Thursday, March 22, 2012


I am so fed up at this point. I don't know if it's just my lack of snow days/break, but I'm just fed up. I need Spring Break soon.

So, as a follow up to yesterday's questions/ponderings about how to get students to practice more, here are some excerpts of a conversation that @druinok and I had:

S: But part of the problem is on a practice day, how to make them do the practice
S: I pretty much stopped giving worksheets like that and do it other ways instead
me: ..But I don't know all those things. Where do I find them?
S: Speed dating is from Kate's blog
me: However, it still doesn't address the other issue - if you weren't planning on having a "practice day," how do you make sure they practice?
me: I know speed dating. I can't remember what other ideas I've seen.
S: You don't... the way I see it, the only way to ensure the practice is do it in class.
S: And I can say my kids were more willing to do a worksheet if it was a puzzle worksheet.
me: So you're saying I should build practice into my lesson? Maybe along the lines of what Jackie did? Her stuff looks to be discovery-based. Intriguing idea.
S: Yes... I build practice into the lesson... if I work them hard every day, the need for outside time should reduce.
S:And in order for them to practice more, I had/have to learn to talk less.
me: So how do you do that? How do you know how much direct explanation with examples to give before letting them try one? I usually give 2-3 examples of each "type" - easiest to hardest. Maybe I give too much. Maybe do one with the notes and have them try one on their own?
S: I've done that...
me: And then I assume you walk around the room as they are doing the one on their own. But then how do you avoid getting stuck with 2-3 students, each asking the same question as you walk around? I feel like I should know how to do this. I've taught for 20 years, for cryin' out loud!
S: I do walk around... when they raise their hand, I might say a word or two, but I don't linger.
S: I tell them to just try out... same as the other problem, just different numbers.
S:  ok, so for practice...sometimes I will do a PPT with one problem per slide, put it up, walk around watch kids do it
problems are from worksheet then put up the answer or have kids go put an answer up for me
me:  Is this after you've shown them how to do it?Same day or different day? 
S:  different day - as an alternate to giving a worksheet for them to practice
 me:  oh okay
 S:  part of the reason kids dont do a worksheet is proximity I think.. and being overwhelmed... one problem at a time and me walking around seems to curb both of those
me::  : makes sense
 me:  but, as i sit here on march 22nd feeling time pressured - i am still sitting here looking at, how do you teach something and ensure practice within a class day? 
S:  when teaching, I would do an example, then give another that was the same except for numbers.. they worked it, asked partner if stuck.. I walked around then we tried another that was a bit tougher 
me:  just to get through domain, vertical/horizontal asymptotes and holes of a rational function with my advanced alg 2 kids, it took me 2 days of class, and i could use another 10-15 minutes more. i did one example per part with fill-in-the-blank explanation and one addl example
 S:  now the downside of it was I focused too much on the "do" and not enough on the "why
 me:  which of course we have to focus more on the why now
... S:  right
so assuming I teach alg2 next year, that is going to be one of my major things
 S:  my summer list is shaping up to be a major redo of alg2 
but I would have the kids discover as much as I could...
 me:  i am starting to think that also
which would mean a major redo also
i've had crazy thoughts this week of not giving students textbooks next year and just giving note pages/problem pages
with common core changing things and our textbooks being 10 years old - maybe it makes more sense
 S:  I dont think that is crazy 
me:  i can't see buying new textbooks yet
i don't trust anything that says it's ccss yet - too quick to really be well thought out correlation to ccss
 S:  I tried to do discovery when I could - things like zeros, transformations, etc.. but I need to figure out how to do more
 me:  i need to figure out how to develop it in the first place - i've never done it before with my students 
S:  I want to do more activities like matching cards, etc... the kids respond very well to that 
me:  sometimes mine do, sometimes mine cop-out and don't really try with them
i really do like how the transformations ones turned out though
 S:  i want to work on engagment in general 
me:  with you on that 
me:  i may end up spending next year doing a major overhaul of how i do algebra 2 - i have taught it for 17 of the 20 years I've taught, so this will be major for me
 S:  we're gonna have a busy summer, huh? :)
here's the issue I see with common core though - we can't change alg2 until alg1 has been changed
