Friday, January 27, 2012

Homework Ponderings

I have been pondering the whole homework issue on and off lately. With doing SBG, I don't grade homework. It's actually been rather liberating - I don't grade every little thing and students' grades reflect what they know. However, I am really seeing this year that my students don't do much of the assigned homework problems. We can make the list of excuses reasons as long or as short as you want. But the bottom line is that many of my students don't practice their mathematics outside of class as they should.

I suppose I could ponder as to why this is and we could all come up with a pretty long list. But I guess the bottom line is that as I look at students today versus 15-20 years ago versus about 25 years ago (when I was in school) is that society and home lives are much different now then when I first started teaching or even when I was a high school student myself. Add to that the fact that my students face a much different home and economic situation than when I was in school (some discussion on that in this post) and my current students' perspective on homework is radically different than mine.

Over the last few days, I have really been pondering about what to do to ensure my students practice the mathematics so they can be successful. I am pretty certain that my best students are doing that with little push from me. They have that motivation to do well and they realize they need to practice it. But what about the lower ability students - the ones who have struggled with math? They don't like math and often times don't want to do it, so if I'm not grading it, they don't have much incentive to do it. I can give exit ticket problems so they do one problem (or two) before they leave class. I can give opener problems for them to do as they come into class, but unless I collect it, they don't seem to put much effort into it. For that matter, even some of my best students don't put much effort into the warm up problems. I suppose I could do My Favorite No with their Warm Up Problems every day which would force them more into doing the problems. If I do that, it's kind of hard to do that with "Mental Mondays" and the multiple choice questions I use on Tuesdays and Thursdays for my Bellringers.

I am getting better at having them do a couple of problems during the lesson. Part of it is that I ended up going back and reteaching factoring using the GCF and in x^2 + bx + c form (see these posts for details) and I did note pages for them with examples for them to work as we went along. As much as I hate putting together note pages for them to work on, I have more of a chance of them actually doing notes if I do this than if I just tell them to take their own notes from my SMART Notebook file as I teach. Given that we are really moving into "new" territory for them, I am really debating if I should just throw in the towel and provide them note pages to write on and hope that they follow through with taking the notes or really continue the push to take their own notes. I am struggling with this because if they ever hope to survive in college, they have to learn to take their own notes. However, I have some students (who probably won't end up going to college) who won't do anything as far as notes go without some sort of push like having the note page provided. There are still students who won't take any notes at all and I am certain I am not going to change their minds no matter what I do. It's those middle to low kids who just might do something if I give them the paper that I'm hoping to get going in the right direction.

Anyway, getting back to the issue I started with... Part of what sparked these ponderings about homework/practice problems is what happened in class Thursday. I had put together this game (see the end of this post) where students had to work out problems and the teams got points and the winning team got blow pops and for 2 of my 3 classes it went really well. The kids mostly did the problems. In my lowest ability class of the 3, I was able to get around and help some students and got them on the right track. The students really liked it (and I think would have done it without the candy incentive) and were engaged with the math. My 2nd class had four students who pretty much ruined it for the whole class. I had divided the room into teams by where they sat and all four students were on the same team. They didn't want to try and would copy the answer from another student when it was their turn. So I added the condition that they had to explain their answer to get the point for their team. These four students' behavior pretty much demoralized their team and made what was fun for other classes not fun at all.

As I look at the students in question, one has really been struggling with math. This student has gone to get help which has helped a little bit, but the reality is that this student probably shouldn't have gotten the grades that were on the report card and maybe even shouldn't have passed Algebra 1. Two of the students have the potential to be decent Algebra 2 students but they choose to not put forth much of an effort. The fourth student also has some issues with understanding the mathematics as well. This student has had extended absences a couple of times due to medical issues and has come in for help a couple of times after those absences, but has not chosen to make much of an effort as of late. When they choose to practice problems, they do much better. Although I will be changing seats next week to help deal with the behavioral issues these four students cause for each other (and subsequently for the class on Thursday), it doesn't change the underlying problem of lack of effort.

How do you get students to make the effort they should? Not every topic in mathematics is compelling to everyone and certainly not every topic in mathematics has "real world" application problems that I can pull out to help make the mathematics compelling (not that I am doing what I should be or could be as far as that goes, but that's another post for another time). If I can't control what they do outside of my classroom, how do I get them to work on the mathematics inside of my classroom? Some would argue I need to "flip" my classroom - have videos for students to watch for the lessons at home and have work time in class for students to work on the problems. I'm not convinced that's the way to go. For one, not all my students have access to the internet outside of school. For some students, their only internet access at home is through dial-up. This is a socio-economic issue here. We also go back to the issue of time and priorities that I mentioned earlier as far as even doing the assignment outside of class. I need to get back to reading Drive and ReWired, both of which I started before Christmas and haven't gotten anywhere since.

