Monthly Archives: September 2011

Student Engagement & Ownership, Day 1

One other start of year success I want to mention:

I was thinking about ways to make my classroom very student centered, as my school has really taken on the Danielson framework for teaching, focusing on select specifics such as Domain 2b: Establishing a Culture for Learning and Domain 2d: Managing Student Behavior.  In this subtopic, a teacher can be rated as distinguished with evidence like:

  • Students demonstrate through their active participation, curiosity, and taking initiative that they value the importance of the content.
  • Instructional outcomes, activities and assignments, and classroom interactions convey high expectations for all students. Students appear to have internalized these expectations.
  • Standards of conduct are clear to all students and appear to have been developed with student participation.

That last one really struck me as new, as I’ve always been a dictator about classroom rules.  So, I was contemplating how to go about activating students to develop their own rules while keeping things in order.  I also wanted to up the level of student discussion and participation.  As a result, my first thought was to have students to come up with the classroom rules on the first day. They could write them down, or we could have a class discussion, and together we would come up with appropriate rules, rewards and punishments (and we’d all be one big happy family…).

However, I had a chance to talk it over with the AMAZING Sam (of Continuous Everywhere…), and he had the same fears I did about such an open policy on rules.  His suggestion (which I implemented [and it worked wonders!]) was two-fold.  First, I had a discussion with students after reading through my syllabus (where I came up with my rules already) about what makes a productive student.  The class came up with great ideas and examples of what a productive student looks/acts like.  I also had them give a why to each statement, as in “a productive student is not on his cell phone because that would keep him from focusing on his work” or “a productive students works through the problems slowly and thoroughly so that she has a strong understanding of the problems.”

Then, as class came to an end, I gave students an exit slip, where they answered four brief questions, reflecting on the classroom rules in the context of our discussion.  I asked questions about the classroom rules, such as if there was anything they would like to change/add to the syllabus.  Students gave great feedback.  Most were happy with the way thing are, a few gave great suggestions.

I spent 4 or 5 minutes at the beginning of the next class discussing some of the results.  I explained one or two rules that students had mentioned that I (unfortunately) would not change, but I was able to discuss exactly why that rule is important (like my cell phone policy).  Then, I discussed the two rules changes/additions I was going to make.

Overall, I think the students are all happy with the classroom rules, many of which are fueled by debate structures I’m using.  What’s new is that the standards of conduct “appear to have been developed with student participation.”

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The Mathdebating Begins

The school year has started, and I’m already falling behind with this blog.  Eek!  Today I read (or maybe did some skimming of…) the 43 latest blog entries in my Google Reader (that I had also fallen behind on), and I finally fell inspired to get to work.

I’ve already started implementing various debate structures and activities in my classroom, and it’s already making a difference in the student discussion.  Here are some of the things that I started with:

1. Stand Up to Talk.  The first day, when I was going over the syllabus and having students introduce themselves, I talked about the upcoming year and how they would be debating in math.  Eyes started lighting up.  With this buy-in, I told the class that one important part of debate is standing to give your argument.  So as we went around the room, students quickly stood and briefly introduced themselves.  Easy structure, nothing new, but sticking to it comes in handy…

2. Argument Structure.  I am beginning both my PreCalc and Geometry classes with a brief unit on logic and proof, and debating is fitting in oh-so-nicely.  One of my first lessons was about arguments, which I blogged about in the last post.  Students quickly caught on (and got excited about) the “Argument = Claim + Warrant” structure.  I informed the class that whenever they were discussing their work/solution, they should format their discussion as “I claim…, and my warrant is…”  Again, nothing complicated, but it’s reinforcing the need to always have an explanation to follow any statement you make in class…

3. Soapbox Debates.   For our first debate activity, I used the Soapbox Debate format, where students take turns standing and voicing their arguments.  After a brief laugh with my class about the fact that I was the only person in the room who had ever heard the phrase “get off your soapbox…”, we proceed.  I started with the statement All students should wear uniforms, (we are a uniform public school) and eventually got to some stuff a little more “mathy” like Some functions must cross the x-axis or Between any two numbers there is always another number.  Though the latter two have more of a definite answer, this answer was not apparent to the kids, and led to a good, clarifying discussion. Also, the wording led to a great discussion of the importance of words like sometimes, always, must, etc.  (Thanks Bill for putting this in my mind with your last comment!)

4. One Mic.  The students and I discussed how we can only listen to one argument at a time and how important listening is in order to respond in cross-examination.  We also talked about how winning a debate is somewhat influenced by your appearance and behavior.  So, right away, students had a strong need to behave in my class and listen to each other.  When we started the soapbox debate, students were awesome about only talking one at a time and listening to each other.

5. Students take charge.  Because of the debate format (even the simplicity of soapbox), students become engaged and passionate about the discussion.  I started off the soapbox debate by cold calling on one or two people.  (I have a stack of index cards with student names that I use for cold calling.)  I told the students that I would pause after each person spoke.  This allowed a chance for a student to stand up and start talking (“I claim…) before I did another cold call.  It only took two cold calls before students took over the discussion for each of the statements I gave them.  Each statement had about 7 or 8 people standing up to say something about it, and most debating came to a natural end when there was a pause in the debating.

I was so excited at the success of this lesson!  It was totes in line with PCMI’s non-negotiables with classroom discussions and activating student ownership AND with the Danielson framework that my school is working in depth with this year.  It’s a win-win!

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