How to (not) write SLOP-ily: CogSciSci Bath “2020”

Here is a brief outline of what I talked about at CogSciSci yesterday.

TLDR: SLOP shouldn’t just be LOTS of questions – we should carefully consider what questions to ask and when. CogSciSci have a great free module on writing SLOP.

Bridge to SLOP

Between your explanation and students doing SLOP, you need to bridge the gap through guided practice.

Do a/some worked example(s)

May then do side-by-side examples or faded examples (or may combine worked, side-by-side and faded into one).

Faded, side-by-side examples, starting with a worked example.
Side-by-side cell labelling. I’d do the left hand one as a worked example.

Planning SLOP

Vastly over plan the number of Qs so that students have opportunity for extra practice if they need it, or you can move them on if they don’t (this has the added benefit of being a morale boost – “you’re doing great, skip to Q15!”).

Writing SLOP

Really try to approach the topic from as many different angles as possible.

If doing calculations, ensure it’s not just blocked practice of one equation (although maybe that is beneficial for the first few equations at KS3). Interleave old equations, conceptual questions, annotations of imperfect calculations.

Think very carefully about the numbers you choose. When do you want answers to be decimals? Do you really want to argue about recurring decimals in this lesson? I always start with integers that divide to give other integers to make the first calculations very simple.

(The big list of things I try to do at the bottom)

Ways to check students whilst SLOPing

BOX questions – ask students to draw a box around their answer to a particular question (I write these as Q4 BOX: [insert question here] and train students to do this). It allows you to pick them out.

Choose your numbers so that students shouldn’t need a calculator to begin with. Then just noticing a student using a calculator might indicate they’re doing something wrong e.g. choose numbers for division so that the correct way is easy, but dividing the numbers in the wrong order would need a calculator.

Find ways to encourage students to put their hands up (you could just give the answers and they’ll hopefully ask for support if they get it wrong, but lots of my students would just copy answers). Instead I give HINTs such as “the second decimal place is 5” or “The answers to Q1, Q2 and Q3 should add up to 12.7” or “The answer to each Q should be larger than the last”. Anything that gets students to say “Sir, I think I’ve got it wrong”.

Encouraging students to show their work

I put up 3 questions and ask them chose ONE QUESTION and to write their entire solution on mini whiteboards. I don’t explain why. I get them to swap with a partner and give their partner 10s to tell me which question was answered. The time limit means they don’t have time to calculate all of them and check so have to see it from the working out.

Ideas for calculation SLOP

Below is the big list of SLOP ideas, please get in touch to let me know what else you’d add (@tchillimamp on Twitter)

  • Vary order of variables within the question
  • Change units
  • Calculate some of the pieces (e.g. volume, mass, weight from previous knowledge)
  • Interleave declarative questions on concept (very important to have this)
  • Full sentence questions (copy and complete)
  • Introduce relevant, but redundant, information into the question
  • Ask for examples of the concept in life
  • Variation theory, changing one variable very slightly at a time — then get students to write a conclusion to link calculations to concept
  • Repeat worked/faded/side-by-side with rearrangements
  • Misconceptions — refutation texts (some people say that… however this is wrong. In fact…)
  • Annotate solutions with because, but, so
  • Estimates
  • Goal-free calculations
  • Interpreting graphs
  • Interleave other, relevant calculations
  • Multiple calculations
  • Non-calculable calculations