Friday, December 17, 2010

Math Teachers at Play

Welcome to Math Teachers at Play - December, 2010 edition, hosted at my (humble) blog, An "Old Math Dog" Learning New Tricks.  I am rather new at the whole blogging thing, and was even greener when I said I'd do this, so I'm not totally sure what I've gotten myself into.  Things have been rather crazy around here through November and December, so you won't find a ton of posts at the moment, but my hope is to get back up and blogging more regularly in the near future.  Meanwhile, enjoy my MTaP submission!

When I first discovered which edition I was going to host, I was excited because it uses my favorite number (3) and is divisible by it as well.  As I pondered the number, what first came to mind is a popular adult beverage that orginated not far from where I live in Western Pennsylvania.  This number is featured on every bottle of the beverage and it is the number of words in the pledge printed on each bottle.  This number is also the number of vertebrae in the spine if each bone in the coccyx is counted individually.  I also found out that this number is the largest positive integer that cannot be expressed as a sum of different triangular numbers.  As I continued to read about our number, I also found out that it was the sum of the first four (positive) factorials.

So, hopefully by now, you have figured out that our number is...

and if you are more curious about the legend of the 33 mentioned earlier, you can visit their website here.  Please note that I am not endorsing or condoning the consumption of said beverage - it just fits the theme here.

Some fun...
Well, it being December and holiday time, I think we all are in need of some fun.  Well, at least I am.  Patrick Vennebush starts us off with his Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks Final Exam.  He is rather kind and not only provides the exam, but an answer key as well.

Speaking of December and fun - I live in Northeast Ohio where we got some snow this week (in fact, we got a snow day too - school got about a foot of snow, home about 5-6 inches).  It's a bit snowy here to try this outside as Jen did right now, but maybe we can start accumulating the newspaper for a geodesic dome she shares with us. 

For those of us who find fun in proofs, Xamuel shares A Universal Delta for (Almost) Every Epsilon.

Chris McGinn explains how to create Cinnamon Snowflakes in her Mom of Boys blog post. I have a daughter and a son and I think we'll try this one while my children and I are home from school over Christmas Break.  Should be big time fun here!

If you find fun in astounding your friends with what you can do mentally, John Cook shares an article on how to compute the days of the week in your head for the 21st century. 

Kids certainly find water guns to be lots of fun.  Arthur Charpentier shares with us his mathematics in determining when he should optimally shoot a water gun at his son.

I love playing with different kind of puzzles - so I find them fun.  John Golden shares with us his Triangle Puzzle which is a tangram-like puzzle made out of the seven triangle types.

Logic puzzles are among my favorites as well, and Denise presents another post in her series on logic puzzles and games.  Hex-a-Hop is the latest that she and her students have enjoyed.

It's still football season here - bowl season for the college teams (Go Bucks!) and the wind-down of the NFL regular season (there's always next year when you're a Cleveland Browns fan...).  Denise reminds us of the classical math problem in "A Football Puzzle" ("If quarterback Zeno and his offense advanced the ball halfway to the opposing team’s end zone on each play…")

And of course, some math...
Caroline Mukisa shares with us 5 Reasons Why Maths Literacy is Not Okay, beginning with the important section about how innumeracy is not good if you are sale shopping for that great bargain.

Sue van Hattum presents her latest in the Math Alphabet series: "E is for Eigenvectors and Eigenvalues."

Guillermo Bautista discusses how Eratosthenes measured the circumference of the Earth in his Mathematics and Multimedia blog.

A few interesting resources...
I set these aside because I felt that these three posts and/or websites were good sites to look at for math teacher resources.  The first two had some interesting possibilities on their websites, the third I felt the post was a good reference.

Shaun shares from his blog Math Concepts Explained "What are Real Numbers?"  His blog looks like it would be helpful to students who are struggling with math.

Virtual Math Tutor has a bank of solved math problems and shares the solution to the maximum value of a function without using calculus with us.

Florine Church presents 20 Incredible TED Talks for Math Geeks posted at, saying, "These lecturers know how to do just that, making everything from fractals to physics fun, interesting and just plain entertaining to learn to about, whether you're a math geek or a math hater."

Well, that wraps up this 33rd edition of Math Teachers at Play.  Thanks to everyone who submitted!  Submit your blog article to the next edition of Math Teachers at Play using our carnival submission form.  Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.  You can also visit this month's version (the 72nd) of the Carnival of Mathematics at 360.  The next version of MTaP will be at Mathematics and Multimedia on January 21, 2011.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

What to do, what to do...

My Math 1 kids had a test today over solving equations.  I had thought that we did enough practice and I was hopeful that they would at least earn 3's (out of 5) but most kids had 0s-1s-2s.  I thought I had done a better job than years past of communicating the importance of showing work and I had too many kids just give answers.  After working through many problems and stressing the importance of showing proper steps (adding 6 to both sides of the equation for example), I had several kids "pick" an answer and show that it works by substitution.  Their overall scores "look" better because of SBG, but I don't feel their understanding is better.

I know I got through to some kids - some of them did well and some were close in their understanding and I feel they will earn those 5s with a little more practice.  As I am sitting here tonight reflecting and trying to figure out my next move with them, I have at least come to the conclusion that I want to do a whole class reassessment.  Truly, there are only 1 or 2 kids (out of 20ish) who earned mostly 5s and 1 or 2 4s, so this is as good of an opportunity as any to show them what reassessment (normally on their own) can do for them.  As much as I want them to do the reassessments because they didn't get it and want to truly learn it, if the grade motivates them to do the reassess, I guess I'll take that.

So I am sitting here tonight with these questions floating around my head.  If my dear readers would indulge me with their thoughts, I would be very appreciative.
**Obviously I am going to hand back their tests first and spend some time going back over it.  Suggestions on how to best handle this?  I don't want to be doing all the work - they need to do some practice and corrections on their own, but I don't feel I have enough kids to serve as "experts" on the 6 concepts to send small groups to other students to get help.
**They still need to do some practice - their understanding isn't close.  How do you gauge how much more practice to give before reassessing?  At this point, I am thinking they'll have some practice between tomorrow and Thursday (although my 3rd period is going to be cut short on Thursday) and reassess Friday. 
**In the past, I would probably give another review sheet for them to practice.  With these classes, although games can be a good diversion and fun for them, it can end up being a discipline problem and some still don't participate.  I tried the Sweeney equation dance with them Friday on the first day of review to help reinforce the skills.  My 3rd period didn't participate as well as they could have (although part of that could have been me in learning the whole thing) and my 5th period mostly participated (except for a couple of freshmen boys...) and I thought had learned it.  At least they had fun... What other kinds of review that engage the students can I use?

And now the final thought...
**@kaminskiterry replied to my initial query on Twitter and shared how he does reassessments in class rather than outside of class.    He designates a day to students and they have to let him know what skills they are reassessing.  They do the reassessments in class during a work period in class when other students are working on a worksheet or homework or the like (at least that's how I understood it).  I really don't want to take up class time, however, if it will get kids to do the reassessments when they wouldn't do it otherwise, it may be worth doing.  Thoughts?

Thanks again for everyone's thoughts - I so appreciate it!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

One Quarter Down

Tomorrow is the end of the first nine weeks.  Today was my cut off day for reassessments, except for Calculus who just had their test today on limits and continuity.  Their cut off is Monday (no school Tuesday and grades are due first thing Wednesday morning). 

Some random thoughts:

I like how SBG gives confidence to my Math 1 students.  Students who have not passed math or passed with D's are doing better (grade-wise) than they have in the past and I think that has kept them paying attention at least.  Problem is, the first nine weeks up until this week was pretty easy content-wise for them - all things they have seen before.  Not doing homework (or much of it) probably didn't hurt them too much.  We got into solving equations this week and now it's becoming more difficult.  They need to do practice in order to be successful.  My classes were fairly engaged today as we went over equations with variables on both sides -  my 3rd period in particular asked some good questions which really impressed me.  However, I am still struggling with the "how do I get them to do practice (i.e. homework) outside of class" issue.  For that matter, it is still a struggle with some of my kids to get them to do practice in class in the last 10-15 minutes of class.  It's like they have used up any restraint they have paying attention to the lesson and participating in that and they have nothing left to work through any problems in class.  Anyone have any suggestions for me here?  Do I go back to checking homework and recording that it's done, partially done, or not done?  I like not having to walk around and check it and I don't know if that will carry any weight with them.  Anyway - any and all comments and suggestions are welcome here.

