Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Effective Integration of Technology

I try to be a pretty progressive teacher. I would like to think that most days I succeed at the attempt, but one area that I am lacking is in effective use of technology. Now, if you were to ask others, they might say that I'm one of the most tech-geek teachers they know, but I know the truth - that technology for technology's sake is not effective. I use my projector system every day, I can do online research with the best of them, but I want to explore technology that truly gets the job done, not just technology that looks pretty. It reminds me of a passage in Robyn Jackson's "Never Work Harder Than Your Students", which says something to the effect of needing to evaluate every lesson and if it doesn't get the job done, get rid of it - even if it's your favorite lesson, if it doesn't achieve the goal, it's not worth it.

Enter in my good friend @approx_normal - a few weeks ago she sends me a link to this video and it really gets my thought process going...

The basic idea is to flip your classroom - send your "lecture" home as homework (via podcast or CD) and then in class, do more exploration, assignments, activities, and labs. I LOVE the idea!! Ever since that day, I've been trying to figure out how to implement this for next year. How I could use Jing videos, etc to create an online virtual "textbook" for my students to watch and take notes.

Then, fresh on the heels of this video was a twitter discussion with @jasonchri, another AP Stat teacher. He uses technology on a daily basis, and I've been following his tweets with great delight as he is also trying SBG in Stat this year. He has his class set up so that reassessments aren't always formal reassessments, they could be updating the class wiki, working on an applet, etc. He also utilizes Google Docs for quizzes, feedback, data collection, etc. I would LOVE to be a fly on the wall in his classroom for a few days! Browsing around his website got me to thinking further - Could I integrate this idea and the idea from above? If so, what an awesome way to turn the learning over to my students!

I know it's crazy to be thinking about summer projects in the dead of winter - but here's where my PLN comes in... Tell me about technology use in your classroom. What technology tools do you use? How do you use them effectively? How do you decide a tool isn't for you?

Thanks in advance!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Halfway there!

First semester is over :)

It's been a few months since I've blogged, but life has been overwhelming at times! Between new textbooks, new grading system, teaching at both HS and uni, and some personal stuff, I am so grateful for the downtime of winter break. Here's a quick recap of the semester...

If you go back, you will notice that most of my summer posts were about my foray into Standards Based Grading. This has been the biggest change for me professionally and I am very pleased with the results so far. On their semester final, I felt most student scores accurately reflected their progress through the semester, so for that I was pleased. However, I did still have quite a few kids up to the last reassessment day clamoring for the points they needed to get the highest grade they could going into the final. I'm okay with that though because instead of asking for extra credit, etc, the kids really had to show some demonstration of mastery for that grade to raise.

For all of the good that I had with SBG, Technology was the bane of my existence this semester. When I set up my room in August, my projector was not working and it took 15 weeks for them to get it fixed. Now I know there is a lot of red tape, etc, but seriously?!?! I could have gone to Office Depot and PURCHASED a projector and had it installed within days!! This meant that I was 100% crippled in terms of videos, applets, 2.0 tools like Jing, etc. The day the new projector was slated to be installed, we had a 2 hour lock-down that started 5 minutes before school was to be released - UGH!!! Once I did get my projector fixed though, I was like a kid in a candy store - I was giddy with excitement :) On another technology grumble, last year, I had ordered 15 laptops for my department - they have YET to be delivered.. WTH???

The Immediate Future
This next semester is shaping up to be just as busy as the fall. Partner Teacher and I have been asked to present at our staff PD day about SBG, a prospect that both excites me and makes me nervous. I look forward to implementing more technology this semester, with Jing, classroom wiki, etc.

The More Distant Future
While this year has been (mostly) amazing, I am always looking for improvement. Next school year will bring a mix of good and bad and I'm already nervous about it. I will be moving over to a new classroom in a brand new buildling, with the goal of math and science collaboration/integration. Part of me is excited about exploring new methods of reaching my kids and exploring collaborative ventures with the science department, but a huge chunk of me is sad to be leaving the building that has been my home for over a decade, friends that are like family, and current collaborative partnerships. Our close-knit department will be divided and that scares me to no end.

As with all semesters, I leave this one with mixed feelings. I am pleased with the improvements I've made, but I am always looking for ways to make things even better.

For now, though, it's time to work on my Christmas list :) I wish all of you a very happy holiday break!!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

I *heart* Fall Break! :)

Whoever decided that teachers and students needed a break in October should be declared a Saint! I love teaching, but after a while, you need some down-time to relax, catch up on sleep, veg on the couch, clean your house, etc. We had parent/teacher conferences on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and then had the rest of the week free - yay!!! Of course, as with every break, I started the week with such great plans to catch up, etc and instead it turned into several days of relaxation and in general, not being very productive at all!

Wednesday after conferences, Partner Teacher and I went to one of the local watering holes and spent the afternoon mapping out the rest of the semester. What a great feeling to know that we have a plan! We've had a lot of success this year, but also some set-backs, specifically in terms of long-term retention. A great example of this was this past week's test :(

Last week, when both of us were gone on Friday, we had assigned this "Partner Problems" Worksheet. The idea was that students could work with a partner and check their answers, but they had to work independently on each problem since the problems themselves are different. On Monday, they had additional time to study in class and then they took a cumulative 9-weeks test on Tuesday. Overall, we were NOT pleased with the scores! Some students did well, some not so well, so both Partner Teacher and I were pretty bummed. After grading the tests, we both realize that we have to work on the retention factor of skills.

Tomorrow, students will be getting a couple of new papers to add to their binders. First will be a test analysis sheet, where they will go through their test, see what skills they really need to work on and see if there's a pattern in their weaknesses. Students will be able to come in to make test-corrections for partial credit, but as always they will need to show evidence of remediation first. This idea came from this week's chapter of #sbarbook on how to give feedback to students. Sadly, I wish I had caught these issues before hand, but I knew that some major issues would be absolute value and parallel/perpendicular lines and tried to warn them ahead of time :( Sigh!

Next, to address the issue of retention, we've decided that the quizzes will have a previous knowledge section that will contain one previous LT skill. We will not tell the students which skill it is, but plan to tell them which quiz it was originally from. This previous knowledge skill will start everyone everyone with a fresh slate for that skill and will be able to be remediated/reassessed like any other skill. I'm still struggling with how to keep up with this in my paper gradebook, but I'm hoping to figure it out soon :)

I would love to hear your ideas on how to increase long-term retention and how you give students feedback on their weaknesses on a test.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Taking a Me Day :)

For the first time in my 13-year career, I took a personal day to sleep in, clean house, read, and relax. It has been simply amazing :) At the moment, I'm taking a break from reading Monday's chapter in #sbarbook - "Never Work Harder Than Your Students" by Robyn Jackson. The section I just finished was about "Demystify the Process" in terms of clearing up student confusion and anticipating problems before they start. I had to take a break to jot down a few ideas and process it myself.

This chapter's principle is about providing proper support to students BEFORE they fail instead of waiting until AFTER they fail to provide remediation. One of the keys in providing this support is to anticipate student errors, misconceptions, and confusing topics/instructions. In the section I just finished it says we often assume students know how to do things like study, read a textbook, etc, but that we rarely take the time to teach them how to do these things, to break down the process into clear, concrete terms. This got me to thinking about how this same principle applies to teaching. (While there are many examples I could come up with, I will pick on a current issue in many districts.) A common buzzword around here is "using data to drive instruction", and the upper admin that expects this to happen just assumes that we know how to do it, but has never provided explicit, clear, concrete instructions on what/how they expect us to do this. While I have a vague idea of what they mean, no instruction has been provided to allow me to clearly understand their expectations.

Another point that is made in this section is that we rarely sit down with our students and explain the "why" of doing something. Students have become adept at many academic processes, such as writing a lab report, etc, but how many of them really get the "why" of the lab report? Do they really understand what they are doing, why they are being asked to do it, and how it can ultimately help their learning process? Again, I related this to being a teacher. Teachers are often given top-down directives to do this program or to implement this process, and they do it because for the most part, teachers are rule-followers. But how many of us really understand the "why" of these programs and processes? Are we provided the information that really gets us on board with how these programs can help our students and ultimately help us become a better teacher? I recently commented to Partner Teacher that while we had experienced a lot of good things from implementing SBG, a key part of it was that it was "grass-roots". We took the time to do the research, read books/blogs, really understand the "why" of how it would help us and our students. If SBG had been a top-down mandate without the "why" provided by the research, would we be experiencing this success or would it be yet another program that we felt forced to implement?

