"Hey John, we've got a couple Fridays at the end of the year that we want to do something fun. How about you come out and do Barbie Zipline for our Integrated II students?"
Originally stolen from Matt Vaudrey, like many good ideas of "mine", Barbie Zipline is a lesson I've become very passionate about and now confidently present during our La Cucina Matematica trainings for teachers. The problem is that I've only had the opportunity to teach it once, then show it to a bunch of teachers as a really cool lesson. Typically, I want chances to iterate and develop a lesson. I finally had that chance today.
In my first few years of teaching, I was required to write out lesson plans and be ready to show them to my principal. I never had to turn them in, but it was an expectation that there would be a plan for each day. They sucked, were impossible to follow, and lacked life; but they were written.
Around year 5, when more preps and responsibilities got added to my plate, lesson plans stopped. It was certainly not because I had mastered this thing we call teaching, but more that I refused to waste my time writing something I was never going to look at. Rather than writing lesson plans, I prepared my lessons (some days better than others). To prepare for Barbie Zipline, it began with the essential question:
What is the safest, yet most fun, set of parameters for Barbie (or any similar doll or object) to survive a zipline?
This handout is what students would use to show their work and have their discussion starter, but it had to be good. Small changes, minor manipulations, and even printing it on pink paper. It's the little things that make the biggest differences in the success of a lesson and I'm only realizing this now. One big "Ah-Ha!" for me was that the handout has no numbers on it. As Dan Meyer says, this is a case where "the math serves the conversation" and I love it.
My favorite resource for an appetizer is YouTube, so I went there and found a video that was perfect. Writing a lesson plan means that I find the video and I'm done. Preparing a lesson means that I need to make the lesson work from start to end. The video is too long and includes an inappropriate comment, so I had to trim it down to the good stuff (thanks to Vaudrey).
Once the students watch the video, I want to be able to ride that momentum without making it all about me. This is tough because there is a component of Direct Instruction that I want to be here - the class needs appropriate context. The rest of the lesson was filled in and was ready. You can have the lesson "plan". Since multiple teachers would be teaching this for the first time, I wanted them to have something to fall back on. I haven't looked at this doc since I wrote it out. Don't judge me - I already told you I suck at writing lesson plans.
Get out of the vacuum
No matter how far back I stand from my own artwork, it looks the same and it isn't very good. While it's true that I'm my own worst critic, I am far from my best critic. With that in mind, I sent the lesson preparation over to Chris Duran and Paula Torres (the teachers I was working with on bringing Barbie Zipline to their school) and sought their feedback. What is this missing? How can it be better? These are two questions that we don't ask often enough.
Stepping away from the vacuum of my own perspective, they were able to show me gaps and make suggestions. Paula suggested adding in a couple videos at the end of the lesson to step it up a level, which was perfect. Chris offered up minor tweaks to the day itself which helped a lot. Some great math teachers on the Internet created a Desmos graph to make it easier to find the length of cord needed. The main takeaway is that their feedback took this lesson from a B+ to an A- and I am eternally grateful.
When you have the opportunity to teach, love it.
Thanks to two teachers who were willing to give up their classrooms, I got to teach today. I've said it before, but I'll say it again - I miss the classroom. I love the kids. I have so much respect for teachers who inspire students on a regular basis. You don't need some pseudo-award to tell that you're making a difference. Thank you for what you do.
"But if you don't give the zipline enough distance, Barbie's gonna DIE!"
"Wait, are we going to do this for real?"
(This is actually sad - we need to make math more real more often)
"Can we use Calculus on this?"
"Once the angle of depression goes past 45 degrees, there's no way it's going to be fun anymore."
"He's not joking, right? We're actually going to go outside and do this?"
"We thought you were just hyping this up by saying we'd go outside. We didn't think you were going to follow through with it."
"Can I bring in a quadcopter to film this? I mean, I don't know how to fly it- my dad does. But can he come in and film it for us?"
(yes. yes he can. Hell yes he can.)
Round 2 of the post will happen after we launch a bunch of objects next Friday. I can't wait, and neither can the kids.
Oh, and teachers walk a lot!