Thursday, December 15, 2016

12/13 End of the Quarter

And just like that, another quarter has wound down.  I'm always amazed how fast time flies. Its a lot of work planning and running the sessions of Math Club and yet I'm still always torn wishing I had more time with the kids.  This day was more crowded than usual. I had to fit the second MOEMS Olympiad in, go over the problem of the week and there was the end of the  quarter game day to run. Clearly, something had to give and I ended up planning to sacrifice part of the time I normally would allot to game day. I'm considering running another one on the first meeting in January after we go over all the house-keeping  to make up for cutting it short.

As of yesterday I also finally received the updated rosters. I sadly lost 2 kids to scheduling conflicts but I have one new one joining and the overall numbers are still at 13 which is a good size.  Almost every time a student leaves I still feel a little bad though. There was one enthusiastic boy in this group  who often wanted to mention something one on one whom I really think would have had fun if he could have continued and a girl I lost to a conflicting choir practice last year that I ending up thinking of while I looked over the roster.

The problem of the week was only lightly participated in and I'm going to need to invigorate it a bit. So again I had kids work on it on the board: sketching out numbers and connecting the factors to see how far they could get. Since I'm finally getting used to the room, I took full advantage of the whiteboards on both sides and had 4 kids working at once.  That works great and sometimes a few extra kids come over and form a group which I like watching. What I didn't do but I will in the future was explicitly hand out paper to have everyone else working at the tables. Otherwise, some number kids don't watch or start working on their own  and sadly don't volunteer that they are missing the paper needed for scratch work. This is one of the areas where I think you just need to bridge the gap. Once  I imagined the group of kids always having a notebook and diligently bringing it. Maybe that works in Middle School but in fifth grade you have to do more to keep everyone on track.

There were a few behaviors I noticed during the Olympiad that I'm hoping to keep working on.  The first was 2 or 3 kids got stuck on one of the problems and basically gave up and turned the contest in with time still remaining. In each case, I encouraged them to take advantage of the time and keep working on the problems but it was a hard sell. (I also had a larger group that didn't figure out the solution to everything but kept working the whole time possible.) Persistence is one of those key attributes that I'm really trying to emphasize. I'll probably talk about it again in January but I'm still thinking about what the best way to handle this is. My first idea is to ask some of those who kept going to talk about what their thinking/strategies were when stuck.  Despite my skepticism sometimes of the value of most of the growth mindset theory that's really what's at play here. How do you get kids to buy into continually thinking about a solution (which they may not arrive at) and not shutting down?  It's this uncomfortable space where I think the most learning occurs.

My favorite moment of the day actually happened right after the contest was done. There was one problem that involved figuring the missing numbers in a consecutive sequence of number given the sum of some of them.  Listening to two boys discuss it one of them said "I solved it using try and fail (guess and check)" and the other replied "I solved it with algebra."  One its always cool to examine the structure of a problem through different strategies. But  more importantly this represents the inflection point many of them are at between informal methods and algebraic thinking.   I find this transition to be fascinating. There comes a point when you see problems and you immediately model them using linear equations and formally solve. Often this comes at a trade-off where the previous conceptual / informal reasoning takes a back seat for a while.  I find this analogous to how standard algorithms usually supplant informal computation strategies after they are initially learned.

Finally, I brought pente, prime climb, trezetto and pentago as well as a deck of "24 cards". These were all great hits and the kids immediately settled in once they had finished the contest.


  1. For persistence, I recently read a commentary for Go life-or-death puzzles suggesting adults should work until they are sure of the answer, while children should spend a shorter time analyzing and then reading through the answer. Seems reasonably to me to allow a mix of each approach.

    Also, remember that real-life persistence usually means returning to a problem repeatedly, not necessarily just bashing at it in one continuous effort.

  2. Hi Joshua,
    Thanks for that reminder. Its always useful to remember how synthetic some of these situations are.