Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

This week: Let’s pretend it’s Monday again!

This is the post I was supposed to put out on Monday, but my face was attacked by pillow and I had no choice but to take a nap and then stumble from the couch the bed shortly after. I jotted down some ideas for this post, so I am going to carry it out now.

What I’m Teaching This Week

This week we are going to be reviewing standard deviation and working on a survey we are going to give to the school. (I have actually already wrote about his, here). Following this we will talk about how to avoid writing biased questions and we will talk about procedures for identifying outliers and also looking at the spread of data. It would also be good to plant the seed for a talk about looking at correlation and causation as that will be an issue next week.

What I’m Blogging This Week

Last week I made a post about the Shadowcon Calls to Action that I worked on. This week I wanted to look at Kaneka Turner’s talk, but I haven’t got very far (aside from a really awkward conversation with one student that left me filled with a lot of respect for how clearly Kaneka explained the concept). The concept of an “invitation” to be good at math is hard for me to get, because I don’t really know when I got the invitiation, or whether it remains in my posssession. If I can’t think of anything, I may just end up with a post explaining my largely ticket-less math history.

What I’m Thinking This Week

This week I feel really behind on a lot of things. Unfortunately, this feeling is not new for this year. If this chapter of my life had a title, the front runners would be either “Overwhelmed”, “Time-Managment Breakdowns”, or “New Wife, New House, New Baby, New Job.” So it hasn’t been good, however, it is getting better. Getting organized has been as illusive as finding a four-leaf clover, but I think I am more effective than I was a year ago, and I am probaly going to get a lot better. I usually figure things out at the end of the year, only to forget it all over the summer. Hopefully this won’t be the case this year, and writing can help with that.

CLOG: Google Sheets and Flash Cards

Yesterday in class we had a day of getting kids on board with the technology and ramping up for our final project. For this class, students write a little research paper about what their peers beliefs on, well, anything. Prior to this class I looked at the calendar and freaked out a little after realizing that we need to get this survey drafted and out to the school ASAP.

But Before We Start On The Project…

Before we get started on the project I want to bring back the conversation we have been having about outliers and review it a little. I had an idea for a review “game” that was slightly more interactive then asking kids to do a bunch of problems and could also serve as a reference for finding outliers with Standard Deviation and the IQR. I made little cards that kids could work in pairs to see if they could put the steps for finding those outliers in order. It was cute, check it out, let me know what you think in the comments.

Let’s learn spreadsheets!

The next part of the lesson was to have students learn how to do all of this statistical analysis we have been doing by hand on our good buddy Google Sheets. I asked the kids to learn average, median, mode, min, max, range, quartile 0-4, Standard Deviation, and Variance.

Whenever I do this kind of thing, flashbacks of the age old ‘calculator’ debate echo through my brain. Visions of my old professors glowering at me appear like a bad dream alongside images of students understanding withering from the glow of their computing devices. I’ll probably never get rid of the dirty feeling associated with replacing by-hand work with computing devices. I think when it gets down to it, kids need to be able to explain the purpose of all the statistical tools that they are going to use in the future. They will get to have more practice explaining if they do more calculations done on computers than if they only did work work by hand.

Starting the Survey Project

Once I finished asking students work on their spreadsheets I asked them to get in groups and talk about their potential survey questions. The kids decided on the following topics: Color/Haircolor, Music, Meditation, and (As always) Marijuana Legalization. They went on Gallup, Harris, and others to learn more about their topics. By the end of the period students had some ideas of things that are interesting about their topic that they can ask questions about. Next class we will write the questions down on paper and talk about biased questions, and also sample size.


Talking about Common Core at a Wedding

Yesterday I was at a great wedding for a friend of mine (Congratulations Kevin and Jessica!). While I was there, a friend of mine asked about Common Core and I suddenly couldn’t stop talking about it. The standards situation is likely to come up at any point when I’m outside of my education circles (this time it came up about 15 minutes after toast). It doesn’t seem like an open bar and loud pop music are a good back drop to discuss the intersection between theory, practice, and bureacracy, but I think I did a good job.

My main points were the following, and be sure to let me know if I’m not making sense in the comments below:

  • Standards are the best description we have of how students should learn math in the grades K through 12. While debate about the implementation, or the assessment, or the marketing could be debated the content of standards are solid. Considering the years of trying to change math class it’s the best shot we have at making real serious progress right now and should be fully implemented (in writing this I realize I was basically channeling Matt Larson’s great ignite talk).
  • CCSS-M is written by great people who have brilliant ideas of what should be going on in classrooms.  My buddy asked “do you even know who writes the standards?” suggesting that the standards were thrown together by special interest groups and not teachers. The authors are super-smart and they are around teachers all the time at NCTM and other conferences, and they always say brilliant stuff (like Phil Daro here on Answer getting).
  • The Common Core is suffering from a marketing problem. I think anyone can write anything, regardless of how little sense it makes, and put “aligned with Common Core on there” and face little conflict.  Common Core is the kind of project that didn’t really have all of the lawyers needed to attack publishers and school districts for intellectual property or trademark violations, (at least I think this is true) so it is possible for someone to put out some garbage that anyone could windup on some parents dining room table who could end up making a #STOPCOMMONCORE Facebook post.

