Saturday, September 23, 2017

(At Least) One Good Thing

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- After the come-apart with the aforementioned class, I compared myself to Hades in Hercules when his hair flames up and apologized, saying I don't like to do that. I focused the rest of that day on relationships. I assured them they are not bad kids (one asked), but that sometimes they make bad decisions. I tried to show them I want them to be successful and I want us to have a positive experience during the time they are with me each day. I still think I am going to have to get creative to really figure them out - I'm currently brainstorming and waiting for the "A-Ha" - but we are making progress together.

So...as difficult as things are and as distracted as I feel - it is very weird for me to not be able to focus on school as much as I would like - there are good things happening in Room 12. It WILL be a successful year!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Annual "Start of School" Post

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 30, 2017

End of Term Reflections: College Edition

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think the difference was made in having access to me in class. Several students have taken online/blended classes and said they liked the flipped format much better.

So...as I prepare for the fall semester of MTH 113, I have a lot to think about. Class time will be shorter, and I have more weeks of instruction to work with, but I am thinking about what I am going to do differently. I have a few ideas about class time, and I think I want to restructure a couple of the tests.

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

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Let's Start at the Very Beginning #flipblogs

Life happened, and I missed the first #flipblogs Twitter chat. I start school next Tuesday, so who knows what will be going on Wednesday evening? I hope to get to participate in the next #flipblogs Twitter chat, but even if I don't I can write a blog.

This week's #flipblogs prompts:

1) What inspired you to start flipping?

and

2) What was your first step to make the change?

I've shared this story before, but it's always good to reflect on "where it all began."


I first heard about flipped classrooms from our district tech guy as we were launching our 1:1 iPad initiative. The description of the methodology was basically, "Students watch the lecture via video at home and do homework in class."

I quickly dismissed the idea.

How on earth would I have time to make all those videos (because I wouldn't want to use videos others made)?

And the thought of trying to keep a classroom controlled while working "p. 222: 2 - 222 even" was a nightmare.

But the idea stayed in the back of my mind, for whatever reason.

Then one summer, while teaching summer school, I began to seriously consider it. I don't even remember the exact trigger. But sometime in the month of June, I thought, "I can do this."

I read Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams' Flip Your Classroom. I figured out how to take aspects of a flipped classroom and make them work for me.

And I took the plunge. I decided to start with my Algebra 1 classes.

The first thing I did was begin to create guided notes. I stayed after Summer School sessions and worked on notes for the rest of June.

Then, in July, I began to record videos. I think I had a couple of weeks' worth recorded by the time school started.

So...that's where it all began. But I feel I need to address my two initial concerns.

Yes, it took TIME. Loads and loads of time. I still like to use my own videos (and my students and their parents appreciate that I do so). But I've always said every bit of time I've spent has been worth it. And I've gotten pretty quick at churning out videos when I need them.

And pages of book work with loads of problems? Fuhgetaboutit! I've learned (and continue to learn) how to choose activities for class time that keep students engaged, collaborating, and communicating. We can go weeks or months without referring to a textbook.

My flipped classroom today looks different than my flipped classroom that first year. It has evolved more than I ever thought possible (a topic for a different post). But every journey has to start somewhere, and I'm thankful decided to take the risk and start.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Already?!? #flipblogs

Thanks to the brainstorming of Andrew Swan (@flipping_A_tchr), Crystal Kirch (@crystalkirch), and Matthew Moore (@matthew_t_moore), a new way to share ideas about flipped learning has launched: #flipblogs!

The idea is we will blog about a common topic then participate in a live Twitter chat.

Here is Andrew's blog post with information about the new venture.

The first assignment for #flipblogs is:

"Write about a fun, rewarding, gratifying, or otherwise super-positive class experience that you can be pretty sure only happened because of flipped-learning practices."



I've blogged about all sorts of experiences that only happened because I flip my instruction. I thought about summarizing - again - these experiences but that felt like a cop-out. I tried hard to think of something specific.

And I did.

Her name is Taylor. She was in my Algebra 1 class my second flipped year.

Many times during the year, when I said, "Time to pack up!" at the end of class, Taylor would say, "What? Class is over already?!? That was fast!"

