Fall 2016 Teacher Report Card

Matt Vaudrey (@MrVaudrey and http://mrvaudrey.com/) has been using his version of a Teacher Report Card for a few years now, and I have been using a different one for the last couple of years but decided to give his version a go in January as a part of our end-of-course reflection.

My co-teacher and I only used this for Physics by Design, our project-based and blended learning pilot class. The responses given were for both of us, which may create some biased data; it would be interesting to receive this data individually because I’m not sure what (if anything) would be different! We also only received 25 responses out of 48 students and I’m not sure how that affected the end results.

Each response prompt begins with “My teachers…” and a rating of 1 means “strongly disagree” while a rating of 5 means “strongly agree”. Below you’ll see question-by-question results and my thoughts on each. Overall I’m much happier about these results than I was at the end of last year’s and I’ve got thoughts about that at the end.

  • respect each student. respect-each-student

This is good to see. I wonder what the six students who responded with either “disagree” or “unsure” believe that respecting each student looks like and if we did anything in particular to them that may have made them feel as though we didn’t respect them.

  • try to see the students’ point of view. see-the-students-point-of-view

What I found interesting here is that there are 3 more students who responded negatively to this than to the previous prompt, which again makes me wonder what our students feel a teacher should say/do to respect students. We did not do many of the typical first week activities because they had a week-long “bootcamp” the week before school but maybe we should have included more so that we could try to be on the same page a little more.

  • explain the math/physics concepts clearly. explain-physics-concepts-clearly

This is one where I wish we would’ve split it; I did the majority of math instruction while my co-teacher did most of the physics instruction. Did they believe one of us did a better job than the other? Also, we started off the year with much more direct instruction while our last unit was by far the most online-content heavy. Did that shift in teaching and learning style effect the responses to this prompt or would students have responded similarly in October?

  • use language that we can understand. use-language-that-we-understand

Why are the responses to this prompt mostly agree/strongly agree compared to the last prompt? What is the difference, in our students’ eyes, between explaining concepts clearly and using language that they can understand?

  • do a good job of treating all students equally. do-a-good-job-of-treating-students-equally

I am happy that our results are anonymous but I really want to know who put they strongly disagree with this statement and why.

  • seem to enjoy teaching. seem-to-enjoy-teaching

Well these are much better results than the results I got at the end of last year, and I think you could definitely see that if you walked into my classrooms to compare them. There were definitely still bad days (and weeks, if we’re being honest) but overall the first semester of this year was so much more enjoyable than the second semester of last year. Exponentially so. Spending half of my day all year long with the same students, who are freshmen/sophomores/juniors in Algebra 1, does not make me enjoy teaching.

  • show interest in students’ lives. show-an-interest-in-students-lives

I know I didn’t do as good of a job of this compared to my first two years of teaching. This year I have gone to significantly fewer sporting events and concerts but I tried to at least know what school activities each student was involved in.

  • make me feel important. make-me-feel-important

This question intrigued me the most because, reflecting on my high school experience, this wasn’t something I feel as though I thought about. In fact, one of my best and favorite teachers occasionally called me out for being dumb and/or full of myself (she did this with everyone; I chose to take her classes for three straight years). So maybe I didn’t need that but some students do. Or maybe I didn’t think I needed it but my life would’ve been altered in some way if I felt my teachers made me feel important. I’m not sure.

  • keep the class under control without being too tough. keep-the-class-under-control-without-being-too-tough

No disagreement here. I’m only in my third year so classroom management isn’t my strong suit, but that was compounded by the nature of this course. I ended up writing multiple referrals on the first day of the same class this semester so I think I may have swung a little too far in the opposite direction. We’re working on it.

  • answer questions completely. answer-questions-completely

I don’t always want to answer questions completely, especially in this more exploratory course, so I’m glad to see that most students agreed but I’m not broken up that we had a couple of who disagreed to varying degrees.

  • praise good work. praise-good-work

This makes me happy. I think it’s very easy, especially when your classroom management is lacking, to only focus on negative behaviors and students who aren’t doing work well. I am glad most students seem to have thought that we praised good work enough and I hope we can keep that up.

  • encourage me to be responsible. encourage-me-to-be-responsible

Oy vey, this is one of the hardest things about teaching freshmen. Suddenly they’re not forced to carry around a planner and they don’t have to have a locker and they get a personal school laptop/charger and calculator and it’s like all of the good work the middle school teachers did goes out the window. These results are encouraging but I know somehow we can do better.

