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EOY 2012

June 6, 2012

The Obligatory End-of-the-Year Reflection

This past year has been so tiring that I was just never able to post as much as I wanted. Even my Interactive Notebook project has been more miss than hit (although I will be posting some more sections as soon as I upload them to scribd). So, while I’ve lost the opportunity to reflect on individual lessons because I’ve forgotten specifics, I can still list some general themes from this past year.

What Didn’t Work

  • Homework – My Algebra 3 kids figured out how to play the game early on. I’d say about 4-5 kids in each class actually did the homework, but those that didn’t do it figured out they could copy down the problems as I went over them and still get the 1 point credit. My Geometry students were horrible about doing homework. I’d say I only had about 10 of my 120 students do HW on a regular basis.
    • Ideas – In A3, I think I’m going to stop accepting late homework. If they want the homework points (and these are the types of kids who know how to work points), they may be more inclined to actually do the work. I think I’m also going to assign the whole list of problems as homework instead of the current system of some as “practice problems” and some as “homework”. That worked in my Master’s class, but not with HS seniors. For my Geometry students, I think I’m going to set up a policy that if you miss three HW assignments and have a failing grade, you will serve after-school detention. S and I did that a couple of years ago, and that seemed to help. I’m also going to make sure I do not refer to homework as “extra credit” — it’s hard to erase that kind of mindset.
  • Projects in A3 – This was a good idea that I fell down on as the year went by. My idea was to end each six weeks with a fun/interesting group project that would relate back to what we had been studying. Some of the projects worked, but some of them just devolved into free days. I need to toss the ones that didn’t and find ones that are more rigorous.
  • The Pencil Corral – Using someone’s idea (I can’t remember who), I wrapped velcro around the upper part of some pencils and mounted them to one of my chalkboards. For about 9 weeks or so, this totally worked — students had pencils with erasers to use, and I got my pencils back. Then things started to fall apart — first, students began taking the erasers I had added to the pencils, and then they began taking the pencils themselves. I was never diligent enough about checking for pencils before the end of class. I tried attaching spoons to the pencils (since I’m too cheap to buy fake flowers), but that had three problems: 1) no eraser; 2) as the pencils got shorter, the spoons got in the way; and 3) students unwrapped the tape, removed the spoons, and took the pencils anyway.
    • Ideas – I’m going to try attaching spoons to mechanical pencils. I’ve done a few sample ones, and I think it will work. This time, I’m wrapping the pencils with electrical tape which should be harder to remove. The mechanical pencils mean that I won’t have to worry about their having to sharpen the pencils. We’ll see.
  • Graphing on the NSpire Calculators – I like a lot of things about this calculator; I think TI has done a good job in quite a few areas of updating the TI-84. I like the idea of uploading activities to the calculators for kids to use in exploring math, especiall Geometry. That being said, the new NSpires (we got the pretty CXs) were often more of a hindrance than a help. My biggest pet peeve would be the change to my dearly beloved tables. In the TI-83/84, you could put in a function in “Y=”, press Graph and see the graph; you could then (or instead) press 2nd-Graph and see a table of values. I hate the NSpire’s updating of this whole process. Yes, the graphs are pretty in color. Yes, I’m glad they set the default screen to “Square”. I WANT MY TABLE BACK!! I don’t want the little half-screen abomination that you have to press Ctrl-T to even make show up. My only consolation is that since TAKS is gone, I don’t have to worry about “reviewing” graphing and functions with my sophomores.
  • Mathematical Reasoning – I may devote another post to this because I’m torn. Do I want to break everything down to a list of procedures (which is what kids want, and what will probably help them pass the new STAAR test), or do I want to force them to do some genuine mathematical learning (whatever that is). Bluntly, I’m not sure that my A or B students really understood the concepts we were “learning”.

What Did Work

  • SBG – Standards-based grading still works for me. I’ve made a few tweaks, such as having the first take count (see below), and renumbering everything in Algebra 3, but the overall idea really works for me.
  • Built-in Retakes – This year, I changed my SBG system up a little bit. I took a grade on the first time an objective was quizzed. After that, the objective would appear up to two more times on a quiz as a makeup/retake. I really liked how this worked out for all sorts of reasons — it addressed one of the big gripes from last year which was the dearth of students who would come by to reassess; it made makeups easy when students would be absent on the day of a quiz; and it gave students a bit of a safety net. I was pleasantly surprised that very few students used the automatic retakes as excuses to blow off the first quiz. The biggest headache was having to come up with problems for multiple versions of the quiz three different times, but now that I’ve done so, I’m hoping that I will be able to reuse them next year.
  • Typed up solutions – Because I was becoming disgusted with my Algebra 3 students’ failure to do homework, I was tired of doing all the work for them as I “went over” the homework problems. Since I already type up the solutions to post on the website, it occurred to me to just show the solutions on the BriteLink. I would still work out problems for students who sincerely still had questions after that. Much less aggravation.
  • Quarter-size scratch paper — This was a huge time and money-saver for me this year! I (or a minion) cut all of my left-over one-sided copies down to quarter-sheets. I used these as scratch paper or quiz retakes or notes or whatever I needed all year long. The one time I got low on paper to cut, I went down to the copier room and gathered up all the left-over paper in the recycle box. It was cool! I should be set up pretty well for next year, because one of my students who needed to fulfill some redemption hours (for skipping) cut a big ol’ stack of paper for me.
  • Using the NSpires (except for tables) — As I said above, there are quite a few improvements on the new NSpires that I do like:
    • WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) — The typographic aspect of the display is very nice. When I type in x^3, I actually see x^3 on the screen. This is cool. I especially like working with matrices because now they actually look like matrices.
    • No batteries! — Now I don’t care how many notes my kids want to type to themselves or their classmates; now they are not using up my batteries! I’m not sure I can adequately convey how excited that makes me.
    • Inverse trig functions — the NSpire not only has sin^{-1} but also csc and csc^{-1}. I know some teachers won’t like its being that helpful, but as I understand it, the inverse functions are disabled under testing mode.
    • Color — Ooooh, pretty!
  • Individual Tutoring – I have realized this year that I can do a darn good job teaching an individual student how to solve a given problem. I can break things down into step-by-step procedures that they can follow and succeed. Time after time, I would walk a student through a problem, and he would say, “That’s it?!? Why didn’t I get that before?” Of course, the ease with which they grasp it when I explain it individually really makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong during class. And, as I mention above, I’m teaching procedures, not the larger concepts or true mathematical fluency.
    • On a related note, one of the lessons that went very well in Geometry was my guided worksheets on volume and surface area.

      The shapes really helped them see where the values were supposed to go, and several of the students said that they wished I did more like this. I have come to realize that as much as I love my notes and my notebook, I may try to see if I can condense them a bit so we can do more practice.

I think I’ll do my “Ideas for Next Year” as a different post.

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