Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Making Minor Adjustments Turns Up the H.E.A.T.

The other day I was listening to an audio seminar from renowned life coach, Tony Robbins, about achieving goals whether they be personal or professional. Mr. Robbins used his golfing experience and, specifically, his deep frustration with not hitting the golf ball consistently as an example of why people often cannot achieve "success." As he turned to his golfing coach one day, Robbins was amazed that what was recommended was not a complete overhaul of his golf swing, but a few minor adjustments involving less than a fraction of an inch. Applied to achieving success, Robbins commented, "When it seems impossible, when it seems like nothing is going to work, you’re usually just a few millimeters away from making it happen."

How can we apply Tony Robbins’ message to elevating the level of teaching innovation in the classroom? Using the H.E.A.T. acronym representing Higher order thinking, Engaged learning, Authentic connections, and Technology use, let’s apply a couple of millimeter-like adjustments to a middle school learning experience.

Common Core State Standards - Math 8.F.B.4 
Construct a function to model a linear relationship between two quantities.

The original lesson plan featured students completing a table of x and y values based on the equation y = mx + b, identifying the slope and y-intercept, and plotting the data points on grid paper. A quick H.E.A.T. assessment would have documented this Grade 8 learning experience as follows based on the H.E.A.T. Framework:
  • H (Higher order thinking):
    • 4 — Student learning/questioning at Applying level (Blooms Taxonomy)
    • 4 — Students justify learning at the Strategic Thinking level (Webb's DoK) 
  • E (Engaged learning): 
    • 1 — Students report what they have learned 
  • A (Authentic connections): 
    • 2 — The learning experience represents a group of connected activities, but does not connect the content to the real world 
  • T (Technology use): 
    • 1 — Digital and/or environmental resources are (1) not available, (2) not used, or (3) not directly connected to the learning 

The revised lesson plan featured students generating data from a computer simulation for an international 100-meter sprint race and then finding the slope based on the subsequent mathematical pattern (y = mx + b). To culminate the lesson, students participate in a class debate/discussion about the possibility of what the actual world record will be for the 100 meter sprint in 40 years based on the established mathematical pattern. The revised plan, with small adjustments for the same math content standard, would document higher levels of H.E.A.T. on a H.E.A.T. assessment:
  • H (Higher order thinking): 
    • 6 — Student learning/questioning at Evaluating/Creating levels (Blooms Taxonomy)
    • 5 — Students arrange learning at the Extended Thinking level (Webb's DoK) 
  • E (Engaged learning):
    • 4 — Students collaborate to solve a teacher-directed problem with possible options
  • A (Authentic connections):
    • 5 — The learning experience provides opportunity for students to apply their content understanding to a real world situation.
  • T (Technology use):
    • 4 — Students use teacher-directed digital and/or environmental resources to accomplish learning outcomes

Sometimes, making the slightest adjustments can help students make connections that would have never occurred otherwise.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Achieving the Target Level on Your Teacher Evaluation System: It’s as Easy as a LoTi 3!

Executing a lesson at a LoTi 3 based on the LoTi Framework easily translates to either an Effective, Proficient, or Satisfactory rating on most teacher evaluation instruments used on the planet these days. Briefly, a LoTi 3 involves students engaged in higher levels of cognitive complexity (e.g., problem-solving, decision-making, inductive reasoning) relating to teacher-directed problems using the available digital and/or environmental resources This level seems to be a reasonable target for most teachers when the content they teach already lends itself to real world connections and rich uses of technology. But what about those days when the classic review lesson is used to help prepare students for an upcoming assessment—particularly at the high school level and specifically, in an Algebra 1 or Algebra 2 classroom?

This week I participated in a lesson modeling episode with colleagues at Camden’s Academy Charter High School in Camden, New Jersey, where the targeted concepts included rearranging formulas to highlight a quantity of interest, using the same reasoning as in solving equations, solving systems of linear equations focusing on pairs of linear equations in two variables, and comparing properties of two functions each represented in a different way (e.g., algebraically, graphically, numerically in tables, or by verbal descriptions). Hardly fodder for showcasing real world connections and student engagement!

Yet, integrating the protocol used on the Food Network’s Chopped series provided opportunity for students to apply the math content to a self-selected real world connection (e.g., representing one of the mystery ingredients) at a self-selected level of rigor (e.g., another mystery ingredient, if you are familiar with the Chopped format) while collaborating in small groups to find a solution—all the makings for a LoTi 3!

Often times, students lose themselves in memorizing isolated formulas while struggling with math fluency that cripples their progress and reduces any confidence or interest they might have in solving an open-ended or extended response math problem.

As we asked students at the end of the class period to complete an exit ticket, I proceeded to complete my own. My own "Aha!" moment was that most of these students struggle with the math because it is offered as a conglomeration of isolated, emotionally-void numbers and symbols. When do we allow kids to mix concepts like imagination, fun, and risk-taking into their everyday math learning? Achieving a proficient level on most teacher evaluation metrics means that we have provided opportunities for rich engagement, higher order thinking, and networked collaboration—all of which cannot be achieved unless we give students latitude to discuss, explore, and apply their math (or any other content) in a safe, playful, and high-energy-charged learning environment. This is the hallmark of a LoTi 3 as well as an achievable target for elevating the professional practice of all educators.