Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Problem Solving

I started working on the problem solving rubric. I want it to work for any problem I give students and I want to use it every time I assess their problem solving. Problem solving, in my opinion, has to be non-routine and out of context. They are not application problems of current material.

I have a 4 point scale listed for each item in my rubric. I did not include a description because I'm not sure what it would say. Like my learning targets, much of the determination will be my professional opinion backed by evidence. I tried to include what evidence I would be looking for and I'm hoping to better define the levels through class discussion.

Go here to see the rubric.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What do good mathematicians do?

In my role as an instructional coach we (the other coaches and I) spend time reading, discussing for our own professional growth. Each elementary school has a literacy/math coach. At the middle school, each building has a 1/2 time literacy coach and a 1/2 time math coach. I'm the math coach at my building. The first few years we spent a lot of time building the coaches' understanding of how students learn math. Much of the focus was on developing number sense. It was a great time in my personal professional learning. This year the focus shifted to literacy. I'm 7-12 math certified and have no to very little literacy background. I definitely believe that all teachers have to also be reading teachers. I'm just not sure how to do that... Now back to the main point of the blog...

One of the literacy resources we looked at was all about creating a workshop structure. (I can't remember the book or author. I'll have to get back to you on that one.) The chapter I had to read was about a teacher who focused her workshop time on What do good readers do? That got me thinking about the math connection. What do good mathematicians do? How can I use that to create/drive a workshop culture in my math class?

This is what I've come up with...
  • Good Mathematicians work on solving problems.
  • Good Mathematicians play games and work on puzzles.
  • Good Mathematicians ask questions and explore ideas.
  • Good mathematicians practice their skills.
*Disclaimer: I did not come up with this all by myself. Some of the other coaches and I have been talking about what this would look like for math. We are great sounding boards for each other. Some of the other coaches have also included vocabulary to connected it to the Daily Cafe. For my first attempt at this I'm sticking with my four listed above.

What it will look like (I hope)

Problem Solving - Students will have a non-routine problem to solve. In the past I've used problems from Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School or Mathematics Teacher. I also love this place. I hope to have a rubric in place where I can give feedback on the students' ability to understand the problem, devise a strategy, and follow it through (adapting when necessary). Required for all students - At least twice a grading period?

Games and Puzzles - I'm hoping to have a collection of games that connect to the content or a specific outcome. The first grading period I'm focusing on these games with the hope to add more as the year progresses. Polygon Capture, Docfish, Number Subset Game

Inquiry and Exploration - I think this is open for students but I'm probably going to provide some ideas to start with. Networks, fractals, history of math, mathematicians, math careers, math in animation, computer programming, etc. I'm not sure how I'll assess but I'd like students to have a product to summarize their learning. I don't think this will be required of all students.

Practice - State testing anyone? This is built in time for practicing the skills for the state test and for Algebra I. My students are required to take the 8th grade state test but they learned most of the material in 6th and 7th grade. This is a way to keep it fresh. For Algebra I this is time for those students who want to/need to practice a particular learning target. This practice will be graded only for feedback purposes not as a part of their grade.

During the workshop time students will need to working on one of the above areas. My hope is to have my students well trained to be self-sufficient during that time so that I can work with small groups of students re-teaching concepts.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


The past few days there have been numerous conversations on twitter discussing SBG and how individuals make it work. I feel so blessed to be a part of those conversations. My realization last night was to try to formalize and describe in detail how I'm going to approach grading next year. Big ideas are great but I need to get to the nitty gritty. Here are some of my initial thoughts. Nothing is finalized and I'm writing more to get my ideas organized. I would appreciate feedback and other thoughtful questions.

Some background
  • My district has an online grade program. Parents are able to access their child's current grade and scores at any time.
  • I have been out of the classroom for the past four years working as an instructional coach. I have not used this grade program at all so I'm making some assumptions on what it can do.
  • The middle school and high school Algebra I teachers created a common list of learning targets and a common semester exam.

