Saturday, March 14, 2015

Houston, we have BREAKTHROUGH!!

I am full of guilt. For not keeping up with every detail that needs to be taken care of in my classroom: lesson plans that don't seem complete; papers not graded, recorded and put into the computer for the students (and their parents) to view; unwritten lessons using the laptops; websites not found that would reinforce concepts; not helping my colleagues who are struggling to try more things; not having learned enough technological stuff that would enhance my teaching; and the list goes on.  It's definitely not from a lack of trying.  After school everyday, I often stay at work until 7:00, or 8:00, or 9:00 or later.  I've even gotten home later than my husband who gets off work at 10:30.  And my eating/exercise habits SUCK!  Just ask my 21-year old who tries to get me to focus on proper nutrition (sometimes the Physical Education major he is getting is a curse to me!).

Since I haven't documented what has been happening the past few months, I should probably mention why I have been absent from my blogging.  I had a section of my AP Calculus classes closed and I was "handed" a section of Integrated Math 2.  So let's tally up the schedule: 2 sections (now much fuller) of AP Calc, 2 sections of AP Statistics and 1 section of Integrated 2.  I was NOT HAPPY. Especially because the change happened literally overnight. I was told at 7:55 am that it would occur the NEXT day and I didn't even have a teacher's edition.  ( I could go on here for quite awhile, but that is not the point of this blog entry).  I'll save it for another entry.

It's been 7 weeks since this change.  Reminder that I have a classroom set up for flipped classes.  270 degrees of whiteboards and groups of 4 all around.  This was a HUGE change for sophomores and I had to wonder in the beginning if I was going to have to change the desk arrangement EVERY DAY in order to get them to focus, not talk, not be distracted and be able to do math.  Well, writing on the whiteboards is a huge charm to them.  They ask "can we do this on the whiteboards?" frequently and I try to utilize them as much as possible.  But I haven't gotten to the full flip mostly because I DON'T HAVE TIME to do anymore. Flipping the other 2 AP classes has used up all the time I have for making videos on a regular basis.  So I use Doceri on my iPad, a projector and pre-printed notes (that I give to the students--colored paper only so they can't lose them) and we complete some things together.  I did manage to write 4 computer-based lessons on circles and parabolas (with focus and directrix) that seemed to work quite well.  I was really pleased with how they went.  Geogebra has been AMAZING to work with and Desmos was useful as well.  Convincing my colleagues to give the laptops a chance was another "challenge accepted" and I was pleased that several have broken through that barrier and found some success! A few have come to me and asked if I could help them write lessons for their classes using the laptops (Houston, we have BREAKTHROUGH!).   But that's not the intent of this post either.

While I still consider that I have a LOT more to accomplish for all the classes and with my colleagues, what I have been the most excited about lately is the success that I am seeing happening in the Integrated 2 class.  It has been a MAJOR STRUGGLE for me!  I haven't taught 15 year olds in 3 years and when I had it 3 years ago, we had a textbook that I had never taught from, so I was starting fresh with lesson plans.  Due to common core, the material we have now is different again and definitely not "polished" enough to meet my standards.  So I have to create a lot of content for my classroom.  Additionally, working with younger, less motivated (than AP students) and definitely less mature students is a challenge that I have forgotten about.  My appreciation goes out to my colleagues who teach 5 sections of this daily.  I don't know if I have the stamina anymore.  But it's happening!  I have noticed a change this past week.  I have students coming in for help AND the biggest surprise was when a few students were using the beginning of class time (while announcements were playing) to study TOGETHER (not asking me questions, but working with each other) before their test!! (Houston, we have BREAKTHROUGH!!)  It is finally starting to work! They are learning how to rely on each other and ask questions of each other and help each other. We seem to be having more fun in class together.  They have figured out that I am working WITH them, not AGAINST them!  I won't say that it is perfect.  I have a few in there who are still resistant, but most of them now have "buy in".  Seven weeks to get there was a little rough, but I feel like the outcome is worth it.  So much so that I chose to write that class on my "what I want to teach next year" list.  I think I can make it something really fabulous with more time to prepare (I know I can't pull it off with 24 hour notice).  I am also hopeful that I will be able to get my colleagues to do more with technology so we can share with each other instead of me doing all the work.

Houston, we have BREAKTHROUGH!!  And I am looking forward to version 2.0!

Monday, November 17, 2014

I actually get this!

