Monday, April 28, 2008

6 days until grades are due for seniors

18 more days of school total.

But I'm sorry, I'm not staying after school for tutoring today. I'm here twice a week. And the last time I stayed after for you, you didn't show up. You know the extra credit work you can do to bring up your participation grade. I'll be here tomorrow if you want to retake any concept quiz. If you want to come in before school, let me know. And if you absolutely CANNOT make it on the days when I'm scheduled, talk to me in advance, so I can adapt my schedule. (Yes, it needs to be at least two days in advance, even though you don't think this is a business.)

Yeah, it's pretty miserable you were suspended for school this late in the year. Sure, it's legal for you to chew. It's still against the rules to have tobacco products on school grounds. Maybe it's not fair for them to "just search your locker" like that. But if the drug dogs found it, and you know that the dogs do come to school, I'm not feeling much sympathy for you.

I understand that your favorite student want to go to college. But that's one of the reasons why I don't feel comfortable passing him. He really does not know the material. He gets mad and gives up if the idea doesn't click with him immediately. I'll keep working with him, and I'll be glad to help you so you can help him too. If he wants to go into a career that requires lots of math courses, then he needs to be able to tackle the math courses. We're here to help him do that now, but I can't pass him based on a desire that's not matched by effort and understanding. If he's frustrated in this class now, we'll all be even more frustrated if he's in a more advanced class next year.

It's great that you all made it to class today. Your work was amazing. Look at how much you're learning! Make sure you come back and make-up the quiz you missed when you were absent for four days last week, I don't want your grade to suffer. I'll have you in the next class next year? We're going to be awesome.

Hey look! By taking the quizzes that you hadn't done anything for, we've brought you up to a passing grade. We can get that even higher if you keep studying some of those concepts that you didn't do so hot on. Get those checked out and let's move your grade to the level where it should be.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Anyone have a clue what's happening with ilovemath? I actually had a lesson (coordinate plane battleship, so nothing too new, just a decent powerpoint) to upload. When I visit the site, I'm coming up with this.

I Got Observed Today, Part II

A Lesson the Day After a Test

Algebra kids had a concept quiz yesterday. I scored them last night, put them in the gradebooks, gave them back today. But if I want students to learn from the quiz, I figure they need a way to go back and review the quiz.

The method for today was to give them just the answers to the problems. They had the rest of class to work with a partner/group to discuss any problems missed. (I answered questions by turning them around, pointing them to their notes, the filing system of old notes, or a poster on the wall.) Half-way through the review time, I gave them each a post-it with a problem from the test. Yes, the problems were strategically chosen to be one they missed, even better if their partner missed it too. If students were working, I assigned a problem that I knew they were discussing. If they were slacking, that's when they got the "harder" problems.

In order to get your participation credit for the day, you needed to put your problem on the board by the end of the review time. You didn't have to explain it to the rest of the class (my students really shy away from talking). You weren't going to embarrass yourself by getting it wrong (you have the answer and you have people helping you).

It's a decent way to review. I like it better than me working all the problems on the board. It has the perk of getting students to the board (they tend to stay away from it to work, but will doodle and tag their name all over it otherwise). They were more likely to ask questions of a single peer than they are to ask questions to me in front of the class. They were also more likely to ask questions when they knew they needed to do this again and soon. I'm not knocking this method. I'll use it again.

But there must be other ways to review tests. What are they?

I Got Observed Today, Part I

Dear people who observe me,

It's not that I don't like good reviews, having someone pump up my ego is fun. When you actually name things that I'm doing well, I appreciate it more than just hearing "That was great."

But, I am still new at this.

I am nowhere near perfect.

I can tell from how poorly students do on tests that there's a lot they don't get, meaning I'm not doing my job as well as I should.

So please tell me what to do better. Please give me some concrete ways I can improve.

Thank you,


Monday, April 14, 2008

Spring is here!

Today's warm-up word problem is awkward, but I couldn't find information about the rate of snowfall.