Taylor is not the only student who has said this since I flipped my classroom, but she probably said it the most frequently and enthusiastically.

And that statement would NOT have been said before I flipped my instruction.

Sighs? Yes.

Loud yawns? Frequently.

"How much longer until the bell rings?" Most definitely.

Listening to me talk for 30-40 minutes and then being told to "Start on these problems" - and work quietly, please - for the last 10 or 15 minutes makes for a L-O-N-G 51-minute class period.

But when you come to class having watched a 10-15 minute instructional video (or watch it as part of class activities), pick a partner, and work on an activity that requires communication and collaboration and might be even a little bit enjoyable, time moves much quicker. Having access to the teacher to answer questions as they come up helps, too.

Flipping my classroom has made my math class fun (yes, students have used that word). Those 51 minutes will be over before you know it.

And I find that extremely gratifying.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Hope - It's a Beautiful Thing

So, I'm teaching this Pre-Calculus Trigonometry class for a local community college. As I mentioned in my previous post, it is scheduled for one night a week, 4.5 hours. There are 9 class meetings and the exam.

I have a lot of material to cover in 9 class meetings.

After the first test, we have a test scheduled for every other week until the final. That means a whole unit of material in about a class and a half.

It's overwhelming (for students AND me).

Even with the flipped format - which, I'm sure, makes the situation more bearable - it is hard to make sure material is covered AND students understand it in a class and a half. I still feel I am throwing material at my students and hoping some of it sticks.

Our second test covered trigonometric expressions, identities, and equations.

Yikes. Learn all these trig concepts AND use every algebra skill you might have ever been shown.

Students were nervous and unsure as they came to class. Watching them take the test was hard for me. I made the test as straightforward as I could, and I gave them a reference sheet to use, but it covered. so. much. stuff.

I graded the test as a few students took a retest of Test 1. They were not pretty. A few knew parts of the material well, no one really showed mastery of all of it, and a few were completely lost.

After I returned Test 1 a couple of weeks ago, I told my students I was a big believer in hope.


I've been giving retakes in my 8th-grade classroom for several years, and I wanted to do something similar in the college class. I told students if they'd correct their original test, they could retake it the following week after they finished the scheduled test.

I plan to do the same thing for Test 2.

I was able to talk to a few of the students about the retake for Test 2 before they left.

As I gave one student his test, telling him to begin working through it this week and making corrections, another student asked, "We're going to get to retake that test?" When I said, "Yes," the look on his face was one of complete relief. Of hope.

I reminded them I was a big believer in hope.

The first student said, "I'm so glad you have hope in us." I think he meant "faith," but the thought is the same. These students can keep trying because they have hope.

I talked to another student who was extremely frustrated after the test. But he looked at me and said, "I'm not going to quit. I will not drop this class."

And I was able to tell him he didn't have to. He can work on the material he found difficult, work with me in class, and learn the material.

I'm still trying to figure out how to "do" this summer class format. Flipping instruction was the way to go, allowing retakes is the way to go, but there are a lot of things I'm still not sure I've approached correctly. Or how to approach things so I am better assured of students' grasp of the material. I'm hoping to get some feedback from the students by the end of the summer to see what worked and what I could have done better.

But I'm pretty sure of this: these students know I care, they know I want them to learn, and they know I'm going to give them time and opportunity to do so.

At this point, no one has dropped the class, and everyone is still working and trying.

All because of a little thing called hope.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Taking My Flipped Game to a New Level

Last spring I was asked to teach two classes for our local community college. I agreed (spring is a blur, so I'm not sure I can be held accountable for my actions, LOL). Only one of the classes made: Pre-Calculus Trigonometry.




The class meets one night a week for four and half hours.

That's right. Four and a half. Hours.

This flipped teacher can't stand to listen to herself for more than 10 or 15 minutes anymore.

And I'm supposed to teach for 270 minutes?

And my students. My poor students. They're supposed to listen to me (and absorb) for 4.5 hours?

I knew from the get-go I would be flipping my class.

Everything about this - the class structure, the students, the material - is completely different from my 8th Grade Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 classroom.

But I took what I know and ran with it.

I decided what I needed to cover each week - with only 9 class sessions, it's a TON - and split it into topics for videos.

I decide what to give as practice for material.

