Carl's Teaching Blog

A place to talk about teaching and learning

Category: Uncategorized (Page 2 of 16)

Clog: Bringing along the stragglers

The Thinking Classroom experiment may be a success. The white board contact paper is starting to gather dust in the corners, the kids trust the fancy randomizer, and there are consistently good days. I’m all ready to write a post about successes or a sort of “growth” post about my what I’ve learned the most (spoiler alert: it’s about managing flow). It’s just, well…there are these two kids who I’m worried about.

On Wednesday we started on an open middle problem and two of the four pairing had a student sitting down, facing away from the board, and looking at their phone. Paul likes to mind his own business, and isn’t too interested in talking with me or any student. Denisha has flirted with pursuing a GED, with support from her parents, but decided to give this year one last shot, but so far hasn’t earned any credits in any class that didn’t her performing music.  They both didn’t hear the full explanation about the class during registration, so maybe this isn’t what they expected. I am aware with both having behavior issues in previous math classes which have escalated to administrative interventions. While both of their attendance is around 50%, it surprised me that neither have had an even moderately successful day working with their groups.

On Wednesday, Paul was struggling in a grouping that made me question throwing out the randomizer. He was paired with a student who has had excellent attendance, and is pretty bright, but isn’t really a big “includer.” This student has a tendency to stare off into space, deep in thought, before emerging with an answer that he can’t seem to communicate without writing it on the board. Paul had been paired with this student before and didn’t seem to be contributing anything, even though I asked. It seemed then that Paul wasn’t being vocal then, but his body language showed he wasn’t even participating. I had to try even harder to get the marker into Paul’s hand, but he was said he “don’t learn like this.” He seemed sad that he wasn’t able to pull the answers out of the air like his groupmate and wanted me to sit next to him and tell him what to do.

The randomizer also placed Denisha in a pairing that wasn’t ideal. Her partner was probably the third least talkative kid in the class so I knew I would spend a lot of time over there getting the conversation going. The two were both quiet, Denisha seemed detached. Denisha’s partner seemed quiet because they weren’t clear about the next step in the problem, while Denisha seemed like she was trying to hide and not be seen. If I visited, she would look up and confidently assert that she knew what they were doing, but wouldn’t be able to answer any questions about the actual problem. After some questioning it seemed like she wasn’t aware of what the problem was or what her partner was doing to figure it out. When I wasn’t nearby she would zone off or get sucked back in to her phone as if she was waiting for us to go over the assignment.

Both of these students seem to struggle asserting themselves in math and are also uncomfortable with collaborating around a task. The tasks that I am giving out seem like they are pretty “low-floor,” but Paul and Denisha are not accessing or engaging with them in up until Wednesday. They don’t seem to feel safe in this environment. One of my big goals in this experiment is to create a culture where students spend more of their time feeling safe, but it seems like these two students are spending most of their time avoiding feeling “dumb.” It’s tempting to want to blame the victim here. To imagine the kids could have been more successful if they attended regularly, or to assume that these kids would “get it” if they “just got on board.” I think I should do more to meet their needs (and am open for ideas here). I’ve tried using more manipulatives and am going to work more on having students interact socially before they start working on math, but it’s hard to see if it is working or not.

On Friday I had a pretty successful day with Paul. First I explained my new grading system for the class in very clear terms. I then re-explained the whole philosophy of the class again to connect their grade to the class. Then we had the weekly quiz, which Paul would was unprepared for. Paul, and another student instead worked on quizzes from earlier weeks that they missed. Then I had those students work on a problem maximizing the area of a rectangle given a  perimeter together using manipulatives. Paul was much more confident in working with this new partner, and was more vocal when I asked them to explain why they thought a square isn’t a rectangle. We ended with a conversation of what he needs to do to earn credit. I think it was a big step forward for Paul. Denisha wasn’t there, but maybe I have an approach that I can try with her. Not changing the expectations, but being as clear as possible about them, providing more ways to access the problem, and keeping to work to build confidence.

Teaching about Social Justice Through Problem-Based Learning #NCTMRegionals Seattle

Thanks everyone for coming! Here are the slides and a link to the google doc.

