M&M’s: A project on probability

My co-teacher and I are working with our enrichment group (Success period for those of you who follow the 8-step protocols) on probability this week.  We’ve been able to bring in a lot of engagement activities for the students through this unit.

– We’ve used M&M fun-size bags to take data and study probability of certain colors being in a bag.
– We’ve taken data and based on that data, created rules to reverse engineer what happens in an M&M plant: what the rules are for bag assembly.
– Students are gaining practice entering data into Excel, and creating bar and pie graphs for this data.  They have some stringent requirements to refine the graph so the colors of the pie match the colors of the M&M’s, and also we are focusing on labeling.

In the reverse engineering study with a sample size of 18 bags, we’ve discovered that:
(1) Two M&M’s out of every bag must be green.
(2) There are never just one color of M&M’s in a bag.
(3) The number of M&M’s in a fun-size bag varies from 13 to 21. (Wow.)
(4) The only colors that will definitely be in every bag are red and orange.

21st Century Curriculum and Assessment: New NCTE Position Framework

You may be interested in reading the full Position Paper and Guidelines on 21st Century Literacies:  it is a four-page, clearly written document that was updated just this month, February 2013.

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) began the work toward this framework in the 1990s.  According to the position paper, “the continued evolution of curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice itself is necessary.”

Included in the framework are proficiencies of inquiry, problem-solving, technology utilization, digital resources and tools, academic risk-taking, and synthesizing multiple streams of simultaneous information.  Also mentioned is the importance of cross-cultural connections and relationships.

Page three of the NCTE position paper demands that we consider authentic assessment that relates to the complex real world.

Much of what is shared in the position paper has been also identified by other streams of research, including the book Best Practice: New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools by Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde (4th Edition (PDF sample) is the newest; a PDF excerpt of the 3rd Edition is here; and I have a copy of the 2nd Edition in my office.)

According to Zemelman, et al., although standards, positions, and guidelines come from a wide variety of sources and authors within the field of education, there is “a surprising and encouraging level of agreement” on what these standards actually suggest.  “The consensus is that students learn best in schools that are student-centered, experiential, democratic, and collaborative – yet rigorously challenging.”  My own addition to this list is also that these schools have an orderly environment and have a culture of high standards for interactions within the community, whether student-to-student, student-to-adult, adult-to-student, or adult-to-adult.

We are well on our way to becoming a true 21st Century school.

Moving from writing to blogging

One of the focus points this spring as we prepare for ISTEP is persuasive writing.  For the seventh grade test-prep group I co-teach, this led me to develop a series of basketball-related essay prompts, one for each day this week.  After I saw the first set of essays though, some without conclusions, and very few with strong conclusions, my co-teachers and I needed to get on our soapbox and reiterate those basics.  Also helpful was the Fish Skeleton graphic organizer technique — that I picked up from someplace unknown during the time I substitute taught across Michigan and Indiana.

While working on these lesson plans, I also felt driven to review what I could find on the web about persuasive writing, since it’s been a while.  I found some good advice, but what stood out to me was this article, “Blogging is the New Persuasive Essay,” by Shelley Wright.  Wright makes a case against the persuasive essay, which I don’t fully agree with, but over the course of the post she makes an excellent argument for why we should have students blog.  Not only can blogging bolster the sentence structure and grammatical skills that students need, but there is an element of playfulness to blogging that can be exciting and engaging for students.  There is also the benefit of feedback, discussion, and debate that can occur through blog commenting.  (The comments on Wright’s blog are equally interesting.)

When you have laptops in your classroom, consider the idea of blogging.  Another idea is Edmodo, an academic social network, which is a different vehicle for writing, but is along the same lines of 21st Century communication skills.  More on Edmodo will be discussed in another post soon to come.

[Side note:  The fishbone technique apparently has an interesting history.  As I searched the web for a sample diagram, I found this piece about Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa’s work developing this graphic organizer.  What I use is a simpler version of the fish skeleton writing organizer, which is very easy to draw and explain on the whiteboard or on a student’s paper in just a few seconds (by rolling this out quickly, it gives them more time during the period for writing) and is very middle-school friendly and memorable.]