Wednesday, December 14, 2011

TIES Presentation

Yesterday, after spending my morning teaching like usual, I headed over to join my colleagues in a presentation about the use of Google Docs in the classroom.  This year I've changed the way my class works and been doing more with Moodle, so I haven't used Google Docs as much.  Searching through all of my old notes reminded me how great they are.

Use 1: Warm-Ups
I used to have students write their answer to a problem I had on the board.  Then I'd walk around, making sure they all had the answer, then go over the answer.  I spent most of my time managing the scoring or trying to get students started  There was no time to work with students.

Enter Google Forms.  Students walk into class then open the form.  It looks the same way every day.
When they are finished, they hit send.  I can choose to have a response pop up with the answer I was looking for or directions about what to do next.  I can spend my time walking around working with students on the problems.  I don't collect any papers, don't have to pass anything back.

Better yet- I can have instant answer analysis.  On my screen it looks like this: 

I can see who turned it in on time, who has a complete and thorough answer, who copied and pasted from a website, and who really needs some more help on isosceles triangles (like the student who said a triangle with two equal sides).  I can scan through all the answers in about a minute.  When it comes time to teach the class or do the classwork, I can decide who to go work with first because I know they are missing the previous lesson. 

Use 2:  Pre-tests
I don't always love them.  I feel like kids know more than they show, but sometimes, when there is a topic I am convinced they know, or, one they think they know but I'm pretty positive they don't, I use them.  For me, pre-tests are best when they kids know where they are and I get a sense where the class is and individuals are.   But, that doesn't mean I love grading them (and I don't really need to, since it is just to inform my own teaching) and I always want to reduce my paper pile.  

Enter: Google Forms 
I just set up a Google Form with fill in the blanks for each question.  I still give the paper test, or a pdf of the paper test, and the kids can do work on paper, but the final answers are entered into the form.  This means I get a quick idea of whether or not they ended up getting the answer, and can look at their work if I want to. 

I can look at the spreadsheet or the summary.  I also liked letting the students see the summary on pre-tests too.  Then the one kid who put 18 instead of 17 knows right away that he was probably just making a simple error.  The student who put 34 realizes that they forgot something.  Or if the whole class gets the question wrong, then they can see that.  When I look at the summary, if I scroll over a response, it tells me the name associated with it, so forms fits my goals of knowing where the whole class is, and checking on individual students. 

None of this is revolutionary, but it made/makes my class a lot more streamlined and easier for me.  And I rarely get stuck under piles of grading. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Awesome Day

Today was one of those days.  Everything went well, and even the things that didn't, well I don't even remember them.

My Geometry classes are diving into proofs, only they don't really seem to know it.  Last year proofs went horribly.  The kids hated it and fought me every step of the process. "TWO Columns?  WHY!"  "FLOW CHARTS! Those are stupid. "  "PARAGRAPHS! You want me to write, like actual sentences, in math class?  No way."   This year, we slowly crept into proofs with the points lines, planes project.  Then on Monday, we reviewed the best slides for each one.  Students who had slides selected were beaming with pride.  Students who weren't selected were still trying to argue why their interpretation was correct or why their photo was better.  (I got to them! They cared! In math class of all places. And they cared about whether or not their justification and representation of a postulate about undefined terms was best.  Whodathunkit).

Yesterday, we did some more Always, Sometimes, Never statements and had the "Best of PLP Project" and the list of postulates as a guide.  Explaining that what we are doing today is just like the project, except instead of taking pictures and making diagrams as proof, we have a set of statements that mathematicians have all agreed are true.   It went fantastically. The students who were still shaky after the project were rock solid with the postulates to ground them in what was always true.

