Thursday, December 15, 2011

Quadratic Sieve and others

Was procrastinating grading my exams and wandering along on wolfram Mathworld's website when I came across this sweet diagram, and a concept I had never heard of...
Start by drawing the basic parabola curve (y=x2).  Above you'll see the curve, although it's rotated to show along the x-axis instead.  Now find all the pretty points, that is, the places where the curve has nice integer coordinates, such as (1,1), (2, 4), (3, 9), (4, 16), etc, as well as (-4, 16) and so on.  If you connect all the "pretty points" with line segments, ignoring (0,0), (1,1), and (-1, 1), the line segments will all intersect the axis at "pretty" intercepts -- that is at nice integers, never at fractions or decimal locations.  Now that alone is cool...

... but if you notice from the picture, they don't intersect at ALL the pretty points.  They only intersect at specific locations, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14.  What's most interesting is the points that AREN'T crossed, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13....  The prime numbers!  How cool is it, that if we continued this drawing forever, we would cross out all the composite numbers and leave behind all the primes.  This sifting of the numbers is why this particular scheme is called the Quadratic Sieve.

You might recall from algebra class hearing about the Sieve of Eratosthenes?  It works by going and counting by 2's and crossing every number, then counting by 3's and crossing out every number, and then 5's, and 7's, etc, until all that's left not crossed is the prime numbers.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Standard Form Fight Song

Standard form usually get's a bad rep, perhaps because slope-intercept (or y=mx+b) form is so popular due to its ease in graphing. Standard form, while not as easy to graph, does have its benefits, a few of which I'll list below.

As a recap, standard form is writing an equation as Ax+By = C, with the stipulation that A, B, and C must be integers.  I prefer the form Ax-By=C instead of + because then the A and the B values end up being the rise and the run of the line.  For example, 2x-5y=20 has a rise of 2 units for every run of 5 units, for a slope of 2/5.  Additionally, the example x+3y=15 rises 1 unit for every run of 3 units backward -- backwards because it was written with + instead of -.

Here's some reasons I think standard form is useful:
  • It's neat and orderly, with no fractions or decimals
  • It's easy to plug in points (because x and y are in order and the multipliers are always integers) which is how you check if a point is on a line
  • It still reveals rise and run, with some understanding that the terms must be subtracted
  • It is easier to answer questions like finding equation of lines through (3,7) and (8, 2) because you don't have to find the y-intercept
  • It can describe vertical lines (x=___) that have undefined slope
  • It can be scaled by multiplying.  (by the way, dividing everything by C gives you an interesting form, x/dx-y/dy=1....)
  • It is the form of choice for combining equations when systems of equations rolls around... my favorite topic in the algebra curriculum.
  • It can easily be expanded into 3 (or more) dimensions, where y=mx+b has no easy expansion
To celebrate standard form, and praise some of its merits, I wrote a fight song for it, which is to the tune of the greatest college fight song out there, Michigan State.  The lyrics are posted below, as well as a link to a tune on Youtube so you can sing along.

A x + b Y equals C
is known as standard form by all
It always graphs a straight line
The only form that does them ALL
Other forms can't do straight up lines
'cause their slopes are undefined
We simply let x equals ___
 we'll be fine!

A's the rise and B's the run
As long as we subtract 'em!
Plug in a point to find the C
And make sure they are nice IN-TE-GERS!
Multi-pl'ing   by  de -nom'-na-tors
Makes fractions disappear! (poof!)
X's!  Y's!  Equals C!
Standard form's the one for me!

(Dance during musical interlude, then sing chorus again)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Solitude, Community, and Ministry

Click to download
I just read an article by Henri Nouwen entitled Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry.  Essentially, Nouwen describes three spiritual disciplines that are important to have in the correct order.  He has several definitions that caught me off guard and made me think. He defined discipline not as "self-control" as I might, but as "the effort of creating some space in which God can act."

The first discipline he described was solitude. While I spend many hours a week alone -- I wouldn't call it solitude. I drive everyday for at least an hour, most of which is alone. I usually can't stand this time -- trying to flood it with radio, lately talk radio because it makes me feel like I'm a part of a community.  If not radio, I'll flood it with music, and even sing along because I feel like I'm part of the band -- that I'm important, skillful, and not alone. Lately, I have been trying to introduce more solitude -- by turning the radio off.  That has been nice, but I am still bombarded by outside things -- typically thoughts about the day to come on my morning drive, or the day that happened on my drive home, and all the things I need to do. I'm beginning to wonder if I really can experience solitude on my drive home, despite being alone.

Nouwen suggested that solitude ought to lead you to the belief and understanding that you are God's beloved. Admittedly, that sounds a little sappy to me -- and I've never fully bought it that God is madly in love with me and cares about me. I'll admit that I try too often to seek my approval from others - and from community, that cannot really provide the love I seek. My wife, bless her heart, has provided so much love, but it still doesn't satisfy. It's not that she could do more -- it's just impossible for her to provide the unconditional love that God provides. Though I know all this in my head -- I still cannot feel it in my heart. Am I too busy? Would more time with God help my heart? Nouwen seems to suggest it. But how?

I've been thinking about my role as a deacon at church a lot. It's very frustrating, because I don't feel like I have anything to offer. I feel disorganized. I have not been able to pray for those in my care group like I should. I am not good at looking for other people's needs and though I am designated as the treasurer of the church, all the financial dealings are handled by others. I'm wondering if I should have declined the nomination after all. Now I'm off to a meeting where I don't have any opinions to offer, and I know I'm going to be more worried about the classwork I should be doing, the grading that is piling up, or the band practice that I should be leading in the room next door. I didn't decline the nomination becuase I figured if God wanted me to be a deacon, then He would cause me to be selected, and if he didn't, he would cause my nomination to fall. I'm wondering if it was wise for me to put this ministry opportunity in God's control, or if I should have removed my name from the list instead. After all, I don't trust God to help me cross the road or make a left turn, but use my own judgement which God has enabled me with.

Monday, November 21, 2011

This poster is incredibly detailed -- and shows the differences between relative sizes of numbers -- something trillions of people are epidemically bad at.  
There, I showed you it.
Click the image to see in full size, and read the details. Wow.

Monday, November 14, 2011

y=mx+b Fight Song

Today we learned how the things we've been studying in Algebra -- lately working with slope, and finding intercepts, and drawing graphs of lines, are all brought together in one tidy little equation shape: slope intercept form! For those of you less familiar with math jargon, that was the y=mx+b form you remember graphing with.

To celebrate the occasion -- and to show my students that I'm not always just a boring math teacher -- I wrote the Y=MX+B fight song, and we celebrated by singing it at the tops of our lungs.  I wrote it to the tune of a college fight song -- not my alma mater's of Michigan State, and not (God forbid!) the other university's, but chose a neutral college, Notre Dame.  The lyrics are posted below:

Y equals m x, + b 
That's the way to graph naturally 
m is how lines move - that's slope 
 b stands for the y intercept! 
Start with the slope: that's rise over run 
Write as a fraction - man this is fun! -- 
Tack on where the line begun 
 you're Graphing to victory!