Finally, this section also brings up the "Yes, but...." I have to admit, I really like this feature of the book. You can tell that the author truly spent time trying to figure out the common comebacks and excuses and gives her best shot at counteracting them. This "Yes, but.." asks if being so explicit, hand-holding our kiddos through the process, explaining every nuance of an assignment, is that the equivalent of "dumbing down our curriculum"? Her response is a great one - that being concrete as you introduce a process allows students better understanding and provides the foundation for abstract thought as they progress through the material. In my classes, both at the high school and at the university, I often start a chapter or lesson with a hands-on lab activity that walks the students through the thought process of that objective. Then as they gain more competence, I ease off the step-by-step instructions and provide them opportunities to stretch their brain. This concrete to abstract process provides them the support to be independent learners.

Now off to finish the chapter and take a nap :)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale....

It's been a while since I posted and each day I think "ya know, I should really post about how things are going", but then I get busy grading or planning or I'm just not feeling it for whatever reason and it gets pushed off my radar for another day...

But today it feels right... Two years ago today, my step-daddy passed away and this was one of the places I turned to share his story. That was probably the start of my realization that I actually had a few readers out in the blog-o-sphere and someone really cared to read my random posts. While I still miss him greatly and always look for him when I go to my momma's house, that's not the tale I came here to share today...

Today's tale is about my school year so far. I am having probably the best professional year of my career and that simply feels amazing. But then, I walk outside of my classroom and the weight of the demands from the outside world crushes me. So instead, I stay within my little comfort zone that is my room and Partner Teacher's room and figure I'll stay as under the radar as much as I can :)

After school today, Partner Teacher makes a comment that we need to start making a list of the good and the bad of this year, so here goes...

  • At first, I was concerned with the time it seemed to take to grade the SBG quizzes, but now that I have my system down, I *heart* that I grade about once a week and have more free time for planning cool lessons.
  • I adore how easy SBG makes parent contact. When a parent emails to ask what Junior needs to work on, it's so simple to put the responsibility back on Junior's shoulders, where it needs to be.
  • My students and parents like that they know detailed information about where they are.
  • It only takes a kid one reassessment to really see the benefit of coming in. Last week, we had a quiz on transformations and 2-variable inequalties. One young man really struggled and did rather poorly on it, he asked to stay after on Tuesday, we worked for about 20 minutes, I sent him home with some practice problems and today he asked to reassess. Each of those objectives he raised from 0.5 to a 3 or a 4 - HOORAY!!!
  • A system that seemed very strange to the kids just two months ago, now seems totally normal and they wish other teachers used this method.
  • While I can easily see how SBG works in a process oriented class like Alg2, I struggle with how to implement it in an application class like Stat. I still have no idea where to even start to set up SBG in there.
  • I do worry about concept retention, but I think that was an issue in the traditional system as well. With the new 9 weeks, we are going to have a "Previous Knowledge" standard that is from a previous assessment - haven't worked out all the details yet, but we'll get there :)
  • I'm constantly amazed at how much my kids are willing do, even when there's not a grade attached to it. Today we did the graphing inequalities worksheet from Dan Greene and they loved it!
  • Even with all of the great things happening, it's been an insanely busy year. New textbooks, 3 preps, wrapping my head around SBG, night class, all combines to make me feel absolutely exhausted on a daily basis.
  • I also worry about their ability to work with more than a couple of concepts and/or their ability to work when the problems are all mixed together and not labeled with their Learning Target ID. I'm still working on that one....

Overall, I do have to declare our foray into SBG a tentative success. I really appreciate the support that I've gotten both on this blog and via twitter as we've gone through this journey. I <3 my PLN :)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I *heart* Activities!

This year has already had some ups and downs, but I'm enjoying it so far. We have new textbooks, which is always a challenge, but since this is my 2nd year in Algebra 2, I'm feeling more confident in my ability to try new things.

Last week, we taught two lessons. One was on domain and range and whether something was a function. Sunday night before I was to teach it, I got a brainstorm of an activity and immediately messaged Neighbor Teacher about the idea. I love working with Neighbor Teacher because she is always willing to try my harebrained ideas :) We often tease that if we could just meld our minds into one, we'd be unstoppable! Anyway, we got together after school on Monday to brainstorm and I had a stash of Graph Paper index cards. We ended up making 6 sets of domain/range cards for us to use in our classes the next day. For each card, the kids had to figure out the domain, the range, and whether it was a function. It went very well! Here's a picture of the cards:

The next lesson was about standard form and x/y intercepts. Years ago, we used to teach an activity based algebra lab class, so we started digging through those card games, etc and low and behold, we had a matching game for standard form, graphs, and intercepts. So again, we put the kids in groups and had them match them up. It's great to hear the kids talking math!!!

This week was our first test in Algebra 2. All of the concepts we had quizzed on were on the test. The kids had their quizzes back, had opportunties to reassess, etc. I was determined NOT to do a test review worksheet because I want the kids to learn how to study based on their personal weaknesses, not just regurgitate a test review. I encouraged them to make a practice test from the level 2 questions on their quizzes. I told them to work the homework problems from their weak areas, etc. Again, Neighbor Teacher and I brainstormed how to review and she came up with the idea of practice cards per learning target. So last weekend, I made 3 cards per Learning Target, each with 3 questions on it. I made 2 complete sets of these cards and the kids really seemed to like the targeted review. See a sample of the cards here:

Of course, the title of this blog is "Teaching Statistics", so I suppose I should share an activity from there too :) This next week, we will be covering Contingency Tables and Marginal/Conditional Distributions. I got yet another brainstorm last week while driving home and when I got home, I just had to type it up :) I am really trying to reduce my "talking time" more and more each year and make things as self-guided as I can. A friend of mine field tested it today, but I haven't heard yet how it went, so use with caution :) It can't be that bad - it's an M&M Lab for goodness sake! heheh So click here for the activity :)

We have staff development tomorrow then off for a mini-vacay with the fam - I'm hoping to have more brainstorms and more to share with you when I get back! Until then, have a happy and safe holiday weekend!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

SBG: The Actual Implementation

For those of you who have read back a few posts, you know that my summer was spent researching Standards Based Grading (SBG). After lots of thought-provoking discussions both here and via my Twitter PLN, I kept creeping closer and closer to the final plan that I would actually implement once students arrived.

On the first day of school, I avoided any serious talk of syllabi, grading, etc, and instead chose to do some math. In Algebra, this was a "Graphing Stories" activity, while in Statistics, we looked at the court case of Kristen Gilbert, an "Angel of Death" nurse. The next day, though, it was time to get to the district required stuff - syllabus, pre-test, handing out textbooks, etc. In Algebra 2, I discussed SBG, but they really didn't get it much then. I told the Alg2 kiddos that we would have a quiz on Monday and it was material they would be held accountable for, even though I did not teach it. I handed each student an Assignment Sheet that listed Chapter 1's objectives and practice problems for each objective. I told them the quiz on Monday would cover Lessons 1.1-1.3 (a total of 5 objectives), so I would suggest they look over those practice problems over the weekend for those objectives.

The, Monday came... I gave my Alg2 classes a quiz over 1.1-1.3 and also went into more detail on how SBG worked. Each objective had it's own section on the quiz and had 3 problems of varying degrees of difficulty. I explained that if there was a section they struggled on, they could remediate and reassess. That night was a shock to my system though! It took me 5 hours to grade 58 quizzes!!! I went through first and marked all of the perfectly correct problems with a C and then then back through the others with more detail. It was a time consuming process to say the least! One thing I discovered was that either their arithmetic skills are lacking or they are very careless, because there were a LOT of minor errors! On Tuesday, I handed back the quizzes and explained to the students what the scale (0-4) meant and how it would show up on the online gradebook. Pretty much, here's an idea of how the scale works:

4 = 100% correct on all three questions = 10/10 in GB
3.5 = all three correct, but with single minor error = 9/10 in GB
3 = two questions correct, or all three w/ multiple minor errors = 8.5/10 in GB
0.5 = no questions correct, but valid attempt made = 5/10 in GB
0 = no attempt at all = 0/10 in GB

When I handed them back, I had the students write their scores on their assignment sheet, and then went over this scale, I explained that they could reassess any skill they wanted to, BUT, they had to show proof of remediation first. They could bring in their completed practice problems, they could go to a tutor and bring back proof, they could do a variety of things, but they had to show me that they worked on that objective before I would allow them to reassess.

