Category Archives: Instructional Leadership

Recap: NCTM 2017

San Antonio, CA , April 2017
I have summarized each session with some simple (•) bulleted notes, red underline to encapsulate my major take-aways, and occasionally a brief italicized commentary.

Math Task Makeover with Desmos Activity Builder — Michael Fenton (Desmos), Jed Butler (Heritage HS), Bob Lochel (Hatboro-Horsham High School)

  • The Big Take-Away = Use Desmos activities to generate intellectual need to learn the lesson objective.”
  • Generate need for Graph of a Linear Inequalities ….

  • Generate need for Definition of Ellipses …

  • Start with informal investigation, then move to formal language.
  • Teacher facilitation is key.
  • Where to Learn more:

I’ve got to starting using the overlay function!

Numberless Word Problems in the Elementary Grades — Brian Bushart & Regina Payne (Round Rock ISD)

  • The Big Take-Away = Have students make sense of word problems prior to computation by removing the numbers.”
  • The origin: Press kids to stop just circling numbers in word problems and applying random operation.
  • Not all day every day. It is a tool for sense making.
  • Focus on the relationship and the operation, formal language, and what the question would be, not the answer.
  • #numberlesswp

This makes sense for secondary grades as well.

Rich Tasks as Landmarks for Students to Use in Navigating Their Mathematical Learning Journey — Peg Cagle (LAUSD)

  • The Big Take-Away = Students’ work on Landmark Tasks throughout the year that should be visible in the classroom so that students can map their learning.”
  • We don’t take advantage enough of narrative in math class.
  • “Imagine shrinking down an entire map to the size of an index card. All the details get lost and the map becomes unreadable. What are the landmarks that will help students navigate the mathematical landscape”.
  • Peg presented the criteria for a Landmark Task …

  • … and presented us with a LandmarkTask …

Tied Up in Knots: In your groups, measure the length, in centimeters, of the piece of rope that you have. Then tie a single overhand knot and remeasure the length. Repeat the process several times. Create a data table, graph and equation relating the number of knots to the the length of the rope.

  • … then she analyzed the task according to the criteria …

  • … and showed how this landmark was made visible in her classroom.

  • The Speech Bubbles were created by the students to make comments on other groups’ work.
  1. This is the second year in a row at this conference that I have seen Peg give a year-long, big picture vision of using tasks in the classroom.
  2. This is also the third presenter who has mentioned some variation the Speech Bubbles. Time to use them in my classroom.
  3. Peg made a statement that has me thinking deeply and that I have quoted several times already: “Students have ample amounts of robust evidence that they are not good in math.” We need to help them overcome that.

Changing Teacher Practices: Transforming Teaching 101 to PD 101 — Audrey Mendivil (San Diego County)

  • The Big Take-Away = Shift from Professional Development to Professional Learning.”
  • 5 Principles of Effective PD
    1. On-Going
    2. Support during implementation
    3. Model new practices
    4. Variety of approaches and active engagement
    5. Specific to discipline/grade level
  • Shift from Professional Development to Professional Learning

  • How to Change:
    1. Small Steps. Stick to only 2-3 short term goals.
    2. Rethink Our Norms:

  • Why PD often FailsHow can we set-up for success?
    1) Top-Down Decisions: How can you include teachers in the decision making process?
    2) Little or no support in transferring ideas to the classroom: What support is available?
    3) Idea that teachers need to be fixed: How are you communicating your why?
    4) Lack of variety in delivery modes: How can you differentiate for teachers?
  • Essential Elements. Audrey took us through a terrific activity for those who create Professional Learning experiences. She gave a sets of cards that were color coded, and asked us to work together to sort them into 4-6 groups, and then name the groups.
    She then shared how she grouped them (which is what the color scheme was for). The idea was to take ALL the things that we want teachers to know and do and rather than create a checklist for them, cluster these concepts into Themes or Essential Elements and have teachers learn that.

  1. This was yet another session at NCTM that focused on Vision and the need to put the WHY in front of teachers.
  2. The re-structuring of the norms resonated with me. I’m still thinking deeply on this one. The norms drive the culture of the meetings, so they offer great leverage.
  3. In her call to keep the list of goals short, Audrey discussed the need to set short-term, intermediate and long-term goals. This falls in line with the concept of “leading and lagging indicators.” Student data may take awhile to improve (lagging) so what are the improvements in teacher moves that we can credit to our PD (leading)?
  4. The objective of the card sort activity gets at the heart of what I see killing most PD in districts … too many short-lived initiatives. Keep the broader concepts in mind. Bigger, slower moving targets are easier to hit. 