Today, we kept with the postulates and added in two column proofs and talked about algebraic statements.  Not one student even made a peep to complain about the two columns.  No one asked why we needed to write a reason for every step.  They just bought into the idea of really being precise and explaining everything.  I really like coming from a place where they are confident (solving for x) and adding in the new things.  I made sure to have a problem set that grew in difficulty.  It started with x+2=9, then added in coefficients (6x+3=15), then multiple x terms on one side, then x's on both side, then some challenge problems of solving systems of equations.  They haven't formally seen solving systems of equations, but the students who reached those problems were able to figure out what to do in order to solve by using their list of properties of equality.  I know they are motivated and engaged learners, but they figured out systems on their own!  That was awesome to see.  And students who did not have a strong algebra foundation were able to pick up on the pattern quickly.  That brought a big smile to my face.

In Stats, a student who I used to have a great connection with has been battling with me all November.  I'm part of the problem, it's probably easy for her to tell that I'm frustrated and angry because I am.  With all the time we've put in together (including several Saturdays), she seemed to be throwing it in my face, with a lot of foul language and attitude to top it off.  Today, magically, it was all better.  She worked all class long, asked questions, and was generally pleasant.

The other students in the class finally saw the point of this cardiovascular project we've been working on all week (will post more later).  "Ohhh this isn't so bad.  The questions are short and help us to figure out what is important in the article.  And the math parts are mostly review.  The only new part is clicking on a different type of graph in Excel.  I guess we have to do a lot of thinking too, but that's not so bad.  We have all the pieces, we just need to decide how they go together."  I couldn't have said it better myself.  Way to go guys!

Last week I was sad about the number of students with missing assignments or who needed to retake quizzes, but this week, they are getting their act together.  Yesterday a student stayed after who I keep trying to work with in class, but he brushes me off with, "I'm good.  No thanks."  We went over a quiz and he said, "Man, if it could just be this fast in class, I'd get everything."  When I said, it can be like this, thats what I'm asking to do when I say, "How's it going?" or "Need any help?"  He got this confused look, and just said, "Oh.  Well then definitely.  Let's do it!"

Similarly, in geometry, I have two students who I can see are struggling, one of whom just get angry and talks about how class sucks, the other comes to class late and avoids work by trying to get kicked out.  All year I've been trying to engage with them but they weren't ready.  Today, both of them called me over and asked for help, and totally got what was going on after some one on one time.  I ignored the other kids for a good chunk of class, but the others were ok.   Those two were on task the entire work time.  

Another geometry student who almost failed last quarter and squeaked by with a D has an A.  He turned in one of the best Points, Lines, Planes projects and came today to study for a quiz that isn't until Friday.  He didn't realize he had an A and was beaming when I told him.  Then it was my turn to blush when he showed me how he was using Notebook and the way I taught him to make 3-D drawings for a history project.  Another student who failed last quarter with about 7% has a 97%!   He finished his homework on time, caught up on the work from when he was absent, and left with a big, smile.

All in all a great great day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Process vs. Product

In the last post I wrote about one of my students getting pretty upset about me not telling him if he was right or not.  When he told me, "I've never had a math teacher be like this,"  I wondered if there was an emphasis on math.  Are his other teachers like this?  Is it just math that he expects to be delivered in neat, compartmentalized chunks of notes, problem sets, and correct answers?  This was a student who aces every test and project, so his reluctance wasn't an issue of not comprehending the statements or assignment.  The discomfort he felt with not having me tell the correct answer is exactly the reason I wanted to do the project this way.  I could have done the same project but hinted, and suggested, and told them if they were right.  If done that way, I'd guess that they students would earn better marks on a multiple choice test about points, lines, and planes, but then they would still think that there was one correct answer.  They wouldn't have that same feeling as when Ms. A and I debated if there was such a thing as two coinciding planes.  If there was, would that count as an intersection?  

In forcing them to actually invest, to think, to struggle, the math was getting to them.  I had more kids be frustrated, throw fits, and tell me they were quitting.  But they didn't.  I told them to pick an answer, and move forward with it.  If they got more stuck, they needed to back up and try a different answer.  Or talk it out with a classmate.

