Tag Archive | Math

All Ready for Tomorrow? Well, Maybe.

I just finished fine-tuning my plans for tomorrow, and I have to admit, I’m feeling deflated.

I went to the SUM (Saskatchewan Understands Math) Conference 2013, which featured Dan Meyer and Marian Small as keynotes. I got myself fired up to be amazing upon my return to school. Somehow, I’m feeling like I’m fighting a losing battle.

I can say with certainty that the lens I view the textbooks with has never been entirely rose-coloured, but upon my return, I have become very unenthusiastic. The questions and problems seem just short of pointless.

Their big redeeming quality, as Dan Meyer would point out, is that they have some content to use as a jumping off point. They are just written in the most monotonous way.

For instance, tomorrow we will be doing a review of perimeter to launch into the composite shapes chapter. The first question asks, “Draw a rectangle that has a perimeter of 24 squares on a piece of grid paper.” The second question asks, “Draw a rectangle that has a perimeter of 28 squares on a piece of grid paper.” The third asks, “Draw a rectangle that has a perimeter of 20 squares on a piece of grid paper.” The numbers here might be wrong, but the boringness is still maintained.

I do see the value in this — perimeter is a total measure of all the side lengths. There is an infinite possibility of side lengths that can have a measure of 24 squares. This could be powerful stuff. But it’s not, because it is so rote.

I wanted to come back ready to shake it up in my class. I am ready for that change, but I’m still struggling with executing it. I have plans for a Three-Act activity on Thursday, and I’m hoping that can spark the change. Where I’m struggling here is how I can start making small changes to my teaching that will eventually lead up to big ones? Are there little daily things I can/should do to help prime my students to have their minds blown when I’m ready to take that jump?

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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.

Learning Is Uncomfortable, Until It Works

I want to push my students in their learning. One of my biggest and most harped-on topics is making mistakes and learning from them. A lot of times, my students are quite resistant to this, since it is uncomfortable. However, that’s my job — to make them uncomfortable and push them to learn. It’s not fun sometimes, and often times, it is downright unenjoyable for them. Then they figure it out. And it’s not so bad after all.

What’s got my goat lately, as my students would say, is that I hadn’t really figured this would apply to me. I’m all for being a lifelong learner, and I strive to be a “reflective practitioner” daily. I’m not entirely sure why I figured that learning shouldn’t also put me out of my comfort zone. I didn’t really realize it until Wednesday this week.

On Monday, we began analyzing budgets. I partnered with my friend who teaches math in Ituna, SK, and we created a budget swap. Each class prepared budgets, then we swapped budgets to analyze. If we were in university, we would have totally gotten A’s. No doubt.

Flickr Photo Credit to Jeannie Kays. All Rights Reserved.

Sometimes Learning Can Be Uncomfortable — Not Just for Your Biceps
Flickr Photo Credit to Jeannie Kays. All Rights Reserved.

On Tuesday, I handed out the budgets from Ituna. The students whined and complained. They were a bit of a disaster. They didn’t know where to start (despite my awesome handout). They didn’t want to work. They didn’t want to exist in a productive fashion. To say the least, I was really rattled. I nearly scrapped the project on Tuesday, but I thought I’d give it one more day.

Wednesday rolled around, and just as the bell was ringing, I could feel myself cringing at the thought of what was to come. If Tuesday was any predictor, I was in for a hell of an hour. I took attendance, then asked the class if they had any questions before they got to work. The only question was, “Miss Thibeault, I think we should just talk today. Can we not work at all?”

Ugh. Weighing the options, I cut a deal. “You can have a ten minute break to talk/text/whatever so long as you work hard for 30 minutes.” To my surprise, they all agreed.

Surprise number two followed shortly. My students started asking me really good questions about budgeting. They were going to town on the budgets they’d received. Here I was thinking that I’d failed them as a teacher, that they hadn’t learned a thing about budgeting and were destined for homelessness, and they start working together to reconstruct and revise these budgets. They were commenting that some people needed to “re-examine their expectations for their life.” I may have laughed out loud, since many of them overlooked that key piece in their own budgets.

Surprise number three happened 31 minutes into class. I glanced up at the clock. No one even noticed that the most productive thirty minutes of their lives whizzed by without them noticing. One student noticed ten minutes before class was over. I agreed to let them take a break for the last few minutes, but to my surprise number four, almost no one packed up. Their conversations revolved around the budgets they were analyzing.

I guess that was a really long-winded way of me saying that it was really uncomfortable for me to learn the lesson of perseverance in the classroom. But, boy oh boy, did it feel fantastic when I learned it. My friend and I invested a lot of time and energy in creating this wonderful learning experience for our students. I’m so glad I stuck with it. Maybe I really do know what I’m doing, even if it isn’t comfortable all the time.

Motivated?

