Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Lawnmowing Ponderings

In addition to all of the other things I do between work and home, I mow the lawn most of the time. I started doing this more in earnest last year, somewhat at the prodding of my husband to get some exercise as I was (and still am) working on losing weight. To be honest, it is not my favorite chore, but I am getting to the point that I mostly enjoy it because it gives me about an hour and a half to ponder things.

When I started mowing, I wanted to ponder the Wii Bowling problem I've blogged about recently. I am really struggling with it at this point. I have pretty much come to the conclusion that whatever math is involved in determining the skill level is out of my realm. I have never failed on this kind of level with a lesson. Well, the students did get to Wii bowl in class for two days and they seemed to enjoy that, not to mention that it upped my "coolness" level with my students (they did get to play Wii in class, after all). But mathematically, I got nowhere.

What good is a mistake if you don't learn from it? What did I learn here? First - I have a long way to go. I thought I had something math-worthy that would hook my students in because of the video game. Well, they were hooked by the video game and they actually didn't do half bad on coming up with questions. But I didn't design it well enough to get them to ask the question(s) I was looking at when I looked at the information. I have no idea how to do this. I'll be honest, I graduated from college 19 years ago and when I went to Math Ed school, we didn't do anything like this. As a matter of fact, I have very little exposure to using problem solving in my classroom. I do still have a few books from college (not sure why, but I do) and I'm not sure if any of them would be much help. There are a couple of them I want to look at again to see if there is anything to help me, but I am not holding my breath. How in the world do I learn how to develop these kind of problems that are thought-provoking and leads to the question(s) with little/no aid from me? And more importantly, where does it go from there?

Dan Meyer has brought the #anyqs challenge to the Twitter/blogosphere in the last week. The first version had 4 sets of mileage and times (what you see in the corners of the picture immediately below).  Here is my version 2 of my contribution:

Here is the present version (version 3):

After submitting it to Twitter's #anyqs, the third time was a charm. I got the most responses for questions on the third one and they were mostly pointed at the direction I wanted to head. So, now what? What if I want to put this in front of my students? How do I go about designing the lesson (for lack of a better word at the moment) for it to be a meaningful activity for my students? Maybe I know how to and I just don't realize it, but this is out of my comfort zone as a teacher and designer of lessons. This is not the way I was taught, and it's not the way I teach at this moment in time. But, I want to teach this way. How do I learn how to? I am hoping to get some insight to this when I attend NCTM's Infusing the Classroom with Reasoning and Sense Making in Orlando this summer. However, if I want to use this in my classroom before the end of the school year, that doesn't help me at the moment. I'd really like to not have a repeat of the Wii Bowling thing where I feel like I got nowhere when I am done with whatever I do in the classroom with it.

As a part of this, I also realize I am being way too helpful to my students. I understand and get that it's not the best thing for them, but I have no idea how to "be less helpful." I guess what I mean here is that I'm not sure how to go about posing the "right" questions to get my students thinking on their own about what they should be doing. I know that with it being May 11th as I write this that it's not the best idea to start being less helpful (especially since the students are full aware that there are 19 school days left), so this goes on the summer list. The more I read the Twitter/blogosphere, the higher this moves up on my summer list.

As much as I am enjoying trying different things, I am frustrated by my lack of knowledge of how to accomplish things that I see and hear of others doing in their classrooms. I guess that's what I kept coming back to as I mowed the lawn. My mind would wander to lots of other things (like just how many darn dandelions we have in our lawn and why, oh why, didn't either company I called on Monday not return my calls in 48 horus) and just didn't want to dwell on the school stuff. I really want to work out the school stuff. I am excited about the possibilities in my classroom when/if I am able to make changes in how I teach mathematics. But I feel I have a complete lack of background knowledge to make said changes, and that scares me, so I stop thinking about it. I need to get past that and work through it.

As I close, I do want to add one more thought. As much as I have not been happy with how things have been going in my classroom (going on almost 5 years now), this is the furthest I have ever gotten as far as making changes. I am actually trying new things - and I haven't ever done that in this journey. For that, I have my Twitter PLN to thank. If you all weren't so willing to share what you're doing in your classrooms and answer questions and guide, I wouldn't be here. And even though I am still unsure of things, I am glad to be here. This is where I want to be, and I feel as if I am headed in the right direction.


Timon Piccini said...

Wow thanks for such a reflective blog post! I know exactly how you feel. I have come from a different perspective since I am in my first year of teaching, but I know the feeling of desiring to change, but feeling incapable of making that change.

I felt fairly dejected when I first started with Mr. Meyer's stuff, and I think it really comes down to when you finally get that problem that you understand and have worked out yourself.

I know that is not much help, but I am pretty well at the same point as you so I feel like I am not the one to give advice. Like you said though Twitter is a great source for this professional development and help, that I am sure we will make it!

Lori MathHead said...

"What good is a mistake if you don't learn from it?" Maybe you've learned that the thing you're trying to do doesn't work or that you need more time to prepare or you need to start at the beginning with something much more simple.

Be less helpful by asking questions. When a student says something incorrect like "2^3=6", then you say, "So, 2*2*2=6? Does that make sense?" State the problem a different way but still give the wrong answer and let them reason it out. If they still don't understand, then you've identified a weakness. If they insist that they are correct, then make them prove it. Tell them to figure out another way to do the problem.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an honest post, with lots of good questions. When I am trying to be less helpful I give out a problem, perhaps with prompts/scaffolding, and then circulate while pairs or small groups work. Then when they call me over I say things like, "What have you learned so far?"

If a child says, "I don't get it" (my most hated of phrases) then I reply, "Start from the beginning and tell me what you did understand."

Using other people problems always helps me, too. I use a lot of problems from nrich; they all have teacher notes and hints and they are easily searchable.

I am eager to see what you try and how it goes, because it sounds like you are excited and willing to try stuff. :)

JamiDanielle said...

I really needed to see this today. Just a reminder of how our struggles are ultimately what drives our growth. Witnessing this through you is inspiring...
Thinking about NCTM in Orlando myself. We shall see. =)