Trying to find math inside everything else

So as I was getting ready to teach absolute value graphs a little while ago, I came across this post from Kate Nowak about a lesson she did with it. I liked the idea but…I didn’t like the idea of having to “get my butt into overdrive” to collect data from staff and students about such a thing. I wanted a lesson for the next day, so I didn’t really have time for that.Screen shot 2014-03-26 at 6.52.24 PM

But then I thought, well, my students have been doing Estimation180 all year long. Maybe there’s a way I can use that? I even tweeted Kate about it, but was left to my own devices. (Though I suppose this is finally the write up I promised.)

 

I thought about what was different between what we’ve done with Estimation180 and Kate’s task, and then it hit me – Kate’s lesson is all about one guessing event, but we have loads of different ones. At that point we have done ~30 estimations. What if we could do some comparisons?

 

My premise was this – Mr. Stadel, who runs the Estimation180 site, wants to implement a ranking system where all the estimations are listed as “easy” “medium” “hard” etc. But how can he tell when one is hard or not? He knows all the answers, so he can’t used himself to judge. So I told Mr. Stadel that we have lots of data from our class and we could probably use it to come up with a system.

[Aside - this was the 3rd or 4th day of the new semester, and to complete the task I asked students to use the estimation sheets from the previous semester. They revolted, because they claimed I had told them they could throw those out! Which I vowed I didn't...though, to be honest, it's possible I did, since I hadn't thought of this lesson yet. Luckily enough students had not thrown them out so that it could still work.]

So I reviewed what the estimations we did were and I told each group that they have to pick one estimation that they wanted to evaluate. Then they had to collect data from their classmates (and from the binders of other classes, through me) – the estimate each person made and what their error was. Once they have collected enough data, they have to make an Error vs Estimate graph and see what happens. Then I had them make some analysis on whether this counted as a difficult task or not. I didn’t have them compare graphs at the time, but I totally should have.

I think it worked pretty well and many of the students understood why it should be a V-shaped graph. They were at first surprised about where the vertex was, but then it made sense, especially comparing many different error graphs.

Estimation Difficulty Rating (Word format)

 

 

I feel like anyone who reads my blog will have seen this elsewhere, but the more the better!

We are starting our gear up for TMC14, which will be at Jenks High School in Jenks, OK (outside of Tulsa – map is here) from Thursday, July 24 through Sunday, July 27, 2014. We are looking forward to a great event. Part of what makes TMC special is the wonderful presentations we have from math teachers who are facing the same challenges that we all are.

 

To get an idea of what the community is interested in hearing about and/or learning about we set up a Google Doc (http://bit.ly/TMC14-1). It’s an open GDoc for people to list their interests and someone who might be good to present that topic. If multiple people were interested in a session idea, he/she added a “+1” after it. The doc is still open for editing, so if you have an idea of what you’d like to see someone else present as you’re writing your own proposal, feel free to add it!

 

This conference is by teachers, for teachers. That means we need you to present. Yes, you! What can you share that you do in your classroom that others can learn from? Presentations can be anything from a strategy you use to how you organize your entire curriculum. Anything someone has ever asked you about is something worth sharing. And that thing that no one has asked about but you wish they would? That’s worth sharing too. Once you’ve decided on a topic, come up with a title and description and submit the form.

 

If you have an idea for something short (between 5 and 15 minutes) to share, plan on doing a My Favorite. Those will be submitted at a later date.

 

The deadline for submitting your TMC Speaker Proposal is January 20, 2014. This is a firm deadline since we will reserve spots for all presenters before we begin to open registration on February 1, 2014.

 

Thank you for your interest!

Team TMC – Lisa Henry, Lead Organizer, Shelli Temple, Justin Aion, Mary Bourassa, Tina Cardone, James Cleveland, Cortni Kemlage, Jami Packer, Anthony Rossetti, and Glenn Waddell

So since I first had my students play DragonBox last year, We Want to Know came out with a sequel, DragonBox 2. They are now branded as 5+ and 12+, as the original DragonBox is intended to introduce the idea of algebra and solving equations to someone unfamiliar with it, while DragonBox 2 is meant to deepen the equation-solving toolbox of someone already familiar with solving equations, allowing them to deal with more complex equations.

I was trying to decide which one to use with my class this year. It seemed like DragonBox2 would be better at first glance, because I teach high schoolers: we have seen basic equations, and now we need to kick it up a notch. But I wound up going with DragonBox 1, saving the sequel for a handful of students who blazed through it and were advanced. I know I made the right choice because of situations like I tweeted about:

5-18

There were several students who could solve the first level (one of the hardest in the game), but not the second, which came later. This showed me that there was something about the structure of an equation that wasn’t getting through and that we needed to work on it.

