MCTM Pop-up Session * 5 Favorites

Hello friends.  This post has resources from a MCTM Duluth Session on April 28th, 2017.  On the Sunday prior to the conference, I contacted 5 of my favorite people not speaking at the conference and asked them to present a 9-minute burst on their ‘favorite thing’ of the past year.  Without much time (4 days) each presenter did a phenomenal job of giving us a glimpse at something pretty cool in their classrooms.  What I know for sure is that when we share what we are passionate about others are always intrigued to look further.   Below is a short summary of what each shared along with resources and of course a few thoughts from myself.

I served as host for this session and introduced each speaker along with sharing a slide of some of my favorite things.  Let’s begin.  What do these 5 pictures have in common?

5 favorite things

do you know?

I’ll give you a hint.

These 5 pictures are lyrics to a well known song.

The song is from a movie.

The movie came is from the first movie I saw in a theater.

I am 48 years old.

Still need a hint?


Yes!  These pictures represent the lyrics to Julie Andrews song ‘A few of my favorite things’ from the Sound of Music.

5 favorite thingslyrics

There are 5 Favorite things mentioned in this song.

5I’ve used this idea of 5 ‘favorite things’ for a monthly feature in the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics communication tool, MathBits (check out one of our monthly features HERE) and thought we’d use it also to share with you 5 favorite things from Minnesota Math teachers from around the state.

Let’s get started with my 5 favorite people!

#1:  Megan Rubbelke. I love having an emergency sub plan ready to go!

Megan is a first year high school math teacher in Grand Marais, Minnesota (pretty darn close to Canada on the shores of lake superior).  Megan was my student teacher last year and has kept in contact this year via the #MTBoS community.  She is hard-working, reflective and a learner.  I loved what she had to share.

diamond puzzlesMegan found ways to include logic puzzles into her classroom.  Students begged to do them.  Megan loved using these puzzles as her emergency sub plans as well (and who among us does not want ideas for an emergency sub plan).  I was impressed that she shared puzzles I’ve never seen (for some reason I sometimes feel like I’ve seen everything).  I love how you can use these to sneak in practice with fact fluency.

find the factorsRESOURCES

I thought I’d add a few other posts that I’ve found interesting from the #MTBoS community.  Also check out:

#2:  Karen Hyers. I love my white boards & here is why!

Karen started her presentation by saying:  “This is the best $20 I’ve ever spent…..on my classroom”.  Wow, that caught my attention.  Here is why.

Karen is a High School teachers in the northeast suburbs of the twin cities.  Karen is very involved in mathematics leadership in AP, NCSM and most recently a VP of High School with MCTM.  Karen shared her love of white boards and what she has learned in using them.  My favorite part is that she brought in a variety of sizes she uses and shared easy ways to create them.

(coming soon I will share her links for creating these on your own)

white boards karen

Karen talked about how whiteboards have increase student collaboration in her classroom.  She also talked about her vision for next year and how she plans to turn her wall spaces into white boards so she can do more of what Mark talks about next.

I was inspired by Karen, because she did not let the limitations of her space stop her from doing this.  She made her own.  She went to Home Depot and spent $50 to stock her room and her co-workers rooms with white boards for every group.  Amazing.  She figures it costs $20 for one room.  Here is how Karen made this happen:

Materials needed for Do-It-Yourself White Boards:

  • 4′ x 8′ sheet(s) of white board paneling available at Home Depot, Menards, Lowes (one option linked HERE)  They will cut it to size in the store. I use 2′ x 2′ for group work, others use 1′ x 1′ for individual work. The edges will be splintered. Use duct tape around the edges for safety. (Duck tape comes in cool colors that I used to make a different border for each group.)
  • There are rolls of dry-erase film that can be applied to walls, desks, cabinets, old black boards manufactured by 3M and off brands. The least expensive is at Walmart linked HERE
  • Double-sided individual boards may be purchased from multiple suppliers. The flexible ones do not erase well. The ones I like best are from EAI Education linked HERE and the Markerboard People linked HERE.

#3:  Mark Kingsbury. I love building a thinking classroom (vertical white-boarding)!

Mark is a high school teacher in the southwest suburbs of the twin cities.  Mark has been very involved in the math community of Minnesota and I had never heard him speak.  My gut is that he would be good and boy was I correct.  Mark needs to be sharing his learning wider.  Mark was inspired by the work of Alex Overwijk and ultimately Peter Liljedahl and his ‘building a thinking classroom’ research.  On twitter and through his blog Alex has inspired many teachers to transform their classrooms and incorporate ‘Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces’ (#VNPS on twitter) to engage students in discourse.

Many people call #VNPS ‘white-boarding’, but the key difference here is this surface must be vertical.  Mark talked about his experience in his classroom and the transformation in students engagement and quality of discussions.  Here is his room.

Mark's classroom

Wow, this is a goal for all of us, to have a classroom that looks like this.  You know where this photo came from?  His principal’s twitter feed.

principal tweet

There are worse reasons to pursue building a thinking classroom than doing something that principals everywhere value.  Be bold try this out.  To learn more about ‘building thinking classrooms check out these resources:

#4:  Manju Connoly. I love the #MTBoS search engine and the Banana/Coconut problem!

Manju is currently a Secondary Math Ed Student at the University of Minnesota. She is also currently student teaching in my classroom.  Like Megan earlier, Manju is a future leader in mathematics education and I wanted her speaking now,  early in her career.  Manju shared this problem I had found on twitter and she loved how we used in our classroom.  Solve this:apples

Be careful.  The answer is NOT 16.