If you've forgotten the tune, you may listen to it here:
 Note that the video plays through the song twice, so you can imagine me singing it to you the first time, and then stand up and join in the second time around.  

If anyone besides my wife comments, I might consider recording my own voice singing it, but I'm pretty sure no one reads this thing anyway.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Crash Test Data

We've been spending the last couple days in physics analyzing the following video:

We used Tracker Video Analysis to analyze the force the dummy felt without a seatbelt, and compare that to the force the dummy felt with a seatbelt and airbag combination. Since we have been studying momentum, I was hoping that we could find that though the dummy experiences roughly the same impulse (change in momentum) either with or without a seatbelt, the dummy experiences greater force without a seatbelt due to the impulse occuring in a shorter interval of time.  The formula for impulse is after all Δp = FΔt which yields F = Δp/Δt which is bigger when Δt is smaller.  Initial findings from the class have not been conclusive whether Δt is indeed smaller, but since the students are still writing their labs on the subject, I won't elaborate here.

I will however post the graphs I found.
First the boring data -- the car - a position versus time graph (inches and seconds are units)
 and a velocity versus time graph (in/s and seconds are units).

Now for the dummy without a seatbelt - a position versus time graph (inches and seconds)
 and a velocity versus time graph:

Finally the dummy with the seatbelt -- looking at just the initial collision (inches and seconds)
 And velocity versus time (in/sec and sec)

Since the close up view of the dummy did not show the whole picture, I did another track of the whole dummy with the seatbelt on, this shows the initial impact with the airbag, but then the subsequent hitting against the chair and finally coming to a stop. Again, units are inches and seconds
 and for the velocity graph: in/sec and seconds.

If the Δt does not prove conclusively that Force is diminished, then I may need to give a quick primer on pressure -- as I'm sure the pressure on the dummies forehead in the crash without a seatbelt (notice the glass shattering!!) is much higher than the pressure the dummy felt smothering his whole face (notice the paint left behind) on the airbag.  Otherwise my students might wrongly conclude that wearing their safety belt is worse than riding without.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sobering thoughts on physics

Read two blogs back-to-back today which hit hard about my teaching of physics. The first article called "No credit for ridiculous answers" was one teachers experience with fostering an attitude of always checking the reasonableness of an answer. While I do this naturally in my head -- I do not do a good job of developing this in my students. I'd like them to think as I do -- with estimations, and a sense of what answers are reasonable and unreasonable, and the post showed some ways the teacher graded to develop that.

The second article describes how our physics classrooms so often become areas of plug-and-chug formula application, rather than conceptual thinking. The author describes "How we create a context of Formula worship" listing many of the dry dead questions that require no more thought than deciding which formula contains the correct letters in it - letters which I know all but one of. I saw in my past few weeks of teaching several of those questions being asked on my worksheets and my PowerPoint presentations. How come in algebra I am always teaching how many different ways there are of looking at a problem, but in physics I am always simplifying things to plug-and-chug?

On a more encouraging note -- I think my students are this week doing a valuable experience of using video analysis to determine how effective seatbelts and airbags are in reducing injury in a crash.  I had to use some interesting thinking to determine the framerate of the video -- which I may write about later.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Article Reviews

Just read two interesting articles on grading, from the magazine Educational Leadership which is published monthly by ASCD. Their November 2011 issue focuses on standard based grading, which is something I'm considering doing my final Master's project or thesis on. 

   The first article was The Case of Illogical Grades by Lissa Pijanowski. In the article, Lissa describes her school districts efforts to reform their grading system. She described that teachers in the district had all sorts of different philosophies, which amounted to meaningless numbers that were inconsistent from teacher to teacher and year to year. She described the process the schools took to revamp their policies and become more consistent.  
   One of the things the teachers did was separate out of the grades behavioral concerns, so the grade was based entirely on what the students know from the required learning standards. This meant students grades were no longer lowered for missing assignments, participation, or late work -- but neither were students grades inflated for simply turning in work on time.  These sorts of things, specifically the four categories: Assignment Completion, Participation, Responsibility, and Interpersonal Skills were listed separately and graded on a 1-4 scale.  I like this idea, as my grades this year are based directly on knowledge of standards, and so I had been looking for way to communicate these other social skills.  

   The second article I read was Finding Your Grading Compass by grading guru Carol Ann Tomlinson.  This short article describes several revelations Tomlinson encountered during her teaching with regards to grading, several of which I have been learning in my seven years so far.  Some of these revelations are paraphrased below:
  • No matter how hard I try to remove my personal judgement with foolproof criteria for grades, there will always be an element of subjectivity. This means I will always need to use my professional judgement, and that I should not be threatened by that.
  • Consistent and specific feedback is more helpful and powerful than a letter or number grade will ever be
  • I need to grade fewer assignments, as these are places where students can and should be free to make errors and mistakes.  Coaches don't grade the first time you're learning a new move or play in basketball, but how well you use the move in a game when the time comes. Teachers should do similarly   
  • If I have a student who consistently have low grades, there's something I'm not doing well in reaching or connecting with that student. Also, if I have a student who consistently reaches high grades, with no struggle or needs, I'm underestimating their capability, and wasting their time. I need to find a way to challenge them to learn too.
Each of these has been something I have struggled with in my own grading philosophy. Though I know and believe the statements above to be true, in past years my actions have proven otherwise. Likewise, I still often feel differently. These things I am working to change this year, beginning with my actions in implementing a standards-based grading system and moving away from a points based system as I have had in the past.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

EdcampGR 2011

Just a few links for some possible presentations I'll be giving at Edcamp:
  Conversation on Standards Based Grading
     Public Notes

  Introduction to Flipped Classroom
      Powerpoint and Handout
      Notes on Google Docs
      Examples on my class website
      Vodcasting Ning
  Building a Class Website
      Collaborative Notes on Google Docs
      Example of my class website
      Dropbox Sign Up

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Theology and Leadership

After reading A Theological Primer on Leadership by Mark Lamport, I thought I would write down a few of the main ideas of leadership described, if only to help me organize my thoughts about the ideas.

Throughout the Bible, God searches for leaders with the following criteria:

Lamport asks and suggests answers to four primary questions:

  1. How shall we describe leadership: Any person who influences people to accomplish a purpose. I am a worship leader at church -- attempting to influence others to worship -- specifically through singing. I am a leader in the classroom, attempting to influence my students think in a particular way. I am not actively trying to be a leader among my colleagues.
  2. Who qualifies as a leader? An person who influences people to accomplish a purpose.  
  3. How are godly leaders developed?  Potential leaders are developed over a lifetime of seeking God's will throughout many positive and negative life experiences which shape and mold you.
  4. What are some of the qualities of an effective leader?  
    • Vision - seeing how things could be
    • Diligence - Doing the necessary work
    • Determination - persevering in spite of unfavorable circumstances
    • Sacrifice - giving oneself in selfless and loving service to others
    • Reliance - Consistently depending on God for strength 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On The Count of Three

The other day I gave an assessment in class where I tested whether students would do better on instructions given orally or instructions shown on the board.  I read a series of numbers aloud, and then asked them out loud to write down a couple of operations (e.g. add the first two, subtract the second pair, etc.)  After ward they followed a similar set of instructions but they had to read the instructions off the board and do the problems by only seeing instructions.