I give students a list for each class session with the videos and suggested practice. I give this list a week ahead of time so students can be watching videos throughout the week.

I told them the idea of the flipped classroom: they can watch videos to get the instruction whenever they want, and then they can practice with me so that I can help them.

It's been interesting. Time in class is mostly quiet. Not at all like a group of 20 or so 8th graders. Granted, the class is made up of 7 college males, but it's still pretty quiet. Students don't stay for the full scheduled time. Some leave after an hour; a few stay 3 hours.

The first night after a week of videos was particularly quiet.

The second time of flipped lessons was more of what I was hoping for and expecting. A couple of students worked together, everyone was working on something different, several asked me questions and I got to work one-on-one with students.

That night, students told me they liked the flipped class. They thought my videos were helpful, they liked being able to watch and rewatch and go at their own pace, they liked the class structure. They particularly like that they don't have to listen to me for 4.5 hours.

I think the students are still trying to figure out how to get the most out of the flipped environment. I think they like that they can stay with me for as long - or as little - as they feel necessary, but I'm not sure they're all staying long enough to get the help they need. That might change after they get their first test back. :)

I have learned something about videos that I think I'll implement in my middle school classroom this fall: smaller chunking of videos. One of the first videos I made for Trig was 18 minutes long. Now...these are college students and not 14-year olds, but still. I decided videos needed to be about topics, not entire lessons. That 18-minute video should have been 3 videos. Since that first week, the videos range from 7 to 10 minutes long.

It's time to rework my Algebra 1 videos this year, and I think I'm going to make videos by topic, not lesson. That will potentially mean more than one video per lesson - something I've fought against - but I think it will work nicely into self-pacing. It will also allow students to work with one thing at a time and give me more opportunities for formative assessment.

So...I've graded the first test, and students did about what I expected (there's that benefit of knowing who is where with grasping the material).

The student who obviously doesn't need me and loves the flipped format demonstrated understanding.

The student who stays and works and asks questions also demonstrated understanding.

A couple of students struggled.

Next task? Figure out how to structure a retake opportunity at this level.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Thoughts on End-of-Year Reflections

OK...so school's been out over a week, and I gave my end-of-year reflection Google Form over two weeks ago, but I did want to jot a few thoughts to help me remember what I wanted to continue to work on next year.




WIN: "Mrs. Gibbs provides opportunities to work together" got 100% "agree" or "strongly agree"! Partner work/group work/working together/working with friends was probably the most-mentioned in "Things I enjoy about this class."

Flipped lessons/videos were a close runner-up, and one student said s/he would probably use my YouTube channel in the future.

Students wished we did more activities involving food (the Pythagorean Theorem activity with Cheez-Its was a favorite with my Pre-Algebra kids).

"Cheat sheets" and partner tests were a plus, according to my Algebra 1 kids. (As I blogged here, this is an area I continue to explore.)

The Pythagorean Theorem was once again the winner of "What is one thing you learned you will remember or use?" Slope-intercept form was an unexpected runner-up (Yea!).

One student said s/he learned to be patient with finding solutions (another win!).

Several students said they should have retaken more tests and would advise next year's students to do the same.

While many answers to questions were similar and not unexpected, I looked through for little nuggets of information that might be helpful.

One student marked "Disagree" or "Strongly Disagree" to almost every question. I collected email addresses on the Google Form (due to some inappropriate answers to an earlier questionnaire), and I never knew that this student had an issue with me. I'm not sure if the answers were serious or not, but if the student was being serious, I wish I had known something wasn't working. This student was also NOT a fan of flipped lessons. No details or reasons were given, but it was mentioned more than once by this student.

"Punchlines" were mentioned numerous times in the reflections. Students either love them or hate them. I believe I did better in not over-using them this year, but, for some students, there were still too many.

It is important to me that students be able to self-check as they work. I want students to know as they practice if they doing things correctly or if they need help. Punchlines allow for that.

I had started giving students choices for their practice as the year went on. I would allow students to choose between a Punchline or a "normal" worksheet (with answers attached, of course) or some other form of practice.

I obviously need to work on that more. I'd like to learn how to use Formative or Quizziz or something similar to give more options for self-checking practice.

One student mentioned the need for more spiral review (I agree!).

