Monday, December 24, 2012

Results oriented

So what is my goal with my math students?  That is the question I am addressing, it is my "over-arching" question as I review the first half of the year and think about the remaining year & more importantly future years.  Am I trying to create little mathematicians/engineers (no), am I trying to create drones (no), I am trying to give them the problem solving skills they need to succeed in the world. I ask this "goal" question as I pull together ACT data from the last 2 tests and measure my students (thus myself).  The real challenge is tying the ACT to the CCSS to the skills really needed by my students.

The ACT is just a measurement made popular by colleges, but it does provide insight.  Making my students unafraid of problems with numbers that require thought and processing is my goal, the ACT does not measure that well at all.  But it does check the basic skills, it does indicate whether they are ready for college and/or career.  The skills/material we learn is just the tools we need for problem solving (now and later).  So as I enjoy my time off and lie around getting healthy (I was sick nearly all of December - 18 straight days of misery) I think about the CCSS (Common Core Standards), how it ties to the ACT and I wonder why there are so many standards in the CCSS.  An example may help....

I was talking with another local math teacher at a basketball game and she asked if I was still not teaching matrices in Algebra 2, and I am not.  The reason is if I put in big mathematical problems with processes there simply in not enough time to do it all.  I have no problem pushing matrices out of Algebra 2 into Pre-Calculus (I teach matrices in Pre-Calc in May - thus you see how little value I believe they have),  Some students need them for college but it is something that can easily be picked up at college and I use that Algebra 2 time for problem solving and being really good at the Algebra/Geometry.  Maybe in the future more Algebra will go from grade 8/9 to 7/8 then 6/7/8 & allow time for more topics, but right now there is no time for matrices.

I judge myself (and my students) if they are ready for college level math (not remedial) and/or career.  I judge myself (and my students) on whether they know the basics conceptually and understand that effort/studying is the key to math success (not math IQ).  But I learned one thing in my previous career you need measurements.

Data is the key to knowing where you are and where you are going, running by gut feel is the worst thing - so I track a few stats.  I track scores on the recursive quizzes I give, I track the ACT scores (it is what students need to do well on), and I track, what I believe may be most important, post HS data to really judge my students.  My post HS data is math placement and first math course success in college (that is the best part of a small school - tracking 20 out of 30 students is easy).  Funny thing is most schools that I have spoken with don't track post HS success -- but heck I view that as my true end-product.  I am unsure how the CCSS should be tracked, I am waiting (with baited breath) for the Smarter-Balanced exam and see the data it provides.

All the success, failure, tears, etc don't matter if I create a student who cannot handle the next challenge.  I continually chant that the students want me to be hard, so they struggle & learn with me, versus struggling later in college or career.  But how does this all this tie to the CCSS and its practices?  That is the question I cannot quite answer yet.

So as I pull together my ACT numbers I see many successes.  Our trend is great, our scores are good, but there are still students on the fringe and those are the ones that I will try and set up systems to help.  My favorite discovery  is my D students can do math -- and that is important key -- if they can pass they have the basic skills and thus can succeed - otherwise they should stay for more instruction (so my line in the sand seems correct for passing/repeating students).  The data lends to the idea that grades are timed-based thus not a great indication of ability.  A student who does poorly in my Algebra class does not escape it in Geometry, they continue to practice and do quizzes through-out Geometry on  Algebra topics.  That allows the student who need more time to get it, it also makes sure the rest remember it.   And it seems to work, my Juniors/Seniors do well compared to the rest of the country (where 5 years ago they were slightly below the rest of the country).

So I have found some success with recursive quizzes bi-weekly on previous topics that were taught conceptually.  I have found a gap in my measurements and the CCSS, which I am unsure on how to bridge.  I have found that while the CCSS spells out lots of good things, but it fails to point out the great, which as a small school teacher makes deconstructing them a priority with all my free time with 7 preps!   Yet I know this is a slow progression, just like in business, the CCSS cannot be achieved over-night, and I will continue to track data, ask the big questions, and push for 3-5% improvement per year -- which is results oriented!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Being sick shuts you down...

Nothing like being out a week with the flu to turn off the entire High School's math curriculum.  I missed last week and for a whole week they did review problems with a sub.  Like most small schools our sub list does not have a math teacher on it -- so it is impossible to move forward.  They say take the good with the bad, it gave my students a chance to recharge.

I am thinking about bookmarking more internet things for certain subjects and that would be something I could have students do when I wasn't around.  For now I am back and super busy - hoping to post about how I became a teacher the decision process over the upcoming break.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Now versus later... Grades, GPA, Math & College.

So as a parent would I rather know of my child's struggles now or later?  I ask because I have taken the path that all students who can get thru my Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2 sequence are college credit math ready (meaning they will know enough to take and pass college algebra for credit).  When you couple college/career ready idea, which is a "good" goal, with the fact that ~40% of incoming Freshmen to college are not testing into credit math you can figure that there will more than a few students who struggle in my class. {Side note that 40% had to take the Alg 1/Geometry/Alg 2 sequence so there is an issue}.  And it is easy to compare Little Johnny to Little Jimmy from a neighboring district where a 70% is a C and it is a D- at my school....  But I like our scale and I demand college/career ready skills.

The issue that was raised with my policy to make sure they're ready was with their GPA.  Now what I know and accept from the college admissions people is they don't put a lot of faith in GPA anymore.  So ACT and just an overall GPA is what they look for (we are not talking Ivy League here).

But at the same time a lot of my students don't react until they have a solid D going (or lower), and even though I allow retakes on everything - multiple times - a students own rosiness on what they can do makes it so some get Ds first quarter.  (I react at the D/D- level with mandatory rework for the student, except with students in Pre-Calc Calc and Senior Math -- these upperclassmen should be ready).  I always talk about the semester grade, effort and the need for the student to get the math skills to succeed at college.  But I have hit the GPA argument too, how is the student going to get into college with the D (or even a C with some parents).  My reply is they will get the skills, do well on the ACT and get into an appropriate college.  Better to struggle with me -- I care, push, provide extra work and opportunities -- versus at college where a remedial math student is admitted under a cloud of graduation uncertainly. Where they don't have an ally.....

Some of my benchmarks for performance are based on my acceptance of two things: 1) if you don't use it you lose it and 2) I know that the average student will not work at a subject hard for a grade, so I make everything about the skills.

What that means is my curriculum and grade system is set to make college ready math students.  It does not incorporate things for "nice or good" students, it does not give fluff at the end of the quarter so the parents won't yell at the students or me.  (Or the best where parents yell at students, then student says "It is not my fault," and they then call me and without pause start yelling at me...)

So I expect students to learn, understand and apply all skills in the 3 courses at any time in the 3 courses once mastered.  I quiz twice per week on these skills with no partial credit.  It means I can give a factoring quiz in middle of Geometry, or a congruent triangle quiz in Alg 2.  Or a quiz on basic 8th grade material anytime I want....

To end, I am unable to tell a student they have an average grade {C} if they cannot move to the next task -- college or career.  I am willing to work with them, help them, console them but I will not just pass them....

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Skills or responsibility....

So as the quarter ends I am having the same thought as always -- is it skills or responsibility or a little bit of both.  What is a grade?  What I mean is every quarter I am descended upon for help to raise grades at the 11th hour.  So my policy is to have grades represent skills & conceptual understanding, not time and not work ethic.   For that reason I have paths for students to do work and have retakes, but after grading my 100th retake in a few days (for only 95 students) I am left wondering if this path is doable for me and/or best for my students.

