Reflections 2016-17

Part 1:

Wow!  It seems like the year goes by faster the older I get.  I ran into one of my former students today.  He was servicing my car.  I didn’t recognize him at first, but he recognized me and asked me if I taught him in 8th grade.  I hadn’t taught 8th grade Math in 10 years, and he looked way too young to have been my student from back then, so we talked some more.  Yes, he was a student in my class at Canyon Vista Middle School.  When he said his name, Patrick, I suddenly remembered everything about him.  I was so surprised to hear that he was 26 and has a family – a wonderful wife and 2 children.  One of his kids is a second grader in a nearby district.

Without any prompting, he began to tell me about his experience in my class.  He said that before that year with me, he hadn’t really ever liked mathematics.  For some reason, he didn’t mind coming to math class with me where before he always dreaded it.  He said I made class fun, but not like silly or childish fun.  He started realizing that he could do mathematics and think like a mathematician.  I chuckled because I remembered always saying that!!  He remembered that one of the students in class accidentally called me “mama” instead of Mrs. Payne.  They all got a big kick out of that so from then on I was known as Mama Payne.  Word spread and eventually all of my students were calling me Mama Payne.  I hadn’t heard that in a while, so I was quite pleased we were having this conversation. This name continued on through the next year until I transferred to a school closer to my home.  What a privilege it was to teach Patrick and for him to have such a positive outlook on his experience in my class – all that growth mindset work and positive messages  I “forced” on my students really did pay off. He said he became more curious about mathematics in the world around him. From then on, he wasn’t afraid of math and did well in high school and college courses.  He said he went to college for a year to be a HVAC repairmen.  He liked the money, but didn’t really enjoy his work.  He does like working with his hands (and he held his greasy hands high with a big smile).  He now works on cars and motors and loves his job.  He beamed when he was telling me this.

He still uses math in this job, but it’s not school math or test questions.  It’s the real world. He has to give quotes, use coupons, order and figure percents on parts, use equipment that gives him data – sounded like great mathematics to me!! Our conversation also brought back memories of the struggle I had with the math standards back then.  I really didn’t want to teach “school mathematics” that my students only used in math class.  I wanted them to have a broader version of mathematics and to have joy in exploring their own ideas about math.  I loved those TextTeam and Connected Mathematics contextual problems and used and adapted them a lot.  What’s even more evident as I reflect on the decisions I made in his class, I’m so grateful that I chose to do absolutely not one single minute of ‘test prep’ with my students.   His daily work with mathematics is a  lot like the types of things we did back in his 8th grade class. He’s happy with his life and comfortable with the math he encounters daily.  I was happy with the math he did with my bill – he only charged me for 5 quarts of oil when he really used 6.5.  I also got $10 off of the total which this company gives to all teachers.  His coworker managed the register and took my payment.  He looked me in the eye and said he wishes his 8th grade math teacher would come by for a visit.  He wants to show him that he actually turned out to be a good citizen as he said he was an awful student and was in trouble all the time!! He added that he probably spent more time at the principal’s office than in class!.

I sat down this evening while I was thinking about Patrick, and I thought of all of the 25,000 or so students in our elementary schools in my district.  Am I helping their teachers see joy in mathematics and providing resources for them to help their students see math as something beautiful? Do the teachers see math as beautiful or do they see math as a checklist of skills, non-related, that have to be checked off before the end of the year?  Even more broadly, are we all giving our students rich experiences in all subject areas? I may focus on mathematics, but that’s just a small part of the school day.  Is the work I’m doing in my job as a math specialist leading them in the right direction?  I sure hope so, and I believe it is true.

The hardest part for me is to reach all 1200 or so elementary teachers – to ensure they all hear the message. We believe in rich mathematics – student inquiry, vibrant discussions and debates, open questions, constructed meaning –  that type of mathematics that is based on student discovery and sense-making. Could I affect their world and make relationship building and curiosity the focus?  I still see and hear stories about students that have spent the year in boring test prep – prepping them to see such a narrow view of mathematics as just “getting the answer”, check, and then moving on to the next multiple choice question – check. That’s in my district – and I’m very sad for those students.  It’s even more devastating to think that teachers who know better are really scared about their scores so they do this type of preparation so that their students pass the test.  Again, just like  going down a checklist.  I don’t want that type of mathematics in our district.  It’s not equitable – some kids get a rich fuller experience with mathematics and some kids don’t based on one test during the year.  That creates a version of mathematics that students usually dislike.  The problem is real to the teachers in this situation as they know that results matter most.They are doing the best they can.  I want to tell them that we’ve got their back – teach our way and your scores will still be great!!  It’s hard to convince them to try something else when they’ve had success with this test-prep style of teaching. This might be just success for the test – memorizing and test prepare them for a test – not mathematics and not necessarily the mathematics they need for continuation of study next year.

