Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Saturday, November 2, 2013

My #geniushour, Making Math/Science Connections

I have a confession, my #geniushour project is looking for resources that connect mathematics and science to real life situations.  Here is my most recent find:

I found this picture in HGTV Magazine's October/November issue. It is exactly the type of thing I am always on the lookout for, you see I am obsessed with finding pictures, videos, and articles that connect math to any type of real life situation that my students might relate to. Often, the connection is not necessarily something that is of great interest to the students personally. However, they are used to me bringing something of this sort into class, telling a personal story, and then asking them what math they see and/or can explore. This picture provides a great proportional reasoning experience for students. I prompt them to come up with mathematical explorations and record as they share ideas. We use the Standards of Mathematical Practice (SMP) in the Common Core state standards as our guide. For this activity, I might pick SMP 1 - Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. 

As a curriculum coordinator, I will take this picture, the SMP of focus and then search the grade level standards to make this accessible to all grade levels K-8. Then, I will share with the teachers and hope that a few will experiment with their classes and explore. I am working to find a balance in providing Common Core experiences with the right amount of scaffolding for the teachers. Building capacity is something I was skilled at doing with students in the classroom. I find it more difficult to do with teachers, but I am loving the challenge of being one of the instructional leaders of a school district, not just the instructional leader of a classroom.

I am in the process of collecting close reading resources for the teachers in my school district. It is in the beginning or infancy stages so be patient as I work to organize and tweak what I find.

The resources shared on this page will be periodically edited and revised and updated, they are the beginning of my effort to collect and compile.

Beck’s Close Read Process:

  • I keep my eyes and ears open at all times for current articles, news stories, student discussions and likes or dislikes
  • I search resources like:
    • NPR
    • Newspapers
    • Local Television
    • ESPN - other sports
    • Anything that will relate to the students
    • I will do a search on a topic I know is of interest for the students
  • As I am picking items for Close Reads, I search for information that can be used in a mathematical or scientific nature
  • As we read and work to find the main idea, details, meanings of technical words and other vocabulary, we also formulate mathematical/scientific questions using the data in the article.
  • We work with the text for the entire week, in class and as homework in both a mathematical/scientific way and in a Common Core ELA way.
  • I am particularly interested in looking for proportional reasoning items since it is an area of struggle and foundational for connecting mathematics and science to real life experiences.

What's The Connection? How to Integrate Mathematics, Common Core Standards, Real Life Experiences, and the Content Areas 09/20/13 Global Education STEM Webinar

Close Read Resources (this will be added to continually)

Beck's Close Read Process (this will be revised periodically)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Baby Steps into Standards Based Grading

In August I started a new job as Curriculum Coordinator after 23 years in the classroom.  As a classroom teacher I was always a practitioner and advocate of standards based grading, even before the twitter hashtags - #sbar and #sbgchat.  It has been my instinct to provide students with feedback on their progress towards proving understanding of standards or skills or outcomes etc...  It was a lonely road for many years until I joined twitter.  I was finally being validated and questioned and challenged which enabled me to tweak and grow in my implementation of SBG.  I worked to share with my colleagues, but I did not press or push my agenda upon others.  I find that in my new position there is a need in the district for movement towards standards based assessment/grading.  I am also experiencing anxiety, resistance, and uncertainty.  So, this post is the starting point, the beginning of my journey in transitioning a small K-8 school district into an authentic standards based grading district.  I will be sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly of this journey as we move one baby step at a time.

I am blogging about the process for a variety of reasons.  First, I was to track the movement of the district so that I can see growth or lack there of.  Second, I will need support, ideas, encouragement, and a group of educators to push and challenge me as I work to move the district forward.  Third, I want to share the journey with others so that they can learn from the plethora of mistakes, restarts, and challenges I come up against in this process.  So, where do I start?

This school year, our district has identified three ELA standards and one Writng standard from the CCSS (common core state standards):
RI.2 - Main Idea and Details of Informational Texts
RL.9 - Compare and Contrast Literary Texts
L.4 - Contextual Clues
W.4 - Writing Informational/Explanatory Texts

We also identified three CCSS Mathematical Practices for the teacher to focus on this year:
Model with mathematics
Make sense of problems
Construct viable arguments

So one of the first tasks I was given was to revise the K-5 standards based report cards.  The first thing I did was eliminate the standards and skills that had nothing to do with Common Core.  Then I made and executive decision to add the six Common Core standards the district had decided to focus on across the K-8 grade levels.  Here is what I have come up with so far:

When I sent these out to the 4/5 teachers it was received with respectful rejection.  The 4/5 teachers are the only ones in the district who have to do both standards based grading and letter grades and they have a problem with the "fairness" of this.  So, we made a decision to divorce grades from tracking standards and allowed the 4/5 teachers to only post letter grades on the report cards with non of the above standards as part of their grade book.  This poses a juxtaposition for me.  As an advocate of standards based grading, my soul, gut, and every part of my being felt like a sell out and/or a failure.  I caved and surrendered my beliefs and what I know is the right thing for students.  On the other hand, I have won over the upper grade elementary teachers by letting them assign what I believe are meaningless grades.  At the same time I know that they will have to assess and track student progress on the identified Common Core Standards our district has identified.