I know I certainly don't have the answer. I don't expect that others of you do either. At this point, I am just trying to sort through my many thoughts on the issue. My wonderful math tweep @cheesemonkeysf has said to me before that the answer is there, I just haven't found it yet. Blogging helps me get there - eventually. Meanwhile, feel free to add your thoughts and ramblings to mine in the comments.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Tech Tools

I have found two new tech tools that I am really happy with. The first is the whole reason I wanted the iPad from school - a great app called Educreations. Educreations is a screencasting app. It lets me import image files (which I can create from my SMART Notebook files) straight from Dropbox very easily and I can create screencasts for my students. It uploads to their website (here's my profile page) and as long as I leave the screencast as viewable to the public, I can link to it from my website at school. Students can go view them at their leisure. About the only down side to it at the moment is there is no eraser, but the support staff has been very responsive and I hope they incorporate it in the next update. I do like this app a lot.

The second is a great, free website called Quizlet. Quizlet lets you create flashcards in many languages (including math!) and students can review them like normal flashcards, be quizzed on them by the computer, create their own quizzes (they can be printed to take offline or can be taken online) , or play a couple of games that are provided. In addition, students can import flashcard sets to one of several mobile apps (more information here). I stumbled on this because A+ Flashcards Pro is free (it went free right after Christmas) and it said you could import flashcards from Quizlet. I have created several sets - mainly centered around factoring because that's where we are right now. Here's my user page.

I also recently learned about linking to pages in SMART Notebook. I was recently at our SMART Bugs (SMART Board Users Group) and the facilitator (Bret Gensburg) showed us a file he had helped someone set up that was a game. I took the ideas he used in the game and created my own factoring game. The link goes to my Dropbox and you are welcome to adapt it as you would like. It is a SMART Notebook file, so if you don't have SMART Notebook, it isn't going to work. **Updated the file on January 26th - there was one bad link and I increased font size on the game pages.**

**Update: I did the factoring game in my Algebra 2 classes today. Two of my three classes it went well in. Students were engaged and enjoyed it. One class I had four students who pretty much ruined it. They weren't taking it seriously and would copy answers when it was their turn. I instituted the rule that I could ask you to explain where your answer came from for your team to get the point. Not quite totally sure how to work with this. On the one hand, I do like that students are talking to each other about the math as they are comparing answers. On the other hand, I don't like that they copy the answer without really understanding it. So at the moment, the best work around I have is to not only give the answer, but they have to explain it. I am thinking of making each question worth two points - one for the correct answer and one for the correct explanation. If the person has the correct answer but cannot explain it, their team will get the point for the answer and the other team can steal the point for the explanation. Thoughts?**

I hope you found something you can use. I'd love to hear of other useful tech stuff you're using.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Plan

Saturday, I blogged about my latest dilemma with my Algebra 2 classes. I am so appreciative to everyone who commented either here or on Twitter. Not only did I not feel alone in what I'm dealing with and going through with these classes, I got some good ideas to ponder. Teaching in a school with (only) 2 other math teachers can make it difficult to bounce ideas during the school day, let alone on a Saturday during a three day weekend. Y'all helped me when I needed it and that just goes to show the power of Twitter and the wonderful math Twitterblogosphere we have. Thanks.

So, after some pondering and checking out what everyone had to say, I decided to work with what @cheesemonkeysf suggested. Thanks too to @druinok who helped me hash out my plan.

On Tuesday when we return, I will hand back their quizzes. Since I had 2 of the 3 classes with me at home, I have already gone through those classes. When I get to school Tuesday, I'll go through the third class (which is, of course, my first period class). I have decided on "My Favorite No" for each of the problems on both versions of the test with the exception of the factoring problems. On Tuesday, we'll do the favorite no's for Properties of Exponents and Adding and Subtracting Polynomials problems (the graded learning targets). Now that I'm typing that, I may just do Properties of Exponents on Tuesday and Adding and Subtracting Polynomials Wednesday. After doing the "Favorite No's", I think I will have problems on the SMART Board for them to work out in class and then go over before the end of the period. Finally, I'll have them do an exit card with one more exponent problem and start Wednesday with that problem using the Favorite No strategy. Repeat on Wednesday with Adding and Subtracting Polynomials. Thursday I will given them a quiz on just those two learning targets. Students who have mastered both of these learning targets may take that time to re-assess a different learning target which they will have to tell me on Wednesday so I can I have it prepared. I think I may allow students who have mastered 1 of the 2 to re-assess one other learning target as well so that everyone is working on two learning targets in class. After their quiz, we'll start with the favorite no's from the multiplying polynomials section. I think on Friday I'll either put together a row activity for multiplying polynomials (I did find this one that I may use which also has them practicing adding polynomials again) or come up with something else for them to work on in class so they are practicing multiplying polynomials.