bc quadratics are pretty much gone from alg2 based on what i've read... ?
 me:  yes
but i am certainly going to start. at least next year i'm not going to do much linear at all. i'm starting with quadratics i think.
 S:  we will still have our state tests that have systems on alg2, so I dont think we'll get to do that yetI hope I know soon if I'm teaching alg2.. :(
 me:  it all depends on how much the alg1 teacher gets through where i'll startbut i am DEFINITELY not starting with solving linear equations in one variable. :-)
 S:  agreed 100%
i would really like to get to a point where I start w/ an engaging problem and it sparks an exploration
 me:  maybe someday
... S:  yup
but how to fix your issue right now is where we need to focus
tell me how a class day is structured
 me:  warm up - which they don't do until i get to the board
go over any questions from yesterday's problems, which are getting fewer since they aren't doing outside practice
new lesson
if time, start on practice problems. usually about 10-15 minutes if i'm lucky
very traditional
when i do something other than worksheets - speed dating, the thing i did yesterday, more tend to do it than not
giving them a worksheet and tell them to have at it doesn't work
although with being out 3 of the next 4 school days, they're getting worksheets. not much more of an option with a sub
 S:  I never liked the hw questions part.. always seemed like a waste of time :(  don't know how to fix though 
me:  i am really becoming resentful of that
 S:  resentful of what? 
me:  i have a few kids who will ask question about a problem who have not done the assignment and then i watch them and they a) don't pay good attention and/or b) don't write a thing down as i do it
i am resentful of making that time daily and it being abused
but you want to provide question time for the students who honestly want their questions answered
 S:  okay, so let's break it down from start to finishwarmup time - what do you think?  do you like it?  does it work for you?
 me:  yes and no 
S:  could it be done differently?
 me:  it does give me something to focus on (themes) although some days are getting tough now 
S:  do your kids work in pairs or groups? 
me:  i like that they were practicing state test questions twice a week if they actually did them
they are seated in pairs
i may not do the themes next year - just rotate what they're warming up on
i like the concept of it, but my students don't follow through
they sit and talk while i'm getting attendance
at this point in the year, that's hard to correct. trying to think of how i would do it better next year so they are more engaged
 S:  remember you could try some new stuff after spring break - tell them you are testing out some ideas for next year 
me:  i am thinking if they are not doing outside of class practice, they could pick up a worksheet as they come into class 
S:  I have an idea, but not sure 
me:  start on it.
it would have a warm up at the top, then the "lesson"
 S:  do you have mini whiteboards? 
me:  hopefully somewhat discovery
 S:  what if each pair came in, got a whiteboard and a problem (could have several problems)... worked it on the whiteboard w/ their partner
it would be a review of previous day's work
then had them switch slates and "grade" a different groups board?
might have the same effect as the HW check
OR - do the problems fom the HW - they worked on their whiteboard, lined them up at the chalk tray for kids that had HW questions?
then you kill two birds w/ one stone
 me:  if i did the problem with a partner - how many problems? 
i don't want to create a ton of work for me in set up
(i know that sounds really selfish right now, but i don't want to be creating 12 problems and have them blow off the doing/checking of the problems)
i feel so darn stretched right now.
i really need that spring break
 S:  maybe use the problems from Kuta?
I honestly would figure out a way to do the homework problems.. if they did the HW, they can copy it on the whiteboard.. if not, they can work it
how many HW problems do you assign?
 me:  varies 
S:  more than 10?
how big are your classes?
 me:  after teaching 20 years, i am still struggling with what the "right" amount is. i feel they really need to practice, but if i assign 20ish problems, they won't do it
i have been trying to keep to 10ish
don't kill me... my largest class is 22
 S:  so, 9-11 groups 
me:  generally 
S:  lets say you pick 5 of the HW problems - assign each one to 2 groups (so they have a built in "check").. they work on the whiteboard, put on the chalk tray
could even ask each group to briefly explain the problem?
gives them some public speking practice too :)
then can move on to the new lesson
 me:  totally skip warm up? go straight to this? 
S:  then you aren't creating warmups
this would be both
 me:  may be worth a try 
S:  review of last night and warmup in one
now as for assigning.. could do randomly as they walk in... could post the 5 problems and they sign up?
