Saturday, August 19, 2017

Teenagers are like soap

I read this in a magazine recently:

Think of a teenager as a wet bar of soap. If your contact is too light, it will slip out. If you apply too much pressure, it will do the same.

While this was intended as parenting advice, it is also good classroom management advice. I've taught both middle and high school and while middle school often gets the bad rap, managing high school classes seems to be especially tricky business. It seems often that teachers struggling with classroom management falls under one of these two camps.

Trying to come in too authoritarian doesn't go over well. Coming in with a long list of rules and making it clear that they're not going to get away with anything doesn't go over well. With these teachers, the kids start to enjoy making them angry.

The other side is the teacher that too much on trying to have a good relationship with the kids. This may sometimes come from an attempt to show the kids they care, but more often the kids take too much advantage of this teacher and don't respect them at all. These teachers try to address all issues too casually and the kids know there aren't ever going to be real consequences.

The trick is finding a very careful balance between the two. Find a few (2-4) issues that are important to you and create clear policies with them. Enforce them every time, for every kid. Don't make a huge deal out of everything. The more often that a tactic (the talk in the hallway, the whole class guilt lecture, etc.) the less effective it become. Kids like and respect the teacher that seems approachable and expresses their personality while also holding them to high standards. Not too light, and not too strong of a hold.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Organ Function Grinder Machine

This is an activity that I really like but forgot about for awhile. One of my projects for this summer was to clean up all my files and I recently rediscovered this. After starting this post, I even rediscovered that I blogged about this awhile ago right after I made it. 

Since then I've refined it a bit so I thought it was worth sharing again.

A bit of background is that this idea came from the Math Midway exhibit which was here at the Liberty Science Center awhile ago. My favorite was the Organ Function Grinder. This is the activity guide that goes along with the exhibit. 

This activity is my attempt at recreating the exhibit. 

The basic idea is a three function machine where the kids needs to play with the dials and choose input numbers to try to make goal numbers. I really like that they include some interesting functions, especially invert. I also like that there are more than one way to get the answers, that's always a huge plus.

The activity gives a list of available numbers that can go into the machine, and a list of goal numbers. The students choose an input number and decide what functions to use in order to make the target number. The activity begins by having them only use one function and then progresses to using all three. Using multiple functions starts to get especially interesting and leads to good conversation about how the order of the functions used changes the output.

Below are the tables that can be used for the activity, or this could easily be split up a ton of different ways. On the handouts (download link at the bottom of this post), I also included a picture of the machine above each table.
Use only one function

Use two functions

Use three functions
Just a word about the layout of these- I originally had the goal outputs filled into the output column instead, but I changed it thinking that especially in the more complex ones that I wanted the kids to go across the row and apply the functions in order to calculate the output for themselves and check that it worked.

This could easily be modified a bunch of different ways. Some of the ideas I had were:

  • Changing the inputs to create different problems.
  • Choose one goal number and challenge kids to find as many ways possible to make it.
  • Choose one input number and have kids choose 3 functions. Investigate what happens when the functions are applied in different orders.

If anyone else has other ideas I'd love to hear them.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

SBG Score Posters

In the past, I've hung up a "What does my grade mean?" poster, that was too small to be usable.

This year I hung these up instead:

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Some classroom finds

Within the past couple years I've been making an effort to spend less money and time on decorating my classroom. I've accumulated so many things that I really don't need any more. It is hard though when I find pretty things to not buy them all. These are some fun things I've found lately that I wish were going to be in my classroom.

These I was really surprised to find at Ikea. I'm not sure if they're intended to be motivational posters or if they're just playing into the typography trend, but they're perfect for the classroom.

These I came across at HomeGoods and also really wanted, especially the one about staying humble. I advise a group of students where we have a group of officers that we try to develop leadership skills in and I find that I talk about this a lot.

This one I couldn't pass up. A desk calendars is one thing that does run out so I can justify buying and this one is just so much fun. Each page is hand lettered and has fun little sections all around the page. Each page also has a matching page for notes and with a whole bunch of adorable little coupons and notes. (I got excited and started to fill out September before I took the picture).

Amazon Link
ps- mentioning this because people have asked before- I do not just love Rutgers football games (I don't really like sports at all) as a fundraiser I work with a group of kids running a concession stand at every game

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Course Guide

This is a super old post that for some reason I never published. I do still use this as my syllabus posted on my website. I also still use the one black and white version for the kids' notebooks.  So while it's it's an old post it's still relevant. 

Old post:

Last summer I revised my syllabus into this one page course guide which I really like. Well I came across this awesome syllabus on Pinterest and which made me want to revamp mine yet again. 

