If haven’t met Desmos yet…

I would like to use this post as a shout-out… an atta way… an unpaid advertisement, if you will.

There are a lot of tech tool providers out there. Not all of them want to work with you. Not all of them want to hear your feedback. Not all of them provide their products openly for free on lots and lots of different platforms. (In fact, I sat in a focus group with an instructional tech developer once. The producct in question was being sold to districts for $10,000 per building. When we all picked our jaws up off the floor they said that they set the price high on purpose. If too many people bought it, they didn’t think they would be able to properly support everyone who was using it.)

Desmos is not any of those things. I’ve never gotten responses from instructional tech providers and developers quite like I’ve gotten from the folks at Desmos. I have two anecdotes that will help illustrate this.

1. I had an idea and made this. When I finish a post, I send out a tweet. The folks at Desmos responded to my tweet.

I want to make sure you clicked both my “made this” and their “few possible ideas.” If you didn’t do that, do it now. Do you see the difference? Do you see what happened there? They took the little bit of an idea that I had and added to it stuff that I didn’t even know how to make Desmos do. The tweets that followed were an exchange between them and me that helped me learn how to do that stuff.

That was a unique event. That had literally never happened to me before. The developer of the tool reached out to my feeble attempt to use their tool and personally improved it and instructed me all the while giving me the credit?

At least it was unique until it happened again. Last week I had an idea. This idea. And I tweeted out the post. And then…  

 

Once again, be sure that you check out their idea compared to mine. Mine was a nice start (I hope you see the progress I’m making learning how to use the tool). There’s was expert level. The folks at Desmos are eager to build on the ideas of the educators who are trying to put their free tool into play in the classroom.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to try some Desmos work? Maybe consider redesigning a lesson and then, just maybe, they’ll have a few ideas for you, too.

Great Conversations and Important Lessons – Reflections on #MACUL15

Chance to Surprise you

#MACUL15 is over and yet it feels like it’s just begun. The conference ended after Two Guys (@2GuysShow) finished their closing keynote, but there were a lot of conversations that were just beginning at that same point. Some excellent conversations among some excellent educators. These conversations aren’t ending because the conference is. These conversations are just getting started.

Just like everyone else, I’m having my own conversations that I’m looking to keep going. And these conversations seem to have a few recurring themes.

The young people in our classes are capable of so, so much.

Often, the reason we are disappointed with our students’ performance isn’t because our expectations are too high, but instead because they are too low. Improved curriculum, classroom management, and updated assignments can play significant play roles in helping students achieve and #macul15 offered lots of chances to discuss this. Have you seen The Literacy Shed? Explore it and consider what it might do for our struggling writers. Videos with no dialogue that the students can watch, discuss, and then write the story for. Sometimes they just need help finding the words. There’s a math version, too.

But there’s more to it than that. Many of the presenters that I heard communicated a consistent message: Releasing the incredible potential inside of every kid requires meaningful relationships with caring adults. The kids need to know that they matter. That the community is richer because they are a part of it and weaker when they are missing. That each individual contribution has value because it reflects a perspective that is unique. Many kids have parents and coaches who fill those roles. Many do not. The teacher can be that caring adult. In the world of education, where so much is out of the teacher’s control, each teacher can control one thing: That they value each student in their class. As Amber Fante (@AmberFante) said, “When you believe, you teach differently… the underdog can become the hero.” If you haven’t watched her Lightning Session, you probably should.

There are few things as powerful as connecting our classroom to the outside world. 

Our students are getting more and more used to a world without walls. There’s a reason for that: Being connected to that world is really friggin’ cool. I met the two teachers in the picture below (who refer to themselves as Two Sassy Apples). They were honored on stage before Friday’s keynote. They wanted their second graders to be able to be there and see it. So… Facetime.

Sassy Apples Facetime2

It was such a wonderful moment. The students cheered and laughed through the phone. They shhhhhhh’ed at each other vigorously while the MC was introducing their teachers. I know this, of course, because I got the honor of holding the phone so the kids could watch. (It happened to be hat day in their class. They loved that I was wearing a hat, too.)

