Welcome to Amidon Planet!

Posted on Posted in resource

Most people struggle with mathematics, but everyone needs mathematics.

Amidon Planet serves as a hub for equipping those wanting to love others through the teaching and learning of mathematics.

The resources, tools, and knowledge provided through Amidon Planet will prepare instructional leaders (teachers, parents/guardians, tutors and teacher educators) to help others work with mathematics to achieve the success they desire, while imagining and moving toward a better world.

So stay tuned to this website and follow Amidon Planet on Twitter to stay informed and inspired through the content that is posted.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Surprised child

How Captain Underpants turned a Sorting Task into Saving the World

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in math teacher, math teacher educator, parent/tutor
I was worried.

How would they handle the gravity of the task before them…

As I gazed into the eyes of the 20 kindergarteners in front of me, I played for them the message on my phone. They grinned in excitement as the message played and the math lesson began.

Hello, Dr. Amidon, this is Captain Underpants. TRA LA LAAAAAAAA! And I would really like you to sort the bin of objects I gave you. I need to know how many of each thing there are! Please! The world depends on it. TRA LA LAAAAAA!

Oh and Dr. Amidon, please get me the answers by lunch time. I need to save the world before lunch because I get hungry. TRA LA LAAAAAAA!

Let me back up.

I was given an opportunity to teach a lesson on sorting to my son’s kindergarten class. Looking up the standards for kindergarten I saw the standard for sorting was

Classify objects into given categories; count the numbers of objects in each category and sort the categories by count.

A pretty straight forward standard with many ways to go about sorting and counting objects according to some category. In preparation for the day my colleague gave me a bin full of colorful objects that consisted of teddy bears, dinosaurs, and fruit.

The previous day I had brainstormed with preservice teachers in my math methods class on ways to teach the lesson. Our ideas centered around getting the students to name their own categories for sorting. The categories we came up with for the objects was sorting by color, type (fruit, bear, dinosaur), plant or animal, even texture (some of the objects were hard plastic and others were made of rubber). Then it would be up to them to count the objects and we would combine the number of objects between groups of students. Basically, the task would be

How many of each group are there?

A Problem with the Problem

This is what I call a messy task because it is open ended. I won’t define for the students what makes up a group. And it will be up to the students to name the categories and then to group and count the objects with assistance from me for adding up all the different numbers.

What bothered me is motivation. Why are we doing this task? Enter Captain Underpants.

When in Doubt Save the World

My son loves Captain Underpants. I don’t know if it is the name or the silliness of the stories, but he wants to see the movies and check out the books (even though the books are way beyond his reading level). My guess is that there are more kindergarteners that share his love of Captain Underpants, especially given a movie starring the Captain was released this summer.

So being bothered by the lack of motivation I thought what if the world depended on these kids sorting these objects. That seems silly, but if you have ever seen or read Captain Underpants you understand that such a task could plausibly save the world in the Captain Underpants universe. So I recorded the message to provide a little motivation and focus to the task.

What Happened
Plan from Captain Underpants Sorting Lesson

I used the teacher-created table groups to make the task dependent on social interaction. Each child was responsible for sorting their pile of assorted objects into the piles of objects at their table. Then each child was responsible for counting (or recounting) one of the piles of objects. This involved a lot of counting and sharing of strategies for counting a messy pile of objects. Some lined up their objects and used their fingers to make sure they counted each object. Some slid each object as they counted, which is a more advanced way to count given they have to coordinate saying the word with sliding the object.

They first sorted by color and then by type (fruit, bears, or dinosaurs). We collected all the numbers of objects onto a single white board and then after we had all the numbers of objects from each of the groups we gathered on the carpet to add them up. It became a little tense at the end of class as we were using a hundreds chart to add up all the numbers for each of the groups. The teacher reminded me that Captain Underpants needed the numbers by lunch and lunch was five minutes away! We were able to finish and call Captain Underpants and report our findings. And, guess what, we saved the day!

In Reflection

In no way am I saying that this is a perfect lesson, or that the details I provided were all that is needed to enact the lesson. Honestly, I can think of a dozen ways that I would change it given my new knowledge of the classroom, the needs of the students, the standards, etc. For example, it would easy to incorporate recycling into this lesson to talk about how sorting can save the world. Or to use hundreds charts and crayons as a way to represent all the total number objects and each group based on color.