So, here I stand as someone who used to be a singleton classroom teacher implementing standards based grading to a district person who will be working to move the K-8 teachers towards this meaningful way of tracking student proof of understanding.  The gauntlet has been thrown down, and I have to take the baby steps that are required to move a district forward toward standards based grading.  There is no way that I can do this alone, and I am thankful that I have the vast resources on twitter.  I will look to you all to support me, challenge me, and provide resources.  It is such a huge task, but I will do the work and share the process with my #sbgchat folks.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

What I am Doing for International Dot Day

Last year, my students and I participated in our first International Dot Day.  I pledged to continue the tradition because it had such an impact on my math students.  In fact in my end of the year survey quite a few students stated that their favorite activity of the school year was “Dot Day”.  This summer I took a job that has me out of the classroom and into a curriculum leadership position in a K-8 school district with 4 elementary schools and 1 middle school.  Instead of doing dot day with my 120 middle school math students, I will be doing dot day with 22 of the teachers in the district.  So, I will be increasing the number of students and teachers I reach by quite a lot.  As a district we have chosen three ELA Common Core Standards to focus attention on this year.  I will be integrating these standards into the lesson plan so I can model the common core standards while teaching the students to “Make Their Mark” on the world.  Here are the lessons I plan on teaching in the upcoming weeks.

International Dot Day Lesson Plans - These are a work in progress and will be changing as I think and revise and then repeat that process. I thought I would share now even though they are not complete.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Reflection 6.3 - Assessment in an Online and/or Blended Learning Environment

TechConnect Reflection Prompt:

This module has explored the use of technology tools for both formative and summative assessment. As you think about how you will implement formative and summative assessments in the online and ...

This week in my online class (this is an assignment and not my usual post), we considered grading and assessment.  Gee those are two things that I have become very passionate about the past couple of years read here for my "philosophy"  What is the Purpose of Grades in My Classroom.  However, now I am needing to combine my beliefs about grading and assessment and consider how to make it work in a non - traditional learning environment.  So here is my brain wrestling with this topic at a beginning level.

One of the things we studied this week was an article by Harry Tuttle, Web 2.0 Use May Not Be Formative Assessment which reminded me about effective formative assessment.  Mr. Tuttle identifies the following stages of formative assessment:

Student Responses
Monitor the Response
Diagnose the Response
Share Feedback Based on Diagnosis
Student Uses Feedback to Learn
Report Growth and Celebrate

To effectively do this in an online or blended learning environment I will need some tools.

  • First I will need a Learning Management System (LMS) to facilitate the distribution of assignments and grading expectations and rubrics.  I will be using Schoology (a free LMS) since that is what my district will be implementing this coming school year.
  • I will also use Schoology to facilitate student discussions and collaboration to help solidify the understanding of the essential standards of the unit.
  • Next I will need to be mindful and deliberate in my use/creation of grading rubrics for unit assignments and assessments.
  • I will utilize online tools such as Socrative, Google Forms, Google Drive, and other online tools to collect student responses and then follow Tuttles stages to promote student learning and growth towards the units essential standards
  • Providing timely and meaningful feedback will also be important 
  • Finally, I will implement the use of Doctopus (Google script) and Goobric (Google rubric)
It will take some time for me to become effective at implementing formative and summative assessments in an online/blended environment.  At least I will be able to model the process of learning and revision for my students as I go through this process.

Here is a sample lesson - first draft that I am working on:
Passion Paper Writing Assignment

Monday, June 24, 2013

#A3WP, #NWP, #letsgetdigital Week of Reflections - Monday 06/24

TechConnect Reflection Prompt:

Think about how the Internet has impacted your own personal learning, communication, and sense of community. Write a new post that includes a screenshot showing your participation in a social or ...

Monday's Writing Prompt:
"The essence of social media is knowing your audiences and engaging them in something they love."

Since I have been an avid twitter user for nearly 3 years, I completely agree and believe in this statement.  For those of you new to the "social media" party, you may not see the importance of these words.  The thing I like best about social media is that it is very personal.  As an educator,  I can choose who I want to follow and learn from (way too many to list here).  I also choose which hastags (#sbgchat, #ptchat, #geniushour, #sbar, #mathyladies, and many more) to follow and learn from.  I have completely personalized interactions and professional development built into one account: @teachteKBeck.

Twitter has been my gateway into blogging.  I write about education with an emphasis on standards-based grading, homework, and geniushour.  I have a particular audience in mind and I make sure I tailor my writing and interactions accordingly.

