We Cry At Lunch

I had a class last year right before lunch with one table of all athletes – really good at their sports, and super-serious about school. They were a perfect match for each other, helping when needed, asking for help when needed, having each other’s backs always.

During one particularly stressful portion of the year, one of the girls said “I think I’m gonna cry.” and one of her table mates responded: “We don’t cry in math. We cry at lunch after math.” I think she was joking.

I think.

I have a student right now who hates the class after mine so much she spends the last five minutes of my class on the verge of tears, every day. Honestly, I know how she feels sometimes.

And you probably do too.


We’ve talked Friday playlist in this space before. The one that kicks off with 13-year-old Rebecca Black singing about everyone’s favorite day.

You might know the story of the bullying she endured for years after the song’s release. And then maybe lost track of her, because, well, our social feeds are constantly dumping new shiny things at us and today’s news is yesterday’s news before we fall asleep.

Rebecca Black herself addressed the issue online, and has been making the media rounds as of late, nine years later as her singing career continues on the upswing.

Caught her on KROQ not that long ago. Take a few minutes to click through and watch the interview. You don’t have to be around kids 180 days a year to be heartbroken by hearing her tell the stories herself.

Not sure how to fix that, except do my part to not be a jerk just in general, but especially not in school. To kids.

Then former Bulls star Ben Gordon told his story too. You obviously don’t have to look too far to find people who are hurting, even as they hide in plain sight.

Last month I volunteered at our parish’s middle school youth retreat. Since it’s 2020, the theme was “God’s Perfect Vision”. The opening keynote mentioned how our brains fill in for the limited amount of information that our eyes take in. That we literally don’t see the full picture.

Afterwards I led a small group discussion of kids, future students of mine, from our parish’s Hispanic ministry. I asked them, “Think of a time when someone didn’t see the whole you.”

Thats all the prompt they needed.

Oh, the stories. Racial taunting. Bullying. School discipline being unevenly applied. “Oh, you know, they got that money so they got off with a ‘I’m so sorry that happened to you’ while I got suspended for getting called names.”

Our kids deal with some serious stuff on the daily. I mean, we all do, but as grown-ups we’ve developed some coping mechanisms that come with experience and maturity.

I teach 8th grade religious education at my parish, and have for the last 10 years. I’m in my 17th year of teaching high school students math in its various and sundry forms. And I’ve said it all along, you couldn’t pay me enough to go back and be a high school student today. It’s brutal out there. And no amount of training will fix that completely. We just gotta do what we can do to be human and take care of our young humans as best we can.

And take care of ourselves too

But I’m worried that soon even that might not be enough.

If this pandemic goes where some of the models suggest it might, the grades My Type-A kids get for the fourth quarter are gonna be the least of their worries. My state canceled school until at least May 1. Today Virginia became the second state to institute e-learning for the remainder of the year. Italy, with a population one-sixth that of the US, is counting deaths in the hundreds day after day. I’m super-pessimistic about the next few months. I intentionally kept those feelings from my students in the last week of classes. They are mini-adults, but that’s not the kind of news you can just drop on them and leave. What I do know is, whenever we come back, the world is going to be an uglier place than the one we left.

The skills we’re going to need to teach our kids the next time we see them, well, they didn’t teach that stuff in teacher school. A once-in-a-century pandemic is going to leave us with a school mental health challenge the likes of which we’ve never faced before.

We’re all gonna cry at lunch pretty soon.

Barbie Zipline – Valpo Edition

It started so innocently:

When the Classroom Chef  people are so far inside your head that your first thought upon such a questions is: “yes, we definitely should send dolls hurtling down a wire suspended from the top of the football bleachers”…


The teachers I follow online talk quite a bit about risk-taking – teachers stepping out of their comfort zone, doing something besides “Here, you guys, do page 282, #1-30 all. Show your work”.

It sounds great. and honestly, it’s been transformational in my classroom. But “risk” implies the possibility of failure. I’ve had activities fall flat, had them blow up in my face. But it’s been a while.

Planning well, and picking my spots, has helped me pick the right activity at the right time for my students, most of the time. I was confident enough in Barbie Zipline that I started hyping it to my students.

Me: “When you graduate, you’re gonna look back on this day and know it was the greatest math class you ever had.”

Student: “I don’t know, my math teacher last year was pretty epic.”

