Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Stats Trumps Hate – #NCTMRegionals Chicago 2017

Thanks to everyone who came out to our session. Megan and I had a great time and hopefully people walked away with some new ideas to try in their classrooms. Here are our slides:

Let me know if you have any questions!

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.

Why #IStandWithRochelle

Rochelle Gutierrez is one of my personal academic rock stars. Since I saw her close out Shadowcon16 I’ve held her work up as what I needed to learn more about, and what I was so glad that people were doing. While I haven’t had time to read as much as I’d like, listening to that talk, and her Global Math talk was very powerful. Both challenged me to do more for the student populations that I serve, and comforted by the fact that researchers in the field are out doing work to challenge people like me.

Not everyone appreciates challenges, however. In a recent work, Gutierrez drew a number of connections between math and whiteness, which sparked the ire of a number of people. In response, critics led a tiki-torch parade across all media platforms with Fox News itself sparking the rally. Their main argument, it seems, is that whiteness should not be challenged.

While I don’t know the full detail of the argument, I want to make it clear that whatever side Rochelle Gutierrez is on, will be the side I am on. The idea that someone can pick apart a scholars work because it doesn’t match with your beliefs is an assault on all scientific disciplines. Without science, we as a people lack a firm way to connect the problems that plague us to solutions we would need to create. The clearest example I can think of, was the achievement gap, which has been the goal of our country since the at least the 90s. It has made less and less sense to me since the phrase became popular, but when I began reading the articles around this controversy, I made the connection between the gap, and this mathematical trend towards whiteness pretty early.  “Why should the non-white people’s goal be do what the white people are doing? What if they should do something else?” But I thought my ideas were on the fringe. Listening to Rochelle’s work made clear that there was a connection, and there was a way to utilize the truth in that connection between Whiteness and Math to improve outcomes for students. Making these kinds of connections are important to making progress with math, or with science, or to make a more perfect union. The right for people to make connections, create knowledge, and push their field further is something that shouldn’t be threatened.

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So I originally sat down to write a post about this last week. The draft was about as long as this, actually. But it sat in my drafts folder next to posts about Charlottesville, Betsy Devos, and other things that haven’t gotten posted. When I come around to edit these kinds of posts at some point I let life’s business and distractions get in the way from my pushing the send button until it never gets pushed at all. It happened so often that I decided to give a talk about it at TMC, not as an expert, but as someone trying to figure out the answer. In this case, I am hitting send. In part because I have time, and because of  this poem, and the fear that things like open expression, and anyone pushing the send button, is at stake if this kind of intimidation is allowed to go unchecked.

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