Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Good Riddance!


January is over...  (almost... )


This was a tough month.  Hubs was sick for 2 weeks with Influenza B, we had some crazy roller coaster weather, and of course, let's add in some sick pets and family drama to top it all off!  I didn't even have a My Favorite Friday last week because the only "favorite" part of the week was that it was OVER! :)  (seriously... I had 11 - yes ELEVEN - meetings last week plus teaching!  OMG!)

Then, to make matters worse, last week, I just felt so inadequate.  My lessons were weak and I felt stagnant.  I tried so hard not to let my students be affected by my January doldrums, but I was apparently more successful than I thought because a student mentioned today that "Mrs. T, you are the most positive person I have ever known!"  (oh child... if you only knew... lol)

But I also know that attitude is a state of mind.  I can choose to be joyful or I can choose to let the piddly stuff get me down.  I have the power to make the choice to go into each day (or week or month) with a positive mindset.

So today, my choice is to rejoice in the positive.

To bid adieu to January, here are 5 good things that happened this month:

  1. I met my Fitbos18 goal for January!  While we had some pretty chilly days, I still was able to meet (and exceed) my goal of 10 hours of exercise!
  2. I blogged 9 times in January!  Considering that I only blogged ~30 times total in 2017, blogging 9 times in one month is HUGE! :)
  3. I didn't sick! Even though hubs was ill for 2 weeks and schools are notoriously bad about germs, I've stayed healthy so far... knock on wood :) 
  4. I got my "Puzzle Place" up and running!  Kids haven't flocked to it (yet), but my student aide and my Advisory kids have started looking for the weekly puzzle, so that's a win!
  5. We did a brand new lab in Forensic Science that turned out REALLY well!  It was so much fun!!!

And 5 things I'm looking forward to in February:
  1. On President's Day, our district has its final PD day of the year.  One of the science teachers and I are presenting on Formative Assessment Strategies. I'm really excited about this and need to start finalizing my thoughts soon!
  2. This month, I want to let my students know how much I love being their teacher.  I saw the idea on Facebook about putting hearts on your child's bedroom door with reasons why you love them.  I decided to do this in my classroom with my students!  Tomorrow is day 1... :)
  3. Getting my mojo back!  I'm already excited about tomorrow's lessons.... back to more interesting and creative teaching! :)
  4. Warmer weather and longer days!  I know that February is still winter and storms can still happen, BUT each day in February brings us closer to spring and once it's spring, I can be outside on my patio with a good book :) :) :)
  5. Finding out who my "Val Pal" is!  We did a secret pal exchange at my school this year and it's been so much fun giving (and getting) little gifts and treats.  It's definitely a "pick-me-up" that we need during this time of year!

Goodbye January... Hello February! :)

Friday, January 19, 2018

#MyFavFriday - Time is Fleeting

How in the world is it Friday again??

Do you ever find that time is just really weird?  I mean, this week *flew* by - which makes sense due to the "short week" status from the holiday weekend, but it seems like Winter Break was AGES ago, when we've really only been in school for 2.5 weeks.

Why is time so crazy and inconsistent?  Or does it have something to do with my age and that every year goes by faster and faster?  These are the things I think about on a Friday night... :)

Anyway, now that Friday is here, it's time to reflect back on this week's favorites!

My Favorite MTBoS Resource of the Week:
If you are a Geometry/Algebra teacher and don't read Katrina Newell's blog, you are missing out!  I have stolen so many ideas from her this year and this week was no exception.

On Tuesday/Wednesday, we had a jam packed day in Geometry with a short quiz over Proofs (Yeah, I'm that teacher that gives a quiz on the day back from a long weekend!), then jumped into proportions and the idea of similar polygons.  So on Wednesday during my planning block, I started looking for resources for similar triangles and found Katrina's foldable and card sort, which were PERFECT for my lesson!  I did modify her card sort slightly, making it into a worksheet where my students colored the AA~ in yellow, SAS~ in blue, SSS~ in pink, and Not Similar in green.  I love that simple modification for those days when I just don't have it in me to deal with cutting a ton of cards :)

