Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris

Ep 193: Compliance Too

February 27, 2024 Pam Harris Episode 193
Ep 193: Compliance Too
Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris
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Math is Figure-Out-Able with Pam Harris
Ep 193: Compliance Too
Feb 27, 2024 Episode 193
Pam Harris

What message do we want to send to students about compliance? In this episode Pam and Kim talk about the importance of respecting student dignity and separating math from punishment.
Talking Points:

  • Senario of compliance 
  • Reasons we seek compliance from students
  • Math is not a punishment or taking it away, a reward
  • Pam and Kim reflect on some of their early experiences
  • Is it about the math or about the compliance?
  • Do your grades reflect compliance?

Check out our social media
Twitter: @PWHarris
Instagram: Pam Harris_math
Facebook: Pam Harris, author, mathematics education
Linkedin: Pam Harris Consulting LLC 

Registration is open for workshops is open for a limited time!

Show Notes Transcript

What message do we want to send to students about compliance? In this episode Pam and Kim talk about the importance of respecting student dignity and separating math from punishment.
Talking Points:

  • Senario of compliance 
  • Reasons we seek compliance from students
  • Math is not a punishment or taking it away, a reward
  • Pam and Kim reflect on some of their early experiences
  • Is it about the math or about the compliance?
  • Do your grades reflect compliance?

Check out our social media
Twitter: @PWHarris
Instagram: Pam Harris_math
Facebook: Pam Harris, author, mathematics education
Linkedin: Pam Harris Consulting LLC 

Registration is open for workshops is open for a limited time!

Pam  00:01
Hey, fellow mathematicians! Welcome to the podcast where Math is Figure-Out-Able! Even when podcast recording isn't. I'm Pam.

Kim  00:11
And I'm Kim. And I'm kind of tired of hearing the intro.

Pam  00:14
And oh my gosh, take how many? Ya'll, you found a place where math is not about memorizing and mimicking, where you're waiting to be told or shown what to do. But it's about making sense of problems on a good day, noticing patterns, and reasoning using mathematical relationships. When the podcast recording equipment works. We can mentor students to think and reason like mathematicians. Not only are algorithms not particularly helpful in teaching mathematics, but rotely repeating steps, and repeating this intro over and over, is actually keeping students from being the mathematicians they can be. (unclear).

Kim  00:46
It's been a day. 

Pam  00:47
Oh, it's been a day, Kim!

Kim  00:48
I know. 

Pam  00:50
Okay, so to top that off, the thing that we want to talk about today is maybe... Maybe that's why. Maybe it's the universe saying, "Hey, maybe we shouldn't even go here because it's so..." What is even a word? It's just... Oh, I don't know if it's preachy, but it's like.

Kim  01:07
No, it's cringy. 

Pam  01:08
Oh, cringy. I feel much... Yes. Yeah, it's pretty cringy. So, alright. In our last episode, we talked about compliance, and we weren't even sure we had a whole enough to talk about for an entire episode. And we did. And then, what just happened in your life?

Kim  01:23
Like, literally the day. Was it the day we recorded?

Pam  01:26
I think it was. I think later that day, you sent me a text, and you were like, "You are not going to believe this." 

Kim  01:30
Oh, yeah. And then, yeah. And then, I called you because I knew you would have feelings about this. So, backstory. I'm not super onto Twitter. That's not really my platform. But I shared something that happened with one of my kids a while ago in one of their classes. And it was about potty points, earning potty points. And that's what we call it at home because, you know, we had to make light of it. And I don't mean this in like in a really like disrespectful way, but we called them potty points because the deal was at the beginning of the grading period, you got four passes. And this was like a (unclear).

Pam  02:07
Four passes to use the bathroom (unclear).

Kim  02:09
Yeah, so this is a classroom management technique because there were a lot of kids needing to go to the restroom. And so, you got four passes in the class. And you could always go to the restroom. But if you didn't use up your four passes, then you got bonus points on your grade for the nine weeks.

Pam  02:31
On your grade. Your grade because you held it. 

Kim  02:34
And so, we... 

Pam  02:36
Or you didn't drink. Which is, we all know, not healthy, right? So, you chose not to drink water, which is terrible. 

