There has been a great deal of Monday morning quarterbacking about how the 2016 Presidential election polls “got it all wrong.” Radio pundits like KFI’s John and Ken have been claiming that pollsters obviously don’t know what they are doing. There are three points to consider here.
1) Did the polls get it wrong? 2) Did the pollsters do something wrong?
3) What good math activity can we generate from all this fuss?
Here are some direct answers with, hopefully, simple, clarifying mathematical (not political) explanations.
The Polls Got It Right
The poll results were within the expected margin of error. In fact, four days before the election, Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight wrote “Clinton’s lead is small enough that it wouldn’t take more than a normal amount of polling error to wipe the lead out and leave Trump the winner of the national popular vote.” In the end, Clinton still won the popular vote, by approximately 1.5% compared to the 3.3% predicated the day before the election, well within the normal margin of error. Gallup shows that, historically, the polls have been within 2%, on average, of the actual results, and within 1% half of the time, with the victories of Reagan in 1980 and Truman in 1948 being the most notable anomalies.
In fact, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight noted the day after the election that a 1% swing in Clinton’s favor across all states would have flipped the Electoral College tally.
Further support that the polls got it right comes from the understanding of probability. Clinton was given a 71% chance of winning on the eve of the election. That means that Trump had a slighter better chance of winning the election than he had of flipping heads on two consecutive tosses of a coin. When heads occurs twice when tossing a coin, should we all protest that statistics and polling are unreliable? This is why Nate Silver claims that the polls missed, but he did not say that they failed.
The Pollsters Did It Right
People have been willing to give more grace to the mathematics than to the mathematicians. Pollsters (those creating the polls, not the folks on the phone) have taken a great deal of heat for poor sampling, but these pollsters have been vindicated voter turnout numbers, because the pollsters surveyed registered voters, not guaranteed voters.
PBS‘s Michael Reagan writes that the data on actual casted votes reveals that Clinton had 2 million fewer voters than Obama did in 2012, while Trump had a slight uptick over Mitt Romney. Had voter participation been similar to the 2012 election, America would have had a different 2016 result.
Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore was extremely concerned just before the election about the lack of enthusiasm for Clinton versus the overwhelming passionate support for Trump. His concern turned out to be warranted.
In the quest for delineating the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, educators have created a plethora of lists for contrasting habits, beliefs and statements.
With my students, I summarize all of these lists and graphics with two simple pictures that pose a simple question: “Do you see talent as a wall or as a launching pad?”
Carole Dweck‘s mindset research shows that self-perception of talent as a limit or as a starting point has a tremendous influence on student learning. The mindset is really about how people perceive their natural abilities and view the potential of their efforts, not just their level of effort.
In fact, this double-pronged image of wall vs launching pad helped me make sense of two things that Dr. Dweck has said regrading effort and growth mindset. The first is that “the most common misconception is simply equating the growth mindset with effort.” (Education Weekly, September 2015). I didn’t fully grasp the issue that troubled her until I heard her say that it isn’t just the struggling math students who have a fixed mindset, but that even some of the more “successful students” have one as well. An example of an advanced student who possesses a fixed mindset is the one who believes that they cannot learn math (remember mindset is about self-perception), so they must compensate by studying and memorizing in order to pass the tests and get good grades.
This thought leads me to another of my favorite image comparing fixed and growth mindset… the scans of the brain of someone with a fixed mindset versus one with a growth mindset.
When faced with a challenge, the fixed mindset brain “goes cold.” It literally shuts down.
However, when faced with the same challenge, the growth mindset brain “fires up.” It knows that more is being asked of it, so it kicks into high gear to meet the challenge, rather than duck it.
Some frozen brains walk away from learning by checking out or acting out. Other frozen brains circumvent the learning by grinding through the course with a hyper-powered work ethic. If good grades is the ultimate goal, then one of these fixed mindset responses is valued more than the other. If learning is the true prize of an education, though, then neither response is sufficient; instead, Dweck claims that students need to implement a “repertoire of approaches—not just sheer effort—to learn and improve.” After all, it is how one reveals to setbacks that reveals their true mindset.
