Spring fever has hit here and it is only the second day of spring. Our weather warmed up considerably last week and it felt more like May 15th than March 15th here. Of course, since the weather has warmed up, the students' focus has gone down. Yesterday, I had taught my Algebra 2s the last part of graphing quadratic equations, using the axis of symmetry to find the vertex. It certainly wasn't my most spectacular lesson. As I was getting ready this morning, I just had the sense that my students didn't do the 5 problems I assigned for practice. On the drive in, I had thought about doing a matching activity similar to what I had done with my Advanced Algebra 2 students when we did transformations back around Christmas. As I thought about it, if I gave them the equations and the graphs, I felt that enough of my students would just try to substitute the points from the graph into the equation rather than figuring it out as they would have to on their quiz Friday. I guess I just feel like my students are at the point right now they are looking for the easiest way to get through class rather than trying to do their best. I hate that feeling.
The more I think about it, the more I don't like how I am doing homework or practice problems, or whatever you want to call it. I don't grade it - I stopped grading it a couple of years ago when I switched to doing my version of Standards-Based Grading. I want students' grades to reflect what they know, not what (busy) work they've done. Even though their grades reflect what they know, I don't think they take the practice portion as serious as they should. When we do stuff in class, sometimes they practice well, sometimes they don't. For instance, today, students were fairly engaged. I had them get into pairs and work through 4 problems. I left it up to them whether they divided them so they each did 2 or whatever worked for them. The only answer I gave them was the vertex so students would have a mid-way check point. I walked around as they were working and checked their five points and let them know they were correct. I gave them a worksheet with additional problems to practice for homework after they were done.
The original plan for today was to have them work on the aforementioned worksheet in class and I would walk around and help students as needed. That's what I've done in the past when I know students would need additional practice - teach it one day, give a worksheet or other additional practice problems in class the next. That doesn't work anymore. Some students will do it in class no matter what - just like many of us did when we were in school. However, I am seeing more and more students not taking advantage of the class time to work or to get help. I know I need to make changes to what I do, but I just don't know what. I cannot keep coming up with these activities - I am stretched pretty thin right now and if I want to maintain what little sanity I have left, I need to make sure I have time that is not work/mommy related.
I know some people seem to think that the flipped classroom may be the answer - let the students watch the instruction piece at home on their own time and use the classroom time for practice/homework. I just don't see that being the answer. If that is the direction to head, classroom activities have to be more dynamic and engaging for students than here are x problems - do them in class. Plus with what is coming down the pike with Common Core, I just don't see that working.
So what do you do in class to ensure/motivate/encourage students to practice? It is hard to be successful in mathematics without practice. About the only thing I am certain of is to not make the amount of practice too long. Even though 4 problems may have been too short (time-wise) for some students, overall, today, it seemed like the right amount. Most of my students did complete at least 2 problems and some did do all four themselves. At least I know they actually did practice and talked with their partner and/or me to figure out what was going on, and I think that was a good thing. For some students, 2-4 problems was enough practice, but I suspect that for most of my students, they probably needed a little more practice. How do you get them enough practice?