Playing My Role

On Halloween night in Minnesota, it wasn’t quite a ghost returning from the dead, but the next closest thing. From a hoops standpoint anyway.

Former Bull Derrick Rose is the Chicago kid who went from Englewood to MVP, but now he’s a grizzled veteran whose best days are behind him. Injuries robbed him of his prime years. Then:

That’s not the kid that all my female students swooned over back in the early 2010s. He’s got a different role to play now. He knows it too:

“A lot of young guys on this team, my job is to be the veteran, to lead by example.”

Probably not the words he expected to say during a tearful post-game interview at this point in his career, but there it is.


It’s pre-service teacher season in my building. I’m hosting a Valparaiso University student, who comes from an education family and actually graduated from my high school alma mater. So we had quite a lot to talk about when we first met. He’s pretty well versed in the current issues around education, both from a “teaching and learning” standpoint, and also from those regarding how the business of school is regulated.

But on the handful of days that he’s in my classroom, we’re there to get him some observation time and some reps teaching actual classes to actual students. We kicked things off with Mr. L leading the end of class “check for understanding” after the work time on our practice set in a flipped classroom.

That went well, so we moved on to running a full class bell-to-bell. It so happened that the lesson was built around a Desmos activity. We’d already talked philosophy and teaching styles, and he’s seen my twitter, so Mr. L was pretty familiar with the tools I use in class. Now it was his turn to take AB out for a spin.

I sent him the link to the activity I had planned for the day so he could look it over and see what my students would see. He gave them a quick tutorial on graphing and transforming radical functions and then let it fly.

It went well:

Really well, actually:

I have no idea if he’ll jump on the Desmos bandwagon as a student teacher and beyond. I hope so. I do know that he got a chance to see first-hand how a well put-together Desmos activity makes student thinking & learning visible, and how it lets students engage with math in ways that were impossible when I started teaching. But he’s got to decide that for himself.

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My one student teacher from back 6 or 7 years ago is my colleague at my current school now. She’s her own teacher, which is right.  I had to smile at a planning meeting early this year when the department was talking a shift towards standards-based grading for Algebra 1, and she was able to jump right into the conversation because we had done SBG together during her student teaching year. Our department chair was suitably impressed. The best part though was that Mrs. S was able to take what she learned as a student teacher, and all her experience as a licensed teacher in a variety of school settings, and make herself into the outstanding math teacher she is right now.


 

I’ve shared out what I’ve learned so far at a couple of local conferences (part of the IDOE’s Summer of e-Learning series) the last two years, but I’m under no delusions of grandeur. I’m never gonna write a teacher book. I’ll never be “internet famous”. I won’t ever be the teacher that my principal sends other teachers to watch. Which, at this point in my career, and in my life, is fine. I’ve got a role to play. Pretty much my job is to teach kids, and when given the opportunity, to help a new teacher along the way.

I’m fine with being a nameless, faceless cog in the wheel. Doing my part for teachers and students down the line who will never know my name, or care even if they did. “Flying under the radar” so to speak.

And who knows. Maybe I still have a 50-point game in me still.

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Everything Crumbles

Homer and Entropy
From Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam Jr.

“No matter how perfect the thing, from the moment it’s created it begins to be destroyed.”

It reminds me of a line my sainted mother was famous for repeating: “From the moment we are born, we begin to die”.

Or maybe the admonition of the ages: memento mori.

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But that second definition speaks to me as a teacher: “gradual decline into disorder”.

Maybe it’s the time of the year, but in my building there’s definitely a lot of folks on edge. The weekly online threats of school violence probably have something to do with it. It also doesn’t help that due to ongoing construction we still have 1000 cars trying to get into the parking lot thru the one remaining entrance every morning, but still: I know I definitely feel less like I’ve got things locked down this year compared to years past.

A presenter (maybe an administrator of some type? Not sure…) once told the staff at one of my schools “what gets monitored gets done”. I don’t really remember if she was speaking of staff or students, but it applies to all of us for sure. Why do you think we all slow down when we see a cop parked on the side of the road?

