Too many resources

I was recently asked:

How do teachers make sense of this stuff that gets designed by other people and use it for their own purposes?

I usually take a quick look at the resource and think about if and where it may fit. I may make a note to myself to consider including it when I reach the appropriate part of my school year, and put together a unit plan, then I’ll return to it and consider its appropriateness with my students to achieve a specific learning goal.

There is an abundance of resources available online of varying qualities. I usually do not jump into and investigate a new thing just because somebody pinned it or shared it on Twitter, but I am always afraid I may be missing out on something awesome. I’ve learned that if it is awesome, I’ll continue hearing about it over time and be able to benefit from learning about its implementation in other classes

I am most likely to use a resource either because I learned to know and trust the source, understand the approach and can adapt it to my style and the needs of my students (Desmos activities Shell CentreIllustrative mathematics) or, because I read blog posts from other teachers discussing how the resource fits in their lesson the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson, what they plan to do next.

As an example: For many years, I heard about a barbie zipline lesson, but I never seriously considered incorporating it into my geometry class until I read a few descriptions of how it worked in other classes. Then I could adapt it to meet my learning goals.

My process when planning a unit:

After developing a list of learning targets for the school year and developing a high level pacing plan, I think about how students make sense of the content, and what content they already know that I can relate it to or build upon. I then sequence the learning targets for the unit. Next, I find, adapt or develop a synthesis project for the end of the unit that incorporates as much of the learning targets as possible from the unit and hopefully also draws in learning targets from previous units & grades too. Rolling cups or spiky door, for example.

After that, I look for hooks. I try to create conditions where students ask me to help them improve at the learning targets I have planned. I try to create a need to learn the thing. After that, I find, adapt, or develop application lessons where they can apply the learning targets as a culminating activity after developing basic understanding of a target – 3 acts and Mathalicious lessons fit well here.

I then lay it all out in a calendar incorporating days for direct instruction, notes, basic practice, and standards based assessments where they are appropriate. I usually build in a few unplanned days in order to allow for some flexibility throughout the unit to make space to dive into teachable moments that may arise.

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It is all in the set up: The Waiting Game

It needs to feel authentic

They need to get captured in the intensity of the moment. They need to feel that they are a part of the development of the situation. As much as possible, I need them to ask the questions, not the other way around.

The Waiting Game by Mathalicious

I choose this lesson on Valentine’s day as a preview to our probability unit. The premise of the lesson is to determine how many people a person should seriously date before committing to a partner for the rest of their lives.

The lesson plan as written begins with a very involved handout that lists all of the possible orderings of dating 4 different people: 1234, 1243, 1342, etc… Students are supposed to consider how frequently the end up with their number 1 partner if they choose to commit to their first love compared to if the break up with the first, but then commit to their second person that is a better match than the first, or the third, or wait for mate number 4.

I checked the reflect tab of the Mathalicious lesson to see if there was any thoughts from other teachers:

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I thought:

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How I adapted the lesson

I did not use the complicated student handout. They need to own this.

I opened the lesson by talking about love. I asked students if they thought they should marry the first person they fell in love with. I showed them some published advice column letters. They debated the advice they would give in each scenario. We talked about the episode of Friends where Rachel and Ross are on a break.

Students had intense opinions.

Quiet students who rarely speak up in math class gave thoughtful reflections.

We invested a good 20 minutes on the buy-in. It got to the point that students were asking; “Is this what we are doing today?” “How is this math?”

Then I asked: “Let’s assume there are 4 people you may fall in love with. If you marry the first person you date, what are the chances that this person is your best match, #1?”

Students replied: 25%

I directed students in small groups to the nearest dry erase board.

What are all of the possible orders that you could date the 4 people? Can you list them?

It started off a complete mess, but eventually groups learned that they needed to organize their thinking.

I followed the rest of this lesson as described in the teacher guide, but using dry erase board and discussion in lieu of a worksheet.

Students calculated the likelihood of committing to their best match if they committed to the first person that was better than their first match. There was some debate and confusion, but eventually students convinced each other that in this case there was a 7/24 chance that you would end up with your best match.

They concluded that the highest probability of ending up with their best match (#1) was if they did not commit to their first love. It was a great Valentines day!

We acknowledged the weaknesses of the initial assumptions and students wrote a reflection on how these assumptions impact our results and weather or not they agree with our conclusions.

 

The great Kahoot workaround

I love getting to learn new teaching strategies through having Eric as an apprentice teacher this semester!

My first period geometry class is very, very quiet. Too quiet. It is a challenge to get any energy and discussion going in that class.

Yesterday, Eric mentioned that he was thinking about trying Kahoot with the class since it can be engaging for students and can increase the energy in the room.  I told him that while I like the program, I dislike that it rewards and encourages speed. I know students are more successful if they take time to think first and don’t just rush to get the best answer.

