Thursday, December 2, 2010


So I literally just realized that I hadn't blogged about how well my "Keys to Math" students did on their TAKS retest in October.  We got the results shortly before Thanksgiving break and I've been diving deep into the data and crunching the numbers since then.

Last year in the October retest and traditionally we have had ~31% passing rate.  This year I kinda gently tossed the previous system out the window and the passing rate for students in my class as well as the school was 45%.  Here is where you picture me jumping up and down for joy and screaming like a little girl in my Associate Principals office.  And yes I really did that, and yes some of the admin was doing that with me.  :-)

As a result we are taking the system I hit the ground running with and expanding it while also having our Intervention teacher, let's call him "Stu" teach the same course but his is going to be more directed towards the 10th graders that have always struggled.

My principal, the sweetheart that he is asked me to start writing down the process that the students are doing so that, in his words "someday if you wanted to you could have it ready and go out and sell it to other school districts to implement it."  My response; "that would be awesome but I'm happy in my classroom and it seems like a pretty common sense approach to me."  My thoughts now are that I'm going to TM and a circle so that if someone else wants to do the leg work of presenting it to other schools that's awesome and I'll take the credit and royalties :)

So without further ado, here's what I have typed up so far.  I'm also going to share the MASSIVE spreadsheet I have come up with that has tons of the kids historical data in it (basically anything I could get access to).  Feel free to Oooh and Aah when you see the spreadsheet.  It's kinda like my baby.

Here's the whole process
Keys to Math Process

Here's where you can find all of the documents:
this is the one for the beginning of class or when the kid walks in your doors.
Personal TAKS Reflection

TEKS Tracking Chart

Helps me figure out what the kids need help with. Will be online next semester.
Daily Check

My baby <-- This is where you can Ooh and Ahh :) Everything File to Share

Template for Giving New Results
And yes the raw score means more to the Keys Kids than the scale score.

Earlier in the year as the students were still working their way through the steps before the test we had to present to our co-workers and some central admin through a gallery walk things we were trying in our PLC.  I threw this poster together totally last minute at request and got a lot of positive feedback from coworkers, students and the superintendents right hand woman.  Here's the pics of what the poster showed.  I'm going to be moving it to Glogster whenever I find the time.

Some awesome applets!

So I've learned that not only am I a teacher and a Step Team sponsor, but I'm also a counselor and a data guru.  I've been pulling my students past data from as far back as I can get it and I'm analyzing the begesus out of it!

One thing I've noticed on the reports we got back from the state on our October Retest results is that the students didn't score to hot in Objective 6.  For you non-Texans that's the one over 2D and 3D Representations which includes different views of 3D figures, building them, and lots of scale factor stuff.

In an effort not to have the students revolt post TAKS test and the return of results I've found some awesome resources that the kids enjoy doing and is making them use their wonderful little brains.

Just a fair warning, the WisWet page is out of Norway (I believe) so some of the language and spelling is off but the big idea here is building these figures.

Rotating 3D objects: Just to start get the ideas of the different views of figures.

Building Houses with Side Views
***Note, the laws of physics and gravity don't apply in this online world and the kids love figuring that out.

Building with Blocks: Lots of cool stuff on this one.  When you get to the page click the gray box and there's lot of cool tools.

Transformation Golf: This is awesome and the kids eventually start to get the idea.  I had them keep trying holes if they didn't get par the first time.  Now to just integrate transformation notation into it!

And you know the kids love Tangrams!

There will be more to come, I promise.  If you ever feel like checking out some of the links or activities I have the kids do feel free to check out my TeacherWeb Page.  This is directly to the page that has the more interesting stuff.

HELP!!! Need out of the box ideas fast!

With the end of the semester rapidly approaching I don't know why I never took into consideration the fact that my "Keys to Math" students (the TAKS remediation students) would need to take a "midterm" for me and have something put in the gradebook.  The class is a local elective and for some of them won't count one way or another but now I'm pressed to come up with a "midterm" for these students to do.