I’d been bookmarking John Stevens’ blog posts about his adventures in Barbie Zipline design to get the basic idea down, and recognized I’d need to make a trip to see the helpful hardware folks at Ace. Like $55 later, I was ready.

 

Weather-wise the day was fantastic. I’ve got my beach bag in my car so I knew I had sunscreen packed away for the oppressive late-morning/afternoon sun (always amplified by standing on metal bleachers).

Sunscreen
Because you never know when you might have to drop everything and go to the beach. Or take six classes of high school kids outside.

Students were ready. They had planned out their zipline design by selecting a starting height and horizontal distance, pondered the concept of “safe but fun”, brought their Barbie or other figure from home, and hey, class outside on Friday? Let’s Go.


 

And then…

bummed Cap GIF
Source

I struggled to get the harness right the first two classes. We experimented with several different configurations (including one where I threaded the line through the wrong side of the pulley. Dur. Did I mention I used to teach engineering?). Maybe one of ten groups got a successful trial before my plan period.

Later in the day one of my student helpers, in his haste to reel in the line, managed to create a rat’s nest of tangles that I eventually had to cut.

Tangle
Hopeless. I bought a 500′ reel of landscape twine, so I had room for error. Good thing.

A couple of classes had a group of kids that proved to me I can’t let them roam on the ground while i’m 40 feet up at the top of the bleachers. I’ll remember that for next time. But we got a couple of worthwhile trials, enough to call the day a partial success. Although that’s a very rough landing for tandem Spidey/Barbie:


So what now? We had fun, yeah, but there has to be more to the activity, to tie it back to the math we had been doing (distance formula/pythagorean theorem). Back to Stevens:

Let’s say this company in Las Vegas approached you and said they wanted a 3,000 foot zipline. You can’t hand them a cute drawing and expect a contract, so based on your data, what would be a good starting and ending height? Why?

So I made a Desmos graph my students could use to set the dimensions for a 3000′ zipline and set their creative juices flowing. Open up a GDoc or GSlide. Tell me why you selected those dimensions, explain why your design is “safe but fun” and select the building in Vegas that will host your zipline. Insert your video.

Responses ranged from minimal to pedestrian to stunning. They did the math I asked them to do on paper, but even better, they used math talk to tell me about their design. Several compared the slope of their Barbie Zipline mock-up to the slope of their proposed Vegas Zipline. It was a beautiful thing.


 

So the Friday outside didn’t live up to the hype. They probably won’t tell their friends all about it. Several were a bit confused when I asked them to take what they learned from their “proof of concept” to write up an imaginary Vegas Zipline proposal. (“Mr. Dull, our zipline didn’t work. We didn’t learn anything”).

But I learned enough to make some changes for next year. And the write-ups were worth the frustration. We did real math, wrapped up in an activity. There was enough reward to justify the risk.

Also, this kind of encounter with your assistant superintendent and your director of secondary curriculum never hurts:

If you’ve been thinking about making the leap: go for it. It’ll be messy. But it’ll be worth it.

 

Winds Of Change – Camp #eVillageNWI 2019

Camp eVillage Logo

Back in May, in the midst of working on my presentation for a couple of IDOE Summer of e-Learning Conferences, I shot my district’s Director of Secondary Curriculum (also my former DC who sat in on my interviews) an email with the work in progress. I asked him to take a look and see what I was missing. He gave me some great advice about modeling exactly and explicitly what a Three-Act Math task looks like in the classroom, and he also stated that I should include a nod to the “why” of Three-Act – what’s the research behind it?

So I made sure to include a link and quote up front from Graham Fletcher‘s 2016 NCTM journal article “Modeling With Mathematics Through Three-Act Tasks“.

Who knew I was completely on-trend?


Trend

I’m far from the first to note the evolution of Ed Tech themes. When I first stumbled upon some of the teachers leading the way in integrating tech in the classroom, the trend was tools – how many can we use, what’s new, what’s first, what’s cool.

Gradually the focus has changed to pedagogy – how can we use technology to support teaching and learning? And every session I attended this week that featured tools led with research justifying the lesson design.

It was notable. And, obviously, good. The tech should serve the teaching, not the other way around.


idoe_logo_student_success
These ladies are leading the way in pushing math teaching forward in Indiana. Which is pretty damn cool.

The second thing that jumped out at me on Thursday dawned slowly. I spent my first two breakouts in math sessions, one with Denis Sheeran and another led by Emily Bruning and Robin Conti of the Indiana Department of Education.

