Friday, December 21, 2018

Teacher as DM

Today was the last day of school before break. The students signed up for activities throughout the school. Some watched movies, some made gingerbread houses, some had a Madden tournament and some played soccer.

I offered up my room for board and cards games. I also offered to run a D&D session for some students. I capped it at 6 because any more than that gets WAY too unruly and the time between turns is too long.

Four out of the six had never played D&D before, so we had a quick primer on the rules and mechanics. I impressed upon them that they were adventuring together and we would all be telling a story as a group.

Right from the start, it was obvious that a few of the kids were going to have difficulty working with a group. Even before the first encounter, they had their characters tripping each other and pulling pranks.

The first encounter began with a sheep coming up to them with a scroll of Speaks with Animals, claiming to be a wizard that was transformed by a rival. A half-orc shows up with some wolves to take the sheep back.
One of the students straight up tackles the half-orc while another student was trying to negotiate.

"Ok, so I guess we are fighting."

The do fairly well in the fight, except that two kids seem to have difficulty understanding the concept of "turns" and have to be constantly reminded about how that works.

It quickly became apparent that half of the party was super into the game, was trying to play strategically and seriously, but ended up spending most of their time trying to either undo the damage cause by, or rein in the actions of, the other half.

The story I had planned was designed to be a 2-3 hour adventure for a 4-person party of second level adventurers. We had a 6-person of third level, so it should have gone smoothly.

It did not.

One of the things that I love about D&D is how consequences of actions, either joking or serious, happen right away. Allow me to give some examples.

The party went into a small tavern to gain some information. The fighter stabbed his sword into the table, thinking it would be funny, and the whole party got kicked out.

While introducing themselves to a paranoid wizard who constructed his house by magically growing trees and vines into the shape he wanted, the paladin draws his weapons and glares at the wizard, immediately getting them thrown out and told to never return.

After returning to the town to decide what to do next, the same paladin gets bored and decides to "raid the local farms." His deity sees that the paladin has broken his sacred oath to protect the poor and downtrodden, and cuts said paladin off from all magical sources.

After coming up with a plan, the party returns to the wizards house to find it fortified and with a guard out front waiting for them.

"We apologize for our rudeness before, but we seek the aid of Master Noke in a matter of great import" is what the rogue was trying to say when the ranger fired an arrow over his shoulder, hitting the guard.

The ranger is then punched into unconsciousness by the guard who then retreats back into the house.

The rest of the party refuses to heal the ranger, who has now started two fights that could probably have been avoided. In the ensuing fight, everyone is brought to the brink of death. The fighter is knocked out and the rest of the party says "NOPE!"

They leave him to bleed out of the floor of the house, hightail it into the forest, head off to Neverwinter and forget about the whole thing.

At the end of the session, I spoke privately to the kids who seemed to be taking it seriously and let them know that most games don't go this way. We talked a bit about how to find a group of players that fit your gaming style and what to do when your party doesn't.

The paladin and ranger told me how much fun they had and asked if we could play again. I told the they would have to ask the rest of the party, who clearly told them no.

We had a brief discussion about "reading a room" and recognizing them their actions don't only have an effect on them, but on those around them. The party was a bit overpowered for this adventure and it was supposed to be a softball, but the way they played made it an impossible task.

Because of who I am and what I do, this struck me as the PERFECT microcosm.

I went into this session with a vague idea of how it was going to go and had planned accordingly. Several students derailed the plans, but I was able to roll with it and tried to get stuff back on track. Their actions made everything more difficult, not only for them, but for the other students as well.

What I found so interesting about it was how much enjoyment those students derived from the chaos they created.

As a Dungeon Master, my only goal is to make sure that my players have a good time. I don't think I accomplished that goal today for the simple reason that the players each had their own goals, many of which were contradictory to each other. The enjoyment of one student was counter to the enjoyment of others.

This is not to say that some of these students were right and others were wrong. The beauty of D&D is that you can play it however you want and still have a great time. The problem is that these disparate play styles probably shouldn't be in the same group.

