February 21, 2012

My "Gradebook"

Sometimes my students mock my clipboard. For good reason- its a couple pieces of cardboard from old pads of paper and a binder clip. The clip holds down several spreadsheets that function as my "gradebook." I like everything I use to function exactly as I want, which results in me making my own version of most things. The spreadsheet is just a list of names and some empty columns. I print them only as I need them since students come and go from my classes regularly and I want the names to be alphabetical for ease of computer inputting. The columns are filled with dates or assignments. Any day we have class I check homework (check marks on the left), take attendance (horizontal line in the middle if you aren't here at the bell; becomes a T or an A by the end of the period) and note effort in classwork (tallies at the right for off task).

I have gone back and forth on the issue of grading participation/effort/classwork or whatever you want to call it. Some people in my school want this to count as 60% of a student's grade while in true Standards Based Grading it would be 0%. I believe that my job description encompasses much more than teaching students the characteristics of a circumcenter; I also aim to develop effective thinkers, collaborators and workers. We also have school wide rubrics we are supposed to use, so I picked 8 of those categories to use for a bi-weekly classwork grade (which is 15% of their final grade). The "participate" and "disrupt" columns correspond to those categories. By the end of two weeks I have all the information I need in a single row to check their self assessments on the classwork rubric (I wrote a bit about this way back when, I'd like to expand on how I use journals eventually).

Finally, any assignment I collect gets a column. It's so much easier for me to write grades down on paper and then do a data entry session than it is to manage grading and inputting all at once.

So, here's what it looks like.  Rather messy by the end and this one doesn't even have any random notes on the bottom!  Most weeks I don't gain/lose so many students but this was the beginning of a new semester.

Click to zoom
How do you keep track of all the information you need for your classroom?

February 20, 2012

Parent Communication

True Confession: I never call parents.

You might not believe that the never is literal, but it's absolutely true. I also rarely call my friends and my mother always calls me; the phone and I are not friends in general. Then when you put it on the complete opposite side of the room from my desk, away from the computer filled with info on the students? Just not gonna happen.

The school runs on quarters and we send out progress reports mid-quarter. So that means I send out parent communication every 5 weeks (although it's in the format of comments chosen from a list). Every mailing includes the school phone number and my email address. I am really efficient at responding to parent emails. They always receive replies within one school day filled with specific information as well as general resources. One of those general resources is that my entire online grade book is visible to parents online. Combine that with my course web page and parents have constant access to past grades, make up work, tonight's homework and current topics of study. Plus, I share this information with students regularly and I think high schoolers need to be independent. And lastly, I may only be year 5 but I'm already jaded- in my first school I was on a freshman team and we set up parent meetings all the time, but I never noticed any effect. I don't doubt that parents want the best for their kids and I don't blame them for not being able to attend conferences. Teens are supposed to be learning independence and figuring out how to be adults- I've had the most success appealing to them as owners of their own learning.

Despite all these rationalizations, I still feel guilty when people talk about calling parents. And this past week at potluck I got a look of shock when I made the "they're in high school" comment. I know that I won't keep a resolution to call parents, but I think I could reasonably expect to do a modified version of what Kate recently shared her high school does- postcards. I designed some postcards (on vistaprint since they're always having crazy sales and I can get them on recycled paper) that I can use to send home both kudos and concerns. I think my goal will be 4 cards each week (one for each of my regular ed classes) to start and then pare down to one "yay your kid did something great!" and one "please check in with your child about math" every Friday. I hope that I see some real response to this so I'm motivated to continue!

February 12, 2012

Sorting Quadrilaterals

I start the unit on quadrilaterals with a compare/contrast activity where students make up definitions for quadrilaterals, convex and concave based on similarities and differences between two columns. Then we follow up by discovering the angle sum rule for quads. (download worksheet)
The next class begins with the simple instructions to cut out the shapes and sort them (I only give them page 1 and have to make sure they cut around the shape, not on the lines).

Classify Quads
Note: pages 1-2 are printed 1 sided for each student and unveiled at different points in the lesson. The presentation is also up on the screen so the slide matches the step the students are on.

Students will create a variety of different groupings that I have them present. This would be a great time to have a Smartboard, but sitting them at my computer to manipulate the powerpoint works just fine. I like to get several different groupings presented, including the one big pile from the kid who says "they are all quadrilaterals." Since high schoolers have seen the vocabulary before they may use some of the terms we are leading up to but until this point I am more interested in hearing about right angles, parallel sides and congruent sides (vocabulary I will push for rather than 'arrows' or 'little lines').

After everyone who wants to present has gotten the opportunity, I begin to distribute the second page while talking about how it's nice to have words for these groups so we don't have to say "the shapes with two pairs of parallel sides" every time we want to talk about that shape. As a class we talk through how the diagram works, including definitions and overlap. While students know what a rectangle is, it still takes some effort to get a precise definition, so it really helps that we've just been talking about characteristics. I try to keep the conversation interesting by saying things such as: "if a rhombus and rectangle have a baby, they make a square!" while also pointing out root words to make the vocabulary easy to decipher. Finally, I project the correct location of all the shapes and distribute glue and tape. The end result is an easy to use reference sheet. We keep ours word-free but I imagine you could write definitions in as well.

February 2, 2012


My geometry classes have been doing quite a bit of coloring (they're so quiet and focused when they color! Plus, learning is happening while they make things look pretty). First we color coded midsegments to highlight their properties and now they are working on fractals. I introduced the topic when students noticed that drawing 3 midsegments creates a similar triangle (even though we haven't studied similarity yet- love when that happens!).  So I shared that fractals are a repeated pattern; when you 'zoom in and out you see essentially the same picture' (not a precise definition but it will have to suffice for the type we're currently studying). I passed around some pages from the fractal calendar my mom gave me while exuberantly explaining how cool it is the word fractal wasn't even invented until 1975, an especially exciting fact since everything else we study is from the age of Euclid. The students all oohed and ahhed and then we watched a Vi Hart video that just happened to end with the Koch Snowflake. Everyone was given the choice of which fractal to make, among the Sierpinski Triangle, Koch Snowflake and Anti-Snowflake. Then they set to work drawing equilateral triangles on the isometric dot paper and cutting/adding from there. I assigned this as homework last year which wasn't terribly successful, so this year we started in class and finished for homework.  Everyone did well once they figured out how the dot paper worked. Hopefully I'll get some awesome results to re-decorate the hallway (I'm tired of the triangle quilt) and some mind-boggled students trying to wrap their brains around infinite perimeter on a finite area.

I adapted my worksheets from this website: http://math.rice.edu/~lanius/frac/

My handouts: Sierpinski, Snowflake, Anti-Snowflake, Dot Paper