Kim  02:41
Yeah. So, I posted about it kind of like, "This doesn't seem right to me."

Pam  02:46
"Can you believe it?" 

Kim  02:47
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And so, I thought, though, that nothing could top that in the world of, "Can you believe it?" And so, after we did the compliance thing, I called you because another thing happened that I think might top it in, "I can't believe this is a thing." Like, we should not be doing these things in education. Right, right, right. So...

Pam  03:11
Alright, carry on.

Kim  03:11
And this one's particularly math related, so we have to talk about it. 

Pam  03:15

Kim  03:16
So... And listen, I don't mean this to be like super respectful. I want to clarify...

Pam  03:21
Wait, respectful or disrespectful? 

Kim  03:22
I want to be respectful as I share this because I know that as teachers we say and do things to like get through sometimes. But I do think that we have to consider like the intent, and then consider like the effect. And so, I share this in a, like I'm not trying to mock or like ding heavily, and so I'll never like talk about where or who or whatever. But this is a practice that I think cannot be what's happening. So, anyway, one of my kids came home and said, "Hey, I have to do..." Like, I've known that they do a certain number of problems in a month for this particular kind of practice program that they do. It's like a spiraling whatever. And so, they have to do a certain number of problems in the month. And...

Pam  03:23
They just have to get them done. They get them done. They get the points. 

Kim  04:14
Right, right, right. 

Pam  04:15
They move on. Okay.

Kim  04:16
And that is for a major grade for that nine weeks.

Pam  04:21

Kim  04:21
And so, my kid came home and said, "Hey, this time, I only have to do a certain number of points because we have birthdays happening in the class." And I said, "Well, tell me about that." And he said, "When there's a birthday, we get 10 less on our list of what we have to do." And I was like, "Okay, whatever." So, then... 

Pam  04:43
be clear, your son is is... I don't know happy, but he's like good with that because this particular computer program that we're doing these problems on is not engaging. It's not exciting. It's not interesting. (unclear).  And to

Kim  04:54
And it's homework.

Pam  04:56
It's homework. And it's like, "Ugh, drudgery. Get it done." So, when there's less of that, he's like, "Yeah. Alright, there's less of this dumb stuff to do." 

Kim  05:02

Pam  05:03
Okay. Okay. 

Kim  05:04
And so, then, after a couple days...

Pam  05:07
And celebrating birthdays is a fine thing. 

Kim  05:09

Pam  05:09

Kim  05:09
Sure. So, after a couple of days, he came home and was kind of irritated. And I was like, "What's the problem?" And he said, I do have to do the extra points." And it was 30. 30 problems because there were three birthdays in this time period where they had to do them. And he said, "We did the birthday thing, and I do have to do the extra 30 points." And I, for whatever reason said, "Wait, you have to or the class has to?" And he said, "I have to." And I said, "Wait, why do you have to do them?" And he said, "Because I didn't dance." And I said, "You're going to have to back this train up and tell me what the heck you're talking about." 

Pam  05:49
"I thought we were in math class."

Kim  05:50

Pam  05:51
"What's dancing have to do with math?" 

Kim  05:52
So, the deal is, when there are birthdays in the class, they have some sort of like, at the end of the day, in the class period, kind of little like, put music on, do some dancing steps, follow this whatever. Like, somebody is teaching you to dance. And if you participate, then you are doing the birthday thing, and you don't have to do 10 problems on this program. And I said, "Wait, are they like writing names down?" And he happened to be sitting right in view that the teacher said something about, "He's not doing it." And he said, "I don't really want to dance. I'd rather sit here and do my homework from the last class period." And so, he sat and did work for another class and did not participate in the dancing, and as a result, the three birthdays that were celebrated were 30 points, 30 problems. So, he had to do 30 more problems than other kids in the class.

Pam  06:54
For a major grade.

Kim  06:56
For a major grade. 

Pam  06:56
Because he chose to work on schoolwork instead of... May I say it's a middle school kid?

Kim  07:02
I mean, sure. And it's... Yeah. So...

Pam  07:05
We won't get more specific than that, but this is a middle school student who's being asked to dance in front of their comrades, their classmates, and would rather do schoolwork, and is being dinged. Oh, Kim. Because that's mathematical, right?

