Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Clog: Setting more realistic expectations around sub plans

I had to miss class on Monday, and I was lucky enough to have one of my wonderful colleagues covering the class. Because it is a teacher from my school, I’m tempted to use more than a typical sub plan. After 2 hours of planning, what I came up with was something that would probably not go well if anyone other than me was at the helm. After seeing the work in my mailbox the next day I was slightly disappointed. Not because of the kids acting really bad (although they might be), and not at all because of the teacher covering, but for me overshooting what is reasonable for a class.

Since last cycle I had the urge to craft subplans that are ask kids to do something more than my typical TPW (teacher-proof worksheet). In November the kids worked on a Desmos activity with a sub and it worked out pretty well. This time the kids were supposed to work through a google spreadsheet with directions embedded in little notes. Both of these seemed like they would work because most teachers can facilitate the computer cart, and kids take it serious because they know they’ll have to log back in and finish later. Desmos went pretty well, so building off of that I tried to have the kids learn spreadsheet functions on a google sheet.  Unfortunately the kids weren’t that familiar with using computers in my class, and we hadn’t touched  spreadsheets yet. If I had to do it again, I would probably roll out a TPW, or used some time to prepare the kids to do something less TPW-ish.

Understanding Standard Deviation

My class today went pretty well. We used an illustrative math task where the kids could deepen their understanding of standard deviation.

Download (PDF, 81KB)

As is the case when using any IM thing, the kids were quickly thinking and talking about the what they needed to understand, at a much deeper level than whatever else I was going to do.

Starting to think about the project

This will bring an end to this part of the single variable statistics part of the unit. Itfeel weird that we haven’t yet talked about quartiles and box plots, but I think I need to talk about the concepts of correlation and regression before the students start to work on the final project. Since I want to get the survey started next week I am going to talk about correlation before kids think about the final project on Monday.

On Monday students will be in groups crafting questions to ask the rest of the school about topics they have chosen. In the past students made guesses about survey responses to their question, but this year I want the students to inform their guesses with statistics from the real world. If they are doing “Teen Pregnancy” they shouldn’t say, “This study says this about teen pregnancy, so I think expect our school to survey to have the same result because…

Sad ending

Class ended by asking the kids to show me where they got on their spreadsheet from the other day. There was a sad moment where at the end where I asked a kid why he said my class was hard. He said it was confusing, which left me a little confused. He seemed to understand the work and was participating in the activity. I took it to mean the organization of the classroom and the activities, which is a pretty spot on assessment. Teaching only one class means that a lot of the management parts are not quite as smooth as they would be with a full time teacher. Friday will be a good time to add a lot of structure to the class, and I can also ask for some ideas with a feedback form.

Clog: Kids talked about what they wanted to talk about

This class, I wanted to have a conversation about possible topics that kids could be interested in for doing a data analysis. I was nervous that the kids wouldn’t pick engaging topics, so I planned an open conversation that would allow them to bring their ideas forward. This is how the class went.

It Went Well

The class went pretty well. Saying a class or a meeting merely “went well” isn’t usually my favorite measure. It translates to “didn’t provide anyone with undue emotional strain, but wasn’t that noteworthy either.” I’d have liked to have more tangible takeaways but an exit ticket asking: “Will you eventually come to loathe the research topic we discussed today, this project, and everything about math?” might not give valuable data.

Class began finishing discussing the sampling activity that we did in the last class. I then picked a few presidential polls and asked the kids to read their descriptions of their sampling methodology. My inital plan was to have them just skim it,  but in the moment I decided to ask people to read different parts and then share out what stood out to them. We then talked about the different sample sizes and strategies that these professional surveys use, and how they relate to these differences in our sampling exercise yesterday. We also talked about this whole mysterious “margin of error” that each group saw and said we’ll get back to after we talk about Standard Deviation.

At this point in class the kids looked as enthusiastic as the waiting room for having blood work done. Luckily we smashed through it with the plan I had from yesterday’s blog. After briefly talking through the above powerpoint the kids looked up topics and shared them out. Halfway through the share out the class mood went from glower to empower, and the kids looked like they were really engaged. I think I should have had them immediately think about how they could quantifying some of their topics. For example, one group wanted to know about partying, I should have asked them to think about all of the things that could be measured in terms of partying. We essentially finished all the conversation with some time to spare, so pushing kids to start thinking about the next step would have made this class a little more noteworthy.

A Word About Blogging

Now, I initially wrote my thoughts down about this during the class yesterday, and yet I’m not sitting down to write this until I’m getting ready to plan this class for tomorrow. I’ve been taking the steps to do some reflection after each class, even if it’s gibberish, and then I return to it when I want to publish this. This is part of my new plan to blog more, but these after-class reflections would be useful for anyone regardless of whether they plan on blogging about it. Maybe I’ll blog about these reflections in a future post.

