28 January 2014

Kid-Friendly Standards Based Grading

The title of this post suggests its tips are more narrowly focused than the actual post. Transparency in grading is one of the purposes of moving to standards based grading for an individual teacher, department, school, or district. Replacing a hazy traditional scale that has homework, effort, and extra credit melted together with an equally opaque and confusing standards based grading scale will breed contempt.

We've had several of articles and op-ed pieces in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch lately that I have to believe are the result of a huge misunderstanding or, at least, misinformation.

Granted, some of the criticisms this fall and winter have been over students retaking quizzes and tests and getting new scores on standards. Multiple assessments is a cornerstone of standards-based grading, so if that's you're completely opposed to the idea, then I guess you'll never have any commonalities with a standards-based grader (and I hope for your sake you're not a teacher being forced into standards-based grading.)

If your audience thinks that giving children multiple assessments could at least, sometimes be a good idea, then here are my tips for building more bridges to gain support amongst other teachers, parents, and (ultimately, in the trenches) your students.

Be Open About Why You Chose to Start Standards Based Grading
Tell a story about a student long ago that got hosed by traditional grading or that really excelled and turned it around later in a semester. I always loved stories about former students when I was in school, and your story can build trust that you've been thoughtful about this decision.

Be Clear in Your Syllabus, at Open House, and at Conferences How Grades Are Calculated
I think its rare to find a parent that won't be on your side once they hear you out, so be prepared for their questions and to explain it multiple times.

Don't Pass the Buck to an Administrator
Handling issues and concerns yourself will cut off detractors at the pass as they see the confidence in your convictions. "My principal said we have to do this," gives an opening for negotiation. They might go to your principal anyway, but, hey, you did what you could. Hopefully your admin team has your back.

Share a Student-Friendly Rubric and Have Kids Use It Often
+Robert Marzano has a good student self-assessment rubric in Classroom Assessment and Grading That Works (2006) that will empower your students to take more control over their studies and mastery. It's also a good tool for mini-conferences with students before/after assessment. "How'd you rate yourself on the scale? Did that line up with your results? Why do you think that is?"

Here's a poster in my room with Marzano's rubric adapted.
I cannot bear to put zero on there.

Write Out All of Your Objectives/Standards and Share the List
Your students should have their own copy of the standards for the unit/quarter/semester that you can refer back to often together and track progress. I also like to post the pages-long list on the wall and triumphantly cross each off in front of the class as we get to it. The more common the language on this list, the better.

This is not an exhaustive list, nor do these strategies work for me every time and with every class, but like Marzano's High Probability Instructional Strategies, they will often work well for you in most situations.

What are you favorite tips for breaking down SBG for your students and parents?

26 January 2014

Leapfrog Learning Path for iOS Answers the Question: "What Do I Do With My Kid?"

Increasing fathers' investment and proactivity (including my own) in their children's learning is on my mind this week.
I'm thinking of fathers in particular as I write this, but the experience is probably true of most mothers, as well, unless you have an education degree relating exactly to the ages of your children. How often do you think to yourself...

  • Is my kid bright, on target, or a little behind?
  • Is he supposed to be able to do that yet?
  • Is it normal that he isn't ________ yet?
  • What can I be doing to help my kid learn?

I trust that my wife has a better handle on these questions than most, and the support we get from Parents as Teachers, and my son's speech and occupational therapist fills in most of the gaps for her, but when I get home at the end of my day teaching teenagers, I often feel at a loss for what I need to be doing with my own children, ages 4, 2, and infant.

I'm trying to support her efforts as we homeschool preschool and give my kids quality/quantity time in the evening, but when my mind goes to "educational" activities, I often get stuck. I don't think the culture helps parents much on this topic beyond, "Read a book." Got that one covered, guys.

So, to the busy parent that still wants to direct their children's learning, I offer the Leapfrog Learning Path app for iOS.

If you have a LeapFrog Learning Pad, Leapster, or Tag Reader at your house, you probably already have a LeapFrog account that has been tracking your children through the LeapFrog Connect software you use to load content to the devices.

