Friday, December 27, 2013

Progression of Homework

So I am still thinking about homework, how to do it (or should I), how much value does it have, what is the best thing for my students?

Where I started teaching just 8 years ago I ran a traditional class - or at least the class I was use to in High School (even though I was more than 15 years removed from it).  I did like many first time teachers - I taught  like I was taught (quite a bit). 

Class started with checking homework, I usually collected it too.  But we spend time grading it, answering questions and then answering more questions.  Then correcting what students did incorrectly the evening before, or copied in the hall.  And the whole time - 6 students really focused while 20 were zombies - eyes open and nothing going on.  Then I would be pressed to teach the lesson.

I quickly moved to just collecting and handling questions by doing a different problem with similar content so everyone could work it.  That quickly help, at least everyone was involved.  But I still had a ton of questions from homework and misconceptions to "clean up" from students trying to do their work and doing it incorrectly.  And why wouldn't I have to fix misconceptions?  I was assigning something  new, something that we had just been introduced too.

Then I started not assigning new concepts immediately, we would do new in class together for a number of days, and then my question time quickly decreased I would lead the problem as I walked the isles. 

And now over the span of years I have migrated where I supply solutions and just have students turn in their work occasionally.  That way a student who is struggling can have an extra day, find time for help in the class or study hall.  It opens up a ton of my time to help students during the hour. 

And there you see the progression, I no longer consider homework really important.  Otherwise I would be "on my students" to be done every day.  But homework is for the student, it is what he/she needs, thus I give some flexibility.  

The students know they are responsible  for the material in the text (I sure say it often enough) and their grade is based on their knowledge of that material.  I often joke that students "can learn through homework or through test and quizzes, I really don't care which way."  Note, in my class, grades are based upon summative recursive assessments on mastered material.  And since the quizzes are recursive, always focusing on mastered material students are continually "practicing" twice per week. 

Now is good time to mention that my goal is not their grades but the knowledge they leave my school with, are they college and career ready.  (They can be a pain with some students or parents sometimes - but when is last time a person was asked about their Algebra 2 grade when applying for a job?) 

I don't care how they learn it, students that play school do the work and earn a better grade typically.  But the student who really won't play school still typically gets the skills!  And a D in my class means they are ready for the next course.   (I find the D thing to be an epidemic - if a student gets a D and cannot do the work - how are they ready for college/career -- no wonder we have 30-40% of college students doing remedial math!)

And over the span of time the end results have gotten constantly better.  I have had better results on the ACT test, better results on the class assessments, better results from students who report back to me about how they are doing in their jobs or in their college math courses.  And that is because I feel I have increased the time a student does math!  I went from most students being zombies, who spent 20-30 minutes per day on math with homework, to an entire class doing math for 45 minutes, 5 days per week minimum.  Now the 6 students with questions just wander in before school or during homeroom for help.  My room is now a whirling dervish of math activity!   The homework is beyond that, and so if a student copies it (and that never happens) he or she is still doing 45 minutes of work per day.

Now I am pushing for less paper & pencil and more instant feedback practice - websites (Khan, IXL, textbook), spreadsheets, etc.  The hard part is changing me, I still find myself more comfortable collecting homework, than checking website reports -- and weird as that sounds it takes a lot more time to change me than to stay the same.   

I know practice is important and I will keep working for a balance between paper/pencil (a skill that must be maintained) and some sort of on-line portion (which I think gives students better feedback and increases the return on their practice time).

Most importantly - we will keep on trying to be better each day.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Open Letter to the Wisconsin Committee Taking Comments on the CCSS

To the Select Committee reviewing the CCSS in Wisconsin:

Thanks for the opportunity to comment on this issue.  I am a father of 3 children (13,12 & 10 years old) and a second-career teacher just starting my eighth year of teaching High School math.  I spent my first dozen years of my career as an engineer and manager in the private sector, which gives me a different view of the standards.   As a nation we must embrace the ideal of making students who are college and career ready, and while the CCSS are not perfect, they are a step in the right direction. 

I have spent the last few years working with the CCSS in mathematics and have formed some solid opinions:
1) Being from industry I knew some states' graduates were not as strong as others, some sort of national guideline is most likely needed.  Many countries that we trail in education have a national set of standards.  And anytime a small group forms a large set of standards there will be problems and complaints - as a nation we need to work together to move forward. 
2) The core in math is strong K-6 but in my opinion simply has too many standards in High School, thus these individual standards take precious time from class room teachers to teach problem solving, deeper discovery, reasonsing, etc (the mathematical practices).  But the practices are a strength of the CCSS which can be built upon and the standards will need to evolve.
3) We try to move too fast in education (the CCSS being a great example of too fast).  We should move on a continuous improvement path; yet education moves with an all or nothing mentality.  That is why the testing in 2014-2015 will be disastrous, we are trying to be 20% better in 2 years versus 2% better year after year.  Whether the CCSS can survive the poltical "firestorm" that is coming (or is here) is an unanswered question.
And finally, 4) The standards are plenty rigorous and we need to focus on the practices in the CCSS.

As a parent and educator I worry about the CCSS being a list of standards to check off, and since the list is long deeming it rigorous.   I worry about the politics and the desire for instant results derailing the opportunity for there to be true progress with the CCSS.  I do not believe the CCSS are perfect, far from it, but it is a decent starting point.

And the CCSS should be a starting point for Wisconsin.  While I feel the HS math standards are overloaded on topics, I think they provide a framework that can be used to move Wisconsin and the nation forward in education.  It is the practices we should be focusing on - problem solving, tenacity, the ability to read, justify and revise.  And that is why the CCSS should not be dismantled but allowed to evolve, I do believe the mathematical practices to be the strength of the CCSS.

In the end I support the CCSS with its flaws, because I view it as a first step in a continuous improvement process.  We need national standards, and I feel the practices are good.  I am hoping that as time passes we can correct some of the "mile wide, inch deep" issues and in the end have better students who are ready for college and career. 

Scott Anderson
Math Instructor
Juda High School
Juda, Wisconsin


Sunday, December 22, 2013

It's nearly 2014, does my HS daily homework look different than 1985? Update time!

