Monday, February 24, 2014

New strategy for introducing INBs: complex instruction approach

After months of not feeling like my best teacher self in the classroom, I got fed up and spent all weekend tearing stuff down and rebuilding from the ground up.

INBs are something I know well — something that work for students. So I decided to take what I had available and, as Sam would say, turn what I DON'T know into what I DO know. Love those Calculus mottos.

So I rebuilt my version of the exponential functions unit in terms of INBs. But that meant, I would have to introduce INBs.

As one girl said, "New marking period, new me!" The kids just went with it and really took to it.

Here is what I did.

ON EACH GROUP TABLE: I placed a sample INB that began with a single-sheet Table of Contents (p. 1), an Exponential Functions pocket page (p. 3), and had pages numbered through page 7. There were TOC sheets and glue sticks on the table.

SMART BOARD: on the projector, I put a countdown timer (set for 15 minutes) and an agenda slide that said,

  • New seats!
  • Choose a notebook! Good colors still available!
  • Make your notebook look like the sample notebook on your table 

As soon as the bell rang, I hit Start on the timer, which counted down like a bomb in a James Bond movie.

Alfred Hitchcock once said, if you want to create suspense, place a ticking time bomb under a card table at which four people are playing bridge. This seemed like good advice for introducing INBs to my students.

I think because it was a familiar, group work task approach to an unfamiliar problem, all the kids simply went went with it. "How did you make the pocket? Do you fold it this way? Where does the table of contents go? What does 'TOC' mean? What goes on page 5?" And so on and so on.

I circulated, taking attendance and making notes about participation. When students would ask me a question about how to do something, I would ask them first, "Is this a group question?" If not, they knew what was going to happen. If it was, I was happy to help them get unstuck.

Then came the acid test: the actual note-taking.

I was concerned, but they were riveted. They felt a lot more ownership over their own learning process.

There are still plenty of groupworthy tasks coming up, but at least now they have a container for their notes and reflection process.

I'm going to do a "Five Things" reflection (trace your hand on a RHS page and write down five important things from the day's lesson or group work) and notes for a "Four Summary Statements" poster, but I finally feel like I have a framework to help kids organize their learning.

I've even created a web site with links to photos of my master INB in case they miss class and need to copy the notes. Here's a link to the photo files, along with a picture of page 5:

We only got through half as much as I wanted us to get through, but they were amazed at how many notes we had in such a small and convenient space.

It feels good to be back!


  1. "So I decided to take what I had available and, as Sam would say, turn what I DON'T know into what I DO know. "

    This is great, and like the exact opposite of my instincts. When I get in a rut what I go for is turning what I do know into what I don't.

    Actually, that's total nonsense, but what I mean is that I tend to do the things that I know how to do over and over again, and kids get bored. I constantly have to remind myself to try the stuff that I suck at in order to vary things up for kids.

    Concretely: I need to rely less on problem sets and debates and rely more on reflection and group work. I also need to vary things up more, even though what's easiest for me is to do the same thing every day, roughly.

    Thanks for the provocative read!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Michael. You always give me something juicy to think about. :)

      - Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeysf)

  2. I totally agree, Michael. I've been so frustrated by my practice this year, and what I see is me retreating back to the easy things over and over. And frankly, I'm bored with it, so I know my students are. I've been trying to live by "new marking period, new me," but I keep going right back.

    Cheesemonkey - I love the idea of having a model at each table on day one and the "is this a group question" question. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks, abrowningcouch. It made the process of set-up so much more engaged. Instead of acting passive and helpless, students used their innate curiosity and common sense to piece the process together. I think it gave them greater ownership.

      Thanks for commenting!

      - Elizabeth @cheesemonkeysf)

  3. I also love the way you introduced them - one model for each group. Also love the ticking bomb clock. Where did you acquire that gem? And "is that a group question?" is so much better than the "ask three before me" I've heard others suggest. Speaking of exponential functions, I have a great modeling activity that I like to do BEFORE formally introducing them. I wasn't blogging yet when I did it last semester, but I will document all of it on my blog when I do it later this semester. It's a fairly common experiment: collect data on the height of a dropped tennis ball after 1 bounce, 2 bounces, 3 bounces, etc. In the past, kids got bogged down in the process of plotting their points, and it took longer than I wanted. But with Desmos (I plot everyone's data at once), their cognitive load is lightened, making it easier for them to very quickly see that a linear model wouldn't be very effective, and that using a quadratic model to extrapolate would lead to the prediction that after several declining rebounds, the ball suddenly comes back to life, and starts bouncing ever higher! It's a "goldielox moment" when I say, "Well, there is another option here...." enter the magic of the exponential decay function. By the end, the students are actually making the connection that if f(x) = ab^x, a is the initial height, and b is the multiplier. There's another fun one involving killing off skittles, but I've already jammed up your comment box enough for one morning!