Thursday, February 20, 2014

Day 104: A Better Day, A Better Test

I realize that my posts are starting to take a dark and sad turn.  The purpose of this blog is to help me think about my practice and find ways to improve it.  My efforts to that effect this year have dwarfed those previously in my career.

Part of that reflection is honesty.  When I have a good day, I celebrate it and looks for ways to reproduce it.  When I have a bad day, I need to also celebrate it as a learning experience.

I have spoken with other teachers about this and I have come to the conclusion that we can't just share our victories, but also our failures.  We all have awful days when things don't go the way we wanted.  We need to be reminded of that.  It's so easy to take a failure personally and let it sprout dark clouds over our heads.  By hearing that others have the same struggles helps me to put things into perspective.

We have not had a single full week of school since before Christmas.  The weather is awful and unpredictable.  Our students don't have recess or, really, any downtime in the school day at all.  There are more factors than I can count.  I am only one aspect in the lives of my students.  I can only do the best I can.

A surprise phone call from Mark Dittmer last night helped me to talk some things out and renew my commitment to the students and self-improvement.

With the absurd Chapter 4 Test results and the lack of accuracy on the Park Project,  I have come to the conclusion that I may be asking too many diverse things of my students.  I am pulling them more directions than they are used to and I'm not allowing them to become experts in any.  I don't think I've had a clear vision for my goals in the classroom.

So today, I went back to basics.

In Geometry, I printed out copies of the textbook-created open ended assessment.  I put them back in groups of 4, which they chose, and told them the following:

"Since you guys did a terrible job on the multiple choice, but rocked the open-ended section, I want to give you a chance to show me what you know.  You have 13 problems in front of you.  As a group, you are to solve these problems and provide detailed explanations of your work and reasoning.  Treat it as though you are writing a solution manual for the text book and the people reading it will not be able to ask you questions."

They thrived!  I like this type of assessment because it has fewer questions, but requires greater levels of communication and understanding.  The discussions that I overheard while walking around were excellent.  There were debates about content, reasoning and explanation.

Several students asked about length of explanation and received the only answer I'm willing to give.  "It needs to be long enough to show me that you have mastered the material."

After a few minutes of listening to students argue with each other about what they should and should not include, I did an example on the board.

I also overheard many arguments that ended with "Just do that! We're running out of time!"

I want them to finish their assignments in a timely fashion but I don't want them producing mediocre work because they rushed.  So we will continue this assignment tomorrow.  I am deeply proud of the work they did today and I made sure to tell them so.

Also, during Geometry, I "borrowed" a headband and wore it for the day.

I'm starting to think that I should wear a silly hat each day in order to remember not to take myself so seriously.

The pre-algebra kids seemed to respond to the conversation we had yesterday about how hard I try to engage them.  Today's class went VERY well.  The kids who are normally disruptive were passed out and the fence sitters joined us in an exploration of constant rate of change.

As is my wont, I took a question from a student and ran away with it.  I was asked where we might see linear equations in real life and I vaulted into a 40 minute example of cell phone plans that engaged the kids in a way I hadn't seen before.  It started with the basics of "here are three plans. How do you know which one to pick?" and expanded into how they truly charge for data (step-functions.)

At the end, we again talked about the difference between doing calculation and doing math.  Today, they did math and it seemed as though they liked it.  I think I need to focus more on that.

The same lesson in period 8/9 was met with indifference and rudeness.  I pushed through for the kids who were paying attention and I heaped praise on them for their active participation.

Overall, it was a much better day than yesterday and I'm celebrating that.

My friend, a substitute who is certified to teach history, came to see me after school to say that he's been reading this blog to get tips on how to teach math and is, apparently, getting much better at it.

Mr. Aion: Teacher of math teaching to history teachers

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