Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Immigration Project Days 3 and 4

I just finished Day 4 of the Immigration Statistics Project in my algerbra class for English Language Learners.

The project launch on Day 1 was amazing.

Day 2 was solid for students, but left me with a lot of questions about next steps. Especially how to minimize the amount of help I provide in order to preserve student choice and autonomy.

Days 3 and 4 Goals

The content goals for days 3 and 4 were spiraling back to the previous week's lessons: mean, median and the effect of outliers as well as correlation, causation and lurking variables. 

The project goal for day 3 was for students to revise their draft claims from Friday. The project goal for day 4 was to finalize one piece of statistical evidence for their claim AND explain how that evidence supports their claim (hopefully using vocabulary and phrase from class). 

Overall, the work continues to be awesome. Here are my three big takeaways after days 3 and 4.

Forgetting the Obvious

I didn't notice this as an issue on day 3, but there were definitely problems on day 4. I had to step in and mediate for a group that wasn't working well together. The female student felt she was contributing more than the two male students. The two male students felt she was being overly directive with them...and the 4th student was just really, really quiet. 

This seems like an obvious problem that I should have thought about ahead of time. When I did my first PBL stats unit a few weeks ago with my mainstream algebra class, I had a simple rubric for group behavior and students gave their group mates evaluations. However, I didn't do that with this class because of the language barriers. I didn't want students to misinterpret subtle evaluation questions and unknowingly give bad feedback to someone. 

As I was reflecting on the lesson today, the obvious hit me. I've experimented with complex instruction in my classes. And one of my favorite components of CI is the idea of "actionable norms". On Friday I will reintroduce the actionable norms stamp card as well as start giving student shout outs. 

A quick explaination:
  • For the actionable norm stamp card: I basically circulate as students work. When I see students displaying one of the norms from the stamp card, I thank them (being very specific for why I'm thanking them) and I give them a stamp. (by the way...I learned all this from Laura Evans--an amazing teacher and complex instruction expert) 
  • For student shout outs: about 10 minutes into project work time, I will stop everyone. Pencils/pens down and eyes on me. I communicate the importance of my message with body language and tone. I then publicly acknowledge (shout out) students that had demonstrated the positive behaviors from the stamp card. I try to be thoughtful in assigning competence to students. If a student that struggles in math or group work took meaningful risk, I acknowledge that to the class. If a group work persistently and collaboratively, but might not have found the answer, I would acknowledge that to the class. I probably do 3 or 4 shout outs every 30 minutes or so. 

The Idol of the Marketplace

Ha! I knew my love for Sir Francis Bacon would come in handy someday...

As I was looking at the students' claims with a colleague, we came to a realization: the word immigrant is vague and often poorly defined by the politicians that use the word. Also, in much of the statistical evidence I am finding, the word immigrant is poorly defined. The word immigrant can be vague because we don't know if the immigrant being referred to is document or undocumented. Or if a data set contains information for documented immigrants, undocumented immigrants or both. 

I am fortunate this year to have an amazing student teacher--Ms. D. She is studying to be a teacher on a student visa from Africa. Thus, her voice, her moral support and her classroom presence has been helpful as we venture into the Immigration Project. 

I asked Ms. D to facilitate a discussion on the word immigrant with the class. And she did amazing. First, she reminded them of her story and that she is an immigrant. Then, she asked them to talk to their partner: what do they think when the hear the word immigrant? I recorded some of the student's responses on the board as they shared. 


The students (who are all immigrants) mostly said immigrants are undocumented people living in the United States. A few students pointed out that those people with documentation and legal status living in the United States are also immigrants. One student pointed out that any person that moves to a country that is not their birth country is an immigrant. 

The big take away we wanted for them was to be precise in using the word immigrant in their work and to critically examine the graphs they are using as evidence. A few groups modified or clarified their claim after this discussion. 

The Best Question Ever

One group was looking for evidence to support their claim. They were looking at a graph about the total drugs seized at borders (both north and south) for the years 2011 to 2015. The graph clearly shows a decrease in the amount of drugs seized at the border. And one of the girls in the group asked the best question ever: why are drugs seized at the border decreasing? Are there less drugs being used or are less people crossing the border with drugs? Why is it going down?

I loved this because she was thinking about lurking variables!! By asking what else might be affecting the trend we see in the graph, she was going deeper than just "let me use this as evidence". She was thinking critically about the graph and asking great questions. Really, this makes the many, many, many hours I've spent planning this unit (and many more to come) all worth it. And I mean that. If my students walk away with a critical lens for statistical representations and if they feel empowered to ask the questions that come up from critique, then I'm a happy guy. 

I am definitely looking forward to day 5 when students will get a new set of graphs to examine and they will start putting their claim and evidence together to form reasoning. Students will also take a quiz...sigh. More on that later.  



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