It works though, Juda's math abilities are increasing -- whether checked by my assessments, the state assessments or the ACT exam.  And I don't worry about the struggler who works hard and just needs more time.  But I worry about the procrastinator and what I may be reinforcing.

So my new big move this year was only 1 retake a day rule (that works pretty well).  Last year without it I had students lining up for 2 or 3 quizzes, which is just a panic drill.   I also enter whatever grade they get (not the best) so the grade represents current understanding.  Yet when I talk with professors in the UW system I wonder if I am doing my students harm, if I making them think this is how it works after HS (I do preach that HS and college are different - but why believe me...)

So here I sit; quarter ended, grading globs of re-tests and re-quizzes -- but I see growth.  It just takes some external pressure (the end of quarter)  -- so until I figure something better (or copy somebody's "better") I will continue with this.  Because it is better than students just giving up, or deciding not to learn.  It really allows me to hold high standards....

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Math Team -- Math Meet

So I am writing this post over 2 days. Currently it is the eve of the Tri-State Math Meet at UW-Platteville.  I am excited about taking my students on a "fun" off campus math experience.  This year I have 54 out of the 92 in the High School attending -- I am sure a couple will not make school for some reason but it is a great thing.  I have an excitement about math going.  (It also does not hurt that we have done well in the small school division (Division 4) for 4 straight years)

Some have asked if I am nervous about the meet, and I presume they mean winning it.  And I really don't worry about it.  I just want to make sure each individual student takes pride in what they do, how they do it and enjoys themselves.  My biggest worry is someone not having fun.  I also believe that we just keep doing our thing and the right thing happens, all runs end.  But making sure the students see math as something more than problems in a book is important (even though a math meet is not all that different - it is different).

So - when asked do you think you will win?  I reply that some students should do well and that I think we will place....  I believe it shows we have a strength, any day, any given test can give slightly different results - but I just want the students to feel good about their efforts and support each other and we do that  well.

My plan is to continue this post, tomorrow or Thursday discussing the day......

So it is Wednesday night and I just came home from the meet and we had a great day.  There was a bus and a van of students applying, thinking and doing math.  The day started and ended well with Juda placing 2nd overall in our division.   It is impressive that year in and year out these kids take the time to work at the math and the way they support one another is great.  I really enjoyed today and I am looking forward to our next meet in the spring.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Targeted Practice.....

So at my school this year we stripped 3 minutes from each class in an eight period day to create a Homeroom where 4 days/week are dedicated to silent reading.  (The other day is meetings.)  As a side note this change has played havoc with me all quarter, I am just getting used to it now.

I do not get a homeroom class, instead this time is for RtI (response to intervention).  This is time where students who are struggling can be pulled to my room for small group or individual work.  And so far this is working.  When there are students that need help I can pull them and get 20 minutes of focus on a concept or misconception.  It really works well for students who are putting in solid effort but need a little more.  This week I pulled some students that aren't putting solid effort in and it worked well too.  The question I struggle with is "When to pull a student for help?"

A student that does the work, puts in solid effort - is easy to decide when to pull, at the first critical sign of struggle you pull them.  Because of the effort of the student as a teacher I can quickly tell what is happening and what should happen next (usually).  The student who does not put effort in, copies homework, just will do anything to be done is so much harder to decipher!  So on a test a less than studious student will not be able to do a problem, must likely due to lack of practice.  Then I struggle to decide "Is it time for this student get extra help or will they get it?"  In the beginning of the year my answer was to just handle the students I know had issues that I could identify.  The other students I waited for more information - but what I learned that the lazy become the lost.

Now I have evolved to pulling students as they show struggle whatever the reason for targeted practice, but not on homework.  The practice is in addition to the homework.  This helps me with the problem about when to pull.  The studious student has really tried the homework and needs something different, practicing homework is not going to help.  The less studious can get more practice and I can still expect homework to be completed - so the time does not become extra homework time.  I also only pull students whose grades are below expectation.

Any way my lesson is that I don't care about a student's attitude or laziness or whatever.  My job is to have them understand how to do math and problem solve for the future.  These are basic skills and I cannot just let a student not get them because "I don't feel" like the student is trying.....

Monday, October 29, 2012

Curriculum Mapping

So we had in-service this past week and used the time to work on curriculum mapping.  Working on a plan to teach the Common Core Standards (CCSS) through out our K-12 building. Aligning what we are teaching/how we teach to the new national standards.  It seems like time well spent because we finally found some software that allows a teacher to not only plan by unit and topic but also includes the ability to have learning targets (the daily "stuff" of teaching).

Thus curriculum mapping goes from an overall tool to a daily tool, so as I work on lessons I can build them there in the software (BYOC, is the software).  I can store links, sheets, ideas all to a Learning topic (versus a unit).  This then becomes a way for me to create plans that work by learning goals.  I am excited because curriculum mapping at unit and topic level just becomes a way to say you checked against standards, the previous program we used did just unit and topic and I rarely looked at it.  I was always too busy making lessons.  Now I can make those lessons in the curriculum mapping software and then that can be looked at and refined the next year.  These learning topics (the daily lessons) are tied to unit and topic with standards and makes me really focus on the standards.  Tie that standard focus to the new mathematical practices and there is a framework to really become proficient at CCSS.  My hope is to finally have a place to do continuous improvement on a lesson!

This hopefully will be the tool I use to tie daily teaching to lessons.  My goal is to quickly rough in the topics/units into the software so I can really work on learning targets.  Then I can decide the best way to teach concepts for understanding & high level thinking.

Is this "pie-in-the-sky?"  Maybe...  But at least the software has a way to look at it and have it be useful on daily basis....   Because the only way to get better is one lesson at a time....

Friday, October 26, 2012

Teacher Evaluation

Right now there is talk about how to evaluate teachers, about creating systems because "bad" teachers are a theoretical problem.  So we need a system - that is ok, prior to teaching I was judged by performance and I don't have a problem with it -- except our real product is not seen for about 5 years following HS!  But let me reiterate I have no problem with being evaluated and no problem using student results.

In business it was simply profit, did I do my job so we made money.  The problem I have with our educational system is we use age to determine whether a student it meeting expectations (a sophomore should "blank"')  - every student is different and thus every goal should be different.  I have sophomores who find the testing a joke because it is so easy and others who are taking Pre-Algebra and are not ready for the tests.  Then to top it off the students have no reason to perform well, a student can just answer whatever and there is no recourse (take it from me -- I have seen students just answer B the whole way on the entire test...).

But we need to evaluate!  We need to measure and we need to make continuous improvement!  So we need to work hard at data and expectations.  How do we know we are getting good data is a tough one!  And as a math teacher how do I know that the person evaluating me even understands what I am teaching?  These are the type of things running through my head after listening to a presentation about the new teacher evaluation system being implemented here in Wisconsin.  I believe in pre and post testing every year, I think we need to make sure that students move forward every single day.  And the research about poor teachers does require us to make sure they are not a permanent fixture in the school.  But is this rating system really going to get rid of the poor teachers, should it be the evaluation system's "'job."

The thing about "bad" teachers is we already know who they are -- the real problem is administration.  Prior to teaching I worked union and non-union shops --- and when I had a "bad" employee the only difference was I needed to do "special" forms in the union setting to get rid of "bad" employees.  I formed a plan and the "bad" employee either improved or was gone.  In either setting, union or non-union they got "canned."   In education administrators are typically pussies (excuse the language, but it is true).  They complain about the union but really they just don't want to do their job and be the bad guy.  They don't do the observations, don't write the plans and don't do the firing.  And with the standard 2 year probation period that teachers have about 3/4 of "bad" teacher problems should not happen, but again the typical administrator just gives too many chances.  They need to "student-up" and do their job....

