General Ideas for the Classroom

Marbleslides, Squigles, Portfolios, Previewing: My Third TMC Recap Post

Another blogpost about takeaways from TMC17 which I may be able to use in my classroom.

Marbleslides Challenges

I love Sean Sweeney. He’s everything good in the world, packaged in humanoid form! He’s so welcoming and kind to everyone… he wants everyone to feel part of things. At the Desmos Fellowship, he was the person I felt most safe saying “I have no idea what the hell I’m doing” and he would hunker down and help. I think many others felt the same. Okay, enough of the love fest. I am going to share his my favorite which I desperately want to use in my classroom. First, a little note. There is a difference between reading something on a blog and experiencing it. More and more, I’m recognizing that. I think if I read about this, I’d think “cool story, bro” and be like “okay, I could do this, but is it really worth it?” But experiencing it like we did during his short presentation, it’s like “I MUST DO!”

Sean has made a number of Desmos marbleslide challenges (if you don’t know about this, google it). Here’s a gif from his blog. The idea is that the marbles drop and you have to create stuff on Desmos to make the marbles hit the stars.

marbleslideAnswerBlog

He shared one with us, and everyone in the giant room got obsessed with drawing functions that would let us “win.” For our challenge, people used ellipses, used lines, used piecewise functions, use quartics. It was inspired to see all the different approaches, and all the play that resulted.

What was lovely about Sean’s facilitation is that he paused us after a while (note: a teacher trick is to say “I’m going to pause your screens in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…”). You knew from the cacophony of groans that we were in a good place. Then he shared out different approaches. The diversity of “answers” for the challenge was fascinating.

He made this a regular thing in his classes. I love his poster which shows the diversity of responses:

marble.PNGSo how can I use this? I’m not sure yet. I need a way to keep it light and fun, but also with all that my kids have on their plates and their lack of time, I don’t know if they would take the time to do it without some incentive. After teaching kids how to restrict the domain of a function/relation, and reminding them of all they have at their disposal that they’ve learned about (trig, circles, lines, parabolas, step functions, etc.), maybe I need to have a 10 to 15-minute in-class challenge (with kids working in pairs, so they are comfortable). And then do it again two weeks later, in class (but not in pairs). And then… announce that we are going to have regular marbleslides challenges. And the winner(s) will get the bonus question on the next assessment without having to do it. Or maybe buy some cheap plastic trophies which get displayed proudly in class? I want kids to work on the marbleslide challenges outside of class because part of this for me is that I want kids who might be slower at processing or coming up with ideas to have the time to execute their vision. I don’t want this to be a timed thing. Though maybe each time I introduce a new challenge, I give everyone 5 minutes in class to work on it.

What I have to make sure to do is share publicly the diversity of answers, like Sean did with his posters.

I also had an idea about how to score it. Something like 1 point for each star. But maybe if we’re learning about conics, or tangent, or something else, I’d give a bonus point for using those functions. And maybe an additional possible bonus point or two for any additional creativity (teacher’s choice)?

Sean’s posts are here and here.

SQUIGLES

David Butler also presented a my favorite on squigles. The poster and his blogpost are here.

sqwigles.png

I am not one for acronyms, really. They often are forced. But what I like is that these are used to teach student math helpers how to work with other students. From David’s post:

SQWIGLES is an acronym that we use to help our staff (and ourselves) when teaching in the MLC Drop-In Centre. It is a list of eight actions we can do to help make sure our interaction has a better outcome and make it more likely students will learn to be more independent.

It was originally Nicholas’ idea to have something like this. He wanted something to help the staff choose what to do in the moment, and also to help them reflect on their actions and choose ways to improve. We noticed that our staff (and ourselves) needed something focused on actions rather than philosophies, because then it could be used on the fly to choose what to do. Telling staff they need to be “encouraging” or “socratic” is not all that helpful when they don’t know how to put it into action. Yet this is what many documents giving advice to tutors do. So we decided to focus on the actions instead.

