Classroom Stories: Interview with Annette Youngren, 7th Grade

Ms. Annette Youngren teaches seventh grade math as part of a dual language program at a school in New Mexico. She has over 19 years of experience teaching second through seventh grade, most recently with four years of teaching middle school math. Annette saw the benefits of using CueThink for her students and herself and we talked with her about her experience!



CueThink: So glad you could talk with me today and welcome!

Annette: Thank you! I’m glad to participate in this!

CueThink: Terrific! So, let’s just jump right in. Why did you start using CueThink?

Annette: Well, I saw a post on Twitter by Andrew Stadel about CueThink, so I looked into it. I’m always looking for new ways for my students to demonstrate what they know. I was hooked by the saying you guys have, “Make Math Social” because we know that being social is central to the lives of most middle school students. I thought if there was a way to make my classroom more social about the math that we’re learning, all of us would learn so much more. As a teacher, I really want to engage my students in meaningful mathematical tasks in my classroom. Not just say that I’m engaging them. I want them to create lasting memories that they can go back to and say, “When I did this problem, I remember I made this mistake. And this problem is like that problem in this way, so I need to approach it in this manner.” I want their mathematical experience to be such that they can use it later to help them find confidence and literally mathematical help. I want them to understand that learning math is a process and that when we learn from our mistakes, we can use that later to help us know exactly what we need to do and when.

CueThink: That’s great! Do you get a lot of ideas from social media and Twitter?

Annette: I’ve started to more this past year. Following people on Twitter and Math Twitter Blogosphere, setting up an RSS feed and following blogs of people have given me a lot of encouragement and ideas for how I can just keep making my teaching better.

CueThink: That’s awesome! So you came across CueThink and you were interested in using it. How did you first introduce it in the classroom? A lot of people have ways of getting started, but what was good for you and what made that effective?

Annette: I started out by introducing notice and wonder using my group interactive dryerase boards. And then the group shared ideas and we created a class chart about what we noticed and wondered. That activity really lowers the stress of problem solving for a lot of students because anyone can start with what they notice. You don’t have to notice the things that you should notice to solve a word problem. And also as a teacher, it lets us know really what is it they’re noticing and how are they going to approach this.

CueThink: Had you seen notice and wonder before using CueThink?

Annette: I had seen it before and I’ve used it off and on. I feel like it’s a really good way for students to have conversations about math and to be able to talk about each other’s work. I think it’s a really great way to guide discussions within a classroom.

CueThink: It gets the conversation going and we’re really thrilled that the folks at The Math Forum, who really are the pioneers of notice and wonder, are collaborating with us as strategic partners. We do think, as you said, it’s a great entry point! Anyone can notice, anyone can wonder, even parents at home, right?

Annette: I think that there’s power in that it can be used a lot of different places in order to engage students in problem solving.

CueThink: Absolutely! About the technology, in using the iPad with CueThink, did you have anyway of introducing it?

Annette: My students use technology fairly frequently, so I think it’s really important that you have established norms and procedures before you start using technology. Although, I’m the kind of teacher who likes to jump into things, see how they go, modify it as I go and have my students problem solve. I each let them have their own iPad because I knew that they weren’t going to want to share. They were going to want to do their own thing. We had some technological snags, but overall it was a good experience.

CueThink: And you use the iPads on a cart? Or do the kids have them and take them from class to class?

Annette: They’re on a cart and they have numbers. They know which number they need to go to and pick out so they can get their iPad.

CueThink: How often are you or were you using CueThink?

Annette: Right now, I’ve only used it a few times. We’re waiting for some updates to happen to make it a little more friendly with the shared carts.

CueThink: And those have happened!

Annette: Yes, so we’ve tried again. And I need to choose smaller questions. Just because it needs to be something my students can do in a one-hour session. So I don’t think I was choosing the right kinds of questions. You know, I definitely would like to use it more frequently and try to hold on to my iPad cart so I can do that.

CueThink: So you have to sign out the cart? It’s shared within the building?

Annette: There are a few that are shared. Because my students are doing things like CueThink I’m more likely to get it than teachers who, say, might be just having their kids supposedly do research or play games.

CueThink: It is about the creation and consumption, we totally agree! So, now that you’ve been using CueThink, what are you seeing in the classroom?

