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Goals this 2017-18 school year

Well August has begun which means it’s inevitable that school will be starting soon.  Even though this will be my 21st year of teaching, each year I still am anxious and somewhat nervous.  I’m not sure why but I’m sure some of that is caused by my excitement of all the ideas swirling around in my head that I’ve gained during the summer after having time to reflect on the past year (and relax) .  I love to learn new things and hear what others are doing – I just don’t have unlimited time to make all of those ideas come to fruition (nor should I ever try.) So when the #SundayFunday challenge was to focus on our goals I thought the timing was perfect.

So what is my goal this year?  I’ve actually been wrestling with a couple of things this summer about a course that I’m going to be teaching. I’m part of a new content team and I really want to be a part of a team that works together (which has not been the case so far in this content area) but I want to be able to do things that the others may not be willing to try yet.  I’m sold on a lot of the strategies and things that I do in my AP Stats class and I KNOW they can work in a regular non-AP class but I can’t seem to get my department members on board. It’s frustrating in part but then I also know that these teachers are great – they just have different comfort zones and how far they are willing to stray from them varies.  Me on the other hand – I hear something that can help my students and I’m changing tomorrow’s lesson plan the night before to reflect it.  I know there needs to be a happy balance of work with 3 preps so I can’t go crazy but if I think it will help my students it’s worth the extra effort in my mind.

So what do I do?  Do I join the new team and try to encourage a collaborative environment with give and take on these ideas to create a cohesive group where the students get the same thing?  This is what I did last year with my Algebra 2 team.  It was needed and I think it worked out well (and it was a TON of work on my part) but I left thinking there was more I wanted to do.  This year’s new team is different and I think I want to go my way and try to show them what I’m doing to try to get them on board.  Is that being selfish?  Is it wrong to be selfish? So many questions to think about and then the most important one rises to the surface: “What will help the students the most?” and I have to believe it’s going in the direction that is different than what’s been done.

I was inspired my @mathequalslove‘s most recent post on this same topic and so I believe my one word this school year will be PURPOSE.  My goal is that I want to make sure that I do things this year with purpose.  I looked up the definition and here’s what I found: the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.  This means what I may choose to do will not be popular and I’m going to have to be okay with that.  This year I can’t just try to fit in and not make waves because I know I won’t be happy and the students will miss an opportunity.  Now I have more reasons to have butterflies before the school year starts but I know this will help grow my comfort zone.  I know if I’m going to try to expect it of others, then I need to be willing to model it myself 🙂

 

 

 

AP Stats

Why my kids & I LOVE tickets!

Have I mentioned that I do a lot of things in groups? I truly believe that in order to fully understand something you need to be able to explain it to someone else (reminds me of the first time I had to teach Geometry – major lightbulbs!)  Getting kids to do that sometimes is hard.  My classroom is set up with pods of 4 desks and I try to be off the “center stage” as often as possible to encourage kids working together and talking. Something I’ve always done to encourage that is “ticket time” which is not so exciting the 1st time I do it but extremely competitive in the future.

So what is it?  Periodically I have kids partner up and I give them a series of  Multiple Choice (MC) questions (since I know the MC is always hardest for the AP test we do it a lot for practice). It’s usually about 7 or 8 questions long with the incentive to earn 1 or 2 tickets. Usually something like at least 5 right earns a ticket and all right earns 2.  They choose their partner (we only do a group of 3 if an odd number of students) or they can choose to work by themselves. I show the questions on the projector one at a time to allow them time to talk and decide on their answer. It’s brainpower only – no notes allowed and I don’t give out answers till the end. We move on through each question the same way with time at the end to quickly go back through any they need to see again before I check each partner group awarding tickets and only telling them how many they have right before I go over the correct answers.  Groups that get tickets put both names on their tickets and I collect them for our drawings later.  Finally I go over the solutions for each problem and answer questions before moving on.

So what are the tickets for?  Well each quiz and test day I pick out 2 tickets for the class and those students get to take the quiz/test together. YEP I said they get to work together!!  Quiz days I pick them out during the warm up and then during the quiz they move aside together to talk freely.  Test days my room is set up in rows with randomly assigned seats and two sets of group tables right by me where students can work together. I draw test day tickets after school the day before and post the list in the morning outside my door. (*Kids who choose to work by themselves for ticket time get to pick their partner when their ticket is picked. If a kid’s partner is absent then a new ticket is drawn.)

