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!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"No! Math is more important!

That was a quote I got from one of my students today when we were supposed to be watching the weekly edition of "The Bear Facts" (our student created television show). I was actually trying to watch it but my students were taking advantage of the extra few minutes of study time before their impending quiz.  So when the student asked me a "how do you" question, I jokingly said "can't you see I'm busy watching the Bear Facts?" And he, in turn responded with "no, math is more important!"  Someone pinch me now, because I think I'm hearing voices say math is more important!!

Even yesterday, I had two students articulate that my slogan should be "with Torres, Calculus is possible". (head shaking trying to rid itself of preposterous voices!) It has taken me 30, that's right, I said 30 years to reach this point where the students are genuinely excited to be learning in my room. Why couldn't this have happened sooner?  But I'm clinging to this year like I clutched the Heisman!

Don't misread this to say that everything is wonderful, because there are still things I need to work on (that pile of ungraded papers sitting next to this keyboard), and creating MORE or finding MORE activities that are tied to the lessons, and figuring out how to best assess students and make their grades even more meaningful to them.  SO MUCH to do and not even close to enough hours to complete it.  But, in the meantime, I love having students talking (excitedly) about math everyday in my classroom and working (so efficiently) together on their whiteboards.

I just wish someone had told me all this was possible sooner.  I've missed out on some great enjoyment with former students.

Now, with all that said, I still feel the struggle with Statistics.  I'm trying to tear away (actually I have) from the "old version" of me, but I just don't feel like I have hit any real stride with that class. Today I felt a little closer in that I had the students putting up answers/work on the whiteboards (something we haven't done as much in that class). I liked it but not sure if I "loved it". I just can't decide how to best arrange the necessary learning pieces. I have literally used the textbook so little, they might as well not have even checked it out, but I can't decide if what I'm doing is "great" or not.  I guess it just feels "okay" or "good" and I'm not satisfied with it yet.

It's just such a different beast and I cannot figure out how to best tame it. I felt this struggle last year too, but at least then I was using "the same old thing".  I think I'm my own worst critic and I know I'm really harsh in my assessment of my own work.  To quote my son (when he comes home with a 98 on a test: "not good enough!").  It's a dilemma that I know I will continue to wrestle with again this year as I keep trying new things in an effort to make it better. In the meantime I will be happy that I teach them a lot of useful statistics.  I've already gotten one thankful email this year (from a student last year) saying that a college class is so much easier because of my Stats class.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Challenge accepted!

That great moment: when your principal walks in with the designated "principal of the day" (a superintendent from a nearby elementary school) and your students are working on their whiteboards and using Desmos to discover.  But then again, my principal has come into my room and brought other visitors this year and those were great moments too!  No more awkward moments thinking "man, I wish I was doing something cool!" Don't get me wrong, I have always been a stickler about teaching from bell to bell (ususally have the kids saying 'hurry up and give us the homework' after the bell rings at the end of class), but it was the traditional style....rows of students, me lecturing (it was a pretty good show, I won't lie!) and students following along with my awesome math jokes and silly examples.  But this year....THIS so different, and any day that someone comes in they get to see "coolness". Flipped classroom is so amazing, I don't know how I did the traditional style for so long! And even though I had students say "I love this class" before, it doesn't compare to now.  And I have to say, I LOVE GOING TO WORK!  (Keep in mind this is my 30th year!)

So the conversation with Calculus students today (who were working "the hardest" problem of the day) was that graphing is a good strategy, even if they don't use it all the time.  I have tried to encourage them A LOT to draw pictures and said even if you don't draw the picture, you should be thinking about the picture in your head.  Here is what I have found out....we "beat that out of them" in earlier classes.  Algebra 1:  let's solve this system of equations by graphing (day 1), every day after that: let's not use graphing, it's not that reliable, let's use Algebra. There are SO MANY more topics I could cite where we don't even show them the pictures of "the magic" because it's just easier to go to a formula that we are going to make them memorize anyway.  I really HATE that (and I don't use that word often, but I do!) I am NOT a memorizer and I discourage my kids from becoming one. When they say "why?", I say "because it won't stick! You'll memorize it for the test but forget it later and I don't want you to forget it.  So let's LOOK at why the magic happens." (aka draw a figure/picture) I've heard so many "ooooh, that's where that comes from. Why didn't my teacher tell me that last year?" I respond with "I don't know".

