One of the bigger misconceptions about the Thinking Classroom approach (that I’ve already seen come up in discussion at my school) is that students are never shown a glimpse of how the teacher thinks about the subject. Peter refers to this as “leveling to the bottom” (I think he means leveling from the bottom), or consolidating at the end of an activity. In class, I’ve sort of defaulted to calling it a “recap”.

The way this tends to work: wait until all groups have reached a “stop goal”, which is usually to have found the solution to the main problem (but not all of the extension questions). Then tell everyone to “gather ’round” (or something like that – usually I cheese it up a bit) until you’ve got them at least loosely clustered around you at the whiteboard(s).

Then the show begins.

Frankly, at this point you could argue this is lecture. The difference is, it’s lecture about something students¬†already know. You’re telling the story of what they’ve just done, from the beginning, using student work as illustration sometimes, reworking something yourself sometimes. The retelling lets you weave in mathematical language, helps students who were falling behind see the whole picture and perhaps even catch up, and provides a chance to highlight what you want to highlight as the Main Ideas of the day.

Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • Students, for the most part, are listening. It’s been a tougher slog lately with the more abstract curricular questions, but with the better problems it’s been simple to maintain students’ attention. (Possibly the challenge has been that on the clunkier material, my summary is clunkier as well…)
  • The “gather round, kids” mentality creates a different space for the students¬†even if they’re hardly moving at all. In my classroom, there isn’t room for students to all circle around the front, so when I do this move there’s really only a minimum of actual physical movement. Some are still seated at front-row desks, a handful are still at the back as they got annoyed with window glare and worked on paper … but they don’t behave the same way as when they’re told to just “sit down”.
  • The recap helps reify (yeah it’s a great word) the thinking that’s been done, to an extent, but it needs follow-up: the mindful notes, the outlines so they can put it into a larger context of what’s been learned in a span of days or weeks. (This is not news to anyone doing Thinking Classroom stuff, just worth noting for myself.)

There’s a lot of nuance possible in how you approach these recaps which, fortunately, isn’t required to simply give it a go. If you like telling stories you’re probably well set to just give it a try and think about how to improve your technique later, like after a few weeks of just winging it. (Or, I don’t know, maybe future me would be super embarrassed at how clumsy these recaps were. Good thing they weren’t recorded.)

It’s Spring Break, I’ve made it this far. Now for the unfortunately-large task of figuring out which journal responses I’ve yet to catch up on … you know this whole blogging idea seemed great a few weeks ago …

Going to make a big post of things I missed blogging about earlier, write until it looks awfully large, then start another one and schedule them to post a bit later.

“Mindful notes”

One thing we discussed in class is the really, really abysmal evidence of the usefulness of teacher-dictated notes. Peter’s phrase here is to replace them with “mindful notes”, which is fairly loosely defined (I think) as “notes based on student thinking instead of teacher thinking”.


Journal-writing time for my class, and by that I mean, “hmm I’m three weeks behind now … wait, 1, 1, 2, 3 … dang it I’m turning into a Fibonacci sequence, this is bad!”

First, an update on how my math classes are going.

I’ve been sticking with (what I know of) Thinking Classroom strategies pretty consistently since the last update. I’m less overwhelmed than 1st semester, but still a lot of last-minute decision making as class is about to start. (I keep reminding myself that someday my kids will be old enough to, you know, just go to bed without requiring two hours of policing in the evenings and maybe I’ll be able to actually prep everything in advance …)

Students are functioning pretty well with group work at the whiteboards & windows, and I’m doing an okay job adapting the textbook concepts into Decent Problems. (Not “Good Problems”, but they’re getting there.) I’m still wrapping my mind around how to identify a good *extensible* problem – something that you can add more interest to for groups who get to the goalpost sooner. Right now this feels like A Problem To Work On: what are the strategies we can use to extend a mediocre problem into something with more to think about? What are the requirements? Which starting points should we just throw out immediately (if any)?

However, since this is going sort-of-okay, I’m not putting my full attention on that this week. On Thursday I wrote down a four-day plan for myself that would give me some structure for getting course assessments in gear. It went something like this:

Day 1: Work on a Good Problem, talk about <mathematical competency>, get students to share good vs bad examples.

Day 2: Work on a Good Problem, then have groups self-assess with rubric made from their examples.

Day 3: (because I need to get content assessment going as well) Group quiz on <content assessment topic>.

Day 4: Individual quiz on <content assessment topic>, then work on something else (either intro to next unit, or just something for fun).

I’m currently just done Day 2 of said plan. I forgot to do the “walk around with a clipboard and assess three groups myself” step, so they didn’t drastically improve, but I decided to assess on Reasoning & Analyzing (a heading in our “competencies” doc which amounts to stuff you to do start working on a new problem) and that wasn’t something I needed to see drastic improvement on anyway.