Sheeran presented on the 1:1 math classroom, using the tools we give our students for something other than $250 pencils or e-worksheets.  His session featured sites like Which One Doesn’t Belong, Would You Rather, Open Middle, Desmos Activity Builder, and hyperdocs.

Things that have been staples of the #MTBoS ever since I’ve been on twitter.

The #eVillage conference is smaller and more rural than my “home” SOEL conference in Hammond. Out of 300 attendees, let’s make a wild guess and say 15% were high school math teachers. That’s 45 of us, who were probably all at at least one of those two Thursday morning sessions. And I saw a lot of knowing nods when Sheeran asked if we were familiar with these tools. In the Middle Of Nowhere, IN.

Cornfield GIF
Source

The MTBoS has gone mainstream. Which is good. Selfishly, I didn’t feel like such a misfit being in a room with My People. But more importantly, this classroom culture change has taken hold with the rank-and-file in the classroom, far beyond the twitter-famous math teachers I’ve been stanning for so long.

But everything blew up in my mind in the next session, where IDOE reps gave us a status update on the state’s Math Framework.

They led with a Which One Doesn’t Belong, but with a hook. All the numbers came from The New Teacher Project‘s The Opportunity Myth report.

That was kind of eye-opening. Less than half of our students feel a sense of pride about school during the day and basically about one out of every six days on average we are engaging our students with something other than Stand and Deliver & here’s a worksheet.

Not even once a week!

It made me want to keep track in my own classroom next year. But give the IDOE credit. They are trying to turn the battleship around. And I met a bunch of good teachers this week who will be pulling on the steering wheel.

It started with a series of statewide IDOE workshops. My DC attended one last school year and told me when she came back had she known what the content was she’d have taken me along.

It was all #MTBoS/#iteachmath stuff. The stuff I’ve been doing for years. They’ve updated the state website to align various activities with each standard. All Three-Act and NCTM Illuminations and Desmos stuff.

For Me GIF
Source

And I sat there and thought, OK, here we go. Everything that had been considered “fringe” math teaching practices, accessible to only a few well-connected or really brilliant teachers, is now normative. This is the baseline.

The future is gonna be so awesome you guys.

I hope I’m there to see it.


Sometimes I wonder if all the side work, all the googling and twittering and connecting is worth it. I mean seriously, I could stand and deliver and worksheet and quiz myself senseless, and everyone would be happy.

But then, you find your people and you don’t feel so alone.

No Rain Bee GIF
Source

I got a book recommendation from the Queen Of Camp eVillage last school year. 

So, she pretty much nailed that one right on the head. I worked #ZamboniLakeSuperior into my preso, which turned out to be kind of prescient. I was able to connect it back to Sheeran’s keynote, so attendees at my session could get a real-life sense of what it looks like.

I’m working my way through Sheeran’s book Instant Relevance.

Sheehan Dedication
I got an autographed copy, you guys.

Three Ways. That’s a Ton Of Snow. The Logo Game. So much of what Sheeran wrote about, I’ve done, in some way, shape or form. Not because I’m so brilliant to think it up myself, but because I’ve been connected with folks online who have taught me to seek out connections outside of class and bring them into class so my students can connect our math back outside our walls.

Does that make sense? If you follow me, congratulations. I’m not sure I follow myself sometimes. But bear with me.

I know for sure I need to keep reading, keep tweeting, keep sharing, keep going to conferences, keep learning. Keep bringing what I learn to my building and my department. Some of my colleagues are down with it, some aren’t. Some folks have their own thing they are trying to share with me. I should pay attention to that too.

Honestly, I spent a little time Thursday basking in a sense of smug “told you guys” satisfaction. But I also felt even more like I’m fighting a bit of an uphill battle.

“So, tell me, do you believe in a zone, or a man-to-man defense?”

You’ve been in that meeting, too, huh?

I don’t know if my style is gonna win any state championships. But I do know it is the best way to teach for kids. Which in the end is really what we’re here for, right?

I’ve always kind of dug the way the leaves on the trees turn their backs when a storm is coming. The outflow of a storm brings winds and a temperature drop that is unmistakable. You don’t need to be a Ph.D. in physics to tell when change in the weather is coming.

Just gotta pay attention to the wind.

And then maybe bring in the patio chairs, because the stuff is about to start flying.

 

Electric Slides

“Hey, Mr. Dull, What’s with all the slides lately?”