The reason I wanted to blog about this is because I think it might be helpful to share with the student tutors at my school. We have a peer tutoring program called TEACH (probably an acronym, since I always see it written in upper case… but for what, who knows!). And I haven’t inquired if and how students get trained. But I’d love to do a short 10 minute presentation on this, and maybe do a few scenarios where kids can practice tutoring while other kids watch (fishbowl?) and take notes on which of SQUIGLES happened. (Not all need to happen! Just look for them.)

I think I should also have this on my desk, since I work with students one-on-one a lot and having that reminder can’t hurt!

Porfolios

I went to Cal Armstrong’s session on documenting student learning. Over the years, I keep on getting inspired to have kids make portfolios that they turn in to show evidence of different traits. And this came up again in that session. James Cleveland has done it. Tina Cardone has done it. I want to do it. But aaaah! The time to make it into a reality! Argh! But I really would love to make explicit some values — maybe not standards of mathematical practice (… or maybe throw of a few of them in there…), but things like perseverance or active listening or seeing a problem in a different way or acting with courage or helping someone understand something by asking good questions or recognizing your own a misunderstanding or changing for the positive as a group member in somewayAnd have kids document these moments or interactions. And then at the end of a quarter, turn them in. (But have a check in halfway through the quarter!) It would mean that they are looking for these things, looking to do these things. And recognizing that I value these things. Maybe they have a choice of things they can include — not all of them? Maybe they can take videos or photographs or write paragraphs or draw a comic — it can open-ended how they demonstrated this quality or action.

There is something that I think happens in my school. Kids form facebook groups (or maybe on some other kind of social media) for their classes, and I suspect lots of backchannel communication about the class happens on this group. I suspect a lot of it is positive and uplifting and helpful. I would love to encourage kids to submit that sort of stuff in their portfolio also, if it demonstrates whatever qualities were asked for!

I don’t know if I’m going to do this this year. But maaaaaybe?

Preview, not Review: Student Intervention

Kat Glass gave a my favorite on intervention with students who were failing. Part of it was a powerful and important note about language and using code-words instead of saying what you mean. We don’t have many kids that fail classes in my school. But one thing that did strike home was that sometimes when working with kids who are struggling, we put all our emphasis on remediation and it’s like we’re always playing catch up. But sometimes we need to remember that with a struggling student, one tack that we can’t overlook is previewing upcoming material. It can help kids be more engaged and confident in class, and it sets a good tone moving forward.

I do this sometimes, but I need to remember to do this more frequently. Although I do lots of discovery based work, I don’t think that previewing some of it with a kid, and working through some of the discovery with them one-on-one, and then them seeing some of it happen again in class is a bad thing. I’ll just have to remind them that they need to be careful about not letting other kids have the same insights they had — and their role is to help without telling.

 

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Play! Create! Adult!: My Second TMC17 Recap Post

Here are some more TMC17 notes!

Don’t play with your food, damnit! Play with your math!

I love the idea of having kids engaging in recreational math. I don’t have much time to encourage that in my curriculum — or at least the only way I’ve found for that to happen is with my explore math project [posts 1, 2, 3; website]. Some kids get some extra math problems to work on at math club (usually problems from math competitions or brilliant.org), and kids do math problems on our math team. But that isn’t the spirit of what I want to bring to my school. I want to get kids just fooling around with math for fun! Tinkering! Thinkering! Building! Collaborating! So that’s why I fell in love with Joey Kelly (@joeykelly89)’s my favorite presentation. Where he shared with us Play With Your Math.play

He and a friend created it. Right now it has 15 sheets of paper that can be printed out, each with a challenge. The name, inspired. Design wise, fantastic. But the problems are captivating, easy to dive into, and many have this open-endedness that can lead to obsession. When I was at the Desmos Fellowship a couple weeks ago, they had these for us to work on as a way to get to know each other. Each table had a different one and we were encouraged to play, and meet others who were playing, and then move to a different table and meet and play when we felt like it. The one I spent all my time on, trying to come up with a strategy? One that I know will get my kids in competitive mode? Poster 5:

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I liked getting to know people and I liked these problems! At TMC we were given poster 14 and I became obsessed. And eventually, I solved it (and a second more complicated one). But it took A LONG TIME and I DIDN’T CARE. I refused to go play boardgames at gamenite until I had climbed this mountain!

