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.......