Thankfully, my "Partner in Crime" - the teacher next door that is just an amazing person to work with - is trying SBG with me, so we sat down and ironed out some more details after seeing how long this process had taken. We recognized right away that we would need to have some rules in place to keep ourselves sane if we were to do this all year. Here's some of the guidelines we came up with:
  • Show remediation/HW when you appear for reassessment. If seeing a tutor, the tutor must sign off (with date) on your remediation work/notes.
  • Students can’t get tutoring and reassessment during the same session. (We don't want students storing info into short term memory)
  • Reassessment days are limited to Mondays and Wednesdays before and after school and during Homeroom period, all by appointment.
  • Appointments must be made 24 hours in advance, and you must let us know which LT's you plan to reassess.
  • In one session, only LTs from the same quiz may be reassessed.
  • LTs should be reassessed in a timely manner, typically within one or two weeks of original quiz return.

After handing back their quizzes, I taught the first official lesson of Alg2 - solving absolute value equations. The next day, I gave a "Checkpoint" of 2 abs value equation questions. When students completed the Checkpoint, they raised their hand and I picked up their paper. As a class, we then worked the problems together so kids would immediately know how well they did. We also talked about if they struggled on the checkpoint, that was a key indicator to them that they needed to make sure and practice on that objective. Then, that night, I looked over the Checkpoints and wrote feedback on them (not a grade) so that students would have a permanent record to refer back to. This process continued for several days and then it was time for another quiz. The quiz over Lessons 1.4-1.6 had 4 objectives plus a Previous Knowledge section. Each of the 4 objectives had 3 questions each and graded by the above scale. The PK section also had 3 questions, one each from 3 separate objectives from the previous quiz. The PK section is not reported in the gradebook, it is only for information. After quizzing, we continued on to Chapter 2 and instead of giving traditional tests per chapter, we plan to test periodically over a chunk of learning targets. We want the studets to get away from the idea of "this chapter is over, we tested on it, now we can forget it".

That brings us to now - this week we will be testing for the first time and as part of that, will be teaching the students HOW to study for a math test. Overall, this process has been rewarding, but a lot more time-consuming than I had anticipated. I have really liked being able to see where students have struggled specifically, and it's been interesting that almost every student has had at least one objective that they did very well in. Before, that success would have been hidden in the overall score. I've also appreciated the feedback from the parents and students when they see their scores and knowing what exactly it is they need to work on. There are still a few kinks to work out (especially in terms of time needed to grade), but I'm getting there :)

Now, off for a pedi and relaxation time! Have a great day :)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What a Whirlwind Week!

Holy Moly - I've already been in school for 2 weeks!!! Where, oh where, did the time go? :)

The Good:
  • During our pre-service days, the meetings were short and time in classrooms was maximized. Even so, I still was in my room until 8pm the evening before kids arrived! Had a meeting with my evaluating principal to fill him in on SBG, just in case of parent questions or concerns, and his response was very positive.
  • On the first day with kids, we did math - it was great!!! The kids responded very positively, realized they would be working in partners and expected to work the whole hour right away.
  • When I did finally go over the "rules", the kids were staring at me blankly when I talked about SBG - so then on Monday, they took a quiz over Order of Operations, Simplifying Expressions, and 1-variable Equations. I did not teach the material at all, just quizzed it (previous knowledge). Went over SBG again and light bulbs started going off - "You mean we don't have to get a bad grade?" was a common question :)
  • When I handed back the quizzes the next day, I was very pleased to see how easy it was for me, the kids, and their parents to see which Learning Targets they truly needed to work on. Instead of throwing away their quiz like in previous years, the kids actually started reworking the problems, trying to find their errors! They got together with other students for help, came up to ask me, etc - SCORE!
  • On a daily basis, we have been giving "Checkpoints" of 2 or so questions from the previous day's lesson in Algebra 2 - it's been eye-opening to say the least. I am grateful for the opportunity to identify errors early on, and the kids know that if they struggled, that's a sign they need to make sure to do the practice problems for that LT, before the LT Quiz.
  • My students have been AWESOME so far in all of my classes. They have been willing to work hard, working problems, discussing with their partner, and overall great in their engagement during class.
  • My adaptation of "Rolling Down the River" for Stats really seemed to work well. I think my kiddos have a better understanding this year of Stratified Sampling vs. Cluster Sampling than ever before.
The Bad:
  • Due to budget cuts, class sizes are pretty large all around. I have 30 kids in my 6th hour Algebra 2! Sadly, many teachers have way more kids than I do :(
  • I did not anticipate the time it would take to grade the first quiz. It took me about 5 hours to grade 55 Algebra 2 quizzes. The next day, Partner Teacher and I sat down to clarify our grading scale to help that issue.
  • I was not prepared for the inconsistency of the student responses for seemingly basic problems - I thought we had done a good job of identifying Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 questions for each LT
  • Writing feedback on the daily "Checkpoints" is also time consuming, but very worthwhile I think. I hope as the year goes on, it will get easier :)
  • A summer storm fried the VGA ports of the projectors in my hallway, so I'm making do with an ancient inFocus and a laptop that is so old, it has an interchangable CD/Floppy drive.
  • I've struggled so far to find my "mojo" - pretty much, I've been planning the next day's lesson the night before - that isn't going to work for me for much longer! :) So if you happen to have some spare "mojo" lying around, please send it my way!

Overall, I've had a pretty good two weeks, but I'm just plain ole worn out. I feel asleep last night at 8pm and woke up this morning at 8am... I'm already ready for Labor Day - I need the break!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ready or Not...

The time has come yet again... time for new markers, shiny floors, and curious teenagers is upon us. Next week marks the official end of summer for me, with kids returning to the classroom on Thursday. With that in mind, it's time for me to put on paper all of the changes I plan to make, mainly so I can come back and remind myself periodically about the goals I had from the summer :)

  • SBG - As any reader of this blog should be able to figure out very quickly, one major change for this year will be Standards Based Grading (SBG) in my Algebra 2 classes. I'm not going to hash it all out again, because most of the posts this summer have been about SBG :)

  • Daily Warmups - Until I started really analyzing my classes this summer, I did not realize how much my daily warmup routine really bothered me! My previous routine was to give a handout on Monday with previous knowledge problems that the kids then turned in on Friday. While it was a great idea, it ended up more as a copy-fest for points :( This year, I am assigning partners based on the seating chart and will be doing problem solving and critical thinking in Alg2, with one day being a weekly multiple choice partner quiz in prep for our state exam. In Stat, they will have a different warmup on different days of the week, but again, they will most be with partners.

  • Feedback - I need to greatly improve on how I communicate to kids on where they are and how they can get to where they need to be. In my mind's eye, I see this happening a lot through "Quick Checks" (a quick HW like problem that they solve and turn in) or "Exit Slips" (a quick journal style prompt). Whatever I end up doing here, these feedback opportunties will allow me to see where kids are at, make comments on how they can improve, but they will not be "scored" in the sense that kids will get a number grade on the top of the paper.

  • Problem-Based Learning - I really like putting my kids in groups to "cuss and discuss" their way through a problem. I would like to gather more resources on good problems for both stat and alg2 that my kids can explore with their partner/groups. I find that in most cases, the discussion that occurs within the groups is way better than most of my lectures :)

  • Writing - I really would like my kids to have pencil-to-paper more often, whether that is working problems in class, a journal prompt, blog "scribes" in stat, etc. I have reaffirmed my belief in how much is learned through writing this summer. I started this blog for my own reflection and though I will never profess to be a "writer", there is something about writing and getting thoughts down on paper that is just powerful beyond words. I want to pass this on to my students as well and help them discover this nugget of truth.

  • Bookclub - One of the most powerful things to come out of this summer was the professional bookclub we started on twitter. We've read "Classroom Assessment and Grading that Works" by Marzano and currently are reading "Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading" also by Marzano. Our next book is "How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students" by Brookhart. While I love to read, I sometimes find myself putting things off. The bookclub is great for me because it keeps me accountable to a group of other professionals for reading and discussion. Of course, once school starts, our pace will slow down some, but I'm eager to continue learning with this amazing group of people!

I know this year has potential to be very busy and overwhelming, but I'm really excited about the changes I plan to make. This year will pose it's own challenges in terms of budget and morale, but I'm determined to make it a good year and I know with the support of my PLN, it will be!

What are the changes you plan to make in your classroom?