I know it is hard for some educators to understand the power of twitter or other social media outlets as an educational tool for teachers and/or students.  I admit I resisted for a long time, however, once I found my way there is nothing that could make me give it up.  I am still teaching because of the support and free professional development I receive everyday.  I also feel closer to educators I have never met in person than some of the educators I teach down the hall from.

I know you have heard this before, but GET ON TWITTER if you want to grow as and learn as a professional.

There are times when Twitter can be a distraction, however, it usually compliments what I am doing for the classes I am teaching and/or the classes that I am taking.  If I think about my students and the effect social media has on their learning I believe that it is not a distraction.  The students we have in our classes are very adept at using technology as a learning tool in both good and evil ways.  If they are not monitored there are many ways for students to "cheat".  However, if teachers are asking the students to participate in authentic learning experiences using technology then the issue of cheating ceases to exist.  I believe that we have to teach students to use technology appropriately to learn, socialize, collaborate, create, etc...

To support my students in a blended learning environment I will work to build a sense of community.  Then, I will teach then how to be responsible with what and how they post ANYTHING.  I want to encourage and teach responsibility.  In middle school I get to deal with what is called the "adolescent brain" which has impulsive tendencies among other issues.  My students need to understand the consequences of their actions while participating in various social media outlets.  It is my goal to teach them how to use these tools for good instead of evil.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

3.3 Reflection - Beginning Thoughts on Implementing Genius Hour

Reflection Prompt: 

Reflect upon what an activity in your classroom might look like using one or more of these Web 2.0 tools. Think about:
• what the experience looks like for students.
• types of outcomes ...
This summer I am going to be combining my class assignments with my goal of implementing #geniushour into my classroom routine. 

There are many definitions of genius:

  • an attendant spirit of a person or place
  • a strong leaning or inclination
  • a peculiar, distinctive, or identifying character or spirit
You may notice that I purposely left out the following definition:
  • a person endowed with transcendent mental superiority; especially a person with a very high IQ
As I work to implement #geniushour I am going to use the top three definitions of genius with my students.  I want them to realize that genius is driven by your spirit or soul.  I also want them to understand it is an internal drive that at times can be peculiar or distinctive or identifying.  As my students quickly learn, I am a peculiar person and teacher and therefore there can be genius within those traits.  

As I take my students through the process of #geniushour I will begin with the Analysing level of Blooms Taxonomy which asks students to: compare, organize, find, link, tag, integrate, deconstruct, structure.  As a requirement for my summer class I will identify the Web 2.0 tool that will enable my students to organize themselves as they begin their journey into "genius".  There are two tools I will be introducing to them: Evernote and Livebinders.  These two tools enable students to do all of the above mentioned verbs in the Analysing section of Blooms.

In previous blog posts I have mentioned how I am going to have my students find what they are passionate about - Heart Maps, Passion Papers, and Paper Blogs.  Once they figure out what they are passionate about, they have to start becoming experts.  After reading the blog post on Project Based Failing I want to make sure that my students are working on "Human-Centered Projects" rather than "Student-Centered Projects".  

So what are my beginning steps?  Back on May 18th, I attended a Classroom 2.0 Live Saturday Seminar on Genius Hour: Passion-Based Learning.  I have been thinking about how I will implement this incredible learning experience into my classroom.  As a beginning step I will teach my students how to collect and organize information using Evernote and/or Livebinders.  As the students explore their passions, they will need a place to "warehouse" the websites, you tube videos, images, blog posts, and any other online resources they gather.  I use both tools and will share how I use them as an example for my students.

As my students work on becoming genius' they will need to research as a beginning step.  A desired outcome I will have for them is to find a place to collect, organize, tag, etc... the information they find.  I will work with groups of students who pick the same tool to guide them as they learn how to use the tool.  I will identify student "experts" who naturally understand how to us the tool and have them help other students.

I see the first step in implementing #geniushour is having the students identify their focus and as they work to become experts they have a Web 2.0 tool that can help them organize themselves and their resources.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

2.2 Reflection: Methodologies of the Online/Blended Instructor

This is another reflection assignment for the online course I am taking.

Reflection Prompt:

In your reflective post this week, think about the following questions: 1. Reflecting on the information covered in this module so far, how might your instructional methodologies need to change ...

It is my belief that highly effective educators use strategies that are universal, meaning that no matter what teaching "situation" they are in, they should not need to drastically alter how they educate their students.  As we (educators) move from traditional learning situations to blending in online learning we need to make sure that there are some important strategies in place to promote student success and quality learning.

Below I will share MY opinion on what makes an effective online/blended learning instructor.

Creating a Community of Learners
No matter what type of learning situation a teacher is in, I feel it is essential to build a community of learners.  At the beginning of the school year I have my students write passion papers.  I want to know what they are passionate about and I want the other students to learn each others passions.  This coming school year before we do our passion papers we will do "Heart Maps" Courtesy of Georgia Heard's book, "Awakening the Heart".

