Sunday, May 19, 2013

Algebra 1: Scope and Sequence

My district has sent teachers (myself included) from the math departments at each of our schools with a list of priorities surrounding the adaptation of CCSS. The first few workshops (a total of 6 school days) were centered arround deconstructing the standards. As it turns out, our district ended up purchasing deconstructed standards from a third party rather than using the standards our sites had worked on throughout the year. Last month, I attended my second workshop regarding the Common Core where we made plans to meet this summer and begin designing scope and sequence documents for implementation next year. Although I won't be able to attend these summer meetings due to vacations, I have still been researching constantly regarding scope and sequence documents built by other schools, states, districts, or third party companies. It would be nice if rather than having teachers spinning their wheels (again) trying to develop scope and sequence from scratch only to have it purchased after the fact, my district simply adapted some of these pre-written documents available on line. The differences between what we do now and what we could be doing are striking and I thought I would take some time to compare them.

My calendar this year:

The thing that strikes me most about this plan is the amount of time wasted re-teaching material these students have "seen" (although usually not learned) for years. What a terrible tone to set as to the value of the curriculum.

Now, compare this calendar to a suggested calendar I found at another blog here. This scope and sequence seems much more focused on a core set of goals (linear equations in the first semester and polynomials and quadratics in the second). The best part of this new scope and sequence is the cohesion. Almost the entire year can be summed up and wrapped up with the common thread of function knowledge.

With the PARCC assessment looming, it seems likely that we will make a curricular shift away from "mile wide inch deep" and towards "2640 feet wide 2 inches deep" which is an exciting idea for this dissatisfied first year teacher.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Ressurection and Rebirth

I was aware when I began blogging last summer that it would be difficult to maintain when the school year began. I didn't anticipate that difficult was actually a euphemism for impossible. Between three preps, including one written nearly from scratch, first year teaching, standards-based grading, graduate school, and getting married I'm surprised I managed to eat, sleep, and breathe. Now we're in the last 1.5 weeks of school and I'm feeling ready to approach this next summer with PD and restructuring in mind.

1) Everything I thought I knew about teaching is wrong
2) Nobody is willing to tell you exactly why the current pedagogy is wrong or how to fix it until graduate college (are they trying to hook us into the profession by denying us the reality until it's too late?)

On Curriculum:

My district is planning to transition to CCSS (Traditional not Integrated) in the next year or two. It's going to begin with Scope and Sequence workshops this summer and eventually lead to new curricular units. As the optimistic and naive educator that I am I've run into two forms of opposition in the form of my peers:

1) Why would I waste my time writing curriculum? I didn't get my Master's in curriculum development. That's not my job.

2) This is all fine and dandy, but these kids can't even count, how am I supposed to teach them anything else?

The negativity surrounding the state of this year and the "impending doom" for future years is intimidating. I want to be a part of the change, I want to change (and I don't mean cure-all-instantaneous-solutions for all of the ills of math education, but actual, painful, trial-and-error change). But I can't go it alone. I need colleagues that I can work with who not only want to work, but who are excited for the possibilities and potential the CCSS provide to us.

What I'm doing:

1) Casting my vote in every workshop/training/collaboration session I can get my grubby little hands on.
2) Probing the teachers at my site, in my district at other sites, and in other districts to create my own groups to meet with and collaborate with this summer.
3) Taking graduate courses which (for the first time in my post-secondary education) provide applications and experiences that I can immediately implement in a classroom

On Assessment:

Even though it was my first year, I knew that I had a big problem with how I was graded as a student and with how I was expected to grade as a math teacher. I spent the entirety of last summer researching and designing my own version of SBG and spent the entire year implementing it in my classroom as the only teacher in my entire district to change the way grading looks.

What I learned:

1) SBG does not change how students learn, how motivated students are to learn, or how successful students are at learning
2) SBG does change how students talk about their learning and how students think about learning.

In my experience, having only changed my gradebook and literally nothing else, my students did not perform any better or worse than the students in other classes with other teachers who used different grading systems. The biggest change that I noted was that students now knew what to "call" what they were bad at. For some students this became a way to study and improve. For others, this was just another way to expect the teacher to do all of the work for me. For example, Student A: "Ms. D, I was looking at my gradebook and I got a 1 (barely understanding) for Solving Rational Equations. I looked over my notes and I think I understand what I did wrong. Can you watch me solve this problem to make sure I get it, and then I'm ready to retest". Or more vaguely, Student B: "I can tell from all the 1s that I really don't understand Trigonometry at all". On the flip side, Student C: "I've got a 1 on "Solving Non-Right Triangles, whatever that is". Or worse, Student D: "I don't get any of this."

I think that SBG was a step in the right direction, but until I have the support and/or freedom to change my curriculum or my assessments (I was required to use the same tests as all other teachers for every unit) I won't be able to get the maximum potential from Standards-Based-Grading.