Electric Slide GIF
Yeah, not that kind of slide. (Source)

I think I might have mentioned recently that my Algebra II kids are perceptive, but it’s been kind of hard to miss these days. It started with the investigation they did into the math behind their NCAA brackets, then we did a one-day dig into the Monty Hall Problem. There was an Iron Chef day in there somewhere, and this week we rolled out a stats project that was set up in a slide deck.

So yeah, I apparently have a shiny new toy. Sue me.


It’s been a long time coming, actually. The great Katie Bradford first introduced me to hyperdocs at her session at the South Shore e-Learning Conference in Hammond three years ago. Chevin Stone presented blended learning ideas at the same conference.  I knew at the time that this was an ideal lesson design tool that eventually would work its way into my repertoire.

Later I (virtually) met the Hyperdocs Girls through Matt Miller‘s Ditch That Textbook Digital Summit. There’s a book (of course), and a hashtag, and plenty of folks sharing what they do, and an online exchange called “Teachers Give Teachers“. So when I needed templates and ideas, well, no shortage of resources out there.

I’m not as advanced as far as digital design as some other folks. I’m mostly focused on the lesson design aspect right now, making sure I’m asking the right questions, pointing my students to the right resources, and giving them an opportunity to discover, and then to show what they’ve learned. It’s a work in progress, but so far so good.

I’ve been pretty amped about the stats project, so let’s check in for an update:

And the first day was off to a flying start. My kids had a wide range of GSuite readiness, but with proper support from me and each other, they were able to create a Form to ask their survey question, connect it to a Sheet to hold the responses, and add a link to their form to a shared Doc (“The Big List Of Questions”). We spent the remainder of class answering each other’s questions so everyone had data in place for Day Two.

Straight. Fire.

I can’t tell you how psyched they were to open up their spreadsheet and find they had 30, 40, 50 responses to their question. Very few had any experience with Excel, so I gave them a quick walk-through on inserting formulas into a cell so they could display the measures of central tendency and the standard deviation of the data.

I had to be careful to not oversell the next piece. Desmos rolled out a suite of statistics tools this year, including the ability to create a box-and-whisker plot and a histogram. Super-easy and beautiful. I told them it was gonna blow their minds when they saw it.

It was a calculated gamble. More than anything this unit (even more than standard deviation) my students were dreading doing the math and drawing that accompanies making a box-and-whisker plot by hand. I knew that if we let the tech handle the drudge work we could free up brain power to do critical thinking and sense-making. Judging by the looks on their faces when I modeled how to make a list (copy/paste from a spreadsheet!) and then in like 3 clicks have a boxplot ready to be analyzed, I guessed right.

So Day Three is given over to analysis. I’ve got a series of questions set up in a Form, basically the quiz they didn’t think they were going to get. (My DC supports my semi-regular need to try whatever crazy thing shows up in my TL, while serving a check on my students’ need to get concrete practice on skills). I’m holding my breath there. Day Three is a Friday. Their routine has been all kinds of scrambled by SAT Day and state testing the last two weeks. Spring Fever has definitely set in. My students may be disinclined to do Actual Math.

Or they may dazzle me. I’m actually kind of counting on it. That’s the powder keg waiting to blow in a 1:1 environment. We can use their devices as $250 pencils, keep giving them electronic worksheets, or we can use the tools that are out there to help them discover concepts, analyze, and make sense of what they see.


I’ve been sharing some of the baby hyperdocs I’ve made with my tech/instructional coaches, with my Alg II team, and with others in my department who might be receptive. Don’t know if the concept will catch on in my building, but like a lot of things, I’m willing to scatter some seeds and see what happens. Maybe one or two folks ask around. Then, it’s on.

I’ll teach you, teach you, teach you

 

Adventures in #EduProtocols – Iron Chef

drinking from the hose
Source

The benefit of being a connected teacher is that awesome stuff shows up in my TL daily. The downside of being a connected teacher is that awesome stuff shows up in my TL daily. Like, almost too much to use. My big challenge over the last eight years or so is to sort out what works for my classes and what doesn’t, even if it’s really, really cool.

There’s plenty of things I keep on the shelf for future reference. This week it was time  to walk our talk on an EduProtocol I’ve been dying to try. Took the dive into Iron Chef.

I’ll cede the floor to the authors of The EduProtocol Field Guide here and here for the details on implementing Iron Chef in the classroom.