I expected to find that the students would "fail" the oral assignment, and do much better with the visual.  To my surprise, they did quite well on both, and actually did slightly worse on the visual.  (Not statistically significantly worse however...)

It made me wonder why I feel that my students so often don't follow the instructions I give in class out loud. I suspect that I don't have their full attention as much on a day-to-day basis as I had when the students followed this rather formal assessment.  I know that I often see and hear students talking among each other.

I tried a new idea for some instructions today. I said "Say 'notes out' on the count of three, 1, 2, 3" and everyone emphatically yelled "notes out!"  Some students still struggled to get there notes out -- but they couldn't argue that they didn't hear it.  I think I may try this technique more often.

Would You Like to Quit?

Our school uses a school wide database system to record grades and communicate home to parents. I won't say much about it (after all mom always said if you can't say something nice, then don't say nothin' at all) except to say that it is often buggy, and on the teacher side of things, very difficult to work with.  One thing I enjoy about the program however is every time we log out when we are finished using it, it asks us this question:
It always makes me chuckle because a lot of times, after I've spent 15 minutes typing in 5 minutes worth of grades, it makes me feel like quitting.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Vocabulary Model

While reading Multiple Path's to Literacy, I was reminded of a technique I learned in a workshop once about teaching vocabulary -- especially math and science concepts.  Gipe called it the Frayer Model of vocabulary, which is summarized in the picture to the right. In this model, a definition, and examples are provided, as well as useful facts or characteristics. Also, several non-examples are listed, and I remember the presenter suggesting that students should list examples and non-examples -- and that you can provide equal praises for both.

For example, today we learned the vocabulary word "proportion" in algebra. The definition I provided was "an equation that compares two fractions"  Then I provided several examples such as 1/3 = 3/9 and x/5 = 24/40. One of the characteristics we mentioned was that true proportions can be cross-multiplied, which results in another true equation which doesn't contain fractions.  We also provided a non-example of 3/x=5 and also x/2+5 = 3/8.  

In physics, I have a similar model for teaching different quantities. I give a definition, a have a category called units, a category for examples, and a category for formulas containing that quantity. For example, "force" might have: 
   def: a push or pull on something
   units: Newtons, lbs, tons, ounces, (1 lb = 4.45 N) (16 ounces = 1 lb)
   examples: an apple weighs 1N.  Throwing a ball requires around 50 N.  
   formulas: Fnet = m*a,    Fgrav = m*g,  Ffric = mu*Fnormal ...

I like teaching vocabulary in a direct way -- and consistently.  I do that well in physics, but am not as organized in algebra. I'd like to consider giving each student a notebook to create a classroom dictionary -- but wonder if that's too childish for a high-school classroom? 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Revisions and Edits

In Multiple Paths to Literacy, Joan Gipe makes a distinction between revision and editing that I had never thought of before.  She describes revision as be concerned with content and editing being concerned with mechanics.  Revision is when you consider reordering the information, grouping it together or splitting things apart, adding material or taking away material, etc.  Editing is when you scour the paper with a fine-toothed comb looking for missing periods, misspellings, and other grammar mistakes.

I know that I am a very good editor usually. My brain is wired that way, to understand the rules of writing and to abide by them.  My weakness is in revising and considering what content should and should not be in a piece of writing.

What struck me most about the distinction was the emphasis that Gipe put on revision. She suggested students do several drafts where all that is done in between is revision. She even said that good writers are seldom concerned about correct language conventions until they are ready to edit their work. This surprised me, having such an editors mindset. I think first about grammar mistakes. It makes sense however -- why bother thinking about whether that sentence needs a comma or a semi-colon if you're not even sure if that sentence is going to be in the final draft at all?!  Who if you use who versus whom if you're still considering what characters to describe in your story and how much description to use?

This suggested to me the principle of the plank-in-the-eye image from the Bible. I am often concerned with the small specks in my writing, and the few pieces of writing my students turn in. What I need to focus more attention to is the outlining, the content, and the revision steps that my students and I go through when producing a paper.

I also need to implement a draft or two with the lab reports my students produce, so that they can look at what they have and what they need to add/change. Currently I only look at their lab reports after they are "finished" and I immediately grade that piece. Consequently, their writing is usually poor, and missing crucial elements. I do allow them to resubmit a second draft, but it might be more beneficial to all of us if we all did that purposefully, rather than some doing it haphazardly.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Meebo Conversation

Below is a picture of a conversation I just had with one of my students:

I have to admit that sometimes I really love teaching, and technology.

Perhaps someday when I have a little more time, I'll write up some instructions for including a Meebo Chat widget on a website or blog, so y'all can experience this sort of coolness too.  Feel free to try it out yourself if you want, I've got one installed in the top left corner of this blog.

Update: Just learned today (June 9, 2012) that Meebo will not be continuing this chat feature, as of July 12.  They have been bought by google, and all website based chat widgets such as these will become disfunctional. Bummer.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Three Reading Levels

In Multiple Paths to Literacy I read about three different reading levels that teachers consider when assigning reading materials to their students.  The first level is the independent reading level.  This is the level at which a student should be able to read everything with little or no difficulties.  This type of reading is fun, because it is fast, satisfying, and not frustration.  I think of it as "green light reading"

A second level is the instructional reading level, which students should be able to read most of, but occasionally need a teacher or someone else around to help with new words, or mispronunciations.  This level of reading usually produces the most learning and "growth" for the students because it pushes them just a little beyond their comfort zone.

The third level is called the frustration reading level -- what I consider "red light reading".  This level is too difficult for students, even with help and guidance, and Gipe calls this the "groan zone". This is when students start squirming, crying, misbehaving, or just stop enjoying reading.

Ideally, teachers would know what these levels are for each student, and push them to the growth zone as often as possible.

This concept reminded of weightlifting -- which believe it or not, I have done.  In weight lifting, while it might be fun to spend all your time with green weights, you will not grow if you don't push yourself to try harder weights.  Of course, if you are not aware of your limits, you can cause significant damage by attempting to lift weights too high for your muscles.  Ideally, you want to push yourself to spend time in the yellow zone, where you are able to do multiple repetitions, yet still struggling some what, so your muscles have to break down in order to rebuild.

Assigning problems in mathematics is similar -- If I assign students that are too simple, it ends up being a waste of the students time.  If I assign problems that are too difficult, then the students won't be able to gain anything from them, and may get turned off, frustrated, angry, or lose confidence.  My goal in assignments is to meet in the middle. I sometimes call them Goldilocks problems....