I share this lesson, not as an exemplar, but just as a reminder (to myself) that learning can be fun. And some of the best learning is fun (just listen to my kids while playing Minecraft). If we are to love others through the teaching and learning of mathematics, then there should be some fun, right?

Was it silly? Yes. Did it work? I don’t know. What I do know is that we sorted, we counted, we even added. Kids appeared to be excited and engaged. More importantly, they wanted to know if Captain Underpants would be calling again. I believe he will…

What are small things you do to create fun/engagement in your lessons?

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

4 Pitfalls for Developing Doers of Mathematics: Takeaways from the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in resource
I saved the day.

The math problem had a small detail in it that if my students were not paying attention, it would mess up their work. So I darted around the room and pointed out the detail at the precise moment each group encountered it. No one got confused. No one struggled. Everyone got the right answer. It was a fantastic moment…until I assigned the next problem. After a few moments all of the groups began to glance in my direction, and a boy right next to me asked, “What do we do?”

The better question was, “What did I do?” I didn’t save the day. I wasn’t developing my students’ capacity to do mathematics. Instead, I encountered a pitfall of developing doers of mathematics.

Developing Doers of Mathematics

Recently, I head an episode of the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast where he discussed four pitfalls leaders can fall into in developing the people they lead.

All throughout the podcast, I kept thinking of parallels between what Pastor Craig shared about leading organizations and the complexities of teaching and learning mathematics (don’t we all?). I see the job of teaching as facilitating a productive relationship between students and mathematics so that students see themselves as doers of mathematics. In other words, the job of the teacher is to develop doers of mathematics.

Below, is a reworking of the content presented by Pastor Craig in his Leadership Podcast, to apply to the teaching and learning of mathematics.

The Four Pitfalls of Developing Doers of Mathematics

I present these pitfalls of developing doers of mathematics knowing I have fell into each of them multiple times. By naming and recognizing these pitfalls, we can avoid them and develop the kind of relationships we want our students/children/doers of mathematics to have with mathematics. I see these pitfalls existing for teachers, parents, tutors, even students, basically, anyone who may help someone develop as a doer of mathematics.

1. Controlling – creates compliant doers of mathematics.

This pitfall is where students are not given freedom to consider their own methods for solving a math problem. Instead of giving space to explore and make sense of the problem, students are dictated a carefully constructed algorithm for solving the problem. By definition, the problem is no longer a problem. When the student has been shown exactly how to solve a math problem, the problem has transformed into a mere exercise. Controlling has turned doing math into executing algorithms.

To avoid this pitfall students need space to explore problems. A great article that was written about this idea is call Never say Anything a Kid Can Say by Steven Reinhart. The mindset presented in this article has helped me be quiet, sit back, and trust the student(s) (through gentle prodding) to produce a solution, and then use that work as a starting point for a conversation about the problem. Also Mandy Jansen@MandyMathEd has this idea of “rough draft talk” for solving math problems. The idea being lets consider the idea of creating rough drafts for papers and use that same iterative process for creating solutions for math problems.

2. Criticizing – creates insecure doers of mathematics.

This pitfall is where students may be given freedom to consider their own methods for solving a math problem, but each method is quickly identified for how it falls short in efficiency, accuracy, elegance, or just is not the preferred method of the person providing assistance. Students are eventually leery of presenting their ideas for solving a problem given the overly critical environment in which the idea is received.

To avoid this pitfall an asset-based perspective of the work students do with mathematics needs to be developed. Instead of seeing what is wrong with the method, consider what is right. This approach of having an asset-based perspective and assigning competency to students can be seen in the work around Complex Instruction.

Two books I recommend on Complex Instruction in the math classroom are both from the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). One book is called Strength in Numbers: Collaborative Learning in Secondary Mathematics by Horn.  The other book is Smarter Together: Collaboration and Equity in the Elementary Math Classroom by Featherstone, Crespo, Jilk, Oslund, Parks, and Wood.

3. Avoiding – creates disengaged doers of mathematics.

This pitfall is where students are given freedom to consider their own methods for solving math problems, but are not given any feedback. The person providing assistance…doesn’t. They are not engaged with what the students are doing and in turn the students see it (understandably) as a lack of caring in what they are doing.

