Saturday, May 28, 2016

That's a Wrap (...but Always Planning)

The 2015-2016 school year is finished.

It was a good one. Oh, there were tough times and struggles and frustrations, but that's part of the process.

I feel good about growth I made as a teacher and where I'm headed with my practice.

I feel good about the foundation I laid for my students and hope what they learned with me will benefit them in high school.

Here's my evaluation of what I see as the major aspects of my classroom.

Flipped Classroom
Flipped learning is in my bones. It's who I am. I recognize the teacher I was before, but I am a completely different teacher now.
I did not experience the "love fest" from this year's students that Year 1's students provided, but they were very clear in their end-of-year reflections that they liked our flipped classroom.
My flipped classroom began to change this year, and I see it continuing to transform. I see shorter videos and more discovery/exploration before content videos.
I experimented with an in-class flip for my Pre-Algebra students this year, and I would like to develop that further.

Interactive Notebooks
I use these primarily with my Pre-Algebra students. Students like having a resource to use, and I believe INBs are beneficial for my students. But I'm a bit discontent with them. I can't quite put my finger on what's wrong or how I want it to change, but as I look at how I want my classroom to be next year I have a feeling the INBs are going to change, too.

Retakes and Redos
I found this process very tiring this year. Even more so than last year, when I was developing all the variations of tests. By the end of the year I found myself wondering if this was something I wanted to continue.
But all the reasons I chose to begin retakes and redos still exist. The benefits are all still there, too.
I believe retakes are best for my students, so I will continue to offer them with the same policy until I find something I like better.

As I wrap up this school year, my brain is already working on next year. I can't decide if it's a good thing or not, but it seems my brain never quits. I seem to ALWAYS be planning. The few times a year I actually turn the teacher part of my brain off for a few days always surprise me.

Here's what my brain is chewing on right now.

Summer School
Summer School is one reason I can't turn the teacher-brain off. I stay in teacher-mode through June.
While I feel the effects of fatigue in summer school and sometimes struggle with how to reach that particular group of students, I really enjoy it. I lay foundations in summer school. I build relationships that pay off hugely during the school year.
I normally make summer school very skill-based, reteaching algorithms that students find difficult. As one would expect, not a whole lot of remediation is accomplished in 4 weeks.
I'm approaching Summer School differently this year. I'm using a 6th grade module about ratios from the EngageNY curriculum as my base. We're going to work on conceptual foundations. We're going to justify answers, practice mathematical discourse, critique the reasoning of others, and create our own problems. I plan to include activities I know my students enjoy as well as interesting, non-routine problems from resources such as Yummy Math and Mathalicious.
I'm also going to do daily number talks. I believe number sense is one of the keys to a student finding success in math.
I'm hoping both the content and the methods will help my students in the fall.

Next School Year
I want to give my students context. I want to ensure conceptual understanding. My goal this summer is to peruse my go-to sites - Mathematics Assessment Project, Yummy Math, Mathalicious (after a free trial this summer, I'm thinking about writing a grant in the fall for a subscription), Laying the Foundation - and find interesting problems and explorations to deepen my students' understanding of content. I want to start each unit with a problem, give and practice the necessary skills along the way, and end each unit with a problem.
This is really a continuation of changes I made last year, but I want to take those baby steps deeper and farther.

I've come to end of this and concluded I should not try to blog on a Saturday morning before I've had my coffee. I've rambled, and I apologize. All these thoughts about last year, summer school, and next year have been bouncing around in my head, and I wanted to get them out.

And if you've read along through the second year of my flipped classroom journey (which has become so much more), thank you. Sometimes I feel a little silly putting my little thoughts out there in cyberspace. But blogging is good for me; being able to go back and read and learn from things I've gone through previously in my classroom is extremely helpful. And maybe somebody, somewhere can get something out of my experiences.

I'll be around some through the summer. I'll have to report on how summer school went and how the plans for next year are progressing. :)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

End-of-Year Student Reflections and Evaluation

We've almost made it! The end of another school year is here.

I love student reflections. I like to check in with kids periodically to see how things are going. I want to know what's working, what's not, and their perceptions of things. Students often have very good ideas, and I want to know how they think I could improve my class.

I realize that I'm not always going to get the most serious of answers from 8th graders, but overall they do very well with reflections.

I gave this year's end-of-year reflection in a Google Form. I really like the recent updates to Google Forms.

The Google Form had 30 questions where students evaluated various characteristics of me on a scale from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree." Students rated everything from my patience to organization to enthusiasm.

Nothing really surprised me about the responses to these questions. There were very few "Disagree" or "Strongly Disagree" responses, so I looked at the "Unsure" sections for areas that might need improvement. The questions with the highest percentage of "Unsure" - like giving clear directions - where areas I agree I could improve.

The final five questions were open-ended.

When asked about enjoyable aspects of the class, flipped lessons and videos were mentioned the most. I expected retakes to be mentioned more than they were. Students enjoyed working with partners and several different activities and games.

Next I asked about things about the class that can be improved. Students want to work with partners even more. The most popular answer was "less Punchlines." I did feel toward the end of the year - particularly the factoring unit - that I "Punchlined them to death." I had my reasons, but I agree that I needed to mix it up more.

Students also mentioned wanting more competition activities. There is a relay activity I do during equations that students love, and it's the only time of the year I do it. Next year I will find more activities like that one.

Another suggestion that I want to focus on is to find a better way to start a class after students have watched a video. Some sort of summary to make sure students understood what they watched. It's an aspect of my flipped classroom I have struggled with and wanted to improve since I started. I've tried a couple of different ways to move students from the video to classroom activities, but I haven't found "the way" I'm happy with. I'll work on it this summer.

Most students believed they demonstrated their best work and behavior. They would admit to occasionally slacking off. :)

When asked what one thing they learned they thought they would remember or use, Pythagorean Theorem was the clear winner. Factoring was mentioned more often than I expected. A few students wrote of life lessons like "always be positive and try your hardest."

"Retake more tests" was one of the most popular answers to "What would you do differently if you could do this course over again?"

Students were very nice in their responses to "Is there anything else you would like Mrs. Gibbs to know?" Reading "it was a fun math year" and "this year I love [math] and look forward to it everyday" did my heart good.

I'm pretty reflective, and for the most part I know where I'm weak as a teacher and need to improve. But I also know students have a perspective all their own, and they will often notice things I don't. They are the reason I teach, and I want to make every effort to meet their needs. Reflections and evaluations help me improve my teaching practice.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Improving the "Unit with Room for Improvement"

Last year I wrote a blog post about "The Unit with Room for Improvement."

So, how'd it go this year?

Much better!

I divided the not-so-successful unit into two units, as I decided last year it needed to be. We did polynomial operations, tested, then moved into factoring.

My students rocked polynomial operations! It was one of the most successful tests of the school year.

(As a side note, I taught multiplication without FOIL, hoping to help students understand it better, and I think it worked. I sort of needed the "OI" part when it came to checking their factoring work, but they seemed to even check their work better this year having NOT been taught to FOIL.)

As we got ready to transition into factoring, I was once again staring at the calendar. So few days left, lots of interruptions coming, but factoring AND quadratics left to go. The panic tried to set in.

But I determined to ignore it. I was going to take my time and make sure students understood material as we covered it, even if it killed me.

So I started factoring in class, sort of in an explore-flip-apply style. And I only covered one thing: the simplest case, all positive numbers.

And I started with an activity that revolutionized my students' understanding of factoring.

I took from a couple of different sources, and created these sum-and-product-X's in each of the different factoring possibilities.

The first day I had the first one on the board, handed the students a sheet as they came in, told them there was a pattern, and instructed them to find the pattern and fill in the rest of the X's.

A few students saw it quickly, and a few struggled. I let them think about it individually for a few minutes, and then let them discuss with an elbow partner. Everybody was excited when they finally "saw it," and they filled in the rest of the page.

By the end of the lesson, they were factoring the simplest case like champs.

Their video that night was the next simplest case.

So I took what was normally a one day lesson (and covered completely in one video last year) and made it two days.

And it paid off in spades.

Students quickly got into the mindset of finding pairs of numbers that gave a certain sum and product. Many students used the X's throughout the factoring unit.

I was a little concerned once we got to the more difficult cases - such as a leading coefficient other than 1 - but even the harder cases were easier after the foundation laid in the simpler cases.

Students did well on the factoring test, and I feel much better about their grasp of the material. Now, will they remember it when they get to Algebra 2 in two years? We'll see....

I still used the Punchline pages more than I would have liked. They gave great, self-checking practice, and I could see while they worked that they were understanding the material, but a few students felt they were experiencing "death by Punchline." I will continue to work on that part of the unit next year.

Balancing time in the classroom is a delicate art. Don't go too fast, don't go too slow, get everything covered. But my flipped classroom has continued to teach me that slower is better than faster. Smaller chunks of material is preferable to large boulders. Student understanding is much more desirable than confusion and tears.