Any time you try and change it is hard work.  And changing homework to this century is slow, changing is just hard.  What I mean is that I am trying to make sure my class looks distinctly different than a math classroom of 1985 (previous post).  And with today being a snow day on the last scheduled school day of 2013, I can state that it is the end of 2013 for my classes.  (Whether I am dedicated or simply lame for working on a snow day is up for debate though.)   And while the year is about 1/2 over I cannot say I am 1/2 way on making my class(es) like I would like.  There are a lot of times it still seems like 1985.

So I committed to not being the same.  I decided to have 3 elements: weekly practice, projects with milestones, and combo of workbook/text problems (1-2 times per week).  So I am half way through the year, and it is time for a mid-term check (I suppose I could grade myself - but I hate grades, progress does not move strictly by a clock - and that is what grades measure.  Plus I would be brutal on myself with respect to a grade.)

The first prong of my trident was weekly practice being on online sites where feedback is immediate - since my budget for the move was basically zero I defaulted to Khan Academy.  And this has actually worked okay, the problem was getting the students on problems that they needed to practice.  Initially they spent time on things that were "too easy."  But once things are mastered they moved to topics that were more "grade-level."

When I committed class time for Khan , which included the initial set-up and time for practicing during my precious class time the results were good.  The big problem is how to check that students have done the time and staying on schedule. 

Again small school teaching is different, I have 8 different courses in 8 hours.  That can sometimes be a little overwhelming, and Khan did a new roll off of there site in August, too late for me to get comfortable with using quickly.  (Yes - these are all excuses)   So I have been stuck with seeing where students are at certain times,  And because that can be cumbersome I have found myself in the last month falling back to assigning 6-8 problems from the text in a couple of my preps (mainly Algebra 2 and PreCalc) - just because it was easy and I have found myself to be too busy.  (Have great excuse here - won Solve for Tomorrow Contest).   

I have found Khan to be good for my students who need more practice.  Students in my lower Algebra groups etc.  I think that has been better than average.  But all the courses above Algebra 1 the progress has been choppy at best.  I have given credit like homework, it has been less than 0.5% of their grade.  (I believe a grade is a representation of their total math ability - which is why I use assessments versus homework to demonstrate mastery.)

So the mid-year evaluation of the on-line work, is well, a work in progress.  I plan to commit a class period during January and Febuary to see where that leads.  (We have progressed pretty well in the curriculum so that is a move we can do).  I need to figure a better system to record the students progress.  I am leaning to weekly emails where they tell me there point total, and weekly change.  Or I could just do a daily check during the class period, but I really want to make the students own their learning.   The big thing moving forward will be to double or triple the time so I am close to my goal of 20 minutes, 3 times per week - a solid hour outside of class per week of targeted practice.  

The second tine of the trident is large multiple answer projects with milestones.  I have started my large projects that I have used in the past with more milestones and hopefully a higher level of expectation.  Algebra has started a Pay Day Loan project, Algebra 2 has Stocks and Geometry has started the House Project  (Google sketch up in Geometry, youtube video). So far the quality of work is better than years past.

I think adding more milestones has helped with the quality of work.  I have worked at adding milestones that still make the student be a "critical thinker" but allows them more feedback, more often. The key remains that no one flunks a project - everyone needs to deliver.  Just like the world, if the boss (me) does not like the quality the employee (student) reworks/revises.

The last part of the trident was the workbook/text book combo.  This was the fuzziest part in the beginning and the part where really little has changed from last year to date.  I am working from targeted worksheets much more this year versus just using the text.  That has seemed to work - but that is a "gut-feel" opinion, I have no data to support the opinion.  And I always feel there really is no difference between worksheets and the text book. 

The last part with the textbook was "moving" low level things out of my class (flipping & outside reading).  And some of that has been done by flipping my Algebra 1 course.  I spent the end of my summer completing a self-paced course called FIZZ -- which really helped me.  But I have not done any text reading yet, which can be an important college skill.   I also find that making videos is much more work than doing the equivalent in class lecture.  So I am doing a mixture of videos outside of class and lecturing inside class. 

Has it worked?  Well, again there is progress, but it is slow.  But I always stick to my line that I just want to be 3% better every year - cause in 5 years you are 15% better which is huge.  And 3% is achievable - because it is not a pendulum but a slow steady climb of a hill. 

So in the new year, the second half of the school year, I want to focus on the on-line portion and the flipping portion.  Those are the 2 items that seem to have the largest return.  And just try to be a sliver better each day.  I also have agreed to present this homework change at the Wisconsin Math Council conference in May, so I really would like to show "more" progress than I currently have had.

And while I don't think my room screams 2013 - it definitely is no longer says 1985.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

What I control

Lately I have been doing a large amount of reflecting on what I control in a classroom (working from Whitaker's 14 things great teachers do ).  I cannot control what a student does outside my door very easily, heck, it is hard to control them within my room (from a desire to learn perspective - from a classroom management perspective I do okay).

I control myself, the relationships I make, the passion I bring to the room.  If my class is boring whose fault is that!  I know math can be dry -- but I don't have to be. I control my room, my relationships and expectations, the projects we do, and what the students find important.

I cannot control others in the building, or other schools, or in the community or in the state legislature, I can only make sure that I make an environment where my room is a sanctuary of learning the math skills the world requires of today's students.  I try and create a place where we do things the students need to know to succeed - sorry Smarter Balanced Test.   Where students don't strive for an artificial grade but for real skills, real problem solving - skills that will allow them to succeed beyond the walls of my school.  I don't teach math for students to play school but to gain the ability to be successful outside the walls of my room.

Those are the things I control.  And everyday I know I have to approach my room with a desire and fire.  What we do within my room is greatly important.  We work hard to skip merely good and go for great.

I control that.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Competition -- Juda Students and Teacher write contest Lesson plan and win.

So today I received an email for Samsung telling me Juda had won the State competition for their Solve for Tomorrow contest.  I was very excited - winning is good, being the state winner is awesome, round 2 is making a video which is exciting (there are 50 state winners and 5 go to the "finals"), and $20,000 of Samsung products will be great.  And though I did do some work on the grant, it was a combined effort with my Physics class.  They brainstormed, wrote, and are the bigger part of the "win" and more importantly are the major cog in making the next step in our solar, green energy project happen.

Our project is to push hard and make Juda get 10% of its energy from green supplies (increasing another 6% beyond what the current solar array does).  And more importantly showing other schools how they can do this project.  Rolling out our documents, our lessons, and using our video to get people excited.  Students can make change.  It will help by showing how they can get green, reduce their school's operating costs and show how students, whether in a class or an organization, can take ownership in making their school, their community, their world a better place.  Our video will support this vision!