Next week on Monday then, we'll start over on factoring polynomials. First, we'll do GCF factoring again. Tuesday, I think we'll do some diamond puzzles before doing x^2 + bx + c factoring Wednesday and go from there. If anyone has some suggestions for practicing factoring in class, I'd sure appreciate them. I have some thoughts, but nothing fully concrete yet.

Thanks again for everyone's commiserating, well-wishes, and most importantly, suggestions. Hopefully there will be a time when I can help you all out.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Now What?

Yesterday I gave a quiz on properties of exponents and adding and subtracting polynomials (the graded learning targets on this quiz) as well as multiplying polynomials and factoring (GCF and x^2 + bx + c) for feedback. Although I am not done grading yet, let's just say the results I have seen from the graded learning targets so far is less than spectacular. I have done the graded portion for 2 of my 3 classes and I think (without actually calculating them) the average on my 5 point scale was around 2.5. They still don't have it. After teaching it before Christmas Break, quizzing for feedback before Christmas Break, doing 2 additional days of activities after Christmas Break, and giving them review problems before the quiz, they still don't have it.

I just don't get it. Adding and subtracting polynomials is basically adding like terms. How can they get to this point in Algebra 2 and not be able to combine like terms correctly? I have several students who tell me that 3x^2 + 6x^2 is 9x^4. I still have students, in spite of having calculators available, who cannot add or subtract integers properly. I have students who will take an expression in parentheses such as (6x^2 + 10x - 3) and try to combine it into one term such as 13x^3.

I understand there can be confusion keeping straight what to do with the properties of exponents. I'm multiplying (4x^3y)(2x^2y^4) and you want me to add exponents but multiply the numbers? When I divide you want me to subtract the exponents? When I raise something to a power I'm supposed to multiply exponents? It can be a little confusing. But when I explained it one on one to some students the day before and gave them as many hints as I could to help them keep it straight - remember, you are not doing the same operation to the exponents as you do to the numbers; notice that the operation you are doing is one step lower on the order of operations list - they still don't remember it the next day.

And those are just the graded learning targets. On the feedback learning targets, multiplying wasn't horrendous, but there are still some errors that I'm not happy about seeing them. On the factoring problems, most students didn't even attempt them and of those who did, about half (that I've seen) didn't have much of a clue. It's like what we've done for the previous 2 days totally was a waste of time.

This week is the end of the grading period. I can pretty much tell what's going to happen. The students who care about their grades will want to re-assess the learning targets to bring up their grades. From the surveys I gave them after their test (same one as the Advanced Algebra 2 students with many surprisingly similar results as far as the comments went - but that's another post), I can see that they do care - about their grades. That, of course, means between Wednesday and Thursday there will be a bunch of students who want to come in to re-assess so they can get ___ grade. The problem is, they don't have the skill. Some of them do, but for the most part, my students don't have it. The students who really don't have it most likely won't re-assess. They will continue to not get it. Since math builds its knowledge on previously known things, as the year continues, those students will continue to struggle and this issue will compound.

So, I am sitting here on Saturday morning pondering the same question I was yesterday as I drove home from school - now what? I know that if the students don't have the skills I tested them on Friday, there are going to be places they struggle the rest of the year. If they don't understand the properties of exponents and adding and subtracting polynomials, trying to do multiplication of polynomials is difficult. If they don't understand how multiplication of polynomials works, how are they going to factor them? And let's not even get into the implications for later topics (solving quadratics by factoring, other polynomial skills, exponentials, etc.). I thought by doing the stations activities that it would help their understanding but obviously if it did, it didn't stick in their brains.

I have a four day week when we return. Do I go back over these skills and provide the opportunity to re-assess in class for the whole class? How do I go back over these skills? I have already taught, provided in-class activities, put together 2 screencasts (exponent rules and +/- polynomials) for them to be able to view outside of class, plus helped them in class as they asked for it. I'm kind of at my wits end - I'm frustrated that they aren't doing preparation they should be. I'm sure part of it is my fault - I don't check their homework and I don't go around and mark whether they've done it. I had good intentions at the beginning of the year, but it takes time to do that at the beginning of the period and in spite of my best intentions, many students spend the time talking instead of working through the warm ups like they should. I suppose I ought to collect those too.

