Monthly Archives: August 2017

What We Presume

I once heard an analogy that teaching is a lot like being a doctor…if the doctor had to diagnose and treat 25 patients all at the same time. It’s cute and helps drive home the point that the work of teachers is complex as they tackle the daily challenges of meeting the needs of many students simultaneously. However, this analogy hits too close to home as it reflects a shift in the profession I’ve been noticing over the past few years. The role of a teacher really has become more like being a doctor, and that bothers me.

These days, education is driven by capital D Data. Data, Data, Data. And why? Because like a doctor, we want to diagnose what’s wrong and help fix it.

And that’s where the problem lies. We presume illness.

This post from Tracy Zager exemplifies my concern. In the post, she recounts the diagnostic test her daughters each had to take on the very first day of 2nd and 4th grade.

Welcome to the new school year!

Unfortunately, nowadays teachers feel pressured to collect as much Data as possible as soon as possible so they can diagnose the illness and begin treatment right away. Does that really need to be our focus on day one? Or even day 2, 3, 4, or 5? As Tracy says in her post,

“On day one, I really don’t care if my students know the vocabulary word for a five-sided polygon, can tell time to the half hour, and can calculate perimeter accurately. I’d much rather know how they attack a worthy problem, how they work with one another, and how they feel about the subject of mathematics. I am much more interested in the mathematical practice standards than the content standards in the fall.”

The concern Tracy shares dovetails with the message Ken Williams gave in his keynote back in July at CAMT 2017. The overall talk was about disrupting the status quo with regards to labeling and limiting students. This message jumped out at me during his talk:

And yet this is exactly the kind of experience Tracy shared in her blog post! Ken Williams challenges this practice and the limits it places on our students:

When we presume there’s an illness – a problem with a student or group of students – then we’re setting our expectations about what we’re going to find. If we train ourselves to seek out faults and deficiencies, then that’s what we’re going to get good at finding.

Here’s what I’d love for us to presume instead. To quote Andrew Gael, let’s presume competence. Presume that when our kids walk in the door on the first day of school, they have funds of knowledge to draw on and the ability to learn even more. As we get to know our students, we’ll observe variation – it’s natural – and once we’re aware of what those variations are for individual students we can start brainstorming ways to accommodate to ensure each and every student can continue to have access to the learning in our classrooms.

When we presume competence, we aren’t looking for illness, we’re looking for strength. We’re sending important messages to our students from day one that we value who they are and who they can become as they journey with us through the school year.

 

 

Doing Math with #ElemMathChat

Last night we kicked off the fourth year of #ElemMathChat. Yay! It’s so exciting to spend an hour each week talking with and learning from so many passionate educators.

Birthday-Ad-2

One thing I’ve often heard from participants is that they like that we regularly do math together during our chats. I didn’t want to disappoint in our first chat of the year, so I dropped in a few tasks. I thought I’d collect them together in a blog post in case anyone missed the chat or wants all the pictures gathered together in one place. So let’s get started!

How Many?

This task actually appeared before the chat. I’ll admit that I sometimes try to cram a bit too much into our hour together – I want to do it all! – so I opted to move one of the questions out of the chat and instead turn it into something fun for folks to play around with during the day leading up to the chat.

How-Many

I saw two common answers to this question throughout the day:

  1. I assume you mean triangles. I see 4.
  2. How many what?

I owe Christopher Danielson thanks for turning me on to this deceptively simple question as well as for engaging with some of the folks yesterday who were tackling the question as it relates to this image.

I highly recommend checking out Christopher’s blog post where he talks more about this question and shares some images you just might want to use in your classroom. He only asks that you let him now what kids do with those images and ideas. You can share with Christopher on Twitter @Trianglemancsd.

Let’s Estimate!

For our first task during #ElemMathChat, I asked everyone to estimate the number of hats in this sculpture:

When I first saw this sculpture at the Fort Worth Convention Center at this year’s CAMT Conference, I was instantly curious how many hats were used to make it. It took some digging, but I finally came up with all the information I needed.

I asked participants to share their too LOW, too HIGH, and just right estimates. What I’m really looking for is the range they’re comfortable with. How risky are they willing to be with their estimates?

  • This is a low-risk estimate: “My too low estimate is 10. My too high estimate is 5,000. My just right estimate is 500.”
  • This is a riskier estimate: “My too low estimate is 400 and my too high estimate is 500. I’m pretty sure the number is somewhere in the 400s.”

Notice the difference? One person isn’t as comfortable limiting the range of their estimates while the other person has narrowed it down to “somewhere in the 400s.” I don’t really care about the just right estimate so much because I value helping students come up with estimates that make sense and are generally close rather than valuing whether or not they guessed the exact number. Helping students get better at estimating and be willing to make riskier estimates takes time and practice, but it’s valuable work.

Here’s the final reveal with some additional information about the sculpture, in case you want to do this activity with your students:

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Numberless Graph

As much as I love numberless word problems, I’ve been fascinated with numberless graphs this past year. I knew I wanted to include one in our chat! When I shared this first image, I asked my go-to questions, “What do you notice? What do you wonder?”

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The engagement was high and it was so much fun to see what people noticed and wondered as they looked at the graph.

NG01

NG02

We moved on to another question before coming back for the second reveal. Again, I asked, “What do you notice? What do you wonder?”

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Adding the scale and currency amounts just increased the wonderings about what this graph could be about.

NG03

Finally, after building anticipation and making everyone wait through another chat question, I finally revealed the full graph and asked, “What questions could you ask about this graph?”

 

 

 

The noticing and wondering didn’t stop! It was great!

NG04

In case you’re wondering, Pokémon GO is a game you can download on mobile devices. The game is free, but there are things you can buy within the game. So what this graph is showing is the average amount people spent buying things inside of the game. In Japan, for example, looking at all the people in the country who have downloaded the game, each of those people has spent $26 on average. In the US, on the other hand, the people who have downloaded the game have each spent $7.70 on average. The interesting thing about this is that the data is a bit misleading if you don’t know more details:

This leads to a great discussion to have with kids, “If US players aren’t spending nearly as much in the game as players in Japan, then how come the total amount earned from purchases in the US is over $100 million more than in Japan?”

A Lens Looking Forward

This isn’t doing math together, but I did want to share the final question of the night.

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My lens for a long time has been play, but I think I’m due for a new one. Not sure what it’s going to be yet. What about you? What word would you choose to use as a lens for the work (and fun!) ahead this school year?