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The National Forum for Middle Grades Reform

Mathematics Improvement Toolkit


Module 1 - Case 1: David Orcutt

This mini-case provides an introduction to the use of cases as a reflective professional development tool, and is not intended
for sustained use. This also uses student work examples to explore understandings and misconceptions around fractions,
percents, and decimals.


David Orcutt is one of two 7th grade mathematics teachers in the lone junior high school for this
district. The district serves students from a largely rural agricultural and recreational area which
includes two villages. The school is a 7-8 school in a small school building next to the district’s
high school. In fact, a number of teachers are on the faculty of both schools to provide appropriate
coverage for topic areas. David has four classes among his other duties as the 7th grade advisor
and a track coach.

In his three years of teaching, he has learned that students coming in from the two K-6 schools in
the district (as well as a small but growing migrant labor population that is becoming a more
permanent fixture in the area) often have varying skills and understanding in mathematics. To
understand each of the student’s abilities and conceptions about basic topics, he has devised a
two week introduction to his course which addresses a different topic from the grade 4-6
standards each day or two, and uses this to establish norms for classroom participation, work
expectations, etc. The following sample of classroom interaction starts by asking students to take
out the homework task from the previous day, which was really a pre-assessment of sorts to
understand student knowledge of decimals, percents, and fractions.

David starts class by greeting all students at the door as they come in, and has a problem on the
board, which he reminds students to get a paper out and copy the problem down after they have
taken their homework out from the previous day. Meanwhile, he checks attendance and missing
assignments from the previous day, and then begins wandering through the aisles to see what
students are doing with the problems on the board, and whether they have their homework out.
He quickly scans the homework for each student, noting whether they have all twenty problems
done, and whether they have them numbered, the problem written down, and the answer
underlined for each. Most do, which results in him writing a “10” on the top of the page, but a
couple did not finish, receiving 5 and 7 points respectively, and three others had 3 points deducted
from these for not organizing their work properly. For these, David underlined a few of the answers
they had in their work that were not already underlined, and had jotted down the words “show your
steps” on some of these papers. While doing this, he marked on a copy of a grade sheet the
points for the homework assignment for each student.

Following this fairly quick review (which took four minutes from the time he started moving around
the room), he told the students they would review the answers of the homework. He circled the
room as he called out problem numbers, and would look around the room to see who was looking
at him (or not) and would call out the names of students to state what their answer was. Once one
student gave the answer, he would call on two other students and ask if they came up with the
same answer as the original student, or if they had something different. At every problem in which
all students agreed on the answer, he would quickly ask if any other answers were out there, and
unless a quick response came, he would say “correct” and repeat the problem number and
answer and move on. When students disagreed, he would quickly survey students in the room to
see which of the stated answers other students got, or, what other answers people came up with,
and unless it seemed that one was an outlier, would note that problem number of the whiteboard,
so that the class could go through it after checking homework. Six of the problems were noted on
the board, and he they asked, problem by problem, if there were any volunteers to go to the board
and do the problem. Two of the problems had no volunteers, so he asked one student what
answer they got for the problem, then asked if anyone had a different answer, and had both (or
more if several different answers arose) go up to the board to write their explanation or procedures
for the problem.

One of the two problems that had contested answers was the following:

Emma was asked to order the following numbers from smallest to largest: .43, 8%, and .7

Emma’s order was: .7, 8%, .43

Is she correct? Why or why not?
Two students wrote their answers on the board initially as shown below.

Student D: No because .43 is just about half and .7 is almost full and 8% is like 8 1s. .43 .7 8%

Student F: She is correct because 7 is the smallest and 43 is the biggest

The following dialog is taken from this activity:

DO: “So, what do we think everyone. We have two answers here. What do we think?”

Student H: “[D] is right. Emma didn’t get the right answer.”

DO: “And why is that?”

H: “Well, sort of right. Emma didn’t get the right answer, but [D] didn’t get it right either.”

DO: “[F], what you you think? You said Emma got the right answer. Explain what you said.”

