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?

This ActivePrompt Thing is Pretty Sweet


Holy Moly!!  I haven’t used that phrase in a while, but it seems to be making a comeback through the Math Twitterverse.  I’m on board.

It perfectly describes my thoughts after my first block classes Thursday and Friday this week.  We used a new app from Riley Lark (the ActiveGrade dude) called ActivePrompt (which is apparently a working title, real name TBA) and it works like this.

Here’s what we did with it:

lines instructions

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this.  It was one of those lessons that could be a rock star moment or a complete failure.  I have awesome kids, so my hopes were high.  Here’s how it went:

Both classes started by making two vertical lines.  They split themselves into two groups and each group decided on a “column” (the word they used at the time).  My favorite question from this part (directed at another student): “Does it matter how far down I go?”  That question led them to make sure that no ones dots were on the same point (the “rows” had to be different).  After they got it, I asked them how they did it.  Here’s what they said:

Photo Nov 29, 9 06 34 AM

Since that was too easy, I next told them to create two more parallel lines that were neither vertical nor horizontal.  They pretty quickly realized that it was all about slope.  Their idea was to assign everyone a number and then have them go up and over by that amount (1,1) (2,2) (3,3).  The real genius idea (only one class did it this way) was to translate that first line up using the rule (x , y) –> (x , y+1).  Yeah, ok they didn’t write it that way, but that’s what they did, we’ll talk about notation later.  Also interesting was how they decided on an origin without even really discussing it.  It just sort of happened.  They started talking about going “up and over”  and pointing at each others screens and there you go, an origin is born.  One class chose the top left and the other chose the bottom left.  It was actually hard to get them to realize that they had even done this task of choosing an origin.  That’s why it’s last on our list:

Photo Nov 29, 9 06 42 AM


This video clip shows one student explaining the slope concept to another.  He can’t do it without a starting point!!

One of the classes realized that it would have been quicker to simply give each group an equation (same slope different y-intercept) and then generate the points to graph the equation by giving each group member a number.  HA!!  BUSTED!!  Inventing algebra to solve a problem that doesn’t necessarily require it, huh?!  Who are you and what have you done with my 9th graders?!  Here’s how they explained it to me:

Photo Nov 29, 9 06 27 AM

My favorite thing about this activity was that there were so few rules.  Just make parallel lines.  But they ended up having real discussions about how changing the slope or the y-intercept affects the way the graph looks.  Our current learning targets are: “Graph an equation using the slope and y-intercept” and “Describe the effects of changing m or b on the graph of y=mx+b”.  I could’ve had them watch me do a few examples (in class or in a video) and then practice similar problems.  But it seems like that’s asking them to start with the method and end with the problem.  Shouldn’t the method exist only because of the problem??  And yes, I know this one’s not “real world”, in the sense that it didn’t have a context like “the city planners need to make two parallel roads to connect blah blah blah”, but isn’t that context unnecessary here?  As long as the problem comes before the solution, it shouldn’t matter how “real world” it is.

As an extension I had them try to make a star shape with their points.  We only had time for this in one of the classes.  They decided which points would best describe the star, then made a sketch to help everyone place their dots.  It was interesting that they decided to base their dot locations relative to one of the star points instead of the origin they had previously used.  Anyway, we kinda ran out of time, so it didn’t come out looking great, but their plan was good and would’ve worked.  Here’s what their sketch looked like:

Photo Nov 30, 8 59 18 AM

How I know it worked:

Everyone was getting it.  Not just the genius group that came up with the idea to write the equations first, but everyone.  They all were engaged to some degree in the task and could see how the location of their individual dot was decided upon and how it fit with the other dots.  One student in particular had been struggling with graphing in a major way.  I was kinda stuck on how to help her.  But after participating in the activity, using a starting point and then going “up and over”, something clicked and she was able to see that the y-intercept was the starting point, and the slope was the “up and over”.  Just telling her that wasn’t making her understand it, she had to do it.  I used this Khan exercise as a quick formative assessment, and she got it right away. BAM!!

One final thought: technology was integral to this activity.  Without the laptops (or some other connected device), I wouldn’t have been able to use ActivePrompt.  And the Khan exercise, while not essential, did make a great formative assessment (all my kids have accounts, so I can see how they did on the exercise instantly).  For some other ways to use ActivePrompt, as described by the creator, check out this post on his blog.

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?

ExamView for Re-assessments


Sorry if I sound like a commercial in this post, but this software is really helping me assess better and more frequently.  With that said…

If you’ve ever used eInstruction’s ExamView software, you know that certain questions will recalculate values and give you a whole new question.  But did you know that you can create these “question generators” yourself to fit your needs?  It’s true!  You can make multiple choice or constructed response items that will calculate new values with just a click.  With this capability, you can create a quiz that students can retake as many times as you’ll let them.  I’m still planning to let students re-assess in other ways, like presenting in class and making short videos (haven’t tried this one yet, but I want to), but the number of students needing re-assessments on each learning target has been too large to keep up with so far.  This is a way to cut down on the time required to re-assess all those students.  Of course you need the software first, but it comes with a bunch of textbooks, so you might already have it.  Here’s a document that I found (from William McIntosh who works for eInstruction)  with some good instructions on how to get started making your own dynamic questions:

Hooray for Desmos!


This idea came out of nowhere and I love it!  So, we were messing around with some linear equations and we had some extra time after they finished the practice problems I had planned.

I remembered that Desmos has these contests for people to make pictures using their graphing calculator.  So I say, “hey class make this”:

I was surprised how quickly they were able to do it.  They didn’t actually restrict the domains, but they made the general shape just fine.  The best part was that they then wanted to know how to color it in.  Well, “coloring it in” on Desmos means shading using inequalities.  And guess what our next lesson just happened to be on.  HA!!  GOTCHA KIDS!!  Now you’re asking me how to do the next thing (instead of me telling you what the next thing is).  Thanks Desmos!