A couple of students wanted more of the self-pacing (planning on it).

One student mentioned the need to go over tests after they were graded. This is an area I KNOW needs improvement.

In fact, I've been giving thought to - and we've discussed in our department - giving more time to the day after a test (or when it's graded) than the day before the test (review). I believe it is important for students to have time to "tie it all together," but maybe there's a better way than taking the day before the test?

I'm considering giving tests back with no grades, just problems marked that were worked incorrectly, and letting students correct their papers. I think this could lead to more student learning than a review day.

I'm not sure how that would change my retake policy (test corrections are part of the procedure). Would in-class test corrections be worth some points? Then complete the process and retake the test if you want a shot at improving your grade even more? Do in-class corrections take the place of retakes?

Lots to think about.

And all part of the process.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The (beginning) Evolution of Testing



As this school year comes to a close, I keep thinking about an area of transformation I want to continue to explore: testing.

Two things have led me to change my approach to testing:
1) The desire for students to have access to resources to assist them on tests.

2) The desire to extend the cooperative atmosphere of my classroom to testing.

I guess the first change to testing began several years ago when I began using interactive notebooks (INBs) with my inclusion Pre-Algebra classes. I've always allowed those students to use their INBs on tests. It has been important to me that they learn how to use available resources to help them with a task. I also found being able to use their INBs greatly increased the confidence of these students.

I've been a little slower to change with my Algebra 1 students. My thoughts? They're advanced kids. They need to be able to take big, scary tests independently and using only what they stored in their own brains.

As other aspects of my classroom have changed, though, my thoughts on testing have begun to change, too.

One thing which I've used in the past but began to use more consistently this year is "reference sheets." I really don't have a great name for them; the kids like to call them "cheat sheets," but since they're allowed to use them, it's not really cheating. Part of my motivation for allowing the reference sheets was the "real world" argument - outside of a classroom, students will be able to look up any information they need. Why not allow them something similar during a test?

Sometimes I gave kids a graphic organizer to help them organize their thoughts for a test; sometimes I allowed them to make one however they thought would be most helpful. Most of the time they told me they wanted some structure and guidance.

The kids appreciated the reference sheets. For me, it was a not-so-sneaky way to get them to prepare for a test. It gave them confidence and helped to lower their anxiety about tests. Some of them were very adept at making themselves reference sheets; others needed more direction. I was always amazed at the number of kids who would neglect to create a reference sheet when given the opportunity to do so.

The other idea I've been toying with for a few years and tried some this year is cooperative tests.

My kids work together a LOT. Almost exclusively. They learn from each other, refine their understanding as they interact, and create that beautiful music to my ears - math talk.

I first attempted a cooperative test early second semester. For solving inequalities, I gave a "Choose Your Poison" test where students chose two out of three problems per section and were able to check their work since different problems had matching answers.

The test was challenging - which was a good thing - but students needed more time to complete it.

I gave more cooperative tests throughout the semester; most of them included some sort of student choice about which problems to attempt.

I like cooperative tests. They're less stressful for students. They reinforce all those skills of cooperative learning mentioned previously I adore. The contribute to the student-centered classroom I continue to strive to attain.

I do have some concerns.

What about the students (a small handful, but they do exist) who "ride the coattails" of their classmates and don't really know the material?

Am I hurting students when they DO have to take tests independently, like tests in future classes or standardized tests?

I think the ability to take a test independently is probably a non-issue. Students get plenty of opportunities to take tests like that. And there are some things - skill-based topics, for example - that lend themselves to independent tests.

As far as ensuring an accurate demonstration of each student's learning - something that's a continual area of focus - I think the type of task would be important. Deep, rich tasks with multiple entry points and ways to solve? Something to continue to ponder....

OK...this post ended up being longer than I intended, but I wanted to get my thoughts about testing in writing before the brain officially turned off at the end of this coming week (in all honesty, it's mostly off already). Continuing to reform assessment in my classroom will be a focus next school year.

Stay tuned for updates. :)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Coming Up for Air



Yep. That's me. For the past two months.

At the end of January, I decided to attempt to renew my National Board Certification this year (my certification expires in 2018, and I did not understand the "two chances to renew" aspect before a January seminar).