EduProtocols
The EduProtocol Field Guide by Marlena Hebern & Jon Corippo

I’ve been using The Fast And The Curious with my freshman Algebra Lab Class for the last month or so. We do the same Quizizz Monday through Thursday, see how far we can push the class accuracy number. Then Friday is activity day, where I build in a Desmos activity or Three-Act Math or something else. They’ve been factoring polynomials of different types in their regular Algebra I class. I wanted a way for them to collect and share their learning.

This sounds like a job for Iron Chef.

I’ll be the first to admit I fall in love with awesome ideas a little too quickly. I’ll also admit that I can’t always picture the implementation in my head. Sometimes I need to see it. That was the case with Iron Chef. Did a little digging. Found a template. Let’s go.

I had them use their existing notes for each type of polynomial, but the beauty of the Iron Chef template is teachers can insert links to resources to guide students who may struggle to find appropriate/helpful sources or who might be less motivated to search.

Then I asked them to include a set of steps on the slide for factoring that type of polynomial, and a photo or video of them working out a sample problem.

1st Hour – wow! They were so awesome I really didn’t want class to be over. I wanted to just sit in the moment. One of my teacher friends read my mind. Like, I was wondering if maybe she was there in the classroom, hiding somewhere, watching.

6th Hour, that’s a strong-willed class. They really don’t share my enthusiasm for a lot of the things we do. But still they did good work.

The hook to Iron Chef (just like the TV show) is a “secret ingredient” that is announced during the work time and that all students must incorporate into their slide. I was tempted to go with “basketball” since we were in the middle of March Madness, but I opted for “music” since that’s a little more universal, and I hoped it might hook some of my more reluctant students into participating. Hey, it’s their work, not mine, right?

The class period ends with each group presenting its slide deck so students get a look at multiple examples of each type of factoring, and each student gets to present his own work to an audience of his peers.


The beautiful thing about eduprotocols is that they are a shell. Like Jon Corippo likes to say, it’s like making nachos. You have a framework, add what you need, serve it up. In class it looks like: Introduce the format, insert your content, students do awesome stuff, rinse, repeat. I get students collaborating and creating, doing a “brain dump” as Matt Miller calls it, presenting, learning. It’s a win-win.

We can do Iron Chef as often as we need to. Definitely putting this one into the rotation.

 

Ready For Launch

“You know Mr. Dull, my mom finds it ironic that my math teacher’s name is ‘Dull’

— a very observant 4th period student

It’s Testing Season by me. English yesterday, Math today for juniors. Which meant my classes would be sparsely populated for most of the day. Like in: 7 kids in my 2nd Hour class. Way too few to do a traditional lesson that I’d have to repeat for tomorrow, or else leave my absent retesters to fend for themselves on Direct & Indirect Variation. Time for an on-the-the fly executive decision.

Yep. WCYDWT.  What is this, 2008? I’m gonna do a ripped-from-the-internet thing and then blog about it? Damn right I am.

So kids, I’ve got a little piece of video I’d like to share with you:

We keep the Silver Beach Web Cam up on my screen when we’re mathing most days, so my kids are pretty familiar with frozen lakes. I showed them this story on the current state of Lake Superior ice coverage. Currently 75% covered, above average for this time of year but not quite the 100% coverage in 1996.

Many of my kids have been to Mackinac Island, so we talked frozen Straits of Mackinac – in the winter snowmobilers can ride across the straits. Also, at this time of year there is a huge Outdoor Pond Hockey Tournament in St. Ignace. I told them I guess they shovel out the rectangles for the rinks, because what are you gonna do, drive a Zamboni out there?

*pause*

But, could we Zamboni a whole lake? (“Oh God Mr. Dull, you’re gonna make us math this aren’t you?)

I mean, how long would that take? Give me a guess that’s too high. How about a guess that’s too low. Now a Game Show Guess….

WCYDWT Zamboni

They were totally into it. How do I know? The story has gone viral and it’s pretty hard to miss, and none of my kids (in the first two hours anyway) even googled for the answer. Later on when they did, I just said “I’ll come back to you on that” and by that time we were far enough along that I could say “let’s check this guy’s math”. Because juniors love proving somebody wrong.

So we went with “Jo’s Plan” (as it came to be known) – if we can find out how big the lake is, and how big a rink is, we can divide to figure out how many rinks it would take to cover the lake. Then all we need to know is how long to resurface a rink. ( One kid in 3rd Hour said “I’m gonna text my friend and ask. He drives the Zamboni at the rink downtown.” They are very resourceful.)

