Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Making Connections

The other night my husband made a very insightful comment.

I was talking with my 13-year old son about his recent experience at camp. He mentioned a fellow camper who was a student at my school but I don't know (I live in a different district than I teach). He said, "Mom, don't you remember I asked you about if you know [insert student's name here] last year?"

Me: "No."

My son couldn't believe that I didn't remember him mentioning her last year.

And then my husband piped in:  "Your mom doesn't remember things unless she can make a connection with it. If it doesn't apply to her, she doesn't remember it."

I don't usually agree with my husband, but this time he was exactly right.  I don't remember things unless I can make a personal connection with it. I have trouble remembering my closest friend's siblings' names but I know what high school my daughter's friend's mom went to because we played them one time in a big game and we've chatted about it.

And yet here I am, expecting kids to remember every little tiny rule that I talk to them about. Why can't they remember how to find the vertex of a parabola in standard form? Or the process of completing the square?

Because I haven't helped them make connections. I realize that not every math concept is going to have a real-world connection, but to show students the connections between topics would help them internalize and create a flow of information as they're working.

So that's my goal this year. If I can't make the math personal to each student, I at least want to help them connect topic to topic to hopefully make them stick.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The beginning of the end...

Ah, August. Where summer comes to die and back-to-school nightmares are born.

In the past I've dreamt I was a French teacher (and don't know French), a gym teacher (where I'm supposed to be teaching volleyball), and a multitude of times I'm a math teacher without plans, or a class, or missed classes entirely.

Usually by mid-August I'm so ready to get rid of these dreams that I just want school to start. And that's saying a lot since we don't have air conditioning at my school and it's usually in the 90s when we go back. Fun.

This year's a little different, only because my district is going through a lot of construction and teachers don't report until August 28th. Which either gives me an extra 2 weeks of nightmares or an extra 2 weeks to plan. Depends on my attitude at the moment. :)

I'm looking at it now as the opportunity to get my act together before I have to go back.

My latest focus is the first day of school. Last year's was great and I'd totally do that again but I have two classes in which I may have a bunch of repeaters. I feel like I might need to change it up a bit.

One thing that I'm definitely not changing is using Sara Vanderwerf's Name Tents. The idea is that the students come into class on the first day and create a name tent. Last year I had them put their name on one side and their favorite number on the other. Then they had to talk to the people at their table and explain why it was their favorite. (I hate it when people have a random favorite number.) This gave me the chance to wander around and talk to kids about their number. It was fun.  The inside of the tent had a 5-section table in which every day the kids wrote a question/comment and I responded. Every day. Yes, it took some time on my part, but it was fun to read and respond. One of my students' dads teaches at my school, and he told me that he'd heard about what I was doing. So you know if the kids are talking about it it means something to them!

I think I'm going to change it up just a bit this year. Instead of leaving it open-ended for the kids to make remarks, I'm going to give them prompts. I got these from George Courous' blog post called "Five Questions to Ask Your Students to Start the School Year". Except that because our week starts on Tuesday I'm only using 4 of them. :) Not only do I think this will give me some information about each student, but it will avoid the kids writing "I'm hungry" or "I'm hot". (I know, kid. Me too.)

Here's my version of the name plate:  pdf     word

Monday, June 26, 2017

Student/Parent Survey

I just spent an hour or so revamping my beginning of the year student survey.

For the most part it's the same. I do it via a google form because I love having a spreadsheet of their answers! So I ask the basics - name, grade, class, parent name and email, previous math classes, etc. I also ask what some of their thoughts on math are:



This year I added a part 2.  Using FormMule (a google sheet add-on), I'm sending an automated email to their parent once the student submits the form.  Just a nice little welcome. The cool thing is that using FormMule, I can customize the email a bit. It will enter both the student's name and class where indicated.

Here's the email the parent will receive:

You'll see at the bottom of the email a link to a Parent Survey for them to fill out if they'd like to give me more information about their son/daughter.

I'm finding that as my own kids grow up (my son will be in 8th grade this year!) I appreciate all of the information I can get from their teachers. So hopefully starting the year with this will show my student's parents that I'm open to communication. And if I can get my act together, I'd like to send out emails throughout the year with information about what we're doing in class. Maybe at the start of each unit?

We'll see!


Monday, June 19, 2017

Desmos part 2

I woke up to a parent email the other day.

Not only is it summer right now (so I don't have any students), but this was the parent of a student I'd had in class two years ago.  This parent happened to be reading Education Week and ran across an article that I was interviewed for a few weeks before school was out.

