Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Please help by sharing your classroom practices

I had my evaluation today. It was not pretty, and this was not totally unexpected on my part. As I am stepping back and looking at this year, the more I reflect on it, the more I realize that with the changes in my Algebra 2 curriculum (moving to Common Core, not using a textbook), I reverted back to what I know - using direct instruction. And I did it way too much. I knew that going into my evaluation. My students are not very engaged in my class, something else I pretty much knew. My evaluation did not tell me anything that I did not already know. Was I upset? Yes. Even though I knew where I stood, I haven't figured out what to do about it and the reality of where I am at coupled with that I don't really know how to fix it made me upset. I'm not going to rehash everything. It's not productive and at this point, I need to move on. I need to figure out how to fix stuff.

So, I reach out to my teaching friends in the Math Twitterblogosphere for help. I don't know who else to ask. Please remember that I teach high school (primarily 10th graders, but I do have all grades) and understand that I see my students 50 minutes each day. If you could share what has worked in your classrooms in the comments, I would be greatly appreciative. I need to have somewhere to start.

The two main areas I want to and need to work on are student engagement and differentiation. What do you do in your classes to have students doing most of the "work" if you will and you, as teacher, not being the one up in front of the class? How do you structure your lessons to accomplish this? I realize that not every concept will lend itself to some of these strategies, but any guidance you can give will help. John Scammell shared what he did with multiplying radicals earlier and I am using that here in the near future. How do you create these kinds of materials? How do you set up the worksheet for them to discover the rules? What other strategies do you have to share?

As far as differentiation goes, I guess the biggest question I have at the moment is how do you structure and put into practice differentiated assessments while making sure that every student demonstrates they know the concept and without making your job a nightmare to grade them? Do you use tests or do you use something else (projects, assignment, etc.)? If you don't use tests, how do you structure the project or assignment to ensure that the student demonstrates their own knowledge (as opposed to his or her knowledge with help) or do you not worry about it so much?

If you don't want to respond in the comments and would rather email me, you are welcome to email me at lmhenry9 at gmail dot com. Thanks in advance for your help.


Anonymous said...

One thing I do: put the kids on the whiteboards. All at once or in "heats" as races, doesn't matter - they're on the board where everyone can see so they are all accountable for doing the work. My small classes I can give each of them an assigned space. My medium classes they work with a partner, taking turns. My big classes go up a row at a time.

Anonymous said...

Individual,whiteboards are easy and get all Ss working at once. Not all topics can be "discovered" by students. For those, do a mini lesson(5-7min), then have them work thru examples on whiteboards that I would have normally presented on board. They aren't going to listen to lecture anyway, so let them have a try at it.
Kate nowalks row games are great for getting Ss working and teaching each other.
Stations are good, get them up and moving and talking about math. U circulate and assist.
Tarsia puzzles with partner are great.
For differentiation, sometimes I give two versions of HW or activity, one with more scaffolding, and Ss pick which they want (they know!).
Good luck!

Glenn said...

I have been trying to come up with 1 or two really good questions to finish a unit with that will challenge and develop their understanding. For instance, with factoring, asking the learners to come up with 4 different binomial factors of: x^2 + ?x +6. Notice there are an infinite number of solutions to the problem. The upper learners can be asked to provide non-integer solutions, the really upper level learners can be pushed to provide non-rational solutions.

Same thing for Alg 1 and solving equations. Give me 2 different ways to solve (axy + bzw)/pk =ct for b and explain. There are many different approaches, but it requires the thinking of how to make 1's and how to make 0's (by multiplying and by adding inverses). For the lower level learners throw some numbers in there, for the upper level learners leave it all literal. Both will have to write out the exact same steps, however.

I have been trying these type of lessons, where they discuss and challenge each other to rise to and reach beyond the basics.

Patti said...

I really hope some folks leave you good comments. I'm struggling with too much direct instruction as well, mostly for behavioral reasons because it's not my natural style. But I'm still stuck.

Anonymous said...

