Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My First Edcamp

This past Saturday I attended my first edcamp. Our system's technology coordinator was one of the organizers. He tried to explain to us what this "unconference" would look like, but I think it might be impossible to really understand an edcamp until you've experienced one for yourself.

In the main meeting room a whiteboard was partitioned into rooms/time slots. Post-it notes were on a table in front of the whiteboard. If you had something you wanted to share or a problem you wanted to discuss, you wrote it on a post-it note and picked a room/time.

The Session Board

Topics included project-based learning, using Twitter in the classroom, Google Classroom, Kahoot!, and many others. Two teachers from my school introduced some of us to Adobe Voice. As sessions would meet and it became clear attendees wanted or needed more discussion about something else, another session would form. It was a neat process to watch.

Friends and colleagues sharing Adobe Voice

Michael had suggested I pick a slot for discussing the flipped classroom, so I did.  He assured me I needed no prepared presentation. He advised me to just share how I had flipped my classroom and how it was working for me.  I had no idea what to expect, but a room-full of people were interested in talking about the flipped classroom. After I shared "my story," teachers asked questions or shared their own experiences. We were having a great time and had to be told that the next session was waiting to enter the room. :)

Drawing for door prizes (I sure did want that Apple TV!)

Edcamp was a great PD experience.  It was FAST. It was FUN (even if I didn't win a door prize). There was a lot of information given and lots of things I want to explore deeper, but I really didn't find it overwhelming. My brain was not hurting like it sometimes has after a day of teacher-learning.

Most of all, the day was ENERGIZING. It was great to be with teachers who wanted to be there, talking about issues they wanted to talk about. I got to see former students now changing the lives of their own students. I got to meet pre-service teachers wanting to learn everything they can from current teachers. I made new connections (yea, Twitter!). Being able to share how and why I flipped my classroom reignited my passion for it.

I was reminded of how much we teachers need each other to be the best teachers we can be.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Retakes and Redos

Flipping my algebra classes has been a huge part of my transformation as a teacher this year. But there's been a second change I've made that has been transformational in its own right: retakes and redos.

I've attempted various methods of redos/retakes throughout my teaching career. I've never been extremely happy with any of them. They seemed to be lots of work for me with little benefit or improvement for the kids. Many times student made significantly worse on their second attempt at a test.

Last year I started to seriously consider some sort of retake policy...again. Students (and parents) were frequently interested in do-overs, but I wanted to make the effort required worth my and my students' time.

Then this past summer I discovered (via Twitter) Rick Wormeli. I read some of his books and watched some of his YouTube videos. He is a huge proponent of retakes and redos. He asks if all the "major" tests - ACT, bar exam, driver's license, others - are allowed to be taken as many times as desired, why shouldn't a test in school? He says any student - even the one who makes a 95 and wants a 100 - should be able to retake a test. He says students should be able to earn full credit on a retake - just as on all of those "major" tests. He also suggests ANY assignment can be redone.

His arguments made sense to me, so I decided to implement a wide-reaching retake and redo policy. I patterned my policy after the policy he used when he was in the classroom.

Daily grades can be corrected for full credit.

Tests can be retaken for full credit, after some preparation. A "Request to Retest" must be filled out and signed by the student and parent.  The student reflects on why they made the score they did the first time and what they are doing to improve the score.

Three activities must be done to prepare for the retake. Correcting the first test is always one; if there was a practice test or review, it must be completed again. Students can choose the third activity - re-watching videos, practice worksheets, IXL practice, etc. - as long as they provide proof.

Retakes and redos must be completed within a week of the return of the original assignment. Tests must be taken during the student's PE class. Retakes and redos can't be done the last week of the grading period to allow me to meet my deadlines for having grades finalized.

Yes, it has been extra work. I'm making 2 tests for every unit (3 if you count the practice test); the retake is similar to the original test. I'm writing passes for students to miss PE and juggling students coming to me to take a test while I'm getting a class started for the day. I'm finding extra practice for kids to do on concepts they struggled with the first time. I'm grading extra daily assignments and extra tests.

But it's working.

Only 1 student hasn't raised his/her score on each of the the last couple of retake rounds (30 students retook the last test!). And, each time, that student has either made the same score or scored only a few points lower on the retake.

Even more exciting to me than the improved scores is the evidence of learning. Real learning. Students are understanding concepts they will need as we progress through the course. Misconceptions are cleared up, and students who are careless pay greater attention to detail.

Some students choose not to redo any assignment or retake any test, deciding it's "too much work for a few points." The only abuse of the policy I've detected is some girls who retake tests to get out of "weight room days" in PE, even if they did very well on the original test. For a few students, I've had to stress the importance of following the policy; if you don't, you won't be allowed to retake your test.

Overall, though, I'm very pleased.

Today a student summed it up very well.  She said, "I'm glad you do the redos and retakes because it makes you really learn the material." Me: "That's the point." Her (my paraphrase): "Usually I just rush through the material trying to get it good enough to get the grade. Now I get to go back and really learn it."

That's a win in my book!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Finding Joy in the Struggle

The last three weeks have been tough.

I had a wonderful Fall Break.  Time with my family, time in my favorite place on Earth (The Smoky Mountains), time to rest and recharge. The mental break was needed and enjoyed, and I was ready to go back to school and charge full-steam ahead all the way to Christmas.

I knew by looking at the calendar that the end of October all the way into the first part of December would be busy.  But I was rested; I was ready!

I was wrong.

By the end of the second week I was feeling like I had been knocked on my keister.

It was a perfect storm.  Many different circumstances came together to make these past 3 weeks the most challenging of the school year so far.

The busy schedule.  Lots of afternoon and evening activities. Two Saturdays in a row of math tournaments (all day affairs including bus travel). Sunday afternoons at school to do/finish work I was unable to finish during the week.

A topsy-turvy school schedule. Our high school volleyball girls made it to the state playoffs (Go, Knights!). But it meant I had to adjust my plans for days students would be absent to attend the games. Flipped lessons make it possible for students to not miss instruction, but middle school students who know they are going to be allowed to be absent aren't always the most focused on what is going on in the classroom while they are gone.

Personal sickness.  A sinus infection one week, a stomach virus the next. I hate not feeling my best. It is hard to give what I need to give in the classroom when it's not all there to give.

Academic challenges. Beginning with The Too-Long Video, my algebra students entered a period of experiencing difficulty with material that was new and more challenging than what they have seen before. Student absences contributed to the feeling of lostness. There was a flipped lesson (direct variation) I was really unhappy with (no connections for the students or a sense of why it mattered). There was a flipped lesson (function notation) that I know blows students' minds, and the practice I provided didn't do a good job of clarifying the material.  There was a quiz (after the topsy-turvy days) on slope and graphing in slope-intercept form on which many students did not do well.

Every year, every group hits "the wall." The time they realize this is not going to be "math as usual" and they have to decide what they need to do to be successful. And I have to decide how to provide the necessary support to help them be successful.

I know to expect this wall. I knew the weeks following Fall Break would be challenging. But I had no idea how challenging, somehow the wall still took me off guard, and I found myself despairing. Doubting myself. Wishing for the educational bliss of the first nine weeks.

In a conversation with my principal earlier in the school year, I mentioned I felt like a baseball player who was seeing the ball clearly. Lots of hits, a couple of them out of the park, and only a few strikeouts.

But these past three weeks saw me not being able to get the bat on the ball to save my life. I was still swinging, but every pitch was making me look bad. And I began to reel.

This past week - working around the stomach virus - I tried to take steps to get my algebra students back on the right track. We had a discussion about not being able to "wing it" anymore and taking responsibility for our learning. I made warm-ups for the week to review/reteach concepts students were having difficulty with. I chose focused practice activities for students to become more comfortable with material.

