Part 1: Sniglets

Snough (snoff): v. To sneeze and cough simultaneously, as during cold and flu season
I was sure to disinfect the desks after my students snoughed all over them this morning.

Calcuhater (kal’ kyoo hay ter): n. The student who, no matter what, refuses to even attempt to enjoy math class.
The calcuhater in my last period class was particularly difficult to deal with on Friday afternoons.

Mathketball (math’ ket bol): n. A game played to review key concepts in math class; materials include stuffed apple, empty diaper box, and groups of four.
The boys thought they’d win mathketball hands-down, but it turns out that tossing the apple in the box after completing a problem was much different than shooting a three pointer on the court.


Part II: Reframing

In my freshman Algebra 1 class, I was struggling with getting students to complete their daily homework. Homework typically consisted of 10-15 problems to practice the skills learned in class. The first 6-7 problems were skill recall, the next 3-5 were more challenging problems requiring students to synthesize and generalize using information from previous lessons, and the last problems were real-life applications of these skills. Every homework was designed the same way as I felt the consistency would be helpful because they would know what to expect. Students repeatedly had a variety of excuses for not completing their work, from sports practice to work to forgetting their book. Practicing skills in math class is essential to mastering the foundations so I had to figure out a way to get students to do their homework. Not only were their grades suffering, but their potential for success later in their math careers was shrinking by the day.  My students, even the ones who did their homework regularly, were not mastering the material as thoroughly as I felt they should be and grades were very low. I thought my students weren’t doing the homework because they were lazy and unmotivated. I set aside several weeks where I was sure to allow time at the end of class for collaboration and to begin the night’s assignment, and I walked around the room observing and listening to conversations to try to figure out why homework completion was at an all time low.

What I discovered was eye opening. My students either were not being challenged enough or had no idea where to even begin on their homework. They would rather just not do it than risk getting the entire assignment incorrect because they couldn’t recall what was taught in class.  I completely redesigned my class the next grading period and transformed it into a Flipped Classroom. No longer were students asked to go home and do a set of problems on their own. Rather, I uploaded short videos of me teaching the skills to YouTube and gave students my channel. Their homework was simply to watch a video (something they were doing hours of every afternoon, anyways!). The next day in class, I broke the class into groups based on the performance on the video the night before (the videos had basic questions embedded in them to check for understanding and help me keep them accountable) and differentiated the assignment based on what I had identified to be the needs of that group of students. Students collaborated and talked during class, arguing about solutions and helping each other understand. Suddenly the homework averages skyrocketed; students weren’t bored (most of the time!) while doing their “homework” and they didn’t feel a sense of defeat if they didn’t know how to work a problem since they knew they could get help from their group during the assignment.

This experience really showed me that even though I am the teacher, and I am the one with the college degree and years of experience, I still don’t know everything about why my students do what they do (or, in this case, don’t do). It is important for me to take a step back and observe, get feedback, and make changes based on the needs that I see in front of me. As teachers, we should never assume we know why a student has made a particular choice, whether good or bad. When designing a product for a particular population, it’s important to consider the  problems the audience may encounter so that we can anticipate a solution. It is also important to view the problem from a different perspective to ensure we are designing for the whole rather than just for a small part. We can’t get hung up on one aspect or solution so much that we are blinded to other possibilities.