Since I’ve Been Gone

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Writing the title made Kelly Clarkson’s song play through my mind.

 

A lot has happened since my last post.  And instead of boring you with minor details, I’ll share the highlights of April to May.

“School should end after GMAS!”

Georgia Milestones, Georgia’s standardized state test, happened a week after spring break.  My students were pretty anxious about the test has its a portion of the promotion criteria for 8th grade.  To ease the worries, we focused more on mindfulness strategies and stress relieving techniques versus math content.  With the help of some parents, I cooked them breakfast the mornings of the math test to help boost their brain activity.

That was only the first hurdle.  Once testing was done, the students were mentally spent and cried, understandably, “school should end after GMAS!”  The unfortunate part was, there was still a month left of school.

My Vow to Keep Them Engaged

Full fledged choice learning was my vow to keep my students engaged.  I asked the students to choose what and how they wanted to review for the semester final based on the provided student guides.  Students worked independently or within groups on the student guides during the work session which was followed by a daily mini quiz (Mini quiz example).  Our compromise was, we worked hard Mondays through Thursdays and had a free day on Fridays.

To prevent the student guides from becoming mundane, I implemented multiple review games such as Kahoot!, Quizlet Live and my favorite Towels on the Beach.  We also did many “get up and move” kinds of activities like gallery walk task cards and desk hop.

Using What Jo Taught Me

After testing I felt I had a fresh start to try some ideas I learned from reading Mathematical Mindset that I was too impatient to wait until next year to try.  So instead of creating a study guide for our semester 2 final, I created task cards similar to what Jo discussed in Chapter 7 From Tracking to Growth Mindset Grouping.  My sources were Illustrative Mathematics, Open Middle, Georgia Frameworks, nzmaths.co.nz and the SMILE inventory referenced in the book.

Look to the Future 

My role next year is changing yet again.  I’m super excited about what’s to come.  The rationale for my class is establishing mathematical mindsets and foundations in middle school.  I’ll be working with a curriculum to fill gaps 6th through 8th grade students have in mathematics.  The entire undertone will be growth mindset.  More on this to come!

 

You Know That Feeling?

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You know that feeling that you get when the excitement wells up on the inside of you?  I’m talking about the level of excitement that makes you want to give out the most gitty giggle you’ll only do around those most closest to you?  I felt that this past week. What made me feel that way? Choice. 

I’ve tried to make levels of choice happen in my classroom before as explained here and here. This year, inspired by a visit to a Montessori school, I’ve tried upping my level of choice for students. I’m going to explain things in reverse. 


Every student was engaged and on task completing one of the activities within the calendar.  The options were: live mini-lesson or video mini-lesson followed by a Hands-on Standards worksheet everyone was required to complete on Line of Best Fit. As I walked around observing students working in small groups, pairs or independently, I felt the excitement welling up. Before I gave off a squeal that would have reduced my cool points 😎, I calmly stated, “you all are working so well, I’m so proud of you right now.”

We worked at this level of choice all week. I’ve coined it Choice Learning and the students caught on quickly to where to go to find the activities for the day. Most of them use their phones to access the materials. I provide 2-5 iPads and a desktop computer for students who do not have their own technology. 

This is where we started.


One day a student made a comment about having choice and I ran with it. Not a wise decision in hindsight. We were reviewing for our unit assessment which covered 6 concepts. I instructed students to develop a learning plan which would be implemented over two days. For the plan students had to pick 3 concepts in which they need more practice to “sure up” their understanding. I would pick a 4 which would be based on the data from their most recent concept quiz. 

Based on their learning plan, they would pick activities to work on while I pulled small groups for remediation. It was short of a disaster. Why?  Not enough support on my part. Day one I spent most of my time working at a station trying to help students understand how to find the missing coordinate when give slope and one point. I never pulled small groups and there was ALOT of redirecting happening. 

What did I learned from all of that?

  1. Too much choice can be chaotic and overwhelming. 
  2. Have support materials for students to access helps to free me up for small group instruction. 
  3. But most importantly, assess the situation in truth and make adjustments. (Don’t just strap the idea.)

