Thursday, August 28, 2014

First day of class and starting my stats unit

Tomorrow is my first day teaching at my new school. It's 2 am, I've finally finished working out my lesson plans and I'm way too excited for sleep. I've had a chance to meet most of my students on a pre-term camping trip on Monday and Tuesday, but tomorrow is the first time that we're going to be doing math together. So. Excited. Yay math.

In the interest of greasing the wheels of interdisciplinary work, we decided to start the year for all 10th graders with a statistics unit that will dovetail with work they will be doing in their Biology classes to design experiments and test null hypotheses using chi-square. All sounds awesome, except for the part where I haven't ever taught statistics before and haven't even looked at it since I took it in college myself a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Aack. I pestered just about all the stats teachers on twitter with questions, so hopefully, my plan for tomorrow isn't completely wrong and ridiculous. It's mostly adapted from The Pit and the Pendulum unit in IMP: Year 1, but amended to include more technology and be done in one day rather than several.

I have 45 minutes with each 10th grade class. As I usually do on the first day of school, I'm going to project a seating chart of groups and directions for doing a quick, individual writing activity so that I have time to go around, get names, and do administrative start-of-class stuff. This year, I'm going to be trying Google Classroom, so I'm going to have them join the class that I've already set up and complete the first assignment on there, which has a few questions for them to answer. My four questions are:

o   Describe a class that you have really enjoyed – what was awesome about it?
o   Describe a class that you did not enjoy – what was difficult or unpleasant about it?
o   What are some questions that you have about the class?

o   What are some questions that you have about me?

I'm going to collate the results and use them to structure the next few classes. I think that I originally got this idea from @delta_dc, who blogged about it here. I used it last year and I really liked how it transformed the description of the class and its procedures from a passive droning on by me to a more active engagement of coming from student questions.

Once this is done, I'm going to have students pair up within their groups and gather data on their pulse rate. They will record the data in a shared Google spreadsheet and play around with the charts available in there to analyze it. They will discuss in groups, then I will call on specific groups to share out their thoughts. The main discussion topics that I want brought up are:

o   How can we represent this data?
o   What might be interesting to find?
o   How do we expect the shape of the frequency distribution to look? Why?
o   What other variables might be distributed in a similar way? What variables do you think might be distributed differently?

o   Why do we care about shapes of frequency distributions?

I will also try to work in some terminology related to normal distributions, measures of central tendency, samples and populations, and connect this content back to work that they did with probabilities last year. Depending on time, I will ask groups to debrief what makes for good groupwork and good class discussions either today or the next time that we meet because I really want to make sure that there is at least 5 minutes at the end of class for students to do an individual reflection, which they will also share with me through the Google classroom site.

The individual reflection will contain the following questions (students can choose to focus on one, two, or all of these):

o   Something that I found interesting today
o   Something that I found confusing today

o   Something that I’m wondering about that is related to what we did today

This plan seems to contain all of the elements of a first day lesson that are important to me:

  • something to start the class immediately to set the norm that we will start every class period with work
  • a chance for students to share their prior experiences with me, which will help me plan better
  • activities that use individual, pair, group, and class structures so that we can start setting norms for all of these and practice moving from one configuration to another
  • learning of content that's central to the course
  • a few different forms of technology, with which I definitely want students building familiarity
  • end of class reflection
Excited to see how it goes and welcome and would appreciate any feedback!

Actual handout for group investigation:

UPDATE: Woot! Everything went better than expected! Kids were engaged and I got lots of interesting questions through the start of class Google survey. I also spontaneously decided right at the start of the group activity to do a "participation quiz" described by @samjshah, just not as a quiz, but as a way to give feedback to each group. I didn't categorize behaviors and comments/questions as positive or negative, just tried to record what I heard and saw objectively. It gave us a nice jumping off point to discuss group norms.

I did learn that when students complete a Google form that's part of an assignment, Google classroom doesn't count that as having turned in the assignment and continues to tell students that this assignment is due.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Integrated Curricula - the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In working out the details of the Upper School Math curriculum a few weeks ago, we came to a consensus that things would be much more interesting, relevant, and connected if we created an integrated sequence of course that combined the curricula found in geometry, algebra 2, and pre-calculus classes, along with an infusion of statistics, probability theory, programming, and fun math things that are not usually found in standard high school math classes.

After high-fiving ourselves for a bit, we realized that going down this route answers a few questions, but creates about a zillion new ones. Such as, where do we place new students who have already taken one or more of the standard high school Math courses? 

Do we teach all students the same integrated content or do we create "regular" and "accelerated" versions? If we teach the same content to everyone, how do we allow for sufficient support or challenge for students who are either struggling or need more? How do we match up our crazy courses to the standards expected by the University of California board for accreditation? If a student transfers from our school to another one, how will the new school be able to place her into their standard system? How can we convince the rest of the school community that these courses are going to be awesome and worth the hassle?

Apparently, integrated math courses have a reputation as being fluffier or geared towards struggling students (news to me), so we will also have to communicate clearly to everyone why we are advocating for this and how they will benefit and challenge students.

The other issue that is quickly coming to light and making it obvious to me why more schools aren't pursuing this option is how demanding it is of teachers' time and knowledge. Despite my education and teaching experience, I'll be the first to tell you that my knowledge of statistics and programming is pretty minimal. Trying to write either of those two things into the curriculum is a major headache for me... I can lecture on some terminology and have students do examples and exercises, but I don't have the depth of knowledge to write a really awesome activity or project that will be rich and student-centered and exploratory and all the good stuff that I want to be doing in my classroom. Teaching integrated courses requires the teacher to have a much wider net of knowledge and the fluency to weave that knowledge into their teaching. This is really, really hard. 

I feel like non-traditional curricula have more room to go farther in either direction... they can be really, really awesome and exciting and students can learn a ton. But if done badly, they can leave students (and families) frustrated and with large gaps in their knowledge. There's less of a ceiling, but also less of a floor. And that scares me a lot.

People who teach integrated classes: any advice?