Thursday, July 31, 2014

Current Supplies

This post is just to answer a question I get fairly often about what gets written down where. Over the past few years I've switched up what materials I use. I wrote awhile ago about using binders, which a lot of people ask about, but I thought I'd just give a quick update that I no longer use them. I used binders when I taught Connected Math (which I no longer teach). 

My kids currently use these three things only:

This is of course their ISN. Many people ask if all their notes go in here or if some go elsewhere. They all go here. The ISN is for all the stuff they need to know how to do. It's the things I want them to keep. If I'm spending class time having them take "notes" on something then I feel like it needs to be important enough to keep. If it's not, then making them copy down what I'm writing is a waste of time. People also ask if I think a spiral notebook or binder would work. The answer is that I don't know. I have always used a composition notebook because it is sturdy and there's no chance of pages falling out. The small size has rarely ever bothered me or impeded on something we needed to do.

This for everything that's not important enough to keep or refer back to. Do nows, homework, classwork, practice, etc. Not that this stuff isn't important, but I feel like if I make kids keep and organize every single thing they write down then it all loses value. The spiral notebook is basically just a place to write things down. I could use a binder I guess, but I don't need it to be that formal and I don't feel like dealing with "I'm out of paper." This is a bound chunk of paper which is all I need it to be. If it gets lost or thrown out or ruined, I don't care so long as they get another one. Honestly I don't need them to refer back to some random practice problem we did three weeks ago so I don't care that it's not organized. I do need them to refer back to a process that we learned three weeks ago if they forget so that's why the ISN is organized.

This is their SBG portfolio, or all their graded work. Nothing else but graded work goes in here otherwise it runs the risk of losing value and getting messy. It does not leave the room.

What about things like worksheets? I have no need for a binder where they three hole punch and collect every single sheet of paper I give them. If I give them a worksheet or handout, it is either:

  • Important enough where I think it could be a good reference later, if so I find a place in the ISN for it.
  • Important enough for me to collect and grade and/or give feedback on. If so, it'll end up in the SBG portfolio.
  • Just practice that I don't think will ever end up being a good reference. It's still valuable while they're using it. They work on it, check it, maybe I'll look over it, talk about it...but afterwards if we've used it for all it's good for and they're not going to look at it again they toss it. 

So that is all. Many of my classes are small and I have them keep all these supplies in the room. I have shelves with paper trays stacked up and each kid gets a shelf.

This the first day of school before the kids have even arrived- their shelves never look this neat

They also just toss random papers in the shelf sometimes because I haven't decided yet what to do with it so I tell them to just hold onto it for now and I decide later. They also keep random papers in the shelf if it's still a work in progress- maybe an activity or sheet of practice problems that we're going to work on again tomorrow.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Height Prediction Activity

I wrote awhile ago about my scatter plot notes. I still like those and use them pretty much as is. This year I added an activity to it that was decent so I wanted to write it up mainly so I don't forget about it.

By the time they get to Algebra 1 I think kids have done scatter plots before so it's important to move off of just making them and telling what kind of correlation there is. I did a ton more this year looking into doing linear regressions, interpreting the correlation coefficients and then using the equation for the line of best fit when there's a strong correlation.

In the past I've done an activity where the kids measure their wingspan and height, graph it and identify the correlation. It's always a crowd pleaser. But in hindsight I was mis
sing a good chance to take it further. For starters height and wingspan are pretty close so I was nervous that kids thought that correlation meant equal.

This activity mainly arose from a day where I was getting blank stares and no one was focusing on a word out of my mouth. We were working on linear regressions using their calculators and I had printed out various tables of data with the intention of having them practice using the calculator to find lines of best fit and then tell me what the r value implied about the data. But they weren't having it so I needed something to get them up and awake because I just didn't feel like fighting with them to make them work.

I pulled out my Ikea measuring tapes (last time I was there a bunch of them may have made their way home with me) and gave my kids the task of measuring each other's height, wingspan, hand size, foot size and then one kid asked if we could add in their waist to floor measurement. The goal was going to be to see which one was the best predictor of a person's height. To be completely honest, I had NO idea if this was going to work.

