Monday, July 29, 2013

A Midsummer Day's Freak-Out

So I'm sitting here in my living room, trying to re-read through Math Teacher's Survival Guide to help get me back in the swing of things after my long weekend, and I can't help but feel like one of my students. I'm so distracted today--with my overly-tired kids being cranky and crabby, and Rachael Ray in the background--I just can't seem to plan. I started off today doing really well... I got my books out; I grabbed my iPad and started taking notes; I was reviewing my notes from the year before about what my big plans had been; and things were going really well. Then I got to a point in the book that identifies types of math plans to be created and it says:

"Most math teachers are responsible for creating two types of plans: unit plans and daily lesson plans. Both are based on your curriculum. Before you can write any plans, however  you must know exactly what your students must learn by the end of the school year. Your curriculum guide will be your greatest resource." And I stopped. Dead in my tracks.

I am the creator of the curriculum guide. I am the creator of the competencies. Others are depending on me, and my abilities to create a curriculum that will support our students as they prepare for life after high-school. That is a HUGE responsibility. One that I am very happy to have, and feel that I can do well, but is still a little intimidating.

At first, it makes me question all of my plans.... do I really want to teach a blended class? Should we just go back to "pencil & paper" kind of work, instead of online practice? Do I really want to flip my classroom? Should I create my own videos? Should I rely on Kahn for most of them? Where will I store all of these? Should I create a class for this on Schoology? Should I track assessments in Schoology? How will I fit in projects and PBL? How will I design my unit plans? Did I technically already develop the curriculum? Could it be tweaked? Who can I talk to about tweaking it? Should I keep planning? What about Essential Questions? What about making a UbD? What about my day to day class--how will it be structured? Should I know all of that now?

Time to regain my composure. I am a competent person. I studied at one of the best education colleges in our NATION. I worked with some people who have developed some amazing and cutting edge mathematics curriculums. I have an awesome support network of like-minded educators who are also breaking the mold, and are more than willing to help us out. MSU had faith in me. My principal has faith in me. My head of curriculum development has faith in me. I have faith in me. Time to go kill this planning. Keep you updated!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Math & Multiple Teaching Strategies

Currently, I'm in the process of planning out my units and weekly focus for each of my two main classes: Geometry & Trig/Pre-Calc. As I have said before, the school that I work at is a PBL devoted school; however, we utilize the ALEKS program to help in all of our math needs. Why? Let's go over how the math department has evolved at my school...

In our first year, I was the only certified math teacher in the building. We started with only 60ish students, so scheduling out a class and teaching it in a novel way, while trying to integrate some facets of PBL wasn't too terribly difficult. Jump ahead 3 months to the new semester and we had doubled in size. We signed on a parapro to help teach some of my sections of Algebra 2 and our Math Learning Center support class, but even then, we didn't feel that the instruction was effective for student learning.  Many of the students were engaging in the tasks during class time, and were able to apply some of the concepts, but weren't necessarily able to do some of the quick computations and calculations that they should have fluency in. Why does this matter in a world of calculators and technology? I would like to be able to tell you that my main concern was more than just their ability to score well on a (get ready for it) standardized test, in which those technologies were unavailable to them, but that might be a lie. Performing well on standardized tests is how many teachers, schools and districts are judged; and as such, I needed to ensure my students were doing well. I did have other motivations, however, in that I wanted students to see the beauty of mathematics build up--that even though the numbers or the expression was getting seemingly more and more complex, the simplistic arithmetic and algebraic manipulation they had grown up with could solve their problems easily.

  • Pros for year 1--Student: Lots of engagement & applied understanding
  • Cons for year 1--Student: Little computation fluency
  • Pros for year 1--Teacher: Fun developing and teaching new ideas in novel ways. 
  • Cons for year 1--Teacher: Difficulty assessing students true understanding and abilities.

We had originally planned for students to work through the mathematics in a very similar way in our second year. However, after attending the PFUNC conference in Minnesota that summer, we heard from many other PBL schools that the computational fluency was the most difficult part of teaching math through PBL and that using a system called ALEKS would help to serve our needs and the needs of our students. We jumped on board. All students were expected to work on their ALEKS for 45 minutes each day during their advisory period. The issue with that? Tons! ALEKS was not Chromebook ready; teachers were not content area experts in mathematics; students received little structured support.

  • Pros for year 2--Student: Increased computational fluency, ability to move at their own pace.
  • Cons for year 2--Student: Little engagement in complex tasks or applied mathematics, not enough teacher support.
  • Pros for year 2--Teacher: Work is computer assessed and students can work independently, making it more clear if a student needs assistance.
  • Cons for year 2--Teacher: No planning or curriculum development. Little interaction with students outside of your advisory. 

So two years have gone by and the math department has grown from 1 to 4, and I couldn't be happier! This year's implementation strategy: a blended learning classroom with elements of Flipped Classroom and PBL practices. Why the big combination? Well, strict PBL left students unable to compete in terms of computational fluency, and pure online computation left little room for engagement in material. We wanted to combine the best of the two of them, as well as offer additional support for students we are not otherwise in contact with--hence the Flipped classroom approach.