OK...Deep breath...I wasn't planning on this, but maybe it will be a good thing.

Things were rocking along until mid-March. Things at home took an unexpected turn. I found out I was Top 16 Finalist for Alabama Teacher of the Year (definitely exciting, but it required an extra classroom video and reflection with little notice). The May 17 deadline for submitting my National Board renewal was getting closer and closer.

Good stress...Bad stress...A whole lot of stress.

There were a few times I wasn't sure how much more I could take. There were a couple of times I was ready to throw in the towel and run far, far away.

This past Wednesday, I submitted my National Board "Profile of Professional Growth" (a week early!).

I also traveled to Montgomery for the Teacher of the Year reception. What an honor to be recognized along with so many other inspiring educators, to get to represent hundreds of other excellent educators across the state, and to be able to tell a small part of my story.

Thursday morning, I began to feel as if I was emerging from the weeds. By the grace of God, two "biggies" were completed.

Oh, things are still stressful (aren't they always?), but I'm not feeling as pressed as I was.

Typically, around state testing each year I begin to look ahead. I start making plans for the next school year. I knew I was under some pressure when next school year was the farthest thing from my mind. I wasn't sure I was going to survive THIS school year!

But now, I find myself able to see beyond the next couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to getting caught up on my grading (I'm sorry, kids!), getting my disaster of a classroom back in order (#mrsgibbscleandesk is the hashtag that wasn't this year), and making plans for next fall.

This is not a "what's going on in my classroom" post, but I wanted to write SOMEthing; it's been too long!

I'm flipping a semester review again this week. I will also give my students an end-of-year survey and reflection. Surely there will be something classroom-related to write about next weekend!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The (continuing) Evolution of Grading

Happy End-of-Spring Break!

I've had a great break with some much-needed brain rest. I got a few things done around the house and a nice chunk of National Board Certification renewal work accomplished.

I feel ready to tackle the last nine (YIKES! The school year is almost DONE!) weeks of the school year.

Before the break, I had a mini-breakthrough with grades in my classroom.

I've blogged about grading before. Most of my grading conundrums have continued since that post.

I don't grade everything. Much of what we do in class is practice, and I don't want to put a grade on practice. Many things we do are hard to quantify with a grade. When I give a grade for something, I want that grade to mean something. I want a grade to communicate what a student knows, not how compliant he/she is. As a result, I give relatively (or comparatively) few "effort" grades.

Thanks to my flipped classroom and the amount of time I spend with students as they work, formative assessment is ongoing. I don't necessarily need an end-of-class "exit slip" to know where my students are or what I need to do the next day.

My ideal world would not include grades.

But, unfortunately (or, fortunately), this is not Mickie's world with everyone else getting to live in it.

I have district requirements for the number of grades I must record each grading period. I have requirements for what percentage "tests" and "daily grades" must count.

And so, I grade.

But I continue to struggle with WHAT to grade. Summative tests are easy. But the stuff between the summative tests has confounded me for a few years, given how my classroom has changed.

A few weeks ago, a lightbulb came on.




I need some sort of check after each standard. Something more specific than the intuitive feelings I have after working with my students in class. Something that would give me more information about individual students that I might otherwise miss.

The check doesn't have to be long or hard to grade. It doesn't have to be a worksheet of 25 problems (ugh - for students AND me). It can be a few carefully chosen problems that let me know if students are able to do what they need to be able to do.

So, after every standard - or part of a standard - I give a "quick check." They happen every 2 or 3 days. They're similar to an exit slip, but they can occur at the end of a class period or the beginning of the next class period. They're usually three to five questions. I give them in whatever form works best for the standard, whether that is digital or paper. And they usually count between 10 and 20 points ("daily" points). They're easy to grade.

I like the idea and have no idea why I didn't think of it sooner. I'm getting regular daily grades that reflect students' knowledge.

A couple of things I need to work out:

Turnaround - for these to be effective and result in STUDENTS knowing what they do and don't understand - and take steps to improve their understanding - I will need to have each Quick Check graded and returned before the next Quick Check. They are NOT long or hard to grade; I just need to make immediate feedback on the checks a priority.

