Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why might students be motivated in math class?

At the end of the first semester, as part of students' self-evaluations, I asked them to reflect on their habits of learning, including curiosity and passion, asking, "Do you do work just to get it done? Do you cultivate your mathematical strengths and interests? How motivated/passionate are you and how might you improve here?" I received some pretty interesting responses to this series of questions, many of which boiled down to: I've never been that interested in or motivated by math and I don't know where to start to develop this.

In my reflection on this reflection, I came up with four main categories from my experience that describe why students have been interested in or motivated to study and learn mathematics.

  1. Patterns and beauty inherent in mathematical structures

  2. Some students are intrigued by looking for, identifying, and explaining patterns; others enjoy the beauty inherent in visual representations of mathematical objects and relationships. These students appreciate a teacher who encourages and rewards their curiosity, but overall, require the least amount of effort on the teacher's part to motivate and support since they're often speaking the same language as the teacher already.
  3. Applications between mathematics and the real world

  4. Other students I have taught were less interested in math in and of itself, but did find the idea of math as a tool to understand, explain, and predict the real world motivating. These were often students with an existing interest in science or social science who saw the usefulness of math in their respective fields of interest. Interesting projects were obvious choices in hooking and motivating these students, as well as a greater emphasis on practice and application than on derivation or justification. 
  5. Being a good student

    This third category of student is one that is invested in an image of themselves as a good student. They care about doing well and meeting their goals and are motivated by seeing their progress, exerting effort and seeing it pay off, as well as specific feedback on how to improve and clear objectives for the course. 
  6. Relationships

    These students seem to be predominantly motivated by positive interactions with others, whether that's the teacher or their peers. Classroom structures that increase conversations and collaboration between students and that make students feel known and connected to others have been helpful in motivating this group in my experience, as well as putting more of an emphasis on my relationship with them. 
Obviously, most students are some mix of these categories, but for many in my experience, one is more dominant. I think that a classroom that tries to balance between these different student needs will likely result in broader student success than one that caters to only one type. I would love pushback on my preliminary and perhaps too simplified analysis. Are there any categories you see being useful for thinking about student motivation? What other tools and strategies have you used to help students foster their curiosity and interest about math and motivation to exert effort towards the class?

Friday, January 6, 2017

#MtbosBlogsplosion - My Favorites

Carl and Julie have kick-started a new blogging initiative, and the timing is perfect, as I'm trying to get myself blogging more often instead of waiting for An Amazing Inspiration. This week's theme is My Favorites, and I wanted to share a really helpful framing for peer editing created by my awesome colleague. We've been working on using peer feedback more productively this year, and her document (shared below) gives a good structure for students to reflect on and give feedback to their peers' write-ups and oh hey, they also learn a lot about what makes for a good write-up and use this understanding to do a better job themselves. Mandy has incorporated a peer feedback step for all write-ups, with that night's assignment for students to revise their own work. I would love to do more structured peer feedback in other components of the class, such as homework assignments, note-taking, and studying for assessments. The setup is very basic - students exchange papers, give each other feedback, get their peer's feedback back, and turn it in with their revised write-up, documenting any revisions that they made.

Here's my first draft for a homework feedback form. Would love any feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Goals for second semester

As I've been wrapping up grading from semester 1 and planning semester 2 for my classes, I'm realizing that I did not set goals at the start of this year the way that I have in the past. Better late than never!

Changes for my personal teaching:

