Procrastination is the key to Inspiration

…At least that’s what I tell myself! 🙂 

I had a very LONG list of things I was supposed to get accomplished this weekend, the largest one being cleaning.  I was definitely inspired…to do anything BUT clean!

What did I actually get done?
*Joining the #CCSSdraft and preparing to write the coolest lesson ever
*Blog post about confidence in math
*Cleaned the pantry
*Played with the dogs & taught one of them a new trick
*Started working on designing/putting together my plan book for next year
*Created my Geometry CCSS Flipbook for next year (I only printed the Geometry standards, two to a page & back to back)
*Took a nap (or two)
*Watched the movie Flight
*Caught up on my G-reader in Newsify & downloaded Feedly (but didn’t move stuff yet)
*Discussed quite a few things on Twitter
*Started pulling together graphics, fonts & design elements for my new blog design (I am tired of the wordpress themes…any helpful suggestions?)
*Worked on a Quadratic Stations review for Algebra tomorrow (it’s not done yet, when it is…I will post it!)
*Created a sign for my students to excite them about the end of the year (not sure they need any additional excitement though)

hmmm…I guess I did get quite a few things done.  Too bad none of them involved my house becoming shiny and clean!

Have a great rest of your Sunday!

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Does a lack of confidence hold students back?

Confidence…does it really all come down to that?  I’ve been wondering this for a few weeks now, mainly because I have been working with students whose lack of confidence in math and even in everyday life is staggering.  In working with them one-on-one I am able to see quite a few things that I wouldn’t have seen so clearly otherwise.

What I see one on one:
1. Lack of confidence in what the first step of a problem is, so they won’t start a problem.
2. Lack of ability to self-check their work because they don’t believe they have it right to begin with.
3. Lack of the ability to question themselves through each step of a problem, such as “Is this reasonable?”, “Does this make sense?”, “What is the next step?”, “What do I already know?”
4. Lack of ability to communicate what they know and what they are struggling with, example: “I understand what to do in the first two steps, but I don’t understand what to do next because I still do not understand _______.” It is stated more like “I just don’t get it.”
5. With questioning coming from me, not leading questions, just helping them to verbalize the next step or their thought process, they are able to solve problems with almost 100% accuracy. And they are able to walk themselves through a problem and find errors they have made.

What I see in the classroom:
1. They wait and watch others in their group start problems and then follow what they do. It’s not entirely copying as they tend to just watch the first step, but they aren’t vocally asking for help from those students, which is what we’ve been working towards this year. They also don’t ask for help from me.
2. They make small computational mistakes over and over, even though when separated out they have mastered those basic skills.
3. They tend to just solve the problem and move on. There isn’t much interaction on their part in regards to if the answer actually answers the question appropriately.
4. They tend to be quiet in the classroom, not asking questions or for help. But I do also have students who will say “I don’t get this.” and group everything together rather than doing what they can and coming to one part that they can’t quite figure out.
5. Their accuracy in solving problems drops, I don’t quite have a percentage, but maybe around 80%.  They aren’t able to identify mistakes as easily either.

Looking at it this way, I do think that a student’s lack of confidence is holding them back in many ways. How do I increase student confidence overall? Most of these students have confidence issues that are not just specific to math.  I see the lack of confidence as holding them back from just diving in and trying something…maybe because they are afraid to start the problem and be incorrect, but why be afraid of being wrong?  I work hard to NOT foster that line of thinking in my classroom and we really push each other to try new things, and to try and solve a problem a different way. We celebrate work that may not lead to the right answer, but helps us determine what to do next. We do Estimation180 where we discuss too high & too low estimations and celebrate those who were close.  So what else can I do? Where does this lack of confidence and fear of being wrong come from? How can I change it? How can I help a student feel better about their abilities?  These students are not low students, they are bright and very capable students….why can’t they see that?