It was also really eye-opening to me to see how different the process focused approach is from being product oriented.  In the past I have claimed to be process oriented.  My school is art focused so I hear a lot of discussion about being process oriented.  Typically it goes hand in hand with a discussion about how students work at different paces and having rigid deadlines or only accepting one format of answer is stymying creative output.  As a result I decided to allow students to retake tests, to emphasize that the process of learning is important, not learning by a deadline.  In actuality, that is still product oriented.  There is a right answer (a product) that I want them to reach, and I don't care how they get there or how long it takes, just that they get there.  I also decided to allow for multiple formates on most of my projects.  During reviews students can turn in videos or word problems or a review game or a set of textbook problems.  Again, I felt like I was being process oriented, but there was still an outcome fixed in my mind.  I wanted them to review.  I didn't care how they did that, just that they did.

The execution of the project was the first time I feel like I have actually been process focused.  I fought every urge to tell them "No! That's not right!"  I fought (almost) every urge to hint, "Hmmm.  Maybe look at number 2 again,"  or "Well, do you really think a plane never ends?

Ultimately, with the recap next week, there is a product.  I want the students to know that if two planes intersect, they always intersect in a line.  In a math class, I can't deny that there is content, some nugget of information I am hoping that they will learn.  In showing a "best" answer, I hope that I am not diminishing my initial goal, for the students to learn that it's ok to struggle in math, but that they need to push forward and argue for why they think their answer is correct.

The one time I broke down was when a student had a fantastic photo of why a plane never had an edge (I'll upload it once he turns his project in).  He thought the statement "Planes have an edge" was always true.  I asked why and he said, "well it's impossible for something to not end."  I asked if lines ended or went on forever and ever.  He said, "well lines go on forever and ever," so I countered that it was possible for things to not end.  He thought for a minute and said, "So if two lines cross in an x and they both go on forever and ever and you fill in the space in between the lines with like paper or more lines or something, then is that a plane?  Wait!  That's like the graphs we make.  OH! that's called the coordinate plane isn't it?  Is that why it's called the coordinate plane? Is that a plane?"    I initially felt bad that I was nudging him, but after that grand epiphany I was grinning ear to ear.   He was visualizing and making connections and it was beautiful.  Not bad for last period on a Friday.

Teaching Points, Lines, and Planes

The time has finally come! I get to teach the lesson I spent weeks developing!  For a bit of background:  see my previous post about the PCMI project.  Also: I teach 3 sections of geometry.  My co-worker, Ms. A, teaches 2 additional sections.  All of our 9th graders are enrolled in geometry except for a few students who took it online last year.  There are a few sophomores, juniors, and seniors in the classes as well, typically students from other districts who still have Algebra in the 9th grade.   We both taught the project at the same time.

When Ms. A and I decided to teach this lesson we wanted it to be as an introduction to proofs.   As a result, we wanted to emphasize them arguing for whatever they felt was correct.  The photos, diagrams, and sentences would be their supporting statements.

I started the activity by going through the definitions worksheet (their givens).  I changed the third column to be "real-world approximations."  I have a number of students who would need the scaffolding of having a list of what points, lines, and planes could be represented with.  I was really glad we did that because when students were struggling I just sent them back to the definitions sheet.  I was originally going to have the students use geogebra to make the diagrams, but I didn't ever really teach them how.  I left it open as an option, but encourages them to do it by hand or use the shapes/lines tools in SMART notebook (which they all have installed on their computers).   I really wish I had spent more pre-activity time teaching them how to make the drawings and explaining why they were important to know how to do.  Ms. A spent more time on explaining the drawings, so we shall see if she gets better results.

When I was explaining the project I spelled it out really clearly that part of my goal was to introduce them to a new way of thinking about mathematics.  During this unit, and going forward, there might not be one right answer.  I don't really care whether they pick always, sometimes, or never, as long as their photos, diagrams, and sentences back up their argument.  I would not be telling students if they were right or wrong at any point.  In fact, I wouldn't really be offering much help at all.  They have teammates, classmates, a definitions sheet, a textbook, and everything online.  

