Data has improved my teaching, but it might not be the data you think!
Honestly, if I hear another administrator talk to me about data, I might just scream! Okay, so maybe I’m overreacting a little, but data is important to me. My ability to interpret and find patterns in data has allowed me to help a lot of people (not just my students) live better lives. Sometimes we math teachers are so inundated with our daily work that we don’t take the time to collect and analyze meaningful data for just that purpose. Since I re-entered the classroom almost a decade ago, I’ve tried to create a math program that helps all of my students learn more math. Collecting data has been a big part of that journey, but it might not be the data you think.
I have been lucky enough to be a part of CPM’s Teacher Research Corps (TRC) for many years, and every teacher research project I have done has improved my program. Every project has forced me to rethink data, both how to collect it and how to analyze it. One of my biggest sources of data these days isn’t test scores; it’s my students’ answers to surveys. I like to use Google Forms because they are easy to set up, they integrate with Google Classroom, and the data exports to Google Sheets, which allows me to rearrange and sort it. At the end of last year, I sent my students a survey, and I got so much great data back that I’m still unpacking it all. Here are some of the responses and some of the immediate actionable items.
The ranking graphic is a lot to make sense of! While the graphs indicate that my students thought that every part of our program helped them learn more math, there are definitely some standouts. The Desmos category really jumps: but it must be noted that this is not just students working on devices! Formative Fridays are an innovation that I’m particularly proud of, and this is the second year in a row that students have found our 3 Read Tests helpful in building their mathematical knowledge. My TRC research this year is about trying to find ways to make this system even more effective in less time.
As much as we all love colorful graphs and Likert scales, some of the most valuable data came from open-ended questions.
What are two things we did in class that you think helped you learn more math?
“Two things we did in class that helped me more was having a teacher that I felt comfortable to be confused around; and also having a good flow in the class that I wasn’t afraid to be wrong or confused.“
“Here in Mr. Rector’s class, it was very different from how I got to learn math. We did things different, instead of Mr. Rector teaching us on the board how to do math, he had us do a problem ourselves on the board and solve it ourselves, if we were confused on the problem then he came to teach us how to do it of course. But from this learning style I learned about individual learning, that I can just get a problem and solve it.“
“When making the poster I learn more when I read what it means and write it down on the poster and helps me remember easier. When we do the team building and use the dominoes or other supplies and it’s really fun and helps my brain think of creative ways to do it better.“
I could go on and on, but I suspect by now that you see where this is going. To me, the comments really tell the story. I use them in two ways. First, to know what’s working. But I also use them to preload what’s coming for my new students. Sharing the words of last year’s students seems to speed up the transition to working in groups and adapting to our classroom.
Of course, it can’t all be stars. I asked my students for wishes as well.
What is one thing that we did in class that you think we could do better?
“Working better with our groups, even if we don’t know them.”
“One thing in class I think we could’ve done better was having students to participate. This was more early in school until we started to get along with each other and eventually there was more participation.”
“Getting everyone in the team to work together on the board.”
You can see the overwhelming theme here was, “We ended up really liking working in groups, but you need to find a way to get more people to participate sooner!” Message received.
Lastly, I asked:
“If you could tell next year’s incoming students one thing that you think would help them be more successful in this class, what would it be?”
“Definitely communicate and bond with the classmates more. When the whole classroom is connected, this makes the working environment more sustainable and fun to engage.“
“Mr. Rector literally show them what I write. Breh you guys have to SPEAK UP. When you guys are working on a problem up on the board, and your team comes to a point where every one of you is stuck and unsure what to do next, literally look around the room at the other teams and identify whether or not they are able to help you guys out. Chances are, you already know someone in a group that “gets it” so just ask for help. I can’t tell you how many times I scanned the class and without an ounce of shame said, “wait how did you guys-?” Like literally just ask for help, its so beneficial for you in the long run bc not only will you probably understand the material better and be able to apply what you just learned, onto the tests on Friday, but it also teaches you that there is nothing to be afraid of when you are faced with asking for help. I think if everyone integrated this little piece of advice into their routines when in Mr. Rector’s class, you are guaranteed to become more successful in this class :)”
Once again, while these comments gave me a great insight as to how to make the program better, I have also used them to give this year’s students some advice from their peers. Of course, “one and done” is never done, so I’ll figure out a way to sneak some of these back in every so often.
The point of all of this isn’t to brag about how lucky I am to be able to work with amazing young people every year, but to encourage you to ask your students for feedback. The more you ask, the better your program gets. The better your program gets, the more fun your job is. The more fun your job is, the happier you are. Thus, DATA = Happiness.
Matt Rector teaches Integrated Math 3 at Grant Union High School in Sacramento, California. Grant is 100% free lunch in an urban setting and two thirds of the population are English Learners. Note from author: if you have any questions about any of the activities listed here, check out my website, MattRector.com. (No, I’m not a business and I’m not selling anything. I just want to help more kids learn more math and help more math teachers find more happiness in their classrooms.)