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Sunday, October 23, 2016

Cooking up some Pi, week 1! (Teaching 3rd grade compsci with Raspberry Pi)

Passionate about introducing our students to computer science, I teamed this year with a 3rd grade teacher (enthusiastic about all things STEAM) at one of our Title I sites, as well as with one of our district literacy coaches, and we sketched out an interdisciplinary unit plan that consists of instruction in language arts, math, civics and computer science skills.

The students' culminating projects include two components-- creating persuasive videos (advertisements) on California proposition 67 (the plastic bag ban), and then building digital voting booths (using Scratch and a Raspberry Pi) on which the other 3rd grade classes will cast their votes for the proposition.

The ups & downs of week 1 of our project--
To start, there were definitely more ups than downs-- a pleasant surprise!

I wanted to start with the very basics, so we kicked off our day 1 lesson with an introduction to the parts of a computer, and then I asked students to identify which parts our Raspberry Pi still needed before we could use it. I introduced the terms 'input' and 'output' and students were quick to point out the need for a monitor, keyboard and mouse. Then, our teaching team passed out materials, helped student teams plug in the peripherals, and then we powered up!

Once the Pi stations were put together, we introduced the idea of electrical circuits, showed students how to put their Stop Light devices onto the GPIO pins, and walked them through their first lesson-- turning on the GPIO server and programming one light to blink using Scratch.

Some great conversations came up during our coding lesson around:

  • Fractions/decimals-- one of the teams wanted the wait time between commands to be less than 1 second so I asked them, "What's smaller than 1?" "0?" "Well, if we have zero, then we have nothing, which means no pause time... is there something between 0 & 1 we might try?" "Oh! What about 1/2?" "Great, yes! 1/2 is 0.5... why don't you type that in and see what happens?" "Can we try 0.7 too?"... a student asking me whether he can experiment with decimal fractions for fun?? Um, yes, please do play with fractions to see what happens!!
  • Patterns-- after learning how to light up 1 LED, we challenged students to light up another, and then a 3rd and asked them to find the pattern in the code to repeat the work they did with one LED to light the others
  • Multiples/multiplication-- in addition to having students identify patterns in the code, I also pointed out that in order to light 3 LEDs, they just needed to write the same code they just had, times 3 (x3). "What does x3 mean?", I asked... "It means we have three of those! So we do it 3 times!" Yep!
By the end of lesson 1, students had learned a bit more about how computers work and had lit up multiple LEDs on their Stop Lights-- success!

Day 2 was a little rockier...

Our plan for day 2 was to get buttons programmed to turn our lights on and off. That wasn't exactly the way it worked out. Some monitor troubles that started on day 1 (and that I thought we had fixed at the start of day 2) flared up again. Groups had to be broken up and dispersed into other groups. And, I messed up a couple of our lesson slides, so there were some key blocks missing from the code that students didn't notice on their own. All they knew was that the code they were writing wasn't working quite right. And even when I added in the missing blocks, the code still wasn't working right, and I couldn't find the issue right away, either.

The positives on day 2:
  • Students showed an awful lot of patience and persistence on both days of coding-- an impressive amount of patience for 8 year olds, if you ask me!
  • Students were able to set up their Pi stations much more quickly then on day 1-- I think they've figured out where are the cords and cables go and are feeling pretty confident about how to get their computers set up
  • Although we struggled with the buttons, 1-2 students per group remembered the process on their own for lighting up the LEDs and were already able to recreate this during our 2nd day of programming
  • With some guidance, some have started debugging their own team's code by looking for spelling errors and checking pin numbers
  • About 1/3 of the class remembered some of our new computer science vocabulary from day 1, which was exciting for the teachers to see (we started a word chart so students could access this academic vocabulary during work time)
  • Students remembered their fractions mini-lesson from day 1 (side note-- fractions have not yet been taught at this grade level, so as a math coach, it's exciting to see them latching on to the concept of fractional time as it's discussed and used in the context of wait time in codes)
Next steps:

Well, step 1 is for me to figure out why a code once working for me is now not working for the students. I have a couple of days to play with that before our day 3 lesson. If students can get their buttons up and running on day 3, then next steps are to create our Yes/No variables and add a PiCamera (which I think they're really going to have some fun with!). We're on a bit of a tight deadline now, with election day approaching, so I'm a little nervous, but the students, of course, don't seem even a bit phased-- they just want to know when the next Raspberry Pi day is.

