Complain Less, Learn More

We just finished perpendicular bisectors and I found an activity in my book. It involved a map, three fire stations, and a house. Students had to fold and cut and such to form the perpendicular bisectors and to decide which fire station was the closest to the house.

I had given them very detailed instructions (see here) but I was fully expecting to hear the complaining, whining, and annoying comments such as "I quit, I don't know what we're doing, I don't even know what you're talking about, What do we do now, I don't know what to do next".

I just prefaced the activity with a little speech about how I would not be responding to any of those comments. I told them if they needed help, I would be glad to help them but they could only ask me a specific question, no whining allowed.  

And...it worked. Students were cutting, drawing, folding, but most importantly, following directions. The classroom environment was much more peaceful and I realized yet another reason why that class drains me. The negative energy is just too exhausting. I should have made this rule from the very beginning. It's such an obvious thing to say but it's just another example of how I fail to communicate my expectations, and end up upset when they are not met.

I also modified a perpendicular activity from @crstn85. My plan was that after doing the first activity, they would know how to do the second activity with less instruction. We didn't get to it but I really like the idea of measuring and converting between centimeters and miles. Maybe I will use that one instead next year.

Baby steps.


Contingency Contract

On our midterm exam for our methods grad class, one of our questions asked us to design a contingency contract. You may have heard of these in college or in the business world. Basically, they are behavior contracts.

You list the requirements. Student agrees to the requirements they will do. You spell out the reward/privilege/grade/outcome. Discuss. Agree. Sign.

I'm pretty sure I experienced some of these during college. The instructor would list the assignments for the semester, how many points each one was worth, and then how many points needed to get an A, B, C, etc. Ironically, I don't remember any discussion...

At the time that I was designing mine, I couldn't figure out how to make it work for assignments. I guess it's easier in college when you meet less than daily and require bigger assignments. But there's no way I want to list all of the homework assignments, quizzes, and tests for an entire semester. So instead, I wrote mine based on how to earn daily participation points. I currently don't do this. Actually, I've never given participation points. But since classroom management is my downfall, this might be a good way to clearly spell out my expectations and not feel bad for enforcing the consequences.

I wasn't too familiar with the idea before this assignment so I thought I'd share my contigency contract with you. Maybe you don't need it but you could always use it as a template.

Choice Board

Earlier in the semester in our methods grad course, we had an assignment to create a choice board for our content area. We had recently discussed diversity and multiple intelligences and this assignment was a type of assessment over those topics.

A choice board is a visual display of optional products the students can complete in order for you to assess their learning.  The products that are displayed on the choice board represent a variety of multiple intelligences.  

There are two ways to design the board.  (1) All products assess the same standard / content, and students choose one to complete.  (2) Product options assess different standards / content, and students choose more than one to complete (i.e., one from each standard).

I chose the first option because it was the easiest.

Here were our instructions:

  • Create a Choice Board relating to content you teach in your class. 
  • Choice Boards must be visually appealing – easy to read, neat, larger than a piece of paper (poster board or display board would work well.
  • If assessment relates to one standard / content, you must have at least five product options; If multiple product options are displayed related to multiple standards / content, you must have at least three product options per standard.
  • Each product option relating to the same standard must address a different multiple intelligence. 
  • Any information students need to complete the products needs to be though through and included either on the Choice Board, or as a supplemental handout (which could be laid by the board).
  • You will bring the finished Choice Board to class and explain the standard(s) and choices with your classmates.
At the time of the assignment I had just finished teaching parallel lines and transversals. My first year of teaching I had found an assignment where students had to draw their own city and place specific locations (library, school, park, etc) at specific angle pairs (corresponding to, at alternate interiors, etc). I took that idea and branched out from there to create product descriptions for other multiple intelligences.

The high school teachers decided actual poster/display board was a little elementary for us so I decided to make a clickable PowerPoint.

Here are the seven slides in case you just want to see. Ok, because I want you to look.

Here is the link if you want to use it.

If you do use it, please come back and share what happened!


Lee Jenkins

We had a teacher's institute with Lee Jenkins, From L to J Consulting. It was really good and I don't even know how to blog about all of it yet so I'm just going to post some good quotes for now.

The best way to do more in less time is to build a team.

Keep digging until you find the root cause.

