cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Saturday, August 25, 2018

First week and AVID strategies

I made it through the first week! And the chairs never had to get unstuck from the floor!

I did so much more metacognitive work this week than I’ve ever done before. Every day we did a say-do-mean summary at the end (My notes say... This enables me to... This means that...). Every day I tied our essential question to our work and to our metacognitive goals. And every day I used 10-2 processing to keep the pace up and get kids collaborating instead of relying on me. For every ten minutes of notes, I gave two minutes of processing time to catch up and collaborate on making their notes accurate. When my Geometry students asked what the terms were going to be on Friday’s vocabulary quiz, I didn’t answer that question. Instead, I instructed them to take two minutes to compare notes at their tables. See if anybody caught something you missed. Make sure everybody has everything they should have in their notes.

And they did it.

This was a powerful learning for me.

Until now, I used to answer those questions.

Now I am encouraging self-reliance and resourcefulness and a thinking classroom instead. I am doing this every place I can.

It’s a small instructional shift towards resourcefulness, but it feels seismic. I definitely want persistence, but not thoughtless persistance. I want to cultivate thoughtful persistence and resourceful persistance. You have super-smart classmates. Use them as an additional resource. Use them as a primary resource.

I felt so proud of my kids this week, it gave me energy. Even though I was exhausted, it gave me energy.

Now I am sitting in my favorite place in the world with my sofa and my fireplace and my music and my dog. The sun is burning away at the fog. The beginnings of a good new year.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Course in Thinking

This blog post is also a session at Sam Shah's The Virtual Conference of Mathematical Flavors 

In a conference on flavors of mathematical teaching and learning, you could be forgiven for expecting every session to address some version of the age-old arguments about whether there are math people and non-math people, about whether it is better to have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset, or about whether mathematics is the most beautiful of all the disciplines we teach in school.

Which is probably why I feel so hesitant to confess my dirty little secret. In my classroom, I teach mathematics as one of the humanities.

The fact is that math is a human activity. If you are human, you cannot escape it. And what I have come to value the most about the opportunity to teach mathematics is that it has become one of the most pivotal ways in which we transmit the culture and values we cherish the most. For me, some of those values include respect, communication, empathy, understanding, persuasion, civil disagreement, persistence, deep listening, reassessing, and changing one’s mind. Math class gives me an opportunity to share all of these aspects of being human and living together in human culture.

So I’ve rewritten the introduction to my course syllabus to emphasize some of the things about which I feel most strongly — and which I believe are the most powerful and important things I have to share with my students over the course of the next year.

I listen to hear your thoughts.

This is a course about thinking.

You are here to learn how to think better and to use your thinking to accomplish things in the world.

The essence of thinking is sense-making. To make sense of things, you have to understand them, which means you have to want to understand them. One of our mottos in this class is, You gotta wanna.  This is as important in mathematics as in everything else.

So everything in this class is about making sense of things. In mathematics — as in life — we mostly make sense of problems. If you do not yet know that life presents a steady stream of problems to be solved, you will soon. 

In this class, we happen to use mathematics  as a ground for thinking. I will tell you a secret up front: I don’t actually care if you  ever “use” this stuff ever again or not... so please don’t waste time asking me that question. It is a boring and senseless question. What I care about passionately is that you learn how to think and communicate at a more advanced level than you are capable of right now. 

And that is what we are going to work on.

Thinking better is a set of skills you can actually learn and use at this school. It is the appropriate focus of math class.

Since you are going to be thinking for the rest of your lives, you are going to need to make sense of things you don’t initially understand. And then you’re going to have to persuade other people that your thinking is right. So your goal in this course should be to grow as an active sense-maker who is skilled in using these tools of thinking.

You should also learn to treat your thinking with respect. The mind is a muscle, and this school is a place where we work to strengthen our thinking muscles. That means we need to develop strength, flexibility, and endurance in our thinking — in other words, you need to become a strong thinker, a flexible thinker, and a persistent thinker. You also need to become a good collaborator, which means you need to become a better listener.

While there are no guarantees, I can promise you that if you focus on these goals here, you will do well in this class, and these skills will carry you very far in your life.