Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summertime Reading

One of my favorite things to do in the summer is to read and one of my favorite books to read once the reality of Back-to-School sets in is a trio of books by David R. Johnson. I found Mr. Johnson's first book "Every Minute Counts" early on in my career and quickly bought the sequels "Making Minutes Count Even More" and "Motivation Counts". I don't even know if these books are in print any more, but they have been my summer staple for years. I also lend them to student teachers and new teachers to read. The books are short, more like booklets, with around 100 pages in them, so they are quick to read but they definitely pack a punch.

Last night, I decided it was time to start my yearly re-read and decided to pick up the third book. The first two are more about classroom management and how to set up your routine, while the last book is more about best practices in math. "Motivation Counts" was published in 1994 and while I was reading it, it really struck me how slow education is to embrace change in our teaching methods. Other than the fancy technology that now populates classrooms, I would venture to guess that most classrooms have the same structure that they did 50+ years ago. Even with the research on best practices, how to engage learners, teachers that fully agree that change needs to occur, it is sometimes so overwhelming that we quickly fall back into old habits and comfortable routines. We tend to teach the way we were taught by teachers who taught the way they were taught by teachers... (rinse, repeat).

Here's the quote that got me: (remember, this book is close to 20 years old now)
Lesson plans for the traditional classroom routine, as you can see from this list, detail *my* activities; they do not include what *the students* should be doing during class....

..In a recent television interview, a CEO in a major industry cited the main objectives for our schools as follows:
  • Teach problem-solving experiences and skills.
  • Teach communication skills.
  • Teach students how to learn.
  • Teach students how to work effectively as a team member.
  • Give students an ability to handle change. is very obvious that what industry wants, and what the traditional rountine offers, are not at all compatiable - or even complementary. Industry wants involved, active thinkers who can work together and deal creatively with the unexpected....

I think most of us know and agree with the above and even strive to accomplish those goals. For years, this quote has really hit me in the gut. I know I start the school year with big plans, but as reality sets in, it can be easy to fall back on that traditional routine where *I* am doing the work and the students sit back passively. I find it wild, though, that today's goals are still what they were 20 years ago and that little progress has been made in changing what a traditional math classroom looks like.

I can easily say that, of all the professional books I've read through the years, this trio of books have had the most profound influence on me as a teacher. Even though I've read these books numerous times, they never fail to inspire me and make me think about how to be more effective in the classroom.

What is your must-read book for teachers?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Incorporating Writing in Math

With students returning in just a few weeks, I am digging through old materials looking for lesson ideas. Tonight, I ran across this...

The question "why so much writing?" can be answered in three basic ways:
1. Writing promotes clear thinking.
2. Writing promotes effective and long-term retention of what has been learned.
3. Writing provides individuals and groups in a complex world with a voice and a record.

Students need to understand that writing is the single most powerful tool for thinking, learning and participating in the broad culture of a society.

Source: Write Path Mathematics from AVID

Now my question... how do you incorporate writing in your classroom?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Using SBG in AP Stat

Last year I implemented SBG in Algebra 2 and loved it. However, I just could not wrap my head around how to implement it in AP Stat, so I spent a lot of time this past year thinking on how I could make it work. This is more of a mind-dump of ideas than a complete plan - a way of getting my thoughts down on paper and put it out there so that I can analyze it further.

This Past Year
For SY 2010-11, grading in AP was pretty traditional for me. I had three categories in my gradebook - Tests/Quizzes (65%), Assignments (20%), and Final Exam (15%). The Assignments Category contained pretty everything that wasn't a test or quiz. This included weekly AP MC practice, POWs (Problem of the Week AP problems), worksheets, labs, etc.

Tests and Quizzes
I already set up my Learning Targets (LTs) and provided them on my assignment sheets for each unit over this past year. (See Unit 3 HERE). I think each LT Quiz will cover 2-3 LTs. Where I struggle here is how to set up the LT Quiz. In Alg2, each LT has 3 problems (basic, average, and advanced levels), and I don't know how well that will work out with AP. I'm thinking maybe a MC question and then two FR questions. Of course, the layout will be different than the current Alg2 layout, allowing a question stem to be used for multiple LTs. I would still use a 4 point scale for each LT, like I do in Alg2. I think Unit Tests would pretty much stay the same as they are currently are, with a MC and a FR section, with the grade being a traditional test grade. This would allow the quizzes to be more skills based and assessed, whereas the tests would be more summative.