To avoid this pitfall the answer is to simply engage. The easiest way to engage is to ask questions. Try to figure out how students are making sense of the problems and attempt to do so with no assumptions.

I remember noticing on my son once identified a rectangle as having six sides on his homework. My gut told me ask him why he got the question wrong (He knows how many sides are on a rectangle, right?). Instead, I asked him how he came to the answer of six, simply and with no judgement. He told me he used a tile in the shape of a rectangle to count all the sides and came up with six. He counted around the tile and then one on top, and one on the bottom.

I immediately realized his problem was not a rectangle problem. It was a problem identifying the difference between three dimensional shapes and two dimensional shapes. It was a problem identifying the difference between sides of a polygon and faces of a polyhedron. Asking the question, and not avoiding, resulted in a wonderful understanding for both of us.

4. Rescuing – creates helpless doers of mathematics.

This is where students are given freedom to consider their own methods for solving math problems but are given help at the smallest indication of struggle. An example of this pitfall can be seen in the story that began this blog post.

To avoid this pitfall, students need to be given permission to struggle and sometimes even fail. This does not mean disengagement but providing assistance in other ways. Asking an open-ended, probing question, encouraging them to continue on a line of thinking, creating timely partnerships between students considering the same solution path, are all ways to stay engaged but not rob students of the learning potential of a math problem. Helping students learn how to deal with struggle and to learn from failure will not only develop them as doers of mathematics but also as people.

Knowing is half the battle…

In the end, avoiding these pitfalls comes down to a balance of engagement and freedom. By knowing these pitfalls we can avoid them and help our students develop the kind of relationship we want them to have with mathematics.

Avoiding the pitfalls of developing doers of mathematics comes down to balancing engagement and freedom. Click To Tweet

Thanks to Craig Groeschel for providing the inspiration for this post through his Leadership Podcast.

What pitfall are you most likely to fall into?

Photo by Fleur Treurniet on Unsplash

Book cover

How One Free Book = Four Leadership Takeaways for Teachers

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in resource

In a book seeking to give advice on leadership, I value honesty and practicality. How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority by Clay Scroggins @ClayScroggins is a book with both of these ingredients. And by reading it as an educator, I see a book with lessons for teachers on how to lead from the classroom.

An Honest Disclaimer

Speaking of honesty, I was given this book for free and asked to review and promote it. I agreed because, though I had only recently read How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority, I have been familiar with the content for some time. Clay Scroggins is the Lead Pastor at North Point Community Church and he first shared this content back in 2014 on the Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast Part 1 & Part 2. It is because I understood the main idea of the book that I would agree to such an arrangement…I have principles.

Realizing I Was Not In Charge

When I took my first teaching job, I realized how little I was actually in charge of. The curriculum was assigned to me. The classes were assigned to me. The students were assigned to me. The criteria for evaluation was assigned to me. The schedule was assigned to me (which led to my daily bathroom time being assigned to me). Yes, I was the math instructional leader during my math classes but it was pretty clear I was not in charge.

That is the beauty of this book. It should really be called How To Lead Right Where You Are, because it takes away all of the excuses. There is no list of “Things to do when I become a leader”. Instead, start doing those things, because everyone is a leader…right now.

No excuses. Start leading from where you are! Click To Tweet
The Four Behaviors

This book is built around four behaviors that can be leveraged to help a teacher lead themselves, their classroom, their school, their district, even the profession from their current position.

1. Lead Yourself

Pretty simple, but it is the eternal lesson from the airplane safety instructions. You need to put on your own oxygen mask before helping with someone else’s mask. If you are not leading yourself well then your attempts to influence others (John Maxwell’s definition of leadership) will be seen as hypocritical.

This behavior can be seen in how a teacher is organizing their classroom, staying healthy, implementing district initiatives, etc. For example, It is easier for a teacher to ask students to get their work in on time if turned in assignments are graded and returned in a timely manner.

2. Choose Positivity

There is no shortage of news regarding the problems within education. It is easy to find. What I know, though, is that teaching is awesome, teachers are awesome, and guiding students to learn new things is an awesome thing to experience. See what I did there? I just chose positivity. Makes you want to go teach something doesn’t it?

