Friday, January 29, 2016

MTBoS Blogging Initiative - Better Questions


Boy...when I look at the prompt for this blog post my mind goes in so many different directions. I wrote this post in which I discussed trying to use "quality questioning" in my classroom. I was not really talking about questions to put on an assignment, quiz, or test. I was thinking about questions used to do the following:

  • guide students to think deeper during discussions
  • guide a struggling student toward understanding a concept 
  • scaffold and access prior knowledge
  • defend and/or explain answers or reasoning
The prompt seemed to be more along the lines of writing questions for assignments or quizzes. I happened to attend a PD today on Webb's Depth of Knowledge (DOK) in which we discussed asking more level 2 and 3 questions when we assess our students. Of the 4 levels of questioning we were told that the ACT and the ASPIRE assessments have very few questions that are level 1 (basic recall or computation) and the majority of questions are levels 2-3 (harder stuff...HAHA!). Anyway, the majority of textbooks are filled with level 1 questions but not many that are levels 2 and 3. 

For those of you who want to know here is a VERY brief description of Webb's DOK:

Level 1 - Recall and Reproduction - "Right there" questions where you can look it up in a book or follow steps from an example
Level 2 - Skills and Concepts - "think and search" questions where you have to put information together or categorize - these may be open to using different approaches and explanations are often required
Level 3 - Strategic Thinking and Reasoning - More than one way to approach and more than one possible answer - non-routine problems are often used here - often asked to state and support with evidence
Level 4 - Extended Thinking - Extended thinking that takes more time - possible products would be films, plays, research reports (with multiple sources), video games, documentaries, newspaper articles, etc...
(source: A Guide for Using Webb's Depth of Knowledge with Common Core Standards by Karin Hess, E.D - copyright 2013 Common Core Institute)

We were given some strategies on things to do in order to use our textbooks and resources that we have and take the questioning up a notch. One example of moving into the Level 2 questioning is to ask for "non-examples." We often ask our students to give an example of a _________ but they can demonstrate an even greater understanding of concepts if they can also give a non-example.

I had the pleasure of using two non-routine tasks with my algebra classes this week. Both of the tasks seemed impossible at first but when we continued to work toward the solutions we found that there were ways to arrive at a solution.

The first task was the Shuttling Around Problem of the Week #13 in my IMP Meaningful Math Algebra book. It is actually a puzzle where you really have to get out manipulatives to work through it. On the day we introduced the problem only one student found a solution. It took him a while but he finally videoed it so that he could email it to me as part of his POW write-up. The funny thing is that even though I stood there and watched in order to verify that he had a valid solution...I could not do it myself. So, today I allowed another class some time to work on the task and I was going to sit down and figure it out myself so they would see that it was possible...but I couldn't. I called down to the classroom where the guy who found the solution was and he came to my class and showed us the solution again. After watching him do it I had several students go back and work to figure it out themselves...he and I went around the room trying to help and I FINALLY got to where I could do it. The task asks them to investigate other problems too so we weren't taking away all of their fun. It was a great way to end the week! The coolest part of this is that the student who really excelled is not an A/B student. He is rarely ever one who aces a quiz or test. He has an incredible work ethic and tries to do every thing that I ask of him. It was so rewarding for him to have an opportunity to shine!!

The other task was A Mini-POW About Mini-Camel again from our text. One of the great things about our text is the "key questions" in the teacher resources which helps you have ways to guide the students. In this one all I had to say was, "Who says you have to go straight there?" and I had students to begin to find possible solutions. I even had multiple students to go to the board to try to prove to everyone else that their answer was correct. (Here is a link to my Instagram where I posted a video of them.)

I had one student ask me why we had to do these types of problems and I told him that it is important for him to realize that just because something seems impossible at first glance it does not mean that a solution can not be found. I even told them that I may be helping to save their future marriages (haha!) because they may think one day that the only solution is to give up but remember that one time in algebra class they kept on trying and working at a task that seemed impossible only to find that there was a solution!! I know that is goofy but I got some giggles and I do hope that these problem solving skills stick with them after they leave my class.