Matt had two other prompts that I found interesting. These were fill in the blank and I’ve included a sample of student responses for each.

  • Sometimes the teacher _____, but not always.
    • gets frustrated
    • is nice
    • is crazy
    • didn’t understand what we were saying
    • does a good job of integrating online and face-to-face learning
    • has too many students to help at the same time
    • says bad words
  • Sometimes the teacher lets the class _____, but not always.
    • socialize
    • work outside in the hallway
    • choose who to work with
    • get loud

Overall I think this was a much more concise survey than I was giving to students previously and I appreciated the specific fill-in-the-blank responses at the end. There were a few responses to both that didn’t make sense, so that makes me wonder if those students created some misrepresentation in the previous ratings as well. The world will never know.

Why are word problems so hard?

Before going any further, I have no answer for the question posed in the post title. If you have good research on this subject please share.

 

My students really have gone above and beyond my expectations for our unit on systems of linear equations and inequalities, but there is still so much struggle happening, and not all of it is productive.

We worked on systems of inequalities and linear programming for about four days this past week and based on their quizzes the students procedurally understand how to solve these problems. But when I gave them their assessments on Friday there was some serious struggle.

The assessments were word problem heavy. I allowed students to do this open note so they could view the word problems we’d been working on all unit and hopefully use them as a guide. The majority of my students did not finish this assessment in the time allotted, and as they were turning them in I saw a lot of mistakes. I’m going to provide feedback on them and allow them to fix/finish on Monday before I grade them and hopefully that will help, but I’m still not pleased with it.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>So many tiny misconceptions about expressions and equations that I wasn't tuned into until now.</p>&mdash; Kent Haines (@KentHaines) <a href=”https://twitter.com/KentHaines/status/804415131006353408″>December 1, 2016</a></blockquote>
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I’ve been following more and more elementary and middle school math people on Twitter trying to understand where these ideas and issues come from. Kent Haines, above, is seeing similar struggles with expressions in his middle school math classes that I am still seeing with juniors in my AFDA class. These teachers have helped give me ideas for supports and different types of lessons but I haven’t found answers. I teach a lot of students with special needs; more than a third of my AFDA class has some sort of educational plan in place. But even my non-diagnosed students struggle with word problems. Even my readers, the students who love and excel in English, struggle with word problems. WHAT GIVES?!?

This might be what finally kicks me into a master’s degree, or at least into reading more educational research. I need to understand. I don’t understand what it is about word problems that seems to cause everyone, even students with at- or above-grade-level reading levels, to suddenly lose math focus and ability and I want to.

P.S. I don’t really want to be a special educator (shout-out to them; good special educators are the hardest working and best teachers I know) but I honestly hope that I never stop teaching collaborative classes. These kids teach me more than they’ll ever know.

Systems of Equations: Take 2

We started systems of linear equations on Monday in AFDA and things could not be going better! Now don’t get me wrong, students are still struggling. But they are making sense of word problems, using different methods to solve problems, getting better at using technology, and learning how to ask for assistance. It’s great.

Monday was our first day but we didn’t actually do anything involving systems. We spent the beginning of class doing our warm-up and going over the quiz and midterm that had been taken last week. The rest of the block we worked on numberless word problems. I got this idea from Julia Finneyfrock and it was exactly what my group of students needed because they did exactly what was expected – when they didn’t think about the problem, they just added the numbers up! So we worked on reading comprehension, drew pictures, acted things out, made estimates, wrote different equations on the board… we thought. And they thought they were easy, but I know this time was well spent.

Tuesday the students started off with guess and check word problems. All I did was give each student a copy of these problems, read the problems aloud one at a time, and encouraged them while they worked. We talked strategy, used technology, students collaborated, and the pride they displayed when they finally worked out the answer was palpable.

We worked through examples using each method by writing and solving more systems using word problems on Tuesday and Wednesday as well. The class did the majority of these problems together and some students remembered some of these methods from Algebra 1 but most did (do) not. The students were then grouped into 2-4 each and each group was assigned 1-2 word problems from the matching portion of the packet linked. Each group had to identify their match, get it peer checked, and then show their work for solving and explain what the answers meant in the context of the problem.

