Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris

Ep 192: Compliance - What do you require in a math class?

February 20, 2024 Pam Harris Episode 192
Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris
Ep 192: Compliance - What do you require in a math class?
Show Notes Transcript

A huge part of any teacher's life is classroom management, setting expectations, and compliance. In this episode Pam and Kim consider when compliance might or might not be helpful in a math classroom.
Talking Points:

  • Sucked down the Math Is Figureoutable vortex
  • Would you rather have compliant students? Or have students who question?
  • There are times when compliance is important
  • Kim and Pam's early experiences with compliance
  • Negative consequences for non-compliance aren't always helpful
  • Creating a learning atmosphere
  • Model your expectations
  • Time for reflection not finger wagging

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Pam  00:00
Hey, fellow mathematicians! Welcome to the podcast where Math is Figure-Out-Able. I'm Pam Harris.

Kim  00:06
And I'm Kim Montague.

Pam  00:08
And you found a place where math is not about memorizing and mimicking, waiting to be told or shown what to do. But it's about making sense of problems, where we notice patterns, and reason using mathematical relationships. We know we can mentor students to think and reasons like mathematicians. Not only are algorithms not particularly helpful, or fun, in teaching mathematics, but rotely repeating steps actually keeps students from being the mathematicians they can be. (unclear).

Kim  00:34
Hey, Pam. Hang on a second. You said "reasons". (unclear). 

Pam  00:36
Reasons? What?

Kim  00:38
"Students to think and reasons." 

Pam  00:40
I seriously? We can mentor students to think and reasons like mathematicians?

Kim  00:44
Every once in a while it happens. (unclear).

Pam  00:46
We can mentor your students to think and reason like mathematicians. I was getting ahead of myself. Oh, good heavens. Yeah. It's funny because we'll talk to people at conferences and stuff, and they'll say, "Do you re-record that every time?" We're like, "Yeah, every time."

Kim  01:00
Maybe one time we won't. We'll just like dive in. It will be like, "Wait, what's (unclear)?"

Pam  01:06
I thought you were going to say we would record it. But no. We're not going to record. 

Kim  01:09
Oh, no, no. 

Pam  01:10
Hey, but I don't know if I should announce this. But I am planning to change the intro and outro when we hit episode 200. So, listeners, you can be watching for that episode number (unclear).

Kim  01:21
Are you watching? Or are you listening? 

Pam  01:23
Oh, gosh. 

Kim  01:24
I'm just poking at you.

Pam  01:27
Okay, maybe I'm tired today. I don't know. I'm going to wake up. Okay, I'm awake. I'm awake. 

Kim  01:32

Pam  01:32
So, I had a fun experience. It was a little while ago now, but I thought I'd mention it on the podcast. Where I did a presentation for the Make Math Moments guys (unclear).

Kim  01:42
Oh, that was so great. 

Pam  01:43
Oh, I had a blast. 

Kim  01:45

Pam  01:45
I really appreciate John and Kyle. I think they have done an amazing job of adding to the conversation about math education. Plus, they're just good guys. We like them. Yeah.

Kim  01:55
They do good work. 

Pam  01:56
Yes, they do excellent work. And during that presentation, at the very beginning, people were getting on. They were telling me where they're from, and what they teach and everything. And David got on and he said, "I've just been sucked down the vortex." No, sorry. "I've just been sucked down the Math is Figure-Out-Able vortex, and I'm loving it!" Or something like that. David, I might not be quoting exactly correctly. And I noted it. And I think I may have said something. And then, as it happened, he popped up. You know, I can see exactly 49 people on my on my screen. 

Kim  02:27

Pam  02:28
In the zoom. And there was a David. And so, I think I said something like, Hey, are you the one that was sucked down the vortex? And he kind of perked up and smiled and was like "Yeah, that's me." Anyway, so (unclear) Do we know what sucked him in? Well, I don't know. But I was just going to say thanks for being sucked down the Math is Figure-Out-Able vortex. What a fantastic vortex to be sucked down.

