Thursday, November 29, 2012

Equation Solving

Hey remember this?  Well I started it with two more periods and I am loving it soooo much for about a million reasons.

If you recall, these were the skills I'm focusing on:

I started out with one period that I knew could handle the independent structure.  This week I started it with two other periods and was really skeptical, but I thought I'd give it a shot.  Well yet again, I'm glad I did because it's going even better than it is with the class I started it out in.

My plan for the two classes (which are a little lower) was to have them to up to C and then do a lesson/activity on D&E before moving on and the same before starting F&G.  What happened instead was SO awesome.  After passing the C quiz, kids grabbed D and started to work on their own.  They had some idea so they would try, but ultimately end up asking me for help.  Same thing with E.  So what is happening is that each kid is getting pretty much one-on-one lessons once they are ready.  It's working so well.  Many of my kids have attention issues so they zone out really easily during whole class lessons.  The individual lessons are more like tutoring and it is just working wonders.

When kids take quizzes they are psyched instead of being frustrated.  They are so excited when they pass a level that they have been stuck on.  When they hand in their quizzes they beg me to grade them immediately because they are so excited to see how they did.  They working independently and checking their own answers.  They are looking at old quizzes and finding their own mistakes.  They are asking for help because they know that they aren't going to pass the level without learning the skill.  Failing isn't an option, it just means try again.  Every single kid is working on something that is at their own level and it is somehow not at all chaos.

All I am doing (during class) is giving out quizzes and working with kids individually.

I had a kid that took the one step equation quiz and got a 2/4.  He went over what he did and fixed it and then asked me if he could be done because now it was a 4/4.  I told him that he had do another practice set, retake the quiz and pass it all on his own.  He whined a lot while he was doing all of this.  The next day he finished his practice, took the quiz and told me I had to grade it right now because he knew it was good (love the confidence).  I told him he got them all correct and he high fived me.  He then told me that he really likes this kind of learning.

I've actually had a few kids say that they think this is a good way to learn.  Might not sound like a huge deal, but I consider this very high praise coming from these kids.

In other news- I have finally earned enough respect from my kids to be able to have the, "I'm really disappointed and take your disrespectfulness personally" conversation with them and actually have it work.  Score.

I also have a handful of kids that are making me awesome presents and acting like it's no big deal.  And when I say awesome, I mean like way more awesome than target gift cards as presents.  That's a big deal.  Double score.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Union Beach (part 2)

If you haven't already- read part 1.

Tuesday morning we fueled the kids up with donuts, bagels and coffee and headed down to the beach in our best work clothes.

The reaction of the kids as we drove through the destruction was indescribable.  Let's just say it's a good thing I didn't bring the curse jar ;)  They had seen tons of pictures and videos but it didn't come close to doing it justice.  Being there and seeing it in person made it real (for me too).  And their reactions were not that it was was that it was so sad.  16 and 17 year old boys that spend their days doing construction were staring out the windows saying how sad it was.

When we got there we split into two groups.  One group stayed at the donation and food center set up at the firehouse and the other group went out into the field to get dirty.  (sidenote: my school is a vocational school so many of the kids spend a good part of their day doing construction/carpentry type work meaning that they are used to and very good at working with their hands)

The volunteer efforts there were being run by a group of people that had traveled from all over the country (some from california!) and have been staying in tents for the past two weeks which was unbelievable.  They were all so friendly and grateful for the help.

ABC news was there the day before us and aired this:

GROUP 1 (at firehouse)
We started out with a short orientation tour from the woman that seemed to be overseeing the site. She was amazing.  They had the area set up into different parts, everything was so organized and running so smoothly.  Myself and one other teacher stayed with the kids here.

One group of about 5 kids stayed up front sorting coats that had been donated.  They separated the jackets into men's and women's piles, folded them, and laid them out into piles.  As people came to look they also talked with them and helped them to find what they were looking for.  At one point I walked over and a couple of my native spanish speaking students were helping out a family all in spanish.