The Struggle is Real: Tasks, Academic Status, and Productive Problem Solving — Geoff Krall (New Tech Network

  • The Big Take-Away = Developing a culture of productive struggle requires holistic vigilance on the relationships between Quality Tasks, Effective Facilitation & Academic Safety.

  • Protocols for Problem Solving
    1) Make it visual
    2) Estimate Before Solving
  • Record what students know…
    vs what they are assessed on.
  • Promoting Access:
    Example: Make the smallest (or largest) difference by filling in numbers 1-9 no more than one time each.

I am challenged by Geoff’s two graphs of the linear regression of student growth. My Claims-Based Grading needs a little more work in the area of reflecting cumulative knowledge rather than recent learning.

Logarithmic Earthquake Project: An Algebra 2 Project with Real Applications — Tanisha Fitzgerald-Williams & Beverly Heigre (Notre Dame High School)

  • The Big Take-Away = Have students view videos of earthquake damage and do their own research on Richter Scale, before formal presentation of calculating Magnitude difference with Logarithms.”
  • Step 1: Research

  • Step 2: Calculations





  • Step 3: Student Groups make Presentations
  • Note: Tanisha & Beverly also have students offer possible humane response to victims of earthquake presented.
  • There is a google drive folder available that contains materials for this projects:

Clothesline: The Master Number Sense Maker — Chris Shore (Me)

  • The Big Take-Away = Number sense and conceptual understanding of current content can be taught simultaneously with Clothesline Math.”
  • I presented the power of the Clothesline to teach Algebra, Geometry and Statistics.
  • #clotheslinemath

There were at least 5 sessions at NCTM Annual in which the Clothesline was a part or the focus of the presentation. 

Fun Sidenote: The ceiling rafters and the carpet print of the convention center had the same Geometric Pattern. I am sure there is lesson to be created out of this.

There are videos of keynotes, ShadowCon and Ignite
at NCTM’s Conference 2017 web page.

The city of San Antonio enhanced an already fantastic trip!




The 10% Challenge

leinwandI’ve heard Steve Leinwand say that it is unprofessional to ask teachers to change more than 10% a year. It is also unprofessional to ask them to change less than 10% a year.

I love this thought that we need to always be growing as professionals, but that our growth needs to be realistic and sustainable. However, I’m also challenged by what 10% change looks like, especially if I present this idea to my fellow teachers.

10-percentHow do you quantify professional growth?
How can you see this 10% change?

Then it struck me. 10% equals one-tenth, which is one out of every ten school days. That means Steve’s 10% is calling for us to try something new once every two weeks. That seems very doable for everyone. Imagine what a math department would like a year from now if every teacher tried something new and effective every two weeks. That would be a total of 18-20 days, or about a entire month of innovative instruction for each teacher. That sounds, realistic, sustainable and exciting.

Let’s all embrace Steve’s 10% Challenge.



Recap: Greater San Diego

logo-gsdmcThe Greater San Diego Math Council resurrected its annual conference. After a two year hiatus, Jason Slowbe, Sean Nank and their Council colleagues did miraculous work to bring GSDMC 2017 to life. This Glorious Day was worth all their efforts.

Opening Session (Four Bursts)
Rather than one keynote speaker, four presenters gave brief talks.

Observe Me
pic-kaplinskyRobert Kaplinsky (@RobertKaplinsky),
Downey USD, CA

Robert made two strong points:
1) The #ObserveMe practice, which calls for teachers to invite others to observe them. The key here is that very specific feedback is called for from colleagues.
2) The need for teachers to gain new perspective. Robert shared the story of Febreze. It is a very effective product that initially had a tough time selling, because people were nose blind; in other words, they did not realize how badly their houses smelled. Similarly, teachers will not buy into professional development until they recognize the need for change.  Therefore, we really need to do the work on changing teachers’ perspectives on the results of their practices.

Music Cues
pic-matt-vMatt Vaudrey (@MrVaudrey),
Bonita USD, The Classroom Chef

Matt is well-known for his use of Music Cues to save on transition time in the classroom. In fact, he showed how as much as 21 hours of instruction time a year (a whole month of school!) can be saved with the use of these cues. In my own class, I personally use four of the cues that Matt offers in his Google folder.