I’ve been teaching now for nearly six weeks. It feels like a lot longer, but I know that I still have a long way to go on the never-ending journey of becoming the best teacher I can be. Love the clichés? Sleep deprivation + reflection = awesomely overused clichés.

I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks and the common thread in all my frustrations is motivation. I have students who are very motivated by marks, a few students who are motivated to do a good job because they want to, several students who are quite bright but “just aren’t applying themselves,” and even more students who just don’t seem to care.

In an attempt to change all that, I did what I am calling a flip-flopped classroom in my Workplace and Apprenticeship 20 course. I know that many of my students don’t care to do homework (hey – I didn’t either), so I abolished it. I still wanted to have a chance to be doing a flipped classroom-style learning experience, so I recorded my videos in less-than-five minute segments. I simply broke it up into manageable sections. I gave them enough information to get the jist of the topic and a few easy questions. I posted all the answers in the back of the classroom on my AWESOME “Problems? We’ve Got Answers!” bulletin board (I know what you’re thinking… I am so pithy or very lame! I’m still undecided on that one.). They check their work after each assignment, then watch the next video for the next lesson. It has a “short sheet,” which is basically a couple of questions they need to answer during the video to make sure that they understand what is going on, and, more importantly, to make sure they actually watched it. I usually broadcast one of my videos on the smartboard each day, depending on where the majority of the class is.

Here’s the beauty of this plan now. I have the entire class to be circulating. It gives me way more time to be helping students out, and it gives me way more control over classroom management. My back is never to the class, I am always milling about. I can catch problems before they arise. More importantly, the little goof-ball that brought in a laser pointer no longer has anything to point his laser at. Since I’ve implemented this, I’ve been so much happier with how smoothly my class has gone.

I also am loving the no-exam model I’ve created to accompany it. I have them do skill checks, as I’m using standards-based grading with this class. They get a skill checked twice on predetermined dates. These are basically like an exam, but chopped up into manageable, small portions

It’s not perfect. Not by a long short. I still have unmotivated kids. I still have kids off task. I still have hours from [insert insane place you’d like to avoid] where I’m run off my feet and feel like there is no hope for the upcoming generation. But, I have to say, it is better. I can catch more shenanigans before they become problems. I have students who are working hard and are ahead of the class (which means I have to keep ahead of them – not an easy feat some days!). I have most of my students working at the pace I set. I do have a few students who are behind, but since there is no exam looming, I don’t mind giving them a few days to get their act together. At the end of the day, I want them to learn, even if it s a few days later than I had originally hoped.

My favourite part of this is that I can have a unit assessment project. It’s not worth very much (SHH! Don’t tell the students!). It’s worth 10 marks out of 60 for the unit (5 marks per skill, with ten skills in total). It ties everything together and it is open-ended enough to let the students explore something that they care about and could see in their future.

I’ll end this post on one last happy note. On Friday, I asked the students what they thought of the change. Unanimously, they agreed. They all had good advice, like that I needed to get their marks up sooner for better feedback. I knew that one, but I’ll be a little bit more diligent from now on. What hit me was one student who has been a particular pain in the you-know-where (I bet you’re thinking of an ankle bone right?), said that I taught the lessons on my videos really well. The class then started clapping for me. I didn’t cry right then, but I’m certainly shedding a tear now. I can honestly say that even two weeks ago, I would have told you that I would likely never be shedding a happy tear due to this class. Gosh! I’m so glad I was wrong.

Kids have a remarkable ability to be wonderful. Just when you think all hope is lost, they do something that reminds me why I teach. I’ll have to remember this when I’m in the depths of despair next time.

Numbers

It’s it fascinating that a number can mean the world. Just some dumb symbol can make or break you. They are everywhere.

“How did you do on your math test?”
“Oh, I got an 89.”

Does that even remotely answer the question. Had the asker wanted a number they would have stated, “In which percentile did you score on your mathematics examination?” but instead, the true purpose of the question was to identify how the test taker thinks he or she performed on the given task. A simple “I did very well” would suffice.

Now I know that this sounds ridiculously nerdy, and believe me, I know it is, but I am this way because of numbers. They are everywhere! I feel like I am being followed, like some freaking horror film (I see numbers. They are coming for me. You’re next.) It’s almost scary (well it is) how much I am surrounded. For instance, my favourite sport/pastime baton. How many numbers do you think I encounter at baton? Well, let me tell you, it is a lot, now that I think about it. To start off, I twirl a 30″ baton, I have size 8 shoes, my competition tights are suntan 305 (or some other number), my class begins at 6:30, I have to do one hundred thumb flips on all four hands, I use 5 hair elastics to make my bun in my hair, I twirl with 6 other girls, I am the oldest by one year, my coach has taught for 56 years, when counting the music we count in sets of eight, I choreographed 8 8’s on Saturday, when being judged I score 6.5-8.8 on average, it is ranked out of ten, I place first/second/third/etc., and the list goes on…

Scary isn’t it? Look to your left. Tell me you don’t see a number. I dare you. Hidden in everything is a number, whether it be a bar code, the height of a table, the number of times you have or should have dusted last month, the number of grams/milligrams/ounces/whatevers on a bottle, the date you purchased something, a note you wrote with a friends cell phone number, or just plain old addition/subtraction bed sheets (not that my brother ever had those – not going to lie, I want them now), not to mention the thread count on those sheets.