I'm excited to see how the next lessons go!

Resources (a work in progress):

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Humpty Dumpty: Using inquiry-based math tasks in grade 1 to teach addition/problem solving

This week I had the pleasure of demoing/co-teaching a 3-Act math task, created by Graham Fletcher, in a 1st grade classroom in my district. I have always been a big fan of making math relevant to my students, and incorporating open-ended tasks that they can relate to, so when I first learned of Graham Fletcher's 3-Acts for primary age students (inquiry-based math tasks), I was hooked. I am sharing these like crazy at my math trainings, to encourage more inquiry-based math and student-driven problem solving in classrooms, and teachers' interests are piqued!

A reflection on our "Humpty Dumpty" 3-Act lesson in grade 1--

Prepping the Lesson
A common request from the teachers I support is for ideas on how to customize and differentiate our current math curriculum, Eureka Math/EngageNY. With that in mind, the first part of prepping this lesson involved finding the specific grade 1 lessons and math standards that the lesson aligned with. I also identified alignment with specific tasks in the upcoming mid-module assessment, and attached the annotated lessons and assessment to the end of the lesson slide deck for teachers to use with their unit planning.

I also decided to take the original task and embed it into a slide deck. For teaching purposes, I found it easier to have each step laid out for me in the deck with discussions/task prompts. The first time I taught a 3-Act last year, I missed a couple of steps that I wished I hadn't. Teaching from the slide deck kept me better organized and allowed me to embed a few additional language supports. The format worked really well for the classroom teacher and I!

(Click to view the lesson slide deck)

Supports for ELL & Language
The classroom we taught this math lesson in has a high population of English language learners (ELL), so extra language supports were imperative (and a good opportunity to model language supports in general for Eureka Math).

I printed the Act 2 images in Fletcher's lesson to tape to our Notice/Wonder chart, included images to support the text in the slide deck, and used TPR (total physical response) along with academic vocabulary (example: when talking about part/whole and number bonds, I usually open up my arms at my sides like I'm holding up two "parts" and then bring them together and clasp my hands when saying/modeling the "whole").

Vocabulary on charts was also accompanied by sketches to help with meaning, and sentence stems were provided to support students with speaking and writing about math.

Other Scaffolding & Differentiation
One of my favorite elements of 3-Act tasks is the low-prep/no-prep differentiation possible within the tasks. For example, early finishers were simply asked to show another strategy (and potentially a third way), or another model, they could use to solve the problem. And while early finishers were getting creative with their math, the classroom teacher had time to support students that were struggling with the task.

Printing the Act 1/Act 2 visuals and taping them to lesson charts served as scaffolding for students, as well. As students got stuck on parts of the problem, we directed them up to the lesson chart, notes, and slide deck to access their resources for help first; our goal was not only to teach content in context, but also to help students learn how to learn and find answers.

Teaching the Lesson
I love using 3-Act lessons to bring a little mystery into math instruction! I started by telling students that I needed their help solving a problem, that a friend of mine sent me a video of something that happened at his house last night, and that I needed their help. Students were immediately hooked-- a math mystery?? "Yes, we want to help!" was the overwhelming response. Throughout, all students were engaged in the mystery and in our task. Aside from the typical fidgetiness of 1st graders, students were excited to work on the problem for a full hour!

I mentioned above that one of the reasons I like using these open-ended tasks in math is that the model shifts the math lesson to more student-centered instruction. In a 3-Act, we open the lesson with a hook/problem/mystery to be solved and then ask students what questions they have, and center instruction around the student questions. This process is a great opportunity to teach students how to ask questions, and how to become more curious about math. The first time students work through this process takes some support-- although we validate all questions as good questions during this process, the teacher also guides students to ask the relevant questions that will help us solve our problem.

