Noticing and Wondering: A powerful tool for assessment

Last week I had the privilege of presenting with Nehlan Binfield at OAME on the topic of assessment in mathematics.  We aimed to position assessment as both a crucial aspect of teaching, yet simplify what it means for us to assess effectively and how we might use our assessments to help our students and class learn.  If interested, here is an abreviated version of our presentation:

b2

We started off by running through a Notice and Wonder with the group.  Given the image above, we noticed colours, sizes, patterns, symmetries (line symmetry and rotational symmetry), some pieces that looked like “trees” and other pieces that looked like “trees without stumps”…

Followed by us wondering about how many this image would be worth if a white was equal to 1, and what the next term in a pattern would look like if this was part of a growing pattern…

b3

We didn’t have time, but if you are interested you can see the whole exchange of how the images were originally created in Daniel Finkel’s quick video.

We then continued down the path of noticing and wondering about the image above.  After several minutes, we had come together to really understand the strategy called Notice and Wonder:

b4

As well as taking a quick look at how we can record our students’ thinking:

b5
Shared by Jamie Duncan

At this point in our session, we changed our focus from Noticing and Wondering about images of mathematics, to noticing and wondering about our students’ thinking.  To do this, we viewed the following video (click here to view) of a student attempting to find the answer of what eight, nine-cent stamps would be worth:

b6

The group noticed the student in the video counting, pausing before each new decade, using two hands to “track” her thinking…  The group noticed that she used most of a 10-frame to think about counting by ones into groups of 9.

We then asked the group to consider the wonders about this student or her thinking and use these wonders to think about what they would say or do next.

  • Would you show her a strategy?
  • Would you ask a question to help you understand their thinking better?
  • Would you suggest a tool?
    Would you give her a different question?

It seemed to us, that the most common next steps might not be the ones that were effectively using our assessment of what this child was actually doing.

b7

Looking through Fosnot’s landscape we noticed that this student was using a “counting by ones” strategy (at least when confronted with 9s), and that skip-counting and repeated addition were the next strategies on her horizon.

While many teachers might want to jump into helping and showing, we invited teachers to first consider whether or not we were paying attention to what she WAS actually doing, as opposed to what she wasn’t doing.


b8

This led nicely into a conversation about the difference between Assessment and Evaluation.  We noticed that we many talk to us about “assessment”, they actually are thinking about “evaluation”.  Yet, if we are to better understand teaching and learning of mathematics, assessment seems like a far better option!

b9

So, if we want to get better at listening interpretively, then we need to be noticing more:

b10

Yet still… it is far too common for schools to use evaluative comments.  The phrases below do not sit right with me… and together we need to find ways to change the current narrative in our schools!!!

b11

b12

Evaluation practices, ranking kids, benchmarking tests… all seem to be aimed at perpetuating the narrative that some kids can’t do math… and distracts us from understanding our students’ current thinking.

So, we aimed our presentation at seeing other possibilities:

b13


To continue the presentation, we shared a few other videos of student in the processs of thinking (click here to view the video).  We paused the video directly after this student said “30ish” and asked the group again to notice and wonder… followed by thinking about what we would say/do next. b15

b16

Followed by another quick video (click here to view).  We watched the video up until she says “so it’s like 14…”.  Again, we noticed and wondered about this students’ thinking… and asked the group what they would say or do next.

b17

After watching the whole video, we discussed the kinds of questions we ask students:

b18

If we are truly aimed at “assessment”, which basically is the process of understanding our students’ thinking, then we need to be aware of the kinds of questions we ask, and our purpose for asking those questions!  (For more about this see link).


We finished our presentation off with a framework that is helpful for us to use when thinking about how our assessment data can move our class forward:

b19

We shared a selection of student work and asked the group to think about what they noticed… what they wonderered… then what they would do next.

For more about how the 5 Practices can be helpful to drive your instruction, see here.


b20

So, let’s remember what is really meant by “assessing” our students…

b21

…and be aware that this might be challenging for us…

b22

…but in the end, if we continue to listen to our students’ thinking, ask questions that will help us understand their thoughts, continue to press our students’ thinking, and bring the learning together in ways where our students are learning WITH and FROM each other, then we will be taking “a giant step toward becoming a master teacher”!


So I leave you with some final thoughts:

  • What do comments sound like in your school(s)?  Are they asset based (examples of what your students ARE doing) or deficit based (“they can’t multiply”… “my low kids don’t get it…”)?
  • What do you do if you are interested in getting better at improving your assessment practices like we’ve discussed here, but your district is asking for data on spreadsheets that are designed to rank kids evaluatively?
  • What do we need to do to change the conversation from “level 2 kids” (evaluative statements that negatively impact our students) to conversations about what our students CAN do and ARE currently doing?
  •  What math knowledge is needed for us to be able to notice mathematicially important milestones in our students?  Can trajectories or landscapes or continua help us know what to notice better?

