Saturday 1 August 2015

TMC15 - Morning Session: Activity-Based Teaching

I teamed up with Alex Overwijk this year to offer a morning session at Twitter Math Camp on something we are both passionate about: activity-based teaching. We had a fantastic group, 30 strong, who jumped right in with us. 

Day 1:
After quick introductions we started right away with an activity. We showed this picture:

and asked them what questions came to mind. Al brought the original picture from National Geographic so everyone could look at it up close. Look really closely - that speck at the bottom is a person! Next, they formed groups and came up with their group's top three questions with justification for choosing them. After that the groups snowballed around the room - they chose the top question from each other group's top three and wrote why they chose it, then put it under the desk so as not to influence other groups (I was supposed to take envelopes - that's what we do in class - but forgot to pack them). Then each group got back to where they had started and read what the others had chosen as the best question and why. Each group then chose and wrote what they deemed was their best question on the blackboards surrounding the classroom, along with all the reasons for having chosen that one. Here is what some of that looked like:

We then moved into a discussion of what makes a good question. Co-creating this criteria in the classroom helps students learn how to ask better questions. Here is the list we created:

Not every question has to hit all of these criteria, but it is something to strive toward.

Next, we talked about criteria for a good activity. Each criterion was written on the board and then everyone had 5 votes for the ones they valued most. Here is the list, in order, based on those votes:

As [optional] homework, we asked them to read Al's blog post on 26 Squares, found here.

Day 2:

We started by talked about 26 Squares which, over the course of about 3 weeks, allows students to see linear relations, quadratic relations, Pythagorean theorem (sum of squares), similar triangles and right angle trig. You can read more detail via the link to Al's blog above. Perhaps this is a good time to mention that I blogged every day in my grade 10 applied (MFM2P) course last semester so if you want more of a day-to-day breakdown, start here.

We did another group activity called Serial Position Curve. Al and I had come up with a list of 20 words which he read. No paper/pens or devices allowed - everyone had to remember as many as they could. Then they had time to write down as many as they could. Such focused students here!

We then counted how many had written each one and I put that into Desmos to show number of words vs. position of the word in the list:

Here are the words, in case you were curious:
hat, fork, golf, nose, horse, glass, belt, canoe, watch, book, shirt, phone, tent, ball, truck, foot, pencil, gum, ring, skate.

The relationship looks somewhat quadratic and can be used to ask questions about the features of a quadratic in context. My students get pretty good at telling me what the vertex means, not in terms of "it's the lowest point", but "the fewest people remember the word in position 12". We came up with a number of good questions to draw out the math. We also talked about what this means in terms of memory and how this can be used in real life.

We also did a 2nd run with a new set of words, only this time at the end Al "burned" everyone's short term memory. Here is my data and graph and this is what Dylan Kane did with it:

I think we spent some time just talking about spiralling (I wrote this after TMC14 as an overview) and answering questions to finish off day 2.

Day 3:

We started day 3 with me saying that although I have jumped off the edge of the cliff with my grade 10 applied classes, I still teach with units in other courses. I have been incorporating activities in my classes for, well, forever, but have made a much more concerted effort in the past few years to add meaningful activities where they make sense in each of my classes. I find this more difficult the higher the grade, but continue to look. I often find that matching activities work to help consolidate learning. I'm pretty sure I showed a few examples of other activities - this blog post likely highlights most of them.

Initially Al and I thought we would have everyone in the group create an activity of their own, but we changed the plan. I had started a Google spreadsheet to collect activities as I thought this would be more helpful in the long run. The intent was that this way we would all share with each other and everyone would have a starting point if they wanted to add activities to their class(es) this year. Well, the one-and-only John Stevens ran with this and turned it into the MTBoS Activity Bank which is searchable and all kinds of awesome. We populated it with 68 activities during that morning session and everyone can submit their own using the link at the top of the Activity Bank page. This is such a great example of "together we are better"!

A huge thank you to the participants in our morning session for making it so great. Apologies from me for not contributing as much as I would have liked. I know we will all stay connected throughout the year and support each other in our journey to make our classrooms better for all our students.

Post Script:
Since TMC15 I have decided to go against the flow and will be spiralling my grade 10 academic class this fall. I'm very grateful to have the full support of my principal. My plan is to blog every day to help me reflect and perhaps provide something useful to others along the way.

1 comment:

  1. Look forward to following you on this journey! Was great to meet you. Love, love, love the memory activity. Awesome! Have a great year.