Moving Forward

Here’s the plan for next week that has me excited all over again: 



Using Observation Rubrics

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Anyone who has experienced John Van de Walle has probably read about observations rubrics. In his Elementary and Middle School Mathematics Teaching Developmentally book, he discussed various ways to collect formative data on students.  The observation rubric happens to be my favorite.


I’ve used this idea in my classes for about three years now. This school year I’ve been using it more consistently to truly inform my instruction on a day to day basis. What has helped with this consistency is use of standards based grading (SBG) as each rubric is developed based on the concept we are focusing on.

grade-snapshot

For example, we are currently focusing on linear vs non linear. So I reviewed the Achievements Level Descriptors developed by the Georgia Department of Education to define the levels of understanding. So when students engage in an activity, whether whole group, small group or independently I’m able to use the rubric to assess where they are.

Whole Group

Have you ever done a whiteboard activity with students? You may pose a question to the class, each student records their responses on their own whiteboard and holds it up for you to see their answers.  With the rubric on a clipboard, you can quickly record students level of understanding of the concept and make adjustments to the collaborative or independent portion of the day’s (or week’s) lesson.  As students are taking turns to go to the board to record their answers to problems, you could mark where they fall based on the expectations on the rubric.

Collaborative/Group/Partner Work

While students work on tasks from Illustrative Mathematics, Georgia Frameworks, Open Middle, etc.  I circulate with the rubric on the clipboard and ask questions or listen in on the conversations students are having and rate them on the rubric.

Formative Assessments

Often times I will use Exit Tickets or Plickers or post-it notes as formative assessments.  After reviewing the responses, I’ll record how the data reflects the expectations on the rubric.

The Best Laid Plans…

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For me, formative assessment is not just one of the latest buzz words I use to sound like I know what I’m doing. It’s what I actually use to “know” what I’m doing. Without feedback from my students I feel like I’m walking in the dark, alone. 
So I formatively assessment more often than our required Friday CFAs, common formative assessments. 

In addition to the ticket out the door, observation rubrics, FALs and FAs of that sort (which never, ever count for a grade and still my students do them without griping or apathy…but I digress) I use weekly concept quizzes to capture student understanding of the concept of focus for the week. These are entered into the gradebook. 

Here lately, I’ve been using Google Forms to create my quizzes which provide a wonderful spreadsheet to which I can add conditional formatting that gives me this look to easily identify students’ levels of understanding. 

Therefore, as I go through a unit, I have a pretty good idea of who will show mastery on the common assessment (our unit test) and who will need more time before reaching mastery. This year, the FAs and CQs have been accurate. That was until this Unit 6 assessment. Although all signs pointed to majority of the students showing mastery, this data proved differently. 

Yikes!!  My knee jerk reaction was to have students complete test corrections, discuss common misunderstandings as a class, get student feedback on the test and reassess. The retest results further proved the lack of sense making of written scenarios and the confusion between rate of change and initial value on a graph. 

Does this prove that formative assessments aren’t useful and don’t help prepare students for success? Not at all. Is this an opportunity to reflect, adjust and grow as an educator to help my students be successful? Hell yes (sorry mom). This is clearly an instructors error as proven by the data from both the FAs and the CA. As we build more understanding by looking at this concept through a different lens, I’ll post about our accomplishments. 

Function Carnival

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Two years ago I taught 7th grade.  I wrote about how there was a disconnect between classwork grades and assessment grades and our class “town hall” type meeting to help me gain so understanding. (There’s a Disconnect). On of the biggest takeaways for me was how I helped students review for assessments. 

This school year, I’ve been very intentional about selecting interactive games and activities as well as create study guides which encompass strategies and ideas we discussed as a class. We’ve played musical chairs, Kahoot, Quizizz, a math version of Heads Up and many other things. As we prepared for our Unit 6 Introduction to Functions assessment, I wanted to keep our review engaging but also fresh. So, in a bit of desperation, late on a Thursday night I reached out for help https://twitter.com/mrsjenisesexton/status/824811795839856640

To my dismay, I was left to figure this one out on my own. This is what I came up with:


Identifying Functions Fun House. Similar to a fun house at a carnival where there are multiple mirrors all around, this fun house held multiple tables showing relations. The tables had to be adjusted so that each would reflect a function. All red cards were the x values and the black cards were the y values. 


A game of Clue. Students were given 10 different guess who statements. Based on the clues provided, they needed to identify the vocabulary word which matched the clues. 



