Try Something

The first couple of weeks are always fun, if stressful.  I spend the first 2 weeks introducing my students to the wealth of resources I will implement in the classroom, and today that was Graphing Stories.


My goal is to find a way for my students to create their own videos even though I can’t directly video them or their voices.  They all showed interest in this project, creating something that relates and connects math instead of requiring them to calculate.

This year I introduced the topic a bit different, I am still building my classroom into a safe zone for students to think and share ideas.  I told them the name of the website, and the particular video we were watching, in this case, Christoper Danielson’s How Many Ponies.


I only told my students this: that they would watch a short video clip and create a graph based on it.  I immediately had some students voice their concerns, wanting me to totally structure the assignment and outline every step they needed to perform.  I recognized their concern, most of my students are used to traditional math- performing algorithms in specific orders and steps.  They are the student who won’t attempt any assignment without first checking in with you, wanting you at their side while they work through a problem.  Many of these students are capable mathematicians, needing nothing other than the constant reassurance that they are doing the correct steps.  I try to transition them away from this dependence, to become independent mathematicians so they can become confident in their knowledge and abilities to problem-solve.  I reminded them the nature of what we were doing, that they needed to play with math- try things on their own without worrying about specific structures they needed to follow.  I reassured them after this “practice graph” (one that we were not going to grade- I mean who grades introductory tasks and ideas? How can we expect mastery on a  new concept?) I would give them some more information on the design of the website and what their task was when presented this type of problem.

After watching the video the first (and 2nd slow-motion) time, half of the students sat there and gave me the “tell me what you want” look.  A few even asked “what do I do now?”  My reply was simple, “Make a graph of what you just watched.”  I had Students reply “I still don’t know what to do!” I would ask them to “Try something.”  I reassured my students that I was not grading them on this first graph, I wanted them to play with math, try things when they were not sure, allow themselves to experience math through their experiences.  Most students did attempt some sort of graph.

A few didn’t, and I didn’t want to lose them. So I asked students to finish up what they were doing so I could ask them a question. When they did I asked them, “How many of you feel Math Class is a place where you have to solve problems the way your teacher wants, quickly and with no errors?”  Every student raised their hand.  I followed up with the statement of “I would like to tell you that I am not the teacher that expects you to all solve problems in a particular manner, if you have a question about a problem- expect a question back.  I need to ask you questions about how you think about a problem so we can work together to solve it.” I pointed to my whiteboard that still has the Four 4’s on it.  Just like the Four 4’s puzzle, there are many ways to think about and approach math.  I need to determine what your experiences and method is.”  While I was talking I first saw a bunch of deer in headlights, students who felt like the world was just yanked out from under them. Then things shifted a little as they looked at the work we did this this week.  Those students who hadn’t attempted a graph went to work.

We then talked about things I noticed while students were working: types of graphs, labels, shapes, etc.  I never used a student’s name or placed their work during this time- they are not quite ready for that step yet.  I saw I still need to work on making the room a safe place for them. As we discussed these things generally in class, I watched students as they compared what we talked about to their first attempt.  Of course, I saw many start to erase.  I quickly intervened on this, explaining that their first attempt was just a warm-up, I did not expect them to get it correct the first time they attempted it.  One student told me that they expected everything they did to be corrected, and correct- that’s how Math Class was.  I just replied, “Not in my Math Class.”

I then went over Graphing Stories in general, and asked them what they noticed when they first watched the video.  I asked them what those things meant in their assignment, and connected what they observed to what they needed to do.  We then watched Ponies again, and students were much more confident in making graphs.  Although Christopher’s graph was probably one of the most complex on the site, one I wanted to work with them on.  I was happy with how students progressed on this task, and I let them know that.  Overall Graphing Stories was a great lesson and discussion for students, and our goal this year is to create some of our own!