Real SBG

Can sbg be sbg without choice?

Is the power in sbg the fact that students are self-motivated to practice and re-test?

What would happen if I turned choice into a requirement?

Say, anytime you score less than an 80%, you a required to do a practice sheet and retest.

Is that not real sbg?

Is it motivating the students to make sure that they get an 80% the first time so they don't have to do more work?

Is it handicapping them because they know if they do bad, they have a freebie?

I self-diagnosed my biggest sbg  failure as not getting students to come in and retest. This is an option I thought of to try next year. Especially if I introduce it as a brand new system created specifically for their class in order to make sure that they cannot fail.

Forget Common Core, I'm going back to my ACT College Readiness Skills. If I can have a practice sheet tied to each of those skills, then as soon as someone scores less than 80%, BAM, I whip my practice sheet back and forth. And if I make two versions of every quiz ahead of time, then BAM, they satisfactorily complete the practice,  and I hand out the new quiz. Is this how it is supposed to work people?

I am in the brainstorming process of this so go ahead...hit me with your best shot.

Fire awaaaaaayyyyyy.


Concept Attainment: y = mx + b

I feel like I am way behind in my 'curriculum' and snow days aren't helping. I'm in the middle of slope/linear equation unit and for some reason this unit always sucks me in and I spend waaaaay too much time on it. We haven't even started systems of equations/inequalities, exponent rules, factoring, polynomials, etc etc. And it's almost February! Arghh. But this is not a whining post.

We had been working with graphing patterns and tables and basically slope-intercept form before I actually gave them y = mx + b. And I have to say, they are beasts at graphing y= mx + b and they are even pretty good at putting equations into slope-intercept form! And they can count the slope of a line from a graph! Some students are already able to write the equation of the line from a graph without me even telling them to do it. These are GREAT improvements from last year, so that's why I'm taking a minute to brag.

My disclaimer to posting this lesson is that we had been working with graphing from a table and from a pattern and such FOREVER before I introduced y = mx + b. Now all that to say...this lesson went really well.

I again started with a slide of examples on the left and nonexamples on the right.

As I clicked through each pair, students had to compare and contrast what made one equation right and the other wrong. As a side note, sometime it takes three or four examples before the students catch on to what we're doing here. I give them extra time at the end to go back and write what they think from earlier pairs. Like any strategy, the more they use it, the more their brain gets used to comparing.

Once we finished that, we wrote down the four properties of what slope-intercept form looks like.
  1. No exponents
  2. y has to be alone
  3. x can't be a denominator
  4. y can't be negative
Some of the equation pairs duplicated or combined those properties and the fourth is basically a specific case of the second, but it made sense in their heads. Now you can bombard them with various equations and they can easily weed out which ones are not in slope-intercept form.

After we discuss that as a class, I gave them this handout with a handy dandy box to fill in what they just 'discovered'. From there I introduced y = mx + b.

I really like the next table where students had to use the m and b to form their own equations because it's not something we usually think about. I switched up the order and threw fractions in to mess with them with the intention of training them to look carefully at what m and b actually are.

The next step has them to graph from the equation which isn't necessarily needed but I attribute a lot of my students success with graphing to the fact that I kept hitting them with it in their notes or homework or warm-up for a few days in a row.

The next two questions may not be posed in the best way ever, but I wanted them to notice that these were not in slope-intercept form so we could practice putting them in slope intercept form.

The homework attached at the end is a good mixture of problems but I don't know that the students can complete them all on their own. Maybe next time I will use those equations in the table and practice graphing them there.

Anyway, what I really wanted to know is, what is a good way to introduce point-slope form? I don't want to just give them an equation and tell them to memorize it. I want it to make sense. I could do concept attainment but I felt like it was successful because the students were already familiar with seeing equations in this form.

I thought about an investigation on finding parallel and perpendicular lines first. Then I could say, here is a point and with slope parallel to ____________, how could we write an equation?

But that's still kind of a far jump.

And @druinok kindly reminded me that point-slope form is not merely for solving for y = mx + b so I don't want to fly right past it either.

How do you teach point-slope form? How can students discover it on their own?

Will the linear equation unit EVER end?


