Saturday, September 23, 2006

Next Lesson: Study Groups

Ok, it's actually the last lesson I did, but I didn't have any time to post, what with Back to School Night and other stuff going on this week.

Tuesday is the first unit test for my Algebra 2 class. The first unit test is when reality sinks in for everyone... and we'll see if any of the students decide that they want to switch out of the honors class. I think a few might, but most of them - even if they are struggling - are really showing a lot of determination, which is impressive. I even have a few students who were in Numeracy last year as freshmen (meaning that they came to high school with math skills below a 7th grade level), and now they are in my honors class. I try not to play favorites, but I just have such a soft spot for them. Last year I was helping them learn how to add and multiply fractions, and by the end of this year they will be graphing complicated rational functions and solving 3 x 3 systems of equations. Now that's what you call ganas!

Anyway, one of the skills I want my students to learn is how to effectively use a study group to prepare for a test. Like everything else, this does not come naturally to them, and it needs to be scaffolded. So, after the normal homework review and Do Now practice problems, we did the following:

1) I gave them a handout detailing how they should organize their binders. They have a table of contents at the front, in which they enter each lesson's topic. Each of these entries corresponds to a page of notes, which should be in order at the beginning of the tab (each unit has its own tab). Following the notes, they keep all important handouts relating to the unit, and then all of their homework assignments (each assignment should have the original worksheet, their solutions, and any corrections all staples together). At the end of each unit, I ask them to go through the handouts and recycle (or at least remove from the binder) anything that they probably won't go back to and use anymore. I am trying to get them to learn how to evaluate the importance of materials (i.e. "hmm, this page of important looking notes I should probably keep, while this 10-minute in class worksheet we did can probably go...").

2) I gave them another handout with a structure for how to work in a study group. Here's the text:

How to Study in Groups for a Math Test!

1) Identify the sections that are on the test.
a. From a review sheet
b. From your notes, quizzes, and homeworks

2) Locate sample problems for each section.
a. From old quizzes/tests
b. From notes
c. From homework
(in that order!)

3) Figure out which sections are most difficult for you as an individual.

4) Figure out which sections you want to start on as a group.

5) Begin working on individual problems. Use a clean sheet of binder paper to do this – don’t write on top of your old problem. There are several ways you can structure this.
a. Each person works on the same problem first, and then everyone compares answers.
b. One person who knows how to do a problem shows the rest of the group.
c. Each person in the group works at their own pace, and asks for help as needed.

6) When you are stuck, do the following things in order:

3) Then, because this was their first time, I gave them the sections that would be on the test (i.e. step 1). I told them that by the third or fourth unit test, I would expect them to be able to do this part on their own. I asked them to rank each section (0 = I don't remember this at all; 1 = I need someone to help me on this; 2 = I just need to practice this by myself; 3 = I am ready to do this on the test), and then to discuss their ranks as a group and come up with a plan of attack.

4) After that, groups had about 30 minutes left to begin their studying. This does feel like a lot of time to use up on not actually reviewing problems - I think it will have a long term benefit if I stick with it, but I might have to be prepared for some short term hits. Most of the groups took it seriously and they all had different styles to how they worked on the problems, and what problems they chose to focus on.

5) For homework, I gave them their practice test problems. I decided to not let them have it until the end of class, because they would have just done those problems and avoided looking through their old quizzes and notes.

So that's that. Wish them luck! I'll post the outcome of the test next week sometime. In case you're interested, and still reading, here are the topics that are on this test. (It's kind of a hodgepodge of review and new topics... I haven't figured out a way to do this unit better yet. I can't wait to get into unit 2, because it is all new and it has a more consistent structure.)

Unit 1 Test Sections
1) The real number system (types of numbers and properties of real numbers)

2) Solving equations with rational coefficients (fractions and decimals in front of the variables)

3) Converting decimals to fractions (including repeating decimals like 0.4222...)

4) Working with parallel and perpendicular lines

5) Systems of equations (linear combination, word problems)

6) Isolating a variable (even complicated ones, and when the variable is in the denominator)

7) Solving and graphing compound inequalities (AND and OR inequalities)

8) Using interval notation (going between number lines, inequalities, and interval notation)

9) Absolute value equations

10) Absolute value inequalities

Mathematical Mary said...

Thanks for the invite, Dan.

It seems like you have an awful lot of topics on one test. I've yet to teach an honors class, so that may well be normal. I hope your kids are successful.

I'll bookmark you and visit often.

Dan Wekselgreene said...

You're right - it is a lot for one test.. The problem is that it's the first unit of the year, and I try to jump in to new material (so they see it as a challenge) while reviewing some old material. Also, many of the topics are quite small. We'll see.. this is only my second time teaching this class. If the test does not come out well, I'll need to break the unit up into two smaller units next time around.

Thanks for checking in!