My Favorite Classroom Change of the Semester:
With a new semester means some changes had to occur as I reflected on what worked and what didn't work for the Fall.  Some suggestions came from the students, such as minimizing activities like scavenger hunts with lengthy problems, but the suggestion that has made a huge impact already came from @pamjwilson - which really should not be a surprise since many of the ideas I implement come from her :)

During Winter Break, Pam and I were chatting one day about Embedding Formative Assessment and the discussion came up about individual whiteboards.  I have had a classroom set of whiteboards for many years and would pull them out occasionally for review days or for graphing as the flip side of the board is a coordinate plane.  On those occasional days, I would pull out my crate of whiteboards, pass them out at the beginning of the activity, then put them back at the end of the hour / day.  Pam's suggestion was so simple, yet so brilliant - why not leave them out on the tables full time?  OMG - why didn't I think of that?  For the past two weeks, the whiteboards have been stacked under their table bucket, ready at a moment's notice for students to use and let me tell you, it has worked!  This simple little change has made such a difference to my classroom!

My New Favorite Corner of the Room:
During Winter Break, I posted about wanting to try a puzzle table in my classroom.  I still haven't found the perfect spot and the place that I'm currently using is on a file cabinet in a little-used alcove, but at least I did get it pulled together!

The puzzle that you see is one that I bought years ago at a teacher garage sale and the goal is to match numbers on each puzzle piece.  I finally got the "Puzzle Place" set up last week and I had a few people notice it this week.  The mini-chalkboard came from Target's Dollar Spot and thankfully I have an Advisory student that was willing to make the sign.  As she was working on the sign, it did spark some conversation about the Puzzle Place and I told them I planned to put out a new puzzle every week.  Today, my student aide finally solved the puzzle, which was perfect timing!  Interesting tidbit was that I found myself gravitating toward the Puzzle Place during down times, so now I'm even more excited about this addition to my classroom!

Until next time - Happy Friday to YOU! :) *High Five*

P.S. - Feel free to join in with your own #MyFavFriday post - I've really enjoyed looking back over my week and thinking about the bright spots!  Post the link in the comments or on Twitter with the hashtag!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Feedback is useless.... Unless

All day today I had this feeling that I needed to blog and when I got home, I found out that Jennifer (@HHSmath) had started a new MTBoS blog initiative called #MTBoSblog18 where you blog *something* on the 18th of the month, every single month of 2018.  Now that's a blogging challenge that I think I might actually be able to do! :)

Over the past few weeks, @pamjwilson and I have been reading Embedding Formative Assessment by Wiliam and Leahy.  If you know me at all, you know I love a good #EduRead, but we've been taking this one pretty slow, with a chapter every 2 weeks or so to give us time to research and implement the strategies.  This past weekend was a long weekend for both of us, so we had arranged to read and chat over Chapter 5 - "Feedback that Moves Learning Forward"

Feedback is one of those difficult topics for me.  I know I need to give feedback, but the key is how to give *effective* feedback.  In the chapter, the authors actually share that a lot of the research on feedback isn't very valid due to issues such as a lack of a control group, varying experimental conditions, etc, but there were still some really good nuggets of information, such as this one...

The only thing that matters with feedback is the reaction of the recipient.  No matter how well designed, if the student doesn't act on it, then the feedback was a waste of time.

In other words, feedback is useless UNLESS the student reacts to it and uses it to improve their learning.  I'll admit, that kind of hurts.  I mean, I spend time writing thoughtful comments and hints on their papers, but they aren't taking the same time to read and process those comments. 

But then the sucker punch came....

Don't give feedback unless you allocate class time for students to respond.  If it's worth your time to generate the feedback, it's worth taking instruction time to ensure students respond.

Do I have systems in place for students to read and process my comments?  Have I set aside class time to model how to interpret and respond to my comments?  And key question - have I taught my students HOW to use the feedback as a tool to improve their learning?

Those were the thoughts rumbling about in my head while I was lesson planning on Monday.  Because of the holiday, this was a short week and I knew my students had a lab report due in Forensics on Tuesday.  Could I figure out a way to implement some of these feedback strategies to help my students write better lab reports?  I knew I wouldn't have time to read and give feedback in a timely manner on 30+ lab reports, so Plan B was born - we could do Peer Reviews! 