Let’s go.

We did all kinds of math. Converting square miles to square feet, minutes to hours to days to years, estimating time to resurface a rink (they googled that later too, which was cool).

And we were off by a factor of 10. Came up with 9884 hours or something ridiculous. That “1700 square feet” up there? That’s a problem. Especially since I gave it to them. Dammit.

But the biggest benefit of building a culture of curiosity is you get curious kids.

“Let’s find the error”. Woah.

Keanu Woah
Ted Theodore Logan says woah. (Source)

They didn’t but my next period class did. Which was so cool. The only other tweak was we guessed 10 minutes to do a rink, based on 15 minutes between periods of a Blackhawks game. Turns out it’s more like 7.

“Are three minutes gonna make that much difference you guys?” Times 52 million rinks they are, yeah.

We adjusted the time to do one rink and hit the number almost exactly on the head.

On the button
On the button, baby

So, a couple of things from today. It’s 2019. It’s hard to get their attention, let alone keep it. I hate being the Cell Phone Police, but I’ve had some long talks with my Lunch Bunch lately about the subject. It’s pervasive. They are close to changing my mind. In the midst of “too high/too low” in one class, my most cynical, blase student shouted out “almost 700 years“, tapped the google app closed and went back to scrolling her snapchat. I could almost see her huffing her bangs out of her eyes in an act of supreme boredom as she said it.

But 95 % of my kids were hooked. They were helping each other, checking each others’ calculations, and shouting out intermediate steps. I was just sitting back and watching the magic happen. It was awesome.

I capped the day with two things:

We talked about how an astronaut once addressed a group of middle school kids in NW Indiana and challenged them to solve the big problems they’ll face as adults. She talked about manned space flight to Mars and the challenges of keeping humans alive in a tin can at 17,000 mph for six months. Think water and bodily waste. Yep, she went there. They’re middle school kids. They ate it up.

And when I brought up space in class today, one of my kids’ eyes lit up. She told how she had written a paper recently about our current and future plans for space exploration. I totally ceded the floor to her – her enthusiasm lit up my entire room and did more to make the point than I ever could.

A google search isn’t gonna solve those problems. Thinking deeply about solving insanely crazy problems will.

And, then, a tweet back:

The guy who originally did this math and put it out there for the world to see was scared that his math was wrong. Just like high school kids everywhere.

But he did it anyway.

And then:

Three-Act Math continues to be awesome, and the Internet continues to deliver a steady stream of it right to us. WCYDWT is seemingly alive and well, too. Plus the added bonus of the owner of the UP Supply Company replying to your tweet is kind of cool.

“This kind of thing makes me happy.” A collective “Awwwww!”

And then:

“Mr Dull, can we solve crazy insane problems and make people happy every Thurdsay?”

Can’t promise anything kid, but it’s tempting.

 

 

Adventures in EduProtocols: The Fast And The Curious

At my building we’re in Year Two of a 1:1 environment. There are a lot of things you can do with a device for every student. Some of those things are even better than pencil and paper tasks.

Some aren’t.

Not everything is gonna make fireworks explode.

Caesars Fireworks
Source

Tasks like My Math Lab and Canvas quizzes leverage the technology for self-grading practice or assessment, and that’s cool. It’s got its place. Kids get plenty of reps and instant feedback. Saves teachers a ton of time grading so they can get down to the business of using what they learned from those formative assessments to adjust instruction. I’m not sure I want 25 kids staring at screens all day every day tho. I need some interaction, and in math, some pencil/paper practice as well.

I launched a flipped instruction model at semester last year to carve out more time in class for students to work together on problem sets and to get help from me when needed. That part has paid dividends. That classtime is pretty valuable real estate. Could I get even more out of it for my students? I mean, I see all of them every day, even if it’s only a quick two-minute check-in. The piece I could get better at is holding them accountable for taking the notes, and being more formal about checking for understanding.

EduProtocols

There are a lot of ways to do that too. I’ve been enchanted by the prospect of introducing eduprotocols to my classes this year. We’ve done an Iron Chef-inspired student-created slide deck for the open house, and we’ve used Cyber Sandwich to great effect in Algebra Lab. Launched Worst Preso Ever in Lab last week and my kids had a blast.

