Sunday, August 26, 2012

My First Unit

I was super excited when I read one of this weeks prompts for the Math Blogger Initiation project.
Find one worksheet or activity or test or unit or question or powerpoint slide or syllabus or anything that you are proud of. Share it.

Well, I wasn't exactly excited when I read it on 8/21 when it was sent out because I didn't have anything I was proud of-yet. See, over the summer I have been researching and studying and trying desperately to make my class better. I kept coming back to the following three ideas: the flipped classroom, Interactive Student Notebooks, Layered Curriculum. They all sounded like they were exactly what I needed to help me engage my students and differentiate instruction. The two MAJOR areas I had to improve and FAST! It also seemed so overwhelming. There was no way I could do all three...way to much! However, over the past 2 days it has all just come together(well on paper anyway)!! I just knew that if I had left any of these things out this year or did not give my best effort in trying them I would be left with a big "What if?" floating around my head and I despise that feeling!

What I am actually sharing here is my layered curriculum assignment sheet. The reason I am so proud of it is because of how hard I worked on them-I did 7th and 8th :) So it is not perfect, but I am so proud of myself for getting it done, this is a 2 week mini unit. I know that once I get rolling with this my assignments will greatly improve, mostly a lot of solving problems from the book, worksheets etc. But I did make sure to get a lot of word problems especially the worksheets. I know I need more collaborative projects, but I have to start somewhere.  

Unit 1-A Assignment Sheet
I will also outline the structure of my class.

The master plan goes like this:
1. Do now- always some sort of assessment which will not be graded but used to focus the students work. (I'm going to try out for the 7th grade with this one.)

2. Daily small group discussions on the current topic (the topic from last nights video if there is one)  Since they are young I will train them to just answer the following questions as a team:

  • What are we learning about?
  • How does it relate to what we already know?
  • Can we think of real life examples?
  • What are we confused about or stuck on?

While they are discussing in groups I am checking their notebooks and assessing their learning, they will have to copy the vocab from the video and do 2-3 example problems they get from the video, this will be when I check that they did homework.

3. Mini-lesson which will probably be making a foldable to add to the right side of their ISN and something for the left side.

4. Finally they will have anywhere from 55 to 30 minutes to get to work!  I am going to require the first 65 points for C level.  Our school motto is "Failure is not an option!" so I am really going to prove to them its not just empty words.  I will also expect every single one of them to attempt the B and A levels.  This will take time, but I am hoping that the first week I can really convey my high expectations for them.  And if not I will show them I mean business, with my school being so small I can have all 72 parents on speed dial if I have to! 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Classroom Set-up and 2012-2013 Goals

Yes!  My first Sunday Funday post!  I will be setting up my classroom mostly on 8/27 and a little on 8/28.  we have PD from the 29-31, but I think I may have some time during those days to do some work on the room too.

So here is what I am starting with: (this was the last day and desks were just pushed to the sides)

The first thing I am doing which will be new is that I am turning my desk around and pushing to against the back wall!  That is going to buy me at least 2 feet in that corner!!  Woo hooo!
I have been procrastinating, but I need to get to Walmart or Target to see how much basic flat sheets cost.  I did my bulletin boards last year in old sheets and I loved it, but I don't have any more old sheets to use and I want my board backgrounds to be black.  So if I can find the sheets at a reasonable price I will get them if not, it will be black paper.  I will use some yellow border since I have it, and for the rest of them I will use tissue paper borders (I saw this on Pinterest)
For the board behind my desk I like to make "homeroom central"  I post my HR schedule, Student of the Week and Month, our class picture, etc.
On the small board between the windows I want to make a calendar.  Not sure yet how to do it, paper, or dry erase contact paper.  Still planning this, but it will be a calendar of some sort!
The biggest board on my back wall will hold student work.  I am so not good at bulletin boards!  I feel like I am a creative person, but this just puts me in my place, I am NOT creative!  I saw another idea on Pinterest that I liked with the yellow caution tape and the sign "Caution Student Work Appearing Soon!"  or something like that.
My wooden bookshelf will hold resources like textbooks and supplies.  On top I put five of those cardboard magazine holders up and inside go students work folders.
The board by the flag is my word wall...I would love to make it different this year, other than just posting up the words.  Liked an idea I saw with paper plates stapled at top with the subject, then a streamer or long strip of paper hanging down.  Each word strip would be clipped to the streamer/long strip.
The two boards at front are my grade level boards, I put 7th on the left and 8th on the right.  This is where I put their homeworks and  Do Nows.  I put up these thin dry erase mats that I found in our supply closet, so that I can erase it everyday.  I am toying with the idea of having a math student of the month in addition to my homeroom student of the month, and I would put the 7th and 8th SOM on these.  The little table up front holds my laptop and Elmo.  The black rolling cart is where I keep my calculators and other supplies.
The student desks will be grouped in 2 groups of 4 and 2 groups of 5 since my biggest class is 18.