In most of our science classes, we use a CER format, which stands for Claims, Evidence, Reasoning.  In general, for Forensics, we use this format more when we have "Casefile" lab where the students have to make a Claim about who did (or didn't) commit the crime, and then back it up by citing their Evidence and then explaining their Reasoning on how they logically came to that conclusion and how they eliminated the other suspects.

We gave them a few minutes at the beginning of class to finish up their CER and refresh on the Casefile from the previous Friday.  Then, we asked them to exchange with another student that was NOT in their lab group.  The student reviewer was to read the CER and provide feedback in terms of a "stars and wishes" - what the original author had done well and what could be improved.  During this time, they were not to talk at all, just read and write.  Then, they returned the paper to the original owner and talked over the feedback and asking clarifying questions.  Finally, we gave the students time to use the peer feedback to revise their CER before turning it in. 

While I have some other strategies from this chapter that I want to try, my biggest take-away is that I need to have a systemic approach to feedback.  I need to spend some time thinking about how to teach my students to read the feedback, but more importantly, how to USE the feedback.  I have to build time into my classes for students to receive feedback and actually implement that feedback to improve their learning.

Friday, January 12, 2018

#MyFavFriday - Proofs and More

Happy Friday, y'all!

Holy moly is it cold out there!  After some chilly weather to start back to school, we had a lovely warmup with highs on Wednesday in the 60s.  Then a cold front moved in again and we're back under freezing.  BRRR!!!  I am ready for spring to show up! :)  Seriously though, if it's going to be this cold, it really needs to snow - at least then, I have a chance at a snow day :)  Thankfully we have a long weekend, so I plan to stay wrapped up in blankets, working on lessons and reading.

This week had a few down points, but overall it was a good week.... now it's time for a look back at my favorite things from this week:

My Favorite Learning Strategy:
I already blogged about this strategy earlier this week, but I really enjoyed using the "sample student responses" in my AP Stat class to help students determine the success criteria for a "good" vs "poor" paper.  Asking them to reflect on the papers with a star / wish was a last-minute decision, but one that I'm glad I did.  The level of detail that the students noticed really made me realize that I need to let them "be the teacher" more often.  It almost makes me excited to grade their FRAPPYs this weekend.  (Notice I said *almost*... I mean, does ANY teacher get excited about a weekend of grading????)

My Favorite Lesson of the Week:
This reflection question is so difficult for me!  So many good lessons happened this week - proofs in Geometry, simulations in AP Stat, blood typing in Forensics - how do you pick just one???

In high school, I adored my Geometry (and later Calculus) teacher and she is a huge reason why I ended up as a math teacher.  However, I remember NOT caring for proofs, at least at first!  Before we could ever use a theorem, we had to prove it, so our notebooks were full of proofs.  Once I understood them, proofs became one of my favorite things and I still love them.  Over Winter Break, when I was working on how to introduce proof, I tweeted out a request for ideas and my former high school Geometry teacher was one of the responses I received.  Because of all of the great advice from the #MTBoS on proofs, it's been a fabulous week of logical thinking puzzles, vocabulary practice, flow proofs, and two column proofs.  The best part is that the kids are ROCKING it!  I'm so proud of them! :)  The picture above is a couple of proofs from Mrs. Newell's Triangle Congruence materials - have I said lately how much I *love* my dry erase sleeves? :)

My Favorite Question of the Week:
Do you ever have a situation where your favorite thing isn't because it was really good, but because you learned a lot from it?  That's the situation with my favorite question this week.

The question on the left was the Daily Reflection in my Geometry class on Monday.  We had worked that day on connecting vocabulary words to conclusions.  I know it's hard to read, but under each "given" statement was a 2-column table, meant to simulate the idea of a 2-column proof with the left box saying "What can you conclude?" and the right box saying "Why?".  I really did not anticipate any issues with these questions, but oh my... :(  The number of students that really struggled with articulating a difference in right angles and complementary angles was surprising to me.  But I guess that's the whole point of the Reflection, right?  For me to know if they have learned what I wanted them to learn... :)

My Favorite Student Response of the Week:
I had two favorite student responses this week - one serious and one that just made me smile.

