Claim, Evidence, Reasoning: Starting fresh

I’m not an AP Stats teacher. I did that once. What’s important to me is that all students who graduate from high school have an opportunity to think and reason about real data in a deep and meaningful way. AP Stats is typically reserved for a few juniors or seniors. Maybe they don’t want to do AP Calc, or maybe they’ve already done it. Both of these reasons are unacceptable to me. Data literacy needs to have a higher profile – it needs to be more important than being able to simplify rational expressions. Our students need to be able to reason about data that’s presented to them in the press, or on social media, or by our elected officials. That’s my personal crusade.

Since last December I’ve been on this journey to improve my statistics teaching and the learning of my students. I shared my catastrophic failing first attempt and progress made with that group.  One of the beautiful things about our trimester schedule is that it allows me to immediately apply new learning to a new group – assuming that I am teaching a new section of the same course, I don’t have to wait a whole year to apply what I’ve learned. Luckily, this was the case this year. So, in late March I was able to begin anew, armed with what I learned during the previous term.

My spring term class was also a small group, but quite different from the winter class. This new class had more than 50% who struggled with writing. Since the focus of our work would be “claim, evidence, reasoning,” I would have to find alternative ways for these students to share their learning and their arguments. I wrote my new PDSA form and jumped in, hoping that I had learned enough from the winter term to be somewhat successful this time. (For information about PDSA cycles, see here and here.)

In general, I used this process to introduce concepts:

  • Tell students about the data, usually on paper and verbally, and give them time to make predictions about what they expect from the data. Students do not have access to the data yet. Have some discussion about those predictions. Write them on the board (or some other medium). These predictions become claims to investigate.
  • Give students access to the data & some graphical representations, usually on paper, and have them think about how the data might or might not support the claims that they made. Then ask them to discuss the data with a partner and determine whether or not the data support their claim.
  • Ask them to write a statement about whether or not the data support the claim and why. The why is important – it’s the evidence and the reasoning piece of the “claim, evidence, reasoning” approach.
  • Collect students’ statements, collate them into one document, then have students assess the statements according to the rubric. The focus here is on formulating an argument, not on calculating statistics or representing data. That comes later.

I completed this cycle twice, with two sets of data: minutes between blast times for Old Faithful and ages of winners of Best Actor and Best Actress Oscars.

These are the scaffolds that I provided for the first couple of steps for the Oscar data: predictions & analysis. Remember, the objective at this point is on making an argument, not calculating statistics or creating representations. Taking that piece out of the mix allowed students to focus on finding evidence and formulating reasoning for the claim that we had produced as a class. The next step is to collectively look at the statements that the students produced and assess where they fall on the rubric. This was the second time that we reviewed student work against the rubric. All of this introduction was treated as formative, so although the assignment (and whether or not it was completed) went into the grade book, no grade was attached.

The process for practicing was similar, but included less scaffolding and did not include the step of reviewing student statements. It generally went like this:

  • Tell students about the data, usually on paper and verbally, and give them time to make predictions about what they expect from the data. Students do not have access to the data yet. These predictions become claims to investigate.
  • Give students access to the data, generally in digital form, and a template to help them organize their thinking.
  • Have students calculate statistics and create representations to provide evidence to support or refute their claims.
  • Have students paste their representations into the template and write a statement or paragraph explaining the evidence (this is the reasoning step).

I did this cycle twice for our unit on univariate data: once using data about movies and their sequels and again using a variety of data from which students could choose. By the 4th cycle this is what the assignment directions and template looked like. This was the end of unit assignment for the spring term.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned that more than 50% of this particular class had been identified as having difficulties with writing. So, what did I do? I pushed them to write something – at least one statement (or, in some cases, two) – and then offered to let them talk through their evidence and reasoning with me. I knew that there was good reasoning happening, and I wasn’t assessing their writing anyway. So, why not make the necessary accommodations?

Next post: The importance of data choices.

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They’re graduating

Our seniors. My advisory. They’re graduating. On June 3. Tomorrow.

We’ve spent lots of time together, building this school. We’ve spent one and a half hours together every week for the last four years, plus 10 minutes every morning. We’ve learned together and grown together. When we first started together, we came from all over – from Kennebunk to Topsham to Lewiston and everywhere in between. One of us even came from Owl’s Head. Some of us knew each other, but mostly we didn’t. It was awkward.

