Saturday, June 30, 2012

Future students

Recently, I've been developing and staging 3 Act lessons for elementary students (my future students). However, who's to say the tasks can't be applied at the middle school level, or even higher.  I've been looking through the Everyday Math series our elementary school uses and have found it refreshing to see what concepts students are introduced to or expected to master at each grade level. Ironically, I came across a second grade "Exploratory" lesson that Dan Meyer recently nailed with Popcorn Picker. Second grade if you missed that.

It was fun to share the textbook scans with Dan.  Christopher Danielson jumped in with some thoughts about elementary curriculum. He works with future teachers and is a very insightful fellow! Check out his Tootsie Roll and the Ootsie.

As a middle school math teacher, this elementary stuff is all new to me, but I'm open to the challenge. Especially since I'll be helping coach a handful of teachers next year with 3 Act lessons. I'm using the summer to investigate some ideas and build up a small catalog of lessons. My working goals are to:
  1. Work on turning the abstract to concrete.
  2. Look for overlapping concepts throughout K-8 grades.
  3. Further investigate the importance & relevance of estimation.   
My first attempt is Paper Cuts - Act 1 (subconsciously inspired by Popcorn Picker and Everyday Math). Again, my intended student would be from elementary school. Would your students benefit from this task?

Lastly, it's great to know there are teachers helping students with life skills and not workbook skills. Sadie Estrella shares an experience she had this year by embracing those teaching moments we frequently have with our students. Should we eliminate 're-teach' from our vocabulary and change it to re-explore? Your thoughts on all this?


Monday, June 25, 2012

Estimation is Key

First Day of summer school.
This morning, I snapped a picture of a portion of our school parking lot. My intention: use it as the daily estimation question included in the warm-up.
Q: How many total parking spaces are in the parking lot?

We did our warm-up. I first asked for numbers that were too low and didn't make sense. Then too high. Finally, I asked for their estimates, but didn't validate any responses. We then jumped into our lesson for the day: ESTIMATION.
Opening the lesson, I asked my students to think of one good thing and one bad thing about estimation. Here's what they listed.

  • Doesn't have to be correct
  • It's easy
  • Can be made mentally
  • It's an educated guess
  • "It's free! It doesn't cost you anything." (Oh, I added that one)
  • Not precise
  • Could be wrong
After comparing the pros and cons, the good guys won! Estimation FTW!
It gives anyone a chance to cast an answer based upon specific information. It's a starting point. It keeps your number sense in check. It allows the brain to think abstractly for a brief moment. It's free!

We went outside and delegated the work. Students counted staff, reserved, preschool, handicap, and ordinary (unlabeled) spots. We got a total of 141 parking spaces. One kid was two away with 143 as his estimate. Go figure. Another kid was in the five hundreds. Go figure. After the empirical data produces the answer, we always circle back to our original estimates. It's important for students to see the difference so they can improve their number sense and estimation skills for next time.

Tomorrow, we extend the lesson: convert those itemized numbers into percentages in order to make a pie chart of the allocation of parking spaces.

Check it: Steve Leinwand Case 4: Number Sense
He hits some great points at 2:25. It's worth watching the whole thing in my opinion.
Steve exclaims about estimation, "We need to build that into ALL the things that we do!"

Think how many times a day we estimate:
Time to get ready in the morning. Time to get to work. How long is this darn red light? How long before I get my cup of coffee? How many? How many? How many?

Please share with me!
What can I do to make estimation better with my students?
How do you use estimation effectively?
How do your students benefit from it? (or not)
What are some other daily estimations you make?


Monday, June 11, 2012

3 Act Presentation to K-8 staff

Last week I presented to the K-8 staff at my school about using Dan Meyer's 3 Act Lesson format with their students next year. My principal requested I do this about a week prior.

The initial sit-down with my principal went something like this:
Principal: I'd like for you to present to the staff about the 3 Act lesson format you've been using this year.
Me: Really?
Principal: I think our school can get a lot of mileage out of it.
Me: Sure, I'd be honored to. When? (please don't say tomorrow)
Principal: Next week at our staff meeting.
Me: Okay (gulp)

In between countless other responsibilities, I spent about a week putting the Keynote presentation together and practicing. The last thing I wanted to do was bore, scare, or upset anyone on staff. Especially if I plan to show something as lovely as this to them.
From McDougal Littell Algebra 2 (2007)
I really wanted to do the 3 Act lesson format justice. Besides the fact I said, "umm" a hundred times, I feel the presentation went rather well. I captured it on video so check out the video presentation.

With blogging, I've found it easier and more constructive (I think) to stick to 3 solid points/goals/objectives. For the presentation, my goals were to:
  1. Convey my enthusiasm, passion, and excitement for 3 Act lessons
  2. Do Dan Meyer's 3 Act lesson format justice via applicable examples
  3. Generate some interest
Enthusiasm. It felt very effortless to convey my enthusiasm and excitement for these types of lessons. I hope I was able to convey this in the video. I'll admit, I reviewed a few of Dan's presentations, including his TED talk and this recent presentation. Dan sells his stuff and ideas really well in my opinion. I don't feel I need to reinvent the wheel and gladly found myself referencing some of his examples, ideas, or sayings. I mean this with all sincerity and respect: Why try and find a new way to sell it, if it's been effectively delivered before? Furthermore, I have no personal or monetary gain by presenting. Students can be the beneficiaries here.

Justice. I hope from the video that my work does Dan's work justice. This can only be determined by the viewer or attendee. There were some strong points. The message was conveyed. I'm not a professional speaker (hence all the 'umms'), and I mainly recorded this to make improvements in the classroom or in case I ever find myself doing presentations in the future. I had to email Dan and ask for some feedback. It felt like the right thing to do. He was spot on! Dan recommended I place the basketball clips before the iPad answers during the Act 3 payoff segments. Great tip! This really did generate a sense of understanding and closure.

Interest. Generating interest can be tough, especially when presenting at the end of the year to both multiple-subject teachers and non-math single subject teachers. Furthermore, it's a staff meeting, enough said, right?
Many teachers left the meeting quickly, which is to be expected. I wasn't sure if I hit my mark, generated any interest, or bothered them. However, the next morning about eight teachers emailed me with interest. Furthermore, many of them noted how passionate I am about this and for some, even inspiring. That made my day! I also had some teachers in English and Social Sciences expressing interest. Cross-curriclar 3 Act lessons? Woah! This week I'm meeting with those teachers who are interested to see how we can possibly incorporate 3 Act lessons into their curriculum next year.

Lastly, the highlight of the presentation was from a kindergarten teacher. She showed her class File Cabinet - Act 3 and her student asked, "What about the bottom?" The kindergartner teacher continued to say that they actually tried to calculate (estimate) the stickies on the bottom. I find this amazing for two reasons: First, the level of abstract thinking by a kindergartner is astounding. Secondly, the teacher allowed her class to explore this question with her students, applying Geometry standards with her kindergarten class.