Monthly Archives: August 2013

The first week (I mean 3 weeks) of school

It amazes me how teachers can blog regularly.  They have way more organization and discipline than I do.  I’m seriously impressed.  We have been in school 3 weeks and my last blog was from during our Pre-Service training.  Whoops.

I really loved how we started school this year.  Our admin gathered some students to ask “How Might We Improve the First Day of School?”  What the students put together was great! They wanted breakfast together, to go to all classes (we have a rotating schedule), and to play icebreakers in class.  That was perfect for me because I was definitely not doing the syllabus the first day and was planning on get to know you stuff.  Pretty much everything below is from others, but I don’t remember who! If anyone actually reads this blog and knows where it came from, let me know and I’ll give credit!

In Algebra 1, the students lined up by birthday and then had to answer math questions to pick their seats.  This got them talking to each other right away, which was good because we had several freshman who didn’t come from our middle school and were new.  Then, they had to do some simple math and think quickly on their feet.

In both Geometry Honors & Algebra II Honors, the students were given a notecard with a math exercise on it.  Each desk had a sticky note on it with a solution to an exercise. They had to solve the exercise and then find the desk that matched their solution.  That would be their seat for our first Unit.  This went great too!

Throughout the first week, students took an online Get To Know You questionnaire (including top 3 favorite songs for a class playlist), the ATMI (Attitude Towards Mathematics Inventory), took a pre-test (and will take a post-test at the end of the year to measure growth), played icebreaker games, filled out Dan Meyer’s Who I Am sheet, and added their ideas on sticky notes to 6 posters:  We are a Team, We respect each other, We celebrate other’s successes, We learn from our mistakes, What I want in a teacher, and a passage from John on loving one another.

We spent a lot of time talking about task and maintenance and we even had a little maintenance station in class (it needs more candy right now!).  To emphasize #failup, they worked in their groups (my desks are in groups of 4) on large whiteboards to make exactly one mistake when completing a math exercise.  Then the other students tried to analyze and find mistakes.  We practiced asking “Why” questions that didn’t give away the answer. That was tons of fun.  Some groups made more than one mistake on accident – oops!  Some people thought correct work was a mistake – oops! But it was all good.  And we learned that failure isn’t the end, we will all fail at times, and we can analyze our failures and the failure of others to not repeat it in the future.

Eventually we got to the syllabus, grading info, and content that is in my Learning Outcomes.  (BTW, I “flipped” the syllabus & grading info.  Students read it at home on a Google Doc and posted comments and questions on the docs for us to discuss in class.) I feel like this has been my best beginning of the school year ever.  I’m so glad we spent that week focusing on the soft skills, building trust, and getting to know each other.

We are now almost 3 weeks in – I love my job! I love my students! I love my colleagues! And I love my school!

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SBG for 2013-2014

As I mentioned in an earlier post, SBG in my classroom continues to evolve. I’ve been working on this year’s iteration and think I have it completed.  My main changes:

  • Students are required to reassess on any skill that is lower than a 70 before they are allowed to take the unit test.
  • I will be checking to make sure students have done additional learning before taking a reassessment – this avoids wasting their and my time.
  • I associated Bloom’s Levels (original) to the rubric.

Here is my new letter to parents and rubric.  Would love any feedback.

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Teaching Methods & How Students Learn – my educational views

Edit 8/29/13:  This post was originally titled about my reflections from the NCTM Interactive Institute in DC earlier this month.  However, the post ended up not reflecting on the actual sessions at all, but became my treatise on how I view education.  Therefore, I changed the name of the post.  The content below is the same.

This was my second NCTM event, my first being the national convention back in April.  I must say, the one thing that made this better is not arriving in a snow storm! However, I missed Desmos, Mathalicious, & math trivia.  This blog post will start with my reflections on the theme of the conference and then I will give highlights of the sessions I attended.

As I left the conference yesterday, I had lots of thoughts swirling about.  Cathy Seeley closed with a recap of the 2.5 days plus some added commentary.  As I sat there, I wondered if others felt as inadequate, and maybe even confused, as I did.

The focus of the Institute was the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practices.  We spent a lot of time on rich tasks.  Excellent tasks, some that would be too far over the head of my students, but excellent tasks nonetheless.  Here is my struggle.  Are they saying that every single thing we teach should be done through a rich task?  I know that we “cover” too much in one year in American mathematics. I know that deeper is better than broader.  I also know if I teach everything through tasks, we won’t even get close to what needs to be accomplished in a year.  Things I’m held accountable for.  I should also add that I tend to be a cognitivist in my educational thinking more than a behaviorist or constructivist.  I believe all 3 are needed in education, but those are my leanings.