Planning for this crazy mess is going like this:

  1. Develop the competencies & divide them into marking period focus topics.
  2. Discuss with fellow teachers the areas we have noticed our students struggle the most and make those the highlight topic for each week in the marking period.
  3. Find open questions & parallel tasks, formative assessments, and already designed PBL that could work for each week and marking period. Use these as a basis for designing the curriculum (or try some out whole-sale! They are available to the public for a reason! Try something out as is, or put your own spin on it).
  4. Scheduling out mini lessons, filmed lessons, and performance tasks for each week, as well as scheduling weekly quizzes on ALEKS. 
Here's what it is looking like so far....

I haven't looked into my parallel tasks & open question book yet, but I will be soon! I will also tweak my Flatland project schedule to reflect being done in one marking period! I can't wait! 

Questions on how to run a blended classroom, flipped PBL class? Ask away! Or advice on how to?! Feel free to send it my way!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Networking & Working Hard

With the holiday last week, and the amazing temperatures this week (and my new pool), it is so hard to stay motivated. Makes me think of all of those people who claim teaching is easy because we get summers off. Actually, summers are spent hard at work, and that's not always easy, especially when the kids want to go out and play! So I am easing myself back into this week, after a 5 day staycation with my family. We start out this week with a networking event, an UnConference on PBL. 

The UnConference style is meant to allow educators to collaborate and come up with issues that we think are important to discuss and attack as a group. Last year, some of my team attended the UnConference, and it worked really well. We had so many people with so much more experience than we had, so we were able to bounce ideas off of them and hear the good and the bad of what was going to come on the long PBL road ahead. This year, however, my team and I were the most experienced PBLers out there. This made it much more difficult for us to bounce ideas off of other people, and gain valuable insight ourselves. Instead, we were the experts and we were answering people's questions and addressing their concerns. I am hopeful that they had a more meaningful experience than we did. 

On the other hand, we had experts there who create the management system that we use to track competencies, and course credit, and mastery levels, so we did get quality one on one time with them, in which to get our technical concerns addressed. That was possibly the most beneficial part of the conference for us, and for me in particular, since I am the go to guru of that system in our school. It was nice that my whole team was able to see the vision of the program, and the changes that were coming down the line. 

Back to the real world next week, planning out Geometry is my next goal. Wish me luck! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Summertime Curriculum Development

One of my favorite parts about summertime is spending time developing work for the courses I will teach in the year ahead. Since I have just finished writing 29 pages worth of competencies and corresponding scales, I can finally move on to more fun work. 

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to design textbooks. I even have a collection of texts, including some in foreign languages! That's the beautiful part about math after all, it is the same in all languages :) So, you knowI was ecstatic when I got my letter in the mail this past week from Michigan State University, stating my acceptance into the Masters of Arts in Teaching and Curriculum! Look out world, one day, your students will be learning mathematics from a program and curriculum I created! 

Since my excitement is uncontrollable, I decided to start working on developing my own Personal Finance curriculum. Now, I have zero experience teaching PF, so this is going to be incredibly challenging. However, I have an entire collection of textbooks covering consumers mathematics and personal finance, so I am sure I will be able to use those references to create an ultimate PBL experience for learning and implementing personal finance into the lives of 150 seniors this upcoming year. 

So excitement aside, where do I begin? 

I started with the Jump$tart math personal finance standards and wrote 5 corresponding competencies to align with my 0.5 credit course. My competencies for personal finance are:

Competency 1: Financial Responsibility and Decision Making
Students will apply reliable information and systematic decision making to personal financial decisions.

Competency 2: Income and Careers, and Risk Management
Students will use a career plan to develop personal income potential, and use appropriate cost-effective risk management strategies.

Competency 3: Planning and Money Management
Students will organize and plan personal finances, and use a budget to manage cash flow.

Competency 4: Credit and Debt
Students will maintain creditworthiness, borrow at favored terms, and manage debt.

Competency 5: Saving and Investing
Students will implement a diversified investment strategy that is compatible with personal goals. 

Now that those are set, I am scouring the materials that I have to see what types of formative products I am looking for my students to create. My overall summative product will be a financial portfolio students create using GoogleDocs spreadsheets and likely GoogleSites. Students will wrap up this class with a sit down presentation with their advisor and a financial expert to go over their plan for financial success. 

Here is a sneak peak into the items I am using/creating to help me with the whole process:

Competency criteria aligned with Jump$tart, some formative assessments  taken from

Quick Guide to help advisors see how long many days they need to dedicate each week, along with which competency they are collecting information on. 

More explicit planning for teachers, including Essential Questions and assessments. 

One of the frustrations in planning this curriculum is that I am actually not implementing the curriculum. I do not have a senior advisory this year, so I am designing this curriculum to be followed and implemented by other teachers--most of whom have a limited background in mathematics. This is great, in that it is foreshadowing of when I design curriculums in the future; but difficult as I won't get the day to day feedback from students to be able to make adjustments as needed. So, I've got to really be on my game and get this set in stone as soon as possible, so that the teachers can go over it and give me feedback on their abilities to implement it come December. That's my goal for the next two weeks: complete this curriculum, including a pacing and instructors guide, and create a mock up of a student's final portfolio. 

After that, I've got 4 more classes to design: geometry, trig & pre-calc, math applications and game theory! If I truly dedicate 2 weeks to each of them, that takes me right up to the first week of school. I is amazing how quickly the summer goes! 

Wish me luck!