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360 Podcast – Brian Simmons on Mindful Teaching and Learning Through the COVID Pandemic

Welcome to the first episode of season 3 of the 360 podcast! In this time of returning to in-person instruction during the global COVID pandemic, we chat with Brian Simmons, a mindfulness teacher and educational leader from Manhatten, NY. We discuss ways that we can use mindfulness and meditation to help us teach and learn well through this uncertain time. 

About Brian Simmons from brian-simmons.org:

“I was an award-winning writer/producer for Comedy Central, and was suddenly struck down with a 10-year debilitating illness that changed my life trajectory. It sucked, but it was totally worth it.

Along the way, I learned very deep lessons about how Mindfulness and ancient wisdom can help a person exactly when they need it most – when life doesn’t cooperate. Today, I am an educational leader and mindfulness teacher in NYC, and I use this experience to relate directly to real people with no time for nonsense.

Regardless if you are a skeptic, seeker, educator or student of any age. When I was first introduced to meditation culture in the 90’s it made me cringe. It still does sometimes, but the practice of Mindfulness changed my life. And, it blew my mind. I believe it will do the same for you.

I’ve spent decades practicing fiercely with some of the best meditation teachers on earth. I’ve completed teacher training at the Center for Mindfulness at UMASS Medical College and am a graduate of the Community Dharma Leaders program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, CA. I also serve on the teacher’s council at NY Insight Meditation Center in Manhattan and am a meditation teacher on the 10% Happier App. I’ve learned powerful techniques and perspectives that work, and I love sharing them with people.”

Mindfulness in Education

Navigating Life Changes

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Connection and Reflection: 5-ish Tools for Teaching Mathematics During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This is hard.

I’m planning out my start of year classes and it’s just beginning to hit me that I can’t do group work in the same way, and I can’t walk around the class in the same way, and I won’t be able to help a student in quite the same way. Students will be wearing masks, and will be sitting 6ft apart. With a strong belief in learning being a social activity, this semester is going to be like no other.

However, my priorities remain fairly consistent, although how it looks will be different this year, especially as I may need to be able to pivot between in-person and virtual learning for the foreseeable future. They are:

  • To give the students a positive and engaging experience of learning mathematics
  • To help students learn collaboratively
  • To help students to become learners, reflecting on their own progress and being able to adapt accordingly

In summary, my priorities for the year, whether in person or through the computer, are Connection and Reflection.

Connection: This will be especially true if we end up going fully online, but the more ways the students can connect with each other the better the learning will be.

Reflection: This has always been important, but in a time where we can not really meet with students one-on-one, we have to get creative in terms of helping students to reflect on their own learning.

Here are some tools that I will be using for student connection and reflection in the coming weeks:


Flipgrid (Free)

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Flipgrid is a k12 social platform where students can share videos with each other and with their teacher in a safe and transparent way. This is a great tool for general introductions, class social interactions, or creating reflection videos for assignments.

Marco Polo (Free) is a good alternative, too.


Desmos Activity Builder (Free)

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With some phenomenal options for sharing thinking between students and giving teachers full access, Desmos Activity Builder is a must-have in the connected math classroom. You can use one of the pre-designed activities from Desmos or other teachers (use this google search for better results from other teachers), or you can design your own from scratch, or using their hugely helpful templates.

They have taken follow-up discussions to the next level with tools to show aggregated and individual responses, as needed. You can anonymize names, or show named responses.

Desmos has put together some great webinars for you to get quickly up to speed on how it all works. And, it’s all completely free!


Diagnostic Questions (Free)

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Designed by Mr. Craig Barton himself, Diagnostic Questions is a free tool that will give you some great data from multiple choice questions that you can set for students. I like that this software has the option to ask students to submit a summary of their thinking and not just to click on the ‘correct’ answer. This tool is easy to use, set up, and is completely free, giving you a lot of information on student mastery.

ASSISTments is a similar program that is more US based questions.


Classkick ($7.99/mnth for Pro Account)

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I reviewed Classkick a while ago, and although I haven’t used this for a while, it could be a great way to seamlessly transition between in-class and virtual learning. You can see all students working live on an assignment, giving them live feedback. There is the option for students to help other students, and with a pro account, you can export grade data, as needed.

When it is difficult to walk around the class room in the same way, Classkick is a great way to see everyone’s thinking without having to rely on multiple choice questions.


