Sunday, January 31, 2016

Teach My Lesson


This lesson may not make sense to some of you, especially if you do not know me or what a hybrid classroom looks like.  You can read more about my hybrid classroom on the Hybrid Learning and MTSD Training – Hybrid Learning tabs of my blog.

The short version of this information is that my students learn by traveling through 4 stations over a period of 2 days.  The first day consists of a 5 minute warm-up, two 20 minute stations and a 5 minute closure activity (usually an exit ticket).  The second day consists of a 5 minute warm-up, one 20 minute station, one 20 minute whole group activity and a 5 minute closure activity.  Sometimes the whole group activity is a lecture, sometimes it is a quiz, and other times it is a group work assignment or project.  The warm-ups and exit tickets might be review of a specific skill or a fun MTBoS warm-up.  Check out the MTBoS Resources tab above for more information.

The first of the 3 stations is the independent station where students take notes or practice a new skill.  My favorite resource for notetaking is EdPuzzle.  My most used resources for practice are Get More Math and Khan Academy.

The second of the 3 stations is the direct station where students receive small group instruction or guided practice,  I often use small whiteboards or a Kagan strategy at this station.

The third station is the collaborative station.  At this station, students work in a small group to complete an assignment.  The skill being practiced here will be an older one that we have already studied, but on which the students still need more practice.

Here are the details of this particular lesson.

Independent station:  Students complete pages 15-17 of this notes packet using EdPuzzle.

The notes packets that I give to students are based on the notetaking guides that come with our textbook. Each section includes key concepts and/or vocabulary as well as practice problems.  I find videos online and add questions using EdPuzzle.

Direct station:  Students complete small group instruction with me.  Prior to this lesson, students have already taken EdPuzzle notes on the topic, but this is the first time that they are getting real time feedback.  We use whiteboards and and the boss/secretary Kagan strategy to practice factoring polynomials in quadratic from (such as x^4+5x+4).  The boss/secretary strategy involves on student writing the steps to solve the problem as the other student tells them what to write.  If I have an uneven number of students, I will have the third student act as a coach.  They will agree with the boss or will help them if they tell the secretary to write something that is incorrect.

Collaborative station:  Students review multiplying monomials and corresponding exponent rules by playing a game of WAR.  The game is played just like the classic card game except that the cards are particular problems.  The player with the highest degree solution wins that hand.  Here arethe cards, a set of directions, and a record sheet for student accountability.

Whole group time:  Students choose their own group of 2-4 students and play a game of GO FISH to review multiplying polynomials.  Students play the game just like the classic game except that the cards are problems and solutions.  I found these cards on TPT.

Reflection:  Teaching in this set-up is a ton of work for me.  This is my third year, but I feel like I get a little better each year.  Some students hate it because they have too much freedom.  Since I am working with one of the small groups, the other two groups are not being very closely monitored.  It takes a lot of self-discipline to stay on task when the teacher is not standing over your shoulder reminding you what you are supposed to be doing. Some students will “watch” the videos on EdPuzzle at the same time that they are playing a soccer game on their phone.  Then they will complain that they did not learn what they needed from the video.  Some will socialize the entire way through the collaborative station and then complain that they did not get enough practice. 

Most students eventually become very successful in this set-up.  They say that they like the videos because they can re-watch lessons as they prepare for quizzes.  They enjoy the game based nature of the collaborative station and they like that they frequently change activities.  Most students say that class goes by very quickly and that they are actively involved for nearly the full 50 minutes of class every day.

Overall, I have fewer classroom management issues than I ever had before because the majority of students eventually enjoy and engage in this system.  Students enjoy my classes more than they did when I taught in a more traditional lecture/practice daily format.  Although I do more work in planning, I doubt that I will ever go back to not using stations.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016



I’m not sure that this is activity really falls into the category of questioning, but it is one of my favorite activities to foster amazing conversations.  I got the idea from Nora Oswald (@NoraOswald).  She calls the activity bucket o’lies.  I don’t have buckets, so I call it box o’lies.  

Here is one sample set of questions

Basically, students read through a collection of worked out problems.  Some have been done correctly, others have common mistakes.  Students determine which ones are correct and which ones are not.  Then they correct the incorrect problems.

