Friday, September 18, 2015

SBG using 2 Types of Quizzes

For over 5 years I have used a SBG (standards-based grading) system in my room.  It starts with listing out the learning targets and only using assessments on those learning targets for the grade.  No homework, no behaviors, etc...  I have always liked this setup, but I have noticed it shifted my class to a more skill based class.  Math became a series of skills, that though they were connected, it seemed the students were less able to apply them in other situations.

My homework reflected this as well.  I don't give a lot of HW, but for the last couple years I have exclusively used websites like and for homework.

So I decided something needed to change this year.  Here is my plan.  In both homework and quizzes there will be two categories: Skills and ACE.  Skills HW is from websites and Skill Quizzes are the same as they have been.  They are pretty bare bones and focus on whether or not the student can do the math skill or not.  What I have added is the ACE HW and quizzes.  I took the ACE HW name from my old CMP2 curriculum.  It stands for Applications, Connections and Extensions.  I could think of no better name for what I am trying to get at with this new HW and quizzes.  So I am currently alternating between IXL skills HW and ACE HW.

In both cases I am still allowing student choice.  The Skill IXL homework comes with 3 choices, Level 4, Level 3 and Level 2 HW.  The ACE HW comes with the directions to answer 2 of the questions.  The questions have multiple parts and often involve multiple steps and critical thinking to be properly solved.  I have a variety of Level 4 and Level 3 problems on the ACE HW.  The last ACE HW for 8th grade can be seen here.

The 7th graders just had their first ACE quiz.  It went pretty well.  Most students perfectly applied their knowledge to the problem.  The average score on the Skills quiz was 3.6, while on the ACE quiz it was 3.2. The 3.6 included retakes by numerous students.  The 8th graders will have their first ACE quiz next week.

Grading has stayed mostly the same.  Their grade was always based on their most recent two quizzes. Now their grade for each learning target is based on their most recent Skills quiz and their most recent ACE quiz.  So parents will get a report listing each learning target, their 2 quiz scores and the resulting grade.  A summary of how I go from 2 1-4 scores to a percentage grade can be found HERE.

So far, I am very happy with how this is going.  I hope it will lead to more problem solving, critical thinking, and applying math in various contexts.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Starting My Interactive Notebook Journey

I have decided to do Interactive Notebooks this year for 7th and 8th grade math.  So I have been reading many blogs and posts about INB.  The amazing blogs Math Equals Love and Everybody is a Genius have been my main reading although there have been many more.  Also my great teaching friend Becky over at Sum Math Madness has been amazingly helpful as I start this adventure.

I have been really excited about this adventure, but there have been a couple major sources of stress.  First, the process in class of getting these things made in an efficient manner.  Second, what goes in the first couple pages?  

For the first concern, I created little baskets of materials for each group.  They contain things they may need each day as we create materials for the INB.  Scissors, tape, glue sticks, markers, colored pencils, and calculators.  I found these super cute little baskets at Target for really cheap.  I am also going to spray paint some ice cream buckets to use as trash baskets for each group.

For my second concern, I finally got it hammered out last night and created some templates in word to create some basic INB pages.  I decided to start with a table of contents, then small individual version of this amazing bulletin board, and finally classroom information.

I have been a big standards-based grader for years now.  This has led to my creating a 1-4 rubric for each of the learning targets of the class.  This year I cut them down to 24 for each 7th and 8th grade math.  So I wanted to figure out a way to include the rubrics in the INB.  I am pretty sure I figured out a format to do this pretty efficiently.  We will see how it works out.  I will probably have to adjust multiple times as I go.  I just have to remember that I will not get everything perfect this year.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Getting students to think about Brain Function in Math

As we get ready to start another school year, I am really thinking about my first week of school.  My first week has  couple major goals:
  • Get to know students' names
  • Convince students they can do math
  • Discuss Multiple Intelligences
  • Discuss how a teenagers brain works
  • Discuss Growth Mindset and Fixed Mindset
I usually don't start any of my official "learning targets" until the second week.  I have used numerous approaches for this each year.  This year I am going to try to use the youcubed material for "A Week of Inspirational Math."  I am pretty excited about this approach this year.  It seems to cover most of my major goals while simultaneously getting into some interesting math.  

During the week I am going to slowly go through my first week Prezi presentation about the goals as well.  I am going to use this instead of the youcubed videos on various days.  

When talking about how the brain can get better at math by "doing math" I have used a road analogy in the past.  This year I am going to add some visuals to this analogy to hopefully help it sink in.  

