Saturday, October 29, 2022

What Keeps Me Going? Building Thinking Classrooms by Peter Liljedahl

As I continue to find my place in my. not so new anymore school district I continue to struggle with many things about the change.  Sadly, much of what I have been passionate about in the past has slowly been removed from me.  I still very strongly believe that technology use can and should be a game changer in the classroom to help children create content and have new ways to share their learning but I'm tried of hitting barriers and roadblocks.  I'm still reminded from time to time about the positive impact I once had on educators (and their students) and that brings me both happiness and sadness. I am not who I once was. 

This summer while having lunch with my friend Sasha Wise she started talking about the things she had been experimenting with in her classroom after reading Peter Liljedahl's Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics book.  I listened carefully and knew I was already doing a lot of what she was talking about.  I'm usually skeptical of new things at first, so I sat on the idea for a bit.  However, the more I thought about what  Sasha was saying the more I wanted to learn.

This led me to purchasing the book and joining three groups on Facebook - Building Thinking Classrooms in K-2, Building Thinking Classrooms in 3-5, and the general Building Thinking Classrooms group. If you're not aware of Peter's work, he shares 14 researched based practices. You can get a quick snapshot of them here.

This are two students working at our original vertical surfaces.

In his book Peter suggests trying the first three practices first and I did just that.  At first, I didn't have enough non-permanent vertical surfaces for my class.  I teach grade two and three this year, so it's suggested that my students work in pairs. I needed 11 vertical non-permanent surfaces. I found cellophane paper in my school art supplies and so I put that up on my walls to supplement the white board space I already had. We were set.

Sasha also shared a website called Flippity with me and I quickly set up my  bookmark with my students' names in it. It's super-fast and easy to randomize my students.  I can also quickly edit out the students who are away. 

The third thing I needed was engaging thinking tasks. I'm quite familiar with websites like Open Middle , NRICH, and YouCubed (to name a few great websites) as well as math educators like Carol Fullerton and Marian Small (again just to name a few fabulous math educators) so finding tasks wasn't as hard as I thought. Peter has some at the end of every chapter in the book too.  There are also TONS of people sharing tasks in the Facebook groups.  I quickly created my own PowerPoint to help keep me (and my tasks) organized. I have "header" slides so I can ensure my specific content tasks are organized and easy to access with my learners.  I have begun going through what I already had and started to add those tasks to my PowerPoint. As you can imagine my document keeps growing as new tasks are shared with me and I create my own.

Peter suggests that you start with non-curricular tasks so that's exactly what I did. I started with the 3x3 square grid asking my students how many squares they saw.  A shout out to Alicia Burdess for this and so many other fabulous tasks.  The obvious answer was nine but that isn't the correct answer. The students kept working on it and finally some of them figured it out. They were hooked so I challenged many of them with a 4x4 grid and they moved into "choice time" at the end of the day a few students continued trying to figure out how many squares were in larger grids. We were certainly on to something. 

I did a few more tasks over the next little while and things continued to improve. Peter talks about knowledge mobility in his book and as long as 20% of your students are capable of solving the problem the rest will be okay.  Knowledge travels when you work standing up at a vertical board.

Of course, Peter writes about many more practices in his book (14 in total) and so if you know me, I go all in.  My desks are spaced somewhat "mishmashy" in pairs around the room.  We stand when I give my short instructions. I present my lessons at various boards around the room so not to assume one board is the "front" board.  We randomize ALL the time as my student desks are completely empty. My students know if their name is listed first it's their job to collect the tools for the board while the second person finds the board.  I'm still working on integrating more of the strategies into my practice.  I'm certainly not done yet.

Another person who has inspired me is Tammy McMorrow. She is one of the administrators of the K-2 Facebook group.  She's constantly sharing her thinking there which in turn pushes my thinking.  Because of her sharing my class has also made a list of expected and unexpected behaviours at our "Thinking Boards" (a term shared by someone else in the group). In my class we've talked about being a "Hog" (someone who hogs the pen) and a "Log" (someone who doesn't contribute to the board work).  I've also found student conversation starters which I've added near our boards. All these resources have been found in these fabulous Facebook groups. When you have a ferocious appetite for learning it's great to have places and people like this who are constantly sharing. 

So where are we now? I quickly moved on to curricular tasks and they are going well too. Number sense, place value, even/odd etc. all had their own tasks. I supplement some of the tasks with pencil and paper or other hands on tasks. Now we've moved on to operations and I'm giving "Thin Slicing" a try using number strings . And do you know what? My students are loving math! It was a comment that came up over and over again during our goal setting conferences last week. Plus, the students like being randomly grouped. Like really like it, even when they have to work with someone who they aren't close friends with.  There is something about visibly randomly grouping students.  It takes away any social pressure of finding the right partner, or me making assumptions that one student is stronger than another so needs to play the leadership roll.  When I visibly randomly group my students, I am telling them that I believe they can ALL do the math. It's TRUE and Peter has research to back this up.

I still have so much more to learn and implement but I feel like I'm on a pretty great journey so far. Thank you, Peter, for all your hard work. Not only are you changing the learning in classrooms around the world, but you've also brought my passion back.  It's been a rough few years so I'm grateful to be where I am now.

As a side note last weekend when I was able to hear Peter speak in Whistler and he mentioned a math podcast called Sum of it All. In their first season they do a book study on Peter's book. If you're curious to learn more do give it a listen. Who knows, it might spark your curiosity to try it too.

Who knows, maybe this new found passion will get me blogging again. Or at the very least I might be able to inspire others to give this work a try too. Our students certainly deserve it.