Observations and Standards Based Grading

Peter Johnston was quoted in Multiple Path's to Literacy describing the language we use about our own assessments as teachers, and the large-scale assessments the state requires:
We refer to our own observations as "subjective", "informal", and "anecdotal", where as we refer to tests as "objective" and "formal".  Our own language devalues the close knowledge we have and values distance. It would be more helpful if we referred to our own assessments as "direct documentation" and test-based assessments as "indirect" or "invasive."  These uses of language are far from trivial.  They show that we do not value our own assessment knowledge.  Our unfortunate cultural concern for control, distance, objectification, and quantification does not favor teachers, whose knowledge is often intuitive, usually nonnumerical, more inclined to the narrative, and gained through personal involvement.  Detailed knowledge comes from proximity and involvement, not distance.
I read this quote the day after I had a conversation with a parent of mine who disagreed with my grading scheme this year, because I am using much more observation of my students as the grade, instead of simply recording the students scores on assignments and tests. They were surprised and confused that I was taking a subject that is traditionally so objective, and making it subjective. At the time, my confidence was shaken and I almost decided to change and return to a more common method of simply recording assignments and tests scores, because after all, they are objective and numerical.

However, in the past two weeks, I have been able to make many observations of my students.  I feel quite confident that those observations are working better, and are being communicated better through my current standards based grading scheme, than they ever were before.  Now if a parent, student, or tutor asks if there's anything I can work on, I can point directly to skills that they have not yet mastered and confidently direct their studies.

While this quote was directed towards teachers of reading, writing, and literacy, which would be more 'nonnumerical' subjects for grading -- I think it applies equally well to algebra and physics.  I CAN tell, either by watching or listening to a student, what they understand and what they are still not getting, without just having students complete a quiz or test. However, a quiz or test is still one of the most efficient ways of me addressing a lot of different ideas and topics, and so I'm sure I will never be getting rid of them.

Link: explanation of my grading scheme:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why do I gots to teach literacy!? I'm a math teacher!

In her book Literacy Multiple Paths to Literacy, Joan Gipe describes literacy as multidimensional. I see literacy as having three unique axes, much like the x-, y-, and z-axes familiar to most math teachers. The literacy x-axis would be reading and writing. Both are communicating, but in different directions. Reading is the input of information in written or typed form. Writing is in the opposite direction, as a person chooses to communicate by paper, pencil, or typed form. The literacy y-axis would be speaking, and listening. Again, both are different directions of the same method of oral communication. Finally, the z-axis would be viewing, and visually representing. This would be through pictures, demonstrations, gestures, graphs, and drawings.

My classroom is an algebra 1 and physics classroom. Before reading Gipe’s definition of literacy, I was certain that my classroom had very little literary content involved. We don’t do reading, I thought. However, Gipe described literacy as the ability to communicate, and not simply reading. Instantly I realized that there is a lot of literacy teaching going on in my classroom. Most of this is as the students in my algebra classrooms are learning to communicate using abstract ideas, and writing in a new language called algebra. I became aware that though I never teach finding subjects and verbs of sentences, I do teach them to break an expression down into individual terms. While I never teach my students how to sound out a word by emphasizing phonics, I do teach them to identify parts of terms, such as the sign, the coefficient, and the variable part.

In fact, I see all three dimensions of Gibe’s definition of literacy appearing in my classroom. In a very literal sense, students are reading the textbook, following examples. In a more general sense, students need to learn to read the language of algebra, by interpreting expressions, equations, formulas, and inequalities. Students need to write their answers using a new language, as well as communicate their thinking steps using the agreed upon conventional algebraic notation.

Students also operate among the speaking and listening dimension in class. I deliver much of the new information through lecture format, where students must listen and interpret. We often correct our assignments in class, sharing answers aloud where ‘pronunciation’ must often be addressed as students will say “x-two” instead of “x-squared” or “x to the second power.”

Many times in algebra, students are also learning new ways of illustrating relationships, by way of graphs. Most commonly this is via the Cartesian xy-plane and through graphs of lines and functions. We also use xy-tables to show relationships, and at times interpret other statistical graphs such as box-and-whisker-plots, pie charts, and scatterplots with line-of-best-fits. Students learn to make such graphs both on paper and on a computer, as well as how to interpret, and make extrapolation and interpolation predictions from such graphs.

In physics, we are doing much of the same, although at a deeper level. We spend much of our initial efforts focusing on the information that the units of an number can tell us, much like the use of various suffixes determines the type of word used. Our vocabulary has increased, and continues to grow as new quantities are precisely defined via formula. I teach specific writing skills as my students write lab reports, and I often need to correct their use of vocabulary words, such as the common effect/affect mistakes. Finally, graphs continue to be used, but primarily the line-of-best-fits becomes the tool of choice to show if and how two quantities are related.

My first reaction to taking a literacy course was that it was completely irrelevant to me as a high school math and science teacher. I initially had no motivation for the course, seeing it as just a hoop to jump through to earn my masters, and stay certified to teach. While I admittedly am not excited to take the course, I am happy to find that learning about teaching literacy will be much more applicable than I ever imagined.

Caution: First Tests Ahead

We're coming up on our first tests of the year in physics.  It will be interesting to me to see how the students fare on the tests under the flipping model. I'm confident they will do well on all but one topic -- and that's one I hope to review a little more this week in class: significant digits and uncertainty.  After we practice that some this week, I'll feel like they're more prepared.

They'll begin the next unit next week - kinematics.  The videos for the unit are mostly made -- though I have to edit a few more, and record one more.

I enjoy physics classes this year more than last -- primarily because we are doing more problems, and I can see the students work more frequently.

Sorry I don't have anything deeper to write about -- my mind and body are pretty tired after Monday's classes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

First Week of Flipping

Well, school has started.  It has been an exhausting couple of weeks, as tennis season is in full swing (pun intended).

I decided this year to implement a significant change in my physics classes this year. I have flipped the class, which means that instead of lecturing during the school day and assigning homework for students to do at night, we are doing practice problems and assignments in class and the students are required to watch videos of my lectures at home. The videos are all screencasts that I have made available on Youtube, and also through our class website.

The students seemed very positive about the idea as I explained it to them on the first day, and have hit the ground running with watching them. So far I have checked every day if they watched and took notes on the video, and have had only a few people not watch them on time for the following reasons:
   Slow internet at home -- Solution: he brought in USB Thumb drive and we transferred the videos onto it
   Didn't have time -- Solution: he watched it the next night, and was just a little bit behind in class
   Didn't know I had to watch them -- Actually, this was my fault that I didn't make myself clear in deadlines.  Temporary solution was to watch it in class that day.  I didn't mind doing this because it was the very first time, but I told them this wouldn't happen again.  More permanent solution: posting a video watching calendar or schedule, which I have yet to implement.