Image 1: Grassy Field
The road to math starts as a grassy field that is slow and hard to cross.  It takes a lot of effort to do math but it can be done.  

Image 2: Small Dirt Path
As you do more math, the brain upgrades the path a little bit to do math.  Now when a student does math the thinking goes a little better because of the repetitive use of that part of the brain.

Image 3: Dirt Road
The brain upgrades again to you can do harder math and it comes a little faster.

Image 4: Tarred Road
The brain keeps upgrading those connections to math knowledge.  The more often you work on math, the better the pathway to math gets so you can learn more complicated math.

Image 5: Interstate Highway
The brain keeps upgrading the connections for harder math problems.

Hopefully these images combined with the messages from YouCubed will help convince students that if they keep on trying in math, they will improve their math skills.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

We're Going on a Square Hunt: Simplifying Radicals

The class spent a week exploring the Pythagorean Theorem.  After creating a need with the students to handle square roots, on Friay we went over how to simplify them.  This topic has always been a bit dry and never quite landed with the students.  I have always talked about trying to find perfect squares and use those to break down the number.

The previous night was parent-teacher conferences.  I had some free time and the other math teacher and I started talking about the very topic of simplifying radicals.  He said he just went over it with one of his HS classes.  He used a factor tree approach and was very successful.  So this ignited a crazy idea for the lesson....

So as the class entered today I played this video of Michael Rosen acting out the book We're Going on a Bear Hunt.  The kids looked at me and screen like I was crazy.  They stared in a silent weirdness at the board for the first minute.  Then a crazier thing happened...they started singing along.  They all remember this book.  They started laughing and getting really into it.  It was really fun.

After the video, I showed them a couple slides.  I used images from the book but changed the words.
We're going on a square hunt.  
We're gonna catch a big one.
What a beautiful day.
Were not scared.

Oh no, a radical. 
A big, scary radical.

We can't square root it.
We can't go around it.
We have to go through it.

My mini-version of the story ended with a picture and the square root of 28.
We then broke down 28 by using a factor tree.  We ended up with Sqrt(2x2x7).

I then talked about how we are now starting the "square hunt."  We went looking for a length and a width that would make a square.  We found the 2x2 to make a square.  However, the 7 had no pair to make a square so we left it in the cave.  Then we rewrote it as....2 Sqrt(7).

We went through another example or too like this.  The students really caught on to the method. I am hoping that at some point some students find the shortcut during the method.  Even if they don't, this method easily gets exapnded to variables, cube roots, and higher.

Anyway it was a really fun day and the students learned something.  All in all a great day!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Conceptual vs Skills (The Pendulum Ever Swings)

When I first started teaching, I really didnt know what I was doing.  I do what most teachers do, I taught how I was taught math.  My second year of teacher the school adopted the Connected Math Project curriculum (CMP).  We were trained to teach the curriculum and it was fully implemented the next year.  I believe I learned more about middle school math teaching with this curriculum than I did when I was actually in middle school.  I continued to use CMP, and then CMP2 almost exclusively for almost 10 years.

I found that although the students lacked a couple skills here and there, they could really think through problems.  They were great at math reasoning and understanding the big concepts.

With more and more emphasis on standards, and with my master's research being about standards based grading, I have slowly drifted away from CMP and more and more towards a traditional looking math classroom.  I currently do not use any textbook.  I gather materials from various textbooks and sources.  While the overall plan was to stick with my favorite parts of CMP, its use has slowly diminished over the past couple years.

I didn't reallly realize how far I had drifted away from my CMP roots until about 3 weeks ago when I attended a local math conference.  There was a keynote address about Conceptual Understanding vs Skills Proficiency.  One of the tools used in this presentation was the "How Old is Your Shepard Problem."  (view video here)  It was pretty funny and convincing of the need for conceptual understanding.  I thought to myself that there is no way my students would do this terrible at the problem.  National average is that 25% of students see the problem for what it is, unsolvable.  When I polled my own students, only about one-third of them successfully recognized the problem as unsolvable.

Some of my student's responses to How Old is the Shepard:
"62, because in the Bible, shepdards look old and 62 is old."
"37 because he must be living by himself and you probably have to be so old to own sheep."
"There is no shepard."
"60, it seems like the shepard would have to be older if they have so many animals.  Unless there were a lot of shepards then there a bunch of middle aged guys."
"70 because shepards have grey beards"
"There isn't even such a thing as a flock of dogs."