Most damaging is that student can often get pretty high scores on the state test doing just this – yearlong test taking prep.  “Aren’t high scores what you’re looking for” someone might say.  Yes, but no – not this way. They send student homework home as packets of problems – so they believe that having students work through these means “you’ll get good at math”,right? – not really.  What they might actually be getting good at is taking a test – a 2 hour or so test that happens only once a year.  For teachers that are scared or ones that really just don’t know the difference, they see the “checklist” way of teaching as their only hope and as the only way to guarantee good scores.

I think about Patrick’s class and whether or not I made sure that my students understood the mathematics in their standards – did they learn the math in their standards without test prep materials? You betcha!! However, the way I went about it looked nothing like test prep.  They were held accountable.  Did my students do well on the state test? Thankfully yes!!   About 140 of my 144 students did pass and the advanced score was really high – like 65 percent of my students got the advanced level without any test prep materials.

Part 2:

Seeing Patrick made me think of reflecting about my work this year.  Today was the first day of a 2-week vacation – then the new year starts – 2017-18.  This year has been a year of new endeavors and experiences for me as a professional.  Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Math Rocks – this year was so incredible in many ways.
    • We introduced a new book to our cohort.  When I first read it myself the year before, I would stop and say (sometimes in my brain but often aloud), “This is how I believe.  This is how I teach.”  Wow – we have to use these ideas on our math website to define how math should be in our district.  I want every school leader and any one making decisions about mathematics education in RRISD to read this book”.  The winner for our book study was none other than Principles to Action – Ensuring Mathematics Success for All – published by NCTM. I really felt the details in this book came out of my own 28 years of personal experiences with teaching students mathematics or providing support to teachers who teach students mathematics.  I even thought that I could have written it. When I read that the research for the book had been 25 years in the making, I totally understand why the concepts in the book and my philosophy are so aligned.  The focus has to be on sense-making and using sound mathematical teaching practices. The book outlines 8 mathematical teaching practices  that work.  I know as these are the ideas that I used for the past 28 years with my students. They are not at all new – just proven!!
      • Establish mathematics goals to focus learning.
      • Implement tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving.
      • Use and connect mathematical representations
      • Facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse.
      • Pose purposeful questions.
      • Build procedural fluency from conceptual understanding.
      • Support productive struggle in learning mathematics.
      • Elicit and use evidence of student thinking.

No where in the list do you see test prep.  Will these practices provide experiences for students that they can use when they take that test?  Most certainly yes!!

More to come…..


About Regina Payne

I love learning.  I love learning with others more than by myself.  I have been on a path to help teachers and students (and myself) to find joy in the study of mathematics.  On that journey, I have had the fortune to learn alongside some fabulous educators from all over the world.  I have spent the last 27 years as a teacher, instructional coach, or math curriculum specialist, in a variety of districts, including:

  • Killeen ISD (TX)
  • Marshall ISD (TX)
  • Beaumont ISD (TX)
  • Leander ISD (TX)
  • Cambrian School District (San Jose, CA)
  • Round Rock ISD (TX)

Each teaching assignment also included all content areas in grades K-5, Mathematics in grades 6-8, and Algebra 1.

I work with Brian Bushart (Teaching to the Beat of a Different Drummer in RRISD in the Teaching and Learning Department – specifically with the Elementary Math Curriculum. We support math education for grades Pre-K through 5th grade and also for TAG math education grades 3-5.  We create and maintain the Elementary Math Aligned Round Rock Curriculum (ARRC) and also facilitate many professional development sessions throughout the year for our teachers.


Adult Learners

Tomorrow, Brian Bushart  (@bstockus) and I start a new year of learning from and alongside a new group of participants in our RRISD Math Rocks Cohort.  I am so excited that my mind won’t turn off.

This time last summer was our first meeting on our maiden voyage with a group of incredible teachers who attended 12 sessions with us starting in the summer and continuing throughout the school year.  The greatest aspect of this group to me was their ability to be so honest about their own instruction and share wholeheartedly with our group.   They also had tremendous resolve to try-out new routines and ideas shared in class.  The highlight has to be the online book study (Making Number Sense Matter) with a group of over 500 colleagues all over the world led by Kristin Gray (@mathminds).  Although our group met on Thursday afternoons after a full day of teaching, these professional educators came to the sessions energized and willing to do mathematical thinking and sharing, and then went back to their classrooms trying out and sharing out their reflections on Twitter and with personal blogging.

Our goals remain the same – building community as a culture of learners and regaining and growing our own joy in mathematics.  These two goals influence all that we will do. My heart is racing as I think about this opportunity for us to learn and grow together reaping rewards of spreading this community and joy of teaching mathematics around our district to fellow teachers and a whole slew of students and beyond our district borders to the rest of the world.  Last year, we proved this is possible!!

As the journey begins tomorrow, I am thrilled to get to know each and every precious person not only professionally, but also sharing our lives together.  May all of our efforts together change the world for students in our mathematics classrooms!


