Parent communication is really important to me. It is a priority. I know that my students will have a better year if I connect with them but I also know that connecting with their parents is important too. I have a running list in my head. I'm always compiling the next email or blog update in my head. And I always intend to get that email crafted. I intend to update the blog. Time just gets away from me.
Then, I'm not all that motivated to update the blog when I see the stats. Even when I send out an email letting parents know that I've updated the blog and that there is important information for them there, the stats showing visitors are disappointing. I get it though.
I am the parent of two teenagers. Our lives are really busy. They play sports and my daughter dances. My husband and I work full time. Their schools are great at communicating with families. We have emails in our inbox from each school at least twice a week. We care about their educations . We really do. Still, keeping up with all of the communication isn't easy.
What I know for sure is that I care about my students and their parents surely do too. We're all doing our best. I wonder what would be possible for me if I could just do my best and not be so judgie. I judge myself ALL THE TIME and I even judge the parents who don't get around to reading my blogs.
Well, tonight I designed a Google Form so that I could invite parents to parent teacher conferences. I emailed the parents with a link to the form. I also updated my blog and I emailed parents to let them know that it has been updated. Maybe they'll visit the blog. Maybe they won't. It is actually okay either way. We are all just doing our best.
Week 6 - Authentic Assessments
A seventh grade class featured in the video here has had an opportunity to participate in some pretty authentic learning. Their project highlighted the difference that some local citizens had made during the Civil Rights Movement. Their final project was a showcase where they publicly celebrated these citizens. You can certainly understand why the nature of this project would inspire, engage, and motivate the seventh-graders to do their very best work.
Recently, our team of fourth-grade teachers planned a Charlotte's Web project. We wanted to keep the project rather simple but still give students agency and choice. In the end, our students own inquiry inspired the project. Just as Wilbur is being lured back into his pen with a bucket full of slops, my students wondered, "How should farm animals be treated?" Some had heard of free-range chickens and Wilbur's escape into the pasture, where he was free to roam and explore, caused them to wonder about his life in captivity.
When working to make the work in our classrooms authentic we always pause to consider how adults in the "real world" respond when we have questions. I know that I do some research and I ask experts when I want to learn about something. When some injustice tugs on my heart strings, I try to collect the facts before speaking out. We wanted to give our students the opportunity to collect the facts and then use them to inform their opinions. Their final product was to be an opinion piece. Students will write an opinion piece, backed up by reasons and facts, in response to the question, "How should farm animals be treated?" Each student will focus on a specific farm animal of their own choosing. and they'll have opportunities to interview experts with conflicting opinions.
In the end, our student opinion pieces will be bound in a book. These books will be copied and shared with our town library, our school library, our high school's library and our area experts. We'll share their pieces in SeeSaw so that their parents can read them and we'll share writing pieces on the classroom website.
We work hard to ensure that the work our fourth-grade students are doing mirrors the work that adults do every day. We know that the initial question, that came from the students themselves, is engaging. Many already have strong opinions on the topic. We're eager to see how their research and interviews inform these opinions. Making the learning authentic isn't always easy given the district-adopted curriculums we use but when we rethink what we do, we often find that the result is truly worth the effort. I'm eager to see where this inquiry takes our students. I'm sure to share more as the inquiry unfolds.
Today I had a visitor. She popped her shiny little head in the door and lit up the room. She has always had a joyful glow about her but today it kind of took my breath away. Today was Friday. I had last seen this sweet girl about a week and a half ago when I stopped by her mamma's wake to tell her how very sorry I was for her loss. Today she asked her dad to visit with me. There are no doubt a zillion other things that this man has on his list of things to do. Instead, he took his daughter out to get a "coffee" while they waited for me to get out of school.
We chatted about the classroom and she told me all about school and complained about the size of the lockers. (They are so ridiculously narrow.) I asked her how gymnastics was going and she told me that she had been on the trampoline working on her back tuck. I asked about her family and how everyone was doing. She actually didn't tell me much about how she was doing but she did say that all her brother has been doing is playing video games. We talked briefly about how everyone copes with a broken heart a bit differently. I asked, without pushing too much, how she was coping. She said she plays outside and spends time playing with friends. After chatting about Harry Potter and magic wands, I packed up my things and we walked downstairs together. Her dad had been waiting in the office.