As students work through problems, they see the mistakes that they make themselves and think that an incorrect problem is actually correct.  Then, a group-mate points out the mistake (hopefully) and they have a good conversation about what makes each step right or wrong.  Even if a group-mate does not point out the mistake, they will figure it out during the check step of each problem.  I try to do this activity once per unit.  The kids seem to learn and remember the common mistakes more by doing this activity than my warning them about the mistakes during a lecture.

As one more safety net for making sure students do not mistakenly think that incorrect problems are correct, I usually give them the number or correct and incorrect problems during the last 10 minutes of the work session.

The one thing that I would like to do to make this better is to have actual student work.  I often grade quizzes or classwork and wish that I had made photo copies before I started writing feedback on the papers.  You just don’t usually know what the best mistakes are going to be before you start correcting the work.

As an added bonus, students almost always comment on how hard it is to find the mistakes and that they appreciate my grading their quizzes.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

My Favorite: Doceri


My favorite classroom tool is Doceri.  It does cost $30, but I use this iPad app every day, so it was well worth the cost.  You need a computer (laptop/desktop), wireless network, and projector to use Doceri.  It basically turns your computer into a whiteboard.  You can control your computer and any files remotely from the iPad.  I use this feature for PowerPoints during class.  You can eccentrically take a screen shot of whatever is on your screen (or use a number of included backgrounds such as graph paper) and then write on that image.  I use this feature most often.  I will make a PowerPoint presentation of my notes each day and then use Doceri to annotate each slide.  You have a ton of pen style/color choices so you can color code and highlight important parts of your class notes.  Doceri can save each annotated image and you can email it to yourself in PDF form.  This can become a document to post on your class website for absent students.

You can also use Doceri to display pictures that you take with the iPad’s camera.  I will often take a picture of student work and display it to discuss as a class.  Additionally, you can use Doceri to make your own videos if you are implementing a blended or flipped classroom. 

I recently used Doceri to implement the Mathalicous lesson Blindsided.

Here is a screenshot from our discussion on how to adjust your rear view mirror:

Here is a screenshot of the most commonly used position of rear and side view mirrors:

Here is a screenshot of our discussion of the optimal mirror positions:

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Day in My Life


A number of teachers are blogging about a typical day in their lives.  Here is mine.  This was a day near the end of the marking period, so it was heavier on extra tutoring for procrastinating students.  Honestly, I wish I had more students coming in for extra help all throughout the marking period.

4:30-4:45am:  wake-up, brush my teeth, put in contacts, get dressed to work-out, take dogs outside to go potty

4:45-5:25am:  work-out in the basement, usually a Jillian Michaels DVD

5:25-5:40am:  shower

5:40-6:00am:  skin care, make-up

6:00-6:15am: breakfast, check personal email, watch the news, feed the pups.

6:15-6:30am:  blow dry hair, get dressed, pack lunch, let pups out one more time, leave for work.

6:30-7:00am:  drive to work

7:00-7:10am:  check school mail box, go to my classroom

7:10-7:25am:  unpack my personal/professional belongings, make last minute copies, open computer documents that I will use for the day, tutor kids who show-up for extra help

7:25-7:30am:  high fives in the hallway, greet first period class.

7:30-8:20am:  teach first period class.

                This is a class for kids who did not pass the state graduation assessment for algebra 1.  We work to complete the PBA, a project that will allow students to graduate despite not passing the state exam.

8:20-8:30am:  homeroom time with my first period class, submit official school attendance, watch tv announcements with students.

8:30-8:35am:  high fives in the hallway, greet second period class.
8:35-9:25am:  teach second period class.

                This is a college prep geometry class.  I teach in a hybrid classroom.  In a two day time frame, students work trough 4 stations.  Independent station is where students are first exposed to new content.  They watch a video on edpuzzle, take notes, and then complete practice problems on the topic.  Direct station is where students get small group instruction on the same topic that they just watched a video on.  We typically do a lot of whiteboard practice.  I also mix in older review problems as I see a need.  Standards based grading is great for this because I always know what skills my kids need extra work with.  The collaborative station is where students practice the same skill that they just received small group instruction on.  Sometimes this involves task cards, games, or just a worksheet.  That is whole group station.  Every other whole group station is for a cumulative quiz.  The times between quizzes are for whole group instruction or work on projects.