Our teacher evaluation tool is set up with this concept in mind. Two-thirds of the points come from evidence of ongoing planning, consistent parent contact, and collaboration with colleagues, they type of things we are expected to do all year. Only a tiny sliver is made up of actual classroom teaching. As one of my math teacher colleagues likes to say: “even the worst teacher can pull it together and look reasonably competent for two days out of the year.” There is an incentive to do the foundational work that goes into effective teaching. “What gets monitored gets done.”


Part of the low-level anxiety I’m feeling is due to parenting a freshman in my building. I have a throw-away line I use for some of my kids: “obsessive Skyward checkers” – that student that is in the online gradebook daily, making sure everything turned in is posted, and checking on the hour over the weekend to see if a quiz grade is entered in yet.

Yeah, I am now officially That Dad. If Skyward charged me an access fee I’d be broke. But I’ve got a first-year student trying to find his way at a very competitive school, who maybe is not the most organized 14-year-old on the planet. It’s pretty much my job to help him stay on top of things. Skyward and Canvas are the go-tos.

I’m not sure my extreme oversight is working. It would probably help if I was more consistent with it. He survived the first nine weeks by the hair of his chinny chin chin. I’ve extracted a promise that we won’t do that again. Plus, the spectre of athletic ineligibility is a powerful motivator.

I mean, he’s still got to learn the words to the school song, right?

I’m pulling out all the stops as I try to reteach him algebra while he does his geometry work. If it works for my students, it’ll probably work for my son. That’s my theory anyway. And that’s what Desmos is for.

 

It’s just one of those things – we’re going to have to sit together every night to keep his geometry experience from spinning into chaos. Nobody likes to feel that they are being micromanaged, but sometimes that’s part of teaching or coaching – checking in and benchmarking every single day. It’s easy to get complacent. He buckled down on a geometry daily quiz retake and the flipped notes tonight. He really didn’t want to do the notes, but he did them anyway. Probably because I was sitting next to him and encouraged him.

But that fleeting success was pretty rare. I’m not a drill sergeant. I can’t make anyone do anything. Never have been able to. My kids, or anyone else’s. And I’m sure that’s where part of the current stress is coming from. I know for a fact I’ve got some classroom things I’ve got to tighten up. Kids do their thing. We try to get them to do our thing. With varying levels of success. But if we don’t try, they won’t try.

And that’s a recipe for disaster. Or at least a gradual decline into disorder.

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Adventures In Desmos: The Quiz

Desmos Systems example

My kids were working on solving systems by graphing last week. Desmos has been making some inroads in my building the last couple years but it’s still not widespread, partially because we fancy ourselves as a school that prepares students for college – meaning that TI rules in our upper grade math courses. I had my students checking their hand-drawn work in Desmos, which led to some interesting reactions. For many, the ability to enter an equation and instantly see the graph made them more confident in their work. Eventually, one student asked me,  “Mr. Dull, why can’t we have a quiz like this?”

Yeah, why not?

I’m not in love with my current quiz for solving systems. Even with the built-in support, it’s still… not me. It’s basically a dressed-up Kuta worksheet.

It sounds like my students are at max cap with pencil/paper systems quizzes too.

What if the quiz reflected the kinds of things we value in class? I know, novel concept, right? But in one of my many internal conflicts, I know my students need to do skills practice and individual written work, and I also want them to dive in to the discovery and collaborative stuff that Desmos does best. How do I marry the two? I’ve already done performance-based assessments (such as the Desmos art project) for conics. What would a Desmos quiz for systems of equations look like?

So I stumbled across a Twitter convo recently that led me to a circles quiz in Desmos Activity Builder written by one of the co-authors of Classroom Chef. (At least I think I saw this conversation on Twitter . I think even put a “❤️” on it but now I can’t find it. But it happened. Swear.) Anyway: OK, good, now I have a template for making my own quiz. Because if it’s good enough for the #MTBoS people, it’s good enough for me.

Then, time to go to work. For my first time, I’ll take it. I wanted to leverage the power of Desmos, recognizing that the collaborative piece is kind of by design going to be missing if it’s a quiz. We used the graphing tool, the sketch tool, the text boxes and the multiple choice option.

