Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Don't Do It!

Been a little slow to the blog this month...here's an equation for you:

tennis season + school starting = blog - posts

Anyway, saw this tweet come through tonight and it reminded me of an old worksheet I made years ago.

I've been teaching a boatload of geometry the last few years so this worksheet was getting dusty.  I'm glad this tweet cam through to jog my memory.  It's a DON'T DO IT worksheet that highlights some common errors our algebra students make. Then it forces them to identify errors in some algebra I did.  Analyzing work for errors...one of the more valuable things kids can do. 

[Here's the worksheet.]

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Help! Virtual Study Group

I have a small following here and now it's time to cash in.

I am trying to come up with a good way to encourage kids to use an online forum as a virtual study group.  In Moodle I have a Q&A forum set up.  In years past they'd post and I'd answer.  How can I entice (or force) them to answer each others' questions and get a little back & forth going?  As the saying goes, I'd rather be the cyberguide on the side rather than the cybersage on the stage!

Any ideas?  Participation points?  Refusal to participate?  (seems wrong)  Candy?  Cash money?  Grade bump?

Help!  I need some good ideas here!

Thanks all in advance.

Update 9/13:
I'm going with 3% of their grade.  They must post one good question and answer per week.  I've provided the following good & bad examples and will put up a more descriptive rubric this weekend.  I hope it works!

I'm having trouble with #31 on page 103. I saw the worked out solution but I don't understand how they went from 8k+2 to 23k+6 in the numerator. I'm not sure how they got the denominator either. Anyone have any ideas?

BAD :(
I don't get #31

Yeah, the worked out solutions skipped a step. Does this help?
8k+2 = (23)k+2 = 23k+6

BAD :(
The answer is 16 dummy.

Every Second Counts Differently

10 years ago in teacher school one of my instructors required a book I believe was called Every Second Counts.  I actually searched for it online and came up empty...perhaps because Lance Armstrong came out with a book of that name in 2003.

I believe the premise of the book was that it is critical that we squeeze every last second out of our class periods.  We are supposed to use openers and closers and keep the class engaged and learning for the full time.  And if we misuse even a minute a day for attendance or whatever, that adds up to a lot of minutes over the course of a year, those minutes representing learning opportunities lost.

At the time I thought, "Oh, that makes sense," and maybe it even did at the time.  As a greenie though I did not anticipate the pressurized environment that we have in our schools for both teachers and students.

I am now going to argue that every second counts differently.

First of all, it needs to be said that the correlation between student-contact time and student achievement are modest at best, and that although the United States has among the most student-contact time in the world, as we all know the US lags far behind other countries with far less contact time.  Meanwhile, teachers in the US are frequently not given the prep time they need to properly plan and collaborate.

With that in mind, I think I believe that significant chunks of class time should be devoted to low-stress work time for students.  We need to let go of the mindset that our students' brains need to be whirring at full speed at all times.

Student benefits to low-stress work time:
  • It's a chance to relax a bit.  Mental fatigue is a real thing.  Work time allows kids to relax but still engage in the content of the class.  
  • Relaxation allows kids to be more creative thinkers because there is no pressure.
  • It's a chance for kids to work with their peers.  We all know study groups are important - this is a chance to cultivate in-class study groups.
  • Independent practice is important!
  • It allows student to check their learning with the teacher to make sure they are understanding major concepts.
 Teacher benefits to low-stress work time:
  • It's a chance to informally check for understanding.
  • It's a chance to connect with students on a more personal level.
  • It's a chance to get things done.
I am not going to apologize for catching up on work while students are in my room.  I need time to develop and plan high-quality instruction.  If I can catch up on menial tasks while my students are working independently, that's a win.  The bottom line is that the system allots too much time to student contact and too little time for teacher preparation.  Here we shift it a bit, if only a little, in a way that benefits both teacher and student.