Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Immigration Project: A Thank You Letter to my Students

Dear Students,

On Friday you shared your Immigration Statistics Project with staff, administrators and district personnel. All of you presented your work at least 10 times on Friday. And each time you presented with passion and with confidence. And you did it in a language that is not your first language. Some of you just arrived to the United States in November! I am so proud; so proud.

There are many impressive things that happened on Friday. But the best thing was seeing you all share your expertise as immigrants and help educate our school community about immigration issues in the United States. Of course, I’m a math teacher, so I love that you used statistics to help support your work. But I’m even more impressed that you bravely told your story to help the statistics come to life. And you helped us better understand immigration issues in the United States like the economic implications of ending DACA, the proposed border wall, and the assumptions politicians and the media make about the relationship between immigrants and drugs/crime. Our staff is more knowledge about immigration because of the work you all did! I am so proud of you; so proud.

I’ve never seen students work with the purpose and focus that you all had on this project. And, while I know I’m biased, I’ve never seen an entire class deliver such consistently high quality work. Like, every single one of you showed tremendous growth in your ability to talk about statistics with precision and present your findings to the public. I’m so proud of you; so proud.

As I think back to some of the things I heard you all say on Friday as part of your presentations, I get tears in my eyes—tears of pride.

When I heard one of you say, “when we hear people talk about the wall, we feel sad, homesick and angry,” I feel proud of your honesty.

When I heard one of you say, “we think the border wall is racist because the majority of undocumented immigrants overstay a visa and come from Asia or Europe, they do not cross the southern border,” I feel inspired by your willingness to educate others using facts and statistical representations.

When I heard one of you say, “when we hear people say immigrants cause crime, this implies we cause crime and this is not true. We came to this country to study and for a better life,” I had to fight back tears because you inspired me with your courage, honesty and passion. I’m fighting tears as I write this paragraph.

And, Marvin*, when I heard an administrator ask you about a specific graph that was part of your groups presentation, I’ll admit, I listened with a bit of apprehension. I know the last few weeks have been difficult for you—to be honest, if I were you, I don’t think I would even have the resilience to be at school that week. I know you face challenges in your life that make school seem insignificant. But you responded to the question with precision and confidence. As you pointed to the graph you said, with such authority and such perfect English that, “as you can see in the graph, as the years are increasing, the amount of illegal drugs seized at the Mexican border are decreasing” I was beaming. You were constructing knowledge and sharing that knowledge as you explained the graph to the administrator. I am so proud of you; so proud.

I’m proud of all of you for having the courage to speak your truth and tell your story about immigration. And, while I think I could improve a lot on this project for next year, I couldn’t be happier with the results of your work. It would be an understatement to say I’m in awe of the work you did. And I’m grateful for what you taught me and the other teachers and staff members about immigration issues in the United States. Students, you were the experts on Friday. You rightfully owned the day and I’m so proud of you; so proud.

With admiration, love and tremendous respect,

Your Math Teacher



*Marvin is not his real name

Monday, February 19, 2018

Immigration Project Days 7-13

Most of days 7-13 were work days because students had a lot of work to do! And a lot of English to learn so they would be ready to present to the public. Students worked incredibly hard over the course of these 7 days (for the most part). And all students showed tremendous growth. I also worked incredibly hard over these 7 days and I showed a fair amount of growth as well--I also learned A LOT for next year! Here are a few of my learnings:

Structuring Work Time

Probably my biggest ah-ha during days 7-13 was the power of setting clear daily goals and using a system to help me and the students check progress against those daily goals. To be honest, I don't think I did a great job of setting clear goals and checking students progress towards the goals on most days, but I learned a lot for next year.

After a few rough days of inconsistent results across groups, I did something simple that worked really well. First, I CLEARLY explained that there were three goals for the day. Then, I put those goals on the front board as Goals #1, #2, and #3. Finally, I wrote each group on the front board with a 1, 2 and 3 under their names and I asked groups to check off a particular goal once I had seen evidence that it was completed. 



While each group got some work done on days 7-13, ALL groups finished all three goals on the day I used the checklist system on the front board. And this is noted prominently in my "change/add for next year" list! 

Leading By Example

I did a PBL Statistics Unit with my mainstream algebra class a few weeks ago. The topic was teen health and social media. One big ah-ha from this unit was the power and importance of the doing the project myself "as a student". And that was the case with the Immigration Stats Project as well. 

The first benefit to doing the project as a student is that it helps inform my teaching. With the mainstream class's social media project, the big ah-ha for Ms. D (my student teacher) and I was that we developed our claim AFTER looking at the evidence. But we were expecting students to develop a claim first and then find the evidence. Discovering that helped inform our teaching and how we structured the project. 

The other benefit to doing the project as students was that we had an example to show the students. Especially since I haven't taught this before, I don't have exemplary student work to show. Thus, doing the project means I have something to help guide students. Though, I am very clear with the students that my work was only an example and that I expect them to add their own voice, creativity, and extend beyond what I did in my example. 

