Carl's Teaching Blog

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Category: Clog (Page 2 of 7)

Clog: Trying to get on board with Academic Circles and Restorative Justice

Today’s class was another time trying something new for this cycle: Academic Circles.
What is an Academic Circle
Circles come out of our school’s effort to utilize Restorative Justice(RJ) practices across the school. Restorative Justice practices in schools serves is an answer to the very real problem of the school-to-prison pipeline which is rooted in traditional school discipline systems. Because traditional school discipline is punitive, and because New York has a strong police presence in our schools, students who are often in trouble get directed out of the school community with suspensions and expulsions, and often into the juvenile justice system. These students, who need to learn self-discipline skills are denied the chance to learn it and instead learn that the school doesn’t want them as part of their community. At a Restorative Justice school, students are pushed to remain in the community and correct the negative effects of whatever bad behavior occurred. One of the things that typically happen is that students go to a restorative circle. In the circle there is a structured conversation with the people affected by their action and seek to repair the harm they have done to the school, thus restoring the school community to it’s previous state. To help make the circle process a respected part of the school culture, this year we’ve been encouraged by include the slightly different “academic” circles in our classes. I have seen circles in people’s advisory classes, humanities classes, and even science classes, but not in math. Well….not yet!

A typical academic circle consists of students sitting in a circle, with nothing in their hands, and a talking piece that is passed around to designate who can talk. Sometimes there can be questions that students draw out of a bucket and use as a prompt. In the circle you want to build community among students, and you want them to know that their voice matters. (There are probably better definitions of the circle out there, and I will try to post links if I can find some).

What I am trying

For math this posed a difficult test. In a class where there is a lot of calculation, and easily discernable right answers, it might kill conversation, and community, to have conversations about one problem, that it would be hard for everyone to provide interesting contributions. Given how real math phobia is, I decided to not have any calculation going on in the circle at first. There is also the need to produce multiple representations in math that are just as important as words. It might be useful to have kids be able to draw a quick graph or look at what everyone else is thinking and discern trends and patterns.

So far I have decided to focus on error and estimating. Each Friday for the first two classes of the cycle I had the students sit in a circle in class. The students each have a mini whiteboard and marker with which they can draw their answers. In later classes we can use these to draw graphs or express creativity, but for now they will be used to answer the questions. The questions for the circle were tricky, if I want everyone to feel successful. Instead of making prompts, I’ve asked the students to create the questions as we go around. For today’s class asked students to think about a question that can be answered on a scale of 1-10. One kids question was be “How do you like today’s music on a scale of 1-10.” Students will also make a prediction to what they think people will say. As they answer this, I am jotting down the answers on a board that is in the chair next to me on the circle as a little dot plot. This allows me the chance to jump in and point out when the data looks interesting “What makes this dot plot stand out form all the others?”

The kids seem to enjoy it, and the improvement in community is noticeable compared to last cycle. It gives them a chance to speak their mind (which is a bit much for some people), and it is a break from the regular. I also have the chart paper saved, so I have an interesting pool of data that I can use for a yet-to-be-designed lesson or activity. The yet-to-be-designed activity will be around the question “Based on the data how good are we at guessing what people will say?” and will lead into a discussion of inferential statistics. Another idea I want to do is collect a bunch of statistics around a topic and ask kids to pick a stance on the topic, and pick a different statistics that supports or challenges that stance. It is rough trying to involve everyone in the circle, with the bottleneck being my writing down the numbers. Perhaps, I could tap the numbers into my phone or some kind of laptop so I could write faster, and the kids can figure out the results form reading people’s boards. If you have done anything with Academic Circles, or RJ, please let me know in the comments.

Clog: Last Day of Class & the Class Survey Project

Monday’s class was the last of the cycle, and probably the class that felt the best. Yes, I know that this is kind of cheating. With the marking period’s end bearing down on kids, it’s kind of hard not to have a productive class. My constant thinking about Work Time over the past few classes set the stage for a outburst of productivity.

After announcing that this was the class I told the class that I will meet individually with each student. Once everyone knew what their next steps were, I was able to float from table to table for the rest of the period. Some kids were calling on me for help, some others were getting help from their neighbor, and everybody seemed to make progress. No students got lost, or seemed distracted, or battled the other ills that plagued the work time at the beginning of the project. All in all it worked out pretty well. At the end I handed out the last page of the project, which was also a little reflection about how the project went.

Class Survey Project (Modular Project FTW!)