So today I am simply over-joyed, so were my students.  Tomorrow we start this year's project - with funding already there.  Ahhh.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

School Spotlight! Juda makes Wisconsin State Journal

So one of the things the Physics class did with the solar installation was to get publicity for our school and green energy.  And we were really pleased to be put into the Wisconsin State Journal (1 of the 2 really major papers in the southern part of the state).

Read it here!  I am feeling really good about it!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Real world consequences? Responsibility? Our job is skills.

If you teach you have heard this from some teacher, "XYZ student does not do his/her work, if they don't do anything what can I do?  And if I do something special, is that fair? Am I really preparing him/her for the real world?  What about responsibility?"

Responsibility? Real world consequences?  Interesting thought, interesting title; let me be clear that High School is not the real world, it is a student world.  And while performance in HS is important, the "direct relationship" between HS performance and job performance is not a guarantee.   I fired a lot of "smart" people who played school well in my previous career.  We shouldn't teach responsibility at the HS level as a pass/fail; we must make sure they have skills, responsibility is second.  (And ever time I hear an employer whine about responsibility - I simply think of supply and demand - pay little, get little.  Interview poorly, get poor hires.) 

We need to try to make sure that responsibility is there, that students understand the difference between HS and the world. But my number one job is make sure my students have enough math to move on outside my walls - I cannot let a student's irresponsibility be an excuse.  That includes the kids who won't play school and do not want to do their work.

I completely believe with students who don't care about their grade that they need more assistance, the world requires them to have a diploma.  When, we teachers, let them fail we are creating a problem and not doing our job.  (Now a disclaimer or point of order, even when we do our job they may fail because the other edge of this sword is not lowering standards.)  We need to make sure, work towards, all students getting the learning done.  Thus the C word, consequences; preferably like the real-world would give.  Cause an F does not motivate them, a zero doesn't, those are not consequences for someone not playing school.

And while HS is their job now, it is not real-world  job.  We can talk about expectations but we cannot treat students who won't play school that school is like a real job.  Cause it simply isn't. 

And why would we want HS to be real-world!  In the world decisions are made more often about money and productivity, not about people - the world will make relationships but only with employees who have made a commitment to the business (and in corporate America that really does not happen).  In school every day can be new with students, chances can be plentiful.  And that is great -- firing and laying people off is overrated and  NO FUN!

So when a student does not work, I work with them.  I don't make it about grades, I make about a skill - about their future.  I also tell them that my job is not to just let them fail - I am suppose to make failing harder than passing!  I make the skill so important that I will pull them from lunch, before school, after school -- from study hall, you name it - I will do it.  And not surprisingly if they get success once and know you care, they start at least doing the minimum.

And if you think that is easy, you are not a teacher.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Great Teachers Do Differently -- Thoughts on Whitaker's Book

So I just finished reading Todd Whitaker's book What Great Teachers Do Differently (here is a link to a  document with some of the book ideas).  It was a pleasant book to read, it was kind of a gathering of ideas that supported the basic idea that great teachers care about kids; they form a relationships, they do what is best for kids, etc.

But I took away a couple of things for me, that I did not find "common."  First, the idea that great teachers don't make rules based on one to two students or parents.  This meaning deal with trouble directly, not with the entire class but those who need the attention, which I already did.  But more importantly ask yourself what would my best students think - that is a great phrase because that is what the world does with employees too.  If my best students/parents find a note that comes home about a rule insulting - don't send it!   Deal with the 2 of 30 students who are causing an issue.

I already did not have a lot of rules and I preach "fair-ness over equal-ness," meaning each person is treated fairly - that does mean people are treated slightly differently depending on the situation and needs of the student. And that is okay, that is how the world works.  If one student needs attention for behavior, I deal with that one student.  If one student has an issue and cannot do homework for a couple of days, I excuse that student.  The teacher must make the decision and must do his or her best to be fair (NOT EQUAL).

The second thing I took from the book was the reminder that I only control me.  I am the variable in the classroom that I can control.  The teacher can really only change his or her performance!   It is my job to reach out, prod and push these students - to make sure they are doing math each day in my room at least.  And if we (the student and I) can get 45 minutes per day of effort on math - then we can almost always progress through the math requirements for a HS diploma.  Cause that diploma is the ticket to nearly everything in the workplace.  And we don't let 15 year olds make life alternating decisions without pushing them hard, at a minimum, in a positive direction.

Again it is nice read, short -- and makes you reflect on what you are doing in your classroom.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Can we teach students who refuse to learn? Are we really asking that question?

Recently read a post on loafers, where a math teacher let it be known that he felt it was sad that 382  people voted "yes" that we can teach students who do not want to be taught (out of 734 votes).  Yep, I am one of them. 

The question was "If a student does not want to be taught, can we teach him/her successfully?"  Now 352 said no, and I think we all agree that you simply can refuse and you don't have to do anything (student and teacher alike). But what myself and 381 other people believe is that our job is to reach out and help find a way - and there are ways.  Though those ways are tough and not part of the "normal" school but can be effective.  The question itself is flawed.

The post also stated indirectly that if we are helping these students we must be lowering our standards. I think it is self-centered on the part of the asker to believe that we (or me) are enabling, or just passing students  - which I don't do.   I find ways for students to learn, I assess and progress.

I feel the idea that I have to lower to standards to teach "loafers" allows the asker to feel okay about giving up on a loafer student.  I think the question that was asked turns into a question about responsibility, and it cuts both ways.  There is teacher responsibility and student responsibility -- but are they really equal?  Is it a 50/50 deal?  Are a teacher and a obstinate student equal?  Should we allow a 15 year old to make a life altering decision without a ton of pressure from teachers to push them down a course of graduation?

When I hear teachers take a line of questioning such as the above question, I immediately think they are looking for a way to say they cannot reach all.  But we should accept the challenge and try- especially in math where so many students decided whether they can or cannot before stepping into the room.  It is our job to find ways.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Focus on Energy - Solar Project

Enjoyed receiving the grant money from Focus on Energy, so we (me and the Physics class) decided to video the check opening!  Yup - I am that guy.

We also have completed the Power Plant page so anyone can what is happening with the panels!  So that is it - project = DONE!