Here's what I love about the Learning Path app:

1. Age-appropriate activity ideas. 
The what's new tab highlights activities, tips, and printables that are age appropriate and feature the LeapFrog characters your kids are already familiar with. What should I do today with the kids?" gets answered on this page. Play a game, color a page together, read a book, etc.
This Pinterest/Google+ style board makes you feel right at home.
Yep, even for babies.

2. Learning Goals/Targets for Each Age Range
If you're in Parents as Teachers or an Early Ed program, you'll get a lot of this information from your child's teacher, but at least for us, it's a paper handout she brings along, and then, what? Am I supposed to file that away in a binder or something? It has enough competition on the fridge from magnetic letters and art projects. Informational paper doesn't last long around here.

3. Strategic Tools and Interventions
Different kids develop different skills at different rates. We all know that. But there's always at least a kernel in the back of your mind wondering what else you can be doing to try and get them ahead/catch them up.

I told the app that my son was "not yet" there on one of the goals listed for 2 year olds, and it gave me a strategy to try myself, and a (surprise!) LeapFrog branded toy to support my efforts.

Is this ultimately a marketing tool is get you to spend more money on LeapFrog products? Probably. But a friend made an interesting point about companies and profits last week - if the company provides me with a service that I really enjoy and am willing to pay for to use it, are they "evil" for profiting from the exchange?

Take LeapFrog Learning Path for what it can be for you, the involved (or seeking to be involved) parent-educator: a tool to assess your child's growth, resource for activities, and instructional guide for how best to integrate all of those LeapFrog toys you're buying anyway.

24 January 2014

Strategies for Solving Linear Equations

Getting ALL of your students proficient at solving linear equations is the Holy Grail of any Algebra teacher. Just about every PLC team I've been on has attempted to re-tackle it as an (in-achievable?) SMART goal.

SMART goal setting season is upon us once again in these parts, and the early formative data from our Applied Math (after Geometry, before Algebra 2) students suggests that we MUST place an emphasis on solving equations with variables on both sides of the equation.

We're going to share the following strategies with our students:
  • have students draw line through equal sign
  • distribute first to eliminate “( )”
  • combine like terms on left, combine like terms on right
  • eliminate the smaller coefficient term
  • backwards order of operations
  • write answer as “variable = number”
  • write out algebraic steps/thinking in words
With Multiple Fractions:
  • multiply every part by least common multiple of the denominator

Common enough, I know. What I'm really sharing with you is the posters I made to put up in our classroom. If you're going to do something you're feeling a little deja vu over, the least you can do is apply some of your creative juices to change your attitude. :) I made these images at PicMonkey using a combination of textures and text, and just used the Microsoft Picture Viewer on our PCs at school to print them on a full 8.5x11 sheet.

17 January 2014

CCSS Math, Cognitive Verbs, and Rigor

The title of this 40 minute PD session, "CCSS Math", is admittedly vague, which is a hard sell for people choosing PD sessions to attend, but as a presenter its a bit of relief because I can choose to focus on what interests me.

We've been talking a lot about "rigor and relevance," so I wanted to highlight the connections between the action verbs in the Algebra 1 standards and the verbs in the DOK chart so we could at least see that if we're achieving one, we'll probably hit the other. Whenever possible, I will try to avoid heaping on "add-ons".

Ferguson-Florissant CCSS Resources

FFSD Curriculum and CCSS Intranet Resources (Use the login Kevin Voepel shared with you)

Illustrative Mathematics

Next Network Gold Seal Lessons

Inside Mathematics

CCSS Cognitive Verbs
Teaching Cognitive Verbs

I KNOW the Common Core Standards, But... 3 Lesson Resource Sites to Use Next Week

Rigor. Relevance. Cognitive Verbs. Instructional Shifts. If your district is even remotely on the ball in preparing you and your students for Common Core implementation, you've heard these buzz words, and hopefully know some of what more will be expected of our students operationally.

But what does that LOOK like?  I think the number one question I hear whispered around me during Common Core training sessions has been pleas for examples of lessons integrating the standards.

Here are three lesson resource websites that are navigated according to math instructional and practice strands.

"Illustrative Mathematics provides guidance to states, assessment consortia, testing companies, and curriculum developers by illustrating the range and types of mathematical work that students experience in a faithful implementation of the Common Core State Standards, and by publishing other tools that support implementation of the standards."

