Updated: Aug 29
Matt McBurney currently teaches mathematics and programming courses at West Allegheny High School. He has bachelor degrees in Applied Math and Math Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's in Data Analytics from Slippery Rock University. His primary educational goal is continuing to develop student centered classrooms that create equitable learning environments that meet students at all levels. Matt strives to help educators remove barriers and currently works as the Medic's Community Support.
You're watching the clock. The students don’t seem like they are moving fast enough. They have questions, groups are stuck, to finish on time you break the class from the activity, pull them back together and quickly throw the answers up on the board. You lecture through the debrief, lecture through the notes, skip the “Check Your Understanding” problem and assign the confused class homework problems quickly before they head out the door.
Sound familiar? In a 42-minute class period, trying inquiry based lessons can be challenging. But you don't want to lose all the value of putting the students at the center of the learning. This is exactly why I have created shortened versions for every Stats Medic lesson.
It will be helpful for you to know what types of changes were made in order to get these lessons to fit in a shorter class period. Here is a summary:
Rethink the Experience
What’s the context about?
In an ideal class, we would love hands-on data collection! However, a quality personalized context with pre-made data can go just as far and keep the kids interested & invested. Take a few extra moments to develop a scenario your specific group will have fun with.
What Is My Biggest Goal?
When we have less time, we need to narrow our sight on what makes the biggest impact. For example, when teaching graphs, do students really need to spend tons of time hand making graphs? Maybe focus on interpreting.
When teaching z-scores, is it important that the students standardize every data value by hand? Or understand the transformations by asking students what happened from dotplot to dotplot to get them to realize the z-score formula was used?
Keep Them Moving!
We want to help them along (but not give them answers). We can still give them “examples” that make them think about the statistics and test their ideas on. This minimizes you walking over to a paper full of incorrect answers.
If you give them some pre-done work, consider asking them for an extension such as to “fix” the graph and discuss AP Rubric grading criteria while debriefing.
Notice this is a great time to discuss the importance of little things like labels.
Simplify a Situation
Sometimes, just by looking at an activity, you know it may take a while. When this happens, ask how you can simplify the entire thing. One of our classes favorite activities was building up the idea of r-squared. The situation is a little complicated for a 42-minute class period - but with some adjustments it can be simplified a little more.
Let’s try to look at a few tips and tricks that can help you keep letting the students think rather than resorting to memorizing steps and deciding to move to a lecture-based class while also maintaining pace.
Tip #1 - Be Ready With Asynchronous Instruction
After you’ve created a shortened version of the original lesson, you may still find that you don't make it through all aspects of a lesson (activity, debrief, important ideas, and check your understanding).
However, be ready to troubleshoot as needed with asynchronous instructions.
Check For Understanding
Record a short 4-minute video of the solution! Establish that this is the first homework problem which they may get time to do in class (yay!). Otherwise, they try it on their own and compare it to the key or watch the video to see it as an extra example.
Ever hear students say after a lesson they need more practice? Maybe they found a specific learning target confusing. Have an example video of a “textbook style” problem ready to send them to. Many textbooks have these pre-done. Check out the ones for The Practice Of Statistics. You may find students are much more willing to watch a targeted example than a drawn out lesson.
Link Everything In One Place!
In our classroom, we use a Google Doc to stay organized. The top table has all the links they will need for the unit or the entire course.
The bottom table guides them through each lesson. The left-hand column pertains to “in-class”. This is what we would try to cover inside the classroom (perfect for absent students or anyone needing a refresher)!
The Note Key
A video of the lesson being taught
The relevant AP Daily videos
The “Check Your Understanding” problem - worked out in case the lesson runs long
Any relevant text pages or reading for the lesson.
The middle column addresses each learning target (or BAT..Be Able To) individually. These are a quick 3-4 minute video of one example aligned to that specific learning target.
The last column is for the student's homework. It includes practice multiple choice and tasks (aka practice free-response questions with the solutions in the color coded system).
In class, we look at the three columns as:
Feel free to click on the image above to grab a copy that you can customize yourself!
Tip #2 - Keep The Quiz Days and Use Them Strategically
Save time by quizzing less right? No! These are outstanding days for a little fine tuning, and since they happen frequently, you can fine tune a lot.
With the supports you provided with Tip #1, you are more likely to accomplish lessons in the class time and setting them up to be self sufficient as needed to prepare themselves.
Follow the same structure every quiz day:
20 minutes of HW review / class questions about the 2-3 lessons taught
20 minutes of quizzing
Color code your homework answer keys like the notes. Maybe blue is student work and red is grading notes.
Tip #3 - Adopt The Growth Mindset
After implementing Tips #1 - #2, you may still be worried that students are confused before the quiz or they are going to just copy down those beautiful answer keys you made.
Maybe they will. But we can adopt a growth mindset to help with this. Use a quiz to determine where they currently are (even if they are still developing). I tell my students that as long as they turn in the homework, they can retake any quiz. But the upfront preparation must be there. And if not, we develop that skill first.
In the classroom, the goal is to as quickly as possible help all learners get off the red track. We can do this through homework completion, in-class attention, tutoring, etc. Next, we want to help the students on the orange track get onto the green track as quickly as possible. As the preparation continues to grow, the number of students in red and orange will decrease as well.
Soon they learn that it's easier to just do the assignments and understand the first time, rather than have to coordinate retakes. The quizzes always outweigh the assignment, so there's no point in just copying what we don’t understand and not asking questions.
Tip #4 - Understand The Structure
Make sure you are aware of why each part of the lesson structure exists.
Learning Targets - Don’t skip these! If you review these with the students and the key vocabulary/ideas that relate to previous lessons, they typically move faster during theactivity and get stuck less.
Activity - Keep the tips in mind and let the students spend their time in this area! This is one of the most important parts of the lesson! Students develop their thinking and interact with you - setting you up for a great debrief.
Debrief - Again, keep this student focused. Use the tips to make sure you have the students explaining their work and each other's work. Showcase different methods and have groups expand on what is on the board.
Important Ideas - Give them a formal set of notes here, but you can speed this up. Consider using a skeleton version of the notes to make it easier for them to fill the ideas in.
Bonus Tip - Be Aware Of The Game Time Decisions
The success of a lesson can come down to some choices that you have the flexibility to make every single day.
How Do I Do The Check For Understanding?
Here are the three game time decision options that happen every lesson:
Let the students try it individually or in groups, then go over it as a class (most preferred).
Teacher solves it as an example with the class.
Have the class do it asynchronously.
How Do We Get Answers On The Board To Debrief?
If you are feeling fantastic on time, wait until some groups completely finish. Ask them to put their work on the board.
If you are feeling nervous on time, assign groups to head to the board to record answers they already have done. That way, as soon as a group finishes the final question, they only write that up on the board, as opposed to all the answers.
If you are using Activinspire or some other type of digital smartboard, write the “sample student answers” in white ink. If a group writes their answers, no one will ever know it's there. However, if time is running low and you need student work to talk about, select the “hidden ink” and change the color to red or blue. Have groups debrief on how their responses are similar and different (sometimes it's fun to throw in intentional mistakes).
Remember, when we face shortened class times, our strategy needs to be minimizing the time spent on “extra” stuff to maximize the time spent on the student’s thinking and developing their own ideas. The critical thinking skills the students take away from these lessons will far outweigh the speed a lecturer can present the content.