So just like the video said - we are done with the 24 panel install.  But we have already started saving for Phase 2 - 12 more panels!  So to be part contact Juda Schools and tell them you want to help!  $$

Friday, November 15, 2013

Math Meet is for all.

I was already convinced that everyone can and should be part of math team.  But I had another student who "surprised" me this year at the big Tri-State Math Meet at UW-Platteville this November and gives the case for why that is true.

I took about 50% of the High School this year, 51 students (out of 95) and set them in their teams with our t-shirt.

We had pizza, talked math, did math and had fun.  And a young man - who I probably would not have selected if I brought only 1 team placed on the All-Academic team!  Again - it can be and should be for everyone

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Finalist! "Official" Press Release!

A big part of teaching is letting the community know what is happening - it is something I take very seriously. Whether I am writing up an article about curriculum, the math team or anything - but especially positive things.  So below is the article for the Samsung Contest:

Juda selected as State Finalist in Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest
JUDA – Juda School is pleased to announce that Scott Anderson and his Physics class have been selected as one of the five state finalists in Wisconsin in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest.
Juda used their Physics STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) solar project as a basis for their contest entry, stating: At Juda we incorporate real world projects within the curriculum;  we research projects and create a variety of solutions.  This contest would allow us to chase our next big project which is always decided through student brainstorming about our school and our community.  Our last large project is just finishing, where we are researching ways to reduce Juda school's carbon footprint.  The students investigated many projects and now 2 years after the initial assignment we are installing a 24-panel array.   These are STEM projects with real-world results.
Since 2004, Samsung’s education programs have contributed more than $13 million in technology to more than 500 public schools in the U.S. In 2010, Samsung unveiled a new contest initiative called Solve for Tomorrow to foster more enthusiasm in STEM education. Together with industry and other partners, the Solve for Tomorrow contest uses technology as a motivator to raise awareness and interest in STEM learning among teachers and students.
Samsung stated that “We were amazed by the quality of entries that we received this year and applaud your dedication to inspiring your students, improving your local communities and fostering STEM education in your school.”   Juda was selected out of the more than 2,300 applications to be one of the five best in Wisconsin. Just for being a finalist Juda is receiving two Samsung Galaxy Tablets to aid in their classroom instruction! 
 Juda is now competing against four other schools to be the state winner.  Should Juda win, they would receive a video technology kit and a technology package valued at $20,000.

 Mr Anderson and his Physics class are now completing the next phase of the contest – creating a  “lesson plan” that will serve as the outline for their project and accompanying video.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Projects - Hard Work But Good Returns -- Solar Dedication!

Projects take work. But hard work leads to good days!  Today was a good day - we had our solar dedication today.  We spoke about the project, about student lead projects and how when given time students produce!

We had a small crowd but was visited by the Wisconsin State Journal - watch for an Article about the Juda Physics Class on some Tuesday (soon)!

Here are some pictures:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Excited today! PBL recogition

I am happy to annouce, brag, that Juda has become a finalist in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Grant.  We are one of five finalists in the state of Wisconsin!  I wrote the initial grant requesting money for what we do in our Physics course.   Every Physics class picks and does a community or school STEM project -- the goal is to pick and complete a project that helps the Juda community.  We installed the solar panels with the last class and our currently in the process of selecting a project for this year's class now.

It is Project Based Learning at its best - students selecting and completing projects - how can't it be real world?  They are doing it. 

Not sure of our chances going forward but I am having the class complete the second phase of this grant with me, we need to put what we are going to do into a lesson plan.  And no matter what happens the students are doing.  (Also won 2 Samsung tablets for being a finalist so that is cool too!)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How we teach matters

So I am still on my thought that my job is teach them all, versus just the students who play school.  But I had a couple comments about how hard those students are -- and I agree.  It can be a frustrating bunch of students (and all we can do is be optimistic and make each day new).  But I will tell you they don't want to fail, they want to succeed if there were a way in their mind, so my job is to make a path for their acquisition of problem solving abilities so they can become part of our world. 

That last part is important - does a student going to tech school, the armed forces, or the workplace really need matrices and complex numbers -- no.  Does a student not studying STEM even need that?  Again I think - no.  They need  the ability to pass basic algebra and math - that is why in my district I still split Algebra 1 into two years (1A and 1B) - while many of my comrades have removed 1A and 1B and try to get all students thru Algebra 2 in High School.  I simply try and make sure they can handle the math of the world and can think about math.   Many schools not only require Algebra 2 but they load Algebra 2 with high level math, does a student at technical school need to graph hyperbolas or be able to multiple large matrices -- again my answer is no.

They need to be able to graph lines, understand how to solve linear relationships, how to understand interest (the exponential nature) and they need to have practiced persistence.  I was engineer and never did hyperbolas -- did I use idea of symmetry, the idea of input/output - you bet, but that would be pre-calculus (again pre meaning needed for calculus so for STEMs).

So I approach every student with the decision that they must get knowledge.  My job is to find a way -- if grades don't matter, find a relationship and let them know they need to work for me.  And that is the key make a relationship, commit to them and then get them to commit to you.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Preparing students is my job, even those who would rather not be students

I see my job as to make sure all the students in my room get enough math to be ready for the world with respect to college and career.  Thus when a student does not want to learn, refuses to do homework, etc I do many things.  One thing is for sure, a student is not "allowed" to sit and take an F in my room.

Not to say every student passes, but I also do not let 16 year olds make life decisions such as "I don't need math." or "I don't need a dipolma."  I simply don't use grades as a motivator.  If a student is motivated by grades I don't have to worry about that student's effort. If he or she isn't, well, then we have to find what does motivate them.

This year I have a few more students who are not too interested in school than usual.  So the last thing I do is use a traditional homework/study/test class setting for those students.  Given the opportunity they would cause disruptions, try to sleep (which I don't allow either), or some other less than helpful thing and simply fail.  Again it is a young adult making a poor decision, my job is to help guide.

And since I believe what I teach is a key to their future success I make it my job to get them to do enough to learn what they need.  That means all kinds of things, students staying before and after school.  Students eating lunch with me (how cool is that - eating lunch with me - the math teacher!).  Adjusting homework so we get what we need - everyone does not have to do it the same.

