Sunday, August 28, 2016

Final Homework Plan. I think.

School starts tomorrow.  Finally.  I feel like all of my peeps on twitter started weeks ago, and I've been sitting here twiddling my thumbs.

Not really, but it'll be nice to finally get back to what it is I've been working towards all summer!

I'm *still* trying to figure out exactly how I want to handle grading homework.
Because I'm going to give a homework grade. In the perfect world, the kids would do it regardless and I wouldn't have to worry about it. But we all know we don't live in a perfect world.

In my Honors Precalculus classes I'm going to use MathXL for homework instead of assigning out of a book. I like the instant feedback that the kids get and that they can't just copy off of their neighbor.

But I don't know that I need to make it due the day after I assign it. We all know that these kids are super involved in every activity/job/whatever under the sun. I know that there are times that they won't be able to get to their assignment or are having internet/computer issues.  So I'm strongly considering the idea that I'll create all of the assignments for the unit beforehand and make them due the day before the test/quiz. That would let the kids do them when they have time and yet get them done before the assessment. I don't want to make them due on test/quiz day so that we have the cushion day beforehand if there's a question that they don't understand.

And these are the type of kids that might want to work ahead, too. Why not give them that opportunity?

But I also would like to check written work; I don't want everything done on the computer/calculator.  So here's my thought on that:
As I create the assignments in MathXL, there are certain problems that I am going to specify that the kids need to show their work on. I've asked them to have a spiral or composition notebook for that purpose. Then at the end of the unit I can flip through and check their work.

Can you think of any issues with this idea?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Stuff I've Been Working On

Remember that ADHD I mentioned last post?

Here I go...

1. It's minor,but I made a new warm up sheet. I only put 3 spots on a page to force myself to either do something online, on white boards, or as a class the other 2 days a week.

2. I fixed up the Parent Functions foldable that I spent hours on last summer. Literally.  I think it's better now. But I have to figure out how to send it to the school copy center so that it prints as a booklet exactly as I would like it.

3. I found some of the plastic picture frame thingies at the Dollar Store and bought 7; one for each of my tables. So tonight I made new table number labels and also a sheet of "Instead of 'I don't know'" questions for the back.

4. I downloaded all of Sara VanDerWerf's Math Wall of Shame files that she so generously shared; this is what I'm going to start with on my bulletin board. At least half of it.  I actually got this board recovered this past spring before school was out and was horrified to see it this week with a piece of border missing. Our floors were worked on over the summer and I'm thinking that the piece fell off and was thrown away. And I don't have enough to fill it in! I just ordered new border from Oriental Trading Company today to redo it. (Our colors are orange and black and I wanted to keep with that theme.)
But isn't it appropriate that it was on the "#MathFail" part of the board?!


Things I Still Want to do:
1. Figure out how I want to create a self-paced module to have my Math 3 kids work through linear functions. If they need to. I refuse to teach it again.

2. Get a grip on my Matrix unit that I'll be starting Precalc with. I haven't done it for a while.

3. My plan was to put together a little tutorial for the TI8* and what I would like the kids to know how to do, but my TI SmartView software is having issues. Hopefully that'll get fixed in the next week so I have time to do that before school starts!

4. I'm presenting something at a building tech day next week. Probably should figure out exactly what that is. Hmm.

5. Figure out my first day of school plans. I detest the first day of school. I'm nervous, I'm hot, I don't know the kids. Can we just skip it and go straight to day 2?

Slide Rule Update

I'm in major ADHD mode (which I think is adult-onset due to twitter) with just a few days before school starts. I feel like I have to get everything done NOW and I'm jumping from one task to another like crazy.

But I wanted to take a moment to share something that I thought was super cool.

Some background:
In 2009 I borrowed a class set of slide rules from the International Slide Rule Museum and learned how to use one. Then I taught the kids. If I remember correctly, it was just a few days to fill before Thanksgiving break. But it was interesting! (Here are a couple of quick posts about it: post 1  post 2 )

Then, about two weeks ago, I received this email:

I responded saying that of course, I would love to have the slide rules! I'm never going to turn down an offer of gifts. :)

My kids and I went in to school on Monday to drop off some of the stuff that's been accumulating in my dining room this summer and a box was waiting for me.  It was the slide rules!  Along with a lovely note:


How totally cool is that?!  Not only did this gentleman search me out, send me his slide rules (one is 55 years old!), but his wife also has a connection to the area.  His return address wasn't local, so I'm just seeing this as a major coincidence.