Kim  02:45
We'll keep ya.

Pam  02:46
I'm not sure if I know what... 

Kim  02:48
I don't know. 

Pam  02:49
Hey, David, if you're listening to this, let us know what sucked you down. Sorry, if I'm forgetting. Like I said, it was little while ago. But, yeah. That was fun. Alright, Kim.

Kim  02:57
It's like we're an octopus with lots of tentacles. You come within range, we'll grab you and keep you.

Pam  03:02
In all the positive ways. Wow, that's an image. Okay. 

Kim  03:08
Alright. So, okay. So, listeners we have Journey. You know, this is an implementation support. And it's like the best place to be.

Pam  03:18
It's a group of folks we work with. 

Kim  03:20

Pam  03:20
Yeah, it's wonderful.

Kim  03:20
The people are super thoughtful. And there's some really fantastic chatter where, you know, people just share ideas. And, you know, we have a private Facebook group, and occasionally a lob about a question. And a while back, I posed a would you rather, just to like see what they were thinking. And so, I put in there, "As a math teacher, would you rather have compliance students? Or have students who question?" And then, I asked why? And, you know, (unclear) people would say. And I added a caveat at the end of it, and I put in parentheses, "I actually don't think this is an easy answer." So, the replies came pretty quickly. And most people said they would rather have students who question. Because, you know, kind of around here, we like kids to be thinkers. But then, one of our fabulous members, Adina, said, "I don't think this is an either/or because people are not one-dimensional." Which I thought was really, really sharp. And she said, "I have students who question everything except for math. Yes, they're teenagers. And students who are really polite and respectful and follow school rules, but question the math to try to figure it out." Which I thought was a nice distinction. And I said, "Yeah, that's totally. I agree. And that's why I bring it up." And I think it might be easy if you're in the Math is Figure-Out-Able movement. Or, really, just in general, you're into kids who are thinkers, to say, you want kids who question because we want kids these days who are thinkers. But if that's true, we also have to be okay with being questioned a lot. (unclear)

Pam  04:54
A lot. A lot. Everywhere. About everything. Mmhm. 

Kim  04:57
We can't ask them to think in some areas, and then shut them down in others. So, you know, I think about this, and maybe it's why I was thinking about it in the first place. Because my personal kids are big questioners. Which, you know, I like. But as a mom, I'm like, ugh. It can be super frustrating, right?

Pam  05:17
There are times where you're like, "Maybe not tonight."

Kim  05:19
Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, we are raising the conversation that, in general, we're a compliance driven society. And, you know, there's definitely some place for that. Safety and whatever. But, you know, if we're saying we want kids to be thinkers, then maybe we need to examine some of the compliance that we have in our classrooms.

Pam  05:43
I mean, and, Kim, you're a massive questioner. 

Kim  05:46

Pam  05:47
We work together, and so I'll say as a as a mathematician, and as a teacher, one of the most valuable... Oh, how do I say this? You are super valuable to me because you don't let me get away with anything.

Kim  06:02
Yeah. Which is tough, right? It is definitely tough. Because when I question, it might feel like somebody saying like, "Oh, you think I'm wrong." And it's literally about (unclear).

Pam  06:12
I mean, sometimes you do. Sometimes you do.

Kim  06:13
I mean, sometimes, sometimes. But really, it's about I want to understand. 

Pam  06:18
And often we push each other for clarification and for like meaning what we say and not just kind of offhandedly, whatever. Meaning what we say, but also being heard the way we intend to be heard.

Kim  06:33

Pam  06:33
Those are two different things, I think.

Kim  06:34
Well, and really it means that you're examining things really deeply, and like you're not just saying something on the fly, but you've really thought about a situation, and it matches up with your beliefs, and it matches up...

Pam  06:48
With integrity. Mmhm. 