Plenty of explaining their thinking:

Explain Elimination

I wanted to be able to see their math work too, so for several problems I had them do the work on paper, and enter their answer in a text box on the Desmos screen.

And, because Children Must Play: Draw a dinosaur.

 

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I definitely didn’t do myself any favors by setting up the quiz this way. I traded the self-grading ability of a Canvas quiz for the power of Desmos to support my students in their efforts to show their understanding of the math. That means I’m grading their pencil/paper work as well as their entries into Desmos. I had visions of me spending untold hours over a period of days trying to grade 90 quizzes.

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So, a spreadsheet. Turned out to be the quickest I’ve turned around a stack of quizzes in quite some time. I made a column for each screen in the activity, then went screen-by-screen with the Desmos activity open in one window and the spreadsheet in another, recording the points by screen for each student. I set up a column at the end for their poster points, another to sum each row, and one to double the points so I could make the 15-question quiz worth 30 points in my gradebook.

Desmos quiz spreadsheet
Pow. Done. Now to dump the scores into Skyward…

Automating at least part of the grading cut my overall task time by half, if not more. My kids were stunned when I reported back on Monday that I was nearly done grading.


So how about student feedback on this project? Mixed. Many students appreciated not having to graph lines by hand. Others were stressed by having to switch back and forth between pencil/paper and a chromebook screen.

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A couple were pretty blunt:

  • I feel that the quiz could be taken on paper
  • Please just put the quizzes/tests on paper.

And their answer to the question “How closely does this statement reflect your feelings: “I feel we should use Desmos (including its ability to graph, sketch, and submit answers) for some quizzes in the future.”” averaged 3.2 on a 1 to 5 scale. Right down the middle.

As for my reflections, I’ve got a couple of thoughts:

  • I’m definitely interested in integrating a Desmos into assessments in a way that matches how we use it in class.
  • I’m not sure I did a great job of that with this quiz.
  • Honestly in looking back, there’s nothing about this quiz that was so Desmos-dependent that it couldn’t have been done on paper.
  • So from a SAMR standpoint, this was substitution-level.
  • Desmos activities are extra-awesome as formative assessment tools.
  • Does that translate to Desmos quizzes as summative tools?
  • I still think that a good Desmos quiz is out there for me.

There’s a lot of firepower from the neck up out there in my online PLN. I’m gonna keep searching for some examples of existing Desmos quizzes to use as models. Plus, my department chair offered some useful feedback on my first try, things I was able to integrate into the quiz before I rolled it out to my students. I feel like my colleagues in the department can help me match the tool to the task as well.

Might be a good topic for an informal PD-brainstorming sesh after school someday.

If that happens, I’ll write about it here too.

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Buying The Groceries

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Coaching is a rough gig. Especially when your successor wins about a million Super Bowls. Image via Yahoo Sports.

Back a million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I still talked about sports for a living, the New England Patriots parted ways with their coach, Bill Parcells, after the team made a Super Bowl appearance. He was not super-pleased. In fact, he had a parting shot:

“If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries.”

I get what he’s saying: if you are holding me accountable for the performance of 53 guys, I should get to pick which guys they are. Well, teachers don’t get to pick. But in the right place, they get to pick how they teach. In one of my first conversations with my new department chair (now a district-level administrator) when I hired on, I found out that our department was moving in the direction of classroom -level autonomy. The state decides what you have to teach, yeah, but you get to decide how to do it.

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I’m a Stuck-In-The-80s loser. Sue me.

 

Use a textbook? Fine. Ditch the textbook? That’s cool too. All about Three-Act Math and Desmos Activities and WODB? You do you.

We do a lot of planning as content teams. Our main focus during this school year is detracking. Instead of offering three ability-grouped sections, there will be “Honors Algebra II”, and just-plain “Algebra II” next year. Those are the options, kid. So we’re spending a lot of time figuring how to support our struggling learners in a faster-paced environment.


Now, they’re not coming around tomorrow to make a movie. Nobody here is doing anything earth-shattering and disruptive, but it is obviously cool to have the freedom to teach in your own style.  Occasionally, monumentally cool things happen. Sometimes, it’s a smaller victory. In classic “happy accident” style, I may have stumbled across something cool this week, in terms of the order in which material is presented for maximum learning.