I'm horrible with thank you notes, but I'll definitely make an effort to send him one!

Monday, August 8, 2016

#makeitstick - My first thoughts

At TMC I sat in Anna Vance's (formerly Hester) presentation about using the ideas from the book Make it Stick by Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel (here's her slides). The premise is how to run a class so that students more easily remember the things they have been taught. Because I know we've all been in both situtations:
1.  "We never learned this!" when referring to fractions/linear functions/factoring
2. "I don't remember how to do any of this" in the middle of a test.

I ended up ordering the book that evening as I sat in my dorm room in Augsburg.  It came pretty quickly, but life got in the way and I didn't even pick it up until heading to the pool today with the kids.

So now 102 pages in (the kids both had friends there to keep them occupied!) I have a lot of ideas.  For now I want to make note of some of the passages I've highlighted:
On pg. 3-5:

  • Learning is deeper and more durable when it's effortful.
  • We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we're not.
  • Retrieval practice - recalling facts or concepts or events from memory - is a more effective learning strategy than review by rereading.
  • Trying to solve a problem before being taught the solution leads to better learning...
  • All new learning requires a foundation of prior knowledge.
  • Elaboration is the process of giving new material meaning by expressing it in your own words and connecting it with what you already know.
These were in the "Claims We Make in This Book" section and would be expounded on later.

At this point I was thinking about a student I had in class last year. He was a very curious, interested student (with horrible handwriting) and insisted on covering every page of fill-in notes with his own summaries of things. And then he'd tell me that he was going to go home and re-write and re-organize his thoughts. This boy asked a lot of questions. But you know what?  He got it. He demolished the exam.  And he was doing so much of what I was reading about today on his own.  I'm thinking about tracking him down this year (although he's the type that will stop by to visit regularly) to ask him how he got started doing this.

On pg. 16, in reference to a student who had studied diligently and done poorly on an exam:
"Had he used the set of key concepts in the back of each chapter to test himself? Could he look at a concept like "conditioned stimulus", define it, and use it in a paragraph? While he was reading, had he thought of converting the main points of the text into a series of questions and then later tried to answer them while he was studying? Had he at least rephrased the main ideas in his own words as he read? Had he tried to relate them to what he already knew? Had he looked for examples outside the text? The answer was no in every case."

I never learned how to study. I was lucky enough not to have to. But how many students also haven't learned how to study and do poorly because of it?  The authors are emphasizing that "studying" doesn't mean re-reading textbooks or notes. It means doing.

On pg. 20, when referencing the importance of testing:
"In effect, retrieval - testing- interrupts forgetting."

Now this doesn't have to be a major unit test. And it shouldn't. But what about a 2-question feedback only quiz the day after you learn something?  

On pg. 28:
"Retrieval must be repeated again and again, in spaced out sessions so that the recall, rather than becoming a mindless recitation, requires some cognitive effort."

It doesn't work to give a quiz in class after practicing the one topic for 3 days in a row. Sure, the students should do well on it, because that's the only thing they've been focusing on. But will they remember how to do that same thing in a week? Or 3 months later on the exam? Such is the importance of spaced out practice/retrieval of knowledge.

On pg. 32: 
"When retrieval practice is spaced, allowing some forgetting to occur between tests, it leads to stronger long-term retention than when it is massed."

On pg. 21:
"One of the best habits a learner can instill in herself is regular self-quizzing to recalibrate her understanding of what she does and does not know."

On pg. 43:
"When the mind has to work, learning sticks better."

Don't you find this to be true?!  If I struggle with something that I'm finally able to conquer I tend to remember my solutions more.

The next section in the book dealt with what they call "Interleaved" practice. Not just doing one thing at a time, but mixing up topics and making the students actually think about what they're doing and when they should do it.

On pg. 53:
"For our learning to have practical value, we must be adept at discerning "What kind of problem is this?" so we can select and apply an appropriate solution.

I try and do this, especially when dealing with quadratic equations. I make an effort to have the kids talk about what method of solving is most appropriate for different types of equations. Sure, you can use the Quadratic Formula 20 times in a row, but is that necessary?! Is it the most expedient, appropriate method of solving x^2 = 40?

