Friday, August 16, 2019

What I Learned from my High School Social Studies Teacher

Back in high school there was this Social Studies teacher (Let's call him Mr. A) that made teaching look easy....almost too easy;  like is he even a real teacher kind of easy.  He never seemed to have a lesson plan and I always felt that he was flying by the seat of his pants.  All the other teachers had homework, quizzes, and tests planned.  Planned so much so that they had the time to type them up and copy them before class or at least tell you where to find it in the book.  But not this guy. 

Here's the thing:  I still remember most of what I learned in his classes, but I can't even recall who my 10th grade history teacher was.  I wanted to reflect on why this might be.  Why did I learn so much from a guy who was so unprepared, or was he?

As a teacher myself I know that I was wrong about Mr. A winging it.  Even though he didn't spend his time preparing for class in the copy room, he did come to class prepared.  Here, check out some of the things he did differently from the others and why I now know why they were effective.

He asked the same questions over and over. 
Mr. A would start and end class with the same questions and these questions would be the same throughout the unit we were learning.  At the time I was mildly insulted by these queries.  Does he really think we're that stupid that we can't remember the answers from day to day?  And sometimes, yes, I wouldn't be able to recall the correct answer.  But as the days went by, the information must have started to store in my long-term memory and I didn't have to work so hard to recall the correct answer.  Huh.

He never handed out a test. 
For assessments Mr. A would hand each of us a blank piece of paper then stand at the chalk board at the ready.  He would ask, "What questions should we put on this test?"  This is where I though he was lazy, but I now think he was a genius.  I do want to point out that he would sometimes reject questions or he would act like he just had a great idea for a questions when I'm sure he knew he wanted it the whole time. 
The questions we typically came up with were the ones he repeated over and over throughout the unit.  This would prove to him that we were listening, learning, and most important that we understood the objectives of the unit.  So not only did we know the answers to the questions, we knew the questions too. 
Every once in a while a student would come up with a really great question and that's when he would make you feel like a million bucks.  He would praise you in front of the whole class.  So of course we would all try to come up with the best questions.  And on top of that, you would need to know the answer too. 

So what does this look like on the teacher's end?

For starters you would need to determine what questions to ask over and over again.  I found expert suggestions in the book Hacking Questions by Connie Hamilton.  Specifically chapter 5 entitled Play the Broken Record.  She suggests looking at your lesson objectives and turning those into questions.  I like how Mr. A would bookend each class with these questions and that he did them verbally.  This way when I didn't know the answer to a question, I had immediate feedback from my classmates and would try my best to remember for the next time he asked. 

I have tried Mr. A's method of assessment with my students.  Before class I create a list of objectives that need to be covered in the quiz/test and if the students don't hit that question, I make sure I do, making check marks down my list and having questions on the ready.  If there are repetitive questions from the students I cull those.  If a student creates an amazing problem I make sure to praise them. 

Give this a try, I would love to hear how it works for you!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Keystone Algebra 1 Exams

A few weeks ago while on vacation I received preliminary results on my students' state test scores, the Keystone Exams.  Talk about a kill-joy.  I literally felt like crying and not for me, but mostly for my students.  We worked so hard this past school year. 

In the past I've tried to ignore the tests and just put my whole heart into teaching.  I mean Algebra 1 is Algebra 1, right? ...but then our scores really tanked.  After that I had a friendly conversation with an administrator who expressed his concerns.  He gave a few suggestions for me to try in my classroom and also let me know that he's supportive of what I do.  What I took away from that conversation is that I needed to take these exams seriously.  So I have taken them seriously in the past few years; studying the standards, practically memorizing the sampler questions, talking with other educators about their approach.  And yet....and yet, I still fail. 

So, I decided to do something drastic and write my own curriculum.  I've been using the one we created as a department when the exams first came out.  This was back when we only had the standards to refer to and there were no sampler questions yet.  But now, I have a few years of sampler questions to glean information from and that is what my curriculum is based from. 

I started back in March and have a few units written, but this is a long process.  I like to try each unit with my students to make sure the flow and pacing is right before I give access to other teachers.

The bad news:  I don't have any data yet to show if this curriculum works or not, since it's not finished.

The good news:  I am selling what I have to date.  This means that you can buy what I have so far and then receive the new units for free.  Each time I include another unit in the curriculum, the price will increase.  Each unit includes notes, practice problems (homework), and two versions of the test.  Longer units also include quizzes.  You could also purchase individual units rather than the whole curriculum. 