What happens because of this?

*Kids communicate a lot more when choosing an answer, discussing why the other answers are wrong and don’t rush making a decision.

*Kids get more particular about who they choose to work with as the year goes on. It’s not just who they are sitting next to at the time or their best friend in the class.  Fortunately I’ve never had a kid who couldn’t find a partner because no one wanted to work with them 🙂

*Kids know who to ask besides me when they have questions during class (They start to notice that certain people always seem to get their tickets picked – is it because they are lucky or that they have so many tickets for a reason?)

*Kids that work together during assessments learn a lot along the way and have awesome discussions. (You might think that a “smart kid” and a “not up to par kid” who somehow have a ticket together that is picked might be an advantage for the latter kid but that’s not what I’ve seen come out of that situation.)

*Kids encourage each other to study and practice before an assessment in case their ticket is picked.

*Kids stop by my room first thing on test day (or pop by after school the day before) just to see the list of who got picked to work together.  This is followed by a lot of high fives and an occasional victory dance in the halls.

*It makes MC review way more exciting 🙂

BTW tickets just accumulate throughout the year. Sometimes kids pass on their ticket being picked for a quiz hoping to have it picked on a test day instead.  This is funny because kids don’t realize they can do that till one group that is prepared asks me if they can be put back in instead.  This is also about the time we’ve gotten to probability and I show them the ticket stack for their class and ask them to think about this.  Inevitably not every ticket is used by the time the tests and quizzes are over for the year but they can use them towards the final exam so everyone is happy.

BTW I shared this strategy with the other AP teachers in my building and the AP Physics teacher came to talk to me about it then tried it in her class. She was amazed how engaged they were and excited about it each time they had the opportunity.  My kids consistently ask me if it’s a ticket day so I know I must be doing something right.  That’s something to smile about for sure!

Algebra 2

Alg 2 – Tune Up Tuesdays

So maybe you read my last (long sorry) post about how I changed my assessments in AP Stats (How “Make It Stick” Changed the way I teach in AP Stats) and you are thinking “what about other classes?”  Well so did I after I first used it.  The advantage of trying everything new in AP Stats is really two-fold: 1) I’ve been teaching it for over 15 years and it is my passion which I’m always trying to keep fresh and 2) I’m the only one in my building who teaches it.  It’s especially that last one that makes a difference.  In our county we really TRY to built content teams that work together. This way each student who sits in say in an Algebra 2 class will get the same content no matter who the teacher is.  If you’ve been teaching for even a little while you realize just how difficult this task can be.

Then throw in me – the constant learner (another post sometime) who wants to try new things and am convinced they can work if we give it a shot with a group of other great teachers who aren’t ready to jump so far out of their comfort zone yet or just want a little more time to feel good with the new content they are teaching first.  How do you find the happy balance and still maintain a strong content team?  If you have kids of your own you know the answer to that is to pick your battle wisely and only choose one to work on at a time.  I guess battle isn’t really the best word choice but it’s the one thing you feel most passionate about and don’t want to give up.

This was me when I was heading up our Algebra 2 team last year.  Since going Common Core all the teachers weren’t always so common and ended up in different spots at the end of the year teaching what they felt needed to be taught for how long they though all with perfectly good intentions.  But we needed to be on common ground so I asked to take on the challenge because I hadn’t taught Algebra 2 in years and besides really wanting it again, I wanted to see our department grow stronger together and this wasn’t happening in all areas.  I won’t get into the nitty gritty details of all that we did but I will say that our team surpassed all the expectations I had going into this.  It was a TON of work, especially for me, but I’m determined to do things right (not necessarily perfect) the first time.  At the end of the year all of us felt good, and while we don’t have our PARCC scores yet, we felt we did the best with what we started with at the beginning of the year.  I now believe even more that you can take teachers with different strengths, weaknesses, beliefs on teaching and assessing, and more and be on common enough ground to give common assessments that everyone can feel good with!!