So back to the conversation (before I digressed), they were having to find zeros and critical points and horizontal asymptotes to a rational polynomial with a radical in the denominator, and they were to graph it.  Still being novices at all of the above, they were struggling. So bring on the Desmos!!

Student: but I thought we weren't supposed to graph in Calculus

Me: On the contrary, remember I've said "I like to see pictures", they tell us a lot. You might not have to depend on them completely, but they are a very useful tool in mathematics. You just need to know when to use them.  Like the tools in your garage at home.  Some of them you use more than others, but it doesn't make the other ones useless.

Student: you mean like a chainsaw? (thanks Brandon!)

Me: exactly!  (I love when they finish my analogies for me! Of course I used that again the next class)

Statistics was about the Pepsi/Coke challenge today.  Can you tell the difference (taste test)? I've never used this before and have to thank DANIELL DIFRANCESCA for his awesome lesson posted on the UNC School of Education website! I used it as written (after considering how I might want to change it and thought, it's great just the way it is). I went to great lengths to make sure the students were not able to tell the bottles apart (took the labels off, switched the caps so I was using either both blue or both red, and put the bottles inside a plastic bag--the plastic molding is different).  I had them talk about all the "lurking variables" without using the vocabulary YET (that's tomorrow) and if we could control that or not. When we had exhausted all of our ideas, I had them send me 2 members from their team to get the samples (cup A and cup B). The extra ones, I randomly assigned using the calculators random integer generator and the class roster. I had asked them if they thought the order one drank them in could have an effect and after they said "yes", I asked if we could control that. The obvious answer was change the order we had participants drink in, so I assigned half the room to drink A first and the other half to drink B first.  Since they had a data table, I made them fill it out at their groups first and then put their results on their whiteboards so everyone could copy it into their data tables.  Homework was to do some tallying of an assortment of results (percents of correct girls/boys, correctness based on order of A/B, and a few others, if you look at the worksheets, it will make sense).  Tomorrow we will capitalize on all that they learned from this.

Of course its great when the students say "that was so much fun", and tomorrow they will want to do it again.  Of course now they want to taste test lots of things!  But when I heard a student say "this was the best day ever", I countered with "what do you mean? Tomorrow will always be THAT! because it just keeps getting better and better and better in here." I didn't get an argument (even though I might have been expecting one!) :)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Class Dojo

I used Class Dojo today!!  It is super!! I have altered the categories so that I can use it to check their homework (are their notes from watching my videos complete?) and I can mark if they are explaining to their group and/or up at the whiteboard showing the group solution.  It is very easy to use and I feel like I will have something more concrete to put into the gradebook regarding their participation in class.  The "fun" part is that each student shows up as a little monster on the screen (you can show it in real time on a projector screen) and  they were like small children looking at the monster they were assigned.  I had to pause while they marveled at what they were.  I have to say though, I saw some students break free of the velcro that keeps their butt attached to their chair and explain/write on the whiteboard.  It was fabulous!!

The stats students turned in their infographic projects today. Many of them had them submitted last night so that I was able to let them know if they didn't link them correctly.  I had 99% submission today (all but 1 student), and they were excited about their projects!   I love when they are excited about showing what they learned and made.  That never grows old for students!

We did a great exercise on why we randomize today (finished from yesterday).  Using "random rectangles" I had the students calculate (a) the average area of their favorite 10 rectangles (b) the average area of the 10 they thought were representative and (c) the average area of 10 their calculators chose using randominteger.  Then they put up the values for each on their whiteboards and everyone entered the data into their Stats editor on their graphing calculator.  I had them draw a boxplot and give me the class average. What is so "cool" is that the graph doesn't look perfectly symmetric until they use the randomized data, and the average is not close to the "true" average until they use the randomized data.