It is NOT 15 either.

When Manju used this in the classroom she had pairs of students stand up with this visual in their hands.  After students worked together for a few moments students, she said to the class, ‘The answer is not 16.’ and you heard an audible gasp from students who then looked for their mistake.  We used this visual to talk to students about the importance of looking at all the details in a problem.  Students often work quickly and look for fast solutions.  This is where we make mistakes.  (Note:  the answer to this problem is 14.  Do you know why?  Look at the picture closely – especially the coconuts and bananas.)

As we entered our unit on ‘solving systems of equations and inequalities’ you would often hear Manju say to the class ‘watch out for the banana’s and coconuts’ in place of saying ‘be careful’ or other things like that.  Students knew exactly what she meant and looked for details in graphs, equations and word problems that would help them solve problems accurately.

mtbos search engineManju then shared her sheer joy about the #MTBoS community and especially the #MTBoS search engine that has proved to be most helpful in helping her find resources for student teaching.

I loved her sharing the 8 steps of acceptance of #MTBoS.  Manju started out not believing me that it was awesome and her co-major is in Psychology.  I think we could all learn a lot about our peers resistance to #MTBoS in her 8 steps.  Check them out:

8 Steps for MTBoS Acceptance
  1. Avoidance
  2. Resistance
  3. Exploration
  4. Curiosity
  5. Using
  6. Sharing
  7. (lots of time)
  8. Sara VDW level

I love how she started with avoidance and resistance.  How many of us know teachers in these steps.  Manju is currently in steps 6 and 7.  Manju has become an evangelist for #MTBoS.  She is spreading the word to pre=service teachers and frankly any math teacher she meets.  We’ve created a monster.  Not really, Manju is a young mathematics educator leader.

#5:  Ali Rubin. I love incorporating movement into my classroom!

Ali is my great friend and a former co-worker of mine.  She is not only a great Middle School math teacher at a K-8 in Minneapolis, she is also a Dance teacher.  (literally the only licensed math and dance teacher in Minnesota).  Ali will be doing a full post on this topic on my blog soon (We film May 18th), but she has incredible ideas for how to incorporate movement into your math classroom without taking time away from rich mathematical discussions.

Ali started her presentation standing on a chair and invited the participants to do the same.  They did.on chairs

alis brain breakThen Ali taught us her favorite Brain Break Movement Activity ‘Happy and Sad Numbers’. Ali demonstrated, holding chart paper, having participants from their chairs yell out a number and she then placed it in a column as a ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ number.  After 5+ numbers we all started looking for a pattern in the numbers.  What made a number happy?  Participants continued to guess.  After 10 or more of us had guessed numbers and jumped off our chairs a pattern emerged.  Eventually we found a rule for this pattern of ‘n squared plus 1’.  It took minutes.  We moved.  We were engaged.  We did math.  Ali is full of ideas like this.  I look forward to sharing a blog full of her ideas with videos so you can see this for yourself.  I will link the post her when it is complete (hopefully early June).

Thoughts from your host, Sara VanDerWerf

Between the 5 amazing 9-minute presentations I shared a list of my favorite 5 things.  Here they are:

  1. My nephew.  He turned 5 a week before the conference.  He loves counting forward and backward.  I love Christopher Danielson’s ‘Talking Math with your Kids‘ website and hashtag #tmwyk for ideas of talking with my own nephew and his younger brothers about math.caleb
  2. My favorite question in the classroom.  I am a vocal huge fan of Annie Fetter’s ignite video titled ‘do you ever wonder what they notice’.  It is simply the best 5 minutes of PD, period.  I am such a huge fan I made buttons to remind me of the question ‘What do you notice’ and shared them with others at the conference.  If you want one, let me know.  what do you notice button
  3. My favorite new thing in my classroom this year is my ‘play table’.  my play tableI will be blogging about it soon as it inspired a classroom task that was amazing.  I love it so much because it results in this happening every day in my classroom (and then I mess it up for something new the next day).  IMG_3783More importantly though, I love my high school classroom play table because it results in this daily.  because it looks like thisMore in a future blog on why you need one for your classroom.
  4. 4 years ago I made a ‘Math Wall of Shame’ (now called #mathfails) and shared 150+ math fails I’ve found via my blog in this post and this post.  I plan to share another set of 50+ #mathfails I’ve found in the last year including this one from a business located in central Minnesota.  My students love looking at the fails and talking about them.  I highly recommend these for your classroom.360
  5. I also love an experiment I did recently to post puzzles in the hallway outside of my classroom.  You can read about it here.  You need to do this.Caught you!
  6. BONUS.  I tried to keep my list to 5 – but I needed to share one more thing.  I love Desmos.  If you are not using it, you need to.  Here is a photo with myself, my co-worker Stephanie and Eli, the creator of Desmos from our trip to Desmos land in San Francisco last fall as part of the Desmos fellows program.  I simply do not understand anyone teaching these days who is not using their product.  desmos


Here is the PowerPoint from our presentation.  Enjoy.  5 Favorite Ideas

Thank you to Karen Hyers, Mark Kingsbury, Ali Rubin, Megan Rubbelke and Manju Connolly for sharing your favorites.  If you are not following them on twitter, click the links above and do so, please.  All are amazing.  We received great feedback from this session and plan to do another Pop-up session in 2018 with 9-minute favorites from 5 new people.  As always, I love hearing your feedback if you are reading this.  Comment below OR tweet me at @saravdwerf or email me at SaraVDW@gmail.com.  Be well, my friends.

Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

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