Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Immigration Project Days 5 and 6

My initial thought was that day 5 wasn't what I expected. But Ms. D, my student teacher, helped me see the silver lining, which I appreciate. The project goal was to find another piece of statistical evidence for their claim and most groups accomplished that. The content goal was a quiz and that went ok. So what didn't meet my expectation?

Honestly, I think the problem is my own internal critic. The project launch went really well--like my favorite lesson from 6 years of teaching well. And that set a high standard. Now that I look back on it, Day 5 was really just a 'work day'. It wasn't sexy; it wasn't epic; it was just a day when (most) groups were using their time to look through the data portfolios I gave them and determine which statistical representations best supported their claim.

The quiz was a 4 question quiz on some of the statistics content. There was a histogram question, a question on using a trendline equation to make a prediction. Another question on finding mean, median and range. And a final question on describing the trend in a scatterplot. I struggled with whether to give this quiz or not. However, I needed some way to check individual understanding. I've have feedback cycles built into the unit, but that feedback is for the group and the product. I'll do one more 4 question quiz before the unit is over. The first one helped me see what students need to practice (and I've designed My Favorite Mistake problems as a reteach).

Also, it was a rally schedule on day 5. Which means nothing to you, but is total chaos at my school. We had a rally that day, which meant a special schedule to accommodate a mid-school day rally. The biggest impact for me and students: lunch is at 1pm instead of 11:15am. This is a big deal. Thus, when the students started sputtering and goofing around the last 25 minutes of the class during project work time (right before the very late lunch), I could understand why. They were hungry. So was I.

Day 5 was just a normal day. Work got done. Assessments were taken. High school students were being goofy. And that is ok!

For the day 6 lesson, I was stuck on where to go after day 5.  Groups have claims and most groups found at least two pieces of evidence for their claim. I thought a lot about what to do next (there was a weekend between days 5 and 6). I realized I needed to present a clear picture of next steps to students. And I needed to build in more support for the presentations.

For day 6, I started with a project overview. I showed them a calendar of the next 3 weeks and what I had planned for each lesson in terms of project goals and work time. I also highlighted the presentation date.

I then told students my goal is that they have a high quality product (including the presentation) ready to present to their audience (other teachers, staff, and district admin). I also shared with them the scripts I came up with.

As I was thinking and planning this weekend, I realized students need scaffolding to help them structure their presentation. And my big ah-ha was to use groups roles as the scaffolding.  One group member does the introduction and has a script for that, another group member explains the first evidence (evidence #1) and has a script for that, same for the second evidence and the conclusion. I like this because it adds scaffolding without taking away student choice.

Then, I gave each group member their script. I'm a little embarrassed sharing these scripts on my blog because they are a rough draft. I think this material will look better (and better clarify expectations) next year. This year I am truly making things up as I go along!

I like these scripts (with the caveat that they will be 100x better next year). Again, they provide support while maintaining student choice. Also, the students really liked these and they were actively using them right away. Success!

For day 7, I am going to have mini-workshops for each role. So I'll call all the introduction students from each group over. We will spend about 10 minutes (probably less) on questions, advice, and feedback for their intro. Then, I'll call all the evidence #1 students from each group over for a mini-workshop, etc.

I also let students know there are two individual checkins this week. Rather than check in on content as I did with the 4 question quiz, I am going to check in on presentation skills. On day 7, after we do the mini-workshops, my student teacher and I will each take about half the class and have the students read us their part. This will be for feedback only (and only feedback for presentation skills).  We are going to use the following form:

Finally, I let the students know they will present again on Friday. This time for feedback and a grade (like a quiz). I've been clear that I don't expect perfect English and they can read from the script, but they must make eye contact, speak audibly, have good posture (mostly no fidgeting) and show evidence of practice. I think it is important that I'm assessing soft skills as well as content skills. So much feedback for the students! 

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.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Immigration Project Day 2

Friday's lesson did not go as well as the project launch. The students did great and were engaged in the work. But parts of the lesson felt rushed. And I'm thinking a lot about how the timing of the unit can affect the level of student choice in the project. Without the choice, they are just making a poster. And without the student choice this isn't a project for social justice. Choice creates passion, empowerment, and allows students to create new ideas.

The Good

Friday classes are about 100 minutes long. So I had a lot of time! I had two goals and I had a very detailed lesson plan to guide me. The learning goal was for students to describe that association between variables is not causation. The project goal was for groups to draft a claim based on the work from Wednesday's project launch. 