I’d love to continue the conversation about assessment in mathematics.  Leave a comment here or on Twitter @MarkChubb3 @MrBinfield


If you are interested in reading more on similar topics, might I suggest:

Or take a look at the whole slide show here

 

Advertisements

Making Math Visual

A few days ago I had the priviledge of presenting at MAC2 to a group of teachers in Orillia on the topic of “Making Math Visual”.   If interested, here are some of my talking points for you to reflect on:a1

To get us started I shared an image created by Christopher Danielson and asked the group what they noticed:

a2

We noticed quite a lot in the image… and did a “how many” activity sharing various numbers we saw in the image.  After our discussions I explained that I had shared the same picture with a group of parents at a school’s parent night followed by the next picture.

a3

I asked the group of teachers what mathematics they noticed here… then how they believed parents might have answered the question.  While we, as math teachers, saw patterns in the placements of utensils, shapes and angles around the room, quantities of countable items, multiplicative relationships between utensils and place settings, volume of wine glasses, differences in heights of chairs, perimeter around the table…..  the group correctly guessed that many parents do not typically notice the mathematics around them.

So, my suggestion for the teachers in the room was to help change this:

a5

I then asked the group to do a simple task for us to learn from:

a6

After a few minutes of thinking, I shared some research of the different ways we use fractions:

When we looked at the ways we typically use fractions, it’s easy to notice that WE, as teachers, might need to consider how a focus on representations might help us notice if we are providing our students with a robust (let’s call this a “relational“) view of the concepts our students are learning about.

a13

Data taken from 1 school’s teachers:

a14

We continued to talk about Liping Ma’s work where she asked teachers to answer and represent the following problem:

a15

Followed by a quick story of when a student told me that the following statement is true (click here for the full story).

a17

So, why should we focus on making math visual?

a18


We then explored a statement that Jo Boaler shared in her Norms document:

a19

…and I asked the group to consider if there is something we learn in elementary school that can’t be represented visually?

If you have an idea to the previous question, I’d love to hear it, because none of us could think of a concept that can’t be represented visually.


I then shared a quick problem that grade 7 students in one of my schools had done (see here for the description):

a20

Along with a few different responses that students had completed:

a21

Most of the students in the class had responded much like the image above.  Most students in the class had confused linear metric relationships (1 meter = 100 cm) with metric units of area (1 meter squared is NOT the same as 100cm2).

a22

In fact, only two students had figured out the correct answer… which makes sense, since the students in the class didn’t learn about converting units of area through visuals.

a23

We wrapped up with a few suggestions:

a25

a26

And finally some advice about what we DON’T mean when talking about making mathematics visual:

a27

a28

You might recognize the image above from Graham Fletcher’s post/video where he removed all of the fractional numbers off each face in an attempt to make sure that the tools were used to help students learn mathematics, instead of just using them to get answers.

a29


I want to leave you with a few reflective questions:

  • Can all mathematics concepts in elementary school be represented visually?
  • Why might a visual representation be helpful?
  • Are some representations more helpful than others?
  • How important is it that our students notice the mathematics around them?
  • How might a focus on visual representations help both us and our students deepen our understanding of the mathematics we are teaching/learning?

I’d love to continue the conversation.  Feel free to write a response, or send me a message on Twitter ( @markchubb3 ).


If you are interested in all of the slides, you can take a look here

 

 

The Importance of Contexts and Visuals

My wife Anne-Marie isn’t always impressed when I talk about mathematics, especially when I ask her to try something out for me, but on occasion I can get her to really think mathematically without her realizing how much math she is actually doing.  Here’s a quick story about one of those times, along with some considerations:


A while back Anne-Marie and I were preparing lunch for our three children.  It was a cold wintery day, so they asked for Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup.  If you’ve ever made Lipton Soup before you would know that you add a package of soup mix into 4 cups of water.

Lipton soup

Typically, my wife would grab the largest of our nesting measuring cups (the one marked 1 cup), filling it four times to get the total required 4 cups, however, on this particular day, the largest cup available was the 3/4 cup.

nesting cups.JPG

Here is how the conversation went:

Anne-Marie:  How many of these (3/4 cups) do I need to make 4 cups?

Me:  I don’t know.  How many do you think?  (attempting to give her time to think)

Anne-Marie:  Well… I know two would make a cup and a half… so… 4 of these would make 3 cups…

Me: OK…

Anne-Marie:  So, 5 would make 3 and 3/4 cups.