And by Thursday I was seeing progress. I was able to work with students one-on-one. I was able to answer lots and lots of questions. Light bulbs were coming on where there had previously been darkness.

The retake/redo policy gave students hope. They could redo assignments they had misunderstood. They could do more practice and preparation (that maybe had not been done the first time) and retake that quiz.

After the big test on linear equations on Friday, many said "That was easy!" The material was NOT easy; they were prepared!

Things are beginning to look better.  I am feeling better physically and mentally. My students' confidence is higher, and so is mine.

So...what can I learn from these past three weeks?

I talk a lot about wanting my students to find joy in the struggle. I want them to know that when they struggle they can grow. I learned about "Growth Mindset" this past summer and have been trying to change my students' self-talk to reflect a growth mindset. My bulletin boards are covered in growth mindset statements!

I realized toward the end of the week I was not applying these statements to myself. That I was whining about the struggle. That I was displaying a fixed mindset.

There WILL be challenging days, weeks, months...even years. But just because I encounter challenging periods, it does not mean I am a failure. It does not mean everything I've been trying is not working and has been a waste of time. It just means I need to find what I can learn from the difficulties. See the areas that need improvement and work on them.

Find joy in the struggle because when I struggle I can grow.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Too-Long Video

The weeks since Fall Break have been incredibly busy, and I haven't had time to blog! I try to record topics as blog titles as I think of them so I'll remember what I want to reflect on when I actually have a few minutes to reflect.

It happened.  I made a video that was too long.

When we returned from Fall Break, after taking the ACT Explore, we began our lessons on slope. Slope is completely new to these students, so I had a lot of "back story" to give.  I talked a LOT in the video. I taught how to find slope from a graph and using the slope formula. Our book doesn't really develop finding slope from a graph, but kids need to understand it when graphing lines in slope-intercept form, so I thought it important to spend some time on it.

There were only 3 Smart slides, but the video was over 20 minutes long.  Like right at 22 minutes. Most videos are between 12-15 minutes long.

I warned the kids ahead of time.  There were groans. "She said we would never have videos over 15 minutes long!" Well, I never said "Never," but that was my intention.

It was material I would have covered in one class period, so I figured the extra 5 (ok...7) minutes would be fine.

I was wrong.

The kids were frustrated with the length of the video.  They seemed confused by the material. They struggled with the practice in class the next day.

While many things have contributed to the challenging nature of the last 3 weeks (more on that in a blog post to come), the too-long video was the beginning of a shaky foray into graphing linear equations.

So...a definite revision of this video is in order.  It will be 2 videos next year: one on an introduction to slope and finding slope from a graph, and a second one on the slope formula.

In my mind, neither one of these things should really take an entire day for my 8th grade Algebra 1 students. I had 2 days of applications of slope planned.  Should slope really take 4 days? Isn't that too long? This year's experience should convince me such is not the case. I've already taken more time this year with our introduction to linear equations based on what I decided was an insufficient understanding of the topic from previous (non-flipped learning) students. One more day on a foundational concept in mathematics will not be a day wasted.

It's got me to thinking about my traditional classroom lessons.  How many times did I throw too much at students, counting on them to sort it all out - on their own - through homework? Then answer a few questions and move on to the next thing.

I've said it before, but flipped lessons have allowed me to have a much better feel for the pulse of my students. And having a better grasp of what they are and aren't understanding, I am no longer able to continue plowing through material when I know there are issues to clear up. Thankfully, flipped lessons also allow me the time to creatively reteach and not necessarily lose valuable instructional time.

The limit exists.  Fifteen minutes, max.  Some would say even that is too long for 8th graders, but my Pre-AP students seem to handle that length just fine (they definitely like it when they're shorter, though). Any longer is too much.  And will automatically become two days.

Whether my "I don't have enough days to cover everything as it is!" brain likes it or not.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Flipclass Recap: The First 9 Weeks

We've completed the first grading period of the school year.  I have 9 weeks of flipped lessons under my belt.  I recorded (and students watched) 25 videos. Over 4 hours of direct instruction moved to students' control.

So, what's the verdict?  The good, the bad, the ugly?

Well, there is no ugly.  And really nothing bad.

I'm a believer.

I've blogged about a couple of the aspects that have made me a flipclass convert.  The flipped classroom is the most efficient use of my and my students' time. In-class activities are so much more enjoyable than in my traditional classroom.

Student reviews have been very positive. They like their more manageable homework load.  I give them all their guided notes for the week and have the videos uploaded and ready to go the Friday before the week they're needed; students like being able to watch the videos when it is most convenient for them. They like that the videos are always there to refer to if/when needed. They like the structure of class time.

I've heard from a couple of parents, and they like the flipped lessons.  A retired teacher tutors a few of my students; she came to school to tell me in person how much she thinks of the videos.  She also relayed that the parents of those students are very appreciative of the videos.

My administration has been super-supportive. My principal asks students from time to time what they think of the flipped classroom, and he says they all have positive comments.  Our tech coordinator is "on my side" and has helped whenever I've needed him.

Are the kids learning anything? Historically, I haven't kept exact records of grades on each assignment or grading term (in a former life, I used to make copies of my gradebook at the end of each year), but I do know my grades at the end of this first grading term are higher than they've ever been. I'm amazed as I grade things that I know are usually challenging for students; this year's students really seem to have a better and deeper understanding of material.

Challenges?  A few, but not many.

I'm still learning how to deal with students when a video does not get watched.  There are some days where the planned activities can be completed - with a little guidance - but there are days when a student won't have any clue how to participate in class if they haven't watched the video.  On those days, I have the students watch the video in class.  They have to complete any class activities they miss after that. I have used school consequences (before-school detention) for students who try to make a habit out of not watching the videos.

It is NOT a huge problem.  One or two students in each of my three classes.  Once I started implementing school consequences, several of those shaped up.

There have been a few tech issues.  I created a course in iTunesU; students can download the videos to their iPads and watch without wifi.  I put YouTube links to the videos on Edmodo.  Most of the students prefer iTunesU, as Edmodo can "sit and spin" when trying to load a video.  A few students - again, not many - are having pesky issues.  They will download the videos from iTunesU, and then the videos disappear.  For the kids without wifi at home, this is a problem.  Most students are having no problems at all.  Our tech coordinator has been in touch with Apple to see if we can find out what is causing the "disappearing videos" and fix it.

Where do I go from here?

Right now, I'm going to keep on keeping on.  Things are working, I'm getting comfortable, my students are getting comfortable.  No big changes, yet.

I do want to start having students write a short summary of each video. I would like it to be paperless. Something they could submit on Edmodo.  I'm trying to figure out the logistics in my head before I begin, though.

With the end of the grading term, Fall Break, and the administration of ACT's Explore Test, it has been awhile since our last flipped lessons.  And I miss them.  I am real excited about the in-class activities I have planned for the next couple of weeks.  I am excited to see the depth of understanding my students are able to achieve in our work with linear functions.

Flip on!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Day in the Life of the Flipped Classroom

So...with direct instruction moved outside of the classroom, what exactly do I do all class period?

The short answer:  all the activities I've never been able to do with my students.

My Pre-AP Algebra 1 students have always been shortchanged when it came to variety in the types of activities they were able to do in class.  There were exceptions, but most days were a seemingly endless cycle of lecture+notes and working problems in the book.  Direct instruction took most of the class period, so the only option for practice was book work or worksheets.

