## Wednesday, February 12, 2014

### Day 100: Sharks, Scale Factors and The Void

 I fixed the spelling, I just forgot to take a new picture

What?? Of course I didn't spend the first 35 minutes of geometry class giving an impromptu stand-up comedy act about supervillains ordering their supplies.  It would be absurd to think that my level of comfort with those and my level of confidence in their ability to be on task when I need them to be would allow me to simply talk about the hidden tab on Overstock.com where a plumber from New Jersey might accidentally stumble and spend the money that he had allocated for a seahorse shower curtain on a pair of trained timber wolves who come equipped with lasers and rocket packs.

If I DID have that confidence, then the students would have justified that confidence by immediately getting to work on their parks, asking deep and insightful questions.

In period 4/5 of pre-algebra, we went through the lesson on scale factors that I did yesterday with period 8/9.  I tried to follow the thought I had yesterday about distraction and did my best to teach, ignoring distractions unless they were directly stopping me from teaching, or my students from learning.

The result was fascinating.

The room seemed completely chaotic.  Students who were engaged were out of their seats, walking around the room arguing about how many blocks long and wide it was.  I picked two or three students who seem to have tremendous trouble staying in their seats and had them do most of the movement.

The discussion today was louder and more active.  They also came to the conclusions I wanted much faster, so we moved a little further into it.  I realized about halfway through the double period that we were at the same point as the previous day and I made a decision.  I didn't feel as though they would be able to productively work on their parks, so we continued making the scale drawing of the class.

I asked them about rearranging the desks.  How we should do it so we could fit 31 desks in the room with everyone able to see the board?  We did experiments to find out how many blocks we would have to leave open behind each desk in order to have enough room to sit.

"We should put it in a U shape!"
So we did (on the board).
"How many desks is that?"
"18."
"So, we need more. Where are we going to put them?"

We draw the desks on the board, moving them several times to optimize the amount of space needed.  It may have gotten away from me because then we actually moved the desks.  It was a group effort and, once all of the desks were where they should have been, according to the scale drawing, the students sat in various seats to make sure they had enough room.

I kind of hate it.  I kind of hate it a whole bunch.

But they worked very hard on it and so I will keep an open mind.  We will try this seating arrangement for a while.

Then period 8/9 came in.  They spent the first 5 minutes complaining about the new seating.  Then, when asked to continue working on their projects, they didn't.  One group did, and one person from each of 2 other groups did.  The rest of the students didn't work on anything, or pretended to work, but clearly were not.  The few who were working asked me questions about scale as though what we did yesterday was completely disconnected.

I had hoped that giving each person in the group a specific list of jobs would guide their work but instead, what I'm seeing is students claiming "that's not my job and I can't do mine until they do theirs."

One group, in a fit of play fighting, tore up their rough draft and the folder I gave them to hold onto their work.  Then insisted that they weren't going to start over.

One thing I did not consider when assigning a project where everyone has a specific role is the absurdly high levels of absenteeism.  I don't just mean that there are some kids absent all the time, although there are.  I am missing at least 4 kids from class every day and they are usually a different 4.

One group had a member suspended for fighting and the rest refused to do his part of the project.

Several students almost starting fighting in my class because they were making up nasty songs about other students, who didn't appreciate it.

After how well class went yesterday, today feels like a betrayal.  It feels as though, with the exception of  five students, the rest are saying "That was yesterday.  What have you done for me lately?"

On one hand, I understand that they are 13, 14 and immature.  They are easily distracted and quickly forget many things.  On the other hand, I think that I shouldn't HAVE to make every day SUPER fun.  Not all days will be super fun and the students need to learn that sometimes, they just have to buckle down and do the work.  The "work" in this case is CREATING A PARK!

I feel as thought I should have built up some brownie points.  I dream of "We did a fun activity and lesson yesterday.  I can't wait to apply it today!"

As Max told me yesterday, kids are the same all over the place.  I would think that we should be able to crowd source our lessons and behavior plans and find SOMETHING that works.  Someone out there has to know how to get kids to interested in their lessons.

I know it's not me.

But I will keep looking.

I am, however, reassured by the fact that a teacher whom I consider very rational and reasonable is also having difficulty this week.  We attribute it to the fact that since we came back from Winter Break, we have yet to have a single full week with a regular schedule.