Now I hear teachers say that does not prepare them for work - for the responsibility.  But school's number one job is to get them the problem solving skills, responsibility is usually something not learned at school - simply punished.  And it is funny, the worst students can often be good employees - saw it many times.  They realize the difference between a job and school and perform as required.

My job is to make school their job - forget grades - grades only prove knowledge by some instance in time, we are after them being ready for the world - that is not a grade thing.

So I keep on pushing, challenging, annoying and some of my students may dare-say harassing them to do their work - but in the end they need the skills and the diploma - and that is my job - to drag them through.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


I had a training session on Monday at our local CESA (a regional educational support building/system with consultants for a number of high schools) with Jon Bergmann about flipping my classroom.  It really reinforced my belief that it is not just technology but about relationships and best use of time.

My big challenges remain the same.  How to get students watching videos, how I make sure they are watching videos and how I change my class.  And that is the rub for me, I rarely lectured before.  About 10 minutes out of 45 in the past, and then we worked together -- it may have been large projects, small practice problems, sometimes now I use Khan in lab so students practice what they are still mastering - but it was always doing.  But this 35 minutes of time on problems is not greatly differentiated, so that is the next step.  How do I get the spectrum wider, handle the management and get better growth in my students (and growth is not some CCSS test). 

Again is slow incremental change, slightly better tomorrow than today.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Changing - The goal is to be better.

We are in the middle of a shift or moving towards the extreme end of a pendulum swing currently with the Common Core Standards.  We can already see people now moving against the core and I don't think it is bad or good - it is too much too fast.  And that is the problem with education - lets be great tomorrow - students must get there and be great - immediately.  But my goal has never changed in my eight years of education since I came from private industry - I simply want to be slightly better tomorrow than I was today. 

Personally I have worked hard at making my curriculum "college and career ready" - using the ACT as my guide (an Aligned by Design mentality).  It is the test that about half my students need to do well on and does indicate whether they are ready for college math or not.

 I started this mission on college readiness in 2010 following a conference (another subject another time).   And the mission was simple and small, to start reducing the percentage of students taking remedial math in college.  My mission, now three years later, is for all my Algebra 2 students to test into credit math at college or tech school, which is something education currently struggles with - somewhere from 33-40% test into remedial, non-credit college, math.  I have had success in this by making my students accountable for all math - at all times.  So Algebra 1's grade is 50% pass material, Geometry is 50% Algebra, Algebra 2 is 50% Geometry and so forth.  We don't take time on the material but simply use recursive assessments to make sure students use it enough not to lose it.  I think of it as two, 15 minute power review sessions during the week -- except the review session is just a quiz.  But the important thing is, it is one small thing to be just a little bit better tomorrow than today.

Either way, no matter what I do or how I do it - I just want my students to be better than yesterday.  Just to progress  daily - 2% improvement year after year is the goal.  By doing that I have had success, so my question is not what is the next big thing I am doing - but what is the next small thing.  The large pendulum swings just does not work.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Does math homework work? (Really work?)

Practice is a key for learning math.  I don't believe there is much argument with that in the math world.  Some people need a little practice, some more - but how that practice is done, when, etc is a really big difference between math teachers.  The carrots and sticks we use, I wonder if we think about that often enough.  When is homework effective, how much should we give and on what topics?  To really discuss homework, we have to think about what our goal is mathematically.

My goal is not the Common Core, I run to its standards but my goal is to have students ready for college credit math, and have the ability to do math in a problem solving context for the world.  They need to a toolbox of skills but also the ability to handle problems including finance, research and justification.  So homework is for building the toolbox and using the tools for problem solving & revision. 

And since I accept that homework is to reinforce previous knowledge versus to learn new things or to work on projects - I use homework differently.  To start with I do not assign current material - because I need conceptual understanding before I let a student work on it alone.  And if that is the case why take precious class time reviewing it?  Secondly the projects I assign, starting every October for the remaining part of the year, are big multiple revision, multiple solution exercises.  This two prong approach meets my philosophy and the goal I have for my students.

My class periods are for working and gaining understanding on topics that may too difficult for homework.  And remember everyone once struggled with 2*6, meaning there is time where it is hard, a time where it can be practice with guidance and time it can simply be reviewed in homework.

That thought process leads me to provide all solutions to daily practice homework - they need to do the work. but the students need to know they are doing it correctly.  It has also lead me to using computer programs for practice - I use Khan mostly - because it is free.  It is also fights the number one problem - just doing anything to finish.

I was one of "those" students back in the day - I either copied, wrote just answers, used old homework assignments (just change the section number on the top), or just did not do the homework.  It may have slowed my progress but like most 16 year old students I did not  care.  How many students that age really think that math is important?  Especially the context-less math that usually gets assigned.

So as we assign the homework - that you know the A/B students will do it just for the assessments (the tests) and that the C students are copying and that the rest are not doing - is it really working?  What is it for?  Are those low B students on-down really ready for the world and college?

Does your math homework make sense?  It is a question I continually ask myself.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Planning is tough

So as I sit finishing my lesson plans for the week, I am left with the thought of how tough it can be to plan a week in advance.  And how I often I deviate from the plan, and if I deviate, and I do, why plan?

I plan cause it makes me reflect on the goals for the next short duration, it makes me consider what I really want the student to understand and be able to apply to real problems in the immediate time frame - always being able to create, revise, and create.  I also hope to instill a belief they can do anything and a tenacity to not stop pushing forward - whether it is revisions or learning new skills or doing what it takes. 

And I consider that every Sunday night as I plan my week.  Nearly all the things I plan happen - but often I find what I would like to get to by Friday is actually the following Monday (that is probably the optimist in me).

It is tough to plan - and plans change, but the reflection is really the important part - because then I deliver on my commitment to reflect on how to make learners.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Turning on the Solar

Check it out!  We turned on the solar today!  Just over 2 years to do the project - and today we started generating about 4 kW right away on a partly sunny day!  (at about 1:00 pm)

It is a pretty sweet feeling -- a student lead project that has real world positive effects.  The only reason I get the glory is that all the students who started the project are at college!

PBL at work.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Green Energy - Week One of Installation

Last week our vendor, Synergy Renewable, came and did some measurements and met their new "project managers" - the 2013-14 Physics class.    We are very excited, and most of the install is now done!  It is really a great finish to a project that started 2 years ago with the Physics class of 2011-12 (we offer Physics every other year at my school).