In DragonBox 1, you only really have four abilities: you can combine inverses into 0, you can divide a card by itself to get 1, you can add a card from the deck to the game (one on each side), and you can attach a card from the deck to another (multiplication/division), as long as you do it to every card in the level. In DragonBox 2, you can do new things like flip a card from one side to the other, divide a night version by a day version (leaving negative 1), combine like terms, factor out common terms, and treat complex expressions as single units to multiply/divide by.

Those are all good things to do, and someone proficient in algebra should be able to do those things. But I backed away from using it in class because it lacked the why. At the end of the first DragonBox lesson, I compile the notes students took while playing to make a comprehensive list of rules and abilities you have in the game. The one student who played DragonBox2 insisted that, in the game, you can slide a card from one side to the other. No matter how much I pressed him, he didn’t see that the card wasn’t sliding over, it was flipping/inverting.

And that’s what I was afraid of by using DragonBox2. These tools are important, but they have to be earned by understanding them. DragonBox2 gives them to you by completing previous levels, not necessarily by understanding how. At the least, in DragonBox 1, because you are stuck with the basics, you have to grapple with where the solutions come from. They can’t magically appear.

So while DragonBox2 is rated as 12+, I wouldn’t give it to any student who didn’t already have a firm grasp on the concept of equality. Maybe post-Algebra 1. Or at least not until much later in the year.

Set Building Game

(For Explore MTBoS Mission #1)

So I came up with this semi-game last year, based on Frank Noschese’s Subversive Lab Grouping activity. My students had already done that activity at the beginning of the year, so they were familiar with the cards and the idea that the groups were not always what they appeared.

This time, I gave each student a badge that had two words on it: one word on the front, and one word on the back. I asked the students to create groups of 3-4 students using either of their two words. After they formed a group, they had to come up with a description of their group that applied to ALL of their members but ONLY to their members.

This was tricky because of the set of words that I chose, which I had displayed at the front of the room. Set Game List.007

Almost any group of 4 you could create would have some errant fifth member that would fit. And I was VERY adamant that they could not have more than 4 people in a group, no matter how much they asked. So the students needed to use set operations to include or exclude other words. For example, if the students were {Arizona, Brooklyn, Georgia, Virginia} they might say “Our group is the set of x such that x is a girl’s name AND x is a location AND x is NOT Asian.”

Often students would give sentences that weren’t quite precise enough, so I (and later other students in the class) would push back. “Wait! China is a girl’s name and a location.” “Okay, so we’ll add ‘AND x is not Asian.” This caused them to think deeply about what the actual definitions of their group were, and to be careful with being precise. If they weren’t precise enough, they would let other words into their group.

After we got the gist, the groups would then either come up with a description and see if the other students could guess their members OR list their members and see if the other students could figure our their description.

Each round, I had the groups write down on an accompanying sheet their group in Roster Notation, Set Builder Notation, and draw a Venn Diagram where they shaded in where their group lies. So through this I introduce the different notation we use, intersections, and complements. (That left only unions and interval notation for the next day.) I also included pictures of 4-way and 5-way Venn diagrams, in case they needed it.

Stuff

Set Cards (pdf – formatted for name-tag size)

Set Game Worksheet (pdf)

Set Game Worksheet (pages)

Rubrics for Standards

So my grading experiment has been going on for a month now, and so far I think it’s going well. But I was pretty stressed about getting it up and running, because a lot of the work was front-loaded. The thing I was particularly working to get done was my mega-rubric. I wanted to make a rubric that showed what exactly students needed to prove they understand to move up a level in a particular learning goal.

So here’s what I made (I call it the SPELS Book to go along with the students’ SPELS sheet):

I started by making the proficient categories, and for the first 8 (The Habits of Mind/Standards of Practice) it was pretty easy to scale them down to Novice, and then to add an additional high-level habit to become masters.

I was stuck, though, on the more Skill-Based Standards. I had all the things I wanted the students to show in each category, but how do I denote if they “sometimes” show me they can graph a linear equation? If I was doing quizzes all the time, like in the past, I could say something like “70% correct shows Apprentice levels.” But I wasn’t, and it seemed like a nightmare to keep track of across varying assignments.

So instead, my co-teacher had the idea that, if each topic had 4 sub-skills that I wanted them to know, we could rank them from easiest to hardest and just have that be the levels. So my system inadvertently became a binary SBG system, but still with the SBG and Level Up shell. Now if a student shows they understand a sub-skill, they level up. If they don’t, I write a comment on their assignment giving advice on what they should do in the future. What remains to be seen is how much they take me up on that advice. We’ll see.

Also, I’d LOVE any feedback you have on the rubric, and how I can improve it. Thanks!

