Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hey, Did You Hear?

Here are some highlights from observing student learning!  If you have any questions or would like to explore some of these ideas in your classroom, please stop by the Collab Lab!

1.  Mirror Student's iPad on the Apple TV
This is a quick way to build student ownership and increase student engagement.  Here, Mark Heintz has asked a student to project over the AppleTV, so all students in the class to see him take notes.  Many teachers use this method of student ownership to show class agendas or view Schoology from the students' perspective, as their student view is different from that of the teacher.  

2.  Using Quizlet Live to engage students.   
Quizlet live is a great interactive learning tool. It's user friendly and fun! Many teachers at Elk Grove have used Quizlet live, and we recently had the chance to join in on the fun in Eleanor Pattie's chemistry class. After logging in with their join code, students are grouped in random teams with fun team names. Team members must collaborate to successfully compete against the clock and their classmates to demonstrate their learning. Students get immediate feedback to confirm, or recognize gaps in, their understanding.

3.  Place Your Bets! Formative Assessment & Self-Reflection in Chemistry 
Eleanor Pattie engages her students in checks for understanding using a game she calls Place Your Bets.  Students access learning resources via Schoology that Eleanor uses to pose questions. Before each question students reflect on their understanding to determine their "bet" which is a "dollar amount" they put on their game sheet.  At the end of the short round (~five minutes/8 questions) students tally the amount that corresponds to their correct answers to determine the class winner. "Place your Bets" is a quick and fun way to vary a check for understanding after a lesson.

4.  Adobe Spark: Creating and Making Learning Visible in CTE 
The students in Pat McGing's Aerospace engineering class recently used Adobe Spark to create presentations to demonstrate their learning. Check out this example on Apollo 11:

5.  Involving Students in their Learning: Remediation & Reassessment in Physics
Mr. Bozcar and the regular physics team have students self-assess following a unit test.  For each test question, students gives themselves a "+"  or  "-"  to indicate their confidence in knowing how to answer the question.  Then they give a check or an "x" to indicate if the answer was correct or not.  Then they give themselves a score of 1-4 based on a rubric (below right).

Next, students complete test corrections on the document below.  They are given a class period to do this.  

Lastly, the physics teachers have a schedule for reassessment with any one of the physics teachers on the team.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Changing How I Think

By Rachel Barry

This summer, I was recommended a book that has changed the way I think.  This book helped me to understand how our brain works and how our societal norms tend to go against the natural inclinations of the human brain.  I also never realized how much I was creating my own frustrations: in work, school, and life.  The book is titled Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School and written by John Medina.  Just like the title states, it expands on these 12 principles:

Now, I would recommend reading Brain Rules to anyone, regardless of their profession, because it really explains how the human brain is wired and what we need to do to maximize our brain capacity and effectiveness.  I found this book incredibly beneficial personally, as a teacher and coach.  This book both confirmed and contradicted some of my beliefs and practices, providing years of research and clear examples to back their opinions.  A point I should make, however, is that some of the life components that determine brain capacity and engagement are out of my control as a teacher/coach.  I can't control the gender of my students, the number of hours my students/athletes sleep, what or how often they eat, when they hit puberty, their stress levels, etc.  

Therefore, I have chosen to work on the few things that I CAN control.  This year, I am focusing on the aspect of attention.  The blurb above "We don't pay attention to boring things."  THIS IS SO TRUE!  If I'm reading a news article, and it starts boring me, I move on to the next article.  I scroll through social media until a picture or headline catches my attention.  Why do I expect students to pay attention in math when there are so many more exciting things to think about?

So....I'm taking action.  I am breaking my class into segments of ten minutes or less.  The book references that 10 minutes is the limit that the brain can focus without needing another hook to reel an audience back in.  Now, I don't lecture much in class, and when I do, it's almost always under ten minutes.  This leaves most of the time in class to be spent collaborating in groups on math problems.  As much as I love students working together for most of class, I was getting frustrated with students loosing focus.  Through using this method of breaking up the period into less than 10 minute segments, I have found that students are much more engaged.  

