Sunday, April 1, 2018

Choose Your Own Assessment - "Functional but Hideous"


I am in the process of getting back to standards based learning and grading in my math classes.

Back in November of 2012 I wrote this post on Grading Irony which is a great reminder of the power of a zero in the grade book.  It also reminded me that an overall test score provides little information to me and my students on their actual understanding of mathematics.

My transition back into the classroom has had it's ups and downs.  The one thing I know for certain is that I am extremely happy to be back with students.  Back in November, I wrote about a few constraints I'm dealing with Click Here so my shifts right now are small.

In the article "Teaching in BETA" by Jennifer Gonzales, I love the explanation by Joel Lee "the beta phase begins when a product propels from 'functional but hideous' to 'polished and ready to go.' Bugs are hunted down and fixed, features are improved or revamped for maximum usability, the interface and graphics receive an overhaul, and performance issues are optimized."

I have been in BETA all year as I work to innovate my math teaching one baby step at a time.  This is my first, ugly, baby step back into standards based learning.  This however, is more about standards based grading.  As I said baby steps so I at least begin the process.

The assessment I gave on circles was my "functional but hideous" first attempt to journey back to standards based grading in my math classes.  It was a first step and overall it was successful in helping students experience assessment in a different way.  Here is what I did and what I created:

The Functional Part:
  1. Gather Resources 
    • Common Core Math Standards 
    • Our district common assessment is the Topic 11 Test in Pearson Digits
    • Illustrative Mathematics 7th Grade  - Unit 3 Circles - Click Here
  2. Go through the problems and create tiers:
    • "C" problems: Click Here all students must do EVERY Problem 
    • "B" problems: Click Here if you want to get a B you need to do 3 of the 5 problems
    • "A" problems: Click Here if you want to get an A you need to do 1 of the 3 problems
What happened and what I noticed:
    • Some of my students who had not passed a test all year EASILY earned a C by successfully completing the "C" test
    • Students started taking risks because they knew they had the "C" and tried the "B" and "A" problems knowing they would not be punished if they missed them.
    • Students did more/extra problems because they wanted to make sure they got the right number correct.
The Hideous Part:
    • If it were truly standards based, the tests would not be titled according to the grades "C", "B", and "A".  Since it is so late in the year, this is how I labeled them.  This will change to something that does not connect to a grade but a rubric score or a description.  It will involve student input and a lengthy discussion about what is a grade?
    • Although these assessments will provide the students with more specific feedback on the standards they mastered and the ones they did not, this is not the level of specific feedback I am working towards.  I want to get back to standards check off sheets where the students take the feedback and track their understanding of each standard.
    • As I continue this process through the end of the year, I will provide more specific feedback to students and experiment so that I can start the next school year with an assessment that will truly guide student learning and proof of understanding.
This is something that will probably stay ugly and hideous for a while as the students and I work together to make learning and assessment about proof of understanding and not about a meaningless grade.

This process will become one of my math #eduprotocols that will drive learning and instruction in my math classroom. I will continue to share my process and shift here on my blog.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Reaching Vince in Math Class


Vince began the year as one of my most perplexing students.  He was quiet, he struggled with math, he had strained relationships with the other students.  He dreaded working in groups because he did not fit in with anyone.  Everyday I had to dig deep into my toolkit to find ways to make a connection with Vince.  He is a student that we all have in our classes.  I practiced patience with Vince and worked hard to build trust so that he would take chances in his learning of math.

Everything changed for Vince when the whiteboard walls went up.  It was not immediate.  He was one of the tough ones, a hold out.  He would come in the room and sit at a desk while the other students got to work doing math on the whiteboards.  I would hand him a copy of the whiteboard problems and he would pretend to work on them at his desk.  I understood the risk it takes to put yourself and your math work on the whiteboards.  I would gently encourage and ask questions to try to guide him and get him up to a board.