The other struggle I’m having relates to various analyses of research that I’ve read (or am in the process of reading):

Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching by Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark  (I’ll call it KSC below)

Visible Learning, a Synthesis of over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Research by John Hattie

Visible Learning for Teachers by John Hattie

For example, my reading of the analysis by KSC leads me to believe that below-level and on-level students benefit most from direct instruction before discovery activities.  In addition, that really only the honors/AP type students would benefit from discovery before direct instruction, and it appears only minimally.  I don’t think anyone would argue we about providing rich tasks for our students.  It seems to me that the discussion is WHERE in the sequencing they should occur and should they be the ONLY types of things we ask our students to do.  From KSC, these rich tasks should come after some direct instruction, not before, and definitely not the only type of instruction.

In addition, both works by Hattie promote the use of direct instruction.  If you don’t have these books and you are a teacher or administrator, you need them. period. Hattie measured effect size on learning of various education related items – contributions from student, home, school, teacher, curricula, and teaching approaches.  He says that most anything you do to increase learning will work to some degree, it’s obviously better than nothing.  However, some things have a better than average rate of increasing student learning.  He found the average effect size to be 0.40. Therefore, if you want greater than average learning for your students, seek to implement the items greater than 0.40.  He also doesn’t say not to do anything lower than 0.40, but those shouldn’t be the only things you do.

Direct instruction has an effect size of 0.59.  Yeah, you read that correctly.  This thing that gets railed against all the time has a proven effect size – kids learn from it.   In Appendix B of the first of his books I mentioned above, it is listed as #26 out of 138 items. It’s effect size of 0.59 is tied with Cooperative vs. Individualistic Learning and Study Skills.  Group work is constantly encouraged, but direct instruction tends to get represented as bad.  Inquiry-based teaching has an effect size of 0.33, lower than average.  Now it’s not bad, it’s just not as high as direct instruction.

Problem-based learning has an effect size of 0.15.  From Visible Learning, pg. 211:
“As will be seen, this is a topic where it is important to separate the effects on surface and deep knowledge and understanding.  For surface knowledge, problem-based learning can have limited and even negative effects, whereas for deeper learning, when students already have the surface level knowledge, problem-based learning can have positive effects.  This should not be surprising, as problem-based learning places more emphasis on meaning and understanding than on reproduction, acquisition, or surface level knowledge.”

Again, it appears to me, that some type of direct instruction for surface learning should come before rich tasks and problem-based learning.

So, when I attend something like NCTM’s Interactive Institutes or read awesome math blogs & tweets, I’m left wondering if I’m doing it all wrong.  I keep hearing and being told that effective math instruction needs to be inquiry and problem based, that direct instruction is bad, and heaven forbid if you give your students a worksheet (though appropriately titled as a graphic organizer).  Then I come back to what I’ve read in these meta-analyses of research and wonder why no one seems to talk about what is being shown.  Am I reading bad research?  I don’t think so, but maybe I’m wrong.  Why can’t we talk in the math world about the benefits of a variety of teaching methods? And let’s be honest, the reality is kids need to just know and memorize some basic math facts and formulas.  The high school student who barely has to think about 8 times 7 being 56 is ahead of the student who needs to reason it out or use a calculator.  This low-level knowledge & recall will help them apply their higher-order thinking skills to deep problems.  When I think of Vygotsky’s ZPD, I don’t think many of my students would be able to do the higher-order stuff without the lower-order stuff at least having been referenced.

I’ve decided that when I attend these types of things or read awesome things on the web, I need to remember “all things in moderation.”  Direct Instruction – yes.  Rich Tasks – yes.  PBL – yes.  Basic Memorization – yes.  Graphic Organizers/worksheets – yes.  Manipulatives/hands-on – yes.  Flipped Classroom – yes.  SBG -yes. Transdisciplinary Ed. – yes.  All of these together (plus more not listed) can create a rich learning experience for a student.

This is long enough, I’ll put my recaps of the sessions in another blog! ha! Any feedback or pushback to my thoughts above is much appreciated!

Review of PNC Park, Citizens Bank Park, & Camden Yards

Objective: See 3 baseball games in 3 ballparks in 5 days.

Tools Needed: MegaBus, adaptability, willingness to cheer for teams you know little to nothing about, love for the game

Standards Met: None as this isn’t a math lesson

Ballpark #1 – PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA, home of the Pirates

Overall Impression:  Wow.  Pretty sure that is the first thing I said when I saw the park as we came into town on the MegaBus.  It’s location is probably the best I’ve been to.  Newer park, open view of downtown Pittsburgh and Robert Clemente bridge.  Very picturesque.  Fans were very friendly and into the game.  It was a big game against the Cardinals (Pirates won) and there was a large turnout for a Monday evening game.

