Thursday, August 31, 2006


I haven't posted for a while, as getting started with a new year is always overwhelming. But now things are underway, and I feel like I am past the super-frenetic stage and settling into standard overworked mode.

My Algebra 2 classes are really great so far. The kids have a lot of positive energy, and most are getting all of their work done. I have put the new homework review process into place for both classes (honors and regular), though it is slightly different in each. In regular, the students get credit for completing their homework, and the score they get on it is simply recorded to track their progress (and potentially give them rewards) - it doesn't affect their grades. In honors, I am recording only their score (not completeness), so that they are forced to spend more time before class making sure that they understand the material.

I have been using two different tally methods also. In regular, as they work on the Do Now, I go around and check their homework. This gives me a few seconds to check in with each student. They write on their paper up to 3 problems that they want to go over in detail - I tally these up as I go from student to student. When the Do Now is over, if there are a couple of problems with many votes, those are the ones we work on. If there was little trouble on the homework, then I may skip review all together. So far, this is working nicely, as it lets me target the greatest deficits, and be more efficient with our class time.

In honors, the students start class by checking their answers to the homework. As they do so, they pass around a tally sheet to mark the problems they want to see. The sheet keeps moving as they spend about 10 or 15 minutes in their groups discussing their work. During this time, I ask students to call me for help if, after discussing a problem as a group, no one can figure it out. At the end of this time, I look at the tally sheet and only go over a couple of problems if many students checked them off. (The tally sheet is also useful when deciding what types of problems to review in following lessons). I then tell students which pre-selected problems are being graded, and they score their work. Following this is usually a brief Do Now or quiz, during which time I can walk around and record their scores.

This may sound complicated, and it actually has felt that way.. but I do feel that the beginnings of my classes are going much better than they have in the past. Students seem more engaged, and as we all get used to these processes, they are getting easier to manage.

The binder and note-taking systems have been established also, but I'll save that for another time.

Overall, I am very optimistic about this year, and encouraged by the students' actions and attitudes thus far. As an added bonus, we just did a fraction review lesson in algebra 2 regular, and almost all of the students seem quite comfortable with the fraction operations. This is definitely a first in DCP history! The first quiz is tomorrow (in both honors and regular), so we'll see how they do.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

New homework review policy! (Don't you just get the chills?)

Finding an effective and efficient way to review homework is quite a challenge. I've tried a lot of different strategies over the years. The problem, I've found, is that a lot of time is spent reviewing homework, and it is not necessarily clear if there is much benefit to it. Also, getting students to go back and revise their work - to actually use their homework as an opportunity to further their understanding - is a difficult task. Last year, I collected my Algebra 2 students' homework, and spot graded two or three problems while they worked on the Do Now independently. This allowed me to see how the class did as a whole, as well as noticing if individual students were really struggling with the concepts. There were two big downsides, however. First, it took me about 20 minutes to get this done at the beginning of class (we have 80 minute periods), and it was quite a stressful way for me to begin the lesson. Second, students were motivated to do well on the homework because of the grading; however, if they did not do well, there was little incentive for them to go back and revise their work (I wouldn't have time to look at revisions with this system).

After thinking about it for a while, I have come up with the outline for a new plan of action. The goals are to minimize my time at the board (while increasing collaborative work time), review the homework efficiently, allow students to tailor their practice to their needs, promote revision of homework, and help students learn the value of completing homework. Here is the plan in its initial form.

This will occur in the first 15 – 20 minutes of each class:

When class starts, students have homework out and ready (done in pencil only), with a colored pen for correction. Open up the class journal to a new page, write the date, and then “Homework Review” as a header.

Correct answers are shown on the overhead. Students check their work (checks for correct, x’s for wrong) and write down the correct answers when needed.

While students are checking their work, a tally sheet is passed around, where students indicate which problems they want to see reviewed. They can make between 0 and 3 marks.

When done correcting work, students pick a problem (or problems, if there is time) to redo in their notebooks. They should collaborate with their group members if help is needed.

After 10 – 15 minutes, I collect the tally sheet and demonstrate one or two of the problems with the most votes (or select students to present these problems). If students want further demonstrations of problems, they are encouraged to ask me sometime later during the class (when appropriate), before school, or during office hours.

The five pre-selected problems that will be graded are now indicated on the overhead (i.e., I circle the problems). There is no partial credit – for each circled problem that is correct, students earn 2 points. Students write their score (out of 10) at the top of the paper.

Students can turn in corrections to the homework in the following lesson. For each circled problem that is correctly done over, with all work shown, students earn 1 additional point to the original score (i.e. if the homework was not turned in on time, students can earn no more than 5/10). Corrections must be on a separate piece of binder paper, stapled to the original assignment, and very clear and easy to read.

After completing this homework review process (at about 20 minutes), students will then work on the “Do Now” problems, either individually or collaboratively, depending on the needs of the lesson. While they work on these problems, I will circulate to record their homework grades, check homework corrections from the previous class, and answer quick questions. This will be given another 10 minutes or so, allowing about 50 minutes for the remainder of the lesson.

Well, that's it. I'm not sure if it will work, but I'd like to give it a good shot. Any comments would be appreciated!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Musical Lecture Prank

A funny thing happened to me in class the other day...