The number one requirement of leaders is to create more leaders.

Data requires trends, not one or two data points.

Management means meeting individual needs; leadership means meeting common needs of the individual's.

A poorly designed skeleton cannot hold anything.

Ask why at least five times until you find out why.

Students are held accountable for short term memory but we're held accountable for their long term memory.

In this country, we don't know the difference between grade inflation and success.

The job of leaders is to remove barriers.

Great leaders offer hope and help. Poor leaders offer hoops and hype.

If barriers aren't removed, people give up or move on.

Kids who don't understand math are not seeing the pattern. Without the pattern, they just try to memorize rules.

It is not the responsibility of educators to motivate students but to determine what is causing them to lose their motivation and stop such practices.

Fair is every kid meeting the same standard, but not always the same method.

Better systems equal better results.

Celebrate does not mean reward.

People need a point for there head and a picture for their heart.


Geometry Sort

I personally love sorting. There is just something about putting things where they belong. Neatly.

But it's also a great teaching tool. I have to give all credit to my instructional coach because I never would have thought of this on my own.

I'm supposed to be teaching a unit on triangles: isosceles triangle theorem, triangle sum, inequality, altitude, median, midsegment, and bisectors. I haven't taught all of them before so I didn't have much to go on. I searched all my usual places and couldn't find much either.

As luck would have it, I happened on this pdf and on page 4 and a lesson was born.

I copied the cards on hot pink card stock, cut them out, and put them in an envelope. Students worked together in pairs, one envelope per pair.

The only instruction I gave them was to sort them into piles. I was extremely unhelpful and would not answer any questions except to say "Do whatever you think." I gave them about three minutes, walking around to see and hear what they were thinking.

Then I asked them how many piles they had. They answered with 3, 4, or 5. I told them they should have exactly 5 piles. So they sifted through their piles and resorted.

Again, I'm offering no assistance.

Next I passed out their notes for the day. At the top there were 5 empty boxes with labels. I asked them to match their piles to the labels and place them in each box.

Again, not a word.

I then held up one card to the doc camera and asked what they labeled it. We went through each of the piles and from the feedback I was getting, it seemed that every group got them right.

We had good discussion about how they sorted, why they picked that label, what did the markings mean, how was each pile different, and so on. I had them move the piles and then draw the diagram into each box. Collect the envelopes, and continue on with our notes.

I love this because it was a lot more meaningful than me saying, "This is a median. Draw it." It always takes more time than you would expect but the students are so engaged. It's a low risk, non threatening way to get every student involved, prompt good discussions, and definitely kick up the higher order thinking. Anyone can sort. From there, you can take the activity anywhere you want to go.

Every time I do a sorting activity, I just smile so big inside because the kids think they are getting away with not doing math, without noticing that I'm the one getting away with not doing math.

I think this is a strategy I need to hit on more often because it helps me remember why I chose to teach math in the first place and lowers my frustration with the whole when will we ever use this issue.

Plus a little hot pink never hurt anybody.


Feedback Journal Week #2

I started class by asking the students to pretend they were the teacher and to give each journal example an A, B, C, D. When they agreed on an answer, I asked them to tell me what improvements were needed in order to get an A.

The examples were all written and made up by me but in every class they tried to pick which student the writing belonged to. Some students even admitted to writing them which was ironic and hilarious.

I showed them the medium one, then the terrible one, then the excellent one.

I was surprised at how many graded the excellent one a C for writing too much. Oh no, not a complete sentence! Or some said an A because the writing was pretty but too much to read. Wow. For the majority though, they graded them B, D, A. I asked them what pushed the B to an A and eventually got to 'restating the question in their answer'.

I made a list of qualities on the board as they talked and they named everything I wanted them to name.

Then I delivered the blow: "Now that I know you can point all of these things out and now that you know what an excellent journal response looks like, this is what I expect from you". There were a few groans but only one person saw where I was going before I got there. The trade off was that I would no longer make them write out the question as long as they restated the question in their answer.

Then they got their journals and first took the time to respond to my comments or questions from last week. I put up the new journal prompt and we talked about how their response should start.

I've read 20 out of 44 and so far every one has restated the question. The answers have still been very short, one to two sentences but we are making progress. I thought that everyone would love to tell me what they think but I guess when it's combined with such a chore as writing, the novelty wears off. I'm hoping that by commenting and being consistent that I will begin to draw them out.