We’re in the midst of a (short) trig unit. Right angle trig, sine and cosine graphs, that’s about it. “Coterminal angles” and “Functions of any angle” gets a drive-by. Law of Sines and Law of Cosines get pushed back to Pre-Cal. There’s probably more emphasis on graphing. But: What if the order flip-flopped? Graph first, then tackle coterminal angles and the general definition of the functions?

Maybe with a Desmos activity?

Yeah, let’s do that.

I feel like I’ve got to lay a pretty good foundation with the graphs. Maybe, emphasize that the graph is periodical and hits the same value multiple times. I think the visual will help my students grasp the concept that there is a sine & cosine value for all of those degree measures, then we can go from there.

My 2nd hour wasn’t having it:

 

 

My 5th hour response: marginally better. Then I was out Thursday for an all-day curriculum planning meeting (coincidentally). So we’ll see. If the periodic nature of the sin/cos functions take root, I’ve set the table for Friday beautifully.


 

We quickly recapped the sin/cos graph assignment Friday at the outset of class, pointing out again how the graph of the function repeats. I’m guardedly optimistic. Let’s roll with Desmos, huh? We started with a card sort of definitions – letting the students do some word root detective work.

Desmos Trig 1

They had some mild success at matching words, images, and definitions, and we took a couple of minutes to make sure we were speaking the same language.

 

(H/T to some of my online PLN friends who helped me tweak this activity. Protip: when smart people give you advice, take it.)

After a couple more screens where we pondered the cyclical nature of the graphs, it’s time to get to the meat and potatoes.

Desmos Trig 3

Good news: pretty much everybody could sketch a 135 degree angle. Also good news: most could recall the ratios for sine and cosine. So let’s push the ball upfield. Here’s how to calculate the ratio of any angle. Go.

Desmos Trig 4

We ran out of time before we could dive deep into the idea of positive and negative values for the functions.

Ironically, this activity connected much better with my 2nd hour than with my 5th.

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But what can I say? Friday afternoon, after lunch, sun shining thru my windows….

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Hey, I recognize that guy…

At least some of them let their creativity shine thru as well.


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So, did this little tweak in the order of sections pay off? Not in a fireworks/shooting stars kind of way. I think the visual of the animated unit circle/sine graph was huge. And I think the Desmos activity was an improvement over me standing there and dishing out notes and giving a written assignment.

The bigger story is the freedom to re-arrange things in such a way that it benefits my students. Writ large, my Alg II planning group met last week to ponder some options for next year, including SBG, but we also took a hard look at the course from a power standards standpoint. We front-loaded the course with Alg II standards, pushed the trig section back to the end of the year, and flip-flopped a couple of units to get balance between 3rd and 4th quarter. Standards-Based Grading has some folks curious, and is being strongly encouraged, but individual teachers have the option whether to implement it.

Sounds to me like as seasoned chefs, a lot of us will be buying our own groceries next year. I feel a little bit like Bobby Flay already.

Bobby Flay
Image via Food Network

Desmos Art 2.0

One of the hallmarks of the MTBoS is constant refinement and reflection – taking something of your own or someone else’s and making it better.

The conics unit has come and gone in my Algebra II classes, and like last year I want to do a performance assessment. Back in the day this assessment was Amy Gruen’s piecewise functions picture. With the advent of Desmos it’s now a digital version of the same project. (I wrote about last year’s here). Then in early summer I saw the tweet that let me know how much better my project could be for my students.

Dropping the image into Desmos first, then creating the equations to match the image? Brilliant! That led to a pretty productive online conversation, and to me making some slight changes to my plan for this year. My big takeaways from last year were:

  1. my students selected some very cool but also very challenging pictures to duplicate
  2. they needed massive amounts of support writing equations to match lines and curves
  3. probably not everybody did their own work

Providing massive amounts of support is what Desmos does best. That scaffolding probably means less frustration, and less cheating. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Fingers crossed
Via Tenor

Started before break with a functions review (Alg II (3) Functions one-pager), not only of conics but of all the functions we’ve learned this year. The day back from spring break we learned how to match equations with lines or shapes in a picture with this Desmos activity.