I like that Clay identified this as a core behavior because it is so disheartening to hear the negativity that can be heard about teaching and teachers. Even more disheartening is that it is sometimes even said by teachers. The energy that is created through choosing positivity ripples throughout a school making it easier to collaborate and do the job of teaching. For example, the new curriculum provides an opportunity to rethink and improve our course versus causing us to throw everything out.

3. Think Critically

Clay is pretty quick to point out the distinction between thinking critically and being critical. Thinking critically comes with a purpose while being critical shades the way the world is viewed. Being critical might be what happens when someone does not Choose Positivity.

Instead, to think critically means having an eye on something for the purpose of making it better. For example, I am a big fan of one sentence philosophy statements and using practice to iteratively refine the statement so that it can help guide daily classroom decisions that are made.

My first statement was simply “to help students succeed in math”. Not bad, except when I noticed that there was a student in the class who was doing great on my written learning celebrations (aka tests), but was quick to point out the shortcomings of others. According to my statement I was doing a wonderful job, but thinking critically, I was called to refine my statement. My second statement was “to help students succeed in math and in life”. Thinking critically allowed me to see how I could take what I had and make it better.

4. Reject Passivity

The fact that you read this post this far means you probably embody this behavior because you are doing…something. The more I read research about the development of teachers the more I am convinced the problems in education can be solved by teachers.

Sometimes I am asked to come to a district and provide an opportunity for professional development. More often then not, somewhere in the crowd of teachers is the expertise that they sought after in hiring me. But it is not just about the district looking from within. It is also about teachers making their expertise available through intentional action. Clay has several suggestions and examples in the book for how to gracefually make your expertise available to those in authority.

The Verdict

In the end I gladly recommend How To Lead When You’re Not In Charge: Leveraging Influence When You Lack Authority by Clay Scroggins @ClayScroggins to anyone who feels called to leadership where they are at…especially if they are in the classroom!

And if you are someone who feels called to love others through through the teaching and learning of math education, then follow me on Twitter and stay updated on future posts on Amidon Planet!

Buying the Book

The book can be found wherever you buy books. My suggestion is to head to your local bookstore (e.g. Square Books in Oxford, MS and buy it there (even if they have to special order it). The book may cost a little more but the money stays local and local bookstores in your community are a good thing.

How to Build Relationships in the Classroom (and Better Student Outcomes?) with a Simple Survey

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in resource

I wrote this post as a service to teachers headed back to school. My observations of the events of this past weekend (#Charlottesville) tell me we need as many ways as possible to build relationships and unity in our country. Our classrooms are a great place to start.

The Desire to Build Relationships

I did it. My teachers did it. I even tell the teachers I teach to do it. The Back-To-School survey. So many good intentions of using the information given on carefully crafted blanks and cleverly worded questions. More often than not the Back-To-School survey was collected and placed in a pile, never fully realizing its potential. My gut told me I needed to know my students to teach them well, but my survey never seemed to jumpstart that process.

There has to be a better way.

Student-Teacher Relationships and Student Outcomes

A few years ago I came across an episode of the Hidden Brain Podcast and heard about how a simple survey was designed to build relationships between teachers and students and was associated with improved student outcomes. Hunter Gehlbach and his team created the survey for both the teacher and students to take, with the goal being for both to uncover the interests and characteristics they shared.

Dr. Gehlbach found that even superficial relationship connections between the teacher and the student can be associated with better performance by the students. What is even more curious is that this result occurs even though the student doesn’t perceive any difference in the relationship. This finding could mean that the more important relationship to build is from the teacher to the student rather than the other way around. This might say something larger about the opportunity gap (rather than an achievement gap). I believe this survey is a quick way for my students and I to see how we are a like and in the case of Dr. Gehlbach’s research this showed better performance in the classroom for students.

How do you use the Survey?

1.Navigate to Panorama’s website
2.Sign up for an account
3.Take the survey
4.Share your unique survey link with your students
5.Provide time for your students to take the survey
6.Reflect on the results

Upon completing the survey, each student will be given a short list of responses that contain the overlap between your responses and their responses. Students will then be asked to reflect on the list and what it means for their future interactions with you. From the teacher’s perspective, after a student completes the survey, the teacher is prompted to look at the results of each student and to reflect on the overlap between the two and to consider how this knowledge might be helpful in the classroom.