As they started measuring, I typed up a quick google form and when kids were done they used their phones to enter their measurements. I had the chart projected on the board so they could see the measurements as they came in which was actually a happy accident because that led into a conversation about the accuracy of data. A couple measurements were really far off from the others and didn't make sense so they'd make a kid go remeasure something and typically it turned out that they had made a mistake the first time or maybe typed a number wrong.

When everyone was done, I printed out the table and they did 4 linear regressions:
  • hand size vs. height
  • foot length vs. height
  • wingspan vs. height
  • waist to floor vs. height

The goal was to use the r value to determine which relationship was the best predictor of height. I told them that when they picked which was the best than we would find some strangers to try it out on.

A kid pointed out that I didn't get measured which ended up working perfectly.

With the help of a kid, I measured my hand, foot, wingspan and waist to floor measurements (not my height). They had to then use each equation to predict my height. It was pretty interesting how close they got. After they had the 4 predictions we talked about which prediction was probably the best (one with the highest r value) and only then did I measure my height.

In one of my smaller classes they were really into the idea of measuring random kids in the hall so I told them that they had to decide what measurement to choose (that period ended up being wingspan). So we set up a "measuring station" in the hallway and grabbed people that walked by. The kids would measure their wingspan then use their equation to predict what their height would be. Then they measured the height to see how close they got. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with how close they got. They got a really big kick out of it too when they were right or really close. The thing that I liked was that we moved beyond the idea that positive correlation means your height and wingspan are the same. They never actually used that logic..they used their equation to make the prediction.

Since this whole thing was really done on a whim I have no pictures, no handouts, nothing at all. It is one that I plan to keep around for next year though and hopefully fine tune a bit. So I'd love to hear any ideas or suggestions you've got!

Friday, July 18, 2014

SBG Portfolios

This post is just on something small I do to organize all the kids' papers and stuff. In all honestly it's something I've done for awhile, I just kin
da made things more specific. The short explanation is that they keep all their graded work (which is their skill quizzes) in a folder. I love a good organizational strategy though so I'm picky.

At the start of the unit the kids get their skill list. It gets taped into the back of their ISN. Each kid also has their own pocket folder that stays in the room. Whenever I hand back a quiz they go get their folder and take a minute or two to update their skill lists in. Quiz goes in folder and then goes back where it came from. At the end of a unit they use all their old quizzes as study guides. When the unit is done they take the colored in skill list out of their ISN, all their skill quizzes and the unit exam and staple it all together. Essentially creating a little packet for each unit. The stapling helps to keep it organized. This folder does not leave the room. If someone asks to take it home for some reason I don't mind so long as it comes back. This ended up being really helpful when they studied for finals. All I had to give them was which skills to focus on and they just looked back at all the old quiz problems. They also knew to spend a little extra time in any skills that they were low in.

A lot of people say that they've tried things like this and the kids won't do it, but I'm just really picky and annoying about it. I really haven't had any complaints either. Nothing else besides skill quizzes are allowed in these folders...I check. I make it a point for everyone to go get their folders when they're getting a quiz back (usually one or two kids actually hand them all out- but still) and the quizzes need to go in there. At the end of the unit I tell them exactly how to organize the papers before we staple them. I pass around the staplers. And it really doesn't take more than a few minutes.

Their folders tell a much better story of how they're doing than my gradebook most times so fairly often I'll go grab a kid's folder to check on how they're doing. Also any time they come for extra help their folder is the first thing they take before coming to sit with me. That way we can look through and decide where is best to start working. It's really nothing major but just a nice little thing that seems to be working fairly well.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

SBG Grading

For something called Standards Based GRADING it may seem strange  that explaining the grading part isn't the first thing I talked about. For me at least, the grading part came a little bit later...first all the other stuff had to be set up.

