Pulling the Plug on a Lesson

I taught a lesson on Tuesday and it sucked…Real bad!

It sucked more than Maggie Simpson sucks her pacifier!  I really felt for the 21 students, 4 teachers and the administrator who were observing. My face is still a little numb from how flat I fell on it!  In my current position I bounce around from school to school modeling lessons and being observed.  Every day is a “formal observation day.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 8.35.01 AMI was modeling “The Race” which is a new task I made for 2nd grade. The task addresses 2.MD.6 but the idea stemmed from the Measurement Progressions (pg. 14).

Side note: Not being at a single school is challenging because it’s tough to build a “testing laboratory” to try out new things.  Although many teachers are willing to open their classroom, I might not be able to make it back to their school for a month.  So in that respect, I’m like an educational nomad!

On Tuesday I was building the plane while flying it.  It was the first time I had flown this task with students and it crashed.  Here’s how it all went down:

  • I anticipated all the students’ WDYN and WDYW for act-1.  Conversations were flowing and I was happy.
  • The main questions: Who won the race? 
  • While setting up Act-2, every group wanted to know who was faster and with some conversation they eventually wanted to know the distance the girls were running.
  • I gave students the information they asked for, I let them go and…CRICKETS!  They had no idea what to do or how to start!
  • They knew the main question, they understood the information they had, but they had absolutely no idea how to use it.

I’m a firm believer that you can always add to the lesson but you can’t subtract.  The problem was that after 10 minutes of questioning there was nothing else I could give them. My only option was to pull the plug on the lesson or walk them down the solution path… and there was no way in “hockey sticks” I was doing that.  So I flatlined the lesson!

In looking back, I realize that I need to be more prepared to scaffold this and future tasks (especially when using problem based lessons).  Normally I can rely on my questioning to save me but I need to do a better job anticipating the struggles that students will have.  I need to do a better job making the math accessible.  The students REALLY wanted to know who won the race and I let them down.  But I am returning with great vengeance this tomorrow.  I’m not waiting a month to return.  I’m returning to “un-suck-a-fy” this lesson.

Here’s how…We’ll quickly revisit Act 1 with the WDYN and WDYW.  Then there are some layers of scaffolding I now have in place to make the task accessible and it starts with the least helpful information because we can always add (or take away in this case):

Go back to the original map and see if anything new happens.

Start with the original map shared on Tuesday and see if anything new happens.

Step 2 is to decontextualize the mathematics.

Stripping away the context.  Being more helpful by giving them less.

Strip away the context. Being more helpful by giving them less.

Step 3 is isolate the race routes. Separate the routes that both girls are running.

Take the information from Audrey's race route and apply it to Emma's

Take the information from Audrey’s race route and apply it to Emma’s.  Use what you know.

Now I am cautiously assuming that most students will be good to go from any of the layers I’ve added.  I don’t think I’ve compromised the integrity of the standard to this point but if all else fails I’ll go to step 4 (aka: code blue).

My last resort.  If this happens we lose the MD standards and it just becomes an NBT task.

My last resort. If this happens we lose the MD standards and it just becomes an NBT task.

Although it was really difficult to pull the plug on Tuesday I’m glad I did.  We all want every lesson to succeed, especially when being observed.  I could have plowed through and got to the end of the lesson but what’s the point?  I hope I modeled that it’s ok when a lesson goes bad and that learning can’t and shouldn’t be forced.

It’s what I do from this teachable moment that I am most excited to learn about myself.  I am really interested to see how this all turns out.  Ensuring that I make the math accessible is an ongoing goal.

We’ll see how it goes tomorrow morning!

About gfletchy

K-8 math consumer trying to listen and learn each day. Stay thirsty my friends!
This entry was posted in Against the Norm, Making Math Accessible, Planning, Teaching in a Context. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Pulling the Plug on a Lesson

  1. Brandi says:


    I love this! For someone who is learning to be more comfortable with math, this makes me feel normal. Just today, I stopped and looked at another teacher during math and said, I messed that up…please help. Students are unpredictable at times and sometimes they learn more from this kind of situation than they would have if it had been great!


    • gfletchy says:

      We all mess up! I think it’s at that moment when we know we’re messing up that we have a choice. When we share that we are messing up it keeps us grounded and vulnerable which are 2 big pieces of a #growthmindset.
      Thanks for the checking in and sharing Brandi!

  2. Cleargrace says:

    Thank you for the courage to mess up – especially while you are being observed. I hope you got a chance to share your reflections with them, too. I have had lessons bomb, and it is the reflection where I – and when I have the courage to share – others, learn the most. I think that not feeling that we can share our mistakes with others creates the lonely, isolated situation that can quickly suck the joy out of what we do.
    Having said that – I like the scaffolding you put in place. I think that showing the photo and then separating the image you want them to see, is the key to modeling for them HOW to see what they need from the busy photo; a skill that many students find very hard to do – even into high school. Let us know what happens!

  3. Meleia says:

    That was a good learning moment, for sure. The level of reflection and revision was a powerful thing to model, too. I hope the next one goes as—revised! 🙂

  4. turtletoms says:

    Can’t wait for the sequel!

  5. Pingback: Pulling the Plug on a Lesson (The Do-Over) | Questioning My Metacognition

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