When there is an activity that may take longer than 10 minutes, I have used different grouping strategies to break up the monotony.  These were discussed in this previous blog post.  I also have incorporated movement into activities.  For instance, we have a 6-question formative assessment for each skill.  I have now posted these problems on the classroom walls and the whiteboard tables in my room so students are constantly moving around the room to find their next problem.  By moving around every 3-5 minutes, students are breaking up what normally would've been a 20-25 minute span of time working individually at their table.  

Building 10 minute segments into my class structure has been my first step in using these brain rules in my classroom, though I plan to integrate more in the future.  I am working to use repetition more often to build memory and will continue to use visual aids whenever possible.  If you have any additional ideas, I'd love to learn about them!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Making Pre-Test Review Interactive and Cooperative

Written by Quinn Loch

A couple weeks ago I was inspired by a review activity that AP environmental science (APES) students did at Prospect High School. In the activity, students were split into groups and assigned a topic in which they had to visually represent the most important concepts, diagrams, and terms within their topic. Students used neon-colored wet-erase markers on the black science lab tables and had great results. A lab table one day, and a make-shift "whiteboard" table the next. Time to get some markers!

Neon wet-erase markers on science lab tables.
I decided to try my own spin on it and have groups of students rotate around the room answering one of six questions for one of six topics. After six rounds, each group will have answered one question per topic. I used big pieces of butcher paper for this unit - going to give wet-erase markers a try the next time.

This jigsaw strategy is nothing new, however technology can lend a hand in making the end products accessible for students outside of class. After each poster's topic was finished, one student from the group took a picture and uploaded it to a Schoology Media Album. This media album provided another resource for my students before their first big test.

Our Unit 1 Review Media Album
I asked my APES students at the end of the jigsaw activity if they liked it and I got an overwhelming "Yes." I told them that I had seen this done another way, where each group was in charge of single topic and on student responded, "Oh yeah, that'd be cool too"!

My goal is to pool these resources both on paper and on schoology throughout the year, so that when the AP review starts in April, we'll have lots of resources to draw from.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Writing in Science

By Mark Heintz

I have been attempting to visit all the core sophomore courses my students take.  I want to see the purpose of writing and how teachers teach it and then use it in all the core classes.  I had yet to see a chemistry class and was fortunate enough to visit Colin Rice's honors chemistry course.  The two of us share a lot of the same students and I heard they wrote a lot in his course, so I asked if I could visit. He graciously accepted.

In chemistry, the teachers use writing as a summation of labs.  But, it serves a far greater purpose. Prior to the class I visited, the students completed a lab on closed systems.  The students collected data and completed a lab packet. Today, the students wrote about their findings in the lab.

Although all of the students had collected data, some of the students did not complete the lab correctly.  There in lies the genius of the writing. While Colin cared about the lab and the data the students acquired, he cared more about the explanation of the data to prove a concept.

A pair of students did not produce data that would prove the hypothesis.  They knew their data to be incorrect.  Colin told the girls not to worry about the inaccuracies of the data.  Instead, he told the girls to explain what went wrong in their lab. Furthermore, he wanted them to to write why the data they acquired could not be a part of a closed system.  If the students could explain the errors in their writing, they would have to understand the concept in a very in-depth way!  The critical thinking involved was amazing! What is great, is that all the students will have slightly different data and be attacking the writing from different view points.

After talking to Colin, we realized that our thesis/main idea/claims were nearly identical.  We both require students to use very specific evidence to support a thesis.  But, the best part was the reasoning.  We both desire the same critical thinking from the students.  We still have work to do on making the students see the parallels, but it was a great first step!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hey, Did You Hear?

One of our goals in the Collab Lab is sharing our practices by getting into classrooms and seeing student learning in action.  Here are some highlights!