So I do not fear for myself or my school.  I feel I will do well and our school's scores are "good."  But I also realize that  government will pick the rules and they do not know or understand the needs of schools; there will be a ton of forms, tests, etc and that will take away from resources for students.  And the worst part is it will most likely not solve the problem, it will make educators feel prosecuted and really that keeps young people from becoming teachers.  So the best and brightest won't teach. (It also puts small districts in a real bind because of the bureaucracy.)

So it comes down to this in my opinion, pre/post test, make administrators jobs dependent on results too that will force them to be the "bad" guy when they must be.  And stop screaming about "bad"' teachers, overall they are small group, just make the "bosses" handle them.  And finally respect educators - so the best/brightest see it as a respected career choice, right now we are making an environment where teaching is not well respected.  And that keeps the best/brightest away, and in 10 years that problem will really show.....

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Setting the table. High Expectations, High Returns

Students are just like me.  They (typically) will do what is expected, the minimum expected.  Let me explain through an example from my life.

My example at home is my wife and I have a fairly clear set of chores that we each "own."  But when I am really busy with school some of those things slide to my wife, mainly setting the table for dinner.   I am suppose to set & clear the table, but sometimes I "let her" cause I am grading quizzes or whatever (and she is super supportive).  And these busy times usually run in 2 day sprints, so I won't set for 2 days -- then even though I know I should set the table for supper for some reason I don't.  My wife then has learned to ask.  Cause I am a space-case?  No!  Because I quickly adjust to my new expectation -- I really appreciate the help she gives when I need it , but I quickly revert to the minimum I can "get away with."  (And I really appreciate when she asks me to set the table once I am through my busy spot).    Students are exactly the same....

I can talk about why math and understanding is important, but that does not drive many students at all.  But the consequences of not learning the material is what keeps the average student going, translation they want to pass.  They will learn whatever the minimum needed to survive, to get their minimum grade overall (whatever they set for themselves).  So as long as they want to pass they will work only hard enough to meet their minimum letter grade (not try-ers require different things, their learning cannot be about a grade, their consequences need to intrude on what they want).

So I have to remind students to "set the table" often -- to learn the material, I never talk about grades - my favorite saying about grades is that they take care of themselves.  Thus my courses must require knowledge and application of that knowledge so that every student who passes actually knows the math.  Meaning a D student must have enough knowledge to be ready for the next class without a lot of remediation.  I believe too often math teachers don't get their C and D students ready for the next course in math sequences.  Heck, if 40% of incoming Freshmen in most UWs need remedial math (9th grade Algebra), and they had to take Alg 1, Geometry & Alg 2 to get into any UW; how could we say that our D, C or even B students really understand the material.  I am really proud of my results at Juda the last 2 years.  Any student that has received a D- or better has not been remedial at college the last 3 years.  (Confession: During my first 3 years I had students who earned Cs and Ds but could not really do the math.) 

The above statistic is why I often remind my students and myself that they want to have me be their toughest math teacher.  And since I work for them (their future-selfs, I work for the student when they are 28) I don't let them get away without the knowledge.  By doing that I don't have to care about grades, cause grades prove little.  It proves knowledge at a time, it may show the ability to plan but not too much.  But often it only shows the students who best "play the game of school."  I have had many A students that I would not have wanted in my machine shops prior to teaching but plenty of D and C students I wanted (I miss ya - Tim).

Effort is more important than the ability to "play school."  Drive to learn is more important than grades.  Understanding more important than speed.  I use these thoughts every day, I remind myself to make sure the students understand math, I encourage, I push, I dry tears and then encourage some more, but I do give grades without skills.  I remind myself that once they leave Juda I am no longer there - so I must follow my cliche "Be less helpful" during quizzes/tests (which means I offer no help on assessments - I always say "Don't worry come in before/after school we will review and work through so you understand so you can do on the next one.")

So as I sit here on an early Sunday morning planning my week of courses I remind myself::
Make the students set the table....

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Career Day Speaker

Had our first career day speaker at my school this past week.  It went well and I am excited that we are tying what we are doing to the world.  The importance of the skills learned in school and what happens after school.

We made a leap of faith and got some help from a retired teacher from our school to help set up the speaker and details, because when you work at small school you are just too busy for 1 more thing.  And we decided not to over-think it with the first speaker -- find someone willing and simply start.  Then modify -- get momentum, because if you wait for perfection you never start.

We learned to make sure that the student are well advertised about the event prior (allowing thoughts about the career), make sure to provide an outline format stressing what you as a school want the speech to high-light (things that interest students) and finally have a dedicated person to work with the speaker the entire time (do not hand off between a couple of teachers even).

We also learned that students can and should be doing the introductions, tours, "small talk," etc.  And that a room of 40 is ok - but it needs to be kept small (a classroom with extra chairs versus a lab).

So we have started!  And it is exciting....  Now to line out the process using students and our website to make it "easy."

Friday, October 19, 2012

When am I ever gonna use this....

Got asked about my answer to this eternal question to all math instructors today, "When am I ever gonna use this?"

My experience as a second career teacher really helps with answering this question.  I was an engineer for ~12 years prior to teaching.  I have seen how the economy has changed from the late 80s to now and what has been working.

I always tell them how the world has divided into those that can solve problems and make a good living - skills learned from math.  And those that cannot solve problems, and typically don't make big money.

I also stress that time is not the factor - so taking time is ok - it is tenacity, and conceptual understanding.  I also take the time to talk about the need to learn because no one asks for your Algebra 2 grade, but if you cannot solve problems you are the first to get by-passed for promotion, first to get stuck with the crap jobs, and the first to be laid-off.

I take time to talk about how the world has changed from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.  How the world has become small and the economy global.  Meaning every job can be done everywhere (almost) and a lot of the world wants what we have here in the USA, and will work really hard for it.  So we have to work hard and smarter, we have to be good problem solvers, thus we need the math.

Finally I talk about a couple of my courses in engineering, where I spent the entire semester learning how bolts broke and sheared.  Then I came into the world and always looked up bolts instead of calculating the size.  I explain it is understanding how the world works that makes us ready to tackle the tough problems, so the engineering courses are showing I could learn, adapt, those are the skills I needed. It gave me context for the problems I encountered!

I tell them that one of my first jobs was at Hormel working with SPAM - engineering/college did not teach me how to seam SPAM cans -- but those engineering courses and MATH courses helped prepare me to solve problems.  So when the machines did not work I knew how to THINK about the problem.  I also made a good living!

It does not matter the students eventual career, the better problem solver they become, the more employable they become!   "The more math you take, the more money you make!" (an SA catch-phrase at school)    I really do love when my students ask "When are we are gonna need this?"

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Math Team Season

So I am really excited, the first (and only in this area) math meet is happening at UW-Platteville in a couple of weeks.  I am big believer that everyone can be part and this year over 1/2 of the High School has signed up.  Right now it is 52 out of 92 about 56%.

We practice during lunch as a group and support each other on the team; all the while setting individual expectations and experiencing a great, fun, off-site math day.  Some students are there to do their best and hope to get 1 out of 10, while others are going for a perfect score.  We all go -- I have a "lead" team but everyone works and plays together and we celebrate the day together.

And this works, I am actually able to use the math meet as a carrot for students not completing work or struggling.  (Can't take a student on math team that cannot finish homework, etc.)

Students will follow their leaders, so I get the student leaders on my side.  It is slow process that has taken years...  But I really feel we are reaping the rewards now.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Trickle down Training?