Redos - I have a broad retake and redo policy. Typically, for daily grades, students correct what they missed on an assignment and turn the corrections in to be re-graded. With the Quick Checks only being worth a few points and only having a few questions, I'm not sure corrections by themselves are the way to go for a student to improve their score on the checks. I'm thinking students correct the Quick Check and I have a second check ready for them to take, similar to a retest.

This actually moves me a little closer to standards-based grading.

The Quick Checks also work well with self-pacing, which I continue to try to develop in my classroom.

Sometimes I'm slow. But I'm thankful for the eventual "a-ha"s that come after I mentally struggle with an aspect of my classroom I desire to change.

UNRELATED to this post on my grading breakthrough and a shameless self-plug:

I was THRILLED to get to talk with my flipped classroom hero, Crystal Kirch, as a "Flipped Educator Spotlight" for the Flipped Learning Network. I had a hard time not turning into a complete fan-girl.

The interview is 20 minutes, and I completely understand that your time is precious, and 20 minutes is a long time to listen to someone talk about her classroom. But one of my favorite things to do is share my flipped journey, so here is the link if you'd like to see any or all of the interview. I haven't tried it, yet, but the posts says to go to YouTube to click on Time Tags and see only the portions of the interview that might interest you.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Reflections on a Surprising Unit

First: I am not happy it has taken me more than a couple of weeks to get to this blog post. I like to blog while things are fresh and I remember all of the little things.

I probably shouldn't even be blogging today. There are so many other things I need to be doing.

But this is a post that needs to be written, and it needs to be written before I forget EVERYthing (and I know I've already forgotten a lot of the things I wanted to write about).

It was just systems of equations. Nothing special. I teach it every year. I didn't expect anything too different.

But the unit surprised me.


This was the first unit I attempted some self-pacing. I have always struggled with how to handle the kids who "get it" quickly, finish the work I need them to do, and then have time to spare.

I don't want them to feel punished with extra (or busy) work.

I don't want them wasting time.

I don't want to lose whole class activities and discussions.

But I decided it was time to experiment some.

The way I approached it was having the "next thing" - the next video, the next activity - ready, and if anyone finished the day's work, I gave them the "next thing."

It worked well. No one got too far ahead. In fact, one day I had several ahead, and I knew there was a big thing for their English class they were working on, and I was able to give them time to work on it.

When it was a "whole class" day, we did whole class activities.

We all tested on the same day.

Overall, I was pleased with the process and plan to implement it some more. I would like to do as other self-pacing teachers have suggested and map out an entire unit with what needs to be done and give it to students ahead of time. I still have much to figure out about self-pacing, but I am happy I took the plunge and tried it.

The second surprise of the unit came when we looked at applications of systems of equations. Systems applications are so contrived and have little relevance to students. But they are a standard, and students need to know how to do them.

I began an Internet search for how to approach them differently, and I found these two gems:

Those Horrible Coin Problems (and What We Can Do About Them)

Piling up Systems of Linear Equations

I did the coin problem first. Rather than work an example (or three) of "how to work a coin problem" I showed Dan Meyer's video and gave guiding information and questions to lead students to the system of equations AFTER they had done some "guess and check" to find the solution. We got to talk about the number of solutions, which we later verified with Desmos.

Third Period (my first Algebra 1 class of the day) was magic. The students were making so many connections, and the light bulbs I was seeing all over the room were exciting. I am working on renewing my National Board Certification, and I kicked myself at the end of class for not recording the lesson.

Full disclosure, though: Fifth and Seventh Period were not as successful. It was a Friday afternoon, and they are tougher crowds to begin with. We completed the lesson, and some of them saw what I needed them to see, but I felt those two classes were more organized chaos than genuine learning.

I followed the Friday coin problem with the glue problems on Monday. Students were successful taking the information from the video and creating equations.

But after the two "Three Act" days, I found students struggled with written problems similar to the coin and glue problems. I did not do a good enough job of connecting what we had done as a class to how these problems would be presented in classwork and on assessments. I have an instructional video about how to solve systems of equations application problems, and I told students to "watch it if you need to." While I try hard to give students options and not make students who don't need to do things do them, this doesn't always work with the eighth-grade brain. Many students who do, in fact, need the extra instruction opt out and then struggle later.