I need to brainstorm if and how I am going to use these in my school. Some initial ideas:

1. Leave copies of these in the library for kids to use. Or put many copies of all of them on a bulletin board for kids to take, so when they’re board and standing there, they just grab one and start thinking.

2. Use these when I need to fill a long block (we have double periods one out of every five times we meet our kids) and I don’t have a good idea.

3. Plan an Upper School math night, where we gather at a space in the school, do math, order pizza. Like PCMI’s “pizza and math” (was that what it was called? we can do better!). These can be the amuse bouche or the main event!

Math Art!

Speaking of recreational math, at TMC17 there was so much math art. I just wanted to share some of it!

Captivating! I hope at some point to learn how to make crochet coral. It feels like once I get in the rhythm, it could be so soothing. Actually, I wonder if it would be fun to have a MAKER MATH club where we make math stuff together. And create our own math art gallery. Things like the things shown here, but also like these, and origami (demaine and lang), and a menger sponge made of business cards, and design and 3d print these optical illusions, and carefully color in pictures from Patterns of the Universe, and create our own mathart coloring pages. If you are reading this and have ideas of things that we could make, let me know in the comments! You probably can tell this is something I’m actually totally *feeling* (FYI, for me, the definitive math art page is @mathhombre’s page here.)

How To Adult: Let’s Buy A House

So @rawrdimus gave a my favorite on how to adult. He was teaching calculus and wanted to keep his seniors engaged. So he came up with this project that had kids pick a few houses and figure out what they’d need to buy it. He was the banker (a hilarious banker) and gave them two different mortgage options (a 15 year and a 30 year, with different interest rates) and they had to figure out their monthly payments.

I know come the spring, the kids in my calculus class will have their attention wane. So I think something like this could work (this investigation on wealth inequality worked a few years ago)! But right now it’s a little bit like trying to put a square peg into a round hole. I need it to have some more calculus before I do something like this though. Maybe we’ll spend some time talking about e or we’ll do something with summing (in)finite geometric series, and maybe seeing that as a riemann sum? I think it’s totally doable — I just need to think a bit more! But if you want to get a sense of why I’m trying to make this happen, just watch Jonathan’s presentation and you’ll totally get it. (Here’s his blogpost.)

You Guys, Funny Quotes, #YouMatter, Sitting Down: My first TMC17 recap post

ARGH! I have too much in my head and don’t even know where to start. I want to blog about all the large and small things I want to take away with me from TMC17, but they are so disorganized in my brain. So I’m just going to do a Faulknerian stream-of-consciousness style post and get some of it out now.

Hey, You Guys! Words Matter

A while ago, I realized when I said “you guys” it was super gendered. So I just sort of said to myself I’ll say “y’all.” When I wrote emails to my classes, I pretty much say “Hi all!” And then… and then… someone brought up the “you guys” issue at a faculty meeting at our school, and in my head I was like “I don’t do that!” But for some reason instead of that reminder doing good, and reinforcing what I was doing, I found it impossible to not say “you guys.” Like when someone points out you say “um” a lot, or say “like” a lot. You just, um, like, end up, like saying it, um, more.

Glenn Waddell spoke about “you guys” at TMC, and it resonated with a lot of people.

So I think I have a plan. Thanks to a huge discussion on twitter (sorry, don’t remember who to cite), here are my options:

all, y'all (2).jpg
The + others was cute… someone recalled they would say: “Humans… and others…” which made me laugh! I think I my lean towards nerds and my loyal subjects because I like whimsy. And as another teacher I love says about her classroom: “It’s a benevolent dictatorship.” @mathillustrated said it’s fun to mix them up. We’ll see what I’ll do!

