Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Day 43: Poor Grade Prep

I want to avoid giving homework as much as I can, but the students do need practice.  To that end, I try to make time in class and today was that time.

While they were working, I went around the class to see who would be reassessing skills tomorrow before the end of the marking period.

For a week, the list of requirements has been on the board.  They've boiled down to:
1) Do corrections on your last test.
2) Get test and corrections signed.

Every student had this opportunity.

7 will be taking advantage of it.

Several students claimed that they didn't know they had to do test corrections in order to be eligible.  I pointed out where it had not only been written on the board, but where I had them copy it into their notes.

I am bracing myself for a barrage of angry emails and phone calls when students receive less than ideal grades on their report cards.  I have been considering my response:

Thank you very much for your concerns.   I believe in learning from mistakes and am more concerned with student improvement than perfection.  To this end, my grade book will remain open for the entirety of the school year and students may return to any skill to demonstrate mastery.  Students learn at different rates and I do not believe that students who take longer to learn a certain concept should be penalized for it.  As of this moment, your child has demonstrated mastery in several skills and has the opportunity to improve in several others. 
In regards to the grade on the current marking period, the percentage that you see may be lower than what your child has traditionally brought home.  This is partially due to the the increased level of rigor in the middle school and partially due to the difference in my grading system.  The percentage grades that are displayed on the report card are not set in stone, but rather are fluid and may change as your child demonstrates their mastery of the material.  The students have had three opportunities to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts.  As we progress through the year, they will be given more. 
While learning is a life-long process, and shouldn't be limited by calendars, the school year does have such a limit.  If your child is unsatisfied with their mastery of the material, we have discussed in the class the steps that need to be taken to improve their understanding.  For example, the reassessment that was offered on October 26th needed to be preceded by test corrections and a parent signature to keep parents and guardians informed of the process. 
I have explained to the students that their grades are only final when the year is over or when they choose to no longer reassess the skills.  The Report Card is merely a snapshot of their current demonstration of understanding and can be improved up until the end of the school year. 
Thank you very much for your time.  I know that this process is different from the norm and can be confusing.  If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask.  
Thank you again,
Mr. Aion

Here's to hoping I won't have to send it out.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Day 42: What's Going Wrong

I don't want to go back to rows.  I don't want my classroom to look like the traditional class.

I want my class to be based in discussion and discovery.  I want my students building ideas together and working to understand the idea that other people built.

I just don't know how to get there from here.

I feel, in fact, as though we are moving in the wrong direction.

I'm not sure why is happening, but I do have several theories.

1) The novelty has worn off

The district is entirely under one roof and the graduating class is less that 80.  The majority of the students have been here for not only their whole lives, but for several generations.  A large portion of the teachers have children in the district, or are alumni themselves.  It's very tight-knit.

Being a new teacher in any district comes with benefits and drawbacks.  The major drawback is that you don't know the kids as well as you would like and it takes longer to build up the rapport that makes teaching what it is.

As a new teacher, however, you can do all sorts of new things in terms of pedagogy and the students will go with you.  Ideally, they see benefits from these new methods before they slide back into "school sucks" mode.

It takes 28 days to build up habits and some have taken root, but not all.

2) I am not familiar with the curriculum

I have taught multiple different subjects using different curricula over the years, so this really shouldn't be an issue.  I should just be able to follow the text that was chosen by the previous teachers and go through it.  I'm having a problem with timing and sequence.  In addition to this, I find myself having to teach or reteach concepts that would consider to be pre-requisite.

Since the curriculum is new, the pre-requisite skills are also in a very different order than the one with which I'm familiar and different from that which the students have covered.

3) I haven't adjusted to the maturity level

Part of the purpose of having a middle-school model for education is because the drastic change between elementary and high school.  7th and 8th grade are supposed to be used as transition years, helping students to develop the habits that they need to be successful.  Many of these skills and habits are social in nature and are designed to help students not only deal with the academic rigor of high school, but the social pressures of life.

It took me almost an entire year to adjust when I first started teaching 8th grade.  That age level suits me well.

The 7th grade is entirely a different animal.  The kids are goofy and high energy.  Many of them still have an elementary mentality and I haven't adjusted to that yet.

Since this is my first year teaching kids so young, I'm still not sure what is developmentally appropriate behavior and what should be addressed more seriously.

I've been dealing with "he's touching me!" more than I ever have before and I can't tell if it's the kids, or the age.
"Phillip, please cancel my 4:15. I made a boom-boom in my Armani."

Greg, we need to talk.

The reality is that it's clearly a combination of all three of these, as well as several others that I haven't thought of.  The cause is only important since it will help me to identify a solution more quickly.  I'm getting frustrated and that frustration is feeding into a cycle.

The first quarter ends on Wednesday, so I need to figure it out soon.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Day 41: I Made A Thing

For the last day or so, I've been fooling around with Geogebra in an effort to make a 3D geodesic dome to show my class.

I started with a polygon inscribed in a sphere.  At each vertex of the polygon, I added another sphere with a radius of the side of the polygon.

Then I marked the intersections of the smaller spheres with the larger one.
Where those projected circles intersected with each other, I dropped a point.
Finally, I connected the points into equilateral triangles!

I made one from a 10-sided polygon, but didn't love how it looked.  It was good, but basic.
After a few more attempts and several program crashes later, I managed to get the 16-sided base the way I wanted it.

Each triangle is created by using the intersection of small spheres with the large one, then finding the intersections of THOSE, marking a point and connecting them together.  And then doing that again.

And again.

And again.

I'm not super pleased with the top, but with the sheer number of objects on the screen, the program couldn't handle what I wanted to do.