This picture below shows the area where people in need came to take food and home items.
To the right there was an area that had clothing.

Three other girls were sweeping the entire area to make sure everything was nice and clean.

Two girls were in a food tent with another woman that was volunteering and together they made 100 bagged lunches to distribute.  These girls were fantastic because when I told them that we were going to go eat lunch they told me that they needed some more time because they needed to finish.

Another four students were chopping potatoes to be used to make home fries.  I thought this was amazing because when I found them, there was a man from the group in charge helping them.  He was on the other side of the table working with them and giving them chopping lessons.  I was thrilled to find this and catch it on video.  This guy was great because he was talking and joking with the kids the whole time.

What was perhaps my favorite part though was that no one was just standing around.  When they finished up with a particular job they didn't stand around, they talked with the woman in charge and found something else to do.  When cars pulled up with donations, the kids in the area all went over to help carry bags.  When cars kept trying to park in the donation drop off zone, they made a sign to clear things up.  

When I told them we needed to go meet up with the other half of the group for lunch, they told me they didn't want to leave.

GROUP 2 (work site)

I stayed with the first group, so admittedly I don't know quite the details of what happened with the second group.  The three other teachers and the rest of the kids went with some of the guys that were helping clean to a couple different sites.  Before getting off the bus the guy in charge gave them clear directions on what to do and what not to do.  He told them that he was their foreman and they were to listen to him on what to do.  These kids couldn't wait to get off the bus and get their hands on stuff.

I think that this group especially got a very powerful lesson (even though they may not realize it just yet).  They truly got the idea of how big a job it is going to be to restore these towns.  It isn't just a matter of putting up a new house, there is first the huge task of cleaning out the unbelievable amount of debris that is everywhere.  And they got to be a part of that.

The kids were not doing quite as dangerous work as they are in the video, but these are a couple of the guys that they worked with.

Below are a couple of the sites they worked at.

Around the middle of the day we all came back together for lunch.  Next to one of the worksites was a small park right on the water.  It turns out that even 16 and 17 year old boys will bicker over who gets to go on the swings.

After lunch we all took a walk around the town.  The original plan had been to split into smaller groups for this, but we all ended up together.  The kids were just so great.  They were probably tired from working all morning so maybe that helped, but I also think they were in awe.  It's one thing to see pictures, but being there was surreal.

Between everyone that was there we have hundreds of pictures, so here's just a few to get an idea of what it looks like:

As we walked through the street we also encountered homeowners.  One man that we came across was standing where his home used to be.  This was his basement:

He started talking about the storm from his point of view.  All 38 kids gathered around him and were dead silent listening to him talk (they've certainly never been that quiet for me!).  I have that on video too and even after he stopped talking they stayed quiet.  He talked about where some of his belongings ended up and told them about the man cave he used to have in his basement.  This was another thing that we couldn't have planned better if we tried.

Something else that was really cool was that the film student I have recorded the entire day.  He said that he plans to use all his footage to create a documentary later in the year in class.  He interviewed the teachers and all the kids on the bus on the way there.  When we got there he interviewed the volunteers from San Francisco, the other local volunteers and captured the whole operation in both photos and videos.  He recorded the town and the wreckage and the kids working.  He interviewed homeowners about their experiences.  I think he said he got a good three hours worth of footage, in addition to pictures he took.  I really can't wait to see what he puts together.

Overall, I was so very impressed by how appropriately the kids behaved.  They truly rose to the occasion. When they were working, every single one of them was completely engaged and giving it their all. When they were not working (which is usually where things take a bad turn) they were completely engaged in everything around them.  They just wanted to see every single thing they could.  Every kid there learned that even though they are just kids, they can do something to help.