So what are Tune Up Tuesdays?  It was my spin of the quiz assessment I did in AP Stats for Algebra 2.  Fortunately all of us had sections that met everyday (thank you scheduling people for answering our requests!) so normally we saw the kids Monday – Friday.  One of the biggest challenges with students is remembering content over a longer period of time and not memorizing the process for an assessment and then dumping it after it has been assessed. “What do you mean you don’t remember how to factor, we’ve been doing it all year?” might be words you have found yourself saying OVER and OVER again.

So every Tuesday there is a Tune Up Tuesday quiz.  Yes, EVERY Tuesday!!!  “What if we don’t have school that day?” asks a student. Then we don’t have a quiz that week.  They shout awesome not realizing that happens very infrequently.  So what will be on the quiz?  Anything that we covered the Monday-Friday the week before (regardless of how many days we had that week.)  This way (ideally) the students have the weekend to review the material from that week and then come in on Monday with questions that they still have before the quiz on Tuesday.  This is a lot more complicated than you would think.  A revision for this year might be to give them a set of generic study questions to review that weekend to help that we could quickly discuss on Monday.

What’s on a quiz? Again it’s never more than the front of a page.  Question #1 is a describe in your own words question. #2-possible 3 is something from the week like they saw in a classwork/homework and the last question is either a SAT or PARCC like question on this content.  Here’s a couple sample quizzes:

Quarter 1 Quiz 2  Quarter 3 Quiz 2

So how did it go?  I personally liked that there was consistency on when quizzing was and that we could change it up to Monday if need be to make sure that each teacher felt good about how it captured the main points of the week’s lessons.  Kids knew when there was a quiz AND so did parents!!  No one came in and said ” I didn’t know we had a quiz” without another student saying “Duh! It’s Tuesday!!”

Was it exactly like I would have liked to see it go?  Of course not, but again my entire team bought into the idea and we formed it into something that was our own and EVERYONE could feel comfortable with.  Also an extra bonus was that talking about this type of assessing enough days during lunch other teachers wanted to know more and are considering doing it in their upper level classes!  Building up your team is WAY MORE important, not to mention beneficial, than always getting what YOU want.  That’s something to smile about!!

AP Stats

How “Make It Stick” Changed the way I teach in AP Stats

If you’ve ever run into me at an educational setting and we talked about anything related to AP Stats then the book “Make It Stick” (book link) by Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel. I was first introduced to this book at the Best Practices at the AP Stats reading by Darren Starnes.  I think most of us who attended ordered a book to read that summer.

*Warning though: It’s not one of those books that you can just sit down and digest quickly!

It’s definitely one that you need to read a chapter at a time and think about.  So admittedly I haven’t finished the entire book.  Too much good stuff that I wanted to put into practice right away (and honestly not enough time to finish it before the school year started.)  But from what I gleaned I came up with the following changes that I’ve implemented into my AP Stats classes the past 2 years and I’ve seen dramatic differences.  My AP scores have been great (not all 5s or anything but my kids have done well for where they are and how strong they are) AND the percentage of students who take the exam have gone up as well.  In my school system the students pay to take the AP Exam and they are NOT required to take the exam either.  When registration time comes along I do ask each kid individually if they have registered and if the answer is no I WANT to know why.  I never pressure a kid to take the exam but I want to make sure their reason is justifiable (in other words not just because they can’t afford it or think they won’t do well but they don’t want to try.)

To be completely transparent you must know that I do teach at a high performing school where there are not a lot of free & reduced lunches and parent involvement is pretty high too.  However I’ve also taught in the opposite environment and firmly believe that this CAN work in any school situation with a few adjustments.  The truth is looking outside the environment KIDS ARE KIDS no matter where you teach!!  My kids aren’t any smarter than the kids I’ve taught at other schools so as far as the raw material you have to work with it’s pretty much the same 🙂  It’s those external factors that we can’t always control that get in the way sometimes but as a teacher there are a lot of things that you CAN do to meet your students where they are and help them reach the SAME level as others.  To be honest I think those kids who don’t have all those supports are my hardest workers and the most determined to succeed.  I feel like I make the most difference to them as challenging as it may be sometimes.  But I digress… here is what you probably want to know.

I’ve got a lot of info listed below so I tried to underline and section key things.  Feel free to ask questions if I wasn’t clear about something.  Enjoy!