I know what you're thinking.  "Duh Sarah!!!  Come on!  It's not like you can just have a party and actually expect the kids to show up for their grade."  As far as the details of this are concerned I just texted my AP and hopefully I will hear back from him soon.

Here's my issue:
These kids don't do well on tests.  And the focus of the class was to have them all work on their individual weak objectives, reflect on their progress, work in small groups, and take ownership of their own learning.  This happened for almost all of the students and I'm super thrilled.  BUT I can't give them a traditional or they will revolt.  Plus, the students were working on their own personal weak objectives so if I did come up with a so called test it would need to be tailored to the individual student.

So here's the deal:
I'm in need of ideas, activities (preferably computer/internet based) that aren't super crazy difficult but something that kid would enjoy the fun math challenge of and I could come up with a grade of.  And everyone needs to be able to succeed at it. 

Anything and everything would be greatly appreciated!  I hope everyone's having a great week so far.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How we grade SBG style

I'm curious to hear what you guys think.

So we decided on our scales by department and this is the math departments
100% - 4.0 - I can do it well enough to make connections that weren't taught in class
95% - 3.5 - I can do it well enough to make connections that weren't taught in class but I'm not always right about those connections.
90% - 3.0 - I can do everything that was taught without making mistakes.
80% - 2.5 - I can do everything that was taught with a few mistakes.
70% - 2.0 - I can do all of the easy parts but I can't do the harder parts.
65% - 1.5 - I can do some of the easier parts but I make some mistakes.
60% - 1.0 - With help I can do some of what was taught.

To determine what score each student should get we were told we are going to use a 60% passing rate floor.  If you're like me my first response was "huh???"  It was then explained to me that if the students get approx 60% of the questions correct that are a specific level (say level 3) then they will receive that score.  Some of my students are really trying for that A in a few of my classes but not all of them this year are (I've got some interesting students).

What are your thoughts on this process?  What do you guys do?  Any problems that you can think of?  I'm open for all ideas and suggestions.  I'm one of the people that's jumping in head first with all of the Standards Based Grading procedures in my school and I keep telling my students that I love my guinea pigs and that's what they are.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A year ago today

One year ago today I could swear i was having a mental breakdown.

My dad had passed away the previous May and he was a big part in me figuring out that I was actually pretty decent at math. I made it through his birthday September 21st and my parents anniversary September 30th without any major problems. But Veterans Day snuck up on me big time. I ended up losing my keys, and not just my classroom keys (which also open all of the computer labs in my building) and as well as the keys for the laptop carts (that work on all of the 18 new carts).

By the end of the day I was wandering around the school backtracking my steps hoping to stumble across my keys. Luckily a good friend from work came along and helped me make it through the last long minutes.

My dad was so proud that I became a math teacher. Especially since I didn't automatically click with math. I know he would be so proud of the fact that almost half of the kids I've been helping in my TAKS remediation class passed the TAKS test they just took. Thank goodness my dad saw what he did in me.
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A Big Thanks to all in the Blogging Community

I was on my way into work this morning when I got the email  notification that Dan Meyer had a new post up and the title of the post was very intriguing to me.  But the idea behind the post went in a totally different direction than I anticipated it to go and it started me thinking.

So I want to be sure and send out a big thanks to everyone in the blogging edusphere, whether they teach math or science or english or anything else, for putting themselves and their ideas out there.  I appreciate it more than you could ever know and cannot thank you enough for sharing and inspiring.

It used to be that for me to be inspired to try something in my classroom I would either need to see another teacher at my school or in my district try something or I would read about it in a magazine article or one of the many books we are all handed by our principals.  I still get a lot of motivation and inspiration from some of the math teachers at my school and in my local community, but this has opened a door that without I would feel very isolated and, honestly, scared with the new practices my school is trying this year (SBG).  I know that since my school as a whole is trying it together you would think "uh, Sarah, you're not alone you dummy. You have the entire school trying it with you!"  Well, telling me that doesn't seem to work because I know how some teachers work.