Sassy Apples Facetime

Consider what those kids are learning from experiences like these? Those students are learning that their classroom’s walls are really only there to keep them out of the wind and rain. Those walls don’t have to be barriers to things that were previously too expensive, too distant, or logistically impossible to bring to them. The awesome and exciting things that are outside those walls can totally come into their classroom. We have the tools to go and get them.

If you want to teach effectively with technology, real student growth MUST be the primary focus. And real student growth is a messy process. It takes mistakes, retries, feedback, patience. The timeline is indefinite.

2guys - success

And while we’re on the subject, the same is true for teachers updating their practice. Brooke Mulartrick (@brookem1015) did a great job of modeling a differentiated learning process in her session by creating experiences like these in her half-day Wednesday session. Something to challenge people at all levels. A chance to collaborate and get instruction. And a chance to contribute to a single product that serves both as feedback to the teacher and learner, but also a reference that the learners can take with them going forward. Just an excellent design.

Learning is learning. And learners are learners. Given similar conditions, adult learners look a lot like young learners. See?

These are adults on Thursday exploring Dan Meyer’s (@ddmeyer) Magic Octagon:

MACUL Octagon

And these are my students this past fall exploring The Magic Octagon in class:

2014-10-06 12.53.28

Those of us who primarily teach adults shouldn’t prepare for differentiation any differently than teachers who teach young people.

Couros Quote

With all learners, it’s less about the final goal and more about the process of learning.

And finally, anyone who says that secondary math teachers aren’t flexible, curious, or interested in learning new things? I would encourage you to reconsider. There are a lot of us who want to get better. You see why I’m not that concerned about the future of math education? We turn out quite nicely when given the opportunity to discuss it.

MACUL Selfie

And then I went to check out my #miched colleague Zach Cresswell’s (@z_cress) math session…

Zcress Full

Thanks for everything #macul15. Let’s keep these conversation going and see where they’ll take us.

My Thoughts on #MiFlip15

Today, I attended the MiFlip Conference at Steelcase University in Grand Rapids, MI.

I was going for a variety of reasons. I need people to explain flipped learning to me. I need skeptics to be skeptics. I like to fly-on-the-wall discussions where advocates and skeptics collide. Not because I enjoy confrontation, but because Michigan has some wonderful educators (check out #miched if you want to get a taste) and I figured that this particular collection would be unmasked, open, and willing to both be skeptics and advocates.

I was not disappointed.

First, I want to mention Matt Roberts (@mmcr) from Grand Valley State University who brought this with him as part of his presentation.

Hype-cycle

This is “The Hype Cycle”, which I recognize from a variety of innovations over my relatively short career in education. I’m certainly not trying to talk down the people who are excitedly sharing their experiences and enthusiasm about flipped learning. It’s just that there’s some things that have always made me hesitant about fully advocating flipped learning and Matt helped me make sense of some of them.

I feel like he did a nice job of expressing why he think flipped learning needs to be looked at holistically. He led an awesome session on the realities of learning in a flipped model and understanding what we are asking these students to do… which is, in some cases, something they’ve never been asked to do before. When we lead students through a flipped learning model, we are asking them to take ownership of their learning in ways that might be new to them. They need to self-regulate. They need to recognize their confusion and use that sense of mental discomfort as a motivation to get that issue resolved with the variety of resources the teacher has made available or that the internet as a whole has to offer. This goes even further when we push blended learning to the next level and start (as was so excellently described by Anne Thorp (@athorp) ) expanding the options to include flexibility in assignment contexts, due dates, and formats. There will be an adjustment period if students have only known educational worlds of note-taking, rigid due dates, and common assignments.

That forces us to help the students become comfortable with the learning process. And many of them will need help. The try-fail-improve-try-again model can be a frustrating one for kids who aren’t really accustomed to failing. Besides that, as Matt brought up in his discussion, things like sleep, nutrition, and exercise play a pretty significant role as well. Regular review, making connections and effective practice have to become things that get built into the curriculum. Flipped learning is more holistic than other instructional models because it so often looks at the hour that the class spends together as merely an important part of a larger learning process.

Many students are raised in education looking at the hour that the class spends together as the whole class. Effectively managing that transition is vital to ensuring that students are experiencing the best that flipped learning has to offer.

