically fast-paced and I get that it sort of has to be given the time constraints and the way that we participate. Sometimes, I get frustrated because I'm still working a problem when other participants are beginning to offer up solutions. I experience the same type of thoughts and emotions. I question my own ability to do math. I wonder if I am smart enough to even be in the conversation with the others. I get frustrated with myself and I fight the urge to quit once the answer is out there. So, in the classroom, I give kids an ridiculous amount of think time. Kids who solve quickly can develop proof that their solution works or can develop multiple strategies for solving the single problem while kids who process slower have the time they need to solve the question. When I open up the floor for sharing, all students have something to share. The other thing I can do is ask students how they started to think about the problem. This gives students a way to enter the conversation while not having everything figured out.
Having the opportunity to do math in this setting gives me a close-up look at how other math educators solve the same kinds of problems I'm solving. Being able to examine the work of other mathematicians has really deepened my understanding of the math and has allowed me to acquire more strategies for doing math. What I've realized over time is that looking at student work or talking to students about math also deepens my own understanding and helps me to gain strategies. This is not only important for my math learning but it is critical that my mathematics thinking evolves so that I can be the best teacher for my students. The more strategies I can share, the more flexible my own thinking, the better prepared I am to move my students forward in their math thinking and learning.
Tonight's host was Steve Wyborney (@SteveWyborney) who authors Math Splats found at the SPLAT section of his website. I loved this chat because Steve structured his lesson like all good teachers structure lessons. He provided a meaningful and important question for participants to consider at the beginning and then he provided us with experiences so that we could get a true sense of how our own students' learning might look and feel and then he asked us to synthesize the entire experience. These are three of his key tweets:
This chat really was an example of excellent mathematics professional development because it focused on both pedagogy and math content. It was especially good because it was fun. Even teachers like their math learning to be fun.
Steve Wyborney's SPLATS are really fun for kids. My fourth graders beg for his Fractions Splats. That's right, nine and ten-year olds ASK to do fraction work! Their experience learning fractions in school is thankfully a lot different than mine was. Anyway, Steve Wyborney's SPLATS force kids to go deep with their thinking. Rote procedures will not be enough to guarantee success with these puzzles. The SPLATS require students to use a variety of strategies to solve each puzzle. This requires students to think deeply and to grow flexible in their thinking. The best way for students to accelerate their success is to listen to their classmates, to work hard to understand their strategies, and to practice applying these new strategies to novel puzzles. Naturally, a classroom culture where collaboration is front and center is one of the other welcomed bi-products of using SPLATS.
Again, I find myself blessed to be teaching during a time when so many resources are available to me and so many experts make themselves readily available as teachers and mentors. If you haven't tried SPLATS with your kids get on it. You will have fun and so will they and you will be blown away by what you hear your students noticing and wondering. With very little prompting they will be thinking deeply and their learning will impress.
During the course of the chat, I got a little retweet from Steve and a little love from those in the chat. It is a tiny thing but really, it is the tiny things that validate our thinking and keep us curious.