# Learner choice: using appropriate tools strategically takes time and tools

All students benefit from using tools and learning how to use them for a variety of purposes.  If we don’t make tools readily available and value their use, our students miss out on major learning opportunities. (Flynn, 106 pag.)

I’m taking the #MtHolyokeMath #MTBoS course, Effective Practices for Advancing the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics.  Zachary Champagne facilitated the second session and used The Cycling Shop task from Mike Flynn‘s TMC article.

You can see the notes I started on paper.

Jim, Casey and I used a pre-made Google slide deck provided to us to collaborate since we were located in GA, MA, and CA.  We challenged ourselves to consider wheels after working with 8 wheels.

Here’s what our first table looked like.

Now, I was having trouble keeping up with the number of wheels and the number of cycles.  So I did this:

This made it both better and worse for me (and for my group).

Here’s an interesting thing.  I’ve been studying, practicing, and teaching the Standards for Mathematical Practices. Jennifer Wilson and I have written a learning progression to help learners learn to say I can use appropriate tools strategically.

Mathematically proficient students consider the available tools when solving a mathematical problem. (Sage, 6 pag.)

Clearly, I was not even at Level 1 during class.  Not once – not once – during class did it occur to me how much a spreadsheet would help me, strategically.

The spreadsheet would calculate the number of wheels automatically for each row so that I could confirm correct combinations.  (You can view this spreadsheet and make a copy to play with if you are interested.)

When making mathematical models, [mathematically proficient students] know that technology can enable them to visualize the results of varying assumptions, explore consequences, and compare predictions with data. (Sage, 6 pag.)

With a quick copy and paste, I could tackle any number of wheels using my spreadsheet.  I can look for and make use of structure emerged quickly when using the spreadsheet strategically.  (I want to also highlight color as a strategic tool.) Play with it; you’ll see.

[Mathematically proficient students] are able to use technological tools to explore and deepen their understanding of concepts. (Sage, 6 pag.)

There is no possible way I would have the stamina to seek all the combinations for 25 or 35 wheels by hand, right?

Students have access to a wide assortment of tools that they must learn to use for their mathematical work. The sheer volume of possibilities can seem overwhelming, but with time and experience, students can learn how to choose the right tool for the task at hand and how to use it strategically to reach their goal. (Flynn, 106 pag.)

Important to repeat, “with time and experience, students can learn how to choose the right tool for the task at hand and how to use it strategically to reach their goal.

For this to happen, we need to have a solid understanding of the kinds of tools available, the purpose of each tool, and how students can learn to use them flexibly and strategically in any given situation. This also means that we have to make these tools readily available to students, encourage their use, and provide them with options so they can decide which tool to use and how to use it. If we make all the decisions for them, we remove that critical component of MP5 where students make decisions based on their knowledge and understanding of the tools and the task at hand. (Flynn, 106 pag.)

To be clear, a spreadsheet was available to me during class, but I didn’t see it.  How might we make tools readily available and visible for learners to choose?

When we commit to empower students to deepen their understanding, we make tools available and encourage exploration and use, so that each learner makes decisions for themselves. In other words, how do we help learners to level up in both content and practice?

What if we make I can look for and make use of structure; I can use appropriate tools strategically; and I can make sense of tasks and persevere in solving them essential to learn for every learner?

How might we offer tools and time?

It’s about learning by doing, right?

Flynn, Michael. Beyond Answers: Exploring Mathematical Practices with Young Children. Portland, Maine.: Stenhouse, 2017. Print.

Flynn, Mike. “The Cycling Shop.” Nctm.org. Teaching Children Mathematics, Aug. 2016. Web. 03 Feb. 2017.

Common Core State Standards.” The SAGE Encyclopedia of Contemporary Early Childhood Education (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

# Visual: SMP-5 Use Appropriate Tools Strategically #LL2LU

We want every learner in our care to be able to say

I can use appropriate tools strategically.
(CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP5)

Level 4:
I can communicate details of how the chosen tools added to the solution pathway strategy using descriptive notes, words, pictures, screen shots, etc.