F: “Well, the numbers get larger, um, in Emma’s order, and, um, the dots and percents are the
same cause you can change from dots to percents and so I, um put them in order, and so, um, 7
is smallest, then 8, then 43.”

H: “But they aren’t the same. Dots are two places different.”

DO: “[D], what do you think? You said Emma wasn’t right, just like [H], but she said you weren’t
either. What do you think?”

D: “I was just trying to see what they are close to, and .43 is close to .5, which is a half. .7 is
bigger. It is nearly a whole thing, and definitely more than half. The percents don’t have the
decimals, so I thought 8% is like 8 whole things. But I think [H] is kinda right, um, ‘cause you have
to do move the dot two places.”
DO: “Let’s see what someone else says. [G], how about you? What did you say?”
G: “I said Emma was wrong. It should be 8%, .43, .7 in that order because I put them all in

DO: “Aha. There we go. You put them all in percents. All in the same units. That is exactly what
we want to do when we have decimals and percents together is put them in the same units. [H], is
that what you meant? Is that what you did?”

H: “Yeah, I made them all the same, but I didn’t do percents. I changed percents to fractions, so
they were all some part of 100.”

DO: “Excellent. There we go. We want to change them all to the same, and the best way is to
change them to fractions. Since we have percents, we should change them to parts of 100. That
is what percents really are. They are parts of 100. So, when you have all of your test right, for
instance, you have 100%. You get everything out of 100. So, how do we want to change these to
fractions of 100?”

C: (called on after raising hand) “If it is one place. like .7 was, that is 7 out of 10, because the first
place is tenths. Then hundredths. so we could add a zero to the end of that, because .7 is the
same as .70, and that is seventy out of a hundred.”

DO: “Great. That’s exactly it. Are we okay? Can we move on?”

No responses, so they go on to the next question. Shortly thereafter, David moves through the
other answers, and to the boardwork task. This task is written on the board already. It was
modified by David from a task he had seen in a workshop focusing on differentiation, which was
addressing visual learners. The original task from the workshop is below.

Shade 10 of the small squares in the rectangle shown below. Using the diagram, explain how to determine
each of the following: a) the percent area that is shaded, b) the decimal part of the area that is shaded, and
c) the fractional part of the area that is shaded.

David’s modified version that is on the board is the following:

Shade 10 of the boxes in the rectangle shown below (same rectangle). Find the percent area that is shaded.

David says that, in the interest of time, he is going to go through it, and asks students to watch.
He shades in 10 of the rectangles, picking them at random, and shading individual rectangles.
DO: “So, it really doesn’t matter which ones I pick, it will be the same. What I really care about is
how many total ones we have. [A], how many total boxes are there?”

A: “40”

DO: “And how did you get that?”

A: “I counted ten across, and there are four rows, so it was four times ten.”

DO: “Exactly... or you could count everyone of them if you didn’t figure that out. So, what next
(looking at A)?”

A: “Well, it is a quarter. There are 10 out of 40, and if we write that as a fraction (DO pauses A with
a hand gesture and writes this on the board as the fraction 10/40, and then motions for him to
proceed)... so yeah, that’s it. And then you can cross out the zeros, cause 10 out of 40 is like 1
out of 4, and that’s a quarter. And a quarter is always 25%.”

DO: “Exactly. Does everyone see that? Once [A] got it to a fraction, he could easily change it to a
percent. If it was a fraction you didn’t know already, like... suppose we had 12 shaded boxes
instead? You could make it 12 out of 40, and then cross multiply to figure out the number out of
100 (as he draws on the board ‘12/40 = n/100’ and then proceeds to write, ’12 x 100 = n x 40’),
and so in this case you could multiple 12 and 100...[A], what is that?”

A: “Twelve and a hundred? That’s one thousand two hundred.”

DO: “and divide that by 40 and we would get 30. Thirty percent... if it was twelve out of 100.” Do
you all see that?

The class seems to agree quietly, and David moves on to the next part of class...