Me:  Mmhmm….

Anne-Marie:  So, I’d need a quarter cup more?

Me:  So, how much of that should you fill?  (pointing to the 3/4 cup in her hand)

Anne-Marie:  A quarter of it?  No, wait… I want a quarter of a cup, not a quarter of this…

Me:  Ok…

Anne-Marie:  Should I fill it 1/3 of the way?

Me:  Why do you think 1/3?

Anne-Marie:  Because this is 3/4s, and I only need 1 of the quarters.


The example I shared above illustrates sense making of a difficult concept – division of fractions – a topic that to many is far from our ability of sense making.  My wife, however, quite easily made sense of the situation using her reasoning instead of a formula or an algorithm.  To many students, however, division of fractions is learned first through a set of procedures.

I have wondered for quite some time why so many classrooms start with procedures and algorithms unill I came across Liping Ma’s book Knowing and Teaching Mathematics.  In her book she shares what happened when she asked American and Chinese teachers these 2 problems:

liping ma1

Here were the results:

Liping ma2

Now, keep in mind that the sample sizes for each group were relatively small (23 US teachers and 72 Chinese teachers were asked to complete two tasks), however, it does bring bring about a number of important questions:

  • How does the training of American and Chinese teachers differ?
  • Did both groups of teachers rely on the learning they had received as students, or learning they had received as teachers?
  • What does it mean to “Understand” division of fractions?  Computing correctly?  Beging able to visually represent what is gonig on when fractions are divided? Being able to know when we are being asked to divide?  Being able to create our own division of fraction problems?
  • What experiences do we need as teachers to understand this concept?  What experiences should we be providing our students?

Visual Representations

In order to understand division of fractions, I believe we need to understand what is actually going on.  To do this, visuals are a necessity!  A few examples of visual representations could include:

A number line:

three quarters NL

A volume model:

GlassMeasuringCup32oz117022_x

An area model:


Starting with a Context

Starting with a context is about allowing our students to access a concept using what they already know (it is not about trying to make the math practical or show students when a concept might be used someday).  Starting with a context should be about inviting sense-making and thinking into the conversation before any algorithm or set of procedures are introduced.  I’ve already shared an example of a context (preparing soup) that could be used to launch a discussion about division of fractions, but now it’s your turn:

Design your own problem that others could use to launch a discussion of division of fractions.  Share your problem!  


A few things to reflect on:

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Leave a reply here on Twitter (@MarkChubb3)

Strategies vs Models

Earlier this week Pam Harris wrote a thought-provoking article called “Strategies Versus Models: why this is important”. If you haven’t already read it, read it first, then come back to hear some additional thoughts…..


Many teachers around the world have started blogs about teaching, often to fulfill one or both of the following goals:

  • To share ideas/lessons with others that will inspire continued sharing of ideas/lessons; or
  • To share their reflections about how students learn and therefore what kinds of experiences we should be providing our students.

The first of these goals serves us well immediately (planning for tomorrow’s lesson or an idea to save for later) while the second goal helps us grow as reflective and knowledgeable educators (ideas that transcend lessons).  Pam’s post (which I really hope you’ve read by now) is obviously aiming for goal number two here.


Models vs Strategies

In her article, Pam has accurately described a common issue in math education – conflating models (visual representations) with strategies (methods used to figure out an answer).  Below I’ve included a caption of Cathy Fosnot’s landscape of multiplication/division.  The rectangles represent landmark strategies that students use (starting from the bottom you will find early strategies, to the top where you will find more sophisticated strategies).  Whereas the triangles represent models or representations that are used (notice models correspond to strategies nearest to them).

fosnot landscape - strategies vs models

In her post, Pam discusses 3 problems that arise when we do not fully understand the role models and stragegies:

  1. Students (and teachers) think that all strategies are equal. 
  2. Students are left thinking that there are an unlimited, vast number of “strategies” to solve a problem.
  3. Students get correct answers and are told to “do it a different way”.

I’d like to discuss how this all fits together…


Liping Ma discussed in her book Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics four pieces that relate to a teacher having a Profound Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics (PUFM).  One of these features she called “Multiple Perspectives“, basically stating that PUFM teachers stress the idea that multiple solutions are possible, yet also stress the advantages and disadvantages of using certain methods in certain situations (hopefully you see the relationship between perspectives and strategies). She claimed that a PUFM teacher’s aim is to use multiple perspectives to help their students gain a flexible understanding of the content.