Kim  06:49
Yeah, yeah.

Pam  06:50
Yeah, yeah. And you and I both. That's important to both of us. 

Kim  06:53
For sure.

Pam  06:54
So, we're both questioners. But we kind of want to turn the conversation a little bit to this idea of compliance. And what does it mean to be compliant? Because you kind of said, you know, there might be some things like safety where we need kids to be compliant. You kind of said our society is a little bit compliance driven. And we might take that as super negative. But I'm going to say there are some places where...

Kim  07:19
Yeah, sure.

Pam  07:20
...compliance I think is important. Maybe not blind compliance. (unclear).

Kim  07:25
Yeah, I think people have different, what they're okay with in their lives for compliance or not. And so I don't know that we're going to suggest like how much compliant each person should be. 

Pam  07:37

Kim  07:38
But I think we're saying that we would agree with each other that there are times where compliance is important. 

Pam  07:44
So, maybe let's parse out today. And we're going to kind of wing this a little bit. Where is compliance important for us or not important for us in...

Kim  07:53
Yeah, in a classroom. 

Pam  07:55
Yeah, we could do lots of things kind of in other places. But let's focus on math teaching a little bit. Or maybe just even teaching. 

Kim  08:00

Pam  08:01
So, Kim. I know you've told me a little bit about your first year. I think it was worth reading. 

Kim  08:06
Yeah. Homework. Homework reading.

Pam  08:08
Can you tell us about that?

Kim  08:09
So, you know, there were a couple of specific things that we did with regard to homework. And, you know, I'm not like a super big homework fan. But I see that there are some things that, you know, are valuable. So, one thing was a kids needed to read as part of a school, you know, expectation was that they read 20 minutes a night. And, you know, I think in general the point was read. Like be a reader. But in that situation, it turned into if you didn't read exactly 20 or more each night, then there was like a thing, right? It was like, comment on it. And it was kind of this expectation that that was what we did here.

Pam  08:48
Did it affect kids grades?

Kim  08:51
It did not. The 20 minutes of reading was not a grade thing. That was just an expectation. But it was like, you know, if you didn't read 20 tonight. And I would be like, read extra tomorrow. Like, just be a reader, right? Find Books you love. I'll help you find books you love. And just be a reader. But the standard, it had to be 20 a night, like didn't really fly with me so well. But there was a situation where my team... And I loved my team. We got along fabulously. There were so many wonderful things. It was such a great, great group. But I was brand new, and so I, you know, went along with some things that were kind of like, "This is what we do. And this is the expectation." And you know, maybe I wasn't as whatever you want to call me now, but I (unclear). And so, one of the things was that we did like a homework packet. And so, on Monday, there were a couple of things in the homework packet, and then it came back on Friday. And I liked the idea of honoring the fact that you could do more or less on different nights based on your schedule, and sports, and activities in church. 

Pam  09:48
And so, instead of giving homework every day, it was a whole week, and they could kind of space it out in the week. 

Kim  09:53
Yeah, and it was really not a lot of things to do. But there was one thing in particular that I sometimes think back on when I go, "Man, bad call." And, you know, it was in the era of brand new state testing that everybody was like concerned about because it was the entry into, "If you don't pass, then there's a high potential that you don't get to go to the next grade." Yes. And so, you know, we occasionally would have like a reading passage from the state test, or an old, or a guess from a practice book. Anyway. And so, there was a lot of work on like reading strategies, right? This is third grade. And so, it was do these reading strategies. Where I don't even know what they were. (unclear).

Pam  10:34
Circle, circle, underline,

Kim  10:35
Circle underline. Basically. Write a few summary words off to the side of each paragraph. Oh, man... So, anyway, the expectation was that the assignment in that homework was not done until all those strategies were also done. Like, that was part of the work. And so, you know, I would have kids in the beginning of the year like, "Whoa, we do the thing. And then like, over time, you know, there were like, "Ugh." Like, "I bubbled in the answers." Like, I read it. I bubbled in the answers." And the the general thoughts from my group was if you didn't do the strategies, then you didn't complete the assignment. That was the expectation. 