With effort and tenacity big projects can happen!  Take a look!

The inverter will arrive in the next day or two and then we will be powering our green school!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Flipping pains - still moving forward

So as I try to flip my room I find some small problems and I myself to be a problem.

So one of the issues I am having is trouble with internet and students adapting to watching videos for homework.  In our rural community some students do not have access to reliable internet, so as an instructor I must be prepared to give multiple days for assignments (just have to adapt my plans).  I also must do a better job of checking that they do the videos (notes).

I have always found checking homework to be a task.  Sometimes I collect it or check it at the desk, or just tell the students that it will wait for the next day.  I know some homework has value, but the class time is always more valuable - but the videos are a higher priority.  They need to be watched prior to the class time to be really effective and that means my attitude must evolve.   But as your typical cro magnon man I find that difficult.

I need to keep focus - but all the preps wear on you.  The main thing is that I take small steps - if I keep small stepping the flipping will eventually get there.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Calculators, the math wars and the self-righteous. Where's the middle ground?

The math self-righteous, the all or nothing gang, always right, always my way  - they seem to be everywhere.  I am trying to figure out am I one?

Every week I receive posts on both sides of issues and the bloggers always land squarely on one side of an issue.  I just read a post/comment about not using a calculator as a tool for graphing for y = -2x + 1, one teacher mentioned wanting a paper and pencil understanding and another blog jockey called that just absurd - technology ahoy.

Yet at the same time the paper and pencil person did not mention how we prepare students for the world (maybe he/she does, and feels this is a basic concept), and the tech person made no mention of how we make sure the student really understands lines without simply typing the equation into the calculator (maybe he meant for there to be more interaction from teacher, coupled with deep understanding - but the comment read like an accusation).    

The real thing here is how does the calculator and the paper/pencil person tie the relationship of independent and dependent variables? Or how we estimate from a graph, or how we use slope in a real world application, or y-intercept.  Their statements miss the point of teaching a high level concept that can be applied in our world.  Their just making statements: calculator good ugh!  Calculator no good ugh!

Where is the middle ground?  I blog with no intent of having any feeling of success with this, because the issues lead to polarization.  There has to be a blended approach - basic understanding and an ability to use the tools available.

So there is a middle ground - rarely mentioned.  As teachers our students need to be ready for the world, that means calculators and the tools of the world (and don't let TI {Texas Instruments} fool you - the TI calculator has not been a typical tool in the world).    And the paper/pencil person is right - we need to be able to think of the basics and understand how to do by hand.  Cause without understanding how do you use a tool?

So I feel like I stand in "no-man's land."  I do both - on the basic ideas and concepts I expect proficiency with and without a calculator.  There are times we use technology to discover concepts and other times where I *gasp* lecture. 

Either way we get the skills needed for each student to be successful on their next step away from Juda High.  Problem solvers who are ready to use their tools and can do the basic math that is demanded of the workplace, tech school or college.   We use our tools - calculators, computers, etc. to address big problems and big concepts.  And we can set them down and do the basics.  It can go both ways....

Dammit I am one.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Watched first flipped videos today!

So today, on our first full day of school, I had the Algebra class and Physics class watch my flipped videos and take notes on them in class (links are in titles).  And it went well, the students said they see the advantages and are excited to try it.  They understood the need to take notes and worked through it with me -- best of all it took less time and the students had better engagement.

So the first step is done!  I had set my lessons to watch all videos together this week, doing a few homework problems at home and reevaluate next week.  But I am already thinking of flipping Friday so they can start at home.   I will see how tomorrow goes then decide.

I am not sure what I expected, I did not think they would fight it but also did not think they would buy-in so easy. I am really glad FIZZ has there independent program with steps to getting you to flip (was the motivation I needed to make videos).

So now to get everyone more comfortable and move videos to homework - then the truly new part - getting better in the hour - making students higher order thinkers!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Flipping Algebra 1 and Physics! Where is the time and why only those courses?

So I am reflecting on why I talk so much during my typical math course!  Probably cause I know so much math! Ha!  Really it is based on a combination of teaching how I was taught and believing I have something really important to say!  Too often I tried to talk a student to understanding. Over the years I have lectured less and less.  Now my flipped videos are about 5-7 minutes, I had lectured about 15-20 minutes last year. But the real question, what was I doing the other 12 minutes?

I really cannot answer that question yet.  Flipping makes me think about the concept harder and simplify.  And hopefully flipping will make the learning process deeper.

Because if flipping works like I hope it does, students in my classroom will have better notes taken outside of class in less of their time and the class hour will be filled with problem solving and critical thinking things.   I have to take it slow, I am only moving my Algebra 1 course and Physics course - and those were picked for specific reasons.

My Algebra group is always new students to me.  As the only HS math teacher all other classes (Geometry, Alg 2 and so on) have had me before and are use to my style.  I did not want to have the battle about "who moved my cheese."  (Good book about change)   Starting with a class that has never been taught by me will make it easier, they won't expect the standard lecture routine I did.  (Though I was not really typical, we never graded homework or review questions from homework -- homework was recursive practice, all 'new' things happened in the hour.  Still running the rest of my classes that way.)

My Physics class is upper level - Juniors and Seniors, based on large projects, labs and daily "mini-projects."  Since it is a high level class I am trying to flip them too, because they are good team to discuss how the videos work and get feedback. Typically the group is self-motivated and driven, and this is science which is different than math, so again the students do not have a preconceived notation on what the class "should look like."  

The biggest challenge will be setting up new hour once the videos replace homework.  But the key will be too talk less and have the students do more.  It is time to become a math coach.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sports and Math -- Why do they have to be different?

Is coaching and teaching different?  So this year I am coaching HS volleyball, and this is not a post on that.  But it is a post about why do we feel there is a difference between coaching a sport and teaching math -- because I think most people think they are different.

A key to coaching is not to talk too much, and it really is tough.  You show them a skill quickly and then give them a chance to replicate and we develop, we make them better - we coach.  Math teaching should be exactly the same - we need to lecture less.

All too often we seem to think we can talk our way to their understanding.  I have been working hard at making flipped videos for my Algebra class and while I rarely lectured more than 20 minutes - these videos are falling between 4 to 8 minutes.  So what was I doing the other 14 minutes?  (A post for later)

I just need to work on guiding more, talking less.  And remind myself, repeatedly, that students learn from doing, not listening (and I would argue a minority really listen and understand when I do lecture).  But the key will be too talk less and have the students do more.  It is time to become a math coach, get the players active and develop.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Why flip my classroom?