Today, the students again worked in groups but today was more rote practice. Groups of 3 worked together to find the solution to different systems, with each member using a different method and making sure they all got the same (correct) answer. I found my worksheet on TeachersPayTeachers but you could really use any worksheet and just assign students different methods for each problem I suppose. I  don’t know whether or not the purpose of this got through to all of my students but I know it did for some; I worked through a substitution problem involving fractions with a girl and she said “All of that just for (7, 0)? Isn’t there an easier way?”

You might have noticed that missing within all of this are the different types of solutions to systems of equations. Not to worry! We’ll be addressing that on Monday with one of my favorite MAP activities: Classifying Solutions to Systems of Equations. The students will take their first quiz of the unit after that, so I guess that will be the real test. But the conversations that we and they have been having are giving me really good vibes about this unit!

Time to Check In

There have been a fair share of issues so far this year, and those were made very aware to us over the past week with parent teacher conferences and other communication from parents and students. So today during lunch I decided that we were going to start class by having a bit of a reality check and refocusing on our goals and the goals for this program.

We posted 8 sheets of paper with various prompts around the room and instructed students to spend 5-10 minutes writing a response on each one. I’ve shared the responses for three of the prompts below.

When I have an issue with Canvas (learning management system) or course material, I can…

  • try and solve the problem myself
  • talk to a teacher/ask the teacher for help/email my teacher
  • talk to my parents
  • communicate with others
  • google

Not so helpful but still semi-serious responses included:

  • wait and procrastinate, then complain to my teacher
  • blame it on technology
  • have a panic attack

When I have an issue with my group or someone in Pathways, I can…

  • talk with the teachers
  • talk with my group to resolve the problem
  • ignore them
  • get over it
  • talk to the group member in question

Not so helpful but still semi-serious responses included:

  • yell at the person
  • call them out

Jobs that require working on teams in some capacity include…

  • actors and actresses
  • people in doctor’s offices
  • business partners
  • law firms
  • teaching
  • engineering
  • pilots
  • designers
  • surgeons
  • coding
  • making movies
  • military
  • sports
  • scientists
  • construction
  • mechanics
  • assembly line workers

This gave us the space to hold the conversation about becoming self-advocates (“I’m sure your parents are great but we don’t teach them, we teach you! So you should be emailing or asking questions when you come in!) as well as a reminder that jobs across all career pathways are going to involve group work, so it’s important for us now, in high school, to gain the skills to be good group members (“Who wants to be 45 and working in an office and still picking up the slack on a project? Do you think you’ll enjoy working unpaid overtime because you procrastinated?”)

The rest of the day went well. Most of the time these kids are great. It’s important though, as freshmen and students in a pilot program, for us to have these conversations periodically so nothing blows up.

Carnival Rides

The Pathways Project is off to a fabulous start. Both the Physics by Design and Humanities by Design courses are hard at work on their projects, and (most of) the projects are great.

Yesterday the students presented their second projects in Physics by Design – a small carnival ride. Small carnival rides are rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl, Ferris Wheel, and Merry-Go-Round.

Each presentation is supposed to sell their ride to our fictional amusement park. So the groups started off by introducing their rides and talking about their designs. You can see one group’s design process  for their hover bumper cars below.

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Some groups included a story for their rides or the history of their rides.

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All groups created scale drawings of their rides within the first two weeks of this unit. Some groups created scale drawings using paper and pencil while others branched out on their own to create digital models using free online design software. The awesome thing was that as soon as one group began creating theirs online, six other groups of varied abilities created 3D models online as well. We did have a lot of groups switch between Imperial and Metric systems which was a little frustrating at times but I think they worked it out in the end.

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Each group also created free body diagrams, labeling each of the forces being enacted on different parts of their ride.

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Since the presentations were basically a sales pitch, their conclusions needed to include why they wanted their rides in the park. Many of the groups also included safety considerations without being explicitly instructed to do so.

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My favorite thing about teaching this course so far is watching the students of different math levels interact with each other and grow at different paces. We have students who failed 8th grade math last year, students who are going to finish Algebra 2 in a semester, and everyone in between. During this unit we introduced the basic trig functions and some of the Algebra 1 students picked up on it immediately while some of the Geometry students are still struggling with understanding them. We had Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 students being remediated on solving distance/velocity/time word problems while the other half of students (still Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2) went into solving systems of equations word problems using a variety of methods.

