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The Kannapolis Sessions

I just finished facilitating “WCYDWT: The Workshop” over four days in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Maybe this should’ve been easy. I had three years of posts and a handful of presentations to draw upon for material. I had to condense the former resource, though, and expand the latter while adapting both formats for a workshop. The preparation lasted the first half of 2010 and was — hands down — the hardest work of my professional year. The facilitation was the most fun.

I learned a pile, both about facilitating workshops and about a model for instructional design I thought I had pretty well figured out. This is my usual debrief, then: notes that are useful to me, posted on the offhand chance they’re useful to you.

How We Used Our Time

  • 1.5 days — towards better conceptual problems
  • .5 days — towards useful tools for creating better conceptual problems
  • 1.5 days — towards better skill development problems
  • .5 days — towards lab work, as you like it.

Sessions

I can clarify that schedule and save myself some bandwidth at the same time by directing you to the session sites, which include more detail.

The Opener

If we did nothing else right, we opened our time together well with some highly combustible mathematics. Per Brian Lawler’s suggestion, we began with the ticket roll and the water tank (which, for the record, I had never attempted to solve until last Tuesday with those teachers in Kannapolis).

I tried to lead them through those problems as the best version of myself, by:

  1. asking them what questions interested them about the multimedia,
  2. soliciting their intuitive guesses towards those questions and encouraging a competition around those guesses,
  3. asking them to describe an answer they’d reject as too low or too high (ie. “give me a wrong answer.”) in order to set their parameters for an upcoming error check,
  4. asking them to tell me the information they’d need to solve their question,
  5. checking in with groups as they worked, bringing student work beneath the document camera, asking them a lot of questions that began with “why,”
  6. asking them to check their obtained mathematical answer against their error parameters from [2],
  7. comparing our mathematical answers to our intuitive answers and then to the actual, no-joke real-life answer,
  8. discussing possible sources of error, since nobody’s answer was exactly correct,
  9. extending the problem and differentiating between learners by offering what we came to call “sequels,” (eg. “what would the ticket roll’s diameter measure if it had 1,000,000 tickets?” or “how long would it take to release all the water from the tank?”, a problem which every group missed by a margin well above 200% but corrected quickly, which was awesome to witness. (Thanks, Steve.)

The moment of combustion came when I asked them to create the comparable problems they might assign out of a textbook. It’s always been true for me that I grow most as a teacher when I try to reconcile the exhilaration I often experience, personally, as a learner, with the tedium I often inflict upon my students, professionally, as a teacher.

The product of the first day was a sturdy rubric describing the beginning, middle, and end of “great application problems,” a rubric that arose naturally from those opening activities, a rubric by which we navigated the rest of the workshop.

What I Learned About WCYDWT

  • In terms of technical skills relevant to this kind of instructional design, a black rectangle and the pause button will take you 70% of the way. Exemplar forthcoming.
  • Storytelling is the technique by which one problem can be made simultaneously more engaging and more challenging than another problem that assesses the exact same content standard. For instance, consider the difference between “What is the area of the circular lawn?” and “How long would it take you to mow this circular lawn?” The difference between the two is an instructional bonanza. You’re getting so much for so little. (Thanks, Kyle.)
  • Graphing Stories is really boring, again, except for storytelling. Consider a fixed shot of a math teacher walking down two flights of stairs over fifteen seconds. That’s boring. But attach to that boring video the framing device “graph height against time” and suddenly we’re throwing pencils at each other, arguing over the effect of the curb at the thirteen second mark, etc.

