A Fun Question Through Different Lenses

Today I had three of my five classes meet and they all met before lunch. So, now, I am writing a blog post after lunch!

 

Here is the problem –

Doris enters a 100-mile long bike race. The first 50 miles are along slow dirt roads, while the second half of the race is on smooth roads. Assume that Doris is able to travel at a constant rate of speed on each surface.

  1. If Doris’ speed on the first 50 miles of the race is 10 miles per hour, what must be her speed during the second half of the trip so that her average speed over the whole trip is 13 1/3 miles per hour?
  2. If Doris’ speed on the first 50 miles is12.5 miles per hour, what must be her speed on the second half of the trip so that her average speed over the whole 100 miles is 25 miles per hour?

 

A fairly standard question and I admit I stole it directly from a text I use ( a pretty cool Differential Calculus book for my non-AP class) and I originally intended to just use it with my Calculus Honors class this morning. After the discussion with them, I decided it was worthy of the attention of my Geometry section and my Discrete Math class as well. It is kind of fascinating to me to think about the different receptions that the problem had in each class. In all three classes I asked them to think about the first question and wait until we discussed it before moving on. I KNEW what mistake was going to be made. There was no doubt in my mind that the answer to question 1 would be 16 2/3 and the students did not disappoint me. They focused on the information given and processed it in a logical way given their use of the word average when considering two measurements. What they did not focus on was time and it is logical that they did not because it is not explicitly mentioned in the problem at all. My hope going in with my Calc Honors kiddos was that this would be an object lesson in weighted averages. What it turned into in my other two classes was a bit of a primer in how to think through a word problem instead of just automatically applying some mathematical operation on a set of numbers in front of you. In each class after the initial incorrect solution was offered I presented the following question. “I have a 90 on my first test and I score 100 on my second. What is my average? Now, I have a 90 average after four tests and I score 100 on my fifth. Is my average the same in each situation?” I had hoped, overoptimistically, that this would prompt thought about time but in all three classes I ended up explicitly urging them to think about time. In Calculus Honors and in Discrete this led most (maybe all) students to a correct conclusion. Not so with my younger Geometry students who were still a bit wary of the problem. In fact, one student asked me if all of my questions were going to be like this. I need to be a little more careful about these last minute decisions to follow my muse and approach a problem. I need to be more thoughtful about how appropriate the question is for the audience at hand. I still believe that this is a meaningful question for my Geometry kiddos to wrestle with, but perhaps I would have served them better by not making this the opening question on the second day of school…

Both groups of older kids arrived at the correct conclusion to the second question and they were amused by the result. Only two days in but of the eight classes I have had, I’d say 7 were successful with one uncomfortable miss.

Another New Beginning

Tomorrow morning will be my 31st opening day of school as a math teacher. I am luckily pretty well past the days of nervous anxiety. Luckily I still have the experience of anxious excitement about the task ahead. As I begin a new year, there are three things in particular that I am really excited about. One has to do with school structure, one has to do with classroom policy, and one has to do with my life outside of school. I’ll highlight them in reverse order.

I mentioned over on twitter that I had the great pleasure of taking on a gig as a DJ at a local college radio station this summer. My wife works at a college across the river from where I work and she helped me land this fun gig. I just got the good news that I can keep my slot at least through the fall. I will be on (as DJ Calc – an old in-joke from my past) on Thursdays from 4 – 6 PM ET on wrkc.kings.edu where you can stream and listen online if you are so inclined.

One of the takeaways of the workshop my team did with Henri Picciotto (@hpicciotto) last spring was that we committed to a new policy of test corrections in our department. I teach four different courses this year, three of them are senior and junior heavy while one is freshman and sophomore heavy. They will all receive the statement below with only one tweak. My Geometry kiddos will turn in test corrections on the third class day after receiving their test while the others (Discrete Math, Honors Calculus and AP Calculus BC) will turn theirs in on the second class day. Here is the statement I crafted for a syllabus.

Test Corrections

Beginning in the 2017 – 2018 academic year, the math department is adopting a policy of expecting test corrections on all in-class tests. The policy is described below.

