Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"Figures Never Lie...

...But Liars Always Figure"

I remember a professor saying this to class many years ago.  It stuck with me.


Hey, look!  Since 2009, unemployment rates are going down. Wow, let's graph a regression line and marvel at that negative slope.


But wait, over the same period of time, labor force participation has also been on the decline.

How do we help our students make sense of this?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

When The Activity Isn't Enough

I love the learn by playing nature of activities like Marbleslides.  In fact, I just visited a classroom yesterday where kids were digging in.  It was interesting to watch as students engaged in this environment.  It was fascinating to try to understanding their thinking.

If we walked into 100 classrooms where students were learning about graphing lines in slope-intercept form, we'd find more than our fair share of lessons where some sort of direct instruction is happening.  We'd likely hear academic vocabulary, see a formula for finding slope and probably even a general equation like y = mx + b.

I'm not against those things.  However, I'm for giving students an experience that can be precisely described by knowing those things. Activities like Marbleslides do this.

The activity isn't enough.

Here are four different students who are all engaged in the same activity.  Consider the following questions:

What do you notice?
What questions would you ask this student?
What could you have offered this student prior to starting this activity?

Student 1

Student 2

Student 3

Student 4

Here's what I see.

Student 1 is WAGging like crazy.  These are just random guesses. No adjusting or learning from feedback.  If this student achieves success, it'd be like a blind squirrel finding an acorn.

Student 2 is an answer chaser.  I mean literally, look at the guesses.  Once this student sees which part of the equation to adjust and the line moving in the right direction, the adjustments are incremental.

Student 3 is a strategic thinker.  Slope? Nah, don't need it.  y-intercept? Yeah, that's the stuff.  Let's trap the answer and close in on it.

Student 4 is engaged, believe it or not.  This student is paralyzed by options.  Just waiting for the correct answer to pop into the brain.

So, how do you respond to each student?

Friday, November 4, 2016

Lessons in Pedagogy With Papa Frank

Obsession, however, is not education. We cannot control every situation that a child may experience. Here it remains true that “time is greater than space”. In other words, it is more important to start processes than to dominate spaces. If parents are obsessed with always knowing where their children are and controlling all their movements, they will seek only to dominate space. But this is no way to educate, strengthen and prepare their children to face challenges. What is most important is the ability lovingly to help them grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline and real autonomy. Only in this way will children come to possess the wherewithal needed to fend for themselves and to act intelligently and prudently whenever they meet with difficulties. The real question, then, is not where our children are physically, or whom they are with at any given time, but rather where they are existentially, where they stand in terms of their convictions, goals, desires and dreams. The questions I would put to parents are these: “Do we seek to understand ‘where’ our children really are in their journey? Where is their soul, do we really know? And above all, do we want to know?”
 When I first read this, I couldn't get it out of my head.  One sentence in particular, stood out.

In other words, it is more important to start processes than to dominate spaces.

As a father of five boys, the struggle with finding that line between holding on and letting go is real. Fortunately, my wife and I have always approached parenting through the lens of "we are preparing them to leave."  However, it doesn't make the struggle any less difficult.

It didn't take very long for my thoughts to extend to education in general.  So much of what we do dominates student spaces instead of helping them start processes.  And even if we "start processes," they're all too often processes we, the adults, determine to be important.

How do we help students determine their own processes?

How do we help them strengthen their own voice?

How often do we pretend to help students start a process when really we're just masking the ridiculous game of "guess what I'm thinking" that we'll publicly reject, but privately use as a default setting?

Questions?  I have many.  Answers? Not so much.

But that's my process.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

"What I See Doesn't Matter...

"... All that matters is how you see it."

This is such a difficult thing for students to believe.  But I try to say this in some variation every day to my students.  

Grace nails the sentiment here.

 Once students begin to believe that the way they see something is the currency, then our job is to simply help them refine their communication so their audience can understand them.  Only then does the syntax of mathematics matter.

"Help me understand you."

"Help me see what you see."

These are the things we should say more often.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Pretend I'm Not Here

Yesterday we worked on this pattern. 