What I also love that I can now share in the edusphere is some of the crazy but perfect ideas some of my coworkers come up with.  In particular a fellow Geometry down the hall from me that we will call the awesome Gayle Taylor.  (She said it was fine to use her name but I feel like the adjective needs to be added).  Awesome Gayle is now in her 37th year teaching and is more than open to new ideas of how to grade and instruct students.  She works early in the morning and into the late hours of the night (I know because I'm usually up here too but I tend to get off track easier than her).  Her tireless efforts show in her students test scores and their new love for the subject.  I can only hope and pray to one day be as awesome a teacher as she is and still have the drive and creativity that she still has. 

Progress so far with Standards Based Grading

So it's been awhile and I've been doing a lot lately.

I'm currently waiting on pins and needles for my TAKS re-testers scores to come in.  The Associate Principal and her secretary joked the other day about charging me each time I come in and ask if they've received any notice about the scores yet.  Luckily they decided not to do that.  But I was informed that the counselors will be bringing the students in one by one to let them know their TAKS scores.  Well, this is different than what I originally had been told and told the students so I'm working on a proposition for telling the students their scores.  More on that later.

Anyways, as far as SBG goes I feel like we have made HUGE head-way in our Geometry PLC and I made a huge jump forward with communicating to my students what their scores are and how they performed on a test.

Here's a break down of what we are currently doing.
Instead of in the gradebook having Tests/Assessments = 50%, Assignments/Homework = 25% and Quizzes = 25% we change the "categories" each grading period (6 weeks for us).  For example, this last 6 weeks in Geometry we covered Lines and Transversals, Linear Equations, Triangle Basics and Special Segments of Triangles.  (We were supposed to cover congruent triangles too but ran out of time).  So in the categories section of Gradespeed it shows up like this now.

I know what you're thinking.  Duh Sarah, that's the whole idea.  It helps the kids understand stuff better.  Get with the program.  The coolest part though was when one of the teachers printed out a sample progress report with the categories like this.  Check it out!!!!

It's no longer a mystery to the student or parent what the kid is struggling with!!!
It has been a little more difficult for some teachers since they tend to spiral multiple ideas and topics into one worksheet or assignment but I haven't struggled with that.  I do try to do a lot of spiraling in my assignments and assessments but I'm focusing on assessing or practicing one skill and I try my hardest not to let the deficits in the other skills impact their grade.  I also tend to not give students "Msg" for their assignments except in the class this student is in.  It's a Double Block (I see the students every day) class and they have literally NO HOMEWORK.  Since I see them so much and so many of them take accommodated or modified tests the curriculum is watered down a lot and I don't require them to go to the same level as my other students.  I actually have been trying to move to all of my students not have any out of class assignments but that's a whole nother issue.

As we move forward into the SBG abyss and try and figure out our way around I came across a huge stumbling block, and this was a big one, especially for me.  I don't know if you've noticed from my writings but I'm just a little ADD and I get side tracked easily.  You should see me trying to grade tests/assessments.  It used to be a joke of how easily I was distracted and forget what I was supposed to be doing.  Well, since I'm so easily distracted in our tests not all of the questions about identifying parallel and perpendicular lines are just in one section of the test I wasn't sure how I would track which questions my students were successful at and which areas they needed more help with.  So in my "how do I organize this super disorganized life" I came up with a system that my students now get their grades back on.

 So here is an example of students test and how I report their grades back to them.  I have found so far that grading this way and giving the students back their report sheets as well helps with two things; (1) some students that have never passed a math test before are or their scores are better than ever before (this has also resulted from a campus decision and I will explain this in a second), and (2) the students know exactly what they need to work on to prove to me that they understand the material.

I've given each student a half sheet of paper like the following and I have had it posted in my room since almost day one.  I think as a result the students are not so focused on point grabbing as they have in the past and they are truly enjoying learning and the activities I'm providing them.