Many teachers have started down the path of understanding the importance of multiple perspectives.  For example, they provide problems that are open enough so students can answer them in different ways.  However, it is difficult for many teachers to both accept all strategies as valid, while also helping students see that some strategies are more mathematically sophisticated.

models and strategies2


As teachers, we need to continue to learn about how to use our students’ thinking so they can learn WITH and FROM each other.  However, this requires that we continue to better understand developmental trajectories (like Fosnot’s landscape shared above) which will help us avoid the issues Pam had discussed in her original post.


If we want to get better at helping our students know which strategies are more appropriate, then we need to learn more about developmental trajectories.

If we want teachers to know when it is appropriate to say, “can you do it a different way?” and when it is counter-productive, then we need to learn more about developmental trajectories.

If we want to know how to lead an effective lesson close, then we need to learn more about developmental trajectories.

If we want to know which visual representations we should be using in our lessons, then we need to learn more about developmental trajectories.

If we want to think deeper about which contexts are mathematically important, then we need to learn more about developmental trajectories.

If we want to continue to improve as mathematics teachers, then we need to learn more about developmental trajectories!


While I agree that it is essential that we get better at distinguishing between strategies and models, I think the best way to do this is to be immersed into the works of those who can help us learn more about how mathematics develops over time.  May I suggest taking a look at one of the following documents to help us discuss development:


Might I also suggest reading more on similar topics:

Zukei Puzzles

A little more than a year ago now, Sarah Carter shared a set of Japanese puzzles called Zukei Puzzles (see her original post here or access her puzzles here).  After having students try out the original package of 42 puzzles, and being really engaged in conversations about terms, definitions and properties of each of these shapes, I wanted to try to find more.  Having students ask, “what’s a trapezoid again?” (moving beyond the understanding of the traditional red pattern block to a more robust understanding of a trapezoid) or debate about whether a rectangle is a parallelogram and whether a parallelogram is a rectangle is a great way to experience Geometry.  However, after an exhaustive search on the internet resulting in no new puzzles, I decided to create my own samples.

DXxjSGfX0AAu9FT

 

Take a look at the following 3 links for your own copies of Zukie puzzles:

Copy of Sarah’s puzzles

Extension puzzles #1

Extension puzzles #2

Advanced Zukei Puzzles #3

I’d be happy to create more of these, but first I’d like to know what definitions might need more exploring with your students.  Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!


How to complete a Zukei puzzle:

Each puzzle is made up of several dots.  Some of these dots will be used as verticies of the shape named above the puzzle.  For example, the image below shows a trapezoid made of 4 of the dots.  The remaining dots are inconsequential to the puzzle, essentially they are used as distractors.

trap


If you enjoyed these puzzles, I recommend taking a look at Skyscraper puzzles for you to try as well.

 

From Experimental to Theoretical Probability

Probability is an interesting topic.  Really, it’s different from most mathematics our students learn.  It’s the only topic in K-8 mathematics that doesn’t follow patterns.  For example, we might know that flipping a coin 10 times should result in 5 heads and 5 tails, but in reality, it is quite likely that we will get some other result than this.

Because of this, I believe that we need to spend our time playing with tasks and making predictions, a lot, before we ever broach the concept of theoretical probability.  We need to have students play the same games several times, where they can change their predictions based on previous experiments, before we provide opportunities for our students to understand the theoretical.


Big Ideas of Probability

When planning a problem in any topic it is always a good idea to consult Marian Small’s or Van de Walle’s “Big Ideas”.  Here are 2 big ideas we looked at as we constructed the problem below:

  • An experimental probability is based on past events, and a theoretical probability is based on analyzing what could happen. An experimental probability approaches a theoretical one when enough random samples are used.  – John Van de Walle
  • The relative frequency of outcomes (of experiments) can be used as an estimate of the probability of an event. The larger the number of trials, the better the estimate will be.  – Marian Small

The Task Context

We explained to students that we had created a new game and wanted to test it out.  While each group would play the same game, the board for each game was slightly different.  We explained that it was their job to play the game and tell us which game board we should keep.


Rules for the Game
  • The game is for 3 players
  • 2 coins are flipped each turn
  • Player 1 wins if 2 Heads are flipped
  • Player 2 wins if 2 Tails are flipped
  • Player 3 wins if one of each are flipped
  • The result is placed on the game board (H for 2 Heads, T for 2 Tails, B for both – one of each)
  • The winner of game is determined by the player with the most wins in that game.
  • Once a game is finished the entire game is coloured 1 colour (Red for Heads, Blue for Tails, Green for Both).  If a tie exists, 2 colours are used equally.

The Game Boards

Each student is given a game board with 100 sections, however, each individual game consists of a different number of trials.