I hadn't known her dad all that well but I have been told that he is every bit as amazing as his beautiful wife was. I saw a small glimpse of that today. Even though we had been upstairs chatting and he had been waiting, he didn't seem one once rushed or impatient. It is so very clear that he is doing his best to love up his kids and keep their lives on track.
After father and daughter left, our school secretary revealed that she had talked to the dad a little. He admitted that they are in "survival mode." Of course they are. I'm quite sure that every day must seem like a painful challenge. Because the mom was so radiant it must be all the more difficult because her light is no longer there. It sort of is though. It was there in her daughter's smile the minute she popped her head in the room. It was there in the way that the dad explained that he is wrapped around his daughter's little finger. I know they must all still be in shock. I'm not even sure they are in survival mode yet. But there is still so much love in this family. I just know they'll find their way.
Before we left the classroom today, I jotted my email address down for this little darling, just in case she ever wanted to talk or keep in touch. I'm just about ready to call it a night. I've already received three emails from my little friend. They are silly! She barely says anything aside from, "Hi!" but I write her back each time. She is just the kind of kid you want to be there for. Her mom was amazing. She is too. There is no doubt about it, her visit was the highlight of my week.
I am often conflicted when making instructional choices. If I could rewind my teaching reel and go back to the year 2000 you would see that my writing instruction looked a lot different than it does today. Back then, a major focus of my instruction was helping students to become fluent writers who knew their voice. They wrote all kinds of pieces. Some were journal entries. Some were imaginative. Others were informational. They wrote scripts to accompany "how to" demonstrations. They wrote poetry and they wrote book reviews. Over time, each of my fifth graders would find that writing was for them. Each eventually found his or her niche. My instruction honored the art of teaching writing.
Early on in the school year it was all about volume. Generally students didn't come to me as writers. Getting them to a place where they could fill a page with their own thoughts was a small feat. Honestly, it wasn't about quality in the early days of the school year. I remember celebrating a dyslexic little boy who filled seven pages in his composition notebook with a story about a fly who had an adventure of his own by attaching himself to one human and then another. The little writer even included famous "humans" like Forest Gump. What he didn't include was a single period! It didn't matter. He had filled seven pages with his own words. It was a small miracle for this kid who for the first time, saw himself as a writer. That is what it was about. Once I had a classroom full of writers, I could start focusing on the power of vivid vocabulary and including just the right amount of description and just the right amount of dialogue to hold a reader's attention. MCAS was a new thing. It hadn't really made its mark on our teaching yet.
Today I photocopied a page from Charlotte's Web. It was a lengthy description of the Zuckerman's barn. The focus of my lesson was using text evidence when responding to comprehension questions. Today's question was: What is your opinion of Zuckerman's barn? Use evidence from the text to support your opinion. Aside from the obvious goal of getting the students to form an opinion based on text they'd read and then supporting that opinion with evidence from the text, my goal was go get my students to write a decent paragraph. Ideally, it would open with a sentence that introduced the topic. They'd fluently include at least three details from the text that supported their opinions of the barn. Ideally, they'd be able to wrap the whole thing up with a concluding sentence. Oh ick!
Truly, this isn't the only kind of writing I teach. Aside from technical writing, I do teach creative writing. Our state standards demand that we teach narrative writing in addition to opinion writing and informational writing. While we are able to have a little fun with the narrative writing, it all seems so formulaic. Teaching narrative writing isn't really enough. Our students are often asked to read the start of a narrative and finish it as if he or she was the author. Sometimes, they're asked to compare two texts and synthesize the information. There is so much to prepare them for. And because I'm doing all this preparing, I'm not so sure I'm growing writers.
I work hard to keep some of the fun of writing alive. My students write letters to Harry Potter every week and we have pen pals. They're senior citizens from our town. But writing isn't quite the same for me as it once was. I keep thinking that there is some balance to be struck. I look for that place where I can coach my students towards proficiency. I take the charge to address the standards seriously. I just haven't found the balance and I just really miss the art of teaching writing.