  • Get back to individual feedback meetings. I blogged about them here, but the general idea is that I set aside 20 or so minutes to meet with each student approximately every two weeks in order to sit down together and look over their work and have a feedback conversation. I've found these incredibly helpful for students to actually attend to my feedback, understand what I mean and why I think it's important, and explain their thinking to me. This year has been very tricky since the schedule was changed and students lost a floating free period that I used to be able to use for these meetings. I am recommitting to instituting them again, using class time, if needed. It's been the best way for me to get through grading big projects in a timely manner since it's actually fun and rewarding to sit and discuss students' work with them rather than grading on my own after a long day (since, let's face it, grading gets put off and off).
  • Be more on top of students who are struggling. I am committing to looking at work that is turned in every week to check up on students who are missing work or need additional support. If anyone has a good system for keeping track of interactions/observations/progress for all students and how they make sure that no one is falling through the cracks, I'd love to chat.
  • More nuanced and thoughtful reflection questions - I think that the balance of reflection vs. doing math has been better this year, but I'd like to focus the questions I ask students in order to hone in on specific mathematical practices rather than just general "what's going well? what do you need to work on?" type questions. I also want to bring back, "what's one good thing that happened this week?" - it was a great way to regularly check in and connect with students.
  • Collaboration quizzes to give more direct feedback to students on their groupwork and engagement and help them internalize expectations more effectively.
  • More peer feedback. I've started doing this more this year, and love how much motivation it creates for students to express themselves more clearly and justify their thinking. I'm hoping to use peer feedback this semester to help students get better at analyzing strategy, getting positive feedback for extensions they create, and to deepen their understanding of different approaches. One of the lesson study groups worked on peer feedback last semester and I'm really excited to learn from them. I would also like to use a Slack channel for classes so that students can discuss and share ideas outside of class more easily.
  • Better differentiation. I'd like to meet with students to set individual goals and do more follow up to help them stay on track with these. I think that there's already a fair amount of choice in problem sets and homework assignments, but I'd like to do a better job of teaching students how to use those choices better. One way will be to have them reflect at the end of class on the type of work they need to do to follow up on that day's learning (review of prior concepts, practice, connections, and/or reach problems). I know that they are learning project management skills in their other classes, but in Math, the product is the process, which is more abstract and harder for them to track and plan. 
  • Continue and get better at classroom routines that foster reflection and a clear arc from start to finish. 
    • I have often used Desmos Activity Builder to start and end class, but would like to do this more consistently and help students get better at constructing meaning from problem-based lessons by selecting useful reflections and comments to share. I still have work to do on making sure that meaning and connection emerges from students' own thinking and not ignoring times when they don't emerge or simply telling students what they should have learned. One way is to do more planning of student responses and how to connect these and have the main ideas of the lesson emerge from them, sharing methods and responses that did not emerge as part of that process. 
    • This also connects to better note-taking. I have given feedback to students once or twice on their note-taking and organization and definitely need to do this again. I haven't really figured out a solution for sharing board work and "notes" from class since I've emphasized process and individual needs. I do share presentations, if they were used, but those generally do not contain worked solutions. If anyone has good ideas on this, I'm all ears. 
    • I would also like to do this on a unit-level rather than just lesson-by-lesson by using student-generated essential questions, concept maps, and study-guides more this semester. There is still a fair amount of tension between student-generated conclusions/connections and teacher-generated ones that are more "efficient" and feel more comfortable and structured for students, especially if they're oriented towards maximizing content acquisition. I am working to help students get better at this and at understanding why I think that it's important, both of which are necessary to get more buy-in for the process and rewards that actualize when students do more of this work. One way is to be more transparent about the structures that I'm using and why - I observed a teacher recently giving an intro to a lesson by explaining the groupwork structure that he would be using and what he hoped it would achieve, and I think that enlisting students as teammates in this process is hugely beneficial. 
  • Continue the following changes I implemented last year:
    • Each assessment includes reassessment of previous content
    • Visibly Random Groupings (new groups daily) and whiteboarding
    • Homework that's spiraled and includes Retention, Review, Reflect, and Reach sections; students self-select problems to do (should sometimes group students by homework problems completed the next day though)
    • Students submit all work digitally, all feedback is recorded digitally in one place (online gradebook)

Big Picture Curriculum:

  • Decide on mathematical practices and habits that should be emphasized within a given year/semester/unit and link them to specific lessons and activities. I've been doing a much better job this year of giving students regular feedback on these, but haven't been very intentional about which habits will be emphasized when, noticing which ones students are making progress on and which ones need more work, and how (besides getting feedback) they might get better at them.
  • Create more opportunities for interdisciplinary connections. I've put out some feelers to Science teachers and will do the same for Computer Science, English, and History to see where we can join forces and create projects that can support and enrich both disciplines.
  • Formulate a more cohesive picture of our curriculum and mission so that our core sequence is less content-driven and so that we can explain to students and families why acceleration is not necessary or desirable. This will require a reducing/reworking of our acceleration pathways, enriching/differentiating core classes, and deciding how electives should support the overall program. 
  • Start developing a portfolio assessment for one Math course. It might not be ready to go this semester, but if I can pilot a beta version in one class, I can work on tweaking/developing it more over the summer so that it's ready to go in more classes next year.
  • Work on developing group assessments (and other differentiated assessments) for at least one unit in each class.

Professional Development:

  • Continue lesson study this semester and figure out good systems for sharing the results that each group has found, both within the discipline team and with the school community more broadly. Possibly help other disciplines/divisions begin the lesson study process. Think about presenting about lesson study next year and the types of resources and supports teachers would need to get started with this.
  • Figure out what I want to work on over the summer. Major contenders currently are:
    • Attending PCMI
    • Teaching at summer institutes for teachers
    • Start compiling our existing curriculum into a more easily shared and edited form for students, families, and teachers
    • Curriculum development for my school, focusing on alignment between courses, portfolio assessment, projects that connect to other disciplines and class trips, parent education, and developing new electives
    • Summer math support for students who are doing independent work or working more directly on accelerating/remediating/enriching
    • Coordinating with the middle school on curriculum, parent education, and development of mathematical practices