On the side bar of this blog is a link to my page with the order of the units as I plan to present them to my classes.  It also includes links to other activities that support the curriculum.  Like Kahoot! and desmos activities. 

Here is a link to what I have so far.  CLICK HERE!

As of today I have three units that are finished and tested:

  • Compound Probability
  • Data Displays and Analysis
  • Domain, and Range
These are the units that I have finished over the summer but need to try in my classroom:
  • Tables and Intercepts
  • Rate of Change, Slope, and Slope-Intercept
  • Writing Linear Equations
These are the units that I have to write and test:
  • Systems of Linear Equations
  • Systems of Linear Inequalities
  • Compare and/or Order Numbers, Simplify Square Roots
  • GCF, LCM, Algebraic Properties
  • Evaluate Expressions, and Estimation
  • Linear Equations
  • Linear Inequalities
  • Polynomial Expressions
  • Factor & Simplify Rational Algebraic Expressions

Monday, June 17, 2019

Classroom Window Makeover

This is pretty much what my classroom has looked like for the past, oh 6 to 7 years.  I have this beautiful wall of windows and we receive a great deal of natural light, but, that makes seeing any type of digital presentation challenging.  So, I started to make curtains to cut down on the glare....7 years ago.  I would purchase a flat twin sheet and sew it into a curtain.  You can see that I made four of them and then quit.  I quit mostly because I was lazy....and my sewing machine wasn't working correctly, and each window was costing about $10 just for the flat sheet.  With 10 windows that's a lot of money.  

Then I got to brainstorming and realized that plastic tablecloths would work great.  They're cheap, I could staple instead of sew, and they come in a variety of colors.  Our school mascot is an olympian (we are named after Jim Thorpe) and our colors are red, white, and blue.  Since the 4th of July is coming up I knew our dollar store would have a nice selection of those colors.  They did not disappoint.  

Although this picture looks nice, I felt that it wasn't quite there yet.  Then my friend across the hall (from I Teach Math) came over and suggested I tie each one individually and here is the result.    Perfect!  

Now for some fairy lights!!  :)

Monday, April 8, 2019

Pull Up Project: Month 7 Update

The lesson to learn here is that if you don't work on something, you're not going to get better at it.  Ugh.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Pull Up Project: Month 6 Update

I'll be honest.  I was thinking that this lofty goal was never going to happen.  Being able to do 10 pull ups by the end of the school year?! What was I thinking?  But after this latest video, I'm feeling hopeful again.  Maybe I can do this.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Digital Activities: Slope Given Two Ordered Pairs

One of my goals as a teacher is to show students that there are many sources of support out there other than me.  It's silly to think that one person can be the sole support system to about 100 students a day.  When I create an activity, I keep in mind how I can encourage the students to rely on each other for help.  One of my favorite activities for practice is my Sum of 3 (or 4) activity. 

Sum of 3 (or 4) Activity:
All classes over the size of 5 can be broken down into groups of either 3 or 4.  I create a unique worksheet for each student in the group.  When each student finishes their first problem, they add their solutions together and check the sum sheet.  If their sum is correct, they move on to the next problem.  If their sum is incorrect, they trade papers and look for errors.  If they are unable to find an error, that's when I finally step in. 
For the most part this activity runs smoothly.  I make it known that I'm not worried about completion of the questions, but rather that they are working together and helping each other, all while staying on task. 
Once in a while I will have a student who is more advanced than his group members, and isn't willing to help out.  He will work through all the problems on his worksheet and ignore the struggles of the others.  Usually these students are not friends, and will work in silence within their group.  Obviously as the teacher I approach this group, encourage them to help each other, blah, blah, blah.  But as soon as I walk away, they still don't speak to each other.  *SIGH* 
I was thinking about how I could 'force' the students to stay on the same problem until their found the correct sum, a way to force them to help each other.  That's where digital activities come in. 

I created a sum of 3 (or 4) activity on google forms.  Each problem set gives the students their 3 (or 4) problems and they type in the correct sum in order to receive the next set of problems.  Problem solved (pun intended). 

Check out one of these activities with the link below.  The topic is finding slope given two ordered pairs. 


What I Learned from my High School Social Studies Teacher

Back in high school there was this Social Studies teacher (Let's call him Mr. A) that made teaching look easy....almost too easy;  like ...