By 8:45 Thursday morning, it was snowing in St. Francis, but not in other parts of the state. It wasn't until 2:45 in the afternoon that it started snowing in Pierre, 114 miles away. Find the speed of the system to approximate the average wind speed.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Once a month, our school has an early release so that teachers can have special correlate meetings. (Originally they were scheduled afterschool, but people didn't come so we decided that they were more important than actual class. I don't know.) The best thing about them is that they make me appreciate full days more.

For the most part, half-days seem to be a weird balance of fulfilling a requirement to be in school and just a waste. I only remember having them the day before holiday breaks. In those cases it's easy to attribute the rambunctiousness to the excitement over the break. But really it's hard to get anything accomplished on days when students are just excited to get out. The question, "how much time is left?" is asked triple the normal frequency. Classes are still long enough that I feel like we should be able to do something, but focus flies away.

I wish I knew what happened yesterday. Because they worked. I left school feeling better than I had on Tuesday. 

Of course, school's been canceled today due to snow.  (Which I prefer to going in and being dismissed at 10. If half-days are usually bad, days when we know we're getting out but don't know when are INSANE.) My frustration with trying to plan lessons in this situation continues.

Monday, April 7, 2008

My Group is Done Testing

Revised plan for the day: Spiderman Marathon.

If you're done with testing, it's a free day. Apparently I'm not supposed to offer tutoring, but if you want it, stop by. We'll take over the back corner of the classroom, no problem.

Edit: Tutoring took over the back half of the classroom. Stuff was spread out, so there weren't that many students. Still, I didn't watch more than 5 minutes of any of the movies playing.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Follow-up on Testing Lessons

Memories of My Test Prep

# 1
When I was in high school, South Carolina was desperately trying to improve its SAT scores. (And something must have worked because I remember a headline proclaiming that we had moved up, "We're 49!") One of their strategies was to have an annual SAT competition. 

Each school would have a team that would compete against the same schools you played sports against.  Three rounds of competition. 
Round One (district): Everyone on all teams takes a mock SAT test. 
Round Two (regionals): The top teams from each district take another mock SAT test. 
Round Three (state): The top teams from each region take another mock SAT test. And a state champion is declared!

Yeah, I was one of the nerds on the team. For three years. We would have practice before school, going over strategies and taking practice tests. It may have helped me some, but really it was something I did because I was invited.

I attended two high schools. The first one had a policy requiring that every class begin with a  standardized test question or vocabulary tests. I don't remember them being related to the subject at all. They got on my nerves then, which is probably why I haven't used anything like them this year.

Bringing us up to date
I wasn't planning on doing formal test prep this year. (This goes back to my frustration of not having a released test; though,  based on what I saw the seniors take, it's just as well that I didn't.) But then testing was scheduled for the first full week after two short weeks. There wasn't enough time to move into the next unit, so testing strategies it was.

The way the four-day week played out.
Tuesday was flop day

Wednesday went a little bit better. I gave a 10-minute multiple choice test and tried talking about general time-saving tips. Most students seemed to be at least somewhat interested in the ideas we went over. (Then I found out this week that the tests we're taking aren't timed. Oh. At least I was lazy and just stole my ideas from the College Board?) 

Thursday, I took on H.'s idea of having students generate possible choices. I took questions from released multiple choice tests from elsewhere that related to topics we have done in class. Each section of Algebra had 8 questions to come up with answers. We spent the end of class reviewing the problems and choosing which answers to use. I put together a quiz that night using their answers.

Friday I gave them the quiz. I allowed them to refer to their worksheet from the day before. Students were to choose the correct answer (1 point each) and to explain what mistake the other answers made (1 point each). I tried to make it a competition between classes, so that the class with the highest average would be allowed to watch a movie during the two class periods of testing week.

One class really got into it. One class really did nothing. I think it has more to do with my connection with the student leaders in each room than the lessons themselves--the troublesome class has been so since one student transfered in.

Plans for next year
If I were doing another mini-test-prep-unit next year, I'd start off the week with a quiz. I'd want to time it where there wouldn't be quite enough time (exactly one minute per question, no bumper time). I would include a few questions just a half-step beyond what we've done. Hopefully this would help students get the message that timing is important and good guessing strategies are important.

I'm not sure whether I'd review guessing strategies and then have students generate questions or the other way around. I do like ending the week with the competition.