"As principal of one of the highest poverty schools in the area, Sherlene McDonald knows the value of professional development training for teachers.
School leaders and district leaders, such as principals and superintendents, also benefit from training as that trickles down to the classrooms, she says."   October 9, 2012

Really trickle down training?  Coming from industry to teaching I believe in train the trainer, leadership training, and other professional growth things, but come on - trickle down training may be the worst phrase I have every heard.  It sounds like it comes from someone who has a really high opinion about what a curriculum leader, a principal, a director or whatever title you want to use can really accomplish in changing teaching.   In fairness I included the phrase about it being important for teachers to get training but talk is talk - the average school does very little to nothing to protect professional development time and administration is usually the worst offender for chasing big changes.  What we (schools) need is incremental change - we need a 2% continuous improvement attitude!

We really need to step back and realize that to affect student learning we must train the teacher -- relying on trickle down means money spent and little changed.  It is the lessons that the teachers need to work on; so have the principal cover a class, correct a test and make that time for the teacher to make a good lesson. Hold that teacher accountable but give the teacher the tools and time and expectations.

But as a teacher I am unwilling to let a phrase that training an administrator really works.  It most likely means a shift in the pendulum (chasing the next big thing), time wasted chasing a big dream and no real measurable improvement.   We need to stop the idea that we can change overnight and just continually change for the long term.

Continual Improvement is the best for the students today and tomorrow....

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Jim Wright -- Response to Intervention (RtI)

So a couple of days ago my district sent me to see Jim Wright present in DeForest Wisconsin on RtI (response to intervention).  It was a good day, though Mr. Wright had a ton of material to cover meaning it was a lot of "lecture" versus time working on the concepts he showed.

The best thing was his website  It gives many tools for RtI from assessment to checklists to....  many things.  The site requires some time to work thru but the list generators are quick and fairly intuitive

Overall I felt like RtI is a lot of things I do and some things I didn't, but I did not document anything.  Now the goal is to document and follow thru, which is a good thing (gut-feel is no way to do anything)!  Because if we are not documenting and measuring are we really doing any long-term good?  It is a tough thing cause it adds another thing but I think once I get a "system" figured - how I attack, how I follow-thru, etc that things will be easier to manage.

And as I work at it - I remind myself - to help each student on their individual journey.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How much review?

So as my expectations to recall and not forget material increases I am having to figure out how much beginning of the year review is really required.  In my Geometry course I drive home notation (speaking the jaragon), distance, midpoint, lines, trig (including law of sine & cosine), area, volume and surface area.  At the same time we have continued review of Algebra 1 topics such as elimination, substitution, radical reduction, abstract simplification/addition, exponents (all rules), factoring, solving 1st order equations, etc.

So my Algebra 2 text spends a lot of the first 100 pages reviewing some of the above and this year I have found the pace too easy.  I had planned to hit only about 2/3 of the review material for daily work but that was too much.   I adjusted somewhat quickly and moved faster, but hindsight is telling me I could have just done the entire front 1/4 of the book in the first 5 school days.  This is a great discovery because it shows students are retaining the information and means I can add time and topics to this course. 

(*The way I demand mastery in all my courses is recursive quizzes twice week, these quizzes are a substantial portion of the grade.  The quizzes cover all prior knowledge in the course that is mastered and more importantly all things from previous courses.  This makes the students use it so they don't lose it.*)

So now I need to look and decide the best way to proceed in the course, which is a good problem to have.....

Monday, September 24, 2012

I love Homecoming!

I really do love homecoming!  I say this alot this week as the High School Student Council Advisor -- 1/4 as a joke, but overall really it is true.  I like how the school bonds - because at a small school nearly everybody at least kind of gets into it. 

Today it was fake injury dress up day, tons of students wrapped and hopping yet learning continued.  So as Student Council Adviser I always try and do something interesting -- today I made a small fake wound on my left arm (from not doing math homework) and wore a dog funnel (the kind that keeps the dog from licking a wound).  I enjoyed being involved and yet there was no doubt by the students about who I am or what my job is...    I still wore a tie and whatnot.

Anyway, there are many things that make this a good experience - it makes leaders, builds up spirit which can be used in any class!  What I mean is it makes a student connected and a connected student is much more likely to stay engaged and graduate.  I think this plays to my small schools' success in graduating over 99% of over students in the past 6 years I have been there.

Anyway it has been a good week and as I do everyday - I am enjoying the moment. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"I cannot do math" is taught.....

So today I helped a friend with some math.  As non-traditional college student it has been awhile and rust is understandable.  But the person's feeling that "They're no good at math" was surely taught as clearly as any topic in Algebra.   

This myth , of people being incapable of math, is propogated by parents (who say "I was never good at math" meaning their kids should not be expected to learn), teachers (some who say "some students just don't get it") and our culture in general which supports the idea that some don't get math.

Lets pose the situation where little Johnny cannot read, do we simply say he cannot get it? No, we remediate and push and challenge, we know it is a skill that is needed to succeed.  Well guess what, the world has changed and the "good jobs" require abstract thinking and problem solving --- math.

Going back to little Johnny we as a society realize and accept that students learn at different paces -- having multiple reading groups in elementary school and middle school.  Yet there is a thought that they should all learn math at the same pace?  Where's the logic in this?

As teachers and people who care about youth and people who care about the USA (it's the economy, it's prosperity, it's position in the world) we need to stop the math excuses.  We need to realize that students learn at different paces AND THAT'S OK!  We need to get the concepts to our students and not let the idea they cannot learn math settled into a student's psyche.

We also must speak truths -- some students see math faster and/or better.  Just like some students play an instrument more quickly or run faster.  But all students can pick up concepts and that message needs to be heard over and over until a cultural change starts in our country.  Because we cannot allow  "I can't do math" to be acceptable -- it will not lead to the American dream -- it will not lead to a better life for that student.  The world economy has changed the rules and we must change.  Math is hard but it is now a prerequiste for a large percentage of high standard of living work.

Everyone can do math, the paces are different.  It is simply whether a student shuts down and quits that dooms him/her to failure.  I, for one, will not quit on them or every let them say "I am no good at math" -- I always say you can be, but the world is unfair and you will have to work harder than most of the other students;  but you will get it!  And if they don't quit they do.....

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Flipping classroom

So I just keep making videos - with my smartboard recorder, my flip cam and screen-o-matic.  I get some problems on the board and work thru them for students to have for reference.  I post them on youtube and schooltube.  The next step is to have students view the videos on review items that require attention.

Just tonight I did Midpoints and Distances for Geometry.  Nothing magical - just some examples and more info, trust me I know I stumbled while talking but the videos are out-there for students now and I have decided I cannot concern myself with quality of speech and production.  Only quality of concept and explanation -- though now I use it for the skill side of my classes.

I am excited - I am quickly approaching 50 videos on you tube.  That is actually a useful library.....
Now - to use the videos to individualize each students required review!

Technology is great.

3 minutes....

So my school change the bell schedule this year from 48 minutes per class to 43-44 minutes per class.  Our 8 hour class schedule now includes a Homeroom silent reading time (which is working great!), but this old dog is having a tough time with the new trick.

It is funny after 6 years in the same school where I have worked hard on developing curriculum based on concepts not texts I have developed lessons that are 47 minutes -- and I find it hard to get down the 3 minutes!  I use to have timing and would end with just a few seconds to go, I had a feel for the bell schedule and what we could finish so there was limited idle time (I believe in no HW time in class -- it is just a waste).  Now I am running into the bell 2-3 times per day, we are working on a project, or a discussion, or practice problems....  I just have no feel anymore.

