Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An epiphany, which leads to questions

Yesterday in my Algebra 2 classes, we finished the notes on graphing using slope-intercept form. As I have stated before,  this particular group seems to have not absorbed much from their Algebra 1 experiences. I had assigned 10 problems for them to practice last night. My original intention today was to use the random word chooser in SMART Notebook (thanks Kate!) to choose a person, allow them to choose their partner and problem and have them copy their work for that problem from their homework and graph it on a graph whiteboard. I had intended to have students do a Gallery Walk after that. Oh, the best laid plans...

Very few of my students did the homework. The ones who did were the ones who most likely took notes and/or got it pretty well in Algebra 1 and remembered it. Sigh. I scrapped the Gallery Walk portion, I spent most of the time they were working on their problem (which they were actually working on it) trying to help students who had no idea what to do or where to go from wherever they were.

During my second class, it hit me. After having them work out the problem, I had given them a worksheet to work on (two of those lovely Marcy Math Works worksheets with the great puns) and had stopped to check on a group of 4 boys who really weren't working on the problems. I asked them why they weren't working and they said they didn't understand how to do it. So, we worked through 2 of them together, step by step. They continued working and I overheard one of them say something to the effect of "Now I get it! It seems so easy now!" Then it clicked in my head - many of my students aren't really actively involved as we go through the notes portion of the lesson. Some do copy notes down, but they don't know what to do with it.

It goes back to the Confucius quote: "I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand." My students aren't doing. They are hearing and seeing and it isn't sticking with them. How do I get them to the doing stage? I could certainly give them copies of the slides with a space for them to take notes, but that doesn't necessarily help them, does it?

I guess the bottom line of my realization today is how I am teaching my students isn't helping them learn or understand the material. I guess I kind of knew that but I am now stuck in trying to figure out how to change and adapt so that my students can have a better understanding of the mathematics I am teaching them. I know I can explain the material to them fairly well. How do I change what I am doing so they do and eventually understand?


Bret Benesh said...

Hi Lisa,

I have had a good experience with clickers this semester. They keep the students engaged, gives them immediate feedback, and helps students learn how to process information (rather than just receive it).

Let us know what you do!

Anonymous said...

I have had the same thing happen in my classes and it's something I still struggle with. I find it more pervasive in lower-level classes. Your conclusion of 'doing' is the direction I've tried to take my own classes. I do significantly more in-class problems (or rather they do) than I used to and it seems to help with understanding so I consider it time well spent in class. Looking forward to seeing what others have come up with to help students get productive practice.

Mr. Piccini said...

Lisa, I love your posts, they are so clear, to the point, and transparent! I agree with everything you say, and I am learning to improve the "doing" side of math. One thing that I really liked I lifted from @jybuell, I don't have the link, but he talked about examples where you sequentially take out one step.

E.G. Simple Equations (please excuse my math formatting).

1) 3x + 2 = 11
-2 -2
3x = 9
/3 /3
x = 3
2) 4x - 7 = 17
+ 7 +7
4x = 24

Now what? ___________________
3) 2x + 5 = 15
- 5 -5

Now What?________________

4) 8x - 2 = 14

That way you can sequentially show examples, and students see the thought patterns, but they are not expected to instantaneously know the entire solution.

I don't know if that's what you are looking for, but it sure helped me.

Mr. Piccini said...

Found the link

Mrs. H said...

Not sure if this is something you are interested in, but I have very good luck with student engagement during the "notes" portion of my class. Even with my algebra I classes and at-risk classes, I get about 95 participation if I give them a skeleton outline. I train them from day one to take good notes and then I let them use them on quizzes. I usually include at least one problem on each quiz verbatim from the notes to reward good note taking.

Here is the skeleton outline the students did today over x and y intercepts. I usually teach a little, and then have them practice while I walk around observing. Then I teach a little more and walk around again.


crstn85 said...

As much as I can I try to have students do some problems before taking notes. This is much easier in geometry where they can draw something, measure and make a conjecture, but I found it challenging in Algebra II. For this instance I would have students make a table (first giving them x values, then having them pick their own x values), graph, find the slope, find the intercept, make conclusions. By the third (or 10th depending on the kid) they will be sick of making a table and looking for a shortcut. If they're good pattern finders they'll figure it out and think they're cheating! Then you have them share the method when everyone has had time to experience it. You won't always have time for all of that, especially with things that should be review, but I find that if they work out even one example using some method they already know (often brute force) you can refer back to their *experience* during the notes.

Anonymous said...

Hey Lisa,

We all have days like this - but it doesn't mean that your lessons are not effective. :)

I do something similar to the previous two commenters. I remember reading, "The person doing the majority of the work is doing the majority of the learning." Instead of taking notes in class, I have them take notes for hw out of the textbook. In class I hi-light the most important terms and procedures, interspersed with work they do in their graphbooks. This is the time I have them do it "the long way" and challenge them to discover the pattern before I show it to them.

Another thing I do is that I do NOT tell them if their answers are correct when they are working in class. I have them, "check with a neighbor". They can go across the classroom if they want. So much excitement is generated in my class from students running around, fighting over who has the right answer before I confirm it. Many times I will start and they will say, "No WAIT! I've almost got it!"

The third thing I do is use the boards. I try to keep the notes portion short and active, and then hit the boards. That way they are working and learning as well as having fun. Plus, I can see the mistakes that students are making so I can walk around and target help.

Even with all of these active methods, retention can be difficult. Think of how much they learn in one day, much less a year. Think of how much you have forgotten that you learn. To increase retention I make up songs or "catch phrases" that help them remember what to do. I also have them make review booklets before tests so they can pull all of the information together. Often they can do the math if they can only remember what to do.

Good luck! You are doing great! Julie

Lisa said...

Thanks everyone for your comments and support! @MrPiccini and @Mrs. H - thanks for sharing your links - I will definitely be looking at them!

@Mrs. H - do you give students these kind of notes daily? At some point, do you step back from it and students take their own notes?

Still processing and pondering - so suggestions are welcome!