Mathematics Vision Project is the curriculum I am using and we began the last Module for Math 2 this week. The first lesson set the stage for some meaningful LIVE online conversation with learners. The lesson is titled “TB or Not TB” and uses, as you might guess, tuberculosis testing results for the basis of studying the meaning of conditional probabilities. I launched the lesson and students naturally  substituted Covid19 testing for TB as we thought about the context. We had the discussion of what it means to have a false positive or a false negative. We talked about which was more dangerous. Students were more invested because they could relate to the lesson’s context. They indeed met the goal of developing an understanding of the situation presented.

So, you may be wondering how exactly I pull-off live discussions in the middle of May, 2020 with 40-some 8th graders. Well here is some of what I have finally landed on after many failed experiments and inefficiencies.

• We meet LIVE two days a week, for those learners who are able to. I usually get 35 to 45 participants from a course of 52 students. That’s 2 brink and mortar style classes, but I run a combined virtual session.
• We review the lesson assigned the prior day and preview the next lesson.
• Students ask clarifying questions, offer options and make conjectures on open mic or in the chat window.
• For online LIVE lessons, I take a district created PowerPoint and dump it down to a pdf. (Pardon my lack of technical jargon. I am a technosaurous trying to survive in the 21st century.) I import that pdf and share it with my class by way of a shared screen through Big Blue Button  which we access through Conferences in Canvas. I, as well as students, can write in real-time on the “slides”. The writing stays with the slides when I forward them which is handy if we need to revisit. (Note to self – go back after class and record those screens of the lesson that are marked up for students who were not there.)
• I make clear the purpose/goal of each lesson and make certain through discussions that we hit the main points of the lesson. Students have their workbooks that mimic the slides so we are all literally on the same page. Students take notes and write down questions to ponder. I have them circle words and we go through new notations, for example, in this lesson, conditional probability…the probability that A occurs given B has already happened: P(A|B). This detail of instruction is NOT in the workbook because the workbook is NOT a textbook. A teacher is needed to execute this curriculum. Students also ask questions of me and of one another.
• After the LIVE session, I post a scan of my completed lesson workbook pages to Canvas. To do this, I use a set of RocketBook Beacons that I attached to a small whiteboard. I point my phone at them and they shoot themselves to where ever I desire, usually my school email, but I am experimenting with other options. (I started by using my RocketBook pages and balancing my workbook while displaying the medallion at the bottom of the page, but Beacons are faster and create clearer images for me. I am not using them as they were designed, but it works for me.

Here is the result:   8-1-1.
• Another thing I use to work with my learners online is a pdf of chosen problems from Problem Attic. I format and download a set of questions I harvest and choose to display one question per page, extra large, simple font to a pdf. If we want to quiz ourselves, I import that pdf and share the screen as I did with the lesson pages. We use the polling options available through Big Blue Button if I choose multiple choice questions. I can also have students type answers into the chat window, but wait to press enter until I count down so they do not steal the opportunity for others to learn. We also write on the shared screen and talk about the questions. I then post this set of practice problems along with an answer key to Canvas after the LIVE session for all to access.
• We finish in an hour. So that’s one hour twice a week LIVE. Since April 12th : we finished one module, including quizzes and a test, that we started before March 13 – the day the world changed; we completed an entirely new module and quizzed twice and tested on it; now we are into the final module which we will finish including testing by June 5th. It cis everything that I have motivated learners and for that I am grateful. I have measured results. Students who attend and participate in the LIVE sessions perform better on assessments.

So, this may look and even feel successful at times. I assure you, it is far from optimal. I miss the smells and the noises and the looks of elation as well as confusion. I miss sitting close to kids and watching them think through concepts. I miss being able to see individual student work so I can sequence it for sharing with the class. I miss seeing my students’ smiles when I say, “White Boards—GO!” as they run to their favorite #VNPS in the room. I do love that my kids are driven learners. They have worked and they have been exposed and the large majority of them have really tried.

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!!!

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.

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.

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!