I took her suggestion and hung it at the front of the classroom as a class mascot, naming it Nicki the Neuron, since Nicki is a name that is gender and ethnic neutral.
Nicki was a bigger hit than I expected. One of my students insisted on holding our new mascot during class.
This inspired me. I thought to give Nicki temporarily to the group to which the most recent Neuron Sticker was awarded. I was concerned the boys wouldn’t receive this too well, but Nicki quickly became of badge of honor for the groups.
Nicki is now part of the responsibilities of the Brain Surgeon and is generating a great deal of focus on the Process Reward System that I am implementing. Thank you Julie!
I was inspired at a Growth Mindset workshop by Jo Boaler and Carol Dweck. I knew I was going to be teaching a class of at-risk students, qualified by being on the socio-economic disadvantaged list and having struggled in 8th grade math. Rather than repeating in high school the math course that they failed in middle school, these students would taking Algebra 1 with me. If there is a group of students that need help shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset, it is a group of at-risk students who have struggled in math. However, I did not want to just put a bunch of Power Point slides saying how they should believe in themselves.
So, I came up with three vehicles to develop growth mindsets in my students:
Dr. Boaler emphasizes the plasticity of the brain. This means that the brain actual rewires itself when it learns, by forming new or strengthening current connects between brain cells. We also know now that the outer later of the brain thickens as we learn, much like muscles get bigger from exercise. These facts create a contemporary view of the brain that is in direct opposition to the conventional view in education in which the brain is a passive vessel to be filled with knowledge. These two views are best contrasted by the following images of the brain.
The image on the left implies that we are building a brain. I love that idea so much that I enlarged the graphic to poster size and put it up on the classroom wall. I tell my students that is exactly what they are here to do … build their brains. We then publicly discuss the actions that help us build our brains in class, like…
Sharing mistakes publicly
Offering unique solutions
Asking clarifying questions
Having an “Aha!” moment
To encourage these and other behaviors that contribute to learning, I created Neuron stickers. This was easy, I pulled a drawing of a neuron from the internet and created a sheet that I could print onto a sheet of mailing labels.
Each time a student demonstrated action that promoted learning, the student receives a neuron sticker which they get to place on the Brain Poster. Once the poster is filled, I put up a new one and we continue honoring growth mindset throughout the year.
Each day we designate a “Brain Surgeon,” who serves as a class leader for the day. I purchased this model of the brain to be given to the day’s Brain Surgeon.
The role of the Brain Surgeon comes at the beginning and end of each class.
Opening Class Duties
Supervise preparation for class (getting materials ready)
Each class concludes with a debrief titled “Wrinkle Sprinkle,” implying that learning adds a new wrinkle to the brain. (Note: Anatomically we know this is not accurate, though we know that the neurons make new connections and the outer layer of the brain thickens.) The brain surgeon calls on students who raise a hand to offer something that they learned that day. These Wrinkle Sprinkles are recorded on the 180Blogs on this site.
Target: Recognize thatVoice = Choicewhen it comes to having a growth mindset as we solve problems about our amazing brains.
Entrance Ticket I greeted the students at the door, but today I was checking homework. They only had to do one problem of their choosing from the Neuron Facts last night. If they did not have it, they had to quickly do one outside. Message sent: You are doing your homework in this class.
Growth Mindset On the growth mindset web site they make a point of the “voice = choice,” meaning that we have a choice whether or not to listen to the fixed mindset thoughts that we all have, They give a 4-step breakdown of how to shift from a fixed to a growth mindset. I had fun soliciting the help of a very ancient visual of a devil and an angel on your shoulder.
