Understand What You Do

It’s graduation season. Throughout May and June, men and women, selected as speakers for their accomplishments and wisdom, will stand before a sea of faces, dropping knowledge and providing encouragement.

Most of their words will be forgotten within a few hours. I know my speaker said something about doing good at all possible opportunities, and beating Purdue in every possible sport. The rest of it?

Image via giphy

But just about all of them will riff on how “commencement” means “beginning”, even though it feels like we are celebrating an ending.


The world doesn’t need another blog post about how teaching isn’t just another job. It’s been done to death.

But the job does require a certain level of commitment. To the point where, if you’re not all in, go sell insurance.

I saw two guys commit to a life of service Saturday. Meaning, like, for decades. Til death do us part, “I-will-humble-myself-by-laying-face-down-on-the-floor”-level of commitment.

Prostration
Fr. Nate and Fr. Greg prostrate themselves during the Litany of the Saints at their Ordination Mass, May 20, 2017 at the Holy Angels Cathedral in Gary. Photo via Diocese of Gary.

The priesthood. It’s probably the last job or institution left on earth that, from Day One, you know you are in for life. Even a good portion of married folks stand at the altar on their wedding day thinking, “If this guy’s a dud, I’m out.” “She gets fat, it’s over.”

These guys had spent seven years in preparation for this day. If they haven’t backed out by now, they’re not gonna. And their commencement speaker? A bishop of the Catholic Church.

Image may contain: 1 person, indoor
Donald Hying, Bishop of the Diocese of Gary, IN. Photo via Deena Pidrak.

I think they will remember his words forever. Because I’m still thinking about them. When they received their marching orders, I couldn’t help but ponder how these ancient lines in the Rite of Ordination might frame what I do:

“Understand what you do. Imitate what you celebrate. And conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s cross.”

(And I get it if you’re not down with the theological aspects here. In Catholic teaching, the priest is “alter Christus” – another Christ. Called to give their lives, if not literally then figuratively for their flock). At this moment of the Mass they are handed the paten and the chalice which will hold the Body and Blood of Christ. These tools are central to what they will do every day of the rest of their lives.

It is a life of service. What they do, what they celebrate, is for the eternal good of their flock. They are shepherds. And counselors. And teachers. It is the work of a lifetime: long hours, loneliness, doubts about effectiveness, everything that gives a career weight.

Now, I’m not out there saving souls, but we can draw a rough parallel to what we do as teachers. Especially those of us who believe we are helping our students form the skills they will need to navigate the world of the mid-21st century.

Dad Timeline
My dad, receiving his 25-Year watch at Inland Steel. He was 44 years old then. Our world, and our kids’ world, is a little bit different.

As one school year comes to an end, I immediately (informally, if not on paper) begin planning for August and beyond. Thinking about what worked, and what didn’t. How I lifted up my students, and how I crushed their spirit. The #lessonfails, and the moments that made me want to retire on the spot because it was never going to get any better than right then. And how to fix those ratios next year.

I’ll never forget my first-ever class, Algebra 1A, looking out at 41 faces (in a class with 39 desks), Cimarron-Memorial High School, Las Vegas, NV. This is a great time to remind myself what I signed up for.

“Understand what you do…”

Piece By Piece

Image via giphy.

Last time we talked math in this space, I was trying to figure out a way to squeeze way too much content into the last five weeks of school, while still giving my students a chance to practice the skills and giving me a chance to assess their understanding, all while keeping a tiny sliver of their available brain cells focused on math stuff. Because it’s another fantastically gorgeous early May in The Region.

It's May In The Region
“Road Conditions: Wet”.  No kidding…

This week, I needed a performance assessment idea for Conic Sections. I also need to overlay final exam prep with new material in the finite time remaining before June 2.

And, I want to play with Desmos. Or rather, I want my students to play with Desmos.

Put all those ingredients in a blender, hit “Smoothie”, and you’ve got Piecewise Function Art!

Desmos piecewise staff picks

See everything up there labeled “Conics Project”? This project plan of mine is not a new idea, obviously.  I first came across it when Amy Gruen posted about her pencil/paper project back in the day. My co-teacher and I modified it for our Algebra II course that included several students with IEPs.

And then it sat in my back pocket for years until I changed schools and was assigned to Algebra II again this year.