Do Better

  • Send along a list of required software in advance. Day two slowed down quite a bit when we couldn’t install Handbrake, QuickTime, or Geogebra due to access restrictions on the teacher laptops. I should have made that list known to my liaisons a lot sooner. (Any experienced facilitators have a tip for me here?)
  • Lecture less. I initially tried to lecture my way into the rubric for great application problems and into the connection between storytelling and teaching. Clearly, I should have packaged that material as fodder for table discussions and then share-outs.
  • Stick tighter to the rubric. We had a good list. By the last day, we were evaluating every product against it, even ones I brought to the workshop. That should have been our m.o. all the way through.
  • Develop a rubric for great skill development problems. Those techniques are more abstract. The rubric would have been much shorter. It would have been a useful exercise, though.
  • Do more math. Do more teaching. During our lab time, I should have insisted that we actually teach each other and actually solve the math because a) that’s the fuel, teachers exhilarated by learning in a way that their students should be also, and b) merely describing a lesson or describing a solution allows you all kinds of fictions that only become obvious once you try them out.
  • Clarify misconceptions about my own WCYDWT workflow sooner. Unless you correct them explicitly, your workshop participants will assume you do all the awesome stuff you’re describing every period of every day. One participant called that effect “demoralizing.” I need to put it out there as soon as possible that this is a model for instructional design that I only aspire to every day.
  • Find an opening for Google Reader and Delicious. That’s the Swiss Army Knife right there. I couldn’t find the right moment, though.
  • What do you do about error? I reckon this question is worth half a day on its own, and I’m nowhere near qualified to answer it. What do you do when you see a student in the middle of an error in reasoning or computation? The answer to that question is somewhere central to this WCYDWT thing, but we didn’t address that one directly at all.

Meaningful Quotations

Paula, a workshop participant:

I don’t know if I’m creative enough for this. I think it probably just takes practice, though.

Dr. Tom Sallee, not in attendance:

A good problem announces its constraints quickly and clearly.

29 Responses to “The Kannapolis Sessions”

  1. on 27 Jul 2010 at 2:26 pmRic Murry

    Dan,

    You were in the city where my brother-in-law is the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce.

    Hope everything went well.

    Cabarrus County is a NASCAR fan’s dreamland. New Hall of Fame at the Charlotte Speedway. Lots of math and WCYDWT at the racetrack.

    Kannapolis is the hometown of Dale Earnhart too. Did you get to see his statue?

    Thanks for sharing this. Hoping the WCYDWT style becomes a trademark of yours. There is a future in it.

  2. on 27 Jul 2010 at 3:50 pmJason Dyer

    Day two slowed down quite a bit when we couldn’t install Handbrake, QuickTime, or Geogebra due to access restrictions on the teacher laptops. I should have made that list known to my liaisons a lot sooner. (Any experienced facilitators have a tip for me here?)

    Our district has a six-month approval process for anything not on The List.

    I look for software that doesn’t require an install, or hacky ways to get them to work anyway. A set of burned CDs may be your friend.

  3. on 27 Jul 2010 at 4:44 pmJason Dyer

    (Example: on Windows machines, Media Player Classic Home Cinema will play anything and can be run with no install.)

  4. on 27 Jul 2010 at 8:57 pmJackie Ballarini

    I’m curious, what follow-up will these teachers have? Who’ll continue to support them through the process? Did they set goals for how they’ll use these ideas in their classes next year?

    I’ve found that unless there is a structure in place to continue the work it quickly deteriorates into “that thing we did that summer with that guy from California”.

    Thanks for sharing the details on the process – both what went well and what you’d change next time.

  5. […] to be creative Posted on July 28, 2010 by Jason Dyer I’m getting tired of teachers saying this – I don’t know if I’m creative enough for […]

  6. on 28 Jul 2010 at 9:27 amKathy Clark Couey

    Can we see the “sturdy rubric describing the beginning, middle, and end of “great application problems,” . I teach 8th science (I know, I’m so lucky) and I am working hard to make WCYDWT work there too. My students need it, in so many ways, and I can always use a math fix.

  7. on 28 Jul 2010 at 12:32 pmJesse

    Having had the rare and exceptional opportunity to be there in person for day 2-2.5, I want to share that despite having had no follow up at all, I have been thinking about problem writing and solving in radically different ways since that morning. There is a paradigm shift that happens just through exposure to this: it seems like a big part of the development of WCYDWT skills is getting the concept clear and integrated into your brain. How and when that happens is a bit of a mystery (not unlike the conceptual understandings we’re aiming to teach our students, eh?) but it totally happened for me while I was there that morning, and it doesn’t feel like it can go back to the way it was before. I am excited to see how it plays out when I’m actually lesson planning all the time again. THANK YOU SO MUCH DAN MEYER. Keep being tall.