So this year I am 'flipping,' recording mini-lectures, and asking my students to watch a video for homework -- in essence I am 'flipping' the lecture and homework. I see it as a way to help differentiate for my students and gain precious class time.  Some students, maybe even a majority (arguable), do okay with the traditional lecture, but that leaves a large portion who cannot follow the lecture due to many factors - whether they struggle or excel, or are more kin esthetic -- the point is lectures are not the best for a sizable segment of a class.

And it looks like the videos will really work well for nearly all the students -- this is based on the instructional videos I have been watching at FIZZ.  The traditional lecture students will still get what they need, the advanced students can fast forward and students that want or need more review can stop me and repeat me!

The challenge will be planning higher order activities in the open time.  I am starting slowly, just my Algebra Class and maybe a couple of Physics things.   And as I finish the first group of 20-30 videos I will spin my attention to how the class will run from bell-to-bell.

It means changing the work they do, how they do it and how they show they did it.   Now the FIZZ site does have a team grouping worksheets and a lesson plan that I want to work with (just starting to work with it).  It kind of matches what I want to start doing, which is taking more time with students working out problems in groups and presenting out solutions. 

But I also want to have them spend more time working out bigger problems too.  Ones requiring research, assumptions, conjectures and revisions.  And I truly believe this is how we will make students ready for the world.  So watch out world - here comes math videos co-starring Mr. Anderson, remember the math is the star.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Homework in 2013, changing what I do -- how to keep the class "high-level"

So I posted some of the things I am working on with respect to homework before and I am still trying to figure out the last part.  The last part was how to get my students the practice they need and have it be more like 2013 versus 1985, which I previously posted as:

Finally the workbook/text book combo.  I am currently looking for ways to move low level things out of my class (by flipping, out of class reading/note taking, etc) and doing a combo of text reading (needed for college) and ....

So I have been trying to figure out what this workbook/text combo idea looks like and how it fits into my classroom.  The more I work at it, the more I lean towards flipping the classroom and having problems completed in class.  I still remain quite unsure of how it will work but have located a resource.

I have been following the FIZZ ideas for how to flip (about style of video, content, etc) and have basically completed their entire first module, I am actually now applying but either way I am again moving forward with their ideas.

I like it because it has that teacher touch, my students taking instruction from me.  It also makes me really think about what I am teaching, how I will integrate and follow up on.  There are plenty of details but I have upload my first couple of videos (fractions, classify triangles by angles and/or sides) and they are better than my previous ones I feel - so it is progress!  With school only 3 weeks away I now have a path (at least).

Again - no more 1985.....

Monday, August 5, 2013

Problem Based Learning - Real problems, real solutions -

How do you get students interested in what is going on?  How do you make them understand real world things like ROI and payback?  How do you make students justify and defend?

You do real world things.  We did the green energy thing, and we will finish that project shortly.  So now it is encore time.  What other real world things can students do?

LED Lighting, Roof gardens, Water reduction, Insulation (heating/cooling) reduction -- what else?
Figuring out what is next is challenging -- leave a comment, help me out!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Green Energy - Putting Solar at Our School -- Two

So this has been an excellent week for green energy at my school. Thanks to tremendous community support we have been able to raise over 25% of the system cost (over $5000) with donations and grants.  (Synergy Renewable also donated labor to help lower our overall cost.)

This brought the payback of the system into a reasonable range for our school!  And this past week the board approved the purchase of Juda's first solar array.  This is a commitment to the school, the community, the students and is a great support of our educational initiative to have the students do real world work.  The students created a project that worked and will have be helping the district reduce costs for decades.

We are now proceeding with a 24 panel, 4.3 kW system that is warrantied for 25 years.  And the day we get it install it will lower our electric bill!  It will supply less than 5% of our needed power but it is a start (because the first step is hardest, the next step is always easier).

And due to the support we were able to buy a system that was slightly larger than our smallest plan!  We may have even more support coming yet which would allow us to buy a slightly larger inverter thus allowing for another row or  12 panels to be added in the future.

This project showed that you just have to hold on to good ideas, cause sometimes things simply take time.  The project will meet all the goals the Physics class of 2011-12 except one - which was to install the spring/summer 2012.  

Yet I call the project a complete success.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Green Energy - Putting Solar at our school

Two years ago I started a project with my Physics class to research green energy for our school.  It included all reports, vendor contacts, etc -- and I sat back and advised but did not teach it.  I let the students find their way.

Now we are closing in on it happening!  When you combine curriculum, problem solving and real world things together cool stuff happens (true PBL!)!  Here is an article we did a couple of weeks ago for the local papers:

Green Things Take Time

            Two years ago the 2011-2012 Juda Physics class embarked on the ambitious project to install a green energy system at Juda school.    It was a year-long project incorporated into the Physics class.  “Sometimes good things take time” may be the best statement about the solar panel project at Juda School. 

The project consisted of students’ research, reports, studies, project bids and studies, and timelines.   The students’ assessment determined that a 24 panel roof-mounted solar array was the best fit for the school with a price of approximately $25,000.  The students gathered bids from multiple suppliers, checked and organized permits, completed an energy audit, updated project progress to the school board and many other tasks.  But as teacher Scott Anderson stated “I am extremely proud of the project they created, but like many green projects the payback was just too high to immediately proceed without some additional funds.”

So working with the selected solar supplier, Synergy Renewable Systems located in Oregon, a grant was applied and received from Focus on Energy.  The $3,755 grant helped clear a big hurdle towards the additional funding the project needed; that grant along with a $2,000 labor credit from Synergy and some funding from student organizations, has now brought the project to the brink of being a reality.

            The previous and current Juda Physics classes are now asking local businesses and community members for support to help fulfill their vision of a green school.  They see the solar array not only as a power source but as a source of school and community pride.  “This will change how Juda’s students think about energy and power; it will also change the culture of our students with respect to energy.” says Scott Anderson

The goal is to get enough funding so the project is able to proceed this summer prior to the start of school.  To see progress of the solar project, or to help fund the project please visit  


Thursday, July 18, 2013

If a student does not want to be taught, can we teach him/her successfully?

