Sunday, September 10, 2017

Purposeful Popsicle Stick Picking

I am so excited about this idea.  Before I explain it let me give you a few background links.
After reading Tracy Zager's book Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You'd Had I created these posters and hung them in my room.

On the wall before the posters it says Mathematicians... and then these are all in a line following that.  
Can you picture it? Great!

Then during the first week of school I asked students these questions about the posters and we used them to set goals.  

I have done goal setting in the past.  Not necessarily regularly because it is one of those things I'm bad about following through with.  The goal sheets get put to the side and at best I would pull them out later in the year and ask how we did with our goals.  I don't know why it hard for me to follow through with goal activities, but it might have something to do with the fact that the goals always seem to be grade oriented.  Meaning what students will do to get a good grade.  I am not a big fan of grades.  I get why we have them, but students (and parents and sometimes teachers) lose sight of learning.  It all becomes about the grade.  

I want this year to be different.  The goals were multiple choice.  9 choices that are all focused on what mathematicians do.  The students had choice in what they wanted to work on, and I only have 9 goals to focus my instruction around - not 26 or 80 personal goals to meet with students about.  This all kind of came about this week and I was loving it, but I didn't really have a next step.  Until this morning.  
Colored popsicle sticks.  How many teachers have those popsicle sticks with all the students names on them?  Before you call on a student you pick a name out of the popsicle stick cup. Sound familiar?  
It is so brilliantly simple.  I could not be more excited.  Here is what I have done:

Each student's popsicle stick is color-coded based on their goal!!!

Here are a few notes on the making of the sticks before I share my plan for them:
You can get colored popsicle sticks but I could only find 6 colors and I needed 9.  It is possible to dye them but I wanted to make sure the colors were different enough to tell them apart and was worried dye would not do that.  I simply took washable markers and colored the tips.  I tested colors until I found 9 that were different enough.  If you line up the sticks you can run the marker over multiple sticks at a time.  It did not take that long.  
For the most part the color on the popsicle stick matches the background paper of that poster.  Because I didn't know I was doing this there were some repeat background colors so the sticks don't match exactly.  If you decide to do this and don't have the posters yet I suggest a different background color for each so the sticks can match (ur maybe that is only important to me).  

Here is my plan for using them:
Just a heads up, this section is still just a big ol' brainstorm. I don't have my book with me. (Can you believe it?  How did that happen?) I plan to look through all of my highlighted goodness in the book, and I will update and add things as ideas come to me. I just want to jot down some starting ideas.

Whenever I pull a stick I can be purposeful in the language I choose to invite the student into the conversation:
  • Ted, why don't you take a risk and tell us about the strategy you used or where you got confused.
  • Jane, since you are working on proving (or reasoning) why don't you share your reasoning and we will be skeptics and help you see if we need to fine tune anything.
  • Seamus, where did your intuition tell you where to start and how did you verify if it was correct?
  • Livy, is there anything about this work that is troubling you? (I remember this question even without the book.  I loved it so much. It's a great question to get students questioning, especially after I make incorrect statements with confidence to push them to question me.)
  • Milo, let's put your work under the document camera.  We will give you feedback as to whether it is clear and makes sense to see how you are coming with your precision.
What I really like about some of these questions is that they not only help the student remember the goal they are working on, but now the class becomes supporters of that student and their goal.  We are all helping each other.  We aren't critiquing your reasoning because I understand it and you don't and now you feel like I am better than you.  We are a team and we want you to help you reach your goal just like you help us.  It feels different, even as I write the questions.

Of course, there are certain activities in my classroom that lend themselves nicely to focus on certain goals.  Not that I would only call on those that have that goal, but for those who tend to not participate or the sticks that are left in the cup, it is a good way to draw them in.  I was going to list some examples for you but I don't really have anything that isn't already in Tracy's book.  You can go back and look or buy it and read it for the first time.

Also if it is an activity I am using specifically to focus on one area, like connecting ideas or making mistakes (reflecting on what we can learn from them or why doesn't that work type of questions) I could use the sticks to create groups.  I would pull the names of the students who are working on that goal and they would each be in a separate group.  The the rest of the sticks I could pull randomly.  The people who are focusing on that goal could lead the discussion.  

Like I said, this is a brilliantly simple idea.  I am sure that your brain is already coming up with questions you would ask students or ways you would incorporate these sticks.   Go back to the chapter you are reading or your favorite chapter and think about these sticks as you read.  I want to know all your thoughts and ideas.  Please use the comment section below to share.  I am so excited to see what we create together.  

If you are interested in my other  Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You'd Had blog posts you can find a complete list here.

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