Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Clog (Page 2 of 6)

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!

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.

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