I almost hope that the scheduling doesn't work out for this unit (unless I find some amazing ideas in the meantime). Maybe it was just overdone for me when I was in high school, but if SAT team competition wasn't exciting...well then, testing is not exciting.

The Idea that is Brewing
I'm beginning to love the "Are you smarter than a fifth grader?" theme Jackie suggested. Students complain all the time, "We've seen this before," or, "My little sister could do this." They have. I hope she could. 


They did not really learn it. Seniors had to refer to the multiplication table on my wall during testing. The usual suspects are problematic. Fractions. Decimals. Negative numbers. Order of operations. Division. Addition. Subtraction. Basically anything you should have learned in elementary and middle school math. Students think they know it, resist learning it, and continue being wrong. 

My current thought is to use a released test (probably California, New York, or Texas) from an elementary grade level as a diagnostic at the beginning of the year. Give it back to students as a basis for where they are.

Then to have a powerpoint file of questions from different strands and grade levels. Throughout the year, when there's the extra time that needs to be filled, whip out the file. Take a question. Maybe say what percentage of the class is smarter than a 5th grader. I'd need some sort of end of year test to see where they are. Again, pulling from released questions could make this manageable. I think the challenge may be to keep moving with the high school math and not just try to create the missing pieces. At least that won't be a new challenge. 

"Didn't we take this test already?"

"Yes. But they want to give you the same test so they can see how much you've learned."

I hate saying it. I don't believe it.

The same exact test. Three times a year. For at least four years.

I don't blame the senior who just bubbled it in. (Though, I still wouldn't let him move on to the next section until a convincing amount of time had passed.) When I did the "listening comprehension" section with him, he would tell me the answer before I read the sentence. I asked what the sentence was; he knew the key words.

Between not trying and being completely bored, it doesn't sound like a valid measure to me. But this test is just for the school and the biggest impact for students is that is helps determine if you can be in the Gifted and Talented program. Really it's the time out of class that bugs me the most.

Never mind that it's not aligned with my standards. (Which is impressive given how general they are.) So I rebel. Teaching them Roman Numbers could improve their standing. Instead I teach them algebra, because that's the class name, even though there are only three questions that the test categorizes as algebra.


At least it's done for this year? 

And really, outside of the Super Bowl and European Kings, Queens, and Popes, when do you use Roman Numerals?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Honestly, I'm going to bed soon

In the last sweep before turning off my computer, I discovered the work of Stefanie Posavec on NOTCOT.

Infographic design that I love meets my English teacher housemate.

The title of this one is Literary Organism, but I misread it as Literary Orgasm. That amazing. Honestly, go look at her stuff. NOW.

All I need now is a good printer

Frazz this week is great for math. I think today's comic in particular needs to be printed up as a banner for my class next year.

I need the right motto to go with it. Suggestions? (The best I'm coming up with is "Be smart for your age.")

To remember when students hate on me

Subtitle: Like when I ask the student who's missed one-third of the school year what he wants from this class and am told "for you not to be my teacher"

At the beginning of year T was one of my nightmare students. I don't know why we butted heads, but it was bad. The "at least I don't have to kick you out of the classroom this time because you walked out on me" nightmare situation. I couldn't motivate her to do the work. At the end of the first semester she had a solid failing grade. 

I'm not sure what happened, but this semester has been much better. T's still not passing, but is much closer.

Today we went over grade reports and had a chance to do extra credit or makeup work. T's conference:

Ms. C and T are standing beside each other by T's desk.

Ms. C: Okay, so here's your report...
T: Shh, be quiet so other people can't hear.
Ms. C lowers voice even more and leans in close.
Ms. C: These are your absences, obviously they're hurting you. 
These are your quiz grades. You're doing well recently, but here were some rough ones.
Here are your participation grades. I know you've been doing them, but make sure to turn them in to get the grades. Remember when you miss school that hurts you too.
Now you can do either of these assignments to bring up your grade up....
T: flipping through binder Hey. Those worksheets that I didn't finish earlier, could I turn those in for credit?
keeps flipping to some material from the beginning of the year
Remember last year when I didn't like you and wouldn't do the work? Can I make that up?

Ah. Last year. I love the implicit message here that something really has changed since then.