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.