Practicing on real kids!

You have to love a PD where you get to watch other teachers as they hone their craft as well as get to practice yourself…on REAL live kids!!! The kids were on fire as they made models of houses. I wanted to take one home, but I didn’t. (I mean a kid, not their house. The house was swell and all, but talking with these kids was a treat!)

This set-up the need for area and scale and unit conversion in order to make cost estimates of building materials.

The problem created the need for the content. The content did not set the stage for some hokey, convoluted, boring application.

Kind of getting excited for Aug 29!!!

Grading — One teacher’s perspective


I dislike grades. I am very upfront with my students about this fact. Some think, “this is great, I won’t have to do anything this year.” They quickly learn what I am into to is student learning and mastery. Grades are one common language parents, students and teachers all speak and of course, I am required to use them. I have some conventions that make it possible for me to use grades that actually give parents, students and me valuable information.

I only score assessments. Quizzes are given at least weekly. They carry a weight of 1 or three depending on the size. Tests usually happen at the end of each unit and carry a weight of ten. Homework and class work are part of the learning process and the learning process is not scored in my classes.

Some assessments are for information (I give students feedback and no score) and some are scored. Many times, I don’t know if a quiz will be for a score or not ahead of time. I always hope an assessment will be scored, but sometimes, I find that I need information about student learning (and my teaching) more than students need a score. When some students are ready and others are not, I have also allowed students to purchase their notes for 5 points if done so before the assessment begins, or ten points if purchased after the assessment begins. This encourages students to take better notes. It is also a way of helping me differentiate and give students boosts that need support while challenging students who are ready.

Because I insist on mastery, I allow students to retest or even re-quiz after they have remediated. They don’t just get another at-bat without remediation. To keep track of reassessments, I record a student’s new score as a replacement of the original score with a modification. (Say the student gets 62 out of 100 and then 85 on the retest.) I put in 85.62. The 85 reflects the new score, and the .62 keeps track of the fact that the student did retest as well as the earlier score. All of this is accomplished without materially affecting the average grade for the student.

If students do not make up a quiz for some reason, I give the student the same score as they lowest score in the class for that particular assessment. I then put a .1 on the score to let me know that the grade entered was fabricated by me. If the low score was 55, a student with a missing score would get 55.1. I do this because exempting the grade is too generous. I also do not believe in zeros since students cannot recover from zeros.

My grading system is not perfect, but it is understandable by administrators, parents and students. I do not define students by their grades and they should never let themselves be defined by grades either. I really want students to succeed. I was in graduate school before I realized that instructors were actually on my side. I do not want students to wait that long to come to that realization.

Late Breaking News: grades are the devil. I was at the Honda service garage yesterday. As I was leaving, the service consultant told me I could be contacted with a customer service survey. He said that he would appreciate it if I could rate him as excellent on each point. He actually said, “any rating of Very Good is a D.” Seriously? No wonder parents freak out when their kids make their first B. According to Honda, B is the new D.

Jesus and Jello

I am about to begin my 10th year of teaching. I was thinking today about what that will look like. Each year a theme or something peculiar happens that helps define the year to make it memorable for students. The two best were the year of Jesus and the year of Jello. The year of Jesus came about because the kids just could not get the hang of or meaning of slope in my Math 8 classes. Seriously. I was so desperate, one day we did a whole series of questions to which each answer was “slope.” Some kids still didn’t get it. I told them it was like a children’s sermon. Whenever the pastor asks the kids a question and the kids don’t know the answer, the answer is always “Jesus” except here the answer is “slope.” This turned into whenever a student did not know the answer to a question they said “Jesus.” It became an immediate clue that I had to go back and reteach, so it was very useful, but a little awkward to explain to administration. Another year became the year of Jello. I tell the kids every year about the Vaughn Theory of Math and Jello. It goes like this: math concepts are like Jello. They both start out runny, without form. It takes time and chilling out for concepts to set up just like it takes Jello time and chilling to set up and take form. When we tackled a particularly difficult concept for kids, like domain and range or completing the square, it took a while for the concepts to set up, then they had them for life. For the kid who would start to stress out and wail, “I don’t get it” I would tell the student, it’s going to be ok, your Jello just hasn’t set up yet. Now of course, I tuned into that student and gradually removed the Jello mold. To show the students how much confidence I had in them I made Jello Jigglers as a surprise the day of their final. All their Jello was set up by then.

One year I sang all the time and I had math songs for everything. Songs are fun, but they don’t take student learning very far. Last year was the year of entry points. Finding a way into a problem and then finding another way in. This helped both my Math II kids as well as my standard Math 8 kids. It is especially rewarding when kids find a way I hadn’t thought of. I’m simply giddy when my Math 8 kids do that. Gosh. Last year doesn’t sound like much fun for students, but at least they learned to persevere and find ways into problems.

This year I am going to use student tablets more. I read about some cool Math 8 tasks with Desmos and I keep thinking of more as I cut the grass and clean out closets and other normal teacher summer tasks. This just might be the year of Desmos. It is one of the very few apps that work on our low budget tablets. I need to figure out how kids can save their work and practice that myself. I also want them to be able to send their work to my cloud. I’ve got a couple weeks to figure that out.

I have no idea what the kookie thing of the year will be. Those things just happen spontaneously. When it reveals itself, I’ll post about it. I don’t expect Jesus will make a comeback, no pun intended.

Oh, and it’s ok if nobody reads this. I’m just practicing my blogging. My goal is a minimum of once per quarter. But I’ve got to practice being brave.

This is not a goldfish!!!

I’m really doing this. After stalking math blogs for years, I decided to put on my big girl panties and start my own. I’m a bit nervous and sick to my stomach, but that means I respect my audience. I was going to do this last year, but my IT/personalized learning guru made fun of me when I asked him for a recommendation for a blog platform. He said blogs were like goldfish. They don’t live very long. I’m really mad at myself for listening to him. I knew better! I wasted a year.

I want to be a better teacher. I want and need to share with others if that is going to happen. I also want to be part of the synergistic community of math teachers that I have been mooching off of for years. I want to reflect and create and collaborate with others.  I am also organizationally challenged. This could be a hot mess. Wish me luck!

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