Friday, August 29, 2014

Adventures in Curriculum Planning

Just read some posts from Teach 4 the Heart about Back to School (yes, my brain is slowly accepting the fact that Summer is over).  In particular I liked The Tiny Mistake That Can Ruin Your Year (and How to Avoid It),  What Not to Do the First Day of School, and Can We Really Believe in All Our Students?  

In my own preparation for back to school, I have been working a lot with planning out my curriculum this past week.  I've been especially interested in breaking up the 39 math standards that I have to teach into about 120 specific leaning targets or "I can" statements for scholars.  I've never done this with the standards before in such detail, and it's been interesting.  My goal with using learning targets this year is to help not only with assessment throughout the year, but to really target every skill that falls into the standards.  It will definitely be a learning experience, but I am optimistic.

I have also been going back and forth between using CMP3 (a more constructivist math curriculum) again vs a more direct teaching approach.  I love the format and approach of CMP3, but time constraints, and not enough specific skill development/ practice was a big concern of mine last year.  Like I've said before, at the end f last school year, I was fully prepared to not use it, but then the scores came back and not only did my kids do OK, but the 8th graders (who I had used CMP3 with as 7th graders) had really great improvements also.  As of right now, here is my vision for my curriculum this year:

  1. Follow the EngageNY 7th grade math scope & sequence
  2. 2 - 3 days a week for CMP3 problems (sometimes as a way to launch thinking, sometimes as a way to deepen thinking...)
  3. 2 - 3 days a week follow a more direct teaching model
  4. Assess, assess, assess standard mastery using the 2013 & 2014 annotated 7th grade math state test questions
  5. Be much more mindful of the performance tasks that I have my scholars do, whether they are from Inside Mathematics, CMP3 extensions, MARS tasks, or the DOE CC Library
The last new thing I have been looking lately has been lesson planning software.  My main reason for moving from Word documents to online for lesson planning is to really try something new that could potentially make planning and collaborating easier.  Specifically I have looked into planbook.com, planbookedu.com, and commoncurriculum.com.  There are pros and cons to all of them, but I think I am going to go with Common Curriculum.  It seems easy and I like the layout.  My big concern is that my school is also using Mastery Connect this school year and that is another new system to learn and I hope I am not biting off more than I can chew.  Plus I really hope that I keep up with the blogging because I do feel like it's been a good way for me to reflect so far, and I would hate for it to get lost in the business of the school year.  I'm staying positive!  After all, teaching is the greatest act of optimism ;)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A (sort of) Lesson on Unit Rates

Ugh, nothing is more depressions when you realize that the school year hasn't even started yet, and you are already behind with your curriculum =/

By the numbers, I have about 130 school days before the State Test.  I have about seven units to teach, which covers about 39 standards.  So it comes to about 18 days per unit or three days per standard.

I really do love teaching math, but unit rates can be very depressing...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#YouCanLearnAnything

Yes, it's sad to slowly leave behind the freedom of Summer, but with each passing day, I am getting more and more (mostly) excited about the upcoming school year.  I had my first of three PDs today.  Today's PD with Teaching Matters was about facilitating teacher teams, which I have done at my school for the past year (PS check out this page to see a pic of me in action on the Teaching Matters website).  Tomorrow's PD will focus on the data action process, which I am hoping will give me some new tools to add to my facilitator tool box.  Speaking of data, I am almost finished reading Driven By Data, which is definitely going on my Most Influential Literature list in my Math Leadership Portfolio.  I also dusted off my copy of The First Six Weeks of School, which is another sign that Summer is ending, but on a more serious note, probably one of the books that had the most influence on my becoming a much better teacher.  I highly recommend.