Something that I liked that I did today was: students had taken video notes on experimental design last night.  It covered types of sampling and types of bias.  So I had them give me 3 types of bias with their own examples of each on the whiteboards.  Then I followed that up with "give me the information I need to know about how to collect an SRS". After that I gave them a list of 20 male names and said "I want a sample of 5. Tell me a strategy you can use, then use it and give me the 5 your strategy picked." After they had all used their graphing calculator to randomly select, I put up a table of random digits and had them tell me how to use that.  It was a good exercise to see if they understood what they had copied in their notes.  I will definitely use this strategy again!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

My best project ever!!

The last three days my AP Stats students worked on a new project that I created (some credit goes to my colleague K. Diver for giving me the idea about infographics!)  I sat in her session last Saturday about infographics at EdCampRivCo and instantly knew that I wanted my students to do their projects completely electronically.

The idea:  I wanted my students to use their skills at univariate and bivariate data analysis and had formulated that they were going to create surveys (using Google Forms) to collect data from each other (I would create the form for them to paste their URL into so each could take all their classmate's surveys).  This activity was day 1.  They had to finish taking everyone's surveys for homework (60+ in all).  They were having a grand time answering each others' questions and were finding out first-hand how "not to ask questions".  We will discuss this in the next chapter, so I always like them to be in their "rookie state" when they create questions/surveys for their first time.  I don't have to expound on the importance of wording questions correctly after this activity because of their experiences.  These are the directions if you want to use them: Fall 2014 project 

Next I wanted the to use some "real world data" that they could do regression analysis with...enter which is full of data.  I made them use the MLB data and taught them how to transfer it into a google spreadsheet so they could choose the columns they thought would correlate well and be able to easily pull from the spreadsheet into the data analysis "machine".  They could either use Statkey or Interactivitate.

Lastly, they were to pull it all together into their infographic (Piktochart and were the two I offered, but 1 student wanted to do a Prezi, so I let her). By the third day, I had very little that I had to do.  The students knew this was work day, and that is exactly what they did.  I made sure that I borrowed our other cart of 20 chromebooks (our dept has 2 carts of 20) so that everyone had their own to work on.  I circulated to answer questions and assist.  When there was a problem that I couldn't fix, I simply asked if anyone in the room knew how to fix it.  Sure enough, there was always someone who did (or I might figure it out).  So I didn't have to KNOW EVERYTHING about the websites they were using.

This is what I told my colleague (at a sister school) who was freaking out on Wednesday because she wasn't sure she knew enough to have her students do this same project.  I made sure she knew how to create the google forms for collecting their surveys and how to do all the "google stuff".  She already knew how to use the analysis sites (and so did her students) as we had shared that information earlier.  Her concern was not knowing how to use the infographic sites.  I told her "you don't need to!  Show the students where they are and let them figure it out.  That's what I did.  After 3 minutes, they won't be listening to you anyway because they will be playing around with the site and figuring it out on their own."  That is EXACTLY  what my students did. I think I put her mind to ease.

Students have put their links into my form already and I have been monitoring it today to make sure that their links open (if they didn't work, I emailed them right away so problems can get fixed).  It's amazing how much they figure out after you point them in the proper direction.  None of them had ever made a google form before and only a handful had made an infographic and yet the results look awesome!

The BEST part is that I have taught them a bunch of useful skills and they were excited to do the project!  In addition, no wasted paper!  Their infographics look very professional and something I know they will be proud of. I get to show them off now!  I plan on making scan codes to put up around the room for them to see each other's, and for administrators to look at them too!

I'm proud of myself for venturing into this and proud of them for their fabulous results!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What's good for kids!

Grades were due this week (on Weds at 8 am).  Since I still feel like I am underwater unable to breathe (translating as so far behind, I'm worried about catching up), I have been pretty stressed about it.  So I was at work on Tuesday night until 9:30 and then again on Wednesday night until 10:30, and that was not to finish grading papers. Nope, it was examining my Calc grades and deciding how to "fix them".  Now that I have a flipped classroom, I don't teach the traditional lesson, give them an hour (or more) of homework each day and follow all that fun up with a quiz on Fridays like I did last year.  It all looks VERY DIFFERENT!  And deciding how I am supposed/want to grade it has been a struggle both mentally and physically!