The in-class activities are more challenging than I had imagined because the students are answering things faster than I had anticipated.  I'm learning that I will probably have to overplan.  Another difficulty is that students are working at different rates so some are finishing early while others taking longer. I don't have a solution in mind about this yet.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Teach Like A Champion Chapter 8 Analysis:

(This is the ninth of a series of posts on Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov, which I am reading and reflecting on for a class for my masters at Cornerstone University)

In chapter 8, Lemov provides advice on improving the pacing of the class. He begins by clarifying the definition: pacing is not the speed at which you teach, but refers to the illusion of speed created as and whenever necessary to engage to your students. The following techniques can help improve your pacing:
Timing activities will improve the pacing of your activities.
  1. Change The Pace. Use a variety of activities to accomplish your objective, specifically changing the format of the work. Every ten minutes or so should be a different activity. Try especially to alternate between active and passive activities.
  2. Brighten Lines: As much as possible, make your activities have clear beginning and ending points. A time limit, such as “Take three minutes to…” helps.
  3. All Hands: involve as many students as possible and shift rapidly between participants. Cold Call and Pepper help allow this.
  4. Every Minute Matters: Reward students for their hard work with high-energy review of all they’ve learned or with a challenge problem. Pepper, or other quiz games can help utilize the last two or three minutes of class that are normally wasted.
  5. Look Forward: Put an agenda up, and/or foreshadow upcoming activities in class. Try calling one activity on the agenda “Mystery Activity”. 
  6. Work The Clock: using a stopwatch for timed activities, and a countdown when giving directions to follow establishes the culture that every second matters, as well as brightening the lines of your activities and directives.

Teach Like A Champion Chapter 7 Analysis:

(This is the eighth of a series of posts on Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov, which I am reading and reflecting on for a class for my masters at Cornerstone University)

In chapter 7, Lemov describes techniques that help build character, trust, and culture within your classroom. He describes the following techniques:

#43. Positive Framing
Positive framing means describing what appropriate behavior is in an optimistic, upbeat, and confident manner. It is not simply praise while irresponsibly ignoring misbehavior, but corrects and guides behavior, with the following features:

  •  Live in the present – focus on what can be fixed now
  •  Assume the best of your students. Don’t immediately assume willful intention
  •  Anonymous corrections are better than immediately calling out names
  •  Build momentum and narrate the positive
  •  Challenge the students, often using friendly competition
  •  Describe the expectations and aspirations you have of the group

#44. Positive Praise
Reinforcing good behavior with praise is one of the most powerful, but also most abused tools teachers have. Keep the following in mind when praising:

  • Differentiate between acknowledgement and praise. Simply noticing when students do what’s expected is better than praise – reserve praise for exceptional or exemplary behavior
  • Praise (and acknowledge) Loudly, and fix or correct softly
  • Praise things within a students control, such as effort, instead of attributes such as intelligence
  • Praise must be genuine.

#45. Warm/Strict
These two qualities are not opposites – in fact, they are unrelated qualities that all teachers should strive to have. Being warm AND strict sends the message that having high expectations is part of what caring for and respecting someone means.

  • Explain to students why you’re doing what you’re doing
  • Distinguish between a person, and a person’s behavior
  • Demonstrate that consequences are temporary
  • Use warm non-verbal behavior, as well as positive framing

#46. The J-Factor
Joy is what helps us get through the day, and fine teachers will offer up generous servings of energy, passion, enthusiasm, fun, and humor, along with the following types of Joy increasing tools:

  • Fun and games
  • “Us” – a classroom culture or family feel. Lemov suggests nicknames, unique language, rituals, traditions, songs, etc. to promote culture.
  • Drama, song, and dance
  • Humor
  • Suspense or surprise

Poor example of Emotional Constancy
#47. Emotional Constancy
You must control your emotions as a teacher, most especially because the students you teach are learning about their own. Whenever possible, leave your own emotions out of the picture, by saying for example “I expect better of you” instead of “I’m really disappointed that…”

#48. Explain Everything
Help your students by making the reason behind expectations clearly explained. Students should know why it matters, and how one action or behavior affects another. Be sure to do these explanations well in advance, or else reminding students AFTER any corrections have resulted in expectations being met. Otherwise the explanation sounds like pleading.

#49. Normalize Error
Making mistakes or answer questions wrong, and then fixing them and getting it right is normal. Respond in a way that makes it clear that getting questions wrong is not only ok, but also an expected part of trying. Do not make a big deal about wrong answers, and at the same time, do not overly praise correct answers. Reserve praise for behaviors that are exceptional, and not simply answering a question correctly.

Great Thoughts on Grading Physics

Read a lot of great things in various blogs today.

It all started with reading John Burks' description of using Capstones to help his physics students move from a B to an A in physics.  The basic idea is that if students demonstrate the required objectives, then the students will receive a 90%.  The students then need to synthesize the objectives to earn grades above a 90% by doing a number of rich projects.

This lead to a great article of how Kelly O'Shea implements Conjunctive Standards Based Grading. She describes having two types of objectives (Level A and Level B) and how students must show mastery of all the level A objectives to pass, all the level B objectives to receive a 90, and must show synthesis on the exam to receive scores above that.  She went into detail on how she grades a test, and provided a great example of the form she uses to score tests with.  I think using a form like this will be tremendously valuable for me grading tests and quizzes.

Kelly described how on her exam she offered several open-ended "goal-less" problems which were rich with possibility for students to demonstrate physics concepts.  Her final exam offered a handful of these, which the students had practiced throughout the year, and could now use to synthesize their understanding together, and demonstrate all they could on a topic.  I intend to make use of these "goal-less" problems this year -- though I haven't decided on exactly when or how.  

Both Kelly and John described how they allow their students to reassess on standards they missed, which lead to me reading about an application for reassessment process, by Sam Shah.  He provides an email skeleton for students to use to ask to reapply where students must first explain why they misunderstood an objective and how they understand it better, and describe specifically what they did to master the objective since the last time they took a quiz or test.  

Monday, August 8, 2011

Grading Concerns -- What does 81% really mean?

I just read a great article that described a lot of my concerns regarding grading, and described the changes one school took to correct these.  It was called "Grading Practices - The Third Rail"  Clicking on the link should bring up the article, as well as my highlighted passages that resonated strongly with me.

"The Third Rail" by the way, is an expression meaning something that is taboo to change and discuss because it's so popular. The saying is derived from the third rail on some train tracks, which provides the electricity to the trains, and which carries enough voltage to electrocute any who touch it.  Grading policies fit because teachers are so opinionated about their grading procedures that suggesting reform in grading would be lethal to bring up in the teachers's lounge or at a PTA meeting.

In the article, Erickson describes the problem with giving a single percentage score as a grade, because an 81% can mean completely different things.  Perhaps a student is a genius, but willfully skipped one major assignment which he received a zero on because it wasn't worth his time.  Or maybe a genius who got sick and had to miss the last two weeks.  Or perhaps its a student who really knows very little about the course objectives at all, but completed every assignment, did test corrections on every test, and even passed a few tests, albeit with illegal help from a friend that you never noticed.  Obviously, these are two completely different extremes, but they help illustrate the vague nature of a single percentage score grade.  Erickson's suggested alternative, which I hope to implement more, is to grade according to the standards and benchmarks.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Educational Videos

One of my assignments was to check out the videos that are available at  There are many different resources available.  I chose to explore the resources available for teachers, which are sorted by subject and grade area.  In the high school math videos were several lessons that teachers recorded on algebra. I watched two lessons on Algebra 1, which described two activities that I could use or use variations of in my classroom.
The first lesson was an introductory lesson where students explore the relationship between the area of a pool, and the number of tiles required to surround the pool.  The students started with finding numerical answers to "How many tiles are needed for (specific pool dimensions)" and progressed toward making their first formulas using variables.
The second lesson in the video helped students progress from solving single step equations to multiple step equations, and featured the use of simple cups and tokens as manipulatives.  The two lessons each showed me examples of good and bad questioning, and also gave me different ideas of ways I can make the abstract concept of variables more tangible.  The first lesson also illustrated a great example of the Hook, a technique described by Lemov's Teach Like a Champion.

