Monday, July 17, 2017

Anxiety Sets In... and a #Made4Math


For me, the month of July seems to zoom by and before I know it, the back-to-school nerves start setting in.  This weekend was a time of school supply shopping, blog reading, pinterest searching, and saving tons of ideas for next year.  

I officially report 4 weeks from today, although my building is the only one on campus that isn't under construction, so that's a bit nerve-wracking for my colleagues in other buildings!  At least I can go up and work in my room if I choose to.  

Today was a day of little projects and organization.  I didn't get anything officially finished, but here's what I worked on:

In no particular order...

- Printed off 80 protractors on transparency sheets (10 per page)
- Printed off my new GEOMETRY agenda board header 
- Printed off my new Geometry binder spine labels
- Printed off my new table folder labels 
- Cut out all the Contact Paper to go over said folder labels
- Created, printed, and laminated new table bucket labels

Still to do from these projects...

- Cut apart those protractors
- Laminate the GEOMETRY header
- Adhere the table folder labels with the contact paper
- Adhere the table bucket labels
- Switch over from the old table buckets
- Test out the "whiteboard" paper that I'm trying to straighten

There are so many things left to do that I haven't started on!  I am a fairly organized person by nature, but with 160+ students, I have to figure out some new strategies for keeping up with the paper trail, staying on top of INB handouts, etc.  

Part of today was just sitting in my classroom, staring at the wall and trying to wrap my head around all that needed to get done in the next four weeks.  (OMG - ***4*** weeks!!!  EEKKKK).  I don't know about you, but I love to-do lists, so when I'm overwhelmed, I often have a tendency to create a new cute to-do list to help me stay organized. :)  (I know.. what a great use of my time today, right???)  I forgot to take a photo of it, but I printed it on bright yellow paper, laminated it, and dug into my stash of fine tip dry erase markers to help me make a list. :)


It's nothing fancy, but if you want a copy, feel free to download it here :)


Friday, July 14, 2017

Formative Assessment from a Student Perspective

Yesterday, I posted the first part of a book review on Transformative Assessment by Popham.  As I said then, I'm only halfway through the book, but Chapter 4 really deserved its own post.

Popham believes in 4 levels of Formative Assessment:
   - Level 1: Teachers' Instructional Adjustments
   - Level 2: Students' Instructional Adjustments
   - Level 3: Classroom Climate Shift
   - Level 4: Schoolwide Implementation

So far, I've only read about Level 1 and Level 2 assessments.  Level 1 assessment is what we are probably most familiar with - how formative assessment techniques can help teachers change or alter their instructional methodologies in order to improve student learning.  Level 2, though, is pretty powerful as well.  In fact, I originally planned to post about Level 2 assessment on yesterday's post, but then decided it was so powerful that it deserved a post all of its own. :)

According to Popham:
"Formative Assessment exists for exactly one reason:  to enhance students' learning"
Throughout this book, I keep thinking, "Wow! I've never thought of it like that!" and the quote above is just another example.  If my goal is to enhance student learning then obviously I'm going to do what I can do from a teacher / instruction standpoint, but I also need to make sure that I am doing all I can do to empower my students to take control of their learning.  To do this, Popham argues that students need to be taught how to use formative assessment data to make their own personal instructional adjustments in their learning tactics in order to maximize the effectiveness of those tactics.

Again, a few quotes from Chapter 4 of the book followed by my own thoughts:

  • On student adjustments:  (Paraphrased) If one of the goals of FA is for students to play an active role in making sound decisions on how / if / when to adjust their learning techniques in order to be more successful, then students must know the end goal *and* the standards by which they will be judged. 
    • Prior to this book, I've never really thought about how students can use FA data to help themselves as learners.  Like most teachers, I've always heard FA described more from the perspective of "informing instruction", as in letting teachers know the level of mastery of their students.  However, based on this book, I am in the process of redefining my thoughts on FA.  For some reason, when I read this part of the book, I kept envisioning a student behind the wheel of a boat headed to shore.  In order for the student to be able to plot a course correction, they have to know: 1) where they are going / headed (aka the end goal) and 2) they have to know how far off the mark they are.  This illustration helps me visualize what Popham is referring to, but it's also rather convicting to me.  I can't say that I'm very good about always letting students know explicitly either one of these items. This really gives me a lot to ponder, both figuring out how to be better at sharing the end goal with students and by providing them clear guidelines for mastery.  

