Monday, November 11, 2013

Week 11 reflections

Two weeks until Thanksgiving Break!

Let's see, this week we worked on Unit J, which is solving three-variable systems of equations with matrices.  Students have a love/hate relationship with matrices.  I try to constantly remind the students that the only way to get better at them is with time and practice.  So, we still have two days of matrices left and then applying those skills to partial fraction decomposition.  Sound fun?  (I'm sure to my non-math readers you are thrilled right now!).

I did something a little different with the first day of matrices.  It's how I've done it the last 2 years as well, but I'm not sure I'm happy with it.  Students watch the intro video at home, which basically goes over the vocabulary, set-up, general process, etc for matrices.  It does work through one example while explaining that, but it's really just background info.  (On another note, this is I think the only video I left as one long chunk of 15 minutes, because it's not really a pause/take notes type of video.  I asked my students for feedback and while many of them said it was just fine the way it was, the general consensus was to split it up into three parts based on the three pages of the SSS packet it goes over.  That will be an easy fix for next year.  I appreciate the student feedback!).

So, what I then do in class is go over two matrix examples (yes it takes 50 minutes to do 2 examples whole class).  Like I said, this is the way I've done it the last several years.  I figure as one perk it does give those students who really want that traditional classroom one day of normalcy.  However, I really wasn't happy with it this year. At the end of the day, besides having a headache from talking more in one day than I have all year to a large group, I just didn't feel it was the best use of the face to face time I had with my kids.  Now, I still believe the vocab/background video was important... and they definitely aren't ready to work on matrices on their own that first day.  But, why not record those two examples on video and let the students use their devices or our class iPods to watch them by themselves or in small groups at their own pace?  With me walking around to clarify, students would still be able to get their questions on a very tough concept answered immediately, but those students who "got it" don't have to wait around and sit there bored.

I don't know why I hadn't thought of this before, but I really think that is what I'm going to do next year.  My philosophy of how class time should be spent is continuing to shift and whole-class teacher-directed lecture is definitely not my way to go.


I'm continuing to work on the WSQ chat time of class and am really happy with how they are going this year compared to last year.  Now, as I've mentioned previously, Peer Instruction has become one of my best friends.  As one of my students said in their weekly reflection,

The beloved peer instructions

 However, we don't do that every day.  On other days, students have some sort of "task" to complete for their discussion to hold them accountable.  This week, it was as simple as:
  • Mon - Concept 1 - linear systems. Peer Instruction
  • Tues - Concept 2 - non-linear systems. Peer Instruction
  • Wed - 1st day of matrices.  I gave them a system in row-echelon form and with no other instructions, told them to solve for the ordered triple answer and describe their process using as many vocabulary words as possible from the previous night.
  • Thurs - 2nd day of matrices - Students were given a system and told to solve it using RREF in their calculator.  The purpose of this discussion was to make sure students knew how to use their graphing calculator to solve systems.
  • Fri - 3rd day of matrices - Students were given a system to solve and the timer started.  Answer key was at the U and students saw how quickly they could correctly solve a matrix.  This was less a WSQ chat as a warm-up activity/formative assessment for individual students.

The second grading period ends Friday (we have 6 week grading periods), and I have seen tremendous progress in my students with re-assessments and simply turning in missing work! I finally had to resort to consequences for missing work (our school has a progressive discipline program in place for missing assignments) and that sure motivated the students.  Red (missing) assignments and 0's in the gradebook started disappearing very quickly!  This also means students' grades went up a lot.  I guess they just didn't understand how much little assignments can affect their grade.

I am happy to say that I have 1/2 the number of F's in my struggling 5th period class as I did the first grading period.  Yay for them!

I sent home "Good news texts" to any parents who had given me their number (from my teaching Google Voice number).  That was fun for me and fun for them.  I wish I had all the parents, but not everyone texts and not everyone said it was okay... One student's favorite part of the week?

Reassessing on Unit I and getting an A. My mom was so proud when she told me about the good news text!

I still send out the weekly survey for reflection and feedback.  I only get between 3-5 responses (out of 105) a week, but it's still good.  I'll send out a more formal one come the end of the semester.

One of the questions I asked this week was about which activities help them the most in class and why.  Here was one student's response:

Video lessons: I can pause, rewatch, skip ahead to see if I got the correct answers.
SSS packets: goes hand in hand with video lessons, very helpful tool.
PQ problems: they help me see if I truly understood the concept and if I didn't, I could always ask for help since the PQ problems are on the quiz, and those problems are going to be on test.
WSQ chat activities: allows a chance to clear things up
"U" small groups: if there's something little you need help with like how to properly use your calculator you can get a quick little tutorial


On a side note, I tried a little peer instruction with my 6th period Algebra 1 class on Thursday.  It actually went (fairly) well.  It helped to get students out of their seats and helping each other.  A lot more monitoring for off task behavior and a much tighter timeline between questions is needed since they are much more immature and unfocused, but still a positive activity to try again.


We've got a 4 day week, a 5 day week, and then a week off for Thanksgiving!

I'm thankful for the opportunity to share, and for my PLN, especially the CheeseBucket Posse of Cheryl, Andrew, and Karl, who have been there for me through thick and thin, especially right around this time last year.  Love you guys!

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