The resulting dome looks pretty awesome.  It was my first time playing around with the 3D capabilities of Geogebra and it was fun.  Several of my pre-algebra students were fascinated by it so I'm going to use a computer lab day to have them play around with it a bit.

I maaaaay also have recreated a simple version of it in every class to show off my skill...I mean...to show off the math and simplicity of it...

I also think that I need to do a better job of structuring the greenhouse project.  The groups are deep into the design phase with several teams already building models.  This is before they've blueprints, calculations or budgets.  We will talk about it more on Monday, but I'm worried if they do those things AFTER the model and things need to be changed, they will be too frustrated with the effort they put in and either fudge the numbers, or give up altogether.

I'm glad it's the weekend.  This week has been trying.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Day 40: Half Day

Last night, while eating chips, I broke a molar.  Today, I took a half-day so I could get it fixed.

In Math 7, we worked more on area models for fractions.

In Pre-Algebra, since we are moving into transformations, I handed out geoboards and had the kids find congruent triangles.  They seemed to truly enjoy the activity and they only broke a few of the rubber bands.

This is one of the shortest posts I've written.  That's mostly because during my down time at school today, when I normally write, I was busy tinkering with Geogebra, constructing a geodesic dome for the integrated math class.

It's taking a while, but it's pretty awesome.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Day 39: It's Escaping!

After a nice long walk to get fresh air and catch a bunch of Pokemon yesterday, I'm feeling a bit better.  I'm still tired and was up, for some stupid reason, at 3 am.

In spite of the lack of sleep, I was feeling more engaged in my classes today.  In Math 7, we began talking about rational numbers and I'm VERY excited to talk to them about the area model of fraction operation.

I'm a pretty big fan of physical representations of abstract concepts, which is probably why I think, speak and teach through analogy.

In Pre-Algebra, since we are starting to talk about transformations, we used mirrors to examine what it looked like to reflect a point across the x- and y-axes.  I even build a small GeoGebra applet for quick and easy examination of the concept.

The Integrated Math class is really what has my attention at the moment.  This Greenhouse project is MUCH bigger than I had originally planned.  We have permission from the principal to build the thing and we scoped out a location.

I called the local borough office to find out what permits we would need to obtain.  I spoke with the shop teacher about the logistics of what we would be able to do in-house and what we would have to outsource.  He talked to me a bit about material selection and planning since he has a fairly large greenhouse of his own.  I asked if he would come and speak with my students at some point soon to talk about planning.

I went and spoke with the director of food services for our cafeteria.  The previous director had actually started the process of getting a grant to build a greenhouse, but never completed it.  The new director told me that she would help look into the requirements that need to be met if we want what we grow to be served in the cafeteria.

Things I need to do (A non-comprehensive list):

Look into fundraising from local businesses
Obtain necessary permits
Set up a time with the computer teacher to get a CAD tutorial for my students
Ask local gardening center to come speak to them/organize field trip to local garden center

The more people in the district that I tell about this project, the more excitement is growing. I'm really fascinated to see how this turns out.

On a totally separate note, the superintendent sent an email to the faculty today advertising EdCampPGH and encouraging everyone to go.  When I wrote back and told her that I have been involved in organizing it for the last 3 years, she asked me to organize one for the district.

While it is not without challenges, I'm so happy in this district.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Day 38: Tired

I'm not feeling it.

We've been preparing our house to sell while looking for a new house and I'm trying to prepare lessons that are engaging and solid.  On top of all of this, I'm presenting at NCTM next week and the week after where I'm taking lead on manning a booth in the exhibitor hall.

Yesterday, I spent 10 minutes trying to explain to a frustrated 8th grader how place value works.

I haven't been able to do any serious exercise recently and I haven't been feeling well enough anyway.

I'm tired and stressed and my mental state is making it very difficult to do my job well.

I'm not sure what I need, but I think it involves sleeping well and staring at the stars.

In Pre-Algebra, we are starting to talk about transformations.  In Math 7, we're talking about rational numbers.  We had a LOOOOOOOOONG discussion about how turning fractions into decimals using the trick of "the fraction falls on it's side and that's how you know which number is inside the division box" is utter nonsense.

There's more to write, but I don't wanna.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Day 37: Corrections

A majorly important component of Standards-Based Grading is the opportunity for students to reassess skills when they feel they have mastered the material.  Many teacher who allow reassessment require students to demonstrate the work that they have done to learn the material

My grade book will be open for the whole year to allow students to do just that, but with the marking period ending soon, many students (and parents) are concerned about the grades.  All of my students took a skill assessment on Friday and now have multiple skills to represent their learning so far.

I began class today by putting the grade book on the board, sorted by overall grade.

"What do you notice about this?"

One of the first things they noticed was how much green was on the screen.  They noticed how the class as a whole was doing was fairly well.  They also noticed the rather wide gaps between the classes.

We also talked about what it meant that several students didn't finish.  We talked about taking your time, but also knowing the material well enough that it didn't take forever.  When I took the quiz to make up the answer key, it took about 5 minutes, which means it shouldn't take them more than 20.

Before I handed back to the assessments, we talked about what steps they needed to accomplish before they could reassess.

Skill Corrections!
1) Use a separate sheet of paper
2) Correct answer with ALL work clearly shown
3) At least one sentence describing the mistake that was made, leading to the incorrect answer
4) Test and corrections signed by a parent
5) Test and corrections stapled together
I then gave them the rest of the period to work on their corrections.  Several asked if they could work together and I strongly encouraged it.

"If you are able to teach another person, you'll be able to understand it MUCH better yourself."

I made sure to tell them how proud I was of their work and their effort.  Time to start working on the next skill list...
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