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Guess Who?

Our students appreciate teachers who take time to understand their learning process and then adapt lessons and content to fit their students' needs. We can't expect students to truly understand something if they cannot wrap their heads around it and make it work for them. This, my friends, is the challenge we all face as we start new units or introduce new content in our classes. I am excited to share a rockstar math lesson I witnessed that combined questioning and vocabulary to introduce a new unit of study. It was awesome.

Many of my students know that I love to visit other classrooms around the building. Over the past few weeks, I've heard numerous students complimenting the teaching style of one of the teachers in our math department, and when I asked more about the class, two of my students encouraged me to come in and observe. So, I contacted Mr. Emmett Farrar and was able to observe an introductory lesson in his Honors Algebra 2 Trig class's upcoming unit. Let me tell you...I was so happy my students invited me to join in on the fun; I saw an awesome lesson that took questioning and curiosity to the next level. It was obvious why my students love this class and feel like they are truly learning math concepts that are difficult to comprehend.

Before my observation, Mr. Farrar explained to me that he likes to incorporate Desmos, a powerful online math resource, during classrooms lessons and activities to engage students and give them options for collaboration. In addition to providing an online graphing calculator, Desmos provides numerous ways for students to practice, check for understanding, learn from their classmates, and reflect on the process. And even better, teachers can easily access student work from their teacher dashboards and monitor student learning in the moment. 

When I walked into Mr. Farrar's Honors Algebra 2 Trig class, students were on their Chromebooks playing a Guess Who? style game on Desmos. Here is how it worked: Students were paired with another student around the classroom and had to pick one graph out of a list. Next, their digital partner had to ask questions about the various graphs they saw on their screen in order to find the correct graph chosen by the partner. (Yes, it did bring back memories of the awesome Guess Who? game I played as a child) As students digitally asked questions to their classmates, they were supposed to answer Yes or No and then eliminated choices that wouldn't work based on their questions.

Right off the bat...I was like, YES! Students are asking questions! This is great. We need them to feel comfortable asking questions about what they are learning. As students participated in this activity, Mr. Farrar showed me his teacher dashboard, and I was able to see all of the students' screens and questions being asked. As I continued to walk around the room, I noticed that Mr. Farrar, using his computer, went up to the board and started writing a series of questions. I was curious about the purpose of this, but wow - what came next took the lesson and the students' learning process to the next level.

Mr. Farrar locked the students' screens  - yes, they moaned and groaned about this -  and then turned their direction to the board to scan the questions that they asked during the activity. The questions included some untraditional, non-math word choices to describe/question the graphs. Words like uppity, squiggly, two hills, fluctuating, bump, flat bottom, and so on. Students laughed as he went through some of the questions. But...if you look at the graphs, the students were pretty spot on with their language and questions based on how the graphs looked. Since this was an introduction to the next unit, obviously the students didn't know the correct vocabulary associated with the graphs they analyzed. So, they had to use language they understood in order to craft their questions. Instead of telling students that their language was wrong, Mr. Farrar explained that they asked great questions based on what they observed. He then said that during this upcoming unit, their goal would be to learn the mathematical terminology associated with these graphs in order to replace the words they used during the activity.

But wait...there's more. While one would think the lesson would stop there, Mr. Farrar rocked it out even more. He instructed students to go to Google Classroom and use the resources provided to find the correct terminology for a few of the questions posed by their classmates. Students were engaged as they got excited to find the proper vocabulary to describe some concepts they didn't understand. To end the period, Mr. Farrar opened up the Guess Who? game on Desmos again and encouraged students to use some of the new words they learned during the exploration to pose their questions. He explained to me that as an introduction to the unit, he can refer back to this lesson and the words they used to pose questions about the graphs in order to help them better comprehend these difficult math concepts.

Questioning, vocabulary, curiosity, inquiry, application, and collaboration. This awesome student-centered lesson was action-packed, and it gave students an opportunity to make sense of concepts that were new to them. We need to give students a chance to take ownership of content, even if it means letting them use vocabulary like squiggly and uppity to describe something happening in a graph. Giving students permission to use the words they know and understand is a great stepping stone in developing their vocabulary and questioning. From there, we can model and coach students through the learning process by helping them connect their questions and language to this new content. Teacher win! #whatsup