Hi everyone,

My name is Bryan Penfound. Awhile back I was asked if I would be interested in helping out at MathMistakes and I said yes not knowing how challenging this term would be for me. Now that I have settled in a little bit, I thought I was a bit overdue for a post, so here goes!

Recently while volunteering at a local high school in a grade 9 classroom, I had to opportunity to observe students’ answers to the following question: “Create a trinomial in the variable t that has degree 3 and a constant term of -4.”

Here are five of my favourite responses:

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I would love to get some discussion going. Choose one of the polynomials above and try to deconstruct what the student knows and what the student still has misconceptions about. What follow-up questions might you ask to learn more information about how the student is thinking? What follow-up questions might you ask to help with any current misconceptions?

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What do you notice about this student’s thinking? What do you wonder about it?

I made a little Desmos activity to see if it’s possible to use their activity builder to share and comment on student work. I asked people to circle something they noticed in this student’s work. Here is the overlay showing everything that everyone circled.

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I’m not sure what to make of all that overlaid, but I’m definitely interested. The written answers people offered were also really interesting. Here is a sampling:

Guest: “This is a common error for my students as well. They  do not recognize that this is a quadratic function and try to get a straight line.”

Kevin: “These don’t seem to be in any particular order.”

Lane: “Does he have an eraser? Does he get confused calculating with zero?  Does he know the shape of a parabola?  Does he know that a function cannot possible have one point on top of another? Does he sometimes get confused with x^2 and 2x?  Could he have analyzed his own mistakes with a calculator?  By not checking with a calculator will some of his errors snowball and cause further confusion?  Is the student feeling frustrated? I think it is good this student understands the choice of input does not have to be in a particular order.”

Jonathan: “I notice that there is a disconnect in the student’s knowledge of linear vs. quadratic equations. I wonder how come the student did not use any negative values in her table.”

While there were a lot of great observations, the one that stood out to me was that this student could probably learn to recognize that this sort of equation will produce a U shape. Knowing that this sort of equation produces a U will make it more likely that they will test negative x-values, or at least more reliably guess the rest of the shape. I agree: it seems as if this student is trying to fit a U-shaped function into a line-shaped paradigm.

What activity could we design that would help students like this one develop their thinking?

Inspired by Bridget, I put this together:

Response to Mistake Templates - Graphing y = x^2 - 4

In the Desmos activity, I asked if people could think of a way to improve my rough draft. Here were three responses that represent some of the variations people had:

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On twitter, Bridget had a second idea for an activity that would help students like this one develop their thoughts.

To wrap things up, I shared a mockup of Bridget’s alternative activity and asked people what they thought about it.

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Some selected responses:

Max: I prefer my version of the previous activity — this activity doesn’t invite students to consider why the parabola is symmetric — it’s easy enough to connect the linear and nonlinear representations and not confront the whys of the symmetry of the nonlinear representation. Maybe including y = x^3 + 4 as a third example (with both graph and equation provided) would support that sense-making?

Brian: I like the idea of having one more equation than graph. I’m also wondering about the choice to have two linear functions vs. one quadratic. This activity provides less structure than the previous since, to determine what the function’s graph looks like he would need to do it himself. The other provided the Desmos graph. On the other hand, this activity does provide the student with a more possibilities of visualizing the function, which could yield insight into how he’s thinking about the quadratic function.

Bridget: I wonder if the graphs should be discrete points instead of continuous. Not sure if it would make a difference or not. I also wonder if the missing representation should be another quadratic. I’m trying to consider if the connecting representations should include tables. I’m not sure…

Also, I think the previous slides connect more to the issue at hand. On an assessment-do you think this student could be given the equation y=x^2-3 and choose the correct graph from four multiple choice? I’m not sure…

Overall, this was fun! I’m excited to try it again.

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At first, this is what I thought the student had done:

  • First, the student drew six circles to represent “out of 6 books.”
  • Then, they distributed, one-by-one, the 66 books into each of the 6 circles. (If they just put 11 in each, why tally them?)
  • Then, the student searched for a way to represent the “5 out of” that are non-fiction.
  • It follows that the remaining books are fiction. That makes six sixes, or 36 books.

But then Bridget and Julie came in with a fantastic, different interpretation. Their’s feels like an improvement on my first draft.

We then got to work trying to come up with some activities to address this work. Suppose that your class of 6th Graders try this problem, and a lot of your class has struggles that are similar to the work above. You’re planning tomorrow’s lesson. What activity would you begin class with?

This is what we came up with. Which of these activities do you think would be most helpful? Are there any changes you would make to any of them? Is there a combination and sequence of these activities that you think would work particularly well? (I took a shot at sequencing them below. Some details on activity structures are here.)

5 out of 6 Mistake-page-005

5 out of 6 Mistake-page-003

5 out of 6 Mistake-page-004

5 out of 6 Mistake

5 out of 6 Mistake (1)

 

In an earlier post, I shared Michael Fenton’s scenario and categorized the responses he got on twitter.

