Friday, September 28, 2012

Grammar and the Math teacher

So I put up a quote on Edmodo "Learning without thinking is labor lost; thinking without learning is dangerous." (Chinese proverb) 

I wanted students to see that if they are getting all of their assignments "done" but not learning from it then they are missing the point.
Got this response back from one of my students and I have mixed feelings.  On one hand I am happy that she feels that way, but on the other...hmmmm even as a math teacher it makes me cringe.  (this is an 8th grade student)

"I think math is very important because if we didn't have a mind we wouldn't know anything and we won't have a full education. Thank you Mrs. Nehila for teaching us everything you know your support and your respect. We wouldn't be nowhere without you."

Rethinking Group Work

Today I had my kids work on an open ended problem that went something like this:
Two friends are taking a trip from Los Angeles to NY.  The rental car costs 15 cents per mile and $25 per day.  They plan to stay 1 week.  How much will their trip cost?

Now usually I would give them roles such as leader, time keeper, supply manager, recorder etc.  But today I decided to try something different. 

I've been bothered by the kids that even though they have a "job" do not participate in the problem. So I broke the problem up into 4 parts basically: 1. Write a verbal model to help us answer this question  2.  Calculate the cost of the rental car.  3. What are the other expenses the two friends will incur?  4. What are other ways they could travel to NY? (This was just extra, but I wanted to have 4 groups) 

Then I had each student count out from 1-4 and all the 1's worked on the first task, all the 2's on the second and so on.  Each student was responsible for making sure they had something to bring back to their table.  It was so awesome hearing them all engaged with their task.  Even my sped kids were busy making sure they had the notes copied correctly and understood what they needed to explain back at their groups.

After about 20 minutes they returned back to their tables and shared out what they found.  They had about 15 minutes to share their notes and then another 20 to write up their answers.  They were told that their answers had to be in their own words and if any papers were exactly the same they would get a zero.

The responses were really good. My students would always write down the bare minimum.  For a question like this I wouldn't be surprised to get a paper back from a kid who "worked" on it for 45 minutes with the only thing written down  -->   $945  These kids were running out of room on the paper and asking if they should attach another sheet or write more on the back!!!  YEA!!!!!  I am really excited about doing this again and more often!!!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Reflections 9/26/12

Just a quick minute to jot some things down.  I really need to keep this blog going to do these reflections but I just can't wait until I "have time"  because that is never going to happen!  

  1. So its the end of the first mini unit, they have the test today.  I am not thrilled with how the assignment sheet went at all.  They need so much more structure, less choice.  Some choice is good, but too much is not!
    It is too much for me to grade!  I wanted to check every single problem, but it is too overwhelming.  So I need to rework my whole assignment sheet.  I will post it when I finish.
  2. I am going to start putting more content into the videos.  Basically all I had was vocabulary words for them to copy.  Now I am going to add an example of a basic problem and they will have to do 1-2 problems (basic) for me to check as homework.  Not all are getting on Edmodo, so they only thing I worry about is them copying the answers from each other.
    But the reason I'm doing this is because I have to get them doing meatier work in class, like zero basic computation problems.
  3. Next the best thing I noticed, my 8th graders have started out with a geometry unit, angle pairs, triangle angle sums, etc.  and they are writing and solving these very complex multi-step equations.  I am so proud of them!!  The reason it stands out to me is because they don't question their ability to do it.  I just start them off a little bit and they get right to work.  I think about how if I was teaching "solving multi-step equations" they would struggle, but since there is more of a goal to finding the solution (what is the measure of the angle?) they persevere.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Will They Retain It?

That is the question.

So halfway through week two and these are my observations.
I teach 7th and 8th grade.  My 8th graders are doing wonderfully.  They have the maturity to handle this.  I still have a little silly-ness and have had to pull a few kids into the hall for a little private discussion, but for the most part they are working hard and when I question them with my now famous "but why?" questions, they are responding beautifully.  I feel like the fact that I am focusing on vocabulary more than ever they are explaining themselves so much better.  Ya think? LOL

My 7th grade needs work.  They are babies.  They need to be taught to self monitor themselves.  They need so much guidance and structure.  It is coming along.  I am slightly worried that they wont finish their assignment work by next week, but right now I have to realize that it is MY job to make sure they do so.

I will be testing them on this material next week.  I am excited and nervous to see how they do.  In some ways I don't feel like I have "TAUGHT" lessons, but in other ways, I feel like I have taught so much.  Its all kind of loose and sporadic and comes up as needed.  I really love it, but will feel so much more comfortable after the test when I can say "oh yes! it is working! They do get it!"

Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Flipped Classroom

At the end of last year I discovered "the Flipped Classroom" by stumbling on a recorded webinar by Crystal Kirch (forever thankful for that day!) and over the summer researched and planned and surfed and tweeted and watched webinars all in an effort to better differentiate and engage my students.  
I had lots of different visions of how my classroom was going to "look" and the actual procedures that I was going to teach them the first week.  However, I was bringing in a lot of new elements-flipping, ISNs, and layered curriculum!  I was a nervous wreck...I truly believed that these things were sound, solid ideas that would benefit my students, but I wasn't 100% convinced that I could pull it all off (especially being only a 2nd year teacher.)

Now I have to preface this blog post with the fact that it is still the beginning of the year, and I don't know how this will all translate to actual student results which is the only way to gauge if this is a success or not.  But I can tell you what I have let this evolve into feels so natural and RIGHT that I want to share a few things that I am doing.

My Take on Flipping
So first off, my homework is not a video lesson.  The video homework consists of only a very important concept (stolen from Katie Gimbar) which is the big idea of the concept, the main vocabulary and a quick example.  I screencast a powerpoint and even tell the kids that it isn't a terrible thing if they don't listen!  All they have to do is copy the slides onto the right side of their interactive student notebook! Basically I wanted to free up that portion of class time.  Some copy slower than others, some don't pay attention etc. and I wanted to make sure they had an organized notebook to study from later.
The next day I put up a do now based on the concept.  Remember I didn't "teach" them how to do it. I allow them to work out the problem by themselves and they can use the notes they took, usually a few of them have no problem and they share with their table.  When most are done we go over it.  I have one of the kids who got it right away "teach" it by sharing what they did. 

Table Talk
Next I have them spend 5-10 minutes discussing the topic from the video, how it relates to the do now, and what difficulties they might be having with it.  I walk around and listen and ask each table some questions, including having them show me how to do a similar problem (may introduce white boards next week)
We did a foldable type activity with both grades, but what I noticed is it only works if I have 1:15 with them. I only get that one day a week for each class on different days.  So I will be planning something for each concept but only those whose 1:15 falls on that day will do it and the other classes will do their first practice set on the left side of the notebook.

Layered Curriculum
After the talk it is off to work!  They have folders where they keep the assignment sheet I posted here and all of the work they are working on.  As they are working I check their ISNs to make sure their notes are taken and complete (homework check) and then start asking the higher order questions, meeting with students to assess and discuss their progress.  This is the real golden part of the class.  This is the time where I pulled that kid from my other post and got to work with him.  And that was only one class, there were other successes that day in other classes too, just being able to guide the students and really head off any misconceptions right away was so wonderful.  The tiered assignments are really great too.  I have kids that work at so many different paces and levels and to have stuff ready for them to start working on is awesome, like I said they are just working their butts off the whole rest of the time!

Some of my concerns:
  • They are focused and working hard-is it just because its the beginning of the year and this is new?
  • Will everyone get their assignments done by the end of the unit?-its still too early to tell.
  • I feel like I am reaching my 8th's at a deeper level than my 7th's is this because they are smaller classes or because I know them already?
  • Finally, will this result in retention of the concepts which I have found to be the biggest problem with my students?  I actually had a student tell me "aw Mrs. Nehila, I washed that outta my hair two weeks ago!"-I was like "What???!!!!") 
That's where I'm at so far.  I'd also like to say that not everything was a 100% perfect.  There were some things in there last week that didn't work, mostly with timing like the foldable activity and a video mishap that I don't even want to share!  I guess that is why we reflect and revise constantly!

By Golly I Think This Is Going To Work!

I left school yesterday on cloud nine.  It was my third day of running my class with all of the things I've been planning and working on all summer and let me just say I couldn't be happier.  I LOVE this so much.  I think the reason I am so excited and optimistic is because it doesn't feel gimmicky or like I'm doing busy work stuff.  I am watching kids work their butts off on math like I have NEVER seen before!  That is what I am so  pumped up about.
I even have a student in 8th, who has always been (had him in 7th last year) a behavior issue, it was always a success just to keep his behavior in check.  Well yesterday I got to sit at  an empty group of desks, work one on one with him and sent him back to his table where he worked quietly until dismissal.  I think I had tears of joy in my eyes.
I also noticed I am asking so many higher order questions and pushing the kids so much harder.  I've gone from, "no you don't have to show work" to "not only do you have to show work, but explain why your are doing what you are doing."  I am pushing them to use vocabulary correctly, I was amazed at how many of my "smart" kids were writing things like "divide 90 from 2" for example.

Ok I am getting chills again.  I need to keep this short because now I am going to go through all of my lesson plans this week and tweak them just a bit with all the little successful tweeks I did this week!  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Goal 1 and 3 met!

Reflect, reflect, reflect right?

