Timing and Planning For Time

January 29th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

One of the most frustrating things for me this year is having to deal with a 20 minute loss of time in my Math class. I’ve had to go from 90 minutes to 70. The difficult part is I know for some people 70 minutes would be a luxury as there are teachers who only teach 45 minutes or so. So I hate to complain but I’ve been battling all year to readjust my timing on everything to make everything fit. Bellwork, homework check/review, lesson, practice, exit slip – they don’t all fit in everyday and it is frustrating.

I’ve even caught myself cutting off some students questions towards the end of class cause I have to finish the lesson so students know how to do their homework. Teaching a lesson up until the bell and not giving students time to start the work in class is really frustrating for me. Plenty of students do not have parents at home to help them or if they do I often get the “I’m not good enough at math to help them” line.

The saddest part so far is that I simply don’t have answers. I try to cut things, move fast here and slow down there, and I still feel like I am fumbling through. Flexibility is an important characteristic of a teacher, but it is definitely had to change an internal clock that has chimed regularly for the past 4 years.

My hope is by the end of this year I will have tried enough variations to figure out a system that will work for next year… here’s hoping.

New iPad Textbooks and Math Instruction

January 22nd, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

I want to write about what I think the iPad and interactive Math textbooks can do for students – but I can’t. I love Apple and pretty much all their products. I love what they are trying to do, but the problem will always be that they are a corporation trying to make money. I work at an inner ring urban suburb that has a fairly high poverty rate. In our middle school we have 3 grades that make up around 1000 students. For 1000 students we have 1 computer lab and 1 iPad cart that can be signed up for by the 50+ classrooms.

My district is no where even close to carrying out Apple’s vision of an iPad in the hands of every student filled with interactive text books.  It is not my district’s fault. Apple doesn’t cut insane deals on iPads, schools have to pay almost the full $500 price tag per iPad and then invest the thousands of dollars to fill them up with Apps and Books. How do districts have a chance?

Apple is only pushing a wedge that is separating the monetary affluent schools from the schools that simply aren’t. It is frustrating and sad, but we will continue to teach and reach out to kids no matter what technology is in our classrooms.

Data Collection

January 18th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Data collection is all the rage these days in education. There is the macro version of data collection where we mostly follow how students do on standardized testing and track their performance on it. More and more the micro version of data collection is happening where teachers are tracking students performance on individual indicators and making spreadsheets with rows and rows of numbers that are supposed to tell you how that student is doing. I don’t want to sound to sarcastic here because I really do see the merit and importance of collecting, tracking and following up on data with students. We are not doing our job unless our students are growing and when we complain that a single test score doesn’t always do the growth justice, then we need to prove the growth in other ways.

The fear though is that students are no longer young people with faces and personalities, but numbers on a spreadsheet. A lot of this comes in when you are expected to report your data back to others or you are talking about your data. Your students become numbers – we are distilling the job down to its most basic form to compare.

I don’t know the alternative to this, but just be wary that when you are thinking of your classroom, how you teach, and who you teach – make sure that you are thinking amply about your students and their needs and not just the numbers on a spreadsheet.

Using an Activity To Teach

January 14th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

I recently created a real-world lesson about taking off consecutive percents vs. taking off the same discount in one step (20% then 20% again vs. 40% off the original price). I often call this stacking percents. Rather than go through a normal lesson day of notes, examples and practice and then do this activity the next day – I decided to try using this lesson to teach students about the difference. The results were mixed but positive overall.

The big point of the lesson is trying to get students to see that taking the discount off in two steps will get a different result compared to taking it off in one step. This lesson had students take a more inquiry based approach (which I will be writing on plenty in the future) as most students assumed that the discounts would result in the same price.

Doing it through the activity allowed them to find out which one saved more and conjecture about why it saved more. This worked out really well for my moderate to advanced students and not quite as well for my low students. This is partially my fault as my low students were struggling to find the percent discounts as I did not properly scaffold this skill for them – definitely something I will change in the future. I like this method of approach for students that have a firm grasp of content as it allows them to explore the learning possibilities themselves. I will continue to experiment with this approach and see what role it can take in an every-day class environment.

The Math Of Minecraft

January 8th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

A student I tutor is in love with the online game Minecraft.  It is a game in which you mine and build things out of cubes. There is a basic free version which simply gives you the ability to build in a free open range and then a paid version that adds gaming elements. We used the free version which is accesible within the browser so it can probably be used in most schools if the computer is updated with Java (and its not blocked). We worked on a lesson with volume and surface area that went so well I will probably be formally writing it up and posting it on MakeMathMore’s Real-Life Math Lessons. It is a great tool as you can freely walk around and use cubes which work great for building rectangular prisms that allowed us to easily calculate volume and surface area.

This is the reason I look for Math everywhere as you never know where you will find something that will make a perfect teaching lesson.

Getting Students To Recognize What Is Challenging

January 5th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Today in preparation to correct a test I had students go through and identify which problems on a test were difficult and describe to me why they were difficult. I think this is a really important skill to grab a hold of as it makes you a better learner. If you can identify what is challenging about a problem, then you can narrow your focus on what to look at, ask questions about, or study.

The problem is I have discovered this is a skill I need to teach to my students. First, I think students are often over confident in what they find challenging. They are quick to assume they got something right – especially on multiple choice tests. Secondly, they have difficult putting into words why a problem is difficult. They can act like it should be assumed that because they are not able to do the problem then of course they cannot tell my what’s difficult about it. They equate knowing what’s difficult or challenging with knowing how to solve. This is a problem.

Students need to recognize what they know about a problem, how to try it, and then when they can’t come up with a right answer they need to recognize where the difficulty lies. What is the hurdle that they cannot get over. Even if it’s as simple as ‘I know I am solving the proportion right, so I must be setting it up wrong” or “I am unsure if this is the correct number for the denominator.”

We need to get students to question themselves – not to the point of self doubt, but to make a more complete learner.

Grouping Which Abilities?

January 4th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

It gets very frustrating when doing research on “best practices” for teaching math and in different books I get completely different viewpoints while being backed up by research and studies. The latest practice that falls into this frustration is ability grouping. I have read authors in favor of mixed ability grouping and authors in favor of similar ability groupings. The latter seems to be the new trend in differentiation that students working in similar ability groupings are easier to differentiate for. There are of course several other caveats of mixed ability grouping that similar ability groupings are supposed to solve – like a higher ability student dominating a lesser ability student.

The majority of my students sit in mixed ability groupings in which they do new lesson work when time and behavior allows. I normally do similar ability behavior only during specific differentiation days. As I work towards differentiating on a more regular basis I guess I shall try same ability groupings more often and see how the results compare.

Opposing research has made it so I have to do my own research in my classroom which I guess is not such a bad thing. It is possible that also depends on the students in the class and their interactions, we shall find out. Anyone have experiences to share?