Let's make it a great year or not.... the choice is YOURS! :)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Methods leading to Madness :)

**This was an email that I sent to one of the instructional coaches at my school for feedback and realized that it would be good here too - feel free to tell me what you really think in the comments :) **

Dear Instructional Coach,

I sent you a message a while back about how I would like to change my assessment practices. I am currently doing an online book study for Classroom Assessment and Grading that works by Marzano and next week we will start Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading, also by Marzano. I have a pretty good understanding on the big ideas, but some of the detail issues still are evading my grasp :)

Ultimately, I believe an overall grade should reflect what a student has learned over the year, NOT how successful they were at accumulating points. Current practices are broken in that a student that understands the concepts but refuses to jump through the paperwork hoops "fails" the course and a student that has no clue but turns things in on time "passes" the course - that is just wrong in so many ways :( Also, I want my grading practices to be able to tell me exactly what a student does or does not know, broken down *by topic*. So there's where I am right now :)

I am pretty much contemplating two methods as of now... both are 100% assessment models and I would appreciate your thoughts if you have the time :)

**Note** In neither of these models does "homework" or "assignments" count in the grade. Students would still be expected to do warmups, homework, classwork, etc, but these are all ungraded categories. Ungraded can still mean that I take it up, look at it, write feedback/suggestions/comments on it, it just won't be assigned a numerical value in my gradebook.

Method #1 (Hybrid model)
Quizzes = 35%, Chapter/Unit Tests = 50%, Semester Final = 15%

Method #2 (More of a pure model)
Quizzes/Tests = 80%, Semester Final = 20%

In both methods, students would be provided with a list of learning targets for a chapter. Lessons would be taught as usual, although many opportunities for formative assessment would be provided through partner work, exit tickets, checkpoints (aka HW quizzes), but these would be ungraded opportunities. After a few lessons, a quiz would be given over the previous learning targets, with the grade broken down per target. Each learning target would have 3 levels of questions on the quiz (similar to the 3 levels of questions by Costa). Instead of one lump sum score, as in traditional grading, the quiz would have multiple scores, one for each learning target. This provides detailed information about which targets the students fully grasps, which ones are a work in progress, and which ones the student is essentially clueless on. The scores would be reported similar to:

4 = student successfully completes all levels of questions independently
3.5 = student successfully completes both level 1 and 2 questions independently and some level 3 questions with help
3 = student successfully completes both level 1 and 2 questions independently
2.5 = student successfully completes level 1 questions independently and some level 2 questions with help
2 = student successfully completes level 1 questions independently
1 = student successfully completes level 1 questions with help
0 = student does not successfully complete any of the questions, even with help

Now I haven't quite figured out how to translate those into my gradebook yet because our gradebook reports a pure percentage, so a 3/4 would convert to a 75%, even though a student scoring a 3/4 would be considered "proficient" and in my opinion deserves a high B, potentially even a low A. (Of course the discussion of "What does an A really mean" is a whole 'nother ball of wax)

So let's say a quiz in Alg2 has 4 learning targets (the equivalent to 3 lessons or so) and you earn the following scores:
- Solve absolute value equations....................score: 3/4
- Solve and graph 1-variable inequalties............score: 3.5/4
- Solve and graph compound inequalities.............score: 2/4
- Solve and graph absolute value inequalities.......score: 1/4

It's clear to me as a teacher that you have a pretty decent grasp on the first two learning targets, but you need to work on the last two. You would have the opportunity to get some help on those learning targets (go to the peer tutoring lab, come in for tutoring, do the assigned practice problems, work out of your workbook, go to a tutor, do *something* to show that you have put forth effort in relearning the material), and then show me the evidence of your learning and earn the chance for a "re-test" of the deficient concepts. This new re-test would then replace the previous score in the gradebook as it is the most recent snapshot of your learning progression.

At the end of the chapter/unit, I had thought about having a traditional test, graded in a traditional manner, but that's the main part I'm really unsure of right now. I see the value in having a test that you can't re-assess, but then that assumes that everyone learns at the same rate, which I don't think is valid. However, I'm not sure I'm comfortable with the idea they can continously reassess for 80% of the grade, nor am I sure of my ability to stay sane if allowing that much reassessment. This is really one of the last sticking points for me on deciding which model to pursue. In model #1, the test is treated traditionally (aka summative), but in model #2, the test is also reported based on learning targets, just a bigger "chunk" of learning targets at once and also allowed reassessment.

Anyway, if you've made it to here, thank you very much for reading! It helped me to get it "out on paper"

Me :)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Paper Brain

Last post, I shared with you some of my favorite tools for keeping myself sane and organized. Now I'm going to share my favorite lesson planning tool.

Yup - it's a 3 prong folder - great isn't it? Beautiful color and it's plastic so it won't easily tear. It's kind of a bizarre choice for a lesson planning tool, but for me it works :) See, I consider myself on that line between digital immigrant and digital native. I grew up with computers (at least, if you consider the TRS-80 a computer heheh), and when I went to college, the internet was just starting to be a big thing. But there is something about writing on paper with a pen that writes really well that a computer just can't duplicate.

Now let's venture to the inside of my folder...

This is my statistics brain :) Along the side you will notice post-it tabs with tabs for Misc, BTS (Back to School), all of my chapters, and Review. The Misc tab is where I put my braindump of ideas to reflect on, to change, goals I have for myself, etc. This picture is actually last year's idea list because I'm still working on this year's :)

Now let's look at the best part of my brain :)

This is where the action happens. This is a chapter page (specifically for Sampling Designs). I write ideas from the internet, workshops, conversations, news articles, etc here. This is my "index". When I get home from a workshop, I go through and remind myself of activities we did, worksheets I liked, videos that I can use AND where they are stored on my bookcase or computer file.

Somedays I think - wow, I really should put that into a google doc or something, and believe me, I've tried! I love using google docs to copy/paste URLs or random ideas or what-have-you, but there's just something about my paper brain that I can't let go of yet.

One of the things I need to do in the last few weeks of summer is to make a paper brain for Algebra 2 - last year, I was struggling to keep my head above water, so I didn't get one made :(

Do you have a paper brain? Do you have a way to organize your ideas to help make lesson planning easier for you?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Organizing the Classroom

One interesting side effect of teaching is the feeling that you are a seasoned veteran when you are in your early 30s :) I don't feel like an "old" teacher, but am one of the most experienced teachers in my department. However, no matter how long I've taught, I still hope I feel like a first year teacher :) One of the joys of teaching is the fun of back to school shopping. For me, that not only includes fun new school supplies, but also looking at new ways to organize my classroom. I love finding ways to make my life more streamlined, so several of my favorite "teacher books" are actually ones aimed at new teachers and the chapter that I always love to read is the one on classroom forms. So I decided to share my favorite forms with you, the ones that truly make my life easier...

FYI - I did lose some formatting and almost all of my cool fonts when uploading these to google docs, but hopefully you get the idea :)

Weekly Planner
While I absolutely love digital toys, there is something about physically crossing items off a list that just makes me happy :) I print off 36 copies of this form and put it into a 3 brad folder w/ clear cover. This acts as my to-do list, lesson planner, appointments, etc. This is pretty much my brain during the school year. I cannot claim original ownership though - I did find this online several years ago and have adapted to fit my needs :)

Textbook Checkout Form and Book Roster
One of the issues that plagues most schools is keeping track of textbooks. For me, I've tried about everything from notecards to list making, etc. But finally I settled on this combination of forms that helps to simplify my life. When I hand out textbooks, students get the quarter sheet to fill out with their info, rating, and comments. My student aide then transcribes that info onto the Book Roster. I use the book roster throughout the year to do book checks for our holds list and then when a student turns in their textbook, I give them back their quarter sheet as a receipt. That way, if I accidently turn them into the office for an outstanding book, they have proof of having turned it in.

Cornell Notes Bookmark
A few years ago, I was at AVID training and our presenter had a bookmark that he made for his students. The bookmark can be customized with whatever information you want on it - grading policy, contact info, Costa's levels of questions, etc. I encourage all of my students to use Cornell Notes (and required w/ AVID students), but I hate the messiness of a hand drawn line. The idea here is for the students to put the bookmark in their notebook and use the right edge to draw a straight line down their paper. I copy this onto cardstock for my students and then while watching a great movie, spend a ton of time cutting them out :)

Attendance Sheet
Many moons ago, I used to keep track of my attendance in my paper gradebook. However, I didn't like the cluttered look, so instead, I use this instead. Since an entire quarter can fit on one page, I hole punch these and put into a 3 prong folder that stays on my podium. I put the seating chart for the class on the opposite page so that when I open my folder, I have the seating chart and attendance all facing me. Also, since it's a Word table, I can copy/paste my roster and don't have to write in the names!

