Resolving Dissonance

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Online Math Centers

Sunday FundayThank you Julie
for Sunday Funday 🙂  Helps keep me blogging when someone else comes up with the ideas for what to write about!  This week’s topic: Math Centers!

I use standards based grading for my 9th grade class and every once in a while it seems like they all just need a day to catch up on something – but it’s a different something for each of them.

Twelve different math centers wouldn’t work so well with traditional centers 🙂 So I set up links on the class blog and reserve the mobile lab for the day.  They look up any goals they are missing or have a low score on, then go to the links on the class blog for that particular goal.

The links include tutorials, practice problems, videos, games.  Whatever I can find online that might help them with that goal if they didn’t already “get it” when we worked on it in class.  (or, more likely, if they weren’t here that day or chose not to participate that day.)  Sometimes I will also scan in relevant homework with worked out solutions and notes from in class.

It’s a good way to give everyone time to work on whatever it is that they need to do.  Some students don’t need a catch up day, but almost all of them will have one thing they could work on.  Even students who have perfect scores on all the assessments can still use the game links, Or can help other students.

I want to do something similar to this for my math lab class… but haven’t had time to organize it yet.  This could also be done without computers by having activities/notes/practice in hanging folders.  I also want to get a stock pile of games made for my math lab class. Things like scrabble with math, tarsia sets, math dominoes, math go fish or memory, card matches, etc.  That might happen over spring break 🙂


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Helping students who fall behind in math

I think one of the hardest things for any math teacher is helping the ones who are falling behind, the students who either don’t get it or aren’t motivated.  I wrote about my frustrations with this a few days ago – this blog entry will be a bit more positive than that one 🙂

So some students fall behind – what do I do about it?  It depends on why they are behind.  The reason why seems to fall into a few groups:

1) Students who are convinced they can’t do it so don’t try.

For this group I try to find ways to show success, and reward them when they do.  Then when they get frustrated I can remind them about the one time they didn’t think they could do it and did.  Something else I do for this group is try to find something they are good at and relate it to that.  For example one girl who does cheer leading said in class that math makes her head hurt, so she doesn’t try.  I asked her how she feels when she knows she does something perfectly in cheer leading.  She had a huge smile and was excited to tell me about it 🙂  Then I asked her HOW she got to that point.  Did she have to practice?  Are some things hard at first?  and those harder things feel even better when you practice enough to get it, right?  She stopped complaining about math and that one conversation seemed to totally change her attitude about it!  I’ve had similar conversations with other students.  Just find something they are good at and help them see that work = success = happy feeling!

2) Students who really are already trying and still don’t get it.

This group breaks my heart… It is a small group.  But I have a few who try so hard and really just don’t get it.  Most of the ones in this group are at least passing the class, but they want to do better, they get frustrated that math is so hard for them.  For this group I offer help for 20 minutes before school each day and the school has tutoring available after school for an hour twice a week.  I also teach a math lab class where they can get extra help, but many students who could have benefited from it didn’t have room for it in their schedule.

For students in my Saxon classes I have a test tracker they use to see what concept they are missing on each test and where they can find examples in their book.  I then email the answer key to practice problems to their parents so they can check the practice work at home.    For their daily homework I also allow them to pick what to work on, then they can focus on the areas that are more difficult for them.

For the class I have that’s not Saxon (we use, I have a class website where they can go for extra resources.  The class is set up on standards based grading.  The class website has a resources page where they can find the standards listed.  Under each standard I have videos, tutorials, examples, practice problems, etc.  I encourage them to go there for help.  This has been especially useful for one student who is gone about half the time.

3) The last group of kids falling behind are just unmotivated.

There are different reasons they are unmotivated, but for some reason they have decided to not care, or at least act like they don’t.  Some of these students act this way because they don’t understand the math.  I kind of treat everyone in this group as if that’s the reason they are acting unmotivated.  I’ll also try to tie in something that interests them, like when I used a football analogy for systems of equations.  For this group I also try to make sure they know that I am there for them if/when they want to work on it.  And sometimes they do decide they want to try!  Getting parents involved helps with this group sometimes too.

Well… this is what I’ve been doing so far to help them out!  I look forward to reading all the other ideas from this week’s Sunday Funday!Sunday Funday

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Exponential Equation Matching

One of my goals for my 9th graders is that when I give them an equation, a context (story), a table, or a graph for an exponential equation, they can create the other three things I didn’t give them.

They could do the equation, table, and graph parts pretty well, but struggled with coming up with a context to match it.

We kept doing examples in class, but they just weren’t getting it yet.  When we did examples I had them come up with a context then check to see if it matched the table when they plugged in the x values.

A few of them told me they wanted to just see a whole bunch of examples to compare.  So my solution was a matching game with 4 parts to match up.  I forgot to take a picture of the cards!  Maybe I’ll remember to add those later…

Here are the links to the cards:

Context (Stories)

I have several sets of cards printed on different colored cardstock and had the students work in groups of 2-3 to match the sets.  It helped things start to make more sense and most of them can create a context now


Gradebook: List by Standards?

As I started looking for ideas regarding not grading homework I found the idea of standards based grading, or SBG.  I read a lot about it and really liked it for one main reason:  It focuses on what the students need to learn.

Right now a student will come in to retake “test 10” but they don’t really know what was on the test.  Their focus is fix the test score, not fix the concept I don’t get.  Most of my classes use a Saxon text book, so we test every 5 lessons, and they are all cumulative.  I also know what concept each test question covers.  It would make listing grades by standards pretty easy!  If I would have had time to do all that during the break…  so that’s in the plan for summer.

