Saturday, July 5, 2014

July Blogging Challenge - The Day of Truth

Today is it... at 7pm tonight, the AP Scores for my students will be released. To say that I'm nervous is an understatement, but that's true every year. Fourteen years ago, when I first started teaching AP Statistics, we had to wait for the paper reports to be mailed to our school, so beginning around mid-July, I would call our site secretary every day to see if the scores had arrived yet. If they had, I would drive in to school to retrieve them. With modern technology, score reports are now available in early July via the internet, but that doesn't make them any less scary! :) Last year's scores were rough... some of the worst of my career. It really bothered me, but it was exactly what I predicted would happen. This year's batch of students were much stronger overall, so I'm hoping for better results. Either way, I know there are changes I need to make to try to make next year better.

Yesterday, @gwaddellnvhs and I got into a discussion about the challenges of teaching AP Stat. His enrollment has skyrocketed to 100 students and we were talking about strategies for dealing with a large enrollment. I know exactly what he is talking about. For the first 10 years that I taught AP Stat, we had 2-4 sections of AP Stat split amongst a couple of teachers. However, about 4 years ago, our enrollment went up to 7 sections. The increase for us was due the that year's senior class had been the first year that 8th grade Algebra 1 was the "on-level" class and a lot of students chose AP Stat for their 5th-year math class. Of course, with a burst in enrollment also came many changes in my classroom (and a resultant drop in AP scores). For the first time, I could not feasibly grade AP Free Responses the way I had in the past. My tests had to become more multiple choice based just due to my sanity and time requirements. I adore teaching AP Stat, but it is very grading-intensive with a lot of writing, which means a lot of reading on the teacher's part. With increased class sizes, the time it took to complete an activity was also increased, so we moved through the material at a somewhat slower pace. Next year we have another jump to 9 sections and are having to add another teacher.

The biggest challenge with 100+ students per day is grading. Now don't get me wrong, grading 100+ papers is rough in any subject, but typically in the past, I've not really had all day of one subject, so if you were testing in subject X, you did something else in subject Y to alleviate the paper bog-down. In addition, in your typical Algebra class, there's a right and wrong answer and the supporting work is pretty clear cut. In AP Stat, a typical student response is more essay-like and a student can literally write an entire page worth of stuff and still receive a zero. This definitely limits the amount of time that I can devote to grading Free Response problems and still be able to provide timely feedback. For years, I did "two-day tests", where the students would take a multiple choice on one day and a free response on another day and the scores were combined to be the test grade. The free response part of the test typically involved 3-4 free response problems, so with an expected 125 students next year, that could be 375-500 questions to be graded per test! When our enrollment increased a few years ago, I had to change this structure for the sake my sanity and started using free response questions on quizzes and the tests were entirely multiple choice. When I had fewer students, I also would do a weekly free response problem that was due on Friday, but with the increase in enrollment, I let that slip as well.

Another challenge is simply time. I like to do activities, but it takes longer with a class of 30 than a class of 25. I believe that the person doing the work is the person doing the learning, but I also know that I have a huge list of material that I'm supposed to teach and it's hard to do everything. This past year, I lost sight of some of my goals as we had 8 snow days and I jumped into crisis mode rather than really making sure that my students had a firm grasp on the material. I want to make the class fun and challenging and interactive, but I have to be careful that we aren't doing activities just for activity sake. Sometimes that is a fine line to walk. For example, my students have seen univariate data graphs before in middle school, so I tend to not spend a lot of time on them and try to focus instead on what the graph tells us. However, at the end of the year, I still have students that struggle with these basic ideas.

The Ultimate Question
How do I manage it all? What strategies have you used that address the above issues?

July Challenge
I am on a personal challenge to blog every day in July, just to see if I can do it. I would love to have you join me! If you are worried that you've missed a few days, please don't stress.. just jump on in! Maybe a month is too much, that's okay, try it for a week, or every other day, or once a week.. whatever works for you!

Don't forget to visit the other July bloggers and show them some love!
The bloggers (so far)
Robin at Flip! Learn! Share
Bridget at Reflections in the Plane
Teresa at GeometryWiz
Sherrie at Middle School Math Rules!
Brooke at Sined, Sealed, Calculated
John at Functions are Fun
Jedidiah at Math Butler
Pam at the radical rational
Roxy at Rockstar Math Teacher
Paul at TeacherPaulP

Add your blog in the comments if you would like to join in! :)


elsdunbar said...

I can feel the passion in this post. I hate that sometimes we, as educators, wrap up our self worth in these standardized tests. We know that it is not truly "what matters" but it is "what is counted."
Keeping my fingers crossed...and thank you for bringing me into this challenge with you.

Sherrie Nackel said...

What a thoughtful reflective post. I had the largest class sizes ever last year and I agree that something has to give. When you have 30+ students individual conferences become difficult. Thanks for doing this challenge. I know I would have slacked off on blogging today if it weren't for the challenge!

Amanda Kilgore said...

I feel your grading pain. You might check out ExitTicket. It is super easy to use and might alleviate some of the grading on your end. Google is also coming out with Classroom in August. I plan to check it out for the online 1:1 environment organization. I hope that you find something that works for your teaching style.