Meditations on a Cogen (No. 22) • Thursday, April 7, 2022

During the 2021-22 school year, I’m having weekly co-generative dialogues (or cogens) with my students. In an effort to help me process these talks and document progress, I summarize and write reflections after each cogen. This is the 22nd post in the series.

Two Additions
Two new members (one from period 1 and one from period 3) join today and complete cohort 4. The group feels complete. I give my opening spiel to the new members, get them caught up on what we discussed last week, and then jump right in.

Reflections on the farmers
This week I ran an activity celebrating farmers of color and exploring the injustices they’ve faced for generations in our country. The activity hinged on compound interest, average rate of change, and exponential regression. I have had a series of separate cogens (here and here) dedicated to its analysis and development, but I want to make space for my regular cogen to reflect on it. I open the floor.

Overall, the students liked the activity a lot. They appreciated the effort I put into its design and the role-playing aspect that it had. It afforded them an opportunity to study a “real world” application and issue. They also liked working in groups and how the group work was structured. The “we liked working in groups” comment caught me off-guard because I don’t think I did anything special with its structure, but I’ll happily take the positive feedback.

Interestingly, two weeks ago, when I was still planning the activity, I showed it to one of the cogen students and she flat out told me that it sounded boring. Today, during our talk, she admitted that she had fun doing it. After she says this, I get all excited and immediately pivot away from her to ask the group about being urban youth studying the farming industry. Looking back, this was a missed opportunity to ask her why her feelings about the activity changed. (I didn’t realize this misstep until after post-cogen when I listened to the recording of our talk. Even worse: I think she was in the midst of explaining why when I cut her off.)

I rush to ask the group about it because, living in New York City, farming isn’t exactly the most relevant issue for my students. In fact, this dichotomy gave me pause while planning it and made me second guess if I even wanted to do it. If I wanted to study social justice, couldn’t I find a more meaningful issue?

We discuss this. One student confirms my suspicions and says that she would have preferred to study a subject more relevant to her life, perhaps something job-related. But three other students offer alternative perspectives, saying they thought the topic was interesting. One says that because she knows nothing about farming and the systemic discrimination that farmers of color have faced, the activity helped expose her to a world she would have otherwise not known about. Another student comments that he actually has ancestors who were farmers and that he was able to draw parallels between his family and those I featured in the activity.

Next, the students give me some feedback on the mathematics of the activity. They explain how the math got more challenging the deeper we got into the activity, but they were OK with the gradual increase in difficulty, especially since I was walking around helping them and they had their groups to rely on. They point out that some of the farm-related vocabulary in the problems (e.g. yield, acreage) made it hard to get to the math.

They offer up several suggestions to improve the activity for next year. First, I should open each day with a brief mini-lesson overviewing some aspects of what students will encounter that day. Ideally, the mini-lesson would include me showing them an example (or, even better, a worked example) using farming terminology. I made one attempt at this over the course of the four days, but my timing of it was off by two days. I definitely see opportunities for more modeling next year. They also offer a sensible recommendation that I condense the average rate of change part of the activity, which got redundant. Since the activity had four sections, one student wonders whether each day could correspond to a different section (I took an asynchronous approach this week). This could help everyone be on the same page and subsequently help with understanding the math. To help students who don’t complete a particular day’s section, I could post a short video that students must watch before coming to class the next day.

The dialogue is flowing and before I know it, it’s 3:10pm. My last question concerns tomorrow. Do they want to watch a documentary on Black farmers and their struggle with the USDA or be given more time to complete the last section of the activity (instead of doing it on their own)? They unanimously vote for more time. That was an easy decision.

Their feedback carries me over the time I wanted to allot to reflecting on the activity, but I’m incredibly grateful for their suggestions.

Our lesson
With the five minutes we have left, I want to update the kids on our lesson. Last week I promised to identify a topic so we can begin brainstorming ideas for how the lesson would look. We don’t have time to brainstorm today, but I inform them of the topic: converting radicals to fractional exponents (and vice versa). We’re about 4-5 weeks out from learning it, so this will provide ample time for (a) me to teach it to the cogen students and (b) us to plan the lesson together. Coincidently, I have a short video clip of me overviewing the topic from remote learning. I ask the students to watch it before next week.

We’re off.

bp

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