Wednesday, July 20, 2011

You CAN teach an old dog new tricks...and sometimes she likes it.

Recently I was asked to help one of my former students with her college algebra.
I agreed for several reasons:

1. I liked the girl when I taught her English in 7th grade.
2. I like to help people.
3. It's July, and frankly, I'm a little bored.
4. How hard could it be?

My last reason was somewhat flawed.

Now, let's be fair. It's been a few years since high school, (and by a few, I mean 25) and I may have forgotten a few things (and by a few, I mean almost everything she needed help with).

So Cassie and I met today and cracked open her hideous rented math text- one example for each concept and very little explanation. When I realized I didn't know how to find the distance 2/3 of the way between two points, all the feelings of mathphobia from school came rushing back.

"How am I supposed to know that?"
"Who cares how far 2/3 of the distance is?"
"Why do I need to know this stuff any way?"

But then something strange happened. I read. I thought. I understood! Even better, I TAUGHT it!

Now, to you mathematicians out there, this may not seem to be a glorious feat. To a former mathphobe, it was victory.

It went something like this:

Me: The first point goes first because that's our starting point. You're counting from there. Next, we are finding 2/3 of difference between the two points. Remember? That's how you found it before?
Cassie: Oh! That's why we subtracted! It's the difference! I get it now!
Me: You got it!
Cassie: Can we do another one? (beautiful words to a teacher)
Me: Sure. Let's go. You can do this!
Cassie: You make me feel really confident!

There it was.

I made her feel confident. One mathphobe to another.

We spent close to three hours together LEARNING math. I learned a few other things, too.

1. I like this girl even more than I did seven years ago.
2. I liked helping her- a lot.
3. I understood WHY a formula worked. It wasn't memorization.

I have also cured my July boredom since I need to learn something about quadratic functions before next Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

SBG in 5th Grade 2010-2011 (Year 1)

With school starting in less than a month, it's about time that I put all of my SBG ideas together in one place. I feel right now like my brain is this fish bowl with the SBG ideas swimming around inside like little gold fish. I see them all; just not all at the same time. And they're a little slippery and hard to hold, too.

I have made a chart for assessments that I am comfortable with. I am think it will be well-received by anyone in the district who would question the labels as I gleaned them from the ODE performance level descriptors. Take a look:

State Performance Level Descriptors*

Advanced: Students performing at the advanced level show excellent progress by using grade 5 concepts and skills to solve complex problems. They consistently demonstrate deep knowledge and skills across the standards.

Accelerated: Students performing at the accelerated level show good progress by using grade 5 concepts and skills to solve a variety of problems. Students use informal and some formal reasoning to evaluate and justify the reasonableness of a solution. They communicate mathematical thinking and solutions in a clear and concise manner.

Proficient: Students performing at the proficient level show adequate progress by using grade 5 concepts and skills to solve familiar problems. They apply mathematical concepts, terms, and properties to problem situations. Students use informal and some formal reasoning to evaluate and justify the reasonableness of a solution. They communicate mathematical thinking and solutions using a combination of informal and mathematical language.

Basic: Students performing at the basic level show progress by using some grade 5 concepts and skills to solve simple problems. Students solve problems for which the method or solution is easily recognized and straightforward.

Limited: Students performing at the limited level demonstrate skill and understanding of mathematics below the performance required to reach the basic level.

The next part of my diabolical plan is to teach. I will be entertaining. My lessons, activities, and projects will be engaging. Students will leave math tired. Students will learn.

There will be homework. I hope that given longer periods of time to teach than I've ever had before will reduce the amount of homework, but alas, there will be work to practice at home.

Formative assessments will not be "graded". Please don't confuse that with "ignored." Feedback will be given, I will learn from the homework, and there will be scratch-and-sniff stickers! But they will not go in the gradebook.

Summative assessments will take the form of quizzes, tests, conversations, problem sets, projects, etc.

Students will be given a checklist of the indicators, written in their language, on which they will also record their assessment scores.

Students will be expected to work harder, spend one-on-one time with me, ask for help, remediate, and reassess any indicator which is scored a 1 or 2. Only one reassessment can be done per day.

There will be multiple assessments for each indicator. They can and will be spread throughout the year.


This feels good and it feels right.

While I have the framework in place, I have some unanswered questions. I would greatly appreciate help from anyone with an opinion.

What about...... who think they don't have to do homework? grades? (I struggle whether to use the most recent grade or the median for the indicator. Either way, we use Easy Grade Pro for parents to monitor their student's grades. EGP displays the mean.)

.....grade cards? (And then there's the end of the 9 weeks! Do I report the median of all of the indicators? Would the mean be acceptable for the end-of-term grade? Do I take the mean or median of the most recent assessments?)

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the academy....oh, wait. Wrong speech.

