Saturday, July 16, 2016

Five Things I Learned at TMC16: Saturday 7/16/16

1. Since the start of my career, I have believed that math lessons should be relevant and engaging to students. For some time now, I have struggled to deliver a level of relevance on a consistent basis. My ideas often seem either contrived, or a carbon copy of someone else's lesson I have graciously borrowed from online. However, Dennis Sheeran presented a framework for increased relevance. The acronym is below, but more information can be found at his site. For now, just an overview; these five thing posts are supposed to be short, after all.

Infusing your life
Natural flow
Sudden changes
Television and pop culture
Awareness of your surroundings
National events
Two or more disciplines 

2. GeoGuessr is an online game that uses Google StreetView images. Players are dropped in a random location and are challenged to estimate where they are in the world. Players receive points for each guess, and the more accurate the guess, the more points are received. Besides being moderately addictive, this game makes an excellent data collection tool and jumping off point for a number of statistical discussions. We explored the relationship between accuracy of guess and points awarded. It turns out the model is not linear (as might be expected), but follows an exponential decay as the estimation moves farther from the actual location. More interestingly, the coefficnets of the model will change depending on what version of the game you're playing (America only, whole world, just cities, etc), but the general exponential trend remains stadic.

3. Julie Wright gave a quick but rich presentation about feedback quizzes. About twice a quarter, students in her class take a quiz in which the left third of the paper is left blank. Upon completing the assessment, student work is alphabetized and scanned. Instead of placing a numerical grade on each tests, Julie uses an annotation software to type comments into the blank column in each student's paper. Besides shifting the focus from grades to feedback, this system also allows the teacher to copy and paste comments, allowing for more efficient grading. After printing and passing back the papers, students fix their mistakes.

Upon reflection, I'm not sure that I am comfortable with only giving feedback in this manner twice a quarter. Yet, I do see and understand the massive time commitment required to give specific thoughtful feedback on every question for every student. Perhaps a compromise is to provide feedback on a single exit slip question every day and provide students the opportunity to reflect during the next class. This would allow for feedback but decrease the grading load on the teacher. However, the logistics involving scanning the papers requires a bit more thought.

4. Sara VanDerWerf has a backwards bike, and no, it's not a bike that runs in reverse. A traditional bike is steered by moving the handle bars and pointing the front wheel in the direction you want to go, but the backwards bike has a set of gears that cause the front wheel to turn in the opposite direction of the handle bars. The bike was first created and ridden by Destin from the YouTube channel Smarter Every Day. In his video, Destin explains that it took eight months for him to un-learn how to ride a traditional bike and learn the backwards bike. Surprisingly, it only took his young son two weeks. He attributes this to a higher level of neuroplasticity in kids than in adults.

Back at TMC16, Sara explained that riding the bike can teach us lessons in persistence and struggle. Just as with the bike, our students may sometimes know how perform a task, but are still unable to complete it. As both Destin and Sara have said: knowledge is not understanding. Just because you may be able to verbalize the mechanics of the backwards bicycle, it doesn't mean you can ride it. This rings true for both teacher and students. First year teachers may know what good teaching looks like, but may find it difficult to meet their own expectations in the heat of the moment. Similarly, students may understand a set of mathematical procedures, but freeze when these procedures are applied in a multi step context. It is crucial that we understand this struggle and this frustration, and provide safe spaces for students to fall, dust themselves off, and get back on the bike.

5. Minneapolis is a great place to run.

6. (Extra Credit) I learned how to wobble... poorly.


  1. I love idea #3. I just imagine scanning a bunch of papers to be quite burdensome. I think though if your school has a copy machine that allows the "Scan and Send" option, it could be a feasible option to do this. Another benefit is the students can read the feedback instead of my sometimes sloppy handwriting!

    1. Thank you very much. After talking with Julie further, she noted that she only does this twice a quarter due to time constraints. However, the quizzes she's using are long, covering probably 4 or 5 weeks of instruction. I wonder if I could do this with one question exit slips every other day, or on a weekly basis.

      I'll also be posting my 5 things from days 2 and 3 of TMC later tonight. Stay tuned!