Saturday, January 19, 2013

A great day...improvement in student collaboration

It's been a while since I've posted, I know. I want to try to blog more this semester (well, at least until I go on leave), so we'll see how it goes. [Edit: as I am writing this post, I'm so wishing I had more pictures to go along with it.  Maybe I'll make that my goal next week.  Just a few a day. Adds so much more to the post...]

Yesterday was a great day. In all of my classes. Seriously. A day like yesterday is one I need to remember when things get tough.  So I'm blogging about it!

In Algebra 1 we are beginning to work on systems of equations.  Let's be honest, it's a really tough chapter.  We also just got back from break on Monday (we have 3 weeks off, so we start back later than most).  So, I am also back in "training" mode for the students.  That means I am doing more guided class WSQ discussions instead of small group.  Our two big focuses for this semester are:

1) Better HOT questions to lead to discussion.  Real questions, not cheesy yes/no questions.  Working on phrasing questions so they are detailed and lead to making connections.  All of which is VERY tough for low-level freshmen... but we are working on it :)

2) More focused, helpful WSQ chat discussions.  Focusing on the lesson and the math for a good 5-10 minutes without getting off task.  Actually explaining problems and explaining concepts in a way that is helpful and not just saying "I don't know" or "Yeah, here it is" with no explanation.

I don't expect these goals to be met anytime soon, but I do expect to see progress.  Yesterday was a big day for progress.

Period 1 always takes a while to get in the groove ("since it's so early" is all I can think of, but I'm hoping it improves).  Period 2 was ready to jump right in.  It's awesome when I ask the class "What is a system of equations?" and 75% of them shout out "More than one line" and I say "What is a solution to a system?" and the same amount say, "Where the lines cross".  On our second day of learning about it.  Engagement + knowledge.  In years past they are never to this point yet.  We also talked about the three different types of solutions to systems (one solution, no solution, infinitely many solutions) and filled in a tree map of all the details

What really stuck out to me was once we started working on problems.  Some of the students were still working on solving by graphing, whereas others were ready to move on to solving by substitution.  The engagement was incredible.  They were helping each other, asking good questions, calling me over to sit down with them to go over problems.  I have a pre-student teacher doing "observation" hours but already working with the students and she was at the "U" (yes, I know I said I would take pics of my classroom this week and I got home Friday night and realized I never did. Argh!) leading a small group re-teaching graphing to those who needed it while I was working the classroom.

I hope we can have more days like this in Algebra 1 :)

I have also started giving my students in Algebra 1 sentence starters or sentence frames to help them with their WSQ submissions.  (See Chapter 6a example WSQ chart here; questions are at bottom) First semester, I just said "write in complete sentences".  But, honestly, a lot of them don't know what that means and don't have the skills yet to really do a good job with that.  Many of them are English Learners and need that extra scaffolding.  With the sentence starters and frames, the online WSQ submissions have been a lot better and much more clear.  Great change!!

Math Analysis is getting to the grunt work of conic sections.  At first, it's actually really tough but the more the students practice and work through them, the pieces start to come together and it's pretty easy.

The BEST part about the last two days so far has definitely been the collaboration and problem solving among the students.  When they are focused, working together, and asking questions... wow.   Yesterday was incredibly incredible.  Students are self-forming groups, asking me questions but also asking each other, taking the initiative to figure out what they are stuck on, making connections and seeing the big picture...everything that makes a teacher wake up on a Saturday morning and say "Wow...I need to blog about this".

One of my favorite parts about conics is the real life applications.  Yes, I actually really enjoy the math problem-solving part of it.  I see it as a puzzle of pieces ready to be fit together.  But when you see how they apply in real life ONLY because of the mathematical properties, it's great.   Here's a playlist I put together of some real-life applications.

I've also gathered some awesome Geogebra applets on conics sections that really help the students visualize what is going on.

A new thing I'm trying this unit is a "collaborative answer key".  Each of these problems has quite a lot of parts to them (and I don't actually have an answer key made to all of them yet myself!) so I am having the students take pictures of their work and putting it together on a MentorMob playlist to share with each other.  The playlist is publicly editable so all the students have to do is login to their account, follow the directions to add their step, and wa-la!  It's updated!  They have to submit the link to their step on a GoogleForm for me to "grade" to make sure it's correct and I comment on the step either "approved" or with what needs to be fixed/changed.  If it has no comment, I haven't looked at it yet so the students know they need to be critical when comparing their work to the key.  On the GoogleForm I have students submit their email address and use the script FormEmailer (thanks Ramsey for introducing me to it!) to quickly type a comment back to the student which is emailed to them directly.  So far, it's working well.  Students will be adding to it throughout the next week, so we'll see how crazy it gets and how it needs to be tweaked for next time. :)

I'm looking forward to seeing continual improvement now that we have hit the second semester.  This week is crazy as it is the school's "finals week" but the math department gave our finals before break so I only see each of my classes twice and one of them is for a two hour block period.

My end of semester surveys are due on Tuesday so I will be continuing to blog about the student comments.  I will be splitting the current post up into a few separate ones since it's getting so long, but here's the link to that page now.  I'll add links to the new pages from there.

Hope everyone is doing well!  Enjoy a restful (hopefully) three day weekend.  Baby BOY Kirch is growing along quite nicely at 21 weeks and I'm excited to feel him start kicking soon :)

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