Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Daily Class Structures

PreCalculus and statistics will remain as they have previously.  Last year was the best year I've had in precalc. The students were largely successful and there were few complaints about the class.  Statistics hasn't had enough students enrolled to make the last 4 years.  So, that class will be more or less refamiliarizing myself with the material.  

Geometry needs the most "work".  In the past two years, nearly half of the students enrolled in the course have failed due to many factors.  But, this year I am taking that responsibility entirely.  In the past we have chalked the failure up to the lack of effort on the part of these students.  While I expect this will still be a problem, I am going to do everything I possibly can to prevent apathy from being a major component of student failure.  
1. Start each class period with 5 warm up problems.  These will consist of problems that review previously taught material (look up Retrieval Practice in Make It Stick), as well as problems that review topics that will lead in to upcoming material (ex, writing equations of lines prior to talking about equations of parallel and perpendicular lines).  PearDeck and Desmos Activity Builder will be the main method of completing these exercises.  I intend to use the data collected as a type of formative assessment.  During this work time I will be checking homework assignments following the lead of the illustrious @sqrt_1.  She describes her wonderful homework checking process in this post.
2. We will then go over questions on the previous day's homework assignment.  Based on past experience, this shouldn't take up too much class time. 
3. Main lesson is part 2. I have a Promethean board in my room and I intend to use it for more than a glorified whiteboard. I want to get the kids up and moving more.  My hope is that making the students more mobile will also help increase student learning. I also intend to incorporate more connections between algebra and geometry this year so that the students realize how interconnected these courses really are. 
4. Work on the daily assignment for any remaining class time. I would also like to use this time to meet with struggling students to determine ways that I can help them improve.  We do have RtI scheduled multiple periods per day.  Students can be removed from PE and placed in the class with teacher recommendation. 

I feel as though these changes are manageable and am hopeful that they will result in positive changes for my students. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

My Timing is Impeccable

An unfortunate accident Saturday afternoon has temporarily taken away my ability to walk on both feet.  An initial x-ray showed what the ER doc thought was a sprain.  An ace bandage and a day later, I was learning how to put up with a bit of pain to walk from point A to point B.  A call in the middle of the afternoon on Sunday revealed that the radiologist had reviewed my x-rays and saw a fracture.  They advised that I keep it wrapped and keep from applying pressure to it.  Needless to say, this is not the best time of year to break a bone (not that any time of year is a great time).  My classroom hadn't been touched; things just brought back in from when the floors were re-waxed this summer.  

Earlier this summer, my 13-year-old daughter fell while carrying a young cousin and a niece.  Her fall resulted in a Liz Frank sprain, a boot to be worn for 12-16 weeks, and a referral to an orthopedic specialist.  With the boot, she is at least mobile.  Yesterday, she agreed to help me organize my classroom for a little while.  While there, we managed to set up my computer and retrieve books and binders from the locked cabinets, moving them to the bookshelves where they will remain for the next 10 months or so.  She was such an amazing helper; walking back and forth across the room for me several times while I scooted around in an office chair.  A fellow teacher also came in while we were there to check in on me and see what she could help us with.  I am extremely blessed.

My room is nearly ready.  I still need to find 2-3 more desks and rearrange them into groups.  I was going to be using groups this year anyway, but now I am hoping that they will also make traveling about the room easier.  That'll take care of the organization part of getting my room ready.  

Now to get on to writing some lesson plans and finalizing plans.  Countdown T minus 9 days until the first teacher institute day.  

Monday, August 1, 2016

Peer Study - Turning Around a Socio-Economically Disadvantaged School

Last spring, our school administrators scheduled vertical articulation meetings between content area teachers of grades 6-12.  We were tasked with finding a topic of study for the coming school year.  Our group chose to research how schools that socio-economically challenged can alter their structures and classrooms to improve student learning.

My department head, and leader of our peer study group, recently forwarded us an article (How Poverty Affects Classroom Engagement) for us to read and discuss.  The notes below are my take-aways from my reading - a large portion of which are directly copied from the article.

1. Don't take away recess - for academic reasons or behavioral reasons.  Students need movement to increase their oxygen intake.

2. . "Vocabulary building must form a key part of enrichment experiences for students, and teachers must be relentless about introducing and using new words."

3.  "Research from 60 high-poverty schools tells us that the primary factor in student motivation and achievement isn't the student's home environment; it's the school and the teacher (Irvin, Meece, Byun, Farmer, & Hutchins, 2011)."  Build a classroom of respect and trust.  Involve the students as much as possible, making the learning relevant to this lives.  Be positive and affirm the effort you are witnessing.  Provide daily feedback so students can reflect on, and learn from, their short-comings.

4.  Focus on a growth mindset.  Students of lower socioeconomic status often see the future as being less hopeful.  Make statements that focus on the ability of the brain to do things we don't always expect they can. 

5. "Commonly, low-SES children show cognitive problems, including short attention spans, high levels of distractibility, difficulty monitoring the quality of their work, and difficulty generating new solutions to problems (Alloway, Gathercole, Kirkwood, & Elliott, 2009)." To combat this, start small.  Start with basic vocabulary and build up.  (I see this being somewhat difficult to do in a geometry course.)  Have students immediately recall statements.  (Ex:  Have students repeat the homework assignment to you when given verbally.  Perhaps this could be stated and repeated by the class before being written on the board.)

6. Be caring and compassionate to help combat the negative comments and stress that students may be experiencing at home. When discipline problems arise, speak to the student privately. Do not reprimand them in class.  Model the behaviors you want to see in them. 

