I had an awesome year, but…


Next year will be so much better!! I learned so much this year and I love my job more than ever. Im gonna punch next year in the face.

Here’s a few things I’ll keep and a few things I’ll change:

Flipclass: Some parts I liked, some parts not so much. I found that taking the lecture out of the classroom and moving it to the home environment was not effective. Now, I’m not saying that direct instruction doesn’t have its place. The videos I made did get watched and they were helpful to many students. It’s just that I had them at the wrong point in the learning process. The awesome thing is that the kids showed me this by how they used them. I had intended for them to watch a video on a particular topic, then come in to class ready to discuss and dive into activities. But hardly anyone was watching them (they didn’t know why they needed those skills yet).  So we’d do our activities, then have some sort of assessment.  The kids who weren’t making the right connections between the activities and the problems or tasks on the assessment did poorly on those assessments.  But then, they used the videos to get some help before they reassessed on that topic (and really these were the kids who I made the videos for in the first place).  Seeing this, I kept making the videos, but with this purpose in mind. Which leads to my next topic:

Homework: As I started the year having students watch videos for homework, I had a bit of a dilemma after scrapping that idea. Should I go back to p.342 #1-30 even? Should I give just a few problems (a la Dan Meyer)? Or do I just not assign homework at all? I ended up doing some of each, and while I preferred no homework, I found it hard to get everything done in class. So I’m giving homework problems again next year. But i think I’m gonna like it because I’ll be using SocraticBrain.com, which tracks homework progress automatically. I plan to put certain skills in there throughout the year to make sure that we are keeping them fresh. Which leads to my next topic:

Spiraling skills: I feel like this was my main problem this year. I didn’t do a good job of keeping skills coming back throughout the year. One place I failed was not reassessing enough. This is another place where SocraticBrain.com will help out. When I make a rubric, I can include whatever skills I want on it. That way, all skills can be tracked all year. So lets say I give a task where they need to solve a system of equations by graphing it, and a student makes a mistake with slope. I can enter a new score for slope in the gradebook, so that I and the student both know that even though they may have had it at some point, slope needs some work now.  I also am planning to implement some “Algebra Skillz” after talking to a colleague about it. He does a set of basic skills each week with different sorts of incentives for getting them done. They can work on them whenever they have time, and they check each others work. This way they’re constantly keeping tabs on any basic skills that may need work. Which leads to my next topic:

Standards based assessment and reporting: Love it. Not a fad. Gonna keep doing it. Just changing systems. I used ActiveGrade this year and it worked great, I definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a SBG system. I think it’s even linked with Haiku LMS now too, so check it out. But the benefits of teaching next door to the creator of your system are too many to pass up. My friend and colleague Stephen (@socraticbrain on the twitter) has put quite a lot of work into making SocraticBrain.com and next year I’ll be using it for Physics and Algebra!! If you can’t tell, I’m pretty excited about that because it’s awesome. It has algorithm generated questions for homework and quizzes, rubrics for graded tasks, ClassDojo style assessment of discussions, and all of it is automatically entered into a standards based gradebook. It’s kinda hard to describe out of context, but look out for plenty of posts next year about it. Speaking of awesomeness:

Inquiry learning: Sometimes it went well, sometimes not, but I always learned something. One major reflection from this year is that questions are extremely important and that they should come from the students whenever possible. I found that our physics lab discussions were not successful because we did not always have a clear goal in mind. I knew what types of questions the kids would be able to answer as a result of the lab, but they didn’t. So the plan next year is to start all labs with “what types of questions should we be able to answer using this model?” For instance we could watch a video of a bowling ball and a tennis ball being dropped from a window. The students will probably want to know which one is going to land first (and hopefully some other stuff too).  So then we could bust out some carts and tracks and start to develop a model for accelerated motion.

I think that I did a decent job of coming up with and/or finding some good inquiry activities in algebra. I even got a shoutout on Dan Meyer’s blog for some of the cool activities we did (and also got linked to from Frank Noschese’s blog, dropping the big names here) 😉 So I’m doing something right I guess! That said, I know I have a lot to learn about executing a good 3act. I’ll be watching Dan and Andrew to get better at those (and you should too).

What are you planning to get better at next year?  Can I join you?  Anything I can do to help?

Real Differentiation! Finally…


I had an education professor at UNO that told us a class should pretty much run itself.  He said by the end of the semester, there would be at least one occasion where he would not even show up, and yet our class would go on without him.

It did.  We were working on short lessons and presenting them to each other to get feedback.  He never showed, so we started without him and everyone stayed the entire time.

