Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Active Learning and UbD

Our bookclub has been reading Understanding by Design. The first few chapters really gut-punched me in several places and I marked next to them "BLOG POST!!". However, I was out-of-town at the AP Reading and a workshop, so it's taken a while to actually get my thoughts down on "paper".

Here's what got me in Chapter 1...

"How will we distinguish merely interesting learning from *effective* learning?" (pg 14)

"But many teachers begin with and remain focused on textbooks, favored lessons, and time-honored activities - the inputs - rather than deriving those means from what is implied in the desired results - the output. To put it in an odd way, too many teachers focus on the *teaching* and not the *learning*. They spend most of their time thinking, first, about what they will do, what materials they will use, and what they will ask students to do rather than first considering what the learner will need in order to accomplish the learning goals." (pg 15)

That still has the power to take my breath away. How many times have I been that teacher? How many times I have thought about what *I* will do without considering the end goal? One of the design tips suggested going up to a student mid-lesson and asking them "What are you doing? Why are you doing it? What is its purpose/connection?" and I want to do that more this year. I want to be more explicit in the WHY, so that at any point kids should know the purpose of the lesson/activity.

A few days later, we read and discussed chapter 2... again, I felt convicted:

"Doing something correctly, therefore, is not, by itself, evidence of understanding. It might have been an accident or done by rote." (pg 39)

"Students should not be able to solve the new problems and situations merely by remembering the solution to or the precise method of solving a similar problem in class It is not a new problem or situation if it is exactly like the others solved in class except that new quantities or symbols are used." (pg 41)

"We cannot *cover* concepts and expect them thereby to be understood; we have to *uncover* their value - the fact that concepts are the results of inquiry and argument." (pg 46)

I am guilty of coverage. Especially this year :( After 11 snow days, I was in a race against the clock to cover it all. I cringe to even use that word, but it's what I did :( I am also guilty of the new problem issue, although not as bad as I used to be. Early in my career, I was bad about giving a worksheet of 20 problems that were all alike, then giving a quiz with 2-3 more and declaring a success because the kids were able to repeat a process like a trained monkey. Thankfully, I have gotten away from that as much, but it still can creep up on me if I'm not watching.

The next few chapters in UbD weren't as exciting to me, but now we're on Chapter 5, which is about Essential Questions (EQ). I'm about halfway through the chapter at the moment and am eager to finish it and discuss it with my bookclub buddies. Last week, I was at an AVID workshop and one of the cornerstones of the AVID system is the use of Cornell Notes (CN). This year, they rolled out an updated version of their CN template that includes a space at the top for the EQ. I know a lot of districts around the country have adopted UbD as a planning tool and require their teachers to post the daily EQ on their boards at the beginning of the hour. I really like this new addition to the AVID CN template because it helps focus the students in their note-taking and their summary should be a direct link back to the EQ of the day.

As always, when I leave an AVID workshop, I feel challenged to do more WICR activities in my math classes. (WICR = Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Reading). I really feel that the use of WICR activities may help the issues mentioned above and aid in student understanding of concepts. Today, as I was working on some literacy strategies in math, I saw a link being tweeted about PBL, which lead me to another link about Student Centered Learning. (link here) The idea behind this article is that this teacher writes a step-by-step lesson plan and has his students teach themselves. That's not a very good explanation, so please go read his article for yourself. :) I do something very similar in my AP class, where students work through lab activities to gather data, learn vocab and concepts, and work collaboratively with their groups with me acting as a facilitator. I am eager to try something similar (on a smaller scale) with Algebra 2. All afternoon, I tried to visualize this classroom dynamic and the pros/cons of it. I'm not there yet, but so far, I think this could work for me.

It's been a busy summer and while I love going to workshops and learning new methods/ideas, sometimes I walk away feeling pretty down on myself. I don't know if it's something other teachers feel or if it's the perfectionist in me. I know I always have room for improvement and I think that quest for continuous improvement is a good thing. At the end of the day, all I want is to be able to answer "YES" to this question... "Have you done everything in your power to be the best teacher/person that you could be today?"

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

SBG - Reflections on SY 2010/11

Last summer was a changing point for me as an educator. Fed up with my then method of grading, irritated at the "points-game" that my students played, and a lack of consistency in grading amongst teachers led me to reach out to the twitter/blog-o-sphere to build a better mouse trap. As a result, I became drunk on the Standards Based Grading (SBG) Kool-aid and I'm so glad I did.

If you go back and read the posts from last summer, you will see a lot of uncertainity in my posts as I tried to figure out how to best implement SBG in my classroom. Now that a full year has gone by, I want to provide some information on implementation, what worked for me and what didn't, and how I plan to modify it for next year.