Kim  07:21

Pam  07:22
Yeah. There's so many things. I don't even... I'm not even sure where to even start. Maybe I'll start here.

Kim  07:31
Well, it's compliance, right? Like, the point is, we're talking compliance?

Pam  07:37
And are we asking students to be compliant for safety, for respect, for... I mean, there's something about it's the kids. You know, we're celebrating these kids birthdays. Which we just said, it's a fine thing to celebrate birthdays, and to give kids kind of a little bit of a, you know, "Hey, it's your day! And we love you! And we're glad you're here! And you were born! And yay, let's celebrate your birthday!" That's a fine thing. 

Both Pam and Kim  08:01

Pam  08:03
Yeah. If you don't comply with...

Kim  08:05
More work.

Pam  08:06
Then we're going to give you more work. That's a thing. 

Kim  08:09

Pam  08:09
Can I also maybe just suggest that they're sending an implicit message that... How do I say this? That math is punishment? And so, I'm going to reward you by removing math. Like, I'm going to... Like, "Yay! You don't have to do math!" What? Why do we ever want to send that message? Math is not a punishment. We shouldn't reward kids by doing less math. Now, granted, this particular program is lame. And the questions it's having kid solved are not interesting, or intriguing, or really helpful, so we sort of get it. But the whole thing is kind of sending this message of, "Hey, if you're really good, if you do what I say, if you are compliant, then I will give you less math because math is bad. And I'm going to attach a grade to it. And so, if you are not compliant in a completely non-mathematical way, I'm going to say that you're mathematical understanding is less by giving you a lower grade because you weren't compliant." Did I just catch a lot in there? 

Kim  09:10
So, anyway. Well, into your point about it being a punishment. You know, I was talking to a friend of mine who's a professor at a local university. And she was saying... I didn't think to tell her this story until later. But when she and I were talking about it, she said that is basically the same as when we take kids recess away and hand them math because they need to do some more math and because they need more support or whatever. We're helping them equate, math is not fun. The fun gets taken away. You do more math. Which is sending a horrible message about the nature of mathematics, and it's either fun or work.

Pam  09:10
Yeah, fun does not belong in math.

Kim  09:10
Yeah. You know, my other son and I were talking about it, and (unclear).

Pam  09:49
About this particular thing? 

Kim  10:05
Yeah, and I think he made an important distinction because he said, "I don't know that what's bad is math. It's that the homework is bad in this particular program that you're talking about, where it's just kind of problems in isolation, with just do it, do more, do more, do more that's really bad." And I thought that was a good distinction on his part. But in any case, it was...

Pam  10:33
I'm not real clear. Say

Kim  10:34
So, what he said was that... Because I said what you're saying. We're sending the message that math is bad. And he said, "Well, I think maybe there's like a little bit more of a distinction to make here, that it's maybe not that math is bad. It's that homework is bad because I'm going to take it away if you are compliant, and that this program is bad (unclear).

Pam  10:34
that again. Homework is like punishing. Homework is like punishment, and therefore, "Hey, I'll punish you less if you're good (unclear)."

Kim  11:02
Yeah, and this particular program is bad. Which is not helping support the idea that this teacher is wanting to give homework and wanting to give this program as a support. So, the message that I'm going to take those things away, and that's a reward to you is not really supporting her goal as well. Mmhm. 