Clog: Getting the kids off of autopilot

Today was not a teaching day for me, but I did take some time to think about my class yesterday and my class tomorrow. After my last class on Monday I felt the need to do some soul searching that lead me to want to try something new in my class, and to also start blogging more. I didn’t actually talk about my class in that blog post, so I’m going to do that here.

For my class tomorrow I need to get the kids to talk about things that they care about. In the past when I have done my understanding data unit, students researched things that they at least moderately care about, this class needs to do that too. While we are only 3 days into class, and not starting the research, hopefully students knowing that they are doing research on a topic will help them understand the big picture of our work. Last class it seemed like a lot of kids are expecting to just repeat what I demonstrate.

Thinking back to yesterday, there are a number of things I would do differently. I had them do this whole exercise on sampling small cups of beans when I should have had them first think about the need to sample. I should have had a huge population instead of a smaller one that I meticulously constructed. And I should have encouraged them to figure out a better way to come up with the samples instead of allowing them to do the one that I suggested. Maybe I should have a huge jar of beans and let them think about how to get the information out of it.

Also, if I want them to have a discussion about social justice issues to create ideas for their research, maybe we could just have it, straight up. To plan this discussion, I  asked one of our social studies teachers about having a conversation about world issues. She suggested that memes and facebook/twitter content is a good jumping off point, since that is where the world gets its news now. I can take some time to ask the kids to go on their social media and find images and we can talk about ways to study those topics with a survey.

Why was I not blogging this whole time???

My class today ended pretty much exactly like it ended the last time. That class also ended exactly like that lesson from the previous year. They all weren’t very good, and I can’t be surprised.

Planning for my classes this year feels like foraging through the wilderness for the first time since I started teaching a decade ago. As an administrator, I only teach one class, 3 days a week. I did this last year, but I wasn’t teaching math. This year it still feels like I am throwing ideas against the wall to see what sticks even when I have done these things before. The weird thing is these lessons have been used over and over for years, it has been difficult for me to get in a rhythm when teaching them. Some materials I have date back to before I used google drive, yet when I teach it I end up making all sorts of mistakes. I’ll emphasizing the wrong things, I’ll drive the class into discussions we need to avoid, and I often don’t see really interesting follow-ups and extensions until after class is over.  Pacing has also been off almost every class, forcing me to rush the lesson’s conclusion and leaving each class with regrets.

It’s not all sadness and rainstorms. Kids are passing my class, some are even excited to come. Other teachers still look to me for ideas for their class. This isn’t a diatribe about how I feel I’m a terrible teacher. This is a reasoned analysis about why I’m not a better teacher, and why this blog is also the first step towards becoming a better teacher.

A place for talking about teaching and learning

After walking away from today’s class I remember thinking how come everything felt so clunky? Why did I wind up in the same spot that I had in the last lesson? Why did the clunky group work structure from today go as poorly as the group work in a similar lesson from last unit? How am I not learning about my teaching?

During my time as a 5-period-a-day teacher I could learn through my clunky first period. My classes would get better through the day, and then I would go home feeling like a champion. My growth was just built into the schedule. Now that I am only teaching one class I am realizing that I need to take a more deliberate approach to my growth as a teacher.

Anyways, I’m walking away from today’s class, feeling upset about how it went, and I thought to myself “I need a place to think about my teaching,”  before thinking:  “Duh! You’ve got a blog!” If I had been blogging about my classes this whole time I would have been able to reflect back on my old classes! If I had a regular blogging practice during the day I would have an outlet for my lesson frustration! And, if I ever do figure out how to get things done well ahead of time, I could get feedback on ideas from all the teachers in the #MTBoS! (I really did think through all of this stuff, btw, as if it wasn’t staring me in the face the whole time).

Why didn’t I think of this earlier?

Blogging about my teaching seems stressful, especially when I had a day that was bad. Pushing the submit button has gotten hard lately. This year I have more partial posts in my “Drafts” than I have actual Class Logs (Clogs). Having a new job, and a new baby has given me less time for writing, but if I have time to write drafts, or write posts about non-teaching related stuff, I can’t write anything about what I’m teaching, or what I plan on teaching? Other bloggers like Michael Pershan make it work with similarly aged children. Justin Aion has been blogging for years and he has two kids. It seems like time for me to spend more time writing and thinking, and then thinking and writing.

To get started I want to do one of those one month challenge. I think seeing as how December is right around the corner it would make sense to start now and start doing it every day. I want to make time during the day to write some mathematical thoughts each day. I may also write some thoughts about administration or other things in order to keep the momentum going, but I should be able to start something. This daily plan should work, maybe it is even worthy of some kind of hashtag, but maybe I can talk about that tomorrow since I’m going to be writing.


Statistics for social justice

Here are the slides for my presentation. Thank you for all you people who waited until the last session and ignored a transit strike to come to my talk!

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