Neuron Fact Problems So then came time to practice recognizing the fixed voice and talking to ourselves in the growth voice, while doing challenging math problems. They already sit in groups of four, so I had them spend the rest of the period working through the Neuron Fact Problems, which I created from the Facts on the front side of the paper. They were to call out any fixed mindset words or actions demonstrated by their partners. They actually did. I worked the room with Neuron stickers and Nicki. I honored about half the groups. I was pleasantly surprised at how well my crew worked.
During the lesson, as I worked the groups, I asked one student how she got her answer, and she told me that she had copied from her partner. I praised her for her honesty, then paused the class and brought their attention to our classroom norms.
These were originally shared with us by Dr. Juli Dixon (@thestrokeofluck) in a math training at our district. They became very popular among our teachers. Our new principal has implemented them schoolwide, providing posters for every classroom. I drew the students attention, that we “Share, Don’t Copy.” When we share, one person explains, the other listens, then question follow if we don’t understand or if we disagree. If these three norms are occurring then writing down someone else’s solution is not copying.
After a half hour of solid work, we debriefed where we saw evidence of a fixed mindset and where we saw evidence of a growth mindset. This whole activity was very well received by the students. I gave them advance notice that Monday we will be debriefing their actual solutions to the problems.
The Brain Surgeon Today, we began my regular routine of designating a daily Brain Surgeon. Since this was our first day of the Brain Surgeon, I introduced the routines of the Drum Roll, Reading of the Dual Target, Music Cues, and the Wrinkle Sprinkle. The students seem to embrace the spirit of of it all.
Student Introductions As with every new school year, I had each student briefly state their name and something interesting about themselves. When they were all done, I recited all their names. That always impresses a class. Then I told them things about myself. I state that yesterday we started with math, because that is what we are all about here. But since I teach math to them, they are also important and I need to know who they are.
Growth Mindset Most of our Course Teams across the district agreed to do some kind of growth mindset activity. Here was mine.
I started by summarizing the plethora of lists of fixed vs growth mind set statements with two pictures. I told the students that research in student learning is showing that self-perception of talent as a limit or as a starting point has a tremendous influence on their learning.
Then I shared that scans of the brain of someone with a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset, shows something very interesting. When faced with a challenge, the fixed mindset brain “goes cold.” It literally shuts down. However, when faced with the same challenge, the growth mindset brain “fires up.” It knows that more is being asked of it, so it kicks into high gear to meet the challenge, rather than duck it. Now it was time to test out where we see ourselves demonstrating a fixed or growth mindset.
Neuron Facts I gave the students the worksheet with the Neuron Facts on the front side. I found these on the internet and thought they would make for a good lesson since they highlight the amazing function of our brains. I added the subheadings of Fast, Crowded ,etc. I started with a common practice of mine Notice & Wonder popularized by Annie Fetter (@MFAnnie) of Math Forum. My Gradual Reel-In process looked something like this:
You Do: Independent response.
Ya’ll Do: Each member of the group shares both their notice and wonder.
We Do: Each group decides on one Notice and one Wonder from those shared. These get shared out by each group as I write them on the board.
I Do: I summarize the major point(s) that I want all students walking out with. Here it was the process of Noticing and Wondering and how we facilitate group discussion in class… And of course how amazing our brains are.
The groups were then tasked with doing one problem together. Homework was to do one more.
Wrinkle Sprinkle Tying into the concept of the plasticity of the brain, I joke that when we learn we get a new wrinkle on the brain. Each class then concludes with what we learned that day. The brain surgeon leads and records the discussion. The students today stated that they learned…
Opening Quiz Alg 2 on the 6Cs: After greeting each student at the door with a high-5, I started the year by answering the transformation question: “How will you (the students) be different in June than you are now, because of my class?” I am still answering that question with the same 6Cs that I launched 2 years ago. My Claims-Based grading system and the students portfolios are structured as such also.
As I do with all classes each year, I gave the students the blank copy of the quiz below, and told them this was not to be graded nor was it a test of their previous knowledge. It was like a movie trailer of things to come, but I still wanted them to give me their best shot. I then gave them my standard 3-response speech.
