A Graphic Conversation

Last October I was out of town during the NW Math Conference held in Portland, OR. I was pretty bummed, especially when I read that  Fawn Nguyen  was the breakfast keynote speaker. OK, “bummed” is not anywhere strong enough. I ended up getting up at 5 that morning to drive back to Portland (do you know how freakishly dark it is along I-84 at 5 in the morning?) just to go to that breakfast. The food was meh, but Fawn was lovely, wonderful, smart, amazing, funny….as expected; then I hightailed it back to my other commitment.

Months later, I am finally getting around to writing about something she included in her presentation that stood out for me. (There were many somethings. Plus, she made me cry at the end.)

From Jordan Ellenberg’s book,  How Not to be Wrong, she shared and spoke about this graphic:

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I have re-constructed it with blanks, because I think it is really cool, discussion-worthy, and relevant for ALL subjects:

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Right?

More recently, I came across this graphic on Steve Bohnam’s  blog:

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Which I also modified, because I am going with the premise that more discourse and sense-making can take place if there is a little less information.

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I think both of these these graphics could launch some amazing conversations around and examinations of practice.  Notice and wonder, kids!  As always, please share your thoughts; comments are open.

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Mad to Glad

IMG_2520I’m attempting to help a teacher friend of mine (Jackie) make over some lessons in her district’s new online curriculum. It’s a frustrating challenge; every lesson simply tells information and shows processes without any exploration or sense-making opportunities for the students. Very Old School, very passive (aka confused) students, very much perpetuating the myth that math is a jumbled bunch of random rules to memorize.

 

The topic in an upcoming lesson is irrational square roots. For Cathy Yenca’s very helpful online class Seeking Students Who Hide , I made a Socrative  “quiz” to generate discussion about the relationship between the area and side lengths of squares, the rational roots of perfect squares, and some perplexity about the root of a “not-perfect” square. If you already have a Socrative account, the import number to share my quiz with you is SOC-30095225*.  If you don’t have an account, get one now, I’ll wait. It’s FREE and fairly self-explanatory. Even I am figuring it out, and that’s something.

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What’s important to note is that Cathy is showing us how this tech tool can be used for giving every student a voice, even an anonymous one.  Anonymous is safe.  No one gets to hide or opt out or dominate a discussion. So it’s not a quiz, its an equity tool, a real-time formative assessment tool.  I chose to have my “quiz” (what should this be called instead?) be teacher-controlled and anonymous so questioning, discussion, exploration, and justification can happen in between each prompt, depending on what students say, ask, and need. I’m picturing having them draw perfect squares on graph paper (low floor), introducing them to the square root symbol, using area models to make sense of the length/area relationship, and challenging them to make whole number “not-perfect” squares (high ceiling).

The final multiple choice question about an area of 20 square units is meant to be the zinger. Four of the five choices can be justified, IMO, so I purposefully marked every answer “correct” when creating it so that the data we’d see as a class would be IMG_2521about the percent of students who chose each answer, NOT NOT NOT about which answer (or who) is “right”. I actually hope for quite a mixed bag, which is the perfect place to start an exploration into irrational roots of “not-perfect” squares.

*I’d love feedback from anyone who even just looks at this quiz. This is new territory for me and I am not sure I’m going to get to implement it. If you use it, even modified, let me know what happened!  Here’s the bare-bones version; keep in mind something should be happening in between each question.

1. What are square numbers?
2.  How do you find the area of a square?
3.  Describe the relationship between the area of a square and the length of its sides.
4.  T/F. √ 49 = 7        5. T/F √18 = 9
6-8 Solve each of these: a + √36 = –5, √121 – x = 7 , –14 = n – √64
9. If y2 = 25, what’s y? Explain.
10. If a square has an area of 20 square units, how long is each side?

 
UPDATE:  Jackie and I have decided to go for the gusto and implement this Socrative lesson tomorrow!  What excites me the most?  Finding out what students say!

Why Limit Opportunity?

You know how sometimes TV shows begin at some point in the middle of a story arc, right at the point of high drama (a door opens to aliens, the heroine at the brink of death with no escape in sight….) and then on the screen you see “8 hours earlier…” or “one week ago” and you’re taken abruptly back to the calm beginning, still knowing where its all going to lead?
Ya know what I mean here?

I’m going to do that now.

IMG_2416                             Point of high drama in my day: WTF!

Far,  far too many hours ago….*.

Recently, colleague “Jackie” and I looked at the opening lesson of her new curriculum, in which students review HOW to change a ratio/fraction into a decimal.**  The “real world” application included is so faux its not even funny. Seriously, if you want to know which wrench (with fractional measurements) fits which bolt (with decimal measurements) on your bike, you are not going to grab pencil and paper to set up proportions!  You’re not even going to use a calculator and divide.  You are just going to try them until you find one that works. OK, maybe a little funny, in a sad sort of way.

Students are next prompted to change a repeating decimal into a ratio by GIVING THEM step by step instructions showing HOW, using algebra (Cue wah-wah sounds.) No connection AT ALL to the strategies just reviewed, no reason to do this other than to comply.  What?!