That evening, my school hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for people impacted by the storm and for the school community.  I stayed to help at the dinner and it was cute to see that every kid that came that had gone on the trip just looked like they were dead.  I was by the door and they would walk in and just give me a look that said they were beat.  As I was leaving one of my freshman girls came up, gave me a hug and sincerely thanked me for letting her come.  She said it really meant a lot to her to be able to see everything and be able to help.  <3

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Union Beach (part 1)

This week was probably my favorite week of school so far, and not just because it was only 2.5 days.  I  started out writing this post and then realized that it was going to be way too long so I'm going to break it into parts.

If you haven't read it already, this post tells a bit about what I did with my kids the Friday we came back to school after having been off for the past two weeks due to the hurricane.  It made me so happy to hear them talking about wanting to do something to help and I really wanted to come up with something to keep the momentum going.  

The idea of a trip to volunteer had crossed my mind, but I honestly didn't think it would be possible to pull that off, especially being in a new school.  Any trips that I've been involved in have taken a lot of time, effort, money and approval to make happen and I didn't think that it would be possible to have all of that happen within the next week or so.  I figured it wouldn't hurt to at least ask another teacher about the protocol though.  I went to talk to her right after first period that Friday and without getting into too much of the little details...we made it happen.

This past Tuesday, myself and four other teachers took 38 high school kids to volunteer in Union Beach, NJ.  The fact that this ended up happening during the week of Thanksgiving couldn't have been more perfectly planned if I tried.

Things were so last minute that we gave the kids permission slips Thursday and required them to be back Friday...and the kids were so excited that they all (except for 1) came back the next day.  Kids didn't even wait until class to give them to me, they dropped them off first thing in the morning and were stopping me in the hallway if they saw me to hand it in.  They were so excited.

On that Friday, I spend the period talking about Union Beach specifically so that they had an idea of where we were headed.

This is a small town on the water that got hit especially badly for this area.

These are a couple of the things that we talked about that day:

Then on Monday we spent the period getting ready and talking about what was going to happen.  One of the other teachers had the awesome idea to take tons of before-during-after videos and pictures and create a video of the whole trip.

On that Monday my 1st period kids came in talking to each other about how excited they were so I pulled out my iPad and started recording it all.  I also told them that we might have the chance to talk with some homeowners and had them brainstorm what they might say to someone that lost everything.  I so wish I could share the whole video I made of the trip, but it's way too full of kids for that so I'll share some highlights.

This is my first period just talking about the trip:

  • "I'm excited to go because I want to talk to people, I want to know what it felt like because honestly we don't really know."
  • "Even though I lost power and it was cold in my house and had to take cold showers at least I still had a roof over my head.  It made me appreciate what I had because there was other people when the whole storm was happening that had to walk away from their houses not even knowing if they were gonna come back to anything.  It makes you realize you need to appreciate what you have."
  • "The crazy thing is that like a week ago all these kids they had a house, they had a room, they had a tv, house, phone, toys, everything..and now they have nothing."
  • "I don't think I'm excited, it's like that good feeling you have when you help someone."

Then during my 7th period (those were the only two periods I brought of my kids) we did the same.  For that period though, the two other teachers bringing kids and I combined classes and the kids worked together on stuff.  One kid in my class that period is in the film program at our school so he was very into the idea of creating a video and interviewing people.  Another kid is very into music so he worked with some students from the other class to create a rap song about the trip using iPads.

These are some of the ideas they came up with on what they wanted to ask people:

  • "What are some ideas on rebuilding the town?  Like what are YOUR ideas..your personal opinion?"
  • "How long do you think it'll be until you get your house back?"
  • "Where are you staying currently? Are you in a shelter home?"

Since the post is long enough already I'll save the actual trip day for tomorrow. Stay tuned...

Read part 2 here

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I love labels

My love for labels is strong.  Things that are organized and have labels make me happy.

So probably like 4 years ago Post-It came out with these labels and I wanted them so badly but they were more expensive than I was looking to spend.