What I want to do:

1) Restructure my assessment format so that each skill is clearly and distinctly labeled.
2) Narrow down my list of standards (60 per semester is too many!)
3) Create a rubric-style system for grading similar to the PLDs recently released from PARCC (here)
4) Find a way to imbed self-reflection, formative assessment, feedback-not-grades, and remediation into my assessment system

On Education as a Profession:

I feel like my whole world has been turned upside down / ripped wide open. I've read resources such as The Teaching Gap, Understanding by Design, Lesson Study, NCTM's Illuminations. I've participated in more collaboration and professional development through my courses this semester than I did in my entire first year teaching, all three internships, and my part-time semester. I've attended workshops so useless I actually dozed off and workshops so engaging I couldn't shut up about it. I've had conversations that lead me to believe I am not alone in feeling that the system is broken and that change is needed now. I've grown tired of PD "solutions" thrust at my decontextualized with little support or follow-up concerning implementation and I'm ready for PD that is created by the teachers, centered around the students.

What I've learned:

1) Lesson Study is to Professional Development as SBG is to assessment
2) Giving teachers PLC time without guidelines or expectations is like leading a horse to water and expecting it to drink.

Throughout this year, the district has attempted to give us tasks such as deconstructing the CCSS and then undermining our efforts by doing things such as scrapping our hardwork and buying the deconstructed standards from a third party. We have been two hours, every two weeks, to work together on aligning curriculum and sharing ideas, but did not spend a single minute actually accomplishing this. Next year, we will have 2 hours every week for professional development in our profession learning communities and I'll be damned if I sit at another table to listen to my colleagues complain about the district, about the standards, and about their students without talking about how to chane it.

What I'm doing:

1) Discussing with my department head things I've learned about Lesson Study and how to make the most of our PLC time
2) Surrounded myself with colleagues that have similar interests to form a "defense"
3) Taken the leadership role for the Algebra 1 PLC (as a second year teacher- yikes)

The time for change is now, whether we're ready or not. It's up to us as professionals to decide whether we want to be a part of that change, whether we want that change forced upon us, or whether we want to jump ship. Unfornately, many that I know have already cast their vote with the latter two.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

They Don't Teach You That In School...

I'm now halfway through my third week of school and the one thing that blows my mind each and every day is the "mess". At no point in my teacher preparation program, or any of my three internship semesters, or even my student teaching semester, did they ever mention how much paper traffic there is as a teacher. I have piles upon piles of "things to read" and "worksheets to file" and even with a TA we can't seem to stay caught up. Each day new things are added to my physical mailbox and my virtual mailbox, plus the things that I create, plus the things that kids leave for me. I mean seriously, why is there so much paper?

I worked out a dinky filing system before the semester started figuring that I would need something to keep organized. It's like trying to power my house with a potato. The problem is that my life is in full swing now and I don't have the time to recreate my organizational system in a focused, methodical way. I'm scrambling to come up with something on the fly that will carry me through the rest of the year.

Can we please add Classroom Organization 101 to every teacher preparation program? Sheesh.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Made4Math Monday #3?

I'm losing count of my #Made4Math posts since I've inconsistently participated... oops. Anyway, this past #MyFavFriday had a theme of "favorite review game" that I didn't know about and rather than posting a second #MyFavFriday post I decided to turn my review game into a Made4Math (I did make it afterall, for a math class!)

Without further ado: Jeopardy!

I've used this both for semester reviews and chapter reviews. The kids beg to play Jeopardy review. I'm not sure where my mentor teacher got this from (if you google jeopardy review there are tons of templates) but I just took it from her. Any time I want a new Jeopardy game I just change the category titles and use PPTs "MathType" to make new problems. All of the squares are linked, and when the PPT is working at it's best the point values turn blue if they've been clicked. I usually keep track on a clipboard just in case.

The Set Up

  • Students are in groups of 3-4
  • Each group has a single whiteboard, marker, and eraser
  • Each student has a sheet of paper
The Rules:
  • Every student must copy the problem and solution on their notebook paper (label with B10 and E25)
  • One student writes the final answer on the whiteboard for the group (rotate so everybody participates)
  • When I call boards up you must hold up your solution to have your answer counted
  • Groups can only gain points (there is no loss for being wrong)
  • Groups can only pick questions worth <15pts in the first few rounds
  • The groups select questions in order (group 1, then 2, then 3, etc) since many groups get the solution correctly
  • In the last 5 minutes the teacher will select a question category and point value. The students will bet however many points they'd like that they will get the question right. The teacher reveals the question and the groups gain/lose the amount of points they bet depending on if their answer is right.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Homework Policy

The topic of #HSSunFun this week is our homework policy. This year (my first year teaching) I've decided against homework completely. Yup, I assign 0 problems a night. This was an idea I picked up from my mentor teacher who was decidedly against assigning homework. Here are the main reasons against homework:

1) Students don't bring homework back
2) Students cheat
3) Students practice incorrectly and then have to be retaught

On the few days that I *did* send homework home when I was a student teacher I found all of these to be true! I want to add that the students who go home and complete the assignment are more often than not the students that don't need the practice as badly as others.

When I look at assigning/grading homework in the big picture it must be the absolutely least accurate snapshot of student progress. Most often I don't have the time to check every single problem for every single student which means grading homework for "completion" (grade padding) or not grading it at all. Neither of these solutions really ring true for me so I simply don't assign it.