I first showed students the work from Wednesday's project launch. I told them to rank their 1st, 2nd and 3rd preference. Once I had that data, I put students into groups based on preference (almost all got their first choice).  This is also an example of balancing student choice and teacher parameters. 

During the lesson, students did outstanding. They were super engaged in the correlation v causation and lurking variable discussions. One female student in particular had several brilliant ideas about a third variable that might affecting an association. However, what blew my mind thought was not what she said, but also how she said it. This student was speaking up and speaking with authority; she was in her risk zone and doing something she doesn't normally do: share her ideas with the class. I like that this lesson let students like her show different ways to be smart.  

For the lesson, we first looked at this graph and discussed the relationship between the variables. 

So many ideas! Some students said yes buying sunglasses caused people to buy ice cream; however, several students, including the female student I mentioned earlier, pointed out it was likely the climate that created a strong (relatively speaking), positive association.

We then looked at the amount of ice cream sold and murder rate scatterplot.

This graph stimulated so many interesting questions. Students first described the trend (using the sentence frame) we've practiced. They identified the variables (they did a great job reading and interpreting the graph!).  Some needed spanish translation, but they could definitely describe the trend and interpret the graph. 

Two boys had lively discussion. One of the boys pointed out that the two variables have nothing to do with each other so clearly one doesn't cause the other. The boy pointed at the graph and explained that the positive trend is evidence of some relationship between the variables--even if they seem unrelated. Again, it was awesome to see students show different ways to be smart. And I was beyond happy they were using the  language we had practiced in class via activities like Vocab Party

We were running out of time and I knew I planned to spiral back to correlation and causation so we ended the discussion. I also got the sense, based on the class discussion participation and partner talk I listened in on, that students were getting it. So we moved on to project work time. 

I first explained the scope of the project. Lots of questions but one surprised me: "Why are we doing this?" I explained that I think they hear claims in the media about immigration that may or may not be true and I wanted to teach them the statistical tools they can use to help them analyze things they see and hear. I also said I was impressed with their work so far and I think they will all have interesting things to share. 

Students got into project groups and we moved on to the project goal, where students would draft a claim they wanted to make about their area of focus. I don't think I taught "how to write a claim" very well...but to start I showed them this slide. 

The slide is my attempt to "think about loud" on my process of writing a claim. I'm not sure how helpful it was...but the students jumped right in and started talking within their groups about their claim. I saved about 25 minutes for this part of the lesson--basically project work time (I had intended to have a little more than that).

Like Wednesday, there was a buzz in the room as students worked on their claims. Based on the level of focus and their body language, I could tell they were serious about this work. Their seriousness also showed in the claims they wrote. I think the work feels relevant, interesting and important to the students. They were having serious discussions and gladly taking all feedback and redrafting their work. The students clearly want to produce a high quality product--another indicator of engagement.  I am fortunate to have a bilingual Spanish paraeducator as support. I also had the help of two amazing bilingual Spanish student tutors. The four of us circulated and gave students feedback. I was also reminding students about correlation and causation.

These are some of the claims they came up with.


There are also a few more I didn't show. There are 7 groups total. I think some claims are good to go--we might tweak the wording down the line, but good enough to start. Some claims need minor revisions. And some need to revise a lot (ex: The president wants to build the wall to stop immigrants from coming to US because of drugs--I'm not sure what data I can find).

The Not Good

Nothing was bad about this lesson. But I have a very ambitious timeline. My goal is to have students present to teachers, admin, district staff in 4 weeks. I have pre taught a lot of the content so that is not the issue. 

I expect the students to produce high quality work. And, based on what I've seen, they WANT to produce high quality work. However, I just finished teaching a PBL unit in my other algebra class. And something I learned in that experience is that the best way to support students in producing high quality work is through the revision/feedback process. And that takes time. 

And so here is what I've been thinking a lot about in the two days since this lesson ended: high quality student projects require revisions/feedback. That is what makes PBL effective--it isn't a one and done demonstration of learning. PBL honors learning as an iterative process where the teacher serves as both the facilitator and guide. But not the intellectual authority.  And this honors student choice. I'm not telling them what to do, I am helping them refine their own ideas.