Pam  11:22
Yeah. So let's... We might have listeners that right now are like, "Really, you guys are picking on this. This poor teacher is just trying to get along. They're trying to do a good thing." Kim, I'm going to cop to... I'm going to tell you a specific instance that I did that I'm aware that I'm troubled by. Now, troubled not meaning that I am completely clear that it was horrible or whatever. I'm actually a little bit... Like, I'm trying to figure it out. I'm struggling. Maybe that's a better word. I'm struggling a little bit. So, I'll tell you a little bit about it. I'll be a little vulnerable here. When I was teaching precalculus and teaching trig, trigonometry was one of my favorite things to teach. I think, in part, because I really enjoyed trigonometry. But I also enjoy that age of kid. Sort of juniors and seniors in high school. Always had a couple of sophomores anyway. So, I was teaching trigonometry, and one of the things that we were doing in precalculus was... When you start trig functions, is you kind of differentiate it from other parent functions that you... I just realized, I'm knocking my chair and our editor of our podcast, every once in a while says like, "Quit making that click!" And I'm like, "Oh, shoot! I'm making that click." I'm shifting. Okay, so I'll stop making that click. You guys are like, "We don't hear that click. And the editor right now is like, "I know because..."  "...I take it out." Thank you. Thank you, Craig. So, one of the things we're trying to do was help my students differentiate between these parent functions. So, what does a line look like? What does a parabola look like? What does any kind of quadratic look like? What does an exponential function look like? A logarithmic function? And then, now these new trig functions, the sine function, a cosine function? One of the ways that I kind of practiced that... See, as even I say it, I'm like, "Is that a good way to practice?" Is I would have the kids kind of do what I would say math aerobics. I had a little song that went along with it. I'm not going to sing it, but it had different. And I would say, "So, can you do this function?" To this little music. And then, they would kind of wave their arms in either like a line or they would make like a U shape for a parabola? Or they would make like a... Well, how do you even describe a cubic? That kind of shape. Yeah, that's a cubic. Or for a sine function, you start your arms at your sort of neck. Or like, I don't know, at some point on your body. And one hand goes up and the other hand goes down, and then they kind of both wave. But they wave in such a way that like one hand goes up and the other hand goes down? So they're kind of they're kind of opposite each other, like inverses of each other.

Kim  12:35
"Because I'm good."  Okay, can you pause because I know you're going to tell more of the story. But can you pause for just a second because we spend some time talking about songs and hand motions and that kind of stuff. So, can you speak to what was different about this particular?

Pam  14:07
It's part of why I'm troubled.

Kim  14:09
Ah, okay, okay.

Pam  14:10
Yeah. Because part of me is thinking like do I want students to have this gut reaction to what a sine function looks like versus a cosine function?" I do. Do I want that connected to a song that has nothing to do with math? Probably not. 

Kim  14:26

Pam  14:27
So, I'm sort of reflecting in my young teaching. 

Kim  14:30

Pam  14:31
Before I had gotten very clear on the difference between social and logical mathematical. In other words, it's social that we call it a sine function. It's social we call it, "call", the name of it the cosine function. But it's absolutely logical mathematical about why the functions are different because that sine function, like I just told you, one hand goes up in a wave and the other hand goes down in a wave, and they're kind of inverses of each other, kind of reflections of each other. But the cosine function both of your hands start up, and they both go down and up, and down and up, and down and up. So, it looks funny when you do it physically. Like, because the cosine is doing the down and up both, and the other one is almost like a disco dance from both sides. So, I'm troubled a little bit by the fact that I kind of connected it with a song. I'm less troubled by having kids move their bodies in such a way that acts like the mathematical values because I think that's helpful. I'm more troubled by the fact that I stuck it with a song that's not mathematical. In the moment... Now, so that's kind of a social, logical mathematical troubling part. In the moment, though, I'm troubled with the idea because ready? This is what I did. I said, "Alright, everybody, stand up and sing with me." And I... See, you're reminding me this because of the dance. And I said, "Do..." And so, I would sing the song, and they would move their bodies for these different functions. And it was, you know, it was kind of a way of getting them to like physically feel the mathematical behavior, but I attached it to the song. Well, I had these two guys in this class. They were juniors and seniors. They were great guys. I liked them. Everybody liked them. They weren't kind of like the sort of popular, druggie, kind of like dragged everyone down kind of guys. They were actually uplifting, positive. You know, good role models. Everybody liked them. But they were not having it. They sat. They wouldn't stand up. And they were looking at me, and they were kind of snickering a little bit. Not really snickering. That's kind of negative. They were kind of just like laughing because we looked ridiculous as we were doing this song and whatever. So, in that moment, I made a young teacher decision that I immediately knew was stupid. But then, I didn't know what to do. Because I said, "Ya'll, either do it with us or do it all by yourself." And as soon as I said it, "I was like," Oh, you just set yourself up for a classroom management nightmare because now to save face. You have not allowed them a way to save face. You've not allowed them a respectful way to get out (unclear).