This is such a change of pace from the collaborative courses I have taught the past two years, even though this is still technically a collaborative class. There are still loads of classroom management issues, interpersonal issues among the students, and students who are struggling to keep up with the work, but overall this has so far been a success.

I am really excited to start roller coasters. The students are excited to start roller coasters. These next five and a half weeks will probably be long but I can’t wait for our next set of presentations!

Project 1 – Carnival Game

This past week our students finished up the first part of their first project in our physics/math project-based learning course. Our first unit has been mostly about measurements and data analysis, so students created carnival games and then we hosted a carnival at a football game last week. They collected data at the carnival and are going to analyze it, write a report, and give a presentation this week.

I didn’t get any pictures of the actual carnival due to being the adult-in-charge for the first part of it, but the day before the carnival we were able to have one of our self-contained classroom come visit and play the games with us. Some pictures of that are below!

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What I loved most about this was the interactions. The games weren’t the best and we were loud and everyone else near us probably hated us during this time but everyone was having so much fun. The self-contained students obviously don’t get to be out with the rest of the students very often, and the regular students got a great opportunity to learn patience, encouragement, and how to better explain the rules of their games.

This has been the highlight of the year so far. We’ll see what, if anything, will top it.

#teach180: This year’s first classroom

It’s been too long and I didn’t do much worthy of a #teach180 tweet today so I’m doing a #teach180 blog post instead. Going to try to blog at least once a week during this school year, we’ll see how it goes. Be forewarned that there are a lot of pictures in this post!

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I’m traveling between three classrooms and two offices this year. It’s a pain. Thankfully the classrooms, my students, and my co-teachers are generally awesome and so far it’s been worth it. The first classroom is really long! When you walk in, you’re in a small entryway. On one side of this entryway is a supply table which has calculators and anything students leave behind. Don’t freak out too much, the keys are mine.

 

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Right past the supply table is the weekly schedule board and the teacher space. I didn’t take a picture of the board, but it’s broken down by day and each day has two parts to it:

  • broad topic (this week’s is probability)
  • daily question we’re working toward being able to answer (“what happens when events depend on each other?”, “what happens when probability changes based on given information?”, “how many different outcomes are possible for this experiment?”, etc.)

 

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On the far left of the board I also have the weekly homework assignment posted. On the far right of the board I have my weekly paper holder. Our copiers are unreliable, so I try to only make copies once or twice a week for all of my classes. I also don’t take work home during the week and rarely on the weekends, so this helps me keep organized.

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Currently students are in sets of two or three facing the front of the room. The teacher I’m sharing the room with and I have developed four seating patterns that we think we’ll be using regularly throughout the year:

  • black, which is individual seats (for standard assessment days)
  • green, which is the sets of two or three that they’re currently in (for notes or partner work)
  • green, which is two teams facing each other with students in pairs (for debates and games)
  • red, which is groups of four to five (for small group work)

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In the front of the classroom there’s a cabinet in the corner, which is where we have supplies that students can always use. Right now it’s pretty empty and only contains scrap paper, scissors, pencils, colored pencils, and highlighters. There’s also my “student of the week” trophy and two dinosaurs that I occasionally give to students who need them.

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Immediately to the right of that cabinet is our school rules bulletin board, which currently has the schedules, tardy policy, and electronic device policy. My classroom-sharing teacher is planning on changing the tree scene with each season.

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On the far end of the classroom are two boards for student use. One has the 2016 Challenge thanks to Sarah Carter at mathequalslove, and the other has Sudoku thanks to Christie Bradshaw at Radical4Math. Students can use these during our study hall time or if they finish something early in class.

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Finally, in one set of cabinets in the corner my students have personal boxes. This is where students can keep personal supplies, papers they don’t want to lose, etc. from day to day and it’s also where I put work when students are absent and where I pass back 98% of papers to. All of the cabinets are built into the wall and a lot of my stuff is in electronic form so this was a good way for me to utilize that space!

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So that’s my current AFDA classroom. I’m in there for first block every day from now until the end of January, when my schedule changes and I’ll be moving again for the spring… sigh. Bonus pictures below of decorations on our math department office windows. A handful of quotes I’ve collected over the past few years that are school-appropriate and potentially teenage-worthy as well as a collection of photos from Sara Van Der Werf’s Math Wall of Shame.