I am sure I will adjust - I think it is just funny how engrained I have become really and I think it is a good example of how easily you can get into a rut teaching.  I have thought/reflected on this and don't feel this is a rut, but it is comparable.....

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Path of least resistance

The path of least resistance is not only for power but it is also for the typical math student.  The typical student, the one that wants to pass and get their diploma follow the path of least resistance.  I am not talking about the rare student who cares only for the learning which is a very low percentage.  But everyone else including the "A" grade driven students, who sometimes are the worst offenders  -- memorizing procedures for tests versus making connections, etc.  

My first round of assessments this year has reminded me of the least resistance fact.  The fact is the typical student will do the bare minimum to get the passing grade and has little concern if they learn the math.  It seems funny that most teachers forget how minimalist we were too when we were students often just driven far enough to get to a magical level of learning called A or B or C or D (remember D for degree!).

Thus I take it upon myself to make sure that concepts are learned and that learning the concepts is the path of least resistance in my classroom.  I try to not worry about letter grades but make sure students are conceptually strong (ready for career or secondary). 

So as I comment on the assessments and reflect on student's current level of conceptual knowledge I quickly remind myself to make sure my path requires understanding.  We must remember that the teachers who push, are tough, are typically remembered more and thanked more....

So watch out Mr. A's students 80% isn't enough - you need to demonstrate understanding....  And I always remember I am in customer service - I work for the student, not today's 16 year old but the same student when he/she is 25 in the work place and wants the skills needed to succeed.

Funny thing is -- the future student always seems to want me to push their current self....

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

PVL - Poster, Video & Lessons

So today started a grand experiment in creating useful Web 2.0 info for my math courses - where the students do the creating.

I started my Senior Math students today on their first of ~30 topics where they need to create a PVL (a poster, a video and a lesson).  As a group we discussed the value for them - review and creating something they can reference, the value for me -- student oriented material, and the value for the school -- a library of material (schooltube & youtube).  They are starting with some basic algebra rules, formulas and then order of operations  (2 PVL topics 1) Rules/formulas  2) Order of Operations).

It was quickly obvious from our group discussion that students rarely read the text or review the book examples (unless assigned) - so that quickly became the focus of the poster and video (P & V).  As a group we were pulled to the idea of making something useful and accessible.  Comments like the poster idea is "like a cheat sheet," and "the video is the worked examples in the text" were common as we brainstormed what a PVL looked like.

Right now I am comfortable with both these ideas - it will be interesting to see what these students create.  The last struggle is what a lesson should like.  A lesson is to learn from (homework problems, follow along and try examples, etc.).  So the L part is still evolving, but we will start with PV part and see what we get....

Updates will follow....

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Homework, less is more.....

So we have finished the first week of school (ok - Tue thru Fri - but close enough) and the new policy of assigning very little homework and not collecting homework or grading it seems to be working.  I have simply been checking at their desks while they work on warm up problems from the board.  This has allowed me to spend more time tutoring and planning versus shuffling papers (and grading).   Also since I give answers for all problems it allows me to spend less time reviewing homework and more time doing concept teaching and in-class practicing.

I also have adjusted my homework assignments to no more than 8 problems (usually 6) --- even if the problems are "easy."  Coupled with that change I have discussed at length, repeated times that the expectation is for the students to gauge their need for additional practice and make sure to understand the work versus simply completing (or copying).  And so far it is working great, students are practicing extras as needed in their notebooks.  I have engagement on the topics and the rumor "in the hall" is there is less copying...

The funny thing is talking with students one-on-one they tell me they are spending the same time usually on the 6 problems as they did on 20....    I am guessing because they did not focus on any before -- 20 with a lot of work and you had to "get it done."  But 6 allows them to work thru it, the students are not worried about the length and (so far) are buying into the idea of understanding.

I believe this is going to work, homework only counts for about 2% of their grade (on a 70% and up scale) - and projects, tests and quizzes make up the rest.  We start quizzes this coming week to make sure understanding is there and I am anxious to see how the quizzes show (or don't show) mastery/understanding.  At the same time I am interested how the students will react to missing concepts and how they use their time.

This is a cultural change that I am shooting for, I know there will be bums but so far -- without a doubt --- with regards to homework, less is more.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Digital means lasting effects....

Today I received an email from a teacher who left our district over 5 years ago and ran across our Math Rap from last year (done by our math team in 1 period of PreCalc).  It was nice because he took the time to drop me note about it.  That really shows the power of youtube and other things, it is a great way to tie people together across schools, across real geography (he is now states away).  I had not heard from him in the time previously so it really was a professional connection.

Now the video/the idea is planted somewhere else to see and be considered.  Whether you think it is good or bad, you need to think about it (reflection is a mother isn't it!).  I slowly see "my library" expanding on media and hopefully seeing some more comments and hopefully new thoughts. 

It reaffirms my belief that change needs to be continous.  Meaning slow progress on making each course better -- whether thru the use of technology, or taking chances and truly reflecting on what works (and doesn't) and making improvements.  As each thing is recorded, created, posted or whatever we are making a log of reflection.  Also it starts to make a lasting culture for the school and district....

The big programs -- NCLB, Race to the Top, etc. don't focus enough on creating the cultural change needed in the classroom for true improvement.  I am now recommiting the "good" to only try and do "great."

Monday, September 3, 2012

PreCalc class writes Algebra text...

I have a dream this year.  My class of 12 precalc students are going to write sections of an Algebra 1 text, we will use it as review and to scaffold to our new things.  We are going to create on line subjects including printable posters/topics, videos, lessons with problems.  We will use the common core and be standards aligned.  12 students, 1 topic per quarter, 3 quarters this year -- that would be 108 standards....

And right now instead of asking how, or why it could not work.  I am gonna go with - there is a way to make this work....

And we all know teaching really means understanding....

Friday, August 31, 2012

Standards Based Grading in a Traditional Gradebook...

So as I align my courses to the Common Core I am really trying to incorporate the core's practices and the idea of mastery versus sorting (grades).  Within a traditional grade scale I have worked hard to only use summative assessments (quizzes, tests and projects) and have practice/formative assessment to be only a small portion (~3%, this is more because of community expectations).

I have made this "migration" over a number of years - so this grading scale that requires mastery of topics on summative assessments and does not reward the "head-down, nice kid who does their homework" is now the new normal at my school.  Now the next step in the migration: SBG, Standards based grading....

So with the thought of never sitting still and really making the Common core relevant to myself and my students I am including standards that will be measured each quarter.  I decided to start with standards that should have been mastered in previous years for quarter 1, quarter 2 will be quarter 1 material and so forth.  But our gradebook did not support it - so I made an interesting system that includes SBG on a traditional 93% A, 85% B, 78% C and 70% D scale. 

I made the SBG portion 10% of the overall grade this year and simply had the gradebook show a check mark for AM (Advanced Mastery) & M (Mastery) and MISSING for IM (Initial Mastery) and NM (No Mastery).   I adjusted my syllabus to explain that these Standards are always graded per the last check (not the highest score) and made the conversion to a grade happen behind what the students and parents see.  (I convert AM to 10/10, M to 8-9/10, IM 6/10 and NM 5/10 (I don't believe in entering zeros). 

I then tie the Standards to my classroom rule that the instructor (me) can create requirements to rework any score less than 85%.  This way I can give more targeted instruction and practice to students whose skills are IM and NM.  It has taken more work on entering the items and making descriptions fit but I have a framework within my gradebook and it is a good step - a step with a continous improvement mentality.  I really believe that the most important thing I am discovering as 6th year teacher is small steps every year result in big changes. 

My hope is to see improvement in the standards that are measured (hoping to do about 50ish per course).  I plan to check them on the cumulative final and look at power test results over 2 years (state testing and ACT).   