Now, the sky's the limit.  Foldables, scavenger hunts, task cards with QR codes, sorts, cut-n-paste, relays, group work, partner work, and lots and lots of problem-solving.  There are still times of problems out of the book, but I am often able to chunk it into manageable, not-too-boring, small sections of time.

Class is usually broken into three 15-minute parts, give or take a few minutes.  Depending on the activity, we may only do two activities.  There is something on the board for the kids to do when they enter the room.  It may be prep for the day, or it may be some problems allowing students to demonstrate their understanding of the lesson video.  There is usually a "main" activity where students practice and/or apply the day's material.  I like to wrap up the day with some sort of exit slip.

Here are a few pictures of some of the activities we've done over the last several weeks.

Group work, discussion, iPad use

Foldable in the spiral notebook

Laying the Foundation lesson; math+writing

Partner problem-solving
While many of students refuse to say they enjoy math, they will say that math CLASS is enjoyable. Fun, even.

Me? I'm having a blast.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

If I Weren't Afraid

We made it!

I cannot believe tomorrow is October 1.  The first 2 months of school have flown by.

TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge comes to a close.  I haven't blogged every day, but I did answer 25 out of the 30 prompts.  That's not too bad!

Today's question is, "What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren't afraid?"

If I weren't afraid, I would go completely to standards-based grading (SBG)/flipped mastery.  My grading scale would be A, B, C, and Not Yet. Percentages/number grades would not exist.

What am I afraid of?  All I know is percentage grades.  It's the way I was taught, it is the way I was taught to teach, it is the way I've always taught.  It's all my students and their parents know and understand.

I'm afraid of time.  What if a student NEVER masters a particular standard?  What if many students don't get to many of the standards (that they are tested on AND expected to know in the next course)?

I'm afraid of management.  What does a classroom where every student is potentially working on something different look like, and how does it work?  What about whole class activities?

I'm also afraid of entering this entirely new way of thinking alone.  I am not afraid of trying things by myself - right now I'm the only teacher at my school flipping lessons - but SBG would mean a whole new philosophy. I think it would be very difficult to be the only teacher doing it when every other teacher was grading the traditional way.  And when the program we are required (by the state) to use for grading only takes numbers.

I can see our system transitioning to SBG eventually.  Many of the things we have implemented over the last few years lean toward SBG. I think it will be a few years before we start to transition - and I think the transition itself would take a few years - but I think it's coming.  And I'm ready to embrace it when it does come.

But I'm afraid to take this particular leap on my own.

Thank you, TeachThought for the 30-Day Challenge, and for the thoughtful, fun prompts.

Thank you to those who have read my ramblings.  Please keep coming back for posts about my flipped classroom.

I am proud to be a part of the community of educators.

Monday, September 29, 2014

I'm Not Who I Once Was

Welcome to Day 29 of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge!

Today's prompt:
How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

I'm not sure this question is fair for those of us who number our years of teaching in the decades.

How have I NOT changed?

I still feel sorry for the students I had my first year of teaching (1993-1994).  I was not much older than them, I was easily intimidated by them, I was unsure of myself and afraid of making mistakes.  I changed course frequently and suddenly as I tried to decide the best content to teach and how to teach it.

I have 2 distinct chapters to my teaching career: six years teaching geometry at the high school and ten years teaching eighth grade at the junior high (I took five years off with my kids in between).

I am a different teacher now than I was when I came back to teaching ten years ago.  Twenty-one years ago seems like a different lifetime.

So, saying I've changed is stating the obvious, but how have I changed?

I'm better at relating to my students.

I'm more comfortable in my own skin.  Mistakes?  We all make them, and I do a better job of modeling how to handle them.

I have a better grasp of the process of learning and do a better job of supporting students through the process.

I've quit expecting young teenagers to act like fully mature adults, providing a safe place to land and structure to encourage the development of responsibility.

I am using technology that didn't even exist 21 years ago.

I hope I remain open and willing to change.  In ten more years I hope I can say I am different from the teacher I am today. If not, I hope someone will tell me it's time to go to the house.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Technology vs. Curriculum

It's Day 28!  I can't believe the 30-Day Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge by TeachThought is almost over.

Today's prompt:
Should technology drive curriculum, or vice versa?

I see technology as a tool.  A supplement.  Something that enhances what is already happening in the classroom.

But not a necessity.

A good teacher can be effective without technology.  Students can learn what they need to learn without technology.

Technology gives more options.  Can be more engaging for today's tech-savvy students.  Allows faster research and global connections and interesting simulations.

Until the day it's not working.

And then the teacher works his or her magic and has an effective lesson anyway.

I don't think technology or curriculum is the driving force in the classroom.  I think the teacher drives it all.  A good teacher works wonders whatever the curriculum or available technology.

Weekends and Holidays

Day 27 prompt for TeachThought's 30-Day Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge:

What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

I have found that it is very important for my mental, emotional, and physical health that I get some rest each week.  I need time to rest and recharge to be at my best.

I *try* to take one day each weekend - Saturday, usually - as a "school-free" day.  It is also beneficial if that day is spent at home with some sleeping in and reading and mindless TV.

Emphasis on the word "try."  Being the mom of two active teenagers and the sponsor of two competitive academic school activities, it's not always possible to take Saturday "off."  But I do better the following week if I get that day.

I will occasionally plan lessons or grade papers on Saturday, if it strikes my fancy.

Sunday mornings are spent at church.  That time spent in studying and worship is very important in getting me through the work week.

Sunday afternoons and evenings are spent catching up, grading papers, and making SURE I'm ready for the week.  This school year I've designated Sunday afternoons as the time to make videos for flipped lessons.

I try to take advantage of holidays to recharge.  There is usually some school work that must be done during holidays, but I really try to give my brain a break.

There have been holidays where my brain completely shuts down the area it designates for school.  I go back to school and am completely off-kilter and out-of-sync.  It takes me a few days to get back in the swing of things.

That phenomenon doesn't happen often.

I try to keep the time I'm away from school in the proper balance.  Staying on top of what needs to be done for school but also enjoying time with my family and getting the rest I need so I can do a good job when I'm in the classroom.

My Go-To Sites

I'm behind!  It's been a busy weekend, and I haven't had a chance to respond to any of TeachThought's prompts for a few days.

So, a few short posts to get caught up.  I want to finish the month strong!

The prompt for Day 26 of the 30-Day Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge was:
What are your three favorite go-to sites for helps/tips/resources in your teaching?

I visit TeachersPayTeachers several times a week.  I find many, many resources there I use in class. Task cards, lessons, scavenger hunts, sorts, etc.  Resources there are inexpensive, and many are free. The activities are engaging, and my students enjoy practicing concepts in varying ways.  I have no idea how the teachers of TpT have or find time to create activities and make a business out of it, but I am thankful they do.

Pinterest is my second go-to site.  I follow several teachers (most whose blogs I read).  I get ideas for foldables for my interactive notebooks, lesson ideas, inspirational or informational articles from sites like Edutopia, and math jokes or cartoons to share with my students.  I pin ideas I find into categories I've created, and I am able to look through my categories to find ideas I saw and liked earlier.  I can also do a search for a particular topic and see pins I've made or pins from others that match the search.

Rounding out my Top 3 is Twitter.  Twitter is my site for daily PD.  I follow teachers and administrators who share ideas, articles, or inspiration.  I participate in the #flipclass chat every Monday evening.  Twitter has increased the number of connections I have with other educators and changed the way I think about many aspects of teaching.

I am thankful for the many sites out there with the goal of helping teachers.  I am thankful others are willing to share their knowledge.  I am a better teacher thanks to others who share their time and ideas in a public way.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Is There Any Doubt?

I've been looking forward to today's TeachThought Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge prompt:

Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why?

