Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reasoning in Context

First off, the best writer on inquiry might be an electronics teacher at a technical school in the far reaches of Canada. If you haven't checked her blog yet (despite my multiple recommendations), do so now and thank me later.

I wanted to get down some things I've been thinking about with argument and specifically with Reasoning in the Claim Evidence Reasoning format that I use. It's pretty fuzzy still.

In an earlier post I cited Berland and Reiser's three reasons for making a scientific explanation:

  1. Sensemaking
  2. Articulating
  3. Persuading
This year I've been reflecting on the changes I need to make to how my class approaches a written or verbal explanation depending on which of these three purposes is our focus.

Reasoning is hard. There's no getting around that. I think I've been making it harder on my students though because I've been using "reasoning" as an umbrella term for "the part that requires a lot of thinking." Brian, as always, was ahead of me here when he commented on the distinction between argument and explanation.

What I've been learning is that I need to be more explicit (ongoing theme alert!) and identify for my students what reasoning means in context. 


When we're engaged in a launch activity and students are using evidence to construct a claim, they're primarily focused on sensemaking. In this case, when I ask them for their reasoning, I'm really asking them to explicitly connect their evidence and claim in a consistent manner. I would expect my students to explain the patterns in their data and what those patterns might mean.

In a written prompt or lab practicum, I'm asking students to articulate their content knowledge. This is a test of what you've learned so far. In this case, when I say reasoning what I really expect is for my students to link scientific principals from class to whatever is on the page in front of them.

In whole class discussion and whiteboarding roundtables, we're engaged in persuading. Depending on the context, I would expect some combination of the above. But I would also expect you to directly address the opposing viewpoint and explain why your claim is better in some way.

It's also important for middle schoolers, and probably all ages, to understand that these different types of reasoning wouldn't just differ in content, but also in language. Google around and you can find lists of words that would appear in persuasive writing and expository writing. I use a lot of sentence frames and starters, but it's also a good self-check for students to go back and look for certain key words. I've got a couple of examples I'll put up in future posts.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Groups, Individuals, and Individuals with Groups

Here's something I copied off a classroom wall at Mission HS.

Imagine it a lot prettier with stick figure examples.

I don't differentiate between these three very well (at all) with my students. The always insightful Grace also pointed out to me that it helps the teacher differentiate the three types of activities. Often a teacher calls something "group work" but what it really is just students working in parallel. It's one of those "no duh" moments I always have when I walk into someone else's classroom.


Addendum: Something I forgot to mention in my last post. Mission HS is experimenting with Geometry for every 9th grader regardless of whether or not they even took Algebra in 8th grade. During the class they emphasize the algebra components within geometry, mainly working with the coordinate plane, graphs, and solving equations. As sophomores, students then go back to either taking Algebra or Advanced Algebra.

They had a whole bunch of interesting reasons. They felt students could use a fresh start and didn't need their math history to haunt them into high school. Geometry itself is so different that perhaps students who hadn't had success in math would find something in geometry. Their freshman courses were heavily skewed along racial lines. The standard math sequence is screwy anyway since you'd be better off doing Advanced Algebra (Alg II) immediately after Algebra instead of having a year off with Geometry.

I'm curious to follow up next year. Last year I wrote about how inspiring the group of math teachers are and nothing I saw changes my opinion. I really don't know if Geometry for all ninth graders is a good idea. Someone in California politics thought Algebra for every 8th grader was a good idea. But they're willing to stick their necks out and experiment and do what they believe is the right thing.

PS - Mission is the school featured in the article Everything You've Heard About Failing Schools is Wrong.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Creating Balance: Reflections

This is the second year I've gone to the Creating Balance conference. I've been kicking around a couple of longer reflections but wanted to do something quick while it was still fresh.

First off, this happened:

That's Brian Lawler, me, Avery Pickford, Bree Murray, and Grace Chen at Tacolicious. Earlier in the day, I had Korean tacos and Grace and Elizabeth had french fries smothered in Korean short ribs.  Great people. Great food. Anything else is just a bonus right? It's a strange time to live in where you can go to any conference in any place and know people.