Add on top of that a fairly busy week this week outside of school. It's not like I have hours and hours of time to prepare a whole lot of things for them. Probably one of the more frustrating things right now is that I spent 6-7 hours putting together those stations activities I blogged about earlier and now that they've had the assessment on it, I feel like it was somewhat wasted time. They still don't have the skill. I'm not really feeling like putting in a ton of effort on something they a) aren't going to "care" about and b) won't really put forth the effort they should to do. But I know as a veteran teacher that I will always put in way more effort than they will. I also know that it doesn't change that I need to do something.

So, I guess I'm doing two things here. First, I'm venting. I'm frustrated and I need to vent (not that any of you have ever been there before....). Second, I'm looking for suggestions. What would you do? Would you give re-assessments in class this week? What would you do to make sure students understood these two concepts? I probably only have 1 or 2 days tops to review with them (again) before the end of the grading period if I'm going to do anything as far as re-assessments. I'm just stumped at the moment. Please comment and help. Thanks in advance!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Assessment Survey

In response to my blog post yesterday about why I think students aren't attempting feedback questions, misscalul8 asked, "Have you tried asking the students why they don't try the feedback problems or ask them how they study?" To be honest, I've never been a fan of asking my students survey questions, especially not ones that may give them the chance to criticize me. I suppose that goes back to the little gnawing fear that they'll all say I suck as a teacher as well as that I'm afraid that they won't take it seriously. However, during my half hour drive into work, I thought to myself that maybe it would be a good idea to ask them. I suppose that I am getting more comfortable in my own skin as a person and as a teacher.

I only surveyed my Advanced Algebra 2 students (17 students there today) - I figured they would take it the most seriously and thought that it would give me a good idea whether it's worth asking my regular Algebra 2 students the same questions. I have included all responses but I obviously didn't edit their grammar. So, without further ado, here is the survey and their responses, followed by my comments in blue:

Please answer the following questions honestly. Your answers will help me assist you in your learning of mathematics and will not affect your grade in any manner.

1) How do you normally prepare for a test or quiz in math?

  • I try to learn what it is we're being tested on, since I usually don't understand when we learn it in class.
  • I look over questions that I'm not sure about, until I understand them.
  • Student doesn't do anything (2 students)
  • I just pay attention in class and write things down.
  • Good amounts of sleep.
  • Do practice questions.
  • The review sheet. (3 students)
  • Study like crazy when it comes closer to the time of the test.
  • I do the review sheet and sometimes take notes.
  • Go over what the test is on.
  • Listen in class.
  • Practice.
  • Do math problems / review sheet.
  • All of the homework. extra problems worked through, and the review sheet.
With this being my Advanced class, I expected them to have some sort of plan for preparing for the test. Also at this level, I am not surprised to see that 2 of them do nothing. I remember being in high school math classes and not really doing anything to prepare for the test because I felt I knew the material well. It wasn't until I got to college (and Calculus) that I really had to study and it took me a bit to figure that out. I'm not hugely concerned with what I see here.

2) When you are given a review sheet for an upcoming test or quiz, do you work through the problems?

none 1
less than half 4
about half 3
more than half but not all 7
all 2

I am glad to see that more than half do at least half of the review sheet. At least it's not a waste of my time. I would like to see more in the "more than half but not all" and "all" categories though.

3) What do you think would help you better prepare for tests or quizzes in math? Why?
  • (main point) More explanation of how to do the things, because in class we go too fast and I get confused.
  • Pay more attention to what I'm confused about.
  • Sleeping more. I would be more alert in class.
  • If I could remember how to do the feedback problems I would be better prepared because I don't ever remember how to do the feedback whether I look over them again or not.
  • Review games
  • Review every question I do not know.
  • Nothing really.
  • If I did my homework it would help.
  • Do one problem from each section on the test, like the problems on the test, not exact ones, the day before the test. (**I think she meant for the class or me to do these problems.)
  • Practice the problems over and over.
  • Nothing. I catch on or I don't, how I work doesn't matter.
  • More review sheets or fun worksheets. Do homework problems on the board.
  • Do more work.
  • To do more problems to practice.
  • More study guides.
  • Coming up with a fun idea to help us understand better and pay attention more.
  • Student didn't answer.
I want to start with the first response. This response bugs me. It is the only one I have in this class. If I slow down much more, I am going to lose about the top third of students in my class because I will be going too slow. I already have issues with my 2 brightest students as far as attention issues in class (and some of those times they really should be paying attention). Maybe this student shouldn't be in the "advanced" class if this student isn't keeping up. The only other response that bothered me was the one about doing one problem from each section on the test the day before. Both of these students are freshmen (our Algebra 2 comes after Algebra 1) and they do need to be aware that an "Advanced" class doesn't mean I hold your hand the whole way.