A thought: I should post this in my classroom so I can refer to it! And tell students what I am trying to do. And have them catch me if I say “you guys” (which of course will make me say it more!). And have an ongoing tally of how many times I say it. And when they reach a certain amount, I’ll bring them some treat. I like the message it sends: I care about words because I care about you. For some of you, these words don’t matter. But I’m doing this for the others of you for whom these words do matter. Also: help me get better because I need to be, and I’m happy to be called out when I mess up.

Other ideas that came up:

@EmilySliman has renamed ‘homework’ as ‘home learning’ [I called it ‘home enjoyment’ because of another colleague, but they have since left me! So I am free to rename it as I please!]
@gwaddellnvhs has renamed ‘student’ (passive) to ‘learner’ (active) [“Learners learn, and students study. I don’t care how much you study. I care how much you learn.” paraphrased from here]
@chieffoulis has renamed ‘tests’ as ‘celebrations of knowledge’ (someone else uses ‘celebrations of learning)

Now do I think things like this will make a difference? Probably not. Calling something “home enjoyment” won’t make kids enjoy it. But it’s stupid and goofy and that’s worth something. And I don’t doubt that making an effort to change language might make a difference to some students. And it can prompt discussion where I get to talk about my values and philosophy around teaching. (“Why do you call tests ‘celebrations of knowledge,’ your majesty?”)  I try to live and act those values, but sometimes talking about them can help too.

Kids Say The Darndest Things: Another Classroom Culture Thing

I was having dinner at Maggianos with a TMC 1st timer, @pythagitup. Over dinner, he was telling me about a quote board he did where he put funny things kids said up on display. The beaming of his eyes as he recounted his classes and their quote boards made me know he had done something special. I begged him to write a blogpost about it, which he kindly did here. Here are his top 12 quotes:

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I just got sad as I was writing this part of the post, because I remembered that I don’t have my own classroom. I usually am in two or three different classrooms and share the space with other teachers. So doing things like this are trickier. Sigh. It did remind me of one year in calculus. Years ago. 2012-2013. Back then, I was actually a funny-ish teacher. Like pretty goofy. And that particular calculus class was gads of fun. Good and strong personalities. I don’t know why but in recent years, I have lost that spontaneousness and goofiness that I used to have. I’m much more even keeled. I don’t know what happened. Does that just naturally happen when you grow older? I am up at the board a lot less now-a-days, so maybe that’s it… less class-teacher-class-teacher interaction? Whatever it is, I’ve changed. But back then, we had a goofy class. And all year, a student was secretly taking notes on funny things I said, or funny things kids in the class said. And she gave it to me at the end of the year. It was one of the most meaningful things a kid has done. You want to read some of it? Thought so. Wait, you said no? TOO BAD MY POST DEAL.

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The post about it is here.

Promoting Kindness & Gratitude

I want to do this explicitly in my classroom. I tried a post-it wall of kindness/gratitude once, but that didn’t *really* take off in the way I wanted it to. I probably should have blogged about that to share a failed venture, and why it failed (namely: I saw it as a tack on unimportant thing, so I didn’t build time in class for kids to do it, and also kids have difficulty sharing kindness/gratitude so helping them see different things as kindness/gratitude would have helped too). [I see “nominations” as a way to do this too, and also related to the material! post 1, post 2]

But I saw something super nice. @calcdave was wearing a clothespin clipped to the collar of his shirt. I couldn’t read it but I asked about it. He then gave me a huge bear hug… which I thoroughly enjoyed because @calcdave is awesome and who doesn’t want a hug from him… and then looked at the pin. On the front, it said something like “hugs!” and on the back it said:

clothespin.png

And then the person take the pin off and puts it on the other person (I think that’s important… they pin it on!). This then continues… from person to person to person. I love that @mrschz got it from me, and has now bought clothespins, painted them, and written on them. She’s all in!

