Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Workshop 5

Changing Course Due to Unexpected Conditions

About the Workshop

One minute you're sailing along smoothly, and the next minute you've run aground. Despite careful planning, lessons do not always proceed as expected -- an activity prepared by the teacher simply does not work, or students complete an activity successfully but have difficulty making sense of what they've done. In this workshop, we'll consider ways to diagnose conditions mid-lesson, and we'll explore a teacher's options when things go awry.

The Great Bean Bag Adventure

We now have some sense of what a seed needs to sprout. However, some of our results left us wondering if a seed will sprout in liquids other than water. In our third experiment, we explored a number of unusual liquids to find out how they would affect seed growth.

What we used:

5 plastic baggies
10 paper towels
sugar water
15 lima beans (soaked overnight)
baby oil
water heavily
salted water
vinegar diluted
dish soap

What we did:
Folded and placed two paper towels in each baggie.
Labeled and prepared the baggies as follows:

  1. Seed + water (control)
  2. Seed + vinegar
  3. Seed + diluted dish soap
  4. Seed + salt water
  5. Seed + baby oil
  6. Seed + sugar water
  1. 3 beans; water
  2. 3 beans; vinegar*
  3. 3 beans; diluted dish soap*
  4. 3 beans; salt water*
  5. 3 beans; baby oil*
  6. 3 beans; sugar water*

*The liquids were added directly on top of and around the beans. Enough was added to thoroughly coat the surface of the paper towel around the beans, but not so much that the beans were sitting in a pool of liquid.

Getting Ready (15 min. each)

  1. For this workshop, you were asked to prepare two short narratives. In groups of three, take turns sharing the narrative that you wrote from your own perspective as a teacher. After each narrative is read, discuss possible next moves for the situation described.
  2. In same small group, take turns sharing the narrative that you wrote from the perspective of your student. As each narrative is read, listen carefully for recurring themes -- experiences that you imagine to be common to many students when they are having difficulty making meaning of an activity. After each narrative is read, discuss possible next moves that seem appropriate given the needs and perspectives of the student. How do these next moves compare to those discussed earlier?

Site Conversation 1 (5 min.)

The questions that a teacher asks often have a profound effect on students' ability to move from their own ideas to the teacher's intended learning goal. What are the characteristics of a "good" question, one that successfully guides student thinking in the right direction?

Site Conversation 2 (5 min.)

Tricia says that teaching is like a dance -- a slow dance -- and teachers need to let students lead. Does this dance analogy work in your classroom? Do you always let students lead? When (if ever) is it important for the teacher to lead?

Going Further

  1. What are some of the circumstances that can cause a lesson or an activity to fall apart? Generate a group list. Categorize your list and look for patterns.
  2. Discuss ways that teachers can "take the temperature" midway through a lesson or activity in order to prevent things from going off course.

Homework for Workshop 6

Choose one of the five Try This! activities that you have seen thus far (Pattern Puzzles, Classroom Landfill, 'Round About pi, Swingers, and Sorting Socks). On a level that is appropriate for your students, make a list of the content goals for learning for this activity, and bring your list of content goals with you to Workshop 6.


Sorting Socks

Suggested Grade Level: K-2

Students build a floor graph of common objects that they collect, and then turn the information into a bar graph.

What you need

Graph paper
Butcher paper

Prepare a piece of butcher paper to be the base for the floor graph. Along the bottom of the paper, draw a line. Draw tick-marks along the line. These will help to orient the different categories to be graphed.

What to do

  1. Several days before you plan to do this activity, ask every student to bring in one sock (you could also do this activity using mittens, empty soda cans, empty cereal boxes, etc.).
  2. On the day of the activity spread out the socks for all students to see.
  3. Spend time with students describing the differences and similarities of the socks. For example, students might describe and organize the socks by color, by size, or by material.
  4. Students can take turns putting the socks in piles of the same type. For example, if students organize the socks by color, they might make a pile for blue socks, a pile for red socks, a pile for white socks and a pile for patterned socks.

Floor Graph

  1. Roll out the prepared butcher paper on the floor.
  2. Below each tick-mark, write the name of a pile-type.
  3. Have students line the different types of socks above the appropriate tick-marks making a "graph" representing the different types of socks.

Help students understand their categorizing by asking the following questions:

  • Count each type of sock to determine which has the most. Which has the least?
  • Do any of the lines have the same amount?

Bar graphs

  1. Along the bottom row of a piece of graph paper, have students write the name of each pile-type in a separate column.
  2. For each sock on the floor graph, have students fill in one square above the appropriate label.
  3. After students have completed their bar graphs, remove the socks from the floor graph and help students understand their bar graphs by asking the following types of questions:
    • Which column is the tallest? What does the tallest column represent?
    • Which column is the shortest? What does the shortest column represent?
    • Are there any columns that are the same/similar height? What does it mean when two columns are a similar height?

For older students

Older students can survey their classmates to find out information such as: "What are your favorite socks?" "Do you wear socks in the summer?" "What color socks are you wearing today?"

Students can then represent the information they collect on a bar graph.

One connection to the Standards

Standard 2: Mathematics as Communication

In grades K-4, the study of mathematics should include numerous opportunities for communication so that students can --

  • relate physical materials, pictures, and diagrams to mathematical situations;
  • reflect on and clarify their thinking about mathematical ideas and situations;
  • relate their everyday language to mathematical language and symbols;
  • realize that representing, discussing, reading, writing, and listening to mathematics are a vital part of learning and using mathematics.

"Representing is an important way of communicating mathematical ideas at all levels, but especially so in K-4. Representing involves translating a problem or an idea into a new form … The act of representing encourages children to focus on the essential characteristics of a situation. Representing includes the translation of a diagram or physical model into symbols or words."

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, (NCTM). 1989. Curriculum and evaluation standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (pg. 26)


Series Overview
Workshop Synopses
About the Contributors
Workshop Components
More Workshop Components
Helpful Hints for Successful Site Investigations
The Great Bean Bag Adventure
Invitation to Interact
Featured Teachers:
–  Classroom Clips
–  Conversations
Workshop 1
Workshop 2
Workshop 3
Workshop 4
Workshop 5
Workshop 6
Workshop 7
Workshop 8
Suggested Teaching Resources


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