During our winter break, I added 3 whiteboards to the counter close to my desk and Vince took over the middle whiteboard as his own.  We also started doing Visual Patterns problems which require problem solving and critical thinking and provides opportunities for students to show multiple representations.  For the first time I got to see Vince's mathematical thinking and problem solving abilities:

And when I asked Vince to explain, he was very articulate.  He is a second language learner and working on the whiteboards has increased his confidence, his oral language use, and has given me a glimpse inside his mathematical brain.  I have learned that he has strong math understanding and skills. Unfortunately our online textbook assignments and tests have not shown me an accurate picture of Vince as a math student. 

The whiteboards have allowed me to provide individualized direct instruction and to collect useful data on student understanding, struggles, and misconceptions.  My instructions varies throughout a lesson based on what I see on the whiteboards.  I do mini-lessons for a group or groups who are stuck, whole class instruction, and/or individualized instruction.  We (everyone in the room) write all over the whiteboards so that students have samples to refer to and we are learning with/from each other.

The whiteboards have had a positive effect on all of my students but the impact is profound for my students like Vince who have been able to show how they make sense of mathematics and become a part of our learning community instead of hiding and pretending.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Math Warm Ups on Whiteboard Walls

The whiteboards are up, now what?  The first place I started was with our warm ups.

Procedure:  Play music and give the students the following instructions:

    1. Set your things down in your seats
    2. Get a whiteboard pen and go to a whiteboard
    3. Complete the Warm Up.
    Because my whiteboards are panel boards and are NOT magnetic, I bought little plastic clips from Dollar Tree to hold warm up problems on each whiteboard.  The students know not to write on the warm up sheets and they stay up for all of my classes.  

    I get my warm ups from: Open MiddleVisual PatternsIllustrative MathematicsEngage NY, and our online textbook Pearson Digits (I re-type them etc...)

    Management Note:  At first I tried posting the warm up on our TV monitor but it was difficult for the students to see and they would leave their whiteboard to go read and then they would socialize and I ended up having students "gathering around the monitor".  The second way was to push the questions out digitally on the Chromebooks - saving paper right??  Again this ended up taking too much time because the students would lollygag and check their grades etc...  I want them up and doing math as soon as they get into the classroom!






















    Here is how having students begin math class on whiteboards has shifted the learning and teaching in my classes.

    The Learners:
    • They want different colored whiteboard pens so that each person's contribution can be seen
    • They are up and moving and not able to hide behind their Chromebooks or pretend to be writing work on a piece of paper or in a notebook.
    • They are willing to take risks, try to work things out, and learn from their mistakes
    • They have meaningful math conversations and are thinking critically and discussing
    • They are showing multiple representations - this is the way I did it... that is the way she/he did it
    • We see everyone's personality dancing on our walls
    The Teacher:
    • During the warm up I am able to get around to each group and have meaningful math conversations with my students.  I ONLY ask questions to keep them moving, get them unstuck, or to extend their thinking if they are close to finishing up.
    • If the students are struggling, I do not help them, as stated above - I only ask questions!
    • I let any/all answers stay up whether they are right or wrong so we can discuss as a class and the students learn from each other which takes the stigma out of making and learning from their mistakes.
    • I take notes on misconceptions and direct my instruction accordingly.  If all of the groups are struggling on the same thing then I go over it during whole class instruction.  Otherwise, I give each group personalized support in the moment.
    • I am flexible with the needs of my students:
      • Some of my students were very fearful of putting "their math" on the board for everyone to see.  For those students, I provided a copy of the warm up and they could complete it at their seats.  This was only about 1 - 4 students each period.  Once they got over their fear and observed how it worked, they were up and at the whiteboards with the others.  The students still have to do the work, but I'm flexible with their needs because so much goes on with middle schoolers from period to period. 
    Next Steps:
    • Gallery Walks - now that the students are getting more comfortable with each other, I'd like them to start looking at each other's work and place stars and/or question marks to whole class discussions: I like how you... Can you explain how you...
    • We've started writing explanations of mathematical thinking but now I want to have the students write group explanations on the whiteboards which will hopefully lead to better individual explanations.
    • Flipgrid, Padlet, Google Suite etc... - Digital sharing of work and thinking!
    • More student led learning of mathematics
    • Whatever else we can think of...