1.  Peer Editing using Whiteboard Tables
In Kim Miklusak's class, students were put into groups based on general teacher feedback on an area for improvement: organization, evidence & depth, or counter claims & analysis. Each group sat with a table leader, a student who was successful on this first essay, and the table leader guided the group in self-analysis of their essay.  Students used the white board tables to chart evidence and counter claims or to organize and re-organize their main ideas.  While this could have been done on paper, the act of writing, rewriting, and seeing each other's work in progress helped students collaborate on similar skill areas with the guidance of a peer.

2.  Student-Created Videos
In Dave Johnson's PreCalculus class, students are learning how to manipulate literal equations.  To reinforce their learning, he had students record videos using the app called ShowMe.  Students were able to work in pairs or alone to talk through the process of solving a literal equation.
Click here to listen to this student's video. 

3.  Building Cause & Effect Charts
Students read five key documents and for each document wrote the causes and the effects of the event described. Students wrote the causes and effects on the white board table.  The students were able to walk from table to table to provide feedback to one another.  

4.  Student-Created Study Guides
In Ami Heng's Honors Advanced Algebra class, students reviewed for their test by making study guides on the whiteboard tables in the room.  Students worked in groups to come up with definitions and properties, as well as provide examples of the different types of numbers.  

5.  ...while having 1-on-1 conferences!
When students were working in their groups to build study guides (#4), Ami Heng had individual conferences with students.  This allowed her to go over their beginning of the year benchmark test scores and discuss their progress in class so far this year.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On Not Grading Notes

Formative assessment is nothing new; however, so many of us still grade notes and worksheets.  It can get exhausting, overwhelming even.  On top of all that, some people will say, it’s hard to “catch” cheaters.  But at the same time we argue that the practice of grading worksheets and notes helps students learn.  Or perhaps we argue that we need to hold them accountable.  We need to know that they’re learning.

When it comes down to it, though, if we assigned the same task to adult learners, we would allow them different ways of showing what they know.  Take for example chapter 2 of our textbook Everything’s an Argument.  If I were to take notes for this chapter, they would be 4 sentences long.  I get it.  There are big concepts in this chapter, no facts or details.  It’s the application of the theory that’s important, and that’s what we work on immediately after reading the chapter.  Yet up until last year I would “check-in” that students did notes as a completion grade to “show” that they were doing the reading.  Did that increase quiz scores?

This year I’m doing something different.  I’m marking in the “Notes” column of the quiz on Infinite Campus just the word “notes,” which indicates that the student showed me that they did notes either on paper or digitally.  This, I feel, provides me more information than a grade would have ever shown me.  First of all, fewer students, I believe, are going to “cheat” and copy someone else’s notes because it’s not for points in the first place.  I say to the students, “If you’re reading and not taking notes on this task and doing well, good for you.  If you’re reading and taking notes, and not doing well, we need to have a conversation.  If you’re not doing well and not doing notes, we need to have a conversation.”  And it has become just that: I was able to check in with students who did read and take notes.  We are able to talk about note taking skills and how to determine what’s important and compare note-taking theories across subject areas and texts in order to increase their comprehension of the text.

The next step for me is to do away with quizzes.  Why give a quiz on theories when it’s the application that we as teachers care about?  If students need to apply these concepts, and that’s my goal, then I need to assess that goal instead, not how they got there via theory quizzes.  I’m not there yet—that’s my next step: to make authentic application-based assessments that aren’t down-the-road essays.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Effective Grouping Strategies

By Rachel Barry

As part of my yearlong goal of building relationships, I am constantly having students switch seats to get to know one another and not just work with their friends. This should help students get to know one another, foster collaboration, feel comfortable asking questions to peers and myself, learn to use their resources, and ultimately stay engaged. My classroom is now made up of whiteboard tables, which was part of a four classroom remodel of innovative furniture to engage students in their learning.  My room is setup in the following formation:

With this new furniture, I am exploring new ways to group students.

Randomized Seating

To start each skill, students are randomized in groups using the Team Shake app.  I randomize students because most of our skills are new to all students, so everyone is starting from the same base of knowledge. Some students may have some additional prior knowledge, which will only enhance the discussions and support in those groups.

