Friday, September 9, 2011

What I need to work on for Week 2

Next week I need to focus on stimulating more of my students.

In almost all of my classes I have students asking, "Is the whole year going to be this easy?" I've collected work from students a couple times this week, and the students on the lower end are just where they need to be. That is, they don't feel lost but the work is challenging enough that they're still making (good) mistakes. Everyone else feels altogether too comfortable.

So the big thing that I want to focus on in my planning this week is making sure that there are proper challenges for all students.

My big strategy for stimulating more people this year is to switch activities at least twice a day. I envision a lesson as a warm up exercise, followed by three activities, and an exit ticket. Lecture/Classroom discussions are hard to differentiate, so it's falling on the other two activities of the day to challenge students.

I've done a think, pair, share exercise with all of my classes, and the first one went very well. But yesterday my questions didn't seem rich enough to be worth asking. That's probably a function of my limited capacity to come up with great questions, and limitations in the structure of the activity. If I'm going to get away with continuing with these things I need those questions to be more challenging while still remaining wide open for every member of the class. I need to think of extensions before hand.

This week I'm also going to be more careful about offering students choices. I did it yesterday in Algebra 1 and I thought it went well for independent work. What was really important was having some really good, deep questions on hand for students really looking for a challenge. I need to do a better job searching those out beforehand so that they're ready for students to practice.

So this week I'm going to firm up the structure of my lesson plans so that I can get better at differentiating within that structure. Once I've got that down, I can consider experimenting with the structure. The structure is going to be:

1. Warm Up
2. Lecture
3. Pair work
4. Practice with worked examples
5. Exit ticket

Thursday, September 1, 2011

How I spent my summer vacation

"Hey, how was your summer? Do anything exciting?"
"Ha, no. Just stayed at home. Relaxed, mostly."

Well, sort of. On the eve of a full day of faculty meetings, here's what I did this summer.

Thought through the sequences of my courses:
Last year I was just hoping to hit everything, and I didn't even manage to do that. This year, I have a plan. I've given some thought about the sequence in which ideas are introduced. I tried to separate related concepts and topics to allow for reinforcement. I tried to put functions and graphing before solving equations. I tried to integrate extrapolation and prediction into the more "algebraic" topics. What I came up with is saved in three SBG-style skills lists.

Algebra 1 Skills List
Geometry Skills List
Algebra 2 Skills List

These lists are only for the first semester, and they're a bit over-stuffed. Remind me to write a post contrasting two very different styles of standard-keeping in an SBG system. Anyhoo...

Put together a Computer Science class
My programming skills? At the level of a beginning undergrad. Is the plan fully formed? No, not quite. But I did my best to piece together a plan and sequence for an intro Computer Science class. As it stands, we'll spend a week playing with Scratch (mostly for sequences, conditionals and loops), then move to Greenfoot (objects, classes, methods, debugging) and then move into straight Java in BlueJ. I'd like to end the year with a month or two of PHP, but first I'd probably have to learn PHP. I thought of some interesting, helpful, non-programming assessments for Computer Science. It's enshrined in this VERY under-construction document.

Computer Science: Topics and Units

It's changing a lot, and daily. I still need a list of more specific skills and projects. Still, the hardest part of the designing stage is done. Now it's time to implement.

Rethought learning
Plainly stated, my job is to get kids to learn math. I wasn't very good at this last year, so it was time to rethink everything. How, exactly, do I expect kids to learn? Clearly classroom, homework, skills quizzes and final exams are involved, but how? What's the plan? Why should I expect kids to retain information?

As always, this is a work in progress, but here's what I came up with:

How learning happens in my classes.

Rethought the classroom
How do I use the classroom to support learning? This is something I didn't really understand last year, and it showed. I didn't understand classroom management or how to use the classroom to teach kids stuff.

It's time to bounce back. I read the excellent Discipline in the Secondary Classroom. I thought through what I care about, and what values are important. I came up with a discipline plan. I have a list of procedures to teach (on paper, sadly) and over the next few days I'll draft a plan for teaching them. I read about psychology of attention and pacing . I read about differentiation. I came up with a list of activities and tasks that actively engage learners. This year I'm going to have a list of activities and tasks, and I will switch between them every 10-15 minutes.

Changed the way I plan
Lesson planning was chaotic last year. I felt as if I couldn't plan in advance, because I didn't know what sort of plans would be helpful. It was time to think about what's crucial in lesson planning. What's the sort of thinking that I can't do on the spot? What's the sort of planning that will allow me to improvise well when I don't have time to put something awesome together?

The answer that I landed on was: Plan the units in advance, and then plan lessons with a focus on two questions - "What are the hard parts?" and "What are some good questions to ask?" Again, here's the documents to prove it:

Alg2 Functions Unit
Alg2 Functions with Tables

Well, yeah. I did relax. I took walks and runs, I visited family and read books. I blended. Bought a new bookshelf.

And I thought about teaching. I'm not dedicated to this profession -- at least not yet. I can't tell you if I'll be in this game in a year. To be honest, I have a hard time seeing myself enjoying this job year after year. But I'm trying to balance keeping my eyes open with a full-blown commitment to improving as a teacher.

Right now I have no students. In a week I'll have 80. Those students deserve a better teacher than last year's version of me. I've been working hard to give them that.