Saturday, March 4, 2017

An Evening with Eva Schloss

I have been behind in blogging, but I wanted to write about an amazing experience that my girlfriend and I had a couple of weeks ago. Eva Schloss came to Knoxville to speak. Eva Schloss was the stepsister of Anne Frank, and Mrs. Schloss was also a Holocaust survivor who spent time at Auschwitz. We decided to buy tickets to hear Mrs. Schloss speak because many Holocaust survivors are no longer alive, and this number will only continue to increase. 

Mrs. Schloss told us about her childhood and how she knew Anne Frank and told some personal stories. Then she discussed her experience in hiding from the Nazis and finally being discovered and taken to the concentration camp. One of the most eye opening experiences that I felt during the lecture was her story about how her family (among many others) were separated. She also told the story of how people were grouped and sent to the gas chamber at the concentration camps, which she referred to as "death camps." Another chilling moment to me was when she showed the audience her tattoo from the concentration camp. She told the audience that she shows this to show proof to those that said that the Holocaust was a lie. 

Then she talked about how it took her many years to be able to tell her story. My girlfriend bought Eva's book before the show, and she opened the book to find that Mrs. Schloss had signed the book. At the end, we watched an inspirational video from the local Jewish school in Knoxville. I am so glad that we had this experience to hear a living Holocaust survivor, and I recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to hear a Holocaust survivor speak, take that opportunity. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The 7 Method

Let me just say that I cannot believe that it has been a month since I've blogged! Wow!

Anyways, let's get back to it. I was perusing Twitter on Thursday night and Friday morning, and I was reading the chat that Melynee Naegele and Sara VanDerWerf were leading on how elementary math is used in the high school classroom. As I was reading the chat, I came across something called the 7 method.

I inquired about the 7 method for division, and Melynee answered my question promptly by sending me this.

I looked at it and had to take a couple of minutes to analyze the problem. For a few seconds, I thought it was exactly the type of thing that people would complain about on Facebook as "common core math." Then I realized that even though this method may take up more paper, there is so much rich math happening. Plus, I feel that the 7 method reinforces multiplication, subtraction, and addition. It also made division even more fun! When the 7 method clicked, did it click! I decided to make up some problems to test the method. Here's a bit of my work. Let me know if you have any questions (or if you can't read my handwriting)!

Even though I teach sophomores and juniors, I find that many of my students, even my honors students, still struggle with some of the basics of mathematics. Heaven forbid when it comes to long division. This breaks my heart, and I wish that there was a magic solution. Unfortunately, there is not, but reading the elementary math chat last week, I feel more inspired to infuse more of the basics into my instruction, because I feel that they are important.

Heck, I might even teach this method to my students! I would definitely use this method if I were an elementary or middle school teacher.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Day the Local News Came to My Classroom

On Tuesday, my kids and I had an interesting surprise. I had went to the office to sign out to run an errand during lunch when the technology coach was there. She was telling me that Channel 6 News in Knoxville was coming to interview a couple of teachers about the Chromebook project that we have implemented this year as well as how broadband internet has helped our rural community. She said that the principal had lined up two teachers to speak. We spoke for a moment, and then I went to go run my errand. I got back, and she was still there waiting on the news to arrive at the school. We chatted again for a few moments, and I returned to my classroom. About ten minutes after we returned from lunch, the principal knocks on my door and says that they want a math teacher. The teacher next door also teaches math and is related to the principal. The other math teacher and I said that we would both participate in the interview together. Then I broke the news to the kids.

"Hey guys, Channel 6 in Knoxville is coming into our classroom. We might have to change a couple of our plans, but be sure you are working on something."

The reporter came in and introduced himself as well as his cameraman. I knew who the reporter was since he had been on Knoxville local news ever since I was a kid. I introduced myself, and then he asked what class this was and what grade level. They hooked me up to a microphone, and the cameraman got a few shots of me walking around the room assisting kids as well as a couple of shots while I was "teaching" using the Promethean board and technology.

Then the reporter asked me several questions about Chromebooks and how broadband internet has affected and helped my job as a teacher and how its affected student learning and outcomes. Then he asked the class if a couple of students wanted to be interviewed, and I had two volunteer immediately! They were hooked up to a microphone and were asked how the broadband internet has helped affect their learning positively.

