Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 13)

Clog: Where I love doing the info gap incorrectly

It’s the second day of my class, and it’s going…OK. It’s a new class, and it made sense to do some review activities so I rolled out the OUR curriculum and tried one of their lessons. Specifically lesson three of their 8th grade linear unit. We had a number talk, which I updated a little bit to this:

The number talk went ok. Good actually, I considering it was my second one ever. There were definitely some kids who rolled their eyes at the beginning, who were engrossed by the end. There were also kids engrossed from the beginning, that felt defeated by the end. I think I need to do better work at making strategies visible and accessible, but that’s another post.

After that we started the task. Immediately it felt like there was no time left. We were either going to finish the second part of the task, and have to end the class their since our school had shorter periods to make room for our thanksgiving potluck. The kids energy and affect seemed low, so I thought more problems would make kids loathe today and want to cut my end-of-the-day class tomorrow. So, I asked the class, “Hey, would you guys rather do the back of the worksheet, or do an activity? Let’s have a vote.” To my surprise, the info gap won, 3-2.

An info gap is an activity where students are given either a data card and a problem card. The problem card person has to work with the data card person to get the task finished. This task turned into more of a pair exploration because I didn’t explain that the data card person is supposed to be a tough guy, but that was ok. The info gap we worked on had an unfinished graph and on the problem card, and a table with a couple of values on it. The students with the graph knew they needed the data from the data card, and they asked the questions to get that information. The students with the tables though they had a task of their own, to make set of larger points out of the small set of points they were given. They were each working on making a representation of the same linear relationship, but they had different tasks. This allowed them to genuinely help each other, without merely copying. Is this what was supposed to happen? I don’t know, but I do know we are doing some more info gaps before this cycle is over.

Clog: Clean Slate, new class, and a huge mistake

Today was the first day of class! Again! One of the things that’s great about our school is that every 9 weeks we start again with new classes, new kids, and essentially a clean slate. This provides our students an opportunity to have a lot of “at bats” but it also provides our teachers with fresh swings as well. This is good because I could definitely use another set of swings.

Last cycle’s class came with a jarring set of disruptions. My wife had our second child, about 2 weeks earlier than expected. Adjusting to baby Isabelle was the headline reason for my difficulties last cycle. Additionally, I was teaching a curriculum that I didn’t really like (irony alert: it was my curriculum from 4 years ago). I haven’t blogged or tweeted much because I’m short on time, and a lot of the time that was left I devoted time into starting an admin blog which no one really reads. I’m not really big on trying it because it’s hard to be honest and clear when talking about admin work, but that is a whole other post. Last cycle was also difficult for a number of other non-infant related reasons, so cycle 2 represents a welcome a fresh start.

This cycle, like every new cycle, is a clean start. In most of my blogs I get pretty excited about new cycles and this is no different. This is essentially the start of the year for me. My first cycle course was a course that I didn’t modify too much because someone else would be covering it for me at some point in time. This time it’s more or less brand new from the ground up and also incoporating all of the new things I learned from TMC, TMC-NYC, the MFA Big Think, and the wonderful firehose of ideas on the #MTBoS. Planning is a lot like a game of sudoku. With only 22 days of class this cycle and a solid 6-8 days are going to be needed for work time for kids I’m trying to be more deliberate than ever to fit things in. I’m picturing 3 5-day cycles where I am going to bring up Proportional Relatinoships, Linear equations, piecewise equations, and I’ll try to hint about exponential functions along the way. Each cycle should look like the following:

  • Day 1 : Opening task. This would be a problem, in the PBL vein that introduces the math that needs to be studied in a rich context. The students will work together on it for most of the period, and complete some kind of exit ticket that can help me plan what’s next.
  • Day 2: Gather Questions. This could look like a circle, or an instructional routine, or some other activity, but it is to get the students to start to generalize away from the first day’s task. As issues of notation and vocabulary come up, I want this to be conversive, and I want introduce kids to formal vocabulary.
  • Day 3: Problem Set. On this day I want to have students finish a bunch of different problems. We could have an “important stuff section” that they work on and share out that day. Then students can try their other problems and share them out later.
  • Day 4: Share out from problem set & practice. So on this day I’ll ask the class to share out more of the interesting problems from the problem set, they can then do another instructional routine, and then do another big exit ticket.
  • Day 5: Project: Students will work on a portion of the project that is for the end of the class. This portion will directly involve the math we used this week. It will also provide a space for student to reflect on what they have learned so far.