Calculus is, well, the same struggle it's been all nine weeks.  I have kids coming in for reassessments to "pull up grades" I'm sure - not to learn it.  A couple of them have asked some really good questions as we have worked through the limit and continuity concepts, but it is obvious to me from their questions that this group is so incredibly low for a Calculus group.  There are so many pieces of things they should understand that they have not understood until I explained it to them.  Things they should have gotten in Algebra 2.  Usually by now I have been doing derivatives for about 2 weeks and we haven't even gotten to the definition of derivative.  We'll start that tomorrow.

Algebra 2 and Advanced Algebra 2 are working through systems of equations.  With their quizzes this week it is becoming apparent to me that homework is an issue here, too (like in my Math 1 classes).  The quiz was on graphing, substitution, and elimination methods for solving systems of equations.  In my Advanced Alg 2 class, they did not do well on graphing and substitution but did fine on elimination (which we had covered last).  In my regular Alg 2 classes, they didn't do well on all 3 but did especially poorly on graphing and substitution.  I was especially disappointed iin my Advanced Alg 2 kids because I expect them to work to learn the concept and I feel they were not practicing my class as much as they should have since I wasn't checking the homework.  Again, it's the end of the grading period and these are the kids who want to have all As (and Bs), so you know they are concentrating on making sure they have done what they need to.  I think my regular Algebra 2 kids have similar problems to my Math 1 kids - they aren't using their time in class well at all. 

The State of Reassessments

As far as reassessments go, my Advanced Algebra 2 kids and my Calc kids are the main ones coming in.  I have some Algebra 2 kids coming in as well but as far as Math 1 kids go, very few (if any) have been in.  I know I am not doing the best job of reminding them to come in for reassessments and help.  This is something I am struggling with at the moment.  Part of the problem is that I have been out of class 5 times in the last 3 weeks between meetings, my own personal day, and a sick day since my kids were sick.  (I probably should have taken a sick day Wednesday for myself but with having kids coming in for reassessments plus with Calc having a test Thursday, I didn't want to miss yet another day).  Since I've been out of class so  many times, it's hard to restart teaching and remembering what all I wanted to go over.  Plus, with SBG being so new to me, I'm not quite in that groove I need to be to "sell the system." (I don't know what other phrase to use - but I guess I mean the getting students to buy in to come back and get help on what they haven't mastered and then reassess.)  I want students to take responsibility themselves and come in.  After parent-teacher conferences, I had a couple of students ask about reassessing but then they never followed up.  I'm not their mom - I don't want to have to keep haranguing them about it.  But, I do want them to learn the material.  So, now what?

Overlying Questions

So, here's what's floating around my head at the moment:
1) How do I deal with the homework issue?  That is, how do I get my students to buy in that they need to do outside of class practice even though I am not grading it?

2)  What do I need to be telling my students about reassessing and coming in for help?  How often do I need to mention it?  How do I get them away from playing the grading game and get them to want to do it to learn?  I know I can keep saying it but at some point, they are going to shut me off.  Do I just let it be?

3)  In the current #sbarbook we're reading (Never Work Harder than Your Students by Robyn Jackson), she suggests having a remediation system set up with red flags.  For example, if a student's grade falls below 75%, they have to do (something).  If a student scores less than a 3 on 3 or more concepts on a test, they have to do (something).  Etc.  Has anyone tried this?  What did you set up?  Does anyone think this is worthwhile?  What are some good interventions for students without making my life crazy (in other words, forcing them all to come see me for help)?

4)  The other suggestion that is floatiing in my head from Jackson's book is about modeling.  I don't think some of my Algebra 2 students and most of my Math 1 students know how to take good math notes or how to work through homework.  Today, when I told my Algebra 2 kids to keep their quizzes out and write down the right way to do the problems, they actually did.  When I've gone over their quizzes in the past, I don't think they've done that.  I don't think they have any clue how to take notes or even how to organize homework.  Does anyone have any good suggestions on how to help them take good notes and do better homework?  How about sample "problems" with good examples/good non-examples of what to do?  Or any other suggestions on how to help them in these areas?

An Apology

If you've made it this far, thank you.  I apologize for asking so many questions and offering little suggestions of great things I'm doing in my classroom that you can use.  Right now I am just at the point where I need some guidance and I know the twitter-blog-o-sphere is a great place for that.  Any and all suggestions are welcome at this point and hopefully in the future, I can give you something useable.  Thanks.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Seven Weeks In...

We are coming up on the end of the first nine weeks.  Hard to believe that this school year is almost one-quarter gone.  We are in the middle of conferences - I had conferences Thursday night and will have conferences again on Tuesday night.  Here are some of my insights from the last few weeks.

One of my parents who came in has a son in my Math 1 class, George (not his real name).  George has not passed a math class in three years.  He has ADHD and is a behavior problem and doesn't do much homework.  He is presently passing my class with a 73% (high D).  It was so good to be able to say to this parent that her son is capable of doing math and to be able to encourage her that if he would put forth more effort that he could do 'C' work.  This was the same child who earlier this week had such pride in his voice when he said he was getting a 73% and passing.  I am not one who is a huge self-esteem proponent, but it is keeping him somewhat engaged in the lessons and trying at the moment.  George's behavior still has a long way to go, but academically, he has made some gains.  Now, if we can just get his behavior to turn around...

As far SBG goes, it is going okay.  I do not have the number of reassessments that I would like, but I am trying to be patient.  I will be having the discussion with my students on Monday that we have two weeks left, and giving them a cutoff date for reassessements.  I am hoping that some students will be coming in for reassessments, especially after having tests this week.  I am also hoping that it won't be a huge barage either - but I am guessing I am not going to get as lucky with that.  I probably should have been more diligent in reminding students about reassessing and I am hoping that at least with my Algebra 2 students that whatever intervention plan I put together will get them moving in a better direction than they are currently.

Math 1 had their third test this week.  I can see that although not grading their homework is having a nice effect on their grades, they are not doing it as they should be.  We are starting to get into equation skills and I can tell that they didn't practice the last skill (using adding and subtracting to solve equations - one step) as they should have.  This may not seem like a big deal at the moment (I know they can come up with the answers most of the time) but as the solving equations skills get more difficult, this is going to be a problem.  I have not decided what I am going to do about it at this point, but I need to do something.  Thoughts from the blogosphere would be welcome - do I just do a daily chart and mark complete, partially complete, or not done or something else?

Algebra 2 had their second test this week also.  I knew after their quiz the week before that graphing using slope-intercept form had not sunk in and we did a quick review of it in class the day I handed their quizzes back.  We used the white boards, which they loved.  They, for the most part, did better on their test than they did on the quiz.  Definitely affirmed for me that I am going the right route with that (giving non-graded quizzes over 3-4 learning targets).  However, they did not do well on the last skill we did for this test - writing equations for lines parallel or perpendicular to a given line through a point.  The skill before that was writing the equation for the line given either two points or one point and a slope of the line.  They did okay with that, but not as well as I would have liked.  I think if I were further along in the SBG process, I would reteach it and give a retest on just those two skills (and I may still opt to do that).  But, since this is the beginning of SBG still for them and I want them to learn that they need to take some ownership for their learning, I don't think I am going to do that.  With the end of the nine weeks approaching, maybe they will be a little more motivated to at least try the reassessment process since they will be more grade-conscious.  It's not exactly the way I want it to start, but if that's what gets them going, I'll take it.

My Calculus group is most definitely the lowest ability wise I have ever had.  As we were discussing one-sided limits and talking about the limit being where the function intends to go, I had a student ask me "then what is the single point graphed above the circle?"  My answer was, of course, that it was the function value at that value of x, but I couldn't help thinking in the back of my mind "how could this student have gotten this far in math and not know that?"  It's going to be a long year with them.

All in all, I am pleased with how things are going.  I am really enjoying usiing the SMART Board and I am getting more anxious to get some more training so I can learn some more about the software.  I am also hoping to integrate the clickers sometime during the second nine weeks now that I am getting more comfortable with the SMART Board.  Generally, I am pleased with how SBG is going and I am getting closer to a rhythm with it.  I still wish I wasn't doing everything at once - the SBG and SMART Board, but the planning aspects are getting better.  I have been roped into our Race to the Top committee and between that and our building improvement committee, I have been out of the classroom too much.  Right now I am in a stretch of being out of the classroom 4 days out of 7, which sucks.  We have a RttT deadline of October 22nd so that will hopefully slow down here quickly.