By the time all this had happened, class was over, and we even had to go over a minute. The next day, I told students that since we had visitors observing Chromebooks on Friday and the local news came unexpectedly to our classroom, that I would bring them a treat. So, my girlfriend and I are going to make cupcakes for the kids for me to bring on Monday.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

New Grading System

I decided to have an overhaul of how I grade tests and quizzes for this semester. I used a scale of 1-10 to grade quizzes and tests. I really liked the scale of 1-10, but I decided to opt for a 0-4 scale. . I know that the 0-4 scale is nothing revolutionary in the world of Standards Based Grading, but as far as I know, I am the only person in my building that has implemented this scale. I can really say that I am a fan of the 0-4 scale!

I took the terms (and paraphrased the definitions) that I use to classify levels from the Tennessee Department of Education website as this is what they use to assess students on end of course examinations and applied it to my grading system.

So, here is how I decided to break it down by levels.

You have exceptional understanding and expert ability to apply the knowledge and skills of the standard.
On Track
You have a comprehensive understanding and thorough ability to apply the knowledge and skills of the standard.
You are approaching understanding and have a partial ability to apply the knowledge and skills of the standard.
You have a minimal understanding and minimal ability to apply the knowledge and skills of the standard.
Not Assessed
You didn’t assess or answer the question; therefore, I cannot objectively measure your learning on the standard.

I decided to calculate some of my percentages with the help of Justin Aion's blog. Another reason that I chose 88% is that it is in the middle range of a B on the Tennessee state grading scale. It's not that far from a C, but it's not that close to an A. So, it works as a middle range there. So, if you can perform with 88% accuracy, that isn't too bad. I also like the terms that the state of Tennessee uses, and I think that they transfer seamlessly to standards based grading. I also like the use of these terms versus below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced, which were used on previous state assessments.

Another change I have made is to take my state's standards and write them in friendly "I Can" statements to give to students, which I refer to as skill concepts. I then take these statements to align my quizzes. Quizzes range from 1-2 skill concepts while some will range anywhere from 3-5 skill concepts. I was wanting to give only quizzes that assessed 1-2 skill concepts, but I quickly realized that I wasn't going to be able to handle the paperwork load of giving feedback and assessing three to four times a week. I also realized that this was going to be tough given the depth of Algebra 2 and Geometry standards in Tennessee. So, I think I have figured out a more manageable system, and I also feel that this setup works to students' benefit as it is definitely more focused on skills and standards. It is also designed to see where students' strengths and areas of refinement are throughout the course.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Quarter the Cross Using the Group Work Participation Quiz

I knew that I wanted to restructure some ways we did things in class this semester. One area that I felt needed improvement was group work. I had read Jo Boaler's Mathematical Mindsets this summer and read some of the strategies to improve group work. However, I didn't read into the strategies enough. I went back and re-read the strategies last month, and one strategy that stuck with me was the participation quiz.

To do a participation quiz, start by giving students a task to work on and have the students pick (or you can assign) group roles. Then you take the board or a piece of paper and divide it into sections so that each group has one section. The teacher then goes around the room noting behaviors, quotes, questions, and etc. that he or she likes or dislikes and puts them on the board. Then each group earns a grade at the end of the practice.

I used to put my students' names into the spreadsheet and used the Random Name Picker and used Visible Random Grouping (VRG) and grouped kids into groups of four. Then each student had a role of either team captain, facilitator, resource manager, or recorder/reporter, which are also from Mathematical Mindsets. Just an aside-if you haven't read Mathematical Mindsets yet, get your hands on a copy now. Go do it. Now!

I then gave students the Quarter the Cross task, which is a task where students are given five crosses and have to shade in a quarter of the area of the cross. If you are unfamiliar with Quarter the Cross, check it out here. I really like this task because it allowed students of all levels to enter the task at the same level and flourish. I also thought that this would be a good starter task to model group work, and I am happy with my choice.

After I gave students the task and told them to pick their group roles, they went to work, and so did I. I set up a section of my back whiteboard and numbered the groups. I walked around multiple times, and every time I heard a phrase or saw a behavior I liked, I went and jotted it down on the whiteboard. I did this repeatedly. You can also use this when you see undesirable behaviors, or if group members are off task, and if group members are not following their roles. Thankfully I didn't have to jot down any negative notes.

Many of my students told me that they enjoyed the task. Several students said that they liked the fact that this group work encouraged communication. I had a couple of students also tell me that she thought the notes were helpful, and several thought that it was helpful to receive feedback in real time. I also noticed that several were occasionally glancing at the backboard reading my notes.

