Friends of the Library Book Sale task

The other day a friend of mine, who is a Friends of the Library board member, presented me this real life dilemma which might make for an interesting  group task.

Hey, Mary!

We’re getting ready for our Book Sale and we’ll be unpacking hardcover books stored in Hinckley & Schmidt water boxes. We want to display the books spine up on 8ft x 30in tables. I don’t know the dimensions of the box but I do know each box holds six 1-gallon plastic water bottles. The boxes are packed with most books laying flat, stacked on top of each other, with a few others standing upright in the remaining space.

My questions are:

  1. About how many books can we display spine up on each 8ft x 30in table
  2. Approximately how many boxes should I assign to each table for unpacking so I can fill the 8ft x 30in table


The Friends of the Library

In a way it reminds me of MAP’s Money Munchers task I did with my students some time ago. Various book sizes and thicknesses impact the number of books that can be placed in the box, just as various mattress sizes impact the number of dollar bills covering the area in the Money Munchers task.

When giving this task I plan to have on hand an empty 1 gallon container, a Hinckley & Schmidt box, and a sample hardcover book for students who need a visual aid. Rulers will be available should students ask for them.

What can I do to improve this task before I present it to the students? I’d love your thoughts and comments.


The endless chase for the perfect lesson

Sometimes I think we teachers are so invested in our work that we exhaust ourselves and flame out before spring break. What fatigues me the most is the endless chase for the perfect lesson. I feel like I’ve been on a treadmill logging miles, getting tons of exercise, but in the end I’m right back where I started. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent searching 3-Act Tasks, Desmos, Shell, #MTBOS and other resources for that perfect lesson. What caused this endless search and what am I truly looking for?

Shortly after the Common Core was adopted, our math department took on the task of breaking down the standards to write our own curriculum. At the time, you may recall, textbook publishers were simply slapping the Common Core label on their lessons.

expectOur math department knew there should be something more, but we lacked the time and curriculum development expertise to write a coherent and cohesive scope and sequence. Following a structure and level of rigor based on our previous textbook adoption wasn’t enough. Thus the endless search for the perfect lesson.

Since we’ll be piloting the 6-8 IM curriculum this year, I won’t be searching for the perfect lesson. That’s not to say every IM lesson will be perfect, but we need to stay true to the pilot if we want to evaluate the curriculum with fidelity. This pilot will allow me to hop off that treadmill.

But the question remains, what am I truly looking for in a lesson? If I am to trust that each lesson has clear learning goals and is sequenced appropriately, my job then becomes to ensure continuous, embedded, formative assessment so I can offer effective feedback to advance learning. That’s a mouthful; it may be a cliche; but it’s true.

This year I’ll be spending my time and energy on the least dazzling but most essential part of a lesson.


Homework and practice

The 6-8 math teachers received Illustrative Mathematics training this summer and one key question we posted on our “parking lot” is the purpose of homework and daily practice. We will be meeting as a department next week to discuss homework and its role, if at all, in daily instruction. Should we spend class time reviewing each problem? Select problems? Don’t go over it at all? Should we collect and review student homework as a formative assessment tool? Do we scan for a completion grade based on following the criteria for success? Use it as an opportunity to teach responsibility? Do students learn from the worked solutions we provide? Should the practice be blocked or interleaved? There are a myriad of questions we face when evaluating the purpose and effectiveness of homework.

None of the teachers I collaborate with assign “too much” homework. But there’s potential for any homework assignment to slide down the slippery slope from independent practice which can be successfully be completed by the student, to dependent practice involving the parent, tutor, etc. to downright no practice where the student simply copies the worked solutions.

In grades 6-8, students follow a homework criteria for success process of GCS–Grade, Correct, Submit. Grade by marking C, PC or NY; correct each PC or NY using the worked solution, then submit. While a worked solution is a helpful learning tool, I have two issues with using worked solutions: 1) it locks the student into showing work using only one method, and 2) some students simply copy the key and do not use it as a learning tool.

When we have our homework discussion, I would like to hear my colleagues’ opinions on assigning fewer problems from the IM practice, providing worked solutions to similar problems and continuing to have students self correct their work outside of class.

For example if we ask students to complete problem #5 from this grade 6 IM lesson, one worked solution would be provided and the students are then asked to show two other ways.

worked solution

Here, the advantage is students can reference the worked solution in order to solve it other ways.

This is merely a suggestion to jump start the conversation. And to be sure, this should not be considered a homework policy that every teacher must adhere to. How a teacher uses homework in their instructional decisions is up to them.