Note taking, no textbooks & ISN’s, how does it all fit together?

*WARNING* This is a longer than planned post and involved…I am asking for ideas and help…proceed with caution! 🙂

At the end of each quarter since I started teaching 14 years ago, I have had my students complete a survey/reflection on the quarter. It’s evolved and improved over the years, but the idea was the same…I wanted to know what they thought about my teaching, our classroom, the activities we did and anything else they wanted to share.  I used to just read them and reflect on my own; I would come in the next quarter with ideas, some changes based upon the survey and some that I already knew I wanted to do. I would clarify misconceptions and provide more reasons and examples as to why certain things were done.  I always found them valuable, sometimes in a kick in my backside type of way and sometimes reassurance that what I was doing was working.  I found students to be honest, sometimes more than I expected, but I grew as a teacher from it.  In the last handful of years after I have given the survey, I crunch the data, toss some in graphical format and share it WITH the students.  I have asked them to review the graphs, the information shared and to tell me what it means. I share the comments they write and we talk about it together as a class.  I want them to know that I value their opinions, that I take them seriously and I am always striving to make our classroom better.  It has been within this type of situation that students have mentioned they feel heard, valued and that they have a say in the classroom.  Do I change everything? No, but we have honest discussions about it; I consider it and I might even poll them again on a specific topic to help make a decision.  I still toss in a few changes that I knew I wanted to make, but overall it comes from them.

It is in this situation where I am stuck currently.  I gave the quarter 1 survey (google doc this time around), I knew they completed it because I had looked at a few of the responses.  Today’s class was the day we were going to talk about the results, so last night I finally opened them up and read through them.  I will skip over the love they have for the class and the way we do things, their love for SBG and their love/hate relationship with cooperative learning for this post and yet focus on another aspect dear to my heart, the Interactive Notebook.

I had a section about the notebook asking questions about it, but it was in the very last box titled “Anything else you want to share?” where some *unprompted* shared their extreme love and/or hate of the interactive notebook.  The dislike for it took me by surprise, not one peep from my lovelies about them in a bad way since day 1, NOT ONE. Yet here they were (to clarify THEY = the 15 students who dislike the ISN or parts of it out of the 114 students that I use them with), sharing without any fear or filter, which is what I was looking for.

Here are the negative comments: (only sharing these because I want to focus on how to make this better)

  • I would rather work in a class where some students teach others than tape things into our notebook.
  • isn is really bad. its a waste of time. parents will agree
  • I really think we shouldn’t grade ISNs because nobody really graded our notes in past grades. Previous teachers have graded what comes out of our notes and understanding such as tests and quizzes. At first, I was really enthusiastic about having everything organized in the ISN… but as I thought about it, i realized that I wasn’t learning much from the foldables and coloring. I’m just a type of person that really likes to take my own notes in my own method. I don’t think we should have to worry about decorating our notebooks and having things taped in and secured on top of so much other work that we have to do. This has nothing to do with your teaching because I feel like I’m able to understand what you teach me better than I have with other teachers in the past but I just feel like we shouldn’t have our ISNs graded. Again, this is just my opinion and you don’t have to listen to this by any means, but I just wanted to let you know! Thank you, and I can’t wait for a great rest of the year!
  • I really dont prefer the ISN and really like using my own notebook that is not so strictly scheduled and my own notebook helps me alot more for studying
  • I find it completely ridiculous that the ISN requires you to color the left hand side pages.
  • I really don’t think the ISN is helping me.
  • I enjoy class, but sometimes the ISN can be a lot to keep track of.
  • I like working with groups but also on my own. I am not a huge fan over the ISN-when notes are not my own, I find them more difficult to understand. It also takes away time that we could use to practice concepts and understand them well. I like the traditional way of taking notes.
  • I think that to learn material well, the ISN isnt totally helping bc it is very easy to slack off. a better way would be to use a textbook and do worksheets.
  • I would like to bring up the topic that the ISN wastes valuable time where we could be learning but instead we are taping I know many who agree and I don’t know how many were willing to say it on the survey but I would prefer to use an actual textbook to help me with practice problems, and I do know I can get practice problems in other places but i prefer to get them in a textbook.
  • I like taking my own notes instead of taping in notes in the ISN because I understand the lesson more if i write my own notes. I don’t like the ISN at all. The ISN doesn’t help me with anything because everybody’s notes are the same. I study better with the notes I write and I think the ISN is useless. I would rather have my own notebook than the ISN.
  • I don’t really like the ISN because its a lot of gluing and cutting. Also, I have to pay more attention to the ISN then learning material because I know its a grade.
  • I don’t enjoy using the ISN. It is not really my style.
  • I don’t think the ISN is very helpful
  • I enjoy math class a lot, but I wish to use the textbook more.  the ISN is a helpful study tool, but sometimes feels as if the ISN is like a scrapbook! 🙂 but overall, I am very happy as to how math class is going and I am looking forward to the rest of a wonderful school year!