Learning Target Score (skills list)

I'm fortunate to already have a list of learning targets. Unfortunately, there are so many of them. I still need to condense them to the list that I will be reporting out. I was drawn to @mctownsley at Meta Musings 4 point scale. I've modified it and a lot of it will depend on my professional discretion of what students understand or are able to do.
  • 4 points - You can work through all examples successfully.
  • 3 points - You can do basic examples.
  • 2 points - You are able to start the problem but unable to see it through.
  • 1 point - You can describe what the problem is asking but unable to find a starting point.
  • 0 points - You do not understand what the problem is asking.
These learning targets will spiral throughout the year so students will have multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding. I will have skills quizzes but I also like the idea of giving an assessment at a Do Now or whenever I see evidence of that understanding. My hope is to collect all the evidence and at the end of the grading period have a score (0-4) for each learning target.

Summative Exams

In Algebra I we already have a semester and final exam scheduled. I'm going to add a summative 9-weeks exam for the 1st quarter and the 3rd quarter. I don't know what this is going to look like. I'd like to include a mix of skills and application problems. This will be reported separately from the learning targets score although some of the questions might influence them.


I am passionate about developing my students' problem solving abilities. The challenging part is making sure that the problems are out of context and non-routine. If they aren't then they become application problems versus problem solving. David at Questions? has developed a rubric for problem solving in his class. I need to do the same thing (look for that in the future).

Big Questions

In an earlier post I wrote about the big ideas I really want my students to walk away with. I feel like I have to have a way of reporting this to students and parents. Perhaps a 4 point scale similar to the learning targets would work.

The Grade Book

This is what my grade book might look like. I think I'll have to keep a spreadsheet of my own and the online one that reports to parents. For the Parent version I'd like to report only the most current understanding of each topic, learning target, etc. When it comes to calculating the final grade I want to consider all evidence when determining the score. I'm sure someone is wondering how I'm going to weight everything and I have absolutely no idea right now :)

Other thoughts

There are some other things that I want students to do but I'm not sure how or where it would fit in with their grade. Projects? Blogging? Maybe the other process standard focus will be communication or maybe they won't be a part of their grades at all.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Number Subset Game

I'm working on finding/collecting games to use during my workshop days (more explanation to come). ODE had a lesson where students would assign points to certain number subsets. I've adapted it so that 2 or more students could play as a game.

Supplies: a number cube, set of subset cards, paper, writing utensil

Each player writes 5 numbers. Player 1 draws a card and rolls the number cube. If the card is written in red letters, subtract the number rolled for each number that falls in that subset. If the card is written in black letters, add the number rolled for each number in that subset. Keep a running total of your score. Player 2 takes a turn.


Player 1: 3, -10, 2/3, 0, 100

Player 2: 3/4, 4.5, 1, -72, -2.3

Player 1 draws a red integer card and rolls a 4. He will need to subtract 4 four times (3, -10, 0, and 100). His score is -16.

Player 2 draws a black whole number card and rolls a 1. She will need to add 1 once (1). Her score is 1.

Repeat this process. The student with the highest score is the winner.

I'm hoping this a way to keep this vocabulary alive throughout the year.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My vision for Algebra I (part 1)

What are the big ideas in Algebra I? I'm not 100% sure of my sequencing but I know I want to weave the following questions into each unit.

Big Questions:
1. What is a solution? How do you find them?
2. What is rate?
3. What does it mean to be a function?
4. Why is equivalency important? (this one bothers me - not sure how to word it)

I'm hoping to keep record of students' understanding of these big ideas along with their algebra skills.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ian Jukes came to town

My school district invited Ian Jukes to speak at our summer academy this year about learning and teaching in the 21st century. In the morning, he set the stage on why we need to be aware of quickly changing technology. That afternoon he spoke about the Digital Learner's profile and summarized what the research says. Much of the information presented was not completely new but I still find it an important and motivating message. Here are some of the ideas that resonated with me:
  • Finding balance - We want DLs to respect "school". We must respect where they are coming from too.
  • Problem based learning
  • Progressive Withdrawl - getting kids to think on their own
I definitely have a lot to think about this summer as I decide the structures and routines that will define my time with kids.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

It has to begin somewhere

So here we go! I'm incredibly nervous to start this journey of blogging. My hope is that I am better able to document and reflect on my journey next year. I've spent the last four years working as a math instructional coach. That is still my role but I have the opportunity to teach one section of Algebra I next year. The thought of having my own classroom of kids to experiment with is exciting.