Then I introduced the project, and offered a carrot (it’s a quiz grade, you guys!). And away they went, seeking pictures.

 

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They found standard-issue high-school-kid stuff: lots of cartoon characters, superhero or sports team logos, palm trees and flowers. I had them make a (rough) sketch of the image on grid paper, then try to identify equations of four functions that would be included in the final product. I wanted them to get used to the idea of seeing small sections of the larger whole, and finding ways to describe that section in math symbols. We also walked through the process of setting up an account in Desmos, opening a new graph and bringing in the image, and saving the graph so they could access it again.

Double Double
Making ’em hungry before lunch. Double Double, coming up.

By Day Two, we were ready to start getting serious about making some math art.


 

They were pretty excited about this project when they were googling around for images, finding their favorite characters or sports teams. They were less excited about this project when it came time to start writing equations.

A couple wanted to straight-up quit. I’m gonna use all my powers of persuasion to try to convince them otherwise. That, plus walking through the process, step by-step, of writing a general equation, then adding sliders and tweaking values until the curve matched up. I’m not sure it helped.

I did notice that very few of my students actually completed the reference sheet. And (in a related story) almost none had any recall of any function equations except y = mx + b. That is definitely part of the issue – a huge disconnect between a shape on a screen and the math symbols that represent it. And truth be told, that’s part of what I wanted this assignment to do – to cement that relationship.

Best-laid plans, right? I’ve got some work to do.

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The morning of Day Three, the putative due date, one of my struggling students came in for extra help on the project. She left with a smile on her face, having made serious progress. Plus she agreed to act as a “resident expert” in class, helping out her tablemates when they got stuck. We made some halting progress as a class, but no one is close to done. Several of my students did say that they understood how to write an equation for a line or curve, and restrict the domain, just that it was going to take a long time and a lot of tedious work. So, similar to last year, with about 10 minutes left in class I offered a reprieve, shifting the due date to Monday. Then I’ll accept whatever they have and go from there. I set up the grading rubric in such a way that the points are weighted toward planning and less on the finished product, so the kids who laid down a foundation can still get a reasonable grade even if their final product is…. incomplete.

But I also want to be able to show them what their project could look like, with a little bit of persistence:

 

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Just a little something I threw together over the weekend. 44 equations later…


 

The breakthrough for many came when they started to use vertex or intercept form for their parabolas. The ones who completed the functions reference sheet caught that first. I showed everyone on Monday, which of course was too late for many folks. Next year I’ll highlight that option earlier.

So, they begrudgingly turned in their paper/pencil planning work, along with a link to their Desmos creation, on Monday. Just like last year, some bit off way more than they could chew. Some got frustrated and quit. Some gave me a half-finished product. But the ones who stuck with it were able to turn in some pretty cool stuff:

 

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Oh, yeah, and this from a student as she turned in the assignment thru Canvas:

Desmos Student Comment
Yeah….

My big takeaways:

  1. I need to steer them towards reasonable images to duplicate. Avoid frustration and shutdown right from the jump.
  2. I need to encourage my students to use the vertex form of quadratics. Anything that makes the movement of the curve more intuitive is good. I think eventually that will help cement translation of functions.
  3. I need to enforce the preparation steps that I built in: the reference sheet, the paper sketch, and the four function equations by hand. I need to help them draw the connection between curves on a screen and the associated math symbols.

The assignment is is a keeper. But I bet you it won’t look exactly the same three years from now as it did this week. In fact, I’m counting on it.

Melancholy Christmas

 

If Charlie Brown lived in 2017, he’d probably have a “Melancholy Christmas” playlist on his Spotify.

I feel you, my dude.

Christmas is a complicated time just in general, between cultural expectations, family obligations, tenuous finances stretched thin, and the darkness that envelops the world 15 hours a day. It’s pretty easy to get shrouded in gloom.

Then there’s Christmastime at school.

Sometimes, both in one day. And by “sometimes” I mean every day.

