Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Engaging and Erasing in Eighth Grade Math

(I wrote the following post for Wipebook after they sent me a free FlipChart. Since it's been a hot minute since my last blog post, I thought I would share the post here.)

I am always looking for better ways to engage my students in deeper thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving. A couple of years ago I “discovered” dry erase pockets/shop ticket holders (lots of teachers had been using them a long time before I did) and immediately fell in love. I loved that students were so much more willing to show and explain their thinking on a dry erase surface than on a piece of paper. If they needed time or space, they would grab a pouch and start writing. They would brainstorm ideas or explain things to each other using the pouches. The use of dry erase pockets led very naturally to the use of vertical non-permanent surfaces (VNPS).

On Twitter, I have read other teachers’ tweets about their use of VNPS. My thought was usually, “It must be nice to have all of that whiteboard space!” This summer I read Peter Liljedahl’s Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, Grades K-12: 14 Teaching Practices for Enhancing Learning. Vertical non-permanent surfaces figure prominently in a “thinking mathematics classroom.” Among other things, they encourage thinking by getting students on their feet and (as I had already discovered with the dry erase pouches) are a low-risk way for students to demonstrate their thinking. While contemplating how I could incorporate VNPS into my classroom, I was introduced to WipeBook FlipCharts. Using the graph side of the FlipChart sheets (which I love!), I set up 9 VNPS around my classroom. And then the magic started.

One way I use the WipeBook FlipChart sheets is for non-curricular tasks and non-routine problems. I present a situation or problem, and students go to the boards with their groups to work on a solution. The amount of time it takes for students to get started with tasks is minimal. They are willing to tackle a problem almost immediately, using the WipeBook sheets to brainstorm and organize their thinking. They are able to show large amounts of work and thinking on the nice-sized sheets. Each student in a group has the room to contribute to the problem at hand.

Students also use the WipeBook sheets for practice with routine content and material. They are able - and very willing - to show me their processes. If they make an error, it is easy to erase and correct work. I am able to see a lot of student work at one time, noticing different strategies and common misconceptions. Students are able to see the work of neighboring groups, using it for ideas or to get “unstuck” when needed. Students are also easily able to assist other groups when needed.

Students were instant fans of the WipeBook sheets. They like that working on the sheets is different from normal classroom practice. They like being able to try strategies and procedures without risk because their work is easily erasable. They find standing up and moving around (and dancing a little, because I play music while they work) motivating. They say that the graph side of the sheets makes organizing their work easier (and I can’t wait until we start our graphing practice on the WipeBook sheets). And, best of all, they say that working on the WipeBook sheets is just fun.

Monday, December 21, 2020

A New Take on Retakes #MTBoSYuleBlog

 It's Christmas Break!

I'm pretty certain I will not get 12 blog posts done for #MTBoSYuleBlog, but I do have a couple of things I want to reflect on while I have a few days to reflect. 

This particular post has been simmering in my brain for a while, but I haven't had time to compose it.

As I have blogged about many times before, I'm a big believer in students having the ability to improve their understanding of a concept, demonstrate that to me, and then earn points back on a test grade.

Several years ago I implemented a broad retake and redo policy. It was a great policy, but there were aspects of it that were challenging to manage.

In the last couple of years, I have done test corrections. Test corrections are a little easier to manage than the full-scale retakes, but there are things about them I don't like.

1) They are a PAIN to grade. I'd rather grade a full set of original tests than a small number of corrected tests.

2) It is hard to get students to correct tests in a way that demonstrates to me that they really understand the concept and why they missed it the first time. "Write a sentence explaining your mistake" often gives shallow answers. "New" work can be copied from someone or somewhere else with no real understanding.

This year I came up with a different way, and I like it better.

Students who wish to make corrections to a test must come before school (I facilitate the school's Homework Help each morning) or stay after school. They make corrections, and I am there to assist if and when they need me.

I get to be there with the students while they work, so I know what they are doing and how they are doing it. I can reteach and re-explain. I can see and hear and then correct misconceptions. I get to KNOW why students missed something the first time.

The best part of this method of test corrections? When students leave my room, their test corrections are graded! I know they got the problems they reworked correct, and all I have to do is refigure their points.

There's been just a little bit of push-back on the requirement to come to see me before or after school, but the ones who have complained mostly don't want to make the effort to do so.

And I'm OK with the opportunity to make test corrections requiring a little bit of effort.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A Flipped Classroom Evolution

 It's been a hot minute since I've made a blog post!

We transitioned from hybrid to full in-person learning; we've now transitioned back to hybrid learning.

I have had a couple of things I want to blog about but just haven't had or made the time.

One of the biggest things that has happened in my classroom is a change I've made in my flipped lessons.

I realize I am extremely late to the party, but I began using Edpuzzle!

While there are always students who "click through" a video and simply copy things down without any thought about the material or engagement with the instruction, it seems to have been worse or particularly bad the last couple of years. This year I am especially dependent on flipped instruction, and it is more important than ever that students actually understand and absorb what is being presented in a video.

Students this year were sharing with me how they were just "clicking through" videos. I could tell by the difficulties students were having with practice material in class that they were just "clicking through." A few students began asking for a way that would "make them" watch - and pay attention to - the video, and a few of them mentioned Edpuzzle.

So, after our Fall Break, I took the plunge. As I have recorded new videos, I upload them into Edpuzzle and add questions.

I L-O-V-E adding questions. Where I used to say, "Pause the video here and do ________" (few students actually did), I now put a question where students have to try the problem and enter their answer before they move on. Then the video shares the answer, and they can make any necessary corrections to their work. I'll ask students to make predictions about things or tell me what connections they see between topics. At the end of the video - this has become my very favorite - I ask for a summary or a "in your own words, tell me how to do this" or for any questions they might have or for some other sort of reflection about the video.

I don't grade the Edpuzzle questions, but I do read through them. I can tell if there is a particular problem students found challenging. I enjoy reading the answers to the summary/explanation/reflection questions.

There has been a little bit of complaining about the videos being moved to Edpuzzle; it is taking more time for them to complete video notes (this, of course, is expected and sort of the point). Overall, though, I am a huge fan, and students say they like it better. They say they are "actually" paying attention to the videos and understanding material. I can tell by the way they interact with material in class that their understanding is better.

The one feature I wish Edpuzzle had is the ability to watch the video at a faster speed. I, myself, like to watch YouTube videos at a faster speed, and I know not every student needs the material at a slow pace.

I also upload my videos to YouTube when it is time to get ready for a test. This allows students to use the videos to study at their own pace, skipping and watching faster as needed. (This was also a suggestion from a student.)

I've been flipping my classes in some capacity for...7 And this is the first big update I've made in a long time. I'm so happy I did!