I do find it cute that they share their dislike for the ISN and their excitement over the rest of the year within two sentences…I love middle school!

Before I went crazy with things spinning in my own mind, I turned to twitter to share it with other minds to help me:

My mind was racing and I knew that I wanted to use the student comments to clarify a few things, but that more importantly I had students that wanted a different way to take notes.  What was I going to do? And my online PLN responded with ideas and questions of their own.  It was Megan (@mgolding) who suggested a blog post and discussion, so blame her for this long post! 🙂

Things to note:

  • This is a small amount of students who do not like the interactive notebook, the rest love it and have said so in the survey, in person and even after today’s in class discussion.
  • We DO NOT have textbooks, so learning from a textbook and just doing worksheets, isn’t going to happen.  We have an online version and a handful of books in the classroom, but our curriculum jumps around the “book” anyways.  It is not a useful resource for the students or myself. This is a HUGE change from last year for the students.
  • These students really do prefer “traditional” teaching and learning. This is what they have known, this might be all they have known and I have hit them with cooperative grouping, open ended tasks, SBG and Interactive notebooks.
  • These students are good students, many have their own way of organizing and taking notes already, which is different from any of my previous classes of students.
  • These students are used to learning FROM a textbook, like “read this, look at the examples and figure out the 20 homework problems”. Not much in regards to shared notes or class discussion. They are used to creating their own notes from going through the material on their own.
  • The cutting & taping (which seems to be a big issue) takes 5 minutes, maybe 10 on a long day…BUT it happens while they are doing their warm-up or something else.
  • Every parent that I have spoken with or heard from loves the class and the notebooks. The parent reflections on the notebooks for quarter 1 back this up.
  • This year my goal was to improve the left side of the ISN, which has happened, but that is where the “coloring” comes in…working on the creative side of the brain.
  • I have told them the ISN is their textbook, their reference.  It contains notes, examples and practice problems.  And it contains their reflection on their notes.
  • I have dabbled in the flipped classroom where they take notes at home while watching a short video and we practice all day the next day in class.

The issues

  • I am dealing with “traditional” learning students. The ISN might not be the whole issue, I think some of it is the way I am asking them to learn and how it is so different from what they know. How do I make it easier?  Example: they told me today they want me to create powerpoints with screen shots of the book and go through the examples in the book with them. 🙂 Ummm….no that sounds awful, there has to be a better way.
  • Some students want to take their own notes (which again I find interesting because they currently take their own notes, just happens to be in foldable format provided by me). How do I incorporate this desire into the classroom?

What I am considering:

  • Giving up on the coloring.  All classes asked for this, easy to give up…no big deal. But I can still ask them to reflect.
  • Allowing students who want to take their own notes to do so, but I might ask them to conference with me about it first so we can be on the same page with our expectations.  Rather than let them jump into a whole new format, I think I am going to ask that they take them in the ISN, but can do so however they want.
  • Teaching students how to use notes to study, this seems to be an issue this year, not knowing HOW to prepare for math tests and how to use their notes. Is it different because it is Geometry? Last year my students loved their ISN’s  in Algebra and 8th CCSS and used them all of the time. The students above claim it isn’t useful, is that because they don’t know how to use it, how to find things within their notes? This discussion also came up during our Twitter conversation.

I need your help, your suggestions, your ideas.  I want to improve my classroom for second quarter and I want to help my students understand the importance of notes in any format.  Is the current trend to change  classroom dynamics to being student centered removing the aspect of notetaking? How do you disseminate important information to your students?  Do your students keep a notebook? binder? etc? As we move to classrooms without hard copy textbooks, what does that mean for notetaking? How do you help the “traditional” students become comfortable in a student centered classroom?

If you made it this far, WAY TO GO! Thanks for hanging with me!

 

SBG Reflections

All you awesome teachers in my blog reader keep writing amazing posts that remind me of things I wanted to reflect on or write about.  Fawn Nyugen wrote a great post about her first year of SBG and it caused me to reflect on my four years of using SBG and how I will apply it to Geometry next year, which I’ve never taught. So, without the elegant writing that Fawn has and copying her headings, here is my reflection! In order to make it easy to read, I am linking to documents rather than embedding them.

What worked

  • Incorporating a Google Form for retakes. I created mine from a mix of those I saw online and even though I waited until 4th Quarter to do so, it helped SO much.  Mainly because I found a script that emails me the form responses when students hit submit…there is NO need for me to check the form daily! It even comes through the email nice and neat.  I then created a folder in my email with a rule that all emails with the Request to Reassess in the subject (set up in the google form), get sent to this specific folder. I liked this because it removed the requests for passes during class time and asked the students to reflect.  And they reflected pretty well seeing as though I added this 4th quarter.
  • Only allowing lunch retakes on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.  This allowed me to have Wednesdays to meet with students who needed help and Fridays because we have treat Friday’s in the 8th grade office and I like spending that time with those awesome teachers.
  • Color coding my PAPER gradebook. Students who earned a 2-1-0 on a skill were highlighted in pink once I posted a note in their online gradebook. The note in the gradebook mentioned that I wanted to see them during lunch to review their missed skill…this was the same thing I wrote on their quiz. I highlighted the students who mastered the skill in green. This allowed me to easily view which skills I needed to reteach and which skills most of the class had mastered.
  • Requiring two 4’s (two mastery scores) in order to fully master (or be completed with) a skill.  I liked this because the questions on the second quiz were a little more difficult in nature, really challenging students to prove their knowledge. I have no idea how I can do this with Geometry when it is all so new to me.
  • Skills Checklist.  It’s amazing how much 8th grade students LOVE stickers! They get a sticker when they master a skill.  This allowed them to know AT ANY TIME, which skills they still needed help with.  I like this because they kept all of their skill quizzes in a folder along with the checklist and they didn’t need technology to log into the gradebook to see what they needed to skill master.  I find the stickers at the dollar store or Target’s $1 section and even got quite  a few packs for Christmas this past year from students.
  • Short Skill quizzes. Most had 1-4 skills being assessed through 4-10 questions, with 2-4 questions per skill. This meant they didn’t take students they entire 45 minute period to take the quiz and they didn’t take me that long to grade. By not losing an entire period to a quiz, I was able to use the time before or the time after for a lesson or activity or review.

What didn’t work (and I won’t reinstate them)

  • Color coded excel gradebook. I found a PDF example online of a SBG excel gradebook that color coded the scores and would automatically tabulate when students had passed a skill twice.  I thought it was the coolest thing, took a good deal of time to make it. Yet I didn’t like having to write the scores down and transfer them to that document and then to the online gradebook.  This didn’t even make it past a few weeks.  Great concept, but too time consuming.
  • Allowing students to take more than two skills during a before school, during lunch or after school reassessment.  Since most come to reassess during lunch anyways, there isn’t enough time for students to take more than two skills.  I tried 1st and 2nd quarter with no limit, but then the end of lunch would come and I would hear “I didn’t finish, can I finish during class?” UGH…no way.

What I know I can improve on

  • Keeping track of which reassessments a student has taken. I have multiple reassessments for each skill, but when a student comes to reassess, I usually ask them if they’ve reassessed before and which skills.  I was *usually* able to provide them with the right skill quiz, but sometimes students did reassess the same skill quiz more than once.  Either I need to try Fawn’s Mailing labels for reassessments or something else.
  • Going over the quizzes when I hand them back.  Students sit in groups, so they learn at the beginning of the year that they need to dialog with each other, but when it comes to quizzes I find that they don’t like to say they didn’t understand a certain problem. I need to find a better way to make sure I am going over the questions on the skill quizzes when they are handed back.
  • Provided more written feedback on their quizzes.  I did a decent job during first quarter, but slowly, slowly it disappeared as the year went on.  I KNOW that it is important, but it was one of the easier things to let slide. No more! I plan to provide helpful, meaningful feedback on skill quizzes this year!
  • Explaining the system better to parents at the start of the year. I am the only one who grades this way in my building, so it is all new to parents whose “child has always gotten A’s in math”. I need to find a better way to explain. I’ve used Angry Birds as an example to help, but I need to improve it a lot.

What I’m still thinking about

  • Allowing those students that mastered ALL skills for the quarter to be exempt from taking my Quarter Skills Final. I allowed this during 3rd and 4th quarters this past year.  I thought there would be more students mastering, but it wasn’t as many students as I thought it would be (maybe 4 per class of 32) and why not reward them for working hard through the quarter and above and beyond class time? But I wonder if it defeats the purpose of the Quarter final to work on retention of material?
  • Do I even do a quarter final this year? (see below as well) The district curriculum committee has written unit tests for each unit, if I have to give those, I don’t see a huge quarter final being able to fit in.  Since this is a sophomore level course, the 8th grade students will take semester finals during 2nd and 4th quarter as it is.
  • Reassessment deadline. It’s usually the last Monday of the quarter for any skills during that quarter, but this sometimes causes students to wait until the last minute to master a skill from the beginning of the quarter.  If I have to give the district created Unit tests, maybe the deadline would be by the next unit test? Or two weeks after a unit test?  Just thinking aloud here…
  • Incorporating the Math Practices and 21st Century Skills into SBG, specifically the gradebook. I want to, I just don’t know how.  I tried 21st Century skills last year and those didn’t make it past the first quarter. What if the students graded themselves on the Math Practices and 21st Century Skills?  That would make it easier to keep track of AND allow discussion between the student and myself. Hmmmmm….
  • Meeting with each student at mid-quarter and end of the quarter to discuss together what grade they think they earned. I have read this in a few different places and I think it would open to some great discussions.  But will they be honest? And is this really preparing them for the rigors of high school? And where will I find the time?