I am grateful for all the support everyone has offered and the people who have answered my numerous questions.  Right now, I definitely feel it all has been worth it.  I just wish it wasn't all at once.

Reflections on Chapter 4 of Never Work Harder Than Your Students

And another reason I love Twitter - we have a great book club on Monday nights!  We are presently reading Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn Jackson and we discuss a chapter each Monday night at 9:30 pm EST (folllow #sbarbook on Twitter).  I have really enjoyed it so far.  It has had practical suggestions and is well written.  Also, I like how she has anticipated our common questions and where we would be resistant to some of her ideas.

The chapter we are discussing Monday is titled "Support Your Students" and it has to do with finding ways to help your students before they are failing and/or bored.  There were two parts of this chapter that really spoke to me.  The first was the section on setting up an intervention plan before students need it.  Jackson talks about setting up a concrete intervention plan that is triggered by something specific and with definite actions for each trigger.  Not all of the actions that are triggered have to involve meeting with you as the teacher - they could involve students working with online programs, for example.  This is something that really appeals to me.  I am specifically thinking of my (general) Algebra 2 students.  This is a course that, starting with the current freshman, students will need to graduate.  I want to make sure that they are successful in the course - especially since if students plan on heading to post-secondary schooling, the math that is involved in Algebra 2 is what they will need to know.  I am planning at this point to develop an intervention plan to have in place for the second nine weeks (which starts in 2 weeks) and pilot it in my Algebra 2 classes.  If that goes well, I may extend it to my Math 1 classes during the second half of the year.

Other thoughts as I read this chapter - I found that I am doing some good things as far as trying to uncover misconceptions.  This is something that I have done with my students the last few years in my lessons and I need to continue to do this in my classes.  I know I am not going a good job with questioning and I need to work on this.  I would also like to pursue things for the students who master concepts easily/early but I'm not sure what I am going to do.

The other section that really spoke to me in this chapter was about demystifying the process.  I think this is definitely something that is useful and I am just not sure how to do this effectly in mathematics.  I loved that Jackson gave a great example from her experience teaching English classes, but I am struggling with how we would do this in math class.  I'm not sure if I need to spell out directions step by step for them (which I already do to an extent) or if there is something else I need to be looking at.  I am definitely looking forward to our #sbarbook discussion Monday night to see what ideas my Twitter colleagues have on this point.

If you have not read Never Work Harder Than Your Students, I highly recommend it.  It has a lot of practical suggestions and is well written.  I think it is a great resource for any teacher - new or old.  And if you're on twitter, join us any Monday night.

Why I LOVE Twitter

This is the first of three posts that are floating around in my head.  We are in Cincinnati this weekend visiting my brother-in-law and his family, so I'm not totally sure if I'll get them all out or not.

I took a personal day Friday so we could be down here - DH had a vendor symposium north of Dayton on Friday and we always take the time to come down as a family so we can visit my brother-in-law and his family.  Their kids are close in age to our kids and they all enjoy playing together.  Some of my fondest memories as a child are times that I spent with my cousins and I certainly want my children to have those memories too.  But, I digress...

I have always enjoyed connecting with other math teachers on Twitter.  When I have been explaining Twitter to other teachers, I have used the analogy of it being a huge faculty lounge with the sharing of ideas and less of the complaining (not that we don't complain - we do - but there is much less of it on Twitter).  When I found out that Kristen Fouss was from the Cincinnati area - I was doubly excited - not only an Ohio math teacher, but one I could hopefully meet at some point as well.  So, on my (personal) day off, I went to Anderson High School and hung out with Fouss for part of her day.

We had a wonderful visit - first of all, even though it was the first time we met in person, it was as if I was greeting an old friend.  She made me feel so welcome and the staff at Anderson was welcoming too.  I am really glad that we had the chance to talk and share ideas in longer than 140 characters at a time.  I walked away with some thoughts to explore back at our school as far as assisting students (who knows if they'll come to fruition - but it's always good to see what other schools are doing with what resources they have).  But most of all, I walked out of AHS feeling that what I am doing in the classroom is not totally off track.

I think that as we are in our classrooms teaching up a storm, if we are truly reflecting on what we're doing, we ask ourselves the question if we're going about it in the "right" way or the "best" way.  As teachers, we are truly isolated from adult contact for most of the day.  We look at the results we get from our students and we tweak what we're doing based on our beliefs and what we know.  We teach many times the way we were taught and how we go about our craft has been shaped primarily by our teachers that we learned from, our university experiences, and the student teaching experiences we had throughout our university studies.  By the time we actually begin our teaching careers, we take what our past experiences have been and use what fits us and discard the rest.  When we don't like how things are going, we possibly look to other teachers in our building for help and suggestions, but again, their teaching styles and philosophies tend to be similar to ours (or we probably wouldn't have been hired there in the first place).  Most of who we are as teachers is pretty solid by the time we reach the end of our fifth year of teaching.  Now, granted, I am making a generalization here.  There are teachers who are continually changing and do go and reinvent who they are as a teacher (which is somewhat what I am going through at the moment), but it is rare I think. 

I don't know if things have dramatically changed for younger teachers, but at least as I was a starting teacher, you didn't really have the opportunity to see how other teachers in your discipline taught once you were teaching yourself.  Maybe you had the chance to sit in on someone else's class on your planning period in your building, but that was about it.  I can honestly say that the first time I saw another math teacher teaching was as I watched how Fouss' classes went on Friday.  I am so glad that I did take the time to go.  I picked up a couple of ideas to look at once I'm back home.  It reaffirmed for me that I am not totally off the mark on how I teach - and that's probably the best thing for me at the moment.  As I read other people's blogs and I see what other teachers are looking at doing, I have wondered if those things are what everybody does in the classroom.  And I think my conclusion is that many people look at incorporating some of those ideas into their class but that not everybody is doing them solely in their classroom.  I needed that affirmation at this point and I am grateful for that.

So, back to the title of the post.  Why do I love Twitter?  Because it connects me with other math teachers and we have a great exchange of ideas.  It provides me with the opportunity to meet with other like minded teachers across the world - something I wouldn't have otherwise.  It challenges my thinking about my current practice as a teacher and gives me ideas of things to try.  Plus, I have a forum to question and bounce ideas off other teachers.  It's the huge faculty lounge in the cloud - the way you'd like your faculty lounge to be.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

There's a reason...

...first year teachers are in their 20s and not approaching 40 (like I am).

I very much feel like a first year teacher right now.  I am doing pretty much everything from scratch - between SBG and putting everything on the SMART Board, there is very little I am doing this year that I have done in the past (at least planning wise).  I am worn out but I also am happier with how things are going in my classroom so far. 

I have put together my second set of unit plans for everyone but Calculus (but I did start them tonight - a little ahead of schedule).  Everyone has had their first tests except Calc (which has it Wed and Thu this week).  So, now the reassessing process begins in earnest.

So where are things at right now?
Math 1 is in the middle of their second unit.  Behavior issues have been cropping up this week.  I've had a chat with them and our principal sent out a memo looking for discipline problems.  He and I had a chat about them Friday and he's going to stop in this week to reinforce what I had said to them.  I have had 3 students either come in to reassess or get tutored, which I am somewhat happy about.  There could be more students coming in, but I'm happy for a start.  I need to communicate to them the importance of coming back to reassess.  I need to figure out how to get that across to them.

Advanced Algebra 2 and Algebra 2 just had their first assessment on Friday.  I had some students totally skip questions (Algebra 2 kids) which was a little surprising this early in the year.  I definitely have a lower group than last year's Algebra 2 group.  My Advanced kids did about what I expected from them, although a couple of them did worse than I thought they would.  These kids will be the hardest sell on SBG I think.  One of these students stopped in after school Friday and asked how he did and I told him he'd find out Monday.  He is one of my most competitive kids (maybe the most competitive kid) and I know he wanted to know what percent score he got.  The explanation for them on Monday will be key.  This group also had some careless computation errors on their tests.  I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with those.  At the moment if there is only one computation error and everything else is correct, I am scoring it as a 4.5.  More than one error and it's a 4 (or less).  Algebra 2 kids have a lot of work to do - but hopefully they will be coming back to reassess.

Calculus is coming along slowly.  I lost two students this week but I gained one from the Senior Applied Math class (she probably should have been in Calc to start), so that puts me at 13.  This is definitely the lowest class I have had in Calc ability wise.

