Thursday, 2 March 2017

PD: A Measure of Success

The Carleton-Ottawa Mathematics Association (COMA), the local chapter of the OAME, tries to have a Conference or Forum of some sort every year. I should know - I'm the secretary.

I believe the last time I blogged about it was in this 2013 region PD post, when it took place in November. I have covered the COMA Social (a September event) more recently: In 2014 with Marian Small (Public Math Relations), in 2015 with Kyle Pearce (Math in Context) and in 2016 with Chris Suurtamm (Ontario Math) - tomorrow's link now active.

Due to logistics, since 2013, our local mini-conference has changed venue and time of year. This post will look at what occurred during the 2015-16 school year, specifically on April 23, 2016. I happened to attend the session run by Bruce McLaurin, entitled “What a Rowdy Grade 9 Applied Math Class Taught Me About Teaching”. I reproduce a summary of that here.


Bruce had presented this topic at a University “Ignite” session (12 slides at 15 seconds each for three minutes), and is slowing it down here to provide more truth.

Knowing when to shut up is a gift that few people are born with. This particular class, it would take them five minutes to settle down, then a deluge of stuff that can be unrelated - so Bruce learned to shut up. They were not good listeners, they would keep talking, so no lectures.

Also, Bruce didn’t have a textbook. TIPS4M (a collection of questions, TIPS = Thinking/Inquiry/Problem Solving) let him pull away from a text. Students were nervous, they questioned this, they thought they couldn’t learn math without a textbook. He gave in, the text lasted a couple days, then they put them away again.

There were no notes. They just did the math every day, handouts going into lockers - or recycle bins. There was no homework. After this, Bruce is not a huge fan of homework in general anyway. (As a parent, homework ruined his family life.) The French president (Hollande) even proposed banning homework in 2012. Truth is: “Most who do the homework, don’t need to. Most who need to, don’t do it.” Don’t even call it homework, call it PRACTICE.

So what do you do with no lectures, no text, no notes and no homework?

Bruce brought his math class to shoot baskets in the gym, to get data, to determine where on the court is the toughest shot. Once they had the data, the students did 20 minutes of quiet working analyzing it - unplanned. Bruce thought, there’s something to this. Not merely gathering their own data, but the movement. It was not easy to implement this. (He spoke about EQAO results and changing schools.)

Children need love the most when they appear to deserve it the least. An exercise: Write your feelings on a piece of paper. Crumple it into a ball, and throw it. Read the crumpled messages of others. Anonymous (but may be able to find out?). Question to use: How Do You Feel About Math?

“Parents are sending you the best kids they have. They’re not keeping ‘the good ones’ at home.” It’s not you, it’s me. Bruce also remarked here that he’s concerned about repeating his stories, and explained why, personally and professionally.

Even though Grade 10 Applied is a huge amount of work for him, he has now requested that course. Just step off the cliff, try new things. Bruce then opened up the floor (if memory serves, based on a shift in my handwriting), wondering about directions from here.


Questions that came up: How do we judge or measure success, if it’s not immediate? (Things can change day to day in a classroom.) What do we value in a math classroom? (Some students value repetition, so is that the practice they need?) Grouping and randomizing was also brought up. Is it true that 60% of things we tell kids, they already know? (Consider students who don’t do well on stuff from last year, even if they did well on it then.)

Student survey: It’s a little scary, but we need to do that, to look at the effectiveness of what we do. To start looking at data. How good are our techniques? Try a survey in September versus January, see if there’s a change.

Bruce had some information here. Statements for students to rank: “You can be creative in math class.” “I talk about math when I am not in school.” Agreement with “I like math” versus “Math is one of my favourite subjects.”

The danger with small changes, is you’ll reset. Big changes tend to stick. Bruce’s closing words: “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

A couple other items referenced afterwards:
-Slogan of some shoes: “Always in Beta” (New Balance), it’s a bit like a classroom.
-GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) is not great - look to Finland for better work.
-A possible claim to prove: Two exponential equations can have more than one solution/intersection. More engaging that way?
-We should be talking more with elementary and middle schools towards choosing Academic and Applied in Grade 9.
-Instead of “assigning homework”, “offer practice”.

Thanks for reading this recap! (Try to be vaguely impressed; by helping out with the school play, I wrote this after being at school every day since Easter in late March. April 23rd here was my first day off.) Comment below with thoughts or questions. Note COMA's Ottawa mini-conference this year (2017) will be at the start of April, only a month away - do let me know if you want more details.

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