There's also been a lot of talk in the book about giving feedback to students and giving them the opportunity to work through the material in their own words. But I hate to be too wordy and am going to save that for my next post. Hopefully it'll come with some more concrete ideas of what I want to do in class to help this process!


Monday, July 25, 2016

My #TMC16 takeaways (Post #2)

I'm still working through my #TMC16 thoughts, so bear with me...

One of the keynote speakers, Tracy Zager, pulled up this comic:


(It's from a post by Ben Orlin here.)

Honestly, it makes sense to me. I feel pretty confident in my content knowledge but struggle with the pedagogy (which I think of as the "why" of teaching). And stereotypically the elementary teachers aren't as knowledgeable but have great ideas in how to run their class. (Although my kids have had several excellent, strong math teachers... and yes, I totally feel bad about stating that stereotype.)

Tracy's point was that we have a lot we can learn from each other. I agree. But how do we get there?

My biggest takeaway from Tracy that I would like to incorporate into my classes this year is the idea of a closing activity. Nothing major, but just giving the kids the opportunity to think about what we'd done, what they'd learned, what they had questions on, etc. Not necessarily an exit slip (been there, tried that) but a chance to reflect. And not pack up their stuff with 10 minutes left. :)

My travel buddy Pam Wilson told me about an idea she'd heard in relation to using a closing activity. If you're anything like me, time totally gets away from you. So what Pam suggested is to set your fitbit (because so many people have them!) alarm for 5 minutes before the end of each class. That silent alarm won't disrupt the kids because they won't hear it, but it would be a great warning that time is ending soon!  And 5 minutes gives plenty of time to wrap up the activity, reflect, and pack up stuff.

(BTW, I really enjoyed the 12-hour drive with Pam! Such a sweet lady. And I kept sending myself emails of Pam's ideas on the way home so I wouldn't forget anything!)

Sunday, July 24, 2016

#TMC16 post #1 (My stuff.)

I've been back from Twitter Math Camp (#TMC16 if you're so inclined) for almost a week now, and I still have a lot of stuff meandering through my head.  I really need to sit and work through my notes sometime soon!  I'm actually hoping for some rain so that I don't feel guilty about missing pool time with the kids to do school work.

I felt pretty good about the presentation that I did on Saturday afternoon (many thanks to the schedulers for letting me get it done on that first day!) and was surprised to have 20-ish people there. I was also surprised that I actually wasn't nervous when it started! But I was happy to have it over.

Here are the slides that I used:

 And a direct link to a google folder with all of the materials I shared.  (Please let me know if the link doesn't work!)

It's been fun to see other people blogging about going to my session and having favorable comments. Considering the respect (and awe) I have for some of these fellow mathies, it really means a lot!

This is a picture of those of us who were at both TMC12 (the first one!) and TMC16.  And I just want to say that I'm actually quite a bit taller than Hedge; I was just crouching so you could see Julie behind me. ;)  There are a lot of amazing people in that picture!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Warming up (revisited)

I was really good about starting most classes (excluding quiz days, normally) with a warm up problem or two. I loved how it got the kids working immediately, gave me time to get my stuff together for class, and even gave me a few minutes to check homework (if I was going to).

And, most importantly, I think a lot of learning happened through those warm ups. Sometimes it was from kids asking each other for help, sometimes it was prompting them to think about a problem a different way, sometimes it was extending their thinking on a problem. Sometimes I reviewed a topic we hadn't seen in a while, sometimes I gave a question as a preview of things to come.

When it appeared that most were done, I'd take a few minutes to talk through (or have students talk through) the answer. This could take up to 15 minutes in class total.

In one of my evaluations a mention was made by my principal about setting a timer; it's something I always considered doing but didn't want to push kids through the problem without giving them a chance to think. And yet it would help with the dawdlers who I constantly had to tell to get working.

I gave the kids a new warm up sheet every two weeks; it has 10 blank spots on it, so after those two weeks were up I would collect the sheet and give them a completion score. One point per day that we had a warm up. So basically, not a big deal unless you didn't turn in the sheets a few times.

I've toyed with the idea of having the kids leave their warm ups in the table folders with the idea that I would periodically check them. I haven't figured out why that isn't a good idea yet. Aside from not making the kids responsible for a paper for 10 days in a row. 

So here's my question...
Do you do warm ups in class? If so, how do you work it? Do you set a timer? Do you grade them? Do you have a better way of doing warm ups?


Sorry, that's more than one question. But all feedback is appreciated!