  • When grading tests initially each question will get one of three point assignments
    • Full credit for reasonable support work and correct answer.
    • Half-credit for minor mistakes as long as some reasoning is shown.
    • Zero credit (in very rare cases) when there is no reasonable support shown or if the question is simply left blank.
  • When grading tests, I will not put comments, I will simply mark one of these three ways.
  • You will be allowed to turn in corrections. Corrections will be on separate paper and will have written explanations of errors made in addition to the correct work and answer. This work is to be in the student’s words but can be the result of consultation/help. These corrections will always be due at the beginning of the second class meeting day after the assessment is returned. You will return your original test along with your correction notes. I will remind you of this every time I return a graded test to you.
  • It is not required that you turn in test corrections.
  • The student can earn up to half of the points they missed on each individual problem.
  • This policy does not apply to quizzes, only to in-class tests.

I will definitely be blogging throughout the year about this topic and I’ll be sharing my thoughts and experiences about this change in approach. The baseline message that I hope we will be sending is this : I want you to learn the material at hand and I want you to have an opportunity to show me (and yourself!) that you have learned this material.

The last thing that I am thrilled about is our new schedule. After being here seven years and meeting every class on every school day in the same order for the same amount of time we area adopting a very different new schedule. We are moving to a seven-day rotation schedule. We will meet five classes per day and each class meets five times during a seven day rotation. During that rotation each class meets in each of the time slots AND each class has one 90 minute block and four 50 minute class meetings. I am excited on a number of levels about this initiative.  I have taught at two other schools with rotating schedules and I noticed a couple of clear advantages. You know that sleepy kid in your 8 AM class? That kids is not usually so sleepy for an 11 AM or a 2 PM class. You know that athlete who keeps missing your 2 PM class because of travel obligations tot he team? That athlete is rarely traveling at 8 AM or 11 AM. You know that class that wanders in right after lunch with a mixture of twitchiness because they do not want to sit again or lethargy as they digest their lunch? You do not see them in the same state everyday. I have seen that different students emerge as classroom leaders at different times of day. Most importantly, I have noticed that students (many of them, at least) give a more honest commitment to effort on HW when they are getting ready for four academic classes in a day instead of six of them. This, too, will be a regular topic of conversation in my blog this year.

 

As always, drop me a line here or on twitter where I am @mrdardy

I’d love to hear from those who have experienced a major change in school schedules I want to have some idea of how to anticipate possible problems this year. I’d also appreciate any comments about our test correction policy. Anecdotes from experience will probably help me and my team as we make this transition.

The Big Kids

This post will make more sense if you have already read Joe Schwartz’s  (@JSchwarz10a) thoughtful blog post about two experiences he and I shared at TMC 17. I’ll wait here while you go read it.

 

 

Back? Good.

Alright, let me share a couple of reflections first. Joe is one of the many delightful folks whose acquaintance I would not have made if I had not taken the plunge into this online world of collaboration. He and I met in person in Minneapolis and had a really in depth conversation about parenting, especially with regard to tech use for children. His words have echoed in my ear this year and my wife and I took on the challenge of a smart phone for our 14 year old. My son does not know it but Joe is one of the reasons why I was able to sort out my protests and come to the decision to give him one. So, in addition to my life being improved by Joe’s friendship, my son’s life is improved by Joe’s wisdom.  Anyways… This summer I got to spend time with Joe again at meals (especially a LOVELY dinner at the oddly named Cowfish) and at a session run by David Butler (@DavidKButlerUofA) called 100 Factorial. As Joe wrote, he and I were in a group of four with Jasmine Walker (@jaz_math) and Mauren (Mo) Ferger (@Ferger314) We worked on a problem called skyscrapers (you can find a cool online link here ) and we were all full engaged. Now, I knew jasmine and Joe already and knew Joe was a primary teacher. This fact did not cross my mind during the time we were working on the problem, but it sounds like maybe it did for Joe based on his blog post. That evening about a dozen folks all descended on Cowfish for dinner and I was sitting near Joe and Jasmine. I won’t repeat the story of our conversation, Joe covered it well. What I do want to do is think out loud about my perception of the conversation and try to get into Joe’s head a little bit as well as getting into my own head. Early in the conversation I mentioned to Jasmine that I had the impression that she might be ‘mathier’ than I am. I tend to be a little self deprecating in this area, I have three degrees and they are all from College of Education. I have no formal math degree but I took a load of math classes in college and have taught a load of them in my 30 years of teaching. I know a few things and I am pretty quick at making connections, if I do say so myself. However, I also know that I am TOO quick to make certain conclusions and this caused some trouble in the Skyscraper game and I am also a bit too quick to throw in the towel if I don’t see at least some sort of pathway pretty quickly. I don’t need to know an answer right away but I do need to have some sense of where to find the answer to help me be persistent. As Jasmine and I were trying to ‘un’ one-up each other (Edmund Harriss (@Gelada) was sitting next to me and he joked that this was the opposite of a pissing contest) I was also wrestling with the question Joe had out on the table comparing the Exeter problem sets with the puzzle we played with that afternoon. Looking back, I fear that the banter with Jasmine about who was less ‘mathy’ may have been somewhat hurtful now that I see the feelings Joe laid out in his blog. If that is true, I am deeply sorry. What I DO remember distinctly about the conversation was that I described different initial reactions to the lovely problem sets and the creative puzzles that Prof Butler laid out. In the problem sets there is a reassuring (or distressing, I guess) sense that these are MATH problems. That there is some MATH technique or formula that will be needed to nudge me down the road to success. With the Skyscraper problem, it was clear to me that this was an exercise in LOGIC. MATH thinking strategies certainly are handy and helpful, but this problem did not yield to an algorithm (or if it does, I am not nearly clever enough to know it) but it did yield to persistence and communication. Joe talks about wanting to overcome some old residual fear or discomfort to go ‘play with the big kids’ on the Exeter problem sets. What I hope he recognizes is that he WAS playing on that stage, it was just in the cafeteria with Skyscrapers instead. I have had conversations around Exeter problem sets with students and with other teachers. They have been great conversations but they were certainly not more memorable than the feeling of diving in and and conquering the Skyscraper problem. Joe was an integral part of that problem-solving team and he caught a couple of my mistakes when I jumped to quick conclusions. We are all on a continuum of comfort and confidence in different problem solving scenarios and Joe’s thoughtful and honest blog post serves as an important reminder to me to try and be more aware of these feelings in others as a new school year begins.

