Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Battle with Homework. Victory!

Traditional math class:

Bell rings.  Students might take out their homework and half listen to the teacher read off answers.  They may even hurriedly write down an answer in hopes of getting credit for scribbles resembling answers.  Any questions?  Great.  Here.  You do this, then this, and then this.  Here's your answer.  What else do you need help with?  Then, they pass in the homework to be graded by the teacher.  Usually very little feedback is given.  The homework will be placed in a stack for the teacher to place a check mark on after briefly looking to see if the work is complete.  Ten out of ten.  Good job.  Next paper.  Five out of ten.  When will this kid learn he needs to finish his assignments?  Enter the grades into the computer.  Fill in zeros for the kids who didn't turn in a paper.  WASH.  RINSE.  REPEAT.

Does this sound familiar?  Have you been in classrooms like this?  Aren't you tired of this endless cycle.  Are you the teacher in this scenario?  I was.  I was only because I didn't know any better.  Now I do.

And here is what my homework time looked like this morning: 

"Hey, take out your homework from last night on solving inequalities.  You should have checked your answers last night in the back of the book.  Now, I want you to check with your group mates.  Do you all have the same answers?  Oh, and hey, if you have questions.... ask your group peeps.  Lisa, get off of Facebook, your homework answers aren't there."  I then took attendance, attended to other minor details, then walked the room.  I checked in with each group.  I asked several students where their homework was.  When they responded they didn't do it.  I then asked, "Well, how can you help your peers if you don't do the work or how are they going to help you if you don't bring it?"  I walked around several times and soaked in the rich language the kids were using to help each other.  One final lap, this time with a pad of paper and pen in hand.  "What questions couldn't you and your group answer?"

43, 55, and 59.  Three questions.  That's all I could get from them.  They were so excited that they could answer most of the questions and they could explain it to each other!  By the final few groups, I just held up the pad of paper... Any others?  Nope.  Great!  Then I walked them through those three problems, but not all the way.  I got them to the spot where they could finish it on their own.  And I gave them 2 minutes to finish it up, check with their groups, and check the answer.

18 minutes into class and we were done with homework.  Some students still needed more time to finish up what they didn't complete.  However, they were going to leave class with the ability to do it on their own.

Today during lunch I wrote some feedback on their papers I collected.  But my writing feedback to them is not nearly as powerful as the feedback they gave each other.  BOOYAH!

The best thing I heard today in response to "How can you help your group if you didn't do your work?"  "Oh, but I still can.  I really understood this.  I just didn't have time to complete the homework.  Anna, get your homework.  Which one did you need help with?  See Mrs. Berg, I will still help.  And I promise to have my homework tomorrow."

The worst thing I did today:  I did the three problems.  I should have asked for volunteers to bring their work up on the doc camera and explain how they were able to figure it out.  There is always tomorrow!

How much more involved were my kids today?  Heck ya!  I'm doing this again!!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pick up the milk carton please.

Warning:  This post isn't really going to deal much with math.  I know, what a let down.  Well, maybe I will find a way to sneak it in.  Who knows? 

This year, my position has changed in my school.  It's exciting and scares the crap out of me at the same time.  I still teach two classes, but the rest of the day I am a math coach for the rest of the school with an emphasis on the math department.  It's exciting because I want to help my department be the best they can be.  I want to help them stretch and reach for that next level of greatness.  My principal has been a huge part of how my teaching has evolved in the past years.  He's been avuncular when I needed it and pushy when I needed it.  I want to share that knowledge with others.  It scares the crap out of me because I don't want to fail.  Because who really wants to fail at something? At anything?

Anyway, I am in this new position and I was out in another teacher's classroom talking strategies for helping with fractions when a third teacher walks into the room.  He's on a tear.  He's upset and just doesn't have anything good to say about the school leadership or the building or just teaching in general.  I stood there for a few minutes hoping it was a storm that was going to pass.  But oh no, he then turned to me and wanted me to personally know how bad he has had it here.  I tried to calm him down, play the "it's not as bad as you say" person in the room.  But he just kept complaining.  I finally left.  He picked the wrong person to talk to. 

This year didn't start off great for our math department either.  I could list, no joke, about 30 things that went wrong since the start of school and ramble on and on how "bad" things have gotten.  However, I have chosen not to.  I choose to make it better.  Complaining about the issues and doing nothing is like eating slimy okra.  Only a few people really like it and then it needs to be cooked just right.  I'm not trying to be vainglorious.  Don't get me wrong.  I do have my moments.  But I get over myself, untwist my big girl panties, and start finding solutions.

