You’ve Been POE’d!

One of the best used three days of my life happened last February when I traveled to WestCAST. I learned a lot about myself, and I learned even more about education. I traveled with the U of R Science majors and they were doing a demonstration of what POE meant in the science classroom. POE, for anyone unfamiliar refers to Predict, Observe, and Explain, a method for inquiry. The Science team from U of R showed off many fantastic examples of POE-ing in a “science fair-style” gallery. It was oh, so helpful. I knew that it was something I wanted to incorporate into my future teaching, but I wasn’t sure how.

When I received my teaching assignment for the year in June, I immediately knew that I was going to POE in my Science 9 classes, which start in February. What I didn’t know was that in a moment of “unplannedness” I would POE in math. I also didn’t predict that it was in the Top Ten best lessons I taught all year. Go figure!

Part of the fantastic Workplace and Apprenticeship Math 20 curriculum here in Saskatchewan involves a logical reasoning unit, in which students are to find the mathematical processes and strategies in various games. I have a reflection sheet for students to respond to playing math-based games that I’ve used before with questions such as “What strategy did you use to win? Did you win? If not, why?” The answers I received back were less than stellar.

I had forgotten that I promised a Games Day to my WA20 class a few weeks ago, and that day rolled a

round without me knowing. Every student walked in the door absolutely stoked that it was Games Day. I immediately ran to grab a couple of decks of cards, sent a student for the chess boards, and whipped out a few sets of dice. I had no time whatsoever to photocopy my reflection sheet. Besides, it wasn’t working. Maybe this was for the best.

I scrambled, then told my students that we were going to POE. “What? You are pwning us?” (I had to look that one

Flickr Photo Credit to  alasdairnicol Some Rights Reserved.

Flickr Photo Credit to alasdairnicol Some Rights Reserved.

up on Urban Dictionary after class) they chimed. I scribbled Predict, Observe, Explain on the board as they jotted d

own the name of the game they were playing. I adapted it to read:

Predict – What strategy are you going to use? Why do you think it will work?

Observe – Play the game. Keep score. How did you do? Did you win more, tie, or lose more?

Explain – What will you do differently next time to be more successful? What mathematical strategy proved the most successful for your group?

And with that, they started their predictions. Full disclosure: the first time we POE’d it was a little rough. There were a lot of questions. They forgot to predict. They forgot to explain. They forgot to hand in their sheets. Naturally, I opted not to evaluate it, as it was just for practice. I certainly got great feedback.

On Friday, we had our last work period with the netbooks on their review projects. About two hours before their class (i.e. in the middle of another class that I was using the netbooks for), the power went out. It flickered all lunch hour, and our Wifi wasn’t working by the time the bell rang. The students walked in, and I immediately sent a student for the chess boards. Needless to say, the students were very excited to have a Games Day AND an extension on their project all in one day. I scribbled the POE steps on the board again, and they got right to it. The only instructions I really gave them were to POE and play two games within the hour. They chose their games. Since they knew they needed something to write about, they all chose rather wisely. I was absolutely astonished with how well behaved they were for such a chaotic day.

I know making the jump from science to math for teaching strategies certainly isn’t the biggest, but I’m quite glad to be able to make those connections and see them flourish, especially when what I was originally doing wasn’t really working. Lessons learned:  (1) When in doubt, test it out! I’m glad I gave it a try in an unfamiliar context. (2) Always read your daybook. But if you don’t, something wonderful might happen, so no need to panic! (3) I, too, can feel like a ninja teacher sometimes, even though my teaching life is chaotic. I love ninja teacher moments.

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