I'm about to write about what is on my mind. Kind of. I mean, it is not like it is monopolizing my every thought...I've just stopped to think about it here and there...definitely more than I should. I realize that it is complete and total nonsense. I know I shouldn't give it a single thought. Nonetheless, I have, and here I go, I'm now writing about it!
My team spent our PD day planning a PBL unit. We were pretty pleased with how it came together. There is nothing super special about what we've planned. Really, there isn't. We just liked what we came up with. We liked the simplicity. We liked that it tapped into our local resources. We liked the message the unit would send our students. We were all pretty excited.
I was on Twitter today. BAM! There was a photo. It caught my eye. Another school, another fourth grade class, pretty much did EXACTLY what we had planned to do. They did it first. They tweeted it out. We know them...well. Now, when we do it, it is going to look like we were inspired by that other fourth grade class. We weren't. Honest! I shared the tweet with my teammates. They felt the same way I did. How could this be? We really thought we had a unique and new angle.
Here is an even better question: Why does it even matter? Intellectually, I know that it shouldn't. I really do. If what we do is about the kids and their learning, then it REALLY shouldn't matter where our ideas come from. It shouldn't matter if we are inspired by the teacher on Twitter or the teacher next door. If our focus is on creating meaningful learning opportunities for kids then it doesn't matter. Here is an ugly little truth about teaching: we often let it matter.
Honestly, teaching is a competitive field. You wouldn't think that it would be. Here in MA we've fought back against merit pay. Still, there are other ways that school committees and administrators encourage competition over collaboration. In my district, like in many others, a single teacher is awarded a "best teacher' award twice annually. This award recognizes teachers who go above and beyond. They receive a trophy. His/her picture is put in the local paper and on the district website. In my building, a single teacher is recognized for acknowledging positive student behavior more often than his or her colleagues. Really. He or she gets a prize.
These awards and prizes are established with the very best of intentions. Still, I'm of the opinion that they do more harm than good. When I first started my career, I taught in a building where there hadn't been new hires in years. We were three new teachers in our early 20s on a staff of mostly 35-55 year-old teachers. We came with our project based learning (yes, back in the 90s this was a thing!) and our thematic teaching. I was even using the world wide web to communicate with scientists who were exploring Antarctica. We were "cutting-edge" and we got quite a little bit of praise from building and district administration. The other teachers would roll their eyes at us and call us shiny new pennies or perky young things. Praise, while it feels good in the moment, is a double-edged sword.
Social media has kind of exacerbated this problem. Teachers are encouraged to promote the learning that unfolds in our classrooms. The most virtuous of us share what we do to inspire others. We share in the interest of helping to lighten another teacher's work load. We post whole units to be shared because we believe in working hard but having our hard work have the greatest possible impact on student learning. However, every time I send out a tweet I worry about how it'll be received. Will It be perceived as boastful? Will teachers look at my work and wonder why I would ever share it because it lacks merit, or bling, or whatever? I sort of fear the eye roll of my colleagues...even colleagues from across the country, who I'll never ever meet. I'm ridiculous but I don't think I'm alone.
My students and I have accepted the #classroombookaday challenge. A librarian started it a few years ago. It is all over Twitter. We're reading 180 picture books this year. It is true awesomeness. My students LOVE this time spent reading picture books together. A teacher from my district did it last year. She loved it. She tweeted about it. I loved following her project on Twitter. Another teacher recently asked me, "oh, did you get the idea to do it from so and so?" There seemed to be a little tone when she posed the question. IT IS ALL OVER TWITTER. It is not a new or unique idea. Who cares where I got the idea? Isn't the fact that I'm doing it awesome enough? Not only do we have to do amazing, creative, things. but now we have to dream them all up ourselves in order to be truly worthy of praise or admiration or whatever.
I wish I didn't feel like teaching is competitive. I wish I didn't always worry about other's perception of me and my work. I wish we could simply focus on collaboration. Teaching can be competitive. It is just the way it is.
Engaging kids is not something I've really struggled with over the course of my career. Generally, I love what I do and getting students to participate fully hasn't been a stretch. However, there are activities that are more or less engaging for students.
