Sunday, July 30, 2017

Why Blog?

Prior to #TMC17, there was an interesting discussion on Twitter about the future of blogging as it relates to the #MTBoS.  Then, during TMC, there was quite the debate on the #MTBoS hashtag.  As part of that debate, several people mentioned that they weren't quite sure where they fit into the MTBoS because aren't bloggers.

The timing of these two discussions was interesting to me.  Blogging is a struggle for me.  I will have 20 ideas floating in my head, I'll even write them down, but when I click "New Post", all of those thoughts just disappear.  Or worse, I'll type up a post and quickly delete it because it just sounds lame in my head.  

At TMC17, one of the keynote speakers, Carl Oliver challenged the attendees to just #pushsend.  

That's scary for me.  Maybe it's scary for you too.  And that's okay... but still, #pushsend

I didn't attend TMC17.  In fact, I went to my mom's for a few days to try to get away from #TMCjealousycamp and FOMO. :)  But even then, the #MTBoS was with me.  I listened to the Mathed Out podcast on my travels and one of the episodes was Julie and "Why Blog".    (If you've not listened to the Mathed Out podcast - go listen... it's a good one!)

It's after my bedtime, so maybe this post won't make sense, but all of these things - the podcast, the keynote, the Twitter discussion / debate - all of them have twisted into my head and I just had to write it down....  

Because I do think that blogging has a fundamental role in the MTBoS and its future growth.

From a historical standpoint, blogging is ultimately how I figured out that I wasn't crazy.  There were other teachers out there that were passionate about teaching and learning and math and how to best teach math.  I wasn't crazy for spending all of my time thinking of activities and reading educational books and literally having teaching as a profession AND as a hobby.  I read Dan and Kate and Jackie and others well before I started on Twitter.  Then, through Twitter, I could have real time conversations to hash out the ideas they presented in their posts.  That rocked my world.

But from a current place, the medium of Twitter is too fluid.  I love Twitter, don't get me wrong (and I think 50K+ tweets would agree with me.  But, Twitter is limited by 140 characters.  Often a great idea will get tweeted and this amazingly rich conversation will follow.  I will often favorite the tweets, might even email some of them to myself, but most often, I follow up to ask if the author has blogged about it in more detail.  Why?  Because Twitter is like drinking from a fire hose.  In the space of hours (or even minutes), great ideas are gone, washed down the river by other ideas.  You reach out, you try to grasp it, and sometimes you can.  But not always.  Blog posts however, are longer, more detailed, more permanent in the vast space we call the MTBoS.  Blog posts serve as a record of where you are, where you've been, and where you're going.  You can reflect on your professional growth, you can remind yourself of that great idea you had 5 years ago, it's your own personal yearbook of your journey.

So why do I blog?  I blog for me mostly.  Or at least I like to think I do.  But I blog for you too.  Because to be honest, we all like to know that we aren't just yelling into the black void.  But it's mostly for me.  Mostly to remind myself of where I've been, what ideas I've had, what worked well and what didn't.  Maybe an idea helps you out too, maybe it sparks an idea, maybe it doesn't.  But that's okay.

Maybe you're a blogger that posts every day like my hubby.  Maybe you're a blogger that hardly ever posts like me.  Maybe you're not a blogger at all, but want to try it.  Maybe you just want to read blogs, maybe you don't.  Maybe you tweet a lot, maybe you've never tweeted at all.  Maybe you're trying to figure out where you fit into this crazy place we call the #MTBoS.  

Whatever your story, please, just #pushsend

Monday, July 17, 2017

Anxiety Sets In... and a #Made4Math

For me, the month of July seems to zoom by and before I know it, the back-to-school nerves start setting in.  This weekend was a time of school supply shopping, blog reading, pinterest searching, and saving tons of ideas for next year.  

I officially report 4 weeks from today, although my building is the only one on campus that isn't under construction, so that's a bit nerve-wracking for my colleagues in other buildings!  At least I can go up and work in my room if I choose to.  

Today was a day of little projects and organization.  I didn't get anything officially finished, but here's what I worked on:

In no particular order...

- Printed off 80 protractors on transparency sheets (10 per page)
- Printed off my new GEOMETRY agenda board header 
- Printed off my new Geometry binder spine labels
- Printed off my new table folder labels 
- Cut out all the Contact Paper to go over said folder labels
- Created, printed, and laminated new table bucket labels

Still to do from these projects...

- Cut apart those protractors
- Laminate the GEOMETRY header
- Adhere the table folder labels with the contact paper
- Adhere the table bucket labels
- Switch over from the old table buckets
- Test out the "whiteboard" paper that I'm trying to straighten

There are so many things left to do that I haven't started on!  I am a fairly organized person by nature, but with 160+ students, I have to figure out some new strategies for keeping up with the paper trail, staying on top of INB handouts, etc.  

