Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My trial in Standard Based Grading

I have jumped into the deep end with Standard Based Grading. I was am new to this. It has been about 4 weeks and here are my thoughts:
1. You and your students need to be organized (big mess for middle school students)
2. Students struggle to grasp the concept of SBG until we start taking quizzes
3. I don't know how to make this easy and quick for grading and record keeping (so far, I have printed out a chart with student's names and skill numbers, separate of my grade book. Then I will put one grade in for the chapter)
4. My students have not taken advantage of learning on their own. Although we have discussed, introduced, and practiced all the skills in class, they refuse to take an extra step outside of class after taking the quiz.
5. I am not sure how I want to work retakes. So far, I have made new quizzes for retakes. This, my friend, is a lot of work.
6. Quizstar (do a search for it) can be a useful tool though can be difficult for math. You can use html for the questions (meaning you can write fractions and exponents) but not for answers if you choose to use multiple choice (which I did for some because the site grades them for you! I just always add a "none of the above" answer for each one).
7. Only two students asked for time outside of class. This makes me sad.

Feel free to give your advice.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Checking and/or correcting homework

Checking homework can be a painful experience. It can waste time and get the class off to a slow start. However, I have a few different ways that I think are useful and present student-centered learning opportunities.

I will share one way with you today.
1. Using the cooperation challenge from Sean Layne's Tableau, I split the class into two equal halves.
2. Split the homework problems in half and assign them to specific halves.
3. Each group is responsible for correcting their assigned problems. Everyone in the group must be able to explain how to come to the correct answer. (I continue to use Layne's Tableau ideas throughout this lesson. About how you are responsible for the person next to you, etc.)
4. Walk around during this discussion time. Ask good questions and check their final answers.
5. Once each group is ready, I go back to the cooperation challenge and have the students partner up with someone from the opposite group.
6. Check the other half of your homework with student's new partner.

This activity allows students to move, talk, and most importantly explain. Conversation is so important in our learning, yet we hardly practice this in school. This also puts the pressure on students to do their homework because if they did not do it, they let their group down. It is also quick to see who did not do their homework from their discussion in their groups.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Kids should answer their own questions.

I believe that everyone "learns" better when they find the answer to their own question. Why is school not set up like that?

In other news,  I have had two interesting things happen this week.

The first: 7th grade students have discovered, by patterns, what any number to the 0 power is.

I then asked, "what is zero to the zero power?" We spent a good 15 minutes discussing this and what our options might be. I went as far as to show why was cannot divide by zero and my students were still not agreeing on one answer. Therefore, that was their homework last night. Prove what zero to the zero power is.
Today, I let them work in groups that had the same answer to put their "proof" on the board.
I saw: 0^0 = 0 because 0^1= 0, 0^2 = 0, ... the pattern is that the answer will always be 0, therefore 0 ^0 = 0
0^0 = 1, because any number to the zero power is 1. 2^4= 16, 2 ^3 = 8, 2^2 = 4, 2 ^1 = 2, 2^0 = 1 (divide by 2 each time). Therefore 0^0 = 1
0^0 = undefined. Zero has no value, and you cannot divide nothing by nothing (paraphrasing my students' work).
I went through each proof and demonstrated why it was right or wrong. I was happy with all of their answers. I enjoyed seeing how my students are starting to notice patterns and are able to think more like mathematicians.

The other interesting thing was when a student said to me, "Why don't you teach us?"

What a great teachable moment and a loaded question. I am interested to hear how others would respond before I give my answer. Of course, this requires people to be reading my blog...is anyone out there?

Friday, December 10, 2010

(un)Hear it?

I found this site today: unhearit.com
It brings up the age old question of why some songs get stuck in our head. Think about the music lessons that could be attached to this! I am excited with the possibilities and look forward to hearing ideas.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

FOIL'ed again

Trying to teach FOIL, without just telling them.

I wanted my kids to discover it and to fight with the idea. Trying to make this topic apply to a "lab" or the real world was difficult for me. So, I stole the ol' adding areas of rectangles together.
1. Add two different colored slips of paper onto a normal sheet of paper
2. Find the total area
3. It was helpful to draw an example on the board as well (if my students had their own white boards, I could imagine this could be a great activity, or even better cutting their own paper).
4. Let them ask the questions, fill in the information, and teacher help guide questions
5. When the quest arrises about the 4th rectangle, I added a little red rectangle to our model.
6. We got to the total area by adding all of the rectangles, but now what is the total measurement of the L and W?
7. Write that as two binomials multiplied together.
8. Set that equal to our total area
9. Let the students discover FOIL

I was happy to see my students struggle. In the past I have seen the difficulty to just follow the steps. But here, I was able to see the struggle with the concept. I think the students feel like they came upon this pattern, more than being told to memorize steps.