Geometry – Looking at it from the right angle

Ha ha ha.  I crack myself up.  I love the title of this post.  🙂

Last week we found out our teams for next year (I teach in a middle school) and there were a lot of changes.  This is my 13th year of teaching with the last 11 of them being 8th grade Algebra and Pre-Algebra. I found out that I am moving to teach 8th grade Geometry.   I LOVE Algebra and I am very sad I will not be teaching it next year. (yes, yes I know there is Algebra in Geometry) The Geometry students are the best of the best; they are two years ahead in math and while I am excited for the change now, my initial reaction was not the most positive.  I did not like Geometry in high school, though I did enjoy it more in college…it was always something that I wasn’t too keen on and I struggled with it.  I do think that will help as I am learning to teach Geometry; I want to strive to make it meaningful to my students so they do not have the same opinion of it that I did.  My district is rewriting the curriculum this summer to become Common Core and I won’t get it until the institute day in August.  THAT freaks me out because I do not know anything about pacing or why certain topics have to come before others.  My Type-A personality wants more information.  So I turned to my Twitter peeps to ask for helpful resources.  I received a fantastic amount of responses and can’t wait to check them out!

Capture

I wanted to put together a blog post to document what was shared in case it would assist other teachers.  But in reality I am just blogging about it so I can have all of the links in one spot. 🙂

*Remember these are all just suggestions from the MathTwitterBlogosphere as well as my own findings and additions. And they will be updated as I find more! (Let me know if you have items to add!)

Twitter People (& their blogs) to Follow
Kate Nowak (@k8nowak) – function-of-time.blogspot.com
Tina C. (@crstn85) – drawingonmath.blogspot.com/
Nat Banting (@NatBanting) – musingmathematically.blogspot.com
Soph Germain (@sophgermain) – abrandnewline.wordpress.com
David Peterson (@calcdave) – Longtailsofinterest.blogspot.com
Marsha Foshee (@MarshaFoshee) – math-termind.blogspot.com
Mike Mathews (@mwmathews) – mwmathews.wordpress.com
Elissa Miller (@misscalcul8) – misscalculate.blogspot.com
Elizabeth (@cheesemonkeyst) – cheesemonkeysf.blogspot.com
Fawn Nguyen (@fawnpnguyen) – fawnnguyen.com

Book Resources
John A. Van De Walle (a la @pamjwilson)
Discovering Geometry by Michael Serra  (a la @pamjwilson & @zidaya & @Martianson)
Measurement by Paul Lockhart   (a la @j_lanier)
Symmetry, Shape and Space (@mathhombre & ‏@zidaya)
Geometry – Seeing, Doing, Understanding by Harold Jacobs  (@zidaya & @JJJsally)
CME Project Textbook  (a la @ ‏mathhombre)

Web/Curriculum Resources
Art of Problem Solving  (a la @j_lanier)
investigations1213.blogspot.com  (a la @j_lanier)
geometry.mrmeyer.com
Geometry Inquiry Based Curriculum Map
Geometry CCSS PrBL Curriculum Map
Dropbox filled with project ideas
A take on CCSS Geometry pacing
Dan Meyer’s Three-Act Math Tasks
Andrew Stadel 3-Act Math Tasks
Nathan Kraft’s 3-Act Math Tasks
Virtual Filing Cabinet (scroll down to get to Geometry) (@sandramiller_tx)
Virtual Filing Cabinet (scroll down to get to Geometry) (@samjshah)
Virtual Filing Cabinet (@nathankraft1)
Re-thinking Geometry Wiki (a la (@crstn85)

Technology Resources
GeoGebra
Geometer’s Sketchpad

Hands-on Resources
Patty Paper & Patty Paper Geometry by Michael Serra (a la @zidaya & @Martianson)
Geometry INB Ideas & foldables

Looking at all of the resources that are online, I am getting more and more excited to work with these special group of students next year.  And I hope to be able to contribute to all of the fantastic resources listed above!

My HUGE goal is to use ISN’s next year with both my Geometry classes and my US History classes.  This was my first year using them in Algebra and 8th CCSS and I loved them.  I can’t see myself going back, but it will be a struggle trying to stay ahead of the game enough to know what I want to go in the ISN! 🙂  But I am never one to walk away from a challenge, so bring on 2013-2014!