But where Jon Corippo hooked me was The Fast And The Curious. I first saw him on Matt Miller’s Ditch That Textbook Virtual Summit. Jon’s a pretty good interview if you get the chance to catch him. (Quickie tutorial on TFATC from Matt Miller here). The game app Quizizz is what makes the whole thing run. It still takes time to create, probably about the same amount of time as a Canvas quiz, but has the added benefit of cutthroat competition. That leader board had them cheering and agonizing all through the first 15 minutes of class. Plus Quizizz offers a ton of data including overall class accuracy, student accuracy, and percent correct for each question.

That’s the real benefit. After the quiz is done, we look for areas where we can give some instant feedback and remediate problem areas. Then we take the quiz again. There is pretty much guaranteed to be improvement, and for my Algebra Lab students that is huge. They feel (accurately) that they’ve learned something and that they are now primed to work on their regular Algebra teacher’s daily assignment.

That sounds like a win to me. Wait til tomorrow when we do it all again and push their accuracy rate through the roof. I told them we were shooting for 95% at the end of the week. From their response at the beginning of class, I might as well have told them we were gonna fly to the moon.

By the end of class tho… I think they believe they can do it.

Come Fly With Me
Yeah, totally had the COB playing while they mathed this morning. So chill.

Scarred for Life

indiana 105 cancellations snip
This has got to be Indiana 105‘s most popular page. Especially at this time of year.

It started at 9:30 am.

“Do you think they’ll let us out early today?”

“I mean, for real, Mr. Dull, come look at the radar. Look at the timing on this freezing rain.” (The kids are realizing benefits of a 1:1 environment they had never previously anticipated. What can I say, they are curious and smart. Which are good qualities in a high school student, right?)

The longing built throughout the day, from a “late bus” cancellation announcement, then no PM Vocational classes, and finally the news they had all been waiting for:

School closing at 12:30.

It was totally the right call, BTW. The roads were a mess.

Firefighters in southwest Michigan (on I-94 not far from our favorite summer weekend spot) displayed how dangerous the roads were there:

No one was happier about the closing than my athletes, who got a one-day reprieve from after-school workouts and practices. Which I get. They put in more than their time, daily.

Then last night, sitting with my freshman as he stared at notes on exponential growth and decay for an algebra lesson:

“Do you think they’ll close school tomorrow? Because then I wouldn’t have to do this tonight.”

You’re in luck, kid:

I like a surprise day off as much as the next guy, but man, I wonder how we made teenagers so miserable about school. And I wonder how to fix that.

I mean, we are all trying. Check out the #INeLearn tag from last week’s chat (moderated by the great Matt Miller). One of the best-attended chats of the school year focused on ways to marry engaging content with rigorous instruction:

(Archive here).

My district hosted an unconference earlier this month to share and learn:

There is a lot of cool stuff happening in my building. Not everybody shouts it from the rooftops, but I hear about it in casual conversations with my colleagues. I think because I have a reputation as “that connected teacher” they feel a little more open in sharing their adventures with me, which I think is really cool. Risk-taking is definitely contagious. The feedback loop is powerful. Makes me want to keep looking for new hooks too. I may take part of my day today to play around with this a little bit:

But still I get reports from students who are underwhelmed, with me and with their other teachers. And maybe that is just the natural state of a 16-year-old. Maybe they wouldn’t tell us if they enjoyed our classes even if it was true. Maybe we wrung the joy of learning out of them a long time ago. Maybe they are scarred for life by school.

But: what if they’re not? And what if we as teachers keep taking chances, keep trying to do more than hand out worksheets?

I bet you we’d set the whole damn world on fire. And how I’d love to see it burn.

Round And Round

We were on a convocation schedule today.

(Which was pretty epic, BTW. Four-time Special Olympics gold medalist and Boston Marathon qualifier Andrew Peterson addressed our student body as part of the Champions Together program.)

The result was we had 37 minute classes today.

When I dropped the news on my students last week, one of my kids said, ”We should play a game, Mr. Dull! Like Musical Chairs!”

OK, I’ll bite. That actually sounds like a pretty good idea.

I put out a call for advice:

Then did a little googling around (clearly not the first person to think of this, thankfully), and we were ready to roll.

Also you guys, it’s good to have that one person who will give you a little nudge to follow thru on a crazy idea that you inadvertently say out loud:

No turning back now, right?

