Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween To Me

A former student met me in the hallway today. She heard we had just learned the quadratic formula in algebra 2, and she took it upon herself to choreograph a dance to go with the song I teach. With illustrations.

She offered to come to class and perform it for my current students . . .

. . . but only if I joined in, which I did. Except for the slap the butt part.

Sometimes, high school students are just adorable.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Today's Million Dollar Question

I have been struggling a bit this year with getting a student or two to show steps/process/work/setups (or whatever you call it when you say that it isn't okay to give a lonely answer with no justification). The silver lining is that this struggle forces me to think about WHY students should show work.  Here are a few reasons I have:

Showing steps . . .
Puts the focus on the process, rather than the solution.
Communicates your solution to others.
Makes it possible for you (or someone helping you) to locate your mistakes.
Slows you down, so fewer careless mistakes happen.
Gives evidence your answer is right.
Demonstrates your understanding.
Helps reduce cheating. (Some might still copy, but at least they must copy the work too.)
Finally, in my class an answer bank is given. Showing steps keeps practice from becoming nothing more than a matching game.

I am also asking myself some questions like . . . WHY do some students struggle with showing work?

Maybe because . . .
It takes too much time.
They can do it mentally.
They don't know how to show work.
They are bored.
They don't believe in its value.
They are cheating.

Writing this, I realized that when a student is repeatedly refusing to show their process, I tend to go straight to negative assumptions. I assume they are being stubborn and uncooperative, or that they must be cheating.

I am going to try to put the whole issue in a more positive light and see where the students are coming from. Maybe these students think that showing steps is just for the teacher's sake, and has no benefit to them personally.

Or, maybe they genuinely don't know how to express how they got the answer.

It also has me thinking about the types of questions I am asking. If someone can calculate the answer mentally, maybe the question wasn't challenging enough?

How do you motivate students to show their thoughts?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bell Work Bliss Gone Bad

I am testing out a new bell work procedure this year, like so:

1.  Student picks up the bell work when she walks in the room. It's right by the door.
2.  Student works out bell work and raises a hand to check.
3.  I check the bell work and give out a green star. Student receives a green pen of her own.
4.  Student checks in with partner to assist as needed and gives the partner a green star.
5.  Student checks in with people sitting nearby to see if green stars/assistance are needed.
6.  I continue passing out green stars and green pens until pretty soon, the green pens and green stars have branched out through the whole room and bell work is done.

The first three or four weeks of this method were completely blissful. Students were self-starting.  Students who understood the problem were coaching the struggling students. I was super proud of myself for putting the responsibility of bell work completion into the hands of the students. Yay for me doing less while students do more!

Weeks 4-6 started going downhill a bit. There is a little lag time between the first and the last students who finish. Students started finishing and chatting. Loudly. Then they started chatting before they got started.

Now, at the 8th week I am frustrated and wondering where it all went wrong. What was different about the first few weeks compared to now? Is the honeymoon over? Or did something else change?

I realized that during the first few weeks I had an extra step at the end of the bell work . . . I directed students toward the few problems I'd put on that day's practice assignment that were review. These were problems they could work on right away without any instruction. So they were doing the bell work, coaching and starring their neighbors, and then moving on to those extra problems. Since it was part of the day's assignment, they were motivated to keep moving along and get that done.

The moral of the story is that if I want to continue to do bell work this way, I need to supply my students with something to do after they finish all the steps. Not busy work. Something worth the time. Something productive that will fill the short gap.

I am thinking I might start using some type of guided questions where they could go ahead and start thinking about the day's lesson, or some ACT practice questions, or maybe just continue with review like before. Maybe some extension or challenge problems for them to think about?

I am not sure which way I will go, but writing this post helped me identify the problem so that now I can figure out a solution.

Yay for blogging!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

8 weeks, 8 pencils . . .

I've tried a variety of responses to students who show up to class pencil-less:

1.  Refusing to give them a pencil, so they can learn to be responsible.
(Doesn't work, and I feel like a jerk.)
2.  Providing them with a pencil.
(Pencil is usually gone for good.)
3.  Trading them for something valuable.
(Works, but it is inconvenient.)

This year, I just put out a cup of pencils for students to use as needed.

8 weeks later, I still have all the pencils I put out at the beginning of the year.

It turns out, a plastic spoon is a very affective anti-theft device.

Then I came up with a use for the forks.

(Green pens for checking bell work.)

We figured out right away that the spoon-pencil has a major design flaw:

You can't use the eraser.

So, then I really got carried away . . .

I would recommend attaching the eraser to the handle part instead . . .