Teach Like A Champion Chapter 9 Analysis:

(This is the seventh of a series of posts on Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov, which I am reading and reflecting on for a class for my masters at Cornerstone University)

In this chapter, Lemov describes five reasons why teachers ask questions of their students:
  • To guide students toward understanding new material
  • To push students to do more of the thinking
  • To find and fix errors in student understanding
  • To stretch students
  • To check for understanding
He goes on to describe several techniques to help improve our questioning skills

  1. Ask One At A Time: asking more than one question will confuse students, or give them the chance to pick which they want to answer which will usually be the easier or more interesting question
  2. Simple to Complex: ask a sequence of questions that moves from more fact-based to more complex.  Even though the questions at the end of the sequence are probably better, more thought provoking, and more interesting, they won’t be as productive if you haven’t laid down the framework or opened up the students’ neurons and seeded them with facts and observations
  3. Verbatim: when repeating a question after someone has volunteered to answer, be sure you have repeated it the exact same way you asked it originally, or they will feel tricked, or not answer as well. Write the questions down if they are important to you.
  4. Keep questions clear and concise
  5. Have Stock sequences of questions ready for situations
  6. Try to achieve a hit rate of more than 70%, but certainly less than 100%, or you’re not asking rigorous enough questions.
Personally, I always thought I was a good question asker, but I know I can do a lot better.  I do not plan my questions in advance, and am afraid I don't ask them verbatim -- I tend to change the question several times as I ask it, in hopes of making the question more clear. I would do myself and my students a favor by writing them out ahead of time, using clear and concise language, and structuring them so that I started simply and moved towards more complex questions that flushed out new information.

Teach Like A Champion Chapter 6 Analysis:

(This is the sixth of a series of posts on Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov, which I am reading and reflecting on for a class for my masters at Cornerstone University)

In chapter six, Lemov describes strategies that help set and maintain high behavioral expectations in the classroom.

#36. 100 Percent
Demand 100% compliance when giving directions in your classroom.  If you don’t achieve this, you make your authority subject to interpretation, situation, and motivation. Specifically, there are three principles that are required to ensure consistent compliance
  • Use the Least invasive form of intervention possible, for example
    • Nonverbal interventions
    • Positive group correction
    • Anonymous individual correction
    • Private individual correction
    • Lightning quick public corrections
    • Consequence
  • Rely on Firm and Calm Finesse
  • Emphasize compliance you can see by inventing ways to maximize the visibility of actions, as well as make it clear you are watching

#37. What To Do
Specify what students are to do, rather than what they are not to do.  Be sure your directions are specific, concrete, sequential, and observable. A large proportion of noncompliance is caused by incompetence rather than defiance – because students misunderstand a direction. You must response to incompetence with teaching, and defiance with consequence.

#38. Strong Voice
Several keys are useful for commanding control:
  • Use fewer words, rather than more
  • Do not talk over students.
  • Do not engage in student responses such as, “but I wasn’t …”
  • Square up and stand still
  • Speak slower and quieter rather than raising your voice.

#39. Do It Again
When students fail to successfully complete a basic task that you have shown them how to do, ask them to do it right, better, faster, perfectly, etc. It is often the best consequence to misbehavior or noncompliance.

#40. Sweat the Details
Make a big deal about the little things, because the minor details signal the expectations for conduct and behavior. Erasing graffiti and fixing broken windows helps keep a city orderly and safe. Likewise, desks in neat rows, organized binders, and silent line-ups help set the tone of excellence in the classroom.

#41. Threshold
Greet your students with a positive handshake and air of professionality and formality.

#42. No Warnings
Giving a warning is not taking action – it is threatening that you might take an action, and is counterproductive. Have an ascending list of “consequences” that you can use to correct behavior: repeat an action, apologize, removal of privilege, etc. 
I agree with Lemov when argued that the majority of what teachers identify as misbehavior is due to students not knowing what to do, either from unclear or misheard directions. Specifying What To Do, in a clear manner, seems like such an obvious thing, but is difficult to pull off without planning.

Teach Like A Champion Chapter 5 Analysis:

(This is the fifth of a series of posts on Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov, which I am reading and reflecting on for a class for my masters at Cornerstone University)

In chapter five, Lemov describes five principles of classroom culture, which are all necessary and work to build on each other.
  • Discipline: Lemov describes discipline not as punishment, but as teaching students to do what’s right and successful for learning.
  • Management: the system and process of reinforcing behavior by consequences and reward
  • Control: the capacity to cause someone to choose to do what you ask, regardless of consequences.
  • Influence: the ability to get a student to want to internalize the things you suggest
  • Engagement: students should be positively engaged not just so that they are too busy to misbehave, but also because after a while, those positive engaging habits become internalized.
Then, specifically Lemov describes several techniques that help create a strong classroom culture by hitting on the principles above:

#28. Entry Routine
Make a habit out of starting class in an efficient, productive, and scholarly manner. Lemov suggests having students pick up a packet of materials from a small table inside the room, that contains everything they might need, and a Do Now.

#29. Do Now
A “Do Now” is a quick three to five minute activity that students can do on their own, usually at the beginning of class.

#30. Tight Transitions
Taking time to practice transitions is an investment that pays off through the year as students switch places and tasks quickly, uniformly, and with minimal prompting. This can when students are moving, or when materials are being distributed or collected.

#31. Binder Control
Teach your students to be organized by requiring them to store all papers and notes in an organized binder. Number each paper that goes in and refer to them in a table of contents, and when reviewing for quizzes and tests.

#32. SLANT
Slant is an acronym for five attention behaviors that all students should be practicing:
• Sit up
• Listen
• Ask questions
• Nod your head
• Track the speaker

#33. On Your Mark
Every student should start class with the appropriate materials. Be sure to list what is required, as well as have a specified time when materials should be out and ready.

#34. Seat Signals
It is worth describing a set of nonverbal signals that students can use for the most interruptive actions, such as
• Bathroom: raise a hand with two fingers crossed
• Pencil Sharpen: hold pencil in air and wait for a replacement preferably from a container of pre-sharpened pencils
• Tissue: Left hand pinching nose

#35. Props
Props, shout-outs, or ups, are public praise routines for exemplary work or answers. These should be quick, fun, non-verbal ways of making your students feel good, like:
• Two claps for David
• Two stomps
• The Hitter: students pretend to toss a ball and swing a bat and watch the homerun
• The Heisman:
• The Lawnmower: pull on the cord twice and make mowing noises,
• The Rollercoaster
• The Hot Pepper: pretend to take a bite out of pepper and make sizzle noise

The one that I would like to work on the most this year is Entry Routine with Do Now.  I think starting off class in a consistent productive manner is a norm that I would like to have. It would not take much additional effort on my part to arrange for something for them to do and prepare for it every day, and I could use those first minutes at the beginning of class for the important attendance and student mini-conferences that I so often need to do, while students are using the time to open up their minds and prepare for the lessons of the day.

