Saturday, August 16, 2014

The 1st Day of School

What should students do on the first day of math class? It seems that the standard introduction includes a syllabus, grading policy, rules, and procedures. What seems to be debatable is whether or not students should do math on the first day. Huh?

When I think about the first day, I want to clearly communicate expectations. One of the expectations is that everyone will engage in the teaching and learning of math on a daily basis. This means every day - including the first day.

The first day would include making sure the students are in the right class, briefly introducing myself, go over three rules (Be Ready, Be Responsible, Be Respectful), and then do a math task.

What kind of tasks are good for the first day? I look for a task that:
  • is engaging / interesting
  • has students collaborating
  • has multiple entry points for students
  • has multiple solution methods
  • includes math ideas that launches the first unit of study (if possible)
One of my favorite tasks for Math 1 is Crossing the River. The premise is that there are 8 adults and 2 children that need to cross a river. The boat can hold either one adult OR one child OR two children.

The Launch: (I like to tell stories to engage students in the situation. So I tell them...)
Calderwood Lake - The Men's Camping Trip
My husband and son go on a Men's Camping trip every fall. On one of these trips they were going to hike around the lake. Eight of the men, my son, and another young boy took off early in the morning. When they were about halfway around the lake, the sky began to get cloudy and it appeared that a storm was arriving. One of the men noticed a boat and suggested they take the boat across the lake to quickly get back to the campsite. Testing the capacity of the boat, they determined that only one adult OR one of the boys OR both of the boys could be in the boat at one time. Now what?

Students are provided the opportunity to ask questions. These include:
  • Are the boys capable of rowing the boat on their own? Is it safe?
  • Should they be taking a boat that doesn't belong to them?
  • Is there rope so they can pull it back across?
  • How much time would it take for them to walk back or continue on?
  • How much time does it take to get across the lake?
  • How many trips would it take to get everyone across the lake?
The types of questions students ask indicate if students are thinking quantitatively. The first few questions are about the situation but not ones we can explore. The last few questions are ones that involve some quantitative reasoning. After the questions are posed, we discuss which ones can be explored with the information we have at hand. The last question is the one we focus on.

The Exploration:
I inform students that there are materials available for their use located in the resource center. These include paper, colored paper, graph paper, rulers, chips of different colors, scissors, etc. (Doing this on the first day introduces students to the resource center and sets the procedure that they can access these tools whenever they need something.)

Students work in groups to determine an answer to the question. (I prefer groups of 3 and no more than 4.) Some draw pictures while others get the color chips and begin manipulating them back and forth across an imaginary or sometimes drawn lake. Eventually, they determine the number of trips. I ask extension questions to groups. What if there were 15 adults? 30 adults? What if there were 5 kids? 

The Share Out:
For this activity I tend to focus on the different ways groups approached the problem. I select and sequence how groups share with the intent of creating opportunities for students to compare their methods; understanding the differences and the similarities.

Now that the students have a shared common experience I use it to discuss expectations such as making sense of problems, collaboration and student discourse.

For the next two weeks students will learn the different procedures for the classroom when they need to know them. For example, where do they put papers that need to be turned in? We will go over this the first time they have something to turn in. Another example, what is the procedure for leaving the classroom? I go over this the first time a student asks. I have determined that students often don't really learn the procedures for the classroom until it becomes something they recognize they need to know.

The first day focuses on the expectation that math class will be about developing and exploring ideas using math.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

5 Reasons I Started McPherson Math

#1 To become a more reflective educator.
        The school year is very busy with each day bringing its own set of priorities. I am constantly asked for help on a variety of issues that teachers deal with on a daily basis. As a reflective teacher, I must be purposeful in thinking about what I have planned, observed, and experienced. How did my actions effect teaching and learning?

#2 To document my own professional growth.
         My job as a high school math coach involves focusing on the professional development of teachers. I am constantly researching and developing plans specific to my teachers' needs. Whether it is new content, new technology, or a new teaching strategy, I am always learning and growing as a professional.

#3 To engage in conversations that challenge me to think about educational issues.
         I like to debate the issues because it helps me develop and/or clarify my viewpoint. It also helps increase my capacity to communicate with others. I'm invested in teaching and learning and want to be knowledgeable of the issues so I am able to advocate effectively.
#4 To impact others by sharing ideas, struggles, and triumphs.
         For years I have referred to myself as a BASE teacher. (That stands for Borrow And Share Everything.) I enjoy collaborating with others, sharing whatever resources I have, seeking solutions, and celebrating our successes. I've tried other digital platforms to share resources and I hope this one is easier to maintain and for others to use.

#5 To have fun with math.
         I like math and I really like a good math problem. It's the geek in me and I own it.

So, there you have it. Five reasons why I started McPherson Math. I hope you join me for this journey.