Wednesday, August 6, 2014

People Circles

I'm lucky to flesh out some ideas with some great people at Encompass this week. Due to my recent fascination with circles, I had the chance to share an idea I've been wondering about for a few weeks now. I'm extremely curious where you would go with this idea and how you'd weigh in.

Say you have a room full of students or teachers (for a training).
You ask them to stand up and form a circle in the room.

You know how everyone immediately gets that awkward look on their face? The look where people are mentally calculating (or estimating) if there's enough room? Can we actually form something that looks like a circle? What if we can't form a circle, what do we do now? AGHHHHH!
Here's my idea: I'd want to know what size room you'd need to form a near-perfect circle with your students or teachers?

  • How would you facilitate this with students?
  • What questions would you ask?
  • What different question might you ask instead of the one I asked?
  • Can you even form a perfect circle?

I'll share some ideas next Monday or Tuesday, but I'm curious what you think first and appreciate any insight. GO!

People circles,

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Today was the first day of working as an EnCOMPASS fellow in Philadelphia. The Math Forum and Drexel University are our most gracious hosts. Make it a point to meet anyone from The Math Forum at your next math conference. They are such wonderful, interested, caring and giving people.

The Math Forum had us hard at work today as we used Google Hangouts to connect Philly fellows with offsite fellows, looking over PoWs (Problems of the Week) and the EnCompass software. You know when you work with the Math Forum, you're going to get a good helping of them asking us fellows, "What do you notice?" and "What do you wonder?" Since we're working on giving feedback, Annie Fetter gave us another gem: What would you love the software to do?

Another great part about the hangouts and looking over The Math Forum's site, is that I was able to listen to many other teachers share how they used The Math Forum's site and resources. In doing so, it gave me a chance to explore their site and peel back more layers of resources, support, and strategies I didn't know existed. For example, check out these beautiful links:
Our work hours were from about 8am to 4pm with a few breaks and lunch. Every working minute was productively spent engaging in some type of activity: discussions, gallery walks, reflections, exploring, commenting, etc. By the end of the work day, I was mentally exhausted. I've felt this way before. Sometimes at all-day conferences where you talk math all throughout the day and evening with people I've felt this way. I always need some type of break, some type of release or chance to decompress. I can't talk math all day nor want to. I might think or look for math all day, but talking it can be exhausting. Maybe I'm a wimp. So be it. However, I want to talk about more than math with people at conferences or some gathering like today's institute. I find it interesting to listen to people tell stories about non-math topics. So, thank you to everyone for sharing and not making it all about math.

This made me think about the daily mental exhaustion of a student. Let's randomly pick a percentage. How about 60%? I don't know. Let's say students are actively engaged 60% of the time at school? Okay, please disagree with me and pick your own percentage. This is super informal. Whatever you pick, take it and raise it to a percentage you'd like them to be at and don't make it 100%. Be realistic.

I raise my expectation to 85%. I'd like my students to be actively engaged in school 85% of the time, with 95% being my ultimate goal. I felt The Math Forum was able to gather some great things from people today because they broke it up and kept us actively engaged at least 90% of the time. I was exhausted, but it was a good exhausted. It wasn't like sitting in a chair all day at a conference listening to presenter after presenter deliver a one-way PowerPoint. Think of students and either subjecting them to a high level of engagement or subjecting them to teacher after teacher of un-engaging classroom time.

This post is longer than I anticipated. I want to think about this more, so here are questions I will continue to ponder:

  • What is constructive engagement and how should I (or we) define it?
  • What does constructive engagement look like in my class?
  • How do I get my students to be positively exhausted at the end of the day? 
  • On average, what percent of the time are students engaged in my class? at school?
  • How can I increase this percentage by un-engaging (breaking up the class time) them at times?
  • Would homework exist or should my students need a chance to decompress from my class? Did they get their fill for the day?
  • Would homework simply be blogging (as reflection), like I'm doing right now?