Friday, June 29, 2012

Traffic Light Grading

I want you to think back for a moment.  If possible think back to a class where you received a test back that you failed.  How did you feel?  Hopeless?  Feel like giving up?  I hate that feeling, and I try at all costs to have my students spared from that feeling.  It is my hope that when a student doesn't do well on as assessment their feeling is how can I fix this?

When I collect students' work it is graded green (you know what you're doing), yellow (you're close to being able to do the skills I require for this assignment), or red (you need work in many of the skills required).  This is how I handle ALL of my grading.  No numbers, no letters, only colors.  I'll write more about converting this to letter/number grades in another post.

When I'm grading a classes' assignments, I look at the number of students who are yellow and red and decide if we need to spend more time practicing this skill.  This is a lot of work.  For the most part, I'm not sure what I be teaching tomorrow until I see what my students can do today.  But here is what I've noticed, students who get yellow or red no longer crumble up their paper and throw it away.  They turn to their neighbor to see if they're green and ask for help.  Score!!

The traffic light grading system gives students hope.  I don't tell students they "failed" an assignment.  I tell them they are "not yet proficient".  Not yet.  Give them hope.

A plus for me is that I know my students much better.  I know that little Jimmy struggles with this and little Suzy is really good at that.  I had the opportunity to have this knowledge about my students in the past, but I would have to look closely at the grade book.  It just happens now because when grading I'm not looking for how many they got wrong/right, I'm looking for what skills they got wrong/right.  It sticks with me when little Jimmy gets yellow on an assignment and when I assess that skill again, he gets green it make my job worth while.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


I love browsing on Pinterest.  If you are not yet familiar, it's a website where you can "pin" the ideas/websites that you like and organize them.  There is a category for education and that's where I'm spending my time today.  A warning, most of the ideas you'll find there are for elementary school, but that's where your creativity comes in and adapts it to your own classroom. 

Here's a short list of what I found and pinned in the past few weeks:

I can see placing these around my classroom, where students would get up and go check their work with the answer key.  Or instead of an answer key maybe it's a hint to the problem they are working on.  That's the beauty of this, I can make it my own.  I just have to develop the idea yet.

I think it's important to have emergency lesson plans, you never know when your own child is going to wake up ill.  I would like to give my subs choices when coming in to my classroom.  Each sub has their own personality, just like we do.  Instead of having a pile of folders on my desk for a substitute, I am going to create a "sub tub" this coming year.

This pin is originally about picking one stick of each color and creating a story for the sticks you selected.  I adapted this (if you can read the small print below the photo) to creating word problems.  A yellow stick would have written what the word problem is about.  A red stick would let the student know the algebra needed to solve the problem.  And a green stick would be the answer.  I couldn't think of what to use the blue stick for.  Any suggestions?
An extension would be to have the students convert their word problem into a 3 Acts Math Task.  :)

A little elementary, but the students love recognition for a job well done.  Give it to them!

Monday, June 11, 2012

101 Questions: Bombed it :(

My 3 Act Math Task in my previous post is an epic failure so far at  A score of 0 is a little humbling.  Obviously, I need help.  Here's the word problem that I am attempting to turn into 3 acts:

Lisa is making cookies to sell at the Annual Dirt Bike Competition. A dozen oatmeal cookies require 3 cups of flour and 2 eggs. A dozen sugar cookies require 4 cups of flour and 1 egg. She has 40 cups of flour and 20 eggs. She can make no more than 9 dozen oatmeal cookies and no more than 7 dozen sugar cookies, and she earns $3 for each dozen oatmeal cookies and $2 for each dozen sugar cookies. How many dozens of each type of cookie should she make to maximize her profit?

This word problem is stolen from Illumination's Dirt Bike Dilemma.  I eliminated the part where she can make no more than 9 dozen oatmeal or 7 dozen sugar cookies.  

I would like to show this video before my unit on Linear Programming to see what methods students use to solve the problem.  

