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.

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