Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Now That's a Novel Idea!

This video was sent to me recently.  I found it interesting because it clearly represents a couple of issues we face regularly with students. Boredom and Inattention!  This video is a perfect example of what we can do to help eliminate boredom while capturing our student's attention.

Text from email about the video:
Can you change people's habits and attitudes? Can you take a hard task and change people's conduct and attitudes by making a hard job seem fun?

Watch what a group of scientists did using fun or pleasure to get people to use a long staircase with a moving escalator right next to it. At first no one took the stairs; almost 97% of the people took the escalator. Notice how scientists changed how people reacted to climbing a long staircase as first choice. Now 66% more people took the stairs. This is not a joke but a practical value in life. In the video, you can observe what the scientists did and how they completely reversed human behavior by inserting fun.

They are saying that more people took the stairs because they made it fun. That's true, however, it was much more than just fun.  People didn't only take the stairs because it was fun.  The piano on the stairs was something they'd never seen before so it was NovelNovelty captures the brain's attention! If someone takes that route every day, they would probably go back to using the escalator once the Novelty of the piano on the stairs wore off.

So what does this mean for us as math teachers?
It means that we can use Novelty to help capture student's attention and help eliminate boredom Remember, something is only novel for a short time, so we have to continually find new ways to introduce novelty into our lessons.

Here are a few suggestions for using Novelty:
• show a video clip (Ex.  If you're teaching Circumference, find a short video clip of someone doing the hula hoop.  Show the video to introduce your lesson on circumference.)
• bring in a new object that relates to the lesson (Ex. If you're teaching Circumference, bring in hula hoops of different sizes. Have students use string and rulers to find the circumference of each hula hoop.)
• play a game
• have students make up songs or dances to go along with a skill or concept you're teaching
• use a new kind of manipulative
• use a new method for putting students into groups
• have students interview each other about the topic they are learning  (Ex.  Have students pretend to be a talk show host or news reporter.  Have them write questions they would ask about Circumference.  Then have them take turns interviewing their partner about the given topic.)
• have a guest speaker or teacher  (If another teacher in the building teaches the same thing as you, try trading classes for a day.  Or, ask the principal, counselor, or someone else in the building to come in and work through a problem with students.)
• have students text their parent about the topic/concept their learning
• tell a story that relates to topic you're teaching  (Ex.  Tell a story about an experience you had on a Farris Wheel before teaching a lesson on Circumference.)
• use a new type of technology

Stay tuned for more suggestions and lesson ideas for using Novelty in future posts!

Friday, November 12, 2010

What do Questioning Strategies have to do with Expectations?

I've been researching questioning stategies recently.  It turns out that I'm learning a lot more than I thought I would.  As part of my research, I've come across some fantastic examples of questioning by math teachers.  These examples got me thinking about our expectations of students and how our questioning techniques reflect these expectations.

What do we expect from our students?  Do we expect them to wait for us to work through the problem for them? Or, do we expect students to think through problems on their own?  Do we expect students to communicate mathematically?

The way we question students is directly related to our expectations of them.  The questions we ask, or don't ask, imply our expectations.  The following examples demonstrate questioning strategies of teachers who expect students to think and communicate about thier learning.

Check out this masterful questioning of an Algebra student by David Cox.  He uses a series of questions to get his student past "I don't know how to do this."  How often have we heard that one?!  He helps the student focus on what they do know in order to answer the given problem.  His questioning techniques speak volumes of his expectation that the student do the thinking.  I would also guess that the student felt much more satisfaction and confidence at the end of conversation than they would have if David had worked the problem for them.

Tom Woodward's videos (see videos below) provide another example of excellent questioning in a math classroom.  This teacher is a master of facilitating mathematical discourse.  She continually requires the students to do the thinking and communicating about the problem they are solving.  What struck me was that whether the students were right or wrong in their thinking, the teacher never stopped asking questions to get them to communicate with each other.  At one point a student is speechless when asked a question by the teacher.  A few questions later, he is jumping right in with his thoughts.

Here's the problem that is being solved by students in the following videos.  In his post, Tom said the teacher had the questions more clearly delineated.  I would also suggest reformatting the question before using it with students.

Math Questioning from Tom Woodward on Vimeo.

Refining Solutions from Tom Woodward on Vimeo.

The teacher in this video expected her students to discuss the problem among themselves.  Everything she did in her conversations with students indicated that expectation.  I noticed how excited the student's were about solving the problem.  They really seemed to be enjoying the process of problem solving.  Wouldn't we all love see students enjoying problem solving in math class?!

My take away from these examples is that we must align our expectations and our questioning techniques.  If we expect our students to problem solve and communicate mathematically, we should use questions to help guide the way rather than giving in and doing the thinking for them.