How I Teach New Concepts: A Prequel

Thanks to some comments on my post about how I like to teach, I decided to expound.

My new love is concept attainment.

I'll use my parallelogram unit as an example since I referenced it in the post above.

I started out with a Powerpoint slide in two columns.

The left column contains examples, the right column contains non-examples. As I clicked through, a shape appeared in each column. Students had to compare/contrast the two figures and decide what the example had that the non-example did not. After each pair, I instructed the students to modify or add to their guess so that it would apply to every pair.

By the end, they should have around 4 different properties of parallelograms without me ever saying a word. Well, maybe some leading questions. But we never mention the word parallelogram.

Then using rulers and protractors, we dove in to this investigation. Students measured pieces of parallelograms to find properties of a parallelogram, some of which are the same as what they deduced from the Powerpoint slides.

By the end of the period, students collaborated in teams to write a pretty well all-encompassing definition of a parallelogram. The 'actual learning' is that they've brainstormed, compared/contrasted, modified, and deduced these things all on their own. They've discovered the hidden secrets of the parallelogram! And they're much more likely to remember what they've found on their own as opposed to what they read or heard me say.

For those of you that are curious, the next day we did a parallelogram sort. Students measured pieces of other quadrilaterals to decide what properties apply to all, some, or none. Once they cut out and sorted the properties into four piles, they converted that information into this nifty checklist.

Finally from there, I threw the handout of problems referenced in my post. Using only the properties they discovered, they began to solve problems. We had not solved any problems at all. So in my mind, this was a "problem of a type learners had never seen, and related to a concept that had never been taught". I guess what I should have mentioned is that we did lay a foundation of properties before throwing those problems to students. But, in no teaching strategy that I know of, do we ever toss brand new information out to students without a lifeline.

We want to provide opportunities that are challenging but doable.Say it with me: scaffolding. I believe this strategy achieved that for me. I made sure my students could swim and and had their life preserver, then I threw them overboard.

And they're swimming.

And they just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we dooooooooooooo? We swim, swim.

Ah-hem. Pardon me.

I have some life preservers to fetch.

Conscious Classroom Management

Excerpts from  Conscious Classroom Management by Rick Smith

Effective classroom management is essentially invisible.

When we effectively teach behavior to our students, we enhance their ability to mature.

When students test us, they want us to pass the test.

Students don't have the self-esteem to stand up to 'Ricky'. That's my job.

By reflecting, we naturally speed up the growth process that comes from experience.

Those who gives us help blossom even more than we do.

Ultimately, teachers who are good to themselves deliver the best teaching.

If students sense that their teacher feels good, they will behave better and will perform better academically.

What gives light must endure burning. -Viktor Frankl

Caring does not equal explaining.

A teacher is one who makes herself progressively unnecessary. -Thomas Carruthers

Every class period try consciously to teach at least two procedures- regardless of what the lesson is.

Use visual rubrics for procedures.

Improved organization will decrease misbehavior.

Effective teaching involves a constant assessment "feedback loop" between teachers and students, and a responsiveness of the teacher to what the students need.

Student (b)logbook of daily activities and assignments for absent students turns into a lesson plan guide for teachers.

Delay classwork that's based on homework.

Plan at least three activities per lesson, at least one where the teacher is off-stage and employ shifts in focus and energy at least every ten to twelve minutes.

The brain loves to talk!

Don't call on a student until at least half of the class's hands are raised. Call on every student without acknowledging correctness or incorrectness but by saying"thank you".

As much as possible, build in successes for students. As students gain more confidence, we can make the steps more challenging.

Grades are for parents and college. Feedback is for student learning.

We grow in leaps, sputters, and spurts, which inevitably generates feelings of frustration. If our students push away the frustration, gory don't stick around long enough to receive the wisdom that follows.

Consequences are there to provide students with the guidance they are hungering for.

All choices bear fruit, whether sweet or bitter.

When we assume the best about our students, we see consequences as a way to accelerate their growth.

Frame consequences around student choices.

When we treat students with dignity they are more likely to respond in dignified ways.

Concrete consequences need to be implemented on a consistent basis.

We should give any major policy shift at least two weeks before deciding whether it is working. Remember, it takes us time to adjust- and our students even more time.

