Archive for August 19th, 2012


Smart Questions

August 19, 2012

Found at Fast Times of a Middle School Math Teacher (via High Heels in High School):

SMART Questions

  1. I don’t understand ___________ part or step.
  2. I don’t understand ___________ vocabulary word.
  3. Could you repeat ____________ part or step?
  4. How did you get _____________?
  5. Why did you do _____________ (multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, etc.)?
  6. What part of the story problem let you know to do that?
  7. What helped you understand that problem (notes, key words, equations, etc.)?
  8. Do you understand how we got this answer?
  9. Where did you get ___________ (side length, page number, note, etc.)?
  10. Could you clarify the problem?
  11. Did we …?

She then printed out these questions and put them on those display holders you see at restaurants, so that students could always see them as they worked in their groups. She said that:

After about a month of using these sentence stems I started to notice that it seems to take a while to find a question. Having 11 different questions is a bit overwhelming. If you think about using this strategy you might want to limit the card to 5 or 6 questions and have the same questions on both sides.

And I agree. I do like the idea of giving kids something to say besides, “I don’t get it,” or “IDK”.


My Homework Philosophy and Policy

August 19, 2012

My philosophy towards homework has always been that it is necessary for students to spend time practicing the things that they have learned in class, especially because we are on an A/B block schedule, and I don’t see them every day. I have generally related it to either music (I always had to spend time practicing my flute) or athletics (would you expect to play a game that you had not practiced for?).

My first year teaching, I tried grading all of the homework; that didn’t last long. To keep my head above water, I switched to “completion” grades–did the student appear to have completed most of the homework; if he did, he got 100, if not, he got 0. A student could turn in late homework for a penalty of 10 points off per class day late (this was later changed to one day late only). I counted homework as 10% of their grade. A couple of years I used homework quizzes in combination with this to help motivate them to get it done.

Two things happened to change this policy. First, I had a student who was one of the hardest-workers I have ever had. Maria spoke almost no English, but I sat her with another student who could translate for her, and this girl tried. She almost always had her homework done. At the end of the last six weeks, she had a 66 (passing is 70). She also had a couple of zeros on homework. When I eliminated the zeros, her grade jumped to a 70, which is what I did.

The second thing that happened is standards-based grading. One of the aspects that struck me was that I wanted to base student grades on their performance on my assessments. My band director never graded me on my practice, only on how well I performed in sectionals; I decided to use that same philosophy towards homework. Because of Maria, I also wanted to change homework to an incentive system instead of a punitive one.

My Homework Policy
In my class, homework is 0% of your grade, and it is not graded. It is not even turned in. I check for it at the beginning of class; if you have it and you appear to have worked at least half of the problems, I put a checkmark down. Geometry students have one additional class day to turn in homework late for half-credit (I have decided not to accept late Algebra 3 homework).

Here’s the incentive: at the end of the six weeks, for every checkmark you have, I add 1 point directly onto your six weeks average, up to 10 points (Algebra 3 gets 2 points, but they have fewer assignments). That means that if you had a 60 average, but you did all of your homework, you would have a grade of 70. If you had a 90 average, you would have a 100. (If you have a 100, alas, you would still have a 100.)

How Has It Worked?
My Algebra 3 students love this (although, most of them mainly loved the half-credit for late homework). We’ll have to see this year how the “no late homework” affects things. They are old enough to understand how to work the system, though, so I’m not too worried.

My Geometry students haven’t always been mature enough to understand how this helps them. One change I am going to institute this year is that on their third missed homework assignment, if they are failing, they will receive after-school detention.

This policy has made for fun parent conversations. “You mean, that all my child had to do was do his homework, and you would have added 10 points onto his grade?!? I promise you, he will definitely be doing his homework from now on!”