Monthly Archives: January 2014

Ed Goes to Camp

My students ask me, “What do you do for fun?  Like, what do you do when you’re not teaching?”  I know they think that at 7am I just appear at the school,  and sometime around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, I disappear.  It’s either that or I have a cot size bed in the closet, and a George Foreman grill in my desk.  Students know that teachers put in extra hours, but anything that happens outside of the 50 minutes of class time is completely off their radar.

So what do I do during my time not at work?  This last month I went to EdCampIE and EdCampMurrieta.  First of all, if you don’t know how this whole Ed Camp thing works, check this out before reading further.

One of the sessions I participated in focused on the topic: Curriculum Design, What are You Doing?  The idea of scaffolding for teachers with new curriculum was tossed back and forth.  Should we try this Rigorous Design Model, Understanding by Design, and probably some other branded research based model of how to teach and learn.  Administrative reps from various school districts seemed to all be asking the same thing: What do teachers need?  This is a great question.  I feel like the discussions I’ve been primarily involved with has more of the focus, “What do students need?”

runnin on empty

I’m about to get selfish, but it’s for a good cause.  Teachers invest a lot of time into their students.  We plan, implement, assess and repeat.  Educators seem to race through the assess portion, at least as it pertains to our role in the learning process.  Do I adjust what I’m doing based on how the students performed?  How do I know if what I did actually worked?  Wait, we have a holiday this weekend?  Finally, a chance to recharge.  Wait, is it Monday again already?

It can get so hard to keep up that we pass by the whole assess and reflect portion.  It’s practically required for beginning teachers with induction programs like BTSA.  After an educator reaches a more permanent status, cruise control is tempting.  Repetition toward honing a practice to be better is great, but is there ever a finish line that says ,”Good enough.”  We as educators model this to our students.  If we lose motivation to learn and improve, why should our students do anything different?

“But where am I going to get the time, Butler?”

Time spent reflects one’s priorities.  I’m not saying give up on your other priorities.  I am saying consider if an EdCamp is worth yours (by the way – did we mention it’s free besides the time it costs you).

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To B or not to B

What do you want for dinner?  Pizza or Hamburgers?  That’s like asking would you rather have 2x $10, or 4x $5.  Some questions don’t have a clear answer, but our students for some reason seem to think that everything has one clear answer.

Little kids play the game all the time, “Which of these is not like the other?”  Being taught to analyze irregularity and develop pattern recognition is central to decision making.  What is the most common decision students have to make?  A,B,C or D (and sometimes E).

Multiple Choice Bubble Sheet

For years this format has been consistent, and simple.  Choose the correct answer (or at least take your best guess).  One would hardly suspect that more than one response could be correct, especially at the same time.  Imagine the following prompt:

Which of the following is a fruit?

  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Cherry
  • Guerrilla

Which answer is correct?  Should I assume the prompt had a typo?  For example should it have said, “Which of the following is not a fruit?” or “Which of the following eats fruit?”  The current culture is that having more than one correct answer is more of a paradox than a reality.

Even more paradoxical is the presence of such questions in standardized testing.  The United States is anticipating multiple response questions (having more than one correct answer) from institutions like SBAC and PARCC.  I can imagine the varying depths of knowledge in choosing both correct answers, only 1, or some type of combination in between.  Let’s say we assign 1 positive point for each correct answer chosen, and -1 point for each incorrect answer, and a zero value for each choice not selected.  This would give a perfect score of 3, and a minimum of -1.  Consider the following outcomes:

Apple +!

Banana +0

Cherry +0

Guerrilla +0

+1

Apple +0

Banana +1

Cherry +0

Guerrilla +0

+1

Apple +0

Banana +0

Cherry +1

Guerrilla +0

+1

Apple +0

Banana +0

Cherry +0

Guerrilla -1

-1

Apple +1

Banana +1

Cherry +0

Guerrilla +0

+2

Apple +0

Banana +1

Cherry +1

Guerrilla +0

+2

Apple +1

Banana +0

Cherry +1

Guerrilla +0

+2

Apple +1

Banana +1

Cherry +1

Guerrilla -1

+2

Apple +1

Banana +1

Cherry +1

Guerrilla +0

+3

Apple +1

Banana +1

Cherry +0

Guerrilla -1

+1

Apple +1

Banana +0

Cherry +1

Guerrilla -1

+1

Apple +0

Banana +1

Cherry +1

Guerrilla -1

+1

Apple +1

Banana +0

Cherry +0

Guerrilla -1

+0

Apple +0

Banana +1

Cherry +0

Guerrilla -1

+0

Apple +0

Banana +0

Cherry +1

Guerrilla -1

+0

Apple +0

Banana +0

Cherry +0

Guerrilla +0

+0

Do these seem fair to you?  What if there were only two correct answers and Apple was some different response like Animal?  This changes the range to anywhere from -2 up to 2.  Using the same method of calculation , +1 for correct and -1 for incorrect, we would be valuing each multiple response question according to the total number of correct responses possible.  Is having 2 correct answers less valuable than 3?

