My Favorite Mistake Remix

Caveat: much of my work this year involves … first making sure that classrooms are safe and productive learning environments and then second helping classrooms that are mostly on the traditional spectrum become more awesome (aka student-thinking-centered).

One “tool” I’m thinking about today is this “favorite mistake” activity.  I first heard it as a Do Now review where the teacher quickly looks through student answers to the Do Now and then posts his/her “favorite mistake” for everyone to discuss.

In many of the classrooms I’m in, students are much more focused for the first 2/3 or so of class, and become less focused/productive near the end.  One idea I’m toying with is a remix of My Favorite Mistake …

With about 15 mins left in class, post one (high leverage) problem and two solutions.  Every time, there is EITHER one accurate/one mistake or two mistake.  Students think/write/decide in partners and then vote and discuss (this, tailored to the context and teacher, and more fleshed out).  Followed by some sort of exit ticket/reflection about the entire class.

I hope this idea will help give more focus/thinking/interest to the end of class.

So, I’m also not really a math teacher this year…

I’m taking a year off from teaching the high schoolers to work with the teachers.  I’m really excited to visit different schools, students, and contexts as I support Boston Teacher Residency Graduates.  For the past week, I’ve been working with people to get their classrooms up and running.  I’ve been giving the same advice a lot, so I thought I’d consolidate it.

1) Keep it simple.  Better to do fewer things more in depth/well than be scattered.  If you have shortened periods, don’t try to cram things in.  As my boss put it, students will remember the “how” more than the “what.”

2) Don’t forget the “how”!  Especially at the beginning of the year, it’s important to outline expectations for how things get done.  Make sure you know how you want everything done and can explain it concisely.

3) What’s the purpose?  Backwards plan even “Unit 0.”  Know exactly why you are doing each activity.  Tell students why and how what they’re doing connects to the course.

4) Be positive and enforce your expectations.  Do it.  From Minute 0.

Happy first day of school, BPS teachers!

This Work is Challenging

Some of the things I talked about doing last year came to fruition.  Many didn’t.  It was pretty disappointing for me.  I did more creative/thinking-focused/choice-incorporated/knowledge-building assignments.  Students begged for “math class” – to many students, a place where the teacher explains exactly what to do and how.  I tried to give purpose for my choices and show how rewarding this work could be.  Maybe (maybe) now in late February, students have (kind of) come on board.

I did more product-focused assignments.  Making sure that the product-making didn’t become rote, that the product required new and deeper thinking, communicating to students how that deeper thinking looks, what that deeper thinking is was truly challenging.

I gave students far more work time (and far less me-talking time).  Even with lots of rich tasks and choice, management is challenging.  45 minutes of work-time is a lot of time for a 9th grader.  Keeping students focused remains my personal hardest struggle.

Maybe I’ll too hard on myself?  But this is just to say, this work is challenging.  Planning (and using good research) to teach in a way I believe in did not just magically make everything click.  I am more happy, mostly, with what the students’ are learning and how much they are thinking, but it has not been, so far, everything I imagined.

Revision Day

Several math teachers I know, including Kogut, do successful revision days.  I tried a couple of times last year to mixed results.  Similarly at the beginning of this year.

This term, however, I think I may have gotten somewhere.  Here’s what (finally) went right.

1) This term, we had our first revision day after only 3 assessments. With only 3 assignments, it was attainable for students to revise all or almost all of their work so far.  Sweet!

1a) Since we do standards based grading in the way we do it, assignments show up under multiple standards on a progress report.  This makes the progress report harder to read and perhaps more intimidating (the 3 assignments each show up 3-5 times on the report).   As students fixed and then re-took an assessment, I showed them all the places they could check off that assignment.  Suddenly, the progress report was less overwhelming!

2) Retaking to demonstrate mastery.  Because I had multiple versions of each assessment, with students who were more behind and needed more help, a peer or I could assist them on (re)learning the material they struggled with and then trying another version all by themselves.  In some ways, I feel like this is a cop-out (are the students thinking? will they remember later?) but in other ways, this shows students that they can do tasks that they avoided or missed the first time ’round.  And for more skills-based tasks, I’m ok with this.