Pam  11:17
Even if you got correct answers.

Kim  11:19

Pam  11:19
You understood what you read. 

Kim  11:20
Yep, yep, yep. 

Pam  11:20
You understood everything. 

Kim  11:21
Yep. Because...

Pam  11:22
You actually did the learning. Mmhm.

Kim  11:23
Because good readers do these things, and we want you to practice them, so that we know that you know how to do them for whatever testing. And in that moment, like I really struggled because what was happening was kids were avoiding turning the packet in because turning it in one day late on Monday was better than getting a bad score on that thing. And so, like it created more problems to be compliant about the way that that should be done than it was actually worth having students do. And so, it became a battle of like, "Oh, you didn't? Oh, stay in from..." Like, a whole thing that I could not stand. We were basically reprimanding the lack of compliance of doing my strategies on your paper.

Pam  12:12

Kim  12:13
And I struggled with that.

Pam  12:14
sounds like you were frustrated that kids were doing the learning, doing the work, getting out of it what they needed to get out of it, but we're being punished sort of arbitrarily for not making it look the way...

Kim  12:28

Pam  12:30
...with the underline, the words off to the side, and the circle, and whatever the (unclear).

Kim  12:34
21-year-old Kim was not as...

Pam  12:37
Stand up for yourself. 

Kim  12:38

Pam  12:39

Kim  12:39
Like, argumentative, maybe.

Pam  12:41
I mean, Kim, it kind of sounds like some math teachers I know who say you have to show exactly all the steps every time. 

Kim  12:48

Pam  12:50
And it's funny. I wonder how many math teachers were calmly listening to this episode and be like, "Kim, you should have stood up for that!" Until I just made it be the way maybe we're making our kids being compliant on math papers. 

Kim  13:02

Pam  13:03
And I can hear people screaming right now at your podcast player. And you're like, "But, Pam, they're going to need to have all those steps for later on."

Kim  13:09

Pam  13:10
And I'm going to gently push back on that just a little bit. If they really are reasoning to get answers, maybe we need to have different reasons for having them show their thinking rather than, "I'm not going to give you a grade. If you didn't." Yeah, anyway.

Kim  13:29
And there needs to be some flexibility in differences for different people. Like, you and I when we're solving problems write down different things in different ways. And sometimes you write more than I do, and sometimes I write more than you do based on what we understand already. 

Pam  13:44

Kim  13:45

Pam  13:46
Yeah. So, I have an interesting compliance story that maybe is the other opposite end of the spectrum. When I was at one of the first schools I taught that, there was a gentleman. I'm going to not call him his real name. We'll call him Larry today. He was very nice. I liked Larry. He was a nice guy. Told funny jokes. He... How do I even start? He said, "If you don't want to learn, I can't force you." And that was kind of his like, sort of the way he, "If you don't want to learn, then, you know, I can't force you." But what that looked like in his classroom was pandemonium. Kids would come in the room, and he would say, "Alright, I'm going to be up here, and I'm going to teach." And he would calmly write at the board, and teach, and kids would... "But if you don't want to learn, then..." You know, and so kids would throw stuff, and talk, and laugh. And basically, the three kids in the room that were trying to pay attention would sit up front as close as they could to try to pay attention, but there was just havoc in the room because because he said, "Well if you don't want to learn, I can't force you." So, I don't think we're suggesting that either, right? Like, we're not suggesting that... I think teachers do have a huge role to play in creating an atmosphere where kids can learn.

Kim  15:13

Pam  15:13
And I would just unfortunately say that that was not happening in Larry's classroom at all. So, it's an interesting. You know, what does it mean? He was sort of saying, "I can't force you to be compliant." But are there good things to be compliant about?