It's much like a milk carton in the middle of the hallway.  We could throw a fit about how the school is so littered and the kids don't care.  We could form a committee on how to improve school wide littering.  We could write letters to the district office.  YADDA YADDA YADDA.  Or we could pick up the milk carton as we walk by and toss in the trash.  And by one simple task or solution, we are on the way to making things better.  I'm about finding solutions and making it better.  And as a side note, I don't think things are going "bad".  It's changing and leaving us behind if we don't change with it.

With that being said, it's now time for me to focus on my lesson plans for tomorrow.  Tonight I want to sleep peacefully.  I want to dream of peacefully walking the beach near some Hemmingway-esque Key West village, not fret over the milk carton in the hallway.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Linear Functions Foldable

On Monday, another Algebra 2 teacher and I were discussing the sad state of affairs of our students retention on how to graph and write equations of linear functions.  I mentioned I would like to do a foldable on it and began the search through Dinah Zike's Foldable book I picked up in 2010 at the NCTM in San Diego.  I really needed something with 5 things.  Nothing was looking right and I didn't want to settle for something less than what I visioned in my mind.  Then, with 5 minutes left before I had to pick up my amazing kids from daycare today, the idea hit me.  Here it is:

Supplies:  Three pieces of paper.

What to do:
Fold all three using the hamburger fold, one inside the other.  With the crease at the bottom, I cut one inch off the top of the first 1/2 page in order to create a title page and a place to see all the tabs.

Trim the tabs above so you quickly reference the type of linear function.  On the inside I wanted to create a template.  I jotted some scribbles, rewrote the scribbles for this sample, and will type it up officially sometime in the wee hours of "I really need some sleep" and "Why did I have that cup of coffee?".  I will post the electronic copy soon.

Then I filled out a sample page in my son's crayons.  The black pen represents what will be typed.  And the lame hand drawn graph will become a pretty graph, too.  I have filled out what I think I will lead the kids through for slope-intercept form.  Then I just made the template for the other pages.  I really just needed to see how this looked torn apart so I could figure out the copying of it for Friday's lesson.  I will not cover this all in one day.  In fact, it won't be finished until the end of the month due to the special block I have for my A Hour class.  The kids will learn about graphing first, then writing the equations.  I will have them keep this all year long.  BIG IDEA: when I need the kids to graph a line in February and exponential laws and quadratics have filled their brain so they have forgotten how to graph a line, they can whip this sucker out and reteach themselves.  That's the plan anyway.

I was in a hurry to get this on the blog.  I needed something that stated vocab words or what the other variables meant...  m = slope, etc.  I am not liking VARIABLES on the left side of the page, but I don't know what to put there.  Any suggestions would be nice.

I like how you can see the tab on this picture.  The other tabs get increasingly longer, so the vertical lines tab doesn't need any cutting at all.  And of course, it would be stapled in the center.

Well I have an electronic copy of this document.  But I'm not sure how to post it here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Quick. Think. Fail. Ish.

Today I attempted to use a mind map with my Algebra 2 class.  We went through the notes.  The students worked through the assessment.  We discussed the assessment to fix misconceptions.  I gave them one more assessment question to help distinguish a function and non-function.  Then... well... the thing I was so excited about last night.. the mind map of functions. 

"Draw a circle in the middle of the paper.  Write functions in it.  Then draw four squares.  The upper left is your definition of a function.  The lower left is where you write some examples.  The lower right is where you write non-examples.  And the upper right...."  Well, crap.  Ever draw a blank?  Quick.  Think.  Think.  Think more quickly.  Grab my phone and attempt to find the picture on pinterest?  Where did I put my original?  Think.  Think.  Oh no, three seconds has gone by.  Say something.  "Okay, and in the upper right corner... What does a function look like?  Take two minutes and fill this out silently.  Then we will share within our groups.  Then I'm going to collect this before you leave."    ... I hang my head for those two minutes.  I blew it.  I tried to salvage it.  I had missed the facts/characteristics in the upper right corner.  Que sera, sera. 

I wasn't really expecting these to be stellar since I couldn't remember the first quadrant piece.  But I got some awesome feedback none the less.  I saw which kids really understood it, which kids just copied/regurgitated the notes right back at me, and which kids still had some misconceptions.  I was able to give feedback directly on it.  In short, I will do this activity again.  But next time, I will have the correct information in front of me!  And next time, I will stress the fact it was supposed to be in YOUR OWN WORDS.

Now, to have some sort of activity for the three different forms of graphing a line...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Full with three minutes to go

School started this past Wednesday.  For the first time ever in my career, all of my students in my first hour were in their desks, eager, and ready to learn THREE MINUTES before the tardy bell rang.  What the heck!?!?!  It's Sunday night and I am still freaking on this.  I actually asked my students if they were pulling a practical joke on me.  Unbelievable. 

