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.

Good

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

Un-good

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

AMORIS LÆTITIA 261:
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.