Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What I learned at CAP's Community of Practice

CAP is California Acceleration Project. Check out their publications. The first time I attended one of their conferences, I struggled with the word acceleration. It does not mean getting through the material faster. It means getting to the good stuff faster - shortening the pathway of required prerequisite courses students must take before taking a college level course. Their work is mainly with math and English, the two subjects that generally hold students back.

In math, the college level course for someone not interested in STEM is statistics. Students take a placement test, and the large majority (86% at my college) are placed in remedial courses, anywhere from 1 to 4 levels below the statistics course. Imagine a student starting 3 levels below, at pre-algebra, which is where over half of our students are put by the placement test. If we had phenomenal success rates, with 90% passing each course, and phenomenal persistence rates, with 90% going on to the next course, we'd still only get 43% of these students finishing statistics (.9^8 = .43). What happens to the other 57%? Usually they give up on college, for at least a while.

Because housing is pretty segregated in the U.S., and that makes k12 education pretty segregated, with people of color getting less resources dedicated to their schools, this becomes a civil rights issue. CAP is dedicated to:  changing the way we place students (many who do badly on the placement test can still pass a college statistics course), developing models for co-requisite courses that students can take with statistics to improve their success rates, and developing radically shortened and improved remedial pathways (creating a pre-statistics course that prepares students with just enough algebra and lots of data analysis).

I have been attending their workshops whenever I can for the past few years. This past weekend I went with two other math faculty and 5 English faculty. Even though I've seen much of the information before, I still got a lot out of it. (Maybe I'm a slow learner!)

Here's something I put together yesterday at the request of our dean for equity, which summarizes some of the important points I learned...

Planning a High-Impact Course

More important than any one course are these 3 principles:
  • Create separate pathways for STEM and non-STEM.
  • Place students as high in the sequence as possible.
  • Shorten the sequence as much as possible.

CAP’s 5 design principles
  1. Backward design
  2. Low-stakes, collaborative practice
  3. Relevant, thinking-oriented curriculum
  4. Just-in-time remediation
  5. Intentional support for affective needs

High Performing Math Classrooms (Internationally)
James Stigler on high performing math countries.
All have these things in common:
  • Productive struggle
  • Explicit connections
  • Deliberate practice, increasing variation and complexity over time

Lesson Planning (CAP)
Given a topic you want students to learn through groupwork,
  • Identify the prerequisite skills needed,
  • Decide whether these will be addressed through productive struggle (ie not addressed overtly), targeted group activity, or just-in-time mini-lecture, and how you’ll do that,
  • Plan main activity,
  • Plan closure (vital for making explicit connections)
  • Note: Over-scaffolding brings down the thinking level required.
  • (Sue has a form from CAP. If this link works, it’s to all the CAP materials: https://app.box.com/s/965xg12luwsgjgmeq86px8oonsr9yolm )

Thinking Levels
The thinking levels mentioned above come from a study by Quasar. Here’s the relevant info:
“This research yielded two major findings: (1) mathematical tasks with high-level cognitive demands were the most difficult to implement well, frequently being transformed into less-demanding tasks during instruction; and (2) student learning gains were greatest in classrooms in which instructional tasks consistently encouraged high-level student thinking and reasoning and least in classrooms in which instructional tasks were consistently procedural in nature.” (Stein p. 4)

QUASAR Task Analysis Guide (adjusted slightly to address statistical thinking as well as mathematical thinking)
Lower-Level Cognitive Demand
Memorization Tasks  
Involve either reproducing previously learned fact, rules, formula, or definitions;  
Cannot be solved using procedures because a procedure does not exist or because the time frame in which the task is being completed is too short to use a procedure;  
Not ambiguous; clear and direct instructions to reproduce previous material;  
No connection to the concepts or meaning that underlie the fact, rules, formula, or definitions.

Procedures Without Connections Tasks  
Algorithmic; direct instructions to use a procedure or the use of the procedure is evident based on prior instruction, experience, or placement of the task.  
Require limited cognitive demand for successful completion.
There is little ambiguity about what needs to be done and how to do it.  
No connections to concepts or meaning that underlie the procedure being used.  
Focused on correct answers rather than developing mathematical or statistical understanding.  
Require no explanations, but may require students to “show work”.

Higher-Level Cognitive Demand
Procedures With Connections Tasks  
Focus students’ attention on the use of procedures or concepts for the purpose of developing deeper levels of understanding of mathematical or statistical concepts and ideas.  
Suggest pathways to follow (explicitly or implicitly) that are broad general procedures that have close connections to underlying conceptual ideas as opposed to narrow algorithms that are opaque with respect to underlying concepts.  
Usually are represented in multiple ways (e.g. graphs, tables, numerical summaries, verbal descriptions).
Making connections among multiple representations helps to develop meaning.  
Require some degree of cognitive effort.
Although general procedures may be followed, they cannot be followed mindlessly.
Students need to engage with the conceptual ideas that underlie the procedures in order to successfully complete the task and develop understanding.

Doing–Mathematics or Doing–Statistics Tasks  
Require complex and non-algorithmic thinking (i.e. there is not a predictable, well-rehearsed approach or pathway explicitly suggested by the task, task instructions, or a worked-out example).  
Require students to explore and understand the nature of mathematical or statistical concepts, processes, or relationships.  
Demand self-monitoring or self-regulation of one’s own cognitive processes.  
Require students to access and make appropriate use of relevant knowledge and experiences  
Require students to analyze the task and actively examine task constraints that may limit possible solution strategies and solutions.  
Require considerable cognitive effort and may involve some level of anxiety for the student due to the unpredictable nature of the solution process required.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

At the Julia Robinson Math Festival Today

Julia Robinson Math Festivals invite kids to play with math puzzles that start easy and offer harder questions as you go along. Today's festival was at Bentley School in Lafayette. (Some festivals are open to the public, and are much bigger.)

I was working the Pilgrim's Puzzle table. We had this puzzle to work on.

It was really fun watching kids and parents get engaged with it. Some paths give you fractions, and then taking away 2 can give you something like 1/8 - 2, which can be pretty confusing for a 3rd grader.

The first time I tried to help a kid with a problem like that I was not able to find an image that made this sensible. When B was stuck with a problem like this, I came up with anti-matter apples. It worked! We imagined 1/8th of an apple, and imagined two anti-matter apples. We cut the 2nd one into 8 pieces, took one of those pieces and exploded it with the regular 1/8th slice to make a poof and then nothing. So we had one anti-matter apple and ... 7/8ths of another, which we wrote as -1 7/8. Done.

I will be teaching beginning algebra in the fall. I don't think I've ever found an image for negative fractions that worked as well as I think this one will. I'm excited.

Here's B and me.

Math Blog Directory