Four little words that bring such music to my ears!  "I actually get this!" I heard a lot of that or "oooooh" today in both classes.  It was most fun because several times the students didn't know I heard them say it to their teammates.  Calculus has been working on differentials, propagated error, relative error and maximum error for the past 3 days, and they still cause a lot of confusion when an application problem rolls into the picture.  I have drawn a diagram of what we are finding over and over and over so they can see it.  And finally it started to click today (yay! lightbulbs are coming on!)  While I know there are still some questions (hopefully we can finalize answers to them tomorrow), I KNOW that I did a MUCH BETTER job at explaining them this year.  Sometimes, it really helps to let students work (after you have given them some direction) and see where the problems tend to be.  Otherwise you are trying to troubleshoot where there may not be trouble and at the same time missing where there is plenty.  That happened both Friday and today.  I needed to see their collective work to know what the problems were.  Having whiteboards 270 degrees around helps me see them quickly.  Then I know how to fix the problems.

Stats students are trying to make proper Venn diagrams and tree diagrams and see the connections between them for probability.  So many had not seen their connection until today, when I got the "oooooh".  There were many "aha" moments.  It feels so good when that happens.  And it's fun because the students then see how "the magic" works, even they said "it's magical" and I feel like they really did see a magic trick which will now stay with them because they witnessed it unfolding right before their eyes.

Isn't that what we are supposed to be doing as a math teacher?!!  Showing students "the magic" behind the trick.  So many try to just teach them the trick, but the students can't reproduce the trick because they don't really know "the magic" behind it.  It's like trying to perform a card trick where you haven't figured out HOW it works, and you keep getting it wrong because of that.  I feel like so many students get turned off to math because they view it as a bunch of secrets and magic that they don't have the keys to.  I hope that is not the case in my class.  I love showing them the secrets...and the more drama you can add to it: "hey guys, this is a secret, don't tell anyone I told you but...." really gets them interested.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How they do love math!

It was Saturday School today....for FOUR HOURS!! 8am-noon.  Who wants to get up and do math for four hours on a Saturday?  52 of my students did and they were enthusiastic about it!  We had so many desks, tables and chairs, I'm confident that the fire marshall would have declared us to be in violation of code, but that didn't matter to the kids (or me)!  There was SO MUCH math discussion going on.  It was like being a comic book enthusiast at Comic Con!  Surprisingly, I couldn't even tell you how much noise there was because I don't notice it so much anymore.  Funniest part of the day was having a student tell me, "I called you and you ignored me." It was funny because I thought it was a solicitor so I silenced the call.  Her group was trying to get my attention from across the room.

The most interesting part is how little I actually had to do.  I circulated the room, as much as I could with 45 desks, 3 large tables and 9 spare chairs, but mostly students were up at the whiteboards working and explaining to each other.  Sometimes there was a disagreement about a solution and I would get called over.  Occasionally I got to use a "teachable moment" about some topic (I still love getting to explain!). Once in awhile, groups wanted to know if their solutions were correct and I loaned answer keys here and there.  It is awesome when the students can check their answers and choose to re-work (if they get it wrong) the problem rather than call me over immediately.  What I have been experiencing lately is: "if you leave them to work together long enough, they almost always get to the correct solution".  As students have been working in class, I have noticed that sometimes a group will send a "scout" to get my attention when I am working with another group, and then by the time I get to that group that had a question, they say "nevermind, we figured it out".  I love that!  Moreover, if one student in a group asks a question, my first response is "did you ask anyone else in your group?".  If the answer is no, I simply say "they don't bite" and walk away.  Still working to teach them that I am not the "keeper of the knowledge" and how to use their immediate resources.  Many times I explain to one student or one group and then make them "pay it forward" by explaining to another.  If they can do it, I know they have it figured out.  That explaining is SO IMPORTANT!!

It was interesting how the groups formed.  Because they are used to working with a new team every two weeks, it didn't seem to matter who they worked with.  While I would have expected them to sit with friends, they just sat anywhere and started working with whoever was at their table.  Some of them moved desks to form larger groups.  All I had to do at 8 am was announce their options for what they could work on, and post it up on a section of the board.  After that, they made their own choices about how to best prepare for upcoming tests, or the final, or learning the current contents we are covering in each class.  Mind you half of the room was Calculus and the other half was Statistics, so it was impossible for me to be teaching.  But the students rely on me less to do that as they really have realized that I give them instruction when they need it (at the beginning of new topics) and then I give them the tools they need to figure it out so that it is internalized.  They don't need to listen to me much.  I really am a coach, and I love that.  I push them farther, make them think deeper, apply what they know and explain it to me and to each other.  This year really has been the most amazing year of all my 30 years combined!!

Looking forward to every day that I go in!!  Even on Saturdays!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I wish you could be here!