                Most days, we also include a warm-up and exit ticket.  On review days the warm-up and exit ticket are focused on a skill where students need more practice.  On fun days, the warm-up is from one of the many MTBoS resources.  Exit tickets on these days are usually a reflective question for students.

9:25-10:20am:  high fives for third period and teach third period

                This is an honors algebra 2 class.  The routine is the same as with the geometry class.

10:20-10:50am:  lunch

                Yes I am done with lunch before 11am.  During this time I rush to the microwave.  I try to be first in line so that I don' have to spend most of my lunch period waiting in line.  I don't have much free time, so I usually bring papers to grade or copies to make during the 60 seconds that I use the microwave.  I also use this time to use the bathroom.  This is one of only two times per day that I have access to a bathroom.  This is another time when students come to my room for tutoring or to complete make-up work.  If I have any free time, I organize the pile of papers that kids have turned in form my morning classes.  This will make grading a little quicker later.

10:50-11:45am:  high fives for fourth period and teach fourth period

                This is another honors algebra 2 class and is run the same way as the third period class.

11:45-12:40pm:  high fives for fourth period and study hall

                This is a study hall which usually results in some free time for me.  After taking attendance and signing passes, I have about 40 minutes.  I check attendance for all of my classes to verify that no one has skipped class.  I put together work packets for students who are absent.  I write up referrals for kids who have skipped class.  I typically have a few students come in for tutoring or extra help.  Occasionally students in my study hall ask me for help with their math classes.  If I'm lucky, I have time to start grading the piles of work that I collected and organized earlier in the day.

12:40-1:35pm:  planning period!

                Most days this is my second block of free time.  I usually make copies or the next day, organize materials for the next day, continue to grade papers, sort papers to be returned to students in class the next day, and update the electronic gradebook.  I occasionally have students come in for tutoring or make-up work.  I have a second chance to use the bathroom again at this time as well.

                This is also the time that I use for meetings with administration if needed.  Yesterday, I met with a principal to express concern about a change to the algebra 1 curriculum.  I think the meeting was successful because he considered my feedback and scheduled a full department meeting for next week.

                On this day in particular however, I lose my planning period to proctor the Biology state assessment.  This happens very rarely.

1:35-2:30pm:  high fives for seventh period and teach seventh period

                This is another honors algebra 2 class and is run the same way as the third period class.

2:30-4:00pm:  after school time

                Most days I have 1-10 students come in after school for extra help or to make-up missing work.  The first 10 minutes or so are pretty busy.  I document info about who has come in for extra help (as I also do before school, during lunch, and during study hall).  I get everyone started on their work and then just circulate around the room to offer help one student at a time.

                If things are slow, I can finish up checking attendance and organizing work turned in by my afternoon classes.  I may even have time to finish grading work and entering the results into the gradebook.  As long as it is not a quiz day, I can usually finish all of this by 4pm.

                This is also the time when I have meetings to attend.  It is usually only once meeting per week.  Sometimes it will be a faculty meeting, department meeting, IEP meeting, or a special one time only meeting.

                At 4pm, I send the students home.  I need to get home to my dogs.  It has already been too long and I always feel guilty about leaving them alone so long.  If it is a quiz day, I take the 120 quizzes home with me to finish grading.

4:00-4:30pm: drive home

4:30-4:40pm: let dogs out, check mail, turn on tv, clean out lunch box

4:40-5:00pm:  make dinner

5:00-5:20pm:  have dinner with my husband and pups

5:20-6:20pm:  walk pups

6:20-6:40pm: clean up after dinner

6:40-7:00pm: shower, put on sweats

7:00-8:30pm:  finish any remaining grading, check twitter for unofficial professional development, reply to work emails

8:30-4:30am:  sleep

                You will notice that I did not do any lesson planning.  I don't have time to lesson plan during the week.  I do most of this during the summer and on weekends.  During the summer, I spend about 50 hours per week creating warm-ups, exit tickets, writing notes packets, creating edpuzzle videos, making practice activities, creating PowerPoints for small group instruction, creating question banks to use for assessments and creating projects to be used throughout the school year.

