Saturday, February 27, 2016

Just Keep Swimming....

Wow...It's been a long time since I've blogged!

I've been trying to channel my inner Dory. ALL of us at school have.

It's that time of the school year.

Very little sun...very little warmth (although this has not been that brutal of a winter)...very little energy...restless students...Christmas Break is a distant memory...Spring Break seems so, so far away.

One reason I haven't blogged is there hasn't been much to say. We keep on keeping on. Algebra 1 students watch videos, we do activities in class. Pre-Algebra students got to shift gears to some more skill-based topics, and it's been fun to see them expand their understanding of the real numbers and the number line. They're currently doing the Pythagorean Theorem unit Algebra 1 did early in the year. I love that unit.

Another reason I haven't blogged is I've felt so "blah." I'm not in the funk I was first semester, but I've been in one of those phases where I just put one foot in front of the other, knowing the spark will return at some point. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Things began trending up this week. The sun came out late in the week, and the temps are rising a bit. I have seen students make connections, question, investigate, remember, and discover this week, letting me know they HAVE paid attention throughout the year and haven't checked completely out, yet.

I NEED their enthusiasm. And I'm sure they need mine. We need each other. And when we're all in the doldrums, it's difficult.

On the flipped classroom front, I did make some transformations over the past couple of weeks.

Algebra 1 is learning exponent rules. They are in 3 sections in our textbook. I usually cover them pretty quickly - here are these rules: learn them, understand them, use them.

And then I see terrible grades on the exponent rules test.

I decided to approach it slower this year. I spent a day reviewing exponents, paying special attention to negative bases. While some students are still struggling with negative bases, that day has paid off in big ways.

Last year, I spent one day discovering the multiplication and power to a power rule, and the rest of the rules were covered in videos. Each video was close to 15 minutes long.

This year, we discovered the rules and did basic practice with them in class. The videos demonstrated how to use the rules all together. The next day in class we worked with the more complicated problems.

What I've usually tried to cover in a week will have taken almost 2 weeks.

And it's been worth it.

My students' understanding of the rules is much deeper than it's ever been. I'm expecting pretty good grades on Tuesday's test.

The unit has made me make a new goal for my videos. I blogged last year how I discovered 15 minutes was the max video length my students could digest.

But I'm beginning to think 10 is the upper limit.

Oh, they can watch 15 minutes. They can take notes on 15 minutes.

But they can't process that much information. They can't really get to know and understand it.

So my new goal is to get all my videos to 10 minutes or less.

Yes, that will mean more reworking of videos and more recording (my original thought when I started flipping my classroom is "Once I have the videos made, they're there forever!"). But I've gotten so much faster at the process. Making 4 videos over the last couple of weeks was no big deal. I didn't stay at school until 6 PM any day (it happened MANY times last year).

My whole goal is to allow students to understand and learn. And I need to be able to make changes to my teaching that allow that to happen.

Flipping my classroom has taught me/is continuing to teach me how to break material up into digestible chunks. It is much more important to spend time on concepts and attain true understanding than throw material - lots of material at one time - at students and pray some of it sticks.

And once again, I apologize to former students. I can only quote Maya Angelou: "When you know better, you do better."

This is already a long post, but I want to share a find from the past couple of weeks. Every math teacher should bookmark Rich, open-ended, DOK 2 and 3 activities for grades K-12.

I did my first activity with my Algebra 1 students yesterday: Rational Exponents.

We did one attempt at the problem together. Students worked together, and I rewarded the largest result, smallest result, and the result closest to 1. While we didn't have enough time (there's that time factor again) to discuss all the implications of this activity as I would have liked (it was the ending activity of the day), it gave students some great calculator skills, and a few students were seeing how the numbers worked together and how to manipulate them to get the result they wanted.

So...we keep pressing on. Spring Break is 3 weeks away, state testing is just over 4 school weeks away. YIKES! Let's not go there today.

Let's just keep swimming.

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