My plan for Act 1:  My son wants to buy Legos that cost about $30 (about $32 with tax) and needs to come up with a way to raise the money.  He decides to sell cookies, but has a limited amount of ingredients to work with.

My plan for Act 2:  Show the price of the Legos ($29.97), PA sales tax (6%), the amount of flour and eggs needed for both recipes, the amount of flour and eggs available, and the price for a dozen of each type of cookie.

My plan for Act 3:  Show my son selling 8 dozen oatmeal cookies and 4 dozen sugar cookies, my son holding the $32 profit he made, and finally a photo of him playing with the Legos he bought.

Here's where you come can I improve at least Act 1 so that my students can see where I'm trying to go with this?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Linear Programming, Legos, and Cookies

I'm trying my very first 3-Act Math Task.  I mean creating my very own 3-Act Math Tasks.  I know it's a little rough around the edges, but I'm not quite sure how to "fix" it.  I know that sound/music would help, but I'm having download issues.  Suggestions are welcome with open arms.

Here is Act 1.

And here is Act 2:

PA Sales Tax is 6%

Finally, Act 3.

Friday, June 8, 2012

NCTM Conference 2012 - Part 1

Okay, it's high time I share some of the knowledge I received at the NCTM Conference earlier this year.  Basically, I'm going to give you all the notes I took.

Exploring Space Through Math
April 26, 2012, Thursday, 8:00 - 9:00

During this session, I had the opportunity to play with a TI-NSpire.  It was pretty cool, but I was a little overwhelmed with the amount of learning I would need in order to use it.  Just imagine how my students would feel.  Anyway, I would like to learn more about them.

In this session they mention the 5 Es of a lesson:
1) Engage
2) Explore
3) Explain
4) Extend
5) Evaluate

On their website are a bunch of Activities.  During this presentation we took a look at an Algebra 1 activity for linear regression and it's application.

Achieving Uncommon Results with the CCSS
April 26, 2012, Thursday 9:30 - 10:30

In the case you didn't know CCSS is Common Core State Standards.  It seems that for this session I picked up a lot of little tidbits to pass along.

- Work on narrowing the gap between races.

- Quality Teaching - Plan for engagement - more focus on engagement and a little less on content.

- Features of Highly Effective Instructors

   Expectations on what is produced.  Less focus on procedures.
   Challenge students to think
   Start with a "hard" task and keep the level there
   Stop teaching students that a problem must be solved in a short amount of time.
   Teach students to preserver.
   Ha! Ha!  American students go to school to watch their teachers work.

- When a student is stuck, ask questions rather than give answers.

- Plan higher order questions ahead of time.

- Teach it all and teach it well.

- Small group support takes place in addition to whole class instruction.

I have a few comments on this presentation.  First of all I find that many of my students are uncomfortable when they don't know something.  I remember this one problem in particular.  I gave the students the information they needed to find the area of a triangle that was not a right triangle, but not the formula.  My students were mad. I mean mad.  They got nasty then.  Telling me that it wasn't their job to figure these things out.  They even went as far to tell me I wasn't doing my job.  I didn't give in and the students eventually found the answer and derived the formula on their own.  It was hard to tell if they felt pride in their work, because I believe they were embarrassed by their behavior.  Luckily, I can say that I wasn't embarrassed by mine.  I stayed calm and didn't take their directed anger personally, instead I assured them that they could do it.

Where do student get this idea that our job as teachers is to be the end-all source of information?  Our job as teachers is to provide the opportunity to learn.  We create the environment, they produce the outcome.  Things went better in the class after the horrible problem.  The students trusted me in that I would give them the tools they needed to solve a problem, and didn't give up as easily.

Another thought I have is the last bullet.  "Small group support takes place in addition to whole class instruction".  I LOVE this idea.  Especially in a co-taught class.  Picture this.  You and your special education co-teacher teach Algebra 1 first period.  Then later in the day, the identified (or struggling) students get a second class of Algebra 1 with the special ed. teacher to support what they were taught in first period.  Doesn't that make total sense?  Okay, okay, I know there is a time issue.  But, if it's important, administration would find a way.