I am not comfortable hugging my kids. I’m not that teacher very often (until they come back from college and visit). But I could see this going in different directions.

(a) Making 10 pins, each with one side blank, and the other side saying things like “high 5! #youmatter” or “two good things! #youmatter” or “fistbump! #youmatter” [and the person who inquires gets a high 5, 2 good things said about them, or a fistbump], and then the clothespin travels. I like the blank side because the clothespin then begs the question… and having different responses

(b) Making a bunch of pins and giving them all out to one class and explaining the purpose. I would have to do this with a class that is totally into stuff like this. I can imagine certain classes having a majority of kids who groan and then throw the clothespin away. So I’d have to choose wisely and come up with a good framing/rollout.

This idea originated with Pam Wilson, who is a true gem.

When this idea made its way on twitter, @stoodle pointed out that @_b_p has done something related in his classroom. And I remember reading this, being like OH MY GOD I NEED TO DO THIS and then promptly forgetting about it. The TOKEN OF APPRECIATION. I mean the name itself gets me giddy!

 

But I like this idea for a few reasons. First: it is done only once a week. It doesn’t take away from classtime. I can do it during my long blocks (once every seven class days). Kids have all week to think about who they are going to give it to. Kids also get to alter it, so at the end of the year, it is a recollection of good.

I know people are going to hate me for saying this, but this upcoming year, I have small classes. I’m at an independent school, so my classes tend to be small. But I think I remember my tentative rosters being even smaller than usual. I like to have larger classes because I like the chaos and interaction and cross pollination of ideas (though not the grading nor comment writing). But I wonder with small classes this year, will this work? I need to think more about this.

Crouching versus Sitting

This wasn’t at TMC but I saw it on twitter and wanted to affirm its truth for me.

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I am fairly good about this. I have kids sit in groups of 3 but the tables can fit 4, so I tend to just hunker down with groups when talking with them. In most classes, I almost always drag a chair with me from one table to another which doesn’t have one. I agree there is a huge difference between crouching and sitting. There is value in crouching… it sends the message “I’m here to sort of briefly check on you and see what you’re doing but I’m likely going to move on… things are on you… so persevere.” I tend to sit when (a) I need to ask the group a set of questions to see their understanding, (b) a group seems to be getting stuck beyond productive frustration, (c) when a group is having a heated or interesting conversation and I want to listen in [I tell kids to ignore me and just continue, which I know they can’t really do but they do a pretty good job] or (d) when my feet are tired and I just feel like plopping down somewhere. Ha! Just kidding!

 

The power of the feedback loop

Note: I have some phenomenal colleagues in my school. One of them gave a powerful presentation about some changes she made in her classroom, and I asked her to write a guest post on it! The kicker: she’s not a math teacher. She teaches French. But pedagogy can transcend the subject matter at hand, and this is one of those cases. So enjoy!

***

When I adopted a no-homework model for my classes several years ago, my role as a teacher shifted drastically. I was no longer strictly giving instruction, but rather facilitating the movement from one activity to the next and offering on-the-spot feedback and answering questions that my students might have. The goal was to remove myself from the equation as much as possible and put the students at the center of their learning. With all of the emphasis placed on class time, it became incumbent on the student to focus completely and participate thoroughly in each activity. It also became incumbent on me to come up with a system that would allow me to objectively and accurately calculate the quality of student note-taking and participation during class.