Direct instruction still plays a roll in our classroom. While direct instruction has evolved, it still involves kids sitting and listening rather than kids doing. The major shift in direct instruction in our classroom is in who is doing the bulk of the talking. I am working so hard to talk less and listen more. In the end though, lessons that are direct instruction in nature, can result in disengagement if structures aren't in place to keep kids actively involved. Even though structures like "turn and talk" and asking kids to share their partners strategies or thinking help to maintain engagement, some students will be vulnerable. It is our job to stay tuned into all the learners in our class and to adjust our practice when needed. Over the course of the year, we grow a culture in our classroom where students become accustomed to thinking deeply about the math so that they can solve problems. Students practice arguing so that they can agree or disagree with their classmates based on what each is noticing about the math. This work is important to developing how kids think and support their thinking with proof. This work is reliant on their being a variety of view points in the room. Students have to practice listening to one another, thinking about what they've heard and integrating the new ideas with what the student already knows. Some of this work has to happen in the context of direct instruction.
Today, students in our math class investigated the number of raisins in a typical 1 oz. box of raisins. Now, this lesson was engaging! Everyone was focused. There were NO off-task behaviors. There were no zoned-out expressions. Students were productive. First, students had to count the raisins in their boxes. I was so interested to see how students were counting their raisins. There is a real emphasis on using counting bags with students across elementary grades. I can see why. Students whose number sense is secure approached this task differently than students who struggle with number sense. The more confident students were very systematic about their approach. They organized their raisins into equal groups of five or ten and were able to count with efficiency and accuracy. The less able students counted one-by-one. They sometimes loss track and had to start again. When a final count was secured, there didn't seem to be a sense of confidence. The counting part of this activity was fascinating!
Next, students posted their findings on the SmartBoard. The data was recorded in alphabetical order according to each child's last name. Making any generalizations was challenging. The students were sent off to analyze the data and present it in ways that made sense and were easy to make meaning of. The was a perfect hum in the classroom as the students attended to their task. I didn't pre-teach line plots or bar graphs. It would have been all too easy to announce that we were working with numerical data and therefore the data lent itself to the construction of line plots. How efficient. How boring. The students likely wouldn't have learned much. Kids have to figure out things for themselves. Students presented their representations beginning today. The students critiqued one another's work and noted the merits of each sort of representation. Learning should be meaningful. As the presentations unfolded, students were respectful and attentive to the student-led conversations that followed each presentation. The students were engaged.
Our director of technology integration came in to deliver some professional development during our preparation period at our request. He shared an application that would allow our students to use multi-media and green screen technology to produce photos and videos. He gave us a mini lesson (think direct instruction) and then cut us loose with a tiny project. During the practice phase of our lesson, I took a photo of my colleague and tried to place her in a cafe in Paris. She was way too big! I intuitively used two fingers to shrink her and move her. I couldn't help it, I squealed with delight. There is no doubt about it. Technology can be very engaging, even for old bird school teachers like us. We were eager to jump in and work on our mini projects.
My key take aways on the day:
Our students are reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling. Each week we read one chapter aloud. The students, with lots of help from me at this point, brainstorm the major events and ideas presented in each chapter. Then, they select three to five major events/ideas. The students craft a friendly letter in their "Dear Harry," journals each week. This letter, written directly to Harry, gives students an opportunity to reflect on what is happening in Harry's life and in the book in general. They use their letter to exercise empathy while demonstrating their understanding of main idea and supporting details. Over the course of this project, the students' letters show major growth. We offer lessons in anticipation of growth in the following areas:
(Presented in no particular order)
I do not correct these entries. I offer a lot of feedback and oftentimes, students will go into their own writing to make changes. As we get deeper and deeper into the book, I'll begin to remove the scaffolding. No longer will we brainstorm major events/ideas as a class. Instead, students will jot down notes as the text is being read aloud. Each student will have individualized goals. Given instruction, and time to improve their writing, future drafts, marked by little effort or attention to improving their craft, will not be accepted from the students. They will be given countless opportunities to improve their writing in response to teacher feedback.