Goals for 2012-2013

  1. Start to use foldables and possibly  Interactive Notebooks!  ( I am still scared of this idea)  The foldables will be easy to implement, but the interactive notebooks, I don't know, I see all the posts about them but I am so nervous about starting and then not following through. 
  2. NO boring lectures!!!!  Flipping, PBL, questioning etc!  I have learned so much over the summer and my goal is to implement it this year.
  3. The biggie is to continue my blog!!! To reflect on all the above things I will be doing, but also to blog some more mathy things too.
  4. The biggie biggie is to continue my workouts and hopefully drop the 40 pounds I've gained since I started teaching!!!!!!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Although I've been somewhat consistant blogging this summer, I am still new and decided this would be a good idea. I also hope it pushes me to post a bit more about my math teaching, not just teaching in general.

I decided to pick this prompt for my first week:

3. Talk about one or two specific things you plan on doing differently this year... and how specifically you are going to implement them/get the buy-in. Why do you want to do these things?  (If you are a new teacher, what are two specific things you plan on doing this year?)

Oh boy how timely.  I just found out on Wednesday that my 7th graders did terrible on the NJASK.  I expected my 8th graders to do poorly, (long story) but I actually managed to improve them 66% despite the fact that only 31% were proficient.  My 7th graders however were only 42% proficient when last year these same kids were 82%  What the hell?

Ok, so I need to figure out what went wrong and do it quick.  The only thing I can think of is that I don't have a really good record of their achievements.  I started this job (my first teaching job) with a terrible curriculum and a terrible textbook for both grades.  I don't have great preassessments, or benchmarks either.

So the first thing I am doing differently is making sure I am BACKWARDS planning!  I am going to redo the assessments and then from there redo the unit plans and then redo the lessons. I know it is kind of a "Duh" but I feel like I would have been so much better off if I could have followed a textbook chapter by chapter and then tweaked it each year as I gained experience.  Oh well.

The next thing I am doing is flipping my classroom.  Now let me clarify this.  It does not mean that every lesson will have a video lecture for homework and we will do worksheets in class. To me flipping means that the kids are going to work harder than me in class.  I may record videos and show them in class and have them do practice in class and home.  Or have them watch at home so we can work in class.  I am not making a big "Introduction" of the flipped classroom to my students or parents, it just going to be the way we do things this year.  I also plan on doing some PBL, and  I am most definitely doing foldables in my class.  Finally, I will also be doing a lot more practice timed tests.  I am thinking of doing some centers and/or menus to get these timed tests in.

Now about the buy-in, that is going to be the hardest part.  My new 8th graders had me last year and will not expect to work so hard (TOO BAD!) and my new 7th graders have a reputation of being very apathetic.  The only thing I am thinking right now is to go with our school motto "Failure is not an Option!" I am going to really hold them accountable to that motto.  I am envisioning many phone calls to parents and even group meetings with the Principal.  Whatever it takes, because for me, Failure is NOT an Option!!!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Need to Vent