This post is getting a little long....I will continue later.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Smart Pens ROCK!!!

I love my smart pen.  It is a pen that records what you say as you are writing.  Here is a link so you can see one of my pen casts.

And here is a link to the livescribe website that sells smart pens.

One of the reasons I love the smart pen is how affordable it is.  Perhaps your school district can't afford iPad, or laptops, or whatever.  But I bet they could swing for a smart pen.

Currently I use the pen casts for my flashback days, which I wrote briefly about in this post.  Those prescribed set of problems that students need to do in order reassess are sometimes preceded by a pen cast that reteaches the outcomes.  It also works out well for absent students.

Another way I have used the pen casts, is to create a lesson for when I am out of the classroom.  The substitute instructs the students to get a laptop and get busy.
Note - Do yourself a favor and buy a classroom set of earbuds.  I found some for a $1 each at my local dollar store.

This year I am going to have the students create pen casts.  One student at a time will be the note-taker of the day and will be required to take complete, accurate, and neat notes during class.  That evening he/she will create a pen cast from those notes.  I will upload the pen cast to my class website.

If you go to the livescribe website, there is a tab for education which may have more ideas for using the smart pen in the classroom.  Happy Pencasting!!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My View on Homework

You know those classes, where all the students are in different directions and on different levels?  Of course you do.  We all have them.  The range in student knowledge and motivation is so great that it sends a teacher's head spinning.  It is my belief that homework should be just as great in diversity.  However, I don't assign the homework, the students do.  Is your head spinning yet?  Don't worry, it gets better.

This plan of mine needs tweaking.  I realized this past school year that students took my words, "I don't assign homework." and translated it to, "You don't have any homework."  Allow me to back things up a bit here and give you a little information about my classroom weekly schedule.

In our department, we teach outcomes, not chapters or units, but outcomes.  Some districts call them targets.  In any case, we broke our Algebra 1 course into about 36 outcomes (I broke all my courses into about 36 outcomes).  Interesting, there are about 36 weeks in a school year.  When all goes well, I teach an outcome in about 4 days (Monday - Thursday) give or take.  Fridays have been reserved to take a look back and see what an individual students didn't quite get the first time.    I allow students to re-take another version of a test they have previously failed.  I call those days "Flashback Fridays".

Back to the homework part.  Monday - Thursday I do not assign specific problems for the students to do.  They are to determine what they need to work on.  A student will look at the online grading program and see that he needs more work in, let's say, outcome 4 - Solving Linear Equations.  On Monday - Thursday evenings the students does the prescribed set of problems for that particular outcome and hands it in on Friday in order to take the reassessment.

That was my plan.  Here's what really happened.  Students did nothing in the evenings of M - Th, came to class, grabbed a lap-top, waited 10 minutes until the laptop logged in, looked at the online grading program, decided which outcome to do, completed the prescribed problems, and the bell rang.  The reassessment wasn't taken and the student waits until next week to take the test.  *sigh*.

My new plan:
Flashback Fridays:  Students start class by taking a test (on the outcome of their choice and only after handing in the prescribed problems for that outcome).  Next they log-in to the online grading program and pick the next outcome(s) to work on.  They fill out a reassessment plan for the next Flashback Friday (click here to see that) and hand this in by the end of the period.  Now I have a hard copy in their handwriting of what they decided to work on.
Monday - Thursday evenings:  Students complete the prescribed problems for the outcome(s) they picked, hand in their work first thing on Flashback Friday, and we repeat this process.

Of course I'm still going to have students not do their homework.  In an effort to keep them honest, I'm going to create 4 outcomes (1 for each quarter) based on homework.  I noticed that once homework was only to learn and not for a grade, the students stopped doing it.  I guess I need to make it for a grade again.

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 ...