Materials here:

musical chairs #3

musical chairs #2

musical chairs #1

musical chairs #0

math musical chairs exponentials key

Basic design was four problem sets at each table, with a decreasing number of problems. Everybody is in for the first two rounds, after that there is one less problem at the table for each successive round.

I ran the activity in four classes back to back today. I had a pretty solid idea of how it would all play out but I’ll admit, I made up some things as I went.

Like: how to keep students engaged throughout the class period. I knew the “once you’re out, you’re out” model of the actual musical chairs game would not work – too many people standing around watching, too much incentive to not participate. That will never do.

Solution: floaters. Anyone who is “eliminated” becomes the go-to person for help at their table. And, everybody starts over every round. So nobody is knocked out in the first five minutes and is never heard from again.

So that was the upside.

The downside: some problems were a little too challenging (I used Kuta to generate the problems, trading speed for control over content) so I spent a lot of time circulating the room jump starting students who were blown away (not necessarily bad, just I wanted the activity to be a little more self-run), and the corollary:  a lot of evaporation happens over the weekend.

But in a couple of classes the culture of collaboration kicked in and students started helping each other, which was pretty sweet.

 

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My #Teacherlife #2019Playlist made its in-class debut, which was cool.

mmc-4.jpg

(“Play 8TEEN, Mr. Dull! Play 8TEEN!”). Extra added bonus was the cred which comes from knowing when to ride the volume control to mute class-questionable content.

My super-Type-A students wanted more reps than they got, which is an occupational hazard around here. I’ll get them covered on the actual review day Wednesday (alg ii 8.1 – 8.4 review packet).

So the activity can use a little tweaking, but overall it’s a keeper. The kid who suggested it tried to deflect credit but I was sure to thank him for his contribution. Students gave it a “we’d play that again” at the end of class, so I’ll take that as an endorsement. On a short day I got what I wanted, plus I think I have another game to add to my review toolkit.

 

 

I’m A Unicorn

So: Retakes. Last time in this space I spent some time thinking about my process for students to relearn material and retake quizzes. It’s been a popular option this year, to the point where I started wondering what I could do to support my students on the original quiz.

That led to a student survey. Here’s the results:

 

The prompt “I feel the video tutorial helps me better understand the material” received an average 3.23 response on a 1 to 4 scale, so it’s doing what I expected it to do when I started offering retakes last year.

Word of mouth is spreading. Lot more kids plan to take advantage of the opportunity after break. But as for how I can better support them before the original quiz? Most of my kids are traditional in their test prep methods: 60% say they do the study guide (that sounds low, especially since we do it in class), 40% say they re-do problems from the practice sets, about a quarter find a study partner.

What do my students’ other teachers do that they wish I did?

Retakes Q6
So what you’re saying is, we should play Kahoot?


Algebra II has its detractors. Or rather, folks who wonder if it belongs in its current place in the canon of required high school math classes, in its current form. That discussion has now filtered down to my high school.

We had an Algebra II PLC meeting this week. Our department chair has been fielding concerned queries from parents and district-level administrators.

One assistant superintendent asked her: “What’s going on with Algebra II?” Now that’s his lowkey way of casually starting a conversation, so maybe it’s harmless. But he’s a math guy, so I feel like that was clearly a loaded question. So she definitely feels like the course could use some tweaking. More on that later, perhaps.

But here was my wake-up call:

We went around the table talking plans for supporting struggling students. Quiz retakes in particular. And: it turns out not everybody is doing retakes. Like actually, just me. A handful of teachers are offering a chance to do “corrections”, but I’m the only one who has put together a program intentionally, with a re-learning video and student conference preceding the retake.

Rut Roh
Source

When we moved to a 75% weight for tests & quizzes last year, it was my understanding that we were all going to offer retakes as a matter of fairness, in every course. Turns out, yeah no.

California English

My school is super-into equality of opportunity right now. Like, down to a suggestion that everybody hand out the final exam review packet on the same day. So me doing a whole relearn/retake thing isn’t gonna last unless everyone else is on board. Either I’m gonna have to convince the rest of my PLC to start making videos, or I’m gonna have to scale back my plans.

One of my colleagues say my tutorial videos and heard me explain how I do retakes and said, “you’re like an angel for your kids!”

Yeah, I guess I kind of am. But that doesn’t leave me real confident that my style of supporting struggling learners is gonna catch on in my building.

Could be I’m about to go the way of the unicorn.

Dammit.