High Point Academy: Magic Behind the Data

I recently had the pleasure of observing one of Mr. Cutter’s math classes. Although I did not understand all of the mathematics behind the discussions, I did pick up on an undeniable type of magic occurring in the room, and it all started with a chess clock…

With about five minutes left in class, the students in Mr. Cutter’s room began to transition from working as a group on the day’s lesson to working individually on homework. As a teacher, I know about these transition times: the students sense an end, the teacher prepares for the next task, and in those few glorious moments, the students pounce on the ever slight – yet ever attractive – opportunity to waste time!

This class was no different, and immediately after Mr. Cutter gave his instructions to take out their homework materials, the students started the chatter. This part was no surprise. However, what came next shocked even me, a veteran teacher in my nineteenth year of teaching middle school.

Mr. Cutter pulled out a chess clock, held it up, gave a stern look…and the class silenced and began working right away. He next pulled up on the SmartBoard a very math-teacher-looking Excel Spreadsheet with numbers in the columns that I could not quite decipher.

After the students left, I had to ask Mr. Cutter about this mystical chess clock. He told me that he tracks productive and unproductive time using this chess clock, which has one side devoted to the productive time (green check marks) and the other side devoted to wasted class time (red X marks). He also tracks the transition times from one class to another. Using a very transparent data-collecting process, he keeps diligent records of each class period’s times and posts the spreadsheets for the students to view.

After he explained this system, I waited for what I assumed would be the finale of the conversation: the consequences for wasted time. What could it be that was motivating these students to cut back on their wasted time? What consequence was he threatening in order to spark such interest in students using their time wisely rather than frivolously? I waited to hear and imagined so many possibilities: lunch detention for time wasted, loss of free time on special days, deduction from behavior grades, or even discipline points! What could it be that was driving the students to self-monitor, self-regulate, and make such productive choices with their class time?

The answer? The data.

That’s it! The true magic of this system lies in the fact that once Mr. Cutter called attention to the behavior and provided an opportunity for self-reflection, they began making better choices. Quite a lesson – for the students and for the adults!

By the way, how many wasted minutes in Mr. Cutter’s math classes these days? The answer hovers around five… seconds.


High Point Academy, 1720 Kinneloa Canyon Road, Pasadena, (626) 798-8989 or visit www.highpointacademy.org.









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