# Explanations In Algebra 1

A couple of interesting things happened today to set up one of my expectations for my Algebra 1 classes.

First, our bell work question today was a Which One Doesn’t Belong? image. I showed the image and instructed them to write which one they felt didn’t belong and explain WHY their choice doesn’t belong. I gave them a sentence frame for this: Your answer should look something like “The _____ shape doesn’t belong because it is the only one that _____.” Then I had them vote using Plickers. We had a discussion about the two shapes that everyone voted for, and then I asked if they could come up with reasons why the other two don’t belong as well. They did. Then I tried to move on to the next part of the lesson.

Well, they didn’t like that. They demanded to know which one was the right answer. I shrugged and said, “Well, didn’t we just come up with reasons for all of them?” and then ignored them while they yelled out indignant questions. We’ll do more WODB questions (about 1 per week until I get bored) so they’ll get used to them. (In fact, I’m betting that next week I’m going to have one kid who tries to outsmart me by smugly telling me that none of them belong. I always tell them that they’re welcome to write that on their bell work, but then they have to write an explanation for each one.)

Goal: Introduce the idea that there isn’t always just one right answer. √

Goal: Introduce the idea that the explanation is more important than the right answer. √

While I was ignoring their indignant questions, I instructed them to get together with a new group of people today (randomly assigned) to continue working on Noah’s Ark.

I’ve used Noah’s Ark during the first week of school before, and I’m using it again this year. I just re-read the blog post from last year where I talked about how it went, and am frankly a little surprised at how positive I was about it last year. (Last year was not a good year for me in a lot of ways, so it’s possible that I’m just surprised I was able to write anything that was positive. Of course, when I wrote that post, it was before I discovered just how bad it would get.)

It’s going better this year. I’m excited and impressed. Or I would be if I wasn’t so tired right now.

So all 3 sections of Algebra 1 started Noah’s Ark on Monday. Each day this week, I’ve been running out of time, so I’ve only been able to give the kids about 5-10 minutes a day to work on it. I know this isn’t enough time, and the first day in particular I told them I didn’t expect them to finish. (Actually I told them that if they did get an answer before the end of class, it was probably wrong.) So they’ve now worked on it for like 5-10 minutes a day for three days.

A couple of kids have the right answer and now have permission to spend the work time helping other students (while under strict orders to not tell anyone what the answer is). A couple of kids have the right answer but I’m not sure how they got it, so they’re technically not done yet. (And they don’t know they have the right answer because I haven’t told them.)

I’m impressed at how well they’re doing with this considering how short their time is each day. They’re making little bits of progress and it’s adding up. I think I’m going to bring this up when I start assigning homework next week and tell them that working on something like this for a short time but often is clearly paying off, and that’s basically how I assign homework – nearly every day, but not very much. I’m hoping this will help to put the homework load in perspective.

Today we had an interesting conversation in one of my classes. It went something like this:

Student: “Miss, do you know the answer?”

Me: “Nope.”

A few students: “WHAT?! How can you give us a problem that you don’t know the answer to?!”

Me: “I just figure that anyone who can give me an explanation that I can’t poke any holes in must have the right answer.”

Another student: “So, wait…if we can give a good explanation and you can’t find anything wrong with it, that means we’re right?”

Me: “Yep.”

[This all repeats a few more times, verbatim, as the information gradually spreads through all 30 kids.]

Some other student, with a very shrewd sort of look on his face: “So does that mean you care more about the explanation than the right answer?”

Me: “Yep.”

Oh snap. Did you see that? On Day 3 of the semester, we’ve established that I care more about the explanation than whether students have the right answer. And I didn’t have to say it.

Goal: Reinforce the idea that the explanation is more important than the right answer. √

I’m honestly not sure I could have come up with a better way to make this point.

The other really cool thing is what happened about 15 minutes later.

So I let them work for about 10 minutes and then I stopped them because we needed to move on to Sam Shah‘s Barfing Monsters (adjusted for Algebra 1 by Elizabeth Statmore and adjusted further by my roommate who is not on Twitter in spite of my nagging).

Barfing Monsters Alg1 Day 1

Barfing Monsters Alg 1 Day 2

Barfing Monsters Alg 1 Day 3

[Note to self: for next year, the Day 1 patterns need to be easier. I need a lower entry point for my students’ needs.]

We talked through the setup and worked through Case File #1 together, then I instructed them to get as many case files done in the remaining 10 minutes of class as they could.

Here’s the hilarious/awesome part: one of the kids, again with this very suspicious/shrewd look on his face, stops me while they’re working to ask, “Do these ones have a right answer?” I decided to be nice to them this time and said, “When it asks you to make a prediction for what the monster is going to throw up, based on what they just ingested, yes, there is a right answer for that part. But there could be more than one explanation for why that’s the right answer.” He nodded and got back to work.

Goal: Reinforce the idea that the explanation is important. √