Today I came into class and basically said “You know what you need to work on, let’s get to work!” and it happened.  Here’s why I think it worked:

1.) They were all very aware of exactly what skills they need to work on.  I use standards based grading and report their scores with ActiveGrade.  When they login, each student gets a report that looks like this:


2.) They are accustomed to getting help from outside sources.  I have been getting better at providing good resources for my students this year.  My newest adventure has been in using Edcanvas.  It  is super easy to use for teachers and for students, and it tracks views (and emails you a daily digest if you want).  Here’s one of mine (click it if you want to see how it works):

Edcanvas pic

3.) They are accustomed to getting help from each other. Since I teach using modeling in physics (and try to in algebra as well), the students are used to not really getting answers from me (hence the “Never” tagline of this blog) 😉 so they have gotten much better at learning from each other.  They are getting way better at spotting when someone has a skill that they do not, and asking that student for assistance.

BTW Even though it was awesome (!!), we didn’t use the whole class period for this “extra practice” session.  The second half of class was used to work through this handout (which you can see in the Edcanvas as well):

The awesomest thing was how I had never used the term “zeroes” before and they already knew what I was talking about!  I also love how it really ties everything together nicely.  I got a lot of “ooohhhh, now I see why we did that” out of it.  The thing that it is missing is a real, quality application to real life.  Any suggestions??

9th Graders Using Excel Makes Me Happy


First, a few flip class reflections:

Keeping up with the videos is hard!  Sometimes I’m pressed for time and the video isn’t as great as I would like it to be.  Other times they kick ass, though.  I think it’ll take a few years, but eventually I’ll have a good collection and won’t have to make many new ones.

Videos don’t have to be lectures!  Check me out y’all.  I told the kids to work out these problems and only use the videos if they needed help getting started or to check their answers.  I think part of making this work is the fact that they know they’ll be responsible for the work during class.  It’s never just about the answer.  They have to present their work to the class (or small groups) pretty much every single day.

Now, about these 9th graders using excel:

The assignment was simple.  I gave each group a different problem that could be solved using a system of equations.  They solve the problem, then whiteboard it (the solution and how they found it).  The results were awesome!  Some groups graphed the equations, some groups used substitution, and some groups used elimination.  If any of them were wondering why we need to learn different ways to solve these problems…

But something interesting happened when several groups used tables to solve their problems.  Here’s what they looked like:

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So, even though it wasn’t in my lesson plan for the day, I decided to show them how to generate a list like theirs using excel.  I’ve been itchin to teach some excel and this was a perfect opportunity.  We generated two lists for the cost of different cell phone plans based on the number of minutes used.  Here’s what it looked like:

Anyone have any good lessons using excel in Algebra?

Flipclass Reflections So Far


Even though our first day of class was August 16th, I’ve only seen my classes 6 times each.  That seems crazy to me!  But sometimes hurricanes come and you lose a week of school, whatcha gonna do?  Anyways, this is my fourth and final post for the new blogger initiation and I feel pretty darn official now.  Thanks to everyone who had a part in making this happen.  It got me started blogging and now I’m hooked!  So on with it, then…

Mr. Owen:  “…well did you watch the video last night?”

Student:  “I don’t remember.”

And there’s your problem right there, Mr. Owen.  If the student doesn’t remember whether they watched the video, either A. they didn’t watch it or B. They didn’t get it.  So I needed a way to figure out who was falling into one of these categories.

Mathtwitterblogosphere to the rescue!  I checked my Google Reader and found Flipping with Kirch.  She’s been doing this for a while, maybe she can help.  I think I remember her having a form students fill out when they watch her videos.  Yep.  Enter the WSQ (pronounced wisk).  Students Watch, then Summarize, then Question.  Awesome idea Ms Kirch, and thank you for sharing it.  Here’s the form I’m gonna use to implement it:

Here’s how I’m picturing it:

  1. Students come in, take out their WSQ sheets and begin the warm-up activity.
  2. I walk around while they complete the warm-up and I check their WSQ sheets.
  3. I should be able to tell if they A. didn’t watch it because they won’t have anything (I know, unless they copied, that’s another issue though) or B. didn’t get it because they’ll have an incomplete or bad summary.  Also, I can check to see if there are any questions that everyone seems to have and address those right away.

That should address the problem.  I hope.  Also, literacy.  Writing in math class? Booya!

If you read my blog post about my class website, you may remember that I use a Google form to gather data as well.  At the end of each video, I ask a question and they enter their answers in the form.  This has produced some great data, and I’ve been using it in class.  And I plan to continue to use it.  But I like the WSQ because it forces the student to think a little more about the learning target.  Hopefully it’ll get them thinking about the purpose of the video too, not only the content but also its place in the learning cycle.  “Why do we have to watch this video?”  You tell me!