Sunday, September 7, 2014

First Two Weeks

So, we're two weeks into the school year.  With early year assemblies, grade level hikes, Community Building activities, practice bike rides (I will be biking 200 miles with our ninth grade around Lake Champlain starting a week from tomorrow), Labor Day, and speakers from Amnesty International, I was left with four periods spread over the last two weeks for each of my classes.

I often feel like I need my blog posts to have a theme or a take away message, but I recently realized that I enjoy just getting a glimpse into the flow of other people's classrooms.

Math 9

Visible Random Groupings
Upon entry, I had my 16 students line up in order of how far they live from the school.  There was some debate about whether I meant milage or time, and they quickly settled on time.  I then counted them off by 4's and those were our first groupings for the year.  I told them that in the past I have spent a lot of time trying to engineer good groups, but after making the schedule for the whole school using a random number generator this summer, I see the value in randomness.  Everyone has something to learn from everyone else and working with others is really important.

Cup Stacking
Since our first unit is a review of Linear Models, I did Dan Meyer's Cup Activity.  I held up a Styrofoam cup and asked the students to estimate how many they would need to be my height.  They all recorded their answers.  Then I called on each of them (using cards with their names on them) and got them up on the board.  A couple were super outliers, but most of the rest imagined stacking them end to end rather than nested.  I let that go.

Next, they got into groups and I gave them three cups, a ruler, a huge whiteboard and markers for all.   I teach a in a carpeted hallway, so I let them spread out and lay on the floor.  I'm working on getting more movement into the day this year.  I let them know that I would only be answering group questions.  Whenever a group said they had a question, I would ask a different student than the one who called me over what their question was.  The first question folks asked me was my height.  I told them 170cm.  Then they wanted to know which way we were stacking the cups, and I said that I wasn't going to answer that question.

As groups started to say they were done, I gave them some feedback.  Before giving my thoughts, I talked to each group about what they do when they get feedback in English class or on other writing.  I reminded them of the importance of a reader being able to follow their ideas.  Then, I asked them to just listen and not try to fix or defend anything while I was talking.  I gave them feedback such as: "I'm not sure why this is being divided", "I don't understand why you have two parts here", "I'm not sure what you mean by JH", "I'm having a hard time reading this part".  It was a great way to give some direct instruction on showing work clearly without defensiveness emerging.

The next day we did a gallery walk of the boards.  The instructions were to write an "I notice" and and an "I wonder" statement about each of the boards.  Next, we had a class discussion, but I used Elizabeth Stratmore's "no comment" strategy to encourage listening.  I also didn't give any validation or restating for any thoughts.  After a student finished sharing, they were to call on someone else.

On their reflection papers, a lot of students seemed to get a lot of the take away points:
"we thought better when we listened to each other"
"the group who got the closest showed all of their steps clearly"
"measuring accurately is really important:

Tabletop Twitter
I did Tabletop Twitter with the following prompts:
This class will be incredible if...
A good math teacher...
We study math because...
To do well in math I will...

I'm not sure yet what we're going to do with the work we made.  I'm considering trying to have them capture it all in a google spreadsheet and then try to summarize each one into a couple of tweets and hashtags as the guiding principles of our class.

Interactive Notebooks
Last year I started ISNs during the second semester.  This year, I'm starting from the beginning.  I found Sarah Rubin's ISN Intro Prezi which I showed to my students.  This gave them an idea of what we were going to do.  And so far, they are super bought into the project!  I'm hoping to be more loose with my requirements to allow students more space to take their own notes and keep it organized as works for them.  I'm putting out a few requirements:
-Page numbers
-Titles (not standardized unless it's an all class foldable or notes page)
-Table of Contents for pages we make together (I know we won't all be on the same page, but the important pages will be listed in the ToC)

I'm not a particularly crafty person, so I'm just looking for all of us to be able to find things.  And I think that color and occasional foldables will help us all to remember some key content.

More math this week!
As I've reflected on the first two weeks, I feel like we've done less actual math and more norm-setting than I'm used to.  Hopefully it will all pay off!  I'm looking forward to digging into some algebra review and good linear models work this week.

Talking Points
I tried out Talking Points with my Calculus students on the first day.  We did the Talking about Talking set of points.  They totally loved it!  It was great to deeply listen and to have changing your mind be a part of the activity.  Others have said that their students fly through them; that was not a problem for us.  We seemed to linger over the ideas for quite a long time.

On Friday as they were doing an activity about a the rate of a swinging door opening and closing, the problem asked for an estimate of instantaneous rate of change.  One student said "instantaneous is the same as average rate over a small interval".  I wrote her statement on the board and we did a quick all-class talking point on it.  It was great to have the structure already so we could listen to each other's thoughts quickly like that.

Trig Review
I usually wait until just before we are going to start trig derivatives to do a thorough trig review.  The professor that I'm working with from the University of Vermont does it at the beginning of the course.  I was out for a day on the ninth grade bike ride, so she started some trig with them.  Although they love to think about big ideas and are familiar with unit circle trig, it's not as automatic as I want it to be.  I'm struggling to balance the "you need to know this" with my desire to discourage memorization in favor of true understanding.


  1. Sounds like an awesome start to the year! Totally hear ya on the tension between norm setting and content at the start of the year. It took me a long time to realize that positive class culture and groupwork aren't just happenstance; they take a lot of work and time. I'm curious to hear what you decide to do with Tabletop Twitter. In the past, I've had students answer prompts like that and then created wordles out of them to reflect on the common trends. Yours sounds like a more detailed approach. And good job blogging! :)

    1. So far I'm building class culture in other ways besides the Tabletop Twitter summary. I may come back to it at some point, but so far it has not felt particularly useful. I like the idea of making a Wordle. Thanks for the comment!

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