The #MTBoS Search Engine tells me there are some awesome teachers getting cool stuff from their kids regarding this type of project. Check out Lisa Winer and Jessie Hester, to name two.

So I used their work as a starting point, customized it for my students, made up a packet with some sample art, my expectations for the project and the points scale, annnnnd away we go….

I insisted they did the pencil/paper planning first. I want them to make some fun & cool pics, yeah, but first and foremost I want them to get good at moving between representations of functions, and to get some reps on writing and graphing conics. I gave them two days to roll it around and plan at home, maybe sketch a quick picture or two. Then I planned for a pencil/paper Work Day in class Thursday, with the expectation (slightly unrealistic, it turns out) that they walk into class the next day with a list of equations. Then input equations to Desmos on Friday, with the project submitted via Canvas by the end of class.

Docs here:

Alg II (3) Conics Performance Assessment

Alg II (3) Functions one-pager


The initial reaction was… lukewarm: “Ugh”. “I’m taking the L.” “I can’t do this.”

Come on now. Don’t give up before you even try.

Most of them didn’t pick up a pencil before classtime Thursday, putting them in a hole to start. Fortunately I built in support, posting a Desmos Activity (via Stefan Fritz) to our page for them to play with, so they could see how to fine-tune an equation, and to restrict the domain. But the best progress was made in class on Thursday, when I convened some small groups, answered questions, walked through a couple of quick examples of drawing a graph and working backwards to its function rule, and also showing them how to translate a graph.

Next thing you know…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Guys, for real. In my least interested class, I had 26 kids engaged, helping each other out, graphing, writing, struggling through the rough spots, cheering for each other and squealing with delight at themselves.

If they aren’t at home right now high-fiving themselves, they should be.

Then Friday, the Big Finish:


OK, in reality, my students needed a lot of support to bring this project in for a landing. A lot of them made a pencil/paper design that was way too ambitious to finish even with two days to work in class. Many were asking questions Friday that they should have brought to me on Wednesday or Thursday. Most got down to business in class on Friday, because it was the due date. But almost no one was remotely close to being done.

There’s two ways to handle that: 1) “Too bad, so sad, I told you guys to get started on Tuesday and you didn’t so now you’re out of time and out of luck. F.”

Or: 2) “Look, I can see you guys are making progress. How many of you are happy with your picture as it is right now? Not many, right? But you’re making good progress and probably could turn in something really fantastic with a little more time? Cool. The due date in Canvas is today, but with a time of midnight. Go home, finish it up, turn it in before you go to bed and we’ll call it good.”

In his autobiography “My American Journey“, General Colin Powell stated often one of his life’s guiding principles: “Never step on another man’s enthusiasm”. Good advice from a great man. I’m in, all the way. Why crush my students’ spirit just when they are hitting their groove with Desmos and putting together the equations for a whole big mess of functions? Math is happening here, people. I’d rather ride that wave, let them finish and give me something they can be proud of.

So, midnight it is. And we all get better, together, at teaching and learning.

Piece by piece.

10 Pounds of Math In A 5 Pound Sack

School Countdown
You can pay for an actual working countdown clock for your site at countingdownto.com.

Real talk? If you ain’t counting, you lying. Yeah, I know. We’re not supposed to be counting.

But we are supposed to be planning. And adjusting when plans go sideways.

Which is how this happened at our Algebra II (Track 3) Late Start Wednesday Meeting:

Here's The Math

Related image
Low-Grade Panic sets in amongst our ragtag band of Alg II teachers. Image via What A Day For A Daydream.

29 days.

1 day for the final exam, preceded by 5 days of review. That leaves 23 instructional days. For 21 sections across 4 chapters which will account for 32 final exam questions.

Yikes. Something’s got to give.

I’ve got a thought about how to fire up a spaceship on 12 amps. So do my math department colleagues.

But you know who else has a thought? My students. And they might be willing to go along with some changes if they have proposed those changes.

So I asked them.

Here’s what they told me:

  • Skip bellringers
  • Skip the Friday Self-Assessment
  • Shorten up the notes
  • Do the practice assignment (“homework”) in class
  • Quick-hitter quizzes over a couple of day’s worth of skills
  • Rinse, repeat

Good Lord. Why don’t you just tell me to teach the class while standing on my head in a corner? Because that would be an easier change to make.