Then we talked pancakes.  It went well.  Very well in fact.  They were talking, looking up information on the web, estimating all sorts of numbers and living in the moment of where we entertained a plethora of random questions.  They left class on a quest to discover if the human stomach can actually hold those 62 6 inch diameter and 3/8 inch pancakes.  As a bonus, what is the radius of one pancake with the same volume?

What's on the agenda for this week... laying the ground work for the remainder of the course, finding out what they know, and where holes must be filled.  It's all capped off with an assembly on Friday.

I've got some blogs to read and explore.  I need to prepare a presentation and submit my request to present. I am thinking it will have to do with Twitter, blogging, and essential PD.  Or something like it.

Three minutes early!!!!  I told you I am still freaking on this.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A good night's sleep

For the first time in, well, EVER, I will actually sleep well the night before school starts!  I can't believe it either.  I have been stressing out so much these last 4 days.  The endless list of stupid, time consuming, frustrating and just plain pissing me off situations that have occurred would have typically left me in a foul mood.  It's not worth it.  School is starting tomorrow in 8 hours.  And you know what, every one of those stupid, time consuming, frustrating, and just plain pissing me off situations have all worked out.  But that is NOT was this post is about.  Hooray!  This post is a celebration!!  Double hooray!!

With all that happened, I still needed to plan for my first day.  And when I say plan, I really mean dust off the first day of crap I have for the last 8 or so years, refresh my memory on how many trips it takes to transport A number of adults and C number of children across a fictional river with a boat that only holds one adult or two children.  This boat doesn't exist.  Nor, would any of those children subject themselves to rowing across the river 38 times to bring the lazy adults over.  There are child labor laws, you know.  So why am I forcing my students to dive into this abyss of "fun" math problems just to get them in the mind set of doing math in August?   Well, I decided at 4:30pm, I refuse to cross that river one more time.  PANIC.

I have 15 hours to come up with something else, something more engaging.  So, what do I do at 6pm?  I return to my classroom to straighten up my room and hang the many posters on the bare walls.  There is something very therapeutic about mindlessly hanging posters willy nilly on the walls to allow my brain to grapple with finding a new lesson.  And around 9:15pm after updating my course syllabi, it hit me.   We are talking pancakes tomorrow.  This may cause me to fall flat on my face.  Flat as a pancake on my face.

As you know, I attended the "bestest eva" professional development last week.  And you even ordered the book (see the previous post).  Well in Steve Leinwand's powerpoint slides, he talks about the world record holder for eating pancakes.  Tomorrow my plan is to talk about it.  I'm giving them the details and the details only.  Act 1.  They generate a list of things they want to know.  Then, they somehow arrive at an answer to those questions.  Act 2.  They will then share their answers with the class and how they get those answers.  I hope to see at least 3 different approaches for each question like I hoped for the Barbie Dreamhouse on Christmas when I was a girl.  Act 3.  Homework...  I have a couple of questions in my back pocket I want to know the answer on.  They will answer these for homework provided they didn't come up with those questions on their own.  Sequel.  Bam!  What a way to incorporate my two favorite people into my lesson.  Thanks again Steve Leinwand and Dan Meyer.  ((Has anyone every asked if the the two of you are related?))

I'm going to do this with both my classes.  What?!?!  I will do this with my Algebra 2 students and with my Pre-calculus students.  I don't care these two classes are two years apart in ability.  The two ability levels of the classes may or may not create different answers.  We'll see.  I'm willing to take this risk.  I'm willing to lead my students down an alley way just to see what is there.

At 10pm tonight I had my new lesson plans settled.  I was celebrating.  I had my iPod on loud on the speaker phone with "Oh Yeah" playing.  I couldn't help but dance down the hall as the music echoed in its emptiness.  No more stressing.  Time to go home and get a good night's sleep for the first time ever the night before school starts (right after I blog about my night).

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Because it is what's right for kids

This summer has been the busiest and yet the most productive for me, professionally.  In a department of 22 members, 11 have been hired in 2012 (9 just this summer).  I have gone to some AH-mazing professional development this past week.  I have been asked to present to the other 20 some department chairs just what I learned tomorrow in a meeting.  Nothing like waiting until the last minute, right?  Didn't I just say it was the busiest summer for me?

Monday, I attended a district supported session on grading practices.  Five others from my school attended with me.  Steve Ventura presented material from the Elements of Grading by Douglas Reeves.  Oh, how I wish this was more than one day of training!  So much to digest, so little time.