Remediation and Reassessment
This past year, students could retake a different form of a quiz *if* they provided proof of remediation, which was the practice problems on the assignment sheet for that chapter. They could also make test corrections if they did at least one problem from each objective on the assignment sheet. For the most part, I liked this plan. This next year, it would roughly stay the same, but to reassess a Learning Target, they would have to work the problems specific to that LT, rather than the entire chapter. For test corrections, they would still have to do at least one problem from each LT, PLUS have completed the Unit's Summary Sheets (see Unit 3 HERE)

Issues I need to figure out
  • What percentage breakdown do I want to use for Tests, LT Quizzes, Assignments, and Final Exam? The Final is district mandated to be at least 15%.
  • Actual AP questions often cover multiple topics. While I could edit them for the LT quizzes to only include the current objectives, I would like to have that cumulative element. This could be a reassessment opportunity, but with only one data point, how would I grade it on a rubric? Maybe those "mixed-bag" style questions should be on the summative tests, not the quizzes?
  • What to do about the Assignments category? I could leave a small percentage of the grade devoted to this category. In Alg2, their grade is purely assessments, and all of their assignments are non-graded, feedback only. I'm not sure I'm ready to go there in AP just yet. I do see value in the items placed in this category, but would not want them in either assessment category since a lot of it is lab investigations, partner work, etc. The other issue with this category is anything that isn't done in class has the potential to not be turned in on time, which leads us down that "late work" rabbit hole.
  • Should the tests be unit based (like they currently are), or time based (like every 6 weeks)? I like unit based tests because things seem so neatly packaged, but I worry that that last chapter being quizzed won't be graded/returned/processed/remediated/reassessed prior to the unit test date. I like the idea of every 6 weeks (covering LTs up to Chapter X), but worry it might feel awkward and not flow well, but theoretically would give that cumulative element needed in preparation for the AP exam in May.
  • One of my biggest issues is that I'm a pretty slow grader in AP. With Alg2, I almost always had their quizzes back to them the next day, sometimes it took two days, but rarely more than that. With AP, there is so much reading that you have to do that it really bogs down the process.
New idea for next year One thing I've done for several years is a weekly POW that is a previous AP problem. I take these up on Friday and provide feedback and an AP score. This has worked fairly well for years, with the exception of a few kids here or there not getting them turned in, etc. This year, however, I had one class that was the class from hell when it came to turning these in. Seriously, out of 20 kids, it was pretty common to have less than half of the class turn it in. This really pissed me off, especially since they were assigned on Tuesday, given 10 minutes to work with their partner to read, discuss, and sketch out a solution, then 3 days until it was due in final format. After some thought and an "a-ha" moment earlier this summer, I think I am going to do two things to hopefully fix this problem. First, I am going to do daily warmups that consist of parts of AP problems. I can give up a few minutes a day to have the kids write a solution to a part of an AP problem. Then, I will either provide the scoring guideline to the class for whole-class feedback or sometimes take them up for more individualized feedback. Second, on a regular basis (maybe once a month?), we will have an AP quiz with maybe 4 AP problems and they have to choose 3 to completely answer and I'll grade it using the rubrics. I'm not sure where these will fit in my grading scheme yet though :) Wrapping it up
I don't have the details all ironed out, but overall, I think this is a plan I can live with for a year while I refine it. I think this provides me the detail I want on the individual objectives while still maintaining the big picture/integrated structure needed in Statistics. Now that I've identified the big issues and concerns that I have, I think I will be able to work on strategies to fix those issues. As always, I appreciate any feedback and questions to help me guide my thinking.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Summer To-Do List

Oh my gosh, it's now July!!! Back to school aisles and sales are popping up all over and I have NOTHING done!! So, thanks to some inspiration from some blogger/twitter friends, I decided I had better put my to-do list down on "paper". There is just something satisfying by crossing things off of a list!

You will note that my to-do list is not something that easily lends itself to crossing off items. Most of these are a work in progress that will continue through the year. The idea behind this list is to help me focus on what I need to work on, rather than the nitty-gritty details. Some (most?) of these will not get done by August 15th, but I can make headway on putting together a plan for them.

  • Read. I am working on UbD, but have several others in line as well, including some on Habits of Mind. Need to do some personal reading too:)
  • SBG. I need to figure out how to make it work for AP, which isn't as skills based as Alg2. I also need to do some minor tweaks to Alg2.
  • WICR. I really want to work on incorporating Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, and Reading in my math classes. I usually start off the year fairly well, but need to keep this going throughout the year.
  • Active Learning. I did this in AP and was mostly pleased with how it worked. I need to do some revisions in AP and increase this component in Alg2. I am in the process of going through and finding labs to add to my binder of ideas.
  • Warm-Ups. This year, I really struggled with Warmups and I really need to go back to them. In AP, I think I am going to do formative assessments using parts of AP problems. I'm not sure on Alg2 yet.
  • Cumulative Work. This has been a goal for several years, but it often goes by the way-side due to time crunch. I want to make a consious effort to have assessments and assignments that have previous knowledge involved.
  • Technology Integration. Supposedly we will have access to laptops in our new building, so I would like to beef up my class website to be more of a learning portal. I would like to integrate tools like Flubaroo (Thanks Fouss!), G-Docs, Wiki, etc. However, until I have full confirmation that this technology really is going to be available, this is kind of low on my priority list.

I'm sure there are more things to add. I've worked a bit at most of the ideas listed, but I don't have anything concrete yet, which is a bit frustrating. I have a jumble of ideas floating in my head and lots of dreams of what to do, but the nitty gritty details just haven't settled down yet. *sigh* I need July to go slower than June did :)