Joe told us this summer that he has retired from his daily gig and is now doing a variety of consulting jobs. He talked about how some folks collect baseball stadiums over the years, visiting ballparks around the country. He talked about the idea of doing that with classroom visits now that he has a more open calendar. I would LOVE it if he carries through with this plan, it would be great to hear his perspective. I would welcome him to my school with open arms but I would also be slightly anxious and a bit nervous about it. Would I still seem like ‘one of the big kids’ if he saw me in action? This kind of anxiety, I think, is probably a good thing for me. It keeps me on my toes. I want to make sure that my students have a meaningful experience in my classroom and one of the ways I can do that better is to imagine that I was also crafting an experience for someone like Joe.

First Day Plans

This school year I will be teaching four different courses – Geometry (2 sections), Discrete Math, Calculus Honors, AP Calculus BC. My Twitter feed is being bombed with first day plan posts, so I will jump in here as well. Sitting by a pool, so this I’ll not be lengthy.

Note that our first day has 25 minute classes and a long community gathering.

In Geometry I have started the past three years with a dramatic introduction to the handshake problem. It generates some fun guessing and conversations right off the bat. We are also able to revisit this problem in various forms during the year. I think it is a winning first day activity.

In our Calc Honors class I will take students out in the hallway with some wheels chairs. I will have a segment of hallway measured for length and we will have some races pushing these chairs down the hall. This, I hope, will generate some conversations about average speed tat we CAN calculate and all sorts of instantaneous information that we cannot. This should be a basis for distinguishing between secant and tangents over the first days/weeks of the course. Plus, it is fun to run down the hall!

In Discrete I am going to use a fantastic quote that I read this summer (you can find it here )  I think that this might generate some fun research and some fun conversations about magnitude.

In Calculus BC I want to start with a deep dive into a conversation about linearization and approximations. I have gathered some fun ideas on twitter about how this conversation can unfold. I hope it leads to quite a bit of noticing and wondering about accuracy and when/why that accuracy falls apart.

TMC17 Reflection Addendum

I am kind of embarrassed that I forgot one of the best highlights of the TMC17 conference. A while ago I received a tweet from John Golden (@mathhombre) asking if we could have a video chat about calculus. He was putting together an idea about a resource for his calculus students and wanted a variety of perspectives. Well, after a series of attempts we finally settled on a group chat on Saturday night. It was pretty loud everywhere on the lobby level so I offered my room as a quiet refuge. I had the joy of chatting about calculus with John, Jasmine Walker (@jaz_math), Edmund Harriss (@gelada), and David Butler (@DavidKButlerUofA) You can find our conversation here

 

I was SO flattered to be asked to do this and it was such a blast to chat with these four lovely and brilliant people. I told John on Sunday that I was jealous of his students. My apologies for having this wonderful experience slip my mind when I posted earlier today.