However, I have a clear timeline for this unit. And so that cuts into the amount of revision/feedback time I have. And the less revision/feedback time, the more "help" they will need from me to complete a high quality project and presentation. And the more "help" I provide, the less student choice there is. Sigh...

The students will NOT make an immigration poster with my help. I've decided that is my non-negotiable in this situation. Students will present their ideas and share their knowledge with the public. If I have to move back the timeline, I will. Or, they might surprise me and the revisions/feedback time I have planned might be sufficient. I am very much taking this day by day and responding to their needs. More to come! 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Immigration Project Launch

Today was the project launch for the statistics unit. And my mind was blown.

For this project students will look at claims about issues related to immigration. Eventually, students will develop their own claim about an immigration related issue, they will use statistical evidence to support their claim, and thus offer a counter narrative to an immigration related issue.

Students will create a presentation (poster) to share with staff and district admin at a semi-public event.

This is the first time I've taught statistics using Project Based Learning.

This is for a high school algebra 1 class for English Language Learners (EL). I think there are 7 different languages represented by students in the class, though the majority speak Spanish.

Note: I've already done a few weeks of language production and some univariate and bivariate statistics in the weeks leading up to the project launch. English is not the first language for my students,  thus I wanted spend time doing explicit language production (more than just vocabulary) before we started the project. There are a few posts about the preproject language production and lessons. The language production was great. Some of the lessons did not go as planned!

Project Launch

I used a Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to structure the project launch. 

After a lot of thought and talking with friends, I decided to use a video of the president at a news conference from January answering questions about immigration, DACA, the wall, the visa lottery, etc. The video is about two minutes long, but I didn't show the last 30 seconds.

Before I showed the video, I did a few things. First, I changed the seating arrangement. My classroom has a screen at the front. The students and I moved the desks into a U shape, with the open part facing the screen.

Then, I put the students in language alike groups of 3 or 4. I NEVER do this!! I always make sure groups are mixed language (as much as I can...the majority speak Spanish). But, today, I felt like I wanted them to process in their first language since the material was emotional and intense.

Note: I have two levels of EL students in my class. Level 1 speak little to no English. Level 2 speaks some academic English and can speak decent conversational English. Since I have so many different languages in the room, I had two "speak English" groups since they were high Level 2 and mixed first language. However, the students in that group translated back and forth. 

After we moved desks and got into groups, I told them I was nervous and I had something really important to share with them. I was going to show them a video that had several claims about immigration. I wanted to show them the video because we are going to using statistics to analyze claims about immigration. Then, I told them the video was of the president. They had two questions. First, a Spanish speaking student wanted to know if the video be in Spanish or English. I told her English, though I had also printed out a few of the claims from the video and those were also in Spanish. The other question was if this video was from before of after the election. I thought that was interesting.

I showed the video. Then gave each group a piece of paper with three of claims from the video. 

My bilingual paraeducator translated the claims into Spanish. I asked the students if they had any questions. They did. A few students wanted to know about DACA and the lottery. So we defined those (with lots of help from the students). 

I told them we were going to watch the video again. But this time I wanted them to really think about questions they have as they watch the video. I showed the video again. Then I gave each group a sheet of butcher paper and showed the students this slide. 

We went over the rules. I set a ten minute timer and told them to start writing questions. This is when my mind was blown. Actually, for the entire next hour my mind was blown. But it started here.

I was expecting to have to prompt them to keep writing questions. It was the opposite. After 10 minutes I asked them to stop. Then I asked again. Then I waited a minute and asked again. Finally, the last student stopped writing her question. And every eye was on me. 

At that moment the feeling in the room was electric. This is my 6th year teaching. I've done a lot of decent groupwork math tasks, fun review activities, discovery lessons, data collection, etc. I've never felt what I felt today. The students had taken complete ownership of this process. And they recognized my role at the moment was only facilitator. Thus, they let me know when they were ready to move on, not the other way around. And I was ok with that!

I showed them this slide and quickly explained open-ended v closed-ended questions. 

I thought it would take them at least five minutes. Most groups were done and ready to move on in 2 minutes. 

Next, I told them to prioritize their top three questions. They enthusiastically began debating. I gave them about 5 minutes go decide on top 3. Next I did a whip around and each group shared 1 question. I wrote each question on the board (I'm grateful for the translation help from the para). As groups shared a 2nd time, we started to clump the questions together. Same for round 3. 