Make a list of changes in priority order. Implement number one in your favorite class. Once it works, introduce to other classes. Once change is solid, start with number two.

Teachers learn just like students learn- one step at a time.

The more natural the incentive, the more the students are likely to internalize their motivation.

Rewards are used as extrinsic motivation whereas gifts are an intrinsic expression if appreciation.

Listening is powerful.

If students keep calling out for attention, let's find ways to give it to them that assist the class, rather than disrupt it.

As we assume that students want to learn, let's also assume that sometimes they just need to move.

Five Keys for Permanent Change :
1. Want to change
2. Know how to change
3. Have opportunities to practice changing
4. Be conscious of their choices as their making them
5. Receive ongoing support from the teacher

A recipe for learning: a willingness to take risks, to be lost, to be frustrated, and to have fun.

All human beings have the capacity for greatness.

Classroom Management Blues

My biggest flaw as a teacher is consistency in my classroom management. While I have improved greatly since last year, I attribute that more to my students than to my abilities. Last year I was very consistent about no put downs. For every put down, students have to say two nice things. I have super good hearing (unlike my eyesight) and so I usually catch every comment, murmur, or whisper. The two nice things are usually kinda dumb but I'm so consistent in making them do it that it really has helped them to catch themselves before they thoughtlessly call someone stupid, dumb, or retarded.

So, in addition to that, this year I've been working on consistently enforcing the no purse/bag rule, and the no bathroom rule. While these are both school policies, and not my own choice of classroom rules, I am proud of myself for sticking to them. I love how easy it is to look at the student and say, "You know the rule." They know the rule and the consequence and they choose accordingly. Makes classroom management easy peasy lemon squeezy.

The problem, or 'issue' I should call it, is that I don't enforce my own personal rules and consequences for the classroom. Honestly, a lot of stuff just doesn't bother me. I don't even notice if students get up to throw something away or sharpen their pencil while I'm talking. Especially since I've moved to so much group work, I'm rarely lecturing away for them to even be able to interrupt me. I don't care if they chew gum or eat in my room. I don't expect them to raise their hand and wait to be called on. For the most part, I don't care if they sit in another seat. Again, group work has pretty much eliminated that issue because I have chairs sectioned into teams of 4 and so everyone stays with their teams.

All this to say, I don't feel that there is a problem, but that was the only thing I was marked low on during my formal evaluation. I think I need to take a look through a different perspective and brainstorm how I could make my classroom a better learning environment for all. While certain things may not necessarily bother me, there is always a way to make things better. And I have had students complain at different times about the noise level and how other students are complaining instead of working. Sometimes my classroom can be a chaotic place.

One idea I read about over the weekend ( from Conscious Classroom Management by Rick  Smith) is when asking for answers, to not call on any student to answer until at least half of the hands in the classroom are raised. Then call on each one of them without acknowledging correctness or incorrectness but by saying 'thank you' to each student. I like this idea, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I've been using a timer to randomly select students to explain to the class so again, hand raising isn't really an issue.

I'm working on implementing roles for each team member to gain even more accountability but I need help. If you have any links to blogs, books, or articles on cooperative learning roles, could you please post them in the comments?

One of my classes is spent entirely online using ALEKS, an online math curriculum. A lot of my students hate it and spend time complaining and freezing up their computers so that they don't have to participate.  I sent the students  a message explaining that I would now be grading them on the time spent each day actively working (ALEKS provides that in a simple report for me.) I can't fairly grade them on how fast they are mastering material so this was the only thing I could think of. There are 20 points possible per week, 4 per day. Here is the scale:

  • 1-10 minutes- 1 point
  • 11-20 minutes- 2 points
  • 21-30 minutes- 3 points
  • 31-40 minutes- 4 points

We have 45 minute class periods so I think that is fair. If students work more than 40 minutes, they get 5 points for the day.

This has helped some because now the complainers are being held accountable and the diligent workers don't feel like they are working for nothing. I'm not sure how much student learning is really going on, but that's another post...

My previous post was about procedures and so I guess this one is asking for suggestions of more procedures. What my administrators mentioned to me, is that even though all students were participating within their groups, were they actively participating and am I aware of the quieter, more unnoticeable students level of understanding? I think this can be handled by assigning roles to each team member and eventually moving to team members assessing each other.