Birthday Calendar
In the past, I've had students neatly write their name on this calendar and I've posted the monthly names on my birthday board. For this year, however, I read somewhere about a teacher that has the kids decorate an index card with their name, hour, and birthday and then she just posts the cards during that month instead. I really like this idea, so I will probably not use the calendar, but thought some of you might find it useful :) (Again, sorry about the formatting!)

Final Thoughts
What forms and organization tools do you find useful in the classroom?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Moving Around + Talking w/ Partners = Learning

On my last post, MissCalcul8 asked me to expand on the idea of kids talking and working with their groups during class. I had actually already promised another teacher earlier in the same day that I would post some of the ideas I had found on Active Learning. So ladies, this one's for you :)

During the summer, I LOVE to read. There have been summers that I burned through novels at a rate of 1 per day. This year, however, it's all been about professional literature, which takes a bit more time to muddle through :) One of the books I picked up earlier in the summer was 'Why Didn't I Learn This in College'. I'm still working through it, but I really enjoyed the chapter on Active Learning strategies, which got me to researching some other strategies, etc.

Here's some of the favorites that I've found and my ideas of how I plan to implement them in my classroom.

Grouping Ideas
First off, let me say I <3 grouping my students randomly. I am always so impressed with the conversations that happen, how the kids work together to figure out a problem, etc. Most of the time, I just use a regular deck of cards, I stand in the hall and the kids draw a card, then sit at the correct cluster of desks in my room. However, I found this custom set of cards and I think it is SO cool :) Definitely going to make a set of these :)

Discussion with a Partner
According to the book linked above, 75% of our learners are extroverted thinkers and learning by talking. While this surprised me at first, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was true. While I personally am not an auditory learner, I find myself learning TONS through discussions via twitter and brainstorming with my "real-life" colleagues. When engaged in discussion, you are having to process, synthesize, respond, question, etc. In the classroom, it would be easy to have students paired up, project a problem or question, have the students discuss with their partner, work through the problem together, and share with the class their consensus. During this discussion period, the teacher could circulate the room, listening in, looking at papers, etc.

A consensogram is a graph of what students know/feel about a topic. This is a similar idea to @CarissaJuneK's barometer on the MSWiki Page. I like this idea especially for a quick view about a topic, such as "I can solve a quadratic equation by factoring" and getting a quick snapshot of student feelings with them putting a mark in the appropriate column (frowny face, straight face, smiley face or whatever). This could be done quickly with a piece of paper and some stickers from the dollar store or even using clickers for a bit more anonymity.

I had seen this listed before as a "Gallery Walk", but I can see Graffiti being used in lots of ways. I love using post-it chart paper in my classroom and here's a strategy that integrates it! :) Basically, separate your students into groups and each group gets their own colored marker and a piece of chart paper with a problem (I'm envisioning word problem, proofs, etc). The group works on their problem, and after a set amount of time, ring a bell for teh groups to rotate to the next station. The group then reads the new problem and the work that has already been done, makes corrections and continues working the problem until the bell rings again and the groups again rotate.

Self Assessment Exit Ticket
While reading Eric Townsley's blog, I ran across this post, which alluded to a self-assessment form that he has his students fill out at the end of a lesson. I really like this idea for an exit ticket, where the kids let me know how they felt (smiley faces again) and points of confusion. This allows me to see where they are in terms of their learning, but I've done journals of this sort before and quickly got bogged down in responding to them. I'm still working on how to implement this one without getting bogged down.

3-2-1 strategy
The 3-2-1 strategy is usually used as a reading strategy. I am thinking of it more as an informal check of learning prior to a chapter test. Instead of the traditional 3-2-1 questions, I am thinking of "3 concepts I am solid on, 2 concepts that I feel shaky about, and 1 concept that I feel totally clueless about". I'm not sure how well it will adapt, but I like the idea :)

Final Thoughts
Overall, I believe that engaged students are better than passive students. With the "sage on the stage" model of teaching, the teacher is really the only one that is fully engaged in the classroom. As teachers, we need to make an effort to engage all students in our lessons. I hope you find these strategies as interesting as I did while researching. And feel free to add on your own favorite 'Active Learning' strategies in the comments!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

What I've learned this summer...

School starts in 3 weeks and as I reflect back on my summer, I find it interesting how far I've come. At the beginning of the summer I thought this year would be focused on relaxing, spending time with family, and looking at my new textbooks. Instead, here we are, towards the end of summer, my boxes are still in my living room, and I've spent most of the summer focused on formative and summative assessments, SBG, reading professional literature, and interacting with my twitter PLN, proving me more and more great ideas for implementation in my classroom.

That brings me to the purpose of this post... I've been reading and pondering a lot, but it's time to finalize my thoughts and determine my path for the year.

Grading Learning Targets
I've already posted about SBG a few times. I was grateful this morning to find some other learning target lists that are also pretty long, so I'm confident that we are on the right track with our list. I've also decided to go with a 5 point scale for my concept quizzes, mainly inspired by @jazlen and @Mrs_Fuller.

Being my first year with SBG, my classroom will look pretty traditional, with the major difference being how the score is broken down by LT rather than a cumulative quiz score. I will still quiz over 2-3 sections at a time, which works out to 3-4 LTs per quiz. Each LT will have a mix of questions (basic, above basic, and advanced/application/writing).

For grading purposes:
5 = advanced/exceeded standards, meaning they were able to knock the LT out of the park and would do a great job explaining the LT to someone else.
4 = proficient/met the standard, they have a pretty good grasp on the LT, probably could explain it to someone else
3 = basic/approaching the standard, they have a basic idea of the LT and can probably hem-haw their way around an explanation, but toss in any kind of twist and they are back at square one.

Classroom Instruction
Throughout classtime, students will be working with partners, talking & writing about math, which will provide me some informal assessment. In addition, I will also give either exit slips or HW quizzes to help me continue to assess gaps in learning. Last year I did give "quick checks" as quick, graded assignments, but this year I am thinking they will be ungraded and only for purposes of communication, so I can give the kids feedback on where they are.

Warmups, Bell-ringers, Problem of the Day
For the past several years, I've done these as a weekly grade that is turned in on Friday. In Geometry, I liked them a lot, but in Algebra 2, I grew to hate them with a passion. Students ended up copying them or not turning them in, and it really became a punitive grade more than a helpful review assignment. This year, I plan to have the kids work in groups of 3-4 on their problem solving skills. I will pull the problems from the NCTM calendars, ACT problems, End of Course exam problems, etc. The only kink I haven't worked out is making sure the kids do the problems if they are ungraded. We've trained kids from an early age to only do things if it's worth "points", so I'm thinking I may have to bribe them with a jolly rancher or something :) heheh

The Rules of the Game
I want to encourage my students to reassess LT's but I will have some rules
1) Students can only reassess one LT per day - hopefully that will help with the end of term rush to raise their grades
2) Students must show "proof" before reassessing an LT - they must have done the assigned problems, gone to our peer-tutoring lab, tutored with me or another teacher, or something they design. But I don't want them coming in to reassess without doing some remediation.
3) Students cannot get help and reassess on the same day. I see this feeding into the short term memory issue and I don't want to encourage that at all.
4) Students will need to schedule a day in advance for reassessments. I'm thinking of having an appointment book that they write their name, hour, and LT so I can get the reassessment ready for them. I also thought of a google form, but I don't want them signing up at midnight and thinking that is "advance notice" for me :)

Minor issues to resolve
I'm still not sure what to do about quiz security for absent kids and reassessments. I don't want to return a quiz/reassessment only to have it passed around so other kids can memorize it. I'm still working that one out in my head :)

Final Thoughts
It's been a crazy summer, both personally and professionally. On a personal note, I lost my best friend in the world after a very couragous fight with cancer. I am so grateful I got to spend the last days with her, laying in bed, watching TV, talking about nothing and everything. On the professional side, I have become drunk on the SBG kool-aid, re-examined a lot of beliefs and emerged more confident on the other side. Now to tackle that growing to-do list before kids bombard me in August :)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Nitty-Gritty Details

Ugh - I don't even know where to start! I've hit delete several times already and it's just the intro sentences!!!