"Gold Seal Lessons provide teachers model, proven lessons ranging from one day to three weeks that they can implement.

Each lesson is designed to teach to specific standards/benchmarks/objectives and centered around a highly motivating theme, activity, or project. Lessons are typically multidisciplinary and deal with real-world situations or problems. Additionally, Gold Seal Lessons should challenge students to learn and perform in a variety of different ways. They may be asked to research, write, compute, model, demonstrate, build, survey, or report in a variety of academic, technical, work, or community environments."

"Inside Mathematics is a professional resource for educators passionate about improving students' mathematics learning and performance. This site features classroom examples of innovative teaching methods and insights into student learning, tools for mathematics instruction that teachers can use immediately, and video tours of the ideas and materials on the site."

All three of these sites feature lessons you could use in your classroom next week. The best way to begin implementing common core or anything new in your classroom is to start implementing common core in your classroom.

16 January 2014

Daum Equation Editor - Polishing Students' Documents and Presentations

The biggest hurdle I've experienced to moving all of my students' math work online and to our iPads was related - I want them to create polished, professional reports and work, but kids were limited in their abilities to express the equations they had worked with.

For instance, showing the work for solving an inequality they had written for a short story ended up looking something like this:

It's serviceable, and if you know what they work is supposed to look like, you can translate it to know its meaning, but it definitely doesn't resemble what kids are used to seeing in any math text, much less the way they themselves would be writing it.

One solution I started accepting to work around this problem was for kids (and sometimes myself) to type out their narrative and leave space to write in their calculations. Writing in their calculations and formulas after printing is certainly easier to implement, but arguably looks much worse than the awkward result of typing them.

Making Equations

So, I'm excited to have found Daum Equation Editor in the Chrome Store this afternoon. According to the app details, here are all of the features:
  • Create formulas with the click of a button. 
  • Create formulas with TeX input editor. ( latex )
  • Changing the size and layout of the formula.
  • Images created with a formula to save to your PC. 
  • Text files created with a formula to save to your PC.
The tools are based on LaTex, and are identical to those available in the equation editor in Google Docs (my other favorite), but are nice and large (and obvious).

Why Do I Need Daum Equation Editor?

I wouldn't use it if I were creating everything inside of a Google document, but in any other Google product or interactive tools like Socrative, an editor is not present, so you must import equations as images. Here's why Daum wins:

Instead of using Alt + Shift + 4 for screenshots on a Mac, or the snipping tool in Windows Vista/6/7/8, Daum has 3 saving options right in the editor. 

I got SUPER excited at the thought of accessing my photos via Drive, but for some reason Daum saves the images as .PNG files and the embedded Drive option in Google Presentations will only recognize .JPG files.

The Bottom Line

Common Core standards and the demands of 21st century work demand that our students be able to create and publish digital work, so we need tools that are easy to use and share with our students. Yes, there are other equation editors, and one embedded in the programming of Word and Google Docs, but exporting those equations to multimedia presentations or other apps still requires taking a screenshot, so you may as well give your students a straight-forward tool that saves the image on the same screen they use to create it.

13 January 2014

Podcasts in the Classroom for Relevant, Subject-Specific Content

If you only use your smartphone or tablet for playing games, taking pictures, social media, listening to music, or ::gasp:: communicating, you're missing out on great opportunities to immerse yourself in easily-digestible academic content that will probably make you smarter (and more interesting) :)

If you've ever listened to an audiobook, you understand how convenient podcasts can be in "reading" while you perform other tasks, like driving. My wife and I got hooked on Freakonomics one road trip when I checked out the authors' second audio book, Super Freakonomics, from our local library.

The two Freakonomics books, documentary film and the companion blog and podcast is not only about economics. While co-author Steven D Levitt of the University of Chicago IS an accomplished economist, I'd more likely describe Freakonomics as an exploration in the use of data and statistical methodology to study or improve anything.

The consequence of the wide-range of subjects addressed in the Freakonomics podcasts is that you can quite easily find one that piques your particular niche of interest. Here's a list of topics just from the last few months:

Are We Ready to Legalize Marijuana?
What is the Best Exercise?
The Pope's Recent Critique on Capitalism
Are Gay Men Really Rich?
Fighting Poverty with Actual Evidence
For NBA Hopefuls, Zip Code Matters
Who Runs the Internet?