I REALLY wish you could be in my class everyday watching what I get to watch!  It is so exciting...EVERY day!!  The kids don't NEED me like they used to!  I've created a bunch of independent learners...collaborators actually.  I get to watch and they allow me to participate once in awhile, but they really do depend on each other!  It is THE BEST!  And even though I don't actually "teach" like I used to, I get to interject, ask questions, make suggestions, ask more questions and let them tell me lots of stuff about math!  (At least I still get to make the video lessons) What could be better?!

In Calculus today, I gave them problems #11-5.  Yup, I wrote it correctly.  Initially it made them stop and ask "what?", until someone said, "so you want us to do them backwards?"  Yup! That's what I want. They were off and running, working away on their whiteboards.  But here is the best part: I forced them to go backwards because I wanted to make sure they discussed the hardest ones first.  Well THAT plan didn't work out (happily) because they were not deterred for very long.  Soon enough, groups had 11, then 10, then 9, and all the way to number 5 completed. Some teams had time to get out the laptop and start watching tonight's notes!  That has never happened.  I'm going to have to "up my game"!  But it felt amazing!  Especially when they asked so few questions.  Sometimes their having to wait to ask me for help pushes them to try a little more with the problem...and then viola', they get it without me (so that by the time I get to their group, they say "we figured it out").  Gotta love "wait time"!

Statistics is progressing nicely as of late.  I've had them working a bit more in their groups in a productive manner.  They have been discussing 3-way and 2-way tables and I keep giving them more things to consider.  Today was are in the throes of Simpson's Paradox (little synapses are bursting in their brains when they see the outcome change!)  But one of the reasons I would love for you to be here is the RICH discussions they are having in their groups.  Asking questions that I usually ask and then answering them collaboratively.  It makes me smile (inside and out) when I hear their talk!

Still maintain that I have the best job in the world!!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Don't take candy from strangers!

Those were my parting words for the day to all my students.  They didn't agree with that because "how would we trick or treat then Torres?"  I thought it was sound advice!  What mixed messages we give our students.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Where have I been?

Buried under mountains of lesson planning, paper grading (not so successful at this), letter of recommendation writing (why do so many have to be applying early?!), and attending conferences or presenting at them.

I have had to leave photos of myself around the house so my husband actually remembers what I look like and an occasional leftover meal in the fridge (that's probably still warm when he gets home at 10:45 because I just made it). At least my dog does still recognize me when I get home!

This journey has left me exhausted most days, but after running into an old friend at the grocery store on my way home (at 9 pm), I apparently look younger.  So I'm thinking that despite all this ridiculously hard work (making video lessons and planning new activities for class time for TWO AP classes), the fact that I enjoy my job SO MUCH MORE is pushing time back on my looks! Glad I ran into her!

I'm excited that I got asked to pilot the new version of Chromebooks at our school (guess someone trusts me!) and that I found some awesome websites on 2-way tables for my Stats students to use:

Here was the entire lesson (well, I overshot a little, so it actually took 3 days):
Day 1:  I started with Card #1 (from @gwaddellnvhs) that had practice problems (I can't find the link now, but I will keep looking).  Since we had done some other stuff at the beginning of class, the students only had time to work on Card #1 (two-way table w/questions).

Day 2: I had them start with some practice problems first because I feel like a little bit of 2-way tables is intuitive and working together will allow them to help each other.  Besides, the practice problems were multiple choice and had instant feedback on the website. When they completed the problems, I gave them the notes page and had them go to this site to copy the first table. I instructed them to complete the lower tables by filling in with both the fractions and the percents.  I caught some of them just copying the percents, so I had to stop them and restate the FRACTIONS required part.  I knew they wouldn't know where the percents came from without the fractions present. They had to finish the notes page for homework.

Day 3: We started by checking all the tables they had filled in on the worksheet.  Then I had them make sure they were happy with the questions they wrote.  Now we got to the fun part: they had to go to someone else in the room, exchange papers and work each other's question; repeat for Q2 and Q3.  At the end, we chose the person's paper who had the "trickiest" problem on it and everyone had to work it.  They had some good questions! I will DEFINITELY use this lesson again!  We then went back to the cards (from @gwaddellnvhs).  The students only had time to complete #2 in the remaining time, so we will get to #3 tomorrow!  I have found some other 2-way table practice from some sites online that I plan on trying out tomorrow as well.

While the students think that these are easy, they realize that they REALLY have to carefully read the questions in order to decide what the conditions are within some of the problems.  They have noticed that the word "of" is important.  I know they don't have it all figured out, but they are getting there with all the trial and error.

