terrifying brilliant idea to get more math teachers out of lurking mode and into openly sharing surfaced maybe a month after I had decided to start trying this for myself (talk about timing). As I was gearing up for the first week of school, the email arrived; I loved the way it was written by the way. Here’s my choice for week 1:
3. Talk about one or two specific things you plan on doing differently this year… and how specifically you are going to implement them/get the buy-in. Why do you want to do these things?
I was already planning on doing a post or five similar to this and perhaps going ahead and committing some sentences to virtual paper will help finalize and focus (we had three days of school this past week – no real content covered – no syllabus given out to students).
Things I’m fairly excited to try to implement in my classroom this year after spending most of the summer gathering ideas from a lot of different teacher blogs:
- Standards-Based Grading and No Zeros/Late
- Interactive Notebooks and Foldables
- Flipping Lessons
- Problem-Solving and Collaboration
And yes, that is a lot to try to incorporate all at once!
I had heard of all these ideas already, but seeing other math/science teachers making the structures work in real classrooms made me want to stop making excuses and find ways to incorporate them into my own classroom this year. Each change is due to the same basic reasons. I went into teaching to ‘pay it forward’ and make a difference in young people’s lives. I am a first-generation college graduate; my mom and dad always encouraged me to do well in school and expected me to go to college, but my teachers also helped get me there (especially high school honors and AP teachers). I planned to be a career teacher; in fact, I switched to education from science just after graduating high school (also causing me to have to change colleges – but that’s another story) partially because I could see myself doing it for several decades and being relatively happy. Teaching is a lot more frustrating than I would have thought at 18 or 20 years old; like most teachers, I was pretty good at school, thus it was hard for me to relate to reluctant learners and struggling students my first few years. I’m tired of feeling frustrated or that I’m working harder than my students or that I can’t help the ones who need the most help. Thus, I’m hopefully making the fundamental shift from trying to help my students get up to the level of the content to trying to get the content down to the level of the students. I’ve always been more of a content specialist than a master motivator. I always say that I meet my students half-way and such, but I’ve got to be more intentional about structuring my class in such a way that it happens. The results sometimes speak for themselves; last year (and most years), I am doing everything I can to keep students from failing for the year. This often includes working a few extra days or even a week to give students the chance to drop by and basically do random stuff they didn’t do during the school year to chase those last few percentage points. To stay in this game another two decades, I’ve got to stop getting by and start meaningfully impacting some lives. Ambitious, right?
Standards-Based Grading and No Zeros/Late
I want to do some sort of hybrid SBG system. I already let kids do test corrections on the items they missed for partial credit, but the issue as that too many students simply see it as a way to get a few extra points not an opportunity to learn the things they messed up. Each test I gave last year was 25 multiple choice questions over the entire year; each test was the final exam for the year up to that point. I liked the idea, but students always did about the same for the most part. They did not learn from their mistakes; corrections were an easy way to grub for points not a structure to insure you learn from your mistakes. Also, I was telling kids “I’d rather your work be late and correct than on time and wrong,” yet I was punishing late work by deducting a minor late penalty (1 point out of 8) and flagging assignments as missing in the electronic gradebook which creates a placeholder grade of zero. I was unintentionally causing some students to turn in work that they knew they didn’t understand and would be a low grade to avoid a late penalty or a zero placeholder in the gradebook – I heard “A few points is better than a zero.” too many times last year. After not using quizzes at all last year, I’m bringing them back with a vengeance; a return to small section-based quizzes probably graded on a 5-point scale. If a student messes up a quiz, they’ll be able to retake it once. If they mess up again, they must come to after-school tutoring before trying it a third time. Many of the quizzes will be five multiple-choice questions, but some will be ‘show-your-work’ problems. Also, the format will vary between the original and the retake – just because the original quiz was multiple choice doesn’t mean the retake will be. The homework from last year was six multiple choice questions and a show your work problem that often required a student to extend the concept in some way; this will be the source for a lot of the quizzes this year. I don’t plan to use paper-based homework at all this year; I plan to go all-in on some kind of self-checking, self-paced system for practice (possible options include ALEKS, Compass Learning/Odyssey, or Khan Academy Practice/Coach features). The district is possibly providing the first two $$$ options; if they weren’t, I’d be using free stuff on Khan Academy or maybe even MangaHigh. I’m hoping students realize it’s in their best interest both in terms of learning and grades and buy into the system this time. I made a half-try at implementing SBG in one class two school years ago and felt forced to abandon it shortly after the start of second semester. As for tests, I’m currently considering implementing ‘testing weeks’ or windows instead of ‘test days’ – students can select a day (Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday?) to take the test, and they’re not allowed to take the test until their quiz grades indicate they are somewhat ready for it (at least a 2 out of 5 on everything?). I still have to work on the logistics of this idea.
Interactive Notebooks and Foldables
I’ve already been doing guided note-taking sheets in all my classes for at least five years and encouraging students to keep it all organized in binders and to refer to them when they forget things … but they don’t. This is especially frustrating since I’ve been teaching without a textbook for several years now. This time I’m going to try to ‘building our own textbook’ in more of a INB-style and include foldables as well. I saw a presentation on student notebooks a few years ago with another teacher from my department; we both liked the idea but neither of us had managed to implement it yet. We set up the skeleton in class this past Friday, and I already think the notebooks are going to work better than the binders ever have (*fingers crossed*). I want students to understand mathematics not take a guess at how the problem is supposed to be solved based on the way it looks … I hope these structures help develop better conceptual understanding in my students.
I need more time in the school day to do meaningful work related to the ideas above, games, and other activities. The part of my class that students can do most easily on their own is not practice; it’s completing definitions and basic examples. I’m not sure how much more argument I need to hear to be a fan of the idea of flipped lessons. I’ve bought a Wacom Bamboo writing tablet on sale (~$65 instead of ~$80) at a nearby Best Buy and downloaded some free video software (CamStudio looks to be the most useful thus far into the experimentation stage). I’ll post my first efforts at creating a flip video soon hopefully. I just need to find the time to get two or three lessons ahead of where I’m at in class so that I can begin to phase this in early.
Problem-Solving and Collaboration
If I can get flipped lessons going, I should have time for some problem-based learning in class using resource like 3 Act math (even if I only steal other people’s first acts to use as lesson ‘hooks’ this year) and perhaps other things I can scrounge up from MAP or Exeter or Park. I don’t really want to do full-on project-based learning (even though PBL is an emphasis in our district), but I definitely need to include more PrBL. I’ve benefited a lot this summer by interacting with other teachers through their blogs. How can I carry that idea forward into my classrooms? We’re starting the year in teams or groups, and I spent a lot of the first week trying to stealthily develop the idea that everyone in the group has to work together, we all have jobs to do (get the kit, get the papers, turn in the papers, throw away the trash, etc.), and be helpful not judgmental because we’re all in this together. I’ll see how much progress I made on this front next week when we actually start working on content together. For example, I hope to foster more discussion in class by using stolen whiteboard strategies (especially the Mistake Game).
This post has turned into quite a lengthy ramble, but it really did help me continue to clarify the changes I plan to make this year; I might even be ready to crank out a syllabus to give out to the kiddos tomorrow!