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.

productive struggle vs. thrashing blindly

The trick is to choose a goal just beyond your present abilities; to target the struggle. Thrashing blindly doesn’t help. Reaching does. (Coyle, 19 pag.)

What if we teach how to reach? How might we offer targeted struggle for every learner in our care?

Investing time in teaching students how to learn is never wasted; in doing so, you deepen their understanding of the upcoming content and better equip them for future success. (Jackson, 19 pag.)

If we are to harness the power of feedback to increase student learning, then we need to ensure that feedback causes a cognitive rather than an emotional reaction—in other words, feedback should cause thinking. It should be focused; it should relate to the learning goals that have been shared with the students; and it should be more work for the recipient than the donor. (Wiliam, 130 pag.)

When people believe their basic qualities can be developed, failures may still hurt, but failures don’t define them.   And if abilities can be expanded – if change and growth are possible – then there are still many paths to success.” (Dweck, 39 pag.)

What pathways to learning are illuminated in order to highlight learning = struggle + perseverance?

Coyle, Daniel (2009-04-16). The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. Random House, Inc. Kindle Edition.

Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: the New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. 39. Print.

Jackson, Robyn R. (2010-07-27). How to Support Struggling Students (Mastering the Principles of Great Teaching series) (Pages 18-19). Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. Kindle Edition.

Wiliam, Dylan (2011-05-01). Embedded Formative Assessment (Kindle Locations 2679-2681). Ingram Distribution. Kindle Edition.

SMP-6: attend to precision #LL2LU

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

I can attend to precision.
(CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP6)

But what if I can’t attend to precision yet? What if I need help? How might we make a pathway for success?

Level 4:
I can distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions for definitions, conjectures, and conclusions.

Level 3:
I can attend to precision.

Level 2:
I can communicate my reasoning using proper mathematical vocabulary and symbols, and I can express my solution with units.

Level 1:
I can write in complete mathematical sentences using equality and inequality signs appropriately and consistently.

How many times have you seen a misused equals sign? Or mathematical statements that are fragments?

A student was writing the equation of a tangent line to linearize a curve at the point (2,-4).  He had written:  y+4=3(x-2)

And then he wrote:

He absolutely knows what he means: y=-4+3(x-2).

But that’s not what he wrote.

Which student responses show attention to precision for the domain and range of y=(x-3)²+4? Are there others that you and your students would accept?

How often do our students notice that we model attend to precision? How often to our students notice when we don’t model attend to precision?

Attend to precision isn’t just about numerical precision. Attend to precision is also about the language that we use to communicate mathematically: the distance between a point and a line isn’t just “straight” – it’s the length of the segment that is perpendicular from the point to the line. (How many times have you told your Euclidean geometry students “all lines are straight”?)

But it’s also about learning to communicate mathematically together – and not just expecting students to read and record the correct vocabulary from a textbook.

[Cross posted on Easing the Hurry Syndrome]

Visual: SMP-8: look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning #LL2LU

Many students would struggle much less in school if, before we presented new material for them to learn, we took the time to help them acquire background knowledge and skills that will help them learn. (Jackson, 18 pag.)

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

I can look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
(CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP8)

But…what if I can’t? What if I have no idea what to look for, notice, take note of, or attempt to generalize?

Investing time in teaching students how to learn is never wasted; in doing so, you deepen their understanding of the upcoming content and better equip them for future success. (Jackson, 19 pag.)

Are we teaching for a solution, or are we teaching strategy to express patterns? What if we facilitate experiences where both are considered essential to learn?

We want more students to experience the burst of energy that comes from asking questions that lead to making new connections, feel a greater sense of urgency to seek answers to questions on their own, and reap the satisfaction of actually understanding more deeply the subject matter as a result of the questions they asked.  (Rothstein and Santana, 151 pag.)

What if we collaboratively plan questions that guide learners to think, notice, and question for themselves?

What do you notice? What changes? What stays the same?

Indeed, sharing high-quality questions may be the most significant thing we can do to improve the quality of student learning. (Wiliam, 104 pag.)