Ok, I have to get this off my chest.  I hate to share this with the world and it is terribly embarrassing.  My 7th graders did miserably on the state test.  During the year with me they actually got dumber. I don't understand, I know I am a new teacher but I learned a lot this year and ended really strong.  I never expected this.  When I student taught my students got the highest scores in the school.  Last year was a weird year because I came in halfway during the year, so this year was going to be my big accomplishment.  I did improve my 8th graders by 66% from where they were individually, but the entire 8th grade also did terrible (I and my administrators kind of expected this), but my 7th graders were so smart, they honestly did well over the year, there were a handful I expected not to do well, but what really makes me want to puke is the really smart ones who went down in points.
I know I have to stop crying about it and put on my big girl panties and FIX this.  I know I can teach these kids, and I love it so much.  My administrators are super supportive (even though my poor Principal is going to have to present this to the board and I am embarrassed for her)  The only thing I should be worrying a lot about right now is that she is now scared about the flipped classroom.  I am going to work my butt of the next two weeks to make a total "action" plan for the year with everything I've learned over the summer and share it with her and my math coach.

Ok, enough whining (well not enough "wine"ing I did buy myself a bottle of Skinny Girl Sangria to numb my brain or I will not sleep tonight.)

Has this happened to anyone? I can't suck as bad as those numbers show, I just can't.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

21 Days and Counting!

I have to stop and take a moment to say that I am simply amazed at how much I have learned over this summer!  I also have to thank Crystal KirchFlipping With Kirch) for the 1st webinar she did on  It was that recorded webinar in May that I watched in my classroom after school one day that started this whole new learning revolution for me!
For me "The Flipped Classroom" has been all about flipping the vision of what my classroom looks like and how I teach, not just recording a video for homework and practice in class.
With 21 days still to go, I don't know if this year will be a success with the new things I am implementing.  However I do know for sure that it will have to be much better than the way I've done things for the past two years.
I still haven't gotten into the nitty gritty of lesson plans yet.  For some reason I can't do that until I have my class lists.  One of the nice things about my small charter school is that I know almost all of the students.  I know my incoming 8th graders very well since I had them last year, and I know my incoming 7ths pretty well.  Tomorrow I go into school to set up the new school year on our school management system, closing out last year and putting students into their new homerooms.  I found out that my school just hired a new IT guy, so I wonder if I will get to this next year-I really like this little task LOL.  Anyway, its a mental thing with me, I need to see their faces and think about their personalities before I plan the lessons.
Well, off to set up for my kids Swim of my official hallmarks of the end of summer!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Finally - 1st Four Days!

I've been stressing over my first week.  Last year, we all went to see Harry Wong, and I was sold on doing nothing but procedures and routines the first 2 weeks.  I still agree with the fact that the routine and procedures and getting to know the kids are the most important goals, however, I also think that it is equally important to set the tone that the subject is important too!
So I've been trying to figure out how to include both, without jumping too far into the "curriculum" to really let them know that BOTH are equally important.  I am so excited that I finally came up with something!  I have to preface this with a warning though, I am an EXTREME steal-er.  I am an expert google-er and steal almost everything I use in class from other teachers!   So part of this is stolen (my summer project) the rest is my idea and I'm so proud of myself!
Let me also start off by saying I teach in a very small charter school, my 8th graders are my last year 7th graders -so I know them inside-out, and my new 7th graders I've had in homework clubs, field day, etc and pretty much know at least everyone's names. So I don't have to do that much "getting to know you" stuff.  I did give my incoming 7th graders a survey that was due before the end of the year and got them all back (ONLY 1 student does not have access to technology at home!! Most had WAY more than me!!!)
Ok back to the plans:

What I want to cover the first week:
Rules: Come to class prepared and ready to learn
           Listen and follow all directions
           Respect yourself, you classmates and your teacher

Procedures: Entering and leaving class
                   Turning in work
                   Leaving seat (bathroom, nurse, garbage, supplies)
                   Working as groups  (sometimes they will be working together, other times the work is expected to be done individually but they are able to collaborate)
                   Emergency (Fire Drills, Lock Down, etc)
                   When I need whole class attention

We will go over these starting from the first day explain and practice.  I will make videos of these and homework for the first week will to be just watching these videos.  The next day we will have discussions based on the videos.  I like this because this will ease them into the videos without the stress of learning math from them.  The rest of my procedures will come on an as needed basis. These are the ones that I think are the most important for getting I missing anything?

