Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Fun With Homework 2: Numbered Mini Packets - The Conclusion

I meant to post this over the weekend but got wrapped up in trying to finish Quarter 1 grades. The presentations and discussion went well. The students did a good job explaining concepts that are above grade level for many of them. As I walked around to the different groups, most of the students were engaged with the activity. They were listening to each other, talking about the math, challenging each other with vocabulary, and finding resolutions on their own if there was a conflict. The big concepts they were discussing were adding and subtracting integers, using additive inverse property, and evaluating absolute value. Here are a few finished products:

To follow up: Today we had an extremely shorten period due to it being an early release day. So we discussed how to compare integers. We talked about the symbols they already knew: greater than (>), less than (<), and equal to (=). I asked them to explain how they are used and provided several examples for them to evaluate. Of course, some one had to bring up that their elementary school teacher told them to think of the symbols as alligators and the 'mouth' opens up to the larger number. The student quickly added he knew the correct names of each symbol; he just found his elementary school teacher's explanation amusing.

When I asked them to compare -8 and -10, the students didn't take long to state that -8 was greater than -10 because as you approach zero on the negative side of the number line the value of the integer increases and as you get further away from zero on the negative side the value of the integer decreases. They referred back to the number lines we did with integer operations. They also were quick to stated that |-8| was equal to the |8| because they are the same distance from zero on a number line. Likewise they knew that -7 was less than |-7| because the absolute value of -7 was 7 and a positive value is greater than a negative value. Just as the class was ending, they were coming up with their own comparisons.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Fun With Homework 2: Numbered Mini Packets - Work Samples

Unfortunately, 1st period again got a late start due to circumstances beyond my control. Thursday mornings are Company Commander Time, or CCT. This means students have an hour (8:15am to 9:15am) to practice military drills. All grade levels - 6th through 12th - participate together, usually in preparation for upcoming parades where they need to march in formation and student leaders practice their roles during different ceremonies. Teachers are exempt from this as we use the time to have professional development, meet in content area departments, and/or update our grade books and correct papers. CCT ran longer yesterday than it should have so 1st period was shorten by 20 minutes.

My sixth graders only met for 30 minutes. I had them count off and as they passed each of the card numbers, I handed them their card. I had to fix it a bit since one group got two cards. I informed them that they not only had to evaluate their expression and justify their response, but they also needed to create a word problem to fit the expression. Many of them were excited and already had a word problem in mind for their card. The best part was overhearing students helping other students understand the material. This is an Honor class so most of the students are above grade level and enjoy a challenge. These problems are based off a 7th grade assessment on Integer Operations. The students understand integers, opposites, and absolute value at their 6th grade level. This is a way to advance their understanding of the content. Here's a quick look at a few of them:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Fun with Homework 2: Numbered Mini Packets #MTBoS

Trying to get a little creative with my activities. Probably been done before but I didn't want to do the same ol' thing with paper airplanes this week. So - numbered mini packets that have the homework (plus a few review problems) inside.
The students will count off and whoever says the number they will have do present.

There will be one catch: they will have to create a word problem to go with their expressions. It's not enough to show me how to do the problems - you need to apply it.

For the word problem: they can ask for assistance from their group.

I am toying with using their Google Classroom accounts for them to post their final products.
They can take a photo, share it, and present. I will post the results of the activity later today (or tomorrow).

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fun with Homework: "Paper Airplane" Method #MTBOS

This was inspired by a 'snowball' activity I have done previous years. I had assigned 5 short integer expressions for students to evaluate using either counters or number line method. Normally with homework I post the answers and students check their responses and we discuss any misconceptions. I don't have a lot of time with my 1st period class for a variety of reasons that are out of my control. I wanted a way to engage the students quickly and get them talking about the problems. So I put each one of the expressions on an index card.