I'm at an SBG roadblock. I am in complete agreement that SBG is where I want to be. I want my students and parents to be able to look at my gradebook and say "Oh man, I really need to study Learning Target (LT) #, #, and #, but check this out, I totally rocked LT # and #!"

But, then I run up against roadblocks... issues that I just can't figure out in my head and I end up wanting to just throw in the towel, but I know I can't - I believe in this system, I have confidence in how it can change my classroom. But I also know that I can't go into my admin and my only answer to his questions is "I don't know yet".

My current questions and issues:

1) Everyone has a different rubric and I'm not sure on which one is best. If you use SBG, could I beg you to post your rubric in the comments? I'm currently thinking of a 0-5 scale, but I'm not positive. My current favorite is @jazlen's Advanced/Proficient/Basic/Below Basic/Far below Basic and then add in 0 = doesn't have a clue in the world.

2) Speaking of rubrics, how do those translate to a traditional gradebook program? I don't have a choice about the program we use and it will automatically change a grade to a percentage scale. So if I use a 4 point rubric with 3 as "meeting standards", the computer will auto change that to a 75%. That really bothers me. I read the post on Edu-Ma-Ca-Tion on this same topic and I'm still not sure how to resolve.

3) How do you organize their concept checklists? Many use something like Dan Meyer's list and I like that too. I am thinking of giving them the list for the chapter along w/ their suggested practice (homework) and important terms sheet. They would need to keep a section in their notebook for each of these chapter sheets.

4) How do you keep track of the paperwork? I keep a papergradebook because of several issues - only have access to online GB at school, having backup in case of hackers (yes, it happened), etc. However, I struggle to visualize what an SBG paper gradebook would even look like!!! Ugh

5) What does a concept quiz look like to you? Some people give multiple quizzes w/ progressively more difficult questions, some give one quiz with various difficulty on that quiz, some do "traditional" quizzes with only difference being the score reporting.

6) Speaking of, how many times do you assess each concept? My current thought is quiz w/ various difficulty problems (which they can reassess), then see again on chapter/unit test. There will also be some ungraded assessments, maybe a "HW quiz" every so often, plus the possibility of showing up under the "previous knowledge" section on future tests.

7) I am a huge proponent of "previous knowledge" and "spiraling" and "not giving kids permission to forget" - so in that vein, should their grades be able to backslide? I know some SBG people allow grades to go down, some don't, I'm leaning toward the "grade needs to reflect current knowlege, so grade can go down" camp, what is your thought on it?

Sigh - I think that's it for now... I know it seems like a ton of questions, and believe me, I have spent time discussing with some of the best minds I know and yet I continue to feel clueless on these details. I have 4 weeks and counting to get these things figured out...

Thanks for reading - and taking the time to respond :)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Every answer leads to more questions...

Last night, I had the chance to chat online with my teacher-next-door buddy. She and I often are partners-in-crime when it comes to trying new things, so I was so eager to share the idea of SBG with her and get her feedback. After chatting some and sending her off to view @k8nowak's Jing video and to view some blogs, she was totally on board with trying it. Today we met for a very long lunch to hammer out some of the details and figure out questions we are still fuzzy on.

Our Plan of Attack
After thinking through some of the articles we had read, we decided to start with our textbook and set up our learning targets for the first few chapters. Our state is adopting brand new textbooks this year and we are pretty limited in terms of the order of topics and sections we have to teach. We started with Chapter 1, and using the objectives for each section and the homework problems as a guide, we came up with the following list. LT = Learning Target, then the numbers represent the Chapter.Section.Objective

Chapter 1: Equations & Inequalities
LT 1.1.1: Use order of operations to evaluate expressions
LT 1.2.1: Simplify expressions using properties of real numbers
LT 1.3.1: Translate verbal expressions & equations to algebraic and vice versa
LT 1.3.2: Solve 1-variable equations
LT 1.3.3: Solve literal equations for a specified variable
**Note: All of the above LT's are going to be assessed using a quiz, but will not be taught - they were covered at the end of Geometry. Students can reassess these LT's if needed. Section 1.4 then, is the first taught lesson.
LT 1.4.1: Solve absolute value equations
LT 1.5.1: Solve and graph 1-variable inequalites (& interval notation)
LT 1.6.1: Solve and graph compound inequalities
LT 1.6.2: Solve and graph 1-variable absolute value inequalities

Then we repeated this for Chapter 2 - and that's as far as we got today :)

It's possible that doing it this way, we may end up wth way too many LT's and that's okay - we recognize this is a work in progress :)

So method wise, we have discussed both Kate's "2 quizzes per goal" method as well as small non-graded assessments, with a traditional quiz after every 2-4 sections with the only difference between this year and last year being the grading breakdown. I see pros and cons in both, especially considering we are doing a "hybrid" model, where we will still have traditional tests at the end of each chapter that are summative.

Ideas we are sold on
  • We both definitely like the idea that students cannot get tutoring and re-assess on the same day. We both agree this feeds into the short term memory issue.
  • We do want kids to have to schedule an appointment for reassessment so we can make sure and have one ready for them - this planning will be necessary so we don't feel so frazzled
  • We both like the idea of some kind of notebook where the kids keep their checklist of skills as well as their scores (I think this is either from Kate or Jason)
  • We do agree that we do not want to give our students permission to forget, so as LT's come up in our previous knowledge sections, student grades can go down (but they can still come in and reassess if that happens)
Issues and questions we still have
  • We aren't sure which rubric we want to use - probably will be 5 pt, simply b/c I like multiples of 5 in my gradebook :)
  • If we do 2 assessments and add them together like some people do, then the student comes in to reassess, which two scores then get added? Like say I got a 3 the first time, a 2 the second time, then reassessed and got a 4 - which ones go into the gradebook?
  • What happens when a student is absent? Our quizzes right now are fairly traditional - and I forsee them staying that way with only big change being at the top where each LT is listed. If a kid is absent on quiz day, do they take it the next day? Take zeros on that quiz and have to do the reassessments for those LTs? Take a makeup quiz? Right now, we give 2 versions of the quiz and we show it to them, but they don't get to keep until everyone has taken it, but that won't work if we are trying to provide the quiz as a study guide.
  • How much proof do we need to require in order to reassess? Obviously for the first reassessment, they have to show they have attempted the assigned practice problems for that LT, but what about after that? Tutoring with a teacher or our peer tutoring lab would work as well.
  • For those that do a hybrid model, what is your percentage breakdown for grading categories?
  • We are thinking of doing away with our warmups - they have ended up more punitive than we meant for them to - what do you guys do at the beginning of the hour instead?
  • AN IMPORTANT ISSUE: How do you grade a problem that addresses multiple LTs?
  • ANOTHER IMPORTANT ISSUE: What do you do with something that is important, but maybe not enough to get it's own LT? Like for example: Function evaluation in function notation - F(3) = ? - This is something the kids need to know but I'm not sure that it's a big enough topic for it's own LT, especially when often it fits under evaluating expressions.

I need to send a HUGE thank you to all of my twitter PLN that have patiently answered TONS of questions, listened to me brainstorm, provided feedback, asked questions to make me think things through, and just in general for being there :) I can never tell you guys how much I appreciate you!

Suggestions and comments welcomed, as always :)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My foray into SBG

Over the past week, there have been lots of discussions on twitter about implementing Standards Based Grading (SBG). Here is a braindump of my ideas on how to use SBG in my classroom. Feel free to rip it apart, that's the best way for me to learn :)

Main Motivation
I know the current model is broken. I had a situation this year with a student that worked his/her tail off when test day was coming, but that's it. He/She did pass my class, but throughout it all, I just felt slimy. I knew his/her test grade did not reflect his/her knowledge and that really bothered me. Some students "rent" the knowledge until test day, but never "own" the information. I want kids to "own" it. Every year, I struggle with this. I think overall I'm a pretty good teacher and I try to get better every year. I am always thinking of ways that I can be more effective in the classroom and how to better help my students.