I also am excited to develop an atmosphere of praise, and hope to implement a couple fun Props throughout the year, and let the students develop some as well.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Teach Like A Champion Chapter 4 Analysis:

(This is the fourth of a series of posts on Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov, which I am reading and reflecting on for a class for my masters at Cornerstone University)

In his fourth chapter, Lemov describes methods to help structure and deliver your lessons, according to the basic structure of I/We/You. Most lessons will be structured in a distinctive pattern progressing from direct instruction via demonstration (I) to guided practice together (We) to independent practice.

#22. Cold Call
Cold call is a tool that promotes an atmosphere of preparedness by setting the expectation that the teacher can and will ask any student to answer a question, not just the students that have their hands raised. It forces students to always be prepared. Many important things should be kept in mind when making Cold Call a part of your lesson plans:

  • Cold call is predictable. It loses is power to keep everyone answering questions if it is only seldom used.
  • Cold call is systematic. It is how things are done. It is not a tool used to “get” students
  • Cold Call is positive. The atmosphere should be one where students are ready “to shine”
  • Cold Call is scaffolded. Give students the best opportunity to get a question right and shine.

#23. Call and Response
Call in response is a question answering technique where the teacher asks a question and the whole class responds as one. It allows for review and reinforcement, introduces high energy fun, and promotes responsiveness and unity. Call and response is best when:

  • Used to repeat, report, reinforce, review, or solve
  • Used with a specific signal, such as “Class…”, a count-down, a prompt, a nonverbal gesture, a shift in tone and volume, or patterned response to a specific phrase

#24. Pepper
A round of fast-paced questioning where the teacher asks many rapid-fire simple review questions to a group of students. It is a game with many possible variations:

  • Picking specific students, by choice or by pick-sticks
  • Head to head competition, where the correct answer faces a new challenger
  • Sit-down: where all students start up (or down) and sit (or stand) when a question is answered correctly.

#25. Wait Time
On average, teachers wait a second or less before answering questions, which creates a habit of cheap thinking. Try waiting at least five seconds, and be sure to make students aware that they have the time and should have high quality answers.

#26. Everybody Writes
Simply put, great teachers will ask all students to prepare for more ambitious thinking and discussion by first reflecting in writing for a short time.

#27. Vegas
Every lesson needs a little Vegas—a little pizzazz or song and dance that is upbeat, short and sweet. It’s a little piece of flair, emphasizing some key part of the lesson. Try two snaps whenever force is mentioned, or simply a fun voice accent, or lighting or music that you can use to make the lesson more fun, yet remain in control and on task.

Teach Like A Champion Chapter 3 Analysis:

(This is the third of a series of posts on Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov, which I am reading and reflecting on for a class for my masters at Cornerstone University)

In his third chapter, Lemov describes methods to help structure and deliver your lessons, according to the basic structure of I/We/You. Most lessons will be structured in a distinctive pattern progressing from direct instruction via demonstration (I) to guided practice together (We) to independent practice.

#12. The Hook
The hook is a quick, energetic, exciting way to introduce the lesson to your students. It may not be necessary for every lesson, but can often captivate your audience. It doesn’t water down material but “prepares students to be brought up to the material”. Ideas for good hooks are many, such as:

  • story
  • riddle
  • media such as picture or video,
  • analogy (chips and salsa on limiting-reactant day)
  • prop
  • status (descriptive praise)
  • student challenge

#13 Name The Steps
Be explicitly clear regarding the steps on how to do problems or meet objectives. Think through the following when naming the steps:

  1. Identify the steps – and try to keep the number of steps under seven
  2. Make them sticky – try named steps, a mnemonic, a song, or a prop as reminders
  3. Build the steps – try to find a way to incorporate the building and coming up with the steps into the lesson
  4. Use two stairways, the General procedure, and the specific problems when demonstrating problems, and helping with guided practice

#14. Board = Paper
Students need to learn how to take notes. Help them by having an expectation that what you write on the board (or overhead) they need to write, and scaffold them appropriately

#15. Circulate
Move strategically throughout the room, during all parts of the room, bearing in mind these ideas:

  • Circulate early. You own the room, at all times. Circulating only when problems arise will become obvious.
  • Full Access Required. You should be able to get anywhere, anytime. Keep pathways free and clear.
  • Engage as you circulate – both correcting but as importantly praising or just making contact
  • Move systematically, but unpredictably.
  • Position for power by aligning yourself to see the majority of the room at all times.

#16. Break It Down
Bridge the gap between student misunderstanding and the objective at hand. When a student shows a gap, offer hints or bridges such as:

  • Providing examples
  • Providing context – where they’ve seen things before
  • Providing a rule
  • Provide a missing step
  • Rollback – simply repeating a student’s answer back often makes mistakes clear, and can be done with emphasis on wrong parts if necessary
  • Eliminate false choices

#17. Ratio
Cause the students to do as much of the cognitive work as possible. The proportion of the thinking the students do can be called your Ratio. Be sure to increase both the participation and thinking ratios. Some techniques to help improve your ratio are:

  • Unbundle – ask a question as many smaller parts
  • Half-statement: “So the next statement is…_____”
  • What’s next: ask questions about the process and the product
  • Feign ignorance
  • Repeated examples – ask for another example with stipulations
  • Rephrase or add-on
  • Why’s and Hows
  • Supporting Evidence
  • Batch Process: allow several students to answer before interpreting. Think volleyball instead of ping-pong.
  • Discussion Objectives: provide clear objectives for discussions and refer to them when off-track

#18. Check for Understanding…
…And do something about it right away. Be sure to have good sampling, from several students, preferably at a cross-section of abilities. Don’t stop once a right answer is given, but ask several more to get a representative of the larger class.

#19. At Bats
Simply put, to improve in baseball, what is necessary most is many at bats – many attempts. Show the students how to do something, and provide them with as many chances as possible to ingrain the skill. Be sure to:

  • Teach first, until they can do it on their own
  • Provide multiple variations and formats,
  • Provide opportunities for enrichment and differentiation

#20. Exit Ticket
Provide a quick question or sequence of questions that each student must hand you before leaving. Use these as data to see if the students have mastered or if you need to revisit the next day.