I explained that there were a few statements that were purposefully unclear.  They needed to choose an interpretation and run with it.  I talked about how my math teacher friend and I argued for hours at math camp and that Ms. A and I got into a fight about the answer to one of the statements the night before.  One smart alek asked if we threw punches or just swore at each other.   When I said, "neither.  It was pretty civilized,"  he turned to the class and said, "So it was both. They totally cussed each other out.  Ms A took a swing, but Ms. W knocked her out just after." At least he was loyal and picked me to be the winner.  

Throughout the project they kept trying to get me to tell them, but I stayed strong. One student was having a hard time with "Two lines that don't intersect are always parallel."  He recognized that with the lines being on separate planes they could never intersect and not be parallel and wanted to know if that was right.  I kept evading his demands to tell him if he was right and he got quite upset.  Eventually he told me, "I've never had a math teacher be like this.  Math has an answer.  You know the answer.  JUST TELL ME! Isn't it your job to teach?  You're not doing anything"  I just reiterated that in mathematics, people don't know if what they are researching is correct or not, they just have to make assertions and proceed.  After he calmed down and said, "Well, we haven't really talked about two planes before, so I'm going to assume it means one plane and go with Always True."  At the time, I was a bit sad that he went that route, but if I'm saying it's about their thought process and argument, I have to be really pleased with that moment.   He got over his frustration, chose a path, came up with an argument, and worked it out, which is what I wanted.

In being more hands-off, I know that a lot of the groups have some major misconceptions.  But I'm ok with that.  Points, Lines, Planes, and those crazy drawings of them intersecting etc are always a confusing topic for my students.  I'd rather them learn that math can have that fuzzy I don't know if I'm right or not, but I'm going to go with it feeling too.  After we come back from break, I will use Kate Nowak's wrap-up activity of presenting the "best" 10 statements and have them correct 4 slides with misconceptions.

Class has been a bit messy, but I'm pleased with the progress and the project.  Of course, the day that the kids are laying on the floor (a line on a plane), rearranging photos on the wall, and wandering the high school with cameras, is the day that the principal wanders by, the vice-principal stops in for an observation, and the tour group of potential families parks itself in front of the math rooms rooms.  It was a controlled chaos.  Ms. A was pretty calm about it and reminded me that with projects, things look a bit messier, and that's part of the point.  Messy is ok.  Neither my vice principal or principal said a word to me about it.  Didn't ask why math class needed 10 digital cameras or why the students were all over the school.   So my worries were unfounded and I love that they were unfounded.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

My PCMI Geometry Project

I attended Park City Mathematics Institute Summer Secondary Teachers Program.  That is a mouthful and luckily the PCMI folks love acronyms (We had a presentation on all the acronyms the first day.  Not even joking a little bit.)

Anyways, part of the SSTP is spent in Working Groups of 8-10 teachers and 2 teacher leaders.  We were giving 8 hours a week to fiddle around and come up with something that would be useful to the larger mathematics community.

I had the pleasure of working with Joey and Barb.  Joey and I came up with a project to help students better visualize points, lines, and planes while learning how to draw 2-D drawings of 3-D situations and use Geogebra.   I haven't been able to try the project yet (one-to-one laptop program doesn't launch until next week), but several other PCMI-ers in the math teacher blogosphere have given it a go and written about their experiences.

Click HERE for PiCrust's review

Click HERE for f(t)'s initial description
Click HERE for f(t)'s follow-up

Sooo exciting.  I can't wait to try it.

Geometry- Themes!

I spent most of the summer designing a moodle and had arranged my topics like a textbook and most geometry courses.
  • Basic Introduction (Undefined terms, parallel/perpendicular lines)
  • Logic
  • Triangles (Types, Theorems)
  • Polygons (Regular Polygons, Quadrilaterals)
  • Similarity/Proportion
  • Right Triangles (Pythagorean, Trig Identities)
  • Area/Volume
  • Circles

But... if I'm going to be breaking away from a textbook ...why am I making it look and feel exactly like a textbook?  I have limited time and want to keep my sanity, so I am using a handful of worksheets and direct instruction and at points my course will just be a textbook in disguise.  BUT I want to keep pushing away from that into a format that fits my students and fit my school.