#MSSunFun: Teaching Students How to Study for Assessments

#msSunFunYeah! It’s #MSSunFun and I am actually participating! 🙂 It’s been a while since I’ve joined in the weekly blogging, but I wanted to share what I do with my students to teach them how to study AND I am procrastinating doing a few others things right now, so it fits perfectly! And it ties to my earlier post on Failure, read that here.

A while back there was a conversation on Twitter about stamps we want so we  could use them on student work, obviously they were tongue in cheek, but I still had fun creating the graphics for all of them.  This one below was one of the main ones we discussed.  It is SO obvious to us teachers when students study and when they don’t. Our frustration with this comes because we are always looking for our  students to succeed and we also know all of the work we have done in class to practice and help solidify their understanding.  Since I use SBG, reassessments are a real part of my classroom and grading, I dislike grading retakes when they clearly didn’t prepare.  This is why I have added some additional requirements this year in order for them to reassess.Didn't Study

Due to using SBG, I have a lot of small skill quizzes rather than long tests, however I start the beginning of the year teaching my students that the word “quiz” does not mean they don’t have to study because it will be easier.  The math department has used the following handout to help students with studying for math tests.  It provides a list of helpful study strategies.

Additionally, I share the App/website StudyBlue with my students. (www.studyblue.com) It is a tech way to create flashcards, study guides, etc.  Students can even share with their school and classmates.  It remembers which ones you get correct and incorrect and will continue to build study from there.  It’s pretty cool and my students LOVE it.  Check it out!

I have created two documents that I have used since 2010-ish, I have used each at different times and for different reasons.

This document below is what I hand to my students in preparation for their end of quarter final. While we take skill quizzes throughout the quarter, I also want to focus on retention and they take a quarter final that covers all of the skills from that quarter.  They take out their skill folder and skill checklist and use that to help fill out the top part.  They also use their ISN and/or textbook to complete the middle part and they can use old examples from their ISN in the third part.  I do reference a textbook, while they don’t get one to use during the year, they can access it online as necessary. I reference a lot of the online practice quizzes and tests as good study tools because they check automatically while the students take them.

I have used this study plan document a lot with my US History classes, but my math students like it as well.  I make it available on my class website and they can use it as necessary.  At the start of the year we do a study skills unit in Advisory that I put together and this document is part of that unit, which means that all students are familiar with it.

I remember coming across Julie’s Study Guide Kit for Math Tests at the start of this year, http://ispeakmath.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/study-guide-kit-for-math-tests/.  I made a note to try and incorporate that into my ISN’s this year because I liked that there would be a study guide for each Unit/Chapter within their ISN.  I felt that would be useful for the students when it came to studying for the quarter final.  Unfortunately I forgot about it and did not start it this year, but I will be doing something similar next year.  I could see the right side of the ISN page being the folded study guide and the left side of the page being a modified (shortened to fit) study plan….but these are just thoughts right now.  I really like Mary’s Evidence of Study worksheet that she shared for this week’s #MSSunFun, http://teacherleaders.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/preparing-for-assessments/.  I will probably try and work that into my ISN somehow as well.  I like the parent signature for my middle school students.  I was also thinking about adding a Time Spent section so students could note how long they spent studying each night.

I love the sharing of great ideas and I am happy to participate!! Have a great week!

When is failure okay?

Is failure even okay anymore?  Does it teach a lesson? Or does the non-failure teach a better lesson? Whose fault is failure…student? teacher? other outside forces? I have these questions and more swirling around in my head.  It’s Friday, it’s been a very long day and I am attempting to put together something that effectively gets my thoughts, questions and feelings across.  I won’t get into the nitty gritty behind why these questions are at the forefront of my mind, but I will just say it’s not a good reason and made me very sad this morning.  Bullies do still exist in the adult world and it’s not cool.

Background: I use SBG and have been doing it in Algebra for 4 years. I’ve used it in Pre-Algebra for 2 years, but with Common Core this year I’ve only been doing it here and there this year because I’ve been spending too much time figuring out new curriculum design.  With that being said, all of my students are comfortable with SBG and what it means.  I am the only one using it in my building, though an ELA teacher uses it for one aspect of her class.  While explaining the grading at the start of each year can be rough on parents and students, eventually they do understand the grading and why I do it this way.  I have used the Angry Birds comparison that I found online from one of you. (post link to that here).

I truly believe that SBG is the way to grade and will not go back.  I love the conversations that I can have with students about their understanding of a specific topic.  We can address that they understand the concept but are making small algebraic errors or we can discuss their lack of understanding of the concept and identify the areas of confusion to put together a way to reteach/practice the concept.  They know what they know and what they don’t.  They reflect on their learning and know the steps they need to do to more forward.  They get frustrated when they make those small errors, but push themselves to practice and reassess.  The students feel supported and know that I will do whatever it takes to support them.

What I do: Students are allowed to reassess any skills throughout the quarter as often as they want in order to show mastery.  However, they do have to sign-up to reassess and bring proof of further practice of the skill they want to reassess.  I have learned (the hard way) that this is the way to go.  I had students in the past reassess and reassess without any practice thinking that the continual retakes would help them learn and eventually they would pass.  Kind of like the book under the pillow to study. 🙂  It didn’t work (go figure), but was a huge strain on both students and myself. Having them bring the practice is great because I can look over it before they reassess to make sure they are on the right track.

In my class, students must master each skill twice (or two 4’s) in order to master the skill.  At that point the grade in the gradebook will equal a 100% for that skill.  I offer 6 assessments on each skill throughout the quarter in class; there are 10-12 skills per quarter.  Anything they want to reassess above and beyond that comes from them and will be before school, during lunch or after school.  Doing it this way I feel helps to promote student responsibility in two ways…either they will work to master it in class by practicing and studying for the skill quizzes or they will work to master it on their own time because they want to get a skill “done” or needed a little extra help.  I do not view the help or reassessments outside of the school day as being bad, I see it as a way for students to realize when they need additional help and find ways to get it.  I do, every once in a while, require students to meet with me during lunch because they fell into my Red Zone on a skill.

Homework is not a grade.  I always struggled with what to do with homework as a beginning teacher and now that it is not graded I love it.  And guess what? The students still do their homework! I do check it daily (or have a student check it daily)to keep track of who is doing it, but that is for my information to help stay on top of a student who is on the verge of struggling.  If a student misses 3 homework assignments in a week or in a short time span, I will talk to them about it and make a note in the gradebook notes section that students and parents can see.  If they continue to miss their homework, they have to meet with me during lunch to work on it.  I do this in advance of the skill quizzes in order to help them before they may struggle.  Keeping track of homework completion is also helpful when talking with students about their skills mastery and when talking to parents about their student.

My Frustrations: I wish my gradebook system didn’t require my skills to be graded numerically.  That is the most confusing part to students and parents because we don’t have a normal grading scale (it’s higher than most), so when students haven’t mastered a skill, their “grade” in the gradebook looks pretty bad until they improve.  If I could grade without numbers and with proficiency levels, it would be fantastic.  Every year I work to teach my students that grades don’t matter, it’s their understanding of the skills that do.  Typically the students understand and it takes the parents a little longer…see my blog post earlier about a parent email related to this.

What do I do with the student who doesn’t care? Who doesn’t do the homework, doesn’t prepare for skill quizzes, doesn’t take advantage of reassessments, doesn’t take me up on my offer for help during lunch? I feel that it is HARD to fail my class with all of things I have in place, so what do I do when a student does fail? Obviously there is parental communication, but what else can I do?  When does the responsibility fall back to the student? When is it the student’s choice that is causing their failure?