Since the name of my blog is "Mrs. Gibbs Flips Algebra 1," there's probably little question as to which learning trend intrigues me the most.

This blog started because of the flipped learning trend.  Until the 30-Day Blog Challenge, ALL the posts were about flipped learning. And after the 30-Day Challenge the posts will return to the subject of flipped learning.

I talk a LOT about my flipped classroom, but I don't mind at all talking about it some more.  I want to keep spreading the news!

I first heard of flipped lessons from our district tech coordinator when all teachers got iPads in the spring of 2013.  I thought, "Hmmm....Sounds neat, but how could that ever happen?"  It was mentioned again last year when our middle and high schools went 1:1 with iPads.  Same thoughts.

Something clicked for me this past June.  I don't even what exactly made me decide to jump in.  But I suddenly realized I WANTED to flip my algebra classes and I WOULD find a way to make it work.

What captured my attention?  Time.  I thought about what could happen in my allotted 51 minutes with each class if I moved direct instruction to a video.  And I could no longer resist.

I blogged extensively here about what the use of time now looks like for me and my students.

There are many other side effects of flipped lessons that continue to make me a believer. My students have less homework stress. I have a better finger on the mathematical pulse of my students and classes. I am able to have more one-on-one time with more students. More students are more engaged than ever before.

And just today I got to experience - again - one of my favorite aspects of the flipped classroom.  Last night's video (transformation of formulas) was brand new for my kids and something they find a little challenging at first.  Students came to class a little unsure.  But as they worked through today's activity, I got to see the lights come on. I got to see the understanding grow.

In my traditional classroom I rarely got to see that part of the process.  At the end of a challenging lesson I got to see my students leave confused and worried about completing their homework. I got to see them come to class the next day with lots of questions or unfinished homework because they got frustrated and gave up.

But now I get to see more of the part of learning that excites me.  That "A-Ha" moment.  The light bulb moment.

The moment the switch is flipped.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Involving the Community

We're entering the final week of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge!

Today's prompt:  "Write about one way you meaningfully involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don't yet do so, discuss one way you could get started."

I have to admit I'm one of the "don't yet do so" teachers.

But I have thought about this from time to time, and the way I see to start is with the parents of my students.

The question I hear most often is, "When are we ever gonna use this?!?!"  Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I've been asked that....

I have what I think is a good answer:  I doubt any future employer of my students is going to ask them to solve an equation or factor a trinomial.  But will these future employees need to know how to think?  How to organize information?  How to recognize patterns?  How to persevere through a challenging problem?  Yes!  And that's what I'm really trying to do:  teach them how to do all of those things.  I'm trying to develop brains.  Grow and strengthen synapses.

But, that answer doesn't satisfy young teens.

I would one day like to ask for parent volunteers to come share how they use math in their daily lives/careers. I could list topics we cover and see if parents can share things that they do that tie directly - or even indirectly - to those topics.

I could then extend that to leaders of local businesses.

This is an idea that has been rolling around in my head for awhile, and I'm not sure when it will actually happen.  It will definitely need to be focused on and intentionally planned.  I need to research and see what other teachers have done similar to this.  I would want to make the experience worthwhile and meaningful for my students.

One day, though, I'll be able to blog about the experience!

Monday, September 22, 2014

My (Growing) PLN

After taking the weekend off, I am back for Day 22 of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge.

Today's prompt:  What does your PLN look like, and what does it do for your teaching?

I'm not sure I knew what a PLN (Personal Learning Network) was before I joined Twitter last year. But I have one, and it's growing!

My PLN starts with my school. I've already blogged how the other ladies in my department are always teaching me.  The rest of my colleagues are also rich sources of ideas and inspiration.

My PLN then extends to the rest of my system.  I have learned things from teachers in every school in my system, as well as administrators in the central office.

In the last couple of years I have found many math teachers' blogs.  Blogs such as Math Equals LoveEquation Freaki is a number, and several others have shown me new and innovative ways to explain and present material, and many activities I do with my students come from something I read on a blog. I have been able to communicate with some of these bloggers, sharing even more ideas.

Pinterest is also a part of my PLN.  I have found many of the aforementioned blogs and activities from Pinterest boards.

And Twitter.  Where would my teaching be without Twitter?  Ideas, quotes, articles, blog posts...Twitter is a never-ending source of learning for me.  And it is a community.  My favorite hour of the week is Monday night's #flipclass chat.  I have made friends all over the country, many who are veteran "flippers" and many who are learning as I am.  Twitter allows us to communicate in real-time.

Several phrases come to mind when I think of what my PLN does for my teaching.  I stand on the shoulders of giants...it takes a village...all for one and one for all (OK, maybe that last one is stretching it a bit).  But my students - thankfully - aren't dependent on just me to learn math in the eighth grade.  They get the benefit of knowledge and ideas from ALL of these people with which I have made connections.

And now, I've gotta go.  It's almost time for #flipclass chat!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tools for Student Reflection

It's Day 19!  I can't believe we're in the second half of September.  Time flies when you're having fun, I guess.

Today's prompt by TeachThought for the 30-Day Blog Challenge is, "Name three powerful [ways] students can reflect on their learning, then discuss closely the one you use most often."

I primarily use 3 different tools for student reflection.

"Exit Slips" allow students to show if they have mastered a skill we've been learning.  They work a few problems, I check their work and make notes, and then I return the slips to them. We discuss issues either individually, in small groups, or as a class.

I use "Quick Writes" for students to tell me in words HOW to do a process. Being able to move from numbers and symbols to words is very important in a student's understanding of mathematics. I try to refine a student's mathematical vocabulary as I look through "Quick Writes."

My favorite tool for student reflection is more of an actual reflection.  I might ask students to give me a "3-2-1" about a topic:  3 things they understand, 2 things that are unclear, and 1 question they have or something they wonder about the topic.  I've also done a "traffic light" - green for "I got this!", yellow for "I'm getting there but a bit confused," and red for "Help! I'm lost!" Students give me information on why they chose a particular color.

I learn a tremendous amount when I ask students to tell me where they are in their understanding of a topic and what specifically they are needing help with.  I can address issues individually or with a class, and I can adjust my instruction as needed.

My belief in the importance of student reflection continues to grow.  Part of the maturation process involves becoming more self-aware.  And if students are able to realize by themselves - with a little bit of prompting - where their difficulties are, they can begin to take more responsibility for their learning and take steps to improve their understanding.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Teaching Is....

It's Day 18 of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge!

"Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy."

When discussing unmotivated and/or unwilling students, you will often hear frustrated teachers say, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."  Somewhere I have read an addition to this saying:  "You can, however, make it thirsty!"

Source: nea.org
That's my philosophy.  My job.  Make students thirsty.  Make them curious.  Make them feel secure so they are willing to take a risk.

The drinking of the water...the learning...will follow.  Whether or not the students were originally motivated or willing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Most Challenging Issue In Education Today

I read through all of TeachThought's prompts as the 30-Day Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge began.

There are many challenges facing education today.  Money.  Philosophy.  Policy.  Students whose needs - physical, mental, emotional - are not being met at home.

Soon after I was reading a blog that gave the perfect answer to the question, "What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?"  I did not save the link and don't remember the exact sentence I read, but I thought as I read, "That's it!"

So...I will try to paraphrase best I can.  And I apologize for not being able to give credit to the person who was much more eloquent than I will be.

I think the biggest challenge facing education is sort of two-sided.

One is that decisions are being made for and about education by people who really have no idea what it's like to be in a classroom.  Administrators and teachers are often asked to implement policies that are out of touch with reality.  Being the dedicated professionals they are, they do the best they can to fulfill what is required of them - and often perform miracles in the process.

