Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Data Dumps

Back to school.  A week of workshops with a sprinkle of prep time.  Awesome.

We began yesterday with the typical stuff.  Emergency procedures.  Classroom discipline plans.  Locker checkout instructions.  Handbook review.  Inspirational youtube videos like this one.

Most of us are excited.  High hopes for implementing new lessons for a fresh batch of kids.  We are re-energized and refreshed. 

And so here were are, excited to see our colleagues and make this our best teaching year ever.  And then administration takes a metaphoric lead pipe and bashes us over the head with it.  MCA scores.  Below target overall and in pretty much every subgroup you could think of.  Growth of black and Hispanic students lagging too far behind their white and Asian peers.

We even drilled down.  We looked at z-scores and graduation rates.  We looked at the trends over the past five years.  We had a long in-depth conversation about how our state calculates all of the measures, including AYP.

A day and a half in, we have spent a good three or four solid hours talking about these things.  About how bad we sucked last year.  What are we going to do about it?

The stupidest, most offensive part about this whole thing is that the scores dropped statewide by about the same amount as they did for our school.  Why did they drop statewide?  Are kids across Minnesota 9% dumber?  Obviously not.  No one knows why this happened, even the state it seems.  We’re getting bashed in the head over a bunch of numbers that are meaningless.  This is the most idiotic, asinine, disgusting thing I have ever encountered.  It happens every year.

Oh, and here’s the kicker.  None of these numbers are going to change what we do.  I know there’s an achievement gap and I know we need to take steps to address it.  I don’t need a warehouse of numbers to tell me that.

Stop wasting my time.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Bounds of Reasonableness

Often after our students obtain a solution to a problem, we'll ask them to test the reasonableness of their answer.  The hope is that students will make a good-hearted effort to actually think about the number they got and apply it contextually to the problem.  The problem with that, as Dan Meyer put it at the MTCM 2012 spring conference, is that when we ask them if their answer is reasonable, we are actually asking them if they'd like to start over redo all of their work.

The solution as he sees it is to ask students ahead of time what a reasonable answer should look like.  There are two points I'd like to make regarding this idea.

1. I LOVE the idea of the QAMA calculator and strongly believe that if students used it from a young age the mental math skills of high school kids would improve dramatically.  Judging the reasonableness of answers would come naturally in non-contextual situations.  I have never used one - I just ordered mine today.  I have to talk to my department chairs about getting a classroom set.  Has anyone out there used this calculator?  If so what do you think?

2. Dan suggests in his 3-Act format that students should be asked in the first act what reasonable answers should look like.  This typically is done by though the following two prompts:
  • Write a guess you know is too high.
  • Write a guess you know is too low. 
These come up all the time in his 3-Act math tasks, pretty much word-for-word in each one.  I will assert here that we can do better.  How about these instead?
  •  Write a guess where everything higher is too big, but everything smaller is reasonable.
  •  Write a guess where everything lower is too small, but everything bigger is reasonable.
What these two prompts do that Dan's don't is ask students to define the bounds of reasonableness, an activity that in itself forces students to think more critically about what the reasonable answer truly should be.

Finally, I will assert that most teachers (myself included) because of curricular demands lose sight of this ultra-critical skill.  We should do whatever we can do to build this into our lessons.  Asking kids to define the bounds of reasonableness, either through the QAMA calculator, through deft questioning, or otherwise, should be done.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Patio Math 2.1: Shade Triangle

By the way, I haven't made mention of my patio for awhile (click here for some background on this one).  Here's what came of the shade triangle:

As you can see, everything went great, except for the angle of the sun pushes the shadow against the house.  I think I need a bigger triangle.  I also need to spray for weeds.