Game board 1 – 1 game of 100 trials

Game board 2 – 2 games of 50 trials each

Game board 3 – 5 games of 20 trials each

Game board 4 – 10 games of 10 trials each

Game board 5 – 20 games of 5 trials each

Download copies of these game boards here


Results

After playing several games using each game board here is what we found:

IMG_6496
1 game of 100
IMG_6502
2 games of 50
IMG_6495
5 games of 20
IMG_6500
10 games of 10
IMG_6499
20 games of 5

What do you Notice?  What do you Wonder?

Students noticed:

  • The player who was chosen as “Both” won far more than the other two
  • Game boards with more trials (game of 100 or 50 or 20) were coloured all/mostly green.
  • Game boards with less trials (game of 10 or 5) had more red and blue sections than other boards, but still mostly green

Students wondered:

  • Why did “Both” keep winning?
  • Why is a game board with more trials more likely that green will win?

In the end, several students came to the conclusion that getting a Heads and a Tails must be more probable.  Here is what they came up with:

heads tails.JPG


Some things to think about

If a Standard/Expectation tells us that our students need to understand that experimental probability approaches theoretical probability with more trials, we can’t just tell students this.  We need to set up situations where students are actually experimenting (including: making predictions, performing an experiment, adjusting predictions/making conjectures, re-testing the experiment…..).

As with anything in mathematics, our students need ample time and the right experiences to make sense of things before we rush to a summary of the learning.


I’d love to continue the conversation.  Write a response, or send me a message on Twitter ( @markchubb3 ).

Minimizing the “Matthew Effect”

For the past 5 years I have been a math coach in the same (mostly) few schools in my district. This has afforded me the opportunity to observe students through the years as they’ve been developing as young mathematicians. Being able to watch students year after year has afforded me opportunities to notice the different paths some kids take over time.  For example, go into a grade 8 classroom and really listen to the students as they are talking about their mathematics, observe each student as they are thinking and working…  What you might notice is a huge discrepancy between who is doing the talking or sharing and who is not.  You’ll see some students eager to participate, actively engaged in sense-making during new learning opportunities, and others who might seem to let others participate and do the majority of the thinking.  These observations have got me reflecting on a few questions:

  • Why are there such differences between these students?
  • What happens throughout the years that cause these differences?
  • How can we help create classrooms where all students are engaged in doing important mathematics?

The Matthew Effect:

An important piece to this puzzle can be attributed to “the Matthew Effect.” The Matthew Effect was coined to describe the process of cumulative advantage, basically, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The idea of the Matthew Effect is that those who start school with a small advantage continue to benefit, while those with a slight disadvantage continue to lose ground. While it might be easy for us as educators to notice the differences between students’ abilities or effort, it is far harder to notice any inequities that our classrooms and schools might be causing. More about this in a minute.


A few examples of the Matthew Effect:

Soccer:  A group of children join a soccer team for the first time.  Each time a child kicks the ball, or strips the ball from someone else, or passes to a teammate, or dribbles with the ball they learn.  Those students who start off more comfortable with running and kicking spend more time with the ball in a game.  By the end of the season, some students have kicked the ball hundreds of times more than others.  While everyone is learning to play soccer, the gap between those comfortable and uncomfortable with controlling the ball in a game widdens.

Reading:  Students enter into kindergarten with differing abilities to recognize letters or words, and differing interests in books.  Every time a child sounds out a word, or uses a cueing system to read a new or challenging word, or thinks deeply about the messages/story the better they get at reading.  Those who start off more comfortable with reading, read more books each having more words.  By the end of the year, some students have read thousands of words more than those who started off struggling.  While everyone is improving, the gap between those confident with reading, and those who are struggling to learn to read increases.


The Matthew Effect in Math

In both of the previous examples, there were two factors that led to inequities:

  1. The differences in the starting points of each individual
  2. The differences in opportunities for each individual

For mathematics, the issues can be quite complicated. To think about how the Matthew Effect can be problematic in mathematics learning it’s important for us to consider what early skills in mathematics are and which are predictive of later success.

But while it might be important to know early indicators, it is FAR more important to consider to think about how we are helping all of our students be successful. This is where we need to minimize the Matthew Effect!

So, how does the Matthew Effect happen? Imagine students in a class where the teacher asks a question of the group and those whose hands go up first always get to answer. Students who might need more processing time come to realize that others will get an answer first and might not even attempt to answer questions anymore because they won’t have enough time or believe somebody else will get picked anyway. Imagine a classroom where students are given different assignments based on their readiness. Students that continually get more advanced work come to think of themselves as more advanced while those receiving remedial assignments disengage because they realize they aren’t good at math. Imagine a classroom where every student gets the same page of closed math questions. Some students work independently and complete the tasks easily while others are unsure what to do. Over time those who struggle to work independently realize they can only be successful if they get direct help, they start to immediately raise their hand and expect their teacher to walk them through each question.