I had exactly that pillar to post experience Friday. My Introduction to Engineering Design classes are working on a long-term project known as Ballandia gifted to me by my department chair.

The object is to create a 2-foot square world made of found materials, a mashup of Rube Goldberg and Roller Coaster, in which a ping-pong ball will travel for 45 seconds. It’s not super-complicated but it is a lot of work, and there’s no template. Trial and error is the foundational concept. Students build their own design from the base up, meaning for a lot of my kids they are being pushed way out of their comfort zone.

But when they nail it, hitting all the criteria and constraints of the job, oh is it ever joyous:

Like, how often is there a fist pump and a “Yesss!” in my class?

But, like Ralphie Parker recalled,

“Oh, life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us.”

OK, that’s a bit overdramatic. But the euphoria doesn’t last long. In any season. We’re in the homestretch in Algebra II, learning the last few topics of the semester before finals, meaning a) it’s the hardest math we’ve done all year, and b) my students are distracted and unmotivated.

I know better than to try to stand and deliver at this time of year, and there’s no better way to get a student hooked in than by creating an opportunity for them to discover a concept by trial and error.

We did a polynomial function discovery activity (via Jon Orr) in Desmos, giving students a chance to scale up prior knowledge, extending a pattern from quadratic to cubic, and theoretically beyond. Not ideal, but considering the time constraints, it had potential to get us all what we wanted and/or needed from the day.

Some got it. Most didn’t. Crud. Only some unintentional student humor saved the day:

Maybe I needed more time for them to explore. Maybe I needed to re-engage prior knowledge better first. Maybe a page of practice problems and traditional notes would have been better for this group of kids and this topic.

But it’s plain as day: They just want out. That two weeks of sleeping in is so close. I’ve avoided a “Christmas Break Countdown”, except for making note of the days remaining to outline our schedule for review days and Final Exams. But the light is growing dim.

I know we’re not supposed to count the days. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think our kids aren’t counting.

Bob Knight, for all his faults, was a master of understanding human nature. He famously pushed his players right up to the breaking point multiple times during a season, always knowing exactly the right moment to pull back and sneak in a break.

That’s the challenge for teachers at this time of the year. I’m tempted to drive all-out until Finals Week. (“You guys, we have to cover this material. Its on The Final!”) I know better. We build in Friday Fun all year long. The trick is to recognize when my students need a cutback day, to create the opportunities for learning that fit their needs. Notes, practice sets, Desmos, games, everything.

Maybe the trick (in teaching, and in navigating Christmastime in general) is to manage expectations, be cool with Less-Than-Perfect, to prioritize, and to make a plan in advance.

Because it’s a long December. In every sense of the word.

 

Changing The Culture

We’ve changed our in-school professional learning model from late-start Wednesdays to a quarterly Half-Day PD this year. The first afternoon session of the year took place a couple of weeks ago, with a triple focus:

  • The Canvas LMS as curriculum map and parent portal
  • Formative assessments driving instruction
  • Increased Depth of Knowledge, with an emphasis on integrating DOK 3 tasks.

Our department chair related her frustration about the fruits of a planning session with two of our teachers, putting together an in-depth activity as they try to amp up DOK: “We spent 3 hours making one problem!” These are three really good teachers, people.

You guys. Desmos. Desmos Desmos Desmos Desmos Desmos Desmos Desmos.

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In professional development, no one can hear you scream.

I totally appreciate the effort, but, damn, let’s not kill ourselves trying to reinvent the wheel when there are approximately 3 billion awesome activities at teacher.desmos.com. I told my colleagues, “I don’t know how many of you guys are using Desmos activities, but it’s a machine for cranking out DOK 3 opportunities in your classroom.”

Plus: Classroom Chef & Ditch That Homework. We ordered a set of both books for everyone in the department and passed them out at our department meeting today. Except for me. I already own both books. I offered to read along with anybody who wants to do a mini-book club.

Who’s with me?

