Monday, September 29, 2014

You say you want this, so then why are you doing that?

Unfortunately, myths are often more satisfying to us than the truth - in education we are satisfyingly distracted by a great many myths. Do we not recognize that there are a lot of children who hate school? For too long, school has acted for too many kids as the greatest extinguisher of curiosity.

Read more via Pocket

Friday, September 26, 2014

Common Core Endorsements

On August 29, the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU) wrote a letter of endorsement supporting the Common Core State Standards stating, "We believe California’s implementation of the Common Core standards and aligned assessments has the potential to dramatically improve college readiness and help close the preparation gap that exists for California students." 

Who the heck is AICCU? It is the organization representing the California State University system, the University of California system, and the California Community Colleges. So, clearly they know what they are talking about!

The letter of support goes on to say that they are updating the a-g requirements for CSU and US admission to "to align with the Common Core standards and the message is being transmitted to schools, parents and students". Well...I couldn't wait for them to get the message out, so I'm tooting my little horn and ringing my bell to make the announcement for them. Now parents and teachers can take great comfort in knowing that by shifting our teaching practices to meet the needs of the Common Core Standards, we are doing EXACTLY what the colleges and universities want us to do.

Not that it is a popularity contest, but check out this partial list of other organizations that endorse the Common Core State Standards.

Here is the link to the original page:

What about the mathematics community?
Every major mathematical organization has signed a letter of "strong support" for the Common Core math standards! If the math community has vetted the standards and are supporting them, then darn it, we should support the standards, too!

Whether we are parents, teachers, or students and we find ourselves struggling with the new ways math is being taught, let's remind ourselves that we are not alone! There are many, many organizations that are supporting us and are rooting for us to succeed!


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Common Core FAQ

The Common Core State Standards have vaulted into the national consciousness lately thanks to some high-profile dissenters, like Louis C.K. ("Kids teachers parents are vocally suffering.

Read more via Pocket

Elevator Speeches for Common Core Mathematics

A few days ago I finished my series @mr_stadel) sharing that he was planning to do a week's worth of elevator speeches. I am quite grateful for him putting out the challenge. This post is merely to put my list and his list on the same page, so that you can have twice as many elevator speeches at the ready.
of elevator speeches in support of the Common Core mathematics standards. This whole series was inspired by Andrew Stadel (

Duane's list
Day 1 ] [ Day 2 ] [ Day 3 ] [ Day 4 ] [ Day 5 ] [ Day 6 ] [ Day 7 ]

Andrew's list
Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7

Currently, the Common Core Standards are a bit under attack. Often, the public (and many teachers) confuse the standards with curriculum or the two assessment consortia (SBAC and PARCC). It is my hope that we can move from ad hominem attacks on CCSS and work towards using the standards to meet the needs of all our students.

Please consider using these elevator speeches to better understand the Common Core math standards and why they are the right thing to do.

Better yet...write your own speeches and share them here!

Friday, September 19, 2014

What if Khan Academy was made in Japan?

Do yourself a favor. Spend 13 minutes watching this video. Ignore the "blended learning" or "flipping" if you want. Really, really focus on the difference between the American-style of teaching and the Japan-style of teaching.

Let's explore how to teach the way math instruction occurs in the countries that are doing better than us. Yeah...yeah...we'll have no clue what we are doing at first, but eventually we'll figure it out. I know we will.

More important than the guy's critique of Khan is the vision for what instruction should look like in the classroom.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

5 Habits of an Effective Teacher a mathematics instructional coach my job is to help teachers improve their craft. In general, I'm supposed to focus on the mathematics portion of their job, but invariably I find myself thinking about the entire job - not just math. Just the other day I Googled (how is that for verbification?) "habits of an effective teacher" and was a bit overwhelmed at the options. 

If you look closely at the screenshot, you'll notice that I only clicked on the short lists. Five habits? Sure I can handle that. 30 habits!?!?!? Goodness no. Clearly they need to learn the habits of succinctness, brevity, or self-censorship (if that is even a habit).

I clicked on each of the "5 habit" lists are here is what I got...
List 1
List 2
  1. clear and open communication
  2. clear classroom procedures
  3. create powerful relationships with your students and their parents
  4. have personal routines/hobbies to maintain your sanity
  5. plan in advance for how to participate in public activities
  1. Taking a wider view of student success.
  2. Recognizing instruction as a performance.
  3. Internalizing personal accountability.
  4. Understanding student motivation.
  5. Continuing focus on instructional improvement.

