Thursday, May 22, 2014

Teachable Moment: The Man Who Painted Birds

Teachable moments... those moments when there is a sense of true engagement. There are essential questions being generated not by teachers, but students!

I shared a read aloud with my class titled: The Man Who Painted Birds (Journeys lesson 30, day 1). When low and behold, I looked up and discovered that everyone was not only interested, but eager for more! It was a teachable moment... the last week of school to boot!

The story was a brief biography of John J. Audubon.  It gave a quick description of his early life and a more detailed retelling of his artistic journey.

After exploring the National Audubon Society's web site, the class brain stormed using Thinking Maps.  Students came up with a list of what they knew, wanted to know, and how they would learn it.   Students unanimously decided that they wanted to choose a bird to research. The next step involved narrowing the scope of the research.  What were the most important details to look for?   What was the most efficient way to locate this information?  What skills would be needed to find this information? After much discussion the class had an outline.  I turned their outline into a printable.  As always, the rule for a "worksheet" is less is more. The less I include, the more the students are thinking and taking ownership.

It was time to dive into the nitty gritty...aka the fun part!

The stars must have been aligned, because our classroom had just been equipped the week before with an apple TV.  We checked out a class set of iPads and established listening and speaking guidelines for this media.  The room buzzed as everyone utilized search engines, and exchanged ideas.

At this point, you should be aware that a large number of students were overwhelmed by the shear amount of information available. Much of the text was beyond their ability to comprehend.  This was a great point to stop and discuss exactly what it was we were looking for and techniques for skimming and scanning web pages to find this information.   While this is a very different set of reading/comprehension skills than that of close reading, the idea of searching and retrieving to find text evidence was the same.

After some practice and peer discussion, students were able to navigation pretty efficiently.

Below are a samples of students' products for this lesson.

This was a wonderful way to wrap up the school year.  It's always rewarding when we plan and students explore new ideas, but it's even better when it happens spontaneously.  You just never know when those teachable moments will arise!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Productive Frustration: Implementing Math Learning Tasks

Winding down... While the school year is winding down students seem to be winding up!  With all that anxious energy floating around, we are tackling, wrestling, and basically pummeling Common Core math learning tasks.

Learning tasks are lessons that consist of word problems designed to make students dig deeper.  Tasks provide opportunities to play with numbers.   Students are encouraged to use words, pictures, and equations to explain their thinking.  Often, tasks do not ask for a simple put together or take away answer. Instead, they ask for a variety of solution paths, to compare or explain paths, or to make decisions about whether a given assumption/answer is correct.   

Here are some student examples. I have included a variety of skill levels. 

Lesson Format: 
  • Set Up - Teacher explains the context of the problems and makes tools available. 
  • Private Think Time - Students work independently to create possible solution paths.  Teacher monitors, using advancing, assessing, and guiding questions to correct misconceptions or draw attention to precision (errors).
  • Small Group Discussion - Students work with partners to discuss differences and similarities between solution paths.    Teacher monitors.  
  • Analyze and Share - Everyone engages in discuss that focuses on key mathematical ideas. Models /solutions are explained and critiqued.
Our classroom motto during a learning task is, "Try, try try! It's okay to make a mistake, because we have erasers!" So often, students hold back.  They don't want to make mistakes.  Students have come to expect answers to be given to them. That's just not happening in our class.  This is called productive frustration.  It's not easy, but it is so worth while to creatively work through tasks.  It builds stamina and deepens mathematical understanding. 

Where can fielded, high quality math tasks be found?
There are several places to find good solid tasks.   

  • Illuminations - Lessons for learning is a great place to start. 
  • Tennessee teachers have an abundance of tasks available through
  • K-5 Math Teaching Resources is another excellent site. You'll find tasks, lesson plans, literature connections and much more, all organized by grade level and standard.  There are printable journal tasks/word problems available for purchase. These are formatted to print on 30 per page labels. While a little pricy, they are convenient and good quality problems.   
  • Envision math users will find that most quick checks located at the end of each lesson for K-5 can be tweaked to fit the format of a math task learning lesson.

Keep in mind when planning tasks that they should be open enough to allow for a variety of solution paths.  The goal is to create opportunities to play with numbers and use effective mathematical practices.  Remember it's all about productive frustration!

More student examples from varied skill levels: