Sunday, March 24, 2013

Running with SBG

I have never been a student in a SBG classroom and I have to admit that I'm a little jealous of my students.  When our school district first started SBG we had a meeting for parents so we could give them some information and to allow them to ask questions.  I remember one parent in particular stating that SBG was not real life.  She stated that in real life you don't get a second chance.  I disagree.

I was running the other day and I still feel like a beginner.  In all fairness, I am a beginner as I've started running less than two years ago.  I didn't know how to get over this beginner hump and was telling my woes to a fellow running group member, who happens to also be my pastor and a marathon runner.  The next day at church he hands me a copy of the running plan that he follows and explains to me how it works.  Right then something clicked inside me.  I didn't feel hopeless or lost anymore.  I felt like this was something that I could do and now I had direction.

What was the difference?  I was in control and I had little goals to reach for.  If I didn't reach a little goal the first time that I tried, then no big deal, I would sit down look at what happened and try again.  When I was running on my own or using the couch-to-whatever beginner programs I had no real direction, just go out there and run.  I now have little goals or outcomes that I need to become proficient in so that I can pass to the next level of running (or algebra 2 in school).

I remember telling people that I hated running.  The only reason that I ran was because I like how I felt afterwards, never during.  I HATED it.  I would fight with myself to get out there.  Then once I was out there I would fight with myself to keep running and not walk.  I see this same attitude in some of my "good" students.  They'll do it, but their heart's not into it.  The only reason they do it is because they like the outcome whether it's a good grade, promotion to the next class, or just behaving.  But now I don't hate running.  I actually enjoy the process.  I like that I'm in control of my breathing, injury prevention, and enjoyment.  I want my students to have this same epiphany.  I want something to click one day where they feel like they are in control (not me) and the process can be fun, not a chore.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Citizens of a Math Nation

At a recent PLC, our "coach", Kathy (@kathyaanderson) had us thinking about group roles in the classroom.  I'll admit, I've never given much thought about groups roles, assuming that students knew they needed to do the work that I prescribed.  Why oh why do I assume so much?  

Kathy warned us about her previous mistakes of not keeping the students "honest" about their roles.  If the teacher didn't follow through, then neither would the students.  She specifically mentioned a role where there was one student in the group who was allowed to ask the teacher questions, if she (the teacher) answered another student, well then she broke her own rule.  We brainstormed for a bit and came up with the idea of group role necklaces.  

Ambassador - The only student who can ask the teacher questions.  This student is the one who can walk around the room to get materials, hand in materials, or even discuss the assignment with other groups.

Auditor - This student is the one who "checks" things.  He checks to make sure everyone understands, he checks all work before it is handed in, he "checks" to make sure everyone voice is heard.  

Manager - Keeps the group on task and moving forward.

Interpreter (optional) - Reads the problem aloud, and summarizes the activity/problem/solution.

I was afraid the necklaces would have been a little too kiddy for my students, but again I stand corrected.  They loved them and some didn't want to give them back at the end of class.  

I felt this went smoother then just telling the students what their role was, mostly because there was a physical reminder hanging around their neck.  

Did it help academically?  Yes, I think so.  I'm usually the manager when it comes to group work, but now I get to pass that responsibility onto the students.  If I noticed that one group was off task, I would yell "Who's the manager of this group?!?!"  Next, thing you know the manager is doing his job and didn't need to be reminded of it again.  If I noticed that one student was being left behind, I reminded the auditor of her job.  

The result?  We only completed a worksheet for this activity, but the work was next to perfect.  Perfect!!  Now, that alone is quite an accomplishment.  However, remember my last post about the silent lesson?  This activity was done right on the heels of that lesson.  That means, I did not teach the student how to graph two variable linear inequalities, and they're handing in work that is near perfect.  Way to go students!!!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Silent Lesson - Shhh!!!

Today I tried what I would like to call my "silent lesson".  I teach a lesson, but I don't explain what I'm doing or why I'm doing it.  I just go for it.  The students write down everything that I write down, and I encourage them to ask each other questions rather than me.  This lesson has three parts to it.  1) the examples that they copy as I complete.  2) Group work to discuss with their neighbors  3) An exit ticket so I can see how things are going.

One thing I want to emphasize is that I'm silent, not the students.  I really want them to talk and to think out loud.

The lesson that I completed was on graphing two variable linear inequalities.  We have covered one variable inequalities, and graphing lines.

