19 April 2019

Independent Learning and Personalized Assessments

Today my Integrated Math 2 students had a planned assessment. Last week we went over the concepts we had been working with that they would be assessed on. I then gave students the option for 2 additional concepts that they still needed to show understanding of. With progress reports a week away and each of my 30 students at different places in the content, I wanted them to have the choice of what they were going to show that they knew. Depending on the student, some of the options they had available were tailored to them - I have several students still working on concepts from last quarter. Some options were stretches for students, but I love seeing if they are ready and willing for the challenge. I've also been trying to add more open-ended questions (thanks David Sladkey, Scott Miller, Nanette Johnson, and Robert Kaplinsky) as part of the assessments. And while the feedback is probably going to take twice as long as normal because of the number of different assessments given, I'm happy that I provided the students with the choices.

So yesterday during class they were given "independent learning" time. Basically, I told them they knew what they needed to work on and study and that they had resources I provided to them, they had each other, and they could grab a computer and utilize that. That was basically the instructions! Students (well, like 75% of them) were practicing and studying! I had students coming up to me to check how they were doing on problems and to ask for another to try. Other students were watching videos on the internet, finding practice problems online, and helping each other. I was blown away!! It was exciting to see that the unstructured time was probably some of the most productive I've seen them! I'm hopeful after going through the assessments that will shine through.

31 March 2019

Spring Break 2019

Bitmoji ImageI'm currently finishing up Spring Break. I'd say it's been pretty productive, though I wish I'd gotten more [work] done.

The time off started with finally repainting a wall in the house. I'm not sure why we picked this color out over 10 years ago (it's also in the kitchen) but we decided back at Thanksgiving we needed to lighten up the room. Back at Christmas we decided on a color and purchased everything. I guess the motivation to actually do it took some time. But below are the before and after. Now I realize even more how much I hate the fireplace and I'm ready to redo that. As well as the baseboard and flooring, but I know once I open up that can, I'll be ripping out the entire downstairs flooring. So, I'll wait.

After the weekend of painting, I spent a day reorganizing the garage. It'd be nice if I could say it was Spring Cleaning, but we didn't get rid of anything. My husband has been doing some woodwork and got a table saw and bench, so I wanted to make sure there was the room for that to be set up correctly. He now has an entire side to work from.

Tuesday I took my daughter to Sea World. It wasn't too crowded so it was really nice. We were able to walk around and not have to wait too long to see stuff. It was great just being able to spend that time with her. 

She doesn't like change so I kept her in school this week - she flipped when I picked her up on Monday instead of Grandma, even telling me to leave and go get Grandma. After I dropped her off Wednesday, I enjoyed a massage then picked up lunch for us to share.

Work wise I've been working on lesson plans for the next few weeks. I'm attending NCTM in San Diego next week and will be out for 3 days, so I'm trying to get those lessons and sub plans complete. We will also be starting up our Tax Unit in Financial the week after, so I've been busy trying to reorganize and adjust those to the current tax season (thanks to Next Gen Personal Finance for the help with that). I was hoping it would be easier, but it's been a lot of work to really figure out the best way to break up the information and provide just enough. We used to have them file taxes for various situations and they had to do both Federal and State. So, now with one tax form, I have to adjust numbers and information to make sure it all works. We also had them itemize a few times, but now I'm having a difficult time seeing that relevance with the increased standard deduction. I still have some lessons to finish up for the tax unit, so I'm hoping to get at least one more done before the end of the day. I also spent a morning meeting with a former colleague to discuss AVID, since I took over as the coordinator and am looking at ways for us to strengthen and grow the program.

It's hard to believe we only have 1 more quarter left of the school year. I feel like I have so much more I need to get completed between BTSA, AVID, the department (do I need to hire again?!), the courses I'm teaching. And, still making the space to spend quality time with my family.

How are you spending your Spring Break?

26 March 2019

Providing Feedback

In January I decided to take another cannon ball into my Standards Based Grading journey (you can read about why here). I decided to jump into feedback only on assignments and assessments. Students were given a list at the start of the semester with concepts and skills that they must know and demonstrate in order to pass the course. I think of them as non-negotiable and students had to be proficient, demonstrating the ability to complete it correctly, independently (most likely on an assessment). There are some other skills listed that they should know, but I think of these as negotiable, so they are there for students to be able to negotiate a higher grade (A or B).

