Tag Archives: homework

Journal 5: Script of a Lesson

Journal 5 was inspired by this fun post by Ben Orlin over at Math with Bad Drawings (it’s a script of trying to teach students that some ideas take time). I provided the text of his post for us to read/act out together, then asked students to come up with other lessons a math teacher might want her students to learn (I had to help the ideas along a bit). Finally, the assignment was for each student to pick one of those lessons and write a script of a teacher trying to teach that lesson to students.

The idea of a creative writing assignment in a math class is pretty cool already, but one that gets kids to consider the big-picture lessons they’re learning and engage in some teacher role playing sounds like a real winner. The kids were genuinely excited about this journal, and the scripts they turned in are some of the most enjoyable student writing I’ve ever graded. I made copies of them, and in my end-of-year nostalgia I’ve already flipped back to read them twice.

Some highlights:

  • A script that showed Niall Horan of One Direction learning that coming in to ask for help is not so bad after all.
  • A couple scripts that took all the personalities in our class and played up their characteristics.
  • A couple scripts that seemed like therapeutic coming-to-terms with past math class experiences.
  • Scripts that revealed different student approaches: some chose lessons they’ve already mastered and could make a good case for, while others chose those they need to work on.

Download an editable version of the assignment here: Ch. 5 Part 2 Post Test Journal. Write a Script

*The optional math problem for students to include in their scripts was suggested by my co-conspiring SLP to provide students with some solid framework to hang their ideas on. Most students opted out of using it. For some it was essential.

Screen shot 2014-05-29 at 9.37.59 AM

Journal 3: Try Something

Journal 2 should have been counted as a regular homework assignment, so I’ve jumped to Journal 3, where I started trying to change the anxious, mistake-fearing culture of the class. The text I excerpted from the Pacific Standard was difficult for students to digest, so we spent a good piece of time pulling the meaning out of the text. An editable version of the assignment can be downloaded here: Try Something Journal Prompt

Screen shot 2014-05-28 at 11.52.07 AM

Asking students to think about mistakes

I’ve been loving the new things I’m doing this year. I should be posting more often, but hey.

I’ve started a pattern of spending the day after a test, before the tests have been graded, introducing a journal writing prompt for the kids to do for homework. After the test my kids took this week, I played two short clips from Jo Boaler’s video lesson about making mistakes in math class. The first clip described why mistakes are important to learning, how they can create two rounds of brain activity that don’t exist when problems are solved without mistakes. In the second clip Jo gave guidelines for teachers about how to get students to overcome their fear of mistakes. The writing prompt I gave students suggested that they

  • Describe a time when they had made a mistake in my class
  • Talk about how they feel and react after making a mistake in math
  • Give suggestions for what the class could do to help them view mistakes differently

On average, the journals I received in response to this assignment were less insightful than I’d hoped. But one or two bright spots showed that my work on embracing mistakes as part of the learning process hadn’t been completely lost on the students.

Here are the two clips.

For some reason I can’t get the videos to start at the right point, so navigate to 0:46 on this one to see the bit I showed my class.

Start this one at 1:22.

A Case for Mathematical Vocab-building

I knew my students had language-related learning disabilities but didn’t know how that would manifest itself in the classroom. Many of these students hear words they don’t understand so often that they don’t like to make a show of it. They let the moment pass, acting like they understand what you’re saying and assuming they’ll figure it out later if it’s important. In time I began to notice signs that my students didn’t understand certain terms, but for a while I effectively ignored their vocabulary needs. My thinking was that with as many gaps as there were in their understanding, conceptual mathematical vocabulary didn’t rank highly on the list. I mean, they knew the most common vocab terms (add, subtract, multiply, divide, distribute [on good days], equation, etc.), so I tried to express new ideas in those terms. I did use more advanced vocabulary in class, but I heard myself saying those terms quickly, self-consciously, like I know this word means nothing to you so let’s just get it over with.

Finally, I was working one-on-one with a student (a high school senior in trigonometry, one of the highest math courses taught at my school) because she didn’t understand a homework problem. We read through the problem, I tried rephrasing it, breaking it into manageable pieces, but made no headway. Then she pointed to two words and said, “I don’t know those words.” She was dyslexic, so maybe it was a symbological thing. Maybe she knew the words but was confused by their written forms, so I said the words out loud: “Radius and variable? You don’t know those words? Do they sound familiar at all, like you’ve heard them before but can’t remember what they mean?” “No. I don’t know those words.” I know for certain she’d heard them before, multiple times, but the fact is that she had no recollection of hearing them, was aware of no meaning associated with them. Radius and variable. This is a student who has taken Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra II, and made positive impressions on her teachers. She should know the words radius and variable.

What a wake-up call. Maybe she’d had other teachers who, realizing what a jumble her command of language was, had decided to de-emphasize vocabulary, to get her to do the math without worrying overmuch about the words associated with it. Or maybe they’d given vocabulary the normal amount of emphasis and this was what that level of emphasis resulted in for students like her.

She had taken all the prerequisite courses for trig and had been able to “do the math” so well that teachers had given strong recommendations of her ability. But here she sat without even basic tools for expressing the math she had learned to do. She could neither produce the words on her own, nor recognize them when written and pronounced for her. She could not communicate the ideas she had worked to learn, and without communication, ideas wither.

Boy, was I wrong about the ranking of vocabulary in the hierarchy of important mathematical subjects. Getting these students to “do the math” without enabling them with tools for communicating the math is nearly worthless. After this, cumulative vocab-building ceased to be a dismissable time-drain in my class and became recognized as central to the students’ learning and reviewing. It absolutely takes time away from other pursuits. It is essential.

Class Starters

Early last fall the speech-language pathologist I collaborate with suggested occasionally starting class with a short pop quiz for extra credit based on the material from the previous night’s homework. I don’t recall what issue it was meant to address, but I think it had something to do with students needing additional incentives/reinforcement to practice solving the problems accurately.

Here’s how they worked. The quizzes were usually 4-6 questions, with each question worth half-a-point added onto their homework score. Since they were worth extra credit, I didn’t guarantee plentiful time to complete them; when I needed to move on, it was time to pass the quizzes in. (Again, whining from the mathematically anxious crowd. And the chronically late crowd.) We didn’t discuss them together, but I passed them back, marked, the next day.

From a class management standpoint I liked that the quizzes helped get class started and reminded the students what kind of information they would be held accountable for. It also succeeded at giving students who completed their homework an extra chance to show what they had learned and boost their grades.

Because I didn’t want to offer extra credit all the time but I still wanted something to help get class started and give prepared students an extra chance to show what they had learned, I started doing “problems on the board” on off days. For these I simply spread problems of varying difficulty levels across the board and told the students to find one they felt comfortable solving, grab a dry-erase marker, and solve it on the board. Unlike the pop quizzes, these we did go over together after everyone was done. A couple additional benefits of this technique were that it started class with a bit of self-assessment as each student determined which problem to volunteer for and a little full-body motion as they went up to the board and solved it.