Below is the google doc full of your ideas that we only temporarily destoryed:

#NCTM Regionals Social Justice Ideas for Math Class

 

CLOG: Thinking Classroom Intro and First Class

Today I am about to get started on my Thinking Classroom experiment. I’m probably more nervous than I should be, so writing this will help. This post is to both organize my thoughts, and serve as a nice opening to a series of posts that I’ll write as this experiment unfolds. Today I am going to talk about what I’m going to try, but first I’ll recap how exactly this experiment came to be in the first place.

How this came to be

I was at the NCTM Regional in Kansas City, heading to an early morning shift at the #MTBOS booth, when the security guard informed me that the vendor area was closed. Naturally, I checked twitter, and saw a few tweets coming from a Peter Liljedahl session, so I headed over there to catch a little bit of the end. I proceeded to have my mind blown. Turns out the Thinking Classroom had dozens of great ideas behind it, and not just by the VNPS stuff:

 

Having a classroom built around thinking was my plan for years! 3 years ago, I stopped calling my classes algebra and started calling them Mathematical Thinking, to signal that this is going to be a different experience. Liljedahl’s research laid out a 10 point plan for making the class into the experience that I hoped to create, with research and charts to back it all up. The biggest headline of the 10 point plan was the Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces, which I had piloted last year. The session gave me some ideas about notes, assessment, and how the teacher provides more problems for the students as the class progresses.

After the talk, I headed back to the booth and talked with Joel Bezaire who had also done some Thinking Classroom stuff in his school. He made it seem really realistic. He told me about Dry Erase Contact Paper, the kinds of problems he uses, the spreadsheet that randomizes kids, and some of the blog posts he used. He also helped me think of ways to make it work at my school, which is not traditional and I don’t have as much time with my kids who all have really different abilities. In another stroke of luck, Peter Liljedahl was doing a session around the corner at the infinity bar after I finished talking to Joel. He was super nice and answered my questions until well over his allotted time. I also was able to download a lot Dylan Kane’s Blog Posts about the thinking classroom before my plane home took to read on the flight home. The fact that all these stars aligned made it clear that the universe wanted me to try the thinking classroom this cycle.

Fast forward to this morning. Things seem pretty much set. First off I have students! 11 students signed up for my class for this cycle, and a few more will trickle in which is good. This means getting kids into groups won’t be too hard, and I can save some of the whiteboard paper I would have used for a class of 30. As each kid signed up I showed them this video from Alex Overwijk, and explained some big ideas. “We’re going to do group work, and we’re not doing a whole bunch of worksheets. Instead, we’re going to maximize how much time you spend in class thinking…” Once class actually starts, I’ll need to reiterate the main ethos of what the class is, while also getting them immediately working. In the past I usually started class with a speech about me, my syllabus and how great our time together will be, but this is always boring and dry. Instead I’m going to explain a little bit about what we are doing, use the randomizer, and then get into some visual patterns and some function notation.

_______________________________

Update: I taught the first class and it was pretty interesting. The class was small in number with 4 kids of 11 kids (there was really bad weather last night, so it’s possible that people couldn’t make it in). The small class size could have been a good thing since it lowered the chances for a wide scale revolt. I made this randomizer that is basically the one Joel Bezaire described, with some modifications for my small class size, unpredictable attendance. The scary thing that comes along with small class size is the lack of different kinds of thinking. What if the small groups only come up with a couple of answers? Today the class all went through the visual patterns and came up with a few different ways to solve it. In the future, it will be hard to ensure that all of the different kinds of thinking that need to be elicited will actually show up. Maybe I’ll have to write up imaginary group work and post it somewhere else in the room as a “shadow group.”

The math wasn’t that substantial today, but we did plow through it. All the kids say they liked it and thought it was a fun. I am not clear on how we will introduce precise mathematical vocabulary and notation. Function notation will be the first thing we’ll see how it goes. Maybe I can just roll it out!

Clog: Number talks for high schoolers

For the past 3 cycles I’ve tried to start my class with a 5 minute Number Sense routine for my class. These have most often been number talks in format. I have come up with a few number talks trying to get at mathematical ideas that I think are worth reviewing with my kids. They have been somewhat successful, some kids really get into it, others roll their eyes, but on the whole it has been pretty positive.