Kim  16:58

Pam  16:59
Whatever. So, lucky. Just the universe was smiling on me that day. They looked at me. They looked at their classmates. And they said, "We'll do it by ourselves." And I was like, "Hallelujah." Because, you know, it could have... 

Kim  17:10

Pam  17:11
Yeah, totally. It could have gone south in that moment. And bless their hearts. They came up to the front of the room. They're like, "Ya'll could sit down. We'll just do it." Now, they wouldn't said "ya'll" because we were in Michigan at that point. But whatever. They went up to the front of the room, and they were like, "Oh, yeah. We'll do it better than anybody." And they totally like. It was almost like it was a good quiz because they were like, "This is how this one would go. And this is how..." They weren't willing to sing the song. 

Kim  17:32

Pam  17:32
They're willing to do the mathy part. You know, it's just fascinating Kim, as I'm saying it. They were the kind of people that were like, "That's not math. This stupid song is not math. However, knowing what the shape of the functions, the behavior of the functions, that's math. We'll do the math part." I bet that's what literally they were saying in their heads. They were more sophisticated than I was to go, "That's not math. Don't make us do the part that's not math. We'll do the math part."

Kim  17:57

Pam  17:57
And they did. So, it's been interesting to me to kind of, you know, hear you sort of lament the non-math part of what your student, your kid's teachers, were kind of hammering on compliance, and me going, "You know, I think there was a part of me that did some of that." I can look back now and go, "Okay, now that I know better, I'm going to choose to do differently moving forward. And I hope that's this whole podcast, right?

Kim  18:22
I mean, yeah. We...

Pam  18:24
You can't do better till you know, better. 

Kim  18:26
Yeah, absolutely. And I'm glad that you share that because, you know, we might sound on here like we had it all figured out from the get go. Which is absolutely not true. And we're always learning, right? Like, we're still learning. We call each other, and we're like, "Hey, what do you think about this?" And we bang stuff out. "And does that match with our beliefs? And, you know, how you would respond to that?" And I think that is important in life.

Pam  18:48
(unclear) journey. Yes. 

Kim  18:49
But also, you know, as teachers and people who are trying to share what we know. As soon as you said, "I'm not doing that part because it's not mathy," it totally made me think about another thing I did. So, I'll tell on myself. But, for you, I can't remember which of your kids was like, "I'm not coloring." That's not (unclear). Which one was it? 

Pam  19:10
All of my boys. 

Kim  19:11
Okay. So, like a math work sheet whatever, where you do the problems, then you have to color it a certain way. Like, okay. Math versus coloring. Don't be grading the coloring part, right? Like, that's not.

Pam  19:21
Oh, I'll never forget. And so, my oldest kind of started it. But when he came home, and he had like an, I don't know, 50% on some paper.

Kim  19:28
I mean... 

Pam  19:29
And I said, "What's going on?" And he goes, "Oh, this is dumb." And I said, "What?" And he goes, "Like, I answered all the math questions, but then they want me to color all the fives blue, and all the threes orange, and all that whatever." And I was like, "Why won't you do it?" And he goes, "That's not math. That's art. This is math. It's not art." And I was like, "Well is coloring by number really art?" And he goes, "Yeah, see how dumb it is?" And I was like, "Oh, okay." So, in that moment, I kind of, you know, I had to decide as a parent am I going to fight this? It really was almost a more sophisticated argument than I was ready for that moment.

Kim  19:58

Pam  19:58
I had a lot going on. I was just like, "Whatever. You're doing fine enough. I'm not going to force it." But the more I thought about it. I'm glad you brought it up. The more I thought about it, I was like, there is this distinction to some kids makes a big deal. It's like an integrity thing. And yeah, he didn't care if that he got a worse grade. And so, then the other two followed suit. And then, my daughter. Can I just share? 

Kim  20:18

Pam  20:18
My daughter would be like going, "Oh, we get to color today!!" In all the right ways. Because she is. I mean, my boys are actually artists as well. But she reveled in the opportunity to to do art wherever. And so, she was more than happy to...

Kim  20:31
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Pam  20:32
...mix them. Yeah. 

