Covington’s Math Teachers: Meeting Their Students Right Where They Are in Their Learning Journey

 Covington’s 7th grade PLC decided to tackle a common problem by collaborating and ultimately creating a “just-in-time” learning experience for their students.  This team of math teachers wanted to figure out how they could support their students in filling in knowledge gaps while still moving forward with the 7th grade math standards.

We all know firsthand that if we aren’t using a subject or chunk of knowledge, we are apt to forget it. With this acknowledgement in mind, the teachers decided to use their PD time to create a data base of videos, notes and practice that students can access any time via ItsLearning and OneNote.

The goal is for students to access this digital resource twice a week for 20 minutes while the teachers meet individually with five-eight students during this work time. While the rest of the class is accessing this “just-in-time” content, the teachers are conferring with students on an individual basis and learning more about each student’s learning journey.

Linking the Known to the New


I have a confession to make. Despite working in the curriculum department, despite quite a few years in this education field, and despite reading, researching, and hours of discussions with colleagues…I’m still trying to figure out what personalized learning is.

Good news, though, if you’re sitting next to me on the same gently rocking boat–it’s OK. We still have time. In my case, things became clearer when I listened to students.

Last Monday night I drove my two boys to Covington Middle School for their 6th grade orientation/showcase night. Wearing both my educator and dad hats, we toured familiar hallways (to me, at least; my 5th grader’s eyes bulged a bit at the rows of lockers and the open staircase in the entry, “Is this school really TWO WHOLE STORIES?”). I slyly introduced him to some 6th grade teachers, and embarrassed him in front of Mr. Gourde, the principal (“I can text him anytime, you know.”). Continue reading “Linking the Known to the New”

The Power of Brain Breaks

As I was reading 17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong17,000 Classroom Visits Can’t Be Wrong by John Antonettti (our keynote speaker for One by One 2017), I learned some very interesting facts about the human brain. Antonetti, in turn, discovered these facts from Brain Rules, a book written by molecular biologist John Medina. One of the twelve big ideas in Brain Rules includes the notion that exercise boosts brain power.

I saw this firsthand with Brian Pederson’s 8th grade math students when I visited his classes.  Brian says, “Sometimes I can just tell that they (my students) are very tired and need an energy boost, or just something to make their brains kick on again.”  As a result, he tries to have a brain break each class, specifically during the last half of class. From what I saw, his students very much look forward to them.

Brian said that  brain breaks usually last about 5 minutes but some can go longer or shorter. When he and his students are pressed for time, he “will sometimes have them do a very quick, 30-second break, such as ‘go high five 10 different people’ or ‘go and touch 10 non-adjacent chairs.’ The students appreciate even the small breaks.”


I asked his students to capture some of the brain breaks on video for us to share with other classes.This video gives you a view into one of the many brain breaks that Brian uses to re-energize and re-engage his students throughout his 80 minute periods.  This one is called “Pass-Clap”.  Brian is more than happy to share his resources…thanks, Brian!

Student-Driven Learning

As we think more about student agency and how we can help our students learn for the sake of the excitement and power of learning, we are challenged to change how we approach our lesson planning. Rather than be lesson planners, I wonder if we are called to be lesson designers with a forward-thinking approach focused on helping our students become more active learners in our classrooms.,

In the article The Continuum from Teacher-Controlled to Student-Centered Learningauthors Kallick and Zmuda provide seven variables that factor into transitioning from teacher-driven to student-driven learning, in essence, personalized learning. They are:

  1. Learning Goals
  2. Inquiry and Idea Generation
  3. Task and Audience
  4. Evaluation
  5. Feedback
  6. Instructional Plan
  7. Cumulative Demonstration of Learning.

The authors share that a teacher who wants to personalize instruction can “ turn the volume up or down, amplifying or reducing the amount of student agency as the teacher and students begin to feel more comfortable with student self-direction.” They liken this to how an audio technician uses a sound board.  Image result for soundboard

As you take a few moments to read their short article, you will see concrete examples for each of the seven variables on how to transition from teacher-centered to student-centered learning…what they call the “personalizing sound board”.

Math Anxiety

I wonder how many of us experienced some degree of math anxiety as we moved through our required  math courses and how many of us pursued another subject due to the knots and angst in our stomachs. Perhaps just the title of this blog post brought back unpleasant memories of your own mathematical encounters.

I remember struggling with and dropping out of my high school trig class and being chastised by a college professor who informed me in front of the class that “You are stupid.” Yet, I still saw math as challenging, rewarding and exciting all at the same time. This is why I chose to persevere, ignore the insults and pursue both my Bachelors and Masters in Mathematics. I felt accomplished and as if I could tackle challenging problems outside of math and be a contributing, problem-solving team member.

In Math Anxiety, Jo Boaler shares five reasons why math anxiety is still prevalent in our educational system.

  1. Math is taught as a performance subject. Students see their role in math as to get the correct answer.
  2. Communication to students centers around either having a math brain or not in spite of the fact that all students can learn math.
  3. Math is often taught as a series of procedures and calculations rather than an opportunity to be creative and collaborative.
  4. Math is not portrayed as an opportunity to struggle, to dig deeper and to generate ideas.
  5. Math seems to be the subject that has the most homework.