Social Justice in Math Education
pic-susie-hSusie Hakansson (@SusieKakansson),

Susie told the story of “Carol” and all the barriers to accessing rigorous math courses that she confronted as an Asian girl. Then she revealed that “Carol” was really herself and the experience she had growing up in the American school system. She called for more equity in access for all students, particularly in STEM courses.  “Don’t let test scores, skin color, or adults low expectations to prevent students from taking rigorous math courses.”

The Converging Future of Math and Computer Science
pic-pierre-bPierre Bierre (@pierrebierre),

Pierre  drew our attention to the growing number of computer Science courses being offered on high school campuses. Pierre went on to also share how programming can be a terrific problem solving tool in math class. This was a good primer for the number of sessions at the conferences that dealt with programming in math classes.

These quick presentations set a terrific tone for the conference experience.

Math Coaches Panel 
Brenda Heil (@BrendaHeil)
Bethany Schwappach (@MsSchwappach)
Chris Shore (Me) (@MathProjects)


Brenda, Bethany and I each offered up a 10 minute introduction of our roles as math coaches and a particular point of emphasis for math coaches to focus on. The rest of the session was open to questions fielded by our facilitator, Sean Nank.  The conversation was rich, and I learned a great deal from my panel colleagues.

brenda-slideBrenda is a TK, K-1 Coach in Escondido. Her biggest point was avoiding the badge of same… “If I work with a math coach, it means that I suck.” She instead insisted that math coaching training should be advertised as a resource for everyone.

Bethany is a Technology Coach for El Cajon.  She did something interesting by surveying math coaches, prior to the conference, with the question: “What are some of the greatest challenges Math Coaches are assigned to tackle?” The number one response was differentiating professional development for teachers. So Bethany offered two terrific ideas. The first was a Badge System for online “Anywhere, Anytime” PD, much like the structure of online mastery courses for students. The other was the promotion of omnipresent communication of the math coaching program to teachers.



I am a Secondary Math Coach in Temecula.  I declared that a math coach’s job is all about relationships as I shared out how many people I deal with to my south (teachers I serve), my east-west (coaching colleagues) and my north (administration). Because of this, the most important question to ask any of them is “How may I best serve you?”


I also offered three axioms that I believe all math coaches should base their work on. Each of them are quotes from famous researchers.

  • Axiom #1, Dr. William Schmidt, University of Michigan: The greatest determining factor in the quality of the education that students receive is the decisions that the teachers make on a daily basis.
  • Axiom #2, Dr. Kenneth Leithwood, University of Toronto: Indeed, there are virtually no documented instances of troubled schools being turned around without intervention by a powerful leader.
  • Axiom #3, Dr. Maggie McGatha, University of Louisville: The meta-research shows that math coaches are effective. We see small bumps in years 1 & 2, and large spikes in years 3 & 4.

The second one seem to resonate with this crowd.


From the questions and conversation I learned that …

  • …no two math coaching job descriptions are alike. Everyone’s daily routine was unique, but we all had a common goal… improve classroom math instruction.
  • … most math coaches are tossed into the position with very little support and training. Everyone, including administrators, deem this job important, but seem to be figuring it out as they go along. It was awesome to discover that San Diego County offers math coaching training. This is an idea that should spread to other counties as well.
  • … everyone is optimistic. Math coaches acknowledge that education has a long was to go in improving math instruction, but that we have all seen significant progress despite the challenges.

Clothesline: Algebra, Geometry & Statistics
Daniel Luevanos  (@DanLuevanos) &
Chris Shore (Me) (@MathProjects)

I loved presenting with Daniel. He is a Clothesline Math enthusiast who has developed some terrific ideas, particularly on systems of equations.

We demonstrated fractions, algebraic expressions, linear systems, solving multi-step equations, vertical angles, special right triangles and statistics (average, range, standard deviation).

pic-twitter-clotheslne-gsdmcMy favorite moment was during the Call to Action when Daniel challenged the teachers to use the Clothesline to enhance their own understanding of mathematics. So I surveyed the room by asking “How many of you today learned something about mathematics itself, not just the teaching of it?” Ninety percent of the room raised their hand!