Some background about my AP Stats classes:

*I have 2 types of classes for my schedule. Those that meet everyday for 50 minutes and those that meet every other day in a block for 90 minutes.  Inevitably my 90 minute classes lose time in comparison so I always plan for my block class which includes our lunch shift. Any extra time in my 50 minute class time is bonus.

*Due to the loss of time for the block classes 4 years ago I went to the flipped classroom model and love it!!  It helps me cover all the material in ample time (even with tons of snow days) to have at least 1.5 weeks to review.

*In our school currently we have  “break” day where students go for various things like extra help, club meetings, etc.. They fall on Wednesday and while they don’t affect the block class they do reduce 3 of the other classes times that they meet to less than 50 minutes each.

*I have very competitive students and grades are often more important than learning sadly.  Cheating is rampant at my school.

*Most of my students are seniors but I do get juniors and sophomores as well taking this class.

My aha moment:

Something that struck me before I even read the Make It Stick book was something I heard during the Best Practice Night at the 2015 AP Reading.  I don’t even know who said it but they asked the question about why do we test the way we do given that the AP test is a cumulative test?  In other words why are we surprised when kids ask us so many questions that we think they should know when we review for a midterm or the AP exam.  Part of the problem is we chunk things into units and students review for that unit but often shelf that material until they plan to see it again which tends to be much later on.  It was then that a light bulb went off in my head. Why am I giving unit tests?  While I do some cumulative review throughout the year, why am I not testing them on cumulative material so the AP exam is just one large version of what I’ve been doing all year long?  Then I started the book and the research about how people learn and retain material was supporting this idea in my head.

What I did:

There were no more unit tests or quizzes!!  (And as they found out later no tests in Qtr 4 – which was focused on AP exam review.)

At the beginning of the quarter I told the students to mark their calendars with the Quiz and Test dates. (Example from last year: 1st_Qtr_16-17)

You can see from the example that it worked out the be a test every 3 weeks or so and if it wasn’t a test week then there was a quiz usually towards the end of the week. I’ll talk more about the format of these below.  Key things I made sure was that I had tests on a day that was not break schedule or anything else key that was going on at school like homecoming week, etc. For my block kids I always shifted my lunch to C lunch on test days (we have 4 lunches) so they had the test the first 60 minutes, lunch, then came back for a lesson.

I told them that everything in this class was cumulative so if you wanted to know what would be on their assessments, it was fair game from everything that we’d covered so far. This means no formal review days before a test. While there would be a concentration on the most recent material, anything could be on there. We would also review throughout the year regularly.

I also told them upfront the format of every test and quiz would be the same so there were no surprises.  (See later some other things I already had in place that complemented this strategy.)

The formats:

Quizzes – because I was giving these more frequently I wanted to make sure that they were quick and to the point so they could have them back fast.  In my mind I never want a quiz to take more than 10-15 minutes of time so they were always right at the beginning of the class period after the warm-up.  They never included anything covered the 2 days prior to the quiz (one block period) to give students the opportunity to get help and also I didn’t have to go over any homework questions or whatnot before the quiz. They knew the process so they were ready to go and didn’t try to ask last minute questions once class had started to delay the quiz.  The other important thing is that I wanted them to get good, fast feedback on some possible difficult questions and really assess whether they got some of the big concepts we talked about – this meant making them low stakes in their grades. Each quiz was either 7 or 8 points and it was only 20% of their grade for the class.  This way if they got a 3 or 4 on a quiz it didn’t kill their grade and they learned what they needed to do to get better.

The format: Very few questions. Never more than a front sheet of paper.  Question 1 was always something like “In your own words describe…..” and I would take a difficult term or concept or something I knew there was still confusion on (or even common mistakes on previous AP tests). Question 2 was something relatively recent. Question 3 was an old item or something that used something old in what we were currently doing.  Question 4 & 5 were only if necessary because the other questions were super short and not many points. (Example quizzes: Qtr 1 Quiz 2 & Qtr 3 Quiz 4)

Here was another twist. Since I announced the dates of ALL the assessments at the beginning of the quarter, kids knew when they would be out and could take the quiz in advance or take the make-up version if they were absent.  The make-up version was similar but NEVER the same as the in class version. This was for the students who were absent for sickness as well.  This way I could always give the quiz back the very next block class. (Being in a block schedule my kids know how I reference the A-day B-day thing so a kid in a everyday class knew that if they took a quiz on an A-day then they got it back the following A-day.)  Since these quizzes were super short it was easy to grade them fast.

