Homework Contemplations

I am so grateful that the #HSSunFun topic of the week is homework!  It's time for me to re-evaluate my system, so this post has motivated me to get thinking.  Thank you @Carol_Leonard for compiling our blogs.

Over my many years of teacher, I think I have tried every HW policy ever shared with me, and these are my take-aways from all of the attempts:

  • Whether I have 60 or 150 students, I am terrible about checking and returning papers on a daily basis.  
  • My purpose of assigning homework is to practice a new skill.  As we all probably do, I tell the students that just as they must practice music, sports, or playing video games, they must somehow practice the new skills learned in math, which could involve working (and re-working) problems.
  • I realized that I'm very OK if students do not have an assignment completed the next day after it is assigned.  Students are involved in extra-curricular activities, or they work, or they have an AP English 3 project due, and they often face busy, late nights.  So for me, HW deadlines are negligible, but I want their homework finished before the unit test, just so they have had opportunities to practice and ask questions.
  • Students want to be acknowledged for their work, and they don't seem to care if it's a stamp, check mark, or a grade.
I have tried...collecting and checking homework daily and collecting stacks of papers at the end of the unit.  I have given HW quizzes, where students re-copy 5-6 problems straight from a week of assignments, a la David R. Johnson's 1990 book, Making Every Minute Count.  I have collected notebooks and graded a few random problems.  I have rolled a die and collected a row of HW assignments.  I have collected HW assignments and have graded only 1 problem on each paper.  I have had a "surprise" HW policy, where I could collect, check, or ignore HW on any given day of the week.  I've checked homework on completion using a rubric and a score of 10, 7, 5, 3, or 0.  I've checked homework on completion with a YES or NO--complete or not, 5 or 0.

For most years of teaching, I have checked HW on completion.  Students begin with a 100 HW average, and each assignment is worth 5 points.  For every assignment they skip, I deduct 5 points.  For extra goodness (super explanation, working extra problems, showing how they've re-learned something, peer tutoring) I add points to their HW average.  I have an Excel chart for each class period, and I always have my clipboard close by for checking, adding, and subtracting points.  At the end of the grading period, they only receive one grade for a HW average, but with the chart, I have documentation about what they have done.  (I can't believe I found an old check sheet around my house this morning!)

This procedure has worked fairly well over the years, and it has worked extremely well when the students are self-motivated.  In my classes with younger or ESL students, the stamp sheet idea (blogged here) seemed to help the students with an extra step of organization.

As I'm writing this, or until I see something new to try when I read other blogs, I think I'm going to continue with the completion-check-system with each assignment 5 points, but I think I will add a twist I learned at an AP summer institute.  The instructor checked daily homework on completion; however, if a student made 85 or greater on a "big test," he was excused from the homework checks until the next test.  Who were the students who made >85 on tests?  The students who somehow practiced their work in whatever way worked for them.  Differentiation is a district initiative this year, so I believe this homework policy will be one small way to differentiate a class process.

This post was a great exercise for rethinking my homework purposes and policies, and it's great to have this forum for reflections. But I am really looking forward to reading about other homework policies.  I still have a whole week before the students return...so I have plenty of time to read other great ideas and change my mind!


Made4Math - What is Your WHY?

Today's #Made4Math is a bit different, but I think it is a good, reflective "project" for back to school.

Last year, I started a new job as one of our school's two instructional coaches.  Our principal was reading Simon Sinek's book Start With Whyand she thought ideas in the book would be good for our faculty, and she wanted us to implement something.  I immediately downloaded the book, watched Sinek's TED talk, and started thinking about how we could carry out the idea of a WHY for our school and teachers.  (It was very interesting to read a "business" book and relate it to teaching and education, by the way.)

According to Sinek, every person and organization knows What they do and most know How they do it, but few can clearly state Why they do what they do.  He asks you to determine: what’s your purpose, what’s your cause, what’s your belief, and why does your organization exist? 

To encourage our teachers to develop their WHY's, we introduced the concept during our August professional development days.  We allowed each department time to prepare a WHY, and then we shared all of the creations.  Teams took pictures, wrote a philosophy, performed a skit, and the math department may or may not have choreographed a dance.  ("Math Rocks, baby," a la "Ice Ice baby."  If you've got a problem, we’ll all solve it. Check out the math, it’s not magic it’s logic...could have happened...)  My personal WHY is this quote by Benjamin Disraeli: The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.  All of the WHY's had the same themes and were about helping the kids succeed, moving students closer to graduation, preparing them for the future, and becoming good citizens in the community.