Recently I was told a story about how some of the new institutions plan to handle scoring these new multiple response items.  Because of some disagreement and outcry of the original plan, the new policy would be a total score of +1 for choosing all correct responses, and +0 for anything else.  In other words, there is no partial credit, or stepped out scoring.

I’m a fan of having questions that slow down thinking, and make the reader consider more possibilities.  I think having multiple responses correct is a good thing.  It encourages argument, which requires reason.  Isn’t that why we practice math in the first place; to apply reasoning.  Especially when two choices seem to be both right.

How do we help kids answer the paradox one feels in having more than one correct answer?  Is there a fair way of programming feedback for all the possibilities?  Should we even try, or just go back to good ol’ choose A or B (or C, or D)?

Say what you mean, the importance of language in a math class

“Why?” asked a student on some day in that one class.  The teacher replied, “Because.”  Often this conversation goes on without even a word spoken aloud.  Teachers develop routines in the classroom, and students learn to follow them.  The cliche at home of “Do as I say, not as I do,” doesn’t always fit into the classroom structure of I do, we do, you do (which may not be the best method either).  It might have transformed into more of a modeling-focused perspective of “Do as I do [, not as I say].”  Words in the classroom can get confusing, leading many teachers to struggle using proper language with students and instead depending on visual aids and demonstrations.  These conversations can get even more complicated when the students jump in.

Students are true artists when it comes to words and interpreting directions.  They are the best peer-editing service, often exposing any fault or loophole left open in an activity.  A skilled teacher can anticipate these attempts for learners to go off script and plan accordingly.  An even more skilled teacher can say less with more, only giving a few cleverly designed guidelines that allow students to explore and still arrive at some type of expected outcome.  For example, an assignment may have required students to write 1-2 page research paper on the topic of proportional relationships and its applications in scaling up or expanding a business.  This guideline is specific but has too many holes.  Through various interpretations of format, the students can complete the task without demonstrating any understanding.  Some think that more detail in the directions is the remedy for this situation.  I’m on the other side, preferring to give directions that would say something like, “In enough words and/or pictures, show me how proportional reasoning can help expand a business.”

Many view math as an objective and direct subject, being so reasonable and having one answer (or at least a best answer).  Some also say that one method is the best method and should be the only one that any true mathematician should use.  There is a strong movement to have a more open middle lead by dynamic educators such as Dan Meyer.  Math still has structure, and such structure should be highlighted.  I think it’s just foolish of us to attempt to summarize that structure into discrete, specific statements and expect the statements to transfer the understanding directly and objectively.  Math is just as much abstract as it is concrete.

This entire preface is to address one major issue with the most common prompt given in a math activity: “Solve it.”  First of all, we might even need clarification on the it that needs to be solved.  More importantly what does it mean (in the context of a math activity) to solve.  I ask this question to my students every year, sometimes multiple times a year, and their most common responses often include:

  • work it out
  • break it down
  • simplify it
  • find the solution
  • or everyone’s favorite Nike slogan (yeah, that one you’re thinking of right now)
So we wait, and see if students can come up with anything else.  Usually it gets really quiet; maybe because students aren’t quite sure why we are talking about words in a math class.  I start the scaffolding by reminding them that the meaning of a word can be found in its root.  I highlight the root, solve, and then ask the students to brainstorm other words with the same root.  This list is often populated by:
  • solution
  • solved
  • solver
  • solving
  • and sometimes an unrelated word like sold
I try to edit the list and ask the students to think of a word that’s only four letters that is pronounced the same, spelled the same, and has the same meaning in both english and spanish.  At this point students have sometimes guessed the word soul, or they forgot that I said four letters and go back to their originals from the first round of guessing.  The tension is building, both for myself and for the students.  The students are still confused but at least interested.  The gears are turning but not really going anywhere for most.  Usually one or a few that listened carefully to the clues asks in a half certain tone, “solo?”

And So it begins…

Like any recurring event, there’s always a first.  I’m considering this to be my first official blog post.  Though I’ve written a post prior to this one, I feel that it was more of a dipping my toe in the water.  I’m diving in.  I was trying to think of what to write for this, and it took me back to high school writing strategies simplified by my humanities teachers in 11th grade.  The wisdom of communication they passed on could be summed up as follows:

  1. Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  2. Tell them
  3. Tell them what you told them
With this being just as much for my own reflection as it is for others, “them” refers to all in the conversation with this blog, including myself.  The telling will also be inclusive.  All are invited to interact, comment, and share freely as professionals.
 
So here’s what I’m going to tell you.  I plan to write for this blog regularly covering topics that have to do with teaching and learning (inside and out of the classroom), math(s), creativity, art, and anything else that really comes to mind.  The postings should come out on average once a week.  
 
 
A few thoughts I have some plans for include 
  • Formative versus Summative and why we need both
  • Tracking
  • Goldilocks’ Comparison
  • Interaction, Distraction, and other kinds of action
  • The immersive experience
  • Lo-tech done right
  • Speak the language, say what you mean
  • Area for All
  • Why teachers of all levels (and specialties) need to communicate more
So I’ve told you what I’m going to tell you.  Now let’s talk about step 2.
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