Below is the rubric I use which I got from Jessica:

And here the simpler explanations that I have hanging on the wall:

So the kids take an assessment that's broken apart into skills. When I grade it, initially I mark things how I alway have. I'll mark things that are incorrect, put in little notes and such. I also try to give the best feedback I can. This takes some time. I try to put thought into it. Assigning points is where the change is. The points game is gone. There's no trying to decide whether the kid deserves 1/2 credit or maybe 3/4 credit. When I'm making a quiz I don't have to try to figure out whether the question should be a 1 or 2 pointer.

All I have to do is look over the entire section and determine how well the kid gets it. The more that I graded, the easier this part got. And typically when in doubt, choose the lower grade. If I'm questioning it, then it means the kid didn't completely sell me on the higher score. I don't feel bad giving them a lower score because they can always improve it.

The way I think about the grades in my head is like so:

  • 0 --> Wrote down nothing on the paper
  • 1 --> Wrote down something slightly intelligent on the paper. Totally off track and wrong, but did something. Recopying the problem or circling something doesn't count. Neither does writing "IDK".
  • 2 --> Their answer was somewhat on the right track. Definitely still wrong but the kid at least knows something.
  • 3 --> On the right track for sure. They have most of the idea down, but there's still some gap in their understanding. 
  • 3.5 --> Pretty much all correct except for something minor. I call the 3.5 me being picky.
As a rule of thumb I suggest that a 0-2 means that the kid needs my help. They have some pretty big issues going on and extra practice alone or looking in their notes probably isn't going to solve the problem. For a 3 it depends on what the issue is and for a 3.5 they most likely can fix the problem themselves with some extra practice or looking in their notebook.

The biggest jump for me is from a 2 to a 3. For me a 3 needs to show that the pretty much have the idea down but a 2 is pretty seriously misunderstanding the topic. Because of that, I'm much more likely to err on the side of caution and give them the 2 when in doubt. There is also a pretty significant point jump from a 0 to a 1 just to encourage students to try. I have issues with kids just leaving things blank and not even trying so offering them points for trying really gives them that push to write something down. And since my goal is to get an idea of what they know, them writing down something that's even totally off track is way more useful to me than a blank paper.

A 4 means pretty much perfect and the only way to get a 5 is to get two 4's. This makes for a decent amount of work because I need to make sure to reassess each skill a couple times but I like the idea behind it a lot. To really earn that 100 they not only have to show me once that they got it, but they needed to show that they retained it for at least some amount of time. Something I'm thinking about is making only the last assessment capable of bumping 4's to 5. So the only way to get the full score would be not to retain it for some amount of time, but to retain it until the end of the marking period. There could be and probably are holes in this idea..but I think it could be interesting to consider.

My school uses a traditional grading scale so I chose a conversion for each score. Using the percentages out of 5 definitely wouldn't have worked because it didn't make sense. A 3 means the kid understood it decently well but a 3/5 isn't even a passing grade. So I chose the scores that I thought made sense. This is all relative though so choose things that make sense for you. In addition, I have it set up so that a new grade will entirely replace an old grade. Also their grades in the gradebook do not go down. These are also both things that seem to differ with each person. Again it's personal so pick something that's right for you. I plan to explain later the reasons behind why I chose to do what I do.

Overall, I love this switch so much. I seriously can't say enough good things about it. Their grades actually mean something and that makes such a difference. When I hand back a quiz there's no question of "What did I get?" or "Did I fail?" because they don't get just one grade. They can't look at a score and then just throw it away. They have to look at each individual skill and can see where they stand. When I'm grading I don't get upset or frustrated anymore if everyone bombs something, I just make a point to note that they still need work in that area. My gradebook is also way more useful than it used to be. I enter each skill as a separate grade and my gradebook program displays the averages at the bottom so I can do a quick glance and easily pick out the weakest or strongest topics.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

SBG Assessment Questions

For Example A, below I offer an old quiz that I
used to give. Too small to read probably, but you get the idea. It's a regular old quiz on solving equations. I wanted to make sure I really got an idea of what they understood so I made sure to include tons of problems. This guy went on for about five total pages. It's also worth noting that I included 14 different problems on solving equations up front there. I wanted to make sure that if they made a little mistake here or there they still had other opportunities to prove themselves and get a decent grade.

