Faculty minds at work

Islamic tiling

Read on to learn about the great professional development experiences our faculty have done in the first few weeks of summer.

Exploring the Richness of Middle School Math

From June 17-19, Alli Birkhead, MaryD Geyer and Michael Matthews attended the Monterey Bay Area Math Project (MBAMP) 2019 Summer Institute, hosted by UCSC. Our team of Middle School math teachers joined 60+ other teachers in grades K-16 for three days of deep thinking about how children learn math, and how to use a range of strategies, from collaboration to patterning, to solve problems and discover the underlying. 

Each morning featured a speaker who introduced a problem and facilitated a two hour session focused on discovering the mathematical thinking that could be applied while solving the problem. Teachers formed and worked in groups across grade levels, and then debriefed and discussed strategies and student experiences. For example, one morning period featured the famed “Locker problem”, in which a simple question about students opening and closing lockers is used to explore factoring, prime factorization, number sense and pattern recognition:

One way to visualize mathematical thinking for the locker problem

Imagine a hallway with 1000 lockers, all closed. 1000 students are sent down the hall as follows: student 1 opens all the lockers; student 2 closes every other locker, beginning with the second; student 3 changes the state of every third locker, beginning with the third; and so on. After all the students have marched, which lockers remain open? Which students visit Locker 24 and Locker 36? Why? Which students visit Locker 18 and 54 and 72? Why? Which Lockers are visited by only two students?

As Michael said afterwards, “I love how this pushed us to think about how math teachers can ask compelling problems that stoke everyone’s curiosity and are inclusive of everyone’s skills.”

Islamic tiling
Islamic tiling by Alli

In the afternoons, teachers got to choose which 90-minute breakout sessions to attend such as Geometry in Motion, Pentagon Construction of the 10 Petal Rose, and Math Running records and Number Sense Routines. In Discovering Geometry through the Art of Islamic Tiling, the participants used the simple tools of a straight-edge and compass, learning the techniques for making designs that are found in mosques and other examples of Islamic architecture. “One of my take-aways from this session was how fun it can be to do math, and the links between art and math, and to help students see those and be excited. Most students probably haven’t explored these connections before,” said Alli.

Writing, Revising and Editing, Oh My!

This was the fourth year we’ve been able to send teachers to attend the Writer’s Workshop Summer Institute at Teachers College at Columbia University, and from June 17-21 it was Sari Mundon and Julie Foster’s turn to attend. By investing in this world-class training for our faculty, we’ve transformed the experience our students have as they develop knowledge and skills and become effective writers.

“One big highlight was getting to revisit writing, both my own and as a teacher of writing,” shared Julie.  “We did a lot of our own writing during the week, and I watched my own writing grow during the week — we applied it to different frameworks, and I watched it grow through that process and felt so excited about it by the end of the week.” Julie also noted that being in a small group of 20 other Third Grade teachers was a special experience, and helped her build her professional network. “Other teachers were there alone from their school, or hoping to bring Writer’s Workshop to their school, so this was a good opportunity for me to take perspective on how supportive the school has been to our team.”

For Sari, an exciting take-away was diving deeply into the role of the revision process in student writing. “Revising is an essential part of writing, and students often want to skip over it. I have more strategies now, such as “fast and furious drafting” in which a student writer takes no more than one day for the first draft, to help them learn skills and strategies for improving their writing by coming back to it.”

Both teachers are excited about working with mentor texts, and pulling them into the curriculum. “This is such an effective tool, and I already float them into the classroom, and now I have a new idea of digging in more deeply with these, especially for poetry,” said Julie. “I’m thinking about how to bring this to life for students.” 

For years our teachers have reported that Lucy Calkins, founder of the Writing Workshop model, has a great sense of humor and so much passion about writing. We’ve been inspired by her belief in building a community about writers, and being around like-minded people who want to have discussions about education is exciting and rejuvenating.

Learning the Skills of Leadership

On June 26-27, Kris Broek, our Resource Support Coordinator attended Professional Development That Changes Practice, hosted by U.C. Berkeley and presented in collaboration by the California Reading and Literature Project and Elana Aguilar of Bright Morning Consulting. Kris joined almost two dozen other participants, ranging from instructional coaches to public school district superintendents, to explore how they lead and facilitate meetings and professional development, and develop new skills and tools for coaching and mentoring teachers.

The workshop began with a homework assignment to self-assess as a provider of professional development, posing questions about how often the participants invite questions, confrontation, and challenging discourse in our professional discussions; to evaluate themselves as listeners and how they do/not listen to faculty; and also examine meeting leadership through the lens of justice and equity to assess how to ensure everyone feels safe and has equal access to participation and acknowledgement.

Kris reported that the program moved at a rapid pace and covered topics from theoretical to practical. It was structured by modeling effective routines for providing professional development, from setting community agreements to assessing emotional intelligence to understanding adult learners. “I especially enjoyed looking at the Consultancy Protocol, in which teams’ minds are expanded on how to approach a situation, rather than trying to solve it,” Kris said. Other topics included decision making and how teams make decisions; how to create an effective agenda and stick to it; how to use routines for adult learners and how to structure professional development experiences; and how to evaluate the effectiveness of a session through evidence.

“We also spent time looking at ways to engage in team building through play,” said Kris. “At first this felt almost cheesy, but it got us in touch with our vulnerability as adult learners, and being vulnerable leads to trust — the work is brilliant because it’s hard to walk the walk of emotional intelligence as an adult, and that’s what’s needed to transform teaching and learning.”