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Acknowledging the Past, Critiquing the Present, Anticipating the Future

I can’t believe it has been five years since I started this blog and then never made time to really use it. I started out a struggling teacher with classroom management problems, and have grown into an educator with significantly better classroom management, but who still has room for improvement. I would like to dedicate this post as a reflection of where I started, what has changed, and where I am hoping to go as an mathematics educator. This is going to be very, very long and is mostly just for me to curate a reflection in writing.

The Past

I have just read everything I have ever published on this blog. It isn’t much, however I seem to keep the same themes.

Theme 1: I want to be innovative.

In my first two posts, I bemoaned that I was doing the best I could and I wasn’t good enough.  I lost my position at my school because I was unable to meet the expectations of my administrators from isolation. I learned, the hard way, that I need to find people to depend on, even if they are outside my content area, outside my building, or outside my district. In the same breath, I learned that I can’t wait for collaboration to start innovating. I need to innovate my classroom for my students and myself, then, maybe, I can get others on board with me. This lesson was somewhat blunted by a co-teacher a few years ago, who looked at my crazy ideas and decided to go on the journey with me.

So far my most significant attempted innovations have included:

  1. Standards Based Grading: Fall 2015 to Present, which is still a work in progress and will be its own post soon…probably. The short version: I read Robert Marzano’s book Formative assessment and Standards-Based Grading. I, along with that co-teacher, collected questions for each standard and organized them based on level of difficulty. We had a high failure rate and students rarely tried the most difficult problems. I moved away from leveled assessments and into more homogeneous style questions for 2016.
  2. Flipped Classroom: Spring 2015 to Spring 2016, which failed due to a lack of technology in students homes and an over abundance of personal ambition without  factoring in time needed to accomplish the goals. I also did not adequately train students on my expectations, an Achilles Heel of mine. I am planning to incorporate a lesson or two where students create videos during class and other students watch them.
  3. Gamifying: ongoing, but picked up steam Fall 2016. I’ve gradually moved away from worksheet-style assignments and am getting closer and closer to gamifying portions of my class. I have not made the leap yet, but I have significantly increased the number of games and cooperative activities my students play.
  4. Self-paced badge system: Fall 2016. Failed due to me not adequately training students on expectations…shocker.

I am so glad that despite setbacks, some of which were pretty severe, I haven’t stopped wanting to be an innovative educator and have not gotten stuck in the rut so many educators end up in.

Theme 2: I am inconsistent.

When I’ve started a new innovation in my classroom, I haven’t adequately prepared students for the change and I didn’t adequately support them during their transition period. I gave a few days of modeling and explaining and I expected them to get how it worked. I expected students to watch their flipped videos for homework, take notes, and return ready for conversation. On the third day after we flipped. I must be mental. I had students my first year of Standards Based Grading who had no idea what a “2” meant…in April. My classroom management has been pretty fluid since the day I walked into my first classroom on my first day. I have gotten better, but I am still quite inconsistent. That isn’t fair to my students who need to know exactly what my expectations are and where the line is. I keep moving the line. All I know is I don’t want to be the teacher who shouts. More like Professor Snape’s volume and emphasis with Professor McGonagal’s tone. Tough love without the violence. This is the one thing I most need to work on.

 

The Present

I am on my fourth co-teacher in six years. He and I disagree pedagogically, so I am more on my own now than I was a few years ago, but that’s okay. I feel more equip to handle the isolation now. My administrators have hinted that I should offer a training on Standards Based Learning. I’m not quite ready for that yet, but I will probably be ready in the near future.

Current Innovations and Improvements:

  1. Standards-Based Grading continued: I am getting more into Standards-Based Learning. I am starting to locus less on the assessments and more on the learning. I am reorganizing and tweaking all of my assessments from two years ago so I can use them next year. I am mixing the questions and not ranking by level of difficulty. Students will be graded with an attached rubric. I am also going to continue with “Take It Till You Make It” Quizzes. Students have answers checked and quiz returned. They keep correcting quiz, individually, until all answers are correct. I need to be better at having something for finished students to do. I am also working on a different system for students who need to retest.
  2. Gamifying: I am creating more collaborative activities and mini-games because worksheets are boring. I still have limited technology.
  3. Providing Cornell Notes: I am providing note sheets for my students this year. I am also going to devote time to helping them keep their notes organized. This is both to save time and to lessen the “why aren’t you taking notes?” struggle.

The Future

I went to the ISTE 2017 conference in San Antonio, Texas last week. That conference further solidified my desire to further gamify my classes and include student voice and choice into my classes. I might incorporate student conferences into my courses this year, but it is more likely that I have enough changes going on this year to keep up with already. I probably will not create a game arc this year either, but in the future I can figure out a way of getting the mini-games to sync up to a low-tech semester arc game.

New Student Work Organization Idea

Well, I didn’t come up with this. My partner teacher at my new school (That I LOVE by the way) uses this method to organize student work. It seems to save a lot of time. I will do the following tweaks for my own classroom.

Each table gets its own folder. Each class period gets its own color.

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Students turn in their work to the right side of the folder. I grade the assignments and place them in the left side, where students collect them. Absent students retrieve worksheets and handouts from left pocket. A team mate writes the absent students name on assignments.

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I start using these on Monday. We’ll see how it goes.

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