Right now, the survey and the associated software is available for free from Panorama Education. The wording on the website makes it seem like this will not be the case next year. My suggestion is to give the survey a try and see how it works for you.

A pdf version of the survey is also available for download. It can be found at the bottom of this webpage

How do you develop relationships, and classroom unity, in the classroom at the beginning of the year?
Have any other suggestions for resources that should be shared on Amidon Planet?

Photo by JJ Thompson on Unsplash

Headphones in Hand

The First Step to Becoming Someone’s Math Hero.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in resource

It starts with the voice, the voice inside your head. The voice tells you “I can” or “I can’t” and often in the realm of learning math the latter often rules the day. The voice says “I can’t learn math” which implies “I can’t be someone’s math hero”. I heard an amazing story from Jeremy Cowart (@jeremycowart) that helped me see the power of reprogramming that inner voice.

Believing “I can”

Jeremy Cowart heard the “I can’t” voice when he was a kid. As he shared in his message at North Point Community Church (@NorthPoint), he heard the “I can’t” voice loud and clear throughout his life. But it was his Dad who hammered away at him with “I can” messages, specifically “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.

Jeremy began to believe that he had the gifts and abilities to do something great. Eventually he became one of the most influential photographers in the world. He then started to use his gifts to help others, by taking portraits of those in need and then leading others to do the same. He is leading others to use their gift of photography to help others through Help Portrait (@HelpPortrait). But he didn’t stop there. The “I can” voice was so loud in Jeremy’s head that he now has an incredible vision of a hotel, The Purpose Hotel (@thepurposehotel), where every aspect of the hotel would be a way to benefit others in the world. A vision that is slowly being realized.

Believing “I can learn math”

If we let the “I can’t” voice stop us then we will never be able to share “you can” with others. By turning an “I can’t” into an “I can” Jeremy is now influencing people around the world to love others through the gifts they have been given.

So the path to becoming someone’s math hero starts in your head. When it comes to learning math rather than telling yourself “I can’t”, start telling yourself “I can”…

I can learn math

which leads to

I can help my children learn math OR I can help my students learn math

And if you teach teachers of mathematics

I can help my teacher candidates teach math for conceptual understanding

The path to becoming someone’s math hero starts with the voice in your head. Click To Tweet
But then what?

The mission of Amidon Planet is to help people love others through the teaching and learning of mathematics. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or a teacher of teachers the hope is that you see Amidon Planet as a source for finding ways to love your child, student, students, or teachers through the teaching and learning of mathematics. So stay tuned to this website and follow Amidon Planet on Twitter to stay informed and inspired through the content that is posted.

In the meantime, feel free to answer this reflection question in the comments:

What is in the way of turning your “I can’t” into “I can” when it comes to being someone’s math hero?

Photo by Michael Mroczek on Unsplash

3 Takeaways for Teachers of Math Teachers from the Math Ed Podcast (Episode 1707)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in resource

Preparing elementary teachers to teach math can be daunting. Most noteworthy, is the vast amount of content and the little amount of time to teach. But does it matter what happens in a math methods classroom?  In Episode 1707 of the Math Ed Podcast, Sam Otten (@ottensam)talks with math teacher education researchers, Mandy Jansen (@MandyMathEd )and Dawn Berk (@dawn_berk), from the University of Delaware, about their recent article. In the article, they report what they teach in their teacher preparation program shows up in meaningful ways in the classrooms of their graduates.