  8. on 28 Jul 2010 at 2:52 pmMichael Paul Goldenberg

    Dan: “What do you do about error? I reckon this question is worth half a day on its own, and I’m nowhere near qualified to answer it. What do you do when you see a student in the middle of an error in reasoning or computation? The answer to that question is somewhere central to this WCYDWT thing, but we didn’t address that one directly at all.”

    I suggest seriously looking at some of the video Bob and Ellen Kaplan have on-line. Their version of Math Circles seems as good as anything I’ve ever seen in suggesting useful ways to make use of student error/misconception/stuckedness, as well as to keep as many students involved in the conversation as possible.

    Of course, saying that, I think about my own efforts at their recent summer institute at Notre Dame, particularly the ways in which I had to deal with the unexpected, and the ways in which I was particularly weak at ensuring engagement across the board. I don’t think I’d rate my efforts as hopeless, but clearly as “needing attention.”

    Your question opens up much fertile ground for self-reflection and sharing. I hope you realize that Bob and Ellen have been doing Math Circles for 16 years and teaching a lot longer than that. So while I think they are masters at making good use of student “confusion,” I wouldn’t claim that as a result of that expertise that they always solve things (in many senses of “solve”) at once or even at all in a given class period or presentation. Sometimes, failure IS an option.

  9. on 28 Jul 2010 at 3:03 pmMichael Paul Goldenberg

    Dan: “Clarify misconceptions about my own WCYDWT workflow sooner. Unless you correct them explicitly, your workshop participants will assume you do all the awesome stuff you’re describing every period of every day. One participant called that effect “demoralizing.” I need to put it out there as soon as possible that this is a model for instructional design that I only aspire to every day.”

    Yes, but.

    Namely, this is unavoidable. And if someone found that effect “demoralizing,” s/he needs to step back a few yards and get some perspective on what ANY reasonable presenter about something exciting that also entails much time and hard work could POSSIBLY be suggesting.

    Of course, the charlatans come in with these slick ideas and make them sound seamless. All you have to do is buy their program, book, package, etc. It’s all a bit like Scientology or Moonie-ism.

    But Dan, you’re not shilling anything. You’re a professional exploring some serious innovations you developed IN YOUR PRACTICE with other professionals. Children will no doubt be aghast when they encounter challenging work. If they describe themselves as “demoralized,” that only suggests how much they are children. Maybe that’s too harsh of me, particularly as I wasn’t there, but my best guess is that you did nothing wrong and that increasing your efforts to avoid another such reaction may be in vain or not exactly worth the effort. Just my instinctive reaction.

    I find this a bit like people who click on URLs in e-mails that weren’t completely picked up and turned into a working link: they can’t seem to imagine copying and pasting the whole thing into their browser. Or when the link is bad, they can’t seem to imagine googling the author and article name. At SOME point, that simply isn’t the responsibility of the sender/poster, but rather the result of brainless people who refuse to learn from what in a lot of cases are REPEATED PAST EXPERIENCES with those same phenomena.

    Your mileage may vary.

  10. on 28 Jul 2010 at 3:40 pmblaw003

    Grace Chen opened a discussion on “misconceptions” in her blog. http://bit.ly/aMwK53

  11. on 28 Jul 2010 at 3:41 pmblaw0013

    sorry, I am blaw0013

  12. on 28 Jul 2010 at 11:34 pmProfGuy

    Jason Dyer–

    About your restrictions that you cannot install unapproved software without 6 months advance notice. Frustrating! Have you considered booting a LiveCD with Linux, and starting up the software from within the LiveCD image? Would that help? Is the software you want to use available for Linux, or possibly Wine under Linux?

  13. on 29 Jul 2010 at 7:51 amDan Meyer
    Jackie: I’m curious, what follow-up will these teachers have? Who’ll continue to support them through the process? Did they set goals for how they’ll use these ideas in their classes next year?

    None, nobody**, and yes. I gave them my e-mail address and encouraged them to be in touch, but that’s the extent of it. I would love some suggestions here. Should I have set up a wiki or a group blog?