What I’m at a loss on

  • Starting SBG over after 4 years of using it in Algebra and trying to apply it to Geometry.
  • Writing questions for Geometry. Writing the questions for Algebra and Pre-Algebra over the years was easy because I’ve been teaching it for so long I knew the types of questions I wanted them to know.  I want SBG to work in Geometry, but I am scared to mess it up because I don’t know the content well enough to be able to level questions and know what is really important enough to quiz on.
  • Creating a Skill Checklist for Geometry. Same reasons as above.  I have a bunch from online, but I also have to keep up with my district’s curriculum and common core.
  • The district curriculum committee that just finished the Geometry curriculum and rewriting it to Common Core has also created Unit tests.  How do I implement those tests with SBG? I haven’t given a unit or chapter test in years.  Do I give it and grade it as a test in the gradebook? Do I give it and grade it as separate skills?
  • Homework. I haven’t graded it in years, but I also haven’t checked it frequent enough to keep students doing it.  Just like a new post I read from An Old Math Dog Learning New Tricks, I don’t think practice should be a part of their grade, but I am starting to feel as though middle school students need a little more of a push in regards to the importance of practicing their math. Some students get that if they practice they will pass the skill quizzes, but others think they don’t have to do the practice to be successful. And the high school has mentioned that many new freshman struggle with getting assignments in on time (they come from 7 different middle schools).  Do I create a responsibility standard in the gradebook and use that for homework where a percentage done during the quarter equals a 2-1-0? Or like a comment on that same blog post, will my gradebook allow me to continue using weights when grading and make HW a 0% weight, so it doesn’t affect the grade, BUT it is visible in the gradebook for parents, students and myself to see their HW completion?

I really enjoyed putting this reflection together, especially since I will be essentially starting over with SBG next year with Geometry as my new teaching assignment.  This is really going to help me remember what I liked and what I want to change as I forge ahead into new territory!

Thanks again to Fawn for reflecting on her year of SBG and inspiring me to do the same!

 

#Made4math: CCSS Flipbooks – My most used resource

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Okay…so I was thrown into the Common Core Standards this year with little direction from our district.  They had a committee that put together curriculum and they did a great job, but it was a little difficult to follow and just so much at one time…I think we were all seeing stars.  At the start of the year, we were looking for any resources we could find.

During one of our Institute Days, while searching for some resources I came across the Kansas Association of Teachers of Mathematics Common Core resources page.  And while it may not look like a lot at the start, if you scroll down to the middle of the page, you see a link for these AMAZING flipbooks.  They are for the Math Standards and broken down by grade level.  The teachers I work with and I were thrilled!!!   We gathered card stock paper to print them on and went to town.  My keen eye for organization allowed me to color code my book so each standard is a different color.  (For those that follow this blog or my Twitter feed, this is not surprising.) Check them out!

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In an earlier post, I reference making the Geometry one.  I opened up the High School Flipbook, but only printed the pages that I needed specifically for Geometry, since I will be teaching it next year.

How to make your own awesome flipbook:

1. Download and save the PDF for the flipbook you need
2. Open the file and go through the book counting how many pages for each standard strand. This will allow you to color code it as you print it.
3. It says you can print back to back, but I haven’t been successful ANY TIME I have tried to do that.
4. When you print you want to select 2 pages per sheet, so you get a handy small flipbook and not a large giant one.
5. Use the paper cutter to cut the pages in half. No other trimming of the sides is needed.
6. Now is the “fun” part, you will need to sit down with a good pair of scissors and cut off on the dotted lines (provided in the PDF file) to create all of the awesome HELFPUL tabs.
7. Use your three hold punch to punch two holes in the pages.
8. Get two binder rings from someone in your building…they can be found.  Or ask someone who scrapbooks.
9. Bind them together with the rings.
10. Put your name on them and show them off at every meeting you attending.  Make all other math teachers jealous!

There you go.  I use this awesome resource DAILY as I look for the standards I am teaching or will be teaching.

Thank you to Melissa Hancock for creating them and posting them on the KATM site!