I’ve worked with other advisory groups in the past, but they knew each other. They lived in the same town, or at least in the same local district. This time it was different. Would my same, silly “get to know you” games work? Which, of course, in the past had been more for me than for them. Why not try, anyway?

So, I explained the rules of my silly name game. You will introduce yourself using an adjective that begins with the same letter as your name. I modeled what I meant: “I’m perfect Pam.” Then we’ll go around the circle and you have to name everyone before you and then yourself. They looked at me funny. They wanted to build the furniture. I told them that we needed to know each other’s names before we could try building IKEA furniture together. They humored me and played my game, even though they didn’t quite get it and thought it was stupid (they tell me now). And we built some furniture. That was in September of 2013. Two days after receiving a building occupancy permit.

Since that time we’ve had lots of conversations. About important things that were happening in the world, about decisions that we needed to make at school, about nothing in particular. We laughed and played games and had “TED Talk Tuesday” and played “Dancing Queen” whenever someone turned 17. We built our community. We became “PRawson and the Funky Bunch.”

And now they’re graduating.

So, thank you, for being the Funky Bunch: Awesome Aidan, Brianna Butterfly, Brilliant Ben, Eccentric Eddie, Ethan “Wheat Thin”, Evil Eli, Glitterific Gracelyn, Goofy Gabe, Ironic Irial, Jazzy Jenna, Loopy Lizzie, Marvelous Maddy, Nick (who likes chips), Novel Nicholas, Sassy Seham, Tenacious Tucker, and Terrible Theo (who hates mayo).

Remember that you built more than just a school. You built a very special community.

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#CollegeSigningDay

On Friday, May 5, Baxter Academy celebrated its first #CollegeSigningDay. While it’s true that we graduated a class of 49 students last year, our first graduation, this year’s senior class has been with us for 4 years. Plus, it takes a bit to get organized around these celebrations. This year we were ready for it.

These are the schools that our soon-to-be graduates have committed to:

  • Bennington College
  • Bishop’s University
  • Catholic University of America
  • Concordia University
  • Cornell University
  • Eastern Maine Community College
  • Florida Institute of Technology
  • Green River Community College
  • Goucher College
  • Hampshire College
  • Johnson & Wales University
  • Maine Maritime Academy
  • Marlboro College
  • Mercyhurst University
  • Mt Ida College
  • Mt Holyoke College
  • NASCAR Technical Institute
  • New England College
  • New England School of Photography
  • Parsons School of Design
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Rochester Institute of Technology
  • School of Visual Arts NYC
  • Simmons College
  • Smith College
  • Southern Maine Community College
  • St Joseph’s College of Maine
  • St Michael’s College
  • Stonehill College
  • Union College
  • Unity College in Maine
  • University of Maine
  • University of Maine, Fort Kent
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • University of Rochester
  • University of Southern Maine
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute
  • Wagner College
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Word of Life Bible Institute
  • Xavier University

Among the group of those who stated majors, there are 23 science, 16 engineering, 8 creative design, 7 liberal arts, and 4 business. Of the 20 or so remaining: One is apprenticing with a Master Plumber, two are starting a game design company together, one is designing and producing storm chasing instruments, one is continuing to build his music production & performance skills, and the rest are taking a gap year or are undecided on their major.

I will always be grateful to these pioneering students for taking a risk to build a new school, not knowing where it would lead them. Well, it’s led them to some pretty great places.

As the hashtag says, the world #BetterMakeRoom.

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Making Progress

My class made some predictions about car data, without seeing it, and came up with 3 claims:

  1. The heavier the car, the lower the MPG.
  2. Electric cars will have a lower curb weight (than non-electric cars).
  3. Gas powered vehicles will have higher highway MPG than electric or hybrid vehicles. (We think this was written incorrectly, but didn’t catch the error, so decided to go with it.)

We focused on claim 1 first. Students easily produced the scatter plot …

03-15-2017 Image002

and concluded that there didn’t appear to be much of a relationship between highway MPG and curb weight. But they wanted to quantify it – evidence has to be clear, after all.

03-15-2017 Image001

Because of the viewing window, the line looks kind of steep. But the slope of the line is -0.01 (highway mpg / pound), so it’s really not very steep at all. And the correlation coefficient is -0.164, so that’s a pretty weak relationship when we group cars of all fuel types together.

Are there different relationships for the different fuel types?

03-15-2017 Image003

Turns out, yeah.