The rubric I currently use in my French classes was designed to allow for effective and efficient use of class time, which, in turn, facilitates maximum learning. It looks like this:

  • Is punctual
  • Is ready to work at the start of class
  • Takes active notes, keeps an organized notebook
  • When speaking to the teacher, uses French only
  • Engages in activities in French
  • Engages in activities for the duration of the time indicated

Each of the six components is worth 1 point per class day, for a potential total of 36 points per cycle. I designed a page that has this rubric at the top and a box for each day of the cycle underneath, and I keep a copy of it on my clipboard at all times:

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Whenever a student makes an infraction, I point it out to him or her and I write it down immediately in the box corresponding to the day of the cycle. On day 1 of cycle 3, for example, I noted that three boys were not prepared to work at the beginning of class. I also collect the students’ notebooks daily and write down any issues regarding the quality and organization of their written work in these boxes as well. You can see an example of that on day 2 of cycle 3, when two boys passed in notebooks that had missing or incomplete notes. At the end of the cycle, I calculate the points lost and keep a running tally of total points in my gradebook.

 

In my work this year with several colleagues regarding the importance of feedback, it became apparent to me that it would be useful for my students to have the opportunity to see and discuss the breakdown of the information from these pages. So I organized a table that allows for the student to see when and how many points were lost for each component. I also included on the page the overall GPA, as well as a list of commendations, areas for improvement, and suggested challenges. I then scheduled 10-minute individual conferences during breaks and community time to discuss the results. Below is an example of one of these reports :

SEMESTER 1 REPORT CHART 

Student : Jean-Paul de la Montagne

Total Notes & Participation points

  • mid-semester 1 : 139/156
  • semester 1 : 97/108
Total infractions Distribution
Is punctual 1 Cycle 2
Is ready to work at the start of class 2 Cycles 3, 6
Takes active notes, keeps an organized notebook 13 Cycles 2 – 7, 9
Speaks French only (with the teacher) 0
Concentrates on activities / Engages fully in activities / Participates for the expected duration 12 (chatting, following instructions) 3-10

 

  Mid-semester 1 Semester Average
GPA 89.74 94.7 92.2

 Commendations :

  • accurate accent
  • ability to properly formulate full, complex sentences
  • frequently volunteers answers/comments during large group work
  • notable increase in use of French with peers

 Areas for improvement :

  • consistency in the quality of note-taking
  • drop the habit of chatting

Suggested challenges :

  • read Daniel Pennac’s L’œil du loup
  • watch movies, listen to songs in French

 This intensive participation grading model allowed me to remove subjectivity and emotion from my participation grades. It also eliminated the potential for students or their parents to debate the grade. The final step of conferencing with each of my students was the piece I’ve been missing all these years. These conferences yielded almost 100% reduction in the behaviours that hinder productivity and learning, not to mention costing students points.

My ultimate take-away from this experience is that providing students direct feedback on the quality of their notes and class participation resulted in the kind of behaviour modifications that have made for an even more effective learning environment. In a no-homework class where every minute counts, this is key. I am so excited about what this experience has taught me, and am looking forward to refining it in the future.

Gaspable Moments

Sometime last year, I started thinking about why I love math so much. And when I kept on delving, deeper and deeper past all the adjectives (beauty, creativity, awe-inspiring, structure, …) to what really was beneath those adjectives, I came up with one fundamental, visceral answer. It is the spark of electricity you get when you think you start figuring something out, and the chase that happens, until things finally click into place, and you are so excited about your discovery that you want to share it with someone else. It’s that gaspable moment — that rush of endorphins — that feeling of sheer joy.

I’m guessing if you’re reading this blog, you’ve had that happen to you.

For me, this internal joy is everything. Why I love math, below all the flowery adjectives, is because of the emotional impact it has on me when things click.

It’s an internal thing. A private thing. But what if it didn’t have to be. [1]

I had this idea last year, and I’m terrified and thrilled about introducing it on Tuesday. This idea is designed to specifically make this joy visible and public. 

Here it is…

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A bell. I’m going to ask kids to ring the bell on their group tables when they have some sort of insight or discovery or revelation that simply causes them joy. I want their internal joy to become external. I want my kids to recognize that this joy is something they should be conscious of and recognize it when it happens. I want a class culture where moments of joy are acknowledged and celebrated.