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Curriculum mapping - really helping students?

I believe the pendulum swing in education has made senior staff jaded.  The pendulum has swung from one big fix to the next, and the common core is just another swing.  Why wouldn't a veteran believe that and be in doubt of this new thing...

I really think the core is the right idea (I do think it is too big 9-12).  But now schools are looking for the big fix -- just to be aligned to the common core. 

So schools are putting effort into curriculum mapping to show where voids are, but what it ends up being is teachers searching for one place where one standard is shown, or how to add a lesson to hit one thing (one time usually).  Where is the mastery? Is student learning really improved?  Is this the best use of time for improvement?  It may be good but is it great?

I have started to refuse to be part of the swing, I want great.  There is too much work to accept good, we must do the great things first!  I am fighting energy wasted in large scale fixes that do not improve student learning. I will work on small things - integrating standards into my lessons, real connections and real problems!  The common core is a huge migration, it does not happen overnight and even if we change materials, and introduce "quicky" lessons we are doing a disservice to our students.  Teachers must move students from current mastery "A" to "B." 

Mastery takes time, it takes prechecks and follow up assessment.  It takes well prepared lessons that are reflected upon and improved (and shared).  A curriculum map that shows a books table of contents that matches the standards however loosely they fit -- it just does not do it! 

Time is a precious thing, I will not waste it on a big fix.  If we are not careful the Common core will be another swing -- because unless really change is done at the lesson level it will fail.....

Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Your job is school." Student reply "I don't get paid." Yes they do....

I have one rule in my classroom.  Our classroom is our workplace.  A workplace itself has a large set of inherit rules that make my classroom run.  I then mention that teaching is obviously my job and their job is learning,  And every year I can count on one student saying "No it is not mmmyyyy job, I don't get paid."  And I reply "Yes, you do."

It leads to a discussion that I allow to happen each day for a few minutes for several class periods and ends with the students receiving their first open ended project.  (I let the discussions occur until nothing new is said).

The assignment is to research what a High School diploma is worth over the student's lifetime.  Then calculate the "pay per hour" to earn that degree.  It is done as an essay, including citing and supporting calculations.

For round numbers there is a 300K difference in lifetime earnings between a HS grad and an non-HS grad.  Then assume 40 hour per week with homework, 38 week per year (rough) and 4 years to graduate.  And you end up with $300,000/(40 hr/wk*38 wk/yr*4yr) = $49/hr.   

And while the students joke about it, I believe it really helps for the students to see the value in HS.

It is just deferred compensation......   

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

New grading scale, still not grading homework...

Only during my first year of teaching did I have the class grade homework (or me).  Since then I have never wasted class time or planning time grading homework.  I have always felt it was a complete waste of time, I also have never had homework count for much in their grade and I am trying to find a method that makes homework required without keeping a grade on it.  I spent my time on other formative and summative assessments.  My feedback methods are working in class with them.

Last year I assigned homework daily, aiming for 2-3 hours per week outside of class.  On daily work for practice I always provided the answers and assign work they knew.  My projects I assign as homework are not designed for one solution but can have many answers and are more about providing support of a solution (will talk about in a later post).  I simply had the students turn in the homework for about 5% of the student's grade.  I coupled that to a policy of all homework had to be completed (Homework FAQ).  There are 2 sides - the grade side and the responsibility side.  I was carefully not to mix the two; so late work was full credit - the consequence for missing homework was staying with me outside of class to complete.  But yet their grade had 5% credit....  Why?

So lately I have read blogs on homework they had 3 things.  They suggest traditional 10-20% for homework, graded in class or by teacher (nope) OR two other ways on how to handle homework -- 1) assign suggested homework and let assessments be the grade  & 2) assign homework count it for a little, based on completion.  I have been on #2 for a couple of years and want to move off it -- thru a migration so the community can keep up.  But I am not sure what it should look like....

My problem with number #1 (assign suggested homework and let assessments be the grade) is HS students make crappy decisions, they will not do the work.  And often by the time they react the damage is too high....   My job is to make sure they learn math, not just give an opportunity.  Often the blogs that suggest method #1 seem to be teachers of honor classes or high social-economic communities, where grades motivate.  I fear how this would work in my traditional Algebra 1 or Algebra 2 class.

SIDENOTE - for the record I assign very little homework outside of class to my struggling students (Pre-Algebra, etc).  They need to have instant feedback.  The little I ask outside of class is web based with instant answers (so they cannot do the problems incorrect).  Because even if they have answers they typically will not do problems incorrectly, math has become painful for them typically, and they just want to finish....

I feel like homework in my class this year will be only about 2.5-3% (migrating from 5%) based on completion.  I also plan to have assigned problems and suggested problems, which they would keep in their math notebooks (plan to check as they start warm up problems each day).  Finally the big changes, what I am seeing in my mind is a standards based grade mentality where I select about 10 standards per quarter to track.  Also I see myself continuing optional retakes but adding a lot more "mandatory" retakes on the standards, which would/could include additional outside of class work (tutoring, homework) for individual students based upon their weak spots.

This thinking starts the process of moving from grades to standards, but I would still issue a grade that is based upon assessments (tests/quizzes/projects) ~85%, the 10 standards ~12.5%, HW ~2.5%.  I think it allows the community to get their hands around what I am doing, making it the "new normal."

As always I would love to do something bigger and faster but I have to take bite size pieces or this becomes too much too handle.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Common Core Standard based versus Standard reference

Had a meeting/training today with another school about the common core, it was led by our local CESA people (Cooperative Educational Service Agency, group of people who support local schools).   It was a good training and I am glad districts surrounding me are sharing/networking.

It is networking that I think of first because without it today would have never happened. What I mean is the training was not by my school or district; yet I was allowed to sit in without paying (or my school).  This may be the best thing for smaller districts going forward, figuring ways to share without arguing over the incident hours (and that can include teaching time if done right).  I will surely help them out when I have something too.

The real meat of the day was the concept of teaching standard based versus standard reference (while intro-ing the CC).  And while there were some things I already try hard to do, such as learning is constant and time is variable.  I discovered that I need to reflect deeper on my daily teaching as I move forward on the common core.   (See this document about SB vs SR RobertMarzano)

Yet there is seeming to be a hole in the software to support this standard based approach.  I know what I want/need -- I need curriculum mapping software that operates in a standard based way but yet can be viewed like a traditional planbook (or an online program like,, etc.).  So I can make the links to the standard and yet have a plan to look at in a format that works with all my preps.

The problem I see currently is I would spend a lot of time entering info creating material that is not easy to access and use, and I would quickly fall back to system that  I am used to.  I have about 3 minutes to move from one class to the next, I really need all my things visible in one spot for my day (like my planbook).   It seems that there is software to map and software to plan but the 2 do not connect well. The mapping software is all by standard but the lessons are buried 3 screens away with no connection to a schedule. And the planbooks do not track standards well or drive planning by standard (like the mapping software).

So either I continue being standard referenced (nope) or I try and figure a way to marry them....  Unless I can find something that does it all.... (Currently have seen Curriculum Companion and Eclipse)

So I sit here at the end of the day thinking of what my next step is and my goals.  The number one goal is to work and plan in a system where the standards guide and texts/materials support.  But it has to not kill me either....

So my plan is to use an on-line gradebook which I am in the process of reviewing (, starplanit, & planbook 2.5) using the standard as the lead, connecting my map (somehow) and using it as place for reflection, mapping and cultivate a system where I think of my teaching in a standard based way.  And the last important detail is that I can then use the planbook again with improvements thus becoming more effective.  Ah....  now if only the software would do what I want.....