We had a day with an altered/shortened schedule, and I chose that day to introduce Desmos linear "marbleslides." While not exactly connected to systems of equations, it was a way to review and reinforce why linear equations behave in a certain way. Many students found it enjoyable, and several worked on at home, even though it wasn't required.

I gave a reflection at the end of the unit. Student responses let me know how to change up the unit next year. Students told me they struggled most with solving systems by substitution and the application problems. I already knew the application problems were an issue, and I know why substitution probably presented some difficulties and how to do it differently next time.

The unit was a roller coaster (which is really not any different than this entire school year). There were days I was so excited at what I was seeing my students do and days I felt I had failed them completely. There were days I thought, "I have got to blog about this!" and days I thought "Maybe this unit isn't worth blogging about" (probably one reason I kept putting off the blog post).

But I did hear great things from my kids. When students use words like "magic," "math-gic," "cool," and "fun" over the course of a couple of weeks, the unit can't be all bad.

Monday, February 13, 2017

#flipclass Flash Blog: An Essential Aspect of my Flipped Classroom

It's a #flipclass Flash Blog!!!

Wow; this is hard! Just one?

So much is essential to my flipped classroom.


But I think everything goes back to relationships.

It was one of the first things I remember reading about flipped classrooms. You have more time to get to know your students better.

And it's true.

I know where they're weak. Where they're strong. I know things that are going on at home and outside the classroom. I know when they need to be pushed and when they need more time. I know when school is overwhelming them.

And students know me better, too. They know I care. They know I have their backs.

As my flipped classroom has evolved - and it is changing more than I every thought possible - the relationships I build with my students are the cornerstone of everything I do in my classroom.

Knowing my students better is the catalyst for many of the ways my flipped classroom has evolved.

I'm playing around with some self-pacing (blog post to come) because I know my students better.

I am able to provide more choice in my classroom because I know my students better.

My students collaborate more than ever before because I know them better.

I used to plow blindly through curriculum without enough regard to who "got it" and who didn't.

My flipped classroom has allowed me to know my students in such a way that I can no longer NOT make adjustments when necessary.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

You've Come a Long Way, Baby!


I'm a pretty reflective person. I guess that's obvious, given this blog and all, but I've been reminded again this week of the power of reflection.

I just completed two projects that required me to look at my classroom and my teaching, examining what I do and seeing how far I've come. One project looked at my teaching as a whole and one was more focused on my flipped classroom.

And I found the process...emotional. No kidding, I cried after the second project was finished.

I am NOT where I could be. There is more to learn, more to change. Way more than I care to think about.

But I am so far from where I started.

I'm thankful for all those who have contributed to and are a part of my growth. People in my building, district, community, and people all around the country. A few, even, around the world.

I ended this week with a renewed thankfulness for what I do. I love my job. It's hard, and it takes almost everything I have to give.

But it's who I am. My gift. My calling.

By the grace of God, I am thankful to be called a teacher.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Top Ten Posts - 2016

I'm not exactly sure a "Top Ten" is necessary when there are only 17 posts for the year, but I like looking back through the blog to see what people are reading.

10) Summer School Reflections - I feel called to teach summer school, but this one was pretty difficult.


9) Just Keep Swimming - A mid-grading period, mid-winter pep-talk (I have to do this on a regular basis, LOL).


8) #flipclass FlashBlog On Parents, Support, and Homework - I'm always thankful for the support I get from parents and my administration.


7) My Top Ten Posts of 2015 - Here's your opportunity to see older posts, if you're new to the blog. ;)

6) Improving the "Unit with Room for Improvement" - EVERY unit is a work in progress.


5) Trying to Find my Groove - The start of this school year was a bit challenging.


4) That's a Wrap...(but Always Planning) - A brain dump at the end of the school year.


3) End of Year Student Reflections and Evaluation - I love, love, love student reflections.


2) I Notice...I Wonder...The Pythagorean Theorem in 3D - One of my favorite lessons of the year, so far.


1) Innovation in my Classroom - It is still of goal of mine to see more innovation from myself and my students.


And I have to give a shout-out to the most popular post on the blog, to date:
Late Work - Changing my policy on late work - along with retakes/redos, and flipping my classroom - is one of the biggest and most beneficial transformations I've made in my classroom.




Here's to a blog-filled 2017!