7. "Children living in poverty experience greater chronic stress than do their more affluent counterparts. Low-income parents' chronic stress affects their kids through chronic activation of their children's immune systems, which taxes available resources and has long-reaching effects (Blair & Raver, 2012)."  This distress may present itself as in-your-face assertiveness or ignore-me-I'm-not-here passivity.  To combat this, try allowing more opportunities for students to take control of their learning.  Encourage leadership and responsibility. Include more teamwork and decision-making opportunities in the classroom.  

Friday, July 22, 2016

PreCalculus in 2016-2017

In the earlier parts of the summer vacation there was a bit of discussion on Twitter about the topics typically covered in precalculus. For our course, use the 8th edition PreCalculus textbook by Demana, Waits, Foley, and Kennedy.  You can find a list of the topics by chapter here.  This may seem rambling, stick with me.  

The first semester of our course covers chapters 1 through 3.  This primarily means we discuss the analysis of various types of functions including linear, quadratic, cubic & other polynomials, rationals, logarithms and exponentials.  In our study, we talk about the basic concepts related to these functions: domain, range, continuity, extrema, symmetry, intercepts, etc and then examine how these change (or don't change) when various transformations are applied.  These chapters also include some great opportunities for applications of the functions including vertical free fall problems and finance problems.  

Our study of trigonometry begins upon finishing chapter 3.  This past year that fell about 2 weeks before Christmas break.  Typically we cover the functions, their inverses and the associated identities most of the second semester.  This means our year typically ends at the end of chapter 5.

Goal for this year...
Our algebra 2 teacher did an AMAZING job last year of digging more deeply into functions.  I expect this will speed our study this year.  My goal for the upcoming year is to finish at least chapters 1-4 in first semester and start with trig identities in second semester. 

My questions...
Am I expecting too much to cover that much material in first semester?
Calculus teachers:  Should I follow the order of the book - Vectors (Ch 6), Matrices (Ch 7), Conics (Ch 8), etc - or are there certain chapters that I should DEFINITELY cover to best prepare my students for calculus?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Vertical Articulation inspired by @TracyZager

I'm missing #TMC16 this year as I have the past few years, but I am thoroughly engrossed in keeping up with it from afar.  This morning, I watched the keynote speech by @TracyZager from that conference and was astounded at how well it spoke to me.

Our district admins have scheduled vertical articulation meetings at the end of each of the past few school years.  Generally, these meetings are attended by teachers representing various grade levels. In a meeting at the end of the 2014-2015 school year with teachers from grades K-12, we discussed the strengths and weaknesses we are seeing at each grade level.  It was worth noting that several grade levels voiced concerns over the same topics (multiplication skills, comfort when working with fractions, etc - the typical stuff).  The problem I saw with that meeting was that we never addressed how these problems should be tackled.  There was no game plan established.  At the end of the past school year the meeting took place between the MS and HS teachers.  We discussed where we had left off and noted that nothing had changed since the last meeting.  We all acknowledge that the problems exist, but have no idea how to tackle the problems we are seeing.

Like most districts and schools, we are driven by our standards and standardized tests.  I can't help but think that we have to find a way to address these problems, but what do you give up?  We know, for example, that multiplication skills are sub-par, but what do you give up in the 3rd grade curriculum to put more time into multiplication.  And, if you do find a way to adjust the curriculum, what skills may become deficient (that currently aren't) due to this change?

We have been told that these vertical articulation meetings will continue throughout the next school year, but they are supposed to be held on a monthly basis.  At the end of this spring's meeting, we were tasked with coming up with a peer study topic.  Our group chose to look at examples of low-income schools that are doing great things - have turned themselves around.  It is our hope that by addressing large-scale problems (school dynamics), some of the smaller scale problems (work ethic, students struggling with topics, etc) will improve as well.

Note:  I am in no way trying to say that all of our problems lie in the elementary grades.  I am simply using multiplication skills as an example.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Summer has arrived!

Summer break has arrived!  Technically, it arrive about 2 days ago.

This summer's to-do list is quite lengthy.
  • I want to completely rework at least the first semester's worth of geometry materials.  I've managed to make it through 2 units (out of 6) already.  The unit on transformations is my next to tackle and I foresee that taking a bit.  (Add to this we have a new teacher in our department next year that will also be teaching geometry.  I am super happy to have him join us, but I feel like there is that much more pressure on me to be as good as I can be.)
  • I get statistics back next year after a 3 year hiatus.  (We haven't had enough students sign up for the class for it to meet the last 3 years.)  My binder of materials is lacking in the fun-and-engaging category.  
  • PreCalc felt like it flowed well this year, but I would like to be able to cover more material in a year's time.  As it stands right now, we make it through functions first semester and trig second semester.  This year we had about 5 weeks left and began doing some work with derivatives as several of the students in class were registered for a calculus 1 course this coming fall.  I am hoping that #precalchat will help with that a bit.  
  • I start a new Master of Science in Education in Mathematics Teaching program in about 3 weeks.  I am SUPER nervous about this.  I know it is a small class, but I can't help but be curious about the ages of the other students.  Gotta be done, though.  
  • My son joined the Marine Corps and has successfully completed boot camp and his infantry training.  His next level of training will be somewhat lengthy so seeing him some this summer would be lovely but may be a stretch.  
  • The youngest child (to be eighth grader) has recently been asked to join the high school marching band as a mallet player.  This means two weeks of percussion/band camp for this summer have recently been added to her schedule that already included a week at church camp.  
Somewhere in the mix of all this stuff, I want a VACATION!  I'm thinking a beach or Disney World sounds great, but it will (at least partially) be up to the hubs where we end up.  Whatever it is, it needs to be in the next 3 weeks.  Nothing like waiting until the last minute.  

Here's to a great summer!  Enjoy a cold glass of lemonade, take a dip in the pool, read a good book, do whatever relaxes you and makes you happy.