#Observe US

This weekend, when I looked at my calendar, I realized that I had double booked myself for Monday. I was supposed to spend the whole day with the seventh grade math team AND I was also supposed to teach a 6th grade math class.  I thought about canceling the math class, but I really didn’t want to do that to the kids or the teacher I have been working with.  I decided I would just let the 7th grade math team know that I had to leave for an hour to teach 6th grade math.  I knew they would understand.

Then, halfway through my Sunday morning planning session, my kids started fighting, the dog ran away, and I realized that no one had eaten anything yet.  THAT never happens. Fast forward to the ride to school on Monday and I am panicking because I only have half a lesson planned. I also only have half the 7th grade math meeting planned.  One half plus one half equals a whole lot of random unfiltered blah bit e blah from me as I try to fake my way through the day.  Then, I had an idea.

What if I invite the 7th grade math team to join me as I teach the half planned 6th grade math lesson? Then, they could give me feedback about whether my lesson was only half a failure or a complete failure.

Fixed mindset voice in my head: Seriously, Sarah?  Why would you invite teachers to watch you teach a lesson you are so completely unsure about?

Growth mindset voice in my head: They could help me.  We could do it together.

Fixed mindset voice in my head:  And if it doesn’t work?  If you make a bunch a math mistakes, or worse yet, teaching mistakes?

Growth mindset voice in my head: I will just tell them up front that I am not sure about the lesson, I need their help, I only want specific feedback, and I am nervous about making mistakes in front of them.  Maybe I will ask them if they see me making a mistake, could they frame it as a question?

Fixed mindset voice in my head:  This is NOT a good idea.

Growth-ish mindset voice in my head: The worst thing that can happen is that I end up under the table crying.

Fixed mindset voice in my head:  Actually, the worst thing would be if the kids are totally confused because I didn’t get to take the time I needed to try all the math and anticipate what students will do.

But, what if I just say that to my peers.? What if am transparent?  Won’t the lesson inevitably be better if I have my peers help me analyze my half-plans before I go in to class, assist me as I navigate the nuances of students grappling with new concepts, and debrief with me afterward?

Yes.  The lesson will most definetly go better if I collaborate with my colleagues.

So I did.

When I got to the seventh grade meeting, I explained the situation.  I invited the 7th grade math teachers to join me in 6th grade math and then I waited.

Would they even want to do this? Some of them only teach 7th grade math?  What was I thinking?!??!? Why would they want to teach with me?


“That sounds fun.”

“I would love to do that.”

Wait. What?

I continued to explain why I wanted their help and that I was really nervous about this experience.  I have had many elementary school teachers observe and teach with me, but being observed in a middle school math classroom was new territory for me.  I listed off all of my criteria:

  • I only want feedback about posing purposeful questions
  • I want you to use this “look for” sheet that I made and I want you to write specific evidence.
  • I want your help.  I might ask you for suggestions in the middle of the lesson.
  • If I make a mistake, please don’t point it out in a really obvious way. Ask me a question that prompts me to check my reasoning.


  • I need your help planning the lesson before we go in.

They were all in.

I shared how I wanted to introduce the tape diagram as a tool for creating equivalent ratios.  We had been using tables, interlocking cubes, and some equations.  I said, “I don’t want to force the tape diagram, but I want to share it as a possible strategy.  I don’t want everyone to have to use it.” I shared the Bubble Juice recipe that I had created as a context for us to work with:

Recipe for Bubble Juice

Makes 6 cups

4 cups juice

2 cups bubbly water

Then, we brainstormed:

  • What is a tape diagram?
  • How does a tape diagram keep track of the unit?
  • How does a tape diagram relate to a table?
  • How does a tape diagram relate to the interlocking cube model?

We didn’t have much time to plan, but it was enough for me to establish a feeling of trust: we were in this together and the focus was on learning from and with each other and the students.

When we first started the lesson, all the visiting teachers sat in the back of the room. That didn’t last long.  When I asked the students to create a ratio from my recipe, some of them were struggling.  I took a teacher time out.  I asked my peers, “Can you help me?  I don’t want to do the thinking for the students, but my questions aren’t helping.” One of my peers joined me.  One by one, my colleagues got up and integrated themselves into the class.

The rest of the class followed a similar rhythm.  I would pose a question to the students and/or my peers and we would navigate the learning trajectory together:

Me to my peers: “The recipe was the warm up problem.  I was going to move on to a problem about running laps. Do you think I should stick with the recipe context?”

Peers:  “Yes!  Do you want to make sure they have found all the different ratios in the recipe?”

Me to my peers: “Yes, but I don’t want them to just name them.”

Peers:  “Well. You have some listed on the board.  What if we  label the ones on the board with letters and ask the students to write down a letter that is an example of a part:part ratio?”

Me: “Yes! They can work with their table partners to come to consensus.”

Students: (having already heard the directions) “There is going to be more than one answer. Should we find them all?”

And this is how the rest of the class went.  All of us learning together.  In fact, when it came time to introduce the tape diagram, I handed off the marker to one of my peers.

“Sherri, would you mind explaining how you use a tape diagram to create equivalent ratios?”  She did.

Then, we asked the students, “How many cups of bubbly water and cranberry juice would you need to make 60 cups of bubble juice?”  Again, we circulated.

Toward the end of the lesson, I called a teacher team huddle.  I said, “One of the things I am trying to work on this year is the closing of the lesson. I want to take the last 5-10 minutes to encourage kids to connect what we did today.  I want them to walk away thinking and making connections. What should I ask them?”

  • “What about, ‘How would you be able to find the amounts of bubbly water and cranberry juice needed to make any # of total cups of juice?'”
  • “Or we could ask them why an answer is incorrect. ‘So and so said you would need 30 cups of cranberry juice and 30 cups of bubbly water, but that isn’t correct.  Why wouldn’t 30 and 30 work'”

We decided to ask both.  One of the students closed the class by sharing,”It can’t be 30 cups of cranberry juice and 30 cups of bubbly water because that would be too fizzy.  You have to keep the amounts of cranberry juice to bubbly water so they match the “juicey-ness” of the original recipe.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So, it turns out, the lesson was 100 times better with my peers in the room.  Kids benefited. I benefited. My peers benefited.  Collectively, we magnified the learning.

The best part?  When we got back to our 7th grade meeting, after we debriefed, everyone agreed that we need to do this at all of our meetings.






3 thoughts on “#Observe US

  1. What a cool experience! You are so lucky to have teams and colleagues to share the learning. I would love to have such support and feedback- I’m the only 9-12 math teacher and we don’t do any observing or collaboration like that. It sounds like the students really took advantage of all your extra help. I’m glad your growth mindset persevered! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The more we create a community of mathematicians engaged in real mathematics, the more likely we are to do this in our classrooms. We are participating in an experience we hope to create for our own students in order to keep math real. Thanks for taking the lead on this!

    Liked by 1 person

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