    ** This isn’t correct. I should’ve clarified that I won’t be around to help. KMS has three coordinators — literacy, technology, and instruction — who will help KMS math teachers continue our work next year.

    Kathy: Can we see the “sturdy rubric describing the beginning, middle, and end of “great application problems,”

    For sure. Posted here.

    Jesse: There is a paradigm shift that happens just through exposure to this: it seems like a big part of the development of WCYDWT skills is getting the concept clear and integrated into your brain.

    My ongoing curiosity is this: is it possible to activate that paradigm shift online? I’ve taken three different approaches to WCYDWT posts on this blog, with a fourth one forthcoming, and nothing really satisfies me. I’m open to suggestions.

    MPG: Of course, the charlatans come in with these slick ideas and make them sound seamless. All you have to do is buy their program, book, package, etc.

    The pitch that I’m worried about isn’t “just buy this program, book, or package,” it’s that “this is easy and available to you; the only reason why you wouldn’t do this every hour of every day with your students is laziness.” That one’s a lot more insidious and deserves the disclosure: “I don’t do this every period of every day. I try to do this every period of every day.”

  14. […] Kathy Clark Couey: Can we see the "sturdy rubric describing the beginning, middle, and end of great application problems?” […]

  15. on 29 Jul 2010 at 8:54 amMichael Paul Goldenberg

    Dan, I agree that it’s unethical to make anyone think that someone can turn his/her practice around 100% instantly. Or that a time-consuming, thought-intensive curriculum “just happens” such that once one figures out the magic principle (e.g., WCYDWT?, inquiry learning, discovery learning, guided discovery, “constructivist” teaching, hands-on learning, etc.) 180 days of lessons appear which are then seamlessly adopted and put into play. Teaching just isn’t that easy. Good teaching certainly isn’t. Great teaching takes a very long time to move towards and is always an elusive goal even for those who approach it at times during the year.

    I deal with precisely the same issues in my work: I present a “model lesson” or do a workshop on some provocative problems or otherwise try to inject something new into teachers’ practices and I’m hit sooner or later with the “you can’t expect me/us to do this everyday?” comment/question. I keep talking about gradual change, four-year teaching cycles in which teachers and students are asked to deepen and improve their mathematical thinking and doing. Yet no matter how many times I offer the caveat that no one but an idiot, ideologue, clueless administrator, or politician expects instant and sweeping change, many (though not all) of the folks with whom I work seem to think that I do expect just that or that the reform organization for whom I work does.

    Confusing reasonable approaches to improvement with clueless political ones may be just failure to distinguish between sincere and cynical reform, but I think there’s another element at work that is insidious: finding a reason to make the task so overwhelming as to be impossible; hence, one might as well not bother to try. Do you detect any of that from some of your audience members?

  16. on 29 Jul 2010 at 9:55 amCara Wolford

    I’d like to respond to the followingexchange between Jackie and you:
    Jackie: I’m curious, what follow-up will these teachers have? Who’ll continue to support them through the process? Did they set goals for how they’ll use these ideas in their classes next year?

    Dan: None, nobody, and yes. I gave them my e-mail address and encouraged them to be in touch, but that’s the extent of it. I would love some suggestions here. Should I have set up a wiki or a group blog?

    Actually, Dan, I’d say, “A good amount, their school academic coaches and each other, and yes.” Jackie asked a fantastic question, and you answered it to the best of your knowledge. But I’d like to share that our school has several things in place to make sure we don’t have what I once heard referred to as “drive-by PD”. We have a school-based instructional coach (me!) whose job is to provide ongoing PD. Any initiative, strategy, idea, anything that teachers are trying to implement, I’m there to provide support. We have two other academic coaches, our Media Coach and Technology Coach, who also provide constant instructional support. They were both in attendance that week. In addition, our departments have frequent 1/2 day PD days to collaborate and provide support to each other. They do have a group wiki. Lastly, they are required to set period goals, both individually and as a department. They must post their goal sheet on our school internal website, and each department planning session begins with reflection on those goals and ends with revision of the goal sheet.