We were able to have discussions about
a. what variables to assign to what
b. what to include in our dimensions
c. how to solve the problem of that extra space (the 4th/red rectangle)
d. discover how to multiply two binomials together

Did my students grasp the concept? I don't know yet. I wish I could have had about 10 more minutes of class time (we went off on a tangent about multiplying exponents in the beginning of class). The students that were engaged in our discussion have the tools to grasp the concept during their homework tonight. However, the students that turn off during our discussions will be lost tonight. They will ask me to "teach" them tomorrow, since I "didn't" today.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Kids these days...

My 7th graders are going on a field trip today to see a math play. As I was explaining to my students yesterday about the plan for today, the first question they had was, "Can we bring electronics?"
This blows my mind. The bus trip will be around an hour, should be less but traffic will not be great. I lied and told the students that it will be about a 30 minute bus trip (which is not really a lie, if I were to drive from school it would take about 30 minutes) and that you do not need your electronics. They still insisted that they will download a tv episode to watch on the way there.
Want to know why our schools are "failing?" Maybe, it should be worded, "Want to know why our culture is failing?"
More on the field trip after I return.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The way things should be

While watching Mythbusters last night, everything clicked with me. School, especially math class, should be like that show. Take a question, or myth, and prove/disprove it. This will create creative, patient, and energized problem solvers. I was greatly influenced by the "Bee picking up laptop" segment. The amount of math and creative ways to solve the problem is amazing. It is so beautiful. Please share any ideas as to how to make school more like Mythbusters.
Here is the video that sparked the myth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_12L_Dme8Vc

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Math and Music

When I tell other adults that I teach both math and music I often hear, "Oh, those two subjects together well," or, "They have a lot in common."

My question, to all of my non-blog-following, passing-by readers, is what does math and music have in common?

I have some answers for myself, but I want to hear your answers. I want to hear how you might connect the two subjects for middle school aged kids with no background in music (or math...?). How can they organically be connected? How can we discover the connections, instead of showing or telling the connections? Are there any pure connections? Please share discuss.
I thought this amazing man (above) could help give us influence to draw upon.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving and Curriculum

In my undergrad studies, we had a project to make a music curriculum. We used the MENC national standards as our guide and it seemed easy. However, here I am in my third year teaching at a place where I get to make the curriculum. This might be my biggest challenge (for many reasons beyond just picking what to teach, due to the cultural views/"rules").

I have been somewhat pleased with my 6th grade curriculum. I only see my students twice a week, for about 10 weeks. There is no real music program (band, choir, orchestra) at the school. I am in charge of the middle school "band." Its members include one piano player and one drummer. 50% of them take lessons outside of school. I see them twice a week for about 15 minutes each day.

I think it is so important to build the student's listening skills. Most of my lessons focus on developing their ears and creating patient listeners.

6th grade music: 1. Instrument families 2. Overview of Ensembles (orchestra, band, big bang, jazz combos) 3. Create their own "new" instrument 4. group compositions with their created instruments.
The students just performed their group compositions this week. This project reminds me of how music is so natural. People want to play music; they want to make music, but our culture has taught us that being into something other than pop music is "dorky" or "for old people." It also reminds me of how little my students know about music and how I might be failing them as a music teacher (or maybe it is the system?).

7th Grade: Text Painting, "Pictures at an Exhibition," and World-Drumming
8th Grade: Using Tableau to listen/explore Strauss' "Don Quixote," and their choice: a. world drumming, Musical Language, or Piano/Composer unit. 
Each grade level also has a "listening journal."

If you have any comments or suggestions to help with the curriculum please share!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Keeping things clear

I am in no way a, "writer." I have always been a poor writer, so, this is my formal apology for poorly written entries from here on.

Why am I creating a blog? I am in my third year of teaching middle school and I am at a crossroads in my development as a teacher. I was hoping I could share ideas and get advice from fellow educators. To give credit where credit is due, Dan Meyer has been a huge influence on my philosophy of teaching, as of late. His blog with a few others, have convinced me to start my own blog.

My first love was math. I was strong at the subject and found the logic so beautiful. However, I started playing the trumpet in the fourth grade. It took me about 10 years to find out that music was my true love. I switched from a math ed major to music ed my sophomore year of undergrad. I went on to to earn a grad- assistantship. I was teaching freshmen music theory and some trumpet lesson, while earning my degree in music performance.

As stated above, I am in my third year of teaching middle school. I work at a private school and teach both math and music.  Most of my students (and parents) do not see a need for music and they despise math. That has been my challenge. More on this later.

Thank you for visiting my blog. Sorry for the boring first post, but I felt the need to get the introduction out of the way. I will continue with future posts about classroom techniques, troubles, questions, lessons, and random thoughts.

Hope y'all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!