I think it's helped make a huge difference and I'm really optimistic about the changes.  I just hope everyone else in my PLC and my campus is feeling the same way.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Systems of Equations Fox Trot Version

Here's a great example of why kids seem to understand Systems of Equations better in a problem situation than in the "naked math" version.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Homecoming and the Day From Hell

Honestly, waking up today I'm surprised I'm still here and I haven't attacked any of my students.

So I spoke before about the Double Block (DB) Geometry class that I have.  As of now the class count is 25 students, 20 which are Special Ed and 1 is 504.  So only 4 students do not have any documentation that they need extra help or assistance. 

Of the 20 SpEd students 4 are qualify as ED (emotional disturbance) but only 1 has a BIP (Behavior Intervention Plan).  To me it logically follows that more than just one of those kids should have one of those because they have problems interacting with each others. 

Well yesterday with all the crazy mums and bells and garters going around the DB Geo class was crazy.  We were on a Pep Rally schedule so that also added to the chaos.  Oh and of course I can't forget to mention that it's the end of the grading period too.  WAY too much to happen on one day. 

So my class was practicing identifying parallel and perpendicular lines today with a puzzle worksheet and a parallel chain.  To start off with the kids got new seats because I had to break up some of the students that wouldn't stop talking and feeding off of each other.  Then one of the "wonderful" students decided instead of working to make signs that said "kick me i'll like it" and using the glue sticks to attach it to peoples backs.  It was a crazy day in there even though there were 4, count them FOUR different adults/teacher in the room (me - teacher of record, inclusion teacher - teacher of record for applied students, educational assistant I - goes into gen ed classes with one particular student but knows a lot of math and is a huge help!, educational assistant II - only gets to come in every other day and used to work with the applied students. ).

So at the end of the period as the class of 25 is putting up the material from the activity, which is a very noisy process, I end up hearing from the back of the room two punches while one of my autistic students was trying to tell me about the hockey game he was going to get to see that night with his dad.  Turns out one of my wonderful ED students punched another student twice in either the leg or abdomen.  There were only a few minutes left in class so I stood at the the front of the room and didn't take my eyes off of them until everyone else had left the room.  Oh and as the students were walking out of the room one of them asked me "Hey Miss, did you like my kick me signs?!" 

So, needless to say I spent most of the next period which happened to be my off period and when I was supposed to do lunch duty, writing referrals, calling parents and looking at students IEP pages and FIEs.

It wasn't until last night that I realized I still have received IEP (individual education plan) pages for about half of the students in that class.  Ugh!!!!

And to top everything off there's 2 layers of icing on the cake.

I'm also the Step Team Sponsor (sponsor meaning I don't get a stipend) and I do the books at the volleyball games (that I do get paid for).  At the pep rally first we couldn't find the music and then the music wouldn't play.  So technically we got two performances in during 1 pep rally.  One was a step performance and at the end was the dance they had been working on.  And when I finally got to the freshman volleyball game late the clock wasn't working so we had to use an old school flip pad to show the score.  Oh and the varsity volleyball and football team lost the homecoming games.  Not the best day or night. 

But hey, the kids that rode in my car for the homecoming parade were King and Queen so I'm pumped about that!

Well, it's time for me to relax and enjoy the weekend.  I'm gonna go plant myself on my couch and rest and relax all day!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Grading with Standards

So how do you grade assignments if the students do not finish assignments or tests?

I have students that are doing great on assignments but just were not able to finish.  Do I just grade them by what they finish or do I let them finish later?  I'm not dealing with any students that need to finish things in any time constraints.  Welcome for any ideas.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Creative Test Answer

I have some creative kids.  Here's an example of one of their answers for sketching a plane with noncollinear points and a line segment.  (NOTE: He didn't get the credit for the points not in a line and he didn't finish the test.  At least he feels good about the artwork he drew for me!)

So would that be a 2, 3, or 4.  I could see it being a 4 if there were 2 separate planes.