    Dan, thanks for being so transparent about the week’s sessions. I continued to learn from you by reading your notes. I am sure we will be in touch!

  17. on 29 Jul 2010 at 9:56 amJason Dyer

    @ProfGuy: That sort of thing works for me, but I wouldn’t recommend foisting Linux (which most teachers will not be familiar with) on an unsuspecting workshop. It’s also overkill — usually there’s a solution involving a burned CD that stays within the native Windows or Mac environment.

  18. on 29 Jul 2010 at 3:02 pmDebby Smith

    Dan, Nice summary and reflection. Thank you. I’ll have several DVD’s of raw footage on their way to you shortly. As Cara said, there actually will be a good deal of internal support and follow-up and goal-setting. Having all three academic coaches present for at least part of the sessions will facilitate that, as will the ongoing planning sessions. We fully expect to continue to be in touch with you, as well, sharing some of the outcomes and reflecting on how our instruction is changing.

    You know that WDYDWT? is in some ways a completely new way of thinking about instructional design. Simply being present at the sessions, as Jesse commented, leaves us changed in some pretty radical ways. We have experienced the “combustion” you mentioned. It was fun! We will stretch and reach for more of that in our classrooms. The comments that some teachers made early on, about being daunted or unsure of their ability to “do this” in no way signals childishness or unwillingness to put effort into mastering the process. As soon as you pointed out that this is not an every-minute-of-every-class event, everyone felt better about it being attainable. So yes, I agree with you that clarifying that misconception early on will put people at ease.

    Thank you for the effort and time you invested in developing the workshop. It will pay compounded benefits for a long time.

  19. on 29 Jul 2010 at 4:05 pmDan Meyer

    @Debby and Cara, thanks for stopping by and clarifying. I should’ve been specific that I won’t be around to support your teachers in the upcoming school year. I’m glad they’ll have the two of you and Beth, though, and I hope we find a way to collaborate remotely.

  20. on 02 Aug 2010 at 7:44 amBeth Simril

    Dan, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire week. I was able to witness the teachers growing, collaborating, and getting out of their personal comfort zones. I have heard from the participants that this was one of the best PD’s they have had for the Math Department!! Great Job!

    Yes Cara, Debby, and I will be here to assist them with anything that they need. I look forward to your posts and I am sure that you will be there for us as well.

  21. on 02 Aug 2010 at 8:28 amJackie Ballarini

    Thanks for the clarification Cara and Debbie, it sounds like you’ve got structures in place to support your staff to prevent the “drive-by PD” (sadly, too often a very apt description).

    I’d like to hear more about your role Cara. Is instructional coach a full-time position? Do you work mainly with new teachers? All teachers? Only those who request your assistance? In my experience, the only “instructional coaching” many teachers get is the yearly evaluation from an administrator. I know that I personally would be thrilled to have more feedback and suggestions.

  22. on 02 Aug 2010 at 9:17 amDavid Cox

    Dan:“My ongoing curiosity is this: is it possible to activate that paradigm shift online? I’ve taken three different approaches to WCYDWT posts on this blog, with a fourth one forthcoming, and nothing really satisfies me. I’m open to suggestions.”

    I think the answer is absolutely, yes! I’ve never met you but the way I look at presenting problems to my students has drastically changed. My only problem early on was that I saw WCYDWT as only being those homerun type problems that required skills (Photoshop, AfterEffects, etc) that I don’t have. You’ve cleared that up, though.

    You mentioned a blog or wiki and I can see the benefit of having some sort of collaborative space where WCYDWT problems can be posted and organized by course and concept/skill. Specific skills may only lend themselves to those problems you’d call a double or triple with the overarching topics lending themselves to the full blown homerun. I think seeing what others come up with for the everyday take-a-textbook-problem-and-make-it-better type problems may inspire more triples and homeruns while providing classroom-ready prompts that can be used tomorow.

  23. on 04 Aug 2010 at 4:11 pmDan Meyer
    David: I think the answer is absolutely, yes! I’ve never met you but the way I look at presenting problems to my students has drastically changed. My only problem early on was that I saw WCYDWT as only being those homerun type problems that required skills (Photoshop, AfterEffects, etc) that I don’t have. You’ve cleared that up, though.

