Saturday, April 30, 2011

MCTM feedback

If you are visiting my blog because you were at the presentation I gave at MCTM, I would love for you to leave a comment with ideas or suggestions or questions or send me an email Thanks!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why Teaching Doesn't Get Easier

Last night a friend of our said to me," doesn't it just keep getting easier every year" (referring to my job). I know the answer is "No." I am working just as hard now as my first year but with a less anxiety about my incompetence. He also said "can't you just use the same stuff year after year." I said that I suppose I could but I don't. Sometimes I don't even use the same lesson in one day.

My job has also become more difficult in the last two years because I am teaching Science now, not just math.

I do look at my previous years lessons and tests but I almost always have to revise or totally redo. I also do any homework I assign. Not because I don't think I could do it (or explain it) but because I want to anticipate where they might have problems and think about how to ask good questions (so I'm not too helpful). I've been thinking about the "less helpful" thing a lot because I have really failed in that department over the years. I keep catching myself "doing the math for them." That's why I'm getting smarter and their getting "dumber."

SBG is also making me revise and redo things. This is not a bad thing at all. I had no idea how long it took kids to learn slope until I started SBG. I thought only bad teachers (not teachers like me) would pass  kids on from Algebra without knowing slope. Now I know that it takes about twice as long to teach that concept for the majority of the kids.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Year One....Again

In many ways I feel like a first year teacher again. I am 49 years old, teaching is my second career (I was a chemist). I have had many first years. I was an intern instead of a student teacher teaching Earth Science when I started, I had no idea what I was doing, I had 35-40 8th graders and no support system but I had just left a promising career for this and I wasn't going to quit. I remember staying up late, reading, studying doing everything I could to be a good teacher, but I also knew I couldn't recover from my early mistakes with my students. My classroom management was horrendous. I did a few cool labs and I think I helped one student that year.

My second first year I spent at a nice private school with small classes. I had great support from one wonderful teacher and a lab assistant. The dream job. I still messed up with the classroom management and I couldn't figure out how to really do this job effectively. I was teaching 9th grade Physical Science and 11th grade Chemistry. I quit this job when daycare for my 4 year old closed and I drove to work crying one day (I was also about 5 months pregnant).

I left teaching for 3 years and stayed home to raise my 3 boys. I tutored math and chemistry a little, I volunteered at their schools. I realized I loved doing math whenever I had a student, I couldn't wait to prep for our sessions. When my oldest son entered 6th grade we transferred him to a private school. He was lost at the public school and he needed attention. In the spring a math teacher position opened up at his school and there would be a promising tuition discount, so I applied and got the job.

Then Year One: Number 3 happened. How do I have such a terrible time learning. Parents complained about me. The kids hated me. I worked harder than I had ever worked. I had no idea how to teach math. I enrolled in a math methods class and read books on classroom management. Things got better but I knew I had to just wait for the next batch of kids because it was too late to restore trust. I couldn't wait for them to graduate (I work in a pK-12 school) so I wouldn't have to feel guilty anytime I saw one of them.

I then taught for 8 more years and for the most part did ok. I got into a groove. I felt students were learning, I was told that I was a good teacher. Then last year I went back to teaching Science more than Math, that was ok too, no major problems except staying up reading and planning. It never got easier, just better because I became more effective as a teacher. I still stay up until midnight working on school stuff most nights.

Year 1:Number 4
I discovered blogs, Standards-based grading and what other teachers were doing. I had been working in isolation and I had never collaborated with another teacher (except a little with that wonderful teacher at my job in that other private school). I'm also working on the Science course with a phenomenal teacher and that has been great (even though I am busier now than ever). I started SBG and I could not have made more mistakes, first grading homework, then not grading it, now back to grading it. I'm frustrated with the apathy of many of my students. I still, after all these years, have classroom management issues. I don't want to wait until next year to start over and get through to a new batch of kids, I still have 6-7 weeks with these kids and I love them all. That is one difference. I don't think I loved my students as much during Year's 1 and 2.

Ideas for the rest of the year.

In Earth Science, I'm going to focus on their learning and give as much feedback as possible. I don't do SBG there and the kids are doing fine.

In Geometry, I am doing ok. My students are doing the homework that I carefully select to help them learn. I wish I didn't have to grade it to make them do it but I am making it worth a very small percentage and giving them regular feedback. I'm thinking that the homework quizzes I give could be just for feedback not for a grade. They like working together and they're engagement is satisfactory. They seemed to love right triangle trig last week. They are doing well with their understanding.

In Algebra, I'm having a problem, many are disengaged, they won't even pretend to listen. When it is time to do group work they do a little work (for their peers). Only about 25% of them are doing their homework. Many have not mastered important concepts. I am going to have to change a few recommendations for next year. I'm thinking now that I should be extremely careful with the homework I assign and do the spaced practice (from CPM) in class. I'm also thinking of having them make a Definitions and Properties Manual to use for the rest of the year. I refuse to play the points game with them. This isn't thought out very well, just a little rambling....

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Great Lesson Today from CPM

I have reintroduced team roles. I use the Team Roles described by the College Preparatory Mathematics (CPM) curriculum. Today we did the second lesson of one that I consider very Pseudo-Context but I have made it fun by pretending that we are in the Twilight Zone. I play the Twilight Zone theme song and then we get going. The crazy context of this problem is that their team is working for A Function Company and the boss and CEO, Freda Function, needs help.  Each team was assigned a parabola, given to them in terms of an equation. They needed to describe this parabola by defining certain points, the vertex, x and y intercepts, which direction it opens (up or down). I had them make the graph, create a table. A few students had computers and I had a few graphing calculators and they could use the technology if they could figure it out themselves (I've shown them how to use graphing calculators and graphing programs many times and many of them have said they find it too confusing, but it was interesting today that when they realized how much work it could save, they were motivated and they did figure it out on their own)

They had to answer several questions and made a poster describing their parabolas. The engagement was amazing! I get it to teach it 2 more times tomorrow.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Stuff I learned at ASCD

I don't like huge conferences. I prefer MCTM in Duluth. I don't really like San Francisco, it makes me feel poor (how can anyone afford to live there?) It is lonely to go to a huge conference like that alone.

OK, I started with all the bad things. Here are some good things.

I attended a few sessions on formative assessments. Nothing really new but they made me think about how I can improve what I am doing and though I only had 3 days of class this week, I already feel like I'm doing a better job.

I attended a session on Implementing SBG. This guy was great. I loved what he said about homework. He said something like "Homework is for home, that's between the kid and the parent, if the kid lives in a home where doing homework is expected, then they will do it, if not, they won't. So I don't grade it." I'm struggling with this one because I quit grading homework and all my students stopped doing it. They didn't get enough practice and I didn't want to let them fail (I know I'm a chicken!). Anyway, he gave me great idea and I'm presenting at MCTM in one month and I feel more prepared for that.

That's it, I didn't tag anything, I don't think anyone reads this blog anyway, it's just for me.