Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Unit with Room for Improvement

Polynomials and Factoring.

I'm not sure why these topics always seem to come at crunch time. They have been in two different places in the two textbooks I've used, and they still come at times when I feel crunched. When I'm in a hurry. When I need to cover a lot of material in a little bit of time.

It used to be right before Christmas.

This year, it is right before testing. And nearing the end of the school year. When - after lots of winter weather - I'm behind. Thankful that we're not giving the End of Course test this year, but still wondering how I'm going to get everything covered by the end of the year. Because whether there's an official test or not, my students still need to be prepared for their high school math courses.

My current book puts operations with polynomials and factoring in one chapter. One long chapter. The first mistake I made was to not test on the two parts of the chapter separately but to wait and give a test after we had covered it all. I thought it would save me a couple of days.

As we entered the third week of the material, and I saw the test wasn't going to be until the end of the fourth week, I knew I had made a mistake. I could tell things were getting muddled in my students' brains. I was confident they had understood polynomial operations, but they were not given time to solidify that understanding. By the time we were deep into factoring, I could tell it was all running together.

I did try to rectify my mistake by taking two review days for the "big test;" we reviewed polynomial operations one day and factoring the next. That helped. One student, just a couple of days before the test, said something to the effect of, "So factoring is sort of the opposite of multiplying?" While I had told students that - we developed rules for factoring by looking at patterns in multiplying - they obviously hadn't been given the time or opportunity to make that connection. I was thankful for the eventual "a-ha" and connection, but I wish it had happened a little sooner.

The other thing I didn't do well with this material was plan classroom activities. I see these topics as being skills that students need adequate practice with to become proficient. I have a good set of self-checking worksheets (Punchline Algebra) that provide this practice, but they weren't good after a few days in a row of use. Students became less focused and engaged as the unit went on. I had flashbacks to my teach-then-assign-book-problems days and memories of my first thoughts about the flipped classroom when the thought of practicing crowd control while students completed boring assignments was not appealing.

I still could have used the Punchline pages, but I needed to structure each class period differently, with several different types of activities. I brought in a couple of different activities throughout the unit, but not enough. The two review days involved different activities, and that helped tremendously, but the whole unit (or what should have been two units) needed more.

The flipped classroom needs lots of varied activities. This has been one of my favorite aspects of the flipped classroom. Students need to be active and engaged and almost unaware that they are learning (my students often share how surprised they are that they've learned so much when it hasn't felt like "work").

I don't know why I reverted to old ways.

Well, I do know why. I'm feeling the time pressure, so I tried - again; you think I would know better after "The Too Long Video" - to save some time, and I let the stress and time of year get in the way of my best planning.

So...I've made lots of mental notes - and have recorded this blog post - so I can improve this unit next year. One idea I just had was to make more explore-flip-apply type videos/lessons.

My students are resilient, and after some focused reteaching and making connections and lots of review the few days before the test, I feel like they had a good grasp of the material (I haven't graded the tests, yet, so we'll see).

But hopefully next year's students will have it a little easier and an even better grasp.

EDIT: I've graded the test, and I'm pleased with my students' grasp of polynomials and factoring, overall. There are a few who did not master the material, but most of those will choose to go through the retake process and improve their understanding.

I am thankful all the time I teach resilient young minds who can recover from my missteps.

Monday, April 6, 2015

#flipclass Flash Blog: The Planning Process

What a great #flipclass topic!

I think I blogged about my planning process for my flipped classroom early on, but I was still so fresh, and I've come a long way since then. I don't know that my planning takes any less time than it did early on, but I am more efficient.

When planning a flipped lesson, I first look at the topic/standard I want to cover on a particular day.

I have made guided notes in SMART for several years, now, so I go to previous notes I have made on the standard.

I modify these already-made notes to make them video-friendly. I add the "I can" stem (that students write in while they watch the video) and the "Questions?" at the end of the notes.

I try to do a week's worth of videos at a time, so I prepare and export several sets of notes at once.

The next part of the planning process is recording videos. That's usually my Thursday afternoon activity. I record 2-4 videos, depending on what the plan is for the next week.

Now the hard part. With direct instruction moved to videos, how do I fill class time?

I begin searching. I know there are those who are not huge fans, but I find the majority of my class activities on Teachers Pay Teachers. Some are free, some I pay for. I am thankful there are teachers who have or make time to create activities I do not have time for. And that there are individuals out there much more creative than I.

I go for scavenger hunts, discoveries, games (review days are almost some sort of game, now), coloring pages.

Sometimes class activity is an in-depth, written response lesson, using a Laying the Foundation lesson or something similar.

For skill-based topics, I like using pages from my "Punchline Algebra" binders, as they provide straightforward practice and are self-checking.

I *love* that I can do so many self-checking activities in my flipped classroom; my students always know if they are on the right track.

And, yes, some days are out of the book. Not often, but if I am ready to take a grade on a topic, I will sometimes use a problem set out of the book.

I try to find 3 things for each lesson, a la Strategic Teaching - Before, During, and After activities. I am not always successful at completing 3 activities, but that's always the goal.

My biggest challenge with planning is timing of activities. From my reading before jumping into a flipped classroom, I knew to expect this. And it is something, even nearing the end of the school year, I struggle with occasionally.

I don't often worry if a planned activity takes too long or doesn't get finished. If students got a good 30-40 minutes practice/application on a topic, I am happy.

I struggle most when the planned activities are too short and I have more extra time than I want/need. I need to get better at having meaningful fill-in-the-extra-time activities.

I probably enjoy planning now more than I ever have, because I am getting to pick out more interesting, fun, engaging activities than I ever did when each day was me standing at the board talking for 30-40 minutes.