TMC17 Reflections

Beginning my reflections on the latest TMC experience (I am fortunate enough to have been for the past four years) I find myself focusing more on the personal experiences in ATL than the mathematical ones. That being said, I LOVED the presentation on base-8 math by Kent Haines (@kenthaines) and I am beginning to shift away from my strict aversion to multiple-choice questions based on Nik Doran’s (@nik_d_maths) advice in his morning session.

 

Last year in Minneapolis I allowed myself to dwell on the fact that there were social happenings that I was not part of. I KNOW that this is an inevitable fact when any large group of people gather together. It was especially true since we were housed in different places AND I was not equipped with technology that allowed me to tune in to everything going on around me. It was not until November of this past school year that I had a smart phone. Looking back, I KNOW how foolish this was. I had lovely dinners and chats with folks. I went out within hours of arrival to a lovely pub with Brian Miller, his school colleague Wilson, and Henri Picciotto. I had an amazing talk at dinner one night with Dave Sabol, who is kind enough (or crazy enough) to be one of the hosts for TMC18. I had fantastic math conversations and life conversations and came home a richer person than I arrived. However, I have allowed myself to dwell on what did not happen.

 

This year, armed with a smart phone (that I did not end up using much at all, really), going to a hotel where (almost) everyone was staying, and being in a city I knew, I went in with an agenda for myself. I knew I would be away on Friday night visiting an old high school buddy who was also my first college roommate. I made a commitment to myself. I was not going to hang around and see what happened about lunches or dinners. I sent out a tweet on Wednesday night inviting folks to join me at a restaurant I found called Smoke and Duck Sauce. Wednesday night ended up with a large gathering at Rose and Crown that was a great deal of fun. I sent out a call on the #tmcplans for Thursday night and had a great dinner with a fun group. On Friday night I had a lovely meal with my old friend and his family and returned to the hotel to stumble in on a deeply meaningful conversation with a fantastic group of friends. I was drawn over by seeing Brian Miller and Jasmine Walker (a couple of my favorite TMC pals) and ended up awake far later than I intended to be as a sprawling group of folks in a corner of the lobby bar really dug down deep on some personal and professional issues in a sensitive and vulnerable way. My had was spinning as I went to be. On Saturday night, I sent out another call on #tmcplans and ended up at Cowfish with a dozen folks. A LOVELY meal, great conversation, laughs as we celebrated a fake birthday, and a great sense of belonging and satisfaction as people piled into my rental car there and back on each evening. I went along to a breakfast at Waffle House based on an open invite. I had lunch with different folks every day at the campus of Holy Innocents. I had a quiet breakfast by myself the first morning of the conference enjoying southern grits and getting my head focused for the upcoming adventure.

 

I am not going to dip my feet into the mini controversies that came up during the week about hashtags and inclusion. I just want to say that I know that when I took it upon myself to be responsible and engaged in the community I enjoyed myself far more than when I was passive about it. Even though I also enjoyed myself then!

 

Of course, the social aspect and the connections are only part of the reason to come to TMC. There is also some sweet math to be experienced. My morning session with Nik thinking about hinge questions has me seriously re-thinking my bias against multiple-choice questions and recognizing their value if they are thoughtfully constructed and are treated as important data points in understanding what my students understand. His energy, intelligence, and good cheer made the morning sessions well worthwhile. I had two moments of mathematical epiphany during the week. On one of David Butler’s afternoon sessions he introduced us to some of his puzzles from 100 Factorial. I worked in a group with Jasmine, Joe Schwartz, and a new pal Mo Ferger on a fantastic problem called skyscrapers (you can find a link here!) We worked doggedly, and successfully, on this problem. On an afternoon session with Kent Haines I worked on some problems and pattern finding in base eight arithmetic. Again, working with some folks in the room (I wish I could remember who!) we poked around and noticed and wondered and fought the frustration that many of our students must routinely feel as we tried to find a comfort level in this realm of mathematics.

 

After a busy, happy, and rewarding three days with my #mtbos family in Atlanta, I am now relaxing with my (much smaller) family on vacation counting down the days to the new school year. I know I will still have some of this energy fresh in my mind in a few weeks. The challenge is to keep it fresh in my mind all year.

How Important is the Silence?

At our church this past Sunday one of the members of the congregation gave a thoughtful sermon about what it means to keep the sabbath. At least that was the primary framework of her conversation. Much of the time was spent talking about learning to take care of herself and what that looks like. Is it listening to a sermon at church? Is it staying home to garden instead? Is it taking a long walk? Is it listening to an inspiring TED talk? Naturally, there is no universal answer for this, but it sure got my mind spinning thinking about what it means for me to take care of myself.