The second, related side of the challenge (as I see it) is that schools, administrators, and teachers are often judged harshly, also by those who really have no idea what it's like to be in a classroom. Everyone sees him/herself as an expert in education (since everyone has been a student, according to the "open letter" that frequently makes the rounds on Facebook) and therefore able to make sweeping criticisms of those trying their best to do the job they were trained to do.

If administrators and teachers were asked for their input and allowed to be a bigger part of the decision/policy-making process, and if they were given the benefit of the doubt and treated more often like the trained professionals they are, I think the frequently-discussed "needed education reforms" would happen almost automatically.

EDIT:  Thanks to a post on twitter, I found the blog of the "open letter" I was referring to. You think know what teachers do. Right? Wrong.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Superpower I Wish I Had

As a girl, I was a huge fan of Wonder Woman

"If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?"

That is TeachThought's prompt for Day 16 of the Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge.

Whew...an easy one! ;)

I would choose to have a Motivator Ray Gun (I'm having difficulty thinking of a cool name for it).

I would love to have the power to make every student care.  To want to learn.  To want to improve.

Because, in my experience, those are the students who experience success.  Those are the students who grow.  Ability actually matters very little.  Give me students who are motivated, and we can really go places!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Three Strengths

It's the halfway point of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge!

Today's prompt:
"Name three strengths you have as an educator."

I think one strength I have is that I am open and willing to change.  Part of this comes from my compliant nature.  Ask me to do/try something, and I will.  But I also like shaking things up.  I need direction, I need to know how to make something new work for me, but when I finally have that "A-Ha" moment (that I enjoy seeing my students experience) I am all in.

A second strength is that I still love learning.  I still love to be challenged.  I WANT to know a better way to do what I'm doing.  I want to improve.  I still love learning about my craft, but I also still love learning about my subject.  I love seeing new connections in mathematics.  My training for my pre-AP classes by NMSI gave me several "lightbulb moments" about the math I teach that I honestly had never had before.

A third strength I think I have is my relationships with my students.  I'm pretty confident my students know I care about them and am on their side.  That I'm concerned about more than their math grade. I try real hard to give my challenging students a fresh start every day.  I want every student to know I see the potential inside them and the people they can become.

While there are always ways I can - and want to - improve as an educator, there are areas where I do OK.  But even those areas could get better.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Feedback for Learning

I took a break from the Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge yesterday to blog about time management in my flipped classroom. Please go check it out if you're following #reflectiveteacher; it is very much a reflective post!

Today's prompt from TeachThought is:
"What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?"

Feedback is more than a grade.  In my view, feedback is letting students know - specifically - where they are missing the mark and what they can do to improve.

Before this year, I did not do very well at providing feedback to students.  While I would mark papers and make notes to students where appropriate, sometimes papers were not graded in a timely manner. And even if they were graded in a timely manner - and students knew their grades, either by my calling them up and showing them the paper (then keeping the paper due to waiting on absent students to make up the work) or by them checking their grades online - I was the world's WORST at handing papers back to students.  When I would finally pass out papers, I would hear more than student say, "WHEN did we do this?!?!?"

If students even remembered doing the assignments, there was no opportunity to learn from them.

The year is young (students completed 5 weeks Friday), but things are much, much better.

I am better at looking at and marking formative assessments (they don't get a grade; they are for my and my students' information).  In my collaborative classes, my partner teacher will pull groups of students who had difficulty with the material and reteach.

I try to make notes on students' papers as I grade, not just marking problems wrong but telling students what they did wrong and how to correct it.  I find, though, that students don't always find these notes useful. If they read them at all.

The biggest difference in feedback for my students this year is due to my new retake/redo policy.  If students choose to redo an assignment, they want specifics about how to correct their work.

When a student wants to retake a test, they have to correct their first test.  They have to interpret any notes I've made on the test and ask questions if they need clarification.  They also have to do some extra practice; for the last test I gave, their options were extra practice problems and/or rewatching videos. Students who wanted to retake the test would bring their test to me, I would look over the test and say, "Here...do these problems" or, "Rewatch this video and retake the notes."  I found it very effective.

The retake policy has forced encouraged me to grade and return papers in a few days, while students still remember what the assignment or test was about.

And what I think I've discovered is that the best feedback is given and received through conversation. Face-to-face, one-on-one conversation.  I get to have those conversations during the "mini-conferences" with students who want to retake a test, and I'm getting to have many more of these feedback conversations with students daily due to the flipped classroom and better formative assessments.

I can't wait to see the impact of such feedback on my students' learning.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Using Time Wisely

Every teacher relates to this
 Due to my participation in TeachThought's 30-Day Reflective Teacher challenge, I haven't blogged specifically about flipped lessons in two weeks.  And I'm going through withdrawal.

So today is a #flipclass post day!  (I might answer the Reflective Teacher prompt later; the day is young.)

Week before last we had a holiday-shortened week plus test prep and testing, so it was a week with only one flipped lesson.  This week we returned to flipped lessons full-force.

It's still going well.  I'm getting to do so many different practice activities with my students.  I know better than ever before what my students are getting and what they need more help with.  I'm hearing students comment on how much more manageable their math homework is than in years past.

There are challenges.

I have about one student in each class who seems to have made a habit out of not watching videos consistently.  But I have a better handle on how to respond to this and encourage student responsibility.

We had a school network issue that was preventing some students from accessing videos, but it has been fixed.

As videos begin to include more new material, I hear more "that confused me," or "I didn't understand that video" as students enter class.  But then I get to see understanding come as students work with the new material in class.  I have to admit that's pretty neat!  I also need to remind students to not just "get through" the videos but go back and rewatch parts that were unclear to them the first time.

I am beginning to really feel the effects of the time and effort required of me to make this endeavor successful.  I have had more than a few 10 hour days and am working Sunday afternoons.  I'm tired. But thanks to the sources I read before, I knew to expect this and am confident next year will be easier.  I am also trying hard to protect what free time I have and to really rest when given the opportunity.

What I really want to talk about today, though, is time.

A guiding question of those in the flipped learning community is "What's the best use of my face-to-face time with students?"  That question is answered - to start with - by moving some or all of direct instruction outside the classroom.

One of my constant complaints as a teacher has always been that I don't have enough time.  I have 51 minutes of class time.  In my traditional classroom, the first 15 minutes were used for checking and answering questions from the previous night's homework.  Then 20-30 minutes of delivering new content.  Then 10-15 minutes (if they were lucky) for students to begin working on the new homework assignment.

Warm-ups?  Spiral review?  There was no time!  Answer EVERY question about homework?  Never. I would have to limit questions so I could cover the next material. Exit slips?  Students who were taking advantage of time given in class didn't want to stop working on homework to answer an exit slip prompt.  Many students didn't yet know what they did or didn't understand about the assignment because they hadn't processed or practiced it, yet.

And the wasted time!  I would go around and do a "5-point check" to see that everyone had attempted all the homework while students were (supposed to be) checking answers.  I loved seeing every student's work and letting students know the assignment was important to me.  But many students wouldn't bother checking their work (answers would be posted on the SmartBoard).  Or it would take them several minutes to get started.  And if they finished checking while I was still walking around the room, it would get noisy. And be hard to get them quiet to begin the "real" part of class.

Homework time given at the end of class?  Many would not take advantage of it.  There would be a lot of non-mathematical conversation and more than a few off-task students.

I would waste time, too.  After lecturing for 30 minutes, all I wanted to do was crash at my desk. Papers that needed to be graded often wouldn't be.  I would not circulate among the students as well as I should have to check for understanding and redirect as needed.