Then one day I stumbled upon this gem in the clearance section of Office Max.  $10 for a ton of the colorful labels that I had been eyeing? Done.

Random, but I just had to share these because I use them ALL the time.  They even came in a little ziplock bag.  Love.

I just found this pack online here and it's selling for $28.97 which makes me even way more excited about my $10 price.

I've also seen this Post-it label roll recently and it's on my current wish list.  I'll probably end up with a couple of these guys soon.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Taking a Risk

Well I'm finally back here to post about something math related.  I must be honest though, this post is for selfish reasons...I came up with something brand new (for me at least) this week and I'm writing about it mainly in an attempt to help myself think it all through a bit more.

First a bit of background info:
This class is a special needs group of 10 students (whom I absolutely love!) and my class is their second math class of the day.  They take algebra 1 and then they also take my class.  My class is a supplement designed to work on additional skills and I also use it to work on algebra skills with them in an attempt to help them be more successful in algebra.  The kids are easy going and such good spirits that I feel comfortable taking risks and trying out new ideas.

Currently they are working on solving equations in algebra, which is of course super important.

The problem is though that they are all at SUCH different levels right now.  It is such a challenge to find anything to do with this class because the difference in kids is so extreme.  I've tried to give things that were a little challenging with the thought that the higher kids could work independently while I worked with the lower kids, but it didn't work out.  I've taught the whole class the basic skills, but I just end feeling like I'm wasting the other kids' time.

This week I decided I needed to put some serious thought into figuring something out.  Here's what I figured out...

I separated "solving equations" into what I consider 7 checkpoints, or skills.  Each kid took a pre-assessment that covered the first 5 of these skills.  Each section had 4 questions.

Student Report Sheet
I then filled one of these out for each kid.  For any skill that they scored 4/4 of on, I stamped the corresponding skill box.  This means that they do not have to work on this skill.

Practice Sets
I created 7 different practice sheets (using Kuta) and drew lines to split them into "practice sets."  Each practice set is 4 or 6 problems.  I also created notes that explain how to solve each type of equation.

On the left is the 7 different practice sheets and on the right is notes that correspond to skills A-D.
Practice Sets

During class the kids are responsible for working on the practice sets that they have not yet mastered.   They are to complete one practice set then check the answers (there is one answer key per table that has all of the answers).  If they get answers incorrect they need to figure out why and then work on the next practice set.  They continue this until they feel confident with the skill.  

When the kids keep making mistakes on a particular skill, then I will come work with them to help figure out what's going on. 

Activity Log
As the students complete practice, they are recording their practice sets on their record sheet.  They write the date, which set they did, and the score.  This is just to hold them accountable so they don't sit and waste time all period.  At the end, they will receive a classwork grade on this.

Once a student feels that they are consistently getting problems correct, they can request the skill quiz from me.  Each quiz is 4 questions focusing on one type of equation.  If they score 4/4 I stamp the corresponding box and they are able to move on to the next skill.  If they do not, they must do more practice (at least one more practice set) and then they can re-quiz.  I have 5 different copies of each quiz to ensure that they always have new problems.

They can request a quiz at any time during the period and they just leave it in my inbox when they're done.  I do not grade these during class.

My Part
I created a file for each kid...

At the beginning of the period, they take their file.  They hold onto everything they do all period then leave it all in the file as they leave at the end of the period.

In the morning when it's nice and peaceful I take my time and look through each file.  I glance at their practice and stamp off confirmations on their activity logs.  I then grade any quizzes that were taken.  If they scored perfectly, I mark off the skill as complete.  I leave the graded quizzes in their file.

My Thoughts...
First of all I really thought I was taking a risk with this.  I was worried that it may be too complicated (it might sound like it, but trust me it's really running smoothly) or that the kids would just sit there and do nothing.  The whole thing involves a lot of independent work since I'm not standing over the kids telling them what to do.  Everything that they do is their own decision.  They decide when they want to take a quiz and when they're not quite ready.  They decide how much practice they need to do before moving on.  I was nervous, but I figured that the worst case I would just scratch the whole thing if it flopped.