I was pleased to see that most of the responses pointed out things that the particular student should be doing. I was a little nervous to see these responses as the question could be taken as what more I could do to help them prepare. I have the feeling that when I have my Algebra 2 students do this, there will be more suggestions as to what I can do instead of things they could do.

This year, I have tried something different with testing. Instead of giving a "unit test," I have given quizzes with some problems that are for a grade and some where you get feedback only.
4) Do you like this method better than unit tests? Why or why not?
  • Yes and no because we are moving too fast and I sometimes forget the stuff we are being graded on and yes because if I do understand then I can possibly get an exempt on it the next test.
  • I really like this method, it makes me feel more comfortable knowing that if I don't understand the feedback questions then I will get help.
  • Yes, so we know how we're doing.
  • I like the fact you give us quizzes with the graded problems but I don't like that you put feedback on there because I feel I need more practice.
  • Yes. You get breaks in between quizzes instead of one big test.
  • Yes because that is less you have to study for.
  • I'd rather have a unit test because if we learn too much at once then I get confused.
  • Yes, because I see problems like that more than once. It helps me understand what I did wrong on the test.
  • Yes I like this better, especially when you exempt it from the next. It gives me a heads-up.
  • Yes, but I HATE how we learn 6 learning targets, then take a quiz on the first three. I forget some stuff learning new things between.
  • I don't really care either way.
  • For sure!
  • Yes, I do. It doesn't make it as big of a test.
  • Yes, I like having only some problems graded.
  • Yes, because only the first few problems are graded.
  • Yes, because it helps you prepare for the next quiz.
  • Yes, I like this method because it's easier to see what I do wrong.
I am somewhat glad to see they like this method better. At least the length and amount of tests seems to be enough. However, with testing every 5-7 class days, I'm not sure that's the best way to prepare them for what's coming in the future. I think the student who wants the unit test really doesn't want the unit test, because then it will be a larger amount of material.

On the other hand, I'm not real thrilled about continuing to have to make up reviews and quizzes for every 5-7 class days. 

5) Do you attempt the feedback problems? Why or why not?
  • Sometimes, if I actually understand it.
  • Yes, because I usually get 5's.
  • Yes I do because if I get them right I don't have to do them on that test.
  • Yes because I want the feedback
  • Yes most of the time because I want to see if I know it.
  • Sometimes I do but sometimes I forget about it.
  • Most of the time. I only don't if I don't understand it.
  • If I know them.
  • Yeah because you tell us to, and it gives me a good understanding of where I am.
  • Yes, because it's on the test.
  • Sometimes I don't.
  • Yes, sometimes, when I know how.
  • Yes, to at least attempt them.
  • Yeah, because you tell us to.
  • Yes, that way I know what parts of the problem I have to work on for the next test.
  • Yes, so I can see how I need to study for the next week.
This was somewhat telling, but not as much as I had hoped. I was a little surprised to see that some students weren't attempting feedback problems because they didn't know how to do them. I guess I had hoped they would go as far as they could so I could offer feedback on what they did know.

6) Have you come in and re-assessed a learning target?

yes 13
no 4

No surprises here. Most of these students want to do well.

7) If you answered yes to question 6, why did you decide to re-assess?
  • Because I failed it on the normal test, and needed time to learn it so I can get a better grade.
  • I re-assessed because I understood what I missed, and I wanted to correct it.
  • Because I like getting 100%s
  • I decided to re-assess to try and get extra points and keep my grade up.
  • It wasn't a four or above.
  • Usually the stuff I missed was stuff I knew how to do.
  • I decided to because I knew I know the problems and I knew I could get the answer right a second time.
  • To get my grade better.
  • I didn't get a five when I knew I could have.
  • I did bad.
  • I didn't do good.
  • To get a better grade.
  • I learned what I did wrong and wanted to fix it.
A mixed bag here. I am glad to see some students wanted to show they knew the materials. I am seeing more "improve my grade" type comments here. Guess I need to work on how I present SBG better.