The amount of time I had and the use of that time always frustrated me!

My flipped classroom is the most efficient my classroom has ever been.

Several students have mentioned how they realize that what is taking 15 minutes on a video would take at least twice that long in class.

Students have something engaging and active to do when they enter the room:  a warm-up reviewing concepts from the video or including spiral review, prepping a foldable, or using partner-matching cards to find their partner for the day.

Students are constantly doing something.  We move from one activity to the next.  Activities are finished before class is over (I am still figuring out timing for some activities), so there is no temptation to quit working and say, "I'll just do this at home."  The percentage of truly engaged students in my classroom is at an all-time high.

A side effect of the use of class time is when there is the need for independent practice, my flipped students are more willing to sit and work quietly than I have ever seen.  I think there are a couple of reasons for this.  We do such a wide variety of activities, and many of the activities are truly active and involve the use of a partner or group; students don't rebel at a quiet session of practice every few days. Knowing the practice will be finished in class also motivates them to stay busy.

My use of time in class has also improved.  While I am always walking around and assisting and discussing with students, I have small chunks of time here and there where I stand at my podium and grade a few papers or check a few formative assessments.  Sit at my desk?  Forget about it!  But I am getting things graded and returned quicker than I ever have, and I am bringing fewer things home to grade than I ever have.

I also believe the flipped classroom model is the best use of my students' time, not just in class but out of class, too.  If I were giving traditional homework instead of videos, there would be more than one student a class period not completing homework on a regular basis.  Students - while there are still the "What, we have homework tonight?!?" complaints - are willing to give approximately 15 minutes of their time to watch a video and take notes.  Students used to share with me that some algebra homework assignments would take an hour or even longer.

I feel a little sneaky (but satisfied) that I am forcing a dedicated 45 minutes or so of practice time a day. When "homework"/practice time is in class, we use ALL that class time for activities dedicated to mastering the material presented on the video.  In my traditional classroom, I couldn't have guaranteed that amount of time for every student every day.

I've mentioned this before, but my students (and their parents) seem to really appreciate that they can watch videos when it is convenient for them.  Many students (more than I would have expected) are watching most, if not all, of the videos for the week during the weekend.  While the early-watchers do seem to be mostly girls, I had a football player mention he watched Wednesday's video early due to the away game Tuesday night.

For the first time in my teaching career, I am not feeling helpless when it comes to the amount and use of time.  I am not wishing for a blocked math period just to get by (but the thoughts of what I could accomplish with a flipped classroom AND a blocked period make me a little excited).  I am not shaking my head and wringing my hands at my students' misuse of class time.  And while my pre-algebra classes are not flipped (yet!), elements of a more efficient classroom are showing up in those classes, too.  I had no idea that answering "What's the best use of my face-to-face time with my students?" would be so transformative.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Next Five Years

I've been looking forward to answering today's Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge prompt.  TeachThought asks:

"How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?"

I'm not sure I would have had a good answer to this question before this past summer.

Now, though, I see two major changes in the next five years.

I can see flipping all my classes, my collaborative pre-algebra classes as well as my Algebra 1 classes. Fewer of my pre-algebra students have the access of most of my algebra students, and they have less motivation to do work of any kind outside of class, but I am beginning to brainstorm ideas for how to make some sort of flipping work for them.  I don't know if it will happen this year - flipping Algebra 1 is taking a LOT of time - but I can definitely see being ready to try something next school year.

The second change I see is a move to standards-based grading.  I think this would be process that would take a few years to fully implement.  I've made a start with my new retake/redo policy this year, and I can see the way I grade and the way students measure success in my class continuing to transform over time.

Many things have changed since I began my teaching career 21 years ago.  I am a different teacher than I was 21 years ago (heck, I'm a different teacher than I was last year!).  I hope I never grow resistant to change and continue to experience lots of metamorphosis as I enter the latter part of my years as a teacher.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

My Favorite Part of the School Day

"What is your favorite part of the school day and why?"

That is TeachThought's Day 11 question for the Reflective Teacher 30-Day blog challenge.

Why the hard questions?

I think I have two favorite parts.

I like the quiet moments.  When I walk in my room in the morning before students arrive.  During my planning period when the room is quiet.  Those times when I finally get to sit down and exhale.

What?!?!? A teacher whose favorite times of the day are when she's not with students?  Well...it's not like that.  When my room is quiet, I get to think.  I get to dream about future lessons.  I get to reflect on past lessons.  I get to recharge.

My second favorite part of the school day is a little noisy.  I like when the students are working together and having mathematical discussions.  I love hearing "math talk" out the mouth of babes.  I love them reasoning, explaining, justifying to and with each other.  (And by the way, I get to hear much more of this now that I've flipped my algebra classes.)

So...I keep cheating by choosing more than ONE favorite anything.  But I'll probably keep doing it. :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Ok, ok...I didn't post yesterday.  I couldn't really come up with any "biggest accomplishment in teaching that no one else knows about."  And I was tired.

But I'm back on board for TeachThought's 30-Day Reflective Teacher blog challenge on Day 10.

Today's prompt looks like fun!

Share 5 random facts about yourself

  1. There was a time in my life when I could put both legs behind my head.
  2. I went half a year to 1st grade and half to 2nd, graduating high school when I was 16.
  3. I was salutatorian of my high school class.
  4. If I had been a boy, my name would have been "Jeffrey Major".
  5. I spent most of my 8th grade year in Cairo, Egypt.
Share 4 things from your bucket list
  1. Attend a taping of The Price is Right
  2. Go zip-lining
  3. Do the overnight hike to LeConte Lodge in the Smoky Mountains
  4. Visit Ireland
Share 3 things you hope for this year, as a person or an educator
  1. To maintain momentum and stamina
  2. To develop a growth mindset in my students
  3. To stay calm, mind my own business, and do my own job
Share 2 things that have made you laugh or cry as an educator
  1. Laugh - A student my first year of teaching, after mentioning the platonic solids were named for Plato, very seriously asked, "Is that the guy who made the gooey stuff you make things with?"
  2. Cry - Almost any note of thanks from a parent
Share 1 thing you wish people knew about you
  1. I have insecurity issues.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What's in My Desk Drawer?

Welcome to Day 8 of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge.

Today's question:
"What's in your desk drawer, and what can you infer from these contents?"

Oh, wow.  Do you REALLY want to see inside my desk drawer(s)?  I am the queen of junk drawers. A pro at shoving things in drawers before a sub comes in order to clear off the desktop.

Students are told to NEVER place anything they wish for me to find on my desk. And the drawers can be just as much of a black hole as the desktop.

One side of desk drawers, this afternoon
One drawer got cleaned out during summer school (it's the one on top in the picture); it's in decent shape.  While straightening it, though, I found a kitchen spoon.  I have no idea how long it had been there, and I don't remember exactly why I took it to school in the first place.  The drawer underneath it is stuffed full of files, some still useful and some that need to be tossed.

The center drawer is full of odds and ends; paper clips, stickers, batteries.

The left side of the desk has three drawers.  The top two need the same treatment the kitchen spoon drawer got this summer.  The bottom drawer has most of my office-type supplies and is as organized as can be expected.

What do the contents of my desk drawers say about me?  They are a testament to my succumbing to the tyranny of the urgent.  They are what "I'll deal with this later" looks like.  There are hints of an organized-wanna-be, but most of those are covered with other stuff.

What does/did the kitchen spoon say about me?  Resourcefulness.  Yeah.  Let's go with that.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Most Inspirational Colleague

Week 1 of the 30-Day Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge by TeachThought is complete!  Today's topic:  "Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why?"

OK...this is impossible.  Just one?

