Been Away, But Now I’m Back — Reflections on 2014-2015

June 7, 2015

One of the reasons that I haven’t posted anything this year is directly related to one of my favorite tools this year: planbook.com. One of my main purposes for writing this blog is to allow me to reflect on lessons that I have taught, and with planbook, I set up a tab called “Reflection”, that allowed me to do that and have all of the lesson information right there. As far as a year-end overall reflection, I felt that a blogpost would be more helpful, so thus…

In almost every way, this school year was a lot of fun. I had four PAP Geometry classes and two Astronomy classes. My PAP kids were great (I also had about 16 8th graders who were generally adorable), and it was a blast finally being able to teach Astronomy. My schedule even worked out so that I did not have to have “Freshmen Lunch” (35 minutes). With that being the case, I will mention the few minor annoyances just to get them out of my system, and then go on to what I think worked, and what I’m changing for next year.

To summarize:

  • Astronomy is great!
  • Not just a flipped classroom, but a flipped-mastery learning classroom!
  • Canvas is a really good tool for the aforementioned classroom.
  • Having students make a Kahoot quiz for their presentations is a great way to ensure engagement.


Not Awesome List

  • I found out two days before school started that I would have a blind student whose work needed at least a five day turnaround. While B was amazing to have as a student, the constant requirement that I get her work submitted to her braillist a week ahead of time was not fun. Then, the braillist got behind and started trying to pressure me and the administration to use the textbook (which was already brailled, making less work for them). I’m thankful that B’s assistant principal completely backed me when I told them that (a) it’s not up to the braillist how I teach Geometry, and (b) I don’t use the textbook because I generally don’t like the way it presents the material. At the end, we finally got everything done, and B ended up with an A. Moreover, she said that she really enjoyed working in my class.
  • This was the first year that my district offered Astronomy, and the first year that you teach a subject is always a challenge, especially when no one else has taught it either. The teacher responsible for getting the course added was also responsible for creating the scope and sequence for the course. For various reasons (mostly not his fault from what I heard), he was only able to go through the fourth six weeks. So the last two six weeks, the four of us who were teaching it had to spend a good bit of time tracking down resources. It led to some good stuff, but it made things a little more stressful than I would have liked.
  • PLC (professional learning community) was the source of most of my irks for the year:
    • I am the Geometry level lead. It would have been nice to be able to PLC with the rest of the Geometry level. Instead, because of scheduling, I could only meet with the other PAP Geometry teacher. I could have requested that we meet during lunch, but then the other PAP teacher could not have come because she had freshmen lunch. I could have requested that we meet after school, but that just seemed like adding a burden for no really good reason. Because of this, I don’t think I did a good job of meeting my responsibilities as lead this year. They are promising that all of Geometry will have the same PLC next year, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
    • I really like AH, our new principal–he’s a great guy, fairly easy-going, and really supportive of teachers. I don’t know whether it was his notion or a directive from the district, but he told us that when we met in our PLCs, we all had to meet in one of two rooms, so the assistant principals would know where to find us. So my two-person PLC had to pick up and move from my room, where we had just about everything we needed, to another classroom (that could no longer be used to hold classes), along with the Spanish PLC and the Communications/Speech PLC. AH said that it would allow us to share ideas across the curriculum and stuff, but it was mainly an annoyance. I haven’t heard yet whether we will be continuing the practice next year.
    • Part of the reason for a PLC is to analyze the data from common assessments and discuss ways of remediating. For the entire year, I was unable to access any of my data. The testing coordinator could see it, so she would insist that everything was fine, but I never could. This partly led to my not creating/giving as many common assessments as I was supposed to have, which again, means I didn’t do a good job as level lead.
  • Why can’t freshmen put things away in numerical order? I have a lovely chromebook cart with 32 chromebooks (until one was stolen), and each slot is clearly labeled. Each chromebook is mostly clearly labeled. Why is it so hard to put chromebook #6 in slot #6?!? Why would it seem logical to put it in slot #22??