One of my students heard her classmates making these suggestions about cutting back on notes and not taking “homework” home and said under her breath “Oh God, that’s stressing me out”. Guess what, my dear: it’s stressing me out too. Wayyyy too traditional a classroom for my tastes. And for my students’ needs.

Or is it?

If they are telling me what they need right now, and what has worked well for them in previous years with teachers in my building, it’s worth a listen. Using a solid, ancient negotiating tactic, I came to the table with a mental list of concessions I was willing to make. Then I can can lay it on the table at make-or-break time, like it’s something that it absolutely kills me to give up. I love giving my students a chance to engage deeply with math thru Estimation 180, Which One Doesn’t Belong, 101qs, and Would You Rather?, but right now I’ll make the trade for the time and hope that over the last 7 months we built a culture of curiosity and problem-solving in my class that carries over to “traditional” tasks.

Plus, it’s nice to have a little leverage as the temperatures (inside and outside the classroom) warm up. “Hey you guys, you told me if I did x, you would do y. Time to hold up your end of the bargain.”

Now, it’s time to go try to land a 747 on a two-lane road. In a crosswind.

Wish me luck.

Quiz Review: Easy as 1, 2, 3

Dyngus Day
Smigus-Dyngus.

A three-day Easter weekend (Dyngus Day included) is coming up. And of course, before we leave out, we’re due for a quiz. Because I can’t very well send my students away for three days and expect them to come back sharp for assessment, right? Let’s set them up for success, not failure.

And that means Quiz Review. I’ve been trying to keep things fresh all year, rotating in some of my “go-to” activities: Speed Dating, Trashketball, Grudgeball, Four In A Row, Jeopardy, Kahoot.

Gotta mix things up, well, because even the good stuff gets stale after awhile.

I had promised my Little Cherubs™ a game for review on the day before the quiz. Really, really. Pinky-swear.

Yeah, and then life intruded. I spent every minute from 3:30 after my monthly Mentor-Mentee meeting until after (a very late) dinner taking care of Dad Job Description Issues, including my oldest son’s first car accident, my youngest’s middle school talent show, and whipping up a yummy, healthy (not really), budget-friendly meal. So I’m gonna start working on the materials for a game review at 10:30 at night and, yeah, no.

California English
You see, you gotta speak the lingo. Image via whisper.sh.

So I could just give my students a big old Kuta review packet, do some examples, say we reviewed, and then go home and feel shame and remorse for not coming up with something cool. And something with actual educational value. Or:

Provide some structure, teach some study skills applicable across the curriculum, and get some review done, all in a 50 minute class.

Easy as 1, 2, 3.


dcbd381680c07cc8a46a6d7ae62e1b1f_-123-free-clip-art-1-2-3-clipart_6621-3238
Image via img.clipartfest.com

So yeah, I gave them that big old packet. But: instead of “OK kiddies, start working on these problems, I’ll be around to help” (barf), It’s: “Don’t start yet. Look at the section headings, glance at the problem, and rate yourself on that skill. Use this scale”:

1 = I got this. I am confident I can do this problem correctly every time.

2= I need some support. I can probably do this type of problem, but I’ll have to look at my notes, go online for help, or ask a classmate or teacher if I’m on the right track.

3 = I got no clue. I don’t even know where to start. Help me!

Now I set a 5 minute timer and have them try to do as many of the 1’s as they can. (Prove to yourself that you got this).

Knock out the Number 1s (1)

Now reset the timer to 5:00, and have them start on the 2’s. Maybe they find out some of the 2’s are actually 1’s. Or 3’s. But they get in some reps, and get some practice at locating help.

Two minutes to play in the period
Two Minutes To Play In The Period
All about the teamwork (1)
Teamwork make the dream work.

Now: Everybody has done probably 5-8 problems, they’re feeling pretty good. And we’ve only used, max, 15 minutes of classtime.

Now we kick it up a notch: “Everybody stand up. Look at your 3’s. Go find somebody in the classroom who has that type of problem marked as a 1 or 2. Sit together and work out a problem together. Go make a friend.”

Number 3 meets Number 1
Number 3, meet Number 1. I’m gonna let you two kids talk.

We self-assess, we practice, we identify areas that need a little brush-up, and areas that need major attention before the quiz. We get out of our seats, we peer tutor. And we create an understanding that the quiz preparation will continue outside of class.

Not bad for 50 minutes of class. Not bad at all.

It’s the lowest-tech, least gamified review that I do. And: It’s worked in grades 9 through 12, for Algebra 1 Frequent Fliers and for semi-serious Algebra II students.

It’s a keeper.

Neymar goal saved by Ochoa-b

Hockey Sticks

Stickers
Yep, that’s frost on the inside of the windows.

When you drive an old car you get used to some rough sounds.

You also get very attuned to new, strange sounds. To the point where you almost don’t need an engine light to know when something’s not right.

So it is when you teach Algebra 1 frequent fliers, or in my current position, Track 3 Algebra II students with “Junioritis“. As my math coach in a previous district once told a room full of algebra teachers: “Your students have been going to school now for what, 11 or 12 years? Don’t fool yourself. They are not going to instantly start liking math all of a sudden just because you are their teacher this year.”

Image result for math student meme


So we started a chapter on exponentials and logs last week. We kicked the whole thing off with a day of graphing exponential functions by making a table of values. How did it go, you ask?

“I didn’t get to the back page because the front page made me cry.”

Yep. Rattle-rattle-thunder-clatter…

How do we fix this? (Hint: The answer is not “Call the Car-X Man.”)

We go Back to Basics:

Opened up class with the odds of a perfect NCAA bracket, graphs included. Because, the first day of the tournament (mid-day games, yo) dominates my students’ attention like little else.

Odds of a Perfect NCAA Bracket, Graphed

Then on to the bellringer – a Would You Rather on the evergreen task: would you rather have (insert giant sum of money) for a month’s work, or would you rather get one penny the first day, two pennies the second day, four cents on the third day, and so forth, with the daily pay rate doubling each day.

Several students lowered their shoulder and did the grunt work, either on calculator or on paper. And the answer became crystal clear. They actually “justified their answer with math”. Serious “light bulb” moments. (“Woah!……..”)

Then we walk through graphing an exponential with a fractional base, from the previous day’s assignment. Once I reminded (and showed) them that a negative exponent means write the reciprocal to the positive power, things fell into place. And hey, wait a minute. The shape of that graph looks very familiar. Like, we’ve seen it before. Maybe, today even…

I Feel Like I've Seen This Graph Before
Mind. Blown.

They still freeze up any time they are asked to graph a function from an x-y table, but I think they left class that day having a little clearer view of the *concept* of an exponential function. For just one day, I’ll take it. Let’s just say I’m guardedly optimistic. We’ll do some review at the end of the week, and a partner quiz on the day before Spring Break.

Not willing to rest on my laurels, next we pave the way for Inverse Functions. With a Desmos Activity borrowed from Jonathan Schoolcraft and tricked out with some Iron Giant themes.

Inverse Function AB Screengrab
Desmos Activity Builder, grab a bat. You’re up.

Moral of the story: it’s my job to stay in tune with my students’ level of understanding, and back them up when it’s needed. Visuals, a chance to play with numbers, and a chance to manipulate graphs definitely helps.

Or I could sit in a corner and mutter H – E – Double – Hockey Sticks. Those are the options.

Existential Crisis

 

Image result for i hate grading meme

After almost 14 years of teaching, I have come to an unpleasant realization:

I hate grading.

As I often tell my kids, “Hate is a very strong word.”

And, as they often tell me, “I know. That’s why I used it.”

But as I plowed through a pile of Algebra II quizzes (operations with rational expressions, if you must know) this past weekend, some things came into sharp focus.

  • 243 minutes a week x  36 weeks = 8748 minutes each class spends with me during a school year.
  • 8748 x 3 = 26244 minutes I will spend teaching math this year.
  • Roughly four hours to grade a set of quizzes. Times probably 20 quizzes in a year. That’s 80 hours x 60 minutes = another 4800 minutes. Throw in plan time and copies and whatnot….

And we probably learned as much math as we would have if we just closed the books and played rock-paper-scissors all year.

I feel like we’re all putting on an ethereal dance of illusion. A Potemkin village of teaching. I hate it, they  hate it, no learning is going on and it is the source of untold amounts of stress and literally three extra weeks of work a year.

There’s a better way, out there somewhere, right?

Right?