I have engaged in a number of twitter exchanges recently sharing podcast tips. I have become hooked on a number of them and I listen while walking/jogging outside. I listen while I am on my Airdyne in the basement or on the treadmill in the basement. I was listening to Marc Maron and Randy Newman talking to each other just half an hour ago while eating my breakfast here in the airport (I am heading to TMC17 today!) Last month I was visiting my last hometown in New jersey and I went for a long stroll in a park where my wife and I used to walk as a pit stop on the way to pick up our son from day care. At the urging of an old friend – again, through a twitter conversation – I unplugged for that walk. For about 30 minutes I was strolling through this park, remembering cool fall days walking with my wife, listening to the sounds of the park and the neighborhood. It felt energizing. However, I have to admit I have not unplugged like that for another walk or run since. As energizing as that silence felt, I also recognize that I draw a great deal of energy from taking in ideas/content/entertainment through my podcasts. I tend to have music on in my house most of the time I am there. My wife and kids bought me a hammock for Father’s Day. I always bring a book with me to the hammock. I wonder (worry?) if I am just hiding from silence and from being with myself this way. I justify it by recognizing how much I enjoy being tapped into a number of conversation. By recognizing the joy I find when something I hear about that seems brand new suddenly starts popping up all around me. I am excited that I have been spending more time and energy listening to new music again due to my summer DJ gig (which I hope will turn into a fall one as well!) However, I also worry that this is making my time and mind feel even more crowded. I worry that I should put that aside and be quiet. I worry that I should be goofing around with my daughter at home more often instead of curling up with a book while she plays in her room or watches a show on TV. I justify this by thinking that I am ‘taking care of me’ by indulging in books, music, podcasts, exercise so that I can be better at helping others – wife, kiddos, students in the fall, etc.

I am in the last few weeks of summer here and I have taken on a teaching overload for the upcoming year. I’ll be teaching five classes with four different preps. This is on top of being a department chair. I think that the looming concern about what this will feel like has also made this past Sunday’s sermon more meaningful. I mentioned earlier that I know that there are no universal answers to this question, what I am worried about is that I am not clear about what the answer is in my particular situation.

I work better when I set specific goals. Last fall I was waking up early three or four times a week and going for long walks before coming home to wake up my wife for coffee in the morning. I think that I want to commit this fall to picking one day each week, Monday feels like a good choice, to making sure that I go out on this walk with no earbuds. Take a long walk or jog with the silence of an early morning in my ear. Keep my mind clear thinking about what the upcoming week holds. By putting this in writing, I am convinced that I am more likely to carry through with this plan. At the very least, I will feel vaguely guilty or embarrassed if I cannot carry through on this commitment. Not a BIG game changer, but at least this feels like a start. I will check back in on this after the school year is in gear.

As always, feel free to join in the conversation through comments here or by poking at me over on twitter @mrdardy

 

Back in the Saddle

I gave myself the month of June off after a busy year. On July 2 I sat down and started a project that I was stewing about all year long. I am happy about the problem sets I wrote for Geometry, I think that they are a nice set of interesting problems. Many of them have been borrowed from sources all over the internet and I think that my students who took them seriously are more persistent in their problem – solving than they were when the year began. However, I also learned a couple of important things along the way. Not all of my students gained in persistence through these problem sets. In part, I think that the students found them a bit intimidating at times. I also think that they skewed a little long on time needed for thoughtful reflection. I have two solution ideas for the upcoming year. We purchased a license to Kuta’s Infinite Geometry (and their other course options) and I did not use this as often as I should have last year. I do not think that these are terribly thoughtful exercises, but I do know that they are flexible (for me) and supportive (for my students) and I need to use them more often. Since all of our classes in our new schedule are at least 50 minutes, I will be able to carve out comfortable space for in-class practice on basic skills as we are developing them. I also made a commitment to reviewing my problem sets and working on two improvements. I wanted to clean up the language and make sure that problems are a bit clearer in what I want my students to focus on. I got engaged in a great twitter conversation about how important it might be to have students answer y-intercept questions as ordered pairs rather than as a number and how important it is to talk about the graph of a line as an object that is distinct from the equation of a line. I tried to make sure I talked about points on the graph of the line whose equation is 2x + 3y = 12 instead of asking for a point on the line 2x + 3y = 12. Just one example of how I tried to clean up the language I was using. More importantly, I trimmed many of the problem sets by eliminating some questions. I have posted all of my HW problem sets on my dropbox and I am happy to share them with anyone who wants to borrow (or just outright steal!) from them. You can find those problem sets here.