*** Got another answer similar from the same class.  This kid did better on it though.  He got the 2 separate planes and the guys love that pics of their test are on my teaching blog!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Too awesome not to share

Just followed a link from a blog to this and I LOVE it!!!
I hope everyone else enjoys it half as much as I do.

Implementing SBG School Wide

As the school year has started and my campus has had A LOT of training on SBG practices and procedures it seems like all of the departments are in a rush to implement it now.  As we all are tripping and trying to find out how to exactly implement this in our classrooms I keep wondering if anyone has experienced the same problems on their campuses. 

Did everyone try to implement it at once or was it phased in through departments or levels of teachers?

While the school or district was in transition from the traditional grading system (percentage wise) did all of the PLCs or even departments decide to use the same conversion chart from a scale score to percentage or did different departments or levels have different conversions?

The current hot topic at my school is how do we convert the scale score to a percentage that GradeSpeed can handle.  For my students, and primarily the students I'm intervening with and my DB Geometry class I'm using the table below.

100% = 4.0 = I can do it well enough to make connections that weren't taught.
95% = 3.5 = I can do it well enough to make connections that weren't taught, but I'm not always right about those connections.
90% = 3.0 = I can do everything that was taught without making mistakes.
85% = 2.5 = I can do everything that was taught with a few mistakes.
80% = 2.0 = I can do all of the easy parts, but I can’t do the harder parts.
75% = 1.5 = I can do some of the easier parts, but I make some mistakes.
70% = 1.0 = With help, I can do some of what was taught.

Now that's just the student friendly version that I have posted in my room. In my opinion in those classes the students shouldn't have an opportunity to fail. They always will have receiving help as an option and they will eventually (fingers crossed) be able to get some of the work done.  But that's just my philosophy. 

I'm interested in other peoples experiences and thoughts about this subject especially.  We are having a math department meeting next week to discuss our grading policies.  I hope to hear from people!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I've got what kind of class?!?!

As the school year comes screaming straight toward me I'm starting to panic about the up coming school year. My current schedule stands with 2 sections of Geometry (1 each day), 2 sections of Keys to Math (TAKS math remediation class), and a double block Geometry with my inclusion teacher.

Now my double block geometry is an interesting story. Currently I have general ed and special ed inclusion students in there. At the same time and in the same class my inclusion teacher is scheduled to be the teacher of record for an Applied Double Block (DB) Geometry class. Now that class is a class for low level special education students that are supposed to be in resource classes from their IEP.

I have no clue how to instruct students that are super low, MR, lower level students, as well as general ed students all at the same time. I am very concerned that one group of students, probably either the extremely low or general ed students will not be receiving the necessary instruction or services. Does anyone know of someone that was able to work a skewed level of students such as this and still have them be successful?  I've heard that some of them are extremely needy and I don't know how many kids that are used to one on one instruction at once that I can help.  I do know that the Standards Based Grading would be perfect to use with all of them!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Interested in thoughts on the "Common Core" (Common State Standards)

So I just got back from a lunch with a coworker that has hooked me into blogging about school and we share a lot of the same ideas on education and the going ons in the classroom (Yes Stacy, I'm talking about you).  One thing she brought up that I have not formed an opinion on is the Common Core movement.  I don't know if it is just because I am currently more concerned with my new upcoming class or if it's because I like to stay out of the politics of education (I just want to teach and work with kids) or if it is because my state, Texas, is not participating in creating the standards. 

I am curious as to other people's opinions, especially those that are not from Texas.  Do you know what your state is going to do with the standards?  Will everyone be giving the same assessments eventually?  I understand the move to common standards is a beneficial one and will *fingers crossed* keep all the states at the same level and prevent some states from "dumbing down" their standards so they don't get in trouble with NCLB.  I would just like to hear everyone's thoughts.  As a math teacher I feel like math doesn't change much from one state to another and it is rigid in the order that things need to be taught.  I would love to hear everyone's thoughts and opinions.