One student asked me why don't I ask them questions to get to know them better. The look of vulnerability made me want to cry. I would love to do that but I don't know how to do that on an academic level and not have it lead into places I don't necessarily want to travel. We recently had an assembly with Erin Gruwell, the teacher of the Freedom Writers, and that really sparked my interest in the journals. Her message is to 'write what needs to be written' but I'm not ready to go there. Yet.

I have gotten some interesting responses to the journal prompt so far. The majority said they are responsible, the minority said both, and one person said it is the teacher's job to entertain and keep the students awake or 9 times out of 10 the student would not learn.

I'm satisfied with the progress we're making right now.

Still making my heart happy.

Along with my newly organized bookshelves of course.


Exit Slips

I mentioned before that I was going to try @approx_normal's index card idea for bell ringers and exit slip. And I have been trying but I don't know how successful I've been.

First of all, I waste paper. Before, I made full page bell ringers for every student. My new ones are index card size with four per page. But I keep forgetting that and printing 24 copies when I should only make 6. Plus, on Friday, some of the pages were missing the question or the diagram and some were perfectly fine. And I always cut them crooked and mess them up. So I just made a big mess. I need left-handed scissors!

Second, I can't find the right questions to ask for the exit slip. The bell ringer is easy- either review something old or intro something new. I've been doing a good job of stopping and giving students time to complete the exit slip although it's still hard to judge how much time is needed. Sometimes I give too much and sometimes not enough. I'm dealing with the issue of two types of students: 1. The students who comes right into class and attempts to do the bell ringer and the exit slip. 2. The student who does the bell ringer side only and turns it in.

Third, I don't know what the heck to do with them. So far I've asked them more than one question so I couldn't really group them for data purposes because they would get different parts right or wrong and not the whole thing. I tried to sort them by which smiley face they picked but even then, what do I do next? I just have no idea what to do with data. You'd think this would come naturally to a math teacher...

Here are some of the exit slip questions I tried and the answers I got.

Write everything you know about midsegments.
  • A lot!
  • More than can fit in this space
  • The middle line of a triangle.
  • The middle of a line.
  • Most of them were blank
Write a one sentence summary of today's lesson.
  • It was easy.
  • Ok I guess.
  • HARD!
  • It was fine.
Why is this method better?
  • It's quicker.
  • IDK.
  • Shorter.
Which form is the easiest to graph and why?
  • This one because it's the one I know how to do.
  • This one because I forgot the other ones.
  • Vertex form.
What was the ‘main idea’ of today’s lesson?
  • IDK
  • To find solutions.
  • How many solutions a system has.

So obviously we need to discuss writing complete sentences and answering the question. Of course I'm not taking a grade on this but I just can't them to grasp the importance of actually doing it. I explained that I am using these to tell me how many people understood the lesson so that I can go over it again or move on. But still, a lot of blanks. Almost everyone will do the bell ringer but not the exit slip and I don't know why. I don't pass out homework until after they turn it in so it's not that they are trying to get it done. I have to assume that they don't know the answer to the question and then where does that leave me?

I have not been happy with the results because I haven't felt like I got any actual results. 

This week I am trying:

Restate the goal of today's lesson in your own words. (We have an 'I can' statement at the beginning of their notes. Well, sometimes we do. Working on that.)

Did you understand today's lesson?    Smiley   Straight Face     Frown

What math did you learn today? (Thanks to @crstn85)

If this doesn't work, I'm not sure what else to try. I wanted the bell ringer to be a problem and the exit slip more of a reflection written in words but I may have to do a bit of both. 

I'm trying.

How Many Solutions?

Before Christmas Break I started solving systems of substitution. We had just finished finding solutions of systems and solving systems by graphing. I introduced substitution by doing index card substitution. The students dutifully followed along but I don't think they had any idea what was going on. I was absent the next two days and left them a worksheet with two examples worked out and instructions for the two students who seemed to understand to help everyone. I came back and it was our School Spirit Assembly. The next week we studied and took finals. Fast forward to this week, starting back to school. Time to pick up where we left off.

