Saturday, September 23, 2017

(At Least) One Good Thing

Some school years are hard. Every school year has hard times, but some years are just plain hard.

This year is proving difficult mostly due to things going on outside of the classroom. Things in my personal world have been off-kilter since March. There are things I am having to focus on that are taking a good deal of my mental, emotional, and physical energy. It's just where I am right now, and I have no idea when things are going to let up.

I have good classes this year. I have one challenging class (always to be expected), and I had a full-fledged meltdown with them this week unlike anything in recent memory. I am enjoying my competitive algebra team; they are eager to learn and want to know all the "hard stuff." My Algebra 1 kids are learning how to pay attention to and follow instructions, but they are good kids and are slowly learning the ins-and-outs of my out-of-the-box classroom.

As usual, it is way too easy for me to focus on how HARD everything is.

So this week, inspired by #onegoodthing posts on Twitter, I started making a concentrated effort to look for what IS going right.

Of course, there is more than one thing going right. I've just found I need to be looking for them instead of focusing on all the difficulties all the time.

- Thanks to all the hours and hours of prep over the last several years, my classroom sort of runs itself. OK, we all know that's not completely true. But I have lessons and activities and videos ready to go and am FINALLY able to just make sure they're all put in place for the next day. I had thought to begin remaking a lot of videos this year, but it's not to be right now. I'm still making tweaks to things, of course, but I don't have that "starting from scratch" feeling this year. I am currently not able to stay at school several hours late each day, and I'm not having to, thanks to the work that's been previously done.

- I am figuring out how to use technology like Google Forms Quizzes to give quicker feedback, make grading a little easier, and report progress to parents and students more efficiently. Blog post to come.

- I am seeing growth in students. My Pre-Algebra kids really struggled with multi-step equations. As we moved into equations with variables on both sides, we slowed down and did some focused practice. I put some scaffolds into place - reference sheets, for example - and began demonstrating for individual students how to use previously-worked examples to help them work current problems. Slowly, over a matter of days, I saw lightbulbs come on. Students who previously couldn't correctly apply the distributive property were solving equations with variables on both sides, distributive property, AND combining like terms.

- One day we made a reference sheet for how to recognize how many solutions an equation has. The instructions said, "Find and copy an example...." Many students said, "Can we just make up our own example?" Why, yes! Yes, you can.

- We were reviewing solving equations by speed math-ing. One of my lowest students said, "These are too easy. Can we have some harder examples?"

- At a grade-level meeting this week, challenges with two of my students were discussed. A colleague offered to speak to one of the students, and I contacted the parents of the other. Both showed marked improvement. They and I both saw what they CAN do and how to encourage continued success.

- After the come-apart with the aforementioned class, I compared myself to Hades in Hercules when his hair flames up and apologized, saying I don't like to do that. I focused the rest of that day on relationships. I assured them they are not bad kids (one asked), but that sometimes they make bad decisions. I tried to show them I want them to be successful and I want us to have a positive experience during the time they are with me each day. I still think I am going to have to get creative to really figure them out - I'm currently brainstorming and waiting for the "A-Ha" - but we are making progress together. difficult as things are and as distracted as I feel - it is very weird for me to not be able to focus on school as much as I would like - there are good things happening in Room 12. It WILL be a successful year!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Annual "Start of School" Post

The last couple of years I posted about the start of school at the end of Week 2. That wasn't possible this year, so here I am at the end of Week 3.

The school year has gotten off to a good start.  My classes are good, and I'm excited about the potential the year holds.

I've done many of the same beginning activities blogged about here and here.

I adjusted the integer review for my Pre-Algebra kids, and they were introduced to in-class flipped lessons earlier than last year. Several of them have commented how much they like the videos and learning that way.

I bought a clothesline from Amazon in the summer and have done a few "clothesline math" activities, mostly drawing from this page on the Estimation 180 site. My Algebra kids LOVED the integer target game and have mentioned liking several of the clothesline activities we have done. I used this post from Kent Haines to estimate and order square roots.