I love that I have these tasks included in our textbooks! I wrote my last MTBoS blog about how my textbooks are my favorite tool that I use in my classroom here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

My Favorite textbook (surprise!!)

Displaying MyFav

I was thinking about the prompt for this week's MTBoS's Blogging Initiative during my first block class today. I was also watching them draw sketches for the unit problem in The Pit and the Pendulum unit of our Algebra text. I went down to Mrs. New's room after class and was talking to her about how much fun it is to have these days where my students get to do something that is "outside the box" of what usually happens in algebra class.

I am great at research and can find some cool activities by Googling or asking the "all-knowing" #MTBoS on Twitter but that takes a lot of time and although I enjoy it there are moments during the school year that I just can't dedicate time to finding the "perfect" activity. This is why I LOVE our IMP Meaningful Math Algebra books. The units are so creative. The students have opportunities to draw sketches, write, perform experiments, and apply the majority of algebra to a context that helps them to wrap their mind around the topics. We still solve algebra problems in class, of course, but if you teach from this text you will already have creative lessons and ways to make connections to history, English, and science within the units.

I know that there is a movement out there to "ditch the textbook" and I get it. However, I am blessed to be in my 2nd year of teaching from a textbook that I can feel good about teaching from cover to cover. I love days like today where my "non-mathy" students come in and realize they will have the opportunity to show off their art skills. I am a math/English certified teacher so I love that 2 of our units use literature contexts to make them more interesting (the other is Alice in Wonderland).

I heard NCTM's president, Diane Briars, speak this past Fall. I remember her talking about how some teachers are trying to piece together resources from here or there in order to teach. I am paraphrasing here and I hope that I don't misrepresent what she was saying that day - but I feel like her intention was to remind us that a teacher's job is not to write curriculum. This made me realize that it is okay that I do not come up with original ideas and activities to use in my classroom! Sometimes I feel guilty about not having that "gift." However, she talked about how we should be careful during the textbook adoption process to find texts that are well written. I had never been shown how to analyze topics in a textbook. That seems silly I guess but until I started teaching from the IMP books I never cared what textbooks we used because I was of the opinion that they were all the same. Definitions, examples, and problems sets... I had never heard of research-based curriculum that had been developed with the "approval" of the NSF (National Science Foundation). After teaching from these books I understand the difference! of my favorite things that I use in my classroom is our "new-to-me" textbooks!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Which Side of the Tracks? - MTBoS One Good Thing

This week I have been constantly reminded of this devotion by Rick Warren. I remember reading it several years ago and it was one of those times that it made such an impression on me I can remember where I was sitting when I read it. In summary, it discusses how in life the good and the bad run parallel to each other  - just like a set of train tracks. We often seem to think of our lives as a series of highs and lows (mountain tops and valleys if you will) but if we choose to look closer no matter what is going on in your life you can find the good...or the bad...around you. Truthfully you often find exactly what you are looking for. He was discussing this particular year in his life when his wife had cancer but he also described it as the greatest year of his life. Here is a quote from the article:
No matter how good things are in your life, there is always something bad that needs to be worked on. And no matter how bad things are in your life, there is always something good you can thank God for.