I would love to hear any advice/questions/concerns about these HW assignments. Please reach out by commenting here or through twitter where I am @mrdardy

 

So, What Kinds of Change?

In my last post I wrote about our department’s terrific two day workshop with Henri Picciotto. One of the major decisions we made based on the time we spent together is that we have decided, as a whole department team, is that we will allow test corrections on all tests in our department. Before I dive into the format of the decision we made, I want to include a couple of important links here with other points of view about assessment policies. The first comes from a new twitter contact Steve Gnagni (@Steve_Gnagni) who shared this interesting document written by Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli AND @rickwormeli2 for reasons I am not sure I understand!) called Redos and Retakes Done Right and the second is a link Henri shared gathering together some of his ideas about assessments.

So, a little history here about where I am as a teacher and where I, and my team, hope to move. In the past three years I have had a policy in some of my classes. In any class where I have been the only teacher I have allowed test retakes. If you are unhappy with your test score, make an appointment to sit with me and look at what went wrong on your test and sometime within the week that your test was returned, you can take a new version of this test. Originally, I averaged the two test scores but this year I weighted the retest so that the score that stayed int he grade book was two parts retest and one part original test.  I also told students that anyone who scored below a 70% on the assessment were expected to take the retest. I did not do this in classes where I was part of a team teaching the course since not everyone agreed with this policy. The advantages of this policy were that students who were struggling to master material and perform on tests felt that they still had a lifeline. Those students were more likely to follow up with me and try to figure out what went wrong with their original attempt. Students were willing to take the extra time and energy to try and improve and I had reason to believe that material was sticking a bit better for many of my students. The primary disadvantages? This created quite a bit of extra work for me writing and grading reassessments. Some students seemed stuck on a perpetual hamster wheel of assessments and a handful of students were very honest about the fact that they sometimes pushed my assessments down their list of priorities since they knew this lifeline existed. This was a small group of students but enough that I was questioning the wisdom of this policy.

When Henri was with us he spoke passionately about the advantages of students correcting their own work. He talked about a cycle of student reflection and about the burden of careful written feedback on assessments. A sad fact is that most students (we probably know this about ourselves from when we were students) simply look to the grade. While many of us take careful time to highlight problems and write notes or to write congratulatory notes for work done especially well, much of this probably falls into the cracks. I know that I have read research – and I wish I could find it quickly – about the tension between writing comments on papers and writing grades on papers. These two forms of information for our students do not work in support of each other. So, after some conversation with Henri and then a long, productive final faculty meeting in the week after Henri left, we came up with a policy that we feel pretty good about. On unit tests when we grade them the first time we will assign one of three options to each problem. If the problem is done well, clear work and a correct answer (or a minute problem like some minor arithmetic error) that problem will receive full credit. If a problem shows no sign of clear explanation and no clear sign of understanding that problem will receive a zero. The vast world of problems in between these two poles will receive half credit. We will not highlight or circle errors in solutions. We will not write notes about the problem-solving process. We will simply return the paper with an initial grade. We will be able to do so quickly under these circumstances. The students will then have time to take this assessment and rework any problem that received less than full credit. They can earn back half the points that they missed by submitting corrections. The resubmission will have the original paper and two requirements for earning back points. They will need to submit correct solutions AND they will need to submit a written reflection/explanation of what went wrong and how it was corrected. Students can meet with each other, they can ask their teacher for guidance in our extra help sessions, they can look at their notes and their text, in general they can seek any kind of help. Some will inevitably just take the word of someone or something (like Wolfram Alpha) but ALL will be encouraged to take some time to reflect. ALL will be allowed to earn back some part of the points that they missed. ALL will know that test day is not such a high stakes day where it is do or die. There will be some bumps along the way as we train ourselves and our students to take this process seriously. We will have to be very conscious early in the year about establishing standards for what these written explanations need to look like. The student who earned a 60% the first time has a meaningful lifeline. The student who earned an 85% the first time still has motivation to rework and rethink the material. We will need to think about timelines, especially near the end of a grading term, but these are good problems to have and good conversations to make public. Teachers will be talking to each other about this process as we unpack it. Students will be encouraged to talk to each other about math and to seek guidance from each other. This will feel like a serious sea change for our department, I am totally excited about it.