I was out of school the day my students worked through the "Thinking Rationally" activity, and I was so sad to have missed any conversations they had. So, one day this week I put up double clotheslines and we talked about the placement of the expressions involving pi. In the process, we got to talk about calculator use AND why some expressions that appear to be irrational really aren't.

My Pre-Algebra kids got to "speed math" yesterday with simplifying expressions. They seemed to enjoy it.

My plan this year is to do a "weekly check-in" with students to see how things are going for them, what they have enjoyed during the week, and suggestions they have for improvement.

I have been out-of-pocket some, so I gave the first "check-in" yesterday. Kids seem very satisfied with the start we have had and how the class is structured. As always, the ability to work together is a favorite.

This coming week, Algebra gets to work with the Pythagorean Theorem. My square roots, real numbers, and Pythagorean Theorem weeks of my year are still some of my favorites. After that, they'll enter equations, and I'm brainstorming how to self-pace that unit and let kids skip things they already know.

Pre-Algebra is reviewing 7th-grade equation stuff and will continue with that (multi-step equations, rational coefficients) this coming week before we introduce equations with variables on both sides.

I continue to try to use technology and Google Classroom to make feedback quicker and more efficient. There is still much I would like to create digital activities for  - I must say I am a huge fan of our new Chromebooks - but I have to approach them as I have time and not try to do too much at once.

I think it's going to be a great school year, and I can't wait to see what unfolds for both me and my students!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

End of Term Reflections: College Edition

Look who's being all productive! Two blog posts this weekend, plus several other school tasks.

The summer term of MTH 113 is almost over. We had our last regular class meeting this past Thursday; the final exam is next week.

I had my Pre-Cal Trig students write a reflection/evaluation for me this week. There's not a lot of technology use (I've missed it!), so I asked them to get out a piece of paper and write.

I asked them to address some or all of the following prompts:
What worked? What didn't? (particularly in the areas of videos, how class time was structured, and practice)
Suggestions for changes/improvements
What did you learn?
What do you wish you understood better?
What advice would you give a student taking MTH 113 with me this fall?

My students had good insight and gave good suggestions. They were very thorough and wrote more than I expected. (I would say something about this being a surprise to me since the class is made up entirely of young men, but someone near and dear to my heart told me an observation I made about my all-male class in a previous blog post was a bit sexist, so I'll leave that out, LOL)

Students liked the videos. They liked the length, the format, and my explanations. While I'm glad all of this worked for the students, I know elements of all three of these can be improved. There are several videos I am going to rework for the fall.

The biggest complaint about the class was the one-day-a-week schedule. That is completely out of my hands, but it was my biggest complaint, too. Students felt they would have gotten more out of the class if it had met two days a week.

One thing I was unsure about the entire summer was the way I structured class time. I pretty much put all the videos and suggested practice out there and told students to do what they needed as they needed. Several students indicated they would have liked a little more teacher-directed time in class working problems. If I teach this class again next summer, I will definitely try to incorporate a different structure into class time. A couple of students didn't need the extra structure, but a few would have benefitted from it.

Students felt weakest with the trigonometric identities. They wished they had had more time and practice with those. I agree.

One student - the most independent of the group - had an interesting observation about the flipped class. He said he treated it like online classes he has taken, except he actually showed up to class once a week. He said students who didn't like online classes might not like the flipped format. And he might have a point. None of the other students (in my very small sample size) indicated that, but I can see where a student who signed up to have a "3-D" teacher might be a little caught off guard that a portion of the class was going to be conducted via video.

I think the difference was made in having access to me in class. Several students have taken online/blended classes and said they liked the flipped format much better. I prepare for the fall semester of MTH 113, I have a lot to think about. Class time will be shorter, and I have more weeks of instruction to work with, but I am thinking about what I am going to do differently. I have a few ideas about class time, and I think I want to restructure a couple of the tests.

I told these guys they were my guinea pigs, and I appreciate their willingness to try some things out for me and give me useful feedback.