Since I'm no longer giving them a grade thats a percentage, there's no need to throw a ton of questions at them. Instead I can just choose a couple problems that have a number of steps and give them the chance to show me how much they know. Based on how much and what they do I can get a feel for how well they understand each skill.

Something else that I've noticed is that I'm writing questions that are a lot better than they used to be. I can't give questions that are just multiple choice, or yes/no, or one word/number answers because I wouldn't be able to score them. It forces me to come up with questions that ask kids to do more explaining and thinking. More questions that ask them to correct and explain mistakes, or things were I present them with a problem and ask if it would work, or what would happen if this number changed, and so on. For multiple choice questions it's always required to explain why they picked the one they chose or the kind that says pick all the ones that work. That way they have to actually think about it and not just pick something.

I like my new assessments a lot better.

There certainly are a number of questions that require them to just do problems, but along with those are many questions that ask for more. If they don't show work they they're not getting a 4. And I find there's very little argument on that because a 4 means convince me that you know it. It's not an issue of the kid fighting that I marked their question wrong even though it was right. Without any work or an explanation there's no way I'm convinced.

A couple more examples.



The questions address the same skills but in a very different ways. In the old quiz I'm just looking to see if they can do it right or not. The SBG quizzes have a lot more questions but they're also probably spread out more over time. I'm not looking for just a right/wrong answer I'm looking to get out of them what they know. I also try to be careful to write questions that address the skills. I separated defining a variable and writing an equation because some kids might struggle with one and not the other and I want them to know where to focus their efforts. So in the question that asks to write an equation I defined the variable for them. 

Also a lot of questions get based on common mistakes. My kids kept trying to define a variable for a fixed amount so I spend time trying to explain why that doesn't make sense. That's why that question is there. They also mixed up the order of subtraction in translating expressions so that type of question showed up twice.

I think it's worth noting that these writing better questions is in no way synonymous with SBG. It was just an unexpected side effect for me. Since I was trying to assess their understanding if forced me to come up with and/or find questions that let me do that. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

SBG Assessments

This is the next post in my attempt to explain how I've implemented Standards Based Grading into my classroom. This is on assessments. Not the actual grading of them, but more the details and structure of what I do.

In making the switch, my actual teaching didn't change all that much but all the rest did though. In the past I followed a textbook or unit of some kind. Periodically we'd have a quiz or two during the unit as a way to wrap up the section before moving on. At the end, I'd give a unit/chapter test on it all. Then repeat. After the quiz I'd be sure to tell them that all this was going to be on the test again so if they did poorly they better review it and/or ask for help. But that was it. If they did horrendous or something I'd probably make a point to make time to work with them. But the kids that passed with a 70 or 80 just moved on even though they probably had a good amount to work on too.

So instead, now my assessments follow along with my skill lists. We quiz often. And then we keep quizzing on the same things. Depending on what the skills are, sometimes I'll chunk them in a way that makes some sort of sense but on the quiz it is very clear what is being assessed with each question.

Instead of something like "Chapter 6 quiz 1" they will get a quiz with different sections that looks something like this:

(Format courtesy of Jessica!)

Another change is that I now tend to assess a skill much sooner after teaching it than I would have in the past. I don't worry that they're going to bomb it because I'd like them to have some concrete feedback sooner rather than later so both they and I know where they stand. I know that we're going to keep working and reassess the skills so it's not a huge deal if they don't do fantastic the first time around. Instead of the quiz acting as an endpoint to the unit it's become more of a starting point. The kids can identify their strengths and weaknesses early on.