In each of these situations, some students are accessing the mathematics themselves while others are receiving a watered down version or are expecting others to do the thinking for them. Over time the gap in experiences is huge!


Complexities of teaching

If I provide everyone with the same task, some will struggle to independently be successful while others might find it too easy or repetitive. But if I provide different tasks to different students based on perceived readiness then I’ve also created inequities because I’ve limited students’ access to the mathematics.

If we keep pace of discussions based on the first few hands raising, then we likely haven’t engaged several students because they haven’t had enough time to think. But if we feel like we always need to wait for every student then we likely won’t have a flow of conversation that is ideal.

When determining groupings, if we place students who are currently struggling with students who are quite confident, there is a potential for an inequity in who is doing the work and who is learning. But if we place students who are struggling with other students who are struggling, then there are just as many inequities.


Minimizing the Matthew Effect

Teaching is complex! Helping students who disengage or who don’t identify with mathematics is not an easy task. However, we need to consider ways that we can help all of the students in our care to come to appreciate mathematics and believe in themselves as mathematicians.

productive unproductive

 

If there is a practice that benefits those who are already being successful with mathematics more than those who are striving to be successful, then there are inequities at play in our classrooms.  Whether the inequities are related to us believing who is capable, or related to who has access to rich learning opportunities, we need to understand and confront our own biases and beliefs for the benefit of all of our students.

As we start to think more about the inequities in our schools/classrooms we will start to see more students who are actively constructing their understanding of important concepts via rich problems and experiences… the interactions among students and between students and teachers will show that every student’s thoughts and ideas are valued… that every student can be successful if given the right experiences and feedback.

On the other hand, if we don’t believe that ALL students can learn to the highest levels, then our students won’t believe it either!


For more on these topics, please take a look at:

I’d love to continue the conversation.  Write a response, or send me a message on Twitter ( @markchubb3 ).

An Example of “Doing Mathematics”: Creating Voronoi

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we look at academic standards (what we call curriculum expectations here in Ontario) lately.  Each person who reads a standard seems to read it through their own lens.  That is, as we read a standard, we attach what we believe is important to that standard based upon our prior experiences.  With this in mind, it might be worth looking at a few important parts of what makes up a standard (expectation) in Ontario.  Each of our standards have some/all of the following pieces:

  • Content students should be learning
  • Verbs clearly indicating the actions our students should be doing to learn the content and demonstrate understanding of the content
  • A list of tools and/or strategies students should be using

Each of these three pieces help us know both what constitutes understanding, and potentially, how we can get there. However, while our standards here in Ontario have been written to help us understand these pieces, many of our students experience them in a very disconnected way.  For example, if we see each expectation as an isolated task to accomplish, our students come to see mathematics as a never-ending list of skills to master, not as a rich set of connections and relationships.  There are so many standards to “cover” that what ends up being missed for many students is the development of each standard. The focus of teaching mathematics ends up as the teaching of the standards instead of experiencing mathematics.  We give away the ending of the story before our students even know the characters or the plot. We share the punchline without ever setting up the joke.  We measure our students’ outcomes without considering the reasoning they walk away with… while many students might be able to demonstrate a skill after some practice, it’s quite possible they don’t know how it’s helpful, how it relates to other pieces of math, and because of this, many forget everything by the next time they use the concepts the next year.

To help us think deeper about what it means to experience mathematics from the students’ point of view, Dan Meyer has been discussing building the “intellectual need” with his whole “If Math Is The Aspirin, Then How Do You Create The Headache?”.  Basically, the idea here is that before we teach the content that might be in our standards, we need to consider WHY that content is important and how we can help our students construct a need for the skill.  He has helped us think about how our students could experience the long-cut before our students ever experience the short-cut.

Let’s take a specific example of a specific standard:


constructperpendicular bisectors, using a variety of tools (e.g.,
Mira, dynamic geometry software, compass) and strategies (e.g., paper folding)


If constructing perpendicular bisectors is the Aspirin, then how can we create the headache?  How can we create a situation where our students need to do lots of perpendicular bisectors?  Well, I wonder if creating voronoi could be a possible headache.  Take a look:

A Voronoi diagram is a partitioned plane where the area within each section includes all of the possible points closest to the original “seed” (the point within each section).  So, how might students create these?  If they already knew how to create perpendicular bisectors, they could simply start by placing seeds anywhere on their page, then create perpendicular bisectors between each set of points to find each partition.  However, Dan Meyer points out how important it really is to spend the time to really develop the skill starting from where our students currently are:

“In order for the CONSTRUCTION of the perpendicular bisector to feel like aspirin, I’d want students to feel the pain that comes from using intuition alone to construct the voronoi regions. This idea ties in other talks I’ve given about developing the question and creating full stack lessons. I’d want students to estimate the regions first.