Or, I should say I was totally excited about it. I know that there are different ways to view this process and the meaning of it. I know that we decided that events that we call tests are subject to this correction policy. We decided (for a number of reasons, some more ideologically defensible than others) that short quizzes were not subject to this policy. I know that I will be balancing this with graded take-home problem sets and on these problem sets I always encourage collaboration. So, when Steve Gnagni shared the article above, I found myself doubting some of the decisions we made. I found old reactions about grades being really seriously challenged and I began to doubt whether our decision on process is ideologically pure enough. I also know that this is progress. I will be sharing Rick Wormeli’s article with my team in the fall and we will be checking in with each other on how we feel about the impact of this new process.

I want to thank Henri again and to thank my new twitter pal Steve Gnagni for sharing their ideas. As long as we are all willing to keep questioning ourselves we can continue to help our students grow.

A Change is Gonna Come

A little background info to the story I am about to relay.

Our school has operated for quite some time with a static schedule of 7 classes that meet every day and in the same order. Our class times vary a bit based on assemblies and special events with the primary class times being 40 minutes, 45 minutes, or 50 minutes. There is certainly a comfort level with having a steady rhythm. As a teacher, I am pretty sure what my 8 AM class will be like after a few weeks. I know who is sleepy in the morning, I know who is a bit frisky right after lunch. Unfortunately, I also know who will be late to first period and who plays a sport each season so they will be missing my last class pretty frequently.

A couple of years ago some momentum was (finally) building to look at alternatives to our daily schedule. I was one of the people agitating for this change. My current school is the fourth one where I have taught and each of my last two schools had rotating schedules. Each of them also combined some class drops and one noticeably longer class than others in the day. While the planning for a long class sometimes felt like a bit of a burden, the benefits of minimizing class misses due to sports and tardiness related to time of day were pretty big. I also noticed a benefit that surprised me. Different kids step up as class leaders at different times of day. The personality of my class never seemed as set as it has in the two schools I worked with static schedules. After many meetings and discussions, we hired a consultant to come in and learn about our school, talk to us about our goals, and suggest a working schedule. We settled on a  seven day rotating schedule. Each of our seven periods takes the starting block once during this rotation. Each of our seven periods gets a 90 minute block once during this rotation. Each of our classes meets five times during this seven day rotation. We get a two day back-to-back, a day off, then a three day back-to-back-to-back before another day off. Obviously weekends and school days off work in as well here. When a class does not meet for 90 minutes it meets for 50 minutes. So, what used to be our long class becomes our short class. We get the benefit of a 90 minute block with each of our classes once during a seven day rotation. There are all sorts of things about the schedule that makes me happy. But, there area also quite a few of my colleagues who have not taught in a rotating schedule, they have not planned around class drop days, they have not taught a 90 minute class. This leads to some anxiety, naturally. So, when we adopted the schedule in the spring of 2016 we set the fall of 2017 for the beginning of our life this way. We also announced that we would run a test trial sometime during the academic year that just ended. As a department chair, I started poking around for ways to help my team out in easing their concerns about this transition. I found a nearby school that had made a similar change and I arranged for a team of three teachers to visit that school. I was convinced that seeing this in action and talking directly to people who had lived through such a change would help build enthusiasm. I was right on that front. I also spoke directly to an administrator at that school and asked for advice about how to build support structure in my department for this change. He told me that the best thing his school had done for the math department was to hire a consultant specifically for math who came in and talked about long-term planning for rotating schedules, he talked about utilizing the 90 minute block, and he helped them start some important conversations about curriculum. With fewer contact days, some things we hold dear have to go.  This admin remembered that the consultant came from the Bay area of California and that his first name was Henri. I guessed who he was talking about just from the first clue. After the second clue, I knew I guessed correctly. He was recommending that we seek guidance from Henri Picciotto. My guess is that anyone reading this knows of Henri. If not, fix that quickly. Find him on twitter @hpicciotto. Go to his web home http://www.mathedpage.org  You’ll be happy you did. If your school is considering such a change, or if you simply need motivation and inspiration to really examine your practice as a department and to start serious conversations about curriculum, you should consider reaching out to Henri. I sought approval from my bosses and made arrangements for Henri to spend two days with my department during our final exam week. My Dean of Faculty arranged final exams so that we would have two days with no supervising responsibility so that we could spend two workdays as a team together. Let me tell you a bit about those two days and publicly thank Henri for helping to spur some serious conversations among my team, conversations that have been hard to start otherwise.