The one that made me smile came first.  I have started Test Prep Thursdays in Geometry with 2 practice ACT problems.  I loved the student drawing with "Not to Scale" written next to it. :) :) :)

Today, the Daily Reflection Prompt was about #OneGoodThing and this student response helped me put things in perspective.  "Something good that happened to me this week is I'm alive.  We don't own our lives so it's a blessing that I receive which money can't buy."

That response was truly a *mic drop* moment... leave it to a 16 year old to say something so profound, that truly makes you step back, take a deep breath, and count your blessings.

People say I'm crazy for working with teenagers all day long.  I say I'd be crazy not to!  My students make me smile and laugh, get frustrated and cry, and everything in between.  But ultimately, my students make me want to be a better person and a better teacher - and that, folks, is what it's all about.

Have a blessed weekend!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

How do you know what they know?

All day today, I kept thinking "I'm totally going to blog tonight... here's idea A, idea B, idea C, etc", but then 4pm came and the thoughts just disappeared or my after-school brain thought "That was a dumb idea... why did I think that would be a good blog post??"  It's so frustrating, but one of my goals this year is to #PushSend, even when I'm struggling.

Over the past few weeks, Pam and I have been slowly reading and discussing Embedding Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy. (Abbreviated EFA2) While there are parts of the book that have been fairly difficult to read, I've also been able to walk away with several usable strategies - and we're only on Chapter 4! :)

This year's theme of "What did you teach? What did they learn?" was inspired by this book and I have really tried to focus on this question each day.  A similar statement from the book was a reminder to stop worrying about the label of "formative assessment" and start thinking about whether your classroom activities will help your students learn more.  As a result of this book, I've really tried to focus on being intentional on "how do I know what they know?"  

In Chapter 3, the authors focus on learning intentions (aka objectives) and success criteria (aka rubrics) and it was this chapter that I've really focused on this week.  

Exit Tickets:  I've renamed my exit tickets as "Daily Reflections".  This week, when students arrived to class on Monday, I had a half sheet in their folder with space for this week's Daily Reflections.  Each day, I have really focused on my theme question of "What did you teach? What did they learn?" to guide me as I write that day's question.  I've tried to be intentional with the Reflection prompt as I think about the day's objective and what I hoped they would be able to do/understand at the end of the lesson.  Today, I tried a suggestion from EFA2 where students generate their own test/quiz questions, hoping to trigger what the authors call the "generation effect", where students remember responses they generate better than responses given to them.  

Success Criteria:  One of the other strategies I tried from Chapter 3 was one about analyzing student work.  The authors spent quite a bit of time in Chapter 3 referencing "success criteria" or rubrics for student work.  In general, I use rubrics for quizzes and tests that mimic the AP Exam style grading, but I remember trying to use an online rubric maker several years ago and I really struggled to understand the difference between "few / some / many" or other descriptors that are often used in those rubrics.  The authors instead suggest  that we should communicate quality work to our students by providing student work samples, not rubrics because rubrics rarely have the same meaning for students as they do for us.  The authors suggested showing examples of various quality to students and having the students give feedback.  For their justification, the authors said there were two main reasons to do this:  (1) students are better about spotting mistakes in the work of others than they are in their own work and (2) when students notice mistakes in the work of others, they are less likely to make the same mistakes in their own work.

I tried this strategy yesterday and today in my Stat class.  I like to start the 2nd semester with simulations because it's kind of fun and eases them back into our course; however, students often struggle with the written portion of a simulation.  I modified a previous AP problem and created two student samples of vastly different quality, and thanks to hubby's help, vastly different handwriting as well!  I asked students to pretend they were the teacher and read the two samples, writing feedback to Student A and Student B regarding what each student did well and what each student needs to improve.  After time to individually assess the student work, I had them share out in their table groups, and then finally as a class share-out of Star and Wish.  Finally, I had them close their eyes and use their fingers to show me what they felt each sample would have scored on the AP Exam on the 0-4 scale.  While I was pleased with the level of engagement each student showed and the quality of their discussions / critiques, the real power of this strategy showed up later in the hour when they had time to work on a problem set.  Many of them referenced the success criteria from the student samples, really putting effort into mimicking the work of the "good" paper and providing each other feedback regarding the quality of their written descriptions.  This was definitely a strategy that I will use again!!

