Ok, so aliens didn’t really attack, but Dan said you need attention-getters. And my brain is a little to saturated with information to be very useful currently.
Another exciting day in Jenks, OK, with a lot more information. It feels like a blur, I’m not even sure how to put everything I’ve seen here into any comprehensible form for someone that’s here with me, much less readers at home. But I do want to give a quick overview of the sessions today, and more importantly share some thoughts I had about everything I heard.
After a short “my favorites” session, we were back in our morning sessions. Julie and I were back in Jonathan and Glenn‘s Algebra 2 session. Jonathan basically walked us through his Algebra 2 philosophy, which can be much more eloquently stated by him on his blog than I could ever hope to do. The best place to start is his DIY section where he basically details his process. The short version (as I understand it, which means this may be wrong) is that rather than break the material up by parent functions, he instead focuses on the common algebraic mechanics of manipulating equations. This again tries to show students that all of these concepts are the same and not discrete topics they have to learn separately, but in a different way than the more traditional “parent functions” model. I will openly admit that not having taught Algebra 2 really ever before, I struggled sometimes with the process he was using, but I love the idea of trying something completely new and turning tradition on his head. Jonathan told us that by layering everything in all at once, he was able to get a ton of days back that he originally used for review. He also said something along the lines of “If you’re worried about challenging kids because they won’t like it, just put your foot down and do it”. This goes back to the idea of high expectations and maintaining them, not just for behavior but also for learning, and I think “Put your foot down” is a mantra I’m going to try to incorporate more often.
We then had a keynote session with Dan Meyer about the Math Twitter Blogosphere and Twitter, looking at how different math teachers use the system. He collected a whole bunch of data and as a group we looked at it. He is a very entertaining speaker, and I think there’s some interesting correlations, but looking at stats always loses me a little bit.
Then we had the afternoon sessions. I went first to Max Ray’s session on Powerful Problem Solving because I had just added his book (not knowing he was the author at the time) to my teacher wishlist and because perseverance (or more specifically the complete LACK of it) was a huge problem for me last year. He set up a problem with a grid of “streets” in a town and just said “Ursala doesn’t backtrack. Now create your own representation of this problem and also come up with some problems that could come from this.” I’ll be honest, I’m struggling a lot with how I responded to this session. As Megan can attest, I did not handle the lack of a concrete objective for this activity. I didn’t understand the brief, and I didn’t understand the scenario, and when we asked a question, the response was supportive but vague. I didn’t know where to start and I was rapidly becoming very, very frustrated, and it wasn’t until Megan said “Ok, just pick a problem and we’ll go from there” that I was able to sort of reset and finish the topic.
Here are my takeaways from this experience: 1) It’s important for us to put ourselves in our students shoes, and experience from time to time what it feels like to have no idea what the fuck is going on. I saw it last year all the time my kids would get frustrated and give up. Their Confusion-Tolerance was much lower than mine, but the general process is the same, and it’s a good reminder when planning activities.
2) Group structure is ridiculously important in activities, not just academically but also personally. We had a very mixed group with me, Megan, Chris, and John, and I think if Megan hadn’t knocked me out of my spiral I would have just given up and completely disconnected from the material. It was also interesting to see how Chris and John approached the session as well. Pairing me with someone that also had a low Confusion-Tolerance would have gotten very messy very quickly.
3) I left the session with two big questions: a) Where is the line between struggling Not Enough and struggling Too Much? and b) How do you improve someone’s Confusion-Tolerance? Especially in light of the Standards of Mathematical Practice. Megan mentioned at one point “Well, didn’t you think it helped when he said ‘I believe you can do it'” and my response was “But why? I’ve never spoken with him? I mean, it’s a fair guess that I probably can given I’m a math teacher at a math conference, but why does his opinion mean anything specifically to me?” Which is not at all to cast aspersions on Max, it’s a weird personality quirk of my own, but it drives home for me personally that those connections and relationship with students are super, super important for some of this. But then how do you balance that out with wanting to throw students at problem solving from the get-go when you just meet them? I don’t think there’s one universal answer to these questions, but it’s something I’m still struggling with a lot.
This post has already gotten crazy long but I can’t stop without mentioning the last session of the day, which was run by Tina about Nix the Tricks. I love the idea, and tried to do some of it this year (we never once used the phrase FOIL in my classroom). The book will say everything I want, and a digital copy is free at the site, so definitely download and read it. But the coolest part was that as a group we discussed the partial quotient method. We even discussed how it would work with polynomial division and I’m in love. Shout outs to Chris and GooberSpeaks for working through problems before I could and showing how it works. It has so many points of entry for students with different amounts of number sense while also teaching them perseverance and helping them think up short-cuts. It’s awesome and incredible and excites me. I’ve posted a video below but I think the explanation could be streamlined a bit. Start at 3:00 for the new stuff if my embedding skillz don’t work.
And with that it’s WAY past bedtime.