Are you scared yet? I know I am, but here’s the thing – my life revolves around numbers. Besides being a preservice math teacher, I am a number addict. Everything has to have numbers. [Not to point out irony in the making or anything, but my brother just came home and my mom is chopping something out. I hear my brother crunching, then my mother exclaim “Hey! Those are counted!” I’m assuming “those” refers to carrots or something, but needless to say, this proves my point. And, just to go off on a tangent, the general retort to “Hey! Those are counted!” is “Well then, subtract one.” Works every time.]

Back to my point,  numbers are attached to everything. Do you have a bank account? Holy, but there is a ridiculous amount of numbers in there! You have a PIN, an account number, a balance, transaction numbers, branch numbers, credit card numbers, cheque numbers, a number of bank accounts, and I really could go on!

Even people have numbers! My student number at LeBoldus was 36001277. I have another student number at the U of R, I’m five foot three, I have ten toes, eleven fingers (actually just ten, but I have a cyst on my left wrist that swells and looks like a stub, so I’ve deemed it my eleventh finger), I have a cell phone number (finally), I take five classes at the U of R, I teach for 10-15 hours every week, I have an alarm clock in my room, I have a three calendars, I own two pairs of dress slacks, my iPod has 452 songs on it, on a scale of one to ten my mood is about an 8 right now, and I can get even more ridiculous and nit-picky if you want.

I’m not trying to scare anyone off, but numbers are like dust: they are everywhere and no matter how hard you try to get rid of them, they will hunt you down, especially if its electronic equipment. I read somewhere that electronic equipment gets dusty twice as fast as regular wood furniture. Now, not to bring up numbers or anything, but a computer is based on numbers, base two to be exact: 00001 01100 00111 11110 11111 is what the computer understands. Crazy isn’t it?

Now, after all this, I am not saying that numbers are bad. Good lord, they are AMAZING. Who would have thought that some Arabic dude a bazillion years ago was scribbling and decided that two stacked loops would be an eight and it would mean that you had a pile of sticks that looked like |||||||| (<– that). All I have to say is way to go, who ever you are!

Anyway, the time is 5:43, and I am done my first rant about numbers.

Not add irony, but my mom just poked her nose in the door and asked me to empty the dishwasher… by six o’clock.

PS. I just found this video. It’s amazing. You most definitely should watch it.

Google Teaching Tools

Hi everybody!

So for this week, I decided to put google to the test (as per our assignment). I started off by just checking out the site and what it has to offer. I noticed a really awesome page for teachers to use with their students ( http://www.google.com/educators/index.html ). It displays recent projects and news from google so currently most of it is a bunch of links to election related material. Although I am not a social teacher, I think that these could be very good resources to use to get my students to write about for an english class (for example). It has mock elections, election video links, a “Letters to the next president” (I’m hoping they come out with a Canadian edition soon!), and lots of other great tools. I think this would be so helpful in teaching students about politics and national issues, or at least provide a topic to spark an interest for an assignment. I wish that my teacher (especially social studies) had used something like this to get me interested, excited, or even just informed about what is actually going on in the political world. I really hope they come out with a Canadian version, though. If they do, I will definitly try to incorperate it into my class.

I also found a page of google related posters. Some of them would be helpful to display near and computer, especially if I plan on using google tools. I don’t know that they would be all that helpful, but for students to have a reminder of how the tool their are using works, then I might hang up a poster or two.

Finally, I stumbled upon at site called “Google Lit Trips”( http://www.googlelittrips.com/ ) which basically uses google earth to “fly over” the cities or places mentioned in various books. This would be helpful for students to actually see what they reading about or follow the path of a character over the course of a chapter, or even an entire book. This is an excellent idea for better comprehension and would be what I would think to be a fun activity for students to do. There are also lots of helpful links on the page with various teacher’s guides etc., to use for inspiration.

I only have two big problems with the Teacher Tools. Firstly, as I said above, its not Canadian, so there won’t be some material that Canadian teachers might want. Secondly (and this is a big secondly), there is not a full subject range of tools. There is absolutely nothing (that I could find) that is even remotely math related. Being a math major, this disappointed me a lot.

Overall, for the general teaching population, this would be a GREAT site to use, but for a select few Canadian math teachers, probably not so much.