Thursday, July 12, 2012

Elmo's Microwave Travel

Summer school has been a fantastic testing ground for 3 Act lessons with incoming 6th & 7th graders. I'm constantly reassessing my deployment of the lesson format. If you have any improvements to offer, go for it. Check out Dan's whole catalog. Here's a few I used this summer:
  • Print Job: Talk about rate and breach theoretical v. practical discrepancies.
  • Nana's Chocolate Milk: Ratios, Fractions, Proportions, Equivalencies, do it!
  • Popcorn Picker: Do identical rectangular papers have the same volume?
  • Super Bear: Unit rate, ratios. Discuss Percent Error (genius)!
Dan's lessons are wrapped up in a neat little package, following his own framework for digital media. It's up to us to deliver. Today, I used my Elmo's Microwave Travel lesson. Keep in mind this was with incoming 6th graders. I'm more generous with them than my 8th graders. I continue to learn about the 3 Act lesson format (here's Act 1):

Act 1 (go get that Q):
View and immediately get those Q's (questions) in the air.
I don't perseverate anymore over having at least one student ask the intended Q. Let students ask what they wonder and state observations. If they hit your intended mark, don't jump for joy. Act as if it's just another Q in the mix. Summarize the questions and observations before revealing the Q. I usually say something like, "I'm right there with (insert name) on this and I also want to know (state question)." Luckily, there was at least one kid form each class who wanted to know how many rotations Elmo makes in the microwave. Get that Q on the board immediately along with any other questions that could be answered during the lesson. Have students write the Q's at the top of their paper, notebook, handout (whatever you use). Everyone needs an objective, something to work toward. Once it's scribbled down, encourage your students to make an estimate for each Q and pencil it in near the Q. We came up with:
  1. How many rotations does Elmo make? (They nailed this Q!)
  2. What distance does Elmo travel around the microwave? (Extension of the 1st Q)
  3. Will he melt? (Some students really worried about him melting. How considerate.)
* Using their wording for the Q's, I encouraged them to put it in relation to one minute.
Students do all the thinking, questioning, noticing, etc. but in the past I wasn't writing the Q on the board. Big mistake. Now it's monkey see, monkey do! Get the Q on the board. Go!

Act 2 (muy importante!):
Ask the students to discuss, "What do we already know?" Here are some responses from students:
Elmo travels for a minute. (Me: "How does that help?")
He's on a circular plate. (Me: "What do we know about circles or can do with that?")

Write the facts on the board. Now I ask, "What information would help you answer those Q's on the board?" or "What would you want to know in order to answer the Q's?"
Really make students think here. Don't make it easy. I have to keep working at this tactic. Allow students to struggle with the notion that they need to determine what's relevant before you divulge any new information. This allows students to be better critical thinkers. Here's what they thought:
Maybe we could see how far he goes in 10 seconds (Me: "Interesting.")
The plate is a circle. Can we know the circumference? (Me: "Is that easy to measure?")
Then can we have the radius? (Me: "I'll give you the diameter. How's that?")

Roll Act 2 Elmo. Students, get solving. Start discussing, debating, testing, calculating, etc. If you come up with something let the class know. If we agree on it, we'll write it on the board. If not, we'll erase it. Hey Frank Noschese, now I'm starting to see the importance of those student whiteboards. WWFSD? (What would Frank's students do?) Can we still jot down necessary info at the front while students collaborate? Of course.
This is all student derived. I was simply the scribe.
Okay students, you got a solution? What does that number mean? Does it make sense? Did you check it for reasonableness? Did you give a unit of measurement? Did he travel in miles, feet, inches, millimeters? Does it make sense? I bombard them with questions. I'm almost getting to the point where I forget about Act 3. I want to see their work during Act 2. I want to hear their rationale. I want to learn from my students and their thought process. I enjoy that. Lately, the big driving force for me to actually leave Act 2 behind and attack Act 3 is the discussion that follows after viewing Act 3