I mean, I know there are teachers and classes out there doing incredible things: Desmos stuff and partner quizzes and quiz corrections and standards-based grading and project-based learning and the #MTBoS dumps awesomeness into my brain on the daily. I want it. I want it all. Check that: I want it all, wedged at a 45-degree angle into a (capital-T) traditional school that is about to go 1:1 where students would step over a dead body to get the right grade on a piece of paper.

Seriously cold-blooded (as Gus would say).


 

Something’s gotta change. I’m not sure what tho. I was a psych minor long ago. I know we as humans only change to move towards pleasure or away from pain. A grade of any kind doesn’t move my kids off the mark. In either direction. It’s gotta be something more.

Am I too old to go change the world? Probably. But to change things in my class? I got enough pain to move. Let’s go.

Hold my beer.

Totally Lost

Image result for last time on dragon ball z

Last Time, in Algebra Hell

We opted for a performance assessment, students (working in pairs) creating their own Row Games-style review rather than taking a “traditional” quiz. Based on their feedback the days leading up to what would have been a quiz day, I knew we were looking at a serious crash-and-burn scenario.

And I was right – the quiz would have been a disaster. How do I know?

Image result for totally lost
Image via UPN.com.

Because the project revealed some holes in their understanding. Holes you could drive a Mack truck thru. “What do you mean ‘factor’ that? I don’t know how to do that!”

 Ruh Roh -  Ruh Roh  Scooby Doo
“You said it, Scoob!” Image via quickmeme.com.

So we spent three days in class on the project. It was messy, as all good learning is. There was stress from my more traditional minded-students. There was resistance to partner work.

“Control Freak”

But: I got to spend time with every single student in all my classes, at least just for a few moments, answering questions, giving encouragement, suggesting a way forward when they were stuck. Invaluable formative assessment. There was good-natured teacher humor, and music. Always a plus. Slowly, light dawns. I think they understand operations with rational expressions better than they did last week. We’ve walked back off the ledge together. So that’s a win.

But I have lots of questions. More questions than answers, really. Grading philosophy and special ed and “support for everyone” and what does an “A” mean and Track 2 and Track 3 and everything.

When I started doing this my district was really into performance-based grades for math: tests = 70% of grade. Teachers could do whatever they wanted with the other 30%: projects, homework, participation, a combo of any of the above. But long story short, a student’s grade is made up of what he proves he knows and can do.

Then (after moving to another urban district) I started teaching kids who hate school and hate math and I learned that sometimes it’s worth making sure students get credit for their efforts in practice, especially if that meant I kept them interested and trying for a whole semester. I know, SBG is awesome, it just never worked for my kids. They responded to “points for paper”, even when I preached how much I valued what they had going on from the neck up. Don’t @ me.

Fast-forward to now, my first year teaching Track 3 Algebra II in a high-performing district. My 2nd quarter breakdown was more like 40% quizzes/30% classwork/30% homework. So a student could do all my “busy work” get a 0 on every quiz and pass with a D-.  Is that how this “grading” thing is supposed to work?

I can tell my grading system is broken. My philosophy is solid, but when a student can pull a “B” in my class for first semester, then look at me in the eye and tell me she can’t factor a quadratic trinomial, I know I’m Doing It Wrong.

Here’s the thing:  I want a letter to represent what they know. I think they want a letter to represent who they are.

tattoo7
Math is Love, baby. Image via talljerome.com/NOLA/110807_endofsummer.html

So I’ve got some thinking to do. Bounced the question off my Lunch Bunch at school today. And composed the perfunctory tweet for help to my PLN:

Help me, Obi-Wan….

Algebra Hell

The Dreaded Algebra II. For many of the high-achieving students at my school, it’s a forgettable stepping stone on the path to AP Calc and beyond. For my students, it’s the last required math course before graduation, and a figurative peek into the very bowels of Hell.

dantes-inferno
What type of sin gets one scheduled into an Algebra II course for eternity?

We’ve finished up the first semester, which is really just a re-hash of Algebra I. Now the fun begins. Brand new material. Brand new material that my students see as having no connection to their actual lives whatsoever. Also, the math is hard. Especially if your foundational algebra skills are weak.

loop money cash dollar dollars
But hey, that’s why they pay me the big bucks, right? Image via imgur.com.

So, we’re struggling with motivation these days. Not quite open revolt, but we’re on the edge of a bad place.