They've also done work on the NFL and sumo-wrestling. :)
But Freakonomics is just the tip of the iceberg! Here's a list of 9 more educational podcasts to share with your students for reflection, introduction, or enrichment

TEDTalks Audio - TED conferences are places to share recent research or discoveries in short, energetic presentations, usually shorter than 20 minutes.
Radiolab - Natural Sciences - Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.
CNN Student News
GrammarGirl - Quick and Dirty Tips
Coffee Break Spanish and French
The Math Dude
60 Second Civics
Stuff You Missed in History Class

I'll be using a Freakonomics podcast that I heard over Thanksgiving Break with my AP Stats class to introduce their capstone project for the semester- developing a statistical inference experiment to answer any question they want. I'm hoping by broadening their statistical exposure beyond politics and sports will help them be more creative in their experiment-dreaming.

The students will be assigned the Poverty podcast linked above and given several question prompts to respond to - about half of which are about the actual content of the podcast and half more about reflecting on possible topics for the capstone project in May.

Here's a link to the assignment.
"The Relevance of Statistical Work"

12 January 2014

The Daily 5 in Grades 6-12: Teaching Reading Strategies in Content Areas

This post is the 3rd in a series devoted to adapting the literacy tenets of "The Daily 5" to a secondary classroom with 50 minute periods. You can catch the whole series here.

I started to write about an activity that I did in AP Stats almost a year ago, but the IEP of "Tre'," one of my new students for the semester, has me stuck here. He is going to need a lot of support reading.
"Goals: Reading comprehension- Answer questions across the content areas and answering critical thinking questions independently with 65% accuracy."
This young man is a senior with a tested reading grade equivalency of 5th grade. What's even more shocking to me than the stated goal of 65% is that from my experience, those goals are usually optimistic at best. So, without interventions, I have a feeling this student can hit that goal with perhaps 50% accuracy.

Maybe you've even been there - (I hope you have challenged yourself this way) - you're reading a text from a subject you know little about and get very confused very quickly. Getting over that hump in my own self-selected readings was my main strategy from moving to a Social Studies certification from college into math. I did some confused reading for a few weeks, but reading real texts (books aimed mostly at the general public, but about mathematics instead of practicing hundreds of drills) is what soothed my mind as I left my first love to (what I thought would be) a much drier, boring, and objective subject.

There were probably several things that I read those months of which I could have answered critical thinking questions with only 65% accuracy, but I was able to improve my understanding of the texts because I had reading tools in my back pocket. I knew it was okay to look up definitions of words I wasn't quite confident with (and then definitions of words in the first definition!). I reread some paragraphs (and pages). Sometimes I paused to make connections of the content I was reading to a mathematician or concept I had read about in another book. I knew that having a text beyond my current understanding didn't mean I was dumb, but only that I had more reading to do.

So for "Tre'," its important that if we are going to commit to literacy in content areas, then we must also commit to teaching literacy strategies in the context of our content areas. Especially for students like "Tre'," its apparent that "he'll get it in his English or Reading class" is not going to be enough.

"I HAVE NO TRAINING IN THAT," you may be saying. That may be so, but that doesn't change your students' circumstances. Here are some resources to get your started:

Blog posts
25 Reading Strategies That Work in Every Content Area
9 Lesson Plans with Strategies from ReadWriteThink
How to Read a Nonfiction Text
99 Ways to Improve Your Students' Reading Comprehension
Reading in the Content Area - Pre, During, and Post Reading Activities (from +Kelly Fisher-Bishop)

Teaching Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, Then Who? 3rd edition 
The Teacher's Essential Guide Series: Content Area Reading

03 January 2014

The Daily 5 in Grades 6-12: Boxplots Partner Reading

This post is the 2nd in a series devoted to adapting the literacy tenets of "The Daily 5" to a secondary classroom with 50 minute periods. You can catch the whole series here.