So...I think that part of the reason this has been on my mind this week is the "One Good Thing" blogging prompt from the MTBoS blogging initiative. I have honestly had a crappy week. Now...please let me be honest...I know that compared to many people who have probably had real trials and tragedies to occur in their lives this week my week has been "peachy." However, as a teacher this has been one of those "I feel like I'm in a rut" weeks which makes you question all aspects of your teaching life. HOWEVER...I just had a student to totally make my week. He was in my room to receive some extra help on solving systems of equations because my class was taking a quiz during the next block. He is an extremely bright young man that does not always apply himself; I was very happy that he sought after the additional help! After helping him we were talking and somehow the conversation moved along to where he told me that he watches Eric Thomas videos at home. Eric Thomas has several seasons of what he calls TGIM - Thank God It's Monday and I have played a few for his class. I asked him what he has learned from some of the recent videos he has watched and he was telling me some powerful "nuggets of wisdom" that he had internalized. (I am grinning from ear to ear as I write this!) This was so encouraging to me! I had NO idea that he even liked the TGIM videos or even considered their messages valuable. is my question to you. Which side of the tracks do you spend the most of your time on? Do you stick on the "positive" side trying to balance only on that rail. you stay only on the "negative" side? When walking the "railroad tracks" of life I think we could walk easier if we recognize the middle ground between the tracks where you stay aware of both the positive and the negative. Of course, when the trains of adversity come barreling down the tracks you have to jump all the way to one side or the other. I hope my choice is more often on the positive side but at the very least I hope that I can find the middle ground quickly - or at least keep both sides of the track in my view.

Monday, January 11, 2016

MTBoS Blogging Initiative - A Day in the Life

So...I think this might be boring but I wanted to give it a try anyway. Let's see.

5:30 am - Alarm goes off, wake up husband, try to go back to sleep

5:40 am - Realize that I have been trying to compose an email reply in my head instead of going back to sleep

5:50ish am - Wake up and get on the exercise bike while checking the weather, email, Twitter, Facebook, on my phone.

6:05-6:35 am - Shower

6:35 - 6:50 - Get dressed while reminding my 2 "big kids" to dress warmly and get their basketball practice gear. They leave with their dad (also a teacher AND high school basketball coach).

6:50 - 7:00 - Put in a load of clothes to wash, gather lunch (that I actually made the night before which is highly unusual!). Dress my 4-year-old. Undress my 4-year-old. (He goes to a friend's house who keeps him during the day...usually in PJs...but thought he wanted to change into his clothes. Then he changed his mind when I got on his shirt because it didn't feel good. UGH! When I told him, "I don't have time for this!" he told me he was sorry and my heart melted so he got to wear what he wanted!!)

7:00-7:28 - Leave my house, drop off my "little kid," sign into work at 7:28 am

7:28 - 7:50 - Procure a cup of coffee, put lunch in fridge, visit with teacher friends (one of which makes me cry because she has done something SUPER sweet!)

7:55 - 9:30 - 1st Block - Algebra (I see them every day year round)

7:55 - 8:05 - Announcements, pledge, call roll, take up homework, send a boy in the hall for wiping pop tart crumbs into my floor when I tell him to clean it up (I have ant issues in my room so it was a BIG and then telling me he didn't. [Disclaimer: This was a "last straw" issue where any time I get onto him for something he tells me he didn't do it and blames it on someone else. He is just kidding around but I sometimes "fall for it" and then it takes me a minute to sort things out and it gets on my nerves. I wasn't mad when I talked to him. I just asked him to stop. He took it really well and did much better when he came in my room...didn't pout AND participated in class...GO ME!]

8:05 - 8:35 - Watched Eric Thomas's TGIM Season 2 Episode 5 and then did an activity where I had them write down anything from their past (hurts or successes) that they needed to let go of and get over. We then ripped them up and threw them in the trash (we didn't share them in class because I told them we wouldn't). I am trying to do "motivational Mondays" every Monday with my 1st block class and we have pretty much just watched one of his videos every week. Of course it is one of my favorite things to do...I often springboard off the video and get "on my soapbox" but the students seem to remember many of the principles he speaks about which is rewarding.

8:35 - 9:30 - Graded homework (on effort) while they started an awesome LINKS worksheet on systems of equations which makes them solve the same system by graphing, substitution, and elimination then answer questions about the best method. I would LOVE to give credit to whoever created the worksheet but I have no idea. After giving back homework I answered any questions they had for the remainder of the time.

