April 17, 2012

Useful PD!

The professional development I attended over the last few weeks was really good for a few reasons: 
1. the presenter teaches math and works with kids on a regular basis (she knows what it's like to teach math right now)
2. it was relevant (she asked what topics we were currently working on, visited our classes to see first-hand what we're working with and the whole thing was targeted to teachers of grade 9-10 "at risk" kids)
3. it was all about what to do (there were actual tasks, she gave us materials and let us try out activities)
4. the philosophy was research based (personal research in her school as well as cited articles, all of which was intermingled with the activities so every philosophical point was paired with a concrete method of applying the philosophy)

So, now that you're jealous that I got to go to 10 hours of really well planned, awesome PD, I'll share what I learned.  (If you happen to teach near Beverly, MA then you should just get someone from Landmark out to your school.  If not, my summary of what I took from the sessions will have to do.)

Sorting activities:

Jen (our presenter) is all about sorting.  She has sets of cards for a variety of topics and she has students do several things with them.  They work in groups and might sort by anything they want, or into a specified number of categories, or into the groups 'got it,' 'working on it,' and 'not yet.'  I enjoyed sorting quadrilaterals with my students earlier this year but hadn't thought to use it in other ways.  We tried sorting fractions and decimals with my self-contained SPED class and I learned so much about their understanding (and lack thereof).  Categorizing is an important skill especially when it helps streamline problem solving (this is just like ____ that I already did), students also have to practice communicating the characteristics and pay attention to detail.  When we sorted decimals the students were confusing decimal points with multiplication symbols- it's a tiny difference in placement that totally changes the problem.  Another good sort: pile problems based on what formula/method you would use to solve it, without actually solving them.  It gets kids exposed to a lot of problems and thinking about all of them, without the time it takes to actually go through the process for every question.  We did it with the state test reference sheet so it would be a great way to familiarize students with that resource if they know how to solve the problems already (or if they would, once they found the formula).

Quick practice:

We share these types of activities all the time so most were a refresher for me (good to have though, since I always forget!).  Quarter (or eighth) sheet: cut the worksheets up into individual problems with enough blank space to work the problem.  Students aren't overwhelmed by how many problems they have to do, don't feel 'done' when they finish the page and don't feel bad if they don't finish the whole page.  Put a couple stacks around the room and let them have at it.  This also works like basketball/solve-crumple-toss.  Round Robin: each student is responsible for one step, then passes the page.  We did order of operations so everyone did parentheses, passed, did exponents, passed etc.  One sheet per kid, but each kid works on several problems by the end.  Fold and Pass: In this version the goal is to go back and forth, like between factoring and expanding quadratics.  The top of the page has an equation to factor, then the original gets folded back and the next person has to expand what kid 1 just wrote, continue until the sheet runs out and hope that it matches the top!  This one was new to me, and at first I wasn't sure how to apply it in geometry.  After some thought I'm excited to try it with vocabulary where the rows will alternate between word and definition with maybe a diagram thrown in there.  I am betting it will work about as well as the game telephone does at first.  Another example of how to use it was fraction-decimal-percent-decimal (repeat).  Tic-Tac-Toe: using plastic sleeves, put 9 problems on a grid and students get to choose which to solve in dry-erase markers, putting their X or O only if the partner agrees the solution is correct.  I'm honestly more excited about the reminder that plastic sleeves work with dry-erase than playing the game, but having students think strategy is definitely a good idea.


I don't require students to have a specific organization system, mostly because I'm really organized and always liked my system- I don't want kids who already have good skills to resent my imposition.  I did provide notebooks when I taught a class where we used consumable textbooks and I loved how organized everyone was.  My goal for next year is to impose a flexible system that will work for everyone.  They will need a small 3-ring binder with sections.  The thing that really swayed me toward having binders was when Jen said that students at her school clean out their notebooks at the end of every unit.  It makes so much sense but I never thought to do it!  Kids don't need to carry around all of their notes, old homework and worksheets after a unit because they should have made a study sheet with all the important information and have a test with example problems.  The old papers can be filed just in case someone wants to look back- but all of that practice and learning process should be internalized and it shouldn't take more than a good study guide and any other reference materials to recall anything they need to know.

The sections will be: Reference: including the state's sheet, study guides, tests and any other summary, maybe 'flappers' (a sheet of paper with index cards taped down so the title of the card is visible, on the card there are definitions/steps/examples or whatever other cues a student may need, mini-example below).  Notes/practice: looseleaf or spiral notebook to take notes and do classwork that isn't on a worksheet.  For students who may lose their binder: the binder would stay in class and only today's notes would go home to assist with homework. This section is cleaned out every unit.  Handouts: next year I want to type up homework problems so I can personalize them and kids don't have to carry around a ridiculously heavy textbook, plus this section would be filled with all of the photocopies I give out in class.  This section is also cleaned out every unit.

By the end of the unit the whole page would be filled.
But it would be easy to find each card!
Use the back, or don't.
Also works with printed cards (instead of index).

I'm excited to use the activities we talked about and to plan out next year's system more carefully.  It was so nice to have professional development that was immediately useful and got me thinking about my practice. 

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