My takeaways from this episode of the Math Ed Podcast

If what is taught in math methods classes shows up in first year teachers’ classrooms, then I need to:

  1. Make it significant – Every concept/practice addressed should be central to developing doers of math.
  2. Make it explainable – Every concept/practice should be paired with the relevant mathematical knowledge needed for teaching. Teachers need this knowledge to understand the importance of what they are teaching. They also need it to understand the many ways students can make sense of the concept/practice. Teachers of math teachers can work toward this by incorporating the word “why?” into math methods courses and stressing thought behind every teaching action.
  3. Make it sustainable – The amount of content found in the Common Core State Standards cannot possibly be covered in one or two methods classes. As a result, a key practice to instill in future teachers is how to learn about concepts/practices and the knowledge behind those concepts/practices necessary to develop as a teacher of math.  Exposing future teachers to knowledge bases like the progressions associated with the Common Core (e.g. Fractions Progression on Illustrative Mathematics) or professional groups (e.g. National Council for Teachers of Mathematics) can provide them with handles to reach for when they leave their teacher preparation programs.
Math methods content needs to be significant, explainable, & sustainable. Click To Tweet

The Podcast and the Article

Amanda Jansen, Dawn Berk, and Erin Meikle (2017) Investigating Alignment Between Elementary Mathematics Teacher Education and Graduates’ Teaching of Mathematics for Conceptual Understanding. Harvard Educational Review: Summer 2017, Vol. 87, No. 2, pp. 225-250.

About the Math Ed Podcast

Sam Otten from the University of Missouri releases the Math Ed podcast about once a month.  Typically, he selects a recent research article and interviews the author(s), about what they found and how they found it.  In addition, Sam has interviewed some legends in mathematics education about their careers and the future of math education.  My favorite part of the Math Ed Podcast are the questions that come before and after each interview.  Sam asks interviewees about their doctoral work and what they would be doing if they had not entered math education.  A favorite response is from Tom Carpenter. He said if he was not in math education he would want to be a point guard for the Golden State Warriors.

How to turn a ‘Test’ into a ‘Celebration of Learning’

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in resource

Sometimes I am called an optimist, an idealist, or just disconnected with reality.  Usually a comment like that emerges after I “confess” I have never given a test or quiz, yet I have been a teacher/teacher educator for 15 years. Instead I like to give “learning celebrations” (a term I was given by an all-time great teacher, Joe Dye, from Janesville Parker High School).  It is then that  I usually hear a groan accompanied by a roll of the eyes.  But then I make the point that tests are about finding out what a person doesn’t know but a learning celebration is about celebrating whatever has been learned.  One is seeking the deficit while the other is celebrating the asset.

Obviously there is more to it then just replacing the word at the top of a piece of paper, and that is exactly what I was able to share at the Spring Summit of Teach for America-Mississippi.  We discussed how to design learning experiences that achieve their visions for their classrooms and the students within.  It was a fast and furious session with a lot of resources mentioned (which I will list below as well as a link to my slides from the talk).  The main point was to consider why we step into the classroom, why we are doing what we do (Know the ‘Why?’) and let that drive the development of the techniques and strategies that we employ within the classroom (Now the ‘How?’).  In other words we are turning the optimistic vision into real, tested, and refined strategies for loving our students through education.

Photo by Elisha Terada on Unsplash

Resources mentioned:

Amidon, J. (2013). Teaching mathematics as agape : Responding to oppression with unconditional love. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 6(1), 19–27. Retrieved from http://ed-osprey.gsu.edu/ojs/index.php/JUME/article/view/207

Amidon, J., & Trevathan, M. (2015). Supporting progressive mathematics instruction through community. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 21(5), 288-294.

Cohen, E. G. (1994). Designing groupwork: Strategies for the heterogeneous classroom. Teachers College Press.

Emdin, C. (2013). The rap cypher, the battle, and reality pedagogy: Developing communication and argumentation in urban science education. In M. L. Hill & E. Petchauer (Eds.), Schooling hip hop: Expanding hip-hop based education across the curriculum (pp. 11–27). New York: Teachers College Press.

Lampert, M. (2001). Teaching problems and the problems of teaching. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Reinhart, S. (2000). Never say anything a kid can say. Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 5(8), 54-57.

Below is a link to the slides from my talk:

Amidon, J. (March, 2017) Not a Test but a Celebration of Learning! Designing Learning Experiences to Build Relationships with the Content. Session at Spring Summit of Teach for America – Mississippi. Cleveland, MS.

Amidon Planet in Haiti 2017: Make a Joyful Noise

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in resource
Why go to Haiti?  That is the question I heard both leading into and following our service trip to Haiti? Why did The Orchard Oxford send a team of ten people to Camp Mary, back to the same community we visited last year.  Why?  It is a good question.  Let me tell a little story from our last day in the community and hopefully shine a light on the answer.