I want to arrange my whole geometry class thematically.  I can do this.    After 5 minutes of independently trying to list the themes of geometry I went to my friend google.   And google pulled through.  I came to the website for the University of Calgary's Committee on Logic Education. (Linked HERE)

While the website isn't super fancy and the examples of what each theme would contain at each grade level weren't very helpful, I do like the shell it outlines.

Here's an outline of what my co-teacher and I came up with (Linked HERE)

MCTM Presentation

Here's a link to the Prezi  I used during my MCTM presentation


Back in the Action

It's been a long time since I last blogged.  Once the school year started up I entered crazy teacher mode and did the usual September "eat-prep-teach-after school club- prep- eat- sleep" routine.  As soon as I started to have a handle on life... then came parent teacher conferences... and following that came an abundance of missing and late work.  I'm finally caught up on grading and have half an idea of what I'm teaching, so hopefully I'll start to blog more regularly again.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Geometry Problems

When I was assigned to teach geometry last year I thought I would love it.   It seemed so simple.  It's just shapes!  There aren't many numbers! It's pretty!  Being at an arts school I felt like I got the easy assignment.  Connecting Algebra 2 to art was a bit of a stretch at times, but geometry?  That stuff is art.

Oh how naive I was.  For sure some parts were easy, but the class ended up being really haphazard.   I had some interesting projects (I'll upload them when I remember) that I will modify and reuse, but I didn't love the way I structured the class.

I also had a hard time getting the course to be at the right difficulty level.  And a lot of the stuff was review.  Gee, a square has four sides of the same length?  Most know that.  But it's supposed to be new and fancy because I'm throwing in the term "congruent" and some x's here and there.  A square has 4 congruent sides.  Much more high school level.  Label one side of the square "x+7" and the other side "3x+1" and somehow the problem is extra hard.

Then there was stuff that was crazy hard for my students.  Let me introduce you to: Angles of Elevation and Depression . My students had limited algebra ability so problems that had two variables instantly upped the ante.  Add in word problems requiring the students to draw pictures, and multiple set ups of trigonometric rations and we have a recipe for disaster.  Here is an example from IrrationalCube's Blog

And during particular units (cough, cough, quadrilaterals, cough cough, circles) there was so much to cover that I just rocketed through everything. I felt like I was just throwing theorems at the students.  On a good day they "discovered" the theorem themselves.  But most of the stuff seemed so disconnected and not necessary.  When was the last time you needed to solve a problem like these:

If your answer was...high school geometry or ....the GRE....then I think you fall in with the majority of Americans.

I haven't quite come up with solutions yet, but this is the first year I'm reteaching a class, so I'm excited for the opportunity to figure it out.  I'll be splitting the class with another teacher (she has 2 sections, I have 2 sections) so I'm really grateful to have someone next door to bounce ideas off of.   While I still don't think I'm in love with geometry I'm ready to give it a go.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stat Class- Standards Part 2

After diving into the MN standards I broke them down into 68 little nuggets of understanding.  Small, manageable, bite-sized pieces. 

These standards become:

These are the first two standards.  As the standards progress (and honestly as I got lazy/tired/bored of actually doing work) I got less specific.    I still need to do some refining to actually get my concept list finalized, but I feel pretty confident that we can accomplish this in a year.

Moreover, while Minnesota seems to really not want math common core...the standards are VERY VERY similar.

For example: 
S-ID.4. Use the mean and standard deviation of a data set to fit it to a normal distribution and to estimate population percentages. Recognize that there are data sets for which such a procedure is not appropriate. Use calculators, spreadsheets, and tables to estimate areas under the normal curve.