But in a classroom, we don't get to choose our party members. The goals are often set either by the teacher, the school board, the state or the nature of the class itself. Yes, we can change the flavor of the discussion, but the mission or quest is still the same.

How do we have this discussion in a way that gets all needs met? How do we get students to understand that their style of play makes it hard for others to enjoy the same tasks? How do we help students get to the end of the quest and feel as though they have accomplished something great, rather than just survived it?

I don't know.

I do know that I will continue to offer to DM for students who wish to play and doing my best to ensure they have fun.

Adventure on!


Monday, October 15, 2018

Day 32: For No Reason

The kids were great today.

My lessons went fairly well.

I had a pretty wonderful weekend, playing Dungeons and Dragons with my friends and my kids. We went apple picking and I did well in my axe-throwing league yesterday.


I didn't have a great day.

I have no rational explanation for it.

I could talk about how the geometry kids asked if we could finish working on the Gold and the Tiger and then just guessed which door to open rather than figuring it out.  I could talk about how I'm nervous for the Math Team competition on Wednesday because I've had no permission slips turned in yet. I could talk about how I haven't been sleeping as much as I should.  I could talk about how gross and grey the weather is today.  I could talk about how my runs for the last few days haven't been great and how that's frustrating. I could talk about how I need to write both of my presentations for NCTM at the end of the month.

I could talk about how it's apparently National Grouch Day and I'm just celebrating.

The reality is that sometimes people just feel bad for no real reason.  Today is one of those days.  Anxiety is not fun.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Day 31: Dom and Randy

Once upon a time, two men were hired to work at a factory run by Func Enterprises

After several weeks of extensive training, Dom was given the assignment of sorting the raw materials and placing them on the appropriate intake belt of the factory.  Those materials then traveled through the factory and were lovingly and expertly crafted into the various products made by Func.  After passing through quality control, where they were checked to make sure they were up to the latest industry standards, the products were sent to Randy to be packaged and shipped out to customers all over the world.

Dom and Randy were both very good at their jobs and were both blessed with an innate curiosity.  Neither man was content to simply and unquestioningly do his job.  Instead, both men became interested in the inner workings of the factory.

In addition to the manufacturing process itself, Dom was deeply interested in the kinds of products that Randy packed based on what he delivered.  Similarly, Randy was curious what kinds of raw materials went into the products that he was shipping.

Sometimes, Randy was able to tell exactly which materials Dom delivered just by the products that came through.  Similarly, on occasion, Dom would know exactly which products Randy would receive based only on what he dropped onto the intake belts.


When Dom knows exactly what Randy is going to get at the other end, the relationship is a function.



When Dom doesn't know what Randy is getting, it's not a function.


When Dom knows what Randy is getting AND Randy knows exactly what Dom put in, not only is it a function, but it is a 1-to-1 function.

Eventually, both Dom and Randy moved on to careers in the lucrative field of illustrating mathematical concepts and within 6 months were able to retire to an island with white sand beaches, but neither man forgot the humble function backgrounds from which they came.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Day 30: Bribery, Please

My seminar was, once again, very well attended! Clearly, I've hit on something with the invitations and skill specific sessions.  I thanked the kids for coming again and I'm thinking about having a snack for them in the future, although at random intervals so I'm not bribing kids to come to tutoring.

Now, if they want to bribe me...



I put a paper outside of my door inside a plastic sheet protector so I can write the schedule on it and have it be available when I'm not.

While I'm not feeling great about the progress that the classes are making through the curriculum, I am feeling very good about how well they are understanding it.  The last few days have been intense and they've been asking great questions.

The algebra 2 kids were given a practice paper for rules of exponents and flew through it. The geometry kids took to the discussion of conditional statements very well and already began arguing in a more logical fashion.