We pulled up to the church and it was quiet. Really quiet. A glance inside the one room building in Camp Mary revealed one man preaching to one man. As we piled out of the van there was a woman coming up to the church who greeted us on her way in. She just doubled the attendance.  We filed in and took up the first two rows.  The man preaching to the other man and woman was preaching hard.  He was putting emphasis on his words and through Kednaud, our 410 Bridge team leader/interpreter, it was revealed that he was talking about how we are given discernment to know the difference between good and evil. Eventually he addressed the fact that our group had come into the space.  He welcomed us and said that we were going to all worship together.  I couldn’t help but think to myself, “But where is everybody else? Should we wait?”  The man then walked over to the amplifier, calmly turned it on, and positioned himself behind the alter, and he began to sing.


It started with just his voice. It was an old voice. A voice with melodious pops and cracks.  A voice with experience and feeling behind every word he was singing. Above all it was a joyful voice, a voice with an unshakeable happiness that emerges from within.  He began slow and reserved.  After a verse or two he gestured for us to stand. Upon standing I could see other people from the community walking through the open doors of the church. About this time a keyboard player and a drummer started to accompany the man singing.  Pretty soon another man sitting to the side in front of us joined in by starting to clap, which made me and some of my teammates start to clap as well.  All around us were people clapping and moving rhythmically to the beat. (Where did these people come from?) The rhythm from the drum and the melody of the keyboard seemed to energize the man’s singing. His voice, in all its character, was getting louder, faster, and he was moving with it. I asked my co-leader, Amber, if the song was getting faster because I seemed to be clapping faster.  She nodded with a huge smile on her face.  The man clapping in front of us walked over to the drums and picked up what looked like a stove pipe and a stick and rubbed the stick across the ridges of the pipe to the beat, with a double-time flourish every so often. Soon a boy from the community walked in to the room directly up to the drummer and joined in the fray by playing the cymbals. Another woman grabbed two wooden blocks and banged them together as the final accompaniement to this joyful chorus. The music was officially rocking. All around us the room was filling up with people, voices, movement. I looked around and the movement from within the crowd was infectious, my teammates and I could not help but clap, move our feet, and sway to the joyful noise. And with the signal of a single finger in the air, the man repeated the chorus one more time and brought the song to an abrupt end. What started as one man on a scratchy microphone ended with a room full of people adding what we could to make a beautiful noise to God.


As I reconsider the question that started this post that is what we are doing.  We are doing what we can to add to the beautiful noise started not by us but by what has done for us through Christ.  Yes we did things this week. We weeded a garden, we taught English, we sang with kids, we shared a bible story, we played games, we prayed in homes, and we even taught math (Yes!).


So, again, why go to Haiti?


Simply put, we went to Haiti to add to the joyful noise that is building relationships with the people of Camp Mary. Who are not strangers, not even friends, but family. It may be simply put, but not simply understood.  If you want to understand ask me, look for future blog posts, ask a team member from either this year or last, or sign up for next year’s trip.  Add to the joyful noise…

See like a Coach: Considering the lenses we use in Formative Assessment

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in resource

Formative assessment

a process of gathering evidence within the stream of instruction in order to inform teaching and learning (Black, Harrison et al., 2004). To be considered formative, the evidence must be “elicited, interpreted, and used by both teachers and learners” (Wiliam, 2011, p. 43)

From the Joint Position Paper on Formative Assessment of the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics & Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (2014)

We hear all about the benefits of formative assessment but what is it and how do you do it…well.  The Formative Assessment Conference put on by the Center for Mathematics and Science Education attempted to answer that question for mathematics educators from across the state (and beyond) the past two days.  My contribution to the conference was a talk called “Considering the Source: The Lenses we use when we Assess” where I used an interesting situation from my own teaching to illustrate the idea of seeing like coach versus a critic. (As I was figuring out how to talk about this idea of different lenses to use in formative assessment I heard this podcast by Perry Noble on “Coach v. Critic”, so you will hear some parallels in this talk. Just want to give credit where credit is due.)

Here is a link to the slides that I used in my talk, which has links in it to the resources that I mention.