Lastly today, I found this short video clip on my Facebook feed for Khan Academy (which I have used with my 7th graders in the past) and am pretty sure I found my classroom motto for the upcoming school year... #YouCanLearnAnything

Monday, August 18, 2014

Breaking down standards and next steps

I'm sort of in that back-to-school excitement/denial.  I mean, how can you not be excited about new school supplies and a fresh start?  But at the same time, waking up whenever I want to and no lesson planning is pretty darn sweet.  So I have been dipping my adorably Summer pedicured toes, slowly back into work mode.  What does that mean?  Well, in addition to pinning lots of new stuff to my Education/Work/Teaching/Math Pinterest board, today that meant taking a look at my scope and sequence for the 2014-15 school year.  As a math team, we did some work on our scope and sequences at the end of last school year, which was nice, but as we get closer and closer to d-day (the first day of school) it's time to really get into it and figure stuff out.

The problem with making a long term plan, while working in the DOE, is that things can change in an instant.  For example, I may learn that we will have mandatory period assessments that will be aligned to a very specific sequence, and if I don't follow that sequence, then the data from these assessments would be useless.  Another potential problem could be that I could spend all my time planning for one grade, only to be told, a few days before school starts that I will in fact be teaching a different grade (true story, two years ago, btw).  So I've learned that sometimes planning ahead of time, just ends up being a waste of time, and the older I get, my time is becoming much more valuable.

So where does that leave me?  Well today that meant taking a look at the Common Core State Standards for 7th grade.  After all, no matter what curriculum I use, or what scope and sequence I follow, or what assessments I give, the standards are bottom line.  Here in NY we've been using the CCSS for a few years now.  This will be my third year teaching 7th grade with the new standards, so I know them.  But do I really, know them?  So they were my starting point.  I created this Google Doc, to help organize the 7th grade math standards for myself.  It breaks the five domains into the 43 standards that my scholars must understand by June 2015.  Some of the standards have example questions, which a separated out, and it also identifies the priority/post standards, and test percentage break downs.  For me, it's a start and a way to get reacquainted with what I will be teaching over the next 10 months.

Also today, I learned today that they released 50% of the 2014 math state test questions, which is an increase from 25% in 2013.  This is definitely a step in the right direction because it gives us a better idea of the types of questions, although this is still not going to help when we analyze the item analysis from the test because we won't be able to see the actual test.  Oh well, it's the little things, right?

Finally today, I took another peek at the state test data that was released.  Initially, I was OK with it, but the more I looked at it, the sadder (angrier?) I got.  28% of my students this year were at or above grade level (level 3 or 4 on the state test).  48% were approaching, and 24% were below.  Now, mind you 22% of my students last year were at or above grade level, 48% were approaching, and 30% were below.  So, the numbers went in the right direction, but I am disappointed.  28% is not a lot.  It's progress, but not where I need to be.  My kids deserve better.  Even worse, only 18% of the incoming 7th graders were at or above grade level.  So my work is definitely cut out for me this year.

What does this data all mean?  Well, for me, a big part of it is curriculum.  I've used the Connected Math Program, which is a great inquiry-based math curriculum, for the last two years with my students.  I really like it, but my big concern is that my students don't get a lot of practice in the skills that they need (plus the implementation of CMP3 in the DOE last year was horrible, but that's another post), so at the end of last year I was pretty set to follow a more direct-teaching curriculum this year.  But then the data came in and I don't know.  Not only did my current students improve, but my former 7th graders did well too (as 8th graders).  I know I can't take all the credit for that, but maybe, just maybe, the inquiry-based curriculum helped them become better math learners, at least a little bit?  7th grade and middle school in general, I feel, is a big make-or-break year.  Not to say that if a student does bad, they are doomed, but I feel like you really begin deciding if going further in math is for you.

Wow, this post was way longer than I planned it to be.  I guess I had  a lot to say about going back to work after all?

