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.