After some individual analysis, some discussion, and a scaffold to help organize their work, students shared their claim-evidence-reasoning (CER) paragraphs refuting claim 1.

Working on the quality

Step one was getting my students to write these CER paragraphs. (I’ve written about this before and how disastrous my efforts were.) Step two is improving the quality. I shared a rubric with my students.

rubric

We all sat around a table (it’s a small class) and reviewed all of the paragraphs together. They talked, I listened and asked clarifying questions. They assessed each paragraph. They decided that most of their paragraphs were below target. They said things like:

  • “That’s some good reasoning, but there’s no evidence to support it.”
  • “I’d like to see some actual numbers to support the claim.”
  • “I really like how clearly this is stated.”

Even though it took time to review, it was worth it.

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Impressive

I spent today at Baxter Academy. Actually, I’m still here. See, I have a group of students working on Moody’s Mega Math Challenge. They have 14 hours to complete their solution to the problem. The clock starts ticking at the moment they download the problem. That was at 9:00 this morning.

I am impressed that this group, who in class is lucky to remain focused for 35 minutes (in a 55 minute class), has pushed through today with so much focus – I am assuming. You see, I’m not actually in the room with them. I make this assumption based on observations when I go and take some pictures or get a food order. I had to remind them about food, not the other way around.

Prior to today, they had done a bunch of work in class, on practice problems, getting organized, reviewing the modeling & problem solving process. One thing I learned from all of that is that we are definitely teaching these skills here at Baxter Academy. These students never once thought they wouldn’t be able to tackle any problem thrown at them. They would come up with a plan for what to do before the M3Challenge folks sent out their tips or hints.

Here they are, 8 hours into their day.

img_-nkfa5p

That was four and a half hours ago. Now, with less than an hour and a half to go, it’s truly crunch time.

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“I can’t wait to find out!”

As stated in the last post, Learning from Failures, I decided to adjust my approach to having students analyze and discuss data. We’d put a lot of time into working out many of the kinks, but it was really time to move on to scatterplot representations of data. My students already knew a lot about scatterplots and best-fit lines, so this allowed me to dive right in with some data.

Rather than stating a claim, I started with a statement and four questions:

I have the following measures (in cm) about 54 students: height, arm span, kneeling height, hand span, forearm length, and wrist circumference.

  1. Which pair(s) of variables do you think might show the strongest correlation? (And what would a strong correlation look like in a scatterplot?)
  2. Which pair(s) of variables do you think might show the weakest correlation? (And what would a weak correlation look like in a scatterplot?)
  3. Which variable (from the list above) do you think would be the best predictor of a person’s height (in cm)?
  4. Write one claim statement about the class data variables.

These questions forced them to think about the data and make some predictions about what they might see once they were able to access it. We hadn’t really talked much about correlation, so I was really interested in their responses to what strong and weak correlations look like on a scatterplot.

Generally speaking, they said that strong correlations

  • look like a line
  • can almost see a line
  • looks like a more defined line
  • looks pretty linear

and weak correlations

  • look like randomly placed dots
  • have points that are far from the line
  • looks more spread out and scattered
  • has dots all over the place

As for question 3, there was quite a debate between whether arm span or kneeling height would be the best predictor of a student’s height. One side (6 students) argued that arm span would be the best predictor because “everyone knows that your arm span is about the same as your height.” The other two students claimed that kneeling height would be a better predictor because “it’s part of your height.” Both sides stuck to their convictions – neither could be swayed, not even by what I thought was the astute observation that kneeling height is probably about 3/4 of height. This prediction was made by a student in the arm span camp!

Students each received their own copy of the data and investigated their claims. During the next class, we took a look at a couple of those claims, together. The plot on the left is height vs arm span, with the line y = x (height = arm span). The plot on the right is height vs kneeling height, with the line y = (4/3)x (kneeling height = 3/4 height).

More debate ensued, though most admitted that kneeling height had a stronger correlation to height than arm span did (for this data, at least). And maybe the 3/4 wasn’t the best estimate, but it was pretty close. They also talked about those outliers, which led to a conversation about outliers and influential points.

Moving from Class Data to Cars

I took a similar approach with the next data set.

I have some data about cars, including highway mpg (quantitative), curb weight (quantitative), and fuel type (categorical: gas, hybrid, electric). Think about how these variables might be related and make some predictions.