Food:  My normal routine is to get a hotdog the first time I visit a ballpark.  I have to say, theirs looked dreadful and instead I got a bbq pork sandwich from behind the outfield.  Sandwich was definitely a good pick.

Seats:  We sat in nosebleed by 3rd base.  And when I say nosebleed, I mean row S and it went up to row Z.  When we got to our section, the usher sprayed our seats and wiped them off for us! Talk about service for the cheap seats! I’ve never even had that for premium seats.   I have a feeling this is a park with no or few bad seats.  The steepness means you still feel up close to the action.  We also went early for batting practice and sat in the right outfield.  Excellent seats because the warning track is so shallow.  The seats are RIGHTTHEREINTHEACTION.   Oh, one bummer, 3rd deck doesn’t have cup holders.

Ballpark #2 – Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia, PA, home of the Phillies

Overall Impression:  Disappointed.  We had heard great things about this park and the fans.  When I heard it was in the sports stadium area of Philly (Football, Basketball, and Hockey are also across the street), I was anticipating that they had turned into a cool sports themed area.  That expectation was not met.  The outside of the park itself is just not impressive walking up.  The ambiance felt wrong.  The fans seemed more interested in everything BUT the game and it was a close game with the Phillies ahead. Music played between innings was too boring and slow most of the time.  And, I expected more from the Phillie Phanatic.  One of the new parks, pretty, yada, yada, but definitely not high on my list as there are plenty of prettier parks with better fans.  Too commercial.  When a player was up to bat, a big ad was right next to his face instead of having his stats right with him.  Lame.  We left at the 7th inning stretch and couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  Neither hubby nor I have any desire to return.

Food:  Again broke hotdog routine here because I figured I’d get my first ever Philly cheesesteak.  We asked some guys who worked in the park where to eat and they said John Luke’s.  Eh.  It was barely passable.  I didn’t even eat half of it – which it’s huge and definitely enough for two people.

Seats:  We were again in nosebleed, but first row this time.   Plenty of legroom and cup holders drilled into the cement wall in front of us.  We were on the 3rd base side, but more outfield.  The view from our seats were not as good as Pittsburgh.  We couldn’t see where a homerun went out below us.  Otherwise, not bad seats and you do feel close again because of the steepness.

Ballpark #3 Orioles Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore, home of the Orioles

Overall Impression:  We stepped off the MARC train from DC and just stared agape at the big brick wall.  It was impressive.  As we walked closer, there was an excitement about what we might find around that wall!  The entrance area around the corner was filled with statues of players, the music was pumping, and I couldn’t wait to get into the park.  It exuded energy and came across as a place where one would have a great time.  After entering the gates, we walked down Utah street where there are shops and restaurants.  I got over the fact that I would be cheering for a team in orange and black which was weird since I hate, hate, hate the vile Giants.  This stadium instantly became my favorite, replacing the St. Louis Cardinals park as #1.  They played great music before the game and between innings.  Excellent fans.  Everyone around us was into the game and clearly were big fans of the O’s.  Loved during the Star Spangled Banner when everyone yelled “Oh!”  Very friendly people.  Got to see Roberto Alomar inducted into Orioles hall of fame.  The game was excellent, saw a grand slam AND an instant replay call.  First time at a game where instant replay was used.  Would love to come back to this park and is a must see for baseball fans.

Side note: the park is now #1, but the fans in St. Louis are still #1.  O’s fans were impressive, but none have beat Cardinals fans for me.

Side note #2:  If you are coming from D.C., getting back after a night game is a pain in the rear end.  I say take the light rail to Penn Station in Baltimore and then get on the Amtrak.  Bummer is we had to leave the game a little early and then, of course, Amtrak was an hour late.

Food:  I went back to my traditional hot dog here.  I got the jumbo dog.  It was pretty good.  Hubby had heard about the dog with mac & cheese and crab.  However, the stand had not one person in line, which didn’t send us a good message.  Instead he got a bbq sandwich at Boog’s – loved it and said it was the place to go for food at an Orioles game.

Seats:  3rd deck again.  2nd row, 3rd base.  Excellent view of the game.  Pretty sure this is also a park that has no bad views. Feels very intimate, like Pittsburgh.  No cupholders in the nosebleed.  Dude cleaned our seats here too.

Even with Philly being a disappointment, we still loved the experience and are eager to plan our next baseball trip.  I think next up will be Boston and maybe the two New York teams.