The Conceptual vs Skills debate has been the eternal argument since I have started my math teaching career.   I got really sick of having this argument with parents and other teachers.   Things got really ugly form both sides for awhile.  It was the main cause of some "parent's nights" in math we had at our school where our program and myself were attacked in public.  It was not a fun time for anyone.  I always vowed to avoid that type of fighting in the future.  I now find I am having those same exact arguments but inside my own head.   I have come a realization that my own pendulum has swung too far to the skills side.  I need to try to find my center again.

The timing is kind of perfect, as in the 8th grade we are just starting our Pythagorean Theorem unit.  This was always my favorite when using CMP.  So this week we tried our first couple days using more materials based from CMP.  It got off to a rocky start.  Partly because I was a little rusty teaching in the "inquiry" style and partly because the students have not had a lot of practice at it.  However, when I saw the looks on the students' faces that discovered the Pythagorean Theorem all on their own, and could not wait to share with the class their marvelous discovery, it reminded me how powerful this can be.

I am sure at some point my pendulum will swing too far back the other way and I will need another course correction, but that worry can hold off for another time...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Something funny and kind of scary happened....

So on Monday this week, I woke up really sick at about 3 am.  Now it so happened that I had planned on getting most of my lessons ready to go during my period 2 prep that day.  So I knew that I had not much ready for a sub to work with if I just stayed home.  Throw in another fact that I was supposed to be running a junior high math league meet 45 minutes before school started.  So I ended up pulling myself together enough to get through the math league meet.  Then I would use 30 minutes to get lesson plans together for the day.  I would then head home and let the sub run the rest of the day for periods 3-9.

So after no sub signed up for my gig, I told the secretary that we only needed someone for periods 3-9 because I would be there for the first two periods because of math league.  She said okay, I ran my math league meet, created some activities and headed home.

My usual routine when I am going to be gone for the day is to email lesson plans not only to our secretary, but all the students as well.  I find it usually helps the sub out and helps the students know what is going ot happen that day even though I am not in the room.  On this Monday I did send an email to all my students giving a quick outline to the plan for class and I attached the necessary materials.

So when I get to school on Tuesday, and interesting thing happened.  I immediately had 3 students run up to me and say "We had no teacher Mr. Sieling!"  I said "What?"  They told me "all from the same class, that no teacher ever showed up to run class on Monday.  It happened in just 1 class period, but still I was a little worried about what had happened.

So I believe they came into class on Monday, realized there was no teacher.  At some point looked for the normal Monday game, realized there was no game, no teacher and then started working on their assignment.  Now, these are 7th grade students.  I doubt it was quiet.  In fact, a group of girls moved to work in the hallway because "the boys were loud."  However, they all got their work done without the teacher even being there.  I was pretty proud of them for that.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Quizzing to Promote Mastery

Its been a long time since the last post.  I have been pretty busy lately, even more than usual.  From coaching junior high and high school math league to coaching the inaugural year of our junior high robotics league to presenting at various conferences, it has been a crazy winter so far.  I thought I would try to get a quick post out while I have a moment.

In 8th grade we have been studying solving equaitons and inequalities that past 2-3 weeks.  The students took a paper/pencil quiz on equations in December.  So I tried a different way to quiz last week.  I got the foundation of this idea from a book, don't remember which one, I will try to find that title later.

The basic gist is that students answer 1 question at a time on their own.  We switch, correct that problem in class and go over how to do it.  Then we try another question (or set of questions) and repeat.  We do this over and over again so students can be remediated during their quiz.  I like the idea of this "quiz to mastery."

I took this to the next level by adding my differentiated rubric to the idea.  It went like this, the first round of the quiz everyone tried to solve 1 Level 2 question.  (leveled grading blog) When people were done we switched and corrected that question.  If the student got it right they earned at least a score of a 2 on that quiz.  If they got it wrong they got some help about their mistakes.  When we were ready (about 3-5 minutes later) round 2 began.

Round 2 now had two questions on the board.  The slide had two questions on it:   level 2 question that was similar in difficulty to the first question, as well as a level 3 question for those who got the first one question correct.  After about 3-5 minutes we switched and corrected those two questions.  We again spent some time helping each other out and figuring out mistakes.

Round 3 had three questions on the board: Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4.  We continued this way until the end of class.  We got in about 5 rounds of this style quiz.  The score the student earned on the quiz was the highest level of question they got correct.

Overall the students seemed to like this style quiz.  There were some who did not like it.  The biggest reasons seemed to be that it was different or they did not ge the score they wanted.  This type of quiz works particularly well for skills like solving equations.  I may use it again for solving inequalities, I will probably leave that choice up to the students.

Here is my google slide presentation for giving this quiz to mastery.