Trying not to be “that guy” but where we’re headed with being detracked, & being 1:1… it’s the elephant in the room.  We’ve got a ton of work to do. The other emphasis going forward is making sure our graduates are ready for the workforce or to handle entry-level college math. Our lower-track kids this year… aren’t. Sorry. We need to give our kids a chance to think deeply about math, to reason, to notice and wonder. We know the lower-track students have been sliding along, getting by with minimum effort and no real understanding of the math. That’s not a knock on their previous teachers. It’s what they’ve told us and what we’ve seen with our own eyes. Our guidance counselors have told us horror stories of kids trudging into the office complaining how hard Algebra II is this year.

Thing is, we owe them the chance to do this. If you don’t believe me, believe someone way smarter than me:

We’ve got the tools. We’re not the first math department to stare down this challenge. In a conversation with my former department chair, now an administrator, I said “we’re trying to change the culture of the classroom on the fly here. We can’t wait until our kids are “ready”. We need to move forward with what we know is the best way to teach, and be confident that our students will rise to the challenge.”

Because I don’t like the alternative. At all.

 

My Favorite Lesson

My online PLN is blogging about Favorite Lessons this week. I have a handful of topics I really enjoy to teach, such as quadratics. I think this has to do with the subject matter being a challenge for my algebra students, and that there are so many ways to inject life into the subject. I also really like some of the class activities I’ve tried out, but those belong to someone else and have been written about by way better teachers than me. (This fantastic teacher‘s treatment of the In-N-Out 100×100, for instance. I’ve taught that one at two different schools, as well as to teachers at a conference session on building a PLN. It’s always a hit!)

So I want to write about a lesson that is my baby. Rewind to about 2010. The WCYDWT bug got me. Inspired by Dan Meyer, I was always looking for things in the world around me I could use as a hook for math. We had moved back to the Region from Las Vegas a few years earlier. The Clark County School District is the fifth-largest in the nation, with over 300,000 students, and had been growing rapidly for years.  When we lived there, 5000 people were moving into the Valley every month. The district was opening roughly a dozen new schools a year. Then: the crash. I was curious what effect the Great Recession would have on enrollment trends, and dug up a little data. I compiled a worksheet, printed it back-to-back with a grid, and the CCSD Enrollment activity was born.

It lived on paper and pencil for a few years. Then along came Desmos, smoothing over the struggle of a paper graph. Then Desmos Activity Builder. And…

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Desmos Activity Builder: CCSD Enrollment

They think. They write equations. They analyze data and make predictions. They examine each other’s work. and they think some more.

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(They also do some inappropriate teenager things, but what the hell). That’s a day, right there. In anybody’s class. We just spent a department meeting talking about needing to embed SMPs in our lessons and amp up DOK. It was all I could do to keep from leaping out of my seat and going “You guys! I got something I need to show you RIGHT NOW!”

Plus, just the fact that I’m on version 4.0 of this activity makes me feel like I’ve grown as a teacher, giving my students a chance to notice and wonder, appropriately using technology to amplify the learning target, and improving the questions and the way they are asked.

I think my students enjoy it almost as much as I do. Almost.


 

mtbos-sunfun-logoThis is my small contribution to a larger community of teachers who write, tweet, and share and call themselves the Math-Twitter-Blog-O-Sphere (#MTBoS). In an effort motivated at Twitter Math Camp this summer and boosted by Julie Reulbach, teachers are sharing around a single topic each week. Look for the collection every Sunday under the #SundayFunday or #MTBoS hashtags, or at I Speak Math. And don’t be bashful: there’s a google form there so you can jump in too.

Linear Review Three Ways

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I’ve learned a few things about high school kids the last 14 years. One of those things is: they are not shy about telling you they need help. Might be verbal. Might be non-verbal. But the message is sent. So the question I have for myself is: You got the message. What did you do with this information, Mr. Teacher Man?

 

  • They need support.
  • They need a chance to collaborate and help each other.
  • They need to be able to think their way through a problem.
  • They need to see each other’s work
  • And they need reps. Lots and lots of self-checking reps.

We’ve got a quiz coming up on linear stuff. It’s all warmed-over Algebra I from their freshman year, but that was two years ago and for a lot of them at the beginning of the year it’s about as clear as mud. That’s a bad way to fly when we’re trying to rebuild a foundation for the rest of Algebra II.

