Thursday, October 22, 2009

It's spreading...

I'm not talking about the flu or the first colds of the season, though they are spreading.  I'm talking about my math grading practices!  My principal did his first observation of the year on Wednesday (since this is my second year in the district).  At the pre-observation conference, I shared my lesson with him along with the homework (with answers given for the students to check their work at the bottom) and my quiz that would assess this part of the chapter broken up into learning targets.  I'd shared what I was doing with him when I first implemented it last year, but I don't know if he really understood what I was doing.  He was blown away.  He really liked how the quiz was separated into the objectives.  I shared with him that I gave the objectives/learning targets to the students at the beginning of each chapter along with when the quizzes would happen.  He said, "All our math teachers should be doing this."

Also, the teacher across the hall, who teaches 5th grade math, came over to ask me how I did retakes because she would like to try it out!  She taught 6th grade last year, so she saw how I did things last year.  She decided she's going to give her students an opportunity to retake a test they just finished! 

Like I said, it's spreading!  I'm excited!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"I can improve my grade by retaking a part of the quiz?"

I've had some exciting student-self motivation going on in my math class lately.

Here's a little background on how I assess math:
I break up each math quiz I give into "learning targets" or objectives which the students are informed of at the beginning of the chapter.  I score each "learning target" on a  1-4 scale (This is an example of what 1-4 means from something my students should have already understood at the beginning of the year). This is part of my standards-based grading approach I adopted for my math classroom last year (The link is a hand-out is one I gave to my students at the beginning of the year to explain it, so hopefully you can get an idea of what I'm doing.) .  I hope to blog more about that in a future post.

I started a practice after the second math quiz I gave out this year that has shown to be very beneficial!  Approximately two days after each quiz, I give the quizzes back to the students with the problems marked that they missed along with scores for each learning target.  I have been pairing or grouping students in 2's or 3's with students who have strengths/weaknesses that complement each other.  For example, a student may have gotten a 2 on learning target 1, a 4 on learning target 2, a 3 on learning target 3, and a 3.5 on learning target 4.  I try (and usually am pretty successful) to pair/group this student with another, or two others who have a 3 or 4 on learning target 1, a 2 or 3 on learning target 2, and so on.  The students then discuss the problems they missed and work them out with a pen on their paper or another sheet.  Students are usually able to figure out their errors without my direction, and it requires much more involvement than me fielding questions from the whole class and going through selected problems on the board, or just handing back the quiz with written explanations/answers.

I also allow students to retake any learning targets they'd like (outside of class time) as long as they've turned in all of their "insurance" (homework) on time for the chapter up to that point.  The reason I'm so excited about the peer post quiz interaction is that it has skyrocketed  the amount of students who have the desire to sign up for retakes (thus proving they have actually learned the material)!  I did not do this peer interaction on the first quiz of the year, and I was a little frustrated at the number of students who signed up for a retake.  Now, after conferring with their peers, students almost automatically sign up to retake any learning target that they scored a 3 or lower on. 

This does take more work and time on my part.  I have to have a retake version of each quiz written up, customize them for the learning targets each student wants to retake (because they don't have to retake the whole quiz), copy them off, be present for students outside of class to retake them, check them, as well as change grades in the grade book (only if they scored better-I don't penalize students if they do worse, which they RARELY do.).  It really doesn't take as much time as it might sound by that long list, but it truly benefits the students, gives them a chance to prove their learning (because isn't the goal that they learn it and we don't just allow students to do poorly on a quiz/test and move on?), and helps me in the future because the learning of math concepts is often sequential and requires a basis of past concepts to move on to the next thing.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Google Calendar with 6th graders

This fall, I purchased the domain from Google for $10 a year.  Along with this now being the home for my classroom blog, I also obtained 50 user names for Google Calendar and Google Docs.  These user names could also be linked to email addresses, but since my students are all under the age of 13 and I didn't want to open the can of worms of them having email addresses (which some parents might not be too excited about), I decided to turn that feature off.

It's been slow going this year with some limited class time and access to the computer lab because of testing, but each student in both of my sections has a user name (student___, fill in a number in the blank) and a password which he or she created using Password Bird.   I went with student# as a user name for the ease of use for future classes.

We've spent the most time with the calendar so far.  I share a calendar for my math and writing class with both sections because I teach those subjects to both sixth grade sections in our school.  I share a reading and spelling calendar with my homeroom section because I teach those subjects to them.  I update the calendar as I plan (usually a week ahead). It really doesn't take that much time to update. Last week I showed the students how to log in and really utilize the calendar.  I'm excited to see that some students are also using the calendar for their personal activities!  Hooray for organization through technology!

On the calendar, I post a short summary of the day's activity for the subject along with page numbers that students can refer to in their textbook.  For math, I create most of my own worksheets, to go along with my standards-based grading system (which I will discuss in a future post), so I'm able to link the Google Doc of the worksheet to the math lesson's description.  I found that posting a link on the calendar worked better than sharing the document with all 40 of my students' user names.  Google Docs has a glitch right now with a maximum amount of contributors to a document, so sharing a document by a link gets around that problem.

Even though a few of my students don't have internet access at home, I've seen minor victories with this system.  I've had two students who were sick on different occasions return to school the next day with their math homework completed because they downloaded it from the link on the calendar!  The day I spent 30 minutes explaining how the calendar works and how students can access it at home, many students were VERY excited about it and kept saying, "This is so cool!" and "Have you tried this?" or even began adding their own activities to the calendar. 

I plan to update more on how the Google Docs side of it works with my writing class once we dive into some more writing assignments.  I can't wait to see its use with peer revising and editing and the sharing feature!  I will also update more on the Google Calendar as new discoveries arise!

Starting Out

I decided, with much encouragement from my husband, to start a professional blog.  I'm not sure what direction to take, but I hope to let this be a place where I tell about what I'm doing in my classroom and why I'm doing it.  Also, I hope to get feedback to improve how I teach!  Please be patient with me as I begin.