Monday, September 1, 2014

Homework - Still (an Update)

One of the things I attempted to do during the last school year was to assign homework but not include it in my students' grade. The thought at the time was that those students that chose to do the homework would be serious about it and gain full benefit from the practice that the assignment was intended to give.

In theory, the plan sounded good but also failed its intent miserably; so much so that I decided to abandon it before the year was over and re-institute the old grading paradigm where the completion of homework counted towards a portion, (15% or so), of a term grade.

I grossly underestimated the maturity level of middle school students. Once my students figured out, during the middle of the first term, that homework was not being counted towards their grade, homework participation rates dropped immediately and precipitously. I had anticipated this. What I did not anticipate - Despite obvious negative impacts on many student's quiz grades and learning for the second half of the first term and the second term; a paltry few of those students were mature enough to make the connection between the necessary practice that the homework provided them and how well they learned the material and performed on assessments. Most never started doing the homework again.

Thus, the homework "cure" that I had instituted became worse than the disease. I still feel that my original goal had merit and was worth a try. It is also something I am unlikely to implement again any time soon.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Nine years

Teaching is an interesting profession. Tuesday I completed my ninth year of teaching 7th grade mathematics and in many ways, it was the most challenging year I have experienced in my teaching career. When I worked as a meteorologist for the same length of time, that was not the case at all.

I find summer a welcome and necessary time to assess what changes I implemented during the year went well, what did not, what needs to be scrapped, what needs to be altered and what new things to consider for next year. The difficulty in doing this is to know how to assess why things truly went awry. Did they go awry because of my implementation or because the synergy of the class that particular year just would not allow things to work well. And what percent combinations of these factors existed? I find that this self-reflection process can lead to more zig-zagging than is useful at times. I guess this is where my experience teaching comes into play - to eliminate too much zig-zagging.

I read somewhere, I think in a blog post but I do not remember where so I apologize that there is no attribution, that if the experience of teaching becomes easier each year, you are doing it wrong. I guess I should take some solace in that.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spring Ahead....Fall back

Even though it is not really Spring yet. (The deep snow cover and tall snow banks in shaded areas emphasize the point this year).

Despite the "extra hour" of daylight that Daylight Savings Time provides, I have never been a fan. Maybe it is because I am an early riser. I prefer to wake up shortly before or after sunrise rather than when it is dark. When the initiation time for DST was pushed ahead/delayed by 4-5 weeks a few years ago, it surprised me that people that live on the western half of the time zones, particularly in the Eastern Time Zone, did not complain very loudly. Elementary children must be waiting for school buses when it is still dark well into late April/early May in those areas.

And we do not really gain an extra hour of sunlight - we just mess with the clocks. Mark me down as one who would prefer to keep it in Standard Time all year 'round.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Google Forms and Flubaroo

I had used Google Forms in my classroom, a 1-1 Ipad environment, a few times during this school year as an aid to help with formative assessment. While it did help me focus on identifying patterns of misconceptions and errors my students were having, it did not help me get information to them in any more timely manner than I had not been doing before with more traditional pencil and paper methods so I only used them sporadically.

This week, I decided to try to combine short Google Forms assessment tasks with Flubaroo, a grading script tool that can be installed in a Google Form response spreadsheet. While this brings some limitations to the assessments, what I liked about this combination was the ability to get very timely information to individual students via e-mail on errors that they had made that day and at the same time, get a very quick overview on common errors that my classes were having so I could address those class-wide misconceptions the next day.

It is not a perfect process, especially for a mathematics class. Google Forms does not have an equation editor like Google Docs does, (why not?), so symbols like fraction bars have to be entered with a slash - example 12/35. This in turn can confuse the Flubaroo reporting tool in thinking that the numbers separated by a slash are dates. I also do not get a look at all the work my students did with each problem that I got with pencil and paper. But I feel the ability to get very timely information to them, and to me, outweighs the negatives. I will continue to tweak the process during the rest of the year to hopefully improve the quality of feedback they get and that is transmitted to me.

A link to one of the Forms I used this week is here.

A link to the what a student e-mail report looks like is here. - Note that the slash in the answer gave some incorrect responses as to what the answers were. The actual grading of the results was fine, but the reporting of the errors was confused by the slash.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Homework - Still

One of the things I have been thinking about for the upcoming school year is - Homework. Over the last two years, I have attempted to limit the amount of homework assigned, made it as relevant as possible, and designed it to practice what we have been working on in class. Even with those modifications, that has not really improved the quality of what is submitted. Since homework was designed as practice, my policy was to count homework for effort, not accuracy. It would end up counting about 20% of a term grade and was a way to encourage students to show consistent effort and improvement through practice. However, the game for many of my students often was to submit something that was complete enough - for the grade - with not really much learning or practicing going on. It mainly served as a way to inflate their grades.

Eliminating homework altogether is an option that I considered. Pernille Ripp posted an excellent post recently about getting rid of homework in 11 steps. It had me almost convinced to go that route. The primary problem with this approach is my belief, for now anyway, that while we definitely practice in class what we are studying, enough practice on math concepts is not possible only in the classroom - at least for a majority of my students.

So that left me stuck with what to do for this year. For now, I have decided to continue to assign homework on many nights. It will also continue to be designed for practice and/or enrichment but it will not count towards a grade. My thought is that with the removal of the grading game, those that do it, hopefully most of them he said naively, will be truly doing it for practice and to improve their skills. When I check the work they submit, the feed back I give should also be more meaningful and open up further avenues of discussion and learning between us; student and teacher.