Tests – It was super important to me for kids to see their tests in a similar format to the AP Exam so it wasn’t foreign to them when the time came.  I also needed it to be no more than 50 minutes to accommodate any class. I used the time allotted for the AP exam to guide me here. 90 minutes for 40 MC questions – this equates to approx 2.25 minutes per question. 90 minutes for 6 FR questions with more time allowed for #6.  I knew I wasn’t going to put a #6 on my test so I figured 60 min for 5 FR questions – this equates to approx 12 minutes per question.

1 Test = 6 MC question and 3 FR – based on these time approximates 49.5 minutes

This was the format for EVERY test and I told the kids this BEFORE our first test (After the test I told them the time breakdown for them to understand why a 9 question test took them so long!)

Scoring: MC – 1 point each FR – 4 points each scored using a rubric so each test was raw point max 18 but I always converted these to percents to enter in my gradebook.  The test/project category was 50% of their grade. (The other 30% was classwork – yes you might have inferred that I didn’t grade homework – haven’t for several years but I also flip my classroom so homework is watching the assigned video (which they did earn 5 points for each) but most of my traditional homework was now done in class in a group format.  BTW I do almost everything in groups for this class which I change consistently.)

I also made a make-up version for each test which I first I thought it would be hard but since I had to keep it to this format it wasn’t that bad.  Note that 2 of the 3 FR questions on my test were released old FRAPPYs so the question and rubric was already done for me (huge help for grading consistently.) We did FRAPPYs from the beginning in my class so seeing E, P and I on their tests was a no brainer.

After 2 block classes I gave back their tests.  BTW for tests I ALWAYS had an answer sheet and the test.  The tests NEVER left my room. I consider them secure documents and numbered them to ensure I had them all each class period. This means when I say I handed back their tests I only handed back their answer sheets with their work on it. Once I handed back their tests I took time in class to go over the correct answers for the multiple choice and some general notes about what scored an E on the FR.  I also always showed them a box plot like this Sample Test Results (plus summary statistics) for them to see how they did in respect to their class and the others.  Any other questions they had they need to stay after or come during break to get answered.

Needless to say kids didn’t always like their scores and it was a learning process so what I told them AFTER the first test was that they could do corrections 🙂

What are corrections?

I’ve always done these and I think they are super helpful in the learning process but since I changed up my testing I also changed up what I did for corrections a little for the grades.

*All corrections are for TESTS only.

*All corrections MUST be done after school or during break BEFORE the next test to be counted.

*Corrections must be done at school and not at home. This is the only way you’ll see the original test questions.

*Corrections for the MC must include the correct answer AND why it is correct in your own words.

*Corrections for the FR have to be what was missing and/or whatever was wrong fixed

*In 1st quarter you earn back 50% of the points you missed. 2nd quarter 40% and 3rd quarter 30%.  I realized that this was an entirely new to them so I didn’t want to penalize them for a learning process. Kids that made the effort to learn from their mistake to make corrections each test ended up with grades that truly reflected their ability this way. Kids that didn’t take advantage of corrections earlier on realized this was a mistake especially when sometimes I put the same problem on a future test!

What did corrections look like for me the teacher?

Admittedly the first test correction is always chaotic. I used to restrict the dates for them to come, but with 4 sections it’s crazy to do that and keep up with grading the corrections. The first couple of times kids come with friends in bunches and we go over common mistakes everyone has as a group then the rest of the time I pop around answering individual questions. I encourage kids to help one another so that by the next few test corrections kids come together to help each other and I’m not answering as many questions.

As far as grading them, I’m walking around and helping and looking at what they did so I just need to spot check the corrections they made without me and then grade it before I leave that day.  Since there are only 18 raw points max for each test I have a nice paper with the corrected score that I can add into the gradebook.  (BTW in case you are wondering I have 2 assignments entered in my gradebook. One is the original test grade in % out of 100 points and the second is the Test correction extra points (out of 100) that looks like extra credit. At the end of the test correction period I fill in 0 for the extra points for those that don’t do corrections. This way I see the original and correction points on the grades and SO do the parents.)