Misleading Quote

One goal of this project was to have students present an alternative narrative to what the media/politicians tells about immigration. To accomplish this, I created a warmup structure called "The President Says...". We did this on day 9.

 




I gave students a set of 4 graphs (shown above). I projected one quote and asked students to look through the graphs I gave them and decide which graph is the best counter evidence to his statement. 

This was fantastic! The students did such a great job. It was so gratifying to project a quote, ask students to talk to their partner about which graph presented the best counter evidence, and then see 7-10 hands go up! I was very happy! 

I then let students know they would be adding this to their project. I gave them quotes (I found the quotes that best fit to the claim--it was really hard to find the right quote). 

I'm glad I added this to the project. I think analyzing the misleading quote gave the students agency--it was so powerful to see them use their expertise as immigrants along with the statistics they found to challenge a statement from the President. 

Feedback Rotations

The most powerful part of PBL for me as a teacher is that I am able to assess students, give feedback and then provide opportunities for students to apply that feedback and then be reassessed. 

What I did well for this project was feedback and assessment on soft skills like presenting. I didn't do so well with feedback and assessment on content assessment, but that's an opportunity for next year!

I started by teaching specific speaking skills back in November with mini presentations (well before we started the project). I taught students about eye contact, posture and voice during these minilessons. I would assign them a specific goal for that weeks presentation (eye contact, for example), give them a week to work on it, and then have a mini quiz with feedback. The following week, I would add a new goal (posture, for example) and include the goal from the previous week. This worked great!  

Once we started the project, I also gave them a lot of feedback. Even before their posters were done and their presentations were ready, my student teacher and I were checking in on the presentations and giving them feedback. Here is the feedback form I used for the presentations. Over the course of days 7-13, each group was given 7-10 rounds of feedback. That's a lot of feedback! And it showed in their final presentations. Every staff member that saw the final presentations came up to me to comment on the awe of the quality and professionalism of the final presentations (many staff members didn't realize they had just heard a student brand new to this country present!). 


The final class before the presentations, I set up a structure where 3 groups would present and I assigned non-presenting students to a particular group to give feedback. Then we would switch and the non-presenting students would present and the students that just presented would act as audience members and give feedback. We did 5 or 6 rounds like that. Then, after we did all the feedback rounds, I gave groups about 20 minutes to practice their presentation. This was perfect because they had just received SO MUCH feedback from their peers and then had a chance to immediately apply that feedback. 

Something that surprised me was that the students were kind but critical in their feedback. Clearly, they understood the expectations and they were willing to give each other critical but kind feedback.  I heard SO MUCH peer-to-peer coaching (you had good posture, but you need better eye contact). As we were doing the rotations, I could clearly see that the students cared about the quality of each other's work and they wanted to help each other improve. 

Learning How to Present

During one lesson, I showed the students a video of Hans Rosling's Ted Talk. Hans was a famous stats guy that was well known for his enthusiastic, passionate, and engaging presentations using stats. I showed the video because I wanted them to see an example of how one might interact with a graph when presenting. 



If you've never seen Hans or this video, the magic starts at around minute 4. 

Quick funny story: my student teacher, Ms. D, actually taught the lesson where we showed the Hans Rosling video to the students. AND our principal (a great guy and great principal) dropped in to observe. So Ms. D showed the video and ask the students, "why did I show this video to you?"

Lots of hands go up. Ms. D calls on a student. Student says, "you showed us this because he doesn't make good eye contact." True. But not why we showed it. 

She calls on another student. "You showed us this video because he has bad posture." I had to suppress my laughter....the kids clearly knew what we expected in terms of eye contact, posture, etc and they didn't see that in Hans's video. AND Ms. D had a bit of internal pressure because the principal was observing. It took Ms. D a few more tries before a student observed that Hans did a great job interacting with the graph. And Ms. D did a great job facilitating that conversation! 

The Power of PBL

Looking back, these lessons feel like a blur. But now that presentations are over and kids exceeded my wildest dreams in terms of executing their presentations, I know that the lessons were effective. 

I think the biggest learning for me is the power of backward planning for PBL. I imaged what I wanted their final presentations to look and sound like. Then I backwards planned each of those skills (speaking skills, interacting with graphs, talking about statistical representations in a meaningful way) and created a lesson to teach that skills. Sometimes it was a mini lesson (the Hans Rosling video) and sometimes it was an intense series of lessons (statistics academic language production or speaking skills). But I TAUGHT the skills I expected them to be proficient in--whether those skills were content skills or soft skills. And then I ASSESSED those skills and gave students immediate feedback. Then, gave students another opportunity to be assessed on that skill so that the student and I could see the growth. This is the power of PBL. 

Stay tuned for my next post which summarizes the final presentations. Spoiler: the student presentations were so beyond amazing there isn't even a word for it!

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