Here is one place I put in a hidden level of teacher control in what was otherwise almost entirely student driven: I had done some pre-research and knew what I could easily find data on and what I couldn't...thus I did a bit of negotiating with them to get things in the groups I had preset in my mind which were (broadly) crime, the wall, immigration policy, and the economy. However, I didn't expect DACA at all and certainly not to be so present, but it felt too important to them to not have it represented as its own group. I think I can find enough data on that. 

The other broad categories we came up with besides DACA were: the wall, immigration security (visa lottery, breaking up families, hate crime), crime/drugs, and war. The war topic made me feel really sad. I never would think my students might believe that the consequences of inequality and immigration would be war.

My mind was still being blown at this point. And then the bell rang. Wow. 

In this 70 minute QFT I learned more about my students that in the last 18 weeks of our normal routine. I got to know the students as more than just my math students. They shared their perspective by asking critical questions about immigration in our country. They got to share their knowledge with me (I'll admit...they corrected my misconceptions about DACA and the lottery). In that moment they had the authority to question everything. And the result was a rich bank of topics that we will use as the starting point for our next lesson on Friday. 

In Friday's lesson, students will rank their preference from one of the 4 big topics: DACA, wall, 
security, or drugs/crime (I took out war...not sure what data I can find). I will use that info to form groups. And then groups will begin to draft their claim. We will also start to look at correlation and causation. 

I Was Afraid

I was so afraid to teach this lesson. First, math class is not the place we usually discuss controversial topics (at least not in my math class...). So I was nervous about moving in to new territory. 

I was also afraid about doing QFT with the EL students. Why? I wasn't sure if language would be a barrier. I wasn't sure if they would take it serious. I wasn't sure we would come up with the kind of questions that would be helpful to start this project.

In hindsight, I feel like a jerk for having low expectations of the students. Language was not an issue during the QFT process. The students took it more serious that anything we've ever done. And their questions were beyond amazing. I can't wait to see how the next lesson goes. More to come. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Stats Project Day 0

Today was the first day for the stats project with my Sheltered Algebra class. And it did not go well. That's not true...the students did great. I flubbed the execution of my lesson plan and that affected the flow of the lesson.

Here is a post with some background on this project.  And here is a post from Monday talking about how excited I was for this lesson.

Lesson Reflection

First, I decided NOT to start with immigration data or graphs. I thought a lot about this, and because this unit is going to be so language intensive for my students, especially in the beginning of the unit, I wanted to start with something hands-on so they could ground the vocab and sentence frames in context. 

Thus, I decided to start with Hula Hoop task. I posed the question "how long would it take for 100 students to pass a hula hoop? But the students need to hold hands."

Note: I know the lesson I"m describing here is NOT PBL--we will be getting to that next week (I think). Because English is not the first language of my students, I'm trying to be deliberate about how I approach the academic language production. I"m not doing PBL for the sake of doing PBL. I'm doing PBL because I think it is a great way to teach stats in context. But before I can do that, the students need to be able to access the content. Hence, they need some intentense language instruction and support. 

I asked them how could we figure this out. They had some great ideas. My favorite was some variation on "take data for x number of students and multiply to get 100". We talked about why this would work. 

Then I dropped the ball and skipped right to the notes. Sigh...there was such great momentum and thinking going on and I killed it but switching to notes.

I had planned to pose the question, have them think about how to answer it, then start collecting data. I was going to project the Google Sheet as I entered the data and have Google make the scatter plot real time. THEN, we would go back, name all the stuff we just did, then use the trendline equation to predict the time for 100 students. 

Instead I did notes after introing the task. THEN we came back to the hula hoop. They had fun collecting the data, but they were not very interested in the prediction part. 

The notes weren't bad (partial screenshot of the notes below). In terms of vocab, I tried to narrow down to the least number of REALLY important words that directly related to each other. But for students that do not speak english, any amount of direct instruction in English can be fatiguing. Thankfully, I have a support teacher than is bilingual Spanish and he helped them with translation as needed. 

I also don't like how I phrased the goal. Rather than a statement, I wished I had framed it as a question. How long will it take 100 students to pass a Hula Hoop?

All that being said, there was some good parts to the lesson. I made a new Vocab Party and the students did well on that. They also remember a lot from 1st semester when we learned how to describe graphs. That was good! 

I also got the sense they really understood that a trend line approximates the data, but I don't have any student data to back them up. It is part of the next lesson, so I'll see how they do then. 