My real downfall is language in the classroom. I abhor cussing but I pretty much let it slide. I can't figure out why I am this way. I hate it. I never use it. But when I hear students say it, I give the evil eye and say "Language!" in my stern grown-up voice. And they apologize and we resume our normally scheduled programming. Also, even though I don't allow put downs, there are just a lot of negative vibes. I have a couple students who are rather outspoken. Let's call them bullies, just for analogy's sake. They are experts at subtle and not so subtle comments that are rude or cocky or degrading to others. I don't know how to deal with it really. How do I write someone up for saying something that implies someone else is stupid but without saying anyone's name or that they're stupid? Ugh, I wish I had an example. Or people that are just very sarcastic, or interrupt class to say something totally irrelevant, or just snap out on 'the air', etc. I feel weird about making up an new consequence or something because what I'm doing is basically targeting 4-5 people and trying to punish them. Does that make sense? What I really need to do is deal with these specific students but I don't really know how to do that. Also, I have phone phobia. Is it okay to send a letter home to parents instead of calling them? In my opinion, it is safer because nothing can be misconstrued and keeping copies can help cover my butt if anything ever comes up. Then students, parents, teacher, administrators are all on the same page. But then again, I am biased against phones...And I have to address the students before the parents right? I'm being a coward.

During some PD last year, a guy told us about just stopping the class and having a discussion with them about a behavior that you want to change. Make a t-chart of good and bad examples, what it should look like and what it shouldn't. Bring students attention to the problem and a variety of solutions. And so forth. But just like the above paragraph, I have a hard time explaining what the problem is. They have to have a concrete understanding of what is upsetting me before they can quit doing it. Right?

This is the biggest setback and interruption to student's learning environment that I can think of.

How can I bring peace?


New Year Procedures

I didn't really make any new year's resolutions this year but over the break, I did find a couple new procedures that I implemented at the beginning of our second semester.

I borrowed this idea from Dan Greene at The Exponential Curve. He called it the Readiness Checker. Students get a stamp/sticker for each day that they are prepared at the beginning of class. After 9 stamps, the readiness checker magically turns into a no homework pass. I made my own Magical Homework Pass that has 4 on a page. When students get all their stamps, they cut the grid off, write their name on it, and staple it to the homework that they don't want to do. At the bottom of each grid shows a picture of what I want them to have: a pencil, their homework or current packet, a calculator, and seated at their desk. If I want them to have anything else (i.e. ruler, marker, whiteboard, etc) I throw up a PowerPoint slide that tells them what to get. I mainly did this as a way to get students to bring a pencil to class because I decided to quit giving mine out to the same students day after day. It is also a nice way to get things started. I've been using it for two weeks now and it is a far from flawless process but all the students have been willing to do it and enjoy the anticipation of that sweet no homework pass. And they DO NOT let me forget or skip them!

The next idea came from the book Conscious Classroom Management by Rick  Smith. It is a homework tracker chart that is a visual of who is doing their homework. (I also downloaded the font A Bite which looks much cooler than what you will download. Sorry.) This is mainly beneficial for when parents or administrators come in. I have my own chart that I use to check the students homework for points. Then I transfer that to the homework tracker by writing a C for Complete, an I for Incomplete, and a 0 if they turned in nothing. I admit I am behind on updating the tracker chart and so far I would estimate this has had zero effect on the students. But I am thinking that by the time March P/T conferences comes around, it will be nice to refer to. Do you think it is embarrassing for students to be able to see other students' business? Or is it motivating? I made my own charts because I didn't want to buy those huge pre-made posters that are seen in elementary.

This is the chart I mentioned above that I use to check homework for points. Someone sent me a template similar to this before I started my first year teaching (sorry to the nice lady whom I can't remember!) and I've tweaked it to fit me, like using my favorite colors. I have students in alphabetical order by last name and the number in parentheses is the number of students in the class for that period. I have a points possible row up top so I remember what the homework is out of. For days that we don't have homework, I write none so that I know I didn't just forget to check. I only check homework for completion so while I am circulating the room for stamp fest, I carry my clipboard and write how many problems the student did out of the total possible. Then when I am done checking, I show the answers to the homework and work the ones students have questions on. It also updates the date on it's own. Pretty nifty Excel formula I dare say.