9:30 - 9:40 - Technically this is our "break" time but I had 4 students and a teacher come to my room for various reasons. The teacher, Sonya New, is my bestest algebra planning buddy and she came to look at some resources I told her I had if she wanted them. The 3 students came for help on an assignment. I texted their teachers.

9:40 - 11:10 (2nd block - off/math intervention) - Had at least one student in my room the entire time working on their systems of equations worksheet. In between helping students I answered emails and graded some work for my online algebra II with trig class.

11:15 - 1:15 (3rd block) - Pre-AP Algebra - I see them every other day year round. This was pretty much a repeat of 1st block except we didn't take the time to write down the things from the past we needed to let go of and throw them away. This was only the 3rd TGIM they have gotten to watch all year. I have half the time with these students to cover the same amount of work and sadly that means the character ed/motivational videos get "cut out" most weeks.

1:20 - 2:50 (4th block - off/math intervention) Today this became my off period because I had students in my room for the entire 2nd Block. The first thing I did was Day 5 of my 30 Day Happy Teacher Challenge which was to take a short walk and think about things in your life that make you the happiest. I had a walking buddy and we talked about how our own children and our relationship to God made us happiest. AND...that keeping God first and seeking Him for your joy and fulfillment instead of circumstances (work, home, etc...) keeps things in perspective. It was GREAT! Then I entered some grades, made another cup of coffee, checked on my online class and Twitter, and started writing this post (which feels long and boring when I think about others trying to read it - LOL)

It is now 3:04 pm and I am still writing. I need to look over what I am doing tomorrow and then rush out the door to go pick up my daughter because I just got a text reminding me that she has softball practice at 5:00 and I have alot of driving to do in order to pick up my 4 year old and get her home and back to practice. Wish me luck!! If you made it this far thank you for reading my "day in the life." I think I may have put too many details along the way. HAHA!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Top 5 Things I Love About Teaching

I have started the 30 Day Happy Teacher Challenge this week and today I am doing #26 (I am not doing them in order...I pick one out that I want to do each day - HAHA!):
Think about the top 5 things you love about teaching. Write them down and have them somewhere as a reminder when teaching gets stressful. it goes.

1. Being around young people.
I became a math teacher because I loved math and I wanted to coach softball. I had seriously considered pursuing a degree in engineering but the coaching part had me move in the direction of teaching. I spent a couple of years trying to be a stay-at-home mom and working part-time. At the end of that time I realized that I was called to teach. It wasn't just a desire that I came up with - God placed a love of young people in my heart! I have had the opportunity to speak at some workshops and meetings this year which required (of course) for me to be around adults all day. They were wonderful people and I enjoyed it...but I REALLY missed my students. I guess I am just a kid at heart!
2. Figuring kids out,
I learned early on that those "strange kids" who dress and act differently are usually some of the sweetest. If you treat them the same way you treat everyone else and gain their trust they will be your biggest fans. I often think that students do some "wild" things just to see if you are going to judge them by their outward behavior/appearance rather than getting to know them.
3. Witnessing growth
I love seeing people grow and improve. As a veteran teacher I have seen that in myself, my colleagues, and my students. It is so rewarding to see students who enter your room without confidence in their ability to do math/school and then in a year their confidence has grown so much. Then I get to see them walk up and down the halls over the next few years and grow in maturity and confidence (in most cases). 
4. Awesome colleagues
I have had the privilege of teaching in 4 different schools. In my experience the majority of teachers are helpful and encouraging. I had some incredible mentors ("teaching Moms"as I called them) when I was young AND now I have some amazing friends/mentors. Most teachers are so willing and excited to share their ideas and resources. Also, now with Twitter and the MTBoS (when I first started teaching I didn't even have Internet in my classroom!!) I have such an even larger group of teachers with which to share and collaborate.
5. Having the same schedule as my own children
When you have school-age children it is an added blessing to be a teacher because most of your holidays coincide. Also, when your children have practices and games you get off work in time to attend them or get them there!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Intro to Systems of Equations with Gallery Walk

This year I ran across a document in my Google Drive that Sonya New and I made in order to introduce solving systems of equations. I decided to do this on the first day back after Christmas break in order to get us "back on track." We have solved systems algebraically and had begun discussing the substitution and elimination methods the week before school let out.

