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.