Monday, August 1, 2011

How I want to spend my August

It's only a month until school starts up again, and I want to be ruthlessly efficient in these next few weeks. So I need to spend some time clarifying what I need to do in order to get ready for school. So, here's my list of things that I need to get done.

(0. Various side projects and relaxing. I haven't forgotten these at all.)

1. Homework -- I need to figure out how it's going to be assigned and assessed. I didn't grade it at all last year, and students didn't do it, so I stopped bothering to assign it, essentially. I need to choose some sort of structure to at least start things off with. I'm leaning towards bi-weekly homework quizzes, and 4-8 problems assigned nightly. I've also been playing around with the idea of reading assignments.

2. Grading -- My big question is will I grade behavior, and (if I do) how will I grade behavior? Also, need to figure out where homework and classwork fit into here. Also also, I'm hoping to do skills quizzes and also summative tests, so I need to figure out how that will work. I also need to set up my gradebook before school starts, as there were aspects of my set up last year that made it hard for me to make changes. (Can Google please develop a free product aimed at schools so that I can just use GoogleDocs, puh-lease? I need something that integrates well with Excel, at the very least.)

3. Ice Cream -- Eat ice cream. Lots and lots of ice cream. This is going great.

4. Skills quizzes -- I need to finalize my skills lists, enter them into the gradebook for the kids, and figure out how I'm going to work on retention this year. Also, I like the idea of grading being dynamic both for better and for worse, but I'm not sure how to work that out. Maybe by adding the two scores? Maybe by making the first time they see the skill worth one point, and the second time worth 4? And when exactly am I going to give these skill quizzes -- weekly? When we finish a topic? (Last year I just did a skill quiz when we finished a topic, but that didn't allow for retention checks since we were already asking pretty time-consuming questions.)

5. Small-group work -- I want to implement some small group work into my classes in a more formal, regular way, but I'm not sure how or where to start. I'd like for it to be a regular, structured feature of learning in my classroom.

6. Blend -- So I bought a blender. Ideas on things to blend? Everything I've made so far has just been good, not great. I'm aiming for greatness, immortality, milkshakes, etc.

7. Good questions and important points -- I want to start compiling a list of good questions to ask students for my different units, as well as compiling a list of the hard parts that my students struggle with. I think that this is the best sort of prep that I can do, in terms of lesson planning. It'll make me more efficient over the course of the semester. This, rather than compiling activities, seems to be a good use of my time. It will also make it easier for me to lay bare the connections between different topics.

8. Binders -- Plan on how I'm going to use binders with students. I think that there should be dividers for things such as calculator instructions, a different divider for notes, a different divider for handouts, and a folder for their quizzes/tests. Then they should also have a list of the skills that they need to know. I'd like to make a model binder for myself.

9. Buy a stapler. I often need to staple things.

10. Don't blog when I'm hungry. This is really just a note for myself, but, man, I'm really hungry. I'm going to go blend something.


  1. Wow. Great list!

    Homework: would you consider making homework a condition for reassessment? I found that this solved the "didn't do it" problem nicely. Also helpful: planning a class activity that is impossible if you haven't done the homework/reading/etc. Students who arrive in class unprepared form a study group and do the homework. Everyone else does the activity. Completing the activity is a condition for reassessment.

    Grading: have you tried ActiveGrade? I found it quite flexible.

    Blending: My favourite use of the blender is for soups... like this roasted asparagus or this shockingly good chilled strawberry soup. If soup's not your thing, kill two birds with one stone by blending a batch of rhubarb-ginger sorbet. The recipe calls for freezing in a pan, but for better results, use an ice cream churn. For best results, use liquid nitrogen.

    Group Work: a contrary view that I have found helpful is here.

    Binders: consider designing for data retrieval, not data storage. What will students use them to look up? If they will need to "find all tests", then tests should be together and indexed. If they will need to "find all stuff about Topic X", then maybe the test and notes and handouts about Topic X should be together.

    Enjoy your ice cream...

  2. Thanks for the awesome comment.

    Homework: How does the activity idea work for you? I feel like, some days, that would be more than half the class who didn't do homework. I like the idea of making homework and organization a requirement for reassessment, but it makes me nervous to put anything in the way of their path to an out of class reassessment. I really, really want them to reassess. This year, though, I'll be reassessing them with their weekly quizzes, so hopefully that will make me less worried about getting kids in my office out of class.

    Grading: I'm required to use RenWeb, sadly.

    Blending: I'm going to try the first two soups, but my cooking skills are no where NEAR freezing things in pans. But that sounds so cool...

    Group Work: That's an excellent post that you linked to. But it's talking more about group projects, and I'm talking more about little things in class, such as think-pair-share or white boarding.

    Binders: Excellent point about binders. My current plan is for them to have a journal for homework, a folder for assessments, and to use the binder for notes and handouts. I need to think more carefully about how to organize the binder, and designing for data retrieval is a great way to think about it.

    Thanks so much for the helpful comment!

  3. Frozen treats: you can do this. Seriously. Blend a batch of fruit and sugar (a little Cointreau is not a bad idea either). Pour into a cake pan, put in freezer. Take it out every 30 minutes, run an electric mixer through it, put it back. This is the best way to refresh an overheated brain after hours of instructional design :)

    Activities in-class vs. homework: This worked well for me, probably because I rarely assigned homework -- most of the homework I used to give, we now do in class. My students tend to do homework with the book open. I realized at some point that they get nothing out of this, and if I wanted them to practice with the book closed, I had to get them to do it in front of me: in other words, a "practice quiz." Then we do an immediate review of the quiz, before they have a chance to forget why they wrote that and before it has any marks on it from me. 1 -- they get some practice with the book closed (what I wish they would do with their homework, but don't). 2 -- they then have to pass judgment on their own work without the crutch of my x's, check marks, and arrows. The combination of retrieval practice, immediate feedback, and self-assessment is worth triple its weight in homework. It also focused their attention keenly on what they could and couldn't do -- which I think increased the motivation for reassessment. (More details on how I make the quizzes work here. More details on the homework issue forthcoming...)

    Groups: I see what you mean about whiteboarding in groups; I spend most of class doing that or similar things. I love your next post (WDIDWT) but I don't know the answers to any of your questions (unlike frozen treat questions, for which I am a fountain of knowledge). I still suspect that sometimes in-class groupwork suffers from the same problems as group projects. So far my approach to groups is to give an in-class task and say "do this, in groups or on your own." (But you still have to use a whiteboard if you're on your own -- makes it easier if I ask a student to share their thinking with the class). I'm looking forward to more of your thoughts about WDIDWT!

  4. I think the Complex Instruction model will help me use groupwork more effectively. I hope to blog more about it this coming semester.

  5. Hello Sue,

    I love that post. I especially liked the conceptions of what it means to be "smart" at math.

    I'm not ready for anything that open-ended and unstructured yet. I don't feel as if I have a lot of support for non-traditional approaches to instruction, and so I don't want to bite off more than I can chew.

    What I want to do is start with some very structured pair work. Things such as, "Here's an open question. Think about if for a minute. Now take turns explaining what you think about this question to a partner. Write down what your partner says. Ask one question about what your partner says. Write it down. We'll meet back in 5 minutes." Or, "With a partner, design your own X - question/problem." Or "Make a case for what these have in common, and make a case for which one of these is the odd-man out. Come up with your favorite answer, and we'll come together and share them." Or, "With your partner, draw a graph on your whiteboard that has 3 as a zero."

    If all of that goes well, then I'll take the plunge into larger groups with more complex tasks in the second semester.

    Does that sound reasonable to you folks?