Monday, October 11, 2010

No Names

So this year, I've gone away from grading homework in any way shape or form. I told the students I still expect them to do the work that I assign, but that it is practice and when they turn it in, I will only give them written feedback (comments) on the paper. There will be no grade, not even one for effort. This seems to be going well as students are still doing the practice and are doing pretty well on their skills quizzes. What I'm seeing that is different however is a tremendous increase in the amount of "no name" papers. I have a pile about 4 inches thick hanging on my blackboard. In years past, I've received no names here and there but they have never been in such high numbers. Students have also been more vigilant about going through the no name paper pile. It also seems like the kids feel that they are still doing their practice work, and since I don't grade it, who cares if I know whose paper it was. Assuming they understand the material and any comments that I made were only about silly errors or such, this seems reasonable to me. However, what about the students who did the work and were completely off base? They won't be getting back any feedback as to where they were going wrong. (Hopefully their errors were caught when I gave exit cards the day before anyhow but still...)

So I guess my real question here is how concerned should I be about these "no name" papers. I mean its pretty obvious that kids are still taking the responsibility to do their practice work both by the sheer volume of work I'm commenting on and by their scores on the skills tests. But will this eventually lead to bad habits that could come back to haunt some students later in the year?

I'd love to hear others thoughts on this

Monday, September 27, 2010

Being Less Helpful

So today in class, I presented a problem on using prime factorization. (We had spent the past three days learning how to do prime factorization and then the students created games or how to booklets on it to show their understanding) Anyhow I presented a hypothetical situation where a student used prime factorization to find the Greatest Common Factor and the Least Common Multiple and then asked the students to determine how the student did it (with some help/ prompting but not much) and use that method to determine the GCF and LCM of a couple other sets of numbers.

Well, in my class of 23 I had about half who got started right off trying stuff, experimenting... I loved to see that. Unfortunately, I couldn't see much of that because the other half either had their hand up or were out of their chair in front of me wanting to know "what to do." I once again channeled my inner Dan Meyer and (as he so eloquently put it) vowed to "be less helpful." I simply refused to answer any questions. I looked at the students and said, "yep, I see where you are coming from... so what are you going to do?" I refused to answer any questions. I ended up with a good quarter of the class quite frustrated. I viewed this as a major success. This class is a genuinely talented math class and these students have, for the most part, skated through math. I think today was not like that for a number of them... and I'm proud to say that I did that to them!

By the end of the class, almost all of the students had worked out some sort of way to use prime factorization to find the GCF and LCM and I was able to do the notebook item with them and most of them got the exit card (and I'm fairly certain will be able to do the homework.)

Overall, I was very happy with the experience. I'm looking forward to more chances to "be less helpful!"

Sunday, September 26, 2010

First Progress Report and SBG

So I've dived in pretty deeply in the SBG borg this school year. I've created math skills lists (along with the KUDs I have always used) and have shared these with students, talking in depth about why I have them and how I am going to assess the students on them. I also talked about the process of learning and how it isn't something that happens for everyone at 8:30 AM on Tuesday and thus how students will have the chance to reassess on skills they haven't shown proficiency in. Dealing with 6th graders who up until this point have never received any sort of grade, I'm not sure this has sunk in. I've used a Google Form to have students sign up for extra practice and reassessment but only a handful of students have done so, a couple of whom were taken aback that I would suggest they need some more practice prior to reassessing. I think this is a culture thing and something that will work its way out as the year progresses. In fact, I think progress reports will help with it. So....
I sent home my first progress report on Friday. It was exciting as I entered the grades into GradeQuick (our online gradebook software) and the only heading I had was "Skills." In the past, I have used a "tests and projects" heading and a homework heading. Truthfully, this didn't tell me, the students or their parents much of anything. The new heading of skills and the breakdown I've done of specific skills I want kids to know and understand when they are done with 6th grade gives so much more information in my mind. Students can now see that based on two or three assessments of each skill they either have a good grasp of divisibility rules, factors, prime & composite numbers or they don't. I'm hoping the progress report will get them to really look at what they don't know and come to me (with some prodding of course) to re-examine those skills they are lacking in and then allow me to reassess them. I'm excited to see if (again with some prodding) I'm going to get kids asking about skills not particular letter or % grades on Monday when they come into school.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Alright so its a couple weeks into the school year and I've already broken my vow to blog about my day to day goings on in my classroom. I could say its been a super busy start to the school year with 7 new kids added to our team in the first few days. Or I could talk about the extra work that I'm doing as the technology adviser for my son's kindergarten. But really those are just excuses and the fact is I just haven't made the time to reflect and blog.

That being said, I'm excited about how math class has started. I've never been a worksheet/ text book type of person and in fact I try to have the kids play games and create activities/multimedia pieces to learn and reinforce their math concepts and skills. However, I don't think these games/ activities have done enough to get at my students' higher level thinking and problem solving skills. Therefore, I've channeled my inner Dan Meyer to a small extent and started using some teacher created multimedia to create more engaging problems for my kids to learn and practice problem solving skills. I gave them the first of these today to work on. You can find it here. I've got back a number of responses from students (I had them work on it in Google Docs and share their responses with me) and I'm excited by some of the questioning and thinking I'm seeing. The problem itself is not the best for getting kids to question but I think its a good introduction for the students to get started on this type of activity. I've got a couple more lined up for the next couple weeks including a video of the "Locker Problem" in which I'm going to use students of mine from two years ago. I'd love to hear what people think of this activity so far and ways that I could improve it.

