Monday, August 17, 2015

2015-2016 Day 3

Geometry started today by going over the worksheets from last week (Tower Task and Patchwork).  This went swimmingly.  The kids were able to set up the equations much more easily after seeing the blocks rearranged into rectangles rather than in the stacked form.  We followed a similar process with the squares in the Patchwork problem.  The whole point of these worksheets was to get the students used to thinking outside of their traditional methods.  We then took our first set of notes for the year - basically review of things the kids already knew.  Points, lines, segments, rays, etc were the topics of the day.

Pre-Calculus finished up their summer packet review.  I love this set of worksheets and the insight they have given me into what the kids already know.  I am a little concerned about the lack of comfort they have with graphs of parent functions.  At this point, they are only comfortable with graphing a line, a quadratic, and a cubic function.  They are far less comfortable with square and cubic root functions, absolute value functions, exponential and logarithmic functions, sine and cosine...  These are the parent functions of my course.  I fear what will not be covered in class due to the time we'll spend on these topics.  Later this week, the students are completing a placemat activity on solving various types of equations, including two-step equations, quadratics requiring factoring or the quadratic formula, cubic and quartic equations, absolute value equations, square roots equations, etc.  I expect the kids will do well with these.  The first few days of school have already taught me SO much about what skills these kids are lacking and the areas in which they have a firm foundation.  My next step is to create some lessons and activities focused on domain, range, increasing/decreasing/constant intervals, etc.  Not quite sure what I'm dong there yet.  (Suggestions gladly accepted.)

On a more productive note, the other geometry teacher and myself completed our list of chapter projects and their corresponding rubrics.  Geometry students are required to complete one project per unit.  We basically went with what I had mentioned in this post, but eliminated option 6.  We decided the openness of that option would be too difficult to grade/create a rubric.  

Saturday, August 15, 2015

2015-2016 Day 2

Day 2 was a productive one. The geometry students took a pretest for the semester and, while the results were less than great, it just means that we can't go anywhere but up.  It's nice in December to see what they've learned and retained over the course of the semester.  This is the same test I gave last year, so I will be anxious to see the results of this year compared to last year.  My #1 goal this year is to work on comprehension and retention.  

In PreCalc we continued working through the problems on the summer packet.  We determined yesterday that domain and range, increasing/decreasing/constant intervals, as well as piece-wise defined functions need some more detailed study when they come up in our lessons.  This isn't shocking to me as it is a common issue each year.  The kids do have a firm grasp on finding zeros via factoring or graphing, end behaviors, maxima and minima as they apply to linear, quadratic, and polynomial functions.  Our summer packet concludes with rational, radical, exponential, and logarithmic functions.  There is also a little bit of right triangle trig thrown in.  I expect most things in these areas will be things that they students aren't as comfortable with as they were taught late in the Algebra 2 class.  We were also fortunate to have a foreign exchange student join our class yesterday.  I can't wait to see what that adds to our class.  

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Day 1 - Tower Task

Every year about this time I come home and crash.  I generally forget how exhausting the first day of school really is. It's amazing to me how tiring reading and discussing the syllabus can be.

Since the routine of checking out books and reading through the syllabus doesn't take long, we spent the rest of each geometry period working through what I call the Tower Task.  The task is based off of one available through MAP called "Skeleton Tower."  We broke down the task into simple substeps that lead the student through the process of finding a equation relating the total number of cubes to the number of cubes in the center stack.  This is the second year that I've given this task and I really enjoy watching the kids work on it.

In PreCalculus, we spent the last half of the hour going over problems on the summer packet.  I like that I have this time to learn what they do and don't know.  It also gives the students time to talk to me and start to feel comfortable feeling vulnerable.  I think vulnerability plays a large role in why students typically don't ask for help. My goal is to break that feeling and to replace it with a feeling of mutual trust.

I can't wait to see what this school year holds!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

2015-2016 Ready for day 1

Ready for day 1:
     While yesterday was the first day that teachers and staff were required to report for this school year, I stared revisiting my mess of a room nearly two weeks ago.  Files are now organized,  shelves are stocked, and (most of) my first day copies are ready.  I'm all ready for students to come in tomorrow!

Here's my setup this year:
     My little corner of organization.  This is just all the things I like to have close at hand.  My wonderful husband came from his room (down the hall) to hang a small magnetic dry erase board I bought from Target.  I intend to use this to keep track of my to do lists and all of those little papers we need to keep at hand.  The yellow folders hanging on the whiteboard is where I keep papers that are graded and ready to be returned to the students.
     These are my bulletin boards.  The one at the back of the room displays the mathematical practices.   The border on both the front and back boards is just gathered pieces of burlap..

     The front bulletin board is just inside the door.  It shows the emergency posters that must be posted and a place for me to write the daily assignments.  I may remove those, though, as I post the assignments multiple places on line already.