If you read an earlier post, you know that I contemplated SBG from the beginning of school, but really had NO IDEA how I might do that.  Especially since I am making video lessons and as many "cool" activities as I can fit in to supplement all the traditional practice (which I believe students need).  Thinking that I simply could not add one more "new thing" to my repertoire, and without more knowledge or assistance from someone with experience, it was preposterous to consider it anyway.  My good friend @drcyslvdr had given me some assistance when she explained how she uses student-led grading and I really liked her suggestions, but wasn't exactly sure how I could employ the ideas in my classroom.  So I continued to "muddle through" until Tuesday!

After looking at the deplorable state of the grades, and messing with all the weights for quizzes and tests, I finally came up with an idea I felt comfortable with and thought my students would "buy into".


Enter Wednesday morning and all my STRESSED OUT students who had looked at their grades the night before (they knew they would get posted and I'm sure they were pacing in front of their computers waiting to see what their results were--worse than a 1960's dad in the maternity ward!) So here is the information I gave them:

"I know you all looked at your grade and trust me, while you were crying at home, I was at school crying with you.  I played around with them for awhile and while some grades went up based on what I did, others went down.  I couldn't find a 'win-win' for everyone.  So I decided that  you are going to write about your grade.  I have 24 hours to change them before they get printed and sent home and here is what I want to know from you.  First of all, I watch you and talk with your groups every day.  I know what each and every one of you is doing in class, and who does more explaining and who does more observing in your groups.  You can't fool me because I am in here every day watching and watching and talking with all of you, and asking you to explain to me what you put on your whiteboards.  I want you to tell me what grade you have (on the computer) and what grade you believe is more representative of your 'body of work'.  Remind me of all that YOU do in your groups everyday.  Tell me what YOU do outside of school that I don't see.  How much/how often are you engaging your brain in Calculus? Give me compelling EVIDENCE that I should change your grade and if it needs to be changed now because you're applying to colleges for early admission, then let me know that too.  If you can live with your grade until semester, then let me know. And last, if you think your grade is representative of your work, then tell me you are okay with it."

You could have heard a pin drop!  They were silent for about 15 minutes and writing that entire time.  It was almost a little eerie.  While they were hopeful, I had told them I was neither Santa, the Easter Bunny nor the Tooth Fairy, so they really didn't know what to expect.  So after tutoring students in the library for an hour, having a parent/student conference for 45 minutes, and helping a colleague from another school for 75 minutes, I proceeded to read all 86 papers and comment on every one.  Thankfully I was checking content, not grammar!! (you gotta respect the English teachers for all that they have to read!)  When I was done, I changed 38 grades...and we are not talking just a little.  Some students improved 2 letter grades!!  It was revelatory as I read them.  The students were sincere in their assessment and pretty accurate about their own habits, effort and abilities.  I wrote things like "now show me you deserve to keep this" on many a paper, but I felt good about it.  I want them to know that I REALLY DO BELIEVE IN THEM, and that they CAN achieve it if they continue working.  I felt as though they were doing a really good reflection of themselves and what they have shown me in class.  As I thought about it and all the changes, I thought "why not? this class is a challenge and I don't want to kill their spirit.  They are here by choice (mostly) when they could be taking something way easier.  But they have chosen a class that they knew was going to be a lot of work (my reputation as tough teacher precedes me) and I have reminded them of that on many an occasion.  I want them to be challenged by the fact that I have dangled the prize in front of them but empowered them with the tools to "go get it", and I just have to believe that most (if not all) of them will actually rise to that level.  And I figure if they don't, they will know it was because they didn't get the job done, not me.  I really believe they are learning to take ownership for their learning and that was one of the goals I desired from the flipped model.


Now for the grande finale! Christmas comes early (sometimes).  I started class by talking about some of the evidence students gave me....more a "what not to say" approach.

