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....