On an interesting note along with this only Texas and Alaska aren't participating in creating the standards, but Virgina is helping create them but they have already made it clear they will not adopt them.  Interesting...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Ideas and Plans so far

The high school I work at is one of the newest Marzano schools. I honestly don't know if that means anything to you guys out there in blogger-land but my principal keeps saying it's something that many people will know about and recognize. The ideas of Robert Marzano (who we fondly refer to as Bobby Jesus at times) are not new to me as my last school district embraced them and was slowly moving us down the path he presents and suggests from his work and studies.

Towards the end of the school year last year as a math team we began writing our proficiency scales to attempt to begin to slowly implement the ideas of standards based grading (sbg) in our curriculum. Of course when I started reading about all of this I got super excited, started reading ahead in the book series and said "this is what's going to make a huge difference in my Keys to Math class!" (That's my name for my TAKS math class - TAKS is our state mandated test for those not in Texas).

Shortly after the end of the school year I was honored to attend a Professional Learning Communities (PLC) conference (in Vegas) with some coworkers where I was the annoying attendee that went up to half of the presenters after their sessions, praised them for their lecture and then asked if I could email them for some of their additional resources and tools from their school.

What have I done with all of these ideas churning in my head since then until now? Well the ideas are still churning in my head :)

This is the first summer I have had off and not taught summer school in 3 years or so. Hence being a bum and laying around while taking multiple trips to the beach (one of which I am currently on) has been one of my main focuses.

But once I get back in 3 days I will be sitting down and working & planning for at least 2 hours every day (along with working out more and cleaning my apartment from top to bottom).

But regardless, where was I going with this? Oh, my plans so far. On the first day of school I will be handing my students:
- Syllabus with classroom policies
- Topics (TEKS) which we will be covering and they will be tracking their own progress
- Proficiency scales that I will be grading them on (hopefully)

From studies I have read and personal experiences I find that when you tell the students up front what you want them to know and accomplish and at what level from day 1 they do much better.

Now what exactly my first lessons are going to be, uh yea....

I know they are not going to be a traditional "you are going to take this pre-test. Please do the best you can, yada yada yada..." I plan to assess my students current abilities at the beginning of the school year using an informal formative assessment where working with a partner is permitted (Especially since I know not everyone's brain will be on and functioning). I do also have their results from the bleeping TAKS test broken down by objective. I have already crunched numbers on all the sophomores and juniors whom failed the TAKS test, have ranked the overall performance of the whole from the weakest objective to the strongest. But of course everyone is different, not to mention all of the different programs the students are going to be in! (Special Ed, 504, ATLAS-well maybe not the last one, that's just a whole 'nother can of worms)

I think right now I'm just trying to get all of these ideas out of my head so I can hopefully get maybe another 30 minutes of sleep or so before the rest of the people on this beach vacation wake up.

Anyway, happy summer and happy teaching!

What is this one about?

Why am I adding to the multitude of blogs out there about teaching you ask?

As of this upcoming school year I am going to be teaching a remediation math class to students that are struggling with passing our state mandated test to graduate. We only have about 3 more years (I believe) of this test as a graduation requirement before Texas moves to using an end of course exam requirement (STARR).

As well as the new class that I have to teach, which has no set scope and sequence or mandatory tests (so excited about that!) I am attempting to implement Standards Based Grading with this class. As of my last conversation with my AP I will have 2 sections along with my Geometry classes and I am being given free reign to experiment with ways to make these students feel successful and help them to finally pass this bleeping test.

Just a quick side note- when I was in high school (not that long ago) and I had to take our then skills based test (TAAS) required and they took away my calculator I failed the adding and subtracting portion of the exam. I wasn't the best student myself so I know what it is like to fail these tests as a student and have to retake them.

So that's a little about what this is going to be about. And of course the ventings that come from being a teacher and our education system. I would appreciate any feedback from those of you that have tried to implement these systems and your experiences.

Happy teaching!