Category Archives: MTBOS

Day 1 – I love having students back!

Why are we all so tired at the end of day 1? Is it the adrenaline rush? I’m wiped but it was a fabulous day. I love having the energy of students back in the building. 

For my Algebra 2 classes, I used Sara Vanderwerf’s 100 game task for teaching great team work. It went FABULOUSLY! 

Here are some pics of the #firstday

Interleaving and spacing practice

How might we help students with learning and remembering without giving them 30 of the same math exercises each night? 

This is a question that I had pondered for a while.  I really enjoy reading about cognition, so in addition to my cognition book for grad school, I was also reading “Why Don’t Students Like School?” by Daniel Willingham (@DTWillingham) and “Make It Stick” by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel.  The topics of interleaving and spacing practice kept coming up.  While it is more difficult for learners, it helps increase the “stickiness” of what they are learning.  Willingham states, “But something else does protect against forgetting: continued practice” (p. 117).

Interleaving is the opposite of how most math teachers assign practice work.  Typically, math teachers assign massed practice – students work out examples that are all on the same topic.  Interleaving is mixing up the topics. This is much harder and slower for learners initially.  From Make It Stick, “…research shows unequivocally that mastery and long-term retention are much better if you interleave practice than if you mass it” (p. 50).

Spacing is what it sounds like, spreading out practice instead of cramming.  If you will study for 3 hours, it’s better to space out that 3 hours instead of doing it all at once the night before a test.  You will forget less and remember longer by spacing.  More from Willingham, “If, on the other hand, you study in several sessions with delays between them, you may not do quite as well on the immediate test but, unlike the crammer, you’ll remember the material longer of the test” (p. 119).  Spacing is for the long term.  As a teacher, I want my students to remember for the long term.  The math they are doing in my class will continue to be built upon in future coursework.

Catalyst for change

Even with reading about this in 3 different books, I still hadn’t made any changes to the practice work I assigned to my students.  Then in November 2014 I attended the NCSM Regional Conference in Richmond, VA and heard Steve Leinwand (@steve_leinwand) speak for the first time.  (If you’ve never heard him live, I highly recommend rectifying that situation!)  Steve also spoke about spacing, interleaving, and giving students no more than 8 practice problems per night.  That was it, I was sold.  I couldn’t escape that I was being directed to change my assignments.  I try to have one major takeaway from any conference that I implement immediately – changing how I did practice was done my first day back at school after the conference.  I told students what I was doing and why.

Here is how it looks (typically) in my classroom.

New Unit:

Day 1 – 8 problems – 4 are low-level on the new material, 2 are medium-level on review material, 2 are high-level on review material

Day 2 – 8 problems – 4 are low-level on the new material, 2 are medium-level on Day 1 material, 2 are high-level on review material

Day 3 – 8 problems – 4 are low-level on the new material, 2 are medium-level on Day 2 material, 2 are high-level on Day 1 material

This pattern repeats throughout the unit.  It cuts down on end of unit review time because we’ve been reviewing all unit long.  Additionally, we use ALEKS & I would assign some exercises on ALEKS that were review.  I could see details of each student with each topic and use the weak topics as our warm up the next day in class.  New this year: our math team has agreed to have all unit tests include some amount of material from previous units.  We are hoping this shows students the importance of remembering what they’ve learned.

If you want to read more on this, I recommend the 3 books listed at the top of this blog post.  In addition, read anything and everything by the incomparable Henri Picciotto (@hpicciotto). He has an excellent post on how he lags practice.  I haven’t done lagging that way, yet!  Finally, you may want to check out the #eduread thread on Twitter.  A conversation I had there last week inspired this blog post!

MTBOS week 1: My class is different due to no F’s!

I’m a week behind, but this is my first post for the Exploring the MathTwitterBlogosphere challenge.  We were given two options and I chose to blog on the following:

  • What is one thing that happens in your classroom that makes it distinctly yours? It can be something you do that is unique in your school… It can be something more amorphous… However you want to interpret the question! Whatever!

My classroom is distinctly different this year than my previous years of teaching.  The difference?  No one is currently failing in any of my classes and no one has earned an F on a test!  I know?! Shut up & get out (picture Elaine from Seinfeld)!!

For most math teachers, this is quite a unique experience, and it is for me. I didn’t all of a sudden become some amazing teacher in which every single thing I do works and students totally “get it”.  I don’t have students that are heads and shoulders above students in past years.  I will say 4 of my classes are honors sections, but I’ve had students fail honors tests and classes, so that doesn’t tell the whole story.  Besides, I also teach the lowest math class in our high school.

I believe the reason for this no F’s is mainly from a new policy I’ve enacted around my Standards Based Grading Quizzes.  This year, students can only take their unit test once they have passed all skills for the unit.  In the past, students were encouraged and given the option to retake quizzes to have their grades reflect an increase in learning.  They could do this anytime in the semester.  Typically it happened in the last couple of weeks of the semester as they realized there was no extra credit and they were scrambling to raise their grades.  This was helpful for their final exam, but didn’t help them on the unit tests along the way.

Here is my semester grade breakdown:

40% SBG quizzes (unlimited retakes – must have all passing grades before taking the unit test)
30% Unit Tests (these are summative & can’t be retaken)
15% Semester Exam
10% Assignments (I don’t collect or check daily work – this is unit binders, occasional special assignments, end of unit journals, etc.)
5% WriteNOW! (school wide writing initiative)

Now that students must get passing grades on all quiz skills before the test, they do better on the test.  I’m not sure why I didn’t figure this out before – ha!

Another thing I’m doing this year, which I also believe accounts for no F’s, is tests start at a 50.  That is still 20 points away from passing.  Then I break the other 50 points down very specifically, based on Blooms.  For my honors classes, 25 points are Knowledge & Understanding, 10-15 points are Application & Analyzing, and 10-15 points are Synthesizing & Evaluating. For my on-level classes, 30 points are Knowledge & Understanding, 10 points are Application & Analyzing, and 10 points are Synthesizing & Evaluating.  They must know everything at a basic level to earn a C, at an intermediate level to earn a B, and at an advanced level to earn an A.  This year, it’s easier to earn a C on my tests (due to starting at a 50), but more challenging to earn an A.

The final difference this year is my classes are somewhat self-paced.  I go at a “typical” pace.  Have assignments at a “typical” pace.  Have quizzes & tests at a “typical” pace.  However, if students don’t feel ready to take a quiz, they can delay.  If they don’t feel ready to take the test, they can delay.  There is a time limit.  They have a one week extension.  This is why I say somewhat self-paced. As I teach 9th & 10th graders, I think they need those deadlines so they don’t save it all for the end of the semester. Plus, in work situations, we have deadlines, but are allowed to work at our own pace to get to that deadline.  So, they have some freedom & flexibility, but aren’t allowed to completely sabotage themselves.

Now, I know that even if I was doing this last year, I would have still had a couple of failures.  I had two students who did retake quizzes often and just kept failing over and over.  They needed a lower math class and were in the lowest we offered. However, if students are appropriately placed and spec. ed students getting the appropriate resources, I believe these policies will encourage learning at a higher level.  This will then result in grades that reflect that higher level learning.