Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bart: The Best Black Lab Ever

faith·ful /ˈfeɪθfəl/ [feyth-fuhl] adjective 1. steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant: faithful friends. 2. reliable, trusted, or believed.

Today was a really rough day! Today was the day a piece broke off my heart as we said goodbye to our constant and faithful friend, Bart. Our black Lab was a parolee from the Lucky Dog program at our local prison when we met him eight years ago and at just over one year old he was all puppy. This gentle giant had been trained by his handlers to commands. He knew how to sit, lie down, and stay but since we treat our animals like part of the family we promptly began to undo most of that early training. (Why should the animals behave better than the people?)

Bart's natural affection led him to accept all people and other animals. He delivered love and kisses to everyone! When strays showed up and stayed to live, Bart didn't discriminate. He accepted Bubby,our stray dog, and Meow, our stray cat, as equal brothers.

Bart never tired of his favorite pastime; retrieving tennis balls and kong. His energy for this sport was boundless. Even in his later years, when he was beginning to be plagued with stiffness in his joints, he would fly down the stairs of our two story deck when we hit a fuzzy green ball off the end of a tennis racket into the cedar trees surrounding our home. His love for this pastime was with Bart to the end, so we buried him with a tennis ball.

Bart's downward spiral began with a bloody nose that became more persistent. Our first trip to the vet revealed normal blood work, strong heart and lungs, and no definitive reason for the nose bleed. We doctored him with a round of medication and nose drops but the nosebleeds worsened. After another round of medication, we resorted to taking Bart to Kansas State Veterinary Clinic in Manhattan, Kansas where he was diagnosed with nasal carcinoma. A week later, Bart's bleeding had increased to the point he was having trouble lying down because he had so much blood draining down his throat he was becoming congested. That is when we made our decision to end his suffering before it became severe.

The hardest part of losing this big, black, beast was his boundless energy even moments before his death. He did everything we asked of him; jumping up into the back of the pickup, sitting quietly and patiently, and trusting us to make his end of life decision. My final whisper to him was, "We love you so much! Please,meet me at The Rainbow Bridge!" With that, our wonderful veterinarian held our trusting and faithful companion and helped him die with dignity and no pain.

It is a tribute to Bart that when I posted the news of his death on facebook , our two dog sitters both called and cried with me on the telephone. I have had people say, they would rather not have a dog again after losing one. I know I'm not ready for another dog yet (none could ever replace Bart) but I do know I will always have dogs in my life. The positive effects of having a dog far outweigh this pain I feel right now. They provide unconditional love, joy, loyalty, companionship and an unrelenting faithfulness for as long as they are with you. The lessons they teach us in life and in death are something we can all learn and benefit from. Barty, I love you and I will see you at the Rainbow Bridge!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

When the Stars Align

con·ver·gence /kənˈvɜrdʒəns/ [kuhn-vur-juhns] noun 1. Also called: convergency the act, degree, or a point of converging 2. concurrence of opinions, results, etc

Yesterday, it was as though the stars aligned and things I have been working on for over twenty years converged and crystallized in my mind.

Years ago when my children were young, I was the public speaking leader for their 4-H club. I taught 4-Hers how to write and deliver interesting and engaging speeches. They learned how to hook the audience by peaking their curiosity, deliver the bulk of the message in the body of the speech, and end in a clever way, usually leaving the audience wanting more.

When I returned to the classroom, I knew the essential elements of a speech also applied to a math lesson. I had to find ways to intrigue my students, engage them in the lesson, and then sum things up at the end. However, I don't believe I have ever seen this done in a more deliberate and creative way than I did while listening to Dan Meyer present on real-world problem solving yesterday.

During our time together, Meyer led us through his version of the "Three Acts" of a math class. He equated these acts to the scenes of a movie. In "Act One" Meyer uses a visual, either picture or video, to peak the students' curiosity. He relates a short story to draw his audience in and with as few words as possible he sets the hook. He lures the students into wanting to know something mathematical.

According to Meyer there are several important aspects of this opening act. The first thing is allowing students to pose all sorts of questions based upon the visual presented. As all the questions are posted, the teacher should ask for a show of hands about other people who had the same question. This is one of the methods Meyer believes helps reluctant students buy-in to the process. After all questions have been posed, each question is addressed by the teacher and then eliminated until one remains. This is the problem that the class will solve.

Another important feature of "Act One", is having students estimate what they think the answer might be. Meyer also requires students to write down a guess they know is too low to be the correct answer and one that is too high to be the correct answer, thereby establishing a range within which a reasonable answer would be found. According to Meyer, "Everyone can hazard a guess, and it only costs you about 7 seconds of class time. This is one way to engage some of your more reluctant math students."

In "Act Two", the teacher asks students to help solve the problem but does not initially supply all the needed information. The participants determine what information they might need in the form of a list and then the teacher addresses each item on the list and supplies only enough information, in a visual format, so the problem can be attacked. The teacher then acts as a facilitator, or guide on the side, as students do the bulk of the work on solving the problem. At no time during "Act Two", does the teacher dictate a strategy that students must use to find their solution. The teacher merely circulates, asks questions about the work, redirects students as necessary, and takes notes on different strategies.

During "Act Three", Meyer believes teachers should ask students to check the reasonableness of their answer; does it fit within the range of numbers that were chosen in act one? The remainder of this act involves leading a summary discussion of the different strategies that were used by various groups of students. The teacher can also use this time to formalize the mathematics. Meyer noted another way to engage students during the summary discussion is to assign them a task at the beginning of the discussion. He asks students to think about which group was the "laziest" and used the most efficient method to solve the problem. At the end of the act, Meyer again returns to a visual method to show the correct answer. He also suggests acknowledging the student with the closest original guess, thereby letting the class know that estimating at the beginning of the lesson was not busy work.

I look at this "Three Act" script as a perfect opportunity for math teachers of all age groups to address most or all of the common core practice standards. It might also lead to students who are more engaged in math and see its usefulness.