This activity evolved as the day went on, and I received feedback and ideas from the students.  At first I went over the group problems with the students before giving the exit ticket.  But then I felt like I was stealing their thunder.  I mean the whole point of doing a silent lesson is so that the students come to their own conclusions and recognize patterns on their own.  When I just came out and told them how to do it, I was making the activity less effective.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised by some of the conversations that took place.  Two girls were having a conversation about open and closed circles when I put up the inequality y<2x-3.  That conversation wouldn't have happened if I was up front lecturing and telling everyone to sit down and shut up.
One question that I heard over and over again was about shading.  They were confused on whether they should shade to the right or to the left of the line, because nothing seemed consistent.  Again, I wouldn't have known about this misconception if I was doing all the talking.

I really liked this lesson because I got to hear their questions as soon as they had them.  If they weren't sure of why the line was dotted, they asked it immediately.  And immediately a classmate offered a solution.  Sometimes right and sometimes wrong.  But that's okay, because I NEED to hear these wrong thoughts.  And better than that, I loved that their classmates offered a counter if they thought they were wrong.  Here's the thing, they don't need me as much as I think they do.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

White-boarding and Mapping

Last week I decided to try something new - mapping.  I always thought this was a waste of time and never attempted it in my classes before.  But once again, I am here eating my words.  

I started by giving each student a piece of paper and asked them to create a map about themselves.  I went in this direction because we have never completed a mapping before, I wanted to have a nice, easy entry point.  Students (people) love to talk about themselves.  

After about 5 minutes, I instructed them to turn their papers over and now create a mapping of the equation 3x + 4y = 16.  I gave them 5 minutes to work on this.  

Some students sat their motionless, so I prompted them to write anything about the equation, even if it was obvious.  

Next, I grouped the students into 2-3 and gave them a large whiteboard and markers and asked them to create one together.  Below are the results:

We went over each board together as a whole class.  Something that disappointed me was that one group of three wrote that the slope of the line was 3x.  No one in that groups questioned it!  No one!  Sigh.  We corrected that misconception, and let's hope it doesn't rear it's ugly head again.  If you look close enough at each of the whiteboards, you will see little mistakes.  These errors make for great classroom discussions.  Something I would not have had the opportunity to do if I didn't do this "fluffy" activity.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Grading Policy

Before I started Standards Based Grading, I felt like an accountant.  Giving points here, deducting points there, keeping track of who was absent and how many days they have to make up missed work, and my favorite: arguing with students over every. little. point.  I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

Now my grading policy is simple:  either they know what they're doing or they don't.  My motto since SBG is "Don't grade them until they know what they're doing."

I know I'm oversimplifying things, but I'm not that far off.  Of course there are students who are going to have to test before they know what they're doing.  That's the nature of the beast.  And by beast I don't mean the student, I mean the educational system.  My students' grades are only based on what they know (usually a written test until I have a better plan) rather than their behavior.  Behavior such as putting a cover on their textbook (I don't use a textbook anyway), or attempting an assignment, or even behaving for a substitute teacher.

I've written about my grading policy before and the question that I get the most often is about district grading policies.  I am able to input new grades about once a week, maybe two weeks depending on how long it takes the students to prepare for a test.  But in many districts, there are written policies about updating grades multiple times each week.  Here my answer:  My principal rocks!  He saw that SBG has merit and gave us a chance to prove ourselves.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cup Stacking Activity

I'm STILL in the midst of teaching applications of Linear Equations in my Algebra 1B class.  The last activity that we tackled was inspired by this post from Dan Meyer and we are stacking styrofoam cups.  Before you read any farther, make sure you go to his blog to understand the activity.  I like how cheap the materials are for this lesson (around $5) and everyone is familiar with cups. I liked this lesson so much that I used it for my formal observation :)  More on that later.

I started class by holding up one cup and presenting the problem of stacking the cups high enough to reach my height.  I worried about this.  I was concerned that the students would want to know why I would want to do that, but no one word.  Ok then!  I think the challenge was enough of an interest that they didn't really care why.

We went through the whole activity and I want to share with you a few of the misconceptions that we uncovered during the lesson.


1) When I gave each group of students 10 cups to work with, some took the height of the 10 cups, and divided my height by that.  What they failed to recognize was that when they placed the next 10 cups on the stack it wouldn't hover over the first 10, they would sick down.

2) Some groups realized that the height kept increasing my the size of the rim, so they divided my height by the rim height.  Those students forgot to take in account the height of the body of the first cup.

3) Measuring was a small issue, most students measured the slant height of the cup rather than the vertical height.  It didn't effect the results because there wasn't a huge different in the slant and vertical heights, and I'm short.  

After they committed to a number and we stacked the cups to see how their numbers stacked up (pun intended!), I gave the groups this sheet:

For even more cup stacking fun check out this first act from Andrew Stadel.

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 ...