The conversation that I had with my Admin today was one of having too many D’s or F’s.  Mind you I don’t have any F’s and had 5 D’s total from my 4 math classes (2 Algebra and 2 Pre-Algebra).  The conversation was one of what can you do differently to reach these students because clearly what you are doing isn’t working.  FIVE D’s???? I think my head almost popped off my body.  Here was my admin telling me I wasn’t doing enough to reach all students.  Really? Besides what I listed above, in my short 42 minute class, I do a lot of small remediation groups, 1-1 work with students, video chats on the weekends and review of topics with those that need it.  I was made to feel that my offering before school, after school and during lunch help and reassessments was implying that I wasn’t doing something in the classroom correctly. That it was bad for me to offer these things.  I was asked what I was going to do to change those grades from D’s to something higher.  WHAT? What about asking the students what they are going to do?  What about asking the students if they took advantage of any of the hundreds of options they have available to them?  Why was I made to feel that a D was an unacceptable grade and I shouldn’t allow it?  I was told that I should really be reflecting on myself and my teaching to make improvements because I must be doing something wrong.  I have thought long and hard about it…I think I am going to talk to my admin on Monday and ask what else they would like me to do (after listing everything I am doing) because I am at a loss as to what else I can be doing. I teach topics in multiple ways with different examples, the students have ISN’s filled with notes, examples and reflections to fall back on.  My students and I have a great rapport, we have fun, we talk about the ups and downs of life, we challenge ourselves with the math we do and we like it. And guess what? They learn in my class, they ask questions in my class, they want to know more about what we are doing and they help each other.  It’s been a great year and has allowed me to reflect and learn about what it truly means to be a teacher in this day and age.

The Irony: On Wednesday of this week I found out that instead of teaching 8th grade Algebra (Accelerated class) and Pre-Algebra (Regular class) next year (like I have for the past 11 years), I will be moving up to 8th grade Geometry, which is the best of the best…the gifted team.  It’s supposed to be a compliment to be teaching those students because they require so much and so much different than what I am use to.  However after leaving my meeting this morning with my admin, I was questioning why they would place me there if I had “SO” many students struggling in my classes; if I clearly didn’t know what to do to reach my students, why was I being moved? I felt as though I wasn’t good enough to be moved to teach those students. I don’t think that a teacher should ever leave a meeting feeling as though they aren’t good enough.

So what is the answer?  What does failure mean today? I am getting the feeling that it means that the teacher didn’t work hard enough and let the student slip through the cracks…at least that’s the impression my admin gave.  I don’t agree with that answer, but I am now not sure what the answer is.  I agree with SBG and students showing mastery, but I also believe there needs to be a deadline at some point, in order to hold them accountable, to work on responsibility, to allow them to move on.

Does your school allow students to fail? What things do you have in place to help them if they are struggling? Is there a lesson to be learned from failing and struggling?  I posed the question on Twitter on Friday because I needed to vent and see what other teachers and schools do.  The responses were great and now I just need to figure out how to move forward. How to move past how my admin made me feel, reflect on it and make sure I never make anyone student, parent or teacher ever feel that way. And to think about what else I can do in the classroom to reach all students.

End of Quarter Frustration

I’ve been teaching 8th grade for 11 years, I also taught 6th and 7th one year each before that.  I love teaching 8th grade, mostly the content, but also the ability to joke around, talk to and get true honesty from my students.

I love SBG. I feel that it has value and I have seen the improvement in my student’s understanding overall.  Since I teach 8th grade, however, I do have to have quarterly cutoffs due to report cards.  So have my SBG system set up with certain skills each quarter and a quarter final at the end to work on long term retention. I allow my students to reassess skills throughout the quarter until around the Monday of the final week of the quarter.  I like to cut it off then so they can focus on the final and so I can grade them and get them in the gradebook in a timely manner.  It NEVER fails that they wait until the VERY last minute to reassess and try to do it without practicing.

However, I DISLIKE the end of the quarter time.  I wish we had semesters like the high school, especially since I teach a high school level course (Algebra 1) to my accelerated 8th grade students.  I use SBG and it would be much easier on myself and the students if they had longer to reassess and build skills together.  This quarter I offered my students the ability to NOT take my 3rd quarter comprehensive final if they mastered all of the 3rd quarter skills.  I was surprised at the number of students who achieved it and annoyed at the students who waited until the last minute to try. I do not offer extra credit due to the nature of my classroom and the ability to reassess as many time as they want.

I guess I am a little disappointed that while using SBG, it still comes down to grades, not the overall learning that I have been stressing all year.  Isn’t it more important that this student learn and understand the skills and concepts from Algebra, rather than have a certain grade for the honor roll award?  I WISH that my district required gradebook allowed for gradeless grades, where feedback was more important and there was no visible overall grade.  I also wish I could use any gradebook of my choice, which I cannot.

Any suggestions?