Given the above writing sample it is hard to know where to begin with feedback. I want to affirm and encourage the good that I see. My feedback needs to focus one a major aspect of the student's writing and it should be followed up with explicit instruction. The next feedback the student receives should connect to the initial feedback and the instruction received. Students need to feel they're being held accountable for improving their work.
Because writing is so personal, much of writing instruction has to be personalized too. Making space for this kind of personalized instruction is a challenge given the scope of our work and the limited time each day to meet with students. Taking time to know students and to understand their strengths is an important step in meeting their instructional needs and propelling students toward skill acquisition and the mastery of grade level standards in writing.
On a positive note, students LOVE writing to Harry. They're engaged in this project and take pride in the product that they are creating. Students don't mind working hard. The final product seems worth the effort to them. I just wish Harry would write back to the students. It seems like a reasonable request given the magical nature of our fourth grade classroom!
Here is the first written feedback I've given this student. I will follow up with some explicit lessons in proofreading. I'm hoping that that acquiring a proofreading strategy will make all the difference for this writer.
"Where's Papa going with that ax?" E.B. White
Why would I ever start a post about my favorite author with a quote from E.B. White's Charlotte's Web? Because today, when I had the great pleasure to sit and listen to Kate DiCamillo, she spoke about how she had avoided any book with an animal on the cover since being emotionally impacted by Black Beauty. She recalled that a professor had prompted her to pick up Charlotte's Web. After reading the first line of his book, Kate's fears had been confirmed! It was a bad idea.
In all seriousness, I love Charlotte's Web and I adore the writing of Kate DiCamillo. Kate credited E.B White with writing the TRUTH. E.B. White and Kate have that in common. Kate's books are full of truth, adventure, heartbreak, friendship, determination, struggles with family, and hope. She weaves stories, each unique, that mirror real life in such a way that we readers are left breathless, filled with laughter, wiping away tears, heartsick, joyful, and filled with hope. Her characters are relatable. We can see ourselves in them and we can see people we know in them too. Her characters are so real-world that when they don't remind us of someone we know, they leave us yearning to meet someone just like them.
Kate, a self-proclaimed introvert, took questions from the owner of An Unlikely Story, Jeff Kinney. His bookstore, located in Plainville, MA is an absolute delight. He is also the author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. The question and answer session was utterly enjoyable. I got the sense that this thoughtful woman answered every single question from the heart. More often than not, she answered questions from children. She appeared to pour her whole heart into her responses as she stood before these children and answering their questions honestly. Kate DiCamillo seemed to delight in the questions asked of her. Even though she was on the spot, it appeared that she was completely at ease. This introvert was a masterful story teller. Sitting, and listening to Kate DiCamillo explain where she gets her ideas, how she develops a story, and how she has reacted to her success was the most satisfying way I could possibly spend a Sunday afternoon.
As I moved through the cue, waiting to have my books signed, I was fairly panicked over what I would say to Kate when I had the chance. I told her that I was a teacher and that I, too, had been an English major. She asked where I went to school and I told her. She chuckled a little, which was funny. She asked if I wrote. My heart sort of lurched. How could I answer that question? In the moment where I paused to consider my response, one of my colleagues, eves-dropping from behind responded, "yes!" I quickly responded that I do write, but not for children.
I do write. Kate talked about how she doesn't write to teach a lesson although her books surely do. She doesn't write for a specific child. She is quite in touch with her eight-year-old self. She writes for herself. She never imagined she'd have a readership. I can relate. Every time I sit down to craft a post, I write for myself. I often joke that my blog has an audience of one...ME...when I re-read a post for the purpose of proofreading. But, I do write. I write every day. I still don't know what will come of it, if anything. For now, I write for myself and it seems worthwhile.
My favorite part of Kate's message today was when she addressed teachers directly. There were a remarkable number of teachers in today's audience. She asked how many of us read aloud to our students and then thanked us for doing that. She spoke about the experience of hearing a book read aloud and how those moments can be transformative. She spoke of empathy and how relating to characters in books teaches empathy. She said that her very favorite interactions with her fans are letters she receives from students who acknowledge that they weren't really readers until they encountered one of her books.