In the past I've always made different versions for my different courses but really my class policies and information is the same in all my courses so I decided to take that out and just make it a general information sheet on the highlights.

In the tweet below, Rob Patin shares the Photoshop template he used to create his original version.

I discovered this far too late and it could have made my work in recreating this way easier, but oh well. Below is what I came up with. All the information is my own except for the section on Remind101, that is taken from the original. I loved pretty much everything about it so I didn't change all that much.

I also use Photoshop to create almost everything I make but in case you don't have Photoshop, I included a basic template below that I think should be pretty easy to use. It's saved as an image so you can put it into whatever program you use. Easiest I think would be to put it into Powerpoint and then just put text boxes on top of it to type whatever you want. I included one version with the pictures I used and one without if you'd like to add your own.

download here

download here

I don't think that I really want to print color copies of these to put into the kids' notebooks so most likely this will be for my website and possibly one to hang up in the room somewhere. Many thanks to Rob Patin for the awesome idea!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Metric Conversion Posters

These are some other ones from the archives (aka folders I'm cleaning out and forgot I ever made). I know the multiply/divide by 10 is a bit of a trick (I like to convert using proportions), but maybe someone might like them.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hang in there

This is super random, but I came across it while cleaning out an old folder. It was someone else's idea and was intended to be reminiscent of the old kitten poster. I never did print it out but thought maybe someone would like to.


Saturday, August 5, 2017

SBG Updates- Grading

Following along with how I changed the way I write questions, I have made a couple changes to my grading system.

Change #1: Getting a 5
Before:"A 4 means pretty much perfect and the only way to get a 5 is to get two 4's."
When I started including a reach question on each assessment I started letting students get to a 5 right away. I did really like the previous system, but this is just how I'm doing it now and I do really like including more challenging questions. There typically aren't that many students that receive perfect scores so there is still a lot of reassessing that occurs. Also, the difference between a 4 and 5 is only five points (95 vs 100) so I do still feel like it's fair for all students that I'm including a question that might be beyond the reach of some students. I feel that the fact that there are always some students that get the harder questions means that I should be including them.

Change #2: The point system
This one is a seemingly minor change, but had pretty big implications. I use a five point scale where 3 is considered basic proficiency. My school uses a traditional gradebook system so I need to translate the scores into what I call gradebook grades. This is explained fully here. All I changed was the grade translation on a 2. Before it was a 65 which was the lowest passing score. I didn't like that it felt like students could still obtain a passing grade without being proficient so I changed it to a 60. This was a new change for this past school year and especially first marking period it meant that at the halfway marking period point I had way more students with failing grades than before. This was not particularly popular, but ultimately it made the students work harder and learn more than then had before with I do feel good about. I plan to keep this up this year.

Change #2a: Another point system (not mine)

Another idea on the point system is the way that a colleague is doing it. He also was concerned with grade inflation of students that are not yet proficient. The first time around, everything below a 3 receives a gradebook score of 0. It's a bit of a shock for kids who are used to getting credit (and sometimes passing a course) just for trying but it's an excellent way of assuring that anyone not proficient will give it another shot. If they try again and are still not proficient then they receive the 50. 

Change #3: "Buying" notebook use
This one I've played with in prior years but never settled on a policy I really liked until now. I teach special education resource math. The students are absolutely capable of more than most people think which is why I maintain higher standards for them than most. Ultimately though, some do need more accommodations than others. In the past I would allow some of my more struggling periods the use of their notebooks during assessments. None of my questions are ever information that they could just look up and copy so they are really just using them for support on the processes. I was always hesitant on this though because in all my classes there was always a kid or two that could do the work without the support and I would prefer to push them.

What I started this year was letting students "buy" the use of their notebook for 5 quiz points. The idea is that they can sacrifice the five points if it will help them pass, but there will not be any way to get a perfect score with support. I now print each skill on a separate sheet of paper and don't staple them so if they want to use their notebooks they can do so only where they really need it. They first do all that they can do without their notebook, hand those in, and then can use their notebook on the rest. I have a little stamp that I stamp pages with that they had the assistance on. I like it because it allows for different levels of accommodation in the same classroom without me having to be the one that makes the distinction of who is and isn't allowed (which I would never do). I know this one may not be a great option for everyone since the kids won't have this support on standardized assessments, but it's what works for me.

Friday, August 4, 2017

SBG Assessment File Organization

After using standards based grading for five years now I have accumulated quite the bank of assessment questions. I didn't really have a good way of saving/organizing them and it started to get hard to find what I was looking for. I reorganized things and it made things much easier for me this year. Like my last post, I feel that there is a good change everyone has already been doing this and I'm late to the game yet again.