So now what?
Well, I definitely need to get things under control, planning-wise.  I have been working practically every spare moment to try to get ahead and feel like I have the planning under control.  I'm getting closer to that - I actually got a lot done today and I am happy that I at least got a start on planning Calculus even though they don't start their next unit until Friday.  I still have some quizzes to get written for this week, but at least I have an idea of how things will go this week.  I need to get the next unit planned in Calculus, then Math 1 next.  Math 1 has their second test Friday, so
I have to get ready for that as well.

All in all, I am pretty happy with how things are going.  I feel like I am doing a better job as a teacher and I hope that my students are learning more with doing things this way.

Now if I can just get over this tiredness....

Addendum (Monday evening)
I passed back tests today.  My 4th period class was cut short by a speaker, so I don't have an accurate reflection on them.  However, I had several students who had 4's in both my Advanced Algebra 2 class and my 7th period Algebra 2 test already schedule reassessments.  I am very encouraged by this.  Hopefully, I'll see more this week.

Friday, September 17, 2010

First Test With SBG

I had hoped to have a clever title or some catchy way to start this, but I don't.  I guess that's not really me.  Today I gave my first test to my Math 1 students and my first test since starting SBG.  The test covered 8 skills and I had given 2 non-graded quizzes over 7 of the learning targets prior to the tests.  I only gave written feedback and tried to give some other feedback to the students when I could individually.  As I have previously mentioned, I have not collected or graded homework at all, which is also a pretty big switch for me.  I have given answers with every assignment; yet another change for me  All in all, lots of changes for me in how I assess and give homework.

I was pretty anxious to grade the tests and see how they did as well as how their grades would look in my version of SBG. After hearing about how @druinok really struggled with grading her first set of papers, I was a little nervous about how long it would take.  Since this was Math 1, it wasn't horrendously difficult to grade and I was actually surprised how much easier it was than I thought it would be.  That's not to say that there weren't some scores that I struggled with.  I did end up giving a couple of 4.5's but it made the most sense to me for how those students did.  I can see where a four-point scale may make it a little easier (harder to find middle ground between scores) and I may revise to that for next year, but given that I have only graded one set of tests, it's probably a little premature to say that.  And, to be honest, there were really only a couple of students on a couple of skills where I really waffled on where to rate them.  We'll have to see how that plays out as the grading goes on.

After I put the grades in the grade book, I was pleasantly surprised to see where they fell.  I suspected that there would be much fewer failing grades (and to be honest, that should be the case at the moment even if I had used the old system) and there were.  Actually, there were quite a few B's and C's and I am pleased with that.  I felt that their grades accurately reflect their understanding.  My lowest students actually did some things rather well and I am hoping that maybe they will have some motivation to try to re-assess and improve their grade (and ultimately their understanding).

I have to say that once I finished grading their papers tonight (yes, I actually came home and finished grading papers on a Friday afternoon/evening!), I felt pretty good.  I felt pretty good about how they did.  I felt pretty good about the grading piece of it.  I wasn't ticked off as I have been in the past at how they did and I didn't feel exhausted by the grading process.  It was different and unfamiliar to me.  I like it.  :-)

All in all, I am pretty happy with how things have worked out with my Math 1 class so far.  I was nervous about how they would take to SBG.  I am still a little nervous about it with them - mainly with two issues: first, the not grading homework bit.  I am hopeful they will continue to work at the assignments and practice whether it be in class (if time) or out of class.  Second, I am nervous about the reassessments with them.  I am afraid that they will see their grades, see that they are passing and be satisified with that (or even thrilled).  I don't want them to be satisfied with it. I want them to want to improve their understanding (and actually do it). I want them to continue to be motivated to do the homework problems and practice and continue to make sure they understand what I am asking them to learn.  So, how do I do that?    In all our SBG discussions, we talked about setting it up but I can't seem to recall discussing how to get them to buy into the reassessment part all that much.  My other classess will want to reassess, if only to improve their grades.  These kids, I'm not sure if there will be that motivation.  So how do I get them to buy into that?

I'm looking forward to reading your responses in the comments.  Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Trying Desperately to Get My Feet Under My Rear

What a week and it's only Wednesday!  I am taking a much needed breather this evening.  I have been working a bunch - last two nights I haven't gotten to bed until midnight (and I get up at 5:30 am).  I have decided that tonight I must get to bed before 11.

So What's Been Going On?

Since I last blogged almost two weeks ago, I have a few more weeks under my belt.  I feel like I am just starting to settle into my groove.  I guess I'll start with the SMART Board.  I've only been teaching three weeks with it but I definitely do love it.  I still have so much to learn with it, but spending some time with our representative earlier this week has addressed most of my questions, although I am certainly finding more questions as I work with it.  I am getting ready to do my next set of lessons and I feel much more confident in using the software than I did when I did my first set of lessons.  In addition  to learning some things from our rep, having actually used the board now for almost three weeks has really helped me to get a better grasp on how to set up my lessons.  Hopefully this next series of lessons I put together will come out much better.

All of my classes have now had their first set of quizzes.  My Math 1 students have actually had two quizzes and will have their first test Friday (when their grades will count). More on them later.  I'll start at the top group and work my way down.

The Best We Have?
I am a bit concened about my top group.  If they are supposed to be our best and brightest seniors, this is not a really bright group.  They had their first quiz Monday over 5 review concepts (writing equations, functions, domain and range, and even and odd functions).  The writing equations problems (which, granted, we didn't spend much time on), they did not do well on and I feel they should have done better since it is a skill they've been doing since they were in Algebra 1.  The errors they made were dumb errors you would expect from an Algebra 1 or Algebra 2 student, not a Calculus student.  Looks like I have my work cut out for me.  After the first quiz, I had 2 students ask about dropping the course.  One wants to be a physical therapist, the other wants to do something in the medical field.  They are both sticking with it for now.  The student who wants to be in the medical field has already missed 2 days of school and I don't think he's made this class a priority.  I suspect he'll end up dropping anyway.  Of the remaining students, about 3 or 4 of the 14 seem to be about where I would expect and another 3-4 will get there once they get their acts together.  I think it will end up being okay, but it will be an uphill battle with them. I miss last year's group.

I have had most of my Advanced Algebra 2 students before as 7th graders (and a couple as 8th graders).  I have pretty high expectations of this group.  These kids are on the track to take Calculus as seniors and my top students in this group are strong.  I did Mathcounts with these kids the last two years, so I know what they're capable of.  Their first quiz was Tuesday.  I was really disappointed with their results.  For the most part, they did what I expected.  However, they struggled in two areas - solving literal equations and the equations that involved fractions.  I somewhat expected the difficulty with solving the literal equations for a variable - historically, that is a skill that gives students trouble.  However, I did not expect them to do so poorly with fractions.  As I said, I have taught most of them before and I know they have been taught the fraction skills and they can do it. I had to be out today (Thursday), so I left them a worksheet on solving equations where about half involved fractions.  I'll be interested to see how much beter they did with that.

Some things don't seem to change
With my Algebra 2 groups, things seem to be about the same as last year.  This year's group seems to be about the same skill-wise as last year's group.  These kids certainly aren't going to set the world on fire, but I think they'll be okay.  There are a few that are above others and some that are going to need some serious work, but for the most part, these two classes are the most homogenous of my classes.  I am still trying to figure out exactly how much more they will need practice-wise on some skills (an issue I had last year), however, with teaching both the Advanced group as well as the regular group, I think I am setting up the curriculum much better this year.  Of course, having set up my Learning Target lists over the summer is also helping immensely with this class.  I definitely feel that I will have covered the material they need much better than I did last year flying by the seat of my pants with the new book.

Also on the not changing much list is the behavior of my Math 1 kids at times.  At least this year, my more challenging group behavior-wise is not the lunch period.  Thank goodness for small favors!  I can see already I am going to have to knuckle down with this group early.  I am going to try to make some in-roads with the kids who are the biggest discipline problems because they don't have the math skills.  I really wanted to work on writing these kids notes this year but my learning curve with the SMART Board has been so big that this has been put on the back burner for now.  Hopefully soon I can start with this.

And for the surprise...
If you had asked me who I thought would struggle with keeping up with the non-graded homework idea when beginning this school year, I would have told you my (lower-level) Math 1 kids.  Although some are still not doing it, surprisingly, they have been working on the homework problems.  I have been calling them practice problems instead of homework problems, but nevertheless, they have been doing them.  They come to class with questions, and in the two quizzes I have given them so far, they have done a great job with showing their work (a historically difficult battle in this class as well) and have done in some cases, better than I expected on their quizzes.  Their first test is tomorrow (Friday) and I am anxious and eager to see how they do.  I am hopeful they will do well - or at least better than previous years' groups have done.