Graphing Memory Match mixed the concept of a memory or concentration game with matching graphs to appropriate stories. Side note: students made this activity better by deciding to place all of the graphs on one side and all stories on the other. It helped with the flow of the game. 



Determining Rate of Change War. Using scenarios which compared rates of change, I created two stacks. One stacked is numbered while the other is lettered to avoid mixing the cards. The numbers and letters are ordered the same to ensure the scenarios matched one another. Students played in regular I Declare War fashion, the the card with the greater rate of change being the winner. 

Students were required to work with a partner to compete against or collaborate with another partner pair. This allowed for continued support to build understanding of the concepts within our Function Carnival. 

We Should Do This More Often

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Our last unit ended with a bang!  Unit 5 Pythagorean Theorem and Volume was opened with act 1 of Dan Meyer’s Taco Cart.  As with most 3 act tasks, this one began with the notice and wonder component. Students’ ideas exceeded what I expected. 




The blue notes the notices, the orange notes the wonders and the black were thoughts added during our discussion about estimations. 

We decided to answer “Who got to the Taco Cart faster?” but said we would come back to answer: are they going at the same speed, was one person running and will they get there at the same time?  The conversation around the estimation became intense. ​​​

​To prove our theories we used anglegs and color tiles to mimick the right triangle created by the path Ben and Dan walked to determine the length of the legs using the length of squares. Even as we were building a student kept repeating, “there has to be a part 2 to this, there just has to be”.  As students concluded the area of the legs combined or the path Dan walked was the same as the area of the square on the hypotenuse or Ben’s route, the excitement grew even more. 

Many thought their estimation of the guys getting to the cart at the same time was correct after the hands on activity. Others held on to the fact that time would play a key role in who got there faster. So I revealed the information for part 2. I love that many students had already developed a rate for the sidewalk to sand speed. Those who shared their conjectures believed the rate was 2 to 1. From the provided information it was determined it was 2.5 to 1. 

“I know you are not about to do this to us.”

Then I decided to press the pause button on the task. After students recorded the speed and distances provided on their recording sheet, I instructed them to put the papers in their porfolios to which a student exclaimed, “I know you are not about to do this to us!” Can you say completely hooked?!

We finished the day completing a practice task from Hands-on Standards:


The next day, students came in asking, “Are we doing Taco Cart today?!” Each time I told them, “No, but I promise we will finish it this week.”  The suspense grew and grew. Everyday they came in asking the same question. We worked through a few more concept development tasks from the GA Math Frameworks before returning to Taco Cart on Friday. 

Students had an opportunity to use everything they learned during the week along with the information obtained in part 2 to work out the problem and develop a conclusion. Some students remained stuck in estimation mode (which was disappointing) 


Others focused on using their understanding of the Pythagorean Theorem to form their conclusion but did not factor the time element:


While others were able to make the connections:


This was the best part:


After the screaming subsided, a young lady shouted, “that was intense. We should do this more often!”  

Musical Chairs

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We’re nearing the end of our unit on exponents and scientific notation. This means it’s time to prepare for our common assessment. What better way to do this than with a game of musical chairs. 👍🏾

Last year, I had the pleasure of attending a session at GCTM conducted by educators from Hart County, Georgia. They discussed engaging ways to implement practice in the math classroom; perfect for me as practice was my area of instructional weakness when I taught 7th grade two years ago. 

Musical chairs was one of the activities presented where you setup chairs in traditional musical chairs style. In each chair, a question is placed face down. The music is played, I used Keep Your Head Up, Good to be Alive and Run, and students circle the chairs. My 8th graders were gitty and circled the chairs in suspense of the music stopping. When the music stopped, the quickly sat down and began solving the problems in their seat. Once finished I would check their answer and offer feedback. We repeated this process over and over until class ended. 

Students played as if someone could be eliminated, one student continuously asked, “how do people get out?!”  I never answered mainly because I had not thought about that aspect. Students answered about 6 questions from their study guide, received immediate feedback and it would’ve been more if time had allowed. Everyone was engaged and excited. Everyone worked to answer the questions. 

Hindsight, take time to answer questions myself before the game to avoid solving them mentally during the game. Develop a way for students to get “out” but keep them engaged in the game.