Here is a dream I had awhile ago that I haven’t been able to build anywhere yet. Excited to maybe make it at Desmos some day.” 

If you can, I’d recommend you take a look at Dan’s dream.  It really illustrates the idea of building his “full stack” lesson.  If we think back to the original standard again,

constructperpendicular bisectors, using a variety of tools (e.g.,
Mira, dynamic geometry software, compass) and strategies (e.g., paper folding)

it might be worth noting the specific pieces in orange.  I wonder, given a lesson like this, how much time would be spent allowing students opportunities to consider strategies that would make sense?  Or, how likely it would be that our students would be told which strategies/tools to use?

Below you can see the before and after images from a student’s work as they attempt to find perpendicular bisectors for each set of points.


Tasks like this do something else as well, they raise the level of cognitive demand.  Take a look at Stein et., al’s Mathematical Task Analysis Guide below:

math_task_analysis_guide - Level of Cognitive Demand

While most students might experience a concept like this in a “procedures without connections” manner, allowing students to figure out how to create voronoi brings about the need to accurately find perpendicular bisectors, and consider how long each line would be in relation to all of the other perpendicular bisectors.  This is what Stein calls “Doing Mathematics”!  And hopefully, the students in our mathematics classes are actually “Doing Mathematics” regularly.


As always, I want to leave you with a few reflective questions:

  • How often are your students engaged in “Doing Mathematics” tasks?  Is this a focus for you and your students?
  • If you were to ask your students to create voronoi, how much scaffolding would you offer?  If we provide too much scaffolding, would this task no longer be considered a “doing mathematics” task?  How would you introduce a task like this?
  • Creating a perpendicular bisector is often seen as a quick simple skill that doesn’t connect much with other standards.  However, the task shared here asks students to make connections.  Can you think of standards like this one that might not connect to other standards nicely?  How can you build a need (or create the headache as Dan says) for that skill?
  • Are you and your students “covering” standards, or are you constructing learning together?  What’s the difference here?

I’d love to continue the conversation.  Write a response, or send me a message on Twitter ( @markchubb3 ).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How Many Do You See (Part 2 of 2)

A few weeks ago I shared with you a quick blog post showing a simple worksheet at the grade 2 level – the kind of  simple worksheet that is common to many classrooms.  If you haven’t seen the image, here it is again:

DL5ysx5WkAA4O_x

As you can see, the task asks students to correctly count the number of each shape they notice.  In my first post (Part 1) I asked us a few questions to start a conversation:

  1. Pick one shape (or more if you’re adventurous)
  2. Think about what you believe the teacher’s edition would say
  3. Count how many you see
  4. Share the 3 points above as a comment here or on Twitter

I was quite happy with where some of the conversations led…

Some of the conversations revolved around the issue many have with resources perpetuating stereotypical definitions of shapes:

IMG_E6046

If we look, there are exactly 4 shapes that resemble the diagram at the top of the page labelled as “rectangle”, however, there are several different sized squares as well (a square are a special case of a rectangle).


Other conversations revolved around actually counting the number of each item:

IMG_E6044IMG_E6042IMG_E6053IMG_E6052

trapezoids 21

What interests me here is that we, as a group of math teachers, have answered this grade 2 worksheet with various answers.  Which brings about 2 important conversations:

  1. What are we looking for when students complete a worksheet or textbook questions?
  2. Are we aiming for convergent or divergent thinking?  Which of these is more helpful for our students?

What are we looking for?

Given the conversations I have had with math teachers about the worksheet being shared here, it seems like there are a few different beliefs.  Some teachers believe the activity is aimed at helping students recognize traditional shapes and identify them on the page.  Other teachers believe that this activity could potentially lead to discussions about definitions of shapes (i.e., What is a rectangle?  What is a hexagon?…) if we listen to and notice our students’ thinking about each of the shapes, then bring students together to have rich discussions.

It’s probably worth noting that the Teacher’s Edition for this worksheet includes precise answers.  If a typical teacher were to collect the students’ work and begin marking the assignment using the “answers” from the teacher’s guide, some of the students would have the “correct” answer of 8 trapezoids, but many others would likely have noticed several of the other trapezoids on the page.  If we are looking / listening for students to find the correct answer, we are likely missing out on any opportunity to learn about our students, or offer any opportunity for our students to learn themselves!