How might we design for, expect, and offer feedback on procedural fluency and conceptual understanding?

Level 4
I can attend to precision as I construct a viable argument to express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Level 3
I can look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Level 2
I can identify and describe patterns and regularities, and I can begin to develop generalizations.

Level 1
I can notice and note what changes and what stays the same when performing calculations or interacting with geometric figures.

If we are to harness the power of feedback to increase student learning, then we need to ensure that feedback causes a cognitive rather than an emotional reaction—in other words, feedback should cause thinking. It should be focused; it should relate to the learning goals that have been shared with the students; and it should be more work for the recipient than the donor. (Wiliam, 130 pag.)

[Cross posted on Easing the Hurry Syndrome]

Jackson, Robyn R. (2010-07-27). How to Support Struggling Students (Mastering the Principles of Great Teaching series) (Pages 18-19). Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. Kindle Edition.

Rothstein, Dan, and Luz Santana. Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education, 2011. Print.

Wiliam, Dylan (2011-05-01). Embedded Formative Assessment (Kindle Locations 2679-2681). Ingram Distribution. Kindle Edition.

SMP-8: look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning #LL2LU

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

I can look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning. (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP8)

But what if I can’t look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning yet? What if I need help? How might we make a pathway for success?

Level 4
I can attend to precision as I construct a viable argument to express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Level 3
I can look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Level 2
I can identify and describe patterns and regularities, and I can begin to develop generalizations.

Level 1
I can notice and note what changes and what stays the same when performing calculations or interacting with geometric figures.

What do you notice? What changes? What stays the same?

Can we use CAS (computer algebra system) to help our students practice look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning?

What do we need to factor for the result to be (x-4)(x+4)?
What do we need to factor for the result to be (x-9)(x+9)?
What will the result be if we factor x²-121?
What will the result be if we factor x²-a2?

We can also explore over what set of numbers we are factoring using the syntax we have been using. And what happens if we factor x²+1. (And then connect the result to the graph of y=x²+1.)

What happens if we factor over the set of real numbers?

Or over the set of complex numbers?

What about expanding the square of a binomial?

What changes? What stays the same? What will the result be if we expand (x+5)²?  Or (x+a)²?  Or (x-a)²?

What about expanding the cube of a binomial?  Or expanding (x+1)^n, or (x+y)^n?

What if we are looking at powers of i?

We can look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning when factoring the sum or difference of cubes. Or simplifying radicals. Or solving equations.

Through reflection and conversation, students make connections and begin to generalize results. What opportunities are you giving your students to look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning? What content are you teaching this week that you can #AskDontTell?

[Cross-posted on Easing the Hurry Syndrome]

VTR: Sentence-Phrase-Word to dig deeper into Standards for Mathematical Practice

Sentence-Phrase-Word helps leaners to engage with and make meaning from text with a particular focus on capturing the essence of the test or “what speaks to you.” It fosters enhanced discussion while drawing attention to the power of language. (Ritchhart, Church, Morrison, 207 pag.)

What if we read and learn together, as a team? How might we develop deeper understanding?

As a team of learners, we first read Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them independently and highlighted a sentence, phrase, and work that resonated with us.  In round robin fashion, we read aloud our selected sentence so that every member of the team heard what every other member of the team felt was important.  Just the act of hearing another voice read and callout an idea was impactful.

After completing the Sentence-Phrase-Word Visible Thinking Routine for Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, we asked everyone to take another Standard for Mathematical Practice to read and markup, highlighting a sentence, a phrase, and a word.

We divided into teams where each of the remaining Standards of Mathematical Practice were represented.  Each learner shared the SMP that they read highlighting a selected sentence, phrase, and word. My notes are shared below. I was amazed at the new ideas I heard from my colleagues when using this routine.

Seek diversity of thought. Listen to others.  Hear differently. Promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all.

Learn.

Ritchhart, Ron, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. “Sentence-Phrase-Word.”Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011. 207-11. Print.