Friday was the first day of the class, and it was pretty exciting. Only 5 kids showed up out of 15, but they were all pretty excited. I was actually doing a really good job until the end where I mistakenly used the wrong gender pronoun for a student and now feel like a jackass. Aside from that, it was a good start to the cycle, let’s see if I can get a post up after each class!

Clog: Unguided Work Time

Dealing with work time has always been a big problem for me. Kids don’t always take full advantage of the time they have when they are working independently, and it leaves me l feeling like the time was wasted. This year I’ve tried doing a lot of ‘launching’ the work time. When class starts I’ll give everyone their folders and then I’ll give a speech detailing what a productive period would consist of. “Hey guys. The project is due next Friday, that means today would be a good day to work on the missing assignments, plan presentations or writing up the project. Missing assignments are over here, and let me just clarify a couple things about the project before you get started…” These ‘launches’ would end with my promising to do a little mini-lesson late in the class, so look through your folders and let me know what it is I should do a mini lesson on. After I say all this I then run around the room like an old man with a broom trying to get all the little birdie off of his own and flying through the sky. This usually results in checking in with kids about particular issues, and after all the running and the checking, there’s only 15 minutes if work time before I have to stop and do the mini lesson.

Today was a little different. Four students finished their drafts early(!) and I needed to give them feedback so I tried to grade them quickly before class. I set up the files and the missing assignments and just sat in the front of the room grading papers as class started. Kids trickled in, and eventually got to work, so I decided not to do the typical ‘launch’. Instead, I called over the 4 kids whose papers I wrote on and told them what they needed to do. Well wouldn’t you know it, the class didn’t devolve into bedlam. Some of the kids who don’t start without some old-man-Carl-broom-shaking actually came over to me to figure out what they needed to get done!

Eventually I got out of my seat and touched base with all the kids I usually do, but in a few of the cases, it felt like I was not igniting their work, but more like interrupting their work. I was really shocked to look at the clock and see more than half an hour of class left, I honestly didn’t know what to do with the time!

By being in front and working on my own I think I modeled the independent work that students were supposed to be doing. I will try to do a more deliberate ‘un-launch’on Friday and see how it goes.

Clog: Firing up the project

It’s time to start the project for this unit, and also the final unit for the class. It is a weird wrinkle teaching here. Our only big assessment is usually the first substantive assessment. Our school has had to race through a number of classes in order to cover the material and our projects are involved so we also need to start them as early as possible. We have a rough problem in terms of content coverage.

Does our scant amount of time for content coverage mean we also have a problem with assessment? It feels at times that the only assessing we do is formative. What can you really assess after only 2 weeks in a meaningful way? It’s a difficult question. But it also means we aren’t giving much to students about assessments either. This means the students don’t have a lot of clear signals that they are being learning. Maybe having a successful assessment early would be good for morale.

As an experiment, maybe next cycle wet could do assessments every 2 weeks, or even every week, or even every day! Make sure kids know they are learning something, and hopefully they could be a good motivational tool. In fact, if they are smoothly integrated, it may keep the class from getting slowed down as well.

Clog: Back on the VNPS horse

We haven’t used VNPS since the first class where some kids send like they weren’t having their needs met. We have done some journal prompts and those were particularly insightful. One student wrote a really thoughtful response about how she liked doing “the problem that we worked on in groups on whiteboards.” She detailed how talking about her thinking with the group helped her and seeing the ideas on the board really helped her understand why her initial thinking didn’t lead to the right answer. These details came straight from the heart, as I didn’t even ask for any of this. After reading that response how could you not decided to give VNPS another try.

What were the real issues that arose last time? One issue was some students felt that being in groups triggered their anxiety. Given our population doesn’t always mean students have time to build community, I can’t guarantee I can just run enough ice breakers to make everyone comfortable with each other. This time I have kids the options to work independently, but they have to be able to share out. Another student also had trouble working on a prompt that I only delivered via spoken words. To help with how they receive information, to I decided to give them the task on paper. Aside from that I kept everything the same.

When class started I decided to set up the VNPS I noticed a few things. Everyone was approaching the possible with more seriousness and focus. Unfortunately, some students who had the paper were just sitting down and doing the problem on their own instead of talking with their group. Instead of having a prompt for all students, next time I’ll have to project the prompt on the whiteboard, or tape one to each whiteboard so as to have students look at it visually. Taking the problem may help demarcate where each group is supposed to be. The need for separation arise after one of my whiteboards disappeared when I was on paternity leave. Two of the groups were crammed together on the front whiteboard and they somehow merged to become a mega-group while I was across the room. The mega-group ended up with a lot less participation from all students. Next time I need to either have clearer boundaries, students writing on the windows, or someone needs to return my friggin whiteboard!

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