Friday, January 5, 2018

#MyFavFriday - First Week Back

Happy Friday!!!  We've made it through another week - HIGH FIVE! :)

This was our first week back from Winter Break and thankfully it was a short week.  We started back on Wednesday, then I had to be absent yesterday as my mom had a heart stent put in (she did great!), then I was back for today.  This weekend is shaping up to be a busy one with several family events and lots of lesson planning! :)  Thankfully I don't have any grading to do yet!

Last fall, I posted about wanting to use #MyFavFriday more as a weekly reflection post, but it kind of fell by the wayside as the semester progressed.  During the #MTBoS12Days challenge, I posted a fall reflection and I recommitted to trying it again, so here we go!

My Favorite Lesson of the Week:
This one is definitely a toss up...

In Geometry, my favorite lesson had to be on Wednesday, when we did several critical thinking puzzles to help ease us back into school-mode, with the main idea of logical thinking to move us into proofs.  These word chain puzzles were such a hit!

Then, today in AP Stat, we did Doug Tyson's Smelling Parkinson's activity to introduce simulations.  It was absolutely all I could do to keep a straight face as some kids swore up and down that the cards had different odors.  I can't wait to tie back to this lesson when we get to hypothesis testing :)

My Favorite Formative Assessment Strategy used this Weeek:
Last semester, one of the books I was reading was Total Participation Techniques and then Angela Watson had a Truth for Teachers podcast episode on the book as well.

One of the strategies mentioned was "Hold Ups".  In the book/podcast, the Hold Ups are more generic, but I've found them to be a great tool for feedback, especially in Geometry.  Today, we were reviewing triangle congruence from first semester and I had 10 or so triangle diagrams.  What I love about Hold Ups is that with quick glance around the room, I can easily tell which problems the students got and which ones we need to discuss more.

My Favorite Exit Ticket Prompt of the Week:
Based on some twitter discussions about a mid-year Teacher Report Card, my exit tickets this week were designed to elicit feedback from my students about what worked (and what didn't work) in the Fall Semester.  Today's exit ticket question was:  1) What was something (activity, structure, etc) that really helped you learn?  2)  What was something that did NOT help you learn?

My Favorite Exit Ticket Replies:
Asking my students for feedback during this short week has really been eye-opening and has given me a lot to ponder this weekend.  Below are some of my favorite replies from the prompt above:

  • While I dislike FRAPPYs they really do help you to better understand because you are getting the practice.
  • I dislike when we have to watch videos when you aren't here.  
  • Having you correct our problems right then was very helpful. [Edited to add:  VNPS]
  • Something that didn't:  The Kahoots - They're fun, but only as a tool for review; which is what we used it as.... nevermind! :)
  • I dislike getting up and doing problems around the room.  I really need to sit and do math and we had to stand and it was hard to write, etc
  • One test I was studying and finally remembered to use the Canvas page - it was like a whole new world!
  • Going around the room with whiteboards was awful for me.  I was always afraid that someone would see me doing something wrong.

What were your favorite moments of the week?  Share your post in the comments or on Twitter using the hashtag #MyFavFriday.

Have a great weekend, y'all!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

2018 Classroom Focus

In previous years, I have posted my "mantra" for the year, usually in August.  This year, I didn't post one because honestly I didn't know what my classroom focus would be.  I had plenty of ideas for my personal life, but very little for my professional life.

But, as always, it was @pamjwilson to the rescue.  (If you don't read Pam's blog or follow her on twitter - go do that now.. She's *amazing*)

Over Winter Break, I happened to catch a twitter discussion between Pam and Elissa regarding goals for the new year.  Over the next few days, Pam and I chatted a few times about formative assessment and some of our previous #EduRead books.  One of the books we discussed was Embedding Formative Assessment by Dylan Wiliam, a book that I had started a few years ago, but only read through Chapter 3 before life bogged me down.  :)

Reading this book was already on my to-do list, but after seeing the twitter discussion and Pam's goals, I moved the book to the top of my pile.  

