Sunday, June 28, 2015

Brain Dump - Thinking about Assessment...

Warning:  This post may ramble a bit.. I needed to do a brain dump to organize my thoughts :)

For the past five years, I've been concerned about assessment in my classroom.  In the summer of 2010, the MTBoS really helped me with transitioning to Standards Based Grading and in general, I haven't tweaked that process much over the years since because I've been pretty happy with my system.  However, I still have concerns about student retention, so in more recent years, I've been focused on formative assessment and making thinking visible, but I'm really excited to see how the changes that I'm mulling over for this year will impact student learning.

The Background

At the AP Reading a few weeks back, Daren Starnes (one of the authors of The Practice of Statistics), gave a Best Practices talk on student learning and referenced the book Make It Stick by Peter Brown, calling it one of the most influential books of his career.  Two other Best Practices talks referenced assessment - one was about Multiple Choice Mondays and the other, by Adam Yankay and Jared Derksen, referenced Standards Based Grading.  

When I Got Home:
After spending over a week with 800 of my closest statistics friends, I was really interested in doing more research on the assessment practices shared during the week.  During my research, I ran across a Global Math Department (GMD) talk by Adam Yankay that also referenced Make It Stick, so I knew that book had to join my library ASAP.  I quickly downloaded the Kindle version and set up a plan with my Twitter Book Club pals to keep me accountable.  (If you would like to join us, check out #EduRead on twitter)  

My Tentative Plan:
I think the major shift for me will be restructuring my first and last 5 minutes of class.  In Make It Stick, one of the key items is about retrieval and how that ties in to retention.  The use of quizzes to practice retrieval has been shown in several research studies, which is part of Adam's discussion above.  Also, in the book Accessible Mathematics, Steve Leinwand encourages daily skills check/quizzes in the first 5 minutes, with the argument that 5 minutes x 180 days of instruction = 900 minutes or 15 hours of gained instruction of basic skills.  With all of that said, here's my thought:
  • Multiple Choice Mondays - I really like the idea of an organized structure that my students can expect.  With MC Mondays, they would have 5 questions that spiral through the curriculum, which would be part of the "interleaving" mentioned in Make It Stick.  I'm not sure yet if I want these to be individual, pairs, or groups.  I like group MC because of the good conversations that occur.  In the Best Practices talk, the speaker mentioned that she usually puts one of these questions on the weekly quiz as well.
  • Weekly Skills Check - This idea is mainly from Adam's talk and would consist of right vs wrong, "Level 1" retention questions.  The goal would be to automate some of the basic skills so that students have a stronger knowledge base on which to build.  These would be questions like identifying the sampling method, which confidence interval to use, interpretation of r^2, writing a regression line from computer output, etc.  This would also spiral throughout the curriculum, which again promotes retention.
  • Exit Tickets - I've used exit tickets (and other formative assessments) on a regular basis, but usually my exit tickets were more reflective in nature.  I'm thinking that these need to be more skills-check-type assessments over that day's lesson just to see how well students grasped the big ideas of the day. 
These aren't huge ideas nor are they major instructional shifts, but I'm really thinking that they could pack a big bang over the course of the year.  

What are strategies you use to promote retention in your classes?  What would you add to the above thoughts?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Chart Paper is my friend

The end of another year has come and gone, bringing with it both joy and sadness.  I love the anticipation of a new year and starting over with a blank slate, but I'm sad to say goodbye to my students and especially to wipe my classroom clean of all of the learning that has taken place in the past 180 days!  One of my goals this year was to "Make Thinking Visible", so my room was filled with posters that we referred back to often, so it was a day of sadness when I took them down and sent them out to the recycling bin.

If you know me at all, you know I LOVE school supplies (with big puffy heart loves!).  Two of my must-have school supplies are chart paper and sticky dots.  The best type of chart paper are the big post-it note pads with grid lines, but those are really expensive, so I try to be conservative with those.  We can get cheaper chart paper for just a few dollars from our district warehouse, so I tend to use that for activities like Chalk Talk, etc.  I stock up on sticky dots in the Target dollar section at back to school time.  I used to have the students draw dots, but it really annoyed me when the dots were various sizes, so now I just buy the little smiley face stickers and be done with it. :)

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I asked a group of stat teachers on Facebook about their favorite activities that they use to illustrate statistical content and I shared two of my favorites.  One of the respondents asked me to share more details, so here ya go...

Sampling Distribution of Means

I did this activity with a copy of Random Rectangles, but next year, I may use my well-loved JellyBlubbers.  For this activity, my students used a random number table to select 3 rectangles at random, find the average area and graph it.  They repeated this 3 times per person to gather a lot of data.  Then they repeated with 10 random rectangles.  The groups then discussed how the graphs were similar and how they were different.  Over the years, I had done a similar activity with proportions (flipping a coin), but the rectangles made an impact, as evidenced by one student's work below:

I don't know about you, but when an activity sticks out in a student's mind, then it's a keeper for me!

Confidence Intervals

Over the years, I have often asked my students to create a confidence interval and graph it to illustrate the meaning of "95% confidence".  However, this year, I decided to use some of my sticky dots to help nail down a few other items.  Here, students tossed a Hershey's Kiss and recorded whether it landed on its base or not.  This was our first introduction to confidence intervals, so instead of using the CI formula, students used their sample data to find the standard error and draw the sampling distribution model based on their p-hat.  Then they used +/- 2 standard errors to create their first confidence interval.  The part that I did differently this was having them graph their point estimate (p-hat) first, then draw left and right to create the interval.  The idea that I was trying to push home was that the point estimate is in the exact center of the interval, so given any interval, they can find the point estimate and the margin of error.  For some reason, this is a difficulty of many students.  They can calculate 0.4 +/- 0.12, but if you give them (0.28, 0.52), they are stuck on how to find the p-hat and the MoE.  For the rest of the semester, this graph often came up in conversation when students were trying to figure out the relationship between the point estimate, margin of error, and the interval estimate.

Now it's your turn...
How do you use chart paper in your classroom?
What are your go-to school supplies that you can't live without?
What are your favorite activities to teach/illustrate a concept?