"After reading ALL your letters, I found a couple themes that I want to address to all of you.  Some people took the "I'm so busy, I'm preparing for college, practicing SAT's, writing college apps, in so many clubs (and officer of some of them), blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!! PAUSE........I have a question: is there anyone in this room who is not busy? (no hands) That's what I thought!  This was not a way to convince me I need to change your grade, this was a way to convince me I shouldn't. This was a student trying to pull the pity card, and I will never buy into that!  So, know that if you have this opportunity in the future, that is the wrong way to go.  Second, fortunately I don't remember anyone using the "I'm just not good at math" angle and if they had, I would have said "run, RUN FAST, straight to your counselor and tell them to drop you from the class because you SUCK at math!" (they laugh) You all know that is ridiculous because you are in CALCULUS, enough said!! But I did read several "I'm just not a good test taker" papers.  I'm going to tell you: give me your drivers license now because you probably did fail (at least once) and perhaps shouldn't have passed at all and I don't want to live in fear anymore from you driving on the road! Tests are a fact of life, you will have to take them in college and your professor won't care if you don't do well on tests (as a matter of fact, that is  mostly all you will get graded on), and some employers are going to give you a test to weed out the incompetent people who don't get asked to interview.  But here is the best advice you will hear about those "challenges". PRACTICE!  Work out EVERYDAY in Calculus!  You wouldn't show up to the Olympic Trials for the 100 m dash and say "yeah, I ran a few times last week, but I feel ready". Instead, you would train hard everyday, so that when you got to "the challenge" you would feel prepared.  Calculus (math) is the same way.  And saying it doesn't make it so!  If that were the case, my fat dog and I would be on the cover of a fitness magazine looking like fine specimens." (all laughed) I know they got the point.

Best part: stress was gone, and students were enthusiastically back to work on the whiteboards, NOT worried about their grades!!  Yay, we got THAT out of the way! Now we can get back to the important stuff....LEARNING!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pauls Online Notes

Yup!!  I know it's hard to believe, but I found yet another online resource for AP Calc this weekend, and used it today.  It's called Pauls Online Notes and it has a TON of stuff that teachers can use!!  So I had great plans and spent some time "fixing it" so that I could print out some nice graphs, print on cardstock and laminate so my students could write on them (with the dry erase marker) as they located maximums and minimums.  But, of course, the Xerox machine had a different plan entirely (not working first thing Monday morning).  So much for getting to school early to make all that happen.  Even had the library staff turn on the laminator for me. GRRRRR.....

But wait...the backup plan!  Let's use the chromebooks.  We haven't used them in over a week because the related rate problems don't lend themselves to "fast answers" there was no point.  I simply attached the link to the School webpage and off we go!!  Students were able to use their mini whiteboards and accomplish the same task (crisis averted!).  I did manage to copy (via Duplo machine) the worksheet I had planned to accompany the laminated cards and had students put that worksheet in a page protector so they could write on it (dry erase).  All that worked perfectly too.  We go the task done and I heard a lot of ooooohhhhs and aaaaahhhhhs as they talked in their teams.

Stats was a test day.  Hopefully the extra days they ended up having paid off, in addition to the practice pages I gave them.  Tomorrow we begin the project of univariate and bivariate data analysis.  I am excited to have the students work on this!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

This is how I keep growing!

I went to EdCampRivCo today.  I was attending this event with four other colleagues that I have the highest respect for and two of us had discussed that we wanted to learn something the other one already knew about, so we decided we would put those topics up on the board.

How EdCamp works is that participants choose what they would like to learn about and put a post-it for that topic up on a grid. Then the sessions are created by the post-its.  Those in attendance select from the topics that are posted.  This means you want to arrive early so you can get a topic that you are interested in up on the board. My colleagues and I got there EARLY! So, up went our two topics that we had discussed earlier.  Mine was Plickers (after my experience yesterday with students) and hers was Infographics.

