Monday 11/7 Class Reflection

Today was full of student exhibitions, the “Science Behind CSI” elective, and a POGIL-based math class with the middle schoolers at Big Picture Middle School. Last week Dan D. and I met with Mrs. B. who agreed to let me pilot some process-oriented, guided-instruction learning (POGIL) in her classroom. I prepared a lesson worksheet [Word doc on Google docs] on percents, with application to computing discounts and sale prices. Since the middle school is only two classrooms of approximately 17 students each, each of the 2 groups of students rotate into Mrs. B.’s classroom during separate periods for math class on Mondays. Here’s some of my reflection on how it went.

Since I am familiar with some of the students based on the CSI elective, and the computer science elective that I did last Friday, I didn’t have as many student names to learn. We started each class with a short introduction of who I was and what we would be trying to do in the class. I handed out the description of POGIL roles [PDF on Google docs], and briefly read them with the class. The students were then asked to get into the groups that Mrs. B. had pre-defined. After they got into groups they divided themselves into roles. I asked them to write down on their description sheets the name of each person doing each role. Once the Technicians (or was it the Spokespersons?) were defined, I asked each group to send that student to me so that I could give them the handouts. I also gave the Technician some brief instructions as they looked at the lesson worksheets.

Once all groups had the worksheets and had the roles pretty well defined, I circulated to make sure the groups were getting a good start on the worksheets, and were making progress. Most groups in both periods were able to get to the bottom of page 3-where they actually had solved the problem of the day-during the 50 minutes of class time. At the end of class I announced that when I returned to the class we would do a quick quiz on the material of this day’s lesson. Mrs. B. also announced that the 5 questions on page 4 would be used as extra credit, if they handed them in.

Dan D. (my mentor teacher) and I were able to talk briefly after class. What follows are some of my reflections on session 1 (S1) and session 2 (S2) of the class.

o in both S1 and S2 students in some groups had some friction deciding who would fulfill the roles, although the groups were well-defined prior to class by Mrs. B. the roles were not. In both S1 and S2, paper-rock-scissors was used to break ties on group roles.
o as I circulated through the class, I was focused on material being covered via the worksheet, I also did some role-specific coaching e.g. “student B, as manager you should…” or “student X, as document control person remember to …” Upon reflection, building a robust understanding of the group roles is essential to this model, and a group with good participation from the roles will make progress on the material.
o in S1 there was a student in on group who refused to participate, and wanted to read comic books instead. I realize now that with some patient re-direction (and frequent visits back to that group) the chances of her participation would have increased. To put it more emphatically, if you let one student turn out, that sentiment will spread undermining the whole group.
o in S2 there was one group that had some group conflict (inappropriate, derogatory remarks, name-calling) which Mrs. B. took into hand. However, that group never really regained a level of effective collaboration that other groups had. The scenario within this group is interesting so let me dwell on it briefly. The range of abilities within the group was wide. One student refused to participate with the group and merely worked the worksheet by themselves. Another student demoralized by the bickering in the group also worked alone, and when asked to share with the group said “I don’t want them copying me!”. For the former student, I made the mistake of facilitating the “checked out” behavior by checking answers on the final page myself. A better strategy would have been to point him back to the group and asking him to work out his answers with them. The student worried about copying has a valid concern if the grade is the most important thing to them or to what they perceive as success in the class. Given more time (and more presence of mind next time), I would remind the student that they will get better if they also seek to explain and support their group.
o there were a couple of items on the worksheet that could have used some group clarification. The challenge is figuring out a good time to announce clarifications to the whole room. I could have done it through Spokespersons however an idea which did not occur to me at the time.
o in S1 I had Spokespersons come to the front of the room and, using the document camera, present some of their results. That seemed to work moderately well as long as the students felt comfortable in front of the group, and could use the document camera effectively or with little stress.
o in S2, I sat at the document camera and asked the Spokespersons in each group to call out their solutions, I don’t think that was an effective alternative to what I had done in S1, but worth a try.
o one of the common confusions in both S1 and S2 was the answer to “what is 20% of 15”, some students insisted that the answer was $12, which is the overall answer to the problem of the day, but not an answer to the question as written. This also came out in answers to the exercises at the end, namely that students were confused about the amount of the discount versus the new price of the item which is original price minus discount. In S2, I attempted to make this clear by asking Spokespersons to the center of the room to answer the question together. Calling Spokespersons to the center of the room and then asking the whole group to listen to them as they answer is not really an effective strategy. Better would be to talk privately to the Spokespersons and share a correct answer and let them take that back to their groups. Or I should just announce the correct answer and not try to do a hybrid direct-instruction, group-collaborative intervention in the class.
o in general my ability to control and guide the students from a classroom management point of view needs some work. At various times I am talking over the students which is not effective and/or not waiting long enough for complete silence or attention before giving instruction, need to work on that.

Did Learning Take Place?

I would not have necessarily predicted that some of the best students could also be confused by the “amount of discount” versus “actual sale price (including discount)”. I think the lesson was a good step towards correcting that conceptual error which could easily trip them up on a standardized test if they don’t read the problems carefully enough.

One student was convinced that an answer was correct because they had pushed some series of buttons on their calculator and came up with a number. I tried to walk them and the entire group through the steps on the calculator and compare them to the “math sentences” that were on the worksheet. I also tried to walk them through some simple examples verbally that they could check against their calculator usage. That seemed to have some effect. However, what did not work was a student claiming that they had the right answer via some other calculator button-pressings. Especially since that student then wanted to take credit for having the right answer first. An argument ensued, and I think I could have handled that a little better. Perhaps one approach might have been asking each student to detail exactly the buttons they were pressing and in which order. And then reminding the group that what mattered is the group having the same answer and agreeing on the answer, not who came up with it first.

I have to say that making sure that the whole group had the same answer on their sheets is a powerful driver of consensus and communication in the groups. This itself is an invaluable part of collaborative learning. While I have been fairly critical above, there were some instances in all groups where it seemed like the groups were really flowing well together (my biased observation). I think a future opportunity to do another lesson would provide some good experiences for both the students and myself. Thanks much to Mrs B. for letting me take over her class!

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  • B  On November 9, 2011 at 2:41 am

    John –
    Seems to have been a big day! Some first thoughts: Roles can be learned through practice , reminders and consistency. Also each role needs some important stuff to do. Hear yourself about individual management issues and solutions. With more opportunities to work with a group, your written strategies can be applied, tested, revised towards a solution.
    In the math class you seem to have an assessment, good. One end ought to be that for the experience they walk with a verifiable new skill.


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