Speaking of the next lesson, I'm going to definitely make a few changes in that lesson based on how today went. What do they call it? Fixing the plane as you fly it...yes!

More to come...

Monday, January 1, 2018

Facing My PBL Fears

Here is a link to the background on the Immigration Statistics Project I am doing with my sheltered algebra class this year.

Note: at my school, Sheltered Algebra is a class for English Language Learners--students that are newcomers to the US that speak little to no English. It is a high school algebra class with intense language support for students that are learning to speak English. 

Since my class is for recent immigrants to the US that are not proficient in English, and since the topic of immigration has such a prominent place in the current national dialogue, it seemed like a natural fit to teach my stats unit via PBL with a focus on immigration statistics.

The driving question for the unit is: how can we use statistics and storytelling to help the public understand the impact of immigration on our country.

My Fear

I'll see my EL students in two days. I've spent a good part of my winter break (as well as a good chunk of summer break) preparing for this project--and I still don't feel ready. 

As I sat down this past week to do some intense lesson planning, I came to the realization that I am afraid to teach the stats unit this way. And I think the fact that I'm afraid is a good thing! My fear is a sign that I'm learning--I'm certainly not comfortable. I think back to the zones of comfort, risk and danger activity I do with my students first semester. I definitely feel like I'm in my risk (stretch) zone. 

But what am I afraid of? Well, to be honest, I'm afraid of three things. 

  1. Teaching this unit as PBL is going to be too hard. Too hard for the students in terms of language--most of my students speak little to no English and there is so much open-ended, ambiguous language when looking at "real life" immigration data. (for example, what is an immigrant? A foreign born work here on a visa? A foreign born worker here on an expired visa? Someone that crossed the border illegally? A naturalized citizen born in Central America? Turns out, depends on which graph you are looking at!) And teaching this unit as PBL is potentially too hard for me since I'm teaching stats using PBL (almost) on my own and for the first time. 
  2. I'm also afraid the topic of immigration is going to be difficult or emotional or overwhelming for my students. This is probably the least of my fears, but it's still on my mind. I've been thinking a lot about Paulo Freire. This quote below in particular sums up how I feel about this. I just need to get over the initial shock of teaching something real-life, messy, emotional, and controversial like immigration in my math class! 
  3. I'm afraid of what other teachers in my department will think in terms of rigor (yes, the dreaded r-word). Admittedly, I'm cutting "content" from this unit because I need more time for language production. So I might not get to IQR of box plots. And I might not teach how to interpret correlation coefficient for a scatterplot. But students will be able read graphs. And I believe they will have the tools they need to self-inform, reflect, revise and understand some of the information and narratives they are exposed to in the media regarding immigration (or any topic for that matter). And that feels more important than teaching how to compute IQR. 
However, while I think it is important to acknowledge, understand and reflect on my fears around this project, I'm not going to let my fears stop me. Rather, I'm looking at what makes me afraid and using that to inform my planning for this unit.

For fear #1 from above, I'm going to do a lot of intense, repetitive language production. Yes, that is going to slow me down, but it will also increase access and understanding. I'd rather have the students authentically understand some, than be exposed to a lot that they ultimately won't remember. I'll definitely be posting on my language production activities successes and failures. I already have a few posts on language production activities

For fear #2, I've been talking to an AVID teacher at my school to get ideas on how to build in structured reflection/debrief time so students have a space to process the emotional, real-life nature of the topic. (all of my students are recent immigrants to the US)

For fear #3, well. I don't know. I've had two teachers I usually respect say some off-color remarks to me about this unit/project. 

One teacher said something to the effect of "we really need to teach the EL students how to make change and count money. That would be a great project for their class." I was confused by this. First, other countries use money. So it's not like a kid comes from Guatemala and all of a sudden there is this whole new paper-currency based system in the US that they have to learn for the first time. Second, this is an algebra class. The mainstream teachers don't teach students how to use money. Why should the math education of EL students be different. 

The other comment (from another teacher) was something like: "we really need to be teaching them (EL students) something they can use in college to get a good job". This was in reaction to me describing an activity I did on helping EL students to read the types of graphs used in the media that I don't explicitly teach them how to read. Apparently, this teacher thought that was not a good use of class time. 

I'm assuming best intentions and attributing these comments to me being overly excited about the project and explaining things in an unclear way. I know if these teachers knew more about the project and what I plan to do, they would be more supportive. Perhaps I'll invite them to the final day of the unit when students present their work and findings. 