I'm excited to have them be eaten by tigers tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Day 29: Truth Tables

Truth tables can be kind of dull, especially when your class is mostly asleep. The second class seemed to really like figuring them out, as did the third class.  Perhaps they were slightly more interested when I told them that being able to determine the truth value of a compound statement would keep them from being eaten by tigers.


I think the plan is to make an answer sheet where kids have to make their decisions in pen and the one/ones who survive the longest will get some sort of prize.  If I had a button maker, or had planned better, I would make a survivor button.

"My classmates were eaten by tigers and all I got was this stupid button!"

I'm very excited to work on conditional statements with them. If I had reliable access to computers for all 25 kids in my big class, we would also do basic programming.


The Algebra 2 kids have been working on rules of exponents and we spent yesterday and today looking at why the shortcuts work. I'm struggling a bit with the course sequence, but it will work itself out.



I'm having more and more students come to me for extra help. Most of them are either on my roster this year, or have been before, but not all. I have several kids who I never had in class who still come to me for help.  I take this as a good sign.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Day 28: You Are Cordially Invited

After the assessments in Algebra 2 on Friday and various conversations with other teachers and administrators on how we can increase understanding and achievement, I'm trying something new.

My district has a seminar period at the end of each day from 2:30-3:00.  I have always made myself available during this time (except when I have meetings) for students to come in for extra help.  We aren't able to mandate that a student attend seminar, so I've been looking for ways to get kids to attend.

Since I am unable/unwilling to force students to attend extra help sessions, I invited them!

I have scheduled Skill Sessions after school on specific days and invited the students who are struggling with those skills to attend.  All students who need to, or wish to, work on Skill 3 (I can write a linear equation of a line that is parallel or perpendicular to a given line) are cordially invited to attend seminar from 2:30-3 today in my room.  Those wishing to work on Skill 4 (I can write and apply direct variation equations and proportions) should attend our session on Thursday.

All students are welcome at any time to work on any skill they wish, but the designated skills will be the primary focus on the announced days.  I plan to do a remediation lesson and run through some practice problems.

I'm also thinking that in order for a student to reassess a skill, they will need to attend at least 1 session.

I handed out the invitations today and 4 kids showed up to seminar! We did a mini lesson and some practice and I thanked them for coming to spend time with me. 


I was going to write about the specific lessons that I covered today, but I have pushed those a bit out of my mind for the moment and am thinking about how to improve these study sessions!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Day 27: Grading...Ugh...

The assessments went well for the students who have been working with fidelity.  A few told me that they were confused, so I asked them what they had done to prepare.  They admitted not much.  I'm hoping that I can leverage these experience into helping them develop habits to succeed, if they choose to do so.

I am not going to judge their choices or their priorities, but if they wish to be successful in my class, I can help them with that.

By and large, the most common mistakes that I saw were careless ones.  Students wrote "4 - 3 = 2" and similar transgressions.

While these are irksome, I'm not overly concerned about it.  I don't honestly believe that they think the statement is true.  I think it infinitely more likely that they didn't check their work, moved too quickly or something similar.  Using standards based grading allows me to assign grades and feedback in a more comprehensive way.

In the section assessing the skill of solving absolute value inequalities, one student got the wrong answer for most of the problems, but still passed the section because the mistake were calculation-based.  The work and thinking were clearly displayed, meaning that I was able to see that this student knew exactly what they were doing conceptually, but were careless with signs.

Two students showing the same wrong answers may get different scores based on how they obtained those answers.  I understand there are arguments against this approach, most of which boil down to "in the real world, you're either right or wrong."

Setting aside the fact that I don't think that's always true, you can't argue about the "real world" and yet only allow students one opportunity to show understanding of a memorized topic.  In the "real world" people get multiple opportunities to work on, improve and modify their products.  In the "real world" people have resources at their fingertips, such as the internet.

I began writing a multi-paragraph rant here about the appropriateness of modern education in the scope of preparing kids for the "real world" and decided against it.

I have lots of assignments to grade, my ax-throwing league starts up again this weekend, the book I'm reading is starting to get great and I still have to run today.

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