My work partner and I chose the sayings below as our WHY.  We typed up the quotes, got a frame, and put the flyer in a prominent location in our office.  As in any new role, there were several times during the year that we were both floundering; however, any time we questioned our work, our progress, and our leadership, we would refer to our WHY.  Had we helped our teachers?  Did we ease anyone else's burden?  At a particularly stressful time in May, I moved our WHY very close to our desks to remind us that yes, we had succeeded and had a good year.  

How does this relate to #Made4Math?  Because our WHY helped focus us throughout the year, I decided to make our "poster" a bit prettier, thanks to @mathtastrophe's tutoring on ColourLovers.  (She was right, and even a non-artsy person like me could spend a long time on the site playing with patterns and palettes.)  I can't wait to hang our WHY in our office!

For you...
I would like to encourage you to ask yourself, “What is my WHY?”  What is your purpose or your cause for being a teacher?  If you are a veteran teacher, why do you remain a teacher?  Type up your WHY and put it in a frame; share it with your students, make it a screen saver, stick it on a post-it by your computer, or write it on your board.  New educators--you usually write a teaching philosophy during your prep programs, but can you condense your feelings into a sentence or two?  Veteran teachers: when have you formally re-stated your reasons WHY you became a teacher?  (It's time to think about those reasons again!) 

On your challenging days, and you know they'll happen, look over your WHY, meditate for a minute, and remember the excitement and the enthusiasm you felt on the first day of school.

Have a wonderful week!  If this is your first week back, good luck and have fun!


First Day Fun

I keep thinking the summer will never end!  But students return in two weeks, and my schedule just changed, so #HSSunFun is the perfect opportunity to really get focused on my class, and I'm certain I'll be inspired by what's happening in other classrooms.  Thank you, @Carol_Leonard, for organizing the high school teachers!

In previous years, my first day priorities were as follows: brief introductions (self, each other, room) brief discussion about procedures, and start the math.  (I still have that agenda in mind, but with our study of mindset and our shift towards differentiation, I now have a few new plans for the day/week...and that will be another post!)

I've always appreciated the distinction between rules and procedures, and I definitely do not want to spend the period going over all of the syllabus details.  I have a few broad rules and many procedures, and those procedures make our classroom run smoothly. During the week, I explain our class procedures as needed and as situations arise... pick up your papers from this table as you enter the room, immediately look at the board/screen to see your first instructions, pass out papers this way, sharpen your pencil before the bell and after the lesson, etc.  We continue reviewing procedures throughout the first few weeks, and when new students arrive, I ask the veteran students to share our classroom procedures with the new students.

In our pre-calculus class, we hit the ground running with trigonometry.  When I discovered wordle a few years ago, I was looking for any excuse to incorporate a wordle into a lesson and had an idea.
I created this wordle using descriptions and definitions of trigonometry that I pasted from several math websites.  I make a copy for the students and ask them to "analyze" the wordle and to sort the words in any way they choose.  (I also share how I created the wordle and explain that the larger words occur more frequently in the text.)  I ask students to compare their lists with their neighbors, and then they share some of their "sorts."  Next, I ask students questions such as:
  • What do you think are the important ideas in trigonometry (based on the "big" words)?
  • What do you remember about functions? What other functions have you studied?
  • What do you remember about triangles?
  • What other familiar words do you see?
  • What new words did you find? (radians, cosecant, cotangent are the most common answers)
  • Did you find any "real life" words on the wordle? (engineering, astronomy, measuring)
  • Do you think trig is related more to algebra or geometry?  Why?
  • Did you notice the word circle?  How do you think circles and triangles could be related?
We discuss the idea that trigonometry will involve a lot of familiar territory, but it will also be a whole new language and a new way of thinking about triangles, angles, and circles.  And I let them know that yes, we will discover a connection between circles and triangles!  

Students tape the wordle into their notebooks and as we talk about new concepts, I ask them to go back and check the wordle, find the word and review how they sorted the term.  During the first few weeks, we return to the sorted lists, rearrange the words, and try to make new connections between the words and concepts.

I like this activity because in a very "ease your brain out of summer" way, it reviews some algebra and geometry, previews a bit of trig, and allows students to start making connections between previously learned concepts and the new world of trigonometry.

Last week, I attended several sessions of great professional development, and I can't wait to write-up ideas about developing my classroom culture/community and helping students change their mindset about math.  Stay tuned!



My Favorite Friday - Easiest Chicken Recipe Ever!