21st Century Conference Ideas
I also want to give a quick shout-out to the GSDMC President, pic-slowbeJason Slowbe, and the rest of the Council for their willingness to experimentation with some new conference formats:

  1. Opening Session Burst: Instead of one keynote speaker, four presenters gave brief presentations within the same hour as the MC greeting.
  2. Genius Bars: Presenters were made available outside of their sessions for participants to meet and ask questions.
  3. Panel Sessions: 3-4 panelists share brief introductions and presentations (15 min), then the remaining hour was open to question by the audience.
  4. Working Lunches: People received their box lunch (part of the registration fee) and then were allowed to sit in the session rooms. Many of these rooms had exhibit presentations.
  5. pic-philippClosing Session Reflection and Evaluations: Closing speaker. Randy Phillip (@rphilipp), asked us all to reflect on one idea that we would take back to our classrooms. After giving us time to ponder, he asked for volunteers to share out publicly. It was an excellent way to have participants reflect on their conference experience and increase the chances of us committing to improve our instructional practices.

Recap: CA Mathematics Network Forum, 2015

Logo CAMNThe 2015 California Mathematics Network is a community of math education leaders from twelve regions in the State. This Conference focused on the NCTM publication Principles to Actions. The book is an amazing resource that discusses what needs to be done in math classes, and what actions need to be taken by teachers and administrators alike to make that happen. It should be read by anyone who has an investment in math education. A good primer is p 5, 10, & 109-116, or check out the Executive Summary. Following are some terrific ideas from the conference speakers on how to implement these Principles.

The Best of the Common Core Closes the Achievement Gap — Dr. Lee Stiff, former NCTM President

  • Lee StiffThe Achievement Gap can best be narrowed through Effective Teaching of the CCSSM Practices.
  • Where do these effective teachers come from? … “from our good work!” (as instructional leaders)
  • The primary purpose of Principles to Actions is to fill the gap between the adoption of rigorous standards and the enactment of practices, policies, programs, and actions required for successful implementation of those standards.
  • NCTM Guiding Principles
    (from Principles to Action)
    Teaching and Learning
    Access and Equity
    Tools and Technology
  • NCTM Teaching Practices
    (from Principles to Action)
    1. Establish mathematics goals to focus learning.
    2. Implement tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving.
    3. Use and connect mathematical representations.
    4. Facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse.
    5. Pose purposeful questions.
    6. Build procedural fluency from conceptual understanding.

    7. Support productive struggle in learning mathematics.
    8. Elicit and use evidence of student thinking.
  • Student placement and support should be based on DATA not DEMOGRAPHICS.
  • We create the gap!!
    Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 10.50.39 PM

Teaching Practices that Support Student Learning of Mathematics — Peg Smith, University of Pittsburgh

Peg Smith PicDr. Smith had us read through a well-known task, the Hexagon Train, and then analyzed it through the lens of each of the Teaching & Learning Principles in Principles to Actions (Summarized Below):

Hexgon Train



1. goals
2. tasks
3. representations
4. discourse
5. purposeful questions
6. procedural fluency

7. productive struggle
8. evidence of student thinking

  • It’s all about the task. Choosing the task really matters.
  • “What you put in front of the students frames their opportunity to learn the mathematics.”
  • Have your questions “locked and loaded,” and your responses “in your back pocket.”
  • It’s time to break out of the “postage stamp” lesson plan, (the homework, & examples fit in a little box), and write analytical, anticipatory lesson plans. (This one needs a cute name, too)
  • It’s difficult for teachers to use a high level task. It’s even more difficult for them to use it well.
  • Decrease the complexity of language without decreasing the cognitive demand of the task.
  • “Never Say Anything That a Kid Can Say.” (Article)
  • Writing “SWBT” objectives limit what students learn. Is the goal really to be able to find the length of the hypotenuse or to understand the relationship of the areas of the squares formed by the three sides of a right triangle?
  • Dr. Smith is the co-author of 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Discourse in Mathematics Class.
  • Dr. Smith shared this Principles to Action Tool Kit:

Dr. Smith then asked us to restructure a standard series of textbook questions into a more robust task. The conversation at my table was very rich. It was a briefer version of a lesson makeover, and would be an awesome PD activity.