That's not to say my students don't need practice, and don't need to be completing problems to master skills. I emphasize to my students that the balance of not having homework means getting work done in class. I average 2-3 problems done during notes (guided) 10-15 problems done as a class on whiteboards or as groups on worksheets (individual but teacher-monitored) and 6-8 problems assigned as classwork in notebooks where I provide students with the correct answers (individual and self-monitored). If the students don't finish the practice it's their responsibility to work at home (my version of homework) but I try to provide enough time at the end of class for 80% to finish. Occasionally I will give a Challenge problem where the students have to either 1) describe the process to solve the problem 2) correct a mistake and explain the inaccurate thinking or 3) create a problem and explain their choices with the problem. The Challenge problems are always assigned overnight and checked at the beginning of the next day, but not graded. The idea that I'll be reading every student's response at the beginning of the next day has so far been motivation enough to complete it or at least attempt it.

At the end of each week the students turn in their notebook for a grade. As I'm grading notebooks I look to see that the structure is accurate (page numbers, table of contents, notes on the RHS), that their practice problems are completed (the LHS) and I read/respond to their reflections if they've written one. This notebook grade is on the same scale as my other objectives and is weighted as 20% of their overall grade.

Another form of "homework" my students have is to practice for tests. I have a classroom website where I post worksheets and provide links to websites for additional practice and it's up to my students to take the initiative and work on their own. We're only 1 week into school so nobody has particularly taken advantage of this (I have had about 4 students come in the mornings to ask for help and practice) but when it gets down to the nitty gritty and students want to test a skill / improve their score, but have to prove that they've practiced, I have a feeling this feature will increase in popularity.

I may change and update as I become more comfortable as a teacher, but for now my opinion stands that practice completed in class > practice completed at home.

Friday, August 17, 2012

My Favorite Friday

This #MFF is dedicated to my favorite lesson from the past two weeks of school...

In AP Computer Programming I did not have access to any software whatsoever. No JDK, no Eclipse, not even TextPad. This tested all of my first-year-teaching abilities all at once. For the first few days I divided my class into "Veterens" (Four students in their third year of programming) and newbies. The veterens had the responsibility of introducing the newbies into the general structure and requirements of a program. This activity was just o.k. When I really hit gold and got my class on board was during my "Computer Hardware" lesson. Using spare parts I had from a reject computer, I demonstrated to my class the inner workings of an actual computer. 

I got to pass around the power supply, a graphics card, the motherboard, the heat sink, the processor, memory cards, and a DVD Rom. We also practiced putting the parts together and learned first-hand how every part of a computer is 'keyed'. The students were most impressed with the "platter" and "arm" of the hardware and how the computer "fragments" information (hence Random Access Memory and defragging). After seeing the live parts, the students had to take pictures of each part, a picture of the tower, and a sheet of butcher paper and create an "Anatomy of the Computer" poster with labels and explanations.

 Here's the final product:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Made4Math Monday - on Wednesday

Now that my classroom is set up (or at least the kids are here and there's no going back) I wanted to start gearing my "Made4Math"s towards activities I'm trying for the first time or reusing from my student teaching and part time work. This activity was thought up literally the night before and then executed!

Introduction: As students walk in the door I handed them each a sign containing a number that they had to put on. I was wearing '0' in case any of them were confused as to what I meant by "put this on". The signs were made by tying yarn to sheet protectors and writing with a whiteboard marker. I like that I can erase and reuse these signs to do other activities like binomial match ups, or asking students to find their factored form with quadratics.

Warm Up: We went through our whiteboard warm up routine as normal. The warm up for today was two PEMDAS and two Substitution problems.

Activity: Once I had checked the warm ups I asked if any students had ever played the getting to know you game where the class has to organize themselves by birthday without saying a word. About 5 or 6 responded in each class. (I've played that game 4 times). I told them this game would be similar in that they couldn't talk or ask each other for help. Then, I asked the students to organize themselves by their numbers. That's it. I had a few students come up to me and ask if I meant "rational" and "integer" (which I did) but I told them to interpret however they choose.

Wrap Up: What I was hoping to emphasize with this activity is that we have a lot of natural instincts when it comes to how numbers are grouped. All of my whole numbers were together, my negative integers were next to them, my decimals and fractions grouped up, and perfectly enough my radicals, pi, and e all stood separately on the opposite side of the room from everybody else- Perfect! After a little rearranging I called out a few numbers like "The square root of 25" and asked the class what number that was. Once they realized it was actually 5 the square roots of 25, 100, and 144 auto corrected themselves. Then I called out "-9/3" and asked the class what that number was. Again, the reducible fractions auto corrected themselves. Once our whole class was correctly placed I pointed out how the radicals, pi, and e were on the other side of the room, and how that matches the relationship between irrational and rational numbers. Then I asked the class where I fit in the groups and they said "in the middle". With a little prompting I got them to get specific and place me between the positive and negative integers.

Notes: The activity took about 10 minutes post-warmup and including collecting the signs back. Afterwards we took our "official notes" in my real number foldable and did recognition practice on our whiteboards.