I tell my kids that they can request a reassessment at any time but in reality with the group I have it just doesn't happen. So typically I'm the one that guides reassessment. Pretty much every time they assess on material, it will also have "old skills" on it too. How many I put on there depends on a couple things. 
  • If as a class they ask for something to be on there, I'll put it on. 
  • If I look at their grades and they're mostly all strong in something I'm less likely to include it.
  • If there's a lot of new material and it's too long already I'll skip old material.
  • I reassess on new skills a minimum of twice.
  • At the end of the unit (before the unit exam) I include all the skills. Before this they'll usually get a couple class days of "free time" that they use to work on their personal areas of weakness. Often the end of the unit will include 2 of these big assessments. 
A unit's worth of quizzes might look something like this:
  1. Skill 1
  2. Skills 1-4
  3. Skills 5-8
  4. Skills 1-8
  5. Skills 9-12
  6. Skills 1-12
  7. Skills 1-12 again
Every one of these has different questions. This takes a good amount of time on my part. Typically I'll give more questions for a skill when it is new. As we've quizzed on it a number of times I don't feel that I need as many questions to get an idea of what they know.

If a kid is absent on a quiz day it's up to them if they want to make it up. I don't particularly mind if they skip it because I know they'll have plenty of other chances. It also makes my life easier to not have to worry about scheduling make ups. 

Some people do wonderful sounding things with assessing. I really liked the idea of having the kids fill out a request to retest. I was going to do something like that, but it's just too much for me to coordinate right now. Also I tried it and kids just didn't take the initiative to ask for quizzes. They do have the motivation to work for it and when I offer they requizzes they definitely take advantage of it. So it's just easier for me to manage it. There are of course exceptions. A handful of my kids are very motivated to come outside of class and ask for help and to requiz so for them I'll make up a short assessment when they ask. Or sometimes I'll make an exception and give them an old skill quiz- this is usually only if I look and it's one that they bombed or left blank the first time. 

I also think it's amazing how some people give their students freedom in reassessing. Letting them choose how to reassess or a way demonstrate what they know. I'm just not there steps. But there have been exceptions. A couple times when I've had a kid 1-on-1 instead of quizzing them I'll just have a conversation to assess what they know and I'll change their scores accordingly. The couple times that I was able to do this I thought it was pretty cool so ultimately I'd like to be able to do more of that. Eventually.

So again...this is what works for me right now. Certainly not the one right way to do it, but I'm happy with it and it seems my kids liked it too.

Monday, July 14, 2014

SBG Skill Lists

I wrote last year about my initial transition into standards based grading. Two years ago I tried it out mid year as a sort of experiment with my advanced class and we all loved it. So this past year I went all in for all my classes. This included two algebra classes and one geometry classes. Through the course of a couple posts I'm going to try to go through the process I used and how I got things set up. My main goal here is just to get things down in writing for myself. I've been asked to help a couple other teachers implement this so I feel like I need to make better sense of how to explain it. And I figure if I'm writing it down, might as well do it here.
wrote previously about my

I feel that I need to put a HUGE disclaimer out there that I'm not an expert with any of this. There are so many people out there that are much more knowledgeable than me and I read everything they had to say before I started. I would highly suggest doing that. So having said that, everything that I'm going to explain is merely what worked for me and my kids in my school. It doesn't mean this is the "right" way to do anything. But if SBG is new to you, perhaps some of what I did may be a helpful starting place.

The first thing to do was to create skill lists. Before even beginning each unit I sat down with the district objectives and attempted to interpret each one into what I was actually supposed to teach. This required me to put more thought into unit planning than I was used to. It was immensely helpful because it was the first year of our CCSS curriculum and it wasn't as easy as just following a textbook. The objectives and standards took some time to interpret. Also I did not create the objectives. They are a part of the NJ Model Curriculum that we were given to use.

For example, below is one of our first objectives:
Interpret terms, factors, coefficients and expressions (including complex linear and exponential expressions) in terms of context
To try to break it down, I started with the standard(s). My CCSS flipbook and were my most uses resources. I wrote last summer more about how I used these. I looked at sample questions and read the explanations to try to figure out exactly what the kids would be required to do. From this objective I ended up with the following two skills:
  • I can translate expressions
  • I can interpret the parts of an expression
Below is another one. This one objective is kinda huge. In the past, it was two full chapters in our textbook. So there were more skills that I felt needed to be covered here. Every objective varied a great deal with how many skills went along with it.