So today was our first day of "what a great day in Mrs. Nehila's math class looks like."  I assigned the first video for 7th and 8th grade last night.  Their job was to write notes on the right side of their ISN.   I only had 1-2 in each class who didn't watch the video.  They were actually embarrased/sad that they didn't have it completed!  -Thats a first!  I explained that they will face consequences for not watching and taking notes and that this work will still have to be done.  I also explained that I am available before/after school and at recess for them to come and watch it!

My biggest challenge is that my class times are different for each class.  Every class is about 50 minutes except for certain days when I see certain classes for 1:15 minutes.  It turns out that one of my 7th grades gets the full 1:15 five days a week while the other 7th and all the 8th only get it once per week.  Anyway, it kind of changes the way I want to structure class.

My first class today was the 8th grade class that had the full 1:15.  It was AWESOME!  I was still teaching procedures during this time, but this is what we did:

  1. Do Now
  2. what I call "Table Talk" where they discuss the video-this was guided by three questions I gave them: What was the video about?  Where can we use this math in real life/if you cant think of anything then Why are we learning this? and What are you confused about.  
  3. Left side ISN work: (probably stole this from Sarah at ) They taped in two pieces of construction paper with Supplementary and Complementary written on top.  Underneath they wrote an example of each.
  4. Finally they got to work on the assignment sheets.  As expected some blew through the basic level work and I guided them to the next level.  They even got that done!  I need to really raise the bar for these kiddos!!!  
The longer 7th grade class got through 1-3 but not 4.  I just reviewed the assignment sheet.  The other 8th graders didn't get as far as the first class.  Tomorrow is a 1/2 day and my classes are only 28 minutes, so I will have all of them work on the assignment sheet.  My 8th grade that is ahead will do some other stuff, like help me investigate features of Manga High that we can't figure out.

So overall, it was a success.  The assignment sheet really gives them a sense of urgency.  I am hoping that continues.  They should be feeling like there is a lot to get done, lets make every minute count!
I need to raise the bar for my upper level work, the kids that got through it today should be challenged more.
My 7th graders are a chatty bunch but for the most part stay on task.  I know admin won't like to see them so loud though.  I will have to practice volume levels with them.

Thats all for now, Open House tomorrow night... lots to still do!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Goals for the 2nd Week

Start of the 2nd week and I am feeling a little more at ease.  What an exciting year this is going to be with all of the new tools I am implementing!  I say exciting to be positive, but actually I am so nervous!  I have to keep reminding myself that if everything is not perfect, its OK, I will improve and the things I am doing are going to be so much better for my kids than what we did last year!

So my goals for this week are: 
  1. Introduce the first real math video and class format.  We've been doing procedures and assessments so far.  I had them watch a video to learn how to sign up for Edmodo, and they seem to really like Edmodo :)  and I've had them working in groups since the first day.  All of these things are working nicely.  I had to put them in rows today for the assessments and I hate it!  Can't wait until Wednesday!
  2. Make sure they get the hang of the ISNs.  So far we have the table of contents and their expectation/policies pages done.
  3. Hope I don't overwhelm them with the Assignment Sheet outlining all of the assignments that they need to do in the next 2 weeks!  I quickly showed them the sheet last week and they seemed a little stunned. I will be controlling it for a while until they get used to it, then I hope to release more choice to them when I see they are ready.  

I keep going back and forth with how I am going to make my videos, I really like the idea of the one take videos using the 6 whiteboard slides, but found out that I really can't do it at home.  So, even though I didn't want to do this, I downloaded the Camtasia Studio 8 trial and of course fell in love with it.  I kept it totally basic and just recorded a screencast of a powerpoint.  Since my laptop doesn't have a microphone, and I am literally broke until 9/15, I figured out that I could record the audio on my tablet and just add the wav file to the recording!  It worked great!  Now I just have to get better at it.  I made a 7th grade video 1st and then the 8th grade video.  I totally sound like a robot in the first one, much more relaxed and the way I want to sound in the second. I will finish up the rest of the videos for my 2 week unit tomorrow during my prep.  I am keeping my videos EXTREMELY basic so I should be able to crank them out quickly.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Exhausted and Loving It!!!

Well we are three days in and actually the word exhausted is probably an understatement.  One promise/goal/resolution I made to myself was that I would blog and reflect a lot this year.  I worked over the summer at developing the habit and it has grown on me, but I am at that point now of whoa, so much going on where do I start.

I will start with the whole "flipping" situation since that was what I did most of my research and planning on over the summer.  So far all I have done is told the kids that they will be watching videos as a portion of their homework and doing most of the hard problem solving in class.  They didn't seem worried, concerned, or really any emotion, it was kind of like "OK, whatever, that's cool."  I did have them watch a "how to sign up for Edmodo" video that I made with Screencast-o-matic, and they liked it, they are LOVING Edmodo which makes it really fun. They are posting like crazy already.