  • On orientation of students:  "Teachers who choose to install Level 2 formative assessment in their classrooms must make a major commitment to readying their students to get the most out of this approach."
    • As a student, I don't recall many teachers really talking about how to learn and definitely not about how to determine which learning techniques were best for me and how to adjust those techniques.  As a teacher, I know I have not had that discussion with my students, so I need to be more explicit this year in explaining to my students the WHY behind formative assessment activities, not just from a teacher standpoint, but from a student standpoint as well.  For example, one activity that I do early on in the year is a card sort where each group is given a set of 20 or so scenarios and asked to read the problem and determine the type of sampling method that is described.  Due to the nature of the activity, I probably will not know whether the group is "right or wrong" on every single card, BUT, a student can use that activity to help them decide personally if they know the sampling methods or whether they need to adjust their study techniques to better differentiate between the various methods, which is the very definition of Level 2 formative assessment.

  • On turnaround time:  "Having promised to get such building-block assessment information to students, a Level 2 formative assessment teacher must deliver this information to students as soon as possible after assessing those students."
    • Whew... talk about something easier said than done! :)  Turn-around time is the bane of my existence.  With class sizes of 30+, it can be very difficult to provide quality feedback on a regular basis and I'll be honest that I am not a huge fan of MC items for formative assessment.  Some activities I use, like the cards described above, are fairly easy in terms of turn-around time because students know immediately how they are doing.  This is something I need to work on this year.  In the book, they also talk about ways to provide optional items for students to use to self-monitor, such as answer keys available, practice quizzes / tests, etc.

  • On student choice: "The role of the teacher here is to set forth suggestions so students will be able to arrive at better choices.  As always, if students choose not to adopt the teacher's suggestions regarding learning tactics, then the teacher simply swallows hard and moves forward."
    • I think this will be the hardest part of implementing Level 2 formative assessment, but the most necessary.  The key thing is that students will need to buy into the benefits of FA and to assume responsibility for learning how they learn best.  The author emphasizes that it has to be student choice in adjusting their learning tactics and we have to allow them the autonomy to make that choice (or not).  In order for our students to become independent, effective learners, we have to allow them that freedom.

I really enjoyed this chapter... only 3 more to go! :)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Partial Book Review: Transformative Assessment

This has been a very people-y week, so today was a quiet day at home with a book. :)

(Am I the only one that totally becomes a hermit in the summer months?  I really value my quiet time!)

Anyway, so earlier, I tweeted out this photo:


Around the time I was finishing up Math Tools, @pamjwilson texted me a picture of a book she had found in her stash called Transformative Assessment by Popham.  I happened to have it in my stack as well, so it became my next #EduRead of the summer.  When I'm actually reading, I take very messy notes in a small notebook, which this summer is being transcribed into a more permanent (and neater) notebook using the forms I shared a few weeks ago.

I'm about halfway done with this book and while it's not been an easy read, there have been some really valid points made that I wanted to share.  Below are some quotes and thoughts that I have had while reading this book:


  • From the preface:  "Don't let the pursuit of the instructionally perfect prevent you from reaping the rewards of the instructionally possible."
    • Wow!  Talk about hitting me in the forehead!  How many of us wait and wait and wait because we want perfection?  This reminds of the 51% effort in "5 Habits of a Woman that Doesn't Quit".  You can't always give 100%, sometimes you need to just give 51%.  I am guilty of perfectionism and it often stands in my way of getting anything done because I struggle with turning out a less than perfect product.

  • On the differences of Formative vs Summative Assessment:  "We see FA as a way to improve the caliber of still-underway instructional activities and SA as a way to determine the effectiveness of already completed instruction."
    • This book has really opened my eyes on Formative Assessment and what it really means.  I think FA has been an educational buzz word for many years and I'm just as guilty of using it as the next person.  I have tons of books with FA strategies, but until now, I've never really appreciated the nuances of FA, I've never really been as intentional with FA as the author describes.  The definition given in this book keeps talking about a *planned process* and I'm pretty guilty of a more "spur of the moment" style of FA.  Now that I know better, I must do better!

  • On the the usage of FA:  "Any teacher made modifications in instruction activities must focus on CURRENT curricular goals.  It's NOT a matter of looking at test data and deciding to try something new next time - it's a matter of doing something different NOW." (emphasis mine)
    • Have you ever had a text just "step on your toes"?  That's what happened to me here.  I've definitely been guilty of calling things (such as quizzes) formative assessment, when they truly aren't.  Formative Assessment is something that modifies what I am currently teaching.  It's not about next time I teach it, it's about what is happening in my classroom NOW (as in today / tomorrow).  To make matters worse, I often use some FA strategy but then I don't use it to actually change my instructional methods.  But again... now I know!