By doing "heart maps" the students will have an opportunity to discover what is important to their hearts and then that should help with their passion papers.  The passion papers help build community because we turn them into paper blogs courtesy of Karen McMillan @McTeach:

The paper blogs teach the students how to appropriately comment on each other's passion papers and the students relate and connect with each other by finding commonalities in their lives.  We use their passion paper as their first blog entry of the school year.  A quick reminder, I am a math teacher so you may be wondering how I can take the time out of my math instruction to do these activities?!  I make creating a classroom community a priority because it makes so many things in the classroom work so much better and I want the students to learn from day one that I am not the only teacher in the class.  In an online environment, I would do something very similar just tweaked to work in that specific environment.  I do believe that it is vital in a virtual learning environment that the community of learner is established because the students will need to collaborate and work together without actually seeing or meeting each other in person.

Organization of Resources and Class Content
This is important in all learning environments.  This summer in my class we are using the Learning Management System (LMS) Schoology.  It is a free LMS for individuals and my district is exploring an institutional account.  There are other LMS tools: EdmodoBlackboard Collaborate, Collaborize Classroom and others I have not used.  These tools allow educators to have a secure gathering place for their class(es) and a storage place for their materials.

I also utilize other organization tools that allow my students to access class materials.  My Google Plus Classroom Website, my Symbaloo Class Page, and my Evernote Pre-Algebra Class Notebook, are all tools my students use on a daily basis to access course materials, notes, resources and important information.  It is extremely important for educators to provide online access to class materials whether or not they are teaching in a virtual environment or a brick and mortar one.

Facilitate Online Learning and Discussions
Especially when blending or teaching an online class, creating a collaborative environment is very important.  Using computers can be considered isolating.  Those of you on twitter and other social networks for your professional learning community know that is not the case at all!  Our students also see technology as a social tool.  As educators we need to facilitate that process within the online environment for our students by creating meaningful discussions either asynchronous or synchronous.  We need to model the process of collaboration and sharing in an online environment for them.  It is vital to plan carefully and consider the content we are teaching and the learning objectives we seek and to have that drive our instruction and how technology is integrated into our classes.  We also need to teach our students how to use technology and how to become responsible consumers, collaborators, and creators of digital information.  

Equal Access to Technology
It is important to remember to make sure your students have equal access to technology.  When I assign work that is to be completed using technology, I make sure that student who do not have access to technology at home have first dibs on the classroom computers.  They have priority over students who have access at home.  Lack of technology should not be an obstacle for students and measures need to be taken to make use of technology is equitable.

There are many things educators need to consider when implementing any type of learning situation.  I touched on a few key things I think are important when shifting your instruction from a traditional classroom setting to a blended or online teaching environment.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

TechConnect Online Teacher Certification: Reflection 1 6/9

Reflection Prompt:
Considering the online learning self-assessment you took this week, and thinking about your reasons for taking this course, what is your highest priority learning goal for this course?

What are some specific skills, strategies or tools you are hoping to learn more about?

This summer (2013) I have enrolled in an online course: TechConnect 2.0 Online Teacher Certification which will enable me to gain the necessary skills to create online and/or blended learning situations for  all sorts of students.  One of the requirements for the course is a weekly reflection assignment.  I will use my blog for this process.

The University of Houston has a Free Online Assessment that tests student readiness to learn in an online environment.  My score on the assessment was 208 which means I am prepared for online learning and should be successful in that environment.  I found it interesting that I scored 4.8/5.0 in "need for online learning" which means my schedule (I teach full time), and my distance from universities dictates a strong need to learn online.  I truly believe that physical presence in a classroom is not required for rich learning experiences to take place.  Online learning environments are an intriguing option that I am very interested in exploring.

For the past three years I have been attending Classroom 2.0 Live Saturday online seminars.  It was my first experience with online learning and it has been such a great experience that I make time in my schedule to attend each week (unless my son has a baseball or soccer game).  If I miss the live class, I will find time to attend the recorded session.  The recorded session is not as much fun because I miss participating in the chat that takes place during the session.  I have made many friends and have learned so much about integrating technology and improving my teaching.  I even became a Featured Teacher in June 2012.  As a result of my attendance I began building my personal learning network on Twitter and Google+, I started this blog, and have become active in using technology to learn, share, and collaborate with other educators all over the world.

I decided to take this course because I am interested in providing a variety of learning experiences for my students.  I want to create blended and/or online learning opportunities that will result in more student involvement and interest.  It will also enable me to differentiate the learning for my students more effectively.  Another reason I enrolled in this class is because I wanted to learn how to use Schoology as a learning management system.  Lastly, I strongly believe in learning collaboratively and I am looking forward to sharing with and learning from the other educators in the class.

My highest priority learning goal is to learn how to effectively utilize Schoology as a learning management system to provide blended learning experiences for my math students.  It is important for me to experience this process as a student.  That perspective will enable me to keep the student in mind as I develop online learning activities.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

If I Don't Grade It, The Students Won't Do It!