Part of today was just sitting in my classroom, staring at the wall and trying to wrap my head around all that needed to get done in the next four weeks.  (OMG - ***4*** weeks!!!  EEKKKK).  I don't know about you, but I love to-do lists, so when I'm overwhelmed, I often have a tendency to create a new cute to-do list to help me stay organized. :)  (I know.. what a great use of my time today, right???)  I forgot to take a photo of it, but I printed it on bright yellow paper, laminated it, and dug into my stash of fine tip dry erase markers to help me make a list. :)

It's nothing fancy, but if you want a copy, feel free to download it here :)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Formative Assessment from a Student Perspective

Yesterday, I posted the first part of a book review on Transformative Assessment by Popham.  As I said then, I'm only halfway through the book, but Chapter 4 really deserved its own post.

Popham believes in 4 levels of Formative Assessment:
   - Level 1: Teachers' Instructional Adjustments
   - Level 2: Students' Instructional Adjustments
   - Level 3: Classroom Climate Shift
   - Level 4: Schoolwide Implementation

So far, I've only read about Level 1 and Level 2 assessments.  Level 1 assessment is what we are probably most familiar with - how formative assessment techniques can help teachers change or alter their instructional methodologies in order to improve student learning.  Level 2, though, is pretty powerful as well.  In fact, I originally planned to post about Level 2 assessment on yesterday's post, but then decided it was so powerful that it deserved a post all of its own. :)

According to Popham:
"Formative Assessment exists for exactly one reason:  to enhance students' learning"
Throughout this book, I keep thinking, "Wow! I've never thought of it like that!" and the quote above is just another example.  If my goal is to enhance student learning then obviously I'm going to do what I can do from a teacher / instruction standpoint, but I also need to make sure that I am doing all I can do to empower my students to take control of their learning.  To do this, Popham argues that students need to be taught how to use formative assessment data to make their own personal instructional adjustments in their learning tactics in order to maximize the effectiveness of those tactics.

Again, a few quotes from Chapter 4 of the book followed by my own thoughts:

  • On student adjustments:  (Paraphrased) If one of the goals of FA is for students to play an active role in making sound decisions on how / if / when to adjust their learning techniques in order to be more successful, then students must know the end goal *and* the standards by which they will be judged. 
    • Prior to this book, I've never really thought about how students can use FA data to help themselves as learners.  Like most teachers, I've always heard FA described more from the perspective of "informing instruction", as in letting teachers know the level of mastery of their students.  However, based on this book, I am in the process of redefining my thoughts on FA.  For some reason, when I read this part of the book, I kept envisioning a student behind the wheel of a boat headed to shore.  In order for the student to be able to plot a course correction, they have to know: 1) where they are going / headed (aka the end goal) and 2) they have to know how far off the mark they are.  This illustration helps me visualize what Popham is referring to, but it's also rather convicting to me.  I can't say that I'm very good about always letting students know explicitly either one of these items. This really gives me a lot to ponder, both figuring out how to be better at sharing the end goal with students and by providing them clear guidelines for mastery.  

  • On orientation of students:  "Teachers who choose to install Level 2 formative assessment in their classrooms must make a major commitment to readying their students to get the most out of this approach."
    • As a student, I don't recall many teachers really talking about how to learn and definitely not about how to determine which learning techniques were best for me and how to adjust those techniques.  As a teacher, I know I have not had that discussion with my students, so I need to be more explicit this year in explaining to my students the WHY behind formative assessment activities, not just from a teacher standpoint, but from a student standpoint as well.  For example, one activity that I do early on in the year is a card sort where each group is given a set of 20 or so scenarios and asked to read the problem and determine the type of sampling method that is described.  Due to the nature of the activity, I probably will not know whether the group is "right or wrong" on every single card, BUT, a student can use that activity to help them decide personally if they know the sampling methods or whether they need to adjust their study techniques to better differentiate between the various methods, which is the very definition of Level 2 formative assessment.

  • On turnaround time:  "Having promised to get such building-block assessment information to students, a Level 2 formative assessment teacher must deliver this information to students as soon as possible after assessing those students."
    • Whew... talk about something easier said than done! :)  Turn-around time is the bane of my existence.  With class sizes of 30+, it can be very difficult to provide quality feedback on a regular basis and I'll be honest that I am not a huge fan of MC items for formative assessment.  Some activities I use, like the cards described above, are fairly easy in terms of turn-around time because students know immediately how they are doing.  This is something I need to work on this year.  In the book, they also talk about ways to provide optional items for students to use to self-monitor, such as answer keys available, practice quizzes / tests, etc.

  • On student choice: "The role of the teacher here is to set forth suggestions so students will be able to arrive at better choices.  As always, if students choose not to adopt the teacher's suggestions regarding learning tactics, then the teacher simply swallows hard and moves forward."
    • I think this will be the hardest part of implementing Level 2 formative assessment, but the most necessary.  The key thing is that students will need to buy into the benefits of FA and to assume responsibility for learning how they learn best.  The author emphasizes that it has to be student choice in adjusting their learning tactics and we have to allow them the autonomy to make that choice (or not).  In order for our students to become independent, effective learners, we have to allow them that freedom.