Real Tears.jpg
I’m not sure she’s kidding, you guys.

We just finished up operations with rational expressions, and their level of understanding is sketchy at best.

I’m not sure a traditional quiz is what they need right now. Check that. I’m positive a traditional quiz is not what they need right now.

So, some type of performance assessment is more like it. In class, in groups, display understanding, take your time. So: Old standby? Or a new thing?

Or both….

Kate Nowak is one of my go-tos for review activities that are student-centered and self-checking. One of her go-tos back in the day was Row Games. The basics, from the source:

“Make a worksheet of problems organized in two columns. Column A and column B. The tricky part is the pair of problems in each row has to have the same answer. Obviously some topics are more suited to this than others. (Solving linear systems, easy. SOHCAHTOA, easy. Graphing inequalities, hard.)

Pair up the kids. Decide who is A and who is B. Tell the kids to only do the problems in their column. When done, compare answers to each question number with their partner. And if they don’t get the same answer, work together to find the error. That last step is where the magic happens. I know how well I taught the topic by how busy I am while they are row gaming it up. (Sipping coffee: go, me. Running around like lettuce with its head cut off: self-recrimination time.)”

So, my twist: make it DIY. We tried this with Kahoot! this year, students creating their own questions and distractors, I gather them up, make the Kahoot! quiz, kids play, angel choirs sing, all is well.

Here’s the deal: My students need a day to catch their breath from the forced march of rational expressions. I’ll give it to them. They’re gonna make their own Row Games activity. I took one of the Row Games from a google folder Nowak graciously shared. The kids will work through that exercise on Monday. So now they know what a Row Game looks like. Tuesday I introduce the project, give them the design requirements, list of deliverables, and the rubric, and turn them loose. It’ll go in the gradebook as a quiz grade. Even better: The plan is to take the finished products and use them as a review day activity somewhere down the line. Each class will get an activity designed by students in a different class.

Docs here: alg-ii-3-diyrowgamesreviewproject    alg-ii-3-rowgamestemplate

How’s it going to work out? I’ll let you know. But I’m betting the results (in terms of students’ understanding, and grades) will be better than on some barf-tastic quiz.

A hell of a lot better.

Still Learning

End of Semester 1: imminent. That must mean it’s time for five days of endless, mind-numbing review worksheets so we can all pretend I helped them prepare for a really hard test.

Image result for sike

Borrowing a theme from the great Matt Miller, I opted for the Epic Review OlympicsPlanned ahead, before Christmas Break. Made a Jeopardy review for one day, planned out the rest, made my materials.

Then, the actual beginning of review. Snap back to reality

We only got to like 5 practice items out of the 25 on the Jeopardy game board. That’s not enough. I had students grouped up so they could work together and lean on each other. I hoped that would help more students get more assistance than I could give alone.

But instead:

“I can’t learn like this.”

“My group isn’t doing anything.”

“Can’t we just have a worksheet?”

(record scratch/freeze frame….)

Wait a minute. Aren’t all the MTBoS-inspired, student-centered lessons and activities supposed to be a magic wand that miraculously transforms unmotivated, under-prepared students into raging cauldrons of curiosity?

Image result for magic wand gif
Image via The Telegraph

It turns out…. no. One of my go-to guys, Matt Vaudrey, a teacher who literally wrote the book on crafting non-lethal math lessons, has run into the exact same situation:

Ugh. Yeah. Fine. But it’s not working for the class.

Carly, for example — the student who respectfully pointed out “we shouldn’t be tested on this if we didn’t cover it in class” — called me over during test review last week.

She asked, “Mr. Vaudrey, when are we going to practice more… like… actual math? Like, I understand that all these things (she motions at the review problems printed on colorful “stations” around the room) are important, but like… are we gonna get more notes on, like, equations and stuff?”

Ugh. Carly just loves when school is hard.

Students like Carly are accustomed to math class working a certain way. When their usual method of success no longer works, they get nervous.

It’s not wrong to give students what they require to succeed in class; a variety of nutrients is necessary for a healthy diet. If they want notes, it’s okay to give them that for a meal sometimes.

So, a moment of decision: What’s more important – doing a cool/fun game, or providing an opportunity for students to review/relearn?

(Both? Ideally…)

Call me greedy. Like St. Maximilian Kolbe, offered a choice of two crowns, I call “both”. To the MTBoS Search Engine we go.