Once we get a set of student questions recorded, we use those questions to determine next steps. Again, students are asked how they think we should solve the problem. The whole activity is focused on students driving the work.

Student Work
It doesn't necessarily take a set of 20 math questions for a student to clearly demonstrate their understanding of a math concept. In this case, it took just one math problem for students to demonstrate both their conceptual and procedural understandings and gaps in math.

While the main learning goal was for students to use information to be able to solve a missing addend problem, we also learned, through observation and conversations with students, which students understand the relationship between addition and subtraction, which students need some reteaching in counting and cardinality, and which students fully comprehend the meaning of an equal sign (when a seemingly advanced math student disagreed with one student's 4+5=9 equation and said the answer could only be 9=5+4).

The Closing
We ended up closing our lesson with a modified, hands-on number talk focused on the misunderstanding around equations and equal signs. We asked students to prove (or disprove) whether 5+4=9 and 9=5+4 have the same meaning or not. Students pulled out rekenreks, counting chips, linking cubes, and place value cards, and drew math pictures, to defend their reasoning.

It was an important conceptual misunderstanding that may not have been spotted on a fill in the blank worksheet, but that we were able to diagnose in this student-guided, open task, and during the in-depth math conversations that students engaged in during the problem solving process.

Both the classroom teacher and I were really happy overall with the lesson. Students learned new problem-solving strategies, learned to ask questions in math, were engaged in mathematical conversations, used academic vocabulary in context, practiced counting and addition skills, and defended and modeled their thinking. The language supports that we used for our English language learners were successful, and students needing extensions were appropriately challenged to push their thinking.

In reflecting with the classroom teacher, one change that I plan to make is to add a visual of the original 9 eggs to accompany the Act 2 clue about how many eggs there were to start. A handful of students got caught up with the idea that an egg carton has 12 spaces so there must have been 12 eggs to start, whereas the problem stated that the carton only had 9 eggs in it to start. The next time that I teach this lesson, I plan to provide students with an image of the 9 eggs in the carton. I'd also love to have an actual egg carton with the surviving 5 eggs in it to use as a model for students.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Love the New 'Explore' Tool in Google Sheets

Since the conversion to Google Suite this week, I am loving this new Explore tool that has popped up in my Docs and Slides... but, I especially love the Explore tool features in Google Sheets.

So, what's new?

Alternating Colors
Not a feature new to Sheets, but much easier to find thanks to the Explore update (as well as an update to the fill bucket menu). Now, as long as you are clicked in a box containing data, you can open up the Explore menu (found in the bottom, right corner of your screen) and the second option from the top is "Formatting" and a variety of alternating color schemes to choose from.

Don't want the entire spreadsheet alternating? Click on "Edit" first and change the range of data that you want to color.

You can also now find the "Alternating Colors" tool right at the bottom of the "Color Fill" menu. This is also where you go to remove or make changes to the alternating color feature after its been enabled.

Conditional Formatting
Again, not a new feature in Sheets, but now it's easier to find this tool, with the option to open up the
conditional formatting menu via "Format" or the "Color Fill" menus.

Data Analysis with the Explore Tool
And now, for the real fun! Beyond the "Alternating Colors" option, the Explore tool is chock full of all sorts of data analysis and visualization tools automatically generated using the data in your spreadsheet. Interactive and colorful charts and graphs can be dragged into the spreadsheet, and can be still be saved as a separate image file once moved out of the explore tool. Scroll over those pretty little charts in the Explore tool and the associated columns are highlighted in the same color-coding as is used in the auto-generated graphs.

Upon highlighted a group of data, you can also view auto-calculated averages, mean, medians, etc. in the Explore tool, and then drag those calculations into your spreadsheet as well, all without having to manually type in any formulas.

Have a question about the data in your spreadsheet? Type it into the question box in the Explore Tool to learn even more about the data you've collected!