Its a learning process and I am notmsure I will ever arrive. Direct instruction is the best option in some situations with some students. In both of my Algebran2s, investigations work well in one, failure in the other.
http://teachhighschoolmath.blogspot.com/2013/02/how-can-you-measure-student-engagement.html like this tool on this blog and plan to order the book mentioned this summer, but I have used the wheel multiple times since reading as a reflection tool. One week, I even allowed student input they were quite honest. Cant wait to read more ideas here! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I too ran into this earlier in the year. "Telling" math to students via direct Instruction gets stale for everyone quick. I'm in a middle school and teach 7th and 8th grade pre-algebra to advanced algebra. In January I decided to flip my Algebra classes. It has gone ok. Room for improvement, but I began to get a feel for what is needed. I made the lecture vids short and all work is done in class. This allowed for more class activities and teacher student interaction. I like that part the most. I still want happy with my "style" in the other 3 classes though. I wanted more colaboration and problem solving. In the class I was taking we were talking about taking risks with our teaching and stepping out of our comfort zone. So, I went outside the box and got rid of my desks in my classroom. I brought in large tables and gaming chairs. Students could sit anywhere in small groups and work together to solve problems. It really changed how I teach. Lecture couldn't happen. :). I had to ask better questions and they had to think differently too since they knew there wasn't going to be time tone told what to do.
Has it fixed everything? No way. But my eyes were opened up and I have some ideas for next year for day one of school.

Deacon klemme

David said...

I have a few ideas, which you are free to take or leave as you will.

1. Try starting class with a problem, something that is related to the concept you want to teach, but not something the students already have a strategy for doing. You can get lots of ideas for problems that are presented through multimedia from 101qs.com, but you can also just take one of the juicy examples from your textbook (don't let the kids use the textbook if you do this obviously) and present it in such a way that what is being asked is obvious, but hopefully the solution is not obvious.

When the students have tried the problem, have them share some of their possible solutions to it. Note that most of your students will not have had this approach before, and so may need some support getting used to it.

2. Try and find problems with contexts your students appreciate. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=tDIjOziWoi0 for what I mean by this.

3. Look at projects you can do with students which are related to the curriculum. Here are some to get you started: https://www.dropbox.com/s/mxkhj6qsnwn114w. You will probably find yourself teaching mini-lessons (sometimes repeatedly to different groups) to help students develop skills they need to work on these projects.

4. You can also start by just reducing how long you talk, and giving students more time to work. It's not a radical shift, but it will make a difference. While they are working, you circulate and offer support. Be careful about what types of questions you answer (see http://davidwees.com/content/lessons-learned-while-not-teaching). You will want to wean your students off of "stop-thinking" style questions.

Hope these help.


Anonymous said...

First, thank you for being open in your post. It isn't easy when evaluations don't go the way we hoped or to ask for help.

Don't forget the first time through a *new* curriculum is always the hardest learning experience. For me it's been 11 years since I've really had a new curriculum and I have been reminded of that struggle in changing to CCSS this year. I have lists and pages of things I want to change for next year because it didn't work or I resorted to what I knew best instead. :)

Ideas: I know this is something that costs $$, but I have participated in the Kagan Cooperative Learning training and I LOVE IT! It helps you set up structures in your classroom that facilitate discussion, exploration, and understanding in such a way that students are held accountable and can't hide. It really helps the common core work and helped me adjust my mode of thinking.

I spent a lot of time at the start of the year (& still do it weekly) working with students to learn how to work together. Each time we get new seats, we do some team building/group building activities. It does take away from my precious 42 minutes of math a day, but in the end it's worth it because they become more comfortable with each other. And that makes them more comfortable talking math.

I also use individual whiteboards when doing problems. Funny thing is that the students seem to try more because they can easily erase. I also have large whiteboards (1 per group of 4) that we use as often as possible to mix it up.

I do a lot of scavenger hunt or trail activities where you have a bunch of problems you want students to complete. Each page has 1 problem and an answer to a different problem. Once they solve their problem they walk around the room to find the sheet that matches their answer and solve the new problem on that sheet. I strategically place students at certain problems to start. Those who are struggling with the concept, I start them at easier problems and those who could use a challenge I start at the more difficult ones.

