Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Upcoming Project I am Super Excited About

So, later in Algebra 1, when we get to Functions (probably around early November), I am going to have the kids do this super awesome project!

The current title is, "Is It Linear?", but I am hoping to change it.  That's just what I've been calling it in my head.

I haven't typed anything up or hammered out all the details yet, but the basic idea is that kids will make a hypothesis about a relationship they think is linear.  For example, the temperature of water vs. time in the microwave or the distance of the water vs the number of pumps on my Super Soaker.  Then, in their science class (I'm already in cahoots with the 9th grade Science teacher!) they will develop an experiment, perform it and collect data.  Lastly, in my math class, we'll use the data to create a scatterplot, find the line of best fit, determine how "linear" the relationship is, etc.

I'm stoked!  I love that they will get to work on this project in two classes.  I love that we will start it relatively early in the unit, before they really have a grasp of what functions are, and use it to help them come to that understanding.  I love that it will (hopefully) clarify and deeply define what "linear" is, in a way other than "it makes a line."

I've been working on it here and there since the middle of the summer, and will keep doing so until we do it, so I hope it turns out to be as valuable as I am imagining.

Anyway, what I'd love from you are some ideas for students to test.  I'd like to have my own list to prod kids along if they are having troubles coming up with something.  Truthfully, it doesn't even have to end up being linear, just something kids might think is linear beforehand.  That actually might be pretty cool if someone gets results that aren't linear.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

First week and new ideas for the year

One week down!  The first week of school went by so quickly, and it was pretty fun.  I enjoyed getting to know the new Freshman class.  A few of us 9th grade teachers decided we have a crush on them.  The sophomores did their first homework assignment!  As a class, they really struggled with homework last year.  I made tearful remarks to the Juniors about how I won't get to have them in my classes anymore.

Classes went well the first week.  All of that planning and preparing over the summer paid off.  I thought a lot about how I wanted my classes to run, and how to introduce that to the students, and I think it is going to work out!  I've never felt this way at this point in the school year - super-confident, pleased about how the year started, and more excited to keep it going than ever.  I mean, I've had good starts to the year before, but something about this year feels different.  Of course, this is the most experienced I've ever been, but I think this year will be so much better than previous years, more than just typical "I've got another year under my belt this time around" better.

A couple of things I'm going to do differently.  Or just plain do.

1.  Homework Sets.  In my Algebra classes, I am going to give the same amount of homework, but make it due less often.  I still plan on assigning nightly homework, but I will just hand out and collect a week to a week and a half's worth at one time.  That's actually another change - collecting homework.  In the past, I've checked for completion, and given a kid a grade without ever collecting his work.  Less paper I have to deal with, right?  But I found that it made kids start to slack a bit on their homework.  And not care as much if they didn't get things right.  I think 9th graders are still pretty young, and need some more accountability.  So, I'm collecting and grading homework.  (Just a few problems from each assignment.)  But I also like the idea of giving them more than a night to do it, so that they have time to come and ask me for help before it's due.  And, truthfully, I'm not good with organization and keeping track of papers. So I decided that I would give them a packet, and give them lots of time to complete it.  One possible drawback:  The kid that waits until the day before it's due to attempt a week of homework.  To prevent this, I'm still going to assign nightly homework ("Do page 3 tonight...") and get parents on board.  And I'm sure I will also have to make some accommodations for some students.  ("Your homework is due everyday.")  Last year's Freshmen were not good at doing homework, so I've decided to not try this system with the Sophomores.   I'll keep you posted on whether I like it or not.

2.  More Problem-Solving.  I want to make kids think!  I've been wanting to include more problem solving days in my classroom, making kids figure things out and then share their solutions.  I am going to do it this year!  I found quite a few ideas over the summer, and I'm getting better at "being less helpful."  I started out my Algebra class with a problem-solving lesson and it was a hit!

3.  Common Core (-ish)  I didn't dare touch Geometry this year, but I am doing a cross of current Arizona standards and Common Core standards in Algebra 1.  I feel like the kids won't be prepared for a full-on Common Core curriculum, as they'll be missing quite a few pieces.  But I tried to get some of the major ideas in, and took out Arizona stuff that will not be on Common Core.

4.  Super Good Projects.  My school is a believer in Project-Based Learning.  Last year, I tried to do a few projects, and they were mediocre.  They didn't have a lot of meaning or purpose, and weren't executed well.  But I learned a lot, did some research and planning over the summer, and have some great projects coming this year.  I'll be sure to blog about all of them.  One involves students doing an experiment to see if two quantities have a linear relationship.  I can't wait!

5.  Blog more.  Duh.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Professional Growth

At the end of this school year, my goal is to be able to say that I've grown in my role as an educator.  I want to be able to say that I am a better teacher than I was when the year started.  Even more than that, I want to say that that growth was significant.  I didn't just improve a little, but I made big changes in my teaching.