Act 3 (theoretical v. practical):
On paper, many 6th graders miscalculated that Elmo travels 37.68 inches for one minute. Even after asking them if it made sense, they stuck with their answer (I let it go). There were a couple who got the correct answer! I didn't tell them; we watched Act 3. The students who had the correct answer and saw that 37.68 inches was quickly ruled out, watched intently as the time wound down. The anticipation on their face was priceless. The video ended and one girl was both happy and confused at the same time as she awkwardly asked, "Is it okay that my answer is one inch off?" Hello! Here's our opening for discussion. Theoretical v. Practical. I was so happy. First we discussed why 37.68 inches was incorrect. They didn't multiply their circumference by the number of rotations in a minute. Then we tackled the theoretical v. practical results. My microwave plate is kind of wiggly. It doesn't rotate at a constant speed the entire time: it slows down and speeds up. That one inch could be accounted for a few reasons. Their world was rocked, but Elmo's world made sense.

[Sequel to come] Dan contacted me for some video footage of Elmo traveling for 30 seconds in real time so he could use it at a workshop. He wanted his attendees to graph:
  1. Elmo's distance from the center of the plate over time [Update: Video]
  2. Elmo's distance from the glass door over time [Update: Video]
  3. Elmo's total distance traveled over time [Update: Video] *My recent addition
I plan on doing the video sequel and will experiment with it in Motion this week. My kids enjoyed the sequel discussion, but missed a video to back it up. Great sequel idea Dan, thanks.



  1. "I don't perseverate anymore over having at least one student ask the intended Q. Let students ask what they wonder and state observations. If they hit your intended mark, don't jump for joy. Act as if it's just another Q in the mix. Summarize the questions and observations before revealing the Q. I usually say something like, 'I'm right there with (insert name) on this and I also want to know (state question).'"

    Great technique.

    1. Thanks Dan. This technique has really helped. I've found that once I validate a student's question as my intended Q, the discussion, questions, and perplexity levels drop.

  2. A perfect use of the 3 Act lesson plan. It has so much more impact to actually show the answer in video form rather than just tell them what the answer is. I have contemplated setting up my classroom as a "CSI" environment where the students are detectives and they only receive more "clues" when the ask the right questions (Act 2). I am concerned about the time it might take up, but who is not perplexed and engaged by being a CSI agent?!

    1. Very interesting idea Chris. I'd like to hear more about that, especially if you officially adopt that as a class theme. Can students ask the wrong questions too in order to rule out irrelevant information or perspectives?

  3. So I'm not the only one who worried about Elmo melting. But then I thought of another lesson: Act1 --> melt Elmo a little bit (enough to let his head droop), so Q1: How long would it take to completely nuke Elmo? Whatchathink? :)) I keed!! I love this lesson, Andrew. Awesome write-up.

    My principal replied that he was "working on" getting me the Noschese white boards!!

    You actually wrote a post during daytime. #mustbesummer Oh, hey, I'm not getting the white background again for your text, so the post just "floats on blue image."

    1. I know, daytime post, crazy! Right? Your idea on melting Elmo would be quite the tragedy, I think. However, I do have something in the pipeline that is similar. Good work on the boards.

  4. I would love to hear from more teachers about how they've implemented these lessons...especially the act 2 part. What are some of the problems people have? What do you do about those who are still unmotivated to work? I like sequels, but at what point will some students hold back on giving a right answer so that they don't have to work on the sequel? (I hate to tell them that they'll get bonus points for doing the extensions.)

    1. I would also like to hear from more teachers too. As for unmotivated students, they are always tricky. However, the alternative could be a worksheet or lecture. Most might lean towards the 3 Act lesson. I don't do bonus points. These are valid questions, Nathan. How often are you seeing this?

  5. I'm glad you included how you responded to the students' questions ("Interesting", "How does that help?"). I needed those concrete examples to get the big picture of a 3-act lesson. Nice job.

    1. I keep learning how to effectively present 3 Act lessons. Patience is key. Showing a high level of interest in their idea (right or wrong) helps move the discussion along. Create some tension with your students: play devil's advocate, make guesses that are so extremely bad they twist their head at you and scoff, and practically make them beg for the question and necessary information in Act 2.

  6. Just found this. Really like it, especially the trig function that comes out of looking at his distance from the front and back of the microwave. Great stuff.