Students will typically stay in these groups for 2 days, to build on their connections from the start of the topic. Sometimes during these two days, students need to be redirected or maybe I find that a group or two do not work well together. This moves me into the next grouping...


To switch things up, I use Team Shake again to create pairs. The first person listed stays where he/she is currently seated, and the second person listed goes to find their partner. Now there are new groups of 3-4 students.


This is a loose term here, because some students work harder on the front end of a skill, while others procrastinate and finish right before the assessment. This seating chart is not as a "dig" at any student but as a clear statement of "this is where you are currently achieving".  To have a better understanding of the curriculum of our math department, here is a previous post explaining our leveling system of individualized learning.  Below on the left is what I show over AppleTV to the students, and on the left is the description of how I group these students.

This method helps me to best address each students individual needs. I can focus students who are struggling with the same problems, instead of repeating myself in each of the different groups with individual students. I can also give notes to the students ready to move onto the next part without confusing the rest of the class. The key is that this maximizes and targets my time in class.

No Grouping - Constant Movement

The last method is utilized as a class activity.  Often, I have problems posted on the walls around the room (though now written on the whiteboard tables).  Students move around solving these problems, one at a time, and then move on to the next. Depending upon the class dynamic, I may set up partners or I may allow them to choose their partners.

I'm still exploring new methods of grouping. Please let me know any successful methods that you have found to work - I'd love to steal them!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Author's Purpose and Thesis Development

By Kim Miklusak and Mark Heintz

Bonnie Kale invited us in to see her sophomores analyze each other's work after the three of us had been talking this year about the purpose of our courses.  We quickly realized each of our classes has been getting students to create arguments and defend them with specific pieces of evidence.  Another point of our courses to have students know that authors use different approaches to getting their arguments across to the reader.  So traditionally we rely on the 5-paragraph paper format because it's easy to teach at younger grades, but we realize it's so limiting as students progress.  Bonnie's class was working on getting students to see these patterns and reflect on their own reading and writing.

Prior to the class we saw, the students read a short story and created an outline for their literary analysis.  The students were tasked with two things in their literary analysis. For the first task, the students attempted to identify the author's main idea. For the second task, the students attempted to identify the organizational approach used by the author.

The students had to include both tasks in their thesis for their literary analysis. For the lesson, Mrs. Kale wanted students to identify if students completed both tasks.  She was not having the students provide feedback to other students.  She wanted to see if students could tell when other students completed the task and their effectiveness in the task.  The students walked around the room and attempted to see if other students completed the task using a graphic organizer on their iPads.

Before allowing students to move on to the actual writing of the literary analysis, Mrs. Kale ensured students knew when they were writing to the task at hand.  There has been so much overlap in the skill, the students are seeing that they are writing to a specific audience and for a specific purpose.  Moreover, they are seeing that authors are writing to a specific audience and for a specific purpose in all disciplines.  Some authors are more effective in their argument than others. That same day, all three of us inadvertently focused on the same skill!

Hopefully as this year's sophomores move into juniors, they will have more background in the foundational and cross-disciplinary approach to crafting arguments and supporting those arguments with specific pieces of evidence.  

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Building Positive Relationships Early

By: Rachel Barry

This year my focus in the classroom is building positive relationships.  I believe that I have always worked on creating a relatively positive environment for students to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with me, whether these thoughts were personal or academic in nature.  The problem with that last sentence is 'with me'.  Yes, it is incredibly important for teachers to get to know their students, build a positive rapport, and care about them as an individual.  Towards the end of last year, however, I realized that I have never set an expectation for my students to build relationships with one another.  I decided to change that going forward.

The first change was in the works during second semester of last year.  No more desks!  If I expected students to work together by communicating and collaborating with one another, I needed to have a physical environment that would foster this teamwork.  I now have whiteboard tables (which are amazing!), and there will be more blog posts about this resource in the future.