As a mathematician I cannot always give an accurate response; I cannot always give a complete response; but I can always, always, always give an intelligent response. Blank is not intelligent.
I pressed them to give me something… numbers, equations, drawings … anything intelligent.
They worked on these independently, then in groups, then as a class, followed by my summary. I wanted to model this process of “gradual reel-in” (as opposed to gradual release) right away, because I use it often.
During the class discussion, one senior claimed out loud, “This is the 5th time that I have taken this class!” (She had failed two semesters as a junior, then 2 semesters in summer school.) I told her that this year she will pass because, “You are that smart, and I am that good.” I had the students repeat this:
Me: “You are that …” Class: …smart!” Me: “I am that …” Class: “…good!”
This was a set-up for the Growth Mindset discussion that was coming over the next few days. In the meantime, I hope I sent the message that I believe in them, and that I believe in my ability to teach them (The 3 Growth Mindsets).
The students brought some terrific energy. I’m so looking forward to my first year as a Puma.
The annual Twitter Math Camp is always amazing. This summer’s conference in Minneapolis, at Augsburg College. was no different. My great disappointment was only being able to stay for one full day this year, but the one day did not disappoint.
As always, portions the Math Twitter Blogosphere (#MTBoS) rallied from around the country in genuine excitement to see and learn from each other after another year of digital friendship and collaboration. Thanks go out to Lisa Henry (@lmhenry9) for being the lead on this terrifically special event.
A packed room on the topic of intervention was surprising to both me and the presenter, because the MTBoS dialogue mostly revolves around first instruction. The large audience is a testament, though, to the need for reaching ALL kids in the era of 21st Century Standards. Michelle is leading a very successful intervention program in Canada which is focusing on some basic premises:
Differentiating for All Students is like Cowboys Herding Cats, but “it’s a good feeling having the herd [of students] arrive on time without losing a one.”
Early Intervention on the Pre-Requisite Skills(Readiness) that are required to be successful in the current curriculum is the first and most important intervention move. Pre-Assessments on prior content are then necessary to help improve students’ chances for success. Back at home we call this Boot Camp. Michelle affirmed that this work is good, and also inspired me to go back to my site and push to make it a priority.
Unpacking Standards Collaboratively serves two purposes. (1) It allows you to throw out material that is not in the standards, which buys you time for intervention/differentiation (Grade Level) and (2) It helps you focus on the pre-requisite skills needed for students to learn the new material (Readiness).
Intervening on Readiness = Differentiated Content Intervening on Grade Level = Differentiated Product
I also saw an interesting take on the Snowball Activity. Students write down one comment and one question about a topic (notice and wonder), then wad up their papers and throw them around the room. Each student picks up a “snowball” and adds another comment and question. This is done again, until there are three of each. After the fourth toss of the snowballs, the students do not write, but instead debrief publicly as the teacher summarizes the comments and questions on the board. This is a strong way to have ALL students reflect on learning.
Jose’s most solid point was that public conversation on math education reform often does not include educators, especially those teaching the marginalized. He accurately stated that if the medical system in America were being discussed on cable news, there would be a doctor on the show, but you never see a teacher on TV talking about education.
In many ways, Jose was calling us out to be activist on our campuses for the changes that we in the Blogosphere write so much about, particularly for students of color. He made a claim that really stuck with me: “We say that we teach math to all kids, but students of color are taught a different type of math than white students.”I know this is true on my campus, While my school is relatively diverse, the lower-level math classes are disproportionately populated by students with Hispanic surnames.
I asked a question of Jose, preluding it with a statement that prejudice on my campus tends to run more along income lines than racial lines (although, racism exists everywhere). Students are accepted and succeed as long as they behave like ‘these kids.’ So I asked, “How do you get teachers and staff to be more accepting of ‘those kids,’ so that they can remain authentically themselves and still learn?” Jose’s response was, “Teach the adults to recognize ‘different types of genius.'” I love that phrase! He went on to explain that kids in poverty are often times going to bring the norms of their own sub-culture to class, which is many times in conflict with the rigid, quite, patient, controlled environment of traditional school. If we can respect that and honor ALL students’ intellects, while also teaching proper social behavior, schools will break down a lot of walls and reach more marginalized students.