If you answered no, why did you decide not to re-assess?
  • 2 students didn't answer.
  • I stick with my original grade.
  • I haven't yet because I have a 100%, but will re-assess because I screwed up one of the learning targets.
The one student who answered "I stick with my original grade" is kind of an odd bird. Very bright student who gets many things very quickly, but not always in the same way everyone else does. This student is an Emotionally Disturbed student who is mainstreamed for my class. I guess I'm not really surprised by that response from this student. I think the 2 no answers bother me more than anything here. I was hoping for some insight.

I think I'm going to give the same survey to my Algebra 2 students. They have a quiz tomorrow and at this point I'm thinking I'm going to give it to them after they are finished. I am expecting some different responses and even some different tones in their responses. Should be interesting...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An answer to my quizzing dilemma?

Another round of quizzes, another blog post on how my students aren't doing so well with my current system. But this time, I think I'm getting closer to a why.

On the last day before Christmas Break, Cathy Hamilton spoke to us. A good part of what she talked with us about was the poverty mentality. The district I teach in has 52% of our students on free or reduced lunch. That number could potentially be higher since there may be families who don't apply for free or reduced lunch (pride issues). The part that resonated the most with me was about how people who are in poverty are in "survival" mode. They are thinking about the present and getting through today. Future is not very prevalent in their thoughts. People in the middle class are future-focused. They talk to their children about what they're going to be when they grow up, going to college, and other "future" things. People in poverty don't do that. They are focused on getting through today. Another difference is how people in poverty look at their situation versus those in the middle class. People in poverty feel that it's just their luck things are the way they are or it's just the way it is. If their child is bad in math, "that's just how our family is." Unlike people in the middle class, they feel they don't have a choice. People in the middle class talk about choices. If a child from a middle class family did something wrong, they made a "bad choice." Middle class people offer their children choices to make all of the time. They do their best to help their children make the best choices.

So, getting back to my quizzing issue. To recap - this year I have been giving quizzes every 3 concepts or so. The most recent 3 learning targets I give them feedback only. The 3 learning targets that I have already given feedback on (the earlier ones) are graded. Most of this year, students in my Algebra 2 classes have been concentrating on the graded learning targets and making less and less of an attempt on the feedback ones. I did try right before break allowing students to earn their 5 (they mastered it!) on the (normally) feedback problems to see if they would put forth more effort on the feedback problems. In my Advanced Algebra 2 class, my students put forth better effort on the feedback problems and not quite half earned the 5 on at least one of the three learning targets. They had another quiz yesterday with the same deal and only 1 student earned a 5. In my Algebra 2 classes, I had a handful of students earn 5s on their quizzes before break. They have their quiz on Friday.

Also lurking in all of this is my Math I classes. They seem to do better with the 3-3 system. It's actually really surprised me. Usually, since they are the lowest ability students, they tend to give up much easier. They almost always do all of the problems - they take it very seriously. I don't think I'll change it to unit tests for them. In fact, I did that this time (we had a 4 learning target unit) and they didn't do as well. With this next unit, back to teach 3, quiz 3, teach 3 more, quiz 6 (3 graded, 3 feedback), repeat.

So... do I have an answer? Well, the more I think about this, the more I think it goes back to this poverty/survival mentality of focusing on the present rather than the future. My students are in a survival mode in their lives and that translates over to school. Teenagers as it is don't focus on future things much anyway and I think that my students even more so are concentrating so much on the present and surviving that they don't look toward what they could do to get ahead. As far as their quizzes go, they focus on the graded material because that is the "present" in my class - it's what needs to be dealt with now. Surviving in my class means doing the best they can on those graded learning targets. In many cases, I am thinking that they don't even attempt the feedback problems because they aren't focusing on them in their preparation for their quiz since it's not factoring into their grade now. They are probably thinking that they'll learn it when they need to for the grade. I am also now wondering that if the drop off in re-assessments I'm seeing has to do with the same thing. If their grade is "acceptable," why bother trying to improve it? If it's not "acceptable," now the student has to do re-assessments to get the grade up just enough to be "acceptable" again.