I am grateful for Kate DiCamillo and all the authors like her who give teachers like me books worthy of being read to nine and ten-year-old consumers of literature eager to get lost inside the world of a magical story. Kate is my favorite of all children's authors. Meeting her today left a lasting impression. She is a gift. Today, I am grateful for Kate!
Part two...One Part Heartbreaking
After an amazing morning of mathematics inquiry, I delivered my students to gym class and sat down at my desks for a few moments to reflect with my colleagues. I shared how the morning had gone and they shared their experiences. We started to plan for the coming week. Our director of tech. integration popped in and booked a PD session focusing on green screen technology. One of my colleagues left for recess duty. The conversation was turning to politics just as I started to think about heating up my lunch. My classroom phone rang. The secretary had panic in her voice as she asked that I go immediately to the playground. I sprinted down the hallway in my ballet flats. When I was nearly out of the building I heard them call, "green team team to the back playground." This was a serious response. One of my students was in trouble. My classroom simply couldn't be farther from the back playground. When I got out there I was completely out of breath. I noticed one of my students sitting against the chain link fence. Another was with my colleague just outside the playground fence against some thicket. He looked upset. She looked concerned. Then he bolted. By this time, many teachers and staff, as well as our school resource officer, had arrived on the scene. It was hard to know, without talking to anyone, what had happened. I could easily imagine though.
Things had begun to percolate yesterday. This kid has a complicated life. He has moved a lot. There are a lot of adults who make up his immediate family. They all love him but it is complex. Some of his more trusted/consistent adults had been out of town. He was stressed. He'd had a small conflict yesterday with a boy he regards as a friend. His reaction had been a little over the top. He calmed quickly and acknowledged his stress and over-reaction. He seemingly moved on. This kid, whose attendance has been inconsistent, had attended school every day this week. I was feeling really good about that. I should have known. When a boy said something mean to him, legitimately mean, it was the straw that broke the camel's back. The stress caused him to take flight. He wanted out. He was in crisis and at age ten, didn't have all the skills necessary to cope. I'm over four times his age. I don't always have the skills necessary to cope with stress either.
In the end, this sweet child broke a little. The adults at my school reacted perfectly. He felt support and love. He knew we were there to keep him safe and to protect him. We followed the protocol and reacted appropriately. Decisions were made in the student's best interest. I wouldn't change a single thing about our response. I wish I could change everything for this student. School is hard. The academic demands we place on our ten-year-olds are not always, in my opinion, reasonable. They can cause stress for students. Some of my fourth-grade students have way too much stress in their lives. Some of them are trying to manage the demands of school while solving adult-sized problems. There is no equity for them in the classroom when this much stress is present. They can't possibly access the curriculum in the same way that their peers, their peers with happy little lives, can.
The afternoon was heartbreaking. I want nothing more than to take this child's stress from him. He is sweet and smart and deserves so much more.
Teaching is amazing, teaching is heartbreaking. Each day has the potential to leave a teacher feeling gloriously triumphant and devastated. The work can seem impossible and exhausting. Every time I stop to really think about what happened on this particular day, I am reduced to tears. Teaching is so hard but I can't imagine doing anything else.
Part one...One Part Amazing
My day was really like two separate days. One part was amazing and the other heartbreaking. We should definitely start with the amazing.
We wrapped up a unit in math and it was Friday. I felt like we should have some fun. We started our day with a fraction talk. (www.fractiontalks.com) I love the geometric images there. The partitioning of these images help kids to make meaning of fractions. The images allow my students to reason about relative size and they help to build understanding around equivalency. Plus, kids like them. There is a puzzle-like nature to them that makes them seem fun. Today was the first day my students experienced a fraction talk. One of the images we used was the image below:
We used the #noticeandwonder routine to start our conversation. The students made some rich observations. Given that the "whole" is the large square, they noticed that the square had been decomposed into squares, rectangles and triangles. They noticed that the second row would be identical to the first if not for the two squares that were decomposed into triangles. They wondered how many squares it would take to cover the whole. They wondered the same thing about the triangles and the rectangles. They were able to visually partition the shape to figure out the fraction value of each shape. This lead them to more wondering. If the value of one small square is 1/16 the whole, what is the value of the top row? What about the value of the first column? How many different ways can you visually represent the sum of parts equal to one fourth. (eg: rectangle plus rectangle - 1/8 + 1/8 or two small squares plus four triangles - 1/16 + 1/16 + 1/32 + 1/32 + 1/32 + 1/32) The images really do engage my students. It was exciting for me to see them make meaning of fractions. It made me happy to begin learning about fractions in this way. I love this resource.