I have problems that we work on in class. I try to put up answers at the end for students to self-correct or I'll have them turn it in for feedback. I also provide frequent Independent Learning Opportunities outside of class that students can also turn in for feedback (I'm not the best at getting these back timely tho- and answers are online for students to check). Compared to the fall, this is getting more students to practice, but there should always be more that do.

I've had students self-reflect twice already, and we are currently finishing just finished up the third one for midterm/first semester grades (official report card and transcript grade). This was the second time we met to go over a letter grade. So far, students have accurately reflected on their learning and have stated they were understanding relative to where I felt! During the first round of conferences, I did have 1 student who was pretty off (he's been really struggling with the content), but he has been coming around and realizes the additional help he needs toward learning and understanding. I'm also having students write goals for the second half of the course, with me hoping to remember to hold them accountable. After the midterm test, I assigned a reflection for students so I could start to gather their thoughts on the good, bad, and areas to improve with this system -you'll see a few of their quotes throughout.
"I really enjoy this grading system that we have been doing. Some things I enjoy about it is that we do not have the pressure of a grade on an exam. We can also demonstrate on other exams that we understand the concept." ~M.W. (freshman) 
I've always believed that students learn at different rates. In the past, I've always told students that I know that and I'll always look at end performance over beginning. But, in the past, it never made too much of a difference. With this feedback system, I'm seeing kids continue to work hard to improve and understand. Students who would have given up beforehand, are continuing to practice and learn. As we learn new concepts, I continue to cycle older ones on assessments so 1) students who previously showed understanding continue to demonstrate understanding, and 2) those that didn't understand could now show improvement. The extra time for many has been great.
"I really appreciate our grading system and the way it works. Instead of basing our grades solely off of points without explanation, this system helps ensure that we are getting a grade we deserve  and why. I see the drastic improvement of teaching tactics compared to other classes by seeing how much improvement and understanding is found in me and also all of my peers." ~E.A. (freshman)
Since I'm really trying to get students to understand the concepts, I had a few students who weren't there YET when midterm grades came around. I approached the AP who oversees the math department with my idea of assigning an Incomplete to these students. He checked the Student Handbook to be sure, then gave me the go ahead! With that support, I spoke with 3 students and parents about the incomplete - which will provide them additional time to show proficiency. On a point system, these students would have been failing the first few weeks and wouldn't have the opportunity to still earn a passing grade. I'm not sure if they will be able to pick up on the past concepts while we continue to learn and connect new ones, but this is still an opportunity they would not have had otherwise.
"I like how we are able to work on the problems on our own time that we have challenges on instead of getting homework that we already know. I like how you can consult with us about our grade instead of just basing it off of homework and worksheets." ~L.Z. (sophomore)
Two of my colleagues are using the SBG system I did in the fall. I listened to them the last few weeks leading into the end of the grading period, and I could see and hear myself in the Fall. After this semester of providing feedback to students, I'm really enjoying this and would recommend it to my department! It hasn't always been easy - I'm reorganizing curriculum yet again and having to write new assessments frequently. Earlier assessments required a lot of writing, so that took time to go through. And at times it has been difficult to figure out what meaningful feedback to give. It takes much longer to grade things since I'm writing all over them. And, I haven't found the best way to keep stakeholders informed. Currently each student has a spreadsheet that I populate feedback summaries on to, and the link is posted in the gradebook for parents to access - but I don't know if they are doing that, or even know about that. And a lot of my time is spent recording the written feedback onto the spreadsheet, so at some point I need to evaluate if this is the best use of my time.

Bitmoji ImageAs we go into this final semester, I'm excited to see the full understanding of students. I'll be trying to track them next year in Integrated Math 3 too to see if the learning sticks. I'll end this post with the following response from a student (the same from earlier who is very positive about the change I've made), which has me thinking about how to convince others in my department to make the cannon ball into the deep end with me!
"A worry I have is that when I go on to future math classes that they will not use the same grading system." ~M.W.

07 January 2019

Look into my Journey with SBG

I've now completed a full course using Standards Based Grading (I previously completed just 1 semester) for my Integrated Math 2. I only had 1 section of it this time, so I'm not sure if my successes and struggles are common or a fluke. Here is the good, bad, and ugly of my experience this year. I'll include my reflection and next steps at the end too.

