Data walls

For the last three weeks I’ve been preoccupied with the notion of data walls. What’s your opinion? Do they motivate students, or reinforce status?   Does it promote student ownership of their performance, or is it another form of ranking?

I tweeted an unbiased question to Ilana Horn and Rick Wormeli. As you can see Ilana responded, no holds barred. She followed up with another tweet linking to one of her informative posts on status.


I don’t believe I’m cherry picking, but below are two examples I see as typical. Are any of these classes tracked? If you were Student #9 in Group 5 how would you feel?  Is this the type of motivation we want? Even though #9 is anonymous, I’d bet his/her classmates could identify the student.

data wall 1

Here’s another example. Student identity is less revealing, however don’t be fooled. The students know who owns what sticker.

data wall 2

Equally or perhaps even more important than the idea of motivation or “capturing” learning (I use “capture” loosely)  is how data walls contribute to a social structure where students are ranked and status is assigned to various students.

Please read Ilana Horn.




[Retro games] Before the first person shooter there was the second person thinker

I recently read Edutopia’s article 3 Ways Coding and Gaming Can Enhance Learning and it brought back memories, specifically text adventure or interactive fiction from the 1980s. If you’re old enough to remember Zork, or have played it, you know what I’m talking about. Instead of navigating with a mouse, controller, or joystick, you type text to maneuver: open mailbox, take leaflet, go south, etc.

Zork game

Edutopia was promoting Inform 7 for students to write their own code. I couldn’t agree more. I encourage you and The Hour of Code people to add Inform 7 to their coding list.

I don’t have much programming background but my students used Inform 7 to create their own interactive fiction games as an interdisciplinary unit when I taught 6th grade math, literature and language arts. One of the best was Stealing the Stolen, written by Rachel and Sabrina.

Stealing Inform
View within Inform 7


stealing the stolen
View when playing online.

The engagement and problem solving were incredible. The project did take a few weeks to complete and some days were filled with trouble shooting, but it was one of the best learning experiences my students ever had.

If you forward this post to an LA teacher, they would be interested in knowing student writing was modeled using Grammar for Middle School, A Sentence Composing Approach.

Everything you need to have students create their own text adventure can be found here.





Introducing systems of equations: graphing

Many of my pre-algebra kids continually seek context, so I thought I’d head them off at the pass by introducing graphing systems of equations as an exploratory activity using a couple of word problems. Here’s one of them:

systems problem


We’ve been graphing linear equations for a while so I purposefully added the “How could graphing each equation help you?” question to guide their thinking.

I came to learn that some students would rather not have the context and just be given the systems to graph–it’s a lot easier. “I hate word problems,” said several students.

That’s my fault. I need to do a better job of applying these skills in context. After we talked about context it was time for some graphing practice. As I checked their work I was reminded that a few haven’t improved their “number sense” when it comes to graphing. I wish I had snapped a photo of one student’s work, but I’ve recreated it below.


My questions to her were: 1) While your table is accurate, why did you choose values that fall outside the graph?  2) How could the slope and graphing the y intercept help you?

This particular student doesn’t recognize how less accurate her lines will be if she picks points beyond the coordinate plane that’s provided. If students are graphing using a table, it’s a great opportunity to discuss when it’s appropriate to choose negative values in order to stay within the graph.

In previous conversations with this student I also know she doesn’t have a strong grasp of the meaning of rate of change. I need to get her into math lab.