Disclaimer #1: I only did SBG in my Algebra 2 classes and I'm still working out the details on how to implement in my AP classes for this upcoming year

Disclaimer #2: I am writing this post with the assumption you are already familiar with the basics of SBG. If not, I would definitely recommend Robert Marzano's Classroom Assessment and Grading that Works. A lot of my ideas are borrowed from his research.

How SBG works in my classroom...
At the beginning of a chapter, students are provided with an assignment sheet (Click HERE) which has a list of Learning Targets (LTs) and practice problems for each LT. In general, the LTs were from the lesson objectives of my textbook, but I did sometimes combine or even eliminate smaller objectives. For each LT, I broke down the traditional assignment from the textbook to 5 or so problems per LT, trying as hard as I could to provide a range of difficulty for each LT. I also tried to select odd problems so the students would have access to the answers in their textbook.

After 2-3 lessons (roughly 4-5 LTs), we would have a quiz over the material. Each LT had 3 problems, the first one was fairly straightforward and basic, the second problem was of average difficulty, and the third problem was of more advanced difficulty, often asking them to apply their knowledge in a new way or combining multiple skills. (Click HERE to see a sample quiz). Each LT was graded as a C (for Correct), P (for Partial), or I (for Incorrect). The C/P/I's were then combined for a rubric scale grade for each LT, with the more advanced problem's score weighing a bit heavier than the basic problem's score. I used a 4 point rubric, which I then converted to a 10 point "gradebook" grade due to limiations with my district gradebook.

In general:
CCC = 4 = 10/10 - You totally have this concept mastered!
CCP = 3.5 = 9/10 - You are almost there, just a minor error (usually a sign issue!)
CCI = 3 = 8.5/10 - You've got a pretty good grasp on the material
CPP = 2.5 = 8/10
CII = 2 = 7/10 - You have a basic understanding of the material
PPP = 1.5 = 6.5/10
PPI = 1 = 6/10 - There is a glimmer of knowledge of the concept
III = 0.5 = 5/10 - You have no clue, but you gave a valid effort
--- = 0 = 0/10 - You left it blank or no valid effort
**Note, not all combinations of C/P/I are listed... this is just a general guideline of what I did. Sometimes a CPP was a 3 depending on the strength of the Partial.

The night of a quiz, I went home and graded them, then recorded them in my gradebook on the 0-4 scale. I kept a paper gradebook (Blank copy HERE) because I wanted to keep track of student scores and reassessments, plus we don't have online access to our gradebooks at home :) Each square in the gradebook is large enough to write several scores, so it worked well for me. (See Sample GB HERE)Probably the most difficult thing for me was that I've always been a slow grader so I really didn't know how well I would do at getting quizzes back the next day. However, after a few quizzes, I was amazed at how speedy it was to grade, and so it wasn't the dreaded chore that it had been in the past.

The next day I handed the students back their quizzes. On the first few quizzes, I took the time to re-explain the system and what the rubric score meant. I really think that the time I took to model and explain the SBG system paid off in more ways than I could have expected. In the past, students had looked at their overall grade and then thrown their quiz away (or in their backpack, never to see the light of day again). However, with SBG, students really took the time to read the feedback, do an error analysis, check with a buddy to compare methods of solving, and rarely did I find a quiz in my trash can or recycle bin. In fact, most students kept their quizzes in their binders, in numerical order and even in May, they were able to produce quizzes from the fall semester when they were asked to. I had *never* had that happen in the past!

After the students received their quizzes, we discussed as a class what it meant to remediate and reassess. We talked about their score was a reflection of the mastery they had demonstrated, and if they felt their mastery had improved, then they needed to come in to demonstrate that improvement to me. On my podium was a weekly sign-up sheet (Click HERE for a blank copy) for students to schedule reassessments. I only allowed reassessments on three days of the week so I would have some off time for tutoring, meetings, etc. We also have a built in Advisory period on Thursdays that students could come in, but since I already had 20 Advisory students, I limited reassessments to the first 10 students that signed up.

When a student showed up for reassessment, they had to provide me proof of remediation. The idea behind this was that I didn't want them wasting my time or theirs on reassessment if they had not put any effort into mastering the material. Initially, I had planned that their remediation would be the practice problems from the assignment sheet, but as the year went on, that idea was modified to include an error analysis of their quiz, notes/problems worked with a tutor, etc. Overall, I was pleased with how students handled their remediation. As the year progressed, you could definitely see the students taking more control of their learning as they decided the amount and type of remediation they needed to do in order to master the material. We did have a few big rules regarding reassessment - the students could only do the LTs from a single quiz during a single session, and they could not received tutoring and reassess during the same session. These rules helped us keep our sanity and helped with the short-term memory issue :)

The Lessons We Learned
I was really shocked and amazed at how easy parent communication became with SBG. Since their grades were totally based on quizzes, there were no discussions on extra credit, turning things in late, etc. The gradebook was laid out in a very clear manner about their student's level of mastery per objective, so most parent questions were easily addressed.