These are great lists, but somehow I couldn't shake the feeling that they don't capture the habits that are necessary as teachers move from the old, NCLB-influenced standards to the new CCSS. Then this list showed up in my Twitter feed. While it doesn't include classic buzzwords like procedures or accountability, any teacher who exhibits these habits would most likely be Educational Awesomeness in the classroom.

Let's try it! Can we enjoy teaching? Embrace the change brought upon by CCSS? Spread positivity while rolling with the turbulent transition to a new way of teaching? Find inspiration in people and things all around us? Make a difference for our students and colleagues?

If we can, then Educational Awesomeness awaits!

Do you have a SHORT list of habits that are devoid of educational mumbo jumbo? Post your list here...

Elevator Speech Challenge: Day 7

Unless someone sends me suggestions for hypothetical questions, this will the be final post in my Elevator Speech Challenge series. Not only has this been a challenging experience for me, there has been the added bonus of other teachers actually using my answers in their day-to-day conversations with parents and friends. Woo hoo!

HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION: “Duane…come on…what’s with the Eight Standards for Mathematical Practices? How can the same eight standards apply to students in kindergarten AND 12th grade?”

My Elevator Speech: Great question. To be honest, I’ve come across many teachers who have the exact same question. First, the eight standards are:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
  4. Model with mathematics
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically
  6. Attend to precision
  7. Look for and make use of structure
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

A soccer game basically looks the same whether it is being played by a 6-year old or an 18-year old. In the same way, these eight standards are the behaviors we want our mathematicians to exhibit regardless of their age. Sure, a standard exhibited in kindergarten might look a little different than the same standard in twelfth grade, but the students are still working on the same standard. Just like soccer. 

For a list of the 8 Standards for Mathematical Practices written in parent-friendly language, please check out the site:

Day 1 ] [ Day 2 ] [ Day 3 ] [ Day 4 ] [ Day 5 ] [ Day 6 ] [ Day 7 ]

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Elevator Speech Challenge: Day 6

I'm not going to lie...coming up with a new elevator speech challenge each day is starting to get difficult. Actually, the answers are pretty's the questions that are hard for me to come up with. So, if you have any suggestions for questions, please post them in the comments below!

Today's question isn't so hypothetical. It was inspired by a wonderful conversation I had with a concerned parent.

HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION: “Duane…come on…why does my child’s teacher teach multiple ways to solve everything. Isn’t that confusing? Shouldn’t we just expect our students to learn the ‘regular’ way and then move on?”

My Elevator Speech: Great question. It is important to understand that there is a clear distinction between “getting the problem right” and “understanding the mathematics”. With our old standards it was commonplace for the teacher to show the class how to solve a problem and then give 20 identical problems to practice. Solving 20 identical problems does not mean a student understands it. The Common Core math standards are organized to allow students time to go into each topic deeply. Students are encouraged to solve a problem in multiple ways and share those methods with each other. Students learn not only from the teacher, but also from each other. The idea of solving a math problem in multiple ways is the very essence of mathematics itself; for example, the Pythagorean Theorem has been proven (solved) in more than 300 different ways! By teaching students multiple solution methods, we are teaching students the very essence of mathematics.

Does this elevator speech need additional solutions? Feel free to suggest something in the comments section.

Day 1 ] [ Day 2 ] [ Day 3 ] [ Day 4 ] [ Day 5 ] [ Day 6 ] [ Day 7 ]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"I'm Not A Math Person" Is No Longer A Valid Excuse

Research published in Child Development found that hard work and good study habits were the most important factor in improving math ability over time. But bad attitudes about math are holding us back.

Read more via Pocket

Stereotypes About Math Hold Americans Back

Here’s the most shocking statistic I have read in recent years: 60 percent of the 13 million two-year college students in the U.S. are currently placed into remedial math courses; 75 percent of them fail or drop the courses and leave college with no degree.

Read more via Pocket

Elevator Speech Challenge: Day 5

Here is Day 5 of my Why-I-Support-Common-Core-Math rant. This one is prepared just in case I ever find myself standing next to Diane Ravitch in the elevator.

HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION: “Duane…come on…why should we treat our kids like guinea pigs by using Common Core Math Standards that are untried and never field-tested?"

My Elevator Speech: Great question. The Common Core math standards are not untried. They are the result of years of research in what works in other countries - countries that kick our butt in international comparisons. Ironically, many of the countries that are now doing significantly better than us are doing so after they adopted many of the recommendations proposed by our own National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Moreover, the Common Core Math Standards are not the result of some whimsical effort by a select few billionaires; the Common Core Math Standards have been endorsed by every major math organization in the nation! By adopting the Common Core Math Standards, we will be more in line with the best practices of the highest performing countries in the world. Once our math standards are in line with the rest of the world, then we can begin improving our teaching strategies!