Found this poll question in a Linkedin group that I am a member of:   

If a student does not want to be taught, can we teach him/her successfully? 

My answer to the poll was yes and I comment the following: 

"Absolutely YES, usually our problem with students "who do not want to be taught" is that they really just don't want to fit into our system. Our system of education is rigid and really inflexible. It may take different ways and way more time but it is always possible. Whether it can be done practically is another story, but yes we can." 

The thing I started reflecting on beyond why ask the question at all is what was the author visualizing or wanting to know.  Obviously if someone dedicated themselves to not doing something they typically succeed.  But who knows a properly cared for 6 year old who won't try somewhat for a teacher?

I think it is the previous sentence most people taking the poll did not picture.  I think most people picture an older student not doing work, refusing, being a classroom management issue.  Now the question - what happened from when they were six?  Why won't they try?

Because they have been there, done that.  They have been placed in a system that sorts and throws away.  Where staff - even the ones who believe they should reach all students, routinely lose some.  Because our system does not guide and nuture the student who does not fit or really struggles but outcasts and ostracizes them.

And if you have tried in the past and have had no success, feel no teacher believed in you or took the time to go outside the system, then why try now (it makes complete sense from an emotional perspective).  They believe school does not work for them the way it was designed (and their belief is what is most important for their ability to learn).   So once you get to that point as a teacher you need to start from scratch and found a way (ton of work, very slow return!).

Because our job is not opportunity to learn (like college), it is to prepared them for life -- and not getting the education you need to succeed should not be an option.

And when the student refuses to learn from me, and it happens - it is a failure on me.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Turn-over today feels different. Has teaching lost respectability?

So another staff member is on the move again.  Small schools are accustom to it.  In a small district you find yourself with more preps and less pay.  It is simply more work for less money.  Thus there is a lot of turnover.

Those that work in a small school do it for a variety of reasons: young staff gaining experience so they can move on to more money, local people who live in the area (that can be hit/miss on quality - really lucky at my school), or the truly power hungry (like me - I love teaching it all and making the final decision on how to deliver curriculum, 9th - 12th).  Fortunately in the past we were respected and appreciated by the super-majority of people which is a fringe that made teaching worth it, that though is slowly back-sliding to a simple majority.

And without a super-majority the fringe value disappears, I end up dealing with people that think you teach because you are inferior at your trade, or that anybody can teach, and those moments are some of the most infuriating/depressing moments of my year (a super-majority suppresses these people).  Without the super-majority the year after year raises that kept pay stable (based on real buying power) are gone; raises when they are not frozen are less than cost of living.  That drives people to make decisions on finances, because bad pay and bad public perception is a horrible combination.  And though we say we want the best in education, we pay for mediocrity.  And as we backslide more, the number of people who will work for less and feel like "getting their ass kicked by public perception" keeps decreasing (and professionalism will disappear too, people act as expected).

And I feel it is that backslide from a super-majority supporting education to a simple majority that contributes to the number of staff moving on to non-teaching positions -- the percentage of staff leaving education as a whole seems to be quickly growing.  When I started 8 years ago staff left for one of two reasons -- a new teaching job or retirement.  But that seems to be changing, now a small district cannot be called a statistical significant experiment, but this year 50% of the staff that resigned has left the teaching profession.  And this is not because of our local district or board, but a nationally undermining of education.

More decisions about what is important, how we teach and how we test are happening further and further from our district.  More of my dealings are with 'people' (or departments, state agencies, etc) that want to hold me accountable but limit my tools.  People in my area, Board members, parents, school supporters want to give me the tools, but the funding occurs way above them.   And the further away you get from our district the less the minority thinks about education, and all it takes is a simple minority to rule education through misinformation, when there is no super-majority supporting education it starts to lose.  Everywhere I hear education as a whole is broken, but my kid's school is good -- that is the minority selling snake-oil; schools need to be more responsive and work harder on continuous improvement but that is a detail, not a reason to rail against public education (or to simply starve it which is what I think is happening).    Soon what the minority screams about education will be correct because we will have starved it of its good people.

It is the perception that the minority is selling that all education is broken that is breaking all schools.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Real Math Problems - Changing what students do.

So as I proceed on making math practice look like it is 2013 versus 1985 (Previous Post), I am working hard on a list of problems that require students to think, research, analyze, conclude and support solutions.  The funny part is the problems themselves are not long. They are open ended and usually moderately interesting.

At the Wisconsin Math Council conference I heard a great problem from Dave Ebert's presentation that sets the tone for all my problems; it was simply a video of a cheetah running down an antelope and the following question: 

A cheetah and a gazelle are on the African plain, does the cheetah catch the gazelle?

This question requires the student to do all the things we want from them.  We all realize a cheetah runs faster than antelope during a burst but for a short duration, it requires a piece-wise function in my opinion.  Otherwise all gazelle would be caught!

But students are going need to be taught that the above problem is math versus doing 1-25 odds on page 666 (and parents too).  And that will be the really hard part.  

So I am working on a list of milestones with deliverables for when I first assign problems like the cheetah problem this coming year.  Otherwise someone, a mini-Scott, will simply answer "sometimes" to the whether the cheetah catches the gazelle.   (My penetence for being a smart-a** in HS is teaching them all now.)  What we want is just too different not to guide the students at first. I am initially thinking it is a 4 week assignment, where I will guide students through stages of the projects.     

This is not set in stone and will be evolving on a Google doc, but right now I have the following milestones:

   1) In a reflection explain what the answer to the problem will look like.  
   2) Define an “entry point” on the problem (by e-mail?, combine with #1?)
   3) Define unknowns and things to research
   4) Gather knowns from research (be sure to cite and check)
   5) Create solution
   6) Test solution
   7) Revise
   8) Prepare final document

Also a sampling of problems:

A bridge is being built across the Wisconsin River, what gap should be left between sections.

You are following a car on the interstate, you pull off to use the restroom at a wayside.  How long will it take you to catch up again?

Determine whether global warming is occurring in Juda?

Determine the amount of money saved by the solar array at the school for July 2013.

Again I see these problems working in tandem with on-line practice, using every minute of every period for concepts/practice versus students "starting homework" and as integral part of a class that uses PBL to deliver the required curriculum.

I know this is not easy, I know students will "fight change,"  people always do.  But I also know that solving problems is the skill the separates people in the world - and at the least my students will have practiced that skill.