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summer homework... You bet! Bath versus Shower dilemma!

So one of the things I have started in the last two years is giving homework over the summer to my Calculus and now this summer to my Pre-Calculus students.

The Calculus work is not exciting, review so we can start on true Calculus on day 1 and leave a lot or prep time for the AP test in May.  Fairly unexciting....  (Though it has worked well, about 15-20% of the Senior class takes Calculus and our passing the percentage the last 2 years has been 100%.)

But this year I also assigned Pre-Calculus homework and used Dan Meyer's idea on Shower vs Bath.  (Which is cheaper a shower or bath?)  I think the summer project will work great.  I get to contact them a couple of weeks prior to school and get them thinking about math and "prime the pump" on things we will do.

Since this is my first year with Bath vs shower project I am unsure how well this project will work, but I hope to use it as an exercise in functions and how we can use functions to really map real world things.

Here are the google docs I used, the first is the letter/e-mail, the second is Dan Meyer's modified sheet.

Shower vs Bath e-mail

Shower vs Bath Guide Sheet

Finally remember - as the only math teacher these students are accustom to the lack of detail and theses types of projects (the lack of details is sort of on purpose - cause the world is like that) and I am excited to see where the students will take their work.....

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Don't accept zeros....

I do not enter zeros and late work receives full credit in all my courses except Calculus AB. I believe my job as a teacher is to have students learn the material and prep them for college & Career.  Allowing them to take a zero does not prepare them for the world or for college.  (I also believe in rework, retests, etc - but we will save that for another post.)

But not doing homework is not consequence-free.... 

I treat homework just like a job in the real world.  If a student does not have it done at the beginning of class I simply have them stay that day after school and work some math problems with me (usually something equivalent to the homework).  Since we don't grade and rarely review any homework during class time it works fine.

Now some of the arguments I typically hear:
From college professors --  that I am not preparing them for college because they think late work is acceptable.  First, no -- the students know it is unacceptable;  I preach that no where in the world is not doing work acceptable -- school is their job but it is different then a real job - they don't get paid and I cannot fire them.
And professors and HS teachers have different jobs!  College is the opportunity to learn, in High School the learning is required.  But since AP Calculus is a college course I do enter zeros but in no other courses.

From other teachers -- that this policy is not like the real world and I am not prepping them.  This always makes me chuckle because for 12 years I was an engineer and manager in corporations and mid-size companies.  And if you think of homework as a report, or a quote or something like that -- those things are often late in the world.  School is a job - but it is not a real job (again cannot fire).  What we teach them is most important and consequences need to be what the student finds not pleasant.  Zeros are often not unpleasant, hanging with Mr. A after school, well you get the point.   [One thing I will concede is it does make more work for me -- but after a couple of weeks it is just one or two students that seem to miss.]

If I enter zeros I allow the students to skip required practice and knowledge -- and if my homework is appropriate and reasonable (I do my best with this) then it is important.
I have a policy, that I call a Homework FAQ sheet, that I send home with students on day 1 signed by them and their parents that lets me keep them after school.  (Homework FAQ).

Finally I use judgement with this, it is a policy that requires being reasonable and fair.   If it was run  equally accross students I would probably lose my job.  But it works, six years ago I had about 20% zeros, now I have less than one percent (sometimes I enter a zero at quarter end if the grade stays the same, the student still completes the homework -- helps with grade deadlines).

I really believe our job is to educate, these students are just kids looking for the path of least resistance.  Our job is to make sure the path of least resistance requires them to learn enough to be successful after High School.

Friday, August 10, 2012

I'm Presenting -- ACT Conference - Wisconsin 2013

Really happy to tell everyone that I will be presenting at the 2013 ACT Conference in Middleton, Wisconsin on Feb 7th, 2013.  I just received a call to quickly review my proposal and get the details.

The presentation will be similar to the Wisconsin Math Council (WMC) presentation I made this past May (Prezi Link).
This presentation for ACT is:

Improving Math ACT Scores/Aligned-by-Design - Small School Update;

Description: College & Career Readiness by yourself, hear from a small school teacher (single math teacher in HS) about how he is using Aligned-by-Design & ACT standards/ideas into existing curriculum to improve Math ACT scores.

This part of my teaching is me trying to find a balance between big idea/big problems/understanding concepts and the need for precision on skills.  Out of 220 minutes I have per week I give 40-50 minutes to the quizzing and review of ACT skills (~20%).  

I really believe understanding is critically important but my students also need mastery of basic Algebra & Geometry skills so they are ready for college & career.  I want none of my students to have to take remedial math in college or tech school.

There is a happy medium between large skill projects and enough recursive practice to make sure the skills are mastered upon graduation.  (Remember - if you don't use it you lose it.)

So -- Yippie!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Too bad the first shot in the Math Wars was not fired today...

Too bad the first shot in the Math Wars was not fired today! 

What I mean is that many math teachers realize something is not working.  All you have to do is look at our end product -- we have 40% of all incoming freshmen at college requiring math remediation (not sure what percentage of the non-college students are not prepared).

As a group, we must admit that what we are doing does not instill a true understanding of mathematics and its interrelatedness.  We still simply sort students. (Note - there are many great teachers, doing many great things but say there are 10,000 great math teachers, that would not even be 10% of all math teachers)

But when we started to reform math there was not the resources that there are today.  We gave new texts with new ideas and methods to teachers who were not truly trained to deliver the material (5 days inservice does not change a teaching culture).  We sent one letter home to parents explaining why it was important, or asked them to come meetings -- that didn't create an understanding.

And as so often happens the pendulum in education had swung too far towards reform/discovery too quickly, schools did not allow for a migration.  More importantly schools did not include enough public relations work and true reforms in math education have simply not worked yet.

And the pockets of math that seems to really work due the school or the individual teacher are seemingly not scaleable to the rest of the country. 

Today I feel like the open source revolution is here, there is the ability to create and share is as easy as ever.  We can easily communicate with one another from our desks -- teacher-to-teacher, teacher-to-parent, teacher-to-anyone.  We can find/create videos that help instruction or guide as teachers.  

We can address things - but it means making a real cultural change -- at least today it seems doable.  We can set up videos to share, have meeting easily (and cheaply), and communicate with parents thru facebook, twitter, etc.  Now if we all had the will.

Monday, August 6, 2012

National Board Certifiacation - Is it worth it?

Recently I have been reading and deciding whether to do National Board Certification for Teachers (NBCT).  I really want to be the best educator I can be but is it possible in a small school with 8 preps to accomplish the work for the NBCT?  (and not have your family regret it...)

Is this a goal that is worth chasing -- I am not sure anyone in my little area cares whether I have NBCT, I think I would like to do it for myself though.  There is a financial reward - a 10 yr grant $2500 per year, and the cost is $2500 and there may be or may not be scholarships to help with that initial cost.  But the money really does not motivate me on this question of whether to pursue NCBT. It is the idea that this will make me a better educator and will give my students more opportunity.

I think the question I want to know is - Does it really make me a better teacher?  Can I really accomplish it with so many preps? and Can I accomplish it using the ancient materials we have at my school in math?  All my materials are over 10 years old (but as I posted before I don't think after seeing new books that something "better" is around).

This is a big question for me that I need to really think about.  If there was a local network of teachers working on it I may be more willing, but the thought of doing this NBCT work with on-line support and no local support is really an unappealing thought.

This is not a question I will answer today or tomorrow but I will decide prior to month's end -- I either give it my all or nothin at all.....

Friday, August 3, 2012

Common Core Standards -- Is there enough time for real learning???

