Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Clog (Page 3 of 7)

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.

CLOG: Context and Content

I’ve been thinking about a moment from 13 years ago while I was observing Kellie Huhn teach sophomores during my time MSU. 13 years have made the details of the lesson very fuzzy (F.O.I.L.? Standard Form? Quadratics?). What comes back to me was a quick explanation she made about the decision to go “off book” for a lesson. She could have said this: “These kids are getting a little antsy because we are going through all this content so I’m going to have to give them something in context.” It was clear that the class wasn’t behaving poorly, and were ‘doing the work’, but everything seemed deflated. Kellie picked up on this and was using her pedagogic license to direct the class through an activity that would recapture the kids minds. Again, I’m fuzzy on the details on what that actually was (Card sort? Skits? Rich problem set?), but the though still stays with me. As a teacher whose teaching was so non-traditional, I’m pretty sure that my 3 or 4 months of observations taught me that teaching doesn’t have to mean following the book, and challenged me to be inventive as I serve my future students.

So this long weekend I was thinkingabout adding energy to my current class when Kellie’s comment about content and context came to mind. Instructional routines and tasks can seem pretty dry for kids. Without balance it feels a lot more like mastering content than it does real-world context for students. While we spent the last week of class tying together the various representations of linear functions, we may have forgot why they make our lives easier. It seemed time to take Kellie’s words to heart. In thinking of that I decided to adjust the unit a little. I took a modeling activity from 2 weeks from now and decided to run a simpler version of it today.

The actual task that I got was from Dan Meyer’s blog which asked “How many Styrofoam cups unifix cubes would you need to be as tall as your teacher?” Kids could work together and think through the problem, take measurements, and make  a prediction. Since I have a crapload of unifix cubes, they could then actually physically put together the 103 (give or take) cubes to reach my height. In the end it ended up being less of a linear modelling activity and more of a estimation activity, but I think it was something that spoke to the point of precision, counting, answering genuine problems, teamwork, and what math class is all about.

(Side note: Before class started one girl who pulled me aside and asked if I thought she should transfer out of the class because it was too hard. At the end of this, her group ended up getting the closest estimate, and it was largely because of her!)

Unfortunately, this means that we aren’t where I wanted to be in the unit. The kids had a lot of fun and were able to apply a lot of the linear thinking that we have been doing to a real context. We’ll just have to derive the slope formula next class while we wrap up linear thinking with an end of the unit reflection.

Clog: Competing with a Skateboard?

Today’s class began with a plan to break up the monotony, and I left feeling the need to take even more drastic action for the monotony. The day before I was talking with a special ed teacher who was the advisor of one of my students. “He needs thing to be EXCITING.” she said “He’s a skateboarder. If he’s not in your class it’s because he’s out around the building skateboarding. Your classes have to compete with skateboarding.” I immediately thought of this as a challenge. How do you make math class as interesting as skateboarding?

Initially I thought about the process skateboarders take to get better. Skateboarding offers lots of real-time feedback to help you learn how to master a new trick. Math offers similar real-time feedback if the students learn to check their own work and are given opportunities to be independent. With confidence and effort they can follow the sort of instantaneous feedback of their own thinking while working towards solving a problem. In a lot of ways the work one does to master a skateboard trick is similar to the work one does to learn math.

So I was about 3/4 through that explanation when my co-worker stopped me and said “Also, you could have the kids moving around and doing cool stuff.” To which I replied “Well… yeah… Of course that too.”

It was one of the few times a conversation in teaching has left me both dumbfounded and also spinning with ideas. Large scale experiments and physical explorations is something I haven’t done in my class, but is something that has been done in her class (her students build and fly a hot air balloons…on the first or second day of class). It made me think about doing more modeling and less pen and paper work. Maybe the spaghetti bridge to talk about linear modelling, maybe a catapult to talk about quadratic modelling, maybe something with building skateboard ramps? Who knows, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!!

Naturally, the lesson I had planned felt as exciting as a bowl of bran flakes in comparison. OK not entirely, we did the connecting representations activity that I remember from TMC-NYC. Some notes for people doing that. It’s good to have the representations on chart paper so you can have the prompts on the screen. I intended to have the images at the bottom of this google doc as the representations to connect. I noticed that the sort of silence and the lack of writing really helped some kids make connections. One pair of students only on their second day in the class began the activity saying “I don’t get this” but were able to create their own.

The rest of the class was spent working on some activities that I used to think were the Cat’s pajamas but now they just seem boring. At least that’s how the kids experienced it. Maybe the conversation made me less exciting to teach this stuff, or maybe it’s time for something new. Either way I have four days of weekend to think of something more exciting and I hope to spend at least one day doing just that.


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