Kim  20:33
Well, I think that important takeaway could be that if you have kids that are pushing back on some of the things that you're hoping that they'll do or they're not being compliant about it. Like, is it really just about compliance? Or is it just... Like, is it really mathy? And is it really necessary? Or is it just about compliance? So, here's a thing that I did. It's not math related necessarily. But as a brand new, shiny third grade teacher, I thought, "Awesome. We have however many subjects. 4 subjects. And so, you're going to have a yellow folder for this subject, and a green folder for this subject, and a blue, and a red, and a whatever. And your homework folder is going to be black." Whatever. And there's no real... You know, young students really could use some support in organization and things. But is it really that big of a deal if they have a yellow language arts folder? I mean, honestly. At that point when I was like buying colors to trade out the blue they brought from home, but I wanted a yellow, that's strictly compliance. It was strictly about making me happy that I could say, "Get out your yellow folder for language arts. And if you don't have one, I'll fix it for you." That is strictly a compliance thing. It doesn't support the learning. It doesn't help anybody. You know, now, we might have some students who need supports in certain ways that we do some more of those kinds of things for. But as a general rule, was it supporting the learning in any way? And I can step back now and see a moment where I transition to get a folder. I don't care. Just get a folder. And it took some thinking on my part about whether or not that was actually meaningful or was it just filling my need for structure and organization? 

Pam  22:21
Well, and I'm just going to point out. So, I'm glad that that was a good transition for you. But I also want to point out that you didn't say, "You brought a blue in from home? 10 points off."

Kim  22:30
Oh, gosh, no. 

Pam  22:32
Well, and so I guess that's what we're inviting. Like, we're inviting, listeners, for you to consider are there things you're doing that are affecting grades? 

Kim  22:40

Pam  22:40
That perhaps you could reconsider? Like, should those things really affect grades? And maybe you're asking yourself right now, "Okay, but if it doesn't affect grades, then how do I actually get that thing to happen?" In which case, we might also ask, "Why are you wanting that thing to happen?" And is there a way to have relationship or some other kinds of consequences that are maybe more natural consequences that aren't. Like, what do your grades mean? Do your grades mean compliance, that they did what you told them to do? Or do they mean they actually are mathing? 

Kim  23:10
Yeah, and I think we touched on this a little bit in an episode. But if you're... Maybe it was about grades. But if you're rewarding kids for participating in the holiday celebration, and you're letting them do less work or you're giving them bonus points. We're going to say that's not okay. And even...

Pam  23:32
Because it sends the message, that math is a punishment, and you celebrate by taking it away.

Kim  23:38
Well, yeah. Or that compliance has anything to do with math. Right? 

Pam  23:43

Kim  23:43
So, and here's a whole separate thing, since we're talking about compliance more than maybe grades. Even if kids are willing to comply, there are certain situations where are they even able to? Like, if you're saying, "Comply with this particular thing, and you get rewarded or you get dinged if you don't," there are some scenarios where kids might want to, but they're not able to. Or do they feel like, "Hey, it's not really dignified. I'm a 14-year-old, 15-year-old among my peers and you want me to comply, but that feels uncomfortable. It's a thing to consider for sure.

Pam  24:21
Yeah, absolutely. For example, didn't you just say that there was a holiday something where if the kid wore an ugly sweater, they got bonus points on their grade?

Kim  24:32

Pam  24:32
And I think one of our teammates said something like, "What if I can't afford an ugly Christmas sweater? And so, now, my grade is based on my parents affluence?"

Kim  24:41

Pam  24:41
That's, yeah. Yes, let's not do that. 

Kim  24:44
So, major takeaways from today and, you know, sharing some stories in our lives.

Pam  24:46
From Kim and I talking about not so many mathy things today. 

Kim  24:48
Yeah. So, we don't want to send the message that math is a punishment when you celebrate taking it away. I think that's a major takeaway. If you're taking away math as a celebration or a reward, you may be sending a message to your students that math is a problem, and we're going to help you by taking it away. That's not an ideal message. And another thing that I'll add that I don't know we're going to dive into today. If it's so easily taken away because you wear a sweater, or because you showed up early, or whatever. How important or helpful was that math homework anyway?

Pam  25:33
Nice dig right there at the end. I like it! Thank you for tuning in and teaching more and more real math. To find out more about the Math is Figure-Out-Able movement. Visit Let's keep spreading the word that Math is Figure-Out-Able!