Thursday 27 February 2014

First contact – Lesson one

First contact with the students was hard work and messy.  They don’t know me, they don’t know each other and there are some real characters in the group.  I have decided that I really like youth (16-19) but flip, they do require some… grace, flexibility, rules, kindness, encouragement, discipline, more encouragement and some added discipline.  I have decided that adults are easy in retrospect.

Nothing really worked like I thought, but I still managed to get some learning going on.  Major accomplishments – they got to know me, class culture beginning to be established, place value content NAILED.    

The lesson plan - Briefly

Introduce myself
Where I come from, background, my school and education experiences

Motivate them
Key messages:

  • As an engineer, measurement must become 'your art' (pep talk). 
  • GRIT - you gotta have it. 
  • You WILL succeed. 
  • I have high expectations for you all.

Get to know each other
Group discussion – Your business goes global, what do you do with your new found fortune?
What are your ambitions?  What do you want out of this course?
The answers to these were interesting – there is a distinct lack of ambitious dreaming.  In fact the dreams are really just copies cultural themes such as the lives of movie stars and rappers.  What the heck are they doing in the school system – systematically killing kids dreams?  What role does our modern culture have in this?

Dice of fortune (also great for formative assessment) (It went off!)

Number knowledge done on power point

The content focused on place value.  Beginning with knowledge assessment and moving to:
        * Origin story of digits
      * The development of the place value system
      * Number sequencing over ten boundaries
     Zero as place holder
     Position of number determines its value

(All done as a history lesson about competing tribes – managed to work in some Spartan 300 references)

Engineering business is making washers.  The business begins to boom but owner not sure how to send washers to customers.   Staff member develops a system in which ten washers can be sent in a packet, ten packets fit in a box, and ten boxes fit on a pellet.  Loose washers are sello-taped to the others.  Students work in groups to work out how to send the following quantities:

As owners of the company the students were to work out a simple system of working out how to send the correct amounts.  They drew pictures, used calculators etc.
Finally, I demonstrated how the company did it by using the place value chart that was still on the whiteboard and writing:




You just have to write the number in the place value chart and it specifies how many pellets, boxes or packets you will need.  The idea is to make connections between the place value chart we had previously discussed and a way of sending out material.  The point was – the place value chart is designed to make life easy, study it, know it and use it.  Most of the students had an ‘ah ha’ moment.  I’ll build on this and repeat and extend next week.


We had an argument break out in the middle of the class between a ‘youth’ and an 'adult'.  The tone of the class changed and I realised I hadn't laid down any ground rules or asserted any authority.  Totally my fault.  We got back on-board, but clearly I need to beef up my classroom management skills or it will erode learning.

Dice of fortune – formative assessment
The dice of fortune game went off.  One student asked if she could keep the ten sided dice to play during the week – GREAT! I might even give them one each to play at home with family and friends.  During the adding up phase probably half the students were unsure with which number to ‘carry’.  Some carried the ‘ones’ rather than the ‘tens’.    In the next class I’ll get one of the students to run the game with the class, and I’ll sit down.

Their homework is to either play dice of fortune with friends or ask someone what they remember about place value from school and feed back at the next class.  I MUST get them taking this stuff home.  My goal is that when they throw a party, they play dice of fortune!  And then sit up talking about how the place value system evolved.  Yeeharr.

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Weapons of the trade

What do you need to run a great class where the students begin to really grasp and learn the material?  Well, you need a plan, quality information, gear and courage.
I’ll begin with the most important:

The plan:  “A plan never survives first contact with the enemy”. That's rubbish.  “If you have no plan, you have no hope.”

My long term plan is informed by a 1.  A thorough look through the numeracy demands of the course including exploring unit standards, talking to students and watching students; 2. The Learning Progression framework.

My short term plan is informed by 1. Assessment information and 2. Next step as indicated by the Learning Progressions.  This is recorded as a lesson plan that details my every move.  I am Mr Flexible but I have general outcomes that I want learners to achieve. 

Quality information: “You are only as effective as your information”

All learners have been assessed on the LNAAT.  Lesson one will include the number knowledge assessment (can be done with whole class).  I will be doing a quick version of the diagnostic interview when (if) time permits.  Also an attitude/beliefs survey about maths/numeracy.  First lesson will include discussions designed to inform me about learners’ experiences with maths.

Formative assessment: This is bread and butter stuff – I’ll be monitoring every students response to the activities, giving feedback and ensuring my design of lessons includes clear feedback paths for learners.

Gear:  It doesn’t have to flash but does need to work.  And I have just got some great gear that works beautifully.

Thanks Graeme Smith from ALEC for donating a huge bag of numeracy supplies.  ALEC has spent the last few years making and adapting numeracy materials based on tutor needs and feedback.  These materials have grown from real tutors working in strange, interesting and difficult environments.  They have been tested and those that have survived are powerful allies in the classroom (brief reference to Yoda).
Final note on gear – I’ll be using the Learning Progressions as the framework.  Let’s put it through its paces.  See what it can deliver!

Now I’m off to class!
Rubber Meet Road

Who am I?
Damon Whitten – education Guru (capital G).

New mission
Actually teach something – to people.

I have been actively involved in delivering Professional Development (PD) to the tertiary sector for eight years working with ‘fairly’ well behaved tutors and teachers.  One of my primary roles is to deliver literacy and numeracy content to these tutors via workshops.  In other words – I am meant to know exactly what I am doing.

 A common occurrence at workshops is that a new tutor will approach me after the course and have the following discussion.

“Thanks for the workshop Damon.  I’ve just started tutoring and I’m in a bit of trouble”

“Trouble with what?”


“What in particular?”

“Well, I have 13 learners that have very low literacy and numeracy.  I just don’t know what to do.  How to get started, I mean.  I can do activities but that doesn't really get them where they need to be.  I mean, how do I move a whole class who don’t know about decimals but need to be working in tenths of millimeters?  How do I start?”

This is where this blog picks up.

Why you should read this blog
I will be chronicling how I go about developing the numeracy skills of a class of challenging students over eight weeks.  The principles will be applicable to any tutor.  It’s going to be a no-holds-barred look at what happens when an expert meets a real class.

It’s not going to be pretty – but it will be fun!