Annette: Well, because my students know their classmates are going to be able to see their work, they are wanting to develop their mathematical ideas more thoroughly and they’re paying much more attention to the quality of their work. In my classroom I really stress the idea of revision and my students just want to keep going back and revise their work based on the feedback they get from their peers or from myself. One student in particular has been trying to come up a work around that even after he submits it and gets feedback, that he can somehow take screenshots and add on and create a new thinklet.

CueThink: For that student, you can redo the thinklet. They can start the problem again even though its been submitted.

Annette: He just wanted to keep some of the work he had already done and just keep revising off of what he already had.

CueThink: Those will be updates and are feature requests we’re hearing, so you can let him know and encourage him in that way!

Annette: I hear my kids commenting once they get feedback, “Oh, I get it, I didn’t even think about that” or “Oops, I got that completely backwards.” So it’s allowing them to see where they might be going astray with their mathematical thinking and get themselves back on course. With peer feedback too, because for teenagers and middle school students, their peers are the most important things to them. Even those of us who they really respect, I think they hear our voices later. But right now, the voices of their peers just stick and are a little louder for them. So this is a good platform for allowing that part of who they are right now to benefit us in math.

CueThink: Did you do anything in terms of structuring how they gave each other feedback?

Annette: I have them use Notice and Wonder, like “I notice you did this,” “I notice you did that,” “I’m wondering why you chose this” or “I’m wondering if you couldn’t...” It worked really well because it’s really non-threatening and the students say “Oh okay,” not “Oh my gosh, I messed up.”

CueThink: That’s awesome, it’s an excellent idea. I’m sure lots of listeners will take you up on that suggestion. For teachers who need ideas getting going with CueThink, what would you suggest?

Annette: The first is making sure you have procedures for working with technologies in your classroom. I think you have to create a culture where in your classroom the students can openly discuss their mistakes. I’ve had my students for almost two years now, they’re really accustomed to that, where we have a mistake and we all learn from it and it doesn’t matter who made it, we’re not laughing at them or judging them, we’re all really learning from it. I think you need to have some of that culture built into your classroom before they start giving feedback to each other so that the students can accept it well and they know how to give feedback that’s not going to hurt other people.

CueThink. Yes, it’s not only about giving feedback, it’s how you receive it. One of the things that you and I have talked about was this dual-language program, and that you’re using some of the content in both English and Spanish. How do you think a platform like CueThink would support those English language learners?

Annette: CueThink supports English language learners by helping them break down a problem using the Notice/Wonder format in a less threatening way than if we just hand them a problem and say “Underline the important information and circle what you need to find.” It allows that low-floor entry point to a low-floor high-ceiling problem. So it allows those students to get in and you can see where those students are going. It lets them be creative because of the technology – they’re eager to work on it.

I provide some standard sentence frames for my ELL students in order to help them explain their thinking more easily. For example, we did a problem on the difference in height between Challenger Deep and the Summit of Mount Everest, and the frame could be “Mount Everest is how many meters higher or lower than the depth of challenger deep.” “I know this because… I first… Then next… Finally…”

One of the things that’s really great about CueThink is they get to practice their oral language skills. They can listen to their own recording and rerecord it as many times as they want, so they get to practice that and it gives them time to think and process because ELL students often need more time for that. But then when they get feedback, it’s about the math, not their English, so they’re getting to practice in a very low-stress environment.

A large portion of my ELL students are in our dual language program which mean they have a Spanish language arts class and a content class in Spanish every year. This year, their content class is Spanish, so I teach two classes a day of seventh grade math in Spanish, two in English, and actually my students in Spanish often need the ELL strategies for working with their Spanish because they’re still trying to learn academic Spanish. They’re bilingual students, most of them, their home language is Spanish but they’re proficient in English. A good portion are more comfortable in English than Spanish academically, but now they’re trying to build up their Spanish academically, along with their English. The goal is that by the time they graduate high school they are academically fluent in both languages. It is challenging the limits of my Spanish, I’m definitely learning a lot. The kids in the program are just amazing, they’ve taken all of this really well.

CueThink: Is there anything else, or any questions or ideas for us?

Annette: We’ve created a poster in my class, probably the next time we use it we’ll revise it a little more now that you’ve had some updates, where they can keep putting their ideas for how it can improve. They like to feel that I have a say in things. Like I said, my students want to be able to revise their work again after they submit it, but that’s just based on the culture we’ve created among ourselves. We love using it.

CueThink: That’s wonderful. Thank you very much for your time, and we look forward to hearing about it.

Annette: That would be great because they have a lot of great ideas and when they feel like they’re being heard and have a chance to give feedback, it’s easier for them to take feedback as well.