Solve linear equations and inequalities in one variable (including literal equations). Justify each stem in the process and solution
A.CED.4, A.REI.3
  • I can solve multi-step equations in one variable
  • I can check a given answer to an equation
  • I can solve equations involving fractions
  • I can solve literal equations for a given variable
  • I can solve an inequality in one variable
  • I can explain the steps to solve an equation/inequality verbally
  • I can graph the solution to an inequality on a number line
So I did that for each objective, creating a Skill List for the entire unit. I'll share more about this later. On the first day of each new unit I would hand out the skill list and have kids tape it into the back of their notebook. This way I could refer to it as we went through the unit. When a quiz was coming up I could just tell them which skill numbers it was on.

Going through all this required more work of me than I was used to, but certainly worth it. I'm not one to plan things out super far in advance, but it forced me to look at the entire unit which was a good thing. It gave the kids a clear outline of what we were going to be doing. It let them know how far we were into the unit and they knew when the unit was wrapping up.

Sometimes I put a skill on the list that I ended up skipping. Occasionally it got moved to a different unit or sometimes I just ended up grouping it in with another skill. This is ok. Kids are flexible, I just told them we were skipping that particular skill and it was no big deal.

A couple other bits of information is that I didn't do the whole year at once. I started last summer and just took care of the first unit for algebra and geometry. And also on that note, last year was the first year I've ever taught geometry. Luckily I had a friend to work with that has taught geometry before. With a new course I was not comfortable enough with the material to be able to break down the objectives into skills. I don't think that I could have really done them alone so I was very grateful to have someone to work with. Just something to take into consideration if you're in a similar position. I would suggest reaching out for help if you're not completely sure.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Steps to Solve Word Problems

These posters are old but as with most things I make I was bored of them. Remade them and figured I'd share. Obviously there are tons of ways to solve problems and not all of them require you to actually write and solve equations but I figure these at least give kids something to look at if they have no idea where to start. Basically something I can refer to for the kid that looks at a problem and completely has no idea. At least maybe following one or more of these steps might get some thinking going on. 

Each one is sized to print on a regular piece of paper. The title is intended to be printed and then cut/taped to be longer.

download here

Quote Posters

Quote posters are something I don't really need any more of, but I can't help it. I plan try to limit the new additions to these three this year. I like each of them for particular reasons. 

Download: 1 2 3

Saturday, July 12, 2014

SBG Posters

Next posters up are a couple that I've had up in my room all year. Kids actually looked these at a decent number of times but I never really liked how they looked so I keep changing the design. I think I'm happy with these now so I'm sharing. Also I take absolutely no credit for the flowchart. I found it on Kelly O'Shea's blog when I was researching SBG awhile ago. Speaking of which I also take no credit for the second one either. The grading scale and explanations are based off of what Jessica was so generous to share with me when I was getting started with SBG last year. Unless you use the same scale I guess that one isn't all that useful, but maybe someone can use it for something. And on the note of SBG, I used it this past year for first time and am completely obsessed. I'm probably super annoying because I have a tendency to start preaching about it to people, but I feel like it was just so successful. It's all stolen from places and in no way original, but I might write about how I implemented it one of these days. But there's also a chance that I get distracted and never get around to it, so no promises!

download here

download here

Friday, July 11, 2014

Parts of a Graph Poster

I've only been out of school for 11 days and I can't help it...I'm already planning things for next year. I Thought I'd share since I've been away from posting for so long. So no guarantees on tons of writing and long posts, but I'll be popping in and out to share some posters and such as I make them.

I made this first one mainly out of need. My kids always struggle with setting up graphs so I thought putting it up on the walls and in their notebooks would be a good idea. So if yours do too, here ya go!

Bit of a random side note- my students say they never learned cursive writing and claim to not be able to read it so I like to use it from time to time to make them think.

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