Thursday, February 27, 2014

Expecting to fail

I recently watched a video clip done by the great Michael Jordan:
I love this video!  It reminds us that we should expect failures. They are going to happen, and actually if they don't, that would quite probably be the proof that we are not human.  As a teacher, I am well aware of my failures:  I can't always get papers graded and back as quick as I'd like, a lesson doesn't go the way I wanted it to (insert interruptions and student misunderstandings here), I didn't respond well to a student I interacted with, and the list could continue (but I'm sure you can relate).

However, as a teacher, I am aware that I need to embrace those failures as an opportunity to rethink, ponder, revise and try again.  Since my profession has the performance piece embedded into it, I have to remember that every "act" will not be my best.  But it is my continued practice that helps me hone my skills as well as my conscientious thought about what the goal is/and how do I achieve that.

I'm looking forward to my failures (with flipped classroom), because I know they will help me grow and perfect my craft.  I write this mainly to remind myself, and so I will have something to read on those days when I am at a low point, because I'm sure I will be my biggest critic and I'll need this encouragement.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I got 'em now!!

It's super entertaining to hear students say "I spent so much time on that task that I think I would have preferred taking YOUR quiz".  That's when you know that deep learning really happened.  The sad part is that is so foreign to students.  They are used to memorizing as much information as they can the night before and then trying to put it all down on their paper before it falls out of their head, after which they think it is appropriate to purge everything they have just learned.  I asked my students if they thought it would be acceptable to tell their boss on day 2 of work that they had forgotten everything they learned on day 1 and expect to get an enthusiastic response from said boss.  Of course they just stare at me, but I know my point is made.  I have doubts that they plan on changing without the continued impetus from me.

Even better is that someone in the class brings back the reality that had they taken MY quiz, they probably would not have scored too well, and they blurt out the "bonus information" that in the "other teacher's class", the students claimed they did not have enough time to finish the teacher quiz AND they don't think they did very well on it.  Now the perspective has begun to change.

Needless to say, my students were very excited to have me take each of their quizzes that they created.  A couple of them were sharp enough to have calculated that I would make them take each other's quiz, which, of course, was my "evil plan" all along.  It was great to hear them apologize to their partner with "I'm sorry, I thought Mrs. Torres was taking my quiz", or "oh, you're doing number 6, yeah, that one is a bear."  But as they worked through their partner's quiz, even more learning was taking place.  They were able to find mistakes and correct them.  I love it when my "evil plan" works!!

Wait, there's still more!!  The best part is when I asked the students to grade themselves on what they had created, and then grade their partner's work.  So many questions:  "a letter grade or a percent?", "how do I justify giving myself an A?", "shouldn't there be a rubric for this?"  Now they are speaking my language!!  So we have to create one, and they ALWAYS have better ideas than I do alone.

Doing things differently leads to so many new discoveries for them AND me!!  So many good questions and so much more learning!!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What's the rush?

     I found this post in a blog by Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships in the Los Altos School District:

"Many times we are in a hurry and are ready to move on to the next lesson, subject or project. I wonder what would happen if we allowed students to linger longer on problems? Students might solve less problems, but my guess is that the quality of work will improve dramatically."

    I too am guilty of pushing my students to "get to the next problem". After all, I have SO MUCH curriculum to teach and so little time. If I don't get through it all, how will my students be able to perform well on standardized tests? Or, what will happen next year when they are in "so and so's" class and I haven't prepared them for the new mountain of material they will have to master there? And so I play into the same pattern of thought that we have had for many years: teach mile wide and inch deep (at best) of content. Hope that the students pay attention the first time because there won't be time to go over it again. It frustrates me on the days when the students ask good questions that keep us from completing all the problems I had prepared for them to do. If I answer the good questions, I won't get through all my notes (and many times I don't). Then they won't be able to answer the questions I gave them for homework. Aaaaggghhhhh!!! It's a vicious cycle because I often digress and answer their questions!

    So as I get ready to try more flipped activities (being slow to implement because I want to have everything PERFECTLY ready), I am realizing that I will have to wait and see (being a newbie) about the impact on the learning. I THINK it will be more powerful for the students. I HOPE that it will get into their long term memory instead of the short term memory (that doesn't even last until they get home and try their homework). But I am realizing that this class practice won't allow them to get through ALL the great problems that are currently on their homework worksheets, because the time that discussion takes is much LONGER than the time I imagine it takes them to do their homework. However, I have come to the realization as well that (a) they don't do all the problems because they either get frustrated or see a word problem (and by the very nature of that, it must be skipped), and (b) they miss the nuances in the problems that they really need to understand if they are to continue getting new problems correct (i.e. test/quiz questions, or AP test questions). So fewer questions, but giving them more time to linger might be just the thing I'm looking for to deepen their understanding of the content.