Three years ago as I began my crude implementation of standards based grading, I made the decision to NEVER say, "this is for a grade..."  I put the dots because there is a plethora of continuing statements that are inevitably attached to those 5 words depending on the situation.  I would love to say that I have completely eradicated that statement.  Unfortunately for my students sake, that has not happened.  In fact, I caught myself saying it last week as I introduced an end of the year project my students will be completing.  "I caught myself" is an important statement.  When I started this quest I began by building an awareness of how often I "threatened" my students by saying it.  I see the statement as a threat where others might see it as "motivation".  I was shocked by how often the words would come out of my mouth.  Slowly, it has been three years, it rarely rears it's ugly head and when it does (LAST WEEK) I get a sick feeling in my stomach and the students give me perplexed looks as if to say, "Really?"

 I have worked hard to remove the "threat" of grades for my math courses in two ways:
  •  Not punishing students for what they do not know (by grading and putting scores on quizzes and homework and classwork into my grade book) 
  • Working to provide feedback on levels of achievement on individual essential standards rather than one overall grade
Most weeks, I have a quiz that enables me to see where students are in their proof and understanding of our essential math standards.  I get a picture of where each student is and they get feedback on their strengths and struggles.  This process has evolved into a non-threatening, non-cheating experience which the students know provides vital information to all involved.  Non-threatening because students look forward to the feedback they gain and they willingly write in big letters: "I don't understand this" on their quizzes knowing they will not be punished, but instead helped, encouraged, and expected to understand.  I love how the non-threatening environment has created a non-cheating environment.  The students know that I need to have a complete picture of what they understand and that if they copy from their neighbor during an assessment, I will not get that picture and they may not get help.  I find myself saying, "I need to know what you know and what you don't know, so I can help you!"

This school year one of my math periods is an "enrichment" class that is ungraded, filled with struggling students, and has a three week rotation (the logistics of the program are detailed and will not be addressed in this post).  Every three weeks, I get a new batch of students from all the math teachers on campus needing specific "enrichment" (remediation) on specific essential math standards.  This class is un-graded and has surprised me.  In anticipation of this class I thought it was going to be extremely difficult to motivate struggling students grouped together.  It has become the best part of my school day!  There are so many cool things about this class but I want to focus on the environment that exists because of it's non-gradedness.

  • The students enter the room with a sigh of relief rather than anxiety, they can relax knowing it is a place to make mistakes, get help and learn from them.
  • The students are focused on improving their understanding of the math standards without the threat of punishment for lack of performance.
  • The students received meaningful feedback on their understanding which motivated them to continue their quest for understanding.
  • We have built relationships that go beyond the classroom - most of the students are not in my math classes, yet these students go out of their way to speak to me when I see them on campus, they even come to me after school to serve their detentions.
  • I am still their teacher, not their friend but by concentrating on establishing a safe trusting environment, the students are learning and improving their math understanding
  • I need to figure out a way to use this information with other teachers to help them understand and consider how to change the learning environment in their classes.

I have been thinking about the"If I don't grade it, the students won't do it!" statement often lately.  Every time I hear an educator use this argument, it makes me cringe.  The snarky remark I would love to say is, "If a grade is the only motivation for a student to complete your assignment, then it is a crappy assignment."  As an educator who is working through the implementation of standards based grading, I want to bring more teachers on board not drive them away and have them thinking I've lost my mind.

The statement expresses resistance as educators struggle with evolving grading practices shared by such experts as Rick Wormeli, Robert Marzano, Richard Stiggins, Thomas Guskey, and many others.  I completely understand where the resistance is coming from.  In my school district we have created common assessments based on essential learning standards for all of our "core" classes - language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science.  This summer I am going to use my experiences to create some baby steps for implementation of standards based grading (sbg) and guide teachers as they consider the shift from grading as "motivation" to grading as "feedback" starting with this great blog post: Assessments: The Collateral Damage of SBG by Daniel Schneider a very insightful and reflective SECOND year teacher.  I will also use my "classroom experts" who are working on sbg implementation everyday and sharing on twitter: #sbar #sbgchat
Thanks to all for your support and inspiration!

I would LOVE any feedback, advice, help, ideas, anything you can share!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Tater's Spring Break Re-Takes and Re-Dos

This past week my 7 year old son and I have been on spring break.  On Wednesday 3/27 the #sbgchat discussed redos and re-takes.  Here is the Storify archive of the chat which I had to read because I was driving home from a day of skiing with my family.  My teaching life requires me to think about redos and re-takes everyday as I try to effectively implement standards based grading.  This week while at home with my son, I witnessed some real-life redos and re-takes I'd like to share here.   Watching Tater  reminded me that I am only scratching the surface with redo and re-takes in my classroom.  This post will serve as a reminder to me that I need to keep revising my process for the sake of my students.