The idea behind the number talks was to give the kids some way to build confidence around concepts with number, operations and proportional reasoning each day. The talks themselves are the little powerpoint openers that I put on the screen and go through each day. Here is an example (and a folder with a bunch of them):

Before the routine each day I remind kids that the talks are about thinking building up the kind of number sense they will need in order to be successful in school and in regular life. We use the “thumb” method to indicate that they have thought of something, and once the thumbs have all come up I’ll showcase individual ways that students thought about the problem. I’m trying to get better at not injecting my strategies because it has turned into a “Carl on stage” routine a few times by mistake. Then we go on to the next problem and during the awkward moment while we wait for thumbs to come up we end up, I’ll point to some of the strategies that other people have used to solve the earlier problems.

I’m keeping with them despite some struggles. A few students don’t seem to engage and almost seem like they are waiting me out. Waiting longer eats into the lesson, and talking to those students or looking at those students seem to kill the class culture, so I worry about that. One idea may be to have some kind of number talks related to the topic at hand, in addition to being about earlier math topics. That might help validate the activity for students.

Be more vulnerable, be more honest, and be ok with being less perfect. #MTBoSBlogust

#MTBoSBlogaust? Let’s DO this!

Why? A bunch of reasons, but we can start with 3. Be more vulneraable, be more honest, and be less perfect.

#1 Get in the arena. The “arena” metaphor comes from Theodore Roosevelt’s Man In The Arena speech, which I recently read in Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. My take away from that book is that people who want to do great things, and who want to be leaders, must to make themselves vulnerable. After my 3rd year of being an administrator I began to feel like I am becoming a leader in name only, so I need to get used to being more vulnerable. In so doing, I will also be helping to build a culture of vulnerability which was highlighted in another book The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyne. What that means is putting ideas out there that are not fully formed, that need to get figured out, and maybe a little risky. I’ll seek out feedback, and not hide from it. I’ll make mistakes and move past it. None of these benefits will happen if I avoid vulnerability and stay on Reddit or youtube or whatever

#2 Get this blog in order. I’m not just talking about brushing off my wordpress skills and adding a new theme or some other fanciness. After giving a talk at TMC urging people to #PushSend, I tried to make a concerted effort to blog more, and ended up blogging less. Why? Aside from having a new baby to feed, bathe, and play with, there was some confusion. See, I have a job of being an assistant principal, but this is a blog about teaching and learning. I only teach 3 or maybe 2 or maybe 0 days a week, and I don’t have nearly as much time to do exciting stuff in the math world. Or maybe I might, but those ideas aren’t as polished as my previous ideas tested against a full teaching load, more on that later. The other question is where do I write about my assistant principal stuff? All these things that I am actively working on in the AP world end up with no real home because I don’t think they should fit on this blog. Or at least that was the case in the past. For this month I’ll try to be honest about what I’m trying to do to grow proessionally. That means I’ll put everything on here, including my spreadsheets and my staff meeting plans, and then decide later if I want to keep doing this or make some kind of admin blog.

#3 Stop with all the perfectionism. #PushSend was very a pep talk for fringe members of the #MTBoS, but really, it was to be a kick in my own butt. I get freaked out whenever I have to click the big blue button, even though I know the benefits as well as anyone. The problem is that a reasoned, data-supported argument about pushing the button does little to sway the part of the brain in charge of the second guessing and the avoidance. The amygdala, a brain structure that represents the evolutionary state of maybe a lizard or a chicken, can takeover when things are scary and shutting off the process of higher functioning parts of the brain. This always leads me to double and triple check my posts before I send them out, or to doubt and re-write things, only to leave the post in ‘Drafts’. My amygdala is confusing the the blue button with an oncoming predator, and triggering me with the fight, flight, or freeze response. By pre-committing to post every day, I will hopefully interrupt that response, as now the stress comes from NOT posting. I am also going to shut down the idea that everything I write will be perfect, because I know nothing will get posted that way.

 

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