At first, I was really dreading the actual grading, but I quickly adapted and overall I ended up with less to grade, yet able to provide my students with more specific and detailed feedback about what they knew or didn't know. I was also able to grade much faster, which let me have more time for planning interesting lessons.

In our original design, we had planned to continue with traditional chapter/unit tests, but this quickly went by the wayside. Part of this was a time issue, part of it was keeping all of the terminology straight, and part of it was just that traditional tests didn't seem to fit in well. We ended up going to just quizzes, which were every 5-8 class days and it worked out just fine in the end.

Definitely have a partner to try this with! If I had gone at it alone, I would have bombed out early just from being overwhelmed. However, I had spent most of last summer reading, researching, blogging, tweeting, discussing SBG before I ever stepped into my classroom. Having Neighbor Teacher there to try it with me, to help shoulder the responsibilities of writing quizzes, coming up with LTs and Practice Problems, asking advice while scoring a quiz was simply invaluable.

Changes for Next Year
One change I would definitely like to make for next year is an easier way for students to keep track of their scores. The assignment sheet has boxes for this, but I wasn't very good at insisting that students write their original score and their reassessment scores in those boxes. I need to look at some of the other blogs to see what they do for student recording.

I would also like to look into using tiered remediation. In other words, if you scored a 3.5, you only had a single minor error, so you don't need to do as much remediation as a person that scored a 0.5. I'm not sure that I could keep up with this paperwork, but I did have a few kids that did the minimum amount for remediation and then were shocked when their reassessment still wasn't very good!

Would I do it again?
Heck yeah! This was a long process but SO worthwhile. I've grown professionally through this process and I don't regret a minute of it. I just hope that this record of my journey helps someone out there as they start sipping the Kool-aid :)

Friday, June 3, 2011

In the Good Ole Summertime...

It's official - summer is here! Today's highs were in the upper 90s and it's downright yucky outside!

Last Friday was our official last day of school, but I went back for a two day workshop this week. To say I'm conflicted would be an understatement... As I had understood it, the goal of the workshop was to work collaboratively on inquiry based lessons. However, most of my inquiry focused more around the "Huh??" realm. :) One definitely positive outcome was having conversations with the science teachers on how they use math in their classrooms and what I can do to support their program within my math classroom. I think the key challenge will be finding places in our math curriculum where the science fits naturally as to not create a "square peg/round hole" forced situation. It was pretty natural to find places where statistics fit in (duh!), but it was challenging to find areas for Alg2. The best we came up with was literal equations, parabolic motion, and graphing stories (distance vs time, etc).

After our workshop, several Alg 2 teachers got together to plan out the first part of next year. One of our frustrations is that we spend too much time on Alg 1 review, which then creates a bottleneck when we get to the actual Alg 2 material. Our goal was to try to condense the first few chapters of material while reviewing the Alg 1 material in the context of Alg 2. For example, instead of reviewing slope and writing equations of lines and such, we would do linear piecewise functions and have them write equations and find slopes of the various segments. I'm very excited about the changes and reorganization that we worked on and hope that it really helps with making connections for our students.

By the way, for those naysayers that think teachers have all this time off, today was my first day with nothing planned out and what did I do? I cleaned my office and worked on some activities for next year. I did get a nap in though! :)

Edited to add....
I asked my twitter PLN for any examples of how math can support what they are doing in science. For sake of my memory, I am cataloging the responses here...

macsmath - linear & quadratic eq's --> 3d position & prediction - I'll post what I do with it soon (hopefully)

jsb16 - I'd be happy if my students came in with Alg1 concepts solidly understood. Most of my sophomores can't solve F=ma for m.

torquedu - direct/inverse/inverse square/sqrt/logarithmic/exponential variation as common relationships among variables (not x &y)
- Not strictly Alg2/Precalc, but stus could always use practice with unit conversions, sci notation, non-integer numbers & graphing

fnoschese - equation of line, slope, area under graph (by hand, no calculus), solving equations, systems of equations, right tri trig, vectors.
- stop using x and y as variables eg if height is unknown use h not x.
- Truck starts 100 m north of school going south at 20 m/s. Car starts 40 m south of school going north at 35 m/s. When/where meet?
- Another is when they need to use slope eqn and area equation for a graph at the same time b/c of unknowns.
- for example: slope = (10 m/s/s) = v/t, area = (45 m) = (1/2)(v)(t) . What is v and t?
- You have a graph of velocity vs. time. Slope is acceleration (given). Area under graph is displacement (given). What's v and t?

I really appreciate the information given by the science teachers!! Thanks to you all!