The big thing that I think made this work out well was that the project itself was really easy to understand. Some of my previous projects, like the road trip, are sequential. They’re like movies, complete with plot twists and everything. If you come in the middle, you’ll need to have a lot of things explained to you. The Class Survey Project was modular. The different steps were broken into parts that can be done independently. Students could enter into the project at any place as long as they understood the question they wanted to analyze. This was kind of like re-runs of a sitcom. You can watch whatever episode is on that day, as long as you know about the main characters. It also helped that students could choose whichever module they want. This allowed students to reason about the choice of the strategy they were employing, while allowing me a chance to scaffold their work on that section. With the sequential projects, the story-arc tells students what strategy to use, removing the students agency in choosing their approach. This was the first time I’ve done the project this way, so please check it out and leave me some feedback in the comments.

Download (PDF, 501KB)

 

Clog: Unfortunate start, unexpected finish

Class Begins

I had a cute exchange with my kid right before last period class on Friday. The kid was talking to a girl, and tried to appear tough, and then I appeared tough back, and he backed down, but it was cute. I walked down the hall and into my class and he went down the stairs and cut class. This student spent two weeks away from school to celebrate Christmas and he has yet to get started on the project after break.

Another kid asked me for water. “You know,” I replied, “last class you went for water and didn’t return.” “So do you want to me leave, like, collateral?” “Yeah leave your gloves on the table and get water.” I looked back 10 minutes later and her seat was empty and his gloves were gone. This student has missed a lot of class and has yet to start the project.

Rocky Start

For all of this week, and all of next week students are going to be working on their projects, so there will be a lot of independent work, which means Work Time. Today’s class began with self reflective questions on the board about the project. After Wednesday I began to form a plan to make Work Time as productive as possible. The plan for today was to was to precede work time with these questions to quickly assess needs. Unfortunately, timing is everything, and by the time I got all of the questions up on the board, laptops were out and projects were started. Kids were too distracted by the prospect of making progress, and their individual questions around that, to want to start on those questions on the board. I tried to get everyone to start it. Then one girl said, “Hey. Let me ask you a question about the data table…real quick.” This led to her neighbor asking a follow-up. Then a kid across the class verbally wondered why they can’t also ask a question. And so on… At this point it was like a bunch of kids sitting there saying “Let me eat my vegetables!!!” and I kind of caved on the questions, except to point people to them when I walked around.

Around the time I caved on the questions it became clear that the monster at the drinking fountain swallowed the student from above. My plans for structuring Work Time is precisely for those kinds of students. She had missed the last two classes, and had no clue about how to get started on the project. Theoretically she would have answered the questions, and in the process gone down the list of things she would need to do to be on track. Instead I’m assuming she walked in, saw everyone working and gave up. Perhaps actually writing the questions on the board takes too much time, I should make an actual handout that can help people go through the parts of the project, but not feel super redundant for kids who have been there the whole time.

One of the kids who have been there the whole time was still struggling with the project. This student was super focused today for some reason though. Once the class devolved into the typical work time set up, I spent a lot of time near his table answering questions and clarifying the project. I kind of feel like a crutch for students who aren’t truly independent learners. Given the kinds of math phobias students have before they come to me, it’s clear to see why they might need a crutch. The questions don’t help this student, because this student probably wants a much more specific and detailed sets of questions than what was on the board. What the student probably needs is a whole new conceptualization about himself as a math learner. This is something I have to figure out I guess.

Class Ends

After class was over the student above asked what the next part was. I said, “you make a histogram with that data.” He quietly walked over to the table where the project components were laid out. He then headed back past his departing classmates and sat back down at his desk and picked up his pencil. He worked well after school to start and finish this histogram. We worked for a full half-hour after school had ended. ON A FRIDAY. Oh, and all the while we were working, another student who also stayed working on her project. It was certainly unexpected, and inspiring to see students rising to the occasion.

Clog: Attacking Work Time with Questions

Yesterday’s blog helped me prepare for this class, as it ended up being 90% Work Time. The Work time was necessary because we are beginning working on our survey project. The students are working on this assignment, which asks that they work through a number of tasks independently. Structuring the time to work on these kinds of projects is a struggle, as almost all students have holes in their learning. Today also needed to be a better class than Monday. The class looked like the waiting room at the DMV as everyone was killing time until it was my turn to see them. There definitely needs to be new ways to help kids become more independent.

Starting with Questions

Today’s class I began with some questions that I wanted students to respond to on a small sheet of paper.

  1. Have you read the initial prompt of the assignment?
    1. Did you complete all of the previous work listed on the front?
    2. Did you complete the plan for the questions you will analyze on the back?
  2. Did you go online to get our spreadsheet data and set up your own copy?
  3. Have you made a data table? (The first item in the toolbox)

These questions took 2 minutes for students to read and start to answer. While they were on the board I went to each kid and looked at where they were at and confirmed what their next step should be. I made it around the room in about 5 minutes! The whole thing took about the time it would take for kids’ computers to turn on, but it made the class get focused very quickly on what steps they need to take.