I'm so glad I did, because I finally found my classroom focus for 2018! :)

Such a simple, yet powerful, set of questions to help guide my semester.

What is your classroom focus for 2018?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A #Teach180 Reflection

Technically, this post is based on the #MTBoS12Days prompt list to share a #teach180 photo and lesson, but over the break, I didn't have my resources to really post a complete lesson.  Sadly, I didn't quite make my #MTBoS12Days challenge, but I blogged more in 2017 than I did the year before, so I'm declaring it a success! :)

#Teach180 Lesson Reflection

Today was our first day back with kids and I don't know about you, but the January Back to School day is almost more difficult than the August day!  In August, kids are fairly eager to get started, to see what their teacher / classes are like, but in January, the kids already know you and motivation can be lacking when it's super cold outside.  We are coming off a super cold spell - today was the first day above freezing since last Friday, so that didn't help at all!  Also, in August, I have spent weeks cleaning and decorating my room and preparing lessons, but in January, I haven't thought about school for 2 weeks, let alone try to remember what we were learning back in mid-December.

So I knew that I wanted today to be a semi-relaxing day, nothing majorly stressful, but something to get them thinking again to ease them back into the swing of things...

In Stat, I did a modified version (1st semester topics only) of the Wedding Story Activity that was shared a few years back at the AP Best Practices, but I didn't get any pictures of that :)

But in Geometry....  oh my, we had fun! :)

We finished up Triangle Congruence in December, which means we are starting this semester with Proofs.  At some point in the next few days, I'll post my proof plan, which is mostly stolen from the #MTBoS :)

To start them out, I wanted to emphasize logical thinking, so our warmup was the sequencing activity you see on the left.  They were given 12 photos, out of order, and as a group, they had to put the photos in a logical sequence.  (File)  I really enjoyed listening to their discussions as they argued about why their order was the best.

From there, we moved on to some other logic puzzles, including this Logic Area Puzzle that you see on the upper left.  I took this puzzle from the Holt textbook that we used YEARS ago at my school.  Again, I loved listening to the kids as they worked to remember perimeter vs area of squares and I'll admit I did not let them struggle the way I should have here.  :(

On the flip side of the Logic Area Puzzle was a "Flow Story Proof" from Math Teacher Mambo to help introduce the left to right logic of a flow proof.  I don't know that I would keep this activity in this sequence next year - I think I would rather use it as a warmup on the day I actually teach flow proofs.

The activity that I absolutely LOVED was the Word Proofs from Don't Panic, the Answer is 42 and you can see them on the lower left.  We didn't get very far into these, but I think they will be our warmups for the next several days.  The structured reasoning of here's where we start, here's each step (and the reason), and finally here's where we end was such an amazing way to think through the proof process!

The last few minutes of class was a 2nd semester Feedback exit ticket for Keep / Change / Start / Stop.  I'm not sure that I received a ton of useful information from them, but I brought them home to ponder some more over the next few days.  

It was such a good morning and one that I enjoyed quite a bit.  :)  Only 100 more days to go! :)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Geometry Reference Sheet - #MTBoS12Days

EEEKKKK - It's my last day of break!!!  I didn't quite make my 12 posts goal, but I was close - this is the 10th post, not counting the prompts post! 

#Made4Math - Geometry Reference Sheet

I know it's technically not Monday, but in my defense, I came up with the idea yesterday, just didn't get it together until today! :)

We start back to school tomorrow, but I have to be absent on Thursday because my mom is having a stent put in.  What do you do when you are absent on the 2nd day of a semester?  EEKK!  I already had planned to put together their notebooks that day, but in Geometry, that doesn't take too much time because we don't have a ton to tape in like in AP Stat.  I know!  Let's make a Reference Sheet!

So when I went to school today, I grabbed my first semester notebook, then I sat down with a blank piece of paper and started planning out a reference page.  This doesn't contain EVERYTHING we did first semester, but it has the most important things, I think... :)  If you see something missing, please let me know!

After taping in the few pages they need to tape in, the students will use their first semester notebook to complete the reference sheet.  Hopefully it will be a useful tool this semester!

If you want a copy of it, here it is in PDF (to preserve the fonts) and in DOC (if you wish to edit)