Friday, September 20, 2013

Bucky the Badger

Okay now, seriously: this lesson is incredible.  I've now used Dan Meyer's Math in Three Acts format to solve a problem involving Bucky the Badger in three different classrooms, and every single time I've had students cheering and hollering when the answer is revealed.  What other lesson in math can achieve the same results?  I had students doing intense, solid, persistent thinking for more than an hour and twenty minutes with only one or two complaints!  One girl in one of the sixth grade classes kept sighing dramatically and saying, "This is taking too long!"  But she stuck with it, was on the right track, and ended up helping her group solve the problem correctly.

One class worked for 45 minutes before they realized they didn't have enough information to solve the problem!  When they came to the realization, they had gotten deep enough into the problem that they knew what to ask for, obtained the information, and got right back to solving!

This whole new format to problem solving is pretty eye-opening and inspiring.  Students have been engaged, interested, curious, and really thinking about numbers as they've been working through this problem.  I absolutely cannot wait to introduce this problem to more classes and see how they do.  If you haven't been to, you have to go and search for some problems.  Or better yet, look for math in your own daily life and create your own three acts!

I know that my next step is to have students figure out what the best route I should take to work is using Google Maps with traffic updates, and I want to figure out if it's cheaper to take lightrail to a Sharks game or just drive (and whether the difference in money is worth the potential difference in time).  So many possibilities!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Drawing Conclusions with Neanderthals and Cotton Candy Grapes

I've already mentioned newsela and what an amazing resource it is.  I've been sharing it with everyone I can - teachers at all grade levels, other coaches, my wife, everyone!  Some are more interested than others, but I have yet to hear anyone give a "yeah, but..." response.  Actually I take that back - I did get one "yeah, but it's only for grades 3 and up," to which I responded, "yeah, but a teacher could certainly use an appropriate article at lower grades to model reading strategies and provide scaffolding for students to understand a more complex article.  Plus, many of the articles go down to the high-600 low-700 Lexile range, which is part of the grade 2 Lexile band range."  Booyah!  Take that "yeah, but!"

Anyways, I wanted to provide some additional resources that would help teachers thoughtfully incorporate newsela into their reading instruction.  I'm afraid that teachers will set up a class, give the code to their students, and then just say, "Okay, have at it!" This is too powerful a resource to waste on independent reading for fun or as a sponge activity.  So, I developed a series of lessons to teach a very difficult skill - drawing conclusions - using articles from newsela.

It begins with an article on Neanderthals using bone tools instead of simple stone tools.  We're able to draw certain conclusions using evidence from the text:

  • Neanderthals must have been much smarter than most people think
  • The tools found at this site were actually made from bone, not just sticks or stones
  • The fragments found at the sites were used as actual tools and weren't just leftovers from a prehistoric meal
I guide students through a close reading of the article, paying special attention to the top-heavy organization of news articles, the various heading, the high-quality photo and caption, and the headline.  As we read, I model piecing together evidence to draw one of the three conclusions above, and I ask students to scan the text to find additional statements that support the conclusion.  We have a healthy discussion about why that evidence is relevant or not, and we discuss how conclusions that have very little evidence or that rely solely on other information (background knowledge or "I heard once that...") are not valid.

Then, students register for their newsela accounts (if they haven't done so already) and begin reading a pretty awesome article about a geneticist who has been cross-breeding grapes and selling them at insane mark-ups to farmers.  Students then practice drawing conclusions with this article, and a revelation becomes apparent - these sixth graders have no idea how to draw their own conclusions.  They can support conclusions that have already been made, but they can't do it on their own during independent reading!

So we use this guided practice exercise as a starting point and a diagnostic assessment.  The original one-day lesson is evolving into a multi-day series of lessons using 8 articles from newsela to practice this important skill.  I hand-pick high interest, relevant articles and the students will practice identifying evidence and drawing conclusions using a gradual release of scaffolding that begins with evidence and conclusions on sentence strips and ends with students drawing conclusions completely independently.

We have yet to get to step 2, but the groundwork as been laid and the teachers whose classrooms I've gone into are committed and excited to work with the resource.  The hope is that they see the awesome potential of the site and will commit to not just saying, "Read some cool articles and take the 4 question quiz."

We'll see, I guess!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Feeling Inspired

I've now begun my foray into Instructional Coaching.  This is a first for our district, so it's been a bit of a muddled mess figuring out how I can be helpful for teachers.  However, I think I'm on to something effective.

First, through an online classmate, I've discovered an amazing resource for 3-12 grade teachers:  New articles are uploaded every weekday by a team of journalists, and articles have been vetted for content to make sure they are appropriate and relevant to students (although if you're teaching in the lower grades, you should definitely do your own verifying first).  But that's all pretty standard stuff until you get to the big "WOW" factor - articles can be adjusted on-the-fly for varying Lexile levels!  This can be done on an individual basis directly by the reader.  So once a teacher has set up a class, students register into that class and then begin reading articles, which can be assigned (or hidden) by the teacher.  If they're reading the article and are like, "huh?" they can adjust the reading level down to make it more accessible.  All the articles are CCSS-aligned as well, addressing one of the reading anchor standards.  The site is still in beta (which is good because it's free!), and new features are being rolled out constantly.  The latest I've seen is highlighting the text, which is pretty amazing in its potential.

Secondly, I've been particularly inspired by Dan Meyer.  His Math in Three Acts philosophical teaching shift is really amazing and activates the part of the brain students seem to be lacking - curiosity.  I watched his Pyramid of Pennies demo lesson with teachers at Cambridge and was hooked, and I've used Bucky the Badger with a class of sixth graders to some eye-opening results.  Several alarms went off during this lesson:

  • Students watched the video and many had no questions!  They were so used to having the question asked for them that they were truly confused when I asked them for questions.  We had to watch the video twice to get them even curious!
  • Students instantly disassociated the situation from the math.  When I asked them what the least number of push-ups they could imagine Bucky doing was, they said two!  With a score of 83!  Either they were totally lost on the pattern, or they ignored the situation completely and just started thinking of the math rules.
  • I saw a group of sixth grade students who got the correct answer cheer and fist pump when Act 3 revealed the answer.  They were hooked!
I couldn't tell enough people about my experiences with this lesson.  I felt so jazzed and excited about teaching just from this hour-long lesson (and an hour wasn't nearly long enough).  I even had a former student determined to reach a solution after school - and this was a kid who wrote a program in 4th grade to show long division for him because he didn't want to take the time to do his long division homework.

This week, I will be teaching that lesson to as many classes as I can.  This is what the CCSS Standards of Mathematical Practice are all about!