  • On the FA process:  (paraphrased) As a teacher, you must: 1) assess the *CRITICAL* skills / knowledge needed for students to master the big target; 2) do this *BEFORE* proceeding to the next building block in the progression; 3) *USE* the resulting evidence to make the necessary adjustments in your instruction (pacing, methodology, etc)
    • Earlier I said that FA is an intentional and planned process.  Here's the recipe for that process.  Decide what are the necessary skills and check for mastery, but do it BEFORE moving on so you will know if you need to reteach or change your pace.  This is hard for me.  I often don't get a chance to check their progress on those critical skills before moving on, so it's something I need to work on this year.

  • On whether FA is necessary: "Instruction, if properly conceptualized and skillfully implemented can be effective without any FA whatsoever, BUT, it is less likely to be and here's why:  the function of FA is to help teachers and students decide whether they need to make any adjustments in what they are doing."
    • Good teaching can (and does) take place without any formative assessment at all.  But the overall goal of FA is to improve student learning.  With it, teachers can make decisions about the most effective instructional techniques and students can make decisions about the most effective learning techniques.  It allows us to make "data-based decisions" for lack of a better buzz word. :)

  • On "trigger points": "...the teacher, in advance of the actual assessment, [must] arrive at a decision regarding the levels of student performance that would lead the teacher to make an instructional adjustment."
    • This reminded me of an #eduread of many years ago from "How to Support Struggling Students" by Robyn Jackson.  We need to know what level causes a red flag to go up and therefore causes a change in our instruction.  Popham mentions that we need to know the minimum per-student performance level and the minimum per-class performance level.  Those triggers are not set in stone, but they do need to be in place prior to gathering the results.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on Formative Assessment!  

Monday, July 10, 2017

#Made4Math: Binder 2017-18 Version

On Twitter, there have been several discussions about Teacher Planners and how each of us organize our lives. I really liked last year's planner, which pretty much looked like this:




I did not make many major changes this year, so I decided to upload a generic / blank copy in PDF for anyone that wants a copy.

Download it here :)

If you have suggestions for changes, I'd love to hear from you!   :)

Also, if you find any typos, please let me know.  I've double checked all of the dates, but typos do happen! :)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Keeping Track of Ideas

Holy moly - three posts in three days!  To be honest, I'm afraid that if I stop now, it will be many months before I pick it up again!  I can't say for certain that this will be a constant habit, but a few days ago, Pam blogged about an upcoming webinar from Angela Watson on teacher self-care and referenced this podcast from Cult of Pedagogy.  One quote from the podcast has really stuck with me regarding habits:


So I'm going to try to form a habit of blogging.  I'm not saying that my posts will be profound or deep or high quality, but I'm going to at least try to blog regularly, to form a habit of a habit :)



Now on to the real reason for tonight's post - my reading list.  Or more accurately, keeping track of my reading list!

Seriously people, I am addicted to books.  I love books of all kinds and I love used book stores.  A few times a year, hubby and I will venture off just to visit the Half Price Book stores that are within driving distance, including going down to the Dallas area over Spring Break just to hit as many of the HPBs as possible in 2 days :)  Anytime I travel to an area that has an HPB, I am like a kid in a candy store.  To try to illustrate this point, the photo below shows the stack of professional books in my living room that I've purchased at HPB since Memorial Day, with most of them coming from the Kansas City area after the AP Reading was finished :)


I know... I have a problem :)

But they were on clearance!!!

And the teacher discount!!!  (plus they stacked the Memorial Day coupon for the ones I purchased during that weekend)

But anyway...

The *real* point to this post is how to keep track of all of the wonderful ideas from the books I love to read.

I'm a fast reader in general and over the years, I've tried various methods.  I've used post-it notes to annotate my books.  I've tried writing in the margins.  I've tried blogging about various ideas.  If it's a way to keep track, I think I've probably tried it at some point.  But none of these methods have truly worked for me because I will get an idea from a book and get really excited about using it, then school starts and I quickly forget about the great idea.  Then summer comes again and the cycle repeats itself.

So how do I stop it?  How do I keep track of the ideas I gather from these books and actually put them into practice?

This year, I am trying something new.... a book journal.

I started the summer with this idea of keeping a small notebook next to me whenever I am reading.  and scribbling quick notes and references to myself.  However, as I've already read several books this summer, I quickly realized that this small notebook will not help me achieve the original goal, which is to keep track of ideas that I want to implement.  This realization led me to revamp and create an official book journal, so please feel free to critique and give suggestions!

Here's the idea:

First, a notes page modeled after the Cornell Note style will be where I jot all of my notes throughout the book:


You'll notice the typical "summary" section is missing from the above page.  That's because...


I decided that I wanted a Book Summary page to have as an "index" of sorts, where I pull out the big take-away ideas from the notes and put it in an easy-to-find reference page.