The expressions were:
1) -10 + (-5) + 3
2) -12 + (-6)
3) 20 + (-20) + 10
4) 8 + 3 + (-1)
5) 9 + (-8) + (-1)

 Yes, these are simple expressions but the purpose was to have them justify their answers using visual models and to understand how positive and negative numbers are combined. I also wanted them to use the vocabulary: zero pairs, combine, opposites, and additive inverse.

Once I put the expressions on index cards, the next step was how to effectively 'hand out' the cards:
a) Did I want to do it by asking for volunteers?
b) Did I want to use a systematic method - every sixth person that enters class gets a card?
c) Create a unique method for delivering the cards so students weren't aware of what was going on?

a) Asking for volunteers always gives me the same four to five people and is not an effective way to assess my students. I wanted to get students off guard. I didn't care if they had done the homework or not but I wanted to see if they understood the concepts.

 b) Systematic method would be nice if my students showed up at the same time. However, that's been another issue in the morning is not all homeroom release their students at the same time because not everyone gets released from morning formation at the same time.

 c) The above two questions led me to thinking about the 'snowball' activity. Instead of having the students write down an expression and throw it, I would create paper airplanes with the index cards. I would throw the paper airplanes towards the middle of the classroom and who ever picks it up has to come to the board and explain it. Sounded great! So how did it go....

1) The students were caught off guard. I didn't tell them what was on the cards in advance. Out of the five students that picked them up, two of them had not done the homework and are not active participants in daily discussion. This gave me an opportunity to assess their understanding. I allowed other students to come up and present a different visual aid if they wanted. The students got into it and I didn't have to say much.
2) A great way to begin looking at the mathematical 'rules' for adding integers. A few students were not into the visual aids and were able to explain to the group about when you add a negative and a positive that's really just subtraction and the sign for the sum will be determined by the whichever addend has the higher absolute value.
 3) As students were leaving class, a few came up to me and said they had enjoyed the class for the first time all year. They want to do more activities like this. :)

1) My paper airplane skills are not great. Need to work on that - the airplanes didn't fly as far as I wanted.
2) One student refused to come to the board to work out his problem. He handed it off the card and his homework paper to another student to present to the class. I was okay with this - I was the shy kid in math class when I was in middle school and I understand why some students don't like to get up in front of others. However, a few very vocal students did not like it and thought it wasn't fair. So that issue needs to be address before we do another activity of this type.

NEXT UP: Today we will be reading a few pages from Alex Bellos's "The Grapes of Math" (pages 169 - 175; Chapter 7: The Positive Power of Negative Thinking). Will be using the Jigsaw collaboration method. Each group will read a couple paragraphs, summarize, then read/present to class. I'm going to try to get some pics to post for this one.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Day in the Life: Second Month (October) Reflection #DITL

Thursday, 6 October 2016
Second Monthly Post/Reflection
How's it going??

Currently, my family and I are at a hotel in the Midlands area of South Carolina. We left Charleston yesterday before the evacuation orders were given to avoid the traffic. Our housing area is near a major waterway so it was advised that we leave and go to higher ground regardless. All the schools in Charleston and surrounding counties have closed due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Matthew. You should have heard the students when our principal announced mid-morning on Tuesday that schools might be closing on Wednesday. It was deafening! The official word came by Tuesday afternoon that we would close on Wednesday through Friday then take next week on a day-to-day basis. It's been a busy, overwhelming month and these few days off do give me a chance to catch up on grading papers and inputting grades. Now onward to the reflection...

1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today the past month, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

A pencil. It's a simple item, almost every class requires you have one. I still don't understand how you can show up to class without one and think it's okay. However, this past month, I finally decided to just accept it as a natural thing for many of my middle schoolers and worked on a way to handle it without too much disruption to my class. I read on a blog (I wish I could remember which one) that students that don't have a pencil can sign one out in a log then return it at the end of class. I modified this by writing their name on the board when I give it to them and erasing it when they bring it back. It has cut down on students forgetting pencils as many don't like to see their name written on the board. We've incorporated this procedure into the opening routine of each class - along with asking to sharpen pencils.