#21. Take A Stand
After a student answers, ask every student to decide if the answer is right or wrong, either by show of hands, noises, thumbs, etc. You should with predictable consistency ask students to defend their stances.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Teach Like A Champion Chapter 2 Analysis:

(This is the second of a series of posts on Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov, which I am reading and reflecting on for a class for my masters at Cornerstone University)

In his second chapter, Lemov describes planning strategies that teachers ought to use to help ensure successfully meeting their objectives:

#6. Begin With The End
Plan your lessons with the end in mind. In specific:

  • Progress from unit planning to lesson planning
  • Use an objective as the goal for each lesson
  • Determine how you’ll assess your effectiveness of reaching the goal
  • Decide the activity that will accomplish the goal

#7. 4M’s
Your objectives should meet the Four M’s:

  • Manageable (time-wise, aim for completion in one lesson)
  • Measurable
  • Made first (not retrofitted to an activity)
  • Most Important

#8. Post It
You should form a habit of posting your objectives in consistent location, and referring to them during class. This will benefit your students and yourself as focusing tools, but also direct visitors toward the purpose of the day.

#9. Simplest Path
Choose the simplest and shortest technique that will lead toward mastering the objective. Flashy, cutting edge technology, group-work, or multisensory activities are not inherently good, unless they relate and build toward the goal.

#10. Double Plan
You should plan for two aspects in each lesson – that is, what YOU will do, but as importantly, what STUDENTs will do. Some teachers plan using a T chart with their actions and their students actions on either side.

#11. Draw The Map
Make space planning a part of lesson planning. Be sure the seating arrangement makes sense for meeting the objectives of the day. Don’t default to rows, or groups, or circles simply because they are “what’s supposed to be”. Make sure to actively arrange the room the way that would help serve the goal, and keep you free to accomplish your needs too.

Of the strategies Lemov described, I found Double Plan to be the most eye-opening. I had never considered what I ask my students to do while I go through my lectures each day. I had hoped they would take notes and write down my examples, but I never really planned for it. It is no surprise then that they didn’t, and that getting through my lectures was so difficult. As I read in Pollock’s book Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time, I was doomed as soon as I started hoping, instead of planning. She wonders, “How did we get to the point where teachers hope for good results rather than plan for them.” I am going to try Lemov’s double planning T-chart suggestion this year to more explicitly what the students will be doing as well.

I was encouraged by the Simplest Path strategy, because I do that already. I am skeptical about doing things just because they are popular, and Lemov reminded me that we are to choose the activities that students do so that they best meet the objectives at hand. In math classes, a lot of times that will mean rote problem solving and bookwork. Often I have felt a tinge of guilt, brought on by my interactions with coworkers and in my education classes because these sorts of assignments can be called “busy work”. I disagreed with them internally, but often voiced similar statements to appear as though I had fresh and innovative ideas and tasks for my students. The Simplest Path section reminded me that sometime a shovel is required to dig a hole, even when a piece of dynamite could work. I will more confidently assign book work and practice problems, but am keeping in mind that some of my objectives will inevitably be met with alternative activities, such as geogebra activities, virtual interactives, labs, writing prompts, and others.

Teach Like A Champion Chapter 1 Analysis:

(This is the first of a series of posts on Teach Like A Champion by Doug Lemov, which I am reading and reflecting on for a class for my masters at Cornerstone University)

In the first chapter, Lemov described five strategies designed for teachers to help promote atmosphere of high expectations in the classroom. These strategies are described below:

#1. No Opt Out
Come back to any student who answers a question wrong or with “I don’t know” and have them respond to the same question correctly, after you or another student provides the answer or a meaningful cue.

#2. Right Is Right
Be sure that whatever you say is “correct” is 100% correct.

  • Be sure an answer is complete
  • Answer the question asked
  • Right answer at the right time
  • Use technical vocabulary

#3. Stretch It
Don’t simply end with a right answer. Push the student with more questions that extend knowledge or test for reliability.

  • Ask how or why
  • Ask for another way to answer
  • Ask for a better word
  • Ask for evidence
  • Ask to integrate a related skill
  • Ask to apply the skill in a different setting

#4. Format Matters
It’s not just what students say, but how they say it that matters. Be sure to demand complete sentences and correct mechanics whenever possible.

  • Demand complete sentences.
  • Correct grammatical errors
  • Require an audible format “voice”
  • Require correct units

#5. Without Apology
Do not apologize for “boring” or “difficult” content. Instead, find a way to make content engaging and exciting for all students

My first reaction was that Right is Right and Format Matters seemed to be especially picky. The idea of nitpicking my student responses is not something I think I would enjoy doing, although I definitely hear the mistakes. I know I find myself often giving more credit than is due, because of two reasons: the desire to keep moving, and the desire to be seen as a positive, encouraging teacher. I see these sorts of corrections as things my stepmother or grandmother would do, that I used to hate as a child.

It never occurred to me however, that these sorts of corrections are exactly what is needed to promote an atmosphere of high expectations. If we expect excellence from our students, we need to expect it even in the little things. Lemov described one teacher who trained his students to pass back papers in as little time as possible, making even the most mundane activity an area of excellence. As a coach, I spend time looking for and correcting the most minor of flaws in an athlete’s backhand, and my players still see me as encouraging and helpful. Why would they think any differently in the classroom?

Still, I think I would have to be aware of a balance between too picky and not enough. I think Lemov describes it best when reminding that we keep the objectives close in mind. If correction is required to bring students closer to the objective of the day, then proceed with detail. If not, I should quickly add the correction (no more accepting not right answers!) and move on.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Resources Available at Michigan Government Website

I did some fishing around the state of Michigan's education website and found a handful of resources available.  Below are just a sampling (I'd estimate less than 5%) of what I found, and the documents I thought would be most useful for me.  If you're a teacher, explore around and you'll probably find options available for you too!

Curriculum Documents: 
1. Michigan Merit Curriculum Science Standards by subject (Physics)
2. Michigan Merit Curriculum Math Standards by subject (Algebra)

1. M.O.R.E. (
Michigan Online Resources for Educators website aims to put more TECH into TEaCHing. It is connected to the Michigan eLibrary. The MORE library contains thousands of online materials filtered primarily into four types: assessments, lesson plans, online interactive, and videos. It contain material for subjects. It is searchable by subject, by type of activity, and even by standard.

2. Writing Across the Curriculum: Mathematics (pdf file)
A 30-page document that provides lots of ideas on implementing writing in a math class. Of special value is the description of dozens of specific strategies, such as CALLA, GIST, Quick Write, Argumentation, and more. A similar and larger guide exists for science (pdf file)

3. National Library of Virtual Manipulatives (Link)
Another library of tech tools, this one contains links to math JAVA applets, separated by grade level and subject area. Topics include numbers and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, data analysis, and probability. Some manipulatives I would consider using are
· Unit Conversion Practice
· Box and Whiskers / Histogram Maker
· Scatterplots and Correlation
· Grapher, a tool for graphing and exploring functions
· Algebra Tiles
· Line Plotter

4. SVSU Science Internet Sites (Maser)
A collection of websites, separated and sorted according to the Michigan Curriculum science benchmarks and content expectations. Each individual content standard, in each subject area has a handful of sites available, with descriptions available. I could easily use these as additional resources for my physics students, or for supplemental or differentiation options.

5. Objective Bookmarks (Chemistry and Physics)
A simple printable bookmark containing a checklist of the main objectives for the class.

6. Math Graduation Law (FAQ)
A description of the law requiring four credits of math in highschool, and a handful of the most common questions about exceptions and alternative options available.

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