     The trays on top of the bookshelf are where students pick up the worksheets or notes that are necessary each day.  The shelves underneath hold the dry erase boards, markers, and erasers, as well as the Chromebooks that I have accessible for my freshmen students to use.  (The sophomores-seniors all have them assigned to them.)  The file boxes on the bottom shelf are a new addition.  I am always looking for ways to organize the worksheets/notes left over each day so that absent students can get ahold of them easily.  I have hanging folders in each day of these week and each day of the previous week.  There is also a folder to hold extra papers for those that are from weeks that have passed.  
     The bookshelf below houses graph paper, scissors, tape, rulers, etc.  
The pictures below show various views of the room. 

I am READY for tomorrow.  Cheers to another great year!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Project & Activity Ideas

At the end of last school I had decided that I wanted to add an activity or project for each geometry unit/chapter.  (Looking over this list, though, I think they could be applied to any class.)  I'm thinking of giving the students (some or all of) these options at the start of each chapter and letting them choose which one to complete. The students would be required to turn in their chapter project no later than the day of the chapter test.  A rubric would be given in advance as well so students know what elements must be included.

  1. Create a video teaching a lesson from this chapter.  The lesson should include examples (not including those given in class) and their solutions.  The file is to be emailed to the teacher.  (Possibly upload to YouTube and email link to the teacher.)
  2. Create a ThingLink of the information in the chapter or in a lesson from the chapter.  See this or this as an example.  The ThingLink should link to at least one of each of the following:  video tutorial, practice quizzes or problems, and informational websites. Altogether, at least 6 links must be present.  The background image should be an original creation.    Note:  Glogster can also be used for a similar purpose.  
  3. Create a review of the chapter's material using Kahoot!, Socrative, or another program accessible through a Chromebook.  The review should include 15-25 questions.  
  4. Create an interactive quiz or interactive presentation using Google Slides that covers the topics from this chapter.  Follow this link for more information.  
  5. Create a comic strip for a lesson from the chapter using Google Slides or PowToon.  (See this for an example of the use of Google Slides and more information.)
  6. Develop an alternative to any of these projects and create it. Note:  Students are to have any alternate ideas approved by the teacher before production of the project.  

Needless to say this is a rough draft of what I am thinking.  I may decide not to give students all of these options for each chapter.  For example, I might use methods 1 and 2 from above for one chapter project, and use 3 and 5 for another chapter.

What do you think?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Navigating the Multitude of Apps for Chromebooks in a Math Classroom

The school in which I work is (mostly) 1-to-1 with Chromebooks.  Last year was the first year that nearly all of my students had this technology with them in class each day and, to be honest, I did not do a great job of looking for ways to use them.  This summer that became a priority for me.

Today, a colleague of mine and myself spent a good portion of the day exploring various apps and websites, including Plickers, Socrative, Kahoot, Google Forms, Desmos Activity Builder, and Pear Deck.  (We honestly ran out of time to do much with Pear Deck besides watch 2 instructional videos on YouTube, but plan to look into it more individually and discuss later.)  We created a teacher login on each of these, built a quiz or other interactive worksheet, and used a student login to take the quiz.  In our investigation, we were looking for these factors:

  1. Ease of construction - We wanted the app to be easy for teachers to use and it needed to include the option of adding an image.  We were also looking at the amount of time it took to create a quiz question.  
  2. Enjoyable for students - This one speaks for itself.  
  3. Grading options - Ultimately we were looking for options of immediate feedback for students.  Other various teacher report options were also being evaluated.  Each of the apps we examined fit our needs in this area.
Here's what we discovered.  We LOVE the ease of use of Socrative, Kahoot, Plickers, and Desmos.  In each of these, creation of questions was very quick.  This was not true for Google Forms quizzes.  We had trouble formatting images of graphs and equations using g(Math) with the quiz questions.  This feature alone has ruled out Google Forms as an option in our classes, at least this year.

As far as student enjoyment is concerned, Kahoot seems to be the most enjoyable.  We love the fact that video can be included in the questions (and quite easily I might add).  I was initially concerned that the fast pace might deter some of the slower students, but the ability to change the time available for each question helped ease that somewhat.   

Ultimately we decided that Kahoot best fits our needs for review activities.  I can see this being a great activity option on the second day of review for a chapter test or as a brief review before a quiz.  Personally, I would not use Kahoot as a graded activity.  Socrative seems to be a better option where quizzes are concerned.   The ability of the students to work through questions at their own pace was an important consideration here.  The grading features of these questions was also much more appropriate for quiz/test questions.  Desmos' Activity Builder is a great option for an activity in class.  I can see this being something useful for test/quiz review or just to practice more thoroughly with topics.  The little we saw of Pear Deck gave us the impression that it would be more beneficial as a type of formative assessment or presentation tool.  

