Trying to find math inside everything else

Grading Talking Points

Two main things I wound up talking about at MfA Summer Think were talking in math class and grades. One thing we talked about in regards to grades is that students (and parents) often flip out when introduced to a new grading system that is different from what they are used to, even if by the end of the semester they come around and say that they are glad it was done that way.

I thought, then, instead of just springing my grading/SBG system on them, that we could reflect on what grading systems really mean and what they should do first, to prime the transition. So I created a grading Talking Points (with help from my Twitter mentions for some statements).

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Free-writes

At the MfA Summer Think, I went to a Teacher’s Poetry Circle. It was pretty great. Below are what I wrote during the two free-write times, slightly edited/punched up.

Why do I teach?

To learn about math
To learn about people
To learn about cultures
To learn about relationships

To rebel in small ways
To rebel in larger ways
To comprehend a system that was not designed with our best interests at heart

To spread joy
To share knowledge
To forge connections and broaden horizons
To create experiences that linger in hearts and minds

To help others reach their true potential
To help myself reach it, too
To help us all figure out how this world works
To help us all figure out where to go next

Hard

This is hard
but there are harder things.
Changing the world
Dismantling structures that oppress
that
is hard.

But maybe that’s what this is,
just at a smaller scale?
Maybe “hard” is just a matter of scale.
Can we scale up what we do?

Maybe it is impossible –
the square-cube law restricts us all
and our attempts to scale up
collapse
under their own weight.

Sometimes a law must be broken
To do what is right.
Why not this one?
Why not push ourselves to the edge
of the possible?
Will we fail?
Will we fall?

I allow myself to fall
because only by falling can you see
the true heights and depths of where you were and where you can go

From the air, you can see everything.

My school has been trying to better create conditions for productive struggle in our classes, because a lot of students have taken a very receiving stance. So early in our Area and Volume unit, I decided to use this task from Illustrative Mathematics.

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The task is a 7th grade task, and so involved nothing new for my high school geometry students – just area and perimeter/circumference. But the task has a lot of parts, not all of which are obvious from looking at it. So I gave them task, and then I was “less helpful.” In fact, I barely spoke during the lesson, only quietly clarifying things, but reflecting their proximity questions back towards themselves and their other group members.

Almost every group that attempted the task solved the problem on their own. (I followed up with an extension where they designed their own stained class on the coordinate plane and found the price using the same pricing, for those who finished quickly.) I had a group of three girls who don’t usually feel very confident in my class feel like rock stars after figuring the whole thing out themselves.

A few days ago, I saw this tweet:

I thought it really applied here. While the content was still related to what we were learning in high school geometry, the opportunity to solve a complex task with little scaffolding was really helped by using a task from an earlier grade. I recommend it.

I had a pretty good lesson recently that I wanted to share. It was at the end of my quadrilaterals unit, and so we were working on coordinate proofs. I love coordinate proofs because you can get so much information from just a pair of coordinates, which lends itself to lots of different ways of solving the same problem. Add to that how many different ways there are to prove something is a square, and we have the start of something good.

I gave the students the above sheet, starting off with some noticing/wondering about the graphed figure. Then I assigned each table a different method to prove that the quadrilateral is a square. Each group was off to their whiteboards to get started.

IMG_20180308_135259 (1)

It was really great to see each group discussing the problem so intently, and it reminded me how easy it is to facilitate discussion when up at the vertical whiteboards. Afterwards, the students went around in a gallery walk to compare their proofs to the other methods. They analyzed how they were similar, how they were different, and thought about which method they might prefer in the future. (Some comments included things like preferring method 2 because it only involved slopes, even though it involves more lines.)

The whole lesson went so smoothly and had tons of intra- and inter-group discussion. Need to use the structure again.

Whole Class Test

I teach an SAT Math Prep this year, which has been an interesting challenge. We basically started off with lessons on all the different content in the exam, then had a long section on tactics (which can be framed as test-taking tactics but I noticed are often just tactics for solving problems in general, which was nice). But we reached the end of those, and the (in-school) SAT is a month away. The obvious thing to do is to just keep doing practice exams, but that can get a bit boring, for both me and the students. Plus, the class that meets Tues/Thurs hasn’t had very many graded assessments this marking period, so I needed to give them something.