The conversations in class have gone okay.  All my classes still seem to be a little afraid to speak up about some of this it seems.  When I ask them some of the questions that Matt Townsley suggested I throw out to them, it's almost as if they have no idea how to think.  This is a completely new paradigm for them.  I think they're a little scared.  We'll see how they feel about it after the first test.  Math 1 is tomorrow, Algebra 2 and Advanced Algebra 2 next Friday, and Calculus will have a two-day "review" test the week after (probably Tuesday-Wednesday).

A Closing Note
In our district planning meeting today that I attended (think continuous improvement committee for lack of a better explanation), as we were reporting out at the end what we wanted to do at a building level to work toward our goals, our elementary school said they want to look at doing a Standards-Based Report Card.  If they follow through with that - that's really exciting.  I didn't have a chance to talk with them after the meeting but I already need to talk to one of the elementary teachers about something else, so I am looking forward to that conversation.  So, maybe some more in my district will be jumping aboard the SBG Express here next year?  We shall see.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Week 1 (Mostly) Done

Week 1 is effectively done for me.  I have tomorrow off (personal day).  Family is all in for the weekend (Canfield Fair + family gathering on Saturday).  I am pretty exhausted tonight - between working this week, 90 degree heat every day in a building with no air conditioning, trying to get my act together with both SBG and the SMARTBoard, getting a Girl Scout display and staffing ready for the fair, and walking around the fair for 2 nights so far, I have had an absolutely FULL week.  I honestly don't think I could have squeezed anything else into this week.  Having said that, I should be in bed (I am tired) but I need to do something reflection/sharing about this week before I lose it all in my head.

Extreme Frustration

It has been a very different beginning for me this year.  I walked in on my flex day ready to go and was excited to be back.  However, I also got stuck for a couple of days at the worst possible time.  I did eventually get past it, but by the time I did, I found that it was an incredibly slow process.  I have worked with Power Point before and expected to find some sort of templates to make the setting up process way easier.  I left school incredibly frustrated at the end of my flex day because it took me so long to get one lesson into SMART Norebook.  I scheduled my kids at day care an extra day and went into work, hoping to get somewhere with the software.  I found the Lesson Toolkit and some very basic templates.  It got me through planning the lessons for 3 of my 4 classes.  I spent a good part of last week working every spare moment I could find to get things set up, including breaking my (unwritten) rule not to work on Saturdays for the first time in my (now) 19 years teaching. 

So with Calculus left, I discovered that there are Power Point slides for each chapter - YAY! Could not import the slides into SMART Notebook - BOO!  I have been exchanging emails with the SMART Notebook software people since Sunday night trying to get it to work.  As it stands right now, I sent three Power Points for them to look at and try to figure out what the issue is.  That was yesterday afternoon and I started teaching Chapter One in Calculus yesterday. Fail.  Still hoping they have an answer for me soon.

I do have to say our tech guy has been wonderful.  He really has been trying to help me as best he can and has been patient in answering questions and getting answers to questions. After my discussion with him after last Tuesday (extreme frustration day), he has arranged a one-on-one session with the lady from Smart Ed (our supplier) for September 13th (first date she had available).  He has gotten Math Tools and made sure I got the code asap.  Clickers got ordered and are here - although I am not even close to being ready to deal with them.  He is working on getting wireless for me (since I am using my notebook) that will work better than the not-so-great wireless that we have at the moment on a trial basis.  I am the guinea pig for our school - next year we will have a new school and I will be the only person on staff with any experience.  It is allowing him to figure out what our staff will need next year (and before).  In the long run, this will help make things easier next year and I am glad I can help.

A New Beginning

So I walked in Tuesday excited and pumped up, yet nervous about the whole SMART Board thing.  Day One went pretty well.  First period I didn't get to everything I wanted to - forgot about having to get them lockers and that took more time than I anticpated, so in that class I didn't get through the presentation, but in all my other classes (except last period when the principal started 5 minutes early into announcements) I did get through what I thought I would.  The kids were a little nervous about the quiz, but by 5th period, some of them had heard the quiz was about me.  I had to laugh - my first period (Advanced Algebra kids - top freshmen primarily) didn't read the directions quite right and they thought at first the quiz was about each one of them.  So, I had to sound like a 3 year old in my intro of the quiz the rest of the day - "It's about me! Me! Me! Me! Me!" - to make my point.  I think the kids liked my prezi and the day went pretty fast.  Every other year, I have always had time for the kids to start on their interest inventory/about me page and this year I think that may have happened once.  Generally I was happy about Day One.

On Day Two, my Algebra 2 classes did a diagnostic test.  My Algebra 2 kids pretty much did what I expected - not a whole lot of work, didn't remember a lot.  They did surprise me a little.  Many of them knew what I meant about giving the inverse.  Most of them did not do the inequalities at all.  My Advanced Algebra 2 kids surprised me - mainly in a not good way.  Many of them did not show work when directed.  All but one kid had no idea what I meant about the inverse.  And most of them had no idea on inequalities.  A little more start up work with them than I anticipated.  In Calculus, we spent the period going back over how to get the correct answers from their Calculus Readiness Test I gave them at Open House to turn in Day One.  This group will need a lot of work.  I had been warned by their Pre-Calc teacher that they had low skills and I can see he was not exaggerating.  This group is going to have a lot of uphill climbing to do.

A Pleasant Surprise

My biggest surprise so far has come from my lower-level freshmen students (Math 1).  We started into the lessons on Day Two.  We talked a little about SBG and how I was going to assess them on Learning Targets and give them the answers to all the homework problems and only count their scores from tests.  I think they thought I was crazy.  This is the group I had as 7th graders two years ago.  As seventh graders, they were pretty undisciplined and did not do as well as I thought they should have.  I had several discipline issues to deal with in this class.  Now, granted, there are a few kids who are not in this class now that could change the nature of these classes, but for the most part, the kids I have are not only low, but several are in the troublemaker group from two years ago.  So, I wasn't totally sure what to expect from this group.  I was really hoping that they had matured some a lot from when I saw them last.  There are still some potential discipline issues in these two classes, but what occured yesterday and today was not what I expected.

So we had a little chat about grading.  That went okay, but when I reflected last night about it, I don't feel like I did a great job of introducing it.  I was nervous about how today was going to go.  But the lesson went okay.  Most everyone was engaged.  They liked loved the SMARTBoard.  It is very much a novelty to them right now, which is actually in my favor.  I am definitely going to have to work on using it to the fullest with them whenever possible.  I provided them with three handouts yesterday - my learning targets page that has the practice problems and answers on it, the important terms sheet for the chapter with some words left out of some definitions, and an examples page because I didn't want them spending a ton of time copying stuff down.  The lesson went okay.  It went longer than I anticipated and I was not able to give them time to work on the practice problems at all.  In fact, I was barely able to give them the practice problems.  This made me really nervous about whether or not they would work on the problems outside of class.

So when they came back today and had it done (almost all of them), I was really impressed.  Shocked almost, actually.  I was dealing with other things and did not go around and check homework at all.  I did not record whether or not they did it.  Totallky forgot about it, in fact, because I was still focused in my mind on a) trying to get everything to work right and b) trying to figure out how I was explaining SBG to my other 4 classes and I still had the "not checking homework" bit in my head.  Oops.  I had wanted to at least note who had done it.  The few kids who hadn't done it were apologetic since they didn't quite get where to find the assignment (this was mostly in  my 3rd period class where I was giving them the problems as the bell rang).  Even more shocking to me was that one of the students who hardly did any homework in 7th grade (and when he did, you were never sure if he really did it or copied it) had not only done the assignment for today, he had done the next assignment listed as well.  Granted, he didn't have all the work I wanted (it was order of operations) and we talked today about what he needed to show and why, but it was a huge improvement for him in my eyes.  He was helping two other students who were working on the assignment today in class.

The students came back with questions, which I was happy with.  Some of the kids I expected to have questions asked them, some were ones I had not thought would have them.  We had another good lesson today on Order of Operations and had about 15-20 minutes for them to work on the practice problems. They were mostly working and really following through with showing their work, which I was very pleased with.  They asked questions.  (Sorry Dan Meyer, I was not less helpful - one thing at a time!)  They were talking about math and finding some success.  I felt pretty darn good about how my Math I classes went today.