Here is Eric‘s solution:

  1. After logging in to Kahoot, but before the question is presented, tell students to turn their laptops around or put their phones on the table facing down.
  2. The question is projected using Kahoot. Students can discuss, but they cannot touch their device while the timer is counting down.
  3. Once all students have had enough time to discuss the problem, but before the timer is up, the teacher says GO!
  4. Then it is a race to click their solution quickly.
  5. Turn devices back around and repeat.

*A modification of this approach using relay races: Have each team place their device along the perimeter of the room, or other side of some line, then have the students stand on the opposite side of the room in their teams. Project the question and once students have had enough time to discuss the solution, yell GO, and a member of each team can race to their device to enter the answer.

So simple and so effective! I am thrilled to be able to use Kahoot again with my students while de-emphsizing speed and increasing student thinking!

School picture day

HEY! YOU – IN THE HOODIE! MOVE TO THE FRONT! YOU’RE SHORT.”

“YOU – GLASSES – MOVE CLOSER TO THE PLAID SHIRT GUY.”

“EVERYONE MOVE IN! IF YOU ARE TO THE RIGHT OF PLAID SHIRT YOU WON’T BE IN THE PICTURE.”

“TAKE YOUR HATS OFF! STOP MESSING AROUND. BE QUIET!”

“TAKE YOUR HOOD OFF! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

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I cringe

These are human beings. Stop talking to them like that!

Do I say something to him? Do I leave the room because it is making me so uncomfortable and let it continue?

He is just trying to make our school photo as good as possible. He wants to do the best job he can. He probably works hard.

Do I ever do this?

I might.

We can get so focused on doing our job that we forget that we are working with independent, beautiful, thoughtful, individuals – each with their own stressors and needs and dreams.

This disregard for our humanity happens at every level. We have all been subjected to this and we all have done this to people we care about.

It hurts all of us.

What you feed us as seedsgrows, and blows up in your face” – Tupac Shakur

Two Kinds of Simplicity

I have been trying to use CPM’s new Precalculus textbook as a guide for my pre-calculus class.  During my planing period, I opened to the next lesson to try to put together a plan for my upcoming class.

I only had about one hour to prepare for this class period.

This was the opening prompt:


Gerrit wants to simplify the complex fraction 

 

but is overwhelmed by the fractions within a fraction. Work with your team to help Gerrit write an equivalent expression that is a rational expression instead of a complex fraction. Be ready to share your strategies with the class.


I approached this task thinking about the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Math Discussions. I worked through simplifying the complex fraction in different ways, trying to anticipate different student approaches.

I stopped to think about how this would work with my class:

  • I thought back to when I addressed this topic last year – and how poorly it went. Students were frantically writing steps to memorize procedures. Although I am experienced enough to avoid saying “copy-dot-flip” or “invert & multiply“, I know this is how my students learned to divide fractions and it is how they approached these problems.
  • I decided I did not want to teach this the same way this time.
  • I considered just doing the lesson as described by CPM because I really didn’t have much time to plan and it was good enough. They are HS seniors. I can’t change their perspective on math and learning at this point – right? I tell myself this sometimes. To just keep it simple, but I never listen.
  • I read Dan Meyer’s blog post “If Simplifying Rational Expressions Is Aspirin Then How Do You Create The Headache?” I pictured myself asking students to evaluate a complex expression for specific values and whether or not they would be surprised (or even care) if I could evaluate the expression quickly. They have been beaten down by math for most of their lives. I thought this would just be another instance where a math teacher made them feel less competent, and that did not seem like a productive way to pique their interest.
  • I thought about when I recently re-read Lockhart’s Lament, especially this part:

“I don’t see how it’s doing society any good to have its members walking around with vague memories of algebraic formulas and geometric diagrams, and clear memories of hating them … Mathematics should be taught as art for art’s sake. These mundane “useful” aspects would follow naturally as a trivial by-product.”

  • I thought about Tracy Zagar’s session that I recently attended at ATMNE’s Conference  where she talked about how connections through multiple representations made explicit can help students to develop understanding. Tracy also asked participants to think about related topics, often taught separately resulting in learners thinking of math topics as separate concepts. We identified related math topics that are taught separately such as:
    • graphing lines: f(x)=mx+b and transformations of functions f(x)=a f(x-h)+k
    • similarity and slope
    • adding and subtracting
    • fractions and division
  • I thought about Richard Skemp’s article, Relational Understanding and Instrumental Understanding, and how I could help my students see the simplicity and beauty in simplifying complex fractions.

“There are two kinds of simplicity: that of naivety; and that which, by penetrating beyond superficial differences, brings simplicity by unifying.”

At this point I was losing valuable planning time, but I decided it was more important for me to make sense of dividing fractions for myself, and help students to experience the joy in understanding, than it was to have a flawless detailed lesson plan, so I found and worked through Graham Fletcher’s  Making Sense of Invert and Multiply.  During my lunch, I created and thought through as many cases of dividing fractions as I could come up with. Then I selected a few to use with my students.