I've just started using these pages today, so I don't know how it will work or what tweaks I might end up with, but my current thought is to have a binder with tab divider pages for each book I've read.  Behind each divider page will be the Summary page, then all of the note pages for each book.  Hopefully this creates an easy to use reference to organize the ideas I've gathered and to ideally help with the actual implementation of said ideas!

What do you use to help you keep track of ideas?  What strategies do you use to take notes while reading?  And most importantly, how do you not forget those ideas that you want to implement?

Thanks for reading! :)








Saturday, June 24, 2017

Convergence Mastery Pondering

Don't you just love it when the first strategy of the first chapter of a book just stops you cold and you need to go ponder it, tweet about it, research it, blog it, or a combination of all of those? :)

As I've already said, I have WAY too many books in my to-be-read pile and today is an absolutely GORGEOUS day with a light breeze, sunlight, and temps around 80 degrees, so of course, I'm choosing to be outside enjoying the weather!  Today I decided to pick up a more math-y book, so I found this gem in my pile:


I'm pretty sure it was supposed to be an #EduRead book once upon a time as my Amazon account shows that I purchased it back in the Summer of 2014, but I've never read it :)  (Let's just say I'm *really* addicted to buying books!)

Even today, it took me a bit to get past the Introduction, etc and I was tempted to put it down, but I persevered and I'm glad I did!  This book promises to have 60+ strategies, but I'm stuck on Strategy #1 - Convergence Mastery.  As soon as I read the strategy, I sat down the book, started writing in my journal, researching via Google, and decided that I had to blog!

From my research, here's a definition based on a previous book by Mr. Thomas:

Basically, if there is a skill you wish all of your students to have, you build in these short mini-quizzes.  The teacher writes multiple short (2-4 question) quizzes, similar to what I would call a "Quick Check" in my classroom, with each quiz being the same skill / difficulty, but with different problems.  Students take the first quiz individually, then you grade it (or have them peer grade) as either a "100" or an "Incomplete".  Students review their errors and try again repeatedly until all students have earned "100".  The author has the students that earn a "100" become teacher assistants, helping the other students (which reminds me of Amy Gruen's Green Pen idea).

So after reading about this strategy, I immediately starting pondering its use in my classroom, especially with the logistics.  I love the idea, but it would need to be quick / fast and not use a ton of classtime overall.  The author had the students peer grade, but I'm rather gun-shy about that practice to be honest.  

One thing I loved immediately about this strategy is its potential for formative assessment use.  I really dislike giving a formal quiz that I haven't already informally assessed via a Quick Check or Exit Ticket and provided student feedback.  Granted, this means a lot of grading on my part but quarter sized sheets go SO much faster than a full blown assessment! :)  This strategy has the potential benefit of allowing me to assess basic skills in a very low-stakes kind of way.

What topics could this be used with?  Pretty much anything that is skill based.  Overall, I think the quizzes could be pretty easily made using a worksheet generator (like Kuta)

For my classes:
  • Forensic Science - Reading calipers
  • Pre-Calc - Unit circle values; Graphing w/ transformations; so many skills!
  • AP Stat - Reading computer output & interpreting for LSRL; Identification of sampling methods; Minimum sample size; Normal probabilities; Again - so many ideas!!!
  • Geometry - Compass / straightedge constructions; Circle theorems; Surface Area / Volume

How would you use this strategy?  What are potential pitfalls that I've missed?  How would you handle the logistics?


Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer Book Review: 101 Strategies

Anyone that knows me well knows that I often have my nose stuck in a book.  It is definitely one of my favorite past times and during the summer, I can frequently be found on the back patio with a book.  (Of course, that often leads to my mom teasing me about having a great tan on the front of my legs and the back of my legs being a bright white!)  Thanks to the #MTBoS and some great clearance sales at Half Price books last week, I have at least 25 edu-books in my to-be-read pile plus an uncountable number of fiction books waiting on my Kindle.

A few days ago, a tweet from Kathryn Freed caught my eye:

Kathryn's tweet started me thinking about some of the vocabulary books that I had in my "Summer Reads" pile.  This upcoming year, I will be teaching AP Statistics and Geometry, both which are heavy on the vocabulary.  In Geometry, I anticipate several ELL students as well, so I wanted to work on strategies to help all students be more successful academically.