 me:  so... what if i want to keep them doing the state test problems? 
S:  are the state test problems general review or do they go w/ the lesson? 
me:  i like the sign up idea but have to make sure they stick to only 2 pairs to a problem/can't switch out someone involuntarily 
S:  on the state test problems, I would probably put a timer on the board too - that sems to light a fire under some 
me:  i have a few jokers who might try that 
me:  state probs are generally review - not usually correlated to lesson (although sometimes I try to put something we recently did when i see it). usually i just start picking problems from a certain year's test. this year started with 2009 released questions and then moved to 2008 when i finished '09 
S:  are they pretty good about doing them? 
me:  no
a few are, but most of them don't do anything about them until i am ready to survey them on their answers
when i force them to do it on a 1/4 sheet, they do them, but again, slow starting
 S:  is your HW from the book or on a worksheet?
 me:  depends
boy do i really feel like i suck as a teacher right now
 S:  if its part of your HW, then it could be one of the warmup problems?
gosh no!  if you sucked, we wouldn't be talking about this
 me: it's not usually part of the hw, however, if i go to no textbook next year, could be part of hw
S: when is the state test? 
me:  it was last week
(yes, i know that makes no sense... test them 8th-10th grade at mid-march of 10th grade year)
 S:  that's right
then it would be okay to try something different for now w/ warmups
 me:  yes
S: and next year put them on the HW 
me:  i've been bringing in act practice problems on testing tue/thu 
S:  I think after spring break is a great time to try something new though - let you see if you like it before committing to it next year 
S:  okay, so moving on to the new lesson part... how active are the kids during that? 
me:  not very 
S:  so they fill in the notes and copy down the problems you work? 
me:  i am way too laid back - i don't tend to make them raise their hands. 
i know i should. but i like the conversational bit as opposed to having to call on them. less formal.
some do. some just watch
 S:  i dont make them raise hands either 
me:  depends on which class. my classes with the "better" students tend to fill in notes/copy what's on the board. the ones with "weaker" students have a larger group that just watch
nice to know i'm not the only one
my advanced alg 2's tend to ask more questions. i have a couple of pretty ditzy freshmen girls who ask a ton of questions - but they do get it
sometimes it gets really annoying because i just answered the question and they just slightly change the question for the same result
 S:  so during this time do they try any problems on their own? 
me:  i haven't been having them do that
it goes back to the question i asked you earlier - how many do you show them before having them try?
i guess if i only showed them one and had them try it, they would have to work on figuring it out more on their own
 S:  one 
me:  but i am also afraid that if i did that my lower students wouldn't even try - if they didn't understand the first example, how could they try it on their own type thing
even in alg 2? i can see that ap stat would have a different caliber kids
 S:  yes in alg2
stat is a whole different ball game
 me:  i don't mean to be a pain. i am just trying to work through what my reality is 
S:  i'm thinking alg2/geometry here 
me:  i see how these kids have been so dependent/clueless
some of them are FINALLY coming around and making good progress but the lowest ones are still stuck
 S:  i tell them to try it - work w/ their partner.. and all i've done is change the numbers 
me:  not a lot of parent involvement here - this year i had my lowest number of parent conferences in 20 years
also got the poverty issues going on here too
 me:  so glad you "get" me
can't just have this conversation with anyone - or twitter at large
 S:  i understand :)  some things are not for public consumption 
me:  although it could be an interesting twitter at large convo
not sure i want to go there tonight though
 S:  probably not since its still a work day for you tomorrow :) 
me:  geom lends itself to discovery so much easier than alg 
S:  yes
but I was trying to find a copy of guided notes and show you how I did indepedent practice within a class
 me:  i understandwhat did you have on the board then? the filled in parts for the defs/thms?
 S:  yes, I had a PPT that matched it 
  I am on my netbook, but I can send you a typical lesson tomorrow
I never did guided notes in alg2
 me:  i'm just starting them
i do like them - i think it makes a difference, even though it goes against the "they need to take responsibility so they can do all right in college" part of me
 S:  I liked the guided notes in geometry
and they used their notes
but in order to do them, I had to be very organized and prepared w/ the copies
no putting together PPTs the night before :)