What the kids thought:

At first they weren’t sure they were going to like it but soon after they felt comfortable knowing the format of every quiz and test before going in to take it. At least that didn’t change even if the material did.  It released some testing anxiety and encouraged them to consistently look back at old things we did periodically. Kids that were very involved in extracurricular activities appreciated knowing the dates at the beginning of the quarter so they could plan when they needed to study around their games, practices, etc…  When it came to midterms several kids commented that they felt most prepared for mine because we had been reviewing all along.

Most kids appreciated the opportunity to make corrections for the grade aspect but especially for the learning process. It forced them to revisit an old test and understand what they did wrong.  Some admitted they wouldn’t have done that on their own, but for points it made a difference and soon kids were making corrections on their own for the weekly quizzes to study from and they didn’t get points for doing that 🙂

I know I’ve left you with a lot to read and think about. Feel free to ask me questions if you have them.  In my next post I’ll tell you about why my kids & I are crazy about tickets for this class!

 

Uncategorized

Doing your own PD when you aren’t getting what you need!

I’ll be completely honest. Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter are several things I said I’d never do because I just thought either:

1) I don’t have the time for this when there are so many other things I should be doing

2) This is just social media stuff that I have no desire to be part of.

I stuck to my guns for a long time because I couldn’t be convinced of a good reason why I’d want to use these outside of personal use. I’m not one of those people who feels the need to jump on the social bandwagon. I’ve noticed the older I get the less I care about what others think.  I need to be convinced of a really good reason besides that “everyone else is doing it” before I invest my time, effort, and/or money into anything. Sort of like why it took me forever to text or own a Smart phone and why I’ll never own an i-Phone 🙂  But when it comes to my own professional development, I’m willing to try lots of new stuff. So when I HAD to create a Pinterest account to complete an assignment for a class I was taking, at first I was annoyed, but then I saw how other teachers were using this media to “pin” things for topics they were teaching.  Genius!  I hate paper copies so I was sold and I immediately started learning how pin things to remember for later.  While I still refuse to put this app on my phone (sort of like having games on my laptop) I have found this very useful over my antiquated Excel spreadsheets of resources.

Facebook I turned to a little earlier on a whim one winter break to do research of what it was just because I am a high school teacher and my students were using it.  Again I was surprised how many of my friends were already on this and I now use it regularly to communicate and share with other AP Stats Readers and more.  By then my eyes were opened to the use of social media to increase the professional development I could do on my own.  In a school which does do professional development, I was still feeling empty when it came to things that applied to me and my classroom. Things I could use NOW, that were interesting and effective, and fit my teaching style which was not cookie cutter and unlike the rest of my colleagues.  I try to stay on top of what’s out there when I can but let’s be honest – I was doing all the research myself and I figured there had to be a huge pool of other math educators out there that felt like me.

Then I attended my first EdCamp and I met some of those other teachers!  If you’ve never been to an EdCamp before then stop right now and look up when the next one that is closest to you is going to be and register!  Seriously right now!!! (March 27th is EdCamp Maryland) While I was looking into the whole Twitter thing by then and had started by creating an account, I had not realized the potential that was there to tap into.  I went to the Twitter 101 session and left with people to follow and followers and the start of new form of professional development which eventually led me to here: The Math Blogosphere and the wonderful people who were on it.  Finally fellow educators that spoke my language and understood my plight because there were right there with me.

I’ve been telling people in my building who will listen about this new found form of PD for a while now and finally, years later, some are starting to listen and ask questions.  This encourages me to blog and share more to pass along what has been shared to me.

So I do have the Twitter app on my phone, and while I may not check it regularly, when I do check it I’m guaranteed to find some awesome resource that applies to me right now!! For example here are 2 things that I read about this weekend that led me to the awesome blogs of Mark Chubb and Jo Morgan who I hadn’t known about before.

Mark Chubb’s  The smallest decisions have the biggest impact  This really made me stop and think and question what I’ve been doing. I love things that make me do that. It’s an awesome read so check it out.

Jo Morgan’s Algebraic Division This was perfect timing because I had literally just taught long division in my Algebra 2 class