I had the great privilege of attending the #CTCTM Spring Conference last weekend. In my keynote address, I shared about how two things that bring me great joy (and challenges) collided right there in Waco… the endless list of home improvements at out own #FixerUpper #AustinFixer … and ways to “fix up” my own teaching. In sharing transparently about my own practice with the attendees (half of whom were pre-service teachers, woot woot) my hope was to start a conversation about how to “fix up” what we do every day, even if that means starting small… starting somewhere.

My little family of three (hubby, son and I) purchased a “fixer upper” about a year and a half ago. “Starting small… starting somewhere” has been the only way to (sanely) survive this process. We’ve fallen down and have gotten back up *repeatedly* – from unexpected repairs, to downright horrific workmanship that had to be redone, it’s been a bumpy road. And sometimes, I feel the very same way about teaching math. Always a “honey do” list of things to “fix up”… Fall down… get back up!

Whether it’s my house or my second home (room 510), I will continue to get back up. I’m encouraged and challenged by the #MTBoS community who shares trials and triumphs that shape me day by day.

So, without further adieu, here are several fall-downs that have a common theme for me:

So pumped to try Dan Meyer’s Popcorn Picker using Nearpod as the delivery tool, I “set the stage” for students, expecting rich discussions, loads of work samples, and an all-around great 3-Act experience. What I did *not* anticipate was that just about every kid would say (of the paper cylinders), “They are the same.” Period. Little to no math. Except for the ones who showed math. They found the * area* of both sheets of paper, looking at me like, “What’s the big deal here? The papers are the same, lady.” Sure, the whole point of the task is that students might think something about these cylinders is “the same” to start… but by the end… they should, in theory, have a sort of a-ha about volume… right? Well, even AFTER I showed “Act 3” and asked students, just to be sure, which container would hold more popcorn… most STILL said, “They will hold equal amounts of popcorn.” We had JUST WATCHED the final video, and they STILL said, with ZERO work attempted, that these cylinders would hold equal amounts… I was pretty much speechless at this point. I didn’t know how to recover except to direct teach the whole. entire. thing. Has this happened to you in the midst of a 3-Act attempt? How did you get the train back on the rails? (Other than my way, which was, just tell them. Everything. Do all the math. Show all the math. Just take over… while they watch… and still write down zero math…….) I also had an experience where providing the necessary tools in person made for a much richer problem-solving experience than watching the videos.

**Changes In Dimensions Flop**

I gave students paper visuals and actual wooden cubes: a 1-by-1-by-1, a 2-by-2-by-2, and a 3-by-3-by-3. I gave them a handout that facilitated, without telling, understanding how changing dimensions impacts surface area and volume. I envisioned a classroom where students would build, play, discuss, discover, and generalize. After watching groups attempt the task for 20 minutes or so, I gave in. No one seemed to have a clue what we were doing. I stopped the whole thing, took over, told everybody what I’d hoped they’d discover with some guidance, and basically felt like I’d wasted an entire class period. I retaught the concepts the next day, directly, and from scratch. Had I asked too much? Or… should I have waited just a bit longer…?

**If there are two things I can’t stand, they are:**

- Feeling as though I’ve wasted instructional time.
- Designing a discovery/constructivist-type lesson only to take over and tell everybody what I wanted them to get out of it.

**I haven’t figured this out yet, friends. **

**When this happens to you, how do you handle it?**

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“Designing a discovery/constructivist-type lesson only to take over and tell everybody what I wanted them to get out of it.”

To this point, give yourself some credit Cathy. You wouldn’t have taken over if your instincts weren’t telling you that it wasn’t going to work out. Maybe your instincts are failing you, and maybe that lesson would have worked, but you wouldn’t have been successful if you weren’t listening to your inner voice. At the same time the kids in your class are at least getting the message that they are in a different environment and you are pushing the envelope. If you keep bringing it, they will start taking more on, and you will be able to let go of the reigns a little more.

Thanks, Carl – so true that students often have to embrace the shift… which takes time and repeated attempts! Appreciate your encouragement and perspective here.

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I found this post via the Blogging Initiative — in fact I’m one of the other middle school teachers who participated.

I’m wondering whether your popcorn project would have worked better if Act 1 presented the two completed cylinders — of completely different shapes (one tall/thin, one short/broad) — so that students would have no reason to assume that the volumes are equal. Then in the final act, we cut the cylinders back down to the original rectangles to show that surprise, surprise — they’re the same rectangle!

My own school embraces projects, and just today I gave my sixth graders a project where they had to find the surface area of pieces of wood — which sounds very similar to your projects. I ended up breaking up the project into discovery/direct instruction rather than pure discovery, just as you had to do. Basically, I had the students discover that measuring the wood requires three dimensions — and then I directly told the successful students the formula for surface area.

Great insights, David! I like your idea of making the size of the paper the a-ha at the end!

It sounds like your wood-measuring task embraced an effective balance between instruction and discovery. I often think of Dan Meyer’s idea of being “less helpful” in these sorts of lessons… but he never said teachers should’t be helpful at all. 🙂 When students “discover” some of what’s going on, they’re open to receive the information we help them understand further. Balance is a good thing, isn’t it?

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