This was what my files looked like:

Each was an assessment I gave. In theory I planned to assess the skills in the same groups but in reality that didn't happen. So every time I gave a new quiz I'd have to look for questions from all over and then piece together a new assessment. Questions started to overlap and it was getting frustrating.

Last summer and throughout this year, I started to open them all up and reorganize them. By the way, this process is incredibly unpleasant. I have SO many assessment files and the questions are ALL over the place. I'm currently in the process of doing this job for my geometry files and it is terrible. However, it's worth it because the results are so neat and organized.

Now they look like this:

Each one contains multiple versions of the same skill. It makes it far easier to see what version 1 looked like when I want to create version 2 (or 3 or 4). It makes it so easy to print out a requiz for a kid. If I am giving a quiz on four skills I do have to open four files but it's not nearly as annoying as I thought it would be (that's what kept me from doing this originally).

Also in case you're wondering why the numbers skip, it's because our scope and sequence includes a skill list and these numbers are aligned with that. I don't assess on every single skill listed because it would be too much.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

SBG Infographic

A couple years ago I found this and thought it was so fantastic:

I modified it for my own use and hand it out now and back to school night and anywhere else I need to explain standards based grading:



I print it double sided and fold it in half, like a pamphlet. On the back I include another page relevant to my class. Unfortunately I do not have editable files to post. Like CVU Learns I used piktochart and then copied it into pieces into Photoshop.

Download (not editable)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

SBG Updates- Student Record Keeping

I don't remember if I ever shared the original, but this is the updated version of the record sheet my kids keep track of their grades on. I used to fill in the skill # and description myself and give them copies of all that filled in but things would sometimes end up changing and it was too much to keep up with. 

Now I use this version which is just general and easy to keep a bunch of on hand.

Basic layout idea from here

Every time I hand back assessments they fill in the skill # and description from the quiz and then record what score they got and color in if they need to. The solid line between 2 and 3 is because that's the proficiency/passing line. If they score lower on a requiz I do not lower their score, but I do want them to record it so they can see that they did go down in understanding. Likewise, I want them to see if they keep scoring the same thing over and over.

Download: doc    pdf

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

My take on the growth mindset posters

Over the past few years my classroom hasn't changed all that much, but last year I hopped on the growth mindset trend and added something new. After seeing tons of those "Change your words change your mindset" bulletin boards (originating here it seems) I wanted put my spin on it.

A few years ago when I hung up my simple rules posters I found that I got a lot more use out of them than I'd anticipated. When kids try to give up I point to the wall and tell them that unfortunately it's a rule that they're not allowed to give up. It seems to be lighthearted and they don't get as angry as if I just tell them they have to keep working.

So I liked the growth mindset posters for the same reason. While I really liked them all, for me nine was just too many. I feel like the more stuff that goes up around the room, the less kids are able to focus on it all and it's less meaningful. So I took out the four that I thought I could get the most use out of and made this poster:

I printed it at Staples as a 24"x36" engineering print (under $10). The color ones are more expensive so that's what it's black and white. I did however figure out that those big prints take watercolor paint really nicely so I used watercolors to color in the letters. I'm not in school so I don't have an actual picture, but imagine it something like this.

I also really liked those bulletin boards with the brain and found an image I really liked to do that with. I colored in the left side to be just grey and then colored in the right side. It was like a giant watercolor coloring book, it was great. I don't have a picture of it done, but below is during.


All done, picture something like this.

Before settling on that, I started making something along the lines of all the bulletin boards everyone else has. I didn't end up hanging them up, but this is along the lines of what I had in mind.

fonts for the powerpoint file: The Skinny, KG Empire of Dirt, A Love of Thunder (all free to download)

Monday, July 31, 2017

SBG Updates- Assessment Question Design

Overall the way I'm using standards based grading hasn't changed all that much but I have made some changes to things that I'm pretty pleased with. The main things that have changed are the way I design assessment questions and last summer I changed the ways that I organize the skill quizzes. Both have helped me quite a bit. Right now I'll explain the question design, more on the organization later.

Like much else, this idea wasn't my own. For all I know this could be how everyone else is already writing quizzes and I was just out of the loop. A coworker and I attended an NCTM workshop a couple years ago and went to a session on SBG. It was a great one because it was a district that uses it district wide and were explaining their system. A decent amount was similar to what we were already doing but they had a really great system for how they design assessments. (I wish I could credit who this came from but it was nearly 3 years ago at this point and I just have no idea)

Before, I don't think there was any rhyme or reason to what questions I included. I tried to cover a variety of different aspects of the skill and would then grade based on what I saw.

