Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hey Look! I Made a 3-Act!

I suppose it was bound to happen.  After two years of covering other people's material, I finally made my own 3-Act.  The inspiration came from an unlikely place:

 Actually I've found quite a bit of math in here.
It was in the middle of a 2-week, 6 classroom tour of Lisa Anglea's  Piggy Bank 3-Act  (it's in Grade 3, Unit 1, pgs. 58-64) that I noticed this:

 It was sitting on one of the tables in the Faculty Lounge.
I felt it had the potential for a 3-Act task similar to Piggy Bank, except instead of finding out the number of coins in the bank, the kids would work on finding out how many packets of sugar and sweetener were in the basket.  And as a sequel, they could calculate how much sugar and sweetener there was.
I didn't have time to work it all out at the moment, so I took the basket back to our room. Teachers would have to go without sweetener for a while, but it was all in the name of math.  As I began to look at the packets, I realized they were all different brands: Dunkin' Donuts, Wawa, name brand, generic, etc.  I felt that for the task to work, each type would have to be the same.

 A quick trip to the supermarket and I had what I needed, and the teachers had their sweeteners back.

Act 1

sugar act 1 from Joe Schwartz on Vimeo.

Here's a picture of the packets in a pile:

Act 2

This move was informed by my experience with Piggy Bank.  During Act 2 a group in one class had asked to see, "All the coins laid out in a line."  What an interesting experience it would have been to watch the members of that group attempt to count 814 coins!  So rather then just give them the total number of each type of packet, I decided to make them work for it.  I also felt it would be a good way to reinforce arrays and multiplication.
As I worked the Piggy Bank 3-Act through the classes, I was surprised by how many requests I received for the dimensions of the bank.  I tried to anticipate this happening with the sugar 3-Act, so I took this picture just in case:

And for the sequel:

Act 3

If you're keeping track, it's 40 packets of Domino, 26 Sweet 'n Low, 21 Equal, and 25 Splenda for a total of 112 packets.

For the sequel reveal, I need to give credit to our district's videographer John McMenamin, who has helped give some of our videos a more professional feel.  Warning: Even with the time lapse, the video runs a little over 5 minutes.  For those unwilling to sit through it, a picture follows, although I think counting by 3 1/2 would make a good counting circle activity.

SugarREVEAL from Joe Schwartz on Vimeo.

Here's what I learned:
• It's not so easy to make a 3-Act, and it really helps to have people to collaborate with.  Kudos to my ace film crew.  Thanks Theresa and John!
• Previous 3-Act experiences can help you anticipate what the kids may ask for in Act 2.  The more information you can provide in Act 2, the better the experience.
• 3-Acts are contagious.  Once you do one with your class, it's hard not to see the world around you in terms of potential 3-Acts.  Theresa created one from a picture she took at a birthday party of a 4 ft. sub sandwich for grade 5, Rich already has one under his belt and is working on another, Jane is hammering out the details on a Lego 3-Act for grade 3, and Kim has some ideas for 3-Acts for kindergarten.
We've yet to spring this one on a class, so if you try it, please give us some feedback in the comments.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Building a Better Worksheet

"So 90 percent of what I do with my five hours of prep time per week is to take fairly compelling elements of problems like this from my textbook and rebuild them in a way that supports math reasoning and patient problem solving."

Fair or not, worksheets, like textbooks, have a bad reputation.  They conjure up images of quiet students sitting at desks in orderly rows, filling in blanks and bubbles.  Busy work.  But with a bit of imagination, along with some cut and paste, we can transform them into something a little more meaningful.  Here are two recent attempts:

Example 1

Our district uses Everyday Math.  One of the nice features of its online component is access to differentiated worksheets.  Searching for something to use with the fifth graders to complement our fraction work, I came across this:

I liked the idea behind this one.  I had heard from both Bill McCallum and Phil Daro at the AMTNJ conference in October that one of the intentions behind the Common Core standards was to emphasize mental math, number sense, and estimation by benchmarking, and I felt these questions hit that target.  But there were some things I didn't like.
What first caught my eye was the title:

Why tell the kids that these are addition problems? Let them figure out what operation to use.
I cut it.  Next, the directions:

Why tell the kids what strategy or tool to use?  Let them figure it out!
I cut it.  Left with more space, I moved the questions up and added boxes to give them space to explain their thinking.  Here's the final product:

Example 2:

Our grade 2 teachers showed me this problem.  They had copied it for their students to work on in a problem solving center:

Here is one suggestion: take off the question and replace it with a notice and wonder prompt:

 This automatically lowers the barrier to entry.  Another advantage to this approach is that the kids, through their wonderings, come up with questions of their own to solve.

Here's another:

 As one teacher at my school puts it, when we ask kids to engage in tasks like this it forces them to, "Use muscles they're not used to using."
I'm not arguing that the questions on these worksheets are especially compelling, or that we're eliminating pseudo-context.  But for teachers that need to plan and prepare for science, social studies, reading, and writing, as well as math, and who may not have the time to cover a file cabinet with post-its, or fill a tank with water, making some small changes to the worksheets they have on hand can sometimes make a big difference.

"...finally, in total, just be less helpful, because the textbook is helping you in all the wrong ways: It's buying you out of your obligation, for patient problem solving and math reasoning, to be less helpful."
Dan Meyer,  Math Class Needs a Makeover

Saturday, February 14, 2015

100 Days In

On Monday you could sense something stirring in the air...

On Tuesday the wind shifted...

By Wednesday it was clear something big was coming...

And on Thursday the excitement reached a fever pitch...

Finally, it was Friday, and everybody let loose because...

Last year's celebration was fun, but this year the teachers and kids really outdid themselves.

There were hats:

 Grade 2.  10 stripes with 10 objects on each.  10 x 10 = 100!!

In Kindergarten:

 We've come a long way since Day 39!

 The kindergartners filled in a hundreds chart...

 ....then cut it apart and threw all the pieces in the air like confetti.

 They also practiced their tallying skills.

The first graders sorted 100 objects:

 How much money?

 I got to bring my Legos to school!

 Got a Jigglypuff card?