Getting Around

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Is This a Bad Volume Problem?

As I was shoveling all the snow that fell where I live recently, I wondered exactly how much snow I was shoveling. As my 7th graders are struggling with volumes right now it came to me that after a little practice with regular shapes I could ask them exactly how much snow I was shoveling.

To the left, my humble abode. I have no clue what the scale is here (does anyone know how to get that information from Google/Bing/MapQuest?), but I can measure it if I have to. What is hard to see from the picture is that my driveway is actually a trapezoid. The kids don't have a neat formula for volume of a trapezoid, so it might be interesting to see what they do with it.

But is this even a good question? I mean, *I* care how much snow I shoveled because I was sore afterward. But would my students even care? They might like seeing my house, I suppose. But that doesn't make it a good math problem.

I have several students who struggle with the basic shapes and formulas. But those shapes are so abstract. Who really cares about the volume of a triangular prism? I don't unless it's filled with Toblerone. Then I might care. But then I wonder if throwing in an actual object from reality might be too much for those kids. My more advanced kids might think this is totally obvious and lame.

What I like about my driveway is that I can give them the picture and make up a scale if I can't find it. Then, they have to use what they supposedly know about scales to get measurements. Then, since we've talked about you never really need to memorize a formula for a right prism because you can always come up with the answer, they CAN find the volume of my driveway snow. They'll think they can't, but they can.

Is the scale thing too much/too hard? Should I just give them the measurements?  Is this a really bad attempt at bringing in relevance? I really want them to THINK about volumes, not just learn how to use the formula from the state test reference sheet. What would be a better problem? I could add on to it by making the problem about the number of calories I burned while shoveling all that snow, since I'm sure there's an estimate rate for that sort of thing somewhere. I have to admit, given how sore I was, I'm curious about the number of calories I burned. But would the kids care?

Heck, I'm not even sure I can devote a whole period or more to this, though I'd like to. I'm off the departmental pace as it is and I'm the new kid so I don't want to make too many waves.

Monday, December 24, 2012

All that Planning, For Nothing

I was ready for retakes and fun on Friday. But Friday was a snow day. Bummer. The principal is debating whether the last day of the semester can happen in January. I sure hope so, for the sake of the kids who wanted to demonstrate what they had mastered.

I had planned for bad weather by taking everything I could think of home on Thursday for the break. I don't have access to the building unless someone with a key is there. Sadly, I left a book I really wanted to read on my desk.

The worst part is that there wasn't really enough snow to play in. I spent the whole "snow day" indoors.

I hope your break is whatever you want it to be. I have cookies to eat now.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Today I Was the Best Teacher

copyright Mikereichold
Nutrition Cane or Energy Curve?
Today, I was the best teacher. Or so the kids told me.

In our science curriculum we have a lab where you simulate two different types of volcanic eruptions. It's a simple acid and baking soda reaction with slightly different acid solutions and with one of the types of magma colored so it looks cool. I've done this with preschoolers. It's not hard. The science curriculum gives you everything, including fake volcanoes that are easy to clean. But the reality is that it's so exciting that the lab is of dubious learning value (kids are too distracted by the fizzing and exploding that they don't remember what they were supposed to learn) and it can be really messy. Last year it was only offered as an enrichment activity.

I built it up days before we did it. I explained that my classes were the only classes in the whole school who would be doing this lab. I spent part of a period demo-ing the procedure so they would take it very seriously. They had to wear goggles. And clean up after themselves. And oh yeah, fill out a data table in between the fizzing and exploding.

They had a blast.

I took pictures. I took video. Some kids figured out that the ratio of baking soda to acid mattered. That sounds like a great add-on lab when it's time for us to blow off some steam again and the curriculum is boring us all to tears. I don't do frill classes, but if they might learn something, I'm all over it. And some kids really seemed to understand that there are different kinds of volcanic eruptions and different kids of rock that result depending on the amount of gas in the magma, so it wasn't a total learning loss.

I didn't even make them do the analysis questions at the end. My winter gift to them. They told me that I am the best teacher. 

But then, as it always does, the other shoe dropped. They asked me if we were having a party tomorrow, the last day of school before break. When I asked what all their other teachers were doing, they said they were having parties. And so, I explained that they just gave me the reason why we would NOT be having a party. We would be learning on the last day of school. Low-key, stress-less learning to be sure, but learning all the same.

I may not be the best teacher anymore. Maybe I should have told them that I was bringing in what another teacher calls "nutrition canes" to eat while they work tomorrow? Would that make me the best again?

(I might go with something like "energy curves" instead of "nutrition canes." Just to be different.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

How SBG Has Changed Assignments for Me

Standards-based grading does a lot of things, including how you see the assignments you give. My mentor and I decided to give our students a project to practice finding simple shape areas and then areas of irregular shapes. Traditionally, this sort of thing requires a teacher to design a rubric for assigning points to the final product, which then goes toward a grade. A student gets points based on how well he or she followed the rubric given out with the project.

But wait, what if you don't want to give points to anything anymore? Make it count for a homework assignment or three (we have completion-grade-only homework)?

After talking about it, my mentor and I decided this was a great opportunity to get some mastery data for the two standards that are being practiced through the project. We've decided to use the project criteria for an acceptability judgment only. That is, if the student met the criteria, then the student may turn it in to be assessed. Then, we'll use the student's work to determine if they've mastered the standards contained in the project. There will be no points other than a scale score for each standard.

Deep breath.

I just know that some students are going to not do it if they figure out there aren't points involved. I've been switching to standards-based grading on the sly, so some of them haven't caught on yet. Others will do it, but not put in any creative energy because that creativity won't be graded. Others will want to know exactly how they can get an A on the project, even though most of them realize I don't give them letter grades any more on big stuff.

So, the kids who don't do the project will get dinged on their homework grade, which still is based on points because that's departmental policy. In the grade book I have to work the numbers a bit to reflect how many standards a kid has mastered, but that's doable.

Homework is a gray area for me because of our school policies, but I feel really good about using a project as an additional data point for standards mastery. Up until now, only quizzes and tests went into a mastery score. I'll be able to write comments all over their work and really know where some kids might be struggling.

I'm also happy that I can use a standard, general rubric for everything. Creating one for every project sort of sucked the joy out of it for me and possibly the students. Eventually we'll create some specific ones that address what mastery looks like for each standard. So far though, it's been fine to use a general one.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I didn't forget...

I didn't forget that I mentioned I'd post pictures of last week's plan. It just didn't happen. I had intended to put numbered folders on foam board with different remediation exercises in them, but I didn't get time to put all the pieces together.

I did do the individualized remediation, and I saw a nice improvement in the level of mastery among the kids who had to retest. Instead of my fancy foam board creation, I put the numbered folders along the floor and let kids take from them. Instead of kids just taking one worksheet at a time, which was my intention, they collected all of them at once. This was not a good thing, because the skills built on each other. Many of the kids starting working on them out of order, which wasn't as helpful as it could have been. I'll have to fix that part of the process.

Overall, I was pleased. The kids liked working on only the stuff they needed to work on. They liked testing on only the stuff they needed. My kids who were already proficient did a mini lesson on perimeter that didn't go particularly well, but now I know that I either need to be more specific or find some other type of enrichment for them to do.

Ideally, I'd make this the way we do things on a normal basis. I did have too much talking on the second day, which was frustrating. They need to take responsibility for their work, but they also want to socialize while not getting work done. It didn't help that one of the class members was leaving the school the next day, so no one was focused.

Anyway, I'd say it was a mostly successful experiment that needs a little tweaking.