Kim  15:31

Pam  15:31
Yeah, yeah.

Kim  15:33
Yeah. I mean, I think definitely you and I... I mean, maybe I'm speaking for you, and you can please correct me if I'm wrong. But I think there's some general life stuff that we think we would want kids... I don't even know if it's the word compliant. Like, there's general life stuff. The word compliant is... Mmm. Seems... 

Pam  15:48

Kim  15:48
It's like, it feels negative to me because it's almost like, "Do the thing I told you to do, whether you agree with it or not." But I think there's some general life stuff that we would say, "Even if you don't want to be respectful, and turn take with other people in this class, and just in general treat them kindly. That's compliant here." (unclear). 

Pam  16:09
We do that here. This is what we do hear.

Kim  16:11
We do that. If that's not going to be you, then we're going to run into some situations where that's not going to work, and there may be some consequences for that choice. So, compliant... If you're going to call that compliant, then absolutely for me. We're like treating people well. But I can think of situations where we do things that people might think, "Oh, that's a compliance thing." But maybe we just haven't verbalized it. So, we're super big fans of like thumbs up, right? You're doing a Problem String doing or you're talking in a math class, we use a thumbs up signal to avoid calling out. 

Pam  16:44
Well, and to be clear, it's not a raised hand with your thumb in the air. (unclear)

Kim  16:48
No, right at your chest. 

Pam  16:50
It's a discreet, sort of private signal, so that only the teacher is kind of aware who's done when. So, it takes the speed out. There's lots of reasons we do it. And we do ask for that. We set the expectation.

Kim  17:04
Yep. And we model it, right? Model the way we want it to happen. So, we are hoping for compliance in that, but it's not like if somebody doesn't do it, we're removing them from the group or we're dinging them on a grade. You know, we might have a conversation and like dig into like, "Hey, this is kind of what we do. You know, is there a reason why?"

Pam  17:26
I mean, I think we'll definitely have a conversation, right? 

Kim  17:28

Pam  17:28

Kim  17:30
But there's no negative, you're in trouble.

Pam  17:35
I mean, if a kid is doing it on purpose to get in trouble, that's when we have a conversation. 

Kim  17:40

Pam  17:40

Kim  17:41

Pam  17:41
We put some things in place to kind of help figure out what's going on, so that we can make that a positive learning environment for everybody. 

Kim  17:47

Pam  17:47

Kim  17:48
Can I tell you the one that really makes me crazy? 

Pam  17:50

Kim  17:50
Is names on papers. And the thing that makes me crazy... Like, listen. I need a name on a paper. That's super important. But I'm going to share with my students why that's valuable. Like, I think kids assume that they're going to put names on papers, and they forget. And so, if you take points off, or, you know, drop their grade, or they stay in from recess, or whatever, that is so straight about compliance because it makes it easier on your life. And I just really struggle with that, you know? So, some of these things that we're suggesting, like we're sharing why this is valuable, and why it's helpful. And we would appreciate, you know, them doing the thing that makes class better in general. But the second that you take points off? Well, points off for non-mathy things is always a struggle for me to run wrap my head around.

Pam  18:42
Yeah, you would suggest the points off for non-mathy things doesn't make sense because your grade is not about compliance. It's about the math. 

Kim  18:50
Yeah, absolutely. 

Pam  18:51
Yeah. I found it interesting. When you were telling me how you deal with kids who don't have names on their paper. I wish I would have done this when I was in the classroom. So, when you found a paper without a name on it, what did you do? 

Kim  19:02
Oh, gosh. What did I say? I don't remember. 

Pam  19:04
I think you told me that you had a no name. (unclear).

Kim  19:07
Oh, yeah. Totally just a stack. 

Pam  19:09

Kim  19:09
They're like, "I didn't get my back." I'm like, "Check the no names." (unclear). 

