Monday, August 22, 2011

Problem Solving vs. Skills

I've been thinking a lot about how some kids can solve problems and some kids can't. My grading is based on skills not true problem solving and this has been bugging me for a while. Of course I know the importance of Problem Solving but when middle schoolers are all over the map with these skills, how can yu fairly assess it? I am also trying to convert my Earth Science class to sbg and it is so much messier than math. I think it is because of all the subjective skills. Too many words!

In math, I am currently content with doing lots of problem solving in class and keeping the grades based on skills. In science, I don't know how to do that, so right now, I am linking all the stuff we do to standards and generalizing to come up with the concepts. I'm not going to change anything until I figure out what I'm doing and how it relates to standards. That may seem backward, but oh well, sometimes you do need to back in slowly. I also need to do it this way because I share my science class with another teacher and we want it to be the same so I need agreement from her too.

Hmm.. Maybe I can just generalize the concepts or groups of concepts involved in the problems we do in mathclass and it will all become clear some day just like I am hoping for science.

This is getting quite muddled. This morning, I looked at my Algebra Concept List and thought it was garbage and then I had to redo a bunch of plans and things I had already copied. It wasn't all garbage, but the beginning sequence didn't make sense. What was I thinking when I wrote that? Maybe, I'm just tired. School hasn't even started. Luckily the kids will provide me with some good energy.

Time to sleep...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The New Year

This year I will be teaching Algebra with a mixed group of 7th and 8th graders. I am excited to see how this mix will work since we have not mixed grade levels in the past. I am also teaching 1 section of Earth Science.

I am changing how I do SBG this year. I am definitely letting the grades fall. Last year, students "mastered" a concept when they earned two fives on any concept and I always recorded their two highest scores. Retention was not so good. The other thing I am changing is that I am requiring every student to have a score of at least 7/10 on every concept in order to pass my class. I am going to give them an incomplete if they do not pass every concept. I am doing this because the averaging of scores last year meant that they did not need to learn some concepts and they could still pass.  This year, earning 7/10 on the last two concept quizzes would mean that they at least have a clue on every concept. I do not want kids leaving my class without even having a clue on how to do a specific standard/skill. In order to accomplish this, I am going to use my advisory time (I don't have one this year) and hand out Math Intervention Passes to those who need to come in and reassess. That way they can do it during the day if they can't stay after or come before school.

I am continuing to give midterm exams where the students are allowed to use notes they have created in their DPM (definitions and properties manual). These midterms are cumulative. The change I am making here is that if they get a 2/5 or below on any concept on the midterm when they are allowed notes, they will need to reassess on that skill/standard. Because this test is not a big percentage of their grade 5%, I found last year that students didn't care about it because they understand the points game too well (especially my advanced kids). The final exams will also be cumulative with no notes allowed and they will not need to reassess if they get a low score.

Last year, I cut off skills at each trimester because I didn't know what else to do. This year, I am having cumulative grades so that at the beginning of second trimester there grade will be based on the concept scores from first trimester and I will add concepts to that. If they want to improve their grade, they work on mastering any concept, even if it is third trimester and the concept was introduced in October.

The thing I am still working on is how to make real problem solving part of their grade. I am basically just assessing skills on my concept quizzes. I am planning to introduce concepts with good problems and I will demonstrate and expect to see students solving problems in class, but I don't know how to assess this. I am considering a 10% Problem Solving category so that students who want an "A" in the class need to be proficient problem solvers. Hmmm.... Maybe this is an extra requirement for kids who want to stay (7th graders) or move(8th graders) to the advanced courses. Needs more thought..

Probably my biggest challenge this year is going to be my new and improved classroom management. This has always been an issue for me. I am good with building relationships with students but we waste too much learning time because of my poor classroom management. Though I usually stay up late every night planning good lessons and getting things ready, transitions take forever and students spend a lot of time socializing. I could do all the greatest lessons and assessments I wanted and I will still not be a very effective teacher if I don't get a handle on this.

This is what I've spent most of my summer on. I read 3 (almost 4) books on classroom management and the thing I am going to do is to have no socializing in my class. I will meet students at the door and have work for them to do immediately. I've done this before but it always took awhile for them to settle in. I am not going to tutor my helpless kids during class. I am going to provide some visual aids when they are doing independent practice (I've done this before to) and I will wean them from their helplessness by being less helpful and setting expectations. The other thing I am going to do is to have students earn (or lose) time to do something that they will really enjoy like goofy games (like Kate Nowak's speed-dating), online math games, bingo, etc when they do not waste time during transitions. I will set it up so they are more likely to gain time, than lose it. I got all these ideas from Fred Jones' "Tools for Teaching."