Okay, now that that is out of the way, we have the
Awesome List

  • All Pre-AP! Although I was a little disappointed at the level some of these kids were at, they were great kids to work with.
  • Astronomy!! It was totally worth the many, many hours of cramming to pass the certification test to teach Astronomy. Even for a first year teaching, I think a lot of good things happened, and I think most of the students got something out of the course.
  • The flipped class in Geometry worked really well. The kids really understood the model, and I generally had around 97% watch the video/slideshow and take the notes. The remaining few percent usually just copied their neighbor’s notes, which was actually fine with me. It worked so well that I started wondering why we all had to be on the same topic at the same time, which led to …
  • I learned about the “Flipped-Mastery Classroom” when I was reading Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student in Every Class Every Day by Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams over Christmas. In it, they talk about “Mastery Learning”, which was a model in the 80’s that would let students progress at their own pace and not move on until they demonstrated mastery. The reason why it fell out of favor fairly quickly was the assessment quandary — how do you give each student an individual assessment (or re-assessment) at any given time and (a) make sure he can’t just copy or memorize it, and (b) handle the mountain of grading that would result. The answer is using technology to handle the assessments. After I read the book, I just happened to learn that the authors would be leading a conference on flipped classrooms over in Allen, which is only about 45 minutes away, so I was able to go hear them. After that, I was doing some searching to see how I could go about setting up a course on Moodle (which is what they used), when I saw that my district was moving from Moodle to something called Canvas, and there was going to be a training on how to move from Moodle to Canvas the next day! I’m not kidding–the timeline looks like this: I read the book on 12/13/14, the conference was on 1/10/15, and the training was 1/14/15.
  • Canvas is mostly great to work with. As soon as I got an account, I started playing around and setting up quizzes. What makes this such a great tool for the mastery learning environment is that you can create your own test bank, and you can create formula questions. I calculated that for the first quiz I gave, there were over 1 billion distinct versions (that I didn’t have to grade). My original plan had been to start next year, but the more I played around with it, the more impatient I got. As I said, I really like my principal. It turns out that the PAP Biology class was also doing mastery learning (although not with computers), so when I spoke to AH about doing a flipped-mastery-learning class during the last two six weeks of the year, he said I could go for it!
  • This came from Astronomy — the biggest key to making sure students stay engaged during a fellow student’s presentation is to have the student(s) doing the presentation also make a Kahoot quiz to be given after the presentation. This was very effective.

Tweaks for Next Year

  • Geometry
    • The kids were a little slow to figure out how the new system worked. Some got through everything very quickly, but some students thought that they had all the time in the world, and got behind. I had given them a target date for each chapter, after which point I would put in zeros for all the work they hadn’t done. I would still take the work, but I figured the zeros would provide incentive. For the last chapter, I gave them a hard deadline of June 2nd. June 1st and 2nd, I probably had 30 or so kids in my room after school trying to get through all of the work that they had put off. About 3 of my really solid kids ended up failing the six weeks because they never got to the final chapter test (they did end up passing for the semester). One of the assignments for the final chapter was to write a letter to a future 9th grader giving him or her advice for working with this system. I think I’m going to make a wordle out of it, and I bet the biggest word will be either “deadline” or “procrastinate”. Generally, though, I think this was a good experience for the kids because I allowed unlimited retakes of the quizzes, which forced them into more practice and also let me do individual remediation where it was necessary. I also realized that it let me do some pretty good differentiation, because if a kid was struggling, I could tailor how much help I gave him. There are some tweaks I want to make, but overall, I think this is the way I’m going to go. The main change that I’m going to make is that instead of giving just one target date for each chapter, each objective will have a target date (essentially one objective per class day). So at the end of each class, I will put in zeros for everything that wasn’t completed. I think this will give parents a better idea of where their child stands, and it will give kids a better idea as well.
    • I will have both regular and PAP classes next year, but I am still planning to use the same model for both, so I’m not quite sure yet how that will work out.
    • While I like the idea of making videos for each objective, the kids have pretty overwhelming stated that they prefer the slideshows. It’s certainly less work for me, but I worry that one of the reasons some of them struggled is because they were just copying down the notes without actually thinking about them. To address that, I think I will try making both a video and a slideshow for each objective. I also want to see what (if anything) comes with our new textbooks.
    • New TEKS (standards). I have no idea what the new sequence for next year is, so I’m going to set up the best plan I can come up with and see how that matches up. The biggest issue that I can see is that Geometry will now include all of probability (not just area), and they haven’t taken much of anything out. Hmmm.
    • I experimented with having them make a “journal” for each chapter, which consisted of a summary of each section. I liked this because it was a way of implementing the AVID strategy of going over their notes. I’m of two minds right now as to whether to continue this because most of the kids just copied their notes again instead of summarizing them.
    • I am going to demonstrate, and then set the expectation, that when students put their chromebooks away, they will put them in the correct slot!
  • Astronomy
    • This year was just a little too free-form for me. I think I want them to keep some kind of notebook with some kind of notes inside. I really like the guided notes that I had them doing for several sections, but I don’t know that I want to do that every time.
    • Shift from Edmodo to Canvas. Supposedly Pearson is going to be tying their textbook logins to Canvas, so that will make things a bit easier (although their online textbook layout is nothing to write home about).
    • While I generally liked the sequence that L made, there were a few places where it just felt out of sync.
    • More math!
    • I need to have higher expectations overall. Since I didn’t have a firm idea of what I was doing, it made it easier to be easier on them, but next year, I need to (a) consistently give them more challenging material and (b) have the expectation that they will do the work to a required level.
    • Figure out how to set up observational opportunities outside the classroom.
    • Maybe some type of observation journal?
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