I would hope that an activity like this would provide us opportunities for our students to show what they understand, and move beyond getting answers into the territory of developing mathematical reasoning.


Convergent vs Divergent Thinking

Again, many of the teachers I have discussed this activity with have shared their interest in finding the other possible versions of each shape.  However, what we would actually do with this activity seems to be quite different for each educator.  It seems like the decisions different teachers might be making here relate to their interest in students either having convergent thinking, or divergent thinking.  Let’s take a look at a few possible scenarios:

Teacher 1:

Before students start working on the activity, the teacher explains that their job is to find shapes that look exactly like the image in the picture at the top of the page.

Teacher 2:

Before students start working on the activity, the teacher tells the students exactly how many of each shape they found, then asks students to find them.

Teacher 3:

Before students start working on the activity, the teacher explains that their job is to find as many shapes as possible.  Then further explains that there might be ones that are not traditional looking.  Then, together with students, defines criteria for each shape they are about to look for.

Teacher 4:

Before students start working on the activity, the teacher explains that their job is to find as many shapes as possible.  As students are working, they challenge students to continue to think about other possibilities.


In the above scenarios, the teachers’ goals are quite different.  Teacher 1 expects their students to spend time looking at common versions of each shape, then spot them on the page.  Teacher 2’s aim is for students to be able to think deeper about what each shape really means, hoping that they are curious about where the rest of the shapes could possibly be leading their students to challenge themselves.  Teacher 3 believes that in order for students to be successful here, that they need to provide all of the potential pieces before their students get started.  Their goal in the end is for students to use the definitions they create together in the activity.  Finally, teacher 4’s goal is for students to access the mathematics before any terms or definitions are shared.  They believe that they can continue to push students to think by using effective questioning.  The development of reasoning is this teacher’s goal.

Looking back at these 4 teachers’ goals, I notice that 2 basic things differ:

  1. How much scaffolding is provided; and
  2. When scaffolding is provided

Teachers that provide lots of scaffolding prior to a problem typically aim for students to have convergent thinking.  They provide definitions and prompts, they model and tell, they hope that everyone will be able to get the same answers.

Teachers that withhold scaffolding and expect students to do more of the thinking along the way typically aim for divergent thinking.  That is, they hope that students will have different ideas in the hopes for students to share their thinking to create more thinking in others.

Whether you believe that convergent thinking or divergent thinking is best in math, I would really like you to consider how tasks that promote divergent thinking can actually help the group come to a consensus in the end.  If I were to provide this lesson to grade 2s, I would be aiming for students to be thinking as much as possible, to push students to continue to think outside-the-box as much as possible, then make sure that in my lesson close, that we ALL understood what makes a shape a shape.


I want to leave you with a few reflective questions:

  • I provided you with a specific worksheet from a specific grade, however, I want you to now think about what you teach.  How much scaffolding do you provide?  Are you providing too much too soon?
  • Do your lessons start off with convergent thinking or divergent thinking?  Why do you do this?  Is this because you believe it is best?
  • How can you delay scaffolding and convergent thinking so that we are actually promoting our students to be actively thinking?  How can you make this a priority?
  • What lesson or warm-ups or problems have you given that are examples of what we are talking about here?
  • If we do remove some of the scaffolding will some of your students sit there not learning?  Is this a sign of them not understanding the math, or a sign of them used to being spoon-fed thinking?  What do WE need to get better at if we are to delay some of this scaffolding?

I encourage you to continue to think about what it means to help set up situations for your students to actively construct understanding:

I’d love to continue the conversation.  Write a response, or send me a message on Twitter ( @markchubb3 ).

P.S.  I’m still not confident how many of each shape are actually here!

How many do you see?(Part 1)

A few days ago I had the opportunity to work with a grade 2 teacher as her class was learning about Geometry.  The students started the class with a rich activity comparing and sorting a variety of standard and non-standard shapes, followed by a great discussion about several properties they had noticed.

Shortly after, students started working on following the page as independent work. Take a look:

DL5ysx5WkAA4O_x

Take a minute to try to figure out what you think the answers might be.  Scroll up and pick one of the less obvious shapes and count how many you see.

This isn’t one of those Facebook “can you find all the hidden shapes” tasks, it’s meant to be a straightforward activity for grade 2 students. However, I’m not sure what the actual answers are here.  So, I need some help…  I’d love if you could:

  • Pick one shape (or more if you’re adventurous)
  • Think about what you believe the teacher’s edition would say
  • Count how many you see
  • Share the 3 points above as a comment here or on Twitter

I’m hoping in my next post that we can discuss more than just this worksheet and make some generalizations for any grade and any topic.