The suggestion was to create each skill with questions of increasing difficulty to make it easier to determine what the student does/does not understand. Each skill contains five questions ranging from the absolute basics needed for the skill to a challenge question that requires the student to apply the skill to something not explicitly covered in class. And what I found most helpful was that they said they begin by writing the middle question. So for each skill they think about what does basic proficiency looks likes and make that the middle question. Then from there it's easier to scale the skill up and down. I don't always stick to exactly five questions, but the idea did help me to write quizzes easier.

This one is a good example of what it looks like on one of my assessments:

First questions is on there to see if the student understands the idea of distance. If this question is not correct, then I know right away what the problem is and where to start. The third question is the basics of what I want them to be able to do. The fourth puts words in to see if they get scared. If they can do the 3rd but not the 4th I know the words threw them.

I wish I could say that all followed this structure as well, but they just don't. I already had most of the assessments done when I heard this idea so I've been updating things since then. Like the ones below, some have fewer questions but follow the same idea.

The challenge question here presents more of an idea and less of a problem/answer type question.

This one also uses error analysis as the challenge question, I've noticed that
sometimes that type of thinking is hard for my kids so I like to work on it.
Template Download (fonts are Aldine401 BT, Bebas Neue, Abel, Segoe UI Light)
This is just from Microsoft Word using a table. Included are 6 boxes, that is the general starting point but from there I'll merge boxes, hide borders, and/or play with the box heights to create the different layouts like I've got above

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Still here

Hey, it's been awhile. Checking in here because a couple people said they missed me and I appreciated that very much. I do have a few new things that I've wanted to share, but before that here's a quick recap of what's been up lately:

What's new:
  • My time management (aka probably the reason I don't blog anymore)
    A few years ago I was spending all my time doing work and it wasn't working out well for me. I'd bring work home at night, I'd work on things during the weekend, I'd spend all summer making posters, buying things for my classroom, blogging about work, etc. It just got to be too much for me so I don't do it anymore. I'd write more about this but I fear that it might come off too negative sounding.

  • This guy

    His name is Snoopy and I adopted him about two years ago. This is him last summer hanging out with me while I set up my classroom. He's super cool and helps greatly to occupy my time outside of school so that I can't spend all my time doing work. So he's not school related, but that picture is so that counts.

  • The amount of time I spend advising/coaching
    So while I said up there that I haven't been spending time outside of school working I should probably amend that to working on math teaching things. I haven't really talked all that much at all about the group that I advise/coach (SkillsUSA) but in the past few years the amount of time I spend on it has increased exponentially. Much of this time is spent working with students fundraising and preparing them for state championships though so it's much different than sitting home doing teacher work. It takes up a ton of time and drives me absolutely nuts at certain times during the year but is incredibly rewarding.

  • Grad school (aka another reason I haven't been here)
    During 2016 I started work on my masters in school administration (principal and supervisor certifications). Over the past five years I've been doing increasingly more work on developing curriculum and have found that I really enjoy planning things like that and doing work on that scale. Ultimately I'd like to move on to be a mathematics supervisor.

  • Some things with how I use standards based grading and interactive notebooks
    I'm planning to share some of what I think are the more interesting things that I'm doing.

What's not:

  • Where I teach
    Still at the same vocational school and it's still a great place to work!

  • My classroom
    Prior to this room, my classroom got moved on me every two years. This year will be the fourth that I've spent in this room so that's cool. At the end of last school year someone that I work with forced me to declutter and get rid of a bunch stuff which made setting up and cleaning up my room last year a breeze. Again on the topic of time management, previously I used to spend a bunch of time in August setting things up but now I've gotten it down to about one and a half days. And this year I (along with the help of a few awesome kids) packed the whole thing up in one day too.

  • What I'm teaching
    This may also be a reason I haven't been around here. Lately there isn't a whole bunch of new stuff that I'm doing. Right now this is the longest that I've been at a school and I'm fairly consistently teaching the same courses. I have a bank of things that I really like using and while I do add in new stuff here or there it's nothing major.  Most of the newer stuff that I do use is things I get from other people's blogs.

Also noteworthy: I am working on fixing links to stuff. Unfortunately the site that I used to share files a couple years ago has stopped working and the process of fixing everything is just too overwhelming. I fixed some of the most requested files so if there is something you were looking for (and it's not too late) please go give it another try. If there is something else that you see and would like please leave me a comment on the post and I'll try my best.