cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Take Time to Save Time – Hall of Fame reference sheets

Inevitably, teachers get known for their mottos. Sam's mottos are justifiably world-famous. Personally, I love "Don't be a hero." Mine are known mostly around my school, but it is interesting to see how they trickle down into students' unconscious minds.

Color telling the story
Mottos pay off. My favorite is one I stole from my former colleague Alex Wilson: "Color tells the story." I don't understand how anybody can do math at a deep conceptual level without colored pencils. Color really does tell the story, especially in Geometry (see popular worked example at right).

One of my best math class mottos comes from published patterns for knitting. It is, "Take time to save time." In knitting, this means to make sure that the tension of your actual knitted work — your hands, your needles, your yarn — match the tension or gauge described in the knitting pattern. There are no shortcuts here. My knitting gauge tends to be extremely big or loose compared to most pattern-makers. I often have to use much smaller needles than specified in order to achieve a good match with the specified knitting gauge.

In my classroom, "Take time to save time" means, synthesize your learning into a reference sheet. For all tests but the final, I allow students to have and make a half-page reference sheet.  The first rule is, you can have anything you want except a photocopy of my work on your reference half-sheet. The second rule is, if you have more than a half sheet of 8.5 x 11 inch paper, then I get to tear it in half and choose which half you get. This rule gets tested even when I emphasize it. Every year somebody tests this rule. "But Dr. S! I only wrote a half-page worth of stuff on the paper!" It doesn't matter. I usually rip the whole thing lengthwise so they only get the right-hand half of the paper.

It makes its point.

In knitting, this point gets made by the scale and size of your finished object. If you insist on not checking your gauge, at some point, you will end up with a finger-puppet-sized sweater or a scarf the size of Lake Tahoe.

Clearly this student is going to ace the final.
In our classes, this point gets made by your performance on our common final exam. Students who have been practicing making clear, concise, summaries and examples of their work and key points tend to turn in consistently strong performances. So on the final, I allow a full-page reference sheet (both sides). I emphatically want students to consolidate their understanding and create their own examples. That is where the learning happens.

So I was thrilled today when I asked to see examples of in-progress reference sheets. Many of them made my Hall Of Fame request to scan for posterity. This Algebra 1 student has totally nailed her understanding of mixture problems. This is the best example I've seen of a student consolidating her understanding of these modeling challenges.