I talked about Karen Chamness in my mentor post.  She was very inspirational to me for all the reasons she was a good mentor:  she was positive, she was available, she listened, she led by example.

I am very blessed to work in a family-like atmosphere at Arab Junior High School.  My colleagues and I actually like each other.  We spend time together outside of school.

While I am inspired by many different teachers in my school, for this post I will focus on my fellow math teachers.  They inspire me because I am always learning from them.

Lisa Laney has taught me to be more efficient in the classroom.

Milia Jones has taught me how to transition from a high school teacher to a middle school teacher.

Tiffany Brooks has taught me how to be more compassionate.

Anne-Marie Graves has taught me how to use technology to my and my students' advantage.

Tracie Bayer has taught me how to be a diplomatic communicator and how to reach every student.

I would not be the teacher I am without the influence and inspiration of these ladies.  I am thankful for them and for the opportunity to make this journey of teaching with them.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

What Does a Good Mentor "Do"?

This is the question asked by TeachThought for Day 6 of the 30-day Reflective Teacher blog challenge.

When I think of "mentor," two names immediately come to mind.  Dr. Debbie Blue and Mrs. Karen Chamness.  Dr. Blue was my advisor at Oklahoma Baptist University, and Mrs. Chamness was my "next-door neighbor" in the high school where I began my teaching career.

What did these ladies "do" that made them good mentors?

They were positive.

They listened.

They were available.

They were passionate and enthusiastic about their jobs.

They led by example.

They each became a big part of who I am as a teacher today.

Friday, September 5, 2014

My Classroom

TeachThought's 30-Day Blog Challenge topic for Day 5 of the Reflective Teacher is:

"Post a picture of your classroom, and describe what you see - and what you don't see that you'd like to."

"Group Work Day!"

When I look at my classroom, I see flexibility.  We can work with a partner, in groups, or independently.

I see color.  My walls aren't too busy, but there are enough inspirational, colorful posters to keep them from being boring.

I see life.  My plant (a gift) does a lot for the atmosphere of the room (literally and figuratively!).

I see a sense of anticipation, being ready for whatever creative activity is next.

"The boring arrangement," in my daughter's words
What I don't see, that I would like to see, is more tables.  I would like to have a more convenient  place to gather and work with small groups.  I would also like to see more room to have a little more flexibility with my desk arrangement when students aren't in groups.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What Do I Love the Most About Teaching?

Welcome to Day 4 of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge!

What do I love the most about teaching?  It might be cheating, but I decided on two things I love most.

One is building relationships.  While it is not my job - or my desire - to be my students' "friend" or "buddy," I want to build a solid, trusting relationship with my students.  I want them to know I am on their side, and I have their back.  I want them to know I care about them as individuals with unique interests, strengths, and personalities.

There is possibly no better motivator for a student - especially for one who finds intrinsic motivation hard to find - than a positive relationship with at least one adult at school.

Another part of teaching I love the most are the "A-Ha!" moments.  I love seeing the light bulb come on in a student's head.  That moment of understanding, of breakthrough, of "getting it" is incredibly rewarding to me.  I love when students realize they CAN understand and be successful with math.  I love seeing their confidence grow.  As I begin to focus more on developing a growth mindset in my students, I hope to experience more "A-Ha!" moments with them.

There are lots of things I love about teaching.  But if I can build rapport and solid relationships with my students and see them experience success and confidence in math, I will be a happy teacher.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

An Evaluation Area for Improvement

Discuss one "observation" area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.

This one's easy!  I just completed my state's evaluation tool's Self-Assessment and PLP indicators this past weekend. Our administration helps us out by giving ideas for what we can pick as our areas for improvement (usually related to areas we are working on collectively as a faculty), and one of this year's suggestions was an area I had already picked as an area of focus for the school year:  formative assessment.

Our district began implementing "strategic teaching" methods a few years ago, and there has been a renewed focus on knowing at the end of each class period which students have met the objective for the day and which ones have not.

I remember as we started hearing the words "formative assessment" in faculty meetings and training sessions how many of us asked, "We have to give a grade every day?" and, "Assessment?  Every day?"

As I have read blogs and articles (many of them via Twitter, of course), my understanding of formative assessment has deepened.  I now realize formative assessment has little to do with "a test" and is not intended to always be a grade.  Oh sure, I remember being taught the difference between formative and summative assessment in teacher ed classes at the undergrad and graduate level, but I remember being confused by the difference between the two at the time.

I have now read how formative assessment and its timely feedback have a huge impact on how much students learn.  I have read how to adjust my instruction daily based on what I learn from formative assessment.

And I have become determined to do a better job of administering and properly utilizing formative assessment in my classroom.

By the end of last year I knew my favorite types of formative assessments were reflective in nature. Tell me how you feel about this topic.  Green light (I got it!), yellow light (I'm a little confused), or red light (HELP!  I'm lost!)?  What parts do you understand, and what areas are unclear?  I have found students are pretty good at articulating where they are having difficulties.  I learn a lot from assessment of skills, too, but I get more information from reflections, I guess because I get a glimpse inside my students' thoughts.

One challenge for me when using formative assessments has been time.  In the past, I sometimes found I gave a formative assessment and it sat on my desk for days before being looked at.  That did neither me nor my students any good at all.  I am finding, though, with the flipped classroom, I have little snippets of time (in between walking around and assisting students) to look at formative assessments and give feedback more immediately.  Students get the papers back the next day in most cases.  In my collaborative Pre-Algebra classes, my partner teacher will pull groups of students who had difficulty with a topic to the back of the room, reteaching and helping students to correct their work.

To summarize, the ways in which I would like to see this area of my teacher evaluation improve are: give more frequent formative assessments, give students specific feedback on their work, and give students feedback in an amount of time that is useful to them.

I look forward to seeing the gains of my students as I work on this area!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Technology Integration for the '14-'15 School Year

It's Day 2 of TeachThought's 30-Day Blogging Challenge:  Reflective Teacher!

Today's topic:  "Write about one piece of technology you would like to try this year, and why.  You might also write about what you're hoping to see out of this edtech integration."

I'm not trying any new technology this year (that I know of at the moment); I'm looking to become more proficient with, and make better use of, technology we already have:  iPads.  Teachers in our system were given iPads in the spring of 2013.  We went 1:1 with iPads in grades 6-12 in the fall of 2013.

Last school year my integration of the iPads was pretty limited.  I made good use of our learning management system, Edmodo, and we used the iPads in my classroom primarily for textbooks and QR code scanners.

This year I've flipped my Algebra 1 classes, so I'm using the app Explain Everything to record lessons, and students are accessing those videos through YouTube links on Edmodo or downloading them into iTunes U.

I discovered Kahoot! this summer and have already used it several times.  The kids love it.

I hope to take advantage of Edmodo's Snapshot feature, giving common core-type formative assessments to see how my students are progressing on standards.

I still wrestle with the idea of becoming a paperless classroom.  While I love technology and what it does to enhance my classroom, there's a lot of old school math teacher left in me.  I am a paper-and-pencil girl.  I still sketch out my lesson plans each week in writing before typing them up and submitting them via Google Drive.  I still keep a handwritten gradebook.  I like holding real paper and giving feedback with a real pen.  I also have students who still prefer to write on real paper with a real writing utensil.

I do plan to try more digital assignments this year, though.  I know as I get more experience with it, I will become more comfortable with the idea.

While I am slower than some in the integration of technology in my classroom, I always make sure that I use what works for me and my students.  I may be slow, but I do eventually get there!

Monday, September 1, 2014

My Goals for the School Year

A teacher-friend at my school let me know via Twitter about TeachThought's 30-Day Blogging Challenge:  Reflective Teaching.