I need a plan. Like Gerry Faust recruiting future Heisman Trophy winner and Pro Football Hall of Famer Tim Brown out of Texas:

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The Golden Dream, by Gerry Faust and Steve Love

All the bases covered. And then some. Rapid fire.

I’m all-in for the gamified review favored by many members of my PLN. I like to have fun in class too. But my students in years past have also asked for a way to get more practice. Maybe even… a worksheet.

(Which, BTW, aren’t always as evil as they are made out to be. Depends on the worksheet. And the teacher, probably).

So I lined up a parade of varied review styles and methods for them this week:

We started with version 4.0 of my CCSD Enrollment activity on Desmos, because children must play. It had its ups and downs:

Next up is a review method promoted by Julie Reulbach known as One Sheets – all collaborative and student-centered. Plus it makes an excellent “as-needed” support on the quiz itself. The cleanup hitter is my very first MyMathLab assignment. The students can work on this online assignment over two days outside of class, getting multiple attempts at a problem, and able to access hints and help. That one’s targeted at my “give me a worksheet, please, Mr. Dull” people.

Differentiation, you guys. For real.

But not because it’s a buzzword (which it is), or because it’s a sub-domain on my evaluation rubrics (which it is). It’s a response to my students’ needs.

That’s a message I hear loud and clear.

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Can You Help A Digital Native Out?

1:1 is here. I’ve been waiting awhile to get this party started.

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Oh, the possibilities: Students creating content! Diving deep into math! Self-directed learning! Even on a Sub Day!

Happy Happy! Joy Joy!

No, that’s not what it was like at all. In reality, well, it takes students a minute to get on board with something new. I had to take a sub day on short notice on Friday, but I had fortunately planned far enough ahead that my materials were already set up in Canvas for all my PLTW classes and my Algebra II students. All they had to do was sit back, absorb some instructions and/or notes, and commence to churning out pure awesomeness. The worked out examples we do in class are embedded right inside the slides:

What I ended up with was Substitution Mass Confusion (clouds inside your head).

*Greets students on Tuesday morning*

Me: “So, how’d Friday go?”

Students: “The assignment was easy. We could do that. But we couldn’t do the notes.”

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We ended up going back over everything on Tuesday. OK, they need some guidance on this. Digital Natives or no, they need someone to teach ’em what they don’t know how.


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Image via Desmos.com

Which is how I came to be teaching them Desmos on a Tuesday morning. I had embedded a quickie Desmos activity into their practice set Friday. Problem is, I’m not sure in retrospect they know how to graph a function in Desmos. Actually, after I looked at the dashboard, I know they didn’t know how to graph a function in Desmos.

“So how many of you had a teacher who used Desmos with you last year? Wait. None?!?!? You never? Really? Well guess what: This is your lucky day, kiddies.”

Angel choirs sing, rainbows arch across the sky, unicorns prance, chocolate abounds.

So step One: How to enter a function into Desmos:

Desmos Tutorial Screen 1
Borrowed a word problem from an old textbook. Instead of making a vague, mostly useless graph by hand, we turn that part over to Mr. Desmos.
Desmos Tutorial Screen 2
That’s great, but what are we supposed to do with that vertical-looking line?

OK, so that doesn’t look like much of anything that tells us anything about this flight. But wait. You guys, does negative time or negative distance make sense in this problem? No, they tell me. Great. Let’s get rid of those portions of the coordinate plane:

Desmos Tutorial Screen 3
Light dawns. This was a low-key truly beautiful moment.

Now let’s start rubbing some brain cells together:

Desmos Tutorial Screen 4

That took us to the end of class but definitely lit a fire. I sent them home with instructions to finish the activity. Many tore into it during their study hall, because when I went back to check the dashboard on my prep the thing was lit up like a Christmas tree.

From what I’ve been able to gather from observing other 1:1 initiatives from a distance, this is a huge step. In this order: Got the teachers trained up, got some in-house tech coaches in place, now we give the students the guidance they need and we are ready to rock.

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“Uh, excuse me. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the action on this keyboard.”