Seriously, without following great teachers on Twitter, I would not have done any of this. I would still be struggling with the discrepancy between grades and learning and too much emphasis placed on homework.

Please feel free to offer comments, suggestions, and answers.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Grad School Blues (insert appropriate harmonica music here)

Last night, Ryan and I were discussing our graduate classes. He's frustrated that his prof uses the phrase "elbow partners" and much of his sessions consist of "round-robin-reading" of PPT slides. I lamented that I am in a class teaching the basics of differentiated instruction, including this week's focus on creating an effective learning environment.


For this we are paying thousands of dollars---each?

Take, for example, this question that was a section of my work from last week:

"Choose one to discuss during your online discussion.

'Do students all seem to learn in the same way or at the same pace? Or do some process information differently and at a different pace than others? How do you know?'"


I have always held that a master's degree doesn't necessarily make a better teacher. After all, I know a teacher who has a master's plus and uses that education to pop in videos on a more-than-once-weekly basis.

But I do expect to learn something new...for my money and effort.

Back to the couch. Our conversation progressed to whether I am too critical because I taught for 16 years before going to grad school. Whether brand-new teachers who go straight through to grad school need this level of instruction. Whether adults should ever be asked to take "museum walks" around the lecture room.

Then he said it. Maybe we are the ones who should be professors. Now there's a new idea.

Should we be looking to share what we understand about kids, teaching, and technology?

I don't know if that's in my future. I know I'm not done with kids yet. I have 5th graders to teach and SBG to implement.

And besides, I don't have my master's yet. I'm not qualified.

Please feel free to discuss this topic with your elbow partner.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

SBG and Me

So, I've been researching standards-based grading for a few months now. It all started when Ryan Collins sent me a link to Shawn Cornally, my newly-discovered-inspirational hero (no need for an order of protection, I promise). As soon as I started to read his blogs about what's wrong with traditional grading and what's right with this thing called Standards-Based Grading (SBG for short), I swear I heard the angels singing! Preach it, brother Cornally. Here was this guy telling me the things I had been thinking about changing in my 7th grade math classes for next year!

I have to admit I feel a bit silly that I thought I was being revolutionary thinking about grading standards not assignments, continuing to let students correct their HW (yes, I graded HW-give me a break; I didn't know any better) for full credit and even letting my students correct test (sometimes). Who knew about SBG? Certainly not anyone in little ol' Kenton, Ohio. Certainly not anyone who taught me in college.

TGFI (No, I'm not confused and glad it's Friday) Thank God For the Internet. Since stumbling on Think Thank Thunk, I've also learned about Matt Townsley and Jason Buell who have all given me so much to chew on this summer.

Then along came my summer course Teacher as Researcher.

A bit of background here: after raising two children to teen-hood and 15 years of teaching 7th grade, I decided to get my Master's in middle school mathematics. Graduation is in 319 days- but who's counting?

As the name of the course implies, I would be conducting research. Exciting, huh? THIS time, it was! I had an authentic topic. Not the one that would be easiest to find information for. Not the one that had all the buzz words to impress my teacher. (Oh, come on. Don't look at me like that. You know you did that, too!) I would be writing a proposal for an action research plan investigating the effect (grrr or is it affect?) SBG has on student learning and motivation.

Through this class I was required to read about SBG. A lot. I wrote abstracts for more than ten articles. All on SBG. I have more information now than I know what to do with.

I plan to spend July sorting through my information and making a SBG plan of my own.

I might even work up the nerve to ask an expert for some help along the way.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Here Goes

For some strange reason, I feel compelled to blog. I don't for one minute think I have valuable wisdom to share.

So why blog then?

Maybe I have a lot of thoughts that are better organized in prose? Maybe I have the need to "keep up with the Joneses"? Maybe I have aspirations of being "discovered" and asked to abandon my mundane life and travel the world as a motivational educational expert....nah.

Whatever the reason, this is my first (and hopefully not last) attempt.

"A man found the cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress.

It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and could go no further. So the man decided to help the butterfly.

He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings.

The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened!

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly. What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If God allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as we could have been. And we could never fly.
So have a nice day and struggle a little"- author unknown

I sat this morning in my "curricularium" sorting through a myriad of materials for my new teaching assignment when I stumbled across this story given to me by a teacher who taught me a lot about teaching math. Of course she meant it to be a metaphor for being, as Dan Meyer says, "less helpful" and letting our students struggle a little.

An odd thing happened as I was sorting through all of the stuff that other teachers thought I would need to teach 5th grade. I began to think that I am that butterfly. Perhaps I need to "struggle a little" in this emotional transition from 16 years as a 7th grade teacher to brand new 5th grade teacher and be ready to accept the freedom that will result from this struggle.

God always knows what he's doing, and I have to remember that.

"So have a nice day and struggle a little."