On Tuesday, when teachers were back at school but not kids yet, we spent a short time talking about evaluations and what they are going to look like this year.  One administrator said, "I'm more interested in your growth over the year, and your evidence of that growth, then where you end up on some rubric."  It was refreshing.  It was like she was saying, "I don't want you to do all the right things so that you get a good score on the evaluation.  I want you to actually grow and improve and be able to talk about that."  I liked the idea of not only growing over the year, but also being able to present evidence of that growth.  She talked about the idea of keeping a binder of our growth, to include reflections on our practice.  I decided to do it.  Then I thought how it could really help me write my blog.  Then I realized it was the same thing as my blog.  But, my blog is more high tech.  And sharable and feedback-get-able.

Still, there is something about the paper and pencil reflection that I like.  I am a journal-er by nature, and I know that writing about things is good for me.  I also have noticed that I journal in a completely different way that how I blog.  When I'm journaling, I'm not worried about the final product at all, just about getting my thoughts down.  I've gone back and read journal entries and sometimes they don't make sense.  There aren't actually grammatically correct sentences or full thoughts.  Just writing.  And there is something about that that I really like.  It feels organic and real.  When I'm blogging, though, I do think of the end product.  There is a thought in the back of my mind that someone else will read what I write, so I at least need to keep some semblance of order and structure.  It needs to be readable.  Even when I try to ignore that, and pretend I'm just journaling, I can't really shake the thought.  Typing is different than paper and pencil writing.  I need to go back and fix the spelling because that red line drives me nuts.  And I need to write in complete sentences and use the correct punctuation.

So, I don't know what I'll do.  I'm not willing to stop blogging.  I love the idea of being able to show someone my blog and say, "Look - I've grown, and you can read about the whole process.  It's not just a before and after, it's all the middle parts, too.  You can see all my struggle and effort and not just the final result."  I'm just deciding if blogging alone is enough, or if some paper and pencil reflecting might make this more valuable.  I don't know yet.  

Monday, August 6, 2012

First Day! (Kinda)

Well, today is my first day back at work.  The students won't be here until next Monday.  Today is mostly about meetings, and we're currently on a lunch break.

We started off the morning reconnecting.  We spent some time playing games.  The same game which our incoming Freshmen played a week ago during our Summer Bridge program.  It was awesome.  Have you ever seen 25 adults playing Fruit Salad?  It's a blast.  We also got into small groups, were given props, and had about 10 minutes to come up with a skit about what we did over the summer.

The skits were hilarious!  I laughed so hard.  For about a second, I thought in the back of my mind about how much more could be getting done right now.  I mean, teachers always feel like they have no time, right?  But, that thought didn't last long.  I think the connecting and the fun was a great start to the day and a great start to a week of thinking ahead.

Once we reconvened for some more serious discussion, I pulled out my phone to text my husband (I know, during a presentation, I'm worse than the kids) "I love this school.  I work with some awesome people."

The next portion of our morning we looked at data about the past year, revisited the school goals and our progress, and talked about some changes in the upcoming year.  It really made me think of the big picture, and the overall idea about how our school functions.

My school is a small, charter school that isn't a part of a district.  It was founded by 3 teachers who wanted to create something unique.   I'm starting my second year, and what a journey it has been.  After I graduated, I taught in a big district on the other side of town.  Then I decided I wanted something different, and I am amazed at how different this place is.  The kids who attend lead different lives.  The staff have different ideas about what success is.   The overall feel of both schools is like night and day.

I've decided that neither one is "good," while the other one is "bad."  They both have pros and cons, both have things that they do well and things they need improvement on.  Both want to provide the best for their students.

What I like about this school, though, is that I feel like I get to be a part of that process.  Almost to a fault.  The administration wants to hear my ideas, wants be to contribute to the school outside of my classroom, and wants me to feel valued.  I love that.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

First Day Plans

I'll be teaching Algebra 1 and Geometry this year, just like last year.  (I'm going into my 5th (!) year of teaching, and this is the first year I'll be teaching the same thing as last year.)

I'm planning on leaving much of Geometry how it is, and I want to try to change up Algebra quite a bit.  Part of it is changing over to Common Core.  Part of it is that I really like Algebra, and I think I can make it so much more than it was this past year.

So, to introduce the class, we're going to start off with a problem!  Yes, math - math that requires you to think - on the first day.  I'm stoked.

I uploaded the handout I created on Scribd, and here's the link.  I don't know how to embed the document here.  Can anyone help me?

Anyway - I am planning on modeling one example for my students, and then setting them free.  I created cards with various patterns, all with simple expressions like 2x + 3, and am going to give a different one to each group.  Then I'll have them share their patterns and expressions with the class.

I'll let you know how it goes.