Perfectly matches: Use the mean and standard deviation of a data set to fit it to a normal distribution (bell-shaped curve) and to estimate population percentages. Recognize that there are data sets for which such a procedure is not appropriate. Use calculators, spreadsheets and tables to estimate areas under the normal curve. 
On the whole, MN standards are pretty closely aligned with the common core.  Common Core included expected outcomes and occasionally went a bit more in depth into a topic, but overall, very similar.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Stats Class- Standards

I started out by looking up the state standards in Data & Probability.  Minnesota has not yet adopted the Common Core Standards.   We just adopted new math standards in 2007 in which all 8th grade students must take Algebra 1.  High school students cannot receive credit for Algebra 1.  Many people in the Minnesota Department of Education and many Minnesota teachers feel that the state standards are more rigorous than the common core standards.  Additionally, the math standards are not scheduled to be revised until 2015, and making changes before hand would require legislative action.  I thought I saw something in an article about the end of the shutdown that the legislature approved changing the standards sooner, but now I can't find the article.  In case Minnesota ends up adopting those standards and so I can know what is relevant to teachers outside of Minnesota, I looked up the Common Core Data & Probability standards.  Then for good measure, I took a gander at the AP Statistics Standards.

In summary, I don't see how high schools can just squeeze those things into other classes.  My geometry textbook had a chapter of probability lessons tacked on at the end.  Yeah, like I have spare time in a geometry class.

AP Statistics Standards: (found here)
Common Core Statistics & Probability Standards: (found here)
MN Statistics & Probability Standards: (found here)

Ignoring the fact that the AP test only briefly covers probability, at least it is easy to read and decipher what the heck IS covered. I've been using the MN 2007 standards since I have started teaching so I really like the boxed layout and the occasional insertion of samples, but man, those standards are packed.  There are only 15 standards, but they each cover like 5 things.  For example,

"Describe a data set using data displays, including box-and-whisker plots; describe and compare data sets using summary statistics, including measures of center, location and spread. Measures of center and location include mean, median, quartile and percentile. Measures of spread include standard deviation, range and inter-quartile range. Know how to use calculators, spreadsheets or other technology to display data and calculate summary statistics." 

First you have to know all these ways to describe data, and compare them, and measures of spread, and center, and oh ps, all that technology stuff.  At least it is specific and tells you exactly which measures of spread and center students/teachers are responsible for.

Then, there is the common core. The standards are a bit more broken down than MN, but some are still biggies.   Like this one.  You know it's big because it comes with parts a-c

S-ID.6. Represent data on two quantitative variables on a scatter plot, and describe how the variables are related.
a. Fit a function to the data; use functions fitted to data to solve problems in the context of the data. Use given functions or choose a function suggested by the context. Emphasize linear, quadratic, and exponential models.
b. Informally assess the fit of a function by plotting and analyzing residuals.
c. Fit a linear function for a scatter plot that suggests a linear association.

At first glance that doesn't sound too bad, its just scatter plots and fitting linear functions to a scatter plot.  But then there is the line about "Emphasize linear, quadratic, and exponential models."  Knowing my students they will remember what linear is, but not how to write an equation and will flop what the slope is an the y-intercept is.  They will recall that quadratics was that really, really long and difficult unit.  And we just scraped the surface on exponential. 

Then there are others that are super vague. "S-IC.6. Evaluate reports based on data." Ooookkkk.  Evaulate how?  What kinds of reports?  What kinds of data? Awesome.  I get the general idea and I think that yes, students should be able to evaluate reports based on data, but some clarification would be nice.  I think I heard that specifications and examples were coming out soonish.

So where does this leave me, the first year stats teacher?  A little lost.  I'm going to build my skills set around the MN standards because that's what my students will be tested on. 

Now to actually do that.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Summer's Almost Over

I had envisioned writing a series of blog posts reflecting on my classroom practices.  I made it through my posts on goal setting and started working on one on classroom management.  However, I'm really excited about the statistics class I will be teaching and I'd much rather think about that.  (I will keep calling it statistics, but it really is a data/stats/probability course).

