Sunday, September 30, 2012

Brain dump

Yup, it's been way too long since I have posted.  Way too long.  I just needed to carve out the time to sit and thing.  So let the brain dump begin.  Here's what has been swirling in my mind the last 3 weeks.

First and foremost, I am concerned about my students.  I am not a perfect teacher.  In fact, I know of a few areas where I am weak.  I am continuing to work on these areas this year.  The biggest weakness is my questioning skills.  I have fallen into the trap of asking whole group questions, allowing students to blurt out answers, and not allowing my students the needed wait time to process.  Curses!  I am working on it.  I don't want to be the teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  "We call this blank economics.  Anyone?  Anyone?  Voodoo economics.  V-O-O-D-O-O economics."  I do need to ask those more important thought provoking questions like:  Why do you think that?  How do you know?  What if...?  I seem to do a kick ass job when I question in small group sittings and asking those questions.  Now, I just need to translate those into questions to my entire class.  I brought out the ol' craft sticks with names to help me.  And in my Algebra 2 class, the day I actually made a conscience effort to improve my questioning, the learning was better.  I just need to do it!  Dang it!!!  Maybe I should hang a poster up to remind me.  VOODOO with a big red slash ought to the do the trick.  Task number 1:  Be more effective at questioning in my classroom.  Start writing these questions in my lesson plans so I don't forget.

Still on the subject of my students and my concern for them, this year has been a struggle for me to get the results I want.  At progress report time, my D and F rates were god awful.  If I remember correctly, I had 13 F's in my Pre-Calc class out of 39.  OMG.  This has never happened to my students before.  Of course, this was just a snapshot.  Corrective instruction took place and the students were able to demonstrate they did learn it eventually.  This is why my weeks have been so busy.  Now, I do have 12 students who have skipped a year of math to be in Pre-Calc.  15 that are coming from the regular track of math, 2 repeaters who are improving their grades from last year, and 10 coming in from the honors track.  In years past, it was really 2/3 from honors and 1/3 from regular with maybe one or two skipping a year.  All this means is that I have had to slow down.  Not a big deal.  I'm meeting my kids where they are and bringing them along.  Translation:  What I have done in the past is no longer effective this year.  Let's start looking at my lesson plans and revamping them.  And to be honest, they did need revamping.  Task number 2:  Look at my lesson plans.  What worked well previously and what needs to change to ensure all my students are learning?

Which brings me to my third thought of the blog:  Lesson planning.  Intentionality.  Deliberate.  I am thinking I must have naturally just come across a good way of explaining material and creating lessons.  Wow, that sounds very arrogant and I don't mean it to be.  Lesson planning in the past didn't use to be a chore.  What do I want them to learn?  How do I get them there?  Did I cover what I needed to cover for future lessons? etc.  But being intentional and deliberate about the lessons is tougher than I thought.  It is almost like I am a student teacher all over again with myself as the mentor.  I question it all now.  And of course, where I can place that good question now as well as how do I get the third of my class to see the connections they have missed by skipping a year?  Task number 3:  Really look at my lessons, trim the fat, clean lines all the way... and make sure to include the questioning.

And finally, coming full circle with my swirling thoughts... how do I lead my department through this same experience?  Blank.  My mind goes blank.  Insert crickets chirping here.  Task number 4:  Help expose what's not working in other classrooms.  Gently and with care and support.  And if they don't understand the first time, give them more support and time to learn just like my students.

We have one more week left in the first quarter followed by our week long Fall Break.  Besides getting ready for a garage sale and cleaning my sons closets of the thousands of toys and clutter, I will be chewing on an action plan.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I can't even watch TV without thinking about school

My good friend Melissa is just starting her blog.  In her second post, she writes about measuring time in minutes.  It got me thinking a little, no a lot.  Then, to give my brain a break from thinking about school stuff for a bit, I turned on my TV and tried to watch one of my recorded, hour long shows.  I am watching a summer finale of one of them now.  (And as a side note, the show is getting really good.)  How can they manage to wrap this up in an hour?  Well, actually, the show isn't an hour any more.  You have commercials, etc.  So, the real question is, how can they wrap this up in 45 minutes?

Then - because this is how my brain works - whoa, this is just like my classroom!  I only have 52 minutes to wrap up a lesson, tie up all loose ends, and yet leave my students craving for more.  Whoops, hit pause (because I love my DVR) and reflect on this some more.

Really, let's think about it.  I have a story to tell.  I have only an hour... well less than that because of commercial breaks (collecting homework, office pass arrives, hey you kid - you owe the library a book, etc.)  I need to interest them to come back after the commercials, keep them guessing as to how the story ends, and invite them back for more.  Each day.  It has put a new light on what I have been doing for the past two decades.  Sure, I have had my flops.  But I also have had some real winners, too.

This year, I think I am going to treat one unit as a mini-series.  I want to have a unit like Lonesome Dove.  If you miss one day of class, you will call someone to find out what happened to Sheriff Berg.  Ha, too much.  Now to see what happens to Annie.  Don't spoil it for me, please.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sharper questions

The purpose of models is not to fit the data but to sharpen the questions.  Samuel Karlin
11th R A Fisher Memorial Lecture, Royal Society 20, April 1983.

