Collab Lab 13: Recap & Notes

Problem Finding

Bring King joined us for Collab Lab 13 to walk us through an exercise to identify problems worth solving at attendees’ schools.  The idea was to give participants the feel for a process they could use with their students to identify challenges students could take on as authentic learning experiences.  Thanks also go out to David Howell (MSOE/Epiphany Consulting) who, with Brian, helped us pull together the process (below).

Our participants look to take the process back to their schools to see what their students might come up with.  We’re scheduling a follow up meeting at the beginning of December to re-group and share feedback from the process, see what problems students are willing to take on and, and share ideas about how to help the students dive into a problem solving exercise.  If you are interested in joining in, let us know:


    The Process:

    Step 1: Rapid Fire Problem Finding

    • Break into teams of 4 to 8 participants
    • On their own, each participant writes as many “problems at your school” as they can think of on note cards– one note card per problem
    • Collect all the note cards and put them into the bag o’ problems

    Step 2: Mix and Redistribute the Cards

    • Shuffle the cards and distribute them equally between the teams
    • Each team categorizes and notes duplicates
    • Each team prepares a categorized list of problems to share with the entire group on a white board or large Post-it sheet.

    Mixing the cards ensures that members are exposed to ideas from outside of their own team

    Step 3: Large Group Sharing

    • Each team reports on the problems on their list
    • Teams share anything noteworthy about their process
    • The team may refine the categorization and list based on feedback from the group

    Step 3a: Optional — Identify More Problems.

    If the teams had a hard time coming up with an initial set of problems, prompt for additional ones to consider by asking

    • Are there categories of problems that are missing?
    • Are we missing the problems of any groups at the school (teachers, staff, administration, parents, students, neighbors) or subgroups of those (new students, minorities, impoverished students, etc.)?

    Step 4: Drilling Down

    In teams, but remaining all together in the room, consider the following questions:

    • Are there any problems on the wall that are actually dilemmas?
    • Are there any problems on the wall that aren’t actually problems?
    • Are there any problems on the wall that would benefit from re-articulation?
    • How might we “triage” these problems?
    • Is it realistic for you/your group to actually solve the problem?
    • Are there new problems to articulate based on your reading of all the problems?

    Each team then drafts a revised list:

    • Based on the drill down questions, narrow to 3-4 issues and write them on a white board or large Post-it note.
    • Put a circled D or circled P next to each issue to identify it as a problem or dilemma
    • Record any problems/dilemmas that need further clarification before decision/asking
    • Each group shares their revised list

    Middle School Math Work Group: October 9th Session– Recap & Notes

    Causal Loop Diagram for middle school math performan
    Our revised diagram highlighting key factors and adding a couple of new ones.

    This was the first working session for a group of educators focused on middle school math that is part of a collaborative effort with Milwaukee Succeeds. We began our October 9th session with a silent discussion: using post-it notes to determine what is missing on the causal map, and dots to determine what three factors have the most impact on student learning.  Our goal in doing so is build a model that can help us chart a course to improved student performance.


    At the end of our first session we challenged the group with a reading assignment (Making Number Talks Matter: Developing Mathematical Practices and Deepening Understanding) and to experiment with meaningful discourse in their math classes.  The group took a bit of time to reflect on what worked, what was challenging, and ways to we get past that.

    What stuck with you

    • Process is important (engaging in routines and creating common language)
    • Temptations to resist (not putting words into students mouths)
    • Mindset check, reminder on what really does help a student
    • Actually prod student confusion, and allow students that space

    If you had a chance to experiment, were you able to? What worked and what didn’t work?

    • Peer-peer convos, non-verbal responses, but students have a hard time explaining what they really mean beyond the algorithm
    • Number talks: intentionally planning these talks
    • Multiple ways of talking about the numbers
    • Thought patterns, find out where the kids are at
    • Kids ping-pong off each other to see each other ideas and ways of thinking about things
    • Kids being so ingrained in rote-memorization, have a hard time getting out of that, and that there isn’t only one way of finding the answer to the math problem

    Exercise in meaningful discourse

    For the bulk of the evening, Kevin McLeod from UWM’s Department of Mathematical Sciences led the group through a discourse session on a single math problem appropriate for middle school students. This helped provide context for the higher level conversation which ran in parallel around the reasoning behind the process. The problem and his notes are available to download here.


    2023-24 Collab Labs

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