3) I got to focus on 1/2 the class.  Because I have student teachers, I got to focus on 1/2 the class while they worked with the other half.  I think this day could have been successful with just me, but it definitely helped.

4) Instant gratification — I gave out progress reports the next day and made a big deal about how much people who worked hard the day before improved.  Especially since there have only been 3 assignments, students got to see how much their work paid off.

Next step – Kogut made this awesome “re-evaluate me on ____ standards because ___” form. I’ve used it when students are revising more “thinking” assessments (instead of skills assessments where they just take another version), but incorporating this for all the time is my next step.

Also, sometimes i had to interpret my or my student teachers’ feedback for the students.  We should work on making our feedback clearer so less teacher help is required.

Big dreams, small victories

I hope this isn’t horrible to say, but I have found I most enjoy March-August as a teacher. At that point, I know the kiddos and they know me. We can be more relaxed and genuine as we move towards the end of the year. And I can dream big about next year. Seriously big, every year.

I documented much of those dreams here over the past 6 months. And now, at the beginning of the school year, a few of those things are coming into fruition (and many others aren’t).

Small victories, September 2013

– Seniors are problem solving. I’m doing very little; they are doing more than I am. I do occasionally help more than I should, but having students present holds them accountable (or at least makes apparent the times they haven’t fully understood).  Side note: the concepts students get stuck on are fascinating. Two seniors were estimating the amount of M&Ms in a family sized bag. They googled the weight of the bag and the weight of a single M&M and wanted to divide. But the bag weight was in pounds and the M&M weight in grams. They did not see the problem until they divided.

– We are having circle time on Mondays and I am using that time to teach students about various topics that I hope will help them become better students and people. So far, we’ve just talked about Growth Mindset, but this routine is working and I look forward to more topics. And students seem to mostly understand growth mindset and have come down (mostly) on the side of growth > fixed.

– Freshmen are also problem solving. We started a year-long project (students choose from many systems of equations problems and solve them in multiple ways). Students have chosen their own method to solve the first few problems. They analyzed a pattern without any direction from me (besides to find Figure 10 and then the generalization). I’m so. excited. to start the pattern unit for real and to see what they can do/figure out with all the linear (and nonlinear!) problems.

– This week, we are going to have the Algebra students grade themselves on the first unit and provide evidence and reasoning for their self-assessment. As a teacher who wants to foster students’ self-motivation and who probably cares less than she should about side-conversation during worktime and bathroom trips, I hope this kind of activity will help students become better scholars through reflection rather than force.

So. Baby steps in a hopefully good direction.

What Math is Happening?

I stumbled upon some blogs doing 180 Day of Math.

I’m not that ambitious.

But I think it’s fun to document some of the math that’s happening.

Week 1 – AMDM and Algebra 1

How many different colors do we need to color a map? Other get-to-know-you-awesomeness. And building tall towers. Follow the criteria for success!

Week 2 – Algebra 1

Preassessments, set-up materials, more teambuilding, analyze a pattern and start writing about math!

Week 2 – AMDM

Find the pattern for Triangle Numbers (presented visually). Then practice writing up a problem/solution. And presenting.

P.S. I’m really glad Dan Goldner and his Pre-Calc class exist because I’m modeling my Advanced Mathematical Decision Making class off of it. I think the seniors will like the independence.

It’s Starting …

I’m getting a little nervous. It seems like I’ve been planning actively for 6 months and subconsciously for at least 6 years to teach math like I actually want to. And it’s starting on Wednesday!

For my own reference and for simplicity, I’m committed this year to …

1) Awesome math tasks, for fun/coolness as well as for usefulness. Real class/group discussion where students share the math they do.

2) Using material from Developmental Designs to build intentional community in each class and to address students’ social-emotional needs.

3) Generally teaching/acting from my values. Not telling when answers are correct. Pushing students to share/work with each other. Respecting students as people above all else.

Here we go, school year 2013-14. I hope I can make you proud.