     I will have to ponder this more, for sure! I can see I have to put much more thought (and I know that I've been doing that already) into that face-to-face time so as to make sure they get through the "harder" problems and tackle those meaningful word problems (no more skipping them!).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Beginning to flip

Today was another "best day ever".  I've been having several of these since I made mini white boards for my students to use (I found large pieces of cardboard, white on one side, and had them laminated).  For my AP Calc students, there were expecting to take a quiz based on the concepts we learned/practiced this week.  They came to class all angst and were desperately waiting to "throw up" the content they, no doubt weakly, memorized last night onto their paper ("before I forget it" was what I heard).  I had an inkling that they had not invested time in memorizing the 3 new formulas/strategies for derivatives and integration.  Who wants to grade horrid quizzes?!  NOT ME!!  So 12 hours earlier, I devised my genius plan!!  I made a set of problems (quiz like in nature) for them to work on in groups.  Basically they were more practice problems on the 3 formulas from the week.  When students started asking questions (because they knew "something was up"), I had them write down the 3 formulas on a piece of paper with the directions "1 easy, 1 medium, and 1 hard", "10 quiz questions".  I began to explain:  they were making their own quiz, over the weekend.  For each formula they had to write 3 quiz questions, 1 for each of the levels listed.  I was very clear that they could not copy any problems from class notes or their homework, or each other, although using any of those resources could be helpful in their quiz design.  They were to make a clean copy of their quiz and then on the back of it, they were to work out the solutions.  None of the solutions should be with a calculator.  Of course students started to ask excited questions:  "could we get extra credit if we stump you?", "do we have to get our own solutions correct?", "what makes a question easy, medium or hard?", "are you really grading all of our quizzes?".  I was excited to answer their questions!!  But I was thrilled that they asked how to classify, and responded that they were going to work in their groups on "my problems" to decide how to classify.

Students proceeded to get into their assigned groups and work on the problems that I had for them.  We have now done this a few times so they know the routine (they must get approval from me to move on to the next problem in sequence).  As I checked answers, I asked group members, "was that an easy, medium or hard question?".  The interesting point is that I heard "easy" most often, a few "mediums", but RARELY a "hard" response.  At the end of class, I stated that I was worried how hard they might make their questions for me because no one seemed to think I had asked hard questions.  And yet if I had given those questions as "the quiz", I'm sure that they would have thought they were!   Learning was happening at a high level and should continue over the weekend as they write their questions!!  On Monday, they will trade and grade before I even look at them!!  More learning indeed!!  This is what I want every day to look like!!

Moving on to Statistics:  I put them into assigned groups the day before in order to have them work quiz questions.  Since they are working on Confidence Intervals and Hypothesis testing for one proportion and two proportions, the problems take a while to finish.  As they came back into class today, I said, "you know what to do".  They got right to work!  That's different! Usually there is all the shuffling and getting into their seats (sometimes after the bell rings), but not today.  They had to get approval of their work before they could put it onto their own papers.  As an addition to this quiz, I wrote on the board that they had to explain the similarities AND differences amongst the four processes that we have been working on (on the quiz).  I further stated that they might want to use an example to help me "get it" when I read their papers.  I heard students saying when they left "I get it!".  I heard students participating in class with their peers that I normally don't hear talk, and that don't normally "get it", but were explaining concepts like they were experts.  I was SO EXCITED!!  I can't wait to try this with the next topic!  Because these concepts are so detailed, it takes time for students to absorb and certainly talking and explaining speeds up that process!  LEARNING HAPPENING!!

One more fun thing today!!  My Pre Calc students had voted (after some deliberation) to move the test from yesterday to today (even though Friday is a 6 min shorter class period).  I told them that they would have to be really prepared and know what they are doing in order to finish the test with 6 mins less.  Then I thought, "wait, if they get in here during passing period, they could get some of that 6 mins back--passing period is 7 mins)".  So I suggested that to them yesterday. were RUNNING to my TAKE A TEST!!  And they seemed excited!!  I was laughing on the inside!  Best part: almost everyone finished it early and turned it in early!  LEARNING HAPPENING WITH EXCITEMENT!!

I don't wonder why I love my job!!