I realize how much of a disadvantage we put our struggling students in when we assign a zero to a grade.  Even the traditional 90 - 80 - 70 - 60 scale isn't fair, if you think about it.  A student has 50 points to show you how miserable they are at math, and just ten points each to show you mediocre, average, above average, and excellent work.  When you give a student a zero for a behavior issue (didn't turn in the assignment, ditched class, etc.), it can impact their grades in such a way that their final semester grade is not an accurate assessment of what they really know.  Or in the case of the student who might need longer to show you mastery of a topic, a low grade isn't showing you the potential they have.  To counteract this, Steve talked about the 4 point scale or even assigning a 50 instead of a 0 to level the playing field.  A few hours was not enough to settle this issue for me.  I need more!  Lots more dialogue with my teachers and experts in the field.  I can easily see now that I should really begin Standards Based Grading.   This however, will have to sit on the back burner and simmer for awhile.  I don't think my department is ready to move on this, not while instruction needs to improve.

However, I am going to ask my department to do several things this year regarding grading practices:

  1. Allow late work.  Allow the student the chance to demonstrate their knowledge.  And if the teacher is having difficulty getting students to turn in their work, then we need to have a hard conversation about ways to either get them to or ways to get around it and still get the data needed.  A zero should only be given if it is the very last resort.
  2. Each subject area will need to agree upon the weighted percentages for homework and tests.  The homework assigned is practice of the material to be assessed.  All Algebra students should have the same opportunity despite which of the 9 teachers they may have.  
  3. Homework (academic practice) should no longer be graded just on completion.  Students need feedback on it.  It can come from teachers or other students.  And showing the answers on the board and asking "Any questions?" is not proper feedback.  (I feel I need an I'M JUST SAYING right about here.)
From the sticky notes left in my binder:
  • All children can learn because of what I do in my classroom.
  • Ineffective teaching and grading practices are like chipping away at granite with a spoon.
  • It's not what the students need to do in my class, it's showing me what they have learned.
And more books/authors I need to research and digest:
  • Beyond Monet
  • Dylan Wiliam
  • John Hattie

And now on to Tuesday...  drum roll please....

THIS WAS BY FAR THE BEST PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT I HAVE EVER BEEN TO IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.  THE.  BEST.  After a day of swimming or riding bikes, my oldest son will walk in the house and announce to the entire neighborhood from inside my living room, "This is the best day ever!!!"  Well, that is exactly how I feel about this training.  I think only winning the lottery could be better.  I'm not lying.

If you have not read Accessible Mathematics by Steven Leinwand, stop reading my post, open up Amazon and get you a copy!!!  No, seriously.  I'll wait...

I wasn't kidding.  Order yourself a copy.  112 pages of pure genius at work in this book.  I read this book this summer.  I found myself saying "NO FREAKING WAY" lots in this book.  It is an easy read, but you will want to pause to think about what he says.  With that said...  Steven himself was utterly amazing.  I felt like a Baptist in a tent revival waving my white 'kercheif around saying, "Hallelujah, preach it, brother!"

He completely gets it.  He gets why our math programs suck.  He gets why we are screwing our kids up.  And he is out there trying to tell us we have screwed up.  He is my superhero.  He could have worn a cape and flown around the room, and that would still not have been as great as the info he shared.  He writes about 10 instructional shifts that need to take place.  I have picked my three favorite. But I am not going to spoil the ending.  You should have ordered the book by now.  When it arrives in a few days, read it.  These are my three favorite:
  1. Make "Why?", "How do you know?", "Can you explain?" classroom mantras.  [By the way, let's throw in "Does anyone else have something different?" in here, too]
  2. Embed the mathematics in realistic problems and real-world contexts.
  3. Take every available opportunity to support the development of number-sense.
Side notes or sticky notes wisdom from this day:
  • We need to build a classroom environment where is safe for our kids to take risks.  If they don't feel safe, number one above will never be possible.  
  • Be deliberate about everything you do.
  • Four areas to start the desperately needed change:
    • Curriculum (cut what you don't need)
    • Instruction (get better at questioning, planning, etc.)
    • Assessments
    • Professional Culture
  • Google PISA released items
  • Google balance assessment library
  • Video tape yourself to give yourself feedback
  • Go visit other teachers while they teach.  Invite them to visit you
Next week sometime, I will be sharing this with my department.  I will ask them to start incorporating some of these changes because it is what is good for students.  It will take some time.  This will not be a sprint to the finish.  This will be a 1500 km race, not a 100 yard dash.  I will be there to model it and to support them.

Math classes today can no longer be taught in the "sit down, shut up, and learn this" method.  It is not effective.  Let me rephrase that.  It. Is. Not. Effective.  For those teachers who are ready, I will ask them to read a copy of the book.  For those who say they don't have enough time, I will ask them to watch someone who does and who is trying out the strategies in the book.  Being mediocre at teaching math is a battle.  I have suited up and am prepared to conquer the ineffectiveness in my own classroom, in my school, and in my district.  

My students have no idea what they are going to walk in on Wednesday when school starts.  May God have mercy on them.  And for the love all that is holy, order the darn book already!