And Everyone Else?

Everyone else got the SBG talk today.  After not feeling really great about how it went yesterday with my Math I kids, I reminded myself that I had written some notes of discussion points from Matt Townsley, so I started with the question "What is an A?" as my springboard.  Again, still seeing many skeptical faces from  my students, but I think as we work through this, they will come around.  Lessons went pretty well today with the exception of Calculus where I am still having SMART Notebook issues.  The Power Point worked okay, but I was having trouble saving any notes I made on the slides.  Fortunately, we were talking about lines and writing equations which are topics they should basically know.  When we get to functions, I am going to need to have something a little better.  I would say I have the whole long weekend to straighten that out, but if the rest of the weekend goes like last night and tonight, I don't have much time to count on.  Hopefully Tuesday I'll have some more time.  Oh wait - maybe not since I should be giving quizzes next week already.  It doesn't stop....

What About the Other Goals?

Well, I wanted to write notes to my kids in Math 1.  I really wanted to have notes on their desks Day One.  Didn't happen.  Not even close.  I started and got 2 notes done.  Just didn't have enough time.  This may have to get delayed for a while.  We'll see.  Right now I have to get the SMARTBoard situtation under control as well as SBG.  Still really excited about the SBG thing.  We'll see how I feel after the first quizzes this week.

Tomorrow, I take my kids to the Canfield Fair to do our annual ride day with their cousins, second cousins, and whatever other kids tag along (long story).  Should be about 10 kids in total and a lot of fun for them.  I'm going to enjoy the day with my brother and my kids as well as my in-laws.  Maybe I'll be able to sneak in a little work tomorrow afternoon.  More Fair tomorrow night.  Hootenanny on Saturday. More Fair Sunday and Monday.  I'm going to enjoy the whole long weekend.  Maybe I'll sneak some work in here and there.  If you made it this far - I hope you enjoy your holiday weekend, too.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


It has been a crazy week.  I picked up a class at the last minute for this week.  It was offered by The University of Akron and The Akron Chamber of Commerce and it was titled "Opening Doors to STEM in the Workplace."  We are supposed to get a nice stipend, 2 hours of graduate credit (paid for!), and they fed us lunch every day (good eats all week!).  It was WELL worth it in spite of the timing.  I got a much better understanding of what businesses are looking for in employees. Oh - and at some point, there is a great WCYDWT about CFL and why they are designed in a spiral vs. the original design of 2 upside-down u-shaped tubes. No time to think that through right now (not teaching Geom now) - more about that later.

What troubles me now from this workshop is that the last couple of years I have gotten away from doing the application problems in the textbook because a) students don't tend to do them anyway and b) there has been such an emphasis on getting the content taught for state testing/getting them ready for the next course or college.  After talking to several business people, I now understand that application is key for people to be successful in the business world as well as problem solving.  So, now what?  The obvious answer is that I need to incorporate application problems into every concept or as much as possible.  I am thinking that when I have my practice problems list for my students that there will be 2 parts to each assignment - problems where they practice the concept, and 1 or 2 application problems.

The reason for the title of this blog...
Which brings me to issue #2 on my mind at the moment - school.  It is now 10 days until I have students in my classroom.  I have no planning done other than Day One.  I got the SMART Notebook file done for it and that's it.  I have done nothing this week.  Granted, it's been a busy week for me.  I had Girl Scout meetings three of the five weeknights this week and DH had a meeting on one of the other nights.  We are winding down in summer and the kids are realizing that they will be getting less time with Mommy, so they have wanted more of my attention this week. But in addition to all of that, I think I'm just stuck. Paralyzed with fear and nervousness about setting up my lessons using the SMART Board.

For my 18 years of teaching, I have taught using a chalkboard or overhead projector.  Put up all the notes by hand.  No big deal.  I have my own notes on what example problems I want to use and definitions that I want students to know and other important notes that I want to make sure I pass along to students.  But how do I set up these slides to put up on the screen for them?  Do I put everything up on the screen and use the cool shade to pull down as I go along?  Do I just put the basic notes (definitions, procedural explanations) in and the example problems up and write on the SMART Board to show the solution process?  Do I go through the SMART Gallery and the Internet and see what I can find that someone else has done and modify it or just start from scratch?  Do I go find "creative" stuff on the internet from You Tube and Teacher Tube to integrate in? And on, and on, and on go the questions in my head.

I can't put it off any longer.
That's the bottom line.  I am stuck in my head but I cannot wait any more.  I have to start tomorrow or Monday.  I have four sets of slides to create.  I know that I hate when the presentation slides have everything on them and the presenter reads them to you pretty much verbatim and maybe adds a comment or two.  I don't think that's what I want to do.  But given the visual nature of mathematics when explaining processes, I know I have to have stuff up there (either already on it or a start of it).

The dumb thing is, I have really looked forward to having the SMART Board.  I couldn't wait until I had it.  Now that I have it, I'm paralyzed as far as what to do with it.  But I need to figure it out and fast.  Next year at our new school, everyone will have them and people will be looking to me for some help and advice since I will have had one for a year and I want to be able to give them good advice.  At least I'll understand their inital fears of it due to what I am going through at the moment.  But now I have to get past it.  I don't ever remember having these kind of feelings about using technology before.  I have always just jumped in and figured it out.  Not sure why I am at this point at the moment. Regardless, it is now time to move forward.  Any advice and swift kicks in the rear are welcome... :-)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Working on the To-Do List

Well, I am slowly chipping away at the before school To-Do List. First up was the first day presentation of stuff.  I started off trying to do some of the cool stuff that @msgregson did in hers, but since I was still trying to figure out the program, I backed off after getting tremendously frustrated at times.  Maybe once I get quicker with it.  I haven't done seating charts yet, so that's not in there (but there is a page for it).  The second blank page is for the answers to my Day One Quiz Prezi.  Also, on the contact info page, there is a link to my high school's webpage so I can show them the easiest way to get to my webpage (if you really want to see it, DM me on twitter and I'll get you a link - I don't want it linked to here).

Day One PDF

So what's next?
Now I'm trying to figure out how I'm going to put together my SBG explanation.  I haven't decided if I'm going to use Prezi again or just stick with the Smart Notebook software.  Plus, I'm trying to figure out exactly what I want to put in it.  Thoughts or suggestions from anyone on what to put in/how to organize it?  Please comment. Thanks!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Concepts Lists DONE!!

Well, it has been a long couple of days, but I am now done, done, DONE with my concept lists.  Calculus was an absolute bear.  I am working with a new book (the Finney, Demana, Waits, and Kennedy 3rd Edition Media Update which is for AP Calc - 2010 copyright) so I am trying to sort through that plus figure out just how many learning targets I need.  So with some starting help from @praxisofreflect (her post with her concept lists is here), I was able to get it done.  She had already typed up what she felt the learning targets should be from the same book and I began with that and culled it down to what I felt were the essential things I would be testing.  Unlike with my other classes, I think there will be more than one question per learning target.  Also, unlike my other classes, this concept list will be more in flux than the others.

So, here they are at their current states.  Algebra 2 is actually for 2 classes - Advanced Algebra 2 and Algebra 2.  It's pretty settled.  There may be some last minute tweaking at the beginning of each chapter, but I anticipate very little of that.  Math 1 will have a new book and curriculum.  It is somewhat settled and there will be tweaking as I set up each chapter, but not a ton of it.  Calculus also has a new book and there will be more tweaking for it as I set up each chapter.  Please feel free to review them all and offer any comments and suggestions.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Day One Quiz

I had the realization last night that I am just about three weeks away from having students in my classroom.  I am slowly plodding away at stuff (I do have concept lists done for 3 of my 4 preps and I got my open house paperwork in as well as got my website updated) - but there is still so much to do.  Like @Fouss and @jamieryske, I am going to do a Day One Quiz with my students.  I've attached mine below.  I think (for the first time), I am not going to spend all of Day One going over the Class Procedures/Rules sheet.  I'm still going to collect their information and get books out as well as do my Interest Inventory sheet (although I am going to tweak that and will attach it later).  I haven't decided what else I am going to try to accomplish day one.  Part of the problem is that we have a "temporary" homeroom on the first day and that changes the lengths of the periods for some of my classes (but not all) and we won't have a good idea of what that will be until that day (don't get me started....). 