There were at least seven distinct responses that teachers offered to Fenton’s prompt. Wow! This makes me think two things:

  1. Fenton’s scenario was so thought-provoking that it yielded an amazing variety of responses.
  2. How come there was so much disagreement about how to act in this scenario?

Part of the disagreement, I think, comes from what went unspoken in Fenton’s mistake. We didn’t know if this mistake was shouted on in a discussion or found on a piece of paper. We don’t know if this is one of those times when we can afford to have a one-on-one conversation with a kid in response to her mistake, or if our response will be scrawled on her paper and returned. Was this a common error, or an isolated mistake? Could our response be an activity for the class instead of a chat?

While one-on-one conversations are crucial in teaching, they are hard to talk about. By their nature, they’re improvisational and somewhat unstructured. I’d also argue that opportunities for one-on-one conversations can be rare, and they get rarer as the number of students in your class grows larger.

Revising the Scenario

So let’s add some details to Fenton’s scenario. This was a mistake in an Algebra 1 class. Smart kids, thoughtful teacher, but when she collects papers after an ungraded check-in she finds that about half her class made Fenton’s mistake. Oh no! She decides that she’s going to launch class the next day with a brief activity to help advance her kids’ thinking.

Her first idea is to try a string of equations. She has three different drafts. Which one would you choose, and why?

Equation String 1

Fenton's Mistake - Various Approaches (5)

Equation String 2

Fenton's Mistake - Various Approaches (1)

 

Equation String 3

Fenton's Mistake - Various Approaches (2)

Other Activities

Then, she has some other ideas. Maybe equation strings aren’t the right move? She comes up with three other activities: Working With Examples, Which One Doesn’t Belong and Connecting Representations.

Working With Examples

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Connecting Representations

Fenton's Mistake - Various Approaches

Which One Doesn’t Belong?

Fenton's Mistake - Various Approaches (6)

Commentary

The meta-question here is about the conversation. Can we have a conversation with so many options? I don’t know. I worry that maybe I should have just limited discussion to the equation strings.

What would do?

My first reaction is that I like the equation strings, because it most directly gets at the issue of overextending the zero-product property to other equations.

But what I really want to do is lay out a sequence of 3-4 activities that I could do in sequence to develop this idea for a class.

And do I know enough to answer that question? Wouldn’t that depend on the math that we’d already studied and the math that’s coming up next?

Do we learn anything from thinking about these questions?

 

Lots of responses to this great tweet. I wanted to understand the themes in what people were replying, so I went through everything and tried to summarize it here.

Response #1: Check Your Work, Start a Conversation

Response #2: Just Check Your Work (No Conversation Mentioned in Tweet)

Response #3: Explain the Zero Product Property

Response #4: Thinking About How to Teach the ZPP Unit

Response #5: Switch to a Graphical Context

Response #6: Ask for Explanations

Response #7: Run a New Activity with the Whole Class

I’m sure I didn’t capture everyone’s response, and I don’t know what any of this means. But there you go.

Predict: What responses to this prompt would you expect from my Algebra 1 students? (Prior to this problem my kids had mostly worked with integer arithmetic, solving linear equations in one-variable and graphing scenarios and equations.)

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Study: What do you notice in this (small) class set of responses? Note anything that surprises you.

Kid 1:

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Kid 2

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Kid 3

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Kid 4

kid4

Kid 5

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Kid 6

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Kid 7

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Kid 8

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Kid 9

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Wrap Up

How did your predictions hold up? What surprised you the most? What’s something you wish you knew more about?

First, the mistake:

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Then, the feedback with revisions in red pencil. (I love the idea of doing revisions in different ink color. Credit to Lisa for that.)

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I notice that the kid didn’t write them as (x,y) but wrote them as x,y. I wonder how come he did that? Or, more precisely, I wonder if he doesn’t see much of a difference between (x,y) and x,y or if three is some other reason for leaving off the parentheses.

(By the way, before you try to nitpick the feedback check out this conversation on twitter about it.)

From Bedtime Math:

Big kids: The record distance for a thrown boomerang to travel is 1,401 feet.  If it traveled exactly 1,401 feet on the return trip too, how many feet did it travel in total?  Bonus: Meanwhile, the longest Frisbee throw is 1,333 feet – about a quarter of a mile! How much farther from the thrower did the boomerang travel than the Frisbee?

From the submitter, who sends in the thinking of two of his students:

(1) first student, having doubled the boomerang distance in the earlier question, now doubles the frisbee distance  and calculates (2801 – 2666) feet.
(2) Second student gets an 100 board and spends a short time calculating 100 – 33 = 67. Then thinks for a long time during which I’m sure he is going to say 67 + 1 = 68, but never quite does it. I stay silent until he announces: 667. No clue where the extra 600 came from. He wasn’t willing to write down or draw anything to explain his thinking.
Interesting!  I’m inclined to put the first student in the “extending the thinking you’d do in one model to a less familiar situation” category and the second student in the associational mistake (same link) category.