Padlet (from $12/mnth for education account)

Padlet is a great way to organize student responses in a variety of formats including pictures, video, and typing. Useful for both in-person and at-home learning, it is a great tool for students to share ideas with each other, to work on a project, or to post questions. You can also see which student has viewed what if you need to ensure that everyone is engaged.

I hope this list helps you to start the semester/term well and for your students to feel connected and enjoyment in their learning. Feel free to write a comment below if you know of any tools that are a must-check-out for students to connect and reflect in the coming weeks.

Latest Posts

Connection and Reflection: 5-ish Tools for Teaching Mathematics During the COVID-19 Pandemic

I’m planning out my start of year classes and it’s just beginning to hit me that I can’t do group work in the same way, and I can’t walk around the class in the same way, and I won’t be able to help a student in quite the same way. Students will be wearing masks, and will be sitting 6ft apart. With a strong belief in learning being a social activity, this semester is going to be like no other.

How to Create Your Very Own Math Ed Search Engine

Inspired by Robert Kaplinsky’s Problem-Based Learning Search Engine, I decided I wanted to create my own based on my favorite websites to check before starting every unit. The process is very simple but at the end of it, you come out with a search engine that will only search websites that you decide are worth […]

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How to Create Your Very Own Math Ed Search Engine

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Inspired by Robert Kaplinsky’s Problem-Based Learning Search Engine, I decided I wanted to create my own based on my favorite websites to check before starting every unit.

The process is very simple but at the end of it, you come out with a search engine that will only search websites that you decide are worth including.

Here is a step by step guide to creating your own.

1) Head to Google’s Custom Search Engine Site

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2) Click on ‘Add’ to create a new search engine

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3) Type in the websites that you want it to search

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4) Give your search engine a name and hit ‘create’

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And that’s it. From that point, you can bookmark the search engine, or embed the code into your website. Enjoy! Do share your URL in the comments.

MathEd Out Event: Going Deeper

The MathEd Out Podcast

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MathEd Out Conference 3.0:
Going Deeper

Saturday February 6th 2016, 9am-12pm

Covenant Christian High School, Indianapolis, IN


CLICK HERE to register your free place

The first and second MathEd Out Events were so successful, we are doing it all again! Don’t miss out on your chance to meet with others who are passionate about being the best high/middle school math teachers they can be.

The morning will feature:
  • Time for delegates to share ideas and top resources with table discussions including:
    • Using rich tasks to deepen understanding
    • How to go deeper with simple ‘skill practice’
    • Discussions with course specific groups (Algebra 1/Geometry etc)
  • The popular ‘resource symposium’, sharing all the resources we love best

There are just 60 places for this event. Register soon to avoid disappointment!

CLICK HERE to register your free place

Share the facebook event, here

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Ep. 13 feat. Robert Kaplinski on Rich Lessons and Going Deeper in Mathematics

The MathEd Out Podcast

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Robert Kaplinsky has worked in education since 2003 as a classroom teacher, district math teacher specialist, and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) instructor.  He graduated from UCLA with a Bachelors of Science in Mathematics / Applied Science (Computer Science) in 2000 and earned his Masters of Education in 2005.

He has presented and conducted professional development at across the United States and Canada.  His work has been published by Education Week (20122015) and the American Educational Research Association (AERA).  He has consulted for major publishers including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Pearson.  Robert is a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM), California Mathematics Council (CMC), Orange County Math Council (OCMC), and Greater Los Angeles Mathematics Council (GLAMC).  He also co-founded the Southern California Math Teacher Specialist Network, a group that includes over 170 math teacher specialists from…

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Why you should use Visualpatterns.org, every week

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I used to teach high school. I would often see students who struggled to see:

  • How to generalize patterns and extrapolate
  • The meaning and usefulness of a function
  • That the cartesian plane was just two number lines stuck together, useful for comparing two quantities changing at the same time
  • The difference between a linear relationship and an exponential relationship

Thanks to teacher and activity creating genius Fawn Nguyen, we have a way to address this problem. I now run a visual pattern activity at the start of my lessons, every Wednesday. Just a few weeks into the semester, I am already seeing the above gaps filled!