We talked through the throwing of the bouquet and when we stopped at the the cutting of the cake and I thought that was the end of it. What I said in my last post was true, as he was obviously mulling this over in his head. After the cake was being plated my friend came back over and said, “So we need to take less funding from military and for more funding for Common Core’s marketing department?” I kind of agreed, but then I said no. What needs to happen is we just need to trust schools, researchers and teachers what are doing the hard work of education and stop second-guessing them every time things get scary. The military budget would be great, but this change doesn’t cost any money at all. Give schools the time, space, and respect they needs to attempt big changes and big shifts, otherwise don’t be surprised when things remain traditional.

I started back into a rant mode, arguing “You won’t see people question doctors and their medical practices, but when it’s a teacher it’s a whole different story…”, but we were interrupted. The DJ put Taylor Swift on and the bride was making the groom dance to it with her (I might have danced a little too). I know there are much more things to say about common core, but this is what I could put together yesterday. Let me know in the comments if I missed anything.

Teachers tell the best stories

Teachers always have the best stories. I spent this weekend at a wedding and was reminded of this fact. Sure, there are some people who have an amazing story of how they ran into Khloe Kardashian at the juice store, or whatever, but that kind of story is a random anomaly. I’ve found that Teachers can consistently entertain a group of people by merely going through some of the minutiae of their daily life.

I first learned of this as a teenager when I was drawn towards a conversation my aunt Josie Mae was having with my other Aunt’s. Josie May, who worked at a middle school school in Chicago, was going in detail about her students, her co-workers and teachers through a series of vignettes. I hung on her word as they were window into a world beyond the bubble of suburban school which was all I had known for the past 12 years.

My other relatives were pulled away and I was left staying next to Josie Mae who asked me what I was doing. I said I was actually in college and planning on going into education, and was interested in hearing more of her stories. What she said next really boggled my mind. She said, in the most serious of tones, “Oh, those weren’t stories. that was just what I did last Friday.” WHAT!?! As a teenager who thought I would have to memorize and rehearse interesting things to say at parties to impress people, this made quite an impact. At this point I knew I wanted to teach, but knowing that I would never be at a loss for an interesting tale at a family gathering seemed like an added bonus.

This Friday I show up at a good friend’s wedding where I ran into a nine or ten old buddies. We haven’t all been in the same place since we were probably in one of our parents garages over a decade. I didn’t have to worry about making up a story of how interesting my life has been in the past 14 years, and I was able to get through the awkwardness associated with this high school micro-reunion. We actually got into a pretty spirited conversation about common core that I’ll spin into another post.

CLOG: They chose the worksheet!?!?

So I was about to teach standard deviation today, and from the beginning of the unit I had planned to revamp this power point that I originally made sometime before 2010. Unfortunately the revamp didn’t happen, so I got a little flashback to what my teaching was like in the naughts, and it wasn’t pretty. I mean it wasn’t bad, it was a Powerpoint where I go step by step through what Standard Deviation was using an example comparing two sets. There are lots of discussion prompts that get at why standard deviation is useful. Here’s the file if you want to check it out. LINK TO CARL’S OLD SCHOOL POWERPOINT Because my day was busy, I had no choice to but teach it pretty much identically to how I taught it at that time.

Stepping back in time

Teaching this lesson was like taking a quantum leap back in time to my previous teacher self. As I was teaching it I realized that I had not built in a way to see if students really understood the reasoning behind the the calculations, there were a few students who answering the discussion prompts in the class, but the rest mostly stayed silent. I tried to think of a way to modify the lesson on the fly instead of just using the results on a worksheet where they practice finding the standard deviation. I thought up  some different writing prompts that would be good ways to see if students understood why they were doing what they were doing, and I offered the class the following choice.

“Either do this worksheet, which asks you to calculate a lot of these giant standard deviations by hand…or answer some reflection questions that shows that you really understand standard deviation. Worksheet? Reflection questions? You pick!”

Would you believe that they picked the worksheet???

Why did they pick the worksheet!?!?

Having my reflection questions rejected was a pretty shocking occurrence in my classroom. One of those things that makes you suddenly question your whole approach in the middle of a class where you don’t have time to flesh the ideas out. Here are some of the things that ran through my head.

Should I let them choose? It wasn’t unanimous, the kids who were really into the lecture were the ones who were the ones who would write the reflection questions everybody else wanted the worksheet. Would allowing people to choose really result in everyone thinking about the ideas equally? (I said no)

What if they just didn’t get it? My first thought was that the pro-worksheet students might be students who may not have gotten much out of my Powerpoint, or any powerpoint in general. How many other times has an oversight on my part prevented a group of students from getting access to the big ideas.

Should I just do more practice? Should I allow students more opportunities to practice computations instead of asking them to describe big ideas? If I do, will math class turn into this thing that everyone hates (including me)?

How do I make reflection more natural? Students in the class need to be able to explain the ‘why’s’ behind all of the ideas in the class, so reflection should be though of as something as important as practice. Should I be doing more to change students thoughts about what math class is about?


Perhaps I am over thinking it. The fact that I had so much to think about made me glad that I am much more reflective teacher than I was when I originally made the worksheet. At the same time, I’m sure it’s unanswered questions like these that I need to reflect on if I want to keep getting better.


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