As I read these, I easily saw how, at times, my teaching fell into several of these areas and wished I could have a mulligan and better meet the needs of my students.

Research by Ashcraft and Krause indicates that math anxiety “severely impacts student’s ability to enjoy math, motivation to take more math or do well in math.” As math educators, we get this and we continuously battle with the age-old stigma of  “You either get math or you don’t”.  We have the opportunity, though, to change this and mold our students’ thinking to perceive math as both pleasantly frustrating and exciting as well as to believe that they can be successful at it; in other words, they can become mathematical thinkers!

Mathematical Thinker



Normalizing Math Discussions Outside Of The Classroom

log truck

How many logs are stacked on the bed of the truck? How did you count? 

Fact is, we’ve all been stuck with this view, and more likely the first question that comes to mind is, “How soon can I get around this truck?”

Which is the better deal? How many caramels come in a pound? 

caramel comparison

What do you notice in this picture? What do you wonder?


We encounter math every day in a variety of situations, however it is rare that it is brought up in every day conversations within the homes of our students.

So…how do we get parents involved? Gain interest in talking about math without feeling intimidated? Start conversations with their children that construct understanding and number sense? John Stevens (@jstevens009) is working to foster these exact kind of discussions within the home in his new text Table Talk Math. If you are looking for a resource to support family involvement in the area of mathematics, look no further. This inviting text provides parent assistance in understanding how to support math fluency, provides prompts to discuss mathematics and build number sense in an informal and enjoyable way.

table talk math.JPG

Subscribe to John’s site for free newsletters to promote math conversations (many available in Spanish).


Supporting our students and immigrant families in turbulent times…

I’ve been in several buildings in the past months and I have seen first hand and heard from teachers in the field, that our students and immigrant families are stressed with the recent increased enforcement of immigration policies.

…And ‘stressed’ is putting it mildly.

No matter what your political affiliation is, supporting our students and making sure they feel safe in their learning environment is a primary concern for any educator. If children, even the big ones, being scared for their family’s security doesn’t tug at your heart strings then at least an understanding of the impact of stress on the learner’s brain should give us pause.

This issue became even more apparent when I attended a recent “Immigration 101” session held at ASC. Families of immigrants were in attendance to hear about their rights and how the latest immigration policies and enforcement are impacting families of students in our community. The thing that stands out when you are in a room full of immigrant families is the level of concern these parents and guardians have for their children. Many families are facing the realities of being torn apart by detainment or deportation. There was talk of creating a safety plan should a parent or guardian be picked up or detained by ICE. Sadly, many families have reached the conclusion to leave their children behind should the parents be deported.

I myself, cannot imagine the daily stress of not knowing if my parents were going to be home when I return from school. Some students, students who are here legally, born in the United States, have been asked by their peers “So when are you going back to (fill in the blank with assumed country of origin)?” Even when these questions aren’t intended maliciously, our students still suffer anxiety. Some high school students who are on a path to graduation and college are having to make difficult decisions. One student is facing a decision to continue on the education path he has worked hard to achieve in order to stop school entirely to work full time so money can be saved for his possible deportation.

So what can you do? What can any of us do? 

Dr. Catherine Carrison, EPS ELL Department Manager, recently gave a talk at the Evergreen Faith Based-Coffee. She shared the following advice to community members:

faith based coffee ELL

  •  Educate yourself so you can tell the “Counter Story” of our children and their families. People who don’t know our families like we do may not know or realize the value our immigrant families add to the fabric of our community. Emphasize the assets our diverse students bring to our classrooms. The media and politicians have their versions of who our students are, but we know them best. Knowing a student means caring about him or her as a human being, a person with a name and a story, not just a statistic.
  • Advocate for multilingualism and multiculturalism. Emerging bilinguals in our schools bring many assets to our classrooms and our community. Diversity in our classrooms promotes diversity and creativity in thinking and innovation. An important new study by economists Quamrul Ashraf of Williams College and Oded Galor of Brown University help us understand the economic benefits of a diverse population. “Cultural Diversity, Geographical Isolation and the Origin of the Wealth of Nations,” recently released as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research. It finds that “the interplay between cultural assimilation and cultural diffusion have played a significant role in giving rise to differential patterns of economic development across the globe.” To put it in plain English: diversity spurs economic development and homogeneity slows it down.
  • Promote a message of advocacy and compassion for our children and their families. Be a “safe place.” This goes beyond our schools being safe-havens where ICE raids cannot legally occur without prior consent. This speaks to our attitudes and mindset about how we consistently work to build a sense of community and trust within each of our classrooms. Some great resources on restorative practices and mindfulness have been implemented in our buildings and the impact is evident. Learn more about these resources by contacting Carl Smith, EPS Special Services Assistant Director.
  • Pay attention to your government – WA State has more ELLs than all but seven other states (137,000+ or 10%). The old adage goes: “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”. Use your voice and your vote in local elections and government agencies to promote your concerns and values.
  • Volunteer at your local school! As educators we obviously are not ‘volunteering’ our time but we can encourage more diverse community members to be in our classrooms. Contact your community liaisons to recruit  volunteers that can be models for diversity themselves and bring in community members to get to know the diverse learners in our classrooms.

Learn more about information for families and educators by following the links below:

Information for Families of Immigrants

Information for Educators about Immigrant Students