So am I sitting and thinking about where each of my classes will be starting this fall (and where they should be).  One of the great advantages of a small school is I know all 95 students at Juda; their strengths and their places that require more attention.  I am excited for another year -- we have had moderate success with an emphasis on skills that will help make all graduates college and career ready.  (I use the ACT as the benchmark for this measurement.)  I am now trying to tie the ACT emphasis, the common core and true mathematical applications together -- all while taking my students from their current math position forward.

My plan for the next few days (while recovering from minor knee surgery) is to take the HS common core and split the domain/standards into each of my classes (using a word document and actually putting the standards in order into each course).  From lowest to highest I currently teach the following:

Algebra 1A/Transition Math
Algebra 1B
Algebra 1
Algebra 2
Senior Math
Calculus (AP and UW-O credit)
 (Physics in every other odd year.... so 2013)

But my concern is really after placing each standard how do I accomplish the mathematical practices from the common core.  So it starts with placing each standard, but then the more important step is going to be the process of placing the practices -- to make sure that I am not simply drilling and killing a skill.

So that is the challenge, where to place all the standards while concentrating on the practices.  I believed when released that the HS standards were too numerous.  I will see how I feel after placing them.

But my question remains the same - Is there time for it all?  And if not.... What do we remove to allow time for real learning with the mathematical practices?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Too big too care?

So Key Curriculum (makers of Geometry Sketch pad) announced that it had joined forces with McGraw-Hill Education.  So the question I want to ask does this help math students in our country?

I have become very disillusioned with publishers of math materials in the US.  There has been a slow decline in their quantity to the point where there are just a couple of publishers left.  This is a problem.

It is a problem because competition breeds innovation and quality, the only innovation lately has been "Common Core Aligned" stickers on the textbooks that existed prior to the common core!  The concern over profits versus materials that profit students is a battle seemingly long lost.

I have started my protest by not buying new books (why buy non-quality things!), I have used self-created materials, free websites and used text books.  It is sometimes not optimum for me, as the teacher, but I can buy a used book for $8 in precalculus, a new text is >$100.  So I have 3 texts that we switch between - utilizing the strength of each book - for less than $25 per student the last 3 years.  I am also using -- a website with free "texts."  My next plan is to have precalculus students help create sections that contain lessons and videos thus moving towards a web-based resources versus paper texts.  A text that integrates applications discussed in my last post.  This is what we need in math education, we need innovation!

So Key Curriculum asked "LIKE and SHARE if you are as excited as we are for this opportunity!"  So am I excited?    NO.......

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is Algebra Necessary?

So on July 28th the New York Times ran an article titled "Is Algebra Necessary?"  by Andrew Hacker and it posed the question of the necessity of Algebra on non-STEM students.  It also stated the dismal statistics on how Algebra or being unprepared for college Algebra cripples a large portion of college students.  But really I think what the author is talking about, though stated as a fairly radical idea, is not wholly off base.  It is just a sign that we, math teachers, are not spending enough time with applications while teaching Algebra/Geometry/Algebra II -- the college prep trio.

The author talked about teaching the consumer price index (CPI) and more ideas, I think ideas like this are absolutely required and need time in our college prep trio.  I already have added loans to Algebra 1, computer programming (through Alice) & 3D drawings to Geometry, and stocks/retirement planning to Algebra 2.  (Note I think I will stick CPI into Alg 2 retirement planning -- just "stealing" another idea).  But these projects come at a cost -- there are topics in each course that receive less time or are put off until Pre-Calculus that many neighboring schools do in the trio. 

Some examples of items I delay would be - no coverage of the quadratic formula in Algebra 1 (solving through factoring and simply squares only), no matrices in Algebra 2 (especially Cramer's rule -- a horrible short cut for a weak math student - just memorize this - no need to think..), limited conics in Algebra 2, limited proofs in Geometry, etc.  The list could go on and on.   But we are only armed with 180 days and must make tough decisions as math educators.  The common core does not set grade level or class level targets for 9-12 (unlike K-8) meaning that we have to make the best system that creates students prepared for their world.  While remembering that in our world problem-solvers are required, singing the quadratic formula isn't.....

I think too many teachers have now become test scared.  I don't cover a lot of subjects yet testing-wise my district is doing fine -- meeting the standards, which really doesn't prove much.....   Except many schools around me do "cover" everything and are not testing as well as my school.  Why?

I think the projects I am developing and refining create students who attack problems and are more persistent than students who get the "coverage."   So on power-tests they can use what they know and work their way through many problems that had limited to no-coverage in the trio.  (These skills are really the common core mathematical practices!)

I think it is this question, "Where are the applications?" that the author is asking about in the article.  Algebra is necessary, period.  But how much, at what point in the trio, how the curriculum is arranged, the speed of coverage and demands of mastery are the questions.  If you want to see what projects I do see the google docs below (realize these are not-every complete and change constantly each year)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Senior Math -- Those not ready for Pre-Calculus...

So what to do with students who took Algebra 1 as Freshmen, Geometry as Sophomores and Algebra 2 as Juniors and just did not do well....

The Seniors who are not ready for Pre-Calculus, the ones that cannot afford to not take math.  The options in a small school are limited - either don't have them take a 4th year of math (mistake) or reduce the rigor of the Pre-Calculus course (mistake).

So standing on the edge of the abyss with two horrible choices I selected secret answer "c."  I set up a "guided" study course for these Seniors.  Basically it is a complete review of Alg 1/2 and Geometry.  I call it guided study because it is scheduled the same time as my AP Calculus course, meaning I do not teach to the Senior Math group.  They use each other, internet resources, etc to work towards mastery of topics so they will be ready for credit-bearing math in college.  I had 1 student two years ago -- success, 2 students last year -- success.  Success is the students getting into credit bearing college math (one student actually tested out of math at a vo tech school!)  [I always start the year by telling the Senior Math group of their independent status]

So I expanded the course and it will be 6 students this year.  But last year the course required a lot of Sunday time to prep worksheets and other items for the week!  So I decided to do guided study - each day in class the students must complete 15-20? problems in a section of the texts; this class work is their requirement to projects, quizzes and tests (mostly projects and pure mastery of topics for quizzes and combo for tests).  Also it should be noted a student that works during the period would have little homework.

Quizzes I make from a worksheet generator and will just use from Geometry and or Alg 2 course.  The tests will be book tests, no time for anything else.  And to make the course "different" I just grabbed an old textbook series no longer used and use it for this course!

Hopefully it will work, it has worked well the past 2 years -- This is best way to offer an option without a clear "mistake."

Look at sequence and draft of projects on google docs: Juda Senior Math

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Who am I, Why blog, Accomplish What?!

I am a second career math teacher.  I spent about 12 years in engineering and management prior to teaching.  I have been teaching for 6 years -- all at Juda (in Wisconsin) -- High school enrollment of 95 students.

I believe that math is a method to make students into problem solvers and lifelong learners, I really like PBL ideas and use google docs to create a lot of my materials.

I am blogging with the hope of keeping myself moving and reflecting on what I am working on.  I hope to put things out there with the hope of refining ideas and materials.

I often see good blogs, but rarely from teachers who work in a rural situation.  The reality of a rural HS teacher is a huge class load and limited student count.  I had 8 preps last year but only 112 students (I usually have 7 but I teach Physics every other year).  This type of load makes a difference on how you prep, but there is a huge advantage that I know my students strengths and weaknesses.  (I think all schools should have teachers rotate classes and follow students -- a post for another time...)

I hope to post what I work on and the goals I have in this environment.  And eventually I hope for constructive words from people to make me a better teacher.