A while back I shared a bunch of videos and info with my team and so far the 7th grade ELA teacher is gung-ho and hopping on board.  We are going to make a parent video together which we will show at back to school night.  It is so exciting seeing someone else get as into it as I am.
I haven't made my videos yet though...  I am behind on this and I want them filmed 2 weeks in advance, that is my goal.  I plan on having a marathon recording session over the weekend.  I'm not too stressed about it though because I plan on keeping it way simple.  My reason for flipping is to free up class time to get the students to do more work.  The biggest time killer I've found is to be when students copy notes (definitions and such) off the board.  So, my videos are going to be basically just vocab and maybe one example.  We will still have a whole class mini lesson each day.

This week I've been teaching them procedures and focusing on working collaboratively.  In an effort to practice I have them discussing their summer projects and I have been pleasantly surprised by how engaged most of them are!  They are still on their best behavior and haven't begun the ritual of testing me yet, but so far the ability I see in them is much more than what I've worked with in the past, so this is exciting.

Since I mentioned behavior, I will address what has been happening in that area.  This is technically my second year teaching, I needed a lot of help with classroom management, I am the momma bear, and love all the kiddos so they took advantage of me.  Last year was better than the 1/2 year I had when I started, but I still needed work.  The nice thing is that I notice I am doing things a lot better so far.  Its so cool when I think  "ooh last year I wouldn't have handled that the best way, but NOW I know better!"  It is still the first week and I know they are on their best behavior. However, I do see behaviors and attitudes that I like much more than I did last year.  There is only one class I am worried about, and I told them straight up today that they are being warned as a class to watch it.  I think they got the message.  Oh and a student from my homeroom had a rough day, attitude from the very minute he walked in I gave him his talk and warning and then found out he was rude to other teachers, so no playing around, called home and having a parent meeting tomorrow.  I hope that little story gets spread around to the kids ;)  One of the things I told all of them is that I will have all of their parents on speed dial.

Well I am beat and my daughter is at the finals of Americas Got Talent with friends so I am going to watch it and hopefully spot my girl on TV!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Why Do You Teach Math?

For the 3rd week of the Math Bloggers initiation I will write about why I decided to teach middle school math.  In a way I feel like I am taking the easy way out, I would love to write about my favorite math problem or misconceptions, but when I sit down to write I keep drawing a blank.

Anyway, my story is kind of interesting.  I am not the type of teacher who knew since she was a little girl that I wanted to teach.  I kind of discovered it 16 years after I graduated high school.  However, I guess my story starts back in high school.

9th grade Algebra to be exact.  My parents had just divorced and I moved with my dad to a new town and new school.  I was not the model student in any of my classes, but Algebra 1 was a disgrace.  I failed miserably and ended up in "business math" for 10th and 11th grade.  Luckily for me, only 3 years of math were needed back in the 80's to graduate and somehow they counted my failed Algebra class as one of them.  Due to my mediocre job in HS, I didn't have much hope for college.  I ended up trying a basic math class at the community college but dropped out.

Fast forward 16 years, I was married, had two kids and was a stay at home mom.  Over the years I worked as a secretary, bank teller, mortgage loan servicer and an inside sales rep.  I knew it was time for a career, not just a job.  My sister and I brainstormed what I could do, what I might be good at.  At the time I was also the leader of my daughter's Girl Scout Troop.  My sis said that I would probably like to teach since I LOVED leading my daughters troop.  As soon as she said it I thought to myself "Wow!  She's right!!!"  So I marched my 32 year old butt down to the community college and signed up!  I didn't know what I wanted to teach at the time, I just figured I would get all of my core classes taken care of and think about it later.
The more mature, experienced me thrived in college.  I was a 4.0 student and found that I loved my math classes!!!  When it was time to really decide what my major would be and what I wanted to teach two things influenced me to choose math.  First of all I love a challenge.  Since I always "sucked" at math, that was what I was drawn to.  When I realized that I could actually be good at it, thanks to some good teachers I thought, "Imagine helping kids who weren't naturally good at math to like it and do well!" I thought that sounded like the best thing ever! Secondly, I was OLD, I had to choose a major that would help me get a job when I graduated, which I calculated to be when I was 40 years old!  So math it was :)

It has so far been exactly what I imagined.  The hardest job I've ever had but certainly the most rewarding (besides being a parent of course!)  I can totally relate to my students who think they are bad at math, and am still in awe of the one who it comes naturally for.  I make sure that both are encouraged and nurtured to push themselves farther than they think they can go!