I am already tracking concepts in a different way though.  Before I ever read anything about SBG.  I made a chart where each student can see what lesson each question on a test comes from.  Looking at the grid we can track their progress over time.  We can look to see if they are missing the same types of questions.  We can look to see if it’s normal for them to miss a type of question a time or two before catching on.

I have once class however that is NOT using Saxon.  We are using this:  The first semester we got through most of the first 4 modules.  Wrapping up the 4th now.  Then 4 more for the rest of the year.  Last semester I gave a test at the end of each module.  All cumulative, but mostly focusing on newer learning.

Changes for this semester:  I went through our state standards (Common Core) and the list for what 9th graders are expected to learn.  Utah is keeping the secondary math integrated, which I love.  No separate Geometry, Algebra, pre-Calc, etc.

I mapped out what which of the state standards we’ve already learned and what we still have to learn – then summarized it into about 30 learning goals for each of the next two terms.

They aren’t turning homework in, just like my other classes aren’t.  Grade is based on assessments, which will be more frequent (once to twice per week) and smaller,  1-5 learning goals on each one instead of an entire unit.

The gradebook will report their progress on each learning goal.

The students are a little confused still.  I think it will make more sense when they see what it looks like in the grade book. I’m going over it all again on Friday.  I also have a chart for them to keep track of their own learning.  I think I’m going to have a folder for them to keep in class for the chart… the group of kids I have this year looses things easily.  They are hard to motivate, easily distracted, and unorganized.  Not all of them, just about half the class, enough to create chaos sometimes 🙂  Love them all, but they are the hardest class I’ve ever had.


Homework: Grade vs. No Grade

Mathematics homework

Mathematics homework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I started out my first year teaching math doing what everyone else did – x% of the grade is composed of homework scores, y% of test scores, and z% for participation. It made sense, it seemed rational and everyone was happy with it. For a month or two at least.

By the time we hit Thanksgiving I was realizing some SERIOUS flaws with the way I grade students. Students corrected their own homework in class the next day, then turned it in so I could enter it in the gradebook… and just that part took about an hour and a half every day. That’s a lot when I only get 50 minutes of “prep time,” during which I’m supposed to grade AND plan for 5 different classes.  Psychology, Math 6 (traded for Math 7H second semester), Math 6H (my only class I teach twice), Math 8H, Secondary One, and Secondary One Honors. I wanted more time to plan, needed more time to plan.  All my time was spent entering grades.

I kept doing it though because that’s what I was “supposed” to do. I had to keep track of all the homework scores so I could make sure they were all being good, responsible, students. And because of course a grade should include homework, it always does. If it was good for my students, it was fine that it took a while. And I was getting a little faster the more practice at it I had.

Then I started to realize that maybe it wasn’t actually best for them. Most of my college classes were based on assessments only and I LOVED it. I could do as much work as I needed and nothing more, but sometimes I did extra. I kept thinking it would be awesome to teach college classes so I could grade like that. But why not grade like that in junior high too?

Besides, as it was, the homework wasn’t valuable to many of them. They had 30 problems per night. Most of them rushed through it. They didn’t put effort into showing their work. After I entered grades then handed the papers back most threw it out – even though they were allowed to fix mistakes for full credit. And I blatantly caught about 1/3 of them cheating, with rumors that there were plenty more. Simply put, they didn’t care about homework. They weren’t learning from it. So what’s the point?

New plan: instead of doing all 30 problems from each lesson students pick 10. The lessons in our text are all cumulative, so it mixes in everything we’ve done so far this year. I don’t tell them what 10 problems to do. They pick. But I’m pretty aware of what most of them need to work on and told them I’ll be checking to make sure they are picking appropriate problems. The deal for getting to only do 10 problems is they need to do them well. Messy work or no work at all won’t cut it. Also, they need to fix ALL of their mistakes now. Finally, I’m not grading their homework anymore. I do random checks still. It’s counted as participation, which is 30% of their grade. Assessments are the other 70%.

We are one week in and here’s what I’ve notices to far:
1) I’ve actually had time to plan lessons! and get around to starting a blog 🙂
2) Students are more productive during homework time in class.
3) Students are asking better questions.
4) I’ve had students come ask me where they can find more practice problems for one they missed.
5) I’ve had students ask for harder problems.

Basically, they seem to care more. Not all of them of course. There are still a couple that don’t do it, but they didn’t do the homework the other way either. I do have several however that were NOT doing homework before that are now. One of them told me they do it because they feel like it’s not busy work anymore, it matters to them because it’s what they need to work on. Another told me he does it now because 10 is less overwhelming than 30, so he doesn’t feel defeated before he even starts.

I did have 2 who have caught on that doing 10 problems well, then fixing them is really not any less work than doing sloppy work on 30 🙂 But they said it’s fine still, because at least they don’t have to waste time on the easy ones.

Final conclusion?

No Grade.

Well, mostly no grade, I couldn’t quite wean myself off from at least doing participation points for random checks. Random checks are definitely good to give feedback… but points? Maybe shouldn’t have kept that part. I might change that next year.


I did lots of reading over Christmas break 🙂

I started out the break determined that something about my homework policy needed to change, and preferably I didn’t want them to turn it in anymore.  But could I do that in a junior high?  Has anyone else tried that and did it work?  In my search for an answer to that question I found the SBG Gala! 6 of them actually:
SBG Gala #1
SBG Gala #2
SBG Gala #3
SBG Gala #4
SBG Gala #5
SBG Gala #6

Apparently yes, the whole no homework grade thing has been done, and yes, it works pretty well for many people.  Plus a TON of other good ideas.  Some of which I also changed 🙂  some of which will happen over summer.