The questions line up with each day of the project, which now provides structure for upcoming Work Time. Perhaps the rest of the days can have a big question for each day of the project, so kids can know how they are doing.

As students began working, I knew a lot students need to understand the formulas in the spreadsheet. It was clear that a mini-lesson would help, but then I got worried. All the writing about Work Time yesterday had this side benefit that I was clear about ways where I would be over helpful. Today, when students would ask me questions I would be better able to resist from overloading them with help. Because I had been thinking about what I DON’T want to do, it was easier for me to stop myself before I relapsed into doing it again. With a mini-lesson, I would typically try to get everyone’s attention and have them all follow along, but today I would give a shorter mini-lesson that only appeals to the people who need it. This time I announced that I’d soon start a mini-lesson and they can pay attention if they need this. It worked out well, and I started the mini-lesson earlier and was able to finish it faster than compared with Monday. It went pretty well.

Pretty successful work time today, let’s hope there is the same success on Friday.

Clog: Disaster Planning – Avoiding A Trainwreck

Most school days I set aside time away from admin stuff to prepare before classes. This planning doesn’t usually intrude on the rest of my schedule, as I only 3 days a week, but today was different.  A perfect storm of parent visits, meeting faux-pas, and email deluge combined with an lesson plan from the night before that I just wasn’t happy with meant that I had half the time to do all of the prep. It was time for Disaster Planning.

Disaster planning is my term for doing lots of last minute large structural planning for a class right before I have to teach. By large structural planning, I mean when you know the topics that are slated for today on the unit plan, but you don’t have finished materials about large chunks of the lesson, not just needing to print worksheets or grade yesterday’s homework. Maybe you don’t have a worksheet that covers the topic you want in the way you’d like, or you know a manipulative approach would be better, but you just don’t have a task that works. Today my issue was I wanted to students to see a variety of scatterplots, and the worksheet from last year used only examples of scatter plots of time series data, meaning the scatterplots were more like line graphs.

Full disclosure, I definitely do not think this is a good idea. This bad habit arose early in teaching on days when I would have a lesson planned the night before, but then in the shower I would have a brilliant idea and come to school and try to change everything to incorporate whatever the magical idea. “We’ll do a gallery walk!” While disaster planning is something I do more now, I never want to do it, and am certainly not recommending it as a good procedure. It is, however, something that has been happening enough that I can write some best practices and realistic expectations to those who tend to chase those last minute moments of inspiration.

Carl’s Disaster Planning Words of Wisdom

  1. “It’s going to be horrible and you shouldn’t do it.” Thinking through a lesson is as important as having the materials printed, don’t fool yourself into thinking that that it’ll end with a freeze frame high five. Understand that you made a mistake and try to avoid this situation again. Be honest with your class and let them know you’re doing something that might have mistakes. As class is going on take note of changes you should make before this material is used again, and make those changes as soon as you can after class.
  2. “Class structure  is as important as the materials.” Today I found a task online that covered on scatterplots and made copies, but that wasn’t enough. When I was first in situations like these, I foolishly thought having the materials in my hand made me feel prepared. You’re not really going to be prepared until you’ve thought through the timing, the possible questions, and everything else. Give yourself time to plan the structure. Stop working on the materials with time to spare in order to actually think through the way the learning should be structured. Maybe your kids will have to copy the last two problems off the board, but it’s better than having them go through a debrief that doesn’t cover all of the main points.
  3. “Lean on your routines.” If you have daily activites in your class, emphasizing them will make your class run smoother. If you have a great new idea that struck you on the way to work, don’t throw out the “Daily Do Now” or the “Thursday number talk,” instead incorporate it. Lack of consistency freaks students out. All of a sudden you’ll have management issues on top of whatever issues arise from your last minute whatever you planned. Instead, lean into these routines. Today I planned an extensive review Do Now because it would allow the class to get settled, and it would be a good review of the material that is leading up to scatterplot. The students were successful with the familiar routine and it lead smoothly into the class.
  4. “Brace yourself for pacing issues” If you aren’t really familiar with your materials it could go faster or slower, so have a back-pocket plan for either scenario. If it’s taking longer than you’ll have time for it may not be a bad idea to tie off the activity early and plan to address the rest on a later date. It may be a good lean on your routines and have an optional prompt for an exit ticket ready to go. If it is going fast and you have time at the end, you can also have an exit ticket ready to go, and maybe you an add an extra question (i.e. review a previous topic, or gather information to include as you discuss a future topic).

This marks my first #MTBoSblogsplosion post!

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