Now, I will be honest, this is a little difficult to put out in the blogosphere. I feel as if I am at a very exposed moment here. I do a good job of explaining the mathematics to my students (or at least I'd like to think so), but my class is very traditional. And I know it's not working well. I need to make changes and I'm not sure where to start or how to change things. It's like there there is so much to change - where do I start? It's very overwhelming. I think that @druinok has some good suggestions and I will probably incorporate them.

So why am I putting this out there? I think there are other teachers who are in the same place I am and feel as I do. Maybe it will help them. Maybe some of you have some of the same thoughts (or have been there) and have some practical suggestions for me. But I think that there are some good nuggets here and it's worth having it out there for others to read and possibly add to. Feel free to add to the comments. I'm sure this is to be continued...


misscalcul8 said...

I'm still going with the theme of tough love. I had a freshman alg1 class acting the same way. On a test day every single kid failed the test except one. I knew it was from not trying rather than not understanding. The next day I laid their test and their progress report on their desk so they could see how a failing test grade affected their overall grade. Then I made them get out their notes and go through every single page so they could see the test had no surprises. I lectured their butts off and told them how I work hard and go home every night to prepare lessons and activities that will help them learn but that they were not doing their part at all. I handed them the exact same test back. We did not review. They took the same exact test over again and every single kid improved their score. From 20-60 percentage points improvement! I told them that the next time they choose to do nothing, I'm writing a referral and will do so every day that they won't work. The next two weeks after that I made them tell me every day what our new rule is. My participation has dramatically improved as well as their achievement. I started giving short quizzes every couple sections. I actually give more quizzes, more homework, and harder tests now and my students are working harder than they have all year. Granted, they are freshman and still somewhat easy to intimidate but it was really a turning point for me.

My other advice, especially for warm ups, is don't give them the answer. They need to see that you aren't going to rescue them. Don't move on from the warm up until everyone has completed. Stand next to their desk until they do it. If they truly don't understand, then question them until you see their error and correct it. If they are just being lazy then you standing there forces them to do it so you will go away. Same way with practice problems. Walking around the room and not moving on until every student completes the problem works well for me. You could always have an answer bank on the board which forces students to show their work.

I read somewhere that a student needs to do something correctly five times in a row to show they truly understand. Show one simple example and make them do 5 similar problems in a row. When you give them a tougher problem, discuss it together first. Ask them how it is different than the five they just did. Once they point out those differences, ask them what they think will be different in solving it? Will they be doing an extra step, changing something, etc etc? I have found that making students point out similarities and differences, questioning why on every step of a problem, and starting every problem by asking them to read it and make a guess on how to start has greatly improved the reasoning skills of my Alg2 students especially.

Maybe we should start a blog meme and have everyone detail how they structure a lesson/class period? Maybe we could all video one class and watch them in STL this summer?

Lisa said...

misscalcul8 - While I appreciate that "tough love" may have worked for you in your particular case, my experience over the years is that usually "tough love" backfires. In my mind and from my experience, the student is making a choice not to do the work. There are many reasons why he or she is choosing not to do the work but it usually doesn't stem from "I am not going to do this and cause discipline problems." Many times, it stems from that the student doesn't know where to start or some other issue. It is not usually a discipline issue. Just because it may have been one in your class this time does not usually mean it will be every time.

Most of my classes have sophomores, juniors, and seniors. They won't respond favorably to the threat of the referral. In fact, many times they'll choose not to do the work so you have to write the referral. At my school, and at the other schools I have taught at, detentions/disciplinary action is not given for not doing homework. It's just not done. Students suffer consequences in their grade for not doing homework at some point, not disciplinary action. In fact, I'd probably be talked to by my principal for even sending such a referral.

If a student is choosing not to do practice problems, whether in class or out of class, then the issue to me is that it's not engaging enough or that the student has other issues and priorities outside of class. If I am providing class time to practice, I should make sure it's engaging enough to my students. That's what I was looking for some guidance from @druinok on. She posted a great blog post today ( about some good strategies that I am going to look into. I think, from my 20 years experience, that that's a better direction for me to head right now.

mathpeddler said...

I started this semester of Algebra 2 with Probability and Stats. It gave the kids a chance to explore real world data (we collected alot of the data ourselves) and they enjoyed the topics. When I had to move to the harder material - we had already established relationships and trust by doing the FUN STUFF.