Audrey showed samples of student work from her classes, in which she has students BUILD activities and graphs in GeoGebra and Desmos. The best example was Sticky Points. I love how the challenging of students to create the special points for a function like the x-intercept(s), the y-intercept, and the vertex demands that the students do some algebraically manipulation. The graph offers an immediate feedback loop until students do it correctly. This builds their algebra skills and conceptual understanding simultaneously. I’m using this idea in my class this year for sure.
I was honored when Dr. Harris, of the University of Arkansas, asked me to present with him on Mathematical Modeling. Edmund and I have been friends since our first Twitter Math Camp (TMC13), and I always look forward to our laughs and deep mathematical conversations. Edmund wanted to share the theoretical meaning of mathematical modeling, and he asked me to add my take on how the teaching of it manifests in the classroom.
We started by surveying the audience on Pear Deck, prompting for their definitions of mathematical modeling. The vast majority of the responses fell into two categories:
Representing a Real-Life Situation
Applying the representation to make Predictions.
It turns out that these are quite accurate if we include them BOTH, but the two are not necessarily a comprehensive list, as Edmund explained.
The professor started by claiming that shepherds in the field used to count sheep by using stones in their pocket by which a small stone represents one sheep and a larger stone represents 20 sheep. This, he asserted, is an example of abstract modeling. (Leave it to the Brit to bring sheep herding into a math discussion.) Then he drew this diagram on the board:
He explained that you start with “something to be modeled,” (noticed he did not say a real-life situation) and then you create an abstract representation of it. This is a back-and-forth process of verifying the accuracy of the model’s description of the something as well as the “thing” that we want to do with it. (Use rocks to keep track of the sheep). So the audience was responses were spot on… collectively. Yes, modeling is Representation AND Application, but not necessarily just Representation OR Application. Furthermore, Edmond wanted to make it clear that modeling does not have to apply to only “real-world” examples. He claims that when we discuss the transformations of a family of functions, we are also modeling… using an abstract representation to “do something” to the original parent function.
In my investigating of what is expected of school teachers when it comes to modeling, I studied the common core documents and found very persistent, clearly defined attributes of Mathematical Modeling:
Modeling is a process.
Modeling is a verb.
In other words, using a model that is already provided is a good and healthy step in the learning process of modeling, but it is not modeling itself unless the students are generating the model themselves.
Thank you, Edmund. It was a pleasure working with you, my friend. You always make math appear so joyful.
THE SIDE TALKS I had several conversations throughout the Camp, but two that stood out were with …
The first night of TMC16 was a huge social event by Desmos. Edmund, Brian, Alex and I had a beer-laden discussion about modeling that proved quite passionate (read as: table pounding, finger-pointing, and all in good fun B.S. calling). It was such a blast to throw ideas around with people of high intelligence, strong convictions and the deep desire to get this thing that we call teaching right. Cheers to changing the world one math lesson at a time.
Intellectual Need for Vocabulary
Dr. Dan Meyer (@ddmeyer): Dr. Meyer completed his dissertation last year. Knowing how much those with a doctorate enjoy talking about their research, and being truly curious about it, I ask him to share his findings with me. He joyfully did, including some of the back story behind it. In essence, Dan studied the effectiveness of giving students the academic vocabulary after first posing a task that required its use, rather than front loading the terms. He called this method Functionary. His study showed that the both Functionary (using the vocabulary to communicate) and Traditional methods (making flash cards to memorize definitions) were equally effective in teaching students academic language found on traditional assessments. The Functionary method, however, showed superior results when students were asked to communicate their thinking using the vocabulary terms or to complete less traditional (more CCSS-like) tasks. You can listen to the Defense of his Dissertation on Dan’s Blog.