And we come away with Four In A Row (hat tip to Sarah Carter/Fawn Nguyen). Long story short, I needed 25 practice problems (in this case, for solving systems). And as Fawn Nguyen points out: Kuta makes it easy. Pick the level of difficulty and type of system to solve, generate the problems, have Kuta make a separate answer sheet so the problems and answers can be printed back-to-back.

So what happened?

  • Cutthroat competition: always a benefit when it comes to getting buy-in from students on an activity.
  • Collaboration after each problem: Students working together to find mistakes and re-working problems (AYKM?)
four-in-a-row-1
Two brains are better than one.
  • A triumphant “Yes!” from students who have struggled all year long, when they check their answer on the back and find out they worked the problem correctly:
  • And from another who managed to string together a series of boxes: “I’m taking this sheet home and putting it on my wall!”

Win-win.

Oh BTW: to give the activity a long tail I posted the problem set on our Canvas page for students who wanted more practice on their own before the final.

They got what they wanted. I got what I wanted.

Learning has occurred. For students, and for teachers.

Halftime Adjustments

this-is-fine
Live Look-In to my class during the quadratics unit. Image via http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/06/arts/this-is-fine-meme-dog-fire.html?_r=0.

A piece of our teacher evaluation rubric is evidence of using data to drive remediation and instruction, not just on a one-time basis but as a habit, throughout the year. The suggested method is doing a quick analysis of quiz/test grades, then planning intentionally in class based on the results.

Here’s what the quiz over solving quadratics by factoring looked like:

i-feel-shame-1
That’s. Not. Good.

I… feel shame.

It’s a Track 3 class, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have high expectations. But coupled with those high expectations has to be a plan to help students rise to meet them. I’m big into “you do, y’all do, we do“, and collaboration and 1-on-1 student sharing is baked in the cake just about every day. My long-time philosophy is: Accommodations For All. Quizzes are open-note, and we do a day of review before every quiz. I tell them exactly what is going to be on the quiz itself. There’s no “gotcha”. Everything but walk them by the hand, sit them down, and give them the answers.

And yeah, at some point it’s on them to prepare for class.  Those 39 of the 55 F’s that scored less than 40%? I don’t know what to say.

But I do know what to think: “what else do I need to do for them to have success?”

Did some soul-searching after pondering the results of that quiz. We had a quick turnaround to solving quadratics by completing the square, and using the quadratic formula. I needed to make some changes, pronto.

Upon further review – my students’ needs:

  1. Need more reps for review
  2. Need student choice for quiz
  3. Need shorter quizzes

As so often happens, the solution to at least one of my needs came through my Twitter feed, courtesy of the great Sarah Carter.

A sure-fire way for students to get a chance to solve three (or four or five) quadratics in one class period. Enough to go from a 1 to a 5 or 6 on the confidence meter. Build some muscle memory. By the time I was ready for the review, Thanksgiving had come and gone. But, hey, I know enough to stick a good thing in my back pocket for future reference.

As for the second and third items on my wish list: an old standby. Give them a list of problems from which to choose. In my mind’s eye, here’s what I saw: give ’em 8 quadratics, solve two by factoring, two by taking square roots, two by the formula, two by completing the square.

But, is that still too much? Covers all the skills, but man, that’s a long quiz. What to do, what to do?

Ask the MTBoS:

The response: Tighten it up.

So perfect. Done and done.


 

It is Indiana, after all, so “Turkeys In The Oven” became the basketball-themed “They Got Game.”

 

I’m not above bribery when it comes to methods of getting students to participate in a review. And if they think “extra credit to the winning team” is their idea, all the better.

No lie, you guys, they were begging me for another problem to work out. Asking each other for help when they got stuck. Calling me over to show off work.

use-your-notesthey-got-game-teamwork

Last period, one group was practically high-fiving each other: “We be ballin’!”

scoreboard
Scoreboard. Photo cred: me.

So we totaled up points, announced a winner, gave a pep talk, checked for understanding. They assured me they all felt much more prepared for a quiz than they did an hour ago. And for those who wanted or needed more practice, I posted a review module on our Canvas page with all 10 problems and worked-out solutions.

I think we got this. Looking forward to tomorrow.

One Shining Moment, baby. Because we be ballin’.