I really enjoyed this chapter... only 3 more to go! :)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Partial Book Review: Transformative Assessment

This has been a very people-y week, so today was a quiet day at home with a book. :)

(Am I the only one that totally becomes a hermit in the summer months?  I really value my quiet time!)

Anyway, so earlier, I tweeted out this photo:

Around the time I was finishing up Math Tools, @pamjwilson texted me a picture of a book she had found in her stash called Transformative Assessment by Popham.  I happened to have it in my stack as well, so it became my next #EduRead of the summer.  When I'm actually reading, I take very messy notes in a small notebook, which this summer is being transcribed into a more permanent (and neater) notebook using the forms I shared a few weeks ago.

I'm about halfway done with this book and while it's not been an easy read, there have been some really valid points made that I wanted to share.  Below are some quotes and thoughts that I have had while reading this book:

  • From the preface:  "Don't let the pursuit of the instructionally perfect prevent you from reaping the rewards of the instructionally possible."
    • Wow!  Talk about hitting me in the forehead!  How many of us wait and wait and wait because we want perfection?  This reminds of the 51% effort in "5 Habits of a Woman that Doesn't Quit".  You can't always give 100%, sometimes you need to just give 51%.  I am guilty of perfectionism and it often stands in my way of getting anything done because I struggle with turning out a less than perfect product.

  • On the differences of Formative vs Summative Assessment:  "We see FA as a way to improve the caliber of still-underway instructional activities and SA as a way to determine the effectiveness of already completed instruction."
    • This book has really opened my eyes on Formative Assessment and what it really means.  I think FA has been an educational buzz word for many years and I'm just as guilty of using it as the next person.  I have tons of books with FA strategies, but until now, I've never really appreciated the nuances of FA, I've never really been as intentional with FA as the author describes.  The definition given in this book keeps talking about a *planned process* and I'm pretty guilty of a more "spur of the moment" style of FA.  Now that I know better, I must do better!

  • On the the usage of FA:  "Any teacher made modifications in instruction activities must focus on CURRENT curricular goals.  It's NOT a matter of looking at test data and deciding to try something new next time - it's a matter of doing something different NOW." (emphasis mine)
    • Have you ever had a text just "step on your toes"?  That's what happened to me here.  I've definitely been guilty of calling things (such as quizzes) formative assessment, when they truly aren't.  Formative Assessment is something that modifies what I am currently teaching.  It's not about next time I teach it, it's about what is happening in my classroom NOW (as in today / tomorrow).  To make matters worse, I often use some FA strategy but then I don't use it to actually change my instructional methods.  But again... now I know!

  • On the FA process:  (paraphrased) As a teacher, you must: 1) assess the *CRITICAL* skills / knowledge needed for students to master the big target; 2) do this *BEFORE* proceeding to the next building block in the progression; 3) *USE* the resulting evidence to make the necessary adjustments in your instruction (pacing, methodology, etc)
    • Earlier I said that FA is an intentional and planned process.  Here's the recipe for that process.  Decide what are the necessary skills and check for mastery, but do it BEFORE moving on so you will know if you need to reteach or change your pace.  This is hard for me.  I often don't get a chance to check their progress on those critical skills before moving on, so it's something I need to work on this year.

  • On whether FA is necessary: "Instruction, if properly conceptualized and skillfully implemented can be effective without any FA whatsoever, BUT, it is less likely to be and here's why:  the function of FA is to help teachers and students decide whether they need to make any adjustments in what they are doing."
    • Good teaching can (and does) take place without any formative assessment at all.  But the overall goal of FA is to improve student learning.  With it, teachers can make decisions about the most effective instructional techniques and students can make decisions about the most effective learning techniques.  It allows us to make "data-based decisions" for lack of a better buzz word. :)

  • On "trigger points": "...the teacher, in advance of the actual assessment, [must] arrive at a decision regarding the levels of student performance that would lead the teacher to make an instructional adjustment."
    • This reminded me of an #eduread of many years ago from "How to Support Struggling Students" by Robyn Jackson.  We need to know what level causes a red flag to go up and therefore causes a change in our instruction.  Popham mentions that we need to know the minimum per-student performance level and the minimum per-class performance level.  Those triggers are not set in stone, but they do need to be in place prior to gathering the results.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Formative Assessment!  

Monday, July 10, 2017

#Made4Math: Binder 2017-18 Version

On Twitter, there have been several discussions about Teacher Planners and how each of us organize our lives. I really liked last year's planner, which pretty much looked like this:

I did not make many major changes this year, so I decided to upload a generic / blank copy in PDF for anyone that wants a copy.

Download it here :)

If you have suggestions for changes, I'd love to hear from you!   :)

Also, if you find any typos, please let me know.  I've double checked all of the dates, but typos do happen! :)