My school has never had a statistics class before,  we do not own textbooks for it, and will not be purchasing textbooks for it.  I have been given carte blanche by administrators.  I can do anything I want.  I have never really felt constrained by curriculum before and tended to do my own thing, but not having a textbook to default to when I haven't planned a killer lesson or to look to for guidance is both empowering and frightening.

What am I going to do with them for a full year?

Well, the students in the class will be juniors and seniors.  The seniors have already taken their state math graduate exam, but many did not pass.  The juniors will take the semi-high stakes test in April (if you don't pass you can keep trying, but you need to pass to graduate).  I had many of the juniors last year, in Algebra II, and know that many students are far behind where the state wants them to be.  The majority of students have computational difficulties (heavy reliance on calculators for anything calculation with positives and negatives), low math self esteem ( "I have no idea how I passed geometry.  I should have failed."  "I don't know how to do anything"), and difficulty connecting concepts.  To their credit, the majority of the students are technologically savy (they picked up excel in a flash and made awesome videos for our review archives).  Moreover, they are willing experimenters and went along with just about everything I asked them to do.  Problems written on the windows?  OK Miss...sounds like "fun".  Taking a test through google docs?  Sure no problem.  They are very flexible, they trust that I am helping them to learn math, and a result will try earnestly.

I'm fairly certain I will be testing their ability to be flexible and try new things with this statistics course.

Rough ideas:

Review of all concepts on the state exam

  • Post a video/smart-board display of me working through a sample problem
  • Have a "pre-test" on Fridays to assess where individual students are with the concept
  • Examine pre-tests over weekend to inform creation of classwork/grouping
  • Use Tuesdays to refresh/relearn the concept
Lingering questions:

  • What order?  Should I post the video before the pre-test so students can jog their memory?  Should I post it after to get a real picture 
  • If the students didn't understand or store the information for recall the first time, what am I going to do differently? 
  • How can I feasibly do this without over-burdening myself with work and grading?  
  • Am I overemphasizing the state test? 
Be Organized, Help Students to Organize
  • Students have two notebooks- 1 for classwork, 1 for the test review.  Last year I let students do work anywhere, looseleaf, computers, anything, and stuff got lost.  The few students that had been using notebooks could flip back to past work easily, find late work, and turn in multiple assignments at once.  On the rare occasion that I mark something as "missing" that really was turned in, it is very easy for the student to find it and show it to me. 
  • Students will create a Stats Class Folder on their desktop and I will tell them how to name notes, handouts, etc. 
  • My prep hour is at the end of the day.  That time needs to be used to grade work and update the online gradebook.  At the LATEST I want to be giving work back the following Monday. 
Lingering Questions
  • How/what am I going to be grading?
  • Am I keeping with my school's paper-free vision by reverting back to notebooks/paper tests?  I really tried to go all digital last year, but it is a hassle to open up 70+ versions of the same assignment, grade it on the computer, switch screens to enter the grade online, and if there is feedback on the document, manually return it to the student's desktop.  Until the return feature is improved, I think I need to stick to paper. 
Standards Based Grading
  • I've always wanted to use SBG.  I have a great tracker and always start off the year using it.  My tests were broken down by concept and I'm comfortable grading in chunks like that.  I allowed for reassessment. 
  • Be more open with the students about SBG.  I was tempted to have a shared google doc between me and each student where we could each update progress on individual concepts.  However that would be management nightmare.  I think I will start off the school year by listing each of the statistics concepts in the online gradebook.  In the front of their notebook they will staple a folded copy of the statistics concepts followed by all of the concepts we will be covering in Tuesday's review day.  
  • Have a firm set of reassessment guidelines.  Students must correct work on quizzes/tests/HW before reassessment.  In one day, I can either work with them to learn the concept,  or give the test, not both.  They can only reassess once per day.  They need to make corrections to the reassessment and pass my verbal pre-test before attempting again.   With some exceptions, reassessment window ends two weeks after the original test was given.  

