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.

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