iPads. In an effort to find a way to motivate my large class of 23 boys to follow rules/procedures, I decided to offer up the iPads for individuals who every day came prepared and followed rules/procedures during class. Those individuals got to use the Nearpod app along with a stylus to showcase their work while the others had to use paper/pencil. It worked okay but it didn't have the effect I thought it would. My non-iPad group spent most of their time still wandering around the room and distracting others who had the iPads. One student even gave up his iPad to one of the non-iPad students in hopes that it would get the the non-iPad student to stop bothering him. Again too much time was spent policing the disruptive students instead of focusing on the lesson of complex fractions and unit rates. What I don't like doing but does work to bring the class to order is to send these three (and it is only three) students to another classroom to work on the assignments. Unfortunately they are not doing any of the assignments I send them either. I know that one of the students is being sent to an alternative school next week and another one of the students I have asked for a list of interventions to try with him so this might help.

2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?

Looking forward: In a previous post, I criticized the new curriculum guides from my district. Well...I am now on the new math curriculum writing team for our district. We discussed the feedback from the August meetings, but it was a very broad range of feedback. Some absolutely loved the guides and were thrilled with them. Others had issues with the sequence of units or standards. Some didn't care for them at all and stated they were going to follow the curriculum guide from the South Carolina Department of Education. I had a chance to talk with our district math head about mathematical/growth mindset. She's read Jo Boaler's book too; she said that when they wrote the curriculum guides this summer they wanted to stay away from instructional strategies, that those were up to individual teachers. So it was good to get insight into how the district views the guides and I look forward to having input into later units of the curriculum.

Challenges: This has been a tough year and we're not even through the first quarter. We had another teacher quit (that's 4 since August) and at least two more have expressed a desire to be elsewhere by the end of December. Morale is the lowest I've ever seen (and I've been here for over 6 years). Each day I remind myself that I need to stay positive for my own sanity and so I don't spread any of my negativity to the students.

3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

To get my all-boys class through MAP testing, I had to take five students back to my room. Instead of doing a lesson, we arrange the desks and discussed their behavior. One student who was highly agitated had just come from a verbal exchange with another teacher. The exchange as the student claimed began when the teacher stated his parents had not raised him properly. The student's mother had died several years ago, his dad was not in his life due to drugs, and he currently lived with his grandmother. He said that his grandmother was doing her best with him and his siblings and that it hurt him when people brought up his mom in the way the teacher supposedly did. I thanked him for sharing and offered him a pass to guidance if he needed. He said he'd be okay. Another student shared that his dad wasn't around a lot either - it was mainly his mom and aunts. He stated his mom was better good in math and tried to help him at home as much as she could. A week later, his mom and aunts did shadow him for a few class periods (including math).

4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year. What is a goal you have for the year?

Working towards a mathematical/growth mindset. My students are coming around. I'm seeing more work when I spot check homework and on the last assessment. When doing Bell Work, they are writing down their justifications without being reminded. I've had several students say they understand math better now that they have to explain it (a few even went as far as to say they are enjoying math for the first time).

5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?

A big initiative for this year from the South Carolina Department of Education is Read to Succeed (Literacy in All Content Areas). I was selected to be part of our school's Literacy Team. One of the main reasons was the math journals my students did last year. I also have a Word Wall that is growing weekly and refer often to it during instruction. Additionally I weave in the SAT Word of the Day whenever possible and write them down on my front white board. This Friday (had we not closed for the hurricane) was supposed to be my first attempt this year at weaving informational text (excerpts from "The Grapes of Math" by Alex Bellos) into the instruction. We were going to use the Jigsaw method - assigning each group a page to read and summarize than present their summary to the class for discussion.

For the first time in years, I have student work to put outside in the hallway. My 6th grade Honor students did a performance task where they had to show (visually as well as in words) how to solve a candy bar problem involving fractions. Many students did a wonderful job of drawing bar diagrams to represent the candy bars then dividing them up in 3/4 pieces. They even wrote down their answers in sentences.