Downloads

SPELS Book (pdf)

Updated Student Character Sheet (pdf)

Updated Student Character Sheet (pages)

Slow Rollout

This year has been weird so far. In the past the first week with actual students has never been a full week, usually just 1 or 2 days. So we’ll have some intro days, do intro stuff, and then head full steam into math class the next week. Last year September was so disjointed because of the Jewish holidays that we couldn’t even really get started.

This year, we started with a full week, and have 5 weeks straight of 5-day weeks before the first day off. So because we didn’t have weird intro days and odd days around holidays, I didn’t have a day introducing my class and systems, and instead went straight into math. I also have a lot more systems and routines now then I did in the past. So what I’ve wound up doing was introducing basically one new overarching idea or routine each class.

First class, Habits of Mind survey, then we did the Broken Calculator. (I’ve decided to loosely follow Geoff Krall’s PBL curriculum.) Next class, I introduce my new grading system (hope it works!) and then had to give them a stupid baseline assessment the city demanded. Next time, we set up our Interactive Notebooks, then did the Mullet Ratio. Today, I handed out the rubrics I’m going to be use to grade them (more on that next post), as well as introducing them to Estimation 180, and then we finished with day 2 of the Mullet Ratio. So every class has been a little routine, a little math. But I kind like it. We’ve been building up how the class works, layering it on. By the end of the month, we should be full steam ahead.

For the past three years, I’ve loosely organized my classroom around the Mathematical Habits of Mind which I first read about in grad school at Bard. I would give the students a survey to determine which habits are their strengths and which are their weaknesses, group them so each group have many strengths, and go from there. Last year I even used the habits as the names of some of my learning goals in my grading.

As I was planning for this year and the transition to the Common Core, I was thinking about how to assess and promote the Standards of Practice. And I realized that they are very similar to what I was already doing with the Habits of Mind. In fact, having a habit of mind would often lead to performing a certain practice! In that way, the SoP are actually the benchmarks by which I can determine if the habits of mind are being used.

Let me demonstrate:

Students should be pattern sniffers. This one is fairly straight-forward. SoP7 demands that students look for and make use of structure. What else is structure but patterns? Those patterns are the very fabric of what we explore when we do math, and discovering them is what leads to even greater conclusions.

Students should be experimenters. The article mentions that students should try large or small numbers, vary parameters, record results, etc. But now think about SoP1 – Make Sense of Problems and Persevere in Solving Them. How else do you do that except by experimenting? Especially if we are talking about a real problem and not just an exercise, mathematicians make things concrete and try out things to they can find patterns and make conjectures. It’s only after they have done that that they can move forward with solving a problem. And if they are stuck…they try something else! Experimenting is the best way to persevere.

Students should be describers. There are many ways mathematicians describe what they do, but one of the most is to Attend to Precision (as evidenced in things like the Peanut Butter & Jelly activity, depending on how you do it.) Students should practice saying what they mean in a way that is understandable to everyone listening. Precision is important for a good describer so that everyone listening or reading thinks the same thing. How else to properly share your mathematical thinking?

Students should be tinkerers. Okay, this one is my weakest connection, mostly because I did the other 7 first and these two were left. But maybe that’s mostly because I don’t think SoP5 is all that great. Being a tinkerer, however, is at the heart of mathematics itself. It is the question “What happens when I do this?” Using Tools Strategically is related in that it helps us lever that situation, helping us find out the answer so that we can move on to experimenting and conjecturing.

Students should be inventors. When we tinker and experiment, we discover interesting facts. But those facts remain nothing but interesting until the inventor comes up with a way to use them. Once a student notices a pattern about, saying, what happens whenever they multiply out two terms with the same base but different exponents, they can create a better, faster way of doing it. This is exactly what SoP8 asks.

Students should be visualizers. The article takes care to distinguish between visualizing things that are inherently visual (such as picturing your house) to visualizing a process by creating a visual analog that to process ideas and to clarify their meaning. This process is central to Modeling with Mathematics (SoP4). It is very difficult to model a process algebraically if you cannot see what is going on as variables change. To model, one must first visualize.

Students should be conjecturers. Students need to make conjectures not just from data but from a deeper understanding of the processes involved. SoP3 asks students to construct viable arguments (conjectures) and critique the reasoning of others. Notable, the habit of mind asks that students be able to critique their own reasoning, in order to push it further.

Students should be guessers. Of course, when we talk about guessing as math teachers, we really mean estimating. The difference between the two is a level of reasonableness. We always want to ask “What is too high? What is too low? Take a guess between.” Those guesses give use a great starting point for a problem. But how do you know what is too high? By Reasoning Abstractly and Quantitatively, SoP2. Building that number sense of a reasonable range strengthens our mathematical ability. We need to consider what units are involved and know what the numbers actually mean to do this.

What we do, or practice, as mathematicians is important, but what’s more important is how we go about things, and why. A common problem found in the math class is students not knowing where to begin. But if a student can develop these habits of mind, through practice, that should never be a problem.

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