I reached out to Henri and shared the praise I had heard. I was excited about arranging this for a number of reasons. I had been reading Henri’s web page for some time and was excited when he dipped his toes into twitter. I had reached out to him for guidance about lagging HW (more on that later) and was happy to have met him in person last summer at twittermathcamp in Minneapolis. I also knew that we had already batted around a number of ideas together as a team here at my school and I felt that we needed to hear a new voice to prompt us to make some tough decisions. We also were looking at a brand new way of living in school that made these decisions feel much more urgent. We ran schedule trials twice in the winter/spring. Once, we ran a seven day cycle one time. The second time, we ran two full cycles. This prompted a combination of optimism about some of the structural advantages of the day under these new circumstances, but it also prompted some real concerns about pacing and curricular pressures. We were primed to have serious conversations and we needed guidance/wisdom/structure for these meetings. Once we agreed that the dates would work, Henri started peppering me with some questions via email and he sent me a set of files to run off for our meeting days. He sent me a broad outline of goals and times and we established that we would spend two days together from 8:15 – 3:15 with a lunch break and a few small breaks built in. I was excited for a number of reasons. First, Henri clearly had a vision for our time together and some rich activities were being sent my way. Second, we never have this much time together focused as a math team. Whenever we are together as a faculty for big pieces of time, we are together as a full faculty or broken into smaller non-departmental groups. I was so excited to spend this kind of time just talking about math and about teaching math. As the days got closer I was increasingly happy about this time together. I was appreciative of my team for being so open minded about this. Normally, during exam week if you do not have proctoring responsibility, your time is your own. I was able to get serious buy-in from six teachers who were trading in time off to grade for two eight hour workshop days. I cannot thank them enough for this.

We met on a Tuesday and a Wednesday in the middle of exam grading week. Within the first 45 minutes of our time together on Tuesday, I was pretty sure that I had made the right decision in inviting Henri to come. We started with a math exploration looking at the relationship between area and perimeter of polyominoes that had us talking in small groups, had someone on the board drawing and explaining a pattern, had me guessing (incorrectly) that some fancy combinatoric idea was hiding in the wings, and just generally energized the minds in the room. When we meet as a department we are usually wrapped up in talking work, in looking at schedules, in discussing policy. It is a shame that we rarely talk math when we are together. This activity immediately engaged everyone in the room and had us thinking out loud and working together. I won’t go through every activity we did together, but I will say that everyone in my department either thanked me for having Henri come to visit or told someone else on our staff about what a great experience that the workshop was for them. I have already heard second hand a number of lunch table stories where my department members were talking about the positive experience that the workshop was. Most importantly, conversations are flowing right now. Conversations that did not seem urgent without a schedule change looming. Conversations that are hard to have in small bursts between classes or through emails. Conversations that are hard to fit in on a crowded agenda for a monthly department meeting. Most importantly, these are conversations that are better started when a coherent, clear agenda for the conversation has been established. This is one of the places where Henri far exceeded my already high expectations and where Henri was just better suited to be a conversation starter than I am. Within fifteen minutes of our meeting on Wednesday ending, I had two teams of teachers discussing the curriculum for their courses. Debating sequencing of curriculum, debating what topics or chapters can be entirely eliminated from a course. Debating how we can offload some responsibility from earlier courses with younger kids to later courses where the students are more sophisticated and see more clearly the need for learning. Remember, my team had already sat through two eight hour workdays on days where they would normally be at home on their own time grading exams. After all of this, they were sitting excitedly debating their courses for the fall. Henri created such an energetic and focused atmosphere to tackle these big questions that my team did not want to leave. I had my children arriving on their bus while my team was still in my room talking. Conversations that I had been trying to have for about five years were happening. The combination of the impending schedule, the valuable structured time together, and Henri’s wisdom and enthusiasm kick started these conversations. I cannot overstate how valuable our time was together and how important these conversations are for our school and our students. After exams, we had another professional development opportunity to look at teaching in a 90 minute block and one of my department colleagues was there as our representative. She talked about how enthusiastic the members of other departments were about this activity, but she remarked that she was spoiled by the two days we spent together with Henri. Pretty nice praise there.

Is your school is looking at structural changes to your schedule? Are you  wrestling with structural conversations about curriculum? Are you looking for high quality, focused professional development time with your math department? If you answered yes to any of these questions, I cannot recommend Henri Picciotto highly enough. I am not his agent, I am not a paid actor here, I am simply a happy happy teacher who has benefited greatly from the time my department spent with Henri two weeks ago. My team seems much less anxious about the changes in our life and they seem clearer on curriculum and instructional goals. I am convinced that our students will benefit greatly from this time we spent together.