Considering the back to school schedules this week, I thought I would contribute to the “easiest recipe ever” genre of post. 

I agree completely with @druinok’s philosophy of cooking, and this recipe fits the bill: few ingredients, no prep work, and 1 container to clean.

Mexican Crock-Pot Chicken
3-4 chicken breasts (frozen is fine!)
1 pkg taco seasoning
10 oz can of Ro-tel (diced tomatoes with green chilies)

Optional ingredients:
can of yellow corn (drained)
can of black beans (rinsed a bit & drained)
toppings, such as sour cream, avocado, picante sauce, cilantro, shredded cheese
depending on how you serve it-tortillas, lettuce, taco shells, tortilla chips

Place the chicken in the crock pot.  Sprinkle the package of taco seasoning on the chicken, and pour the can of tomatoes on top.  Cook on high for 4-6 hours.  The chicken will practically fall apart when it is cooked.  At that point, you may take the pieces out of the crock pot, and using two forks, pull/shred the chicken, and return it to the pot for a bit more tenderizing.

After you shred the chicken, you may add the corn and/or black beans and allow it all to cook for another hour.  For the last part of the cooking, you may wish to cook with the crock-pot cover off to help the liquid evaporate.

You now have plenty of chicken to serve in a variety of ways.  If the chicken is still too soupy, use a slotted spoon and…
-use as a filler for hard tacos or soft tacos
-pile a spoonful or two on top of a bed of lettuce for a chicken salad
-make quesadillas using 2 flour tortillas and cheese
-scoop the chicken on top of a bed of tortilla chips for a “casserole” dish
-if you include the liquid part, you could almost have a chicken soup

So easy, so quick and so filling!  It’s great to make during a busy week and if your family is not huge, there are plenty of leftovers for the next few lunches.

Happy Friday!


Made4Math - Partner Quizzes + Extras!

Today's #Made4Math post has once again been inspired by a few tweets and blogs!  Thanks to @druinok for organizing the posts, and I look forward to reading and learning from so many others.

I am what is politely referred to as a veteran teacher, so when I first started teaching (ahem, 1990) everything was teacher directed, i.e. stand-and-deliver, students in rows and quietly taking notes.  When teachers realized that we had to change our ways, our district helped us get our feet wet by using Kagan cooperative structures.  I probably use variations of "Think-Pair-Share" more than any other technique, but my second favorite strategy is the 2-person Rally Coach, or as my students call it, a partner quiz, and I have included one example is below:
Rt Triangle Trig Rally

The Rally Coach was a great way to ease my way into successful group work. Directions may be found here, but I've included a few additional hints and benefits:
  • When writing the quiz, I try to divide the questions' difficulty level as even as possible, so person A doesn't have all of the "easy questions."
  • Use only one piece of paper and one pencil (and calculator) per pair, so the students truly have to share and work together.
  • The first times I give this type of assessment, I also talk about the benefits of teaching others.  I tell students if you can explain something to someone else, or if you can analyze work and find an error, you've got it.  My favorite part of the activity is listening to the students' great math conversations.
  • I also talk about the importance of coaching, being positive and how to politely disagree.  As person A explains her problem, person B listens and coaches.  Once person B agrees with person A's answer, he initials the paper to confirm the work.  (In my class, I ask students to initial and write a positive comment.  Best comment written on this quiz: "That's Shrek-tastic!")
  • I usually make at least one of these questions very interesting, and students really need to use each other to complete the activity.  (The quiz above isn't difficult, but I provide too much information, so the kids have little debates about how to answer the last question.  It's great!)
  • This type of activity always takes longer than expected, so plan your time accordingly.
  • Floating teacher bonus: since I do not have my own classroom, this activity gives us an easy opportunity to practice moving desks and returning them to the original position in another teacher's classroom.
Building relationships bonus:  At the bottom of my quizzes and tests, I usually write a little non-math question, such as "What great books have you recently read?" or "Any good news to share?" and I always respond to their notes.  If I forget to write a question, they ask about it and/or write a note to me!

