Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Clog (Page 4 of 7)

Clog: Idea Creep

It was a rough day at the office for the past few days.

Friday was a terrible example of something I’ll call idea creep. We were reviewing the Do Now, a visual pattern, and a students said something about area when describing a growing square. One student said it grew wider and longer. I suggested the word ‘geometrically’ and I said that was interesting. Then I kept talking…

Flash back to before the class and I remember having a whole bit about arithmetic and geometric sequences because it might be interesting. There really wasn’t time to do it, but the idea of talking about sequences alongside these visual patterns still lingered. 

After the student noticed decided to interject a little of the sequence language, so I mentioned ‘geometrically’ The class wasn’t as excited as I had expected. Next thing you know I am pointing to another pattern that wasn’t a geometric sequence so they could see a distinction.

Now things could have taken a turn. If this was a brief aside, now it appears like an important part of the lesson. If things were going over their heads before, now they are confused or frustrated. The original conversation has gone off track, and the student who did the initial noticing is checking out. At this point if I keep pushing this outside idea it’s going to creep in and take over a huge chunk of the lesson and my class culture.

This idea creep was definitely a problem I would have when I was a younger teacher but it seems to keep ‘creeping’ back in, especially with classes where the kids are not all comfortable with one another. Luckily I was able to stop it before I decided to erase half the board an adlib a 15 minute thing and then ruin the rest of the activity I had planned for the last half of class #carl’sfirstyearofteaching.

Clog: Zombies

Today I walked into class and felt like I was talking to a bunch of zombies. Probably because the class culture was DOA since I was at a training on the first day. If you ever have to be absent on your first day of class, I’ll give you two pieces of advice.

1. Don’t.

2. Don’t expect any chemistry to have formed.

When we started it seemed like there was a chemistry vacuum. I thought my lesson plan would lead to a warm environment, but instead whenever I tried turn and talks I got blank stares and silence. Ugghhh.

This class was focused on talking about functions, with visual patterns so that the routine could begin to take hold. The function conversation reminded me how useful it is going to be to slow things down and make sure kids are sitting and thinking (and I’m not up and talking). After dragging kids through an explanation with tables for function the kids were asked to write an example of  two sets that were a function and another two sets that were not a function. This was immediately met with blank stares and silence. After a few minutes we did a little share out and it seemed clear to me that we should think about it a little more. So we did that. It’s one of the few times where asked kids to simply ‘think a little more’ and it worked. After they thought I said that we would talk in pairs and pick one relation or function to share and then we went around every group shared. That was very productive, and livelier than the morning. I also think the pressure of sharing with the group was probably helpful.

Perhaps the key to bringing zombies back to life is making them think? Quick somebody tell Will Smith in I Am Legend!

Clog: Remote Start

Today is the first day of classes!  …and of my school’s two day retreat on descriptive inquiry. This means I don’t get to see the result of my stressed, late night lesson planning. Luckily my kids were in very capable hands the other Trig teacher stepping up to take the coverage. Let’s take a step back and talk about what this cycle’s class is all about.

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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.


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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