Visiting Math Sites and Blogs

So, the next assignment from Math Rocks was to visit other math blogs or sites. All of them are super fantastic, but here’s a couple I really like and would share with elementary math teachers:

Would You Rather – What I really like about these kinds of questions is that it opens the real world up for student thinking. There are lots of different entrance points for students – and the chance for beyond surface level thinking is very high and comes from the excitement and drive of the students.

Nix The Tricks – The real question is “How do we get this out to all teachers?”  So many times, especially when I was a math coach in elementary classrooms, I cringed at the tricks and shortcuts that teachers were giving to students. Regarding the teacher’s motives, they were only trying to help and tricks were what they knew.  When are we going to learn as a complete group of educators how very bad this thinking is for us and our students!  Making it “easier” for students doesn’t make the learning better or even existent.  Struggling, rethinking, revising, trying again, hearing others explanations, asking questions that lead to more questions – these are all a part of learning and there’s so much more than I can think of right now.

Slow down!  Fast isn’t winning in math.

Discovering Twitter

My, oh my, oh my….what a world of learning is out there just for the tweeting!!

I found such great ideas and coaching about math learning!  Before @brianbushart introduced me to this new universe.  I started about a month ago, then just read some tweets that came to me.  I didn’t post or look anymore until I was feeling a little guilty that I hadn’t.  I use FB and read and post comments all the time.  I know that Brian shares a lot with me that he learns from chats he sees in twitter which is so beneficial to me – but I need to connect and learn for myself as well.  So…Brian – I promise to stay connected this time around.  I worked some on the assignments for our Math Rocks session and got re-energized.   I found some profound ideas and some that just touched a chord with me.  Here are a couple:

@mathcoachcorner Reminder about using broken rulers to help find length measurement misconceptions – 

@teachingjunkie  I found this article about “How to Normalize Mistake Making and Struggle in Math Class –

#elemmathchat – I found this poster – I really value the sentiment!! With a good math community in place in your classroom, and a growth-mindset thinking teacher/students, the support should be amazing and uplifting!!

Media preview

MathRocks Mission #3 Goal Setting

My main goal this year as a professional educator is to learn from and connect with others via the computer internet world. With my newly started learning blog and twitter account, and also working with around 30 RRISD fabulous math teachers and coaches, and of course our fearless leader, Brian Bushart, I’ve just begun to enter a world that seems to have endless possibilities. Pushing past my own backyard, I plan to meet, study, and learn from math leaders around the world. My one mission, become a better teacher, better mathematician, and grow as a better math curriculum writer so that all of my RRISD students have the best math environments to learn 21st century mathematics. I want all I do and contribute to make a real difference in the lives of teachers and students in this district, and the work done here to transform the math world outside this district’s boundaries.

Who Am I?

Hello.  I am Regina Payne.  I work for Round Rock ISD in the Teaching and Learning Department – Elementary Math Curriculum.   I changed my major 3 times – accounting, then nursing, then chemistry, before I finally realized that I love teaching – the common thread in all those other majors was mathematics.  I was very good at mathematics.

While in college, one of my best friends was struggling to pass the teacher test which allows a student to be a part of the education department and take education/teacher courses.  She had taken the math part 3 or 4 times.  She’s always felt inadequate when it came to math – from 4th grade on.  She had to take remedial math courses before taking the required math courses for her degree plan.  She was so frustrated, she changed her career path.  She had wanted to be a kindergarten teacher, but then had to change her plan as she couldn’t get into the teacher classes – curriculum and instruction classes.

I wanted to make a difference in the world for kids with regards to math instruction.  I wanted to stop the cycle of teaching the way you were taught way back when.  We need 21st century teachers for our 21st century learners.  That’s why I became a teacher.  The door needs to stay open for students to be able to work in a career of their choice.

When I was an instructional coach in RRISD, I had the fortune to work with a curious teacher who wanted all her students to be successful in mathematical thinking.  She had about 6 of her 24 third grade students who used addition to solve any problem given to them – she was pulling her hair out with frustration.  So….I first had the students do a “quick write” where they tell me about what they think through when given a math problem to solve.  What was interesting and made me even more curious about the 6 learners was that they all said something to the affect of writing down the numbers and adding them up.  Absolutely nothing about thinking through the situation or context.    I had to figure out how to make a math problem that didn’t have any numbers – what would those students do now?  It was amazing. Here’s the numberless problem I chose  –

Some boys and girls entered the competition.  There were more girls than  boys.

What do you know for sure? I asked the class.  Puzzled looks returned back to me.  What math do you see in the problem, I asked?  They were emphatic – There’s no math here.  No numbers mean no math.  I don’t know anything about this problem.  Finally, someone said that he knew that boys and girls were in the competition; the number of girls is more than the number of boys; the number of boys is less than the number of girls;

Gradually I added more information.  What if there were 100 girls.  What do you know about the number of boys?  What began happening was that the students were focused on the relationships in the problem instead of numbers.   I went on adding more information – then asked them what could the question be?  Out of the 8 third grade classes that I practiced this lesson on, only 1 student actually had the question I was going to ask – How many children entered the competition?

More to come….