Pam  19:11
Yeah, "Go look over there and find your paper." Yeah. "You recognize your handwriting. Go get it." 

Kim  19:16

Pam  19:16
Yeah, I wish I would have done that. Makes a lot of sense. I'm going to sneeze. 

Kim  19:21
Oh, no sneeze.

Pam  19:21
(Pam sneezes). I have no idea if our editor will keep that in there or not. Whoo!

Kim  19:26
Probably not.

Pam  19:27
Hey, so I found an interesting experience. You and I were actually together in a conference recently. We don't do that all that often. But that was fun. And it was a session. You know, we're all professionals. And the instruction from the presenter was to have a conversation about something. Turn and talk to your partner or whatever. And then, the presenter said, "Stop now. Stop. Stop please. Stop now." And the expectation was an immediate stop. It wasn't like, "Hey, I'm going to, you know, give you this notice to, you know..." I will usually say something like "Finish the sentence you're on." Sometimes I'll joke, "Finish the paragraph you're on." But it was super interesting. We both kind of looked at each other like, "Really? Is this happening right now?"

Kim  20:11
I feel like there was almost like a little bit of a reprimand maybe.

Pam  20:17

Kim  20:18
That probably wasn't the intention at all.

Pam  20:20

Kim  20:21
But it was kind of abrupt

Pam  20:22
(unclear) You know, so we're having a conversation, and this happened several times. But each time it was, "Stop now." And then I think it was kind of the second time "Stop NOW." "STOP NOW." Sort of. Like we were both a little taken back by that. We would suggest that if we're trying to build a community of learners, and we say to them talk, that then you may not want to cut them off mid word. Maybe let them finish the sense you're on. Yeah, another place I think maybe where I would suggest that it's less helpful is where we ask students to copy notes perfectly.

Kim  20:58

Pam  20:59
I think that's less than helpful. I think we want to encourage some note making. I'll quote Peter Liljedhal on that. I think note making is much more helpful than note taking. And note making can be the notes that the student needs. And we can help them learn what those are. One that drives me crazy, Kim, is teachers who come into PD late. 

Kim  21:23

Pam  21:24
I'm pretty sure are the ones who have these crazy grade driven tardy policies. And then, they walk into PD late. And I'm like, "Really? Okay. You're the..." Yeah, I mean, like, if you're the person who's asking your students to do something that you're not willing to do yourself, that's a different conversation. 

Kim  21:43
Well, in general, right? Not just the tardy thing. But like, we are the example. We're the model. And I get that there is maybe a mindset of like, "Well, I'm the adult here." Or, you know, "This is my classroom." And that's probably not true for very many of the listeners, right? But there are some, "I'm the authority." And I just wonder sometimes if the compliance issue is maybe part of an issue because we're not modeling the best version of the thing that we're wanting from our students.

Pam  22:15
So, that can be a really helpful thing is to model the way that as we treat students, model that. And that can come back to us. So, maybe some takeaways. Consider how much of your math class is about compliance. And are those things necessary? Or maybe are they just a habit that makes your life easier, but isn't really helping the learning happen. 

Kim  22:38
Yeah, I think this is really just a time for reflection because sometimes we're spending more time fighting for compliance. And maybe it's not as helpful to students as we think it is. So, do they know why you're asking them for this compliance? And are they involved in understanding? And do they get to participate in what's actually effective for them?

Pam  22:57
Yeah, nice. Please don't hear Kim nor I trying to do any finger wagging.

Kim  23:03

Pam  23:04
I think we're really just...

Kim  23:05

Pam  23:05
Yeah, Kim raised that question in our Journey group, and we've just really been thinking about it since, so we thought we would think about it live today with you. 

Kim  23:12
Yeah, we would love to know your thoughts. 

Pam  23:14
Yeah. And thank you for tuning in and teaching more and more real math. To find out more about the Math is Figure-Out-Able movement, visit And thank you for spreading the word that Math is Figure-Out-Able!