Friday, August 15, 2014

13 Rules that Expire NCTM article

Just read an awesome NCTM article posted on the Google Community Math with your PJs on and I had to share.  It is truly a must read for any K-12 math teacher, but it is especially important for elementary school math teachers:


I know, especially in my early teaching years, that I've used little (sometimes meaningless) math tricks to get kids to "remember" a procedure or computation rather than a concept.  Did it make me a bad teacher?  No, I don't think so.  I really believed that it was my job to make the material as easy as possible for my students.  Now, not so much.  It's not my job to make the work any easier, it's my job to know how to get my students to where I want them to be.  It's my job to constantly ask them questions what what they are thinking and to challenge their thinking to push them forward so that they can make sense of math on their own.

What I found most interesting (and not that surprising when I think about it) about this article was how many of the "rules" "expire" in 7th grade.  As a 7th grade teacher, I have seen the faces of students so many times, when I am teaching them something and all of a sudden something they thought was "true" turns out to not be as true as they thought.  For example, leaving improper fractions as improper, or using the number line to show how you can subtract a bigger number from a smaller number.  The article also made me aware of some of the things that I have presented to my scholars as "true" and how I can catch myself in the upcoming school year.  I am so grateful for having taught 8th grade and Integrated Algebra in the past because it gives me a frame of mind when I am teaching my 7th graders for where they will need to eventually be.

In addition, someone shared this free resource, Nix the Trix, which also does a good job of describing tricks, rhymes, etc, that are commonly used by teachers that "rob students of conceptual understanding."  Had to share!

2013-14 NY Common Core State Test Results

The DOE released the NY Common Core State Test results for 2013-14 so of course that means I spent my morning making a Google spreadsheet on how my scholars did while watching Rachael Ray this morning.  That combined with reading Driven By Data has definitely made me aware that the new school year is around the corner.

I don't have specifics for individual students yet, but overall I am proud of how my kids did (both my 7th graders from this year and my old 7th graders (last year's 8th graders), and I know I will have my work cut out for me this coming year.  

Since I just got this data today, I am still very much digesting it.  My next steps will be to set it aside for a bit until I can really sit down and dig into it (it is still my summer vacation after all) and note things that I notice and wonder about the data.  Ideally, (although it's unlikely that it will happen) I will get last year's item analysis before the school year starts and a copy of last year's test, so that I can do some really analyzing before the start of the school year, but I'm not holding my breath.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My thoughts on Driven By Data (so far)

So part of my Summer work reading is Driven By Data by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo.  I didn't want to start reading it because that would mean that my Summer is coming to an end, but I started it this week and I am actually enjoying it because it is an easy (and so far practical) read.  It basically goes through the process of designing assessments, analyzing the data, and then creating and implementing an action plan.  It makes sense and is making a lot of the PLC (Professional Learning Community) process that we have been trying to implement in our math team, much clearer.

I am only up to chapter 3 (Action) and I am getting some potentially good ideas for the upcoming school year, but I am running into some things I am finding questionable, such as, this whole process feels very much like teaching to the test, which, in my opinion is not the best way to teach middle school mathematics.   The book also makes the big point of looking at the final assessment, which in my case is the 7th grade Common Core Math Exam, which they do not release copies of, only sample questions (which I have found in the past not to be the most reliable.  They also stress getting data fro the test back right away and that when doing analysis, you should have a copy of the test in front of you, however, whenever we do finally get an item analysis of the prior year's state test (usually in the late Fall), again, we don't have the test in front of us, so how deep of an analysis can we really do?

I don't want to appear totally negative, because I am getting a lot of good ideas from the book, these were just a few things that were bugging me.  I have been keeping my notes on each chapter in an ongoing Google Doc, which I have shared below, in case anyone is interested.  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Marbles and Math

Just read an interesting article on the connection between playing with marbles and math:


What I found most interesting was the paragraph: "To me the educational value is, you have to learn speed, spin, accuracy, eye-hand coordination," says Corely. It's very similar to pool, he says.  I spoke with experts who study games, who say marble games help kids hone their math skills because they're hands-on and visual. You can manipulate marbles using the laws of motion, force, geometry and physics and you can group them into sets, which is crucial to understanding math."