    See, you’ve been around for years, though, asking questions, pushing back, trying to figure stuff out in a way that makes sense to you. If the online moment of clarity requires years, then it isn’t much use to me when the face-to-face moment of clarity in Kannapolis took only a few hours.

    It’s clear to me that I need to revamp the online delivery of WCYDWT — as a teacher development prompt, certainly, if not also as a student learning prompt. Can’t quite figure out how, though.

  24. […] using WCYDWT-style problems. (Nothing, anyway, that compared to three hours of face time with the Kannapolis teachers last month.) So I'm trying something new and looking for twenty volunteers to get an advance look […]

  25. on 05 Aug 2010 at 5:14 pmChip Buckwell

    Jackie and Dan,

    I am glad you were here Dan. You sessions were valuable in more ways than just the obvious. They continue to provide thoughtful discussion on how we improve our math instruction.

    Jackie, I just love your blog…nice work…I want to add a short “description” of what is happening at KMS! The ONLY position added to help with our (On time, Real time, PD response) was Cara’s. The others were just changes in how we thought about and used the positions…(they are listed with NCLB as Media Coordinator and Technology Facilitator). Cara’s Literacy (Instructional Coach) position is a regular teacher position that we converted so we could do what we all talk about and really support instruction. They are all 3 supported by the admin…and they are in no way in a supervisory role.

    Since becoming a principal and even before, my philosophy has always been to try to build internal capacity. To empower teachers to teach other teachers and not go to sit and gets and return with little more than what you left with. In our regularly SCHEDULED collaborative planning sessions the conversation and sharing is nothing like anything we have had before. They are valued by all stakeholders. As hard as it is to believe, this is not a one time PD and we’ll leave it at that. Dan has influenced our culture! But sustaining our culture is up to all of us at KMS and my role is to help insure buy in….by VALUING not necessarily Evaluating what is done!

    Chip (Principal)

  26. on 05 Aug 2010 at 7:36 pmDavid Cox

    Dan:See, you’ve been around for years, though, asking questions, pushing back, trying to figure stuff out in a way that makes sense to you. If the online moment of clarity requires years, then it isn’t much use to me when the face-to-face moment of clarity in Kannapolis took only a few hours.

    My first 10 years of teaching, I was buried in head coaching responsibilities, teaching without a planning period and starting a family. (5 years ago I questioned whether or not I was going to continue teaching) Most of the questioning and pushback I did had to do with my coaching and not my classroom. The me that you know is about 3 years old. It hasn’t taken years to change my paradigm. Now maybe my experience has given me the confidence to question in ways new teachers won’t; I don’t know.

    If you’re looking to help people buy into WCYDWT, there has to be a way for individual teachers to get feedback on their own creations—doubles, triples and homeruns —especially if the problem isn’t fully formed. Your blog isn’t the place for that nor is mine. Maybe today’s session will help. Wish I could’ve made it.

  27. on 05 Aug 2010 at 8:40 pmgasstationwithoutpumps

    “Your blog isn’t the place for that nor is mine.”

    It seems to me that the place for a teacher to ask for help on a WCYDWT that is on their own blog. Did it work for you on the orange crate?

  28. on 05 Aug 2010 at 9:47 pmDavid Cox

    I’ve posted a few problems but haven’t gotten much in the way of “here’s how you can make this better.”

  29. on 06 Aug 2010 at 4:09 amCara

    @Jackie,
    Yes, my position is full-time. (Dr. Buckwell, my principal, explains in more detail above.) My position was originally funded by a state grant, but after two years, the funding was eliminated. My district now funds it. My instructional coaching focuses on literacy, but we all know that definition is broader than just the ability to read/write. I received 3 years of instructional coach training from our state’s teacher academy as part of the grant. I provide ongoing PD through co-planning, co-teaching, modeling lessons, observation/feedback, and individual and small/large group PD sessions. I work with all teachers in all subject areas. Mostly those who request it, but part of my job is to “enroll” (Jim Knight’s word) teachers into working with me, and I help facilitate the scheduled department planning meetings.