Some minor issues:
I am convinced that SBG is the way to go. I want students, parents, and myself to know exactly where students are and what they need to improve on. However, I also have some limitations within my district. We have an online gradebook that we are required to use and we must enter at least one grade per week. Horizontally, we give common finals and benchmark exams. We have a district guide for order of topics and overall pacing and we are supposed to be within a couple of days of the other teachers of the course. To add to this, every year the district surprises us in August with new mandates, so I can't totally go SBG or otherwise, I would just end up extremely pissed in August when the rug is pulled out from under me :)

My plan:
With the above limitations, I have decided a hybrid model based on converstaions with my twitter PLN. Also, I only plan to try this in my Alg2 class for this year. Basically, for this first year, I will be pretty traditional, but more detailed. I will still give an assignment sheet for the chapter, although I will probably break it down a bit more, so that instead of just the lesson title and assignment, I will have the lesson title, then the learning targets (standards) for that lesson and the practice problems for that learning target (LT). As Kate Nowak says "Then, I teach". After a few lessons, I would give a quiz, similar to traditional quizzes, but instead of giving a total grade (13 points earned out of 15), it would be separated by LTs (order of operations, whatever) and a kid would get 3 or 4 different grades for the quiz (one for each LT). Rinse, repeat... Then it comes time for the chapter test. I will probably keep the chapter tests like normal (we will be more than likely moving to common tests there anyway).

Issues I'm still pondering
  • I'm not sure yet how often I will reassess a LT in class - some people do 2 times in class on 2 different quizzes, but time may be an issue, dunno yet
  • I'm not sure how to format my paper gradebook - I use the Whaley 3-line gradebook, but may have to go to a self-created gradebook since quiz grades will now take up 3-4 columns rather than 1
  • I've not discussed this idea with my admin and so I'm not sure how this will go over. I have awesome admin, but we'll see how it goes :)
  • Each LT will receive a grade on a 4 or 5 point scale (not sure yet, I've seen both and still mulling over the idea)
  • I would really like to integrate more application and writing skills into these quizzes rather than just skills based
  • I've seen others comment that kids have a limit on how many LTs they can reassess per day, not sure what I think about that, definitely agree on the "can't reassess on same day as you got help on the LT"
  • I'm worried that with the reassessments, some kids will still "rent" for their low skills, trying to get their grades further up that A/B/C scale
  • The time committment does stress me out a bit. I have 3 preps plus teach at a Div I university - I already spend way too many hours grading and planning. The idea of creating multiple assessments freaks me out.
  • Currently I do "Quick Checks" which are similar to what others call "Homework Quizzes", except I give them the problem rather than saying "write #3 on your paper". I'm thinking these Quick Checks could be part of my quizzing system & can be put on the Promethean, thus helping the copy paper/budget situation
Final Thoughts As you can see, I still have way more questions than answers. I don't know how to fix some of the issues above yet - but I'm working on it. I have my PLN, books by Marzano, Reeves, and other assessment gurus. I will be ready when August arrives :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The End is Here :)

I've come to the end of my Literacy book - what I thought would be a fast read (< 100 pages) has taken me a week to read. Of course, taking the time to annotate the book (my AVID buddies would be SO proud of me), blogging about what I've earned, and of course spending LOTS of time on twitter learning about a multitude of things have slowed me down a bit. And while I can easily burn through a lengthy novel in a day or two, professional literature just doesn't flow at that same level :) However, I am eager to move on to my other books (especially those about assessment & Standards Based Grading), so I'm trying to get this one finished up. As such, this post will not be as lengthy as the previous posts (which is probably a good thing!)

Make a Picture! Make a Picture! Make a Picture!
Chapter 4 was about Graphic Representations in the math classroom. While this chapter was an enjoyable read, with several vignettes, I really didn't learn much. Of course, I am a VERY visual learner, so maybe I already knew this chapter's information from experience.

The main theme of this chapter was that student drawings allowed us to catch a glimpse of student thinking processes, which can be extremely helpful for students who cannot fully explain verbally where their confusion lies. Through the power of a diagram, teachers may find that what makes sense to our more mature thought processes does not make sense to our students based on their prior knowledge. One example in this chapter was about quadrupling a recipe that called for 1 1/4 cups of flour. Without prior knowledge of how "cups" relate, the student answered that they needed 8 total cups of flour in the new recipe - 4 big ones and 4 small ones. I'm not much of a cook, and as a kid, I rarely spent time watching my parents cook, so I could have easily had this same misconception when I was younger. As teachers, we have to be careful that we don't assume that students have prior knowledge about everyday things and having the students draw a picture can help us pinpoint these problems.

As math teachers, we often tell our students (particulary with a "word problem") to draw a picture. Using graphics helps with teacher assessment, but more importantly it allows students to make connections between the words and the concepts. For visual and hands-on learners, making a picture may be vital to the learning process because it forces them to slow down and process. For me personally, I am not auditory at all - I struggle in traditional classrooms, in meetings, listening to NPR, because I have to focus so much on what is being said that I can't keep up. :)

Talk it up!
The last literacy strategy of the book is discourse, which is what Chapter 5 is devoted to. This strategy comes easier to me in Stats than in Algebra, mainly due to the nature of the course. Even so, I still came away with some useful jewels of knowledge.

One of the first statements in this chapter says that "discussion and argumentation improve conceptual understanding." Personally, that statement shows itself to me all of the time via my twitter PLN. For example, this morning, I tweeted a question about standards based grading, which lead to a lengthy conversation with several colleagues, a few new blogs to read, and in the end, way more questions than I had started with. This discourse with my peers truly improved my understanding of SBG and allowed me to put the puzzle pieces together in my head of how to implement SBG in the classroom. The free-flowing idea stream that came out of today's discussion was simply amazing, although in the classroom, I could definitely see where this "non-controlled" environment could stress some teachers out. I had no idea where my question would lead me and in the classroom, that can be a scary thought (especially depending on your clientele!)

I have always tried to keep my classroom open for discussion, often asking students "why" in order to get them to explain their thinking. However, I may change that. One teacher that is used as an example in this book uses the word "More?" as a way to keep kids talking about an idea and appending previous student comments. I like that idea because it opens up the discussion to more than just an explanation - it could be any comment about the idea at hand.

The other big idea that I got from this chapter that will impact my classroom is this: "Rich, deep, and argumentative discussions occur when students display their work and present their strategies". I really need to have students tackling more application-rich problems and presenting their findings to the class. Of course, while I know that I need to do it and I really think I would enjoy doing it, I have no earthy idea of where to start, so obviously some research will be required there. I'll get back to you on that :)

A couple of other tidbits I got from this chapter:
- Don't rush to save kids too quickly. Often they will discover and correct errors on their own as they think and explain their reasoning.
- Have students share their methods, esp non-traditional, as it help everyone grow mathematically (I had this happen this year as a student noticed a pattern w/ perpendicular slopes when the equations were written in standard form - love when kids come up with their own algorithms!)
- Don't have kids just memorize vocabulary - they need to process the concept before the vocab word makes any sense to them
- Graphic organizers are great tools, but in order for students to truly expand learning w/ these tools, they need to discuss and share with others in order to clarify thinking

The big ideas...
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I came away with a lot of ideas on integrating reading, writing, graphical representations, and discussion in my classroom. I know that not all of those ideas will make it into my classroom this year, but that's part of the purpose of this blog - to act as my "holding place" for my "mindful mediation" :) Having these thoughts written down here will help me throughout the years as I reflect back on previous ideas and things I want to change. Now I get to dig through my treasure trove of books from last week to find my next mind-bending adventure....

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Writing in Math

Chapter 3 of Literacy Strategies is about writing in the math classroom. I was particulary interested in this chapter because the topic of writing (journals, learning logs, etc) has come up several times recently in discussions with my twitter PLN. While I got some great ideas from this chapter, I'm ultimately left with more questions than answers about how to integrate writing effectively.

We all know writing has great benefits. For the student, they are provided a canvas in which to develop their communication and thinking skills, and for the teacher, an avenue in which to assess how well the student understands and processes a concept. The author of this chapter relates writing as "mindful meditation" and the page as a "holding place for our thoughts". To me, that idea is the basis behind a journal or a blog. I've never been much of a writer, but even I find writing on this blog to be very useful for my personal and professional growth/reflection (aka mindful mediation) and I've often used my blog as a minddump of ideas that I haven't fleshed out, but that I don't want to forget. However, I had never quite put that idea into the classroom.

In the classroom, I would guess most of us rely on verbal communication, whether that comes from lecture, student responses, etc, yet all of us would like for all students to be engaged in the classroom. The author points out that only one student at a time is able to speak, but if we ask them to write instead, this encourage more participation because the entire class can be involved at the same time. Again, a simple idea, but one that I had never quite thought of. Ultimately, I would like to get to the place of presenting a problem, having students think and write individually, then work with a peer group to refine and edit, but worry about issues like student buy-in and wondering if kids will take it seriously or just jot down random things and not really grasp the benefit of the writing.