When a bell rings, what happens? Nothing. Kids continue working. Near the end of class, I will ask kids “anyone who rang a bell, can you share a bit about that moment and insight that you had? and can you describe that feeling with one adjective?” Or maybe I’ll call on someone who rang a bell? I do know that I don’t want the bell to interrupt the flow of class and thinking.  Will I have the bells out every day for that one class? I will probably have the bells out a lot after I first introduce them, to start building the classroom culture around them, but then I can see me probably make more conscious choices about when the bells will be out based on what we are doing in class.

Will this work? I don’t know. I’m going to roll it out in only one of my classes. Why? Today I had a killer class. The kids were persevering and having so many gaspable moments. It was ridiculous. I went into the math office after just to tell the other teacher of the class to get psyched for his next class (he hadn’t taught that lesson yet). But because this happened, it is a perfect time to have a conversation with my kids about the joy of mathematics. (I’ve had the bells since school started… I just hadn’t found the right time to introduce them.)

I can see a number of things happening.

  1. I can see kids being too “scared” to ring the bell. Because it is public. And they might feel like they’re insights or feelings aren’t “valid” or “good enough” (compared to their classmates). Not ringing the bell has no risks, so why do that?
  2. I can see kids being too “bell happy.”
  3. I can see this not going well in the first few days, and then me abandoning this idea.
  4. I can see this becoming a positive and normalized part of our classroom.

What do I suspect? Truth be told, I’m super excited about this, but I think #3 is the most likely outcome. It’s hard to be consistent with something that doesn’t get off to a solid start, because then keeping it up even though it isn’t working well feels fruitless, and finding ways to fix things and change course is way tough.

However I will say that I started using, with this class, the red/yellow/green solocup strategy for groups to self-assess where they are in terms of their own progress, and it’s been amazing. So that gives me hope for this idea working with these kids. Wish me luck!

 

 

[1] Okay, sometimes it isn’t private. I love when a group high fives when they figure something out. That happens when it is something hard-earned. Something they worked for. I also remember years ago a kid getting so worked up about understanding the sum of angles formula for sine that he literally fell in the floor. So sometimes the joy is visible. But I suspect that a lot of the joy that kids feel (when given the right kind of tasks, which put them at a place where they can have those hard-earned moments) often has a momentary and fleeting nature. I hope a ding! can give voice to those fleeting moments.

 

 

 

Good Conversations and Nominations, Part II

This is a short continuation of the last blogpost.

In Advanced Precalculus, I start the year with kids working on a packet with a bunch of combinatorics/counting problems. There is no teaching. The kids discuss. You can hear me asking why a lot. Kids have procedures down, and they have intuition, but they can’t explain why they’re doing what they’re doing. For example, in the following questions…

multiply.png

…students pretty quickly write (4)(3)=12 and (4)(3)(5)=60 for the answers. But they just sort of know to multiply. And great conversations, and multiple visual representations pop up, when kids are asked “why multiply? why not add? why not do something else? convince me multiplication works.”

Now, similar to my standard Precalculus class (blogged in Nominations, Part I, inspired by Kathryn Belmonte), I had my kids critique each others’s writings. And I collected a writeup they did and gave them feedback.

But what I want to share today is a different way to use the “Nomination” structure. Last night I had kids work on the following question:

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Today I had kids in a group exchange their notebooks clockwise. They read someone else’s explanations. They didn’t return the notebooks. Instead, I threw this slide up:

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I was nervous. Would anyone want to give a shoutout to someone else’s work? Was this going to be a failed experiment? Instead, it was awesome. About a third of the class’s hands went in the air. These people wanted to share someone else’s work they found commendable. And so I threw four different writeups under the document projector, and had the nominator explain what they appreciated about the writeup. As we were talking through the problem, we saw similarities and differences in the solutions. And there were a-ha moments! I thought it was pretty awesome.

(Thought: I need to get candy for the classroom, and give some to the nominator and nominee!)

