Thursday, November 17, 2016

When The Activity Isn't Enough

I love the learn by playing nature of activities like Marbleslides.  In fact, I just visited a classroom yesterday where kids were digging in.  It was interesting to watch as students engaged in this environment.  It was fascinating to try to understanding their thinking.

If we walked into 100 classrooms where students were learning about graphing lines in slope-intercept form, we'd find more than our fair share of lessons where some sort of direct instruction is happening.  We'd likely hear academic vocabulary, see a formula for finding slope and probably even a general equation like y = mx + b.

I'm not against those things.  However, I'm for giving students an experience that can be precisely described by knowing those things. Activities like Marbleslides do this.

The activity isn't enough.

Here are four different students who are all engaged in the same activity.  Consider the following questions:

What do you notice?
What questions would you ask this student?
What could you have offered this student prior to starting this activity?

Student 1

Student 2

Student 3

Student 4

Here's what I see.

Student 1 is WAGging like crazy.  These are just random guesses. No adjusting or learning from feedback.  If this student achieves success, it'd be like a blind squirrel finding an acorn.

Student 2 is an answer chaser.  I mean literally, look at the guesses.  Once this student sees which part of the equation to adjust and the line moving in the right direction, the adjustments are incremental.

Student 3 is a strategic thinker.  Slope? Nah, don't need it.  y-intercept? Yeah, that's the stuff.  Let's trap the answer and close in on it.

Student 4 is engaged, believe it or not.  This student is paralyzed by options.  Just waiting for the correct answer to pop into the brain.

So, how do you respond to each student?


Dan Meyer said...

Me, I get real curious about their answers on Screen #7, where we disable the immediate feedback.

Joe Ellery said...

This is a really interesting post and it's cool seeing the different scenarios acted out. The first student seems to not understand the concepts of the activity. Maybe ask if he/she knows a more efficient way? 2 and 3 seem pretty similar, and I think that asking them about the patterns they see would be good. The fourth student probably just needs a push to try something out. The teacher could reassure him/her that guessing isn't a bad thing.

Stephanie Blair said...

Hello! This post was recommended for The Best of the Math Teacher Blogs 2016: a collection of people's favorite blog posts of the year. We would like to publish an edited volume of the posts at the end of the year and use the money raised toward a scholarship for TMC. Please let us know by responding via whether or not you grant us permission to include your post. Thank you, Tina and Lani.