I loved doing the assignment. I only had 6 groups but I still wanted to have them graph all 8 systems so a few groups had 2 systems to graph. I did not call them systems. I just told them to graph both lines on the same coordinate grid. I first allowed them to graph the lines on graph paper and then I had them put them on chart paper. Afterwards I assigned each group a different color marker to write with and had them do a gallery walk and put feedback on the graphs. If they agreed with the graph they put a check mark. If they thought there was an error they had to place an x and then tell what they thought was wrong. The last direction I gave them was to write down the solution to the system of equations. (We have been talking about solutions for systems of equations ALOT in class. I have even OPENED and CLOSED class MULTIPLE TIMES by randomly calling on a student and asking them, "What is the solution to a system of equations?" AND offered candy when they get it correct!! Many of them still don't know. I accept various answers: an x and a y that make both equations true, the point of intersection, an order pair that works for both.... It hurts my feelings but I still haven't gotten it to "sink in.") I had one student in the room that asked me if I meant for them to write the ordered pair down so eventually everyone caught on. Almost every group asked me what I meant by the solution but I would not tell them. I told them to discuss it within their groups because we had talked about it in depth before Christmas. Anyway...after they completed their gallery walk we "debriefed" as a class and settled any differences of opinion. It was a wonderful way to review graphing and reintroduce them to solving systems of equations - we had one no solution and one infinitely many solutions so we also discussed what those would look like algebraically. I did have them solve a couple of the solutions algebraically (using substitution) at the end of class.

Here is the document if you would like it.

1. Even my best students needed the graphing review. I had one of the top students in my class put his y-intercepts on the x axis!! I want to do a better job of spiraling my algebra class. I love that our Meaningful Math Algebra books include graphing in every single unit! I hope to incorporate more spiraling review as my warmups this semester.

2. It scares me how much my students forget AND it bothers me that I have to move on when I have so many who have clearly not retained what we have learned.

3. Many of them wrote that the solution was 5 and 2 when they really meant (5,2). They think I am being picky when I make them write the answer as an ordered pair.

4. Students like the opportunity to get out of their seats! I did have some really good student dialogue and I feel that it was a productive first day back after Christmas:)

Monday, January 4, 2016

2016 MTBoS Blogging Initiative - Why?

I am excited to be joining the MTBoS Blogging Initiative this year. I started blogging about a year and a half ago. I was teaching a problem-based curriculum for the first time and wanted to record my "teaching transformation." I really started blogging for myself - so that I could look back at how the lessons went and use my reflections for future years when lesson planning. I feel like viewing blogging as a tool for me instead of being concerned about how my writings are being taken by others was THE BEST PART. However, Shelley Montgomery, the instructional partner at our school, encouraged me to go ahead and share my blog posts on Twitter. Through conversations I had with her I began to realize that even if one other person could benefit or be encouraged by my writings that it was worth it. Tracy Saltz...whether you realized it or were that one person. We met on Twitter because you were also teaching the IMP Meaningful Math curriculum for the first time. Since then I have met a few others at workshops or via comments on my blog or Twitter that have enjoyed reading my posts. It is an encouragement to think that I have contributed in a way that was helpful to other teachers. I have learned so much by reading the tweets and blogs of other teachers and I did want to contribute instead of just being a "user."

So...why should you consider joining this blogging initiative? I think that blogging helps me to reflect on my teaching practices and organize my thoughts for lesson planning. An added bonus is for you to share your thoughts with other teachers so that they can learn from you and/or be blessed to learn that they are not the only ones that have similar struggles. I think that everyone benefits whether from the collaboration/encouragement of other teachers OR the benefits of reflective writing.