I had decided that grading them on correctness in a practice SAT is not appropriate. I had told them this before, and they knew their grades on their assignments were more for things like how they applied the tactic we were learning. But last class they walked in and I gave them a Part 3 exam (the non-calculator part) and told them it would be graded – but there would be a plot twist. For right now, just take it individually, except this half of the room should start from the back and go forward. Oh, and you get 5 fewer minutes than normal.

While they were working, I went around on my whiteboards and put up the numbers 1 through 20 well spread out, and an ABCD for 1-15. (I wish I had taken pictures!) This started to get them suspicious. When time was up, I told them my grading scheme: it was out of 5 pts, and they lost a point for every question they got wrong. So if you got 15 right, that’s a 0. But! They had the remaining 20 minutes of class to work together and figure out what the right answers should be. And if anyone got less than 15, the whole class lost a point – forcing them all to work together. (With limits, of course – they won’t be penalized for that kid who went to the bathroom for 15 minutes during this, for example.)

A suggestion I made to them was to go around and make votes for their answer for each question. A clear consensus might mean that that is the right answer. However! Don’t be afraid to put your answer down even if everyone else’s is different. I’ve seen questions where only one person got it right. I told them they need to convince each other of what the right answer is.

Let me tell you, I heard so many great conversations as they and I went around the room. Because it’s the SAT, no one gets them all right, so everyone is being pushed to make a convincing argument that their answer is right. Students who weren’t sure got explanations from others. It was delightful!

About halfway, I noticed a clear consensus for about 15 of the 20 questions, but the middle 5 were really quite split. So I lead the class in sharing out their reasoning for some of those questions – never saying what the right answer was, but again letting them convince each other.

It was a nice collaborative effort – I highly recommend it.

Vietnamese Age and the SAT

Dwight Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890, and died on March 28, 1969. What was his age, in years, at the time of his death?

(A) 77
(B) 78
(C) 79
(D) 80

When my boyfriend went to his grandmother’s funeral, he found himself confused about exactly how old she was. Was she 93 or 94? He heard different people say different things. Eventually he figured it out. In Vietnam (and apparently in other places in East Asia), when you are born, you are 1. The next year, you are 2. And this ticks over at the beginning of the solar year, not on your birthday. So I, born on December 22, would, 374 days after my birth, have been considered to be 3 years old using this reckoning. (It might be more accurate to say that I’m in my 3rd year – being alive during 1985, 1986, and 1987 at that point.)

Earlier this week, in my SAT Problem Solving class, we encountered the problem at the top of this post. The correct answer, according to the book, is (B) 78. But according to the Vietnamese reckoning, he’d be 80, and the answer would be (D).

Before my boyfriend went to that funeral, I wouldn’t have even looked at this question twice. I had never heard of another way of determining age. And I’m willing to bet the people who wrote this question haven’t, either.

It’s a small example of the way tests can be biased, and how having more diverse voices in the process could help avoid this kind of mistake.

TMC17 Speaker Proposals

We are starting to gear up for TMC17, which will be at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School  in Atlanta, GA (map is here) from July 27-30, 2017. 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/TMC17-1). It’s a GDoc for people to list their interests and someone who might be good to present that topic. The form 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! In the past everyone who submitted on time was accepted, however, this year we cannot guarantee that everyone who submits a proposal will be accepted. We do know that we need 10-12 morning sessions (these sessions are held 3 consecutive mornings for 2 hours each morning) and 12 sessions at each afternoon slot (12 half hour sessions that will be on Thursday, July 27 and 48 one hour sessions that will be either Thursday, July 27, Friday, July 28, or Saturday, July 29). That means we are looking for somewhere around 70 sessions for TMC17.

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. The description you submit now is the one that will go into the program, so make sure it is clear and enticing. Please make sure that people can tell the difference between your session and one that may be similar. For example, is your session an Intro to Desmos session or one for power users? This helps us build a better schedule and helps you pick the sessions that will be most helpful to you!

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 16, 2017 at 11:59 pm Eastern time. This is a firm deadline since we will reserve spots for all presenters before we begin to open registration on February 1st.

Thank you for your interest!

Team TMC17 – Lisa Henry, Lead Organizer, Mary Bourassa, Tina Cardone, James Cleveland, Daniel Forrester, Megan Hayes-Golding, Cortni Muir, Jami Packer, Sam Shah, and Glenn Waddell