  1. How might the highway mpg and curb weight be related?
  2. how might the curb weight and fuel type be related?
  3. how might highway mpg and fuel type be related?
  4. Do you think there might be any outliers or influential points? If so, what might they be?

Through some class discussion, we came up with the following claims and predictions.

img_20170215_134600196_hdr

Students still had not seen the data and one of them said, “I really can’t wait to see what this looks like!” Another said, “Yeah, I’m not usually all that interested in cars, but I really want to know.”

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Learning from Failures

Continuous improvement in my practice is about identifying a specific process that can be improved, applying a change idea, collecting data, and analyzing the results. This term, I am attempting to apply change ideas in my Statistical Analysis class. This is a twelve week introductory class focusing mostly on descriptive statistics. My goal is to have my students reason more about what the statistics are telling them and to justify their claims with evidence. Our 9th grade team has put an emphasis on the structure of claim-evidence-reasoning across the content areas, meaning that students are using this structure in humanities and science and math. I wanted to continue that structure with my 10th graders in this statistics class. So I revamped my approach to the course.

My idea was to use claims to drive the data analysis. It started off well enough. I created some claims and used a Pear Deck to ask students to consider the kind of data that they might need to collect and analyze. (Pear Deck allows them to think individually and respond collaboratively.) Here are the claims:

  • Women who win the “Best Actress” Academy Award are typically younger than men who win the “Best Actor” Academy Award.
  • Sales of vinyl records are rising and will soon overtake the number of digital downloads.
  • Opening box office for sequels in movie franchises (for example. Captain America, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Hunger Games) is typically higher than for other movie openings.
  • LeBron James is the best professional basketball player of all time.
  • For-Profit colleges are more likely to recruit low income individuals for admission.
  • More African American males are incarcerated than any other group of Americans.

Conversation around these claims also included predictions about whether or not the students thought they were true.

Remember, though, the goal was to use the structure of claim-evidence-reasoning, and my kids needed a model. So I gave them this one. After a conversation with a humanities colleague, the students analyzed my example using the techniques they learned in humanities class (highlighting claims and evidence in two different colors). This led us to create “criteria for success” and structure for a five paragraph essay. The analysis showed me that my example could be improved, so I came back after Christmas break with a second draft. We had some discussion about what had changed and whether or not the second draft was an improvement or not. Seemed like all was well. Time for them to “have at it.”

But I wanted them to practice with a single, agreed upon, class claim first. So we brainstormed lots of different claims they could research and settled on:

Original films are typically better than newer entries or sequels.

They had this document to remind them about what to write and off they went to collect whatever data they thought was relevant. And then snow season began. During the first 3 weeks of January we had 6 classes due to holidays, workshop days, snow days, and a broken boiler (no heat). Even though we ask kids to do work during snow days, my students were making very little progress on this assignment. Colossal failure. I gave them too much all at once. They were wallowing in the data collection.

I regrouped. I looked at all of the data that they had collected and gave them this data set to analyze and this document to write their essays. Problem solved, right? Wrong, again. Still too much. At the end of week 4 of this “practice” assignment (interrupted by two more snow days), and after talking with by Better Math Teaching Network colleagues and my humanities colleague, I realized that I had never actually taught them how to write a paragraph that interprets a specific kind of statistic (even though they had examples).

So, at the end of January, I tackled how to write those body paragraphs. We started with writing about means and medians. Given these box plots of average critics ratings, I asked students to write what the medians say about the claim. 02-17-2017-image001

Thinking it would take them about 5 minutes to write, I thought we’d be able to critique the paragraphs that students wrote before the end of class. Wrong, again. But we were able to take a look at what they wrote during the next class. (It’s a very small class.)

I called on my humanities colleague once more and she helped me to create some scaffolding to help them organize their thoughts. This time, with variability. Each group of two received one of the variables to analyze and organize a paragraph around. Once again, we shared the paragraphs they wrote for each measure. I’m not sure how I feel about this, since all of the paragraphs are basically the same. But I guess the point was to focus on the statistics that they included as evidence and not the specific language used. Were the paragraphs “quality”? Here’s a first draft of a rubric to measure that.

As January turned into February, and the snow making machine really kicked in, I called uncle on this, feeling like I had eventually learned something – along with my students – and decided to move on. (We only have 12 weeks, after all.) I’m not sure if this is one iteration, two iterations, or three iterations of my change idea. How ever many iterations it is, it led me to a slightly different approach with scatterplot analysis.

But that’s another blog post.

 

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