After we finished gnashing our teeth and pulling out our hair, we started thinking about how to approach this content differently. That is, how to generate a need to convert repeating decimals and create a headache around the process that would have kids begging for some aspirin. All while resting the responsibility of sense-making on the shoulders of students.  Where.  It.  Belongs.

We decided we’ll begin with a Which One Doesn’t Belong? to activate some prior knowledge and vocabulary.

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The thought is, through some discussion and probing questions, students could arrive at these questions:
What are rational numbers?
Which of these are rational? Why?
Does every ratio/fraction have an equivalent decimal version? (Why/Why not?)
Does every decimal have an equivalent ratio/fraction version? (Why/Why not?)  What about that repeating decimal…?

 

Next, we’ll give them some time to wrestle with converting repeating decimals, then when they ask for salvation, show them The Aforementioned Algebra Process in its entirety, without explanation, and have them work in small groups to 1) identify what is happening, 2) ask questions and 3) make sense of it.

Commercial break and time passes. Jackie and I part with our vague plan and our fingers crossed, and I sit down to think about it some more. Because vague does not sit well with me. Naturally, I end up overthinking it all evening and again the next day, which is my problem with trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I also spent some time thinking about how I would incorporate Socrative, a tech teaching tool totally  new to me filled with potential that I am dying to try. (More on that another time.  Maybe.)

At some point I remember that I am only going to be in Jackie’s room for one short day and that this lesson is going to take several. I’m over-creating for my minor role. To focus, I decide to make the WODB above, and just to make sure I understand The Algebra Process and to anticipate student difficulties/misconceptions, I give it a go.

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I’ve intentionally included alatta steps so students can (hopefully) dust off algebra skills and increase the chance of sense-making.  I also used 1/3, since they may already be familiar with this equivalence.

 

 

 

If you give a mouse a cookie give an 8th grader a process to make sense of, they’re going to want to try it out on another repeating decimal. Well, at least that’s what I wanted to do. Maybe they will, too.

IMG_2418As I finished, I remembered that Jackie mentioned something about the process always involving 9’s. Now I see why.

Does this mean, I wonder, that EVERY repeating decimal’s fraction version has a 9 (or 99 or 999, depending) in the denominator? Let’s find out!

I also see an opportunity for students to notice the pattern and make a conjecture. An opportunity that would have passed me and students by had I never attempted to makeover this lesson because the student sensmaking in it is nonexistent.

Do you feel how close we are getting to that opening drama here? Truthfully, I was really enjoying where this was going; my childhood math experiences did not include this type of exploration, and it is FUN.  Seeing an opportunity I did not know was there is exciting.  I imagine students might think this pattern is just another neat-o/mysterious math trick and stop there. Unless you insist they test their conjecture….

And now, a word from our sponsor.
This entire explorative experience and the inevitable WTF moment will never happen if students are merely asked to imitate ad nauseam a process they don’t understand, followed by a test and a grade. If the culture of a classroom (and its supporting curriculum) revolves around “standard” algorithms and “right”answers instead of noticing and wondering, curiosity and perplexity, student-centered sense-making, and celebrations of WTF and AHA moments, then our students are being robbed of opportunities to see the beauty and humanness of math,  are being denied a chance to know they are mathematically capable, and are less likely to grow into curious and creative people who can develop viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.  Life skills, for sure.

Where was I?  Ah, yes, testing a conjecture.

Which I did. And ended up with 0.99999…. = 1.  A fabulous WTF moment, I must say.

Notice the purpose of converting repeating decimals shifted from performing a rote process (booooring) to students uncovering something Big (exilerating).  It does not matter that you will probably not be able to resolve their angst over this issue; in fact, it is OK to discuss a bit, argue a bit, consider a bit, and then leave this perplexing moment…a bit unresolved. (If you google it, you’ll find a lot of arguing.  Infinity is difficult to nail down.)  It is sufficient for students to learn that it is in excatly these kinds of moments where humans need to make sense of something that does not make sense that new ideas are born and learning happens.  Zero. Place value. Fractions. Negative numbers. Irrational numbers. Imaginary numbers, for heaven’s sake!  Infinity (and beyond).

You get the idea.

(Fin.)

 

* Due to the fact that I am trying to help Jackie make over a less-than-satisfactory “new” curriculum; see my previous post about finally understanding why having an exemplary curriculum is a much better situation.

** The presentation of this topic is so very rote and unexciting it will do a great job of keeping kids hating math.

Thank Goodness

As a brand new member of the Global Math Department (you folks are AWESOME!), I recently received my first newsletter. One link led to another, and I eventually found myself reading Richard Skemp’s article here on Relational Understanding and Instrumental Understanding.  If you have not had the pleasure yet, go! Now!

What initially jumped out at me and slapped me in the face was the date it was published: 1976! Apparently his concerns for the isolating nature of teaching and the lack of conversation around reform was not unfounded, since seriously, not enough has changed in the last 40 years.  Too bad he is not around to see what is happening now, how teachers are connecting in amazing ways through blogs and tweets and MTBoS and GMD and heaven knows what else. Dan Meyer recently marveled at what is taking place.

Is it possible that technology, which has so radically altered the way we live and work, will be the catalyst to radically alter education? I hope so.