Archive | September, 2009

## Year Plans

One of the things I’d like to do this year is engage more students at their level. Perhaps try to have more class time where there are multiple activities/groupings simultaneously. The main idea behind this is that my one class, one-idea, one-option norm is almost guaranteed to miss the sweet spot for low and high learners. Daily I would think it means that someone in the room is spinning their wheels without traction.

So, I read The Differentiated Math Classroom and I’m picking through Differentiation in Practice: : A Resource Guide for Differentiating Curriculum, Grades 5-9. It was strange to go back to the old bound paper method of professional learning – most of mine usually takes place amongst you all on the internets. But, as far as I can see, the best resources for learning about differentiation are still printed, bound, and sold. They’re not yet offered up freely like so much of the great stuff folks are writing and sharing.

The first outcome from this is two simple documents that I drew up to provide a general overview of the units I plan to teach and the time frame in which I hope they’ll take place. The unit planning stage is where much of the thinking behind differentiation actually takes place, but this is a starting point.

Anyway, here are my year plans for Algebra and Geometry.

Scribd bug fix These documents showed up at lousy resolution for a long time. I wrote an email to scribd and had a response back in less than 24 hours (for a free service I’m impressed). Turns out that I had two lines in the latex code that were making the pdf tougher for the scribd reader to read. After deleting

\usepackage{emerald} %a package of free fonts
\usepackage[T1]{fontenc} %font encoding to go along with the free fonts

The pdfs are back to high resolution, easiliy readable, scribd documents. To the other person in the world, if you’re out there, appreciating this solution: you’re welcome.

## A principle for promoting good learning habits

Unless student exploration and problem solving are the task at hand, give the kids access to correct answers for every activity they complete.

I find that one of the biggest differences between the way that I complete problems and the way most of my students do is that I check the answer using the back of the back, my teacher’s edition, or software1. Students will complete a problem and go on to the next. Once they’ve written an answer for the last problem, the work is done.

I’ve been trying to change this for a while. Last year I started assigning only problems with answers in the back of the text for homework, and this year I’m requiring all problems that can be checked to be checked.

I also write activities to use in class. Up until last year I almost never had an answer key ready for them when I’d write them. This year I’m trying to be better. After writing a worksheet, I print it out, solve it, and translate my work into the answer key. Not only does this make it much easier for me to hand a reference to students in class, it makes it that much easier for students to verify their process and thinking.

Here’s a sheet I’m going to use tomorrow in Algebra

This answer key isn’t meant to be the only source of truth, and I’ll try to give student solutions the main stage, but I think providing a complete model (and having it ready) helps students to gain confidence in their own thinking as they work. It’s also a great way to answer the “am I doing this correctly?” when you are needed elsewhere. Very few students will try copy answers, and it’s always clear when they do.

There are times when I would withhold the correct answer/solution for students almost endlessly to force them to think their way through, and times when I want them to practice applying a new skill with answers close by. This is one of those times.

A few new files for equation solving practice are here. Click on a file to download it. The box is friendly and doesn’t add any pop-up junk.

## Scheduler 2009

I’m baaaaaaaaaaaaack! After a long break, the longest I’ve had in the four summers since I began teaching it’s time to get back in the swing of things. I joined in the scheduling of my small school (110 kids in 7/8 grade). After spending time understanding the beast and more time writing macro code for the god-of-scheduling spreadsheet, I thought I’d share the outcome.

Scheduling
I found it exceptionally useful to add lots of countif formulas into the spreadsheet. Keeping track of the number of students in a class, the number of students scheduled for a given period, and the number of students a given teacher will be seeing provides three ways to check that the schedule is not broken. In our school, with one teacher per subject per grade, it means that each teacher’s schedule and each period’s total number of students scheduled should be exactly equal. Here’s the table that did that.

Our schedule consists of five core classes and two electives (which contain five distinct blocks on the schedule). This works out so that each student must be assigned a class for 10 different blocks. Hence the periods P1 through P5 and the five elective spots that come afterward.

The part I’m most proud of is the macro that generates class lists. Using a bit of algebra to get things properly arranged on the class lists sheet, it takes all the student schedule data and re-arranges it into class lists for teachers with first, last, and full names (so folks get their preference) as well as gender counts to help you make adjustments. It’s nice to have the class lists linked directly to the source of the data so that if you make a change to a students’ schedules you can simply click the yellow “generate class lists” button and the class lists will reflect the students schedules perfectly. In my case the button saves me from making roughly 70 individual class lists.

Resource is here. Unfortunately you’ll need Excel 2007. Make sure to enable macros.

As for a bit of reflection, having spent a lot of my time up to the first day of school working on scheduling I have a bunch of respect for everybody else who’s done it.