As always, I highly recommend this event to any math teacher. I hope to see you all at Twitter Math Camp in Atlanta, July 27-30 2017.
Recently, I conducted a training with a school district in West Virginia. It was for new teachers (1st-3rd Year) in all subjects K-12. There were approximately 75 participants and 20 mentors. One of our activities dealt with Depth of Knowledge. I showed the typical D.O.K., but I wanted them to have a more meaningful experience with D.O.K. levels in mathematics.
Perfect! I compiled these four into one document, scrambling the order, and asked the teachers to discuss the problems in their table groups and to assign a D.O.K. level exclusively to each one. I was intrigued at how different their responses were compared to what Robert (and myself) considered the problems to be. I noted that the group was a broad range of grade levels and subject areas, so I thought I would conduct the same activity with a collection of high school math teachers that I was scheduled to train in California the following week. I was very curious if math teachers would view the problems differently than non-math teachers. Indeed, they did. However, they also disagreed with Robert and me. Below, are the all responses from the groups at each training, as well as Robert’s determination. Notice the variety of responses that was generated within each training.
The choices that earned the most votes looked like this.
Notice that there is not a single example in which all three parties agree. I have no profound analysis of these results; I am simply sharing this very curious experience. I am still pondering the outcomes and their meaning many times over. So much so, that whenever I hear the phrase “D.O.K.,” I smirk and scratch my head.
In June of 2015, I was privileged to join my wife and several other swim school owners on a service trip to the island of Roatan, in Honduras. The purpose of the trip was to provide much-needed toys & supplies to some of the public schools there, and to raise physical fitness awareness.
Of the nearly fifty swim school owners, instructors and family members that made up our group, I was the only school teacher, therefore, I viewed the experience through a different lens than the others. I also made several connections with the teachers and was able to observe one do an outstanding job of teaching 1-digit subtraction. Watch the video below and you will be as equally impressed. The surprise for me was learning later that the class was 4th grade (in the U.S. this topic is taught in 2nd).
I also had a unique opportunity to teach a brief high school math lesson. I could see on the board that the lesson was about the surface area of a sphere. The teacher had written the formula A = 4πr² and there was an example showing how to calculate the area given the radius. I saw the students doing guided practice in their notebooks. The teacher learned that I also taught math and offered to have me show something on the board. From her limited English, the teacher translated for me. I kept it simple, checking for understanding via head nods after each step… I drew a sphere, then a hemisphere, then the Great Circle. I asked how many of these circles would it take to cover the surface of the sphere. We took a finger vote. Most of the class claimed “2.” I claimed that the teacher already showed them… in the formula … 4 circles (πr²). I then applauded the teacher for knowing that. (You can see me building her up to her students, in the picture below. They all applauded her.)
Schools in Roatan
25% of all Roatan children do not have the means to attend to school. Of those that do, 30% do not continue beyond the 6th grade. This will change as the economy improves. Thirty years ago, there was no electricity and no paved roads on the island. Progress on Roatan has a strong upward trajectory that can be accelerated with a little bit of help.
Our 2015 Visit
We visited six schools:
Victor Stanley West End School
Froylan Turcios School
Escuela Juan Lindo
We provided donations from the swim school owners and from the clients of the schools.The outpouring of generousity was amazing. The supplies ranged from desks to soccer balls to toothbrushes to backpacks.
Another intention of the trip was to provide physical fitness awareness. The kids had a great deal of fun with both the new exercises and the activities.
Many of the students greeted us warmly. We learned that many kids had not seen pictures of themselves, so they got a kick out of us showing them their images on our phones.
The trip ended with the Swim Celebration on the beach at Half Moon Bay in the West End. I was surprised on an island how children didn’t know how to float. The lessons were readily accepted, as was the swimming gear (swim suits, intertubes and goggles). As you can see, my wife fell in love with the Honduran children.
Our group will be returning to the amazing land and people of Roatan in the summer of 2017.
Innovative math lessons you can use in your classroom today