So - here is my first day quiz: Day One Quiz

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Math 1 Concept List

I need help again.  I have done my Math 1 concept list.  Some background on Math 1:
  • These are students who are lower level freshmen and not totally ready for Algebra.
  • This is a new textbook for this course (McGraw Hill's Algebra Concepts and Applications).  It was chosen because we use the Geometry Concepts and Apps by the same publisher for Math 2 and we wanted to be working on Algebra 1 skills with these students.
  • Ohio standards for 9th grade are basically all Algebra-related.  Actually some of the 8th grade standards are also Algebra related.
  • This will be the first group of students who are required by the State of Ohio to have Algebra 2 or its equivalent to graduate.
  • These students will take Algebra 1 at some point (either next or after taking Math 2).
I know these students will not get all the way through my concept list.  I can't even reasonably say how far I think they will get.  However, I have gone through the book and made my list and done some beginning organization.  I don't like how they have inequalities at the back after quadratics - that made no sense to me.  Also, there were other concepts that were later in the book than I would have put them, so I have done some reorganizing.

I have not taught Algebra 1 in some time, let alone the basic level of it, so I need some help. Some issues I am looking for feedback on include:
  • Is it really worth teaching them the operations with rational numbers (fractions, mixed numbers, decimals)? When they get to any standardized test, they will have calculators available to them that will deal with the fractions, not to mention they've already seen (but probably struggled with it) the concepts multiple times.
  • They integrated in probability and data analysis stuff in the 1st 5 chapters - leave it as is or pull the sections out and lump them together?
  • They have adding/subtracting for rational numbers and equations in one chapter, multiplying/dividing rational numbers, equations, and the rest of solving equations in the next.  Leave it as is or put the rational number stuff together and the equation stuff together?  ***I really need input from those of you who have taught Alg 1 skills before - I have an Alg 2 perspective here.***
  • As we get to the later stuff (anything after graphing) - what becomes most important to teach?  Do I do systems of equations? Radicals? Exponents/factoring?  Once again, these kids will head to Algebra 1 and 2 and will see this again - I want to expose them to what material I can and give them a good solid foundation so that when they see it again, they can have greater success than had they just jumped into Algebra 1.
Please address anything in the comments.  If you want to download the file from and make your own tweaks, please feel free to do so - but rename the file when you save it and let me know how I can get it from you.  Thanks!

Math 1 Concept List
*** I have updated this on 8/8 after the comments.  I'm still looking for suggestions.  Thanks!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Grading Explanations

Well, I have put together my first document for the new school year.  Here is my explanation to students and parents as to how grading will go in my classroom.  Please, please, please comment - I want to make sure I have this as clear as possible before I print it.

Background on my district - mostly blue collar, not a heavy emphasis on education.  Parents are somewhat involved - the parents of the "better" kids tend to be the most involved, otherwise they don't tend to get involved unless their child is failing (and even then, they don't always get involved).  I thought about including information from books/prominent educators but I chose not to because I didn't want to be perceived as trying to go over the parents heads and/or too much "edu-speak."  I wanted it to be in as plain English as possible.

So - here it is.  Comment away!  Thanks in advance for your help!

***I have revised this slightly based on the comments and changing my 0 and 1 values. (8/3)

Grading Info 2010-2011
or try here if you can't read it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The State of Affairs in My Head

This blog post is mostly for me to get out of my head where I'm at with things.  As always, please feel free to comment or catch me on Twitter (@Mrs_LHenry) to discuss.  In fact, it's really helpful for me if you do leave comments.

First up - Grading

I am committed to doing SBG this year.  At the moment, I am leaning towards doing a system very similar to Kate Nowak's where you teach 3 concepts, then assess.  I want to assess twice because I feel that it would give me a clearer picture of whether or not the student understands the concept (it would give me two snapshots rather than just one).  I am most comfortable with a scale out of 5 and I think I would do similar to what she does, adding the 2 together for ultimately a score out of 10 to put in the school's gradebook. 

I would need to put the following limits on reassessing for my own sanity:
  • The student would need to demonstrate some sort of remediaation/practice before reassessing.  Either the student would need to get additional help from me or an outside tutor or successfully practice additional problems on his or her own.  I saw somewhere (not that I can remember where at the moment), that someone who was getting outside help had to have the tutor sign off and state what was done to help that student AND that person had to be at least one class ahead of the student being tutored.  I thought that made great sense.
  • No tutoring and reassessing in the same session.  This is partly due to time consstraints for me (something about having 2 kids) and partly because I want students to have time to reflect and internalize the new information they have learned.
  • I am considering setting up a Google form for scheduling reassessments and/or an appointment book.  This is also for my sanity to have time to make up the reassessment question(s).  With having two kids, I think I will also have to set aside specific days after school if a student wishes to come in then.
  • I think I will also put together index cards with reassessment questions (another idea I read here) and label them so that they can be reused for other students.  I would have to keep track of which questions a student attempted, but I think that would be worth it in the end.
  • Due to the constraints in my gradebook at school, I would have to set a deadline for reassessments during the last week of the grading period.  Any concepts that I started during the last week or so of the grading period would also carry over to the new grading period.  Strictly a logistical issue here.

Homework and Other Classroom Issues

Because I am going to do SBG, I am not going to grade homework.  I think I will put together a sheet per unit that has listed the concepts for the student that they will be working on (this will be their tracking sheet also) and the suggested practice problems for the unit.  I think I would like to keep them to 10-15 problems and I will make use of the odds since all of the texts that I use have the answers to the odds in the back of the book.  If I choose to use the evens, there are graphs involved and they aren't given, and/or I have worksheets, I will provide answers to my students before they practice the problems so they can check to see how they are doing.  I don't think I am going to title it homework, I think I may just title it practice - because that is truly what it should be.  Not sure what I am going to do about keeping track of if students really did the practice problems - suggestions?

As I get better with this SBG, I may also put together additional practice problems sets by concepts that include the answerss so that as students remediate, they have that information readily available to them.  (I just had that thought - will have to think about that a little more.)

Since I will be using a SMARTBoard this year, I will post class notes on my website daily.  I am also conemplating having a daily warm up problem.  I really liked what another teacher did with the OGT problems (check here - third paragraph) and I want to keep track in a spreadsheet so I have an idea of how they are doing (and be able to compare it to how they end up doing on the test), but I'm not sure what to do to make sure they are motivated to do it daily.  My lower level stduents in particular seem to not want to do any additional work they don't have to.  Maybe make it some sort of a competition for who has the msot points at the end of a set period?  Maybe put my two lower level classes together in competition with each other - whoever has the best average at the end of 3 weeks gets candy or donuts or something?  I could do the same with my Algebra 2 classes.  Any other thoughts?  I could use some help here...

Note Writing
The last thing I think want to take on this year is the note writing that Grace Chen talked about in her recent blog post.  I think this could be very helpful and motivating to my freshmen.  The freshmen I will have in my lower level math class this year I had as seventh graders.  Let's just say that I didn't have the greatest experience with them and there were a lot of discipline isuues with them.  Some of that may be due to being seventh graders (and my inexperience with dealing with them), some of that may be due to who they are.  Regardless, I don't want a repeat of that year.  Historically for me, the class they're in has been the toughest for me discipline wise and I almost always end up dreading those classes.  I want to change that.  So I think I will try the notes with them first.  I may also try the notes in my Algebra 2 classes (the non-advanced classes) but maybe not on as full of a scale as the freshmen Math 1 classes.  We'll see.  I'm still thinking through this one.

Wrapping Up...
I hope I am not biting off too much with all this.  As I have said before, I am not happy with how things have gone in my classroom the last several years.  It is time to make changes.  I think these changes are do-able for me and I am hopeful that this will be a much better school year for me than the last several.  I know it will be a lot of work, but I think it will be worth it all in the end.

Please, please, please leave comments or catch me in twitter.  I am sure that it is not perfect, but at this moment in time, I think it's workable for me.

I must be warped...

I am on vacation with my family (my parents, brother, husband and kids).  My parents rent a house each year on the water - this year we are staying on Sandusky Bay.  Like every other house we've stayed at, it has its good points and not so good points.  We have a nice entry onto the bay,the kids can go out in the water quite a bit, there's a nice yard here, there's a caboose on the property and the kitchen is about as well equipped as we've had. But, the kitchen is small (only about 2 can work in it at a time), the bottom of the bay is a bit rocky (had to go find lake shoes for the kids) and the only place there's a table big enough for all 7 of us is in the garage (where there's no air conditioning - which is really mainly an issue for my asthmatic mother).  I love the location and generally the property - it's probably about the best place we've stayed in the 5 years or so we've been doing this.