Daily 5 Tenet #3 - READ TO SOMEONE

Sit some seniors down in a classroom and tell them they're going to read to each other. They'll look at you almost as skeptically as I did this summer when a colleague had us do it at a reading training over the summer.

"Really," they think. "Do we have to," they ask. "Yep," You will answer.

I modeled it with a different random book I pulled out of the reading corner in my room, and I think that took some of the hesitancy out of it. Granted, my AP Stats students are usually up for anything, but I had full participation in this partner read today with no groaning and pleading.

Here was the text from our textbook, The Practice of Statistics, 2nd Ed.

Not the most engaging passage ever, but certainly not bad by textbook standards, and definitely high on ease of implementation.

How Do I Do This?
A partner read is as simple as it sounds. Two students take turns reading paragraphs to each other. Depending on the individual students' reading levels, partner read could be an opportunity to practice:
  • vocabulary building
  • reading fluently
  • listening to fluent reading
  • auditory comprehension
  • monitoring for understanding
You may be wondering, "Why not just have students read to themselves silently? I'd rather have that than a dozen kids all reading aloud at once."

I don't think I'm alone on this, and I know I've seen students do it - how often do you skip over information that ended up being important when you are reading to yourself? Yes, skimming is a great technique for speed reading, and is wonderful for getting the gist of an entire article, but I've seen my students routinely discover a few key words they missed reading to themselves after I make them read back to me aloud.

To The Next Level
Reading is always better with writing! Since your students will already be in partners, to wrap up the activity, I had them agree upon 2 summary statements for the passage. Here are a few samples.

I felt like these turned out more as facts-from-the-text than they were summary statements, but once they were shared in class, we got a clearer picture from their parts together.

01 January 2014

The Daily 5 in Grades 6-12: Making It Work

This post is the 1st in a series devoted to adapting the literacy tenets of "The Daily 5" to a secondary classroom with 50 minute periods. You can catch the whole series here.

"A lot of these apps would be great for getting your Daily 5 work in..."

I was at an Education Technology Conference last February watching +Kathy Knutson and +Holly Camacaro present on their use of iOS apps in their Kindergarten and 3rd graders respectively, and Kathy paused for a moment to see if she needed to briefly summarize Daily 5 for anyone.

In the room full of elementary teachers, I was apparently the only one that raised my hand. No problem, I've got Google. A very easy search on Google for "daily 5" gets you to the "The Daily Cafe," where you find out that Daily 5 is a literacy framework with 5 tenets:
  1. Read to Self 
  2. Work on Writing 
  3. Read to Someone 
  4. Listen to Reading 
  5. Word Work 
Exploring even just the Daily 5 website, it quickly becomes clear it is written to elementary teachers with time in their day to go through extended centers - something not feasible for me in a 50 minute class period. Because I work with elementary teachers on the district EdTech Team, I filed it away as useful for perspective, but otherwise ignored it.

When we returned to school in August, we were told that one of the goals for the year was a strategic literacy initiative, and that our main tool would be called "Daily 5" - every student reading 5 minutes a day in every class. While that could look like one of the 5 tenets listed above, it felt like an irrelevant add-on to me, so using what I know from my elementary friends, I decided to take one of the 5 "centers" and choose to do ONE for that class period.

Focusing on ONE of the "Daily 5" for my 50 minute period instead of tacking a sustained reading time to the end or beginning of the period provides several instructional advantages:
  • I can integrate the literacy work into what I would be doing that day anyway 
  • I can do "Daily 5" during any point of the period. Some days it is my lesson starter, other times it is the meat of instruction, and still others, it serves as a summary/assessment reflection piece at the end of the period. 
  • Students see an integration of literacy in their math curriculum instead of just reading in their math class(room). 
  • I do not make a point to hit every "5" every week, but I usually get at least three, so students are exposed to diverse literacy activities beyond passive reading. 
  • Because literacy is not planned for as an add-on, its effects are more likely to endure and I am more likely to be persistent and consistent in its integration. 

I plan to go into more depth on my literacy and technology efforts as my own Daily 5 presentation with +Abby Erwin at this year's METC conference nears, but just to get you started, here are a few activities I use pretty regularly.

I keep a cheat-sheet taped to the chalkboard next to my desk for easy reference while I'm planning - feel free to print this one!