The teacher looking to embrace the flipped learning model needs to recognize that they are taking on more than simply restructuring their assignments. They are likely redefining learning to students who may not have entered their class expecting that type of experience.

A few additional notes.

  • Thanks to Dan Spencer (@runfardvs) for giving me a one-on-one tutorial on Camtasia. Totally needed it and it totally worked.
  • I appreciate the energy that Anne Thorp brought to the table. (I’m not the only one that is saying that, either, by the way.) Our paths are going to cross a number of times in the future and I am very excited about that.
  • And, in a much less academic way, I’m thankful to Tara Becker-Utess (@t_becker10) for being willing to drive the carpool from Dimondale, MI (about an hour east of Grand Rapids).

Why do we collect student work?

 

 

 

For a couple reasons, I’m sure. Here’s one of mine: to turn it around and let them see it.

Best Proof Snip

 

“Here are four proofs written by your classmates. Which of them is the best? Why? Which of them comes in second place? What would the second place proof need to change in order to tie for first?”

 

Such good conversations arise when students explore decent examples of their own work compared to their classmates. And they don’t have to be time-consuming. If the work suits it, you could create a 5-minute opener comparing just two pieces of work. It can be a wonderful way for a student to recognize his/her own mistakes without me, as teacher, having to reveal them. Such recognition is a wonderful evidence of internalization of the content… real learning that can be used to solve problems.

 

Why do you collect student work?

 

The Fear of Trying

I teach a calculus class. It’s the first time that I’ve done that. I have a story about them.

Yesterday, I introduced the idea of limits, which, according to them, was the first time any of them had ever had limits discussed in any way in a math class. After a short lecture-style introduction about the basic idea of limits, the notation, and some anecdotal comments, I unleashed them on this handout. I was not going to collect handout. I wasn’t going to fasten any points to this handout. They knew both of those things. I gave them 12-15 minutes to try the handout. This is where life gets interesting.

About 6 minutes into the time, I began walking around to look at some work. There are 23 students in the class. I estimate that 17 of them had, for as many as 10 minutes had done zero math, but had done a fantastic job of transferring the table from the handout into their notes. I was flabbergasted. They had spent 10 minutes drawing a table. These calculus students (who, by most traditional metrics represent the most confident and talented math students in our student population) wouldn’t try the math.

Their years of math class “success” had thought them two things that created this scenario: A. Stay busy, or at least look busy. Teachers get  mad at students who sit around. And B. The only answers worth writing are correct answers. If you don’t know the correct answer, don’t write anything.

These students didn’t want to write a wrong answer. They didn’t know the right answers, so they opted to create incredibly high quality tables in their notes. Their explanation for this usually included the statement, “Well, I didn’t know how to do it.”

I responded with, “Of course you don’t know how to do all of this, I introduced it 10 minutes ago. I’m just looking for you to give it your best try to see where your thoughts are taking you right now.”

After about a 5 minute pep talk, they tried, and much to the surprise of most of them, most of their attempts where actually correct answers.

And make no mistake, this isn’t just calculus. This isn’t just the traditionally-successful math students. Anyone who has taught a math class has seen students who know that they don’t know how to solve a problem and would much rather leave the problem blank than put something down that is wrong. The wrong answer seems worthless.

It seems that we have conditioned our students into thinking that an answer on a page is an opportunity for judgement. If they write something on the page, I’m going to have the final say whether it is right or wrong. Wrong answers are bad. Grades go down because of wrong answers. This mentality would prefer to leave an answer blank. At least if it is blank, you can pretend that you simply need more time.

Instead, we should be showing our students that an answer on a page is the beginning of a conversation that ends with them learning something new. It could be that the answer on the page confirms that they have already learned (which makes for a short conversation). It could also be that the answer on the page demonstrates that more learning is needed, and the answer on the page is the window into the confusion, clues to the misconceptions or the missing understanding. When learning is incomplete, perhaps the BEST thing a student can do is show us his or her very best wrong answer.

But first we have to teach our students that anytime they put what is in their heads on paper, there is value. There is value in a correct answer and there is value in an incorrect answer. It’s true that they are valuable for different reasons, but they push toward the same end. The authentic learning of mathematics.

Perhaps if we can reestablish the value of an incorrect answer, we can do something about this incredibly pervasive fear of trying.