What I noticed today is how little they ask me questions.  They really rely on each other!  And I know it's not because I won't answer them, but they have just gotten so comfortable learning from each other.  It's just so awesome to roam the room, eavesdrop, and simply coach, or nudge or monitor those who are not on task (very few).  I know this is going to be such an important skill for them moving forward, and it's one of my goals for this new environment.  I guess what I didn't expect is for it to happen so quickly.

Just goes to prove, we simply need to empower the students and get out of the way!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Poster Child of Success

I'd love to be able to say that EVERY student in my classroom is experiencing success with the flipped classroom, but I'd be stretching the truth if I did.  However, here is what I have learned (and I'm really happy knowing this), the students who are willing to take ownership of their learning are learning much better.  And by this, I believe they have a much deeper understanding of the concepts and they are learning how to decode in mathematics/statistics so they can attack problems.

I had a few students stay afterschool for help with their homework today and it was very enjoyable.  It wasn't what I have sometimes frequently experienced in the past (student shows up and says "I don't understand anything" and waits for me to pour them a glass of magic potion/or use my wand to put a spell on them so they don't have to do a thing but wait for the divine knowledge to "hit them"). Instead, we all sat down and worked the problems simultaneously, comparing our work and answers as we went (i.e a true collaboration).  It was great!  And while I was working with the Calculus students, the Stats students had formed their own group on the other side of the room and were working together as well.

Moving on to my "poster child". One student stayed awhile longer to work on problems that were in their chapter packet and ask questions from it.  Yesterday, I handed back their most recent quiz and she had scored a 22/25. That was exceptional for her, as she is not my strongest math student (admittedly so)! When I had graded it, I had done my own "happy dance" and when she got it back, she did hers.  I need to explain this student's math history.  Per a conversation at the start of school, she had told me that she was probably going to struggle.  One day in class, she had informed me that she didn't need to understand the concepts because she would just memorize what to do.  I insisted that wouldn't be possible and asked how that had worked out for her so far.  She tried to convince me (or herself) that it had worked out "good enough". But I continued to remind her that there are just too many things to memorize and, although she would have to do SOME of that, it really was going to be more important that she UNDERSTAND what she was doing.  Well, today was the day of admission! After her quiz score and going over a few "challenging" problems from the classwork pages, she realized herself that she is in fact understanding it.  What I told her is that (besides the fact that I am really proud of her) she has learned how to decode problems so that she knows what strategy to use.  And while she has come in for help a few times, her growth has really been a result of her jumping in everyday and working with her group on problems.

She agreed with this and I asked her if she felt like she had more ownership over her learning this year and her answer was "hell yah".  This was out of character for her so I chuckled.  But she went on to tell me that she was worried at the beginning of the year about the flipped classroom and now she loves it. Her reasons were exactly what I was hoping to hear and had figured out on my own by observing my students: "I can ask questions in class that I never felt like I could ask in a traditional class. In a traditional class, even though the teacher asks 'does anyone have questions?', I always felt like I couldn't ask them because if the teacher explained it again, and I still had questions, there were always other kids who were saying 'she's so dumb, why doesn't she get it?'. (I know kids felt like that in my classroom too.  Sad part is that there are often more of them than there are the smart alecks who think they know everything).  Besides, we all work together and we know that there are things that we all struggle with, so we help each other. In a traditional class, we only got to discuss on group test day and then the real test was 2 days later.  By then, it was too late for me to "get everything" that I didn't know. (I never thought about this, but when she said it, I knew she was right) And I know that if I am not doing well, I can get help and it is my responsibility to do that."  Some of her explanation was actually eye-opening, while other parts are what I knew I wanted to accomplish with this new environment. Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration.  Even though it takes longer with the students to discuss, they get SO MUCH more out of it!  And they are so comfortable with making mistakes and fixing them now.  I have taught them about "party foul" which is erasing before we detect where their error is (and then only erase the minor mistakes to fix it--not the whole thing).  They have adjusted to that so well. I love this learning environment!

Ironically enough, while this student was working on old problems, a former student (from last year) came in to visit me.  She was amazed at all the changes (whiteboard covering 3 walls, a cart of laptops, desks in groups of 4 around the perimeter of the room).  I had started whiteboarding (with some mini versions that I made last year) and flipping the lessons (video notes online and practice in the class) at the end of school (and the students really liked it). Some of the reasons they liked it was because they could watch the videos over and over (or for review) and that they got to work on the difficult problems in class and discuss them. She was commenting on how much better it must be for this year's crop of students, and I agreed it is.  I am SO GLAD that my blinded eyes were opened!