Complex Instruction:

Last time I went through a Complex Instruction strand. One of the things I mentioned is I still saw certain students take over and lead the group. This time one of the teachers at Mission pointed out that what we're seeing is just a snapshot. Sure it might look like one person is dominating the group. But last week it was a different person. He said you need to be intentional about designing different tasks for different strengths. The lesson I saw was about calculating the surface area for three-dimensional shapes and very clearly certain kids took the lead. He said last week they used GeoGebra to explore (something) and I might have seen a different set of kids leading.

If there's something that I need to keep coming back to with CI, it's that we need to actively work to redefine what it means to be smart in mathematics (and science and everything else).

Parent Outreach:
I've previously written about previewing content ahead of time instead of waiting to remediate in order to address status issues in class. I sat in a workshop with two people from the UCLA Mathematics Project who did the same thing but with academic-focused parent nights. The teacher, Brett Davis, would lead a workshop (Wed/Thur night, same content each night) previewing the math his students would be learning for the next 6 weeks or so. He would start with an engaging launch activity and do some of the math with the parents and add a bit of vocabulary. From a practical standpoint, this was mostly stuff he'd be doing anyway so there wasn't much additional planning involved, unlike with the more common Family Math Nights where the focus isn't as academic.

Brett made it clear he wasn't expecting parents to become experts in the math but his goal was to change their relationship with math and to open up lines of communication from parent to student and parent to teacher.

Rochelle Gutierrez

Dr. Gutierrez was the keynote. I want to blow this out into a full post at some point but I'm hoping Bryan Meyer will take care of that first (edit: He did.). If you have access, the latest JRME is all on equity. Until then, three terms Dr. Gutierrez brought up. She called teachers "identity workers." She also introduced me to the term "nepantla" which is Nahuatl and represents something like "the space between" ("the and and or and both and neither"). Finally, she distinguished knowing of your students/communities from knowing with your students/communities. She used the term conocimiento which in Spanish translates to "knowledge" but, if I'm understanding this correctly, has a communal connotation. I'll need a waterfall, a tree, and lifetime supply of incense to work out the implications for all of this.

She also mentioned she teaches her future teachers about "creative insubordination" and how to Play the Game, Change the Game. If you know me, you know I'm more insubordinate than creative so she's one I'm going to need to keep following.

I found her article Embracing Nepantla through a google search.

The Br(y)(i)ans

Brian Lawler and Bryan Meyer led a session. Bryan has blogged the main focus so I won't recap but it was mainly on the tensions involved in launching a problem. This is something I definitely struggle with. How do I respect the ideas and motivations of my students without leaving any science on the table?

I enjoyed the dynamic between the two of them and want a professor to adopt me.

Lawler casually mentioned his pre-service teachers write a PBL lesson that they have veteran teachers implement in their own classrooms and then get feedback. I want more information about this.

Elizabeth wrote about a session I shared with her and Brian Lawler.

Random Presentation Feedback

If there's one piece of advice I kept leaving on feedback forms it was "Know your audience." I'm at a conference on social justice and mathematics. I think there's a certain amount of savvy you can expect from this group and we don't need to spend the first 45 minutes discussing why creating mathematical identities are important. And in such a focused conference, you'd want to up the level on a Day Two presentation.

Your final slide should show your contact information.

I was on Twitter the other day blasting the Jigsaw strategy. David Coffey rightly pointed out that it had good uses. I agree but I think if the ultimate goal of the jigsaw is "summary," you're probably doing it wrong. There's a big difference between splitting up 4 articles and having you summarize them and splitting up 4 articles and having you analyze a scenario based on how you think your author would respond.

I don't think I'm a fan of audience participation in the beginning of a workshop ("discuss at your table and share....."). It feels a bit false and flat. I know the presenter is not doing anything with our input because the slide deck is already created and I've got the handouts.

As a teacher, I can gather input from my students in the beginning and use it to help influence the next few weeks. In a one-shot 90 minute session, the presenter is coming in and driving the bus. The presenter should respond or clarify and listen to anything the audience has to add, but they are not changing course entirely.

Also, and I know I'm guilty of this with my students, I think I'm sometimes being tricked into offering a "wrong" answer so the presenter can use that as a launching point.  I'd much rather respond to something the presenter said towards the middle or end of a workshop.