I've been very proud of myself for blogging once a week.

Every day for a month?  Well, that WILL be a challenge.  But I'm going to try my best.

Day 1's prompt is to write my goals for the school year.

I've already been in school four weeks (!) and my students have completed three.  My goals began to come into focus as last school year came to an end and through the summer as I read blogs and books and Twitter feeds.  The gears began turning and I knew what I wanted to accomplish this year.

The BIG goal - and the purpose for this blog - is the flipping of my Algebra 1 classes.  I knew by the middle of June I wanted to flip, and I have been working since then to make that happen.  You can read some of the process herehere, and here.  The beginning weeks of the flipped classroom have been successful.

Reflecting on my flipped classroom journey through this blog is another goal.

At the very beginning of the summer, before I made the decision to flip, I had found videos and writings by Rick Wormeli.  I set out to create a retake/redo policy in my classroom, allowing students the time and opportunity to truly understand and master material.  As I hoped, students are taking advantage of the new policy.  I am figuring out how to manage the extra paper flow.

Related to the retake/redo policy, I am taking steps to ensure the grades student have are accurate measures of what they know, not how compliant they are or how much work they have done.  My classroom is not a standards-based grading classroom, but I can see that becoming a reality at some point in the future.

After being introduced to and reading Carol Dweck's Mindset:  The New Psychology of Success, I am seeking to move my students from any fixed mindset habits they display to a growth mindset.

I have a goal to perform frequent formative assessments and give timely feedback.

As a result of feedback I received from last year's students after they took the Algebra 1 End of Course Test, I have a goal to dedicate more time to problem-solving.

The school year is young, but these goals are already being attained.  They become fine-tuned with each passing week, and I can't wait to see what they look like by the end of May.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Encountering (minor) Challenges and Making Adjustments

I knew it would happen.  It was impossible for every day in the flipped classroom to be picture-perfect. Technology would have hiccups.  Students wouldn't watch a video.  The day wouldn't go as planned.

It was NOT a bad week.  But as the newness of the idea wears off and the honeymoon phase comes to an end, my students and I begin the process of figuring out how to make flipped lessons work day-in and day-out.

Students took their first test Tuesday.  Grades were good.  It was mostly review material, but I am satisfied my students are where they need to be as we move on through the curriculum.

On the test I asked students to reflect on our flipped classroom.  To tell me what was good, what could be better, and to give any ideas or suggestions they had.

Responses were overwhelmingly positive.  Many students "love" the flipped lessons or think they're "awesome."  They like that they can watch the videos at their convenience (my athletes and their parents are in flipped lesson heaven) and pause or rewind their teacher.  One mentioned being able to watch lessons without the normal distractions of a classroom lecture.

There were a couple of suggestions.  One mentioned my squeaky stylus (I had pointed it out to them in the video we watched together).  One said they were great for the material he was already familiar with but told of his concern about encountering new material via video (I share that concern, but we got a glimpse of it this week, and I think the flipped lessons will still be effective with unfamiliar concepts).  A couple requested they be given more problems to try individually during the lesson/video (future videos will do a better job of this).

One student simply stated, "I don't like them."  This student has a "tough girl" exterior and is often vocal about her dislike of whatever we might be doing.  I did ask, "Reasons?" on her response, but I am not going to worry too much about her statement.  I have a feeling she might like them more than she wants me to know.

And my goal is not for my students to like everything we do all the time.  It's OK if you don't like the flipped classroom.  I don't take it personally, and my feelings aren't hurt.  I would like to know, though, how we can work together to make it work better for you.

I got positive feedback from more than one parent this week.  My principal is hearing positive feedback.  The state department was in our system this week doing an audit of the special ed program, and my autistic student was randomly picked to have his files audited.  All of his teachers were interviewed.  During my interview we spent the majority of time discussing flipped lessons (the special ed teacher had already told them I was flipping lessons and how the student is responding to them); they were impressed by and interested in the process.

Wednesday was the first day of challenges.  Fourth Period (my first Algebra 1 class) came in, and I had a planned activity all ready to go.  As students began to work through the activity, I realized there was a part of the lesson that presented some difficulty.  It slowed the activity down and made it a bit awkward.  We worked through it, and I'm confident students understood the material before they left, but I could sense a bit of panic in the students and myself at one point.  I adjusted the activity a bit for 5th Period, and by 7th Period I knew how to do the whole thing differently.

I need to tell 4th Period they're my "guinea pig" class, and they will help me know what works and what doesn't.  Sort of like being the oldest child (my parents always called me their "experiment child").

That was also the day of the interview with the state people, and I got called out of 4th Period early.  So we didn't get to finish all of the planned activities.  No problem...I just split the lesson into two days and we completed everything the next day.

Wednesday was the first day I had students come in who hadn't watched the video.  I had thought I might be able to let such students participate in class activities, but I quickly realized it is near impossible to do anything with the material if you have no idea what it is about.  Some of the students had headphones and some didn't, so watching the video while the class was doing learning activities worked for some but not others.  Our choir teacher had some extra headphones she let me have.  From here on out, if a student hasn't watched the video, he/she will have to go to the back of the room (considering the hall?), watch the video and complete the notes, and take whatever activity is missed in class home to complete (on top of the next video, if one is due the next day).

A couple of students messaged me on Edmodo through the week, saying they were having issues with iTunesU downloading videos.  I've told students to set iTunesU to "auto-download" - hoping that will prevent panics the night a video is to be watched - and reminded them that the videos are accessible in two places for a reason.

We've had widespread sickness and many multi-day absences right here at the beginning of the school year.  I'm reminding students to check Edmodo for which videos are due which days AND to see what we did in class that needs to be made up.  Students seem to be surprised that they have more than the video to make up.

I've also decided to post folders to Edmodo with copies of the blank notes.  If students lose a copy of notes or are absent the day they are handed out, they will still have access to them.  I might also let students who prefer to take notes digitally do so (although in a poll I posted to Edmodo this week the vast majority of students said they would prefer hard copies of notes).

In this week's lessons, the instructions at the end of the video about asking questions shifted.  It went from, "Do you have any questions?" to "Ask a question: either something you don't understand or something to ask another student to check his/her understanding."  Students don't like this!  Some skipped it altogether (which meant their notes were incomplete, and they didn't get the full 5 points on that day's check) and some asked "Do you understand?"  I got a "Who invented Tuesday?" and a "When am I going to use this in life?" (that question came from "tough girl").  This week I gave them credit for at least following instructions and asking something; I told them questions needed to be relevant to the lesson and specific from here on out.  Lots of students, though, came up with great questions, and many even made up their own problems.  I like what the questioning is doing to their brains.

I think some concentrated time to discuss how to ask higher-order thinking questions is in order.

I see all of the (minor) challenges of the week as part of the process.  Students are learning what a flipped classroom looks like and what their job is.  I'm learning how to make it work for every student. One of the main objectives of the flipped classroom - students taking responsibility for their own learning - is beginning to take shape.  It will be almost impossible to be a passive learner in the flipped setting, and students are beginning to realize that.  They are learning what THEY have to DO to be successful, but I hope they are also realizing I will provide the necessary support to help them succeed.

This weekend I begin recording the next set of videos.

I get so busy during class I keep forgetting to take pictures of what we are doing to add to the blog. These long posts need to be enhanced with classroom pictures!

In September I plan to participate in TeachThought's Reflective Teaching blogging challenge.  So, in theory, I will blog daily for the month of September.  And not every blog post will be about the flipped classroom.  There are good things happening in my collaborative Pre-Algebra classes and with my new retake/redo policy that I look forward to sharing.