Ok, now for the fun mathy stuff!  I made the summer assignment for both 7th and 8th grade a Math Scrapbook.  This part I totally 150% stole from somewhere online and I am sorry but I don't know where. If you recognize this and it is your work please tell me and I will probably send you a gift certificate for a coffee or something!
Anyway, hopefully you can get the gist of my project from the picture.  I asked 7th grade to do 4 pages and 8th grade to do 6 pages.

The first day I will have students share their project with their group.  Now, I know from experience that everyone won't have their project the first day.  The students that have them get to be the stars of the day!  So what happens is they are only sharing with their groups (4 and 5 students in each of my groups) they are getting feedback from group members that it is complete, the others are checking the project against the checklist I provided, and making sure it is "A worthy",  these students are going to be allowed to make corrections before they hand it in!  I will be circulating the groups talking getting reacquainted with everyone.  I will let those who don't have theirs to be sure to bring it tomorrow so they can get feedback tomorrow!

The next day  we will start with discussion of the video (rules and procedures) then back to our projects, starting off with those who didn't have them yesterday. If for some reason they ALL had them ready, they can use the time to "fix" them up with help from their support group.  The goal is that everyone is getting an A on their summer project.

3rd day-start off the same way, then this day we are going to have a little competition, each group will have to decide on their best scrapbook from their group including making a presentation why it is the best.  At the end of the day we will pick the "best of the best"

4th day- start off the same as the previous 3 days then those who never finished their projects will spend the rest of the class time working on them-EVERYONE will hand in their summer project by Friday.  The rest of the class will be viewing and voting on the BEST of the BEST from all classes and decorating the room with the rest of the projects.

I am so excited about this plan.  Some of the things I wanted to improve was giving my students a real taste of our motto "Failure is not an option!" and I feel like this plan starts the year off with that message, considering their summer project is a test grade.  Second, I was horrible about displaying student work and my bulletin boards, so my Friday activity gets work up and the kids involved.  Thirdly and most importantly I hope that this gets them taking about math and gives them a real feel of how I want my class to work this more silent rows and boring lectures!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Four Weeks to go!

Today I stopped by my school and picked up my laptop.  I've really enjoyed my tablet this summer but it does have some limitations.  The latest update did improve some things though I am happy to say!

So while there I got to see some of my students who are in the summer program.  It was great to see them today (I really love this bunch of new 8th graders) but I was sad to see their assessments.  I can't wait to see how the changes I am going to implement help them.

I also started working finally on my parent letter.  I am sort of embarrassed to say that I haven't done letters in the past, just postcards to my homeroom parents.  We have back to school night the second week, so I see them all early. Anyway, here is what I have so far: Parent Letter 2012

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tick, tock...

I am the kind of person who needs to first see the big picture and then pull all of the details into focus. I've been having a little trouble with this since I plan on radically changing the way I run my classes this year. And, since I am still a new teacher, I don't have lessons that I love and could just "turn into" videos and start that way. I truly feel like the past year and a half has been my own "what not to do" lesson.
Anyway, I started forming a vision of what I want to do this year.  My big picture turns out to be the explore, flip, apply model, which you can read more about here:
The part I am still fuzzy about is the apply part. I've read about so many good strategies that I think will work with my students, and my two favorite are modified assignments and layered assignments.
For modified, I would give a quick assessment as a do now and based on results student would work on similar assignments, but with different levels of difficulty. For layered, students would receive a list of tasks to complete, the required tasks would be in the C level, then they could earn points in the B and A levels.  (See Layered Curriculum)
I know that I could try both to see how they/I like them, but then Im not sure how to set up my grading. I want to decide soon and start planning my first units but feel like this is holding me up.
I would love to hear opinions from more experienced teachers!
I just want to do the best I can for my kids this year :)