Overall, I have decided to add some combinations of these tools in my classes this year.  As a geometry and precalculus teacher, each of these programs has some advantages and disadvantages.  I foresee, especially in geometry, having to create a lot of images and upload to these programs.  As for precalc, I see more use of Desmos in that area.  My goal is to use the Chromebooks at least twice a week.  If I feel confident that I can add more, I'll do so, but I don't want to stress myself out committing to an every day schedule.  

Oh a happy note...My copy count should decrease this year :)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Classroom Organization

I've been located in the same room for about 8 years and was fortunate enough to be allowed to paint it a few years ago.  That being said, I've had the room arranged in the same way for most of that time and it is starting to feel "stale."  

Sorry for anyone besides me that reads this.  I just needed to write down all of the things I've been thinking about.  Will post later what I come up with.

Things to work around/figure out:
1.  The one network jack in the room is in the front corner opposite the door.  I do, however, have access to a LONG cable.
2.  The Promethean Board cables that attach to the computer are not that long.  Options:  Leave the computer where it's been or buy longer cables.
3. Organize the furniture so the filing cabinet can be close to my desk.
4.  Keep a table by the door for daily handouts.  (Students pick them up as they enter the room.)
5.  Determine a way to have seating near my desk for students that need help/student worker.
6.  Podium/table at the front of the room?
7.  Have space for at least 27 desks.

Supplies that need to be handy for students regularly:
1.  Graph & Patty paper
2.  Rulers, Compasses, Protractors
3.  Dry Erase Boards, erasers, markers
4.  Scissors & Tape

Organizational things I need to "fix":
1.  A place for students to routinely hand in assignments, quizzes, tests.  Separated by class period?  
2.  A location for handouts for absent students.  (3 different courses = three different locations?)
3.  Desk/bookcase organizer for commonly used folders: copies to make, paperwork to be completed ASAP, etc.  Couple this with #1?
4.  A way to organize student papers:  quizzes, tests, finals, etc

Friday, July 3, 2015

Paper/Pencil Grades in an Online Gradebook World

This year I have the pleasure (at least it's a pleasure most of the time) of teaching summer school geometry.  The 23 kids currently enrolled in my second semester geometry course are all students that have failed the course during the school year and are retaking it with the hopes of catching up on credits.   With a class full of at-risk students, the environment can be both challenging and rewarding.  For visualization purposes, consider the magnitude of completing each set of notes, homework assignments, worksheets, quizzes and tests for a semester in 64 contact hours.

As part of the summer program, I am required to enter a final grade for each student in our district-wide gradebook program.  I am not, however, required to enter each daily assignment, quiz, etc as I typically would during the school year.  So, at the beginning of the semester I gave each student a list of all worksheets, quizzes, and tests that would be collected for a grade.  This list also contains the points possible for each assignment, as well as a list of cumulative points possible.  (This semester we have 1235 points possible.) Once papers are graded and passed back, each student is to record the number of points he/she earned and find the cumulative number of points earned.  After a short lesson on how to do so, students are now able to compute their grade independently.

I realize that this is neither a novel idea, nor a new one.  Years ago, prior to the onslaught of online gradebook programs, I had students keep a handwritten list like this in the front of their binder.  Somewhere over the course of time and after falling into the realm of thinking that technology is meant to make things simpler, I stopped this practice.  I expected my students to check their grade online periodically - some did, others not so much.  (I really don't know why I decided to do it this way for summer school.)

Here's what I've learned....
1.  The majority of my students are taking a more active role in their learning.  They see the benefits, and the pitfalls, of doing well/poorly.  Some that failed miserably during the school year are now earning A's and B's on most work, want newly graded papers back daily, and are quick to determine their most recent grade.
2.  The students prefer to have the paper/pencil list in front of them instead of the online option.  Some students have pointed out that they don't have access to the internet at home.  So, having this list makes it possible to know their grade without asking the teacher.
3.  The students are aware of any work they have not turned in or work that was turned in without a name.  This saves them having to ask me questions like "What's my grade?" or "Is there anything I can do to bring my grade up?"  Note:  When they do ask, I simply reply with something similar to "Check your grade sheet."
4.   Since this list contains a list of all possible points for the semester, the students are able to determine the minimum number of points necessary to pass the semester (in our case, 735-ish).  This number has become a goal for them.  They know attaining at least 735 points will GUARANTEE a passing grade and that any number of points above this cut-off value equates in a higher semester grade.

Watching these kids progress has been AMAZINGLY rewarding.  (Don't get me wrong.  There have been hiccups.)  These kids have convinced themselves over the course of many years that they can't do math.  Watching their points earned climb seems to be convincing them that they can be successful.

Now all I have to do is figure out how to make it work for a quarter length course.  (It might also be something useful on our evaluation tool.)