Tater the Spy

One morning as I was working on a project for my math students (will be shared on my classroom blog), my son and his buddy were pretending to be spies.  Tater is a bit obsessed with James Bond at this time (yes, he is only 7 and yes, we watch James Bond movies with him - shame on me!).  Anyway, Tater and his buddy were trying to sneak up on me and surprise/SCARE me as I worked on my computer.  It was great because the first time they barely made it down the stairs before I heard them.  At that time I had no idea what they were doing until they informed me that they were spies trying to sneak up on me.  Upon hearing this I told them they needed a "redo" and sent them back upstairs to try again.  On their second try they got closer before I heard them.  Once I "caught" them, I complimented them on getting closer and then gave them another redo.  Tater stated that he wanted me to pretend I did not hear them so that they could sneak up on me.  I informed him that if he wants to be a spy, then he has to learn to sneak up on me using stealth - no sound, banging, or bringing attention to.  They continued to practice and each time they got closer and closer experimenting, revising, and problem-solving.  They were not punished for having to try multiple times.  I did not tell them they had only one attempt and then they were done.  Although they became frustrated during the process, they never gave up and found it fun to keep trying.

I immediately put myself into my classroom and the learning process my students go through to prove their understanding.  Why is it I can patiently guide my son through the revision/re-take process, yet  I struggle with my students.  I find it interesting that my students also would like me to pretend that they know something, similar to Tater's request for me to "pretend" I couldn't hear him.  In my classroom I drift in and out of "old school" and "new school".  When I am in "new school" mode I am embracing the standards based research and listening to the incredible educators in my professional learning network.  I am patient with the students, I encourage them to try again and give them hints and instruction that will help them revise their thinking and understanding.  I differentiate between silly mistakes and true misconceptions to help each individual student.  I push and do not give them an option to quit.  I work hard to stay in this mode, but every once in a while I revert back to "old school" mode.  My regressions are due to peer pressure from my colleagues, parents, and students who don't want to work hard to prove their understanding.  Those of you trying to implement standards based grading know how challenging it is for every stake holder involved.

Tater the Skier

I think I mentioned that my son is seven.  He has taken two full days of lessons and has a nice foundation of the skiing fundamentals.  During spring break we took our first family ski trip.  The night before we left, Tater was anxious about riding the chair lift and even got a bit teary.  Skip and I assured him that we would not put him into any situation that he would not be able to handle and that we would be there to support and help him.  All went well with the first chair lift ride.  We took Tater on beginner runs which were easy for him, however, he did not need to turn to get down the hill.  After lunch Skip and I decided that for Tater to learn how to turn, we needed to challenge him a bit, sort of force the issue.  We took him to an intermediate run which pushed Tater to the edge.  At the top of the run, Tater completely melted down and threw a fit.  He gave up, quit and according to him was not going to ski down the hill.  Unfortunately for him, I was not going to be hiking back up to the top so we could ski down the beginner hill, so we were at an impasse.  Skip and I let Tater throw his fit which took about 10 minutes.  We calmly waited and when he was calm enough to listen we explained the situation to him.  He was going to have to figure out how to get down this run by making turns and we would be guiding him the entire way.  Skip was downhill from Tater guiding his turns.  I was uphill ready to pick up skis and poles as they dispersed when he fell.  I yelled "pizza turn" (the new terminology replacing "snow plow") when it was time to turn.  It was extremely painful at the beginning with lots of tears and declarations of quitting from both Tater and Skip.  I told both of my boys that quitting was not an option, we were going to get down this hill and if we all worked together we would be successful.  Tater's turned improved each time.  As we made our way down the hill, we glanced up and saw the ground we had just covered.   When Tater looked up and saw what he had skied down it gave him confidence and the will to continue.  In the moment, it was a struggle and at times extremely unpleasant, however when we got to the bottom the three of us collectively felt a sense of accomplishment.  On the chair ride up we complimented Tater on  his effort and perseverance and we continued to point out the steepness of the hill he had just skied down.  The rest of the day, Tater had no problems making turns.  That hill we took him down was all about re-dos and re-takes.  Every turn he made was a re-do/re-take and it taught him how to turn his skies.  We had to challenge him on this hill because he would not turn on the easier hills.

This experience translates to my classroom in many ways.  Again, it interesting that I found the strength to push my son yet I sometimes have a hard time pushing my students.  I have learned a lot about "cognitive dissonance", that place where learners are extremely uncomfortable and struggle.  Our educational system does not allow for students to spend time in this place, we are to rescue them and make them comfortable.  I purposely put my son into a situation where he was uncomfortable and struggling and he learned - he was kicking and screaming, but he learned.  Because of the "pacing guide" I am forced to follow, I cannot put my students into this state often enough, nor do I know how to do it properly in an educational setting.  I feel I am doing a disservice to my students by not allowing them to have this experience of discomfort while learning mathematics.  I need to explore how I can create these experiences with the confidence I had with my son as he tackled skiing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