Answering the question creates other questions. How do you get students who are so focused on doing what needs to be done today to shift their focus? If my students are focused on the present, is doing the 3-3 method I mentioned earlier really the best thing? They're not doing much on the feedback problems. I almost feel like it's a waste of time. I don't like doing quizzes every five to seven class days (it eats up class time, it's a pain to prepare assessments that often, not to mention it feels like I am constantly writing quizzes and grading them). Am I better off going back to the way I was doing it before ("unit" tests with some feedback quizzes)? Is there a better way? Anyone out there in a similar socio-economic situation and doing SBG? I'd love to hear your thoughts and how you do assessment. Even if your socio-economic situation is not like mine, I'd love to hear your thoughts on what to do about my assessment dilemma. What I do know is that what I'm doing is not the best way. Now I have to figure out what that "best" way is.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Observations on Review Stations

I did review stations with my Algebra 2 classes the first two days back from Christmas Break. I had originally thought I would do them in one day, however we had a 2 hour delay and my normally 50 minute class period was trimmed to 30 minutes. Add to that I needed to pass back their quizzes from the last day before break and get them into the groups, and we were only able to do one activity. The second day, instead of having them do a warm up, I left directions on the SMART Board for students to get back into their groups from the day before and to get needed materials out and get ready to go.

The biggest question on my mind as I went to bed the night before we went back was whether all of the time I put into the activities would be worth it. I had probably spent 5-6 hours between deciding the activities and physically preparing all of them, including the answers. I had chosen activities and designed activities that would be mostly self checking. The dice activity in particular took a long time to find and type up the answers. I had invested a lot of energy in addition to the time and I hope my students got something out of it. Tomorrow for their warm up activity, I am having them complete a brief survey to get an idea of how they think it went.

My observations:
  • In only one of my three classes did all groups appear to take all the activities seriously. In one class, one group didn't seem to be taking things very seriously, which was due to one student - I had hoped the other students in the group would pull this student in the right direction and unfortunately that didn't happen. In the other class, two groups kind of got off track - one due to a behavior issue, one due to poor pairing on my pair. I had to make some adjustments on the fly to groups due to absences and the one adjustment I had made ended up with a couple of struggling students as partners. Overall, most of the classes were engaged.
  • Many of my students, even the "stronger" ones, did not remember what to do very well. Some of them got going quickly once they asked a question and we went back over how to do it. This was the most evident on the Row Game page for the Properties of Exponents.
  • With the 3 x 3 match activities, several groups of students didn't fully work out the problems - especially the add/subtract polynomials. Maybe need to revise the problems so the answers aren't identifiable by the first term on that one? 
  • I ended up with 5 groups of 4 (or 3 here or there). With 6 activities, this actually worked well, especially in my first class when I realized I screwed up the rotation and I needed to have 3 groups do the same activity with only 2 rotations left. I got much better with rotating activities in my other two classes.
  • I originally was going to have students move, not the activities. However, having 6 physical spots to rotate through was going to be difficult without moving desks (and I have other classes between my 3 Algebra 2s and only 3 minutes between class periods). It worked out okay to rotate activities. However, this kept the partners the same. I think if I do this again, I would make them change partners every 2 to 3 activities.
  • I originally had thought 5-6 minutes a station and get all 6 done in a 50 minute class period. Reality was 10 minutes a station and we got 5 done over approximately 70-75 minutes. If I want to do it in one class period, I'd have to shorten activities. However, I don't think they would have worked through as much or gotten as much. Definitely need to use my timer - not just half use it - to keep things moving.
  • Overall, I think it was worth it. Would I do it again? Well... it was an awful lot of work. Still pondering that one.
One of my struggling students about halfway through today asked for a copy of the problems so he could take them to tutoring. At first, I had suggested to him to write down the problems he was working on to take to the tutor, but then I realized I had most of it in a printable form. A little later in the period, I think when he had the dice activity, he commented to me something along the lines of "this took you a lot of work." I replied that it did and that I appreciated he recognized that it did take a lot of work. Only kid who remarked that at all in three classes. I'll be interested to see their comments tomorrow on the survey.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Review Stations

My Algebra 2 students didn't do as well as I would have liked on their before break quiz. I had hoped that many would do well enough to master the exponent rules and adding and subtracting polynomials, but in reality, only a handful out of my 65 or so students did. When we return Tuesday, we need to do some review.

I had hoped to put together 6 stations - 3 exponent rules and 3 adding and subtracting polynomials, but at the moment I only have 4. I have spent several hours putting this together and at this late hour, I am questioning whether it will be worth it. My hope is that they will actually work through many of the problems and get much closer to mastering the skill. 

I intend to put the students in groups of 4 to rotate through the stations. I may have to adjust if I don't come up with two more stations. I am anticipating giving them 5-6 minutes per station. I know they won't necessarily get through all the problems, but they should get through most.

Right now the four stations I have are:
1) Match Puzzle for Exponent Rules. 

I printed this on cardstock and will have it cut out already to save time.  This is a 3 x 3 grid that has the questions and answers printed on the interior. They will have to match up the problems and answers.