I decided against starting with the opening question provided in CPM’s textbook above, I thought I would close with that question.

I decided to open the lesson asking students to think about and share how they would represent the number of groups of 1/2 that are in 3/4. Instead of beginning my class with these learners feeling intimidated and overwhelmed, they were curious.

Students discussed and compared representations, made connections and got genuinely excited at the silliness of being in a college credit pre-calculus class and that we were making sense of fourth and fifth grade mathematics. Mid-discussion, one high school senior yelled “I am in 12th grade and I just now understand how dividing fractions works!” Shaking her head with a mix of frustration towards how math is taught and satisfaction that she understood division of fractions.

Once they were ready, students worked in pairs on whiteboards to think through CPM’s opening question. They took time, consulted and corrected each other and all ended with the same simplification in different ways. Then the craziest thing happened:

They asked me for more complex fractions to simplify!2017-11-16-12-59-30.jpg

 

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Understanding systemic segregation in schools starter pack

I recently attended a lecture by Kelly Wickham Hurst about systemic racism in America’s School system. The following is a combination of my notes from her lecture as well as a few resources that really helped paint a comprehensive picture for me of the current state of schooling in America.


  • When the Supreme Court decided on the case of Brown vs Board of Education mandating that schools be desegregated, wonderful black schools were closed and over 30,000 competent, qualified black teachers and administrators were fired. Partially as a direct consequence of this action, here is what students and teachers in American public schools currently look like, according to APM reports:Capture

  • Malcom Gladwell has a great podcast called Revisionist History, and last season it included an incredible episode about the negative impacts of Brown vs. Board of Education:

The Brown v Board of Education might be the most well-known Supreme Court decision, a major victory in the fight for civil rights. But in Topeka, the city where the case began, the ruling has left a bittersweet legacy. RH hears from the Browns, the family behind the story.

http://revisionisthistory.com/episodes/13-miss-buchanans-period-of-adjustment


  • Adam Ruins Everything made this 6 minute video that explains and summarizes the impact of red-lining in creating segregated suburban communities:


  • Nikole Hannah-Jones is a force. She was recently named a MacArthur Genius Fellow for 2017, partially as a result of this series of podcasts:

Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there’s one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.

https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/562/the-problem-we-all-live-with

  • The second episode in this series looks at Hartford, CT school district’s efforts to integrate and includes and an interview with then Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan:

Last week we looked at a school district integrating by accident. This week: a city going all out to integrate its schools. Plus, a girl who comes up with her own one-woman integration plan.

https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/563/the-problem-we-all-live-with-part-two


  • Be aware of your own biases. We all have biases, but increasing our awareness of them can help up to make conscious adjustments to ensure that our prejudices have minimal impact on our decisions. Try taking Harvard’s implicit-association tests.

Where do we go from here? Below are the ideas presented by Kelly Wickham Hurst at her talk as well as a link to a article she wrote in 2016 on the topic.

Being Black at School: 10 Things Schools Can Do Today for Black Students

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My biggest takeaway from Hurst’s talk was to stop getting stuck analyzing data and start acting and having hard conversations. This requires you to critically consider who is served when implementing school and local polices with which you may have been participating and complying in for your whole life.

When you see something in schools that marginalizes a population, or a well intentioned policy that you recognize as being harmful to students, do something. Don’t just passively comply. Speak up. Change the rules. Run up the flagpole and take that shit down.

 

Promoting whole class discussions with pre-written questions

I am starting the school year in precalculus having students develop both their collaboration skills and their ability to model real world scenarios with mathematics. It is the beginning of the school year and many learners are still a little uncomfortable with each other and with their confidence in math class. I wanted to have a productive class discussion, and to make students feel safe to engage in dialogue around the content. I decided to create a discussion that appeared natural as a gateway to get some of the less confident learners engaged in the content.

At the start of class I presented a scenario to optimize by modeling with mathematics. Learners worked in randomly assigned small groups to develop an optimal solution and then, in the last 20 minutes of class, each group was to present their solution and reasoning. I wanted the learners in the audience to ask challenging questions to learn more about the groups thinking after each presentation.

Here is what I did:

While listening to learners work on a task in small groups, I circulated, listened, and wrote questions for each group on separate index cards. I was also thinking about how to sequence their presentations based on their approaches as described in the book, 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Math Discussions.

When each group was setting up to present, I would discretely hand the questions written on index cards to a less confident learners. After the group presented their thinking, I would ask, “Does anyone have any questions for this group?”

The learners would look around nervously in an awkward silence while I glared uncomfortably at a learner with an index card. Eventually, uncomfortable with the silence, the learner would ask the question on their card. Then, the presenting group would respond, which led to genuine student questions, thinking and further discussion.

By the last groups presentation, many of the learners seemed comfortable to ask questions and engage in thoughtful whole class discussion!