(Did you think that non-teacher parents read that? I didn't.)

I was flattered that they thought to send the link to me, especially since the author had promised to but hadn't yet (she did later that afternoon).

And not only was I mentioned often in the article, but my picture was on the top!  Crazy.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

If this is what summer is going to be like... (Desmos part 1)

The first two weeks of summer have been quite a whirlwind!

On January 12 I received an email from an old college friend and classmate, Bob Batty. Bob is currently the Pk-12 Math Specialist for Darke County (Ohio). He'd been talking with another college friend, Scott Mitter, a teacher and department head at Kettering Fairmont High School about running a one-day conference for math teachers about using Desmos in class. They were wondering if I would want to jump in and help. And thus the Southwest Ohio Desmos Institute was born.

We put out a request for speakers and got an amazing response. After setting up a tentative schedule of sessions varying from a Graphing Intro to Creating Your Own Activities to Applications in Your Classroom on a google site, we opened up registration. We thought it would be good to cap attendance at 200 because of the facility (Scott offered to host); I don't know about the other two, but I never thought we'd hit that number.

And yet hit it we did. We even had to set up a waiting list!

There was an awesome variety of attendees...

(The big blue piece is the "I can spell Desmos" group. Apparently Dan isn't tweeting anyone for ideas.)

I'm not going to say that we didn't have some problems on the day of. Of course there were some tech issues (aren't there always?!), the building was in summer-cleaning mode and so the bathrooms were a little hard to find, but for the most part things went great.

We had a 10-minute intro to start the day, then two 75-minute sessions. Scott had arranged for some food trucks to arrive for lunch (that was cool!) and then we were happy to have a Google Hangout with Dan Meyer as our "keynote".  People were pretty excited to see him!  It's not every day you get to see a math "celebrity". :)  We finished up with two more 75-minute sessions.

Of course there are things that we would do differently (if this happens again). But for 3 math teachers to organize this I think we pulled it off pretty well!

And the feedback seems to agree.
(I have to say, I looked to see what the person who ranked the day as a "2" said. The complaint was that the day only addressed using Desmos for math, not for other subjects. I don't feel too badly about that because we only billed it as a way of learning how to use Desmos in a math classroom. The person didn't leave any feedback about individual sessions.)

Scott, me, and Bob post-conference

(Scott even had shirts made!)

So we'll see what happens next summer... or maybe during the school year?





Sunday, May 21, 2017

A list of things to come back to.

Summer is so close. And yet so far. 8 whole days!

I just need to get through the next 4 and then exams will start.  And then it will be the end!

I don't have the time (or energy) to go into all of this now and I'm afraid I'll forget when I do have the time and energy, so here's my list of topics I want to come back to soon.

1. Explore Math. Loved it. Need to edit for next year?
2. My intent to use desmos more.
3. And, oh, speaking of desmos, I'm a fellow!  Woot!
4. Changing up homework plans. Again.
5. Teaching a new class next year. Time to start from scratch!
6. Southwest Ohio Desmos Institute coming up!
7. Education Week interview. And photographer.

That's all.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Missing assignments questions

I was finishing up 3rd quarter grades this morning (woo hoo for 4th quarter!) and was noticing the large number of missing assignments from my three Math 3 classes.  And yet nearly not as many in my Honors Precalc classes.

Here are the numbers:

In CP Math 3:   total of 220 missing assignments for 78 students = 2.82 per student

In Honors Precalc:   total of 37 missing assignments for 48 students = 0.77 per student

I know there are a lot of factors that go into this.

For me really boils down to a student determining if it's worth their time to complete practice problems.  I don't give a lot of problems; my Math 3 assignments are typically around 5 problems (maximum 10, I'd say) and Precalc is more than that.  This shows the amount of effort someone is willing to put in to be successful.

Another big factor in success is attendance. And again, there's quite a big difference in those numbers.
In CP Math 3, the average number of days missed during the 3rd quarter is 2.58
In Honors Precalc, the average number of days missed during the 3rd quarter is 1.63

This doesn't take discern between regular absences and field trips; the precalc kids are the ones more likely to miss because of a school activity.  So their number would probably be quite a bit lower.

I tweeted out these numbers and Robin Mathews (@romathio) responded.

I hadn't even thought about tracking, which I think separates the students based on ability.

So herein lies my new quandry.
Is tracking helpful because students have shown that they're going to perform thusly?  Or do they perform this way because they're tracked?

Which came first? The chicken or the egg?

(And just 8 more days til spring break. But who's counting?)