So, I completely recommend both this task and this strategy. I will definitely be making the feedback and participation quizzes a part of my rituals from now on! Below are a few pics of the groups working, the task itself, and my notes from the participation quiz. Forgive me if you can't read my writing for the participation quiz. Let me know if you have any questions or ideas.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: A Personal Reflection

It is basically a New Year's Eve tradition that I try to take a few minutes and reflect on what all has happened over the past year, both positive and negative. A lot happened this year in my personal life that was tough for sure. My grandfather passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer's in July. There were also some tough personal issues in my family, which I will refrain from giving more details. I recently wrapped up my toughest semester of teaching since my first year. I felt myself becoming jaded and disillusioned, and that is not who I am as a teacher. The positive side is that I feel ready and more confident to take on the new semester.

However, 2016 provided some positives that I would like to reflect on.

  • I got to visit two new states and a territory this year: California, Minnesota, and the United States Virgin Islands. So, I am officially over the halfway mark (26 down, 24 to go). 
  • I went to California, and I got to experience some cool stuff while I was there, such as seeing the Pacific Ocean for the first time, eating In-N-Out, Hollywood (gross!), the Griffith Observatory, Santa Monica Pier, Disneyland, and the Warner Bros. Studio Tour! 
  • I finally got to go to St. Thomas (not once, but twice) this year! For those of you that may not know, my girlfriend was born and raised there, and her mom still lives there. So, it was nice to finally see where she grew up! I also realized that going to the beach wasn't so bad after all. Now, I guess this means that I have some sort of an aversion to stateside beaches. 
  • I had the opportunity to attend Twitter Math Camp in Minneapolis and make some new friends and finally meet some of my Twitter peoples in person. I also got to see Minnehaha Falls and the Mall of America while I was up there. I also had the opportunity to meet Dan Meyer, who is a rockstar in the world of mathematics education. 
  • My girlfriend was inducted into the Phi Alpha, the National Social Work Honor Society in October at the University of Tennessee. 
  • I was ranked a level 5 for the first time in my career. 
  • Our school finally received some technology in the form of Chromebooks. 
  • We decided on December 30 to adopt a dog from the animal shelter!
So, with that, as much as I hate to admit it, I am ready to see 2016 go and see what 2017 has to offer! I am hoping for more travels, professional growth, and happy times and experiences with the ones I love!! 

Monday, December 12, 2016

WODB Projects and Plickers: Fall 2016 Edition

EOCs are over, and the Christmas/Holiday break will greet us in just four short days. However, the semester isn't over yet, but it's time to have some real fun and create our own WODBs! I first did this project last semester after integrating WODBs in my classroom. Toward the end of the last semester, I did WODB Wednesdays, and I integrated Plickers into my WODBs. This semester, I have kept the WODB Wednesdays, and students have become accustomed to them. 

Now it was time for this project to repeat themselves. After having nearly two weeks of testing between English, math, science, and history, my students needed something light, yet creative at the same time. So, I gave them Friday to create their WODBs. I have them pick something mathematical or something of their interest. Students then find four items and must be able to describe why each item does not belong. Then they submit the project to me. I then take their project and set it up as a question in Plickers so that students would have a chance to respond.  

Here is the link to the Google Doc. The link to last semester's blog post is in the first paragraph. 

How was this project similar as last semester? 
  • I basically used the same assignment sheet and rubric. I took out a couple of the categories in the rubric, though. 
  • I allowed students to use their own interests to create the project. 
  • Students were allowed to work individually or with a partner. 
How did the project differ this semester? 
  • Each student received a Chromebook in September, so the assignment and criteria were posted to Google Classroom 
  • Students submitted their assignments to me via Google Classroom instead of email. 
  • I gave feedback through their assignments in Google Classroom 
  • I was able to assess and give feedback faster. 
How will I alter the project for next semester?
  • I think I might require a mathematical WODB and a non-mathematical WODB. 
  • I think I will require each person to do a non-mathematical WODB and have students do mathematical WODBs in partners. 
  • I will tweak the rubric more to make it slightly more stringent as I didn't assess tough this semester. 
My Reflections/Thoughts 
  • Overall, I was impressed with the products that my students created. 
  • My biggest complaint was that some students didn't go far enough in explaining their reasoning and/or only gave one reason per category. 
  • This is a fun project that my students seem to enjoy as it allows me to learn more about them, and it allows them to make the content relevant to their lives. 
  • I was especially impressed with one of my classes, as many of the students were explaining their reasoning with each other and adding to each other's thoughts.
So, I will be quiet, and I will let my students' work start doing the talking. Let my students and me know what you think!