I've Absolutely Had It With Homework

For those of you who regularly read my blog you know, I think about standards based grading OFTEN! The other topic I am obsessed with is HOMEWORK.  Last May, one of my favorite education bloggers, Joe Bower wrote this piece on opting out of homework:
Alfie Kohn's "Opt Out of Homework" letter shared by Joe Bower

If you read the comments you will notice the long one I posted.  I have not done much writing here about homework.  I am not sure if it is because I feel it is not a battle worth picking since my views go against the mainstream thoughts of most educators.  Or if it has just taken a backseat to my need to write about other topics.  I have been collecting blog posts and articles for the better part of 2 years which are here for you to explore:
Kristen's Evernote Standards Based Grading and Homework Notebook

The resources I have been collecting (and obsessively continue to collect) have provided a burden of proof for me to share with those who question my philosophy on all things related to homework and standards based grading.  They have also given me enough peace that I haven't felt the need to push my views here or anywhere else except when I have to defend myself.  Interestingly two things happened this week that have awoken a sleeping giant and require my immediate attention.

Last week the second EVER chat for #sbgchat on twitter addressed homework:
Storify Archive of #sbgchat on Homework 03/20/13
It was a lively discussion that blew my mind with the speed of the chat and resources and thoughtful comments.  It also created a fire in my gut that told me I need to advocate for my views on homework.  Two days after that chat I received my son's first grade progress report in which he scored an S- for homework.  I would like to say that a light bulb sparked, however, it was more like an explosion of some sort.  So here goes another one of my "I Believe" rants which will be followed by a reflection on homework as the parent of a first grade student.
  • I believe that students should read or be read to at home everyday for at least 30 minutes (any type of media) and discuss, debate, question, with family members what they have read for an additional 10-15 minutes
  • I believe that students should have at least an hour of time to unwind or do whatever they choose
  • I believe that students should actively participate in some sort of family ritual every day (including preparing dinner, attending sporting events, attending other events, helping with chores, caring for animals, any other family time/event)
  • I believe that students should get a minimum of 8 hours of sleep a night
  • I believe that if students do all of the above, they will have not other time for "homework"
  • I believe that if students spend more than an hour on homework a night they are wasting their time.
Ouch, I am going to hear it on these!  First, the kiddos who are going to stay up until all hours of the night completing the homework you assign already know the material and most likely do not need the practice.  The ones who do need the practice will not do it anyway, nor will they do any of the things I mentioned above.  So, homework punishes the high achieving students by taking ALL of their quality family time and free time when they should be rewarded for their hard work during the school day.  The students who "need" homework" are usually the ones not completing it because they do not have the support at home.  They do not even do the things I mentioned above because their parents are usually working, and the student has to take care of siblings and/or cook dinner and/or be the parent.  

Please don't get me started on the responsibility argument!  It is an illusion to think that we can make anyone do anything, even our students.  This I have learned by becoming a parent.  The last thing I want my son to be is a blind rule follower.  I want him to be a thinker, problem-solver, questioner, creator, builder, includer, writer, reader, information consumer, member of a community, and contributer.  Because he is an individual there is no way to standardize this.  Unfortunately, school tries to.  

As I write this I have come to a realization, I do not fit into the system of school as an educator and as a parent.  Sadly, I have found that is also true for my son.  I just noticed the connection at this very moment.  Neither one of us truly fits in, in my case I can adjust as needed.  But for my son, is writing an "Opting Out of Homework" letter to his teacher going to be enough?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Lone Wolf and Standards Based Grading

I am the lone wolf when it comes to standards based grading at my middle school.  That is a very loaded statement and some at my school would disagree for the following reasons:

  • Our report card has the following grades: A, B, C, NM (No Mark) meaning the student has not demonstrated proof of understanding in ONE or more Essential Standards 
  • Every department has 10-12 "Essential Standards (ESC's)" for their courses
  • These ESC's are tested at the end of each unit using common assessments and the following rubric:  4- advanced, 3- proficient, 2- developing, 1- beginning, 0- did not attempt
  • If a student does not earn a 3 or 4 on an ESC then their OVERALL grade is a "No Mark" which means they are not passing the particular course
  • As a department we agree on how the students earn a particular rubric score based on agreed upon criteria for each problem or assessment item
  • If a student has a "No Mark" then they must complete a corrective activity or activities and then a re-take.  
Some of you may be wondering how this does not illustrate standards based grading.  I agree there is a lot of good stuff in all of this!  However, it breaks down when teachers combine the above with: zeros for missing homework, grading homework on completion, 10% off your grade for every day an assignment is late, formative quizzes count for 10% of your overall grade, and other types of grading based on behaviors rather than proof of understanding.  If you want to be reminded of my beliefs on grading behaviors etc... Read This

