Thursday, September 17, 2015

Back to School Night

Aaaaaaand, it's a wrap.

Back to school night felt much more chill this year than it has in recent memory. Probably because I talked a lot less and tried to run it more similarly to how I run class with students. We started with a brief intro of me because parents are really curious about that stuff, but then jumped right into a problem I've liked for a long time.

I asked parents to make a guess. Crickets. I made a guess, and that helped break the ice. Once the gridded rectangles and scissors came out, parents got into it. They were finding volumes, realizing that the cut corner had to be removed from both sides, looking for patterns, talking to each other, asking if the corner length had to be an integer, and in general, being great students. When we discussed the need to be convincing, it made sense that a general rule could help with that.

Dum, dum, dum... enter desmos:

We talked about different approaches to this problem and why it makes sense to talk, collaborate, and learn from each other in math class. I used the problem as a way to describe my most common structure for class (problem posing --> intuition --> strategies, collaboration, checking for reasonability, changing ideas --> class consensus --> formalization, showing other approaches --> application to new problem space) and made the pitch that learning that happens in this order is far superior to just skipping straight ahead to the formalization step before anyone's hands have gotten dirty, both in terms of engagement and in the depth and quality of learning that's going to take place.

We talked a bit about content and the sequence of math courses at the school since it's a weird one.

And finally, my favorite slide: what I need from parents (inspired by @fawnpnguyen's back to school night slides, available here)

I'm not sure if this what parents wanted or expected, but it was fun for me! Wish there was a way to get quick feedback from my audience, but formative assessment is severely lacking in the back to school night business. It certainly beats going through a list of content objectives and the grading policy (ahem, what I used to do).


  1. I really enjoyed reading about your Back to School Night and would like to try something similar next year! Although you were not able to gather any feedback, I imagine that parents really enjoyed experiencing what a typical math class is like for their children. How many minutes did you have with each group of parents? We only have about 10 minutes for each period at our school and I am wondering if this problem would work in such a short time. Thanks!

    1. Hey Sara! Glad that this was useful. We had 15 minutes per class, which gave me enough time to introduce myself, do the problem, debrief the problem, and also discuss overall course content and the Math program at the school. I think that in 10 minutes, you would just be able to do the problem. You could also certainly pick a shorter problem - it's really fun to use a problem that students have done recently so that parents can go home and discuss with their kids.