Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Just Instructions

It's true, the worksheet I gave in class today was a little more text-heavy than usual. The first bit of text was almost four sentences long and contained important mathematical information. The general format of the worksheet was this:

-Approximately four sentences of text reminding them what we did yesterday and explaining how the picture below is a picture of what we did yesterday.
-Problem #1, asking students to draw triangles on the above picture
-Problem #2, asking students to write down relationships they noticed between the triangles they just drew.

I am not sure exactly what was confusing about this layout (I spend a lot of time thinking about layouts and formatting that make the content more accessible), but something told the kids, "It's okay, you don't actually need to read the questions." I think that in math classes in general, kids are used to seeing problems where they just know what they're supposed to do. They see an addition problem and they add it. They see a multiplication problem and they multiply it. They see an equation and know they have to solve for the variable. So it's a paradigm shift when they see a page where numbers and processes aren't clearly laid out for them. Because my students work in groups 99% of the time, the synergy of four students usually is enough for one person to ask, "Wait, what are we supposed to do?" Then someone realizes that they could figure this out by reading the instructions. It also helps (or doesn't help, depending on who you ask) that I answer at least half of their questions with, "Well, what did you read in the instructions? What does it say you need to do? Read it back to me. What does that mean you're looking for?" I even prompt every group conversation to start by someone asking, "Who wants to read?"

Getting back to today's worksheet, in 6th period (Lettuce) I came across one group that had skipped drawing the triangles and trying to answer the question about the triangles. Although I cannot say for sure, I'm pretty sure they skipped the reading part too. I checked in with them, asking how they could notice relationships between the triangles when they hadn't actually drawn any triangles on their paper. All three students in the group stared at me blankly.

Student: "What are we supposed to be drawing?"
Me: "What did you read? What does it say you need to draw?"
Student: "Where does it say we need to draw something."
Me: "In question 2. What did question 2 say?"
Student: "Oh, we skipped that. We thought it was just instructions."

Interesting. The fact that the text in question 2 was "just instructions" was exactly the fact I was trying to point out to them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

London, you've got to do better

All signs pointed to disappointment. First, the nanaimo bars I so desperately tried to make turned out too lumpy and too gooey at the same time. Even my sugar-loving roommate pronounced them "cloyingly sweet." Then, in search of Canadian beer, the guy at BevMo had never heard of Labatt's or Molson and led me to the European section. I know I'm no longer living in a state where Canadian pennies mix with American and no one takes second notice, but come on. Then, of course, there was the death of the luge-er (luge-ist?) that Brian Williams just couldn't help but show on a seemingly endless loop.

But despite such omens, I had high hopes for that favorite event of mine that comes only once every two years: the Olympic opening ceremonies. I love the opening ceremonies more than I love the actual Olympic events. The parade of nations makes my heart melt. I get that nervously excited knot in my stomach when the torch enters the stadium. I like the imagination of the IOC that French is somehow the most sensible language to conduct business in.

But this opening ceremonies... blah. I get that Canada is not the most exciting nation ever. And I get that it's pretty much impossible to live up to an army of synchronized drummers recruited from a pool of 1.3 billion. I even get the hope that three hours of dancing First Nations people could be the beginning of an apology for a history of attempted genocide. But fiddlers? A poetry slam? A weird child running over digital wheat fields? I just think there could have been something else. The whales were cool. As pointed out by a savvy Slate blog-reader, kd lang's all white ensemble was reminiscent enough of a cake-topper that the world was indeed reminded of Canada's progressiveness around gay marriage (take that, USA). But I think I would've preferred floating state-sponsored health care or something to really showcase what Canada has to offer. Nelly Furtado's heels just didn't do it for me.

To be honest, my continued disappointment in the Olympics thus far really stems from NBC. Just because you were projected to lose $200 million on all of this is not a legitimate reason to only post half-hearted clips of nothing on your website. Thanks for spoiling the excitement of competition--do I want to watch Jacobellis' unforgettable silver (and her creepy pale hair) or Kearney winning the first US gold? What I actually would've liked to watch is something where I didn't know the outcome, but I guess that's out. Not to mention that the closest thing I can get to watching live is reading the live blogging comments. Looks like this year will be just like the Olympics of my childhood where I turned to CBC for any real coverage of Olympic events.

Somehow, Canada pulls it out in the end.