Day 1 ] [ Day 2 ] [ Day 3 ] [ Day 4 ] [ Day 5 ] [ Day 6 ] [ Day 7 ]

Monday, September 15, 2014

Elevator Speech Challenge: Day 4

Here is day four of my Common Core Math Standards Elevator Speech Challenge, in which I am trying to write a week's worth of elevator speeches designed to respond to a variety of ill-informed attacks on the Common Core Math Standards. This speech came in response to another one of those silly I-hate-common-core-because-I-can't-understand-my-daughter's-homework posts on Facebook.

HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION: "Duane…come on…why do the Common Core Standards force kids to learn fuzzy math?"

My Elevator Speech: Great question. If “fuzzy math” means students are using math techniques that are different from how we learned when we were kids, then guilty as charged. Rather than teaching rote memorization, the Common Core Standards are written such that students are given a chance to actually learn WHY math works the way it does. “Fuzzy math” is merely a label used by anti-Common Core activists as a scare tactic, but it does not reflect the reality of the Common Core Math Standards. Each grade level from K though 5 has at least one major concept for which students are expected to be fluent. Nothing fuzzy about expecting students to be fluent. Additionally, scattered throughout the standards are references to “algorithm” and “standard algorithm”. While the teaching may look a little different from the old days, the expectations are not terribly different: students will learn the standard algorithms. The difference is now they will actually understand it.

Is my response fuzzy? Maybe? What say you?

Day 1 ] [ Day 2 ] [ Day 3 ] [ Day 4 ] [ Day 5 ] [ Day 6 ] [ Day 7 ]

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Elevator Speech Challenge: Day 3

A couple of days ago, my 3rd grade son came home from school. Rather than just commenting that school was "fine" and asking for his customary after-school snack, he grabbed a piece of paper and - failing to find a suitable pencil - a crayon to show me what he learned in math. "A know at least four ways to show 2 x 3 = 6", he proudly announced upon completing the drawing. Thanks to the Common Core Standards and his teacher trying to use EngageNY curriculum, my son sees multiplication as something more than a list to be memorized, and he sees it as a useful concept connected to real-life...

...which brings me to today's Math Elevator Speech:

HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION: "Duane…come on…my kid’s homework looks nothing like when I was a student. Why do the Common Core Standards force my student to do math in stupid ways?"

My Elevator Speech: Great question. There is a big difference between the Common Core Standards and the curriculum schools are using to teach those standards. The “standards” are the carefully selected and arranged list of topics students are to learn each year, while the “curriculum” is the tool teachers use to make that happen. Since the standards are arranged such that students can spend more time on each topic, the curriculum now has a fighting chance to teach the concepts so that students actually LEARN. Instead of textbooks being filled with things to memorize, textbooks are now likely look different because they are trying to explain to students WHY math works the way it does. Some people are freaked out by this, but they should calm down and understand that the motivation for teaching differently comes from a good place. That being said, it will take a few iterations before textbooks finally figure to the best way to explain to students the WHY of mathematics. Give the educational community time to figure this out. In the meantime, our students will be fine…they will learn math better than in the past…and they will LOVE it.

To teach math better it will have to look different from the way way previously taught math.
What are your thoughts?

Day 1 ] [ Day 2 ] [ Day 3 ] [ Day 4 ] [ Day 5 ] [ Day 6 ] [ Day 7 ]

Friday, September 12, 2014

Blocking and Interleaving...Huh?


Does the title pique your interest? Or does it just make you want to move on to another blog? Give me just a moment to share a simple idea that may improve your students’ achievement dramatically!

Let’s begin with a golfing analogy: The typical golfer will practice by going to the range, grab a club, and then hit a bunch of balls with that club. Then after feeling good about that club, the golfer will grab a different club and hit another 20 or 30 balls with that club. This process will continue until the bucket of balls is depleted. This “...repetitive drilling on the same task is called ‘block practice.’ You do the same thing, over and over, in one block of activity. Schmidt argues that a better way to learn is to practice several new things in succession, a technique called ‘variable practice’ or ‘interleaving.’ So a golfer would interleave her exercises at the range by aiming at different targets each time, by mixing up the kinds of shots she takes or switching the clubs she uses.” (see here for the entire article)

It turns out that this concept can be applied to practicing mathematics. Traditionally, the teacher teaches a skill and then assigns 20 or 30 problems. This is blocking.