I started on Monday with what I thought was a really great lesson. I made a graphic organizer type thing with arrows and each box had instructions. I did this because in the past, I realized my work on the board was so messy and scattered that theirs probably looked the same. They were all over the place. I couldn't even figure out what the common errors were because so many people were doing weird things. I was frustrated because they were so needy- expecting me to spoon feed them every little direction. They would just sit there, staring into the distance. When I asked what there question was, it was "I don't know where to start." It was hard for me to not be sarcastic when pointing out, "How about step 1?" But let's chalk that up to first day back.

Second day. We go over the homework and a number of students decided to not even try. So frustrating. I tried to do a 'speed dating' activity so that they could practice solving. By the time we did the warm up and went over their homework, they didn't even get their own problem done that they were supposed to be the expert on. And I'm not kidding. Three out of ten students got their problem finished so they just traded cards with each other and worked the new problem.

Day three. Starting to feel nervous at the lack of understanding. We move on, kind of, to finding how many solutions a system has. I love this lesson. I did it last year and my student's hearing impaired teacher complimented me on how well I break things down and attach it to a visual. I made some minor tweaks and did it again this year. I like to introduce how to solve systems first so that it's easier to understand why we are finding solutions and why there can be more than one.

Success. I really felt like my students were catching on. The next day almost everyone did their homework and said it was either easy or medium. No one said it was hard! I had them get up and check their answers and everyone did well. So proud!

I don't know if the students just got better as the week went on or if my little pep talk about putting forth effort inspired them or if this lesson just really ties it together in their minds, but I ended the week on a positive note and feeling positive about their understanding. This week it's on to word problems and elimination.


Feedback Journal Week #1

I started class with this slide:

It was very interesting to just see how many could follow directions.

No one really batted an eye about doing this, just about having to write out the question. I realized that will be a great incentive to restating the question in their first sentence. If I can train them to do that, then they won't have to write out the question.

One student did say, "Oh man, she's taking us back to English!" (Same kid who didn't understand our unit on logic either)

I've split it up so that I read 9 tonight, 10 tomorrow, 12 Wednesday, and 12 Thursday.

So far I've just written a sentence or two in response, but these questions are pretty straightforward. I then made an empty box where I would like them to answer.

I think what I am most excited about is planning the future questions to come. I'd like to lead them to the thought that their hard work and effort make a bigger difference on their grade than natural ability.

These are the questions I'm thinking of for the coming weeks:
  • Who is responsible for making sure you learn: you or the teacher?
  • Should homework be required? Why or why not?
  • If homework was not graded in any class, would you still do it? Why or why not?
  • How do you know when you're learned something really well?
I'm hoping this will lead to, if you are responsible for your learning and homework matters, shouldn't you do it no matter what?

That's as far as I've really thought it out.

I love learning about learning and I would really like to just have these deep conversations about teaching and learning with them. This is about the closest I think I can get. For now. I'm hoping to slowly increase the amount of writing in our notes and homework as well to lead them to the thought that writing improves their thinking and ability to do math.

I did have some students who just answered with a yes or no. Most of them wrote sentences but I've only seen one so far who has restated the question. I plan to model a good, decent, and bad example next week and have them brainstorm what makes a good answer.

I'm a bit worried that some students just won't do it. But I'm hoping that they will think of it like talking about themselves, and everybody loves doing that. If they continue to write one word answers or not respond at all, I hope to guilt trip them by writing comments like "I expect more from you" or "I respect your opinion enough to ask for it, could you please respect me enough to answer?" I don't think I want to put a grade on this so I hope that I don't end up in that position. Should I give a participation/homework grade?

Am I headed in the right direction?

I hope so...it's such a 'neat' idea.


New Year Rezzies

What I Would Like To Happen:
  1. Get skinnier
  2. Get prettier
  3. Get married
  4. Get rich
  5. Get smarter
What Will Happen:
  1. I will turn 26 (I prefer even numbers)
  2. I will end my third year teaching and start my fourth 
  3. I will pay off my third and final credit card
  4. I will meet Erin Gruwell
  5. I will be halfway through grad school

    What Might Happen:
    1. I might blog once a week instead of going blog crazy in December 2012.
    2. I might remember that no one is a finished product and have more patience.
    3. I might plan for success instead of planning to try every new idea ever.
    4. I might write more positive letters home to parents.
    5. I might buy a house.