Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Balancing Act - Time reviewing, collecting Homework

So one of my goals is to balance the homework time in class, collecting, dealing with it --- all the time homework takes from doing math in class, and all the time it takes from me planning math (cause it takes time to assign, handle & record) and weighing that time against homework's value. 

And the more I work with the ROI on homework the more I find its value is minimal.  But as I approach the lower limit (no homework time in class) I am finding that some homework has returns with certain students.

It really can be a reflection on extremes - one endpoint, is a class is all about homework: Students come in ask questions, grade, record grades, a quick lecture and then homework (on an unending loop).  The other end is a class with no assigned homework thus no time spent on homework, all the work is done in class and any work done outside of class is students studying math. 

Now after a semester of "finding a lower limit," I believe, for high school,  that no homework is not going to work.  And though I have gotten very low on the amount assigned, there must be an assigned amount of practice.  And that means there must be class time dealing with it.  [Because if you assign it and don't "handle" it - most students will not do it.] 

One note of bias here, when I started working towards the lower limit of homework and finding ways to use other things to replace homework, I must admit that I had/have believed that some homework is needed for the typical math course.

So the new semester is about to begin and I have come to the conclusion that somehow we must spend time working on homework, but different than before.  I want to avoid the age old question/answer & grade/lecture/assign new work thing.  I want to continue to give flexibility for students to take the time to really practice - meaning soft deadlines (which is hard to manage).  I can picture what it looks like - yet I don't know what it looks like.  It means collecting all work, making sure everyone does the work - taking the time to track.  It means tracking and helping students who are missing work - not accepting zeros.   

And we will see if this can be balanced.  Because demanding the work would be easier.  But I also believe that learning happens on independent timelines - and I plan to try to allow it. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Big Day Tomorrow - Rolling out Green Initiative at WASB convention!

So tomorrow the Juda Physics students head to Milwaukee to show what we did.  I wanted to post the handout (brochure) we are using. 

Any school can do this!  Check it out!  Getting excited!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Curriculum & Standards - What is the mission? What is the right decision?

Had a good moment today!  Had a parent pull me aside in a public place (not school) and thank me for helping their student with math.  The student had just completed their math course required at college (college algebra).  It was a student that struggled in all my math courses, a student who I demanded non-negotiable skills from.

The student struggled with grades - usually in the below average range, but I did not make the courses about a grade.  We made it about the skills, the concepts, what the student would have to do at college.  We quizzed, requizzed - worked at skills, would become frustrated and repeat.  I spoke at length with the student prior to graduation that math at college was something that the student could do -- just find the proper math help -- tutors, help centers, etc.  In the end the student got a C+ -- that is awesome!

It is times like this where I feel I have the curriculum balanced properly between how fast and how much mastery - because curriculum speed and mastery are not independent of one another.  My Algebra 2 course - which is college prep - does not go as far as many other school's Algebra 2 courses.  But the material we cover we know; we work hard at having a conceptual understanding of the items we do, and a mastery of the basics.

It means things like delaying the quadratic formula in favor of completing the square first.  Doing Geometry proofs as a few weeks of enrichment versus a semester of memorization.  About making each course a progression of the previous - including the course's grade.  A Geometry grade at my school is about 50% Algebra 1 skills, an Algebra 2 grade is 50% Algebra 1 and Geometry skills.  And so forth - except AP Calculus.

When I think about the trilogy of college prep courses - Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2 -  I am mostly concerned that they learn how to problem solve, have a true mastery of basics skills, and have a tenacity to stick with things - to look for the how and why.  I simply don't care if all the "standards" have been met, I don't care about a grade -- I want the team (student & I) to care about the big picture. 

And the big picture is that we do the things to make students successful.  Because I work for the student, not the 16 year old in my class, but the "future student" - the 23 year old student.  The student who wants the skills, knowledge and tenacity to be successful in their life - that is my math mission, that is how I set up my math curriculum. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Having a Booth at WASB Convention in 2 weeks!

Now that Juda School has installed solar and became a national finalist in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow (SFT) contest - one of the big things we are trying to accomplish is the idea that reducing your carbon footprint as a school (installing solar, etc) is not some sort of huge endeavor that cannot be accomplished.  Every school can do this.  It takes tenacity, time and some leg work, but it is something most schools can accomplish - and I believe - it can be done by students.

And real world projects is what we need to be trying to achieve!  But a road map is really needed for schools and teachers.

That is why I was so excited Friday when the WASB (Wisconsin Association of School Boards) offered to give the Juda Physics students a booth at their Forward Together convention this month.  The staff at WASB was extremely helpful, and now we will be able to showcase our project - as the Samsung SFT StateWinner.

And it helps the students with a big part of our SFT goal(s).  We wanted to show other schools and communities that green projects can be done, there is payback and ways to help reduce a school's carbon footprint.  And now we have the chance to showcase our project, ourselves and our ideas in a building where nearly all of Wisconsin's adminstrators will be for two days.  We should see board members, principals, administrators - it is the chance to meet the people that really can help get our message back to their schools.  We will be handing out DIY packages is the plan!  {If you want a DIY package of our project (a "lesson plan")  please just message me and I will get you a copy once it is done!}

Ahhhhh - another really good day!  Now the challenge to gather all of our materials by January 22nd! 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Project Based Learning - Homework

So just received some publicity in the Wisconsin State Journal for our work in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest - we are using our green project to reduce Juda school's carbon footprint as the basis for the contest.

This is the work that makes students see and do what the real world wants from students.  Big goals, no set plan, students trying and revising -- it is problem solving.  All you have to do is pick a problem and set them free.  If it is a genuine thing and they own it.  Too often we try and control how a project ends, for a project to have a real impact there has to be challenges and chances to fail.

And as the teacher your job is to motivate and keep up the student's level of tenacity.  When that happens good things happen.