Then, because it was Friday, and Fridays should be fun, we culminated our unit on multiplication with a 3-Act Task by @gfletchy ( https://gfletchy.com/ ) If you haven't explored Graham Fletcher's site yet, now is the time. We used a task today titled, "Piles of Tiles". While Graham has it lumped in with the third grade tasks as it addresses 3.MD.5,6.7, it is great place for fourth graders to begin when they're first being introduced to these tasks. Even though fourth graders should be able to multiply using powers of ten and should be able to compute area by decomposing a whole into parts, this task is always super challenging for them.
The first act in this task is the watching of a very short video. In the video they see a man (Graham) sit down at a table shaped like a giant "plus" sign. He has a gigantic bag of square tiles. He begins to lay the tiles on the table. The students begin to #noticeandwonder. In the end, they are asked to estimate how many tiles are in the bag. They are encouraged to make brave estimates. The estimate a number that is too small but still brave. (ten or even 100 would not be considered a brave estimate.) Many of my students estimated 1,000. Then they estimated a number that was too large but still fairly brave. Estimates ranged from 3,000 to 5,000. They they were asked to estimate using a estimate as exact as possible. While the estimates still ran the gamut, they were all in a reasonable range. The question became: "will there be enough tiles to cover the table?" They were asked what further information they'd like to have access too. This is where my students fell short. They should have had enough experience with square tiles to know that they are one square inch in size. I wish they had wanted to know the size of the table. Instead, they asked how many square tiles it would take to cover the whole table. Some wanted to know how many tiles were in the bag. Hopefully, with more exposure to tasks like this that require deep thinking they will get better at thinking like a mathematician and will have an easier time engaging with a challenging task.
The second act revealed some helpful information. The students examined the below images. I was surprised at how hard a time they had making sense of the table diagram. As they set off to work, I was surprised by how many students wanted to just "number grab" and solve without making sense first. Some wanted to add 60 and 60 and say that it would take 120 tiles to cover the table! They weren't at all concerned with the 1,842 tiles in the bag and didn't stop to consider how ridiculous the question was if it only took 120 tiles to cover the table. I had to prompt them to really consider what the red arrows were telling them. Once they could make meaning of the diagram, they were fairly successful in determining that the length of a short side had to be twenty. I did have to ask some groups to decompose the table into smaller sections and to name the shape of the sections they created. Some teams who said that one side was equal to twenty square tiles wanted to say that the other short side was equal to ten. They saw the arrow bisecting the shape and allowed themselves to think that they needed to "cut" the twenty in half. Even after some teams were able to label their diagrams such that they had five squares with sides of 20, they wanted to say that it took 40 or 80 tiles to cover the smaller squares. It was clear to me that even though these kids probably could have spouted off the formula for area, they had little idea of how this knowledge could be applied to problem solving.
Over the course of the lesson, I walked from group to group asking "why?" "What makes you think so?' "So, what does that make you wonder?" etc. It is hard not to ask leading questions. It is hard not to give hints. It is REALLY hard to prevent the other adults from becoming teaching members of each group! As teachers, we have to fight the instinct to over-help and give "hints". It takes power away from our students. In the end, after a lot of perseverance and struggle, every team was able to arrive at a solution that worked. Some got there in very round-about ways, but they got there. When we debriefed and viewed the final act, the kids were in consensus. The work had been REALLY satisfying. What I noticed was that every group worked effectively. No one was left behind. Of course, some students contributed more. Some were leaders and some did their best to merely follow the thinking of their peers. Regardless, this was an enormously successful first dive into a 3-Act Task.
It had been a purely amazing mathematical morning. And then...read the post for Day 106 to find our how our day ended with a heartbreaking twist.