Thanks in advance


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Summer Class- 21st Century Teaching

So I'm just finishing up my summer professional development class. Prior to the class, we did a good deal of reading about PBL from Edutopia as well as looked at the State of Vermont Transformation ideas We have looked at the student NETS, went over a few Web 2.0 tools, and had a lot of time to work on the unit project that we were assigned. Our assignment was to adapt one of our units to make it more 21st century. The teachers (the tech integrationist from our district and from a neighboring one) wanted us to make our lessons as transformative as possible. I choose to work on Latin America unit. Here is a link to my project (has my KUD, skills list, NETS, and pacing guide for the unit). Please give me some feedback on it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Using skills list in my Latin America study

Okay so I've decided to use skill list for part of my grading this year. I'm planning on doing it in both Math and Social Studies. I feel pretty confident with the lists I'm making in math (although I'll share those next month anyhow). It was harder for me to do it in Social Studies. I'm going to put both the KUD that I created for the unit and the skill list up here and I'd love to hear some feedback about either! Thanks in advance


Skill List

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Setting up my Classroom Part 1

Some background before I get into my actual plan for setting up my classroom. I began teaching in my district as a inter-school loop teacher which means that I went between the 3-5 Elementary school and the 6-8 Middle School. Each year I was in a different classroom which was obviously very difficult. To make matters worse, when I was at the Middle School, I was on the ground floor and my room was used by the Summer Y program. This continued for the past few years even after I became a full time 6th grade, Middle School teacher. Last year, when I moved from being on a two person team to a three person team, I also moved my classroom upstairs. That meant that my classroom was going to get cleaned in the first couple of weeks of summer. Unfortunately last year, they had to paint my classroom and did not finish this until halfway through August, about 2 weeks before kids came back. This year there was no painting so they had my room cleaned before the 4th of July. Imagine how excited I've been to set it up!

Above are some images of my classroom prior to my changing anything. My room is a bit odd in shape as it falls on one end of the school (meaning that no one abuts one side of my room.) Also my room is more wide than long as well.

As you can see, I have tables as opposed to desks. I'd much rather have round tables but that isn't an option so I'll take the tables I've got. I also have a IWB on the chalkboard, a kidney shaped table that plays double duty as my desk and a place to work with kids, various forms of shelving, and a bunch of chairs with tennis balls on the feet (an idea from my wife.) You can't see it in those pictures but I also have two working desktop computers available in my room and an ELMO.

In the following pictures, you'll see how I began my set up of my classroom.

You'll notice I've set the desks up in sort of a lecture room style. I'm not really completely happy with that as it suggests the focus of my class is on me, talking at the board which is rarely the case in class. I wanted the desk to focus that way in part because it allows students to share with one another either on the IWB or on the ELMO. Otherwise, I was just trying to use the room I had as best I could without putting tables right next to one another. I've also tried to leave quite a bit of space on one chalk board so that I can have a place for kids to put their ideas, drawings, etc. This was inspired by the white boards that Google has placed all over their Googleplex and other places of business. I'm thinking I'm going to bite the bullet and put out colored chalk for the kids to write/draw with even though I'm sure it will create a big mess. Its a shame I don't have a whiteboard and could go ahead and use markers instead but oh well... I wish I had smaller tables to put the computers on but I like not having them right next to one another but instead one on each side of the IWB. I think this will allow more room for students who might be working together to actually do work, as well as giving me more room when I or the students are working with the ELMO. I tried to use the most of my space by putting my shelves of materials (markers, paper, pencils, etc) and math materials along the window wall which I wasn't going to block anyway. Obviously I have a long way to go (as evidenced by the boxes of stuff all over the tables and the walls being essentially blank.) I'll touch on the rest of my set up when I can go back into my room and finish it off (the custodians have to clean and wax the hallways so I haven't been able to go back in) in Setting up my Classroom part 2.

Any thoughts/comments on how the set is going so far?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I finally bit the bullet and started a blog. I figured after years of reading great ideas and reflections, I should try to add my 2 cents worth. Let me introduce myself and my plans for this blog.

I'm Eric Biederbeck. I teach 6th grade math and social studies at Essex Middle School in Essex Junction, Vermont. I've been in my current position for the past nine years. When I started, I worked in an interschool loop team which involved my beginning with students in 5th grade and moving with them to the Middle School for a year in 6th grade. After that year, I would go back and pick up a new batch of 5th graders. I did this for a few years but the grind of moving back and forth from one school to another took its toll. It was difficult to know the rules and procedures of each school as they tended to change a bit in the year I was gone. I also always felt like I was losing stuff or I didn't have the things I would need because they were stored in my other classroom or school. Therefore after two loops, I moved to a straight 6th grade position. I became the math and science teacher on a two person team. This led to four great years of working with 11 and 12 year old students. I loved working with this age group and I found that my teaching partner and I really worked well together. Then last year, because of changes in the school, we added a third partner and I went from teaching math and science to teaching math and one section of social studies. I was a bit bummed because I loved teaching science (the science curriculum for 6th grade was life science with a focus on several of the biomes of the world) but I was also excited about teaching social studies. The year went well with another fantastic group of 6th graders and our new teaching partner fit in well with our team. We are looking forward to an even better year when we start up again in September.

That gets me to this blog. I plan on using this blog as a way to reflect on things as the year progresses. Because I teach three groups of math, I'd imagine a majority of my posts will revolve around math concepts, ideas, and activities. I'll probably spend some time reflecting on the way social studies goes too as it is still quite new to me. I'm also in the process of looking at homework and at grading and I'll spend some time looking at how my new ideas in these areas are working. Of course I'll spend some time reflecting on the everyday stuff that happens in a middle school as well.

As it is summer (for another 6 weeks for me!) I'll probably not be posting as regularly as I plan to during the school year. I am working on such things as how to set up my classroom most effectively, how to send out a better team handbook, and other such things so I will post on those ideas during this summer.

I'm looking forward to putting this stuff out there and seeing what feedback I get. Thanks in advance!