August 7, 2013

End of Year Reflections

For more years than I can remember (all of them?) I've had students fill out an end of year reflection after they finish their final exam. I don't read them in June though, or even in July. I save them, as precious motivation, for sometime in August when I decide that I want to start getting back into school mode but I'm not sure where to start, or if I even want to. This may not be true of all students, but mine are totally honest with me when I ask them to reflect. I don't get beautiful prose (it's the last days of school and they just took an exam) but I know that whatever my students share will be truth.

The prompts:

As I read, I took notes on some of the aspects. I included every Favorite, Hard and Interesting that students provided (I know the numbers don't add up, some students listed more than one per category and others skipped categories) and in the bottom right corner I wrote down phrases that made me happy or that I wanted to remember. The big letters are for the class sections, we run a block schedule and each period is associated with a letter. A and C are fundamentals of geometry (co-taught with a special education teacher), B is CP geometry, F and G are Honors PreCalc (F was a boisterous class while G was so, so quiet, do you notice any major differences in reflections? Nothing jumped out at me.)

There was 100% growth mindset in geometry!! Seriously, every comment in the "This year I learned" section reflected the understanding that mastering the material takes work, and more work (of the correct types) results in more understanding. Sure, kids said they don't like math/algebra/geometry, but they all knew that they could achieve anything I asked of them in the course if they tried (and wrote that down!). This makes me so amazingly, unbelievably happy!!

You'd think after all the time we spend reminding students that it's important to challenge yourself, I wouldn't be surprised by this fact, but I still am:
The students who thought trigonometry was hard and the students who listed trigonometry as their favorite topic were the same students.
More than one student wrote "trig was my favorite because it was hard." The topics in the top right corner are the ones they found challenging, not the ones they hated. I'm sad that I expect students to have a negative association with difficulty but I'm thrilled to be proven wrong and I hope that next year I don't find this surprising.

There was some resistance to the investigative approach in PreCalc, but not a lot, and certainly not as much as you would have expected had you attended my first quarter parent conferences! A few students asked for structured notes or the formula first, although they all recognized their capability to do what I asked of them. Most were compromise requests such as: some structure before investigation so we don't flounder (though I laughed because in the same paragraph this student wrote how cool the folding conics activity was because the curves came as a total surprise!). The course will gain some clearer direction when I get to teach it again, but I won't be adding scaffolding because I know they don't need it. Generally speaking, changing the mindsets of PreCalc students who see themselves as 'successful' math students is more difficult than changing the mindsets of my geometry students who hadn't seen themselves as 'successful' math students. That doesn't mean I will change how I teach either course; it does mean that I will be more mindful in communicating my expectations to the PreCalc students next year.

There is some tendency to use the most recent projects/topics since those are fresh in students memories. That said, I still think it's safe to say that the Conics unit is a keeper. I was really proud of that unit (so proud I wrote three posts on it!) and its nice to see that the students had the same impression as I thought they did. Other than conics, the diversity of topics that students came up with is awesome. Each student is different and I'm happy to see that they all found something they enjoyed and something that pushed them outside their comfort zone. The more diversity there is in these lists the better I feel- I didn't butcher any one topic, students merely identified with some approaches more than others in a well balanced way.

Note: I think I've blogged about all of these units and activities by now, but if you are interested in hearing more about one and can't find the post, please drop a comment and I'll provide more information!


  1. Thanks for taking the time to put all your thoughts down and trusting us to share them! You are a rock star blogger and from all the activities the students listed, you are really working to bring engagement and meaning to their lives.

    Just wanted you to know we are hearing, seeing, and believing. Off to think about more growth mindset moments for my Advanced Algebra students.