Monday, October 19, 2015

Context is not enough. The power of sentence fragments, the need to be oh-so careful....

Was reminded again how powerful the teacher can be for evil (by mistake).  Often I talk about the need in my calculus class for students to study and make sure they treat the course like the college class it is (4 credits - is 8-12 hours per week in 1 semester, we do it over 2 semesters - so 4-6 hours per week).

But I accidentally ended a sentence with "you cannot get an A in this course."  And that is what is remembered.  Now that ending sentence fragment was part of a speech that you need to study to do well.  And the whole sentence that ended the speech was "If you do not study, you cannot get an A in this course."

But that is not what gets remembered.  I made sure to correct it and made sure students understood that everyone in the course can get an A.  And I reflected on how I talk about studying and Calculus - knowing now it would be better to say "If you do not study, it makes this course extremely difficult typically" or something like that. 

It is the details that count and we must remember the power we, teachers, have.  And even after a decade I still trip up.  That is why reflection is so important....

So to all my calculus students - studying is important and As are completely possible.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Maker-Space Saturday....

   Today I am at a conference on Makers-Spaces (thank you Sun Prairie HS & presenters from   My idea today was just to blog through-out the day as thoughts hit me.
    Maker-Spaces are about hands-on.  Using building blocks, electronics, cars - anything, so long as you create.   It is the idea that doing is learning, that doing is understanding.  I know in math that the doing is critically important - but the skill I want to deliver is problem-solving.  And that happens by solving problems -- thinking about and handling problems.
    The first activity was the question what can you do with a paper plate, the instructor used Socrative and we thought about what a paper plate can be used for, then we built something.  It was interesting to think about a problem and then how to solve it.  My gang from Juda (4 of us) designed a car to deliver candy down the ramp at our school building (the cloths pin had a Kit-Kat prior to the picture - I ate it....).    A project that was a problem where students could build, test and revise.  Again - to get "good" at problem solving you must practice problem solving.

   We then discussed room redesign - remaking learning spaces.  The question from the speaker that I grabbed was:  "Is the classroom for me and my stuff or my students?"  After a decade of teaching I need to take a couple of days and make sure my room is actually their room.    I need to continue to make the space multi-purpose, make it a place where the cost of errors is non-existent and opportunity to succeed is always present.  That is part of the maker-space mentality also.
   Finally our group talked about our school.   That was big part of the day for us.  Our school's discussion centered on our vision for students and student learning.  How do we create the environment to help our students become better problem solvers?  And for us it centers on the idea that everyone needs the chance to be hands-on (forget a particular class) and is done for practice (thus not for a grade).  And lastly, probably most importantly, there is a culture where mistakes are not discourage but embraced as a step forward.  That mistakes occur on the path to success and those mistakes along with revisions are a normal part of problem solving (not to be avoided or made fun of).
    It was a good Saturday.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Checking for skills versus procedures

I assess often.  I have many reasons why, but that is for another time.  To help grade efficiency I have rules about writing on one side of paper and leaving space for problems.  I joke about helping an old man out with my students.

But what do we do when a student does not do it?  Should we take points off for not following directions or for being insubordinate?

I don't - I grade math and work with the students for the next assessment.  In the real world you often get chances to correct "format" things (and lets not kid ourselves school is not real world).  And I don't agree that this type of instructions is about responsibility.

I write messages - a :( with a drip of water for a tear on a paper, or a message from a character - like a superhero or singer or a even just from a tree, like this:

While it is tempting to punish, my job is to teach.