Sunday, March 30, 2014

Now it's 2014, any progress on changing how the math looks? Is it 1985? Is it 2003? Is it 2014?

So last June I made the simple declaration that math homework was going to look different than 1985 in my room (It's 2013, shouldn't HS daily homework look different than 1985?).  I set up some ideas and defined a mission of my vision going forward.  I was looking at a 3 prong approach to practice (homework): weekly practice, projects with milestones, and combo of workbook/text problems (1-2 times per week). 
Now we are done with 3/4 of the school year, so how does homework look in my room?   Is the "time-machined math teacher" from 1985 comfortable in my room, or would he/she think it is a futuristic math room?  What year is my room?  (I will answer those questions at the end)

But first - how do the three prongs look like currently?  First, I did start by having weekly practice on IXL Math and Khan Academy.  I felt the review and feedback would work well.  For high schoolers I quickly discovered that IXL was not going to work with me, it is too rote for my students and myself.  Khan worked better and for the first semester I used it as part of the homework, I asked for 2 to 3 focused 20 minute sessions.  Khan would e-mail me each class with a report, which worked okay.  I still found it hard and time consuming to track what my students had done (and that is the kiss of death for me personally).

I continued to keep pencil and paper homework assignments small (about 6 questions) and completely review.  We moved to two times per week with review homework, but the move from daily homework to just a couple of assignments really made me wonder about the value of it.  Over the past few years I have changed my classroom to a point where we do not cover homework questions (it is all review material), we do not grade together (everyone has the answers) and the expectation is for the student to complete and turn homework into a slot by my desk (no stopping class to collect or ask are you done, occasionally I mentioned that "You should turn in your work").  I have just found taking homework questions, grading homework and collecting took too much precious class time.

So as I lowered the homework amount I really reflected on whether this homework had real value, so I let the homework become de-emphaisized -- I did not ask for the work or follow up with students about it.  This underemphasis was quickly picked up by the students and then I had the students who wanted to do well doing the work, and the others would "learn through tests and quizzes."  I discovered a lower limit with regards to homework, without it student performance started dropping (I really was truly surprised!).  So we went back to occasionally mentioning of the homework, making minor pushes for it and 'making' students do it; now student learning is back up.

Second, I had mentioned a workbook to get some practice on concepts and skills in my original post.  The goal of the workbook was practice, but I was concerned about the rote nature of worksheets.  What I needed was more time in the classroom to integrate problems in the course of the 44 minutes to keep students skills "in-practice."  Plus I really did not have the budget for workbooks.  So instead of a workbook, I flipped the first semester of Algebra 1 (Playlist 2).   And it has worked alright!  I plan to continue this next year and expand it into other courses.

Finally third, we continued our large scale projects.  I have slowly (so slowly) added more milestones, but this part of the change will have to continue into the summer and future school years. (Pay Day Loan Algebra 1, Stocks Algebra 2 and Constructing a house Geometry)  The long term goal with the projects is to have them become a larger part of the curriculum and make them tie better to direct mathematical concepts, for example teach area of a parallelogram through the house project versus lecturing on it and using it in the house project.  This PBL idea for math is still slowly, glacier-ally slowly happening.  (Though in my Physics class we have add a year long class project very successfully, our school is driving towards have 10% of our energy generated on site done by the class.)

So "Has it worked?" is the wrong question, is it making my room 2% better per year is a more appropriate question.  And yes, my room is evolving and getting better.  The projects are good and I am adding milestones (success).  The flip lessons were a great start in flipping and have worked well (success).  The on-line component has been too much work and has gone from a major weekly component in the first semseter, to once per week,  so we are back to paper/pencil homework 4 times per week. (in process). The on-line part will take more reflection this summer.

So what would a guest see in our math room?
The typical class now looks like this:  students enter and immediately start the warm-up on the board (usually using expo markers on their desks), we spend the entire period working on math, the room is loud with everyone working on problems, some helping others, some getting help from me.  We hit the recent concepts, the problems that have been a struggle, some easy, some hard.  (No homework help, no grading, no working on tomorrow's assignment - it's homework).  A quick lesson is presented  - where students are often ask to work problems as the lecture is happening.  We work on math for nearly the entire hour, I am guiding the room versus lecturing to it.  We recently received a grant for a new quad smartboard, and instead of just replacing the current board, we moved it to the back of the room - so we have 2!  Now I am trying to keep one student or 2 on the back board at all times, I am constantly having students do the work.  I simply prowl the aisles looking to assist while always remembering to "be less helpful."

Twice a week we have short recursive summative assessments of nonnegotiable mastered material (quiz), once week we have a test on current material and once every 2 weeks we will have a project day.  So 3 days per week there is some sort of recursive assessment, we never test on one concept, or one unit.  The class, the assessments and the homework are always set to make a Juda graduate ready for college and the world.

So is the "time-machined math teacher" from 1985 comfortable in my room, or would he/she think it is a futuristic math room?  What year is my room?  (the end is near....)

A teacher whether from now or 1985 would see plenty of action, practice is done in a variety ways, students always working, very little lecture, and no emphasis on pencil/paper homework.  They would be slightly uncomfortable with how much the students do, or how little I do.  It would be the project days where students justify the math, make assumptions and conclusions and chase projects that would make a time-machined math teacher confused. 

But alas that is only one of ten days, maybe next year it will be 2....