So, as the lone wolf, I have come to understand some things:
  • I really admire and respect the teachers I work with because first and foremost they LOVE working with middle school students
  • I understand their reservations in making the full fledged jump to grading students solely on their proof of understanding (or lack there of) of the Essential Standards - students, parents, board members, etc... ( a blog post for another time)
  • Change is difficult
On the other hand:
  • Teachers can't keep grading the way they are because that is the way they were graded
  • It is not okay to stay the course and maintain the status quo
  • It is a different world and we must be flexible and adapt
What I really wanted to write about was standards based grading and the correctives process, so I will share some quick thoughts and some resources I have created/gathered.  The whole idea behind implementing SBG is including the students in every aspect of the process.  What I find is that even though I am using a standards based grade book, the students have not utilized it fully.  I expected them to check their grades see NM's, highlight what they need to fix and come to me for correctives or what others call remediation.  About 2 months ago I came across this blog post: Mathy McMatherson's Wall of Remediation and I realized I needed to create something similar or duplicate this for what my district call correctives.  Instead of creating a physical wall, I created a virtual one.  So I created the following Google documents:

Now keep in mind these are beginning drafts, I am still searching for better online resources that will give the students practice.  Also keep in mind that these are very skill based which is the opposite of what my classroom is all about.  I am still working through all of this and also please remember that my implementation of standards based grading is a work in process! 
Please give me ideas and feedback!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Be the Teacher You Wish You Had in School

The other day while reading a blog post from one of my favorite educational bloggers: Bill Ferriter, The Tempered Radical I came across the following tweet:

This statement George (another one of my favorite bloggers/tweeters) shares struck a chord with me as a classroom teacher of 22 years.  When I started my teaching career, I gave myself 5 - 8 years in the classroom before moving up into some sort of administrative position.  However, what I realized is that my place is with the students, they are the ones I cannot wait to see every morning and think about during the evenings and weekends.  I tell my friends stories about my students and tears fill my eyes (I am a major sap head!).  Everything I do in my classroom is with thoughts of my students.  What I realized is that as a teacher, I stay in the classroom because I am determined to "create an environment I wanted as a student."

So, what am I doing in my class that I wished my teachers had done with me?  In the spirit of the common core and the inspiration I get from Dan Meyer's 3 Act Math, I have been working to change how my students learn math.

First, on Monday's our district has articulation time from 2:15 - 3:45 so the students have shortened periods and go home at 1:56 instead of 3:10.  I am using Mondays to introduce a "3 Act Math" type of activity that I then also use as the basis for my homework for the week.  I make sure the activity I pick is either related to our current pre-algebra content standards or will act as a preview for upcoming standards.  Here is an example of one of the activities we recently did and how this past week I referenced back to the activity as I introduced ratios and proportions.

Nana's Chocolate Milk (link to Dan Meyer's activity complete with video etc...)

Monday - I usually begin each of these activities with a story about myself and/or my family:
"During vacation, Skyler and I visited my parents in Oregon.  My mom, Nana, loves chocolate milk and Skyler loves to make it for her... I then show the video of what happened.

Nana's formula is one cup of milk to 4 scoops of chocolate, however, the video shows one cup of milk and 5 scoops of chocolate.

I ask the students to share some "math questions" they have and they all come up with
How can we fix Nana's chocolate milk?

After letting them fumble for a few minutes, and noticing that most of them are just doubling the "recipe" I stop them and throw a tidbit in "Oh, I forgot to tell you guys that when you fix the mixture, you can only add milk, you cannot add any more chocolate.  This really forces the students to think and work together.  

This takes the better part of the half hour we have together.  Pairs that are stuck are encouraged to walk around the room and "steal" ideas.  I cruise around and only ask questions to help them get unstuck.  By the end of the period, all of the pairs/groups have a solution.

Their homework is to write an explanation or illustrate their understanding of the problem/solution.  When they come to class the next day, they work with their partner to "revise" their explanations/illustrations as their warm up.  If a student does not bring anything, they participate in the group discussion and "copy" the groups/pairs end products.  (I do not penalize students for not completing homework - that is a completely different blog post.)

The rest of the week during class we worked on the standards in our unit of study, however, the homework all week was a  problem that related to Nana's Chocolate Milk: Nana's Eggs (the sequel to Nana's Chocolate Milk), Papa's Iced Tea.  Again, I have the students work on explanations and illustrations at home and bring something to revise the next day in class.

By the way, we did get a different solution than Dan's Solution Video - we added 1/4 cup of milk instead of a 1/2 cup, we must have thought about it a different way!  That is what I love about these activities is that they are open to the questions that the students ask.

This is one way in which I work to create a math class I would have loved as a student.  Problem-solving working to write explanations of my thinking, illustrating my math work and collaborating with other students in class.  Discussing, getting stuck, feeling frustration, persevering, learning from others, all things I rarely had the chance to do as a math student.

This past week when we started our ratio and proportions unit, I started by reminding the students about Nana's Chocolate milk and used that problem to create a concrete reference to define ration and proportion. The students loved it!