The Infographic session was first.  I had played with Piktochart a little bit after my friend/colleague had talked about it last year.  She had even shared some of her student's work so that I could see it.  However, I find that if I don't use it, I lose it (with technology information) because there is SO MUCH to remember.  I too, like my students, have to put knowledge into practice or it quickly leaves my head.  Now, I have been planning a project for my AP Statistics students to do using data analysis, and plan to use 2 days to have them work on it in class.  They will be using Google Forms,, StatKey and Interactivate to both gather and analyze data of their choosing. I get to "up their game" in creating a worthwhile product (a skill that will be useful to them in their future, I hope), because now they are going to create an infographic using Piktochart templates.  I am so excited to see the results.  I will blog about this in a couple weeks when they have finished.

On to session #2: Plickers.  Since I used them yesterday and got them to work, I figured I might as well "share the wealth".  I printed out a few of them to take so we could use them and it was AWESOME!  I even got to learn a few things about the app that I didn't know (how reports work)! Collectively, the group asked questions and I clicked on buttons to see what they did. Voila! Reports show individual student results, by class period! Super for formative assessment!

Session #3: TouchCast and making your own videos.  I presented (with my colleague's help as she has used it too).  I have made several video lessons for my students (they take notes at home watching my videos) so I thought this would be useful to share with teachers who (a) are interested in flipping their classroom or (b) have to be out and need a video lesson for the substitute to play (helped me last year when I had to miss 2 days for conferences).  I even learned that it will work on a computer w/a mouse, not just the IPad.  Great discussion occurred in that session.

Session #4: Math resources on the internet.  We looked at Desmos (fabulous graphing app), Geogebra (does SO MANY things), Inside Mathematics (has LOTS of common core resources), CTAP Region 10 performance tasks (for common core).  Just checking all this information out myself is going to take a few hours!  This is why I love going to EdCamp!  It's a great pool of teacher resources that helps speed me along in finding useful tools and information!  Not to mention the contagious enthusiasm and fabulous networking.  Well spent morning, that is for sure!

Friday, October 3, 2014


Since we had a test yesterday in AP Calc, and today was the Homecoming Rally (making our class periods only 39 minutes long), I decided it would be a great day to practice some multiple choice style questions.  I always feel like the students don't get enough MC practice (well, at least AP level of MC).  By the end of the year they are pretty good at writing out answers to the FRQ's, but they struggle immensely with MC.

Enter....PLICKERS!!  Each student is assigned a scan code (that I printed out ahead of time).  On each side of this (square shape) are the choices A, B, C, and D.  Students work a multiple choice problem and hold the card up so that their answer is at the top of the card.  All I have to do (minus all the work I did the night before) is walk around with my IPhone or IPad and scan all their codes.  Because they are 5.5 by 5.5 in size (a half of a sheet of paper), they will scan from across the room.  I can keep track of who has answered and who hasn't.  I can see the bar graph showing the results of the class (how many got it right/wrong). When everyone is done, I can show the results from my desktop computer to the class (via projector onto a screen).  It is AWESOME!!

Now, I will not lie.  Last evening, I was having a "meltdown" after I had painstakingly put in all my questions, and students names (by period) only to not be able to get it to function, despite the somewhat unclear directions.  I had tried again this morning, but still "no magic".  I was processing how I was going to show the questions, and could only come up with: "I have to put the questions on a word doc to match the ones inside the Plicker library".  So I got to school early to do that piece.  Then I handed out the plickers to the kids and explained what we doing.  Then I pressed the button....and THE MAGIC HAPPENED!!  I just needed to "add kids" to the mix.

I will be using these A LOT more.  All I still need to do is laminate them.  They work for every class, you just reassign them to go with the new set of students. The "magic" is internal, so it links the card to the next student in the next period.

Well, of course all I have to do is offer "extra credit" to get the students to OVERparticipate!!  In Stats today, we went over a review sheet that I created to help them study.  If I don't mind my own saying so, I think it was really good!  While I had hoped to use the Plickers with the Stats kids too, they spent so much time responding to the "bonus" answers that they didn't care what else was planned.  I have NEVER seen so many hands up and students participating EVER in this class!  It was glorious!! I wrote their "bonus" stuff on 5 or 6 boards!