To begin cultivating relationships with and among my students, we first needed to begin with some introductions.  As the teacher, I need to provide students with opportunities to learn more about one another.  Here are some ways that I fostered this communication in the first week of school:

1.  Names
Every other day of class, I have had new groups using the Team Shake app.  This app randomly seats students into groups or pairs, based on how you designate the randomizer.  Then I ask my students to write their name on the whiteboard table and shake hands with the members of their group.  Over the period of two days, I am hoping that they are getting to know each new set of students at an introductory level.  (Note: This is also helping me to learn their names much quicker because I myself am a visual learner.)

2.  All About Me
This year, I created a new All About Me activity using the website Piktochart.  More information on how to create or use infographics can be found here.  

Students accessed this document electronically via Schoology and annotated using Notability.  Then, students were asked to share any one of their 'favorites' with their group.  At the end of the first day, they were then asked to share a different 'favorite' with the class.

What I learned about my students through this exercise:
- Who is strong and who is weak with technology (both Schoology and Notability)
- Who is willing to share easily and who needs time to feel comfortable sharing with me
- Who can follow directions and answer questions appropriately
- Who has internet at home (some students didn't finish and expressed that they wouldn't be able to submit this assignment tonight due to not having internet)

3.  Numbers of Significance
This idea I received from my colleague Eleanor Pattie.  I demonstrated with an example explaining 3 numbers of significance for myself and then had the students write out their 3 examples.  Then, they shared one of these examples with the class.  Here is a student example:

What I learned about my students through this exercise:
- Some students are incredibly creative  (i.e. 10 - age when received the first pair of Air Jordans; 2 - never like to go first; 10.5 - when I was first inspired to draw)
- Some students have had some really cool life experiences (i.e. played in a championship game in Cooperstown)
- Some students are very honest (i.e. number of suspensions; 9/11 - happened a week before I was born)
- Some students shared personal tragedies
- Lastly, I learned about my students' writing capabilities such as their spelling and grammar

4.  Academic Goals
In order for me to be an effective teacher, I need to know my students as both an individual and as a student.  Before the school year starts, I look up and pull a lot of data from our Infinite Campus information.  As much as this is helpful for me to best meet my students' needs, I'll be honest and say that it is also a bit creepy.  Therefore, I gave them a Google Form to answer the following questions:

1)  What were your grades last year in math?
2)  What school did you go to? (for my freshman classes); Who was your math teacher last year? (for my junior classes)
3)  What are your plans after high school?
          A.  Community College (i.e. Harper, etc.)
          B.  4-year College/University
          C.  Trade School (cosmetology program, nursing program, mechanics program, etc.)
          D.  Military
          E.  Other: _________
4)  What are your future career goals?
5)  What are your math goals for this year?  (i.e. getting into the Harper College Algebra course, staying eligible every week for a sport, etc.)
6)  What are your overall freshman/junior year academic goals? (i.e. getting a passing score on an AP test, getting into the Harper 103 English course, etc.)

I have looked over these replies and will have one on one meetings with each student over the next couple weeks.  During these meetings, I am going to have students fill out the following card, which will be stapled to their portfolios.  This way, every time we go over assessments, students will be able to look at their goals and reflect on them.  I am still brainstorming ideas of how best to document these student refections, so if you have any ideas, please share!

What I learned about my students through this exercise:
- Which students want to get into the Harper College Algebra Course (These students will need additional skills to pass the placement test to get into the course.)
- Which students may need interventions early on (These students should get into good habits early by being encouraged to come in before school, during lunch or visiting the Mastery Lab regularly for help.)
- Which students should be challenged to try to get into the Harper College Algebra course (Maybe they don't realize that it is an option for them.)
- Which students do not have aspirations for schooling following high school (I will need to learn more about these students as to why they do not want to pursue a continued education.)

This biggest component of all these activities was that I want students to be comfortable by allowing for student voice in the classroom.  They get to determine what they share with me and what they share with the class.  For example, I let them choose their 'favorite' with the class.  I could've said that everyone needed to share their favorite color, but instead I wanted to see what my students wanted to share about themselves.  I will be documenting more of my encouragement of student voice and building relationships throughout this year's blog posts.