March 14, 2014

Confronting the Insanity

The testing pressure in my district is real. The school committee met this week to talk about handing one of our elementary schools over to a private company. The skill deficits my students have are also real. Every time we talk about parallel or perpendicular lines we have to discuss how to find slope and what slopes would show the lines are parallel/perpendicular. When we are trying to find the missing angle of a polygon they struggle both to set up and to solve equations. So, the limited Algebra practice that I naturally incorporate in Geometry class isn't sufficient. I can't send them into an Algebra heavy state test in May like this, and I can't send them into Algebra 2 like this. I'm not going to quit teaching Geometry to teach Algebra, and I'm sick of forcing Algebra into Geometry (today we were identifying quadrilaterals given the four vertices, then writing the equation of the line containing one side... because they need practice writing equations of lines).

So my co-teacher and I decided today that we will set aside some time to do Algebra, maybe at the beginning of each class (the glory of 90 minute blocks is we can do this and still have a rich Geometry lesson). In our conversation we thought a good first task would be to have kids practice matching equations to graphs, and then we can work up to writing equations and graphing. But then my last block class had kids in such different places that some kids will be ready to move on from matching after day one while others will need a lot more practice. I think this has to be individualized, each kid could get a chart listing all the skills, quiz on a topic (say 5 questions on a very specific skill) and they either test out of that skill or get assigned related practice problems. If each kid gets an individualized assignment do these have to come in a particular order or can kids choose? Which skills have prerequisites? Maybe I can have kids write practice problems after they master a skill so I'm not making a million?

I hate being so skill/test focused so I'm also hoping to mix in Fawn's awesome visual patterns and estimation problems. Possible plan: each week every student must complete 2 skill assessments, a pattern and an estimation problem (then I can skip estimation on my skill list!). Patterns and estimation should be written up with a partner, skill assessments must be completed individually (but feel free to discuss practice problems with a partner). If I plan 60 minute lessons then students can work on this at the end of class (plus about half the students - the ones with a math learning disability - have a second block with my co-teacher, she has been trying to set up similar things so this can carry through to the other class).

This afternoon I set out to see what skills are important according to the state test. And came up with a list (below) that I can work with. I'm really hoping part of this matches your curriculum, that you do SBG and you have assessments and skill practice sheets that you can share with me. Please??

Simplify algebraic expression (order of operations, exponent rules, factor/distribute)

Solving equations (rate, linear, one quadratic-multiple choice)
Solving system of linear equations, absolute value inequality

Writing linear equation, absolute value inequality
Writing and graphing inequalities (one variable)

Number Sense
Estimate percent, square root, with data (total, average, difference)
Scientific Notation

Angles of triangles, parallel lines with transversal, parallelogram
Similar and congruent triangles
Pythagorean Theorem
Transformations on coordinate plane

Mean, Median, Mode, Range
Box and Whisker Plot, Scatter plot, Line Plot, Circle Graph

Area, Surface Area, Volume

I have a better sense of what I'm hoping to achieve after writing this post, but I still don't know how best to organize this all. It's overwhelming because it seems like an entire Algebra class running on top of my Geometry course. But I'm already overwhelmed so I'd rather be overwhelmed with a purpose and a plan than continue throwing up my hands in despair. Advice greatly appreciated!


  1. That's some heavy RTI you've got planned. Have you tried for materials? They seem to have some good ones that get at underlying conceptual understanding instead of just drill and kill.

  2. I would consider moving Number Sense and/or Data as the last unit(s) before the state test: scientific notation, for example, is one of those skills that students will forget a month later since it won't be used for the rest of the semester. Basically, anything that would require you to re-teach before the state test, rather than merely review, is best left to right before the state test.

    By contrast, factoring and order of operations skills will improve throughout the semester since they will be practiced over multiple units.

    I would also take a look at planning spiral review throughout the semester so that the most difficult topics aren't forgotten. (If your school owns Kuta Software's worksheet generators, you can create worksheets targeted to those topics, as well as to the appropriate difficulty level (easy, medium, hard).) One suggestion for spiral review of slope and y-intercept form, if you have access to a smart board, is to have students come up to the board and play Algebra vs The Cockroaches.

    Hey, you asked for advice!

  3. Is each domain weighted?? In GA, each domain is weighted so we know what standards are the power standards. My suggestion, is to do a spiral review of algebra and number sense EVERYDAY. Measurement and Geometry you can integrate together. Data would be the odd main out, but Data you might be able to connect to number sense.

    Kuta Software = Wonderful website with free worksheets
    Ten Marks = Website with challenging questions but offers tutorial videos and hints to guide students to the answers.
    Problem-Attic = website with plenty of questions to pull from. Also free, but if you subscribe to the site you have access to the Common Core Materials as well.