By the end of the period, we had two different rules.

n + n + 5     or      (n - 2) + (n - 2) + 9

Today we had to decide whether or not these two rules were equivalent.  We had a brief discussion about the different ways students could make their argument:  numerically, visually, symbolically or verbally.  I asked each student to choose a method they preferred and spend a few minutes constructing an argument.  The plan was to then have them pass their journal around the group and have their partners help them make their arguments more convincing.  

As I circled around the classroom, I noticed the work of a particular student who doesn't yet have the confidence I believe will eventually show up.  I stopped and asked him about his work. 

Me: So, tell me about what you have going on here?

Student:  ...

Me:  What type of argument are you trying to make here?

Student: Numbers. 

Me:  Ok, so what numbers are you choosing?

Student:  I chose 55.

Me:  Does it work for both rules?

Student:  Yes. 

Me:  Now that I'm sitting here with you and hear you explain, I can totally understand what you're trying to say.  

Me:  Let me ask you something:  Do you think that if you ripped this page out of your journal and left it for me to read after class, I'd be able to understand your argument?

Student:  No, I don't think so. 

Me:  Can you treat this as a rough draft and try to convince me as if I wasn't here?

Student:  Yes. 

Me:  Ok, great.  I'll come back and check in a bit. 

After a second pass around the class, I come back to this:

I asked if I could have his permission to take a picture of both and show it to the class.  We'd keep it secret if he wanted, I assured him.  When I projected the first iteration, other students tried to explain his thinking.  When I showed the work of the "second student", we all agreed it was much easier to follow the thinking.  Then I said, "This is the same kid."

Class:  "Wait, WHAT?!  

The coolest part of this was that when I wouldn't say the name of the student, many of his classmates said, "It's obvious Mr. Cox.  Look at him."

He was beaming. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Making Connections

One of the things I really appreciate about the CCSS New California State Standards is that we want students to make connections across domains and grade levels. And, while some may disagree with me here, I appreciate the transferrablilty of the standards for mathematical practice. Things like attending to precision, constructing viable arguments, critiquing the reasoning of others, looking for and using structure, and problem solving in general all play in other content areas life.

Any chance I get to make a connection to another area, I do it.  I read an article a while ago by Hung Hsi Wu where he treated a variable as a pronoun.  It made sense to me.  It makes sense to my students, so we go with it.

We are about to dig into equations and expressions, but I really can't stand how textbooks approach this.  You get to see maybe one or two simple expressions that may be tied to a context, but then a million exercises with expressions so complicated, there's no way a kid can tie it to anything that matters.

So here's where pattern problems come in.  Fawn has done a tremendous service for us.  I'm also really digging Dudamath lately because I can be more intentional with the patterns I put in front of my students. Seriously, if you haven't played around with this site, go there now.  It's pretty amazing.

We've done a few pattern problems and we are getting the hang of doing the generalization, but writing an expression has been more difficult.  So, here's where Wu helped.

Our morning announcements just mentioned our volleyball team won yesterday, so that provided a nice context.

Maria played volleyball.
Shanay played volleyball. 
Teresa played volleyball. 
Jan played volleyball. 
Jill played volleyball.

I wrote these sentences on the board and asked if they could write one sentence that captured the essence of all the others.

"Maria, Shanay, Teresa, Jan and Jill played volleyball."


"Maria and her friends played volleyball."

which eventually became

"She played volleyball."

Right next to the sentences, I wrote the following expressions:

3 + 1
3 + 2
3 + 3
3 + 4
3 + 5

and it didn't take long for us to settle on some version of 3 + n.

The groups then went to work on today's pattern problem.  The use of some sort of variable when trying to describe a rule made it's way into their work.  Many of the groups are still in progress, but movement was made today.  Let's see how it goes tomorrow.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Building Fraction Sense

The struggle here is real.
A student has no idea where to place a fraction on a number line (because fractions aren't numbers, of course) but can convert to a mixed number like a champ.

My attempt to help out:

This applet gets at the heart of the things I've enjoyed working on lately.  The initial estimate offers very little help, but as the student progresses through, they have more references which allow the revisions to become more precise.  When my students worked with this applet, there were audible groans when I asked them to lower the lids on their computers as well as exclamations of "I got it!" when they moved closer to 0% error.

Here's a GeoGebra book that goes from estimating fraction to addition to multiplication.  I'm still working on division, but that should drop soon.