One point that the author made that I struggle with is that the thinking involved in writing/explaining is different than the thinking needed for solving a problem. All of us have experienced this issue. Students can find the answer to the problem, but struggle with explaining the how and why of their work. You may have even had a situation where a student could explain a topic (such as multiplication), but has very little computational fluency. There must be a balance between these two types of thinking and I'm not sure where that balance lies. We want students to be successful in both conceptual and computational learning, but how do we find that balance?

Writing in the classroom should allow us to open a dialouge with our students. When presenting them with a task that requires them to explain their thinking, we should take advantage of that opportunity to assess their thought process and any gaps or misconceptions. The teacher taking the time to read and respond to student writing on a regular basis is important in order to help students develop clarity in mathematical thinking and communication. However, that poses another question - where do we find the time? Obviously reading and responding to written responses will take a lot more time than grading a traditional math assignment. Also, many writing assignments may just be an informal assessment, gauging where students are conceptually and are never meant to be entered into a gradebook.

This chapter also provided insight on how writing can help ELD and SPED students develop mathematically. One point the author makes is that for both of these subgroups, there is a need for teacher assistance in organizing their thoughts through structured-response prompts. As confidence grows, the teacher can provide less and less structure until the student is performing independently. In my opinion, all students, not just ELD and SPED, could benefit from this structure as they are learning how to write in the math classroom.

Overall, I leave this chapter feeling convinced of the power of the written word in helping a student learn math and to reflect on their learning. I still struggle with some of the practical questions that come with this idea, such as the time issue, needed balance, etc. I feel like this post is more of a jumble of random thoughts instead of a cohesive review, but that may be appropriate considering that I feel quite lost and jumbled in how to effectively apply this strategy to my classroom. :)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Reading in Math

Chapter 2 of Literacy Strategies (which, btw, is freely available for you to read at the ASCD website), really made me squirm in my seat. When I was a kid, our pastor used to (and still does) get up on Sunday mornings and preach his heart out. More sermons than I can remember had him saying that when he was praying about and researching for that week's message, that he felt convicted, that God had "really stepped on his (the pastors) toes" that week. After reading this chapter, I knew exactly the feeling that Pastor meant. This book really stepped on my teacher toes this weekend and I feel very convicted as a result.

This book is a collection of essays from a group of teachers, and as such, this chapter was much smoother to read, but very deep in content. The big idea of this chapter is this: Ultimiately, the responsibility in teaching a student to read a math textbook lies with us, the math teachers. Granted, we have not had formal instruction on how to teach reading, but their reading teachers probably haven't had formal instruction on technical texts either. Here's a list of ideas from this chapter and my reaction...

Book: Traditional math instruction is training, not education. Students can perform procedures on cue like a trained animal, but have not really learned the mathematics until they can apply it.
Me: OUCH!! If that didn't step on toes, I don't know what will. This idea really knocked me on my rear and I had to step away from the book for awhile to process. I felt very convicted by this statement. How often do we train them for a standardized test, train them how to use an algorithm, without teaching them the true concept beind the computations? I can think of many examples in Algebra 2 this year where, after feeling beat down by pacing, snow days, family issues, lack of sleep, etc, that I resorted to "here's how you do this problem" rather than the WHY of doing the problem. This statement still has the power to knock the wind right out of me :(

Book: Math texts contain more concepts per sentence and paragraph than any other type of test. The text contains words, numbers, and symbols that must be decoded. The eye must travel in a variety of ways that is unnatural to reading (both left/right, up/down, graphs, charts). While reading, some information is extra and must be discarded by the brain, yet still distracts the reader.
Me: I paraphrased the above of course, but I had never sat down and really analyzed the difficulty in reading a math book. Because, as math teachers, we are (hopefully) math literate, our brains ignore all of the issues that are listed above, but as a young reader, can you imagine trying to tackle that? How overwhelming! This section hit home so much that I had to read part of it to my husband because I had never thought of a math book this way. Another issue that I would add to their analysis is the weight of books - holy moly! Those suckers are HUGE!!! Definitely not the book I'm going to sprawl out beside the pool reading :)

Book: "If we are really trying to help students read and understand for themselves, we must ask them questions instead of explicitly telling them what the text means"
Me: Another big OUCH here. How many of us, when a kid comes up and says "I don't get it", just tell the student what to do, rather than asking questions to lead to understanding? Questions like, "Can you read the instructions to me?" "What does this word mean?" "What is the problem asking you to find?". I try to be good at asking questions, often to the frustration of some students, but there are times, when I'm feeling rushed, or multi-tasking, or whatever that instead of asking questions about what they've read, that I give them too much information. Asking questions is also important because it helps me figure out where a student's misconception lies.

Random other tidbits that I picked up from this chapter:
The language itself poses a huge problem. The same word in Math-speak and in English do not mean the same thing. In addition, small words make a big difference (percent of vs percent off). To further compound the issue, clarity in written and spoken language can create complications for students as well. Vocabulary (or lack thereof) can be a huge issue and graphic organizers can be very useful for students to clarify and organize the information.

Final thoughts:
Like with everything in the classroom, kids learn by modeling. As teachers, we need to model the processes we use to read and decode text. We need to "think aloud" while working through problems so that kids have a working example of how to tackle problems on their own. We need to break down the text into manageable "bite-sized" pieces and ask questions along the way to demonstrate the thinking process.

Gosh, after this chapter, I may have to find something more light-hearted to read... my toes *still* hurt!!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Literacy Strategies

Okay, so as previously mentioned, I am going to be spending some time in professional reading (but my new novels look awesome too!), and sharing some insight here. The first book I'm reading (about 100 pages, hence why it's #1 on the list) is Literacy Strategies for Improving Mathematics Instruction.

So far, I've tackled Chapter 1. I have to admit that I kept getting distracted and this isn't an easy read for me - I'm really not one for "goobly-gook speech patterns", I'm really a pretty simple-minded person at heart. I tend to like books that are more of a "say what ya gotta say and hush" type of book :) Edu-speak typically irritates me quicker than anything because most of the time I feel like they are either trying to impress me with their vast amounts of knowledge OR they want me to feel bad for not understanding a word they are saying. However, there was one part of Chapter 1 that really stood out to me....

In Chapter 1, the authors really spend time related Mathematics to other languages. It has its "nouns" (numbers, shapes, functions) and "verbs" (modeling, communicating, transforming) and as a "foreign language", we really should approach it more with ELL type-strategies. The authors shared experiences of "use it or lose it" with both mathematics and traditional foreign languages. For myself, I took 2 years of Spanish in HS, yet retained none of it long term. As the author points out, some of that is of course that lack of usage, but could also be attributed to the way I "learned" Spanish. In Spanish 1, we spent a lot of time on nouns and verbs - my teacher had a table at the front with all kinds of stuff - toys, household items, etc and she would hold up an item and name it, we would repeat it, etc. She also taught us verbs - toss, pet, touch, point, etc. This memorization was useful, but ultimately it was just memorization, not a true understanding of the language. (With that said, I *loved* my Spanish teacher - she was amazing at making it fun to learn). Another point made was regarding decoding the language of math, both symbols and words. For example, the same symbol horizontally (=) and vertically (||) means totally different things in math. Food for thought... especially in how to relate to those students learning BOTH the language of english AND the language of math at the same time.

Overall, I think I'm going to enjoy this book. The next chapters delve into the strategies, but I know that I personally have given lip-service to "math is its own language", without really understanding what that meant. They've definitely opened my eyes to issues I hadn't thought about.

Til next time... :)

A New Beginning :)

Yeah, I know - I suck at keeping this blog up to date. This year was CRAZY busy for me, and as far as priorities went, this wasn't one. However, every day, I log in and read the updated blogs on my blogroll, so if I have time to do that, I can jot down a few ideas, right? :)

As with every summer, I have time to rest, relax, and mostly rejuvenate myself. I have found that Twitter is an amazing way to re-engerize my batteries and follow 100 of the most amazing math teachers in the world. After an awesome discussion on the value of homework, I was raring to go learn more about how to be a better teacher. Today was hubby's birthday, so he took the day off and we went trolling the town for books (our favorite thing to spend money on) and I came home with about 8 novels and about a dozen professional books. My plan is to read them and post reviews on here.

The first one up is Literacy STrategies for Improving Mathematics Instruction, so I'm off to read!!! Wish me luck! :)