Imagine a lesson where the teacher comes into the room and says to the class, "Evaluate f(80) for f(s) = 10(s - 65) + 15" without any further discussion.  While students may understand by the end of the lesson to plug in whatever number is in the parenthesis into the function and spit out an answer by means of order of operations to get some number at the end, they may not understand what it really means.  You might get a question of "May I go to the bathroom?" or "I need to go to the nurse" instead of questions that further the topic.

Fast forward to today in my Algebra 2 class where I wrote the following on the board.  "This weekend I got a speeding ticket.  The police officer told me the fine for speeding was $10 for every mile over the speed limit I was going plus $15 to the city government."  Before I could even finish writing, I was barraged with questions like "Did you really get caught speeding?, How fast were you speeding?  Where were you speeding?".  They were actually anxious to solve this problem.  I told them I was clocked going 82 miles per hour.  What was my fine?  I heard answers of $170, $185, and $320.  I asked a student to explain how they arrived at $185 since it was the most popular answer.  Then I built the formula around it.  "So you subtracted 82 - 65?  Why?  Oh, because you wanted the amount I was over 65mph?  Ok.  Then what did you do?  Why?  Ok.  Anything else?  Oh yes, don't forget the city government fee."

As I talked I wrote:

82 - 67
10(82 - 67)
10(82 - 67) + 15

What if I was going a different speed?  What would change?  So if we were to put a variable somewhere, where would we put it and what could we use?  Talk to a neighbor about it.

10(s - 65) + 15

Interesting.  Let's make it a function since we have been talking about functions.

f(s) = 10(s - 65) + 15

What does this f(s) mean?  Excellent.  I love that you said it was the fine I paid depending on the speed I was going. 

What if I wrote this f(92).  What does that mean?  Right!  The fine of the speeding ticket for traveling 92 mph in a 65mph zone.  Now, what would be my fine?

How did some of us get answers of $170 and $320? 


And right there I went from concrete to abstract AND they had better understanding of the concept because there was meaning attached to it.  Hot dog!!!!  Now, function notation isn't something that is terribly hard.  But every year I have a handful that seem to struggle with it.  However, as I checked on their progress on a story problem they were doing on their own, they had it!

All credit by the way needs to go to Steven Leinwand.  He challenged us in a professional development during the summer.  Take the boring and make it real.  For him, it was real.  He really was pulled over in Vermont, I think.  He said it was the most expensive math lesson he ever had to pay for.

I had to break the bad news to the students that I did not get a speeding a ticket, nor have I ever had a speeding ticket in my life.  They were in disbelief but they did learn what function notation means.  So when I threw problems at them from the Pre-calculus book about the weight of an astronaut with a more complicated formula, they had no fear of it.  I'm amazed it went so well.

So for this particular speeding story problem, I created the model around the data as we progressed in class.  But it wasn't to just mold numbers into some formula, we actually got deeper into what function notation meant.  The students weren't just told to plug and chug.  They had meaning behind it.  I sharpened the questions I asked them and they had better questions to ask.  They weren't bored with rote, lame math.  They were involved and invested.  After all, they did think their math teacher was a bad ass for speeding at 82mph in a 65mph zone.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Hitting All Eight

Lesson Planning... about that.  Yeah, it's gotta be different, too.  With all the change that needs to take place in the classroom this year, that means the ol' lesson plans need to be adjusted as well.  Knowing I will be asking others how the 8 Mathematical Practices from the Common Core Standards (from here on out will be henceforth abbreviated 8MP) are demonstrated in each lesson, I am making it a point to make sure I can point out where the 8MP show up in my lesson.  Here's the thing, not all 8 are in every lesson.  Nor, do I think I can always achieve all 8 into every lesson.  Or can I?  Sigh.  The more I study the 8MP the more I think I can incorporate them all to some degree.  I just have to get out my own way.  I need to revise lesson plans from previous years to allow the students to reach my goal.  Far too often, I was comfortable spouting off info and happy if some of it stuck.  Now, I can't be satisfied with that anymore.  It's not what is good for kids.  It's NOT what's right for kids.

I was doubting myself that I couldn't include all eight.  I had this fear that the only way to achieve this would be to have some problem for the kids to work through, struggle through, and reason through to come out on the other end with a nice formula and complete understanding of it.  I am beginning to rethink that.  Sure it is a great model to use at least once a unit.  But I need to hit it everyday and I don't have a nicely packaged fabricated story problem for every day.  I am stressing about this.  However, I am going to type up my plans with the goal in mind of hitting all 8 tonight.  Pre-calculus will be studying functions this week, specifically what is a function tomorrow.  And Algebra 2 needs to learn how determine domain and range from a graph and write it in interval notation.  I've got an 80's marathon of music playing on the radio.  I'm going to bang out these lesson plans and measure it against the 8MP. 

Ya know, sometimes just getting my thoughts together on a topic is therapeutic.  It's just the self-motivation I need to get me through it.  Rock on fellow bloggers.