The best part — something Kathryn Belmonte noted when presenting this idea to math teachers — is that kids now see what makes a good writeup, and what their colleagues are doing. Their colleagues are setting the bar.

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I also wanted to quickly share one of my favorite combinatorics problems, because of all the great discussion it promotes. Especially with someone I did this year. This is a problem kids get before learning about combinations and permutations.

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Working in groups, almost all finish part (a). The different approaches kids take, and different ways they represent/codify/record information in part (a), is great fodder for discussion. Almost inevitably, kids work on part (b). They think they get the right answer. And then I shoot them down and have them continue to think.

This year was no different.

But I did do something slightly different this year, after each group attempted part (b). I gave them three wrong solutions to part (b).

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The three wrong approaches were:

And it was awesome. Kids weren’t allowed to say “you’re wrong, let me show you know to do it.” The whole goal was to really take the different wrong approaches on their own terms. And though many students immediately saw the error in part (a), many struggled to find the errors in (b) and (c) and I loved watching them grapple and come through victorious.

And with that, time to zzz.

Nominations, Part I

At TMC this past summer, Kathryn Belmonte introduced an idea about sharing student work in the classroom. Something she termed “NOMINATIONS!” I loved the idea — and wanted to use it when kids do their explore-math project. But I saw it was so flexible, and pretty early on, the time was right to test it out. So I modified it slightly and this post is about that…

In all of my precalculus classes (I teach two standard sections and one advanced section), my kids are being asked to do tons of writing. A few who have had me before in geometry are used to this, but most are not. And honestly: getting down what mathematical writing is, and how to express ideas clearly, is hard.

So what do I do? I throw them into the deep end.

On day two of class, I ask them to write an answer to a problem for a seventh grader to understand. On the third day of class, they come in, and are given the name of the student who comes after them alphabetically (and the last person is given the name of the first person alphabetically). Then they read these instructions:

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Everyone moves to the desk of the name they were given. Then I project on the board:

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And I give students to read through a different student’s solution. They have to make sense of it — pretending to be new to the problem. And then they critique it. Eventually, probably after 3-5 minutes, I left them return to their seats. They read over the comments. I talk about why the feedback is important. And how specific feedback is useful (so “good explanation” is less useful than “your explanation of how the groups were made was easy for me to follow”). And then we continue on with class.

Here are examples of some post-its (front of a few, then back of a few):

To follow up: that night for nightly work, I gave students a writing problem — a simple probability problem. My hope was that this would help them pay attention to their explanations. I collected the problem and read through the writeups.

They weren’t so hot. Most of them didn’t talk about why and some didn’t have any diagrams or visuals to show what was happening with the problem. So I marked them up with my comments. (They got full credit for doing it.) The next day I handed them back and shared my thoughts. I also shared a copy of a solid writeup — one that I had created — along with four or five different possible visuals they could have used. (I realized –after talking with Mattie Baker about this — that I couldn’t really get my kids from point A to point B unless they saw what point B looked like, and what my expectations were.)

At this point, I wanted to figure out if they were taking anything away from all of this. So I created a page with three questions. A formative assessment for me to see what my kids understand and what they don’t about the content. But I also asked them to take all the feedback they’ve gotten about writing and explanations, and explain the heck out of these problems. Here’s an example of one of the problems (one I’m particularly proud of):

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I collected them today. I haven’t looked through them carefully yet, but from a cursory glance, I saw some thoughtful and extensive writeups. And even from this cursory glance, I can see that these two activities — plus all the conversations we’re having about explaining our thinking in class — have already made an impact.

Yes, they’ve gotten some ideas of what a good writeup looks like. They know diagrams can be helpful. They know words to explain diagrams are important. They know the answer to why is what I’m constantly looking for when reading the explanations.

But more important to me is the implicit message I’m trying to send about my values in the classroom. I think a lot about implicit messaging to communicate my values, especially at the start of the year. And I am confident my kids know with certainty that I value all of us articulating our thinking as best as we can, both when speaking but also when doing written explanations.