And yet...

I am sitting here outside on the swing enjoying the view and thinking about how I'm going to do things this school year.  I'm on vacation thinking about school, willingly (hence the title).  I'm reading Marzano's Classroom Assessment and Grading That Works and participating in a Twitter discussion each evening after having read the chapter of the day.  (We're setting up the hashtag #sbarbook for those of you who want to follow our discussion.  We're going to do Formattive Assessment and Standards-Based Grading next.)  And as I started formulating this post in my head, I can't help but think that coming up with what I am going to do in the classroom this year is like our vacation home search.  There are always good things and bad things about it.  Maybe it will never be absolutely perfect. 

So where does that leave me?

Isn't that a great question?  I have blogged over the last month what I thought I was going to do in my classroom.  My last post was full of questions which I didn't get a whole lot of response to (which is a little frustrating).  I've been actively tweeting and lurking, trying to figure this out.  I get that things aren't going to be perfect.  This is not a panacea for my unhappiness in the classroom.  But, I do believe it is the best answer for me.  I am committed to doing SBG in my classroom this year.  I am hopeful that it will foster changes in my students and my classroom.  I want students to be focused on learning, not on the "almighty grade."  I want them to understand better what they have learned.  I want them to take ownership of their learning.  I understand that this shift will take time.  I know I am going this alone, but I believe my principal and superintendant will be supportive.  (I briefly shared with my superintendant that I was looking at SBG and he appeared supportive.)  The bottom line is that I feel this is best for my students and I believe it more closely aligns with what I think education should be.  And isn't that what really matters?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

SBG Questions

As I am working through this whole SBG thing - trying to understand it, trying to figure out how to make it work in my classroom/building/district, etc. - I'm reading as much as I can.  I have spent time reading dy/dan and started through MeTA Musings but not gotten through as much as I would like.  Part of it is it's summer and my brain can only take so much before it cries "uncle!"  I'm also reading How to Grade for Learning - Linking Grades to Standards by Ken O'Connor and I've purchased Classroom Assessment and Grading That Works by Robert Marzano as the next read.  Plus, I've been trying to ask questions on Twitter when I'm reading tweets that bring them up.  I'm learning, which is a good thing.

So, here's where I'm at today:  I buy into why SBG makes sense.  I get that including homework and other practice (i.e. Formative Assessments) shouldn't be included in a student's grade.  I get it.  I understand that I need to start by coming up with my concept list.  I'm working on that.  First draft of Algebra 2 is here and is very much a work in progress.  I started with Algebra 2 because it is the class I am the most familar with.  I came up with an inital list of 102 concepts - WOW.  After chatting with @erictownsley and seeing his Algebra 2 concept list (which had about 60), I am questioning how I've broken down my concept list.  Did I break it down too far?  Did I include too many items students should already know from Algebra 1?  Am I spending too much time going back over Algebra 1 material? 

Here's some background on my Algebra 2 kids:  I have 2 different courses for Algebra 2 - Advanced Algebra 2 and Algebra 2.  We moved our Algebra 2 course to after Algebra 1 (and before Geometry) because the State of Ohio Legislature decided that not only should all students beginning with the incoming freshmen should have 4 credits of math to graduate, one of those credits should be Algebra 2 or an Algebra 2 equivalent.  Advanced Algebra 2 is our freshmen (primarily) - these students are supposed to be the best (a few students who are not freshman are in the class by Algebra 1 teacher recommendation) and generally headed towards Calculus.  This course will be taught with TI Graphing Calculator (83 Plus/84/84 Plus).  Algebra 2 is the freshmen who started with Algebra 1 in 8th grade and just aren't cutting it and everyone else.  It is meant to fulfill the Algebra 2/Algebra 2 equivalent.  Last school year (2009-2010) was the first year we did it this way.  We are using a VERY simplified book - which somewhat works - but I still did quite a bit of supplementing.

One of the things I have decided that I will need to do is administer a pre-test to my Algebra 2 and Advanced Algebra 2 students.  Last year I just decided to teach based on what I knew from the Algebra 1 teacher that they did previously.  I assumed they knew little (which they did to some extent).  I am not going to make assumptions this year.  So - I need to figure out what to use as a pre-test.  I know I will not be in school one day during the first week, so I am planning on having students do the pre-test that day.  Anyone have any suggestions on where to look for a pre-test?  Should I be looking for something along the lines of an end-of-the-year Algebra 1 test or something with Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 concepts?  Suggestions?

As I am working through this, it seems like most people who have done SBG have started small and worked their way into it.  I have 4 preps next year - the aforementioned Advanced Algebra 2 and Algebra 2, Calculus (not AP), and Math 1 (freshman course - students not ready to go into Algebra 1 but we are going to cover Algebra 1 concepts this year because that's the 9th grade State Standards).  Do I try to do SBG in all 4 preps?  Do I just start with Alg 2/Adv Alg 2 because I know that subject matter the best?  I should add that both Calculus and Math 1 will have new textbooks next year - does that make a difference in your suggestions?

Other questions that have come up in the last few days that I am looking for input:
  • Which system to go with?  I know this is a personal decision - I am waffling.  Originally, this is the plan I came up with.  I am not sure how many evaluations to go with - 1 or 2.  I like Dan Meyer's system although I'm still working through the 4+4 = 5 bit (but I am getting closer to thinking about doing it that way).  If I do the Dan Meyer system - how long is assessment going to take?  Am I giving up a class day each week?  What about review?  Do I also review the day before each assessment?
  • How do I determine what scale to use?  4 somehow doesn't sit with me well (not sure why, but it doesn't).  I like the idea of it being out of 5 points.  How do I adjust the scale accordingly?  Do I use something like Kate Nowak?
  • How is this going to change how I teach?  The way I have done it - I teach, somettimes we work on problems in class, sometimes not.  I have always given at least one day review and usually two before a "unit test."  If I do something similar to what Dan Meyer, et al do and it doesn't take up the 50 minute class period, then what? 
  • Homework/Classwork or whatever you want to call it (i.e. practice).  Do I now plan for practice time for each concept in class?  What kind of "homework" do I plan on giving?  I had already begun thinking about changing this before SBG and this will change because I don't like how I have been doing it.  I get that I shouldn't assign points to it - how do I ensure students will practice?  Here I am not as worried about my normal/advanced students but my lower level Math 1 students.  I am planning on making homework changes across the board here.  Do I still keep track of what homework was done?  What classwork was done?  Record keeping and time is the issue here.
  • I think I follow how to deal with grade issue (this post by Matt Townsley was very helpful in clarifying it for me as far as the computer grading program at school).  How do I deal with midterms and finals?  I don't have any control over how those factor into my students' grades.  I can choose to not give them - although in my district that is pretty much unheard of for math and other core subject areas.  For our sophomores who have to take the Ohio Graduation Test - if have met certain proficiency criteria, they do not have to take their final exams in some/all classes.  Do I do something similar, i.e. if you have all 3s and 4s then you don't have to take the midterm and/or final?  In those cases, we average the 2 9 weeks grades for the semester grade.  (We give percent grades on report cards, not letter grades).
  • This is brand new in my district (as far as I know).  We are to have handouts for parents on open house night - which is the night before school starts where students and parents pick up class schedules as well as these handouts.  Do I put together a parent handout for open house on this?  What should go into it?
  • How do I deal with my principal on this?  I am pretty sure he'll be fine with it - especially if it will benefit the students.  He pretty much lets us do whatever we want to in the classroom with little interference.  Suggestions on what to say/how to approach it with him?  We are a smaller district (our HS has about 450 9-12) - do I also talk to the superintendent?  Our superintendent is new to us - he's only been here a year - and seems to be "up" on things.  Would it be beneficial to talk to him anyway to see what he knows about SBG from his other district or am I opening a can of worms?
  • The last question at the moment is about discipline.  Again, school policy (right or wrong here) is to deduct 1 percent point for each suspended day (don't start on the policy - I didn't make it, it was there before I came and I am stuck following it). How to deal with this?
I know I have to answer many of these questions myself and y'all may not be able to help me with some of them.  But I do know that many of you have been down this road already and can offer advice and your thoughts.  Please offer any and all thoughts that can help me work through these questions.  I know I can't possibly work through all these questions before starting this school year - but I do want to get things straightened out in my mind as much as possible.  Please comment below or catch me in Twitter (@Mrs_LHenry).  Thanks for all your help!