2) Row Game for Exponent Rules.

In this case, I called it the partner game. Each partner works out their problem and their answers should match.

3) Match Puzzle for Adding and Subtracting Polynomials.

 Same directions as #1, but with adding and subtracting polynomials instead.

4) Cubes - Adding and Subtracting Polynomials.

I have constructed two cubes, one out of blue cardstock, the other of white cardstock. I have numbered the faces and written the following polynomials on the faces:

Blue Cube:
1: 3x^2 + 6x - 7
2: 8x - 2x^3 + 2x^2 - 1
3: 4x^3 - 3x^2 + x + 10
4: 5x^2 + 2x + 6
5: -5x^2 + 6x - 8
6: 6x^3 - 3x^2 + 7x + 10

White Cube:
1: 10x^3 - 7x^2 + 2
2: 3x^3 + 12x^2 - 6x - 9
3: 9x - 10x^2 + 3
4: 4x^3 + 6x^2 - 3x + 5
5: 5x^2 - 4x - 8
6: -6x^3 + 5x^2 + 3x - 8

Students will also have a wooden token that I will have put + on one side and - on the other side. The directions will tell them to roll the two cubes and flip the token to find out if they are adding or subtracting the two polynomials. I have specified that they are to either add blue + white or subtract blue - white. They are supposed to do this at least 12 times. Here are the answers I have left them so they can check:

At the moment (and it's pretty late), my back up for the last two stations is to create flashcards of 12 problems for both the exponent rules and adding and subtracting polynomials and have students work out the problem on the front and check their answers, which will be on the back. I'm not sure what else to do. I'm hoping that by having students move from station to station that they will work through the problems and hopefully get their questions straightened out. I'd like to think that this will be more effective than giving them a practice worksheet of x problems on exponent rules and adding and subtracting polynomials. We shall see.

Thanks to @pamjwilson - I am going to use Exponent Block for my 3rd exponent rules activity. This came via Sam Shah's wonderful virtual filing cabinet (check it out if you haven't been there!).

Addendum 2:
Thanks to @druinok - the final adding and subtracting polynomials activity will be something like I have... Who has....

Students are directed to deal out all of the cards. The oldest person starts and picks one of his or her cards. He or she reads the "Who has" part of their card. Students work out the problem. Whomever has the answer says "I have..." and then reads their "Who has..." at the bottom of that card. Students then work that problem and repeat until all problems are worked (or time is up).

Thanks again to everyone for your help!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Tech in My Classroom

As I mentioned earlier, I am one of two teachers in my building (and 7 in my district) who received an iPad for classroom use. I have spent most of break downloading apps, some for school and some for fun (especially since I also got an iPod Touch for Christmas - double yay me!), playing said apps, and fighting off  trying to regulate my children's use of the iPad, especially my 8 year old daughter.

As I was talking with my friend who is using a class set of iPads in her classroom, she suggested that I should have a usage policy for the iPad in my class. That way, if a student strays from the designated activity, I could take the privilege away from them and it would state that I would do that. Hopefully that will keep students from straying while using the iPad. I added the iPod Touch because I already have an activity in mind that uses an app that works on both. That way I could allow students to use my iPod Touch and I could get twice as many students using it over the course of the period.  We do already have an Internet Usage agreement that students signed at the beginning of the year. Here is what I came up with:

Also, I want to have an idea of what my students have access to technology wise. My district now has just over 50% of our students on free or reduced lunch. Given that, we do have some students who have access to quite a bit of things. Since I don't have an honest idea of what they do have, I am giving them a survey on our first day back as a bellringer so I can get a better idea of what they do have. Here's the survey:

Both are on in both pdf form (as shown above) and docx form and you are welcome to download them and adjust as needed.

When we get to factoring binomials, the app I am planning on using with my students is DiaMath. Thanks to @crstn85 for the suggestion. By setting it on hard and the minimum number as -10 (or -12) and the maximum as 10 (or 12), it should help students with the skills they need to be able to factor successfully. When we get to the ax^2 + bx + c forms, I use the x-form that DiaMath has as the beginning of the problem, similar to what MissCalcul8 does in her post here.

Next up for me is some screencasting. I haven't totally decided whether I am going to work with ShowMe (app and internet) or Educreations (app and internet). ShowMe has been around for a while. Educreations just came out before Christmas. I will probably try both and see what I am more comfortable with. I would love to hear from people who have used both and to hear opinions as to which one is better.

2012 will be another year of changes and improvements (I hope!) to my teaching. Watch this space as I continue to learn new tricks.