For those of you who have been keeping up with me along the way, maybe you'll remember that I am not a big fan of homework. And now I'm creating homework charts left and right. What happened? I tried a unit from the CPM curriculum and found that each lesson had homework from previous lessons that were basically review problems. Kind of like Saxon I suppose. The last couple weeks before break, I assigned these problems as homework to students. I didn't put any grades in the grade book but I went around with my clipboard just the same, checking for completion. The students didn't rebel against me because the homework was (hopefully) previously mastered material. If not mastered, at least familiar. At the beginning of this semester, I told them that was practice for a new procedure. Homework is now worth 10% of their grade (school caps the percentage at 10%) and thus the enticement of the magical homework pass. I've now went back to designing my own lessons and trying to create homework problems that are similar to what we do in class so that students feel like homework is a continuation of practicing what we did in class as opposed to alien territory. I don't know if this is correct or whatever but now I know my students are practicing or at least thinking about math a bit more than they were. The amount of problems I've given range between 2 and 8. Mostly hovering around 4. If I were estimating percentages (since I left my papers at school and can't accurately calculate), I'd say I've had about 80% of students turning in their homework every time. Pretty good for the first two weeks.

And the last thing I have to add about homework: I feel like most of our class time is devoted to students working in teams to figure things out, learn new concepts, and make connections. Although I always try to incorporate time for independent practice, I feel okay about giving homework because I feel like it is an extension of that. If they spend time together 'making discoveries', it seems logical that they can independently practice what they now know to be true.

And now for the last thing I have to add about anything: I wanted to share my lesson plan template. We, as a school, have been shifting to using the 5 step  lesson plan:  Clear learning target (aligned as always), Activating Prior Knowledge, New Learning, Practice (both guided and independent), and Summary (for retention). Being the fan that I am of OCD, tables, and all things turquoise, I created my own template.

Happy New Semester!


My Favorite Way To Teach

Break your students up into teams of 4. (It's recommended that you have one high ability, two medium, and one low)

Give each group a piece of construction paper: red, blue, yellow, or green. Have one student tape it to the edge of the desk.

Have each student within the teams pick a color: red, blue, yellow, or green.

Give students a handout of problems.

Pick a problem, not #1, to start with. That way students can't jump ahead because they never know what problem you will call out next. (Crafty, I know.) Or else they will jump ahead and do the entire worksheet. Ah, can't stop the overachiever. Give students one minute, no talking, to attempt the problem on their own.

Then, tell them to talk it over with group. Get an answer and an explanation. Circulate the room and make sure each person in each group can explain how to solve the problem.

Now...bring in the big guns:

Click go. The timer randomly chooses a color aka the team. Click go again. The timer randomly chooses a color aka the team member. The team member now stands, addresses the class, and explains how to get the correct answer.

The end.

  1. Giving students one minute to start on their own gives their brains time to warm up and start thinking. 
  2. You already know the benefits of team work. 
  3. Giving each team member a color and then randomly choosing who explains is the best part. It's not a personal attack, it's random. It's not focusing on Johnny or Suzie but on the blue team member. They have a team to rely on help and explanation, so they aren't left hanging.
  4. Accountability exists. No one knows when they will be randomly chosen to 'teach' the class and (almost) no one wants to risk looking stupid in front of their friends. So a little intrinsic motivation to learn.
  5. Students teach other. They come up with better ways to explain, they come up with more than one way to explain, and they are just more willing to hear each other. 
  6. They feel like they are doing less work because they are in groups and have some freedom to talk. Except they are doing more work, and in my case, harder work.
  7. Time goes by faster. For them and you.
  8. Your job becomes checker and correcter vs. lecturer.
  9. They are discussing math. They are participating, they are asking questions, they are making connections. Instead of you giving them the bridge to walk on, they are building it piece by piece. (I made that up myself)
  10. It is MUCH easier to plan. And impressive to your superiors.


  1. Your chairs might get out of order. I mean, for those of you who may be anal about that sort of thing...


SBG #Fail

Today I gave up on SBG.