We do a lot of partner work...I LOVE Kate Nowak's Row Game & use it a lot. I also do group work where each student has a different problem, but I am looking for a specific total (Add it up). I can tell them if they are right or wrong, but they don't know which problem is wrong and it opens a lot of discussion.

I agree that not every math topic is something students can investigate on their own. Sometimes a little direct instruction does go a long way, but I've learned to use it only when needed.

I also do warm-up problems each day and students are assigned each day and come up and go over them. They are review problems, so it doesn't take too much time. I got the idea from @MrVaudrey (http://mrvaudrey.com/2013/02/01/class-routine/). It's been great and an easy way to get more students involved in the daily classroom routine.

I use Exit Slips a lot with a few questions to gauge understanding, to give more direction to the next day and to group students into groups the next day based upon understanding/misconceptions. Sometimes it's via paper, sometimes via Socrative or Google docs, sometimes while I am walking around the room.

I do card sorts, Tarsia puzzles, matching activities, relay races, etc. And the students do a lot of group discussion consistently.

My classroom is not like this all of the time, but I really try to work in some of the above each day. It isn't always easy, but the change I have seen in my students and in myself has been awesome. I've grown a lot this year, but still have a very long way to go!

Thanks again for posting!

Mermaid of Brooklyn said...

Last term when I taught Algebra 2, I found 'discovery' activities particularly difficult; many students, even in 'gifted' track classes, had somewhat shaky algebra skills, and required corrective instruction on Algebra 1 material before proceeding with the more advanced material. That said, the 'turn and talk' method was helpful in getting conversations going without me answering every question. In Geometry, I have found designing or adapting discovery easier. For example, as we transitioned from Transformations to Similarity, the students worked in groups to find the surface area and volume of cubes that were scaled up and down. I worked hard at creating questions on my worksheet that would lead them in the direction of the answers without giving it away. They worked in groups, and were supposed to come up with 'consensus' statements. 44 minutes is not a lot of time....and it was through a whole class discussion that we sort of arrived at the 'discovery'. It's a challenge. Differentiating assessments in a 34 student classroom - that's something I'm still working on, although my school is not focused on that at all.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I tried flipping my Algebra 2 classes and it is promising. I described what I did and how it worked/not worked in my last post
I get students in Algebra 2 with very poor Algebra I skills and I do do a lot of drill and kill. CCSS or not, in math they need the fundamentals before they do any critical thinking.

Amy Gruen said...

Our math department is working on simply breaking up our direct instruction into bite-sized pieces. We give students a sheet that is divided into sections. Each section has notes or example followed by practice problems. In class, we do some notes/examples for 5-10 minutes, and then give time for students to practice a problem or two from that section. Then we move on to the next section. Whatever isn't completed in class is home practice. This is a baby step that is easy to implement and makes a difference in keeping students engaged for an entire class period. Maybe you are already doing this? Beyond that, I just try to challenge myself not to do a direct instruction lesson more than 3 or 4 days in a row. If I have been talking for a week straight, then I definitely try to get students scavenger hunting, white boarding, sorting, row gaming, etc. There are lots of great ideas in the comments. I hope that is helpful. I think you are a great teacher. I can tell by the way you are always striving to improve. Don't be too hard on yourself.

Jennifer said...

I teach Algebra II to three different levels - general, enriched, and magnet. I too have struggled with too much direct instruction - but this year have been able to step away from that comfort and have tried many new activities - some have worked and some haven't.

I have completely flipped my classroom - but am still working on improving it.

To keep students from being bored I have used many of the ideas mentioned above - like scavenger hunts, mazes, puzzles, and cooperative learning.

The "three before me" strategy works GREAT in my magnet classes - many times I hardly have anything to say during class time.

One activity that has worked well and has really shown me what the students know and don't know is having them do "error analysis". I work problems incorrectly, they must find the error, and then work the problem correctly.

I recently gave them a ten question test - completely worked with both right and wrong answers - and they had to grade it. This is hard for a lot of kids to do.