                During weekends, I spend about 8 hours planning.  I write more detailed lesson plans for the upcoming week.  I create assessments from the question banks and pull activities from those that I created over the summer.  Sometimes I find something on the MTBoS that was better than I previously created, so I modify that instead.

                I think that I spend more time over the summer and weekends working on school stuff than most teachers.  However, I don't have kids of my own, so I have the time to do this.  Also, I have dyslexia and a processing disability, so I need to put in the extra time to be prepared.

That's it!  Just another day.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

One Good Thing

This past week was the last week of classes for this semester.  Some of my classes are full year classes while others are semester courses.  Either way, this seemed like a good time to make some changes for the new semester and to allow students to give some feedback about those changes.

I gave my students a quick exit ticket on our last day of class.  I asked them to think back on the year so far and to tell me one thing that they liked about our class that they would like to keep the same for the new semester.  Then I asked for one thing that they would like to change for the new semester.

Now, I must preface their responses by saying that I teach in a very non-traditional classroom.  I use hybrid learning.  You can read more about it on the hybrid page of my blog.  Basically it involves students rotating through various stations throughout the lesson.  Students have more freedom than they have ever had before and some of them fail miserably at first.  It takes self discipline to do the right thing when the teacher is across the room in small group instruction and you are not being watched and redirected constantly.  Eventually, even the most reluctant learners realize that being off task has a negative consequence on their performance.  Many kids love the rotations because they are changing activities and moving around the classroom several times per period.  Some kids never get past the fact that it is hard to self regulate.

The other thing that I do differently than most other teachers is objectives based grading.  My students grades are based almost entirely on how well they can perform the skills we learn in class.  You can read more about how I implemented this on the standards based grading tab.  Basically this involves teaching, assessing, reteaching and reassessing students constantly.  I give cumulative quizzes about once a week.  Students choose which questions from their quiz to answer based on which skills they still need to show mastery.  This can be hard to get used to for students who are used to collecting points in class for doing things that they should do.  This would include points awarded for attempting homework, completing classwork, coming to class, and other behavioral things.  Some students are even used to failing most of their assessments and then passing the class based on the bump they get from these behavioral points.  These students really have to change so that they can pass my class.  Only the learning counts in my classroom.

So, back to my one good thing.  I fully expected the typical responses like "I hate stations, can't you just tell me what to memorize."  Or "I hate that we don't get credit for completing our classwork.  You should give points for this."

I did get a few of these.  Out of 120 students, I had 8 write something like that.  I also had about the 10 that wrote something like "I love everything, keep it all the same" or "I hate everything, change everything."  Neither of these are very helpful for me.

I had about 20 people respond to the prompt the way that I hoped they would.  They told me something about the class that they liked and suggested ways to change things that they don't like.  I'm planning on trying some of their suggestions.  Maybe I'll write about that another time.

The vast majority of my kids totally shocked me with their responses.  The remaining 80ish kids wrote about something that they themselves did in class that they liked and didn't like.  They took responsibility for their learning.  They set goals for how they could improve their success in the new semester.  I had responses like "I'm going to make sure that I complete all o the classwork, because it leads to my being prepared for quizzes."  Or "I'm going to ask more questions when I'm confused.  I won't allow myself to fall behind because I'm afraid to ask for help.  Asking for help is ok."

Responsibility for the win!!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

No More Review Days?!?!

Recently, I had a short twitter conversation with a teacher about eliminating formal review days before tests.  I responded that I no longer give traditional unit tests, so I also no longer do traditional review days.

Instead, I give a cumulative quiz once every 4-6 school days.  These quizzes are heavy on recently learned material and light on content that was taught longer ago.  I use a form of standards based grading, so I use my gradebook every week to decide which older topics my kids need extra help with.  Those become the items added to what would otherwise be a traditional quiz.  You can read more about how I implemented standards based grading if you like.

Since I also use hybrid learning, I then work a review of the older topics into my stations.  During small group instruction, I check in with students about new material and we usually practice on individual whiteboards.  I mix in a few of the targeted review content as well.  If you want to know more about hybrid learning, you can read these previous posts.

That’s it!  No more full class periods of review.  It’s almost like gaining 10-12 additional teaching days, which we can all use!