Sunday, July 24, 2011


 I want to end my summer by reflecting on different aspects of my classroom, how my thinking has progressed since I began as a teacher, and what I want to do for next year.  I don't imagine this to be terribly interesting for others to read, but it's something I really want to do.  Once the school year starts up I think I'll switch more towards what I'm doing in my classroom.

Teaching Fellow training makes it really clear that we need a BHAG for our class.  What is a BHAG you ask?  A Big Hairy Audacious Goal.  Something you need to make big risks in order to achieve.  Something that motivates you and your class to keep driving throughout the year.  Teaching Fellow’s suggested goals, likely influenced by Teach for America, included things like “Students will earn 80% proficiency on each learning target” or “80% of students will pass the state exam.” 

I don’t know why 80% was the magic number, but those goals never sat well with me.  But in my first year, I dutifully followed my training and posted my goal in large font above my blackboard.   I taught all boys that year, so I posted a football field with a moveable football for each current learning target to show progress. I narrated the progressions like a sports announcer and they loved it.  They were into it.  The boy cheered when, as a class, they improved in solving an equation for x and progressed from the 20 yard line (20% proficiency) to the 55 yard line, to the 90 yard line. They cared about where the football was and got sad when another class was closer to the end zone.   Ostensibly, they were invested in the improvements in math as well, but something still felt artificial about the whole set up and process.  

About 3 months in one student noticed “Hey Miss!! We never make it to the end zone.  Once we get close you change the learning target.  Why don’t you let us score?”  At the time my honest answer would have been, "Well...because that's what someone told me was a good idea."   I toyed with the idea of leaving all targets up and allowing the class to continue to improve, but that was really difficult to implement.  Is it realistic to strive for 100% mastery from 100% of the class?  How motivated would the students be if we wanted more but never got it?  In wanting anything less than 100% mastery from 100% of the class I was A teacher at my current school set the goal in the context of theater, “Would you go see a play where 80% of the cast knew 80% of the lines?  NO! It would be a horrible trainwreck to watch.  So why are trying to achieve that in your classroom?”

I started off Year 2 without any goals posted.  Only a sign with a quote stolen from my mentor teacher, “Mathematics: Taught as a Language, Applied as a Science, Appreciated as an Art.”  And that informally was my goal.  To have students understand that math needed to be learned like a language, to see that it had applications, but also to appreciate it, in any form and on any level.  After winter break I posted, “BIG GOALS:  Communicate Effectively.  Think Strategically.” I needed something more concrete, more visible for me to discuss with students and make clear connections to.  I liked that my goals were broad and applied beyond my math class.  I made it clear to students how striving towards these goals would help them in math and beyond.

My goals for next year aren't totally settled yet.  In my data and statistics class I want students to become fully aware of how powerful statistics are, when the are misused, and how to use them to enhance an argument.  I want them to leave class thinking, "Wow.... that was math class?  That was AWESOME!" I want to successfully integrate art in a non-trivial way.

I don't know what other classess I'll be teaching, but I think I'll keep something similar to "Communicate Effectively and Think Strategically." 

Things I’ve Learned #1:  I need to be true to myself.  I can’t do something in my class just because someone tells me it’s a good idea.  I don’t care how much research backs it, if it isn’t authentic to me, then it won’t work for my class.

Things I’ve Learned #2: I don’t like goals based around learning targets or portions of my class succeeding.  I do like goals that are more intangible.  The trouble with intangible goals is that they are hard to measure success.  How can I know if my students have learned to think strategically?

Here we go again...

I have considered writing a blog for a long time.  Initially my motivations were self-serving, I wanted to have a place to record my thoughts and track my development as a teacher.  For awhile I tried to go the old fashioned route and promised myself I would write in a journal at the end of each day.  There was no accountability and I felt awkward stashing a journal in my teacher’s desk and by the time I got home I wanted some distance from my school day.

Then during my summer at PCMI I realized what a great tool blogs were for connecting with other math educators.   My Google Reader is filled with different teacher blogs, so I figured I might as well throw my hat in the ring.