We have started mainly by mainly using linear patterns with constant differences. Now that this link is pretty strong I have started to introduce increasing differences and they are quickly getting the idea of a curved relationship on the graph. I have created this sheet to help organize the students thinking. I give them 4 minutes to think on the problem by themselves and 2 minutes to discuss their ideas. Then as a class we ask and discuss:

  • Can you describe in words, how this pattern is growing?
  • What do you notice about the numbers in the table?
  • What would be a really slow way of calculating the number of blocks/objects in step 43?
  • What would be a quicker way of calculating the number of blocks/objects in step 43?
  • Using this rule, what would step 1000 look like?
  • If I saw a step with [     ] blocks, which step would I be looking at?
  • If I were to graph steps against blocks/objects, what would the shape be? Why?
  • Ext: What would step 0, step -1 look like?

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I am quickly finding that, by accident, students are solving equations and building up a sense of the need for processes such as factoring, finding the inverse and finding the slope of a line. I have found I am able to coherently validate the need for calculus, 5 years before they take it. I believe this will really help my students when I run lessons such as Dan Meyer’s toothpick activity, later in the year. Sure this is just similar to the explicit/recursive rule section of particular algebra textbooks, spread over a year, but I think a regular discussion on this idea is crucial to making connections and getting the deep understanding needed for algebra and beyond.

I am excited to hear if it has made much of a difference, next year and into the future. I suspect it really will.

Ep. 11 feat. Prof. Jo Boaler on Having a Growth Mindset for Learning

The MathEd Out Podcast

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Jo Boaler is an author/speaker, and is Professor of Mathematics Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Boaler is involved in promoting mathematics education reform and equitable mathematics classrooms. She is the CEO and co-founder of Youcubed, a non-profit organization that provides mathematics education resources to parent and educators of K–12 students. She is the author of several books including, What’s Math Got To Do With It?(2009) and The Elephant in the Classroom (2010), both written for teachers and parents with the goal of improving mathematics education in both the US and UK. Her 1997/2002 book, Experiencing School Mathematics won the “Outstanding Book of the Year” award for education in Britain. Currently she is the Research Commentary Editor for the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education.

thJo Boaler Website

How to Learn Math: For Students

How to Learn Math: For Teachers and Parents

YouCubed

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Within 10 years, every math classroom will have one of these

It’s a cool trick, you think of something and then you can make it. But a visit to 3D printing company 3D Parts Manufacturing quickly convinced me that this could be a hugely powerful tool to help build understanding in mathematics.

Think about it:

  • After considering volume and surface area of 3d shapes, you could see your ideas come to life
  • After considering the coordinate plane, you could see your ideas come to life
  • After considering maximization and minimization problems, you could see your ideas come to life
  • After considering solids of revolution, you could see you ideas come to life

Using this well will be an art form. The temptation to be ‘hey, look how cool this project is because we used 3D printing’ will be strong. If used well, this could be an incredibly powerful tool to make more abstract ideas become more real. like an extreme version of Desmos, this visual, hold-in-your hand manifestation of mathematics will bring us ever closer to answering oh so common question, Why?

Ep. 8 feat. Dr. James Grime

The MathEd Out Podcast

James is a mathematician with a personal passion for maths communication and the promotion of mathematics in schools and to the general public. He can be mostly found doing exactly that, either touring the world giving public talks, or on YouTube.

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After working in research in combinatorics and group theory, James joined the Millennium Mathematics Project from the University of Cambridge. On their behalf James ran The Enigma Project, with the aim to bring mathematics to life through the fascinating history and mathematics of codes and code breaking. Spys! Secrets! And secret messages!

James travelled extensively giving public talks and visiting schools, colleges, universities, festivals and other events, and reaching 12,000 people, of all ages, every year. Touring took James all over the UK, and the world, and involved talks for Google, Microsoft, RSA conference, Maths Inspiration, Maths in Action, BrainStem (Perimeter Institute Canada), and various science festivals. James’ aim is…

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#NCTMIndy day 1 feat. Dan Meyer

The MathEd Out Podcast


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Dan Meyer taught high school math to students who didn’t like high school math. He has advocated for better math instruction on CNN, Good Morning America, Everyday With Rachel Ray, and TED.com. He currently studies math education at Stanford University, speaks internationally, and works with textbook publishers, helping them move from education’s print past to its digital future. He was named one of Tech & Learning’s 30 Leaders of the Future and an Apple Distinguished Educator. He lives in Mountain View, CA.

Here is a short interview with Dan Meyer following his opening session at the 2014 NCTM Regional Conference in Indianapolis

[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/82726094/MathEdOut/10-30-14%20NCTM%20Indy%20-%20Dan%20Meyer.mp3]

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