What might interleaving look like? One professor “... designed a simple experiment to interleave homework in [three teacher’s] classrooms. Half of the class’s homework assignments would stay the same. But for the other half, [the professor] would take all the homework questions the teachers had used last year and mix them up. So the interleaved assignments would have some questions about what the class was currently studying, and some questions about things they had studied earlier in the year.”

What were the results? “For the kinds of problems they learned with interleaved practice, the kids averaged 72 percent correct. With blocked practice, they averaged only 38 percent.” (Read the actual report here.) What is amazing is how little time, effort, or money was required to attain the more than 100% improvement! The curriculum stayed the same. The pedagogy stayed the same. The only thing that changed was the interleaving of the questions. This is a cheap, easy, and fast way to improve student achievement!

This news about interleaving versus blocking should not be particularly surprising. We have long known strategies that engage students in comparative thinking have the greatest effect on student achievement. More recently, Dr. Robert Marzano's research in The Art and Science of Teaching (2007) reconfirmed that asking students to identify similarities and differences through comparative analysis leads to eye-opening gains in student achievement.

Interleaving homework problems is just another way to create student opportunities to identify similarities and differences (and thereby the relationships) of the math topics being learned.

Please listen to the American Radioworks Podcast from which I learned all this.

For the segment on interleaving, scroll ahead to 28:42.

If you have an hour, please listen to the entire podcast. It is brilliant!

UPDATE (March 30, 2015):

The above is a quotation from a 4th grade textbook written in 1901. Clearly, mathematics teachers have long had the intuitive belief that interleaving is best for our students.

Elevator Speech Challenge: Day 2

Day 2 of my Elevator Speech Challenge. Each day for a week I will try to write a different elevator speech for why I am in favor of the Common Core Math Standards. Read on...

So the other day my wife asked me to switch the door knob on our front door with a brand new door knob. This wouldn't be such a bad idea if the door knob was broken, but it seemed like I was being asked to switch one perfectly fine door knob with another.

Which brings me to my Elevator Speech Challenge.

HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION: “Duane…come on…why are the new Common Core standards better than the old standards?”

My Elevator Speech: Great question. The old collection of math standards were largely a massively long list of discrete, unconnected math skills. At many grade levels, students were expected to learn about one new math topic each day! As a result, the curriculum was called “a mile wide, but an inch deep”. Students never learned anything in depth because they were always having to move on to the next topic. This meant students never learned anything well and had to spend large portions of each school year reviewing what was supposed to have been learned the previous year. In CCSS, there are fewer standards each year, allowing students to go into greater depth for each topic, resulting in AWESOME learning for all students.

There is no single elevator speech that addresses every facet of Common Core. This challenge, however, is forcing me to prepare myself for any conversation I may suddenly find myself in.


Day 1 ] [ Day 2 ] [ Day 3 ] [ Day 4 ] [ Day 5 ] [ Day 6 ] [ Day 7 ]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Game on: The Elevator Speech Challenge (Day 1)

A few days ago I was reading through my Twitter feed (perhaps the BEST professional development technique ever) as I normally do most evenings. That is when I stumbled upon Andrew Stadel's (@mr_stadel) tweet that he is challenging himself (and others) to write a series of Elevator Speeches in support of the Common Core math standards. Recently, I have had a series of experiences with parents and teachers that really made it clear that I must develop my own series of Elevator Speeches.

No single elevator speech can address the many facets (some controversial) of the Common Core mathematics standards. So, I plan to write a variety of elevator speeches for a variety of potential conversations that I might suddenly find myself in.

Andrew…you don’t know me, but I seriously thank you for the challenge!

HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION: "Duane…come on…do you really think Common Core Math Standards are a good thing?"

My Elevator Speech: Great question. Prior to the Common Core standards, every state had their own math standards for each grade level. This meant that an 8th grader in Oregon is learning different stuff than an 8th grader in Michigan, Florida, or California. For many decades this might have been an okay thing, but now we live in an incredibly mobile world. It is commonplace for students to move from one state to another. However, with every state having their own list of standards, these students suffered greatly. With Common Core standards, states have gotten together to adopt the same list of standards (this is a state-by-state initiative, not a federal program) meaning students can now seamlessly move from one state to another virtually without missing a beat.

Please visit Andrew Stadel's blog to read his elevator speeches:

I encourage everyone to prepare themselves with their own elevator speeches. Try it for a week. See what happens to your own thinking. Game on? Game on!

[ Day 1 ] [ Day 2 ] [ Day 3 ] [ Day 4 ] [ Day 5 ] [ Day 6 ] [ Day 7 ]