Saturday, October 31, 2009

Story of 1

I was clued in to the existence of The Story of 1 a couple of weeks ago from my twitter PLN. I had my sub show it to my algebra 1 classes when I was out of town, and it seemed to go well. Then, one of my colleagues was sick this week and did the same lesson. Her sub said that the students were really engaged with the movie. I couldn't find a question guide on-line for it (though I didn't search all that long), so I made one up.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Algebra 1: Solving Equations Puzzle

Here is a puzzle activity for reviewing equation solving. I found that it worked better when I made an answer mat for students to put their pieces onto (I indicated a couple of pieces on the mat to help them align the rest of their pieces).

Here are two files in Pages and Word that you can work from to make your own.

A comment from David Wees in a previous post with a similar puzzle I did for quadratics:

Yeah your puzzle is cool. So cool that I've created a random generator in Adobe Flex.

See my algebra puzzle generator.


Edit 2:
There is an app called Formulator Tarsia that will do this, but it only works for Windows (which I don't have access to) so I haven't tried it out. Give it a try!

Putting students in control of their learning

In the last couple of years, I've worked to really clarify exactly what skills I expect my students to learn. The assessment system makes it crystal clear what skills students know and don't know. And then I realized: Oh wait - it's only crystal clear to me. Students focus on their test scores, and come in to retake and improve tests, but they really don't think about what mathematical content they need to develop - only what test number they need to retake. I still have a few students who insist on retaking skills tests even though they haven't done any work to learn the skills that they got wrong the first time. Even when this fails to produce the results they want, they still resist actually working with me to learn the skill.

I think that helping students really understand what the individual skills consist of, and what their personal ability level is on each skill, is really the next step. I want students to understand the connection between their level of numeracy and their success in mastering algebraic concepts. I also want students to make connections between their behaviors in class and their growth (or lack of growth) in the lesson's objectives. Finally, I want to provide students with greater differentiation so that all students can both feel challenged and successful.

So, I put all of that together into a new plan for beginning and ending class. Students will start class with a 10 minute Do Now that has three parts. Part 1 is a Numeracy Skill Builder that targets a specific elementary math concept that is either key to the specific lesson, or something that students have been struggling with. Part 2 consists of one or two algebra concepts that are the lesson objectives. These are broken into basic, proficient, and advanced levels. The proficient level is the form in which the concept will be tested on a skills test. Students are told to solve only one problem in each concept, at the level they feel most comfortable at. Part 3 is a multiple choice test prep question. The purpose of this is obvious, as we need to get students ready for state tests, ACTs, placement tests, and so on.

Students have 10 minutes to complete these problems individually and silently. No helping is permitted here (in general), because the purpose is for students to really get a sense of what they know at the beginning of class on their own. At the end of the 10 minutes, I show the answers so students can see how they did, but we don't spend time actually reviewing these specific problems. I quickly collect the papers.

We have the lesson. Ok.

Now, in the last 5 - 7 minutes, I hand back the papers. On the back, students complete the Exit Slip / Reflection. They are supposed to go back to the Do Now problems, pick one algebra concept, and try a higher level problem. The idea is for them to see how much they can improve in an objective over the course of the class period. So, even if they are only able to accomplish the basic level (when they couldn't before), they can see growth in themselves and feel good about that. Students who already could do the advanced concepts at the beginning of the class have a shot at doing a harder challenge problem, so that they too can push their thinking (my advanced students really like this).

I just started doing this today, so I don't have too much to report about it yet. It seems to have gone well, though it took longer than the 10 minutes because I needed to explain the process a few times until they all got what I was talking about. As it becomes part of the routine, I'll know more about what impact it is really having.

Here is the first one we did, in pdf and word formats.

I'd love to get any feedback on any part of this.

We decided to make the reflection portion into a progress tracker, instead of copying it individually on the back of each Do Now. This log will be kept in a binder in the class. This will allow students to see how they did in previous classes as they are filling out the current reflection. It will also be a very useful document for discussions during grade conferences.