Good: Most students appreciated that I was trying to emphasize learning over memorize, regurgitate, and dump. And many appreciated that they were allowed to have multiple opportunities to show understanding of skills. I had several students who said that really helped to alleviate stress. And many really took the opportunity to learn and improve.

Bad: I felt like I was constantly assessing (I really was). I assessed every week on concepts from the previous week (usually 2-4), and allowed the opportunity for anyone who needed to reassess the previous concepts. Since students only needed their best effort, many stopped practicing the concept after they achieved the desired proficiency level.

Ugly: since students weren't graded on completing assignments, many just didn't do them. The times I was providing for students to practice became social time for several, especially as we got to the end of the term. This became very evident with results from the final- students showed little ability to recall and apply what we had worked on throughout the course.

Bitmoji ImageMoving forward: I start over with a new term in just a few days and spent the past month reflecting and refining so I improve. I went through the concepts taught and prioritized them by MUST know (to pass with a C), should know, and good to know. My plan is to collect classwork more often and assess less often but cycle concepts more frequently. I plan to strictly provide feedback on assignments and assessments. This feedback will highlight what was done well and what steps should be taken to improve. Students will self-assess and keep evidence of their learning and understanding. I will conference with students prior to each  grading period ending to determine a letter grade. I have 1 section so I really feel this will be manageable, and I'm excited to see an increase in learning and understanding, and therefore retaining. I know it still won't be perfect, but I'm hopeful of the opportunities it will provide students.

I'm getting ready to do a presentation (today) on this journey to some of my staff members. You can access it here

29 November 2018

Let's Get Personal

I'm not one that really shares a lot about my personal life. Those close to me, I'm totally an open book, but other than that, I'm a bit quiet. I'm writing this post as a way to express something that I've been quiet about. And, as we head into the Holiday season where we are with family, friends, and acquaintances, maybe this will remind you to choose small talk and words more carefully.

I got married in 2004 to my college sweetheart! Do you know that after you're married everyone always asks "when are you going to to have kids?" Answer: when we are settled: career, location, home.

In 2009, we figured we had finally settled into our careers and purchased a home, so we decided we would start a family. The answer now to "when are you going to have kids?" became, "I already have x# that I deal with each day!" - it became a response that was so much easier. See, after several years we were in the "unexplained infertility" category. I know a lot fall into that, but no one ever knows because we don't want to discuss it; we are ashamed. We finally got confirmation in 2013 that yes, we could have a child, but our only option was IVF (totally skipping IUI). In 2014, we had finally saved up enough money and froze 10 embryos. For our first transfer, we initially transferred 2, but only one stuck. I didn't think much about the embryo we lost - after 5 years we were finally expecting! Once we were pregnant, I never was shy about her costing $30,000, or that she was a product of IVF. Our beautiful daughter was finally born in August 2015. We were over the moon!

Then, the question became "when are you going to have another?" Our plan was to wait until our daughter was close to 2 to try for another. When that time came, we started the process. Thinking it would be easier now that we knew our process and we still had 8 embryos, we were very wrong. We ran into issues - it took 4 different doctors, several procedures, and about a year of time before we finally got the okay to move forward with a transfer. The date was set for September!

As the school year was beginning, life was getting crazy. My in-laws moved in, so that added 2 adults and 2 dogs to our home; I picked up an additional course, so I was now teaching 4/3 (and on top of the more than full time schedule, each of my classes was a different course); I said yes to supporting another beginning teacher, making it 2 new teachers with one off-site; and I was still department chair. At a time I needed to be relaxed and calm, I was stressed to the max!! 

It's been about 60 days since we found out we lost our little embryo. I can't help but feel like I did something wrong. I'm told I didn't, but with the added stress I induced, how can I feel otherwise? We still have plans to try again. Right now we are waiting for the body to recover from the medications, the insurance claims to catch up, and the bank accounts to replenish.

Over the next month or so, all of us will be going to several holiday parties. Skip the small talk! Don't ask, friends of not, when they will get married, when they will have kids, when they will have the next kid, ect. It isn't your business and you have no idea what struggle they may be facing. It seems so simple, but those conversations have lasting affects.

I guess as educators, the same can be said with those conversations in the classroom that we have with students. They may be late to school because they struggle to have a reliable ride. They might not have finished that assignment you gave because they weren't able to go home (or don't have a home), or have to take care of siblings since parents aren't home. In the scheme of it all, while we think our class and school is a priority, it just really isn't for many - they have way too many other life things going on.

Okay... personal life story done!