As for fear #3, I've also found a few allies at my school. One math teacher, one science teacher (also doing PBL for the first time in Bio), and someone from the district. These allies have helped me so much over the past few months by listening to my fears, giving me feedback and positive guidance. 

I'm excited for this project; and I'm terrified. And both those feelings can coexist inside me. The key for me is to honor my feelings (especially fears), reflect on why I"m feeling afraid, and use that to inform my next steps. 

Lots more posts coming on this project as it unfolds over the next 7 weeks. We start the unit on Wednesday. And you can bet I won't be getting any sleep Tuesday night! 

Teacher Leadership: Celebrating My Faliure

Most teams I've worked on have norms. And one of the norms most teams usually have is presume best intentions or presume positive intentions.

I've always interpreted this to mean if someone else on the team says or does something that feels like a personal attack, assume it isn't. Presume that the person had good intentions and somehow the intended positive message was lost.

I also didn't think very much of this norm. It doesn't feel enforceable--how do I really know if someone is presuming best intentions?? Also, I've seen it used as if the norm had an expiration date: well, I presumed positive intentions for a while, but now I know he was quiet because he didn't think the work the team did was useful anymore....

In addition to teaching math, I also lead the Sheltered/ELD PLC. This is the collaboration group for teachers of English Language Learners. We are a mixed content group with math, science, history, and English teachers all working together. However, because of the way my school structures collaboration time, we are a "secondary" PLC. Meaning, the majority of the time we meet with our "primary" PLC (for me, this is the algebra team) and once a month we meet with our secondary PLC.

Even though our meeting time is limited, I had a pretty ambitious inquiry question for this year: to what extent does explicit, content-related language instruction increase opportunities for students to learn?

Essentially, I wanted to help teachers explore the "two hats" issue of teaching content, sheltered instruction courses for English Language Learners (EL). We are teaching content standards (one hat), but we must also teach the language students need to access the content (other hat). However, this language is not always content related vocabulary words.

For example, the sheltered physics teacher at my school noticed EL students had difficulty with the idea of transfer of energy because of confusion around the words "from" and "to".  Thus, the physics teacher had to teach physics content, but she also had to teach the language students needed to access that content.

So, my ambitious goal centered on helping teachers engage in a cycle of inquiry around developing and implementing a language production activity in their class.

Here is a snippet of my planning doc for this work. I only show you this so you get a sense of how much I planned.

However, as the school year progressed, I realized we weren't all going to make it to the end goal of developing, implementing and reflecting on a language activity. Many of the teachers were stuck on writing an ideal response for their learning goal (learning objective). Something I hadn't anticipated.

However, at the end of the semester, even though not everyone actually developed an activity and implemented it, we all had great conversations about the language demands of our class. And everyone at least thought about a learning goal and what the ideal response to the learning goal might look like. And that is progress!

And as I reflected on the PLC work from this semester, I realized that presuming positive intentions isn't always about monitoring one's own response to a perceived negative interaction. Presuming positive intentions also looks like having hope and believing in a growth mindset. Yes, I overplanned the work I expected the PLC to do this year. But I also recognized mid-semester that every teacher was in a different spot and I differentiated accordingly. Teachers that were ready to develop a language activity worked on that. Awesome! Teachers that had never written an ideal response for a learning goal worked on that. Awesome! And teachers that might not use learning goal (learning objective) based planning, got to work on that. Awesome! Just as effective teachers differentiate lessons to meet the individual needs of their students, effective leaders differentiate professional development to meet the individual needs of their team members.

I could have forced a uniform product and asked everyone to develop some language activity, but I would have likely done so to the detriment of my personal relationship with a teacher, several teachers, and/or the team. Whatever form the work took, we were all focused on refining our teaching for our sheltered class. And I know that each teacher got the support they needed to refine their teaching practice in a way that was authentic and meaningful. And we had amazing conversations as a cross-content team about the challenge of teaching both language and content to English Learners.

By focusing on the process of teacher learning and not the product (creating an activity), I supported each teacher to grow individually and I also supported the growth of the team. And I learned via my own reflection that presuming positive intentions means having a growth mindset. Not everyone got to where I wanted, but we all got a step closer. And that's a step in the right direction!

My Dilemma in Grading Student PBL Work

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