Making students self sufficient (and classroom management) bonus:  I try to give this type of activity very early in the year to allow students to learn to rely on each other for help.  Several years ago, I heard a teacher say, "Ask 3 before me!" which has become a motto in my classroom.  Students must ask at least three of their classmates before asking me a question.  For today, I made a new flyer, so it's easy to simply point to the sign before students run to me with their questions.  (I'm not the most creative person--you can make it prettier!)
3 before me

After reading a tweet about desk signs and red/yellow/green paint chips (and later the dry-erase bins found by @jreulbach) I recreated a desk tri-fold used by my favorite French teacher.  If a student is stuck on a problem, he may be tempted to sit and hold his hand up (and possibly distract others) until the teacher can respond.  As a gentle reminder, the side opposite of PLEASE HELP says PLEASE KEEP WORKING.  The sign alerts the teacher, but it also reminds the student that he can move on to another problem, keep working, and try something else.  Students can decorate their desk sign and keep it in their notebook to use throughout the year.

Desk Trifold

(By the way, I used "Ray of Sunshine" and "Seven Sixteen" fonts, and I have downloaded more of her fun fonts here.)

And finally, my priority is to make respect central to the cultural of my classroom, and one way I do this is by using common courtesies for everything.  For example, as used above, please and thank you are on all flyers, instructions, and interactions.

I enjoy the partner quizzes because they give students the opportunity to communicate mathematically, but I also love all of the other "lessons" that this activity provides. 

Have a great week!  Good luck with all of the back-to-school happiness!


My Favorite Friday Apps

Happy Friday!  I can't wait to see what is in store for today's learning, and I'm looking forward to all of the Favorites!

For today's Friday favorite, I'm sharing two of my favorite apps of the summer.  With recent bond money, our district has provided iPads to teachers and classrooms (not 1:1 but to use for stations or sharing across departments) so I have spent the summer playing, learning, and searching for apps.

Side-note: next week is our district's Summer Leadership Conference, and schools "volunteered" to make centerpieces for the conference.  Instead of reading Favorite Friday posts this morning, guess who will be working on a centerpiece with the theme, "There's an app for that?" :)

If you are an experienced iPad user, I'm certain you already know about Zite, but it was a fun find for me, and I have used it almost every day this summer.

Zite is a personalized "magazine" creator.  It's free, and it is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android phones.  The program analyzes your Google reader and Twitter feeds and "chooses" topics based on your interests.  You may also select other subjects that interest you, and then the app creates pages of articles based on your topic choices.  Furthermore, you may rate the articles (thumbs up or down) so your magazine becomes more personalized as you rate more articles.  If you want to save the article, you may email it, tweet it, save it to Evernote, etc. Whenever I have a spare moment, I check out Zite and read an article or two, which also leads to new great adds to my Google reader.

My other find is a daily, free app curator, called AppsGoneFree.  Every morning, I receive a notification when "Today's Apps are Now Available," and it's fun wondering what new apps I will discover.

Each day, there are 7-13 free apps, and the categories vary wildly but always include some games.  The reviews include ratings, descriptions, and screen shots, just like iTunes, and a link takes you directly to the App Store.  The description also includes if the app is for the iPhone, iPad, or Universal.  The app is optimized for the iPhone, but I also have it on my iPad so I can easily download new finds in both places.  From this app, I have downloaded educational apps, games, yoga, math-y apps, and I have shared countless apps with friends.  I do not find something every day, but I have downloaded at least one new app a week. And since we will have some iPads in all content areas, it has been fun looking for apps for other teachers, subject areas, and students.

Between my iPad and Twitter and all of these great new blogs, I am even more addicted to technology.  Fun times!

By the way, what are your favorite apps?


Go Ahead, Google Yourself

This past month, I enthusiastically jumped into the online world of Twitter and blogging, and I kept asking myself, why did I wait so long to start participating?  And then I remembered, oh yeah, I've always been worried about the whole privacy issue.  (I didn't even have a Facebook account until last year because I was concerned about the exact same thing.)  As educators, I believe we are held to higher standards, so we must be extremely careful about what we write, share, post, and tweet.  Every time I write something online, I remember that I can "never take it back!" and we have heard the horror stories about teachers' (and others) inappropriate updates or tweets.  This summer, I have been transparent with my online persona, but as the first day of school quickly approaches, I'm now questioning "Am I too open?" or am I being paranoid?  We hear that it is good to have an online presence, but we also need to keep everything in check and in balance.

I saw this post on edgalaxy.com ("Cool Stuff for Nerdy Teachers") and it was another great reminder about being careful and cognizant about what I write and post.   The infographic came from this post on BackgroundCheck.org where you can find additional information about internet safety.

So go ahead and Google yourself (again) and check out the results.  (My surprise was that some my comments on other blogs appeared in search results!)  

What are your thoughts about your online presence?  Stay positive and stay safe!

The Google Yourself Challenge
From: BackgroundCheck.org

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