Playing Favorites

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Mrs. Dull and I serve on the Marriage Prep team at our parish. If you are Catholic you are probably familiar with what used to be called Pre-Cana classes. Back in the day it was a weekend-long session with multiple speakers, several opportunities for table discussions, lunch with your betrothed and several other couples, and at the end: a certificate.

These days it’s a 9-to-5, one-day event, designed to facilitate opportunities for the couples to examine their attitudes and opinions toward several key aspects of a healthy, long-term marriage. With a certificate. And a champagne toast at the end.

Two couples facilitate the sessions. Last time we ran the prep class, the husband of our co-hosting couple prefaced his session on Money by talking about Playing The Long Game, in particular having the discipline to start saving for an emergency fund, major purchases, and retirement while still relatively young. The trick is to recognize that you are planning for years and decades, not just the days and weeks until the next paycheck.

"Let me put these rumors to rest. They are true." Image via
“Let me put these rumors to rest. They are true.” Image via

As a teaching philosophy, I’m a big fan of the Long Game. How can you not be? Even the Movie Teachers don’t win over their hard cases overnight. My Las Vegas algebra coach was fond of reminding us that after 9 or 10 years of school, no student was going to instantly love math because they had one of us as a teacher. There is no magic wand or secret ingredient.

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Image via quickmeme.

Taking a cue from one of my Twitter follows I’ve been using themed bellringers this year. The rotation goes:

Monday – Estimation 180, Tuesday – Which One Doesn’t Belong?, Wednesday – Any Questions?, Thursday – Would You Rather?

The intent was to get my math-averse (let’s be honest, “school-averse”) students talking about math, thinking and writing and reasoning, to notice and wonder, even if it took a while. Hey, I’m a Cub fan. I’m used to waiting.

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Image via Rick Kaempfer’s blog.

Beautiful thing is, it’s starting to pay dividends. The other day, working through Solving Systems of Equations by Elimination, I showed them the following system:

x+y=12; x-y=2

I asked them to copy it into their notes, and to write down “What Do I Notice?” and “What Do I Wonder?” then to answer those questions in their notes.

About half were able to put down something like “I notice the y has a positive in one equation and a negative in the other”. (This sounds promising). For those who were stuck, I said, “Hey, you guys have been training yourselves to Notice and Wonder all year long. Tuesday’s bellringer, Which One Doesn’t Belong? – you guys are noticing how the images are the same or different. On Wednesdays, you are Wondering like mad when you come up with a question out of a picture I show you.”

Now we’re pushing the ball forward a little bit. These days I get way more legit observations and fewer questions like “What kind of shoes is that guy wearing?” or “Why are you asking us about basketball?”

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“How tall IS that guy?!?!”…. Yep, now we’re talking Questions.

Early on this semester, one of my students asked me, “Why do you teach us like this?”

I didn’t answer him, just went on with the activity, but I’m banking on some of them buying into Math being more than just memorizing facts and making the right squiggles to get a silly letter on a piece of paper.

But: is it helping?

This week one of my students told her aide (ASL translator, actually) that WODB is her favorite bellringer of the week. Why? It turns out she really enjoys finding out what her classmates are thinking when they decide which image or expression doesn’t belong.

Later that night I was on the #connectedtl Twitter chat. It’s fast-paced, loaded with powerhouse minds. I just try to keep up. Here was question 4:

And here’s me:

Which led to a side convo:

So why the themed bellringers? Why ask the kids to think and reason instead of giving them a couple of practice equations they’ll ignore, or copy, or both?
Here’s why. Over the long haul, the students that buy in are building real critical thinking skills. More than ever before, we are attending to mathematical precision, in our language and in our work. We are making arguments and defending our arguments to others. We are reasoning. We are SMPing ourselves senseless.

Is it paying off?

At least for that one student, on that one day.  “My favorite bellringer”. Seriously.

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Today, I’ll take it.

Author: thedullguy

High School Math teacher, Morton High School, Hammond, IN. Football and wrestling dad. Opinions mine.

11 thoughts on “Playing Favorites”

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