FOILing It All

Class: 9th grade prob and stats. Topic:  Linear regression.  Enter: the Laundry Data.

The data sheet seemed to spark a LOT of curiosity.  In retrospect, I wish I would have given them some time to Notice and Wonder about the detergents.  Probably I’d also add some estimation first about these bottles of detergent rather than just handing them the data.  I should have known better.

Still, an interesting discussion ensued about ounces of detergent and loads of laundry.  We plotted the points on Desmos and wanted to choose two of them to create our linear model.  I teach three sections of this class and all three classes picked different points to make their equation.

One class picked (50, 33) and (200, 140), and after determining that they needed to find the slope in order to write the equation of the line, I posed that question to them.  How would we find the slope between these two points.  Crickets.

I want to note that a good minute of silence and eye-contact avoidance went by before one brave student spoke up.

S:  You FOIL them.

Me:  Can you explain what you mean by that?

S:  (coming to the board) You multiply them like this.

IMG_5025

Me:  What do we think of what S just wrote up here?  (at least 8 hands shot up in the air)

Me:  Please put your hands down and let’s discuss this.  What I like about what S just did here is he got us started somewhere.  He was willing to take a guess and risk being wrong.  Before S showed us his idea, no one was willing to volunteer their method.  Now that S has broken the silence, lots of you seem ready to discuss.  Thank you S for starting us somewhere.

After this student broke the ice, we came up with about 4 ways to determine the slope of this line and about 8 ways overall to figure out the equation of the line between these two points.  In the past, I would have said to this student, “No, we don’t FOIL, who has another idea?”  Now I know that allowing this student to explain his method does multiple things.  First, it helps the other students practice patience and courtesy when listening and responding to this student whose solution they know is incorrect.  Second, it is a great opportunity for students to engage in SMP #3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.  Third, it provides an opportunity to praise the value in providing the wrong answer.  So much of math class for these students has been about getting the right answers.  I’m glad this teachable moment came about for students to learn from the wrong one.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing a great story. I love that you let us know that you waited for “a good minute of silence”. I am learning to provide that wait time, which can be challenging during some classes. Thank you for another reminder of the importance of giving students time to think.

  2. You say that so much of math class for these students has been about getting the right answers. I am glad to see that in your class getting the wrong answer is not forbidden. I would dare say that much discovery and growth has been made through error and that it is just as important to know what not to do as what to do.

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