I'm so glad I went for it because I am so in love with how it's going.  The kids know what to do when they come in and they don't need nearly as much of my attention.  The only time a kid calls me over is when they are really stuck on something which is exactly what I want.  I want to be able to spend my time working with serious problems and not all the other stuff.  The kids are learning how to work independently and study math which I think is so important.  I also like that the kids don't really know what everyone else is working on so they aren't trying to keep up, they're just working at their own pace.

When kids master all of the skills I plan to have them start work on some different types of challenge word problems.  As far as grading goes, I really hope that I can give all the kids an A because that would mean that they have mastered all the skills.  I don't think that is too unreasonable since I'm letting them re-quiz until they score perfectly, but we'll see how it goes.

I think that my favorite part of all of this is the spirit of it.  Assessments aren't that stressful because if they don't go well the kids can do some more practice and then reassess.  I know very little about standards based grading but I believe this is the idea of it?  I will admit that SBG sounded overwhelming, but if it similar then I think I might start looking into it a little more seriously...

Have any thoughts on any of this??? I'd love some feedback

ps- I've been planning something Sandy related all week that I'm crazyyyyyyy excited for.  I seriously can't wait for next week!!!

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Well it's been awhile, huh?  As many people are aware, much has been going on in New Jersey over the past couple weeks.  Hurricane Sandy hit on Monday, October 29th and cancelled about two weeks worth of school.  We were scheduled to go back this past Thursday, but got a snowstorm that knocked the power back out and cancelled school again for Thursday.  So Friday was the first day back in awhile.

I live in Central Jersey so I was extremely lucky.  My house lost power for a couple days, which was nothing at all compared to what happened at the shore.  Although I do not live at the beach now, I spent my four years of college living there and then five summers after that living a couple blocks away from the ocean so it's a special place to me.  It is very sad to see all of the destruction.  It's so strange to think about the fact that so many of the places that I've spent a lot of time at are now just gone.  It has been surreal watching the news and seeing the house that I lived in and places where I spent so much time.

Going back to school this past Friday felt strange.  Even the kids said it felt weird.  Last week I spent a lot of time thinking about what to do.  It didn't feel quite right going back and picking up where we left off.  On Friday I asked the kids what they thought about the things that had happened and honestly they knew that they lost power and that things were bad, but there were clueless as to the extent of what had happened.

So we watched a couple videos:

Then we looked at these before and after pictures, which are just incredible.  They do a really impressive job of showing the extent of what really happened.  I was impressed with the maturity of the kids.  For the most part, they took everything very seriously.

After discussing all of the terrible things that happened, I showed them all of the wonderful things that are happening right now.  I have been following things online, and have seriously been in awe of the amazing acts of kindness that have been happening.  Following the storm it seems as though everyone is trying to figure out how they can help other people.  Businesses have been opening their doors and offering anything they can, individual people are coming from across the country to bring donations and supplies and help, power companies from so many states are all here working to get power back on, the red cross and national guard are here, and the list really just goes on and on.

This is not at all fancy, but it's just a collection of some pictures I found and showed the kids to give them an idea.

After all of this was the sweetest part of the day.  Amongst themselves, kids started talking about wanting to help.  They weren't complaining about being in school or being tired anymore, they were talking about what kinds of things they could do to help people which is amazing.

At the end of my first period, a girl (who usually is my biggest complainer) looked at me and genuinely thanked me.  She said that she really enjoyed learning and talking about this today.

So now the question is what to do this week?  I need to get back into the swing of things, but I would love to keep this spirit of generosity going.  I also have collected some graphs and infographics that I would like to use somehow, but I need to figure out how.  I have a couple things in the works, so we'll see...
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