But it's difficult to continue doing activities when you can picture the kids working hard on mundane worksheets.

I may make and sell cardboard cutouts of Max Ray for people to put in the backs of their classrooms.  I'll make a million dollars.

1. Hrmph, I take Period 8/9's rebellion personally. But maybe it's because the desks were rearranged by Period 4/5... which is all my fault! So there's that.

Did Period 4/5 address the appropriate scale for the park yet? Like, have they thought about whether a 200 ft by 300 ft park can be drawn on graph paper with a 1 foot = 1 block scale? That seemed like it *could* have been a good transition to parks, for sure.

But then, dag! Period 8/9 not going to work more on their parks is frustrating. I thought for sure at least one kid from each group would be ready to get back to work on finishing the scale drawing. I can see now, in the infinite wisdom of hindsight, how the tasks-per-person thingy could backfire (though it seemed so wise at the beginning!). Is the scale drawing the most important part of the project, mathematically speaking? Plus the calculations they did to make it (though I bet most of those were done in heads and on calculators and getting them on paper will be like pulling teeth!)?

One thing you've blogged about a lot is your planning process and how, much like mine, it tends toward the haphazard and grandiose. The thing I use to ground me is a series of two questions: "What math experience/conversation do I want the kiddos to have today?" and "What do they need to be thinking about to be ready to have that conversation?" Those two questions help me to plan class openers that remind students of what we've been doing and make plans for what they're going to do with the next period-of-8th-grader-attention-span, and to focus on the really important math experiences/conversations. Like what you *really* want to happen with this park is for students to imagine something imaginative, and then buckle down to figuring out how math can help them tame that imagination and make it a reality.

2. Thinking about what has to happen for 8/9 and 4/5 to be ready for that is tricky, because one thing that has to happen is that, with their park, they have to be willing to give up on their imaginative plan to make a realistic one. That's hard for kids who aren't confident and empowered. If you don't believe math can work out, and you can't verify it in real life, it's hard to invest in making a mathematical version of something that's more fun just to imagine*. I think that's what's so powerful of making a scale drawing of the room. You can confirm it right there in the moment and realize that measuring and calculating actually beats intuition! Period 8/9 was ready to go think about their park with you after having that positive math experience, but it didn't last into independent work 24 hours later... I wonder how quickly you could get them to recall what happened yesterday and what they were doing with the parks and what scale they decided on and how big the basketball court was in relation to the bathrooms? Did they recall that stuff, with prompting? Was there one person in each group who could get the others started on drawing scale versions of their various pieces of equipment? That's what I'd imagine the kiddos would need to be having the scale drawing conversations you wanted -- a slightly speedier (maybe 20-30 minutes?) rehearsal of yesterday's whole lesson (complete with outrage that 4/5 got to rearrange the room and they didn't) followed by one more example at the board, and then the specific task of picking 3 of their structures and placing them in their parks, to scale. And then have the kids repeat the task back to you (at least 2 volunteers). And then turn 'em loose to do that specific task. If that worked, I'd then help the groups prioritize their remaining project tasks, but those are less important to me than the scale drawings.

Thanks again for letting me come visit. I'd love to spend the rest of the year hanging out in your classroom. Once we can wrinkle time and tesseract me there, and me still get paid by someone, I'm totally in!

*Which is why most time-travel stories don't hold up to reasonable physics

1. When I described what happened to my wife, she was immediately put in mind of 50 First Dates and how Adam Sandler had to re-introduce himself to his girlfriend/fiance/wife every day. Eventually, he made a video for her to watch every morning which was a summary of the past 20 years that caught her up. I wish I knew of a way to do this with my students.

It is also highly possible that, by my having my expectations so high, they were unrealistic, not in terms of ability, but in terms of dedication and perseverance.

Perhaps the creation of the park should be the last of 3-4 tasks that start with the room and build up for there, giving the students a better understanding of what scale factor means and how to apply it. Today, I'm backtracking slightly and giving them a worksheet on scale drawings so that they can practice the skills without having to worry about the issues involved in that pesky "reality" thing.

3. Dear Max, Please come to my classroom stat. That is all. Thank you. Elizabeth