Thursday, August 28, 2008

After I'd stopped procrastinating for the evening...

Freerice has new subjects. Including multiplication tables! I'm not sure when they were added, so everyone else may know about it already. But I'm excited.

Monday, August 25, 2008

On using a dead week for introductions

It's a half hour after I told myself I'd turn off the computer, but I'm still in first-day-anxiety zone. I know I have plenty of activities to do, but at the same time don't feel like I'm nearly prepared enough.

So I'm taking a moment to show off my use of Wordle. Replacing the traditional syllabus. I want to take some time during this week to discuss what we're learning this year. Took my long term plan, got rid of the numbers and distractor words, and got the pretty picture. Figure I'll toss it up once someone comments, "You're the teacher. Don't you know what we're learning?"

That's Algebra 2 for now. (It's the long term plan that's the least finished at the moment, so it's more along the lines of first semester. But I figure that's still a decent picture.)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why I'll Keep Concept Quizzes

To say M struggled in my class last year is an understatement. M failed quarter after quarter through the year. I'm convinced she hated me for the first semester, but something changed when I came back after Christmas.

In the middle of spring semester, M buckled down. Graduation was coming. She needed to pass my class to get her diploma. We had a lot of catch-up to do. 

And we got it done. M was in my class for extra tutoring every chance she got. She took work home. She commented, "Man, this would be easier if I'd just done it in the fall." And while I wish she had done the work originally because I know she could have learned even more by the end, I jumped up and down in my trailer when I graded the test that brought her up to a passing grade. A week later I saw her graduate.

That's the allure of Dan's concept quizzes for me. Being able to (1) give students the chance to succeed all the way through the year (2) without letting up on the rigor of assessments. M and I focused on her lowest quiz grades, she knowing that their changes would have the biggest impact on her grade, myself trusting that they would increase her overall mastery. 

M was at a parent orientation night this week. She's enrolled at a local college where she tested out of the math requirement. I'm a little sad that she won't take another math course, but I'm thrilled that she knew enough to meet their requirements. 

I'm not as on top of things as other teachers, haven't yet hammered out sample questions for this years concepts. (I'm not even sure what my concepts will be.) But I'm grateful for the reminder that this method does help my students in a way that I'm not sure anything else could.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Three months later...

Teachers submitted Purchase Orders for this year's supplies in May.

They weren't processed until a week or two ago.

I was trying to save the school some money, and instead of using our catalog found an online vendor that has lower prices. I especially relied on them for the materials that other schools expect students to provide. Binders. Notebook dividers. Notebook paper. You know, the basics

Think about the past three months. Gas prices are dipping now, but companies are already raising prices.

So my shopping cart of materials is more expensive now than it was then.

School starts next Tuesday. Hopefully, I'll be able to get this processed so the supplies will arrive to an (empty) school on Monday.

At least I didn't try to save too much money and ordered extras of many supplies. Maybe those 30 bumper binders will save enough money to help this go through.

The question: what supplies do you find most necessary for your students?

Monday, August 11, 2008

End of Summer

I report to inservice in 40 minutes. Two weeks and then students.

A photo I took on my walk last night. The brightness of the flower against the incoming storm sums up how I'm feeling right now.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Knitting and Goals

Or How I Don't Work

I’m a knitter and, when I get the chance, I like to hang out with other knitters. Overall, knitters have two ways we approach our work.

There are the knitters who are project oriented. The ones who ask, “When are you going to finish that?” or “How long did that take you?” These are the people who know the techniques to speed up their knitting so they can finish one project and move on to the next. And they always seem to know what they’re going to work on next.

Then there are the process knitters. The people who will work on something for a while, just enjoying the process of creation. They experiment with techniques for the effects they have. They have more works-in-progress than planned projects, because if something looks interesting then they should try it out now.

I’m a process knitter. Currently there are two major projects I’ve almost completed, but finishing--joining pieces, weaving in loose ends of yarn, blocking a project to define it’s final shape--bores me. Completing the project isn’t enough motivation for me. I want to be able to really experience it. When winter comes and I’m ready to wear that wool sweater, I’ll find the time to finish it. I’ll block my shawl soon, but there’s no way I’m wearing it mid-summer.

As such, I hate being pushed to give an end-date for a project. My senior year of high school, I worked on a sweater jacket.* As the bag carrying the sweater became fuller, the question, “When will you be done?” came more and more frequently.

My answer? “By the time I graduate...
...from college.” **

I have a similar attitude toward goals outside of knitting. I understand that some people need them. I hear that they help you more if you define them specifically. But they feel more constraining to me.

It’s a bit of a lie to say I don’t have goals. I do.***

I just don’t like spelling them out. (Despite my tendency to plan ahead. And my apparent tendency to make other people spell out their goals.) I don’t like sharing them. (Despite my frequent conversations with friends.) I don’t respond well to people asking me how I’m doing with them. (Though it doesn’t stop me from inquiring on how other people are doing.)

I don’t know. Maybe my GPA would have been .15 points higher, if I had more explicit goals and found some extra drive during my worst college classes, but I still wouldn’t have graduated summa. Maybe that sweater jacket would have finished 8 months earlier, but I wouldn’t have worn it any more. The fact is, I’m perfectly happy being a process person.

But, I face a dilemma at school. The beginning of the school year is ripe with goalsetting. I’m told I should do it, but it just seems so forced. I believe in the end-product, but the process fails at motivating me. Student goal-sheets never did anything for me as a student. How do I convince students of their benefits when they’re not something I get genuinely excited about?

Because most people aren’t process knitters, I understand that setting goals is a useful skill for most people. In a region where kindergardeners give you a blank stare when asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and high schoolers think it’s okay to tell their teacher that they’ll sell drugs, I do believe it’s crucial to create visions, to repeatedly go through the process of defining action plans and following them to an endpoint.

But I haven’t found an overall method that’s comfortable for me. I didn’t have much buy-in with my pep talks and personal conversations last year, perhaps because they felt trite even to me. I’m realizing I need to try something else.

How do you bring goals to the classroom? What do you set for students? What do you have students define for themselves? How do you motivate anyone to set honest goals, and not follow my habit of filling in the answers I expect people want to hear?


*I was, and often still am, that girl who knit during class. It helps me concentrate.

**I had the pieces completed and pinned together by the time I graduated high school. A friend convinced me to sew them together in the fall of my first year at college.

*** A personal goal for this school year is to take the pictures necessary to create a calendar of hay--because my phrase last year was that I was living in said calendar. But I classify it as a project rather than a goal.