One of the books in my pile happened to be "101 Strategies to Make Academic Vocabulary Stick", which I received as part of my ASCD membership:


Note:  If you love to read edu-literature, I highly recommend joining ASCD.  For $69 a year (or less if there happens to be a coupon), I am a "Select Online" member, which gives me access to the awesome Educational Leadership magazine plus 5 free e-books per year

Overall, this book had a very nice organizational structure.  Chapter 1 dealt with the various types of memory structures in our brains before diving into the actual strategies, which the author had split into 3 chapters.  Chapter 2 included strategies for introducing and encoding new vocabulary, then Chapter 3 worked with rehearsal strategies, and Chapter 4 dealt mainly with review and retrieval strategies.  Many of the strategies were interchangeable throughout the "make it stick" process.  Finally, Chapter 5 wrapped it up with how to assess vocabulary retention and how to plan for successful vocabulary instruction.

The book had some really good take-aways, which I'll get to in a minute, but my biggest disappointment was that "academic vocabulary" was rarely used to mean "content area vocabulary", rather it was more in line with what I would consider "SAT type words".  This is definitely a book I would recommend to my AVID colleagues as well as my ELA friends because I know that in our AVID classes, we really work hard on academic reading & writing and "owning" those words so that kids are comfortable using what the author calls "Tier 2" and "Tier 3" words while speaking and writing.  The strategies in this book would be extremely useful  for any teacher that wants to develop a vocabulary-rich classroom.

With that said, here are some of the strategies and ideas that I will definitely use:

Open with a Cloze - 
I've done this before, especially in AP Stat.  In this strategy, you create sentences that leave out a key word and try to have students complete each sentence.  I often use this during AP Review to remind them of all of the vocabulary we have learned throughout the year.  I typically provide a word bank to help students out.

WKWL - 
This is a modification of the typical KWL chart, but with the extra "W" for Word at the beginning.  I've never been a fan of KWLs to be honest, mainly because of the "Want to know" heading, so I will probably modify this as a pre/post idea of WKL - Word, What we Know about the Word, What we Learned about the Word.  I think this could be a great strategy in Geometry because often we have words that kids have some familiarity with from previous courses.

Vocabnotation -
I'll admit, this is a strategy that makes me wish I was teaching AVID again!  Vocabnotation is basically Annotation for Vocabulary.  While reading a test (AVID Weekly, anyone?), have students circle the words they don't know, underline and draw a line from a word to a student created definition written in the margins, note (with a musical note) any important words, and draw arrows to words that connect in the text.

Dump & Clump - 
I'm pretty sure I've used this strategy at some point, although I don't recall using this name.  It may be related to one of the strategies from the AVID Critical Reading strand.  Give each small group a piece of chart paper, markers, and a topic.  Have the students brain dump words, ideas, etc onto the chart paper individually, then as a group, clump the words and ideas into subtopics.  Finally have the group write a summary sentence for each subtopic.  I think this could be a useful strategy when preparing for a test to activate their prior learning.

Out of Sorts - 
If you ever take a peek into my cabinets, there's no doubt that I'm a huge fan of card sorts.  However, the author talks about using card sorts with more of a word / definition / picture / example matching activity.  One thing I've never done though, is have the students glue or tape their card sort to their notebook, so I will probably try doing that in Geometry.  I think this could be easily adapted to a Desmos card sort as well.

Affix Organizer - 
This graphic organizer is somewhat similar to a Frayer model.  The author intended it as a way to think about prefix / suffix with words that have the same prefix / suffix and to compare those words. In my head, I started thinking about how I could use it more as a graphic organizer such as:


Enriching the Vocab Experience - 
This strategy was a fun little memory test.  Each student gets a blank piece of paper.  The teacher says the first vocabulary word and the students write down related words / ideas, but NOT the actual word.  This allows students to make deeper connections.  After 10 or so words, ask students to flip over their paper and see how many of the original words they can regenerate.  This reminded me of "Taboo" in reverse :)

Frayer Model for Self Reflection - 
This was probably one of my favorite take-away ideas from the entire book and it had nothing to do with the students!  When thinking of vocabulary instruction, most of us are familiar with the traditional Frayer model of Word, Definition, Characteristics, Examples, and Non-Examples.  In Chapter 5, the author challenged teachers to use this model as a structure for self-reflection.  As an example, the author had used the term "Vocabulary Instruction" in the middle spot where we typically would put the word.  Then for the four corners, she asked teachers to self reflect with "Current Habits - When do I teach this? How do I teach this? How often do I teach this?"; "Facts & Characteristics - What strategies do I use to teach this?"; "Examples - Best lessons"; and "Non-Examples - Worst lessons"

Overall impressions:
I'm glad I picked up this book.  It was a quick and easy read, but still provided a lot of food for thought.  I will definitely recommend it to my ELA / AVID colleagues and if I ever have the chance to teach AVID again, I know I will be re-visiting this book! :)