Smarter Balance Update — Mary Tribbey & Jane Liang

This slide makes two BIG statements:

  1. The Red Dot () is along a timeline from the start of the assessment initiative to full implementation. We are still in the early stages of perfecting it.
  2. There do exist Interim Assessments that few schools (including mine) are using to check for student readiness.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.52.34 AM

This day was the first I heard of the scaled score for the reporting of the test. It appears that there will now be some reporting on the standards as well as the claims, after all.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.53.08 AM


Equity-Based Teaching Practices — Karen Mayfield-Ingram, EQUALS Program, UC Berkeley

  1. Mayfield PicGoing Deep with Mathematics
  2. Leveraging Multiple Mathematical Competencies
  3. Affirming Mathematics Learner’s Identity (multiple access points)
  4. Challenging Spaces of Marginality (diminish status within class)
  5. Drawing on Multiple Resources of Knowledge (including culture and experience)

Lesson: “He Was Suspended for Being Mexican” (excerpt from The Impact of Identify in K-8 mathematics Learning and Teaching) This was an anecdote of a teacher who took a students statement, “He was suspended for being Mexican,” and turned into a statistics lesson in which the students had to analyze data to determine if the school policies truly were racist or not. While we can’t tie every topic into a student-oriented context, I think it is a powerful idea that should be done more often.

Technology & Computation — Joe Fielder, Cal State Bakersfield

  • Pic FeidlerAll computation outside the classroom is done by a machine.
  • Machine computation is mostly done with spreadsheets.
  • Hand calculations are only done in math classes. (referenced TED talk by Conrad Wolfram)
  • If we are going to teach students mathematics that is relevant beyond the college entrance exam, we need to give explicit instruction on the tools of computation.
  • TI InspireDr. Fiedler is currently working with the college board to change the SAT to reflect computations done by hand-held graphing calculators.
  • The introduction of the first scientific calculator 1972 was controversial, because teachers were worried that students would no longer be able to use tables.
  • “Students are idle, indifferent, irresponsible in response to absurd work. This is a rational response!”
  • There is no change without a loss. If there is no loss, there is no change. Similarly, literacy diminished the need for memory, but we still teach students to read and write.
  • Yes, part of education’s job is to pass on old knowledge, but it’s not the entire job. It’s time to get with the times.

BREAKOUT: Exploring the Common Core Statistics & Probability Standards — Jim Short, Ventura County Office of Ed

  • Pic Jim Short“Statistics means never having to say your certain.” The irony is that this is what makes math teachers uncomfortable with stats.
  • Teachers are avoiding the teaching of statistics, but the ponderous of the Performance Tasks on State Tests are based on Statistics and Data Analysis.
  • Statistics is more important than Calculus. (referenced TED talk by Benjamin Arnold)
  • From the GAISE Report,
    4 Components of Statistical Problem Solving
    I.   Formulate Questions
    II.  Collect Data
    III. Analyze Data
    IV. Interpret Results
  • You aren’t teaching statistics unless you are teaching modeling.Here are some great tools that we used in the session to generate statistical displays in a spreadsheet:
    g(math) {Google Sheets add-ons}
    Geogebra {box-n-whisker}

    Core Math Tools {NCTM}
    =norminv(rand(), means.d.)” {Excel Macro for generating a set of normalized data}
    Stats vs Prob

BREAKOUT: The Right Answer is Not Enough — Ivan Cheng, Cal State Northridge

  • PIc Ivan ChengWhat the teacher assesses is what the students think that the teacher values.
  • How is “doing math” defined differently under Common Core versus NCLB? How you answer that questions, determines how you teach and assess under the new standards.
  • After a test, if the teacher can’t state what the student misconceptions are, then the teacher needs to do some more digging.
  • Teachers should use assessment questions that intentionally reveal misconceptions.
  • Why “a” student missed a question is as important as which question they missed.
  • Clicking Smarter Balanced ASSESSMENTS (in SBAC navigation bar) will take you to documents that map targets to standards.
  • “Think about getting through to the kids instead of getting through the textbook.”
  • This sample question demonstrated why the students have issues with the new assessments. The students instantly think that the answer is “20,” because x = 20. Since 20 is not a given situation, they often choose “D: Neither.”

Inequality Sample

My Big Take-Aways

  • The achievement gap can be closed by the effective teaching of the Math Practices.
  • It’s all about the task!!
  • Two Big Words kept coming up: Meaningful & Equity. Equity is achieved by giving all students access to meaningful, high-level mathematics.
  • Get with the times, and start using technology in order to move from computation to deeper, higher mathematics.
  • There are some amazing tools available for Statistics tasks. This is a pervasive topic that needs serious attention and support.
  • Our assessments communicate what we value. The assessments are changing, because our goals are changing. Therefore, we teachers must change our values and practices.
  • We should all read Principles to Action.
  • The Region 10 Team is an amazing group of intelligent, passionate people. I look forward to seeing how we will put all these principles into action.

Region 10