This was interesting because, again, it brings up the idea of "playing" and "learning something new" and being "hands on" which are all concepts that I am trying to bring into my math class.  It also mentions pool and it's tie in to mathematics, which I explored in one of my grad classes.  I learned early in my teaching adventure to always have a chess set in class (I think very teacher should, personally), but maybe I'll have to invest in a bag of marbles too this year?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Not thinking about teaching during my vacation...

I just got back from a truly relaxing vacation on Sunday, but of course my mind couldn't help but think of work once or twice, especially since so many of the teachers that I follow on Facebook and twitter are already starting up the school year once again.  Here is just a short list of work/ school/ math/ teaching/ education in general ideas that came up, in no particular order.  Hopefully I will expand on these as the school year moves on:

  • I have always wanted to, but never succeeded in having my students track their own data.  I distinctly remember my 5th/6th grade math teacher making us do it and it is such a powerful tool I should be taking advantage of as a math teacher.  Not only does it give students a concrete idea of where they stand in class, but it is a great way to give them exposure and practice in a real-world, meaningful way.  So of course, I have turned to Pinterest for some ideas and here is what I am looking into: Pre/Post test data tracking, standards bar graphs, and posting class data.
  • Building fluency with fractions, decimals, percents, and rational numbers in general.  Fractions and rational numbers are always something that scholars readily admit to not liking or being good at.  So, while walking around in Portland, Maine this past week, I thought about how could I "sneak in" fractions, decimals, percents, and rational numbers into class everyday so that they become less scary.  Now, I don't know how well this will work out, but it peeked my interest... developing understanding of the "whole" and it's relationship to the "part."  For example, if our school year is made up of 180 days, then 1 of those days can be represented as 1/180 or 0.005 repeating or 0.56%.  If our whole is a week, then after class on Wednesday, we have completed 3/7 or approximately 0.6 or 60% of the week.  Developing that whole-part relationship is essential to deep understanding of fractions, decimals, percents, and rational numbers.
  • I love Instagram.  How can I effectively use it in my 7th grade math classroom?  Maybe creating
    a teacher account and posting student work?  On a similar note, I saw this image of somebody's 9th grade math classroom for #M^2 (Motivational Mondays), #TorTTu (Truth or Trick Tuesdays), #WYGW (Where You Going Wednesdays), #TBT (Throwback Thursdays) and #F^3 *Fun Fact Fridays).  I don't know how I feel about the others but I kinda like throwback Thursdays to review previous topics and fun fact Fridays for interesting math facts.  Hmm...
  • I took a tour of the Ben and Jerry's factory in Waterbury, VT while on vacation last week and I had no idea about how they started (7th grade gym class), their product, economic, and social missions, and what goes on in their factories to make their delicious ice cream.  All I kept thinking of was how rich in math this all was!  Prior to this visit, the only way I had been able to incorporate ice cream into my curriculum is how to determine whether a scoop of ice cream in the shape of a sphere would melt and not overflow into a cylinder cone, when discussing volume of solids.  I definitely want to investigate more into this.  How awesome of a school year would it be if students could learn about the math behind economics and maybe get ice cream!
  • I recently read this article on Khan Academy.  Now I have used it in the past, with Saturday test-prep classes, and as videos or extra practice to support lessons in class.  I think it has a lot of potential, but I don't think I've used it in a way to maximize it's usefulness.  It's definitely something I need to incorporate more, I believe.  Not even as an extra math tool, but as a way to help scholars become independent learners.  There are always going to be times in life when they come across something that they don't understand or get right away.  More often than not, that's where they stop.  In addition to teaching math, I want to get my students persevere through something when it doesn't make sense to them (Math Practice #1).  I want to get them curious to want to learn more.  Not for me.  Not for a grade.  But for themselves and the sheer satisfaction that comes from learning something.  
  • And lastly, I came across some great quotes that I will be looking to put up in my 7th grade math classroom in a couple of weeks: "Believe in yourselves.  Dream.  Try.  Do Good." - Mr. Feeny, Boy Meets World and "No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world." - Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets Society.