Thursday, June 9, 2011

Is this an activity or a strategy?

The difference between an activity and a strategy is an important concept for teachers to take away from their workshops. The question comes up when discussing the importance of teachers being able to transfer new ideas from the staff room to the classroom. Robin and I know that to get authentic transfer, it’s best to emphasize the strategies as much as it is to present the content.

Classroom teachers who are sacrificing valuable instructional time to attend a professional learning opportunity, become frustrated if they think their time is being wasted. They understand that they need to be there to learn the latest content vital to doing their job, yet, they know they have gotten a bonus when they leave the session with a good idea to take back to their classroom.

This good idea, or what we call the “take away”, is more likely to transfer authentically if the teacher sees it as a strategy rather than as an activity. An activity is something that is done once, or something done in a similar way every time, in the same content and in the same context.

For example, the activity called Signing Name Tags, is a great way to get movement, conversation and accountability. The presenter has everyone get up and move around the room and have at least three conversations with three different people about their goals for the day. After each conversation they sign each others name tags. The only criteria is that they can’t have a conversation if their name tags have been signed by the same person. This simple guideline ensures that there will be a comprehensive mix of people meeting and talking. There is accountability, movement, collegial conversations and a focus on the expected outcomes of the day.

A capable staff developer may encourage their participants to try, Signing Name Tags in their classroom and teachers may do just that. Yet, if teachers transfer Signing Name Tags to their classroom and use it at the beginning of each semester, and the students discuss goals every time, and they always sign name tags, then this teacher has conceptualized and transferred Signing Name Tags as an activity.

However, when teachers see, Signing Name Tags as a way to get movement, accountability, collegial conversations about specific content the participants are seeing Signing Name Tags, as a strategy that can be parlayed into varying strategies. In fact, teachers begin to see more dynamic ways to transfer not only the strategy Signing Name Tags, but specific components of the strategy. For example, they may have students walk and discuss their homework while signing each others papers.

Or a teacher may transfer only the movement aspect of Signing Name Tags, knowing how to get students to engage verbally but not considering having them move while they talk. Or another teacher highlight the accountability aspect of Signing Name Tags and uses this as part of the strategy with her poster projects, having students comment on their peer’s posters.

When teaching for transfer, special emphasis on the components of the strategies that are used, increases the frequency of authentic transfer of strategies from the staff room to the classroom. Teachers who are taught engaging strategies, explained what makes the strategies engaging and are encouraged to transfer the strategy into their content and context, are empowered with new learnings in enhanced and relevant ways.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Fractions, Decimals, and Percents: Kinesthetic Math Idea

You're teaching fractions, decimals, and percents inside the classroom. Outside, it's sunny and 75 degrees. Some kids are taking sideways glances toward the window. Others aren't even trying to hide it, they blatantly stare out the window. Heck, even you are looking out the window at the beautiful day. Why not have the best of both worlds?

You can. It's easy. Read on.

1 sport ball for each group  (soccer ball, four-square ball, spongy ball)
1 data sheet for each group
1 clipboard for each group
Pencils, calculators (optional)

What To Do
I tell the class that we are going to apply math into a real world situation. We are going to see who is going to represent the class in the "World Championship of Knee and Head Juggling". I tell them that we will determine who is going to represent the class by keeping track of their percentages for each activity: head juggling (consecutive bounces of the ball using their head) and knee juggling (consecutive bounces using their knees and feet).

This scenario helps create a need to learn how to find percentages so they can determine if they will represent the class.

I teach a quick mini-lesson on how to change a fraction into a decimal and a decimal into a percent. For further explaination I also show either a BrainPop video, or StudyJams video (see a post about StudyJams here).

I create small groups by pulling sticks. The students gather a clipboard, data sheet, calculator, and a sport ball. We head outside!

Once outside, I show the students how each challenge is accomplished. I explain the roles of the partners. They aren't picking daisies, they have to work too. For example, while one partner is doing the challenge, the other partners are either counting the number of consecutive juggles, or recording the results in the data chart.

For knee juggles I set the maximum of consecutive bounces to 12. So, if a student manages to bounce the ball 4 times it would be 4 out of 12 or 4/12.

For head juggles, I set the maximum to 10. Percentages of 10 are simpler than 12, and may lead to pattern discovery as they go.

Good Tip
Make a partner find another partner's percentage. More often than not, the student who actually did the activity will be looking over the shoulder of his/her partner making sure they are calculating it correctly (two students engaged instead of one).

Once everyone is finished, we head back to analyze the data to determine who will represent the class in the World Championship.  We also reflect upon any patterns they may have noticed, (e.g. finding the percent of a decimal is easy if you know that you move the decimal to the right two places). We also talk about some other areas we could use the math skills we learned.

It's a win-win for both you and your students. You get some educating and applicable learning done on a beautiful day. They get to have fun while learning--always a good thing.

I hope you get to use this idea in (or out of) your own classroom.

Classroom Time Saver Idea: Grade Entry & Hand Backs

This idea comes from my wife, who is an excellent educator, and master teacher (see some of her wonderful blog posts here, here, and here).  I love this idea because it is a great way to save myself precious time, and find out who hasn't handed back assignments.

After correcting the assignments, I place them in a pile by my computer. I usually hand back assignments either first thing in the morning, or at the end of the day. Sometimes I do it when I have five an extra minutes because a lesson wrapped up earlier than expected.  I open my gradebook, input the score, call out the student's name, and then repeat the process with the next student.

When I've recorded the last score, I quickly scan my gradebook to see who hasn't turned in their work. I call those students to the desk, and follow up with them. This is also a good way to find out who forgot to put their name on their paper (A post about never having no-name papers again is found here.)

This plan kills two birds with one stone. I record and hand back the papers in one fell swoop. What a handy time saver it is!

 I hope you can use this idea in your classroom tomorrow!