Level 3:
I can use appropriate tools strategically.

Level 2:
I can use tools to make my thinking visible, and I can experiment with enough tools to display  confidence when explaining how I am using the selected tools appropriately and effectively.

Level 1:
I can recognize when a tool such as a protractor, ruler, tiles, patty paper, spreadsheet, computer algebra system, dynamic geometry software, calculator, graph, table, external resources, etc., will be helpful in making sense of a problem.

Suppose you are solving an equation.

Are you practicing use appropriate tools strategically if you use the numerical solve command on your graphing calculator?

Or what about using your calculator to substitute values of x until you find a value that makes a true statement?

Are you practicing use appropriate tools strategically if you use a computer algebra system to explain your steps?

Or what if you use the graphing capability of your handheld?

Consider each of the following learning goals:

I can explain each step in solving a simple equation as following from the equality of numbers asserted at the previous step, starting from the assumption that the original equation has a solution, and I can construct a viable argument to justify a solution method.  CCSS-M A-REI.A.1.

I can solve linear equations and inequalities in one variable, including equations with coefficients represented by letters. CCSS-M A-REI.B.3.

I can explain why the x-coordinates of the points where the graphs of the equations y=(x) and y=g(x) intersect are the solutions of the equation f(x)=g(x); find the solutions approximately, e.g., using technology to graph the functions, make tables of values, or find successive approximations. CCSS-M A-REI.D.11.

Does use appropriate tools strategically depend on the learner? Or the learning goal? Or the teacher? Or the availability of tools?

[Cross posted on Easing the Hurry Syndrome]

# SMP5: Use Appropriate Tools Strategically #LL2LU

We want every learner in our care to be able to say

I can use appropriate tools strategically.
(CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP5)

But…What if I think I can’t? What if I have no idea what are appropriate tools in the context of what we are learning, much less how to use them strategically? How might we offer a pathway for success?

Level 4:
I can communicate details of how the chosen tools added to the solution pathway strategy using descriptive notes, words, pictures, screen shots, etc.

Level 3:
I can use appropriate tools strategically.

Level 2:
I can use tools to make my thinking visible, and I can experiment with enough tools to display confidence when explaining how I am using the selected tools appropriately and effectively.

Level 1:
I can recognize when a tool such as a protractor, ruler, tiles, patty paper, spreadsheet, computer algebra system, dynamic geometry software, calculator, graph, table, external resources, etc., will be helpful in making sense of a problem.

We still might need some conversation about what it means to use appropriate tools strategically. Is it not enough to use appropriate tools? Would it help to find a common definition of strategically to use as we learn? And, is use appropriate tools strategically a personal choice or a predefined one?

How might we expand our toolkit and experiment with enough tools to display confidence when explaining why the selected tools are appropriate and effective for the solution pathway used?  What if we practice with enough tools that we make strategic – highly important and essential to the solution pathway – choices?

What if apply we 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions to learn with and from the learners in our community?

• Anticipate what learners will do and why strategies chosen will be useful in solving a task
• Monitor work and discuss a variety of approaches to the task
• Select students to highlight effective strategies and describe a why behind the choice
• Sequence presentations to maximize potential to increase learning
• Connect strategies and ideas in a way that helps improve understanding

What if we extend the idea of interacting with numbers flexibly to interacting with appropriate tools flexibly?  How many ways and with how many tools can we learn and visualize the following essential learning?

I can understand solving equations as a process of reasoning and explain the reasoning.  CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSA.REI.A.1

What tools might be used to learn and master the above standard?

• How might learners use algebra tiles strategically?
• When might paper and pencil be a good or best choice?
• What if a learner used graphing as the tool?
• What might we learn from using a table?
• When is a computer algebra system (CAS) the go-to strategic choice?

Then, what are the conditions which make the use of each one of these tools appropriate and strategic?

[Cross posted on Easing the Hurry Syndrome]

________________________

“The American Heritage Dictionary Entry: Strategically.” American Heritage Dictionary Entry: Strategically. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Sept. 2014.