 Now I just have to hope it sticks in their heads for the test on Monday!!

One last thing. The best quote today came from a colleague, not a student. I have been trying to get this colleague to become a twitter user since the end of last school year.  At the start of this year, she said she would try.  I visited her classroom today to watch her using the chromebooks with her students and see what they were doing.  They were using function carnival on Desmos.  I stated that I had some paper versions of graphs with descriptors that she might like to use as a follow up activity.  She stated, "We've already done that.  Let me show you" and proceeded to produce some really nice posters her students had made matching graphs with tables and paragraph descriptions (way better than what I had to offer).  I was so impressed because they were REALLY NICE! So I said, "WOW! Those are nice, where did you get that?".  She smiled gleefully and said "twitter!"  YES!!  My constant talk about what an amazing resource twitter is has finally convinced another!! Best Friday ever!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

How much they miss me when I'm gone

Today I was met with a lot of "where were you?" and "We needed you Mrs. Torres!"  With a test in both classes happening tomorrow, they are getting themselves more "worked up" by the hour. It was especially true for my 2nd period class who had a mandatory senior assembly today, so I never saw them (info on graduation paraphernalia) except for one true #calculete who decided to go against the grain and come to class to practice for the test.  But here is what I did see in the other calc classes:

I told them I was not going to teach/do anything new with them, they needed to practice on their own (with their groups, of course) and I would simply help out as needed.  Some students still needed to get their videos uploaded into my google form before the test so they could earn back points lost on the last test (I am LOVING this idea I came up with--a little help from my colleague  @KathleenDiver).  Others needed to progress toward getting caught up on problems they had not done.  There was ample practice for everyone to be engaged in something and....THEY WERE!!  I had students doing all sorts of work and it was AWESOME!!  Some were checking answers with my various keys, several were working on the whiteboards, many were working in their notebooks but checking with their teammates if they had questions.  It was incredible seeing them take ownership for their learning!!  Did I mention how much I love this flipped classroom model?  When you regularly build in the expectations, the students really seem to rise up to them.  This is SO MUCH better than the traditional classroom I had last year!!

Now, I wish I could say the same for Stats.  I am still struggling putting my finger on the difference.  I don't really think it is the caliber of student.  I have students in there that passed the Calc BC test last year with a 5!  I realize the two classes are completely different "beasts", but the students really struggle getting their act together in Stats.  After exchanging ideas with my colleague from another school site @EHSYarb4, the best we have come up with is that so many of our students are used to getting to ONE RIGHT ANSWER, and they get really good at the methods for delivering that ONE RIGHT ANSWER to you.  With data being "icky" and unpredictable, it is a challenge for them to decipher how they should explain their analysis.  It's not always the same every time and that is a large obstacle to overcome.

I get so many questions like:

Student: "how many decimal places should we always round to?"
Me:  "it depends on what you are finding, or the problem"
Student: "what determines whether I keep the regression model I just tried or throw it out?"
Me:  "that depends on how good/bad the other models are in comparison."
Student: "do we have to do this/that EVERY time?"
Me:  "that depends...."

It drives them crazy having to justify their choices instead of just get ONE RIGHT ANSWER.

I also had to have a "chat" with them today about getting themselves organized, noting that the worksheets I hand out during class ARE their notes, and they need to put them into a 3-ring notebook and STOP STUFFING THEM INTO A FOLDER!!!  I hate that so much!!  I don't want to have to collect notebooks because I want them to figure out how to organize themselves for college.  But I was so irked today, I am possibly reconsidering it!  We'll see if I notice improvement.

I decided by the end of the day that I am going to change their test (Stats only) to Monday and make them fill out a review sheet tomorrow.  I'll post it tomorrow, but I think it is fairly comprehensive on all the content we have covered so far.  Hopefully it will help them determine what they do/do not know.  Since Friday is a rally day, I am going to try Plickers in all the classes.  Have to get them printed out tomorrow!  Looking forward to that!