Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Good

So I've been going through a "down" phase with this school year, but happily, there are some good things going on that have me very happy.
I have a 7th grade student who is new to our school.  One of the things I did the first week of school was to make a "Twitter board" and the students had to make math tweets on index cards that I hung on the board.  I told them the tweets should be about math, but could also be about the new school year and that they should include the hashtag #math.  My new student's tweet was "New school new opportunity to do better" that really stuck out to me.  He started off showing "signs" of being a trouble kid, but did well on his pre-assessment.  I pulled him aside one day and asked him if he liked math and what he wanted to do when he got older.  I told him that he could really do well in my class and could have a lot of opportunities in his future.  I've noticed that since this conversation, this student is one of my top kids!  He has passed all of his assessments and is just a model student in class.  My goal is to try and have more of these conversations with students!

The other good thing that happened lately is my Donors Choose project got funded!  I asked for 4 refillable tape dispensers and 50 rolls of tape for my ISN's and I got it!  What a neat process!  I got a 50% match right off the bat from Quill and then a match code from Donors Choose so it was easy to get funded.  I need to think of some more projects!

Those were the two major things that popped out at me.  There are a some good little things going on, and if I can get some more time, I would like to try to get on here to blog more regularly!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fail Fast and Reflect

My kids are failing, which in turn means that I am failing.  This post is going to try to help me sort out what isn't working, what is working and how do I fix it!

What is working:

  • ISNs- My students have been 100% prepared with their notebooks everyday, which might not sound so impressive, but in my experience this is huge. Not only do they bring them, but they are organized and they are taking them seriously.  I gave an open notebook test this week and the kids were very relieved to find that the notebooks actually helped them!  I think that alone let them see the value of taking accurate notes.  Step in the right direction, but I will address a problem that I am having later on in the Problems section!
  • My version of flipclass- This somewhat goes hand in hand with the ISNs.  They are copying the notes from the videos into the ISN's.  Which is probably better than if they were trying to take the notes down in class.  
  • Edmodo- Kids love it!  I even have other teachers using it now.  They are communicating with me more and asking for help.

Problems or what isn't working:

  • Groups/tables-Especially in 7th grade.  They could not stop getting off topic and just chatted up a storm.  The past week I have put them back in rows, actually I have them come in and sit in their groups with a 1 team leader at each group who checks that they copied their notes.  Once that is done, they turn their desks around to form the rows. Then I do a short mini lesson while they are quiet, using popsicle sticks to draw names to answer questions then they do their work independently/ silently until I tell them to pack up and turn the desks back to groups.  VERY teacher centered and I HATE IT!  But what do I do?  They are not taking responsibility for their learning and I don't know what to do!
  • Student centered learning- In my mind, I thought they would watch the videos which only consists of the big idea and vocabulary.  Then come to class ready to get to work and learn together how to "do" the math.  Not even close.  Its not even like they are waiting/wanting me to spoon feed it to them, they could just care less!!!  I know that I have to engage them in the math, make it more personal, etc, but I don't know how to do this everyday.  This is how I feel:  I've spent the past four years learning how to teach, and now everything I've learned is totally wrong and I have to relearn it all over again. 
  • Materials-  I've complained about this before but my textbooks and resources SUCK.  They were totally expensive and the principal is not letting me get new stuff.  Luckily since I work at a charter school, I don't have to use them, but it just seems like a huge waste.  Plus a ton of work curating my own stuff. 
  • I think I am on the right track with training the 7th graders by putting them in rows. They are learning to work quietly and stay on task.  My hope is that after a few weeks we can start getting back into groups and working at the same level-on task and quiet talk.  I am going to start this with 8th grade next week.
  • I am going to implement a little competition between the groups and classes.  I am still working on it but it will be based mostly on academic achievement but a little on behavior.  I am hoping this will start to motivate them to learn.
  • I need to figure out how to move my lessons back to student centered.  I loved the jigsaw activity I did two weeks ago and I want to do this with 8th grade, but I go back to my group problem.  I may try this with 8th before putting them in rows.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Toolbox and the ISN

I rarely come up with my own ideas when it comes to teaching, I am the queen of stealing!  I get so excited when I do come up with something that I haven't seen before but works. So something I started doing which seems to be really effective is what I refer to as The Toolbox.  (Now I'm sure that other teachers do this, but it was just new to me.)
At the beginning of the lesson I tell them the "tools" that they need to have in their toolbox in order to master the new skill.  I actually make a slide with a toolbox graphic on it and have them put it in their ISN.
For example for combining fractions they needed:

  • Add and subtract integers
  • Find the LCM/LCD
  • Simplify fractions
Then the best part is I had them write the page number that these topics were on in their ISN!  Now when they are working and get stuck, I tell them to go their toolbox. It seems to be an great solution so far!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

PLCs and Week 5 Reflections

My school has started to embrace the idea of PLCs or Professional Learning Communities.  So this post is a reflection about that, and my 5th week of school.

So to start off, my first "real" contract job is the charter school that I work at.  I LOVE the fact that it is small.  I teach 7th (36 students-two classes of 18) and 8th (36 students-three classes of 12)  But one thing I don't like is that I am the ONLY 7th/8th grade math teacher.  To say I felt isolated is an understatement.

This year with the formation of our PLCs I already feel so much more supported!  We had our first meeting today.  It was with me, my principal and our all purpose aid-who just happens to be an awesome math teacher!!  She has been coming into my room for at least 3-4 of my 5 classes each day as long as she is not covering for an absent teacher.  I think it is so great!  I love having an "outside" set of eyes to point out things that I miss. She has already given me so many great suggestions that I wouldn't have caught unless I was "on the outside looking in."

What I have found so far with my pre-assessments and my first mini unit test, is that my students don't test well.  They know what they are talking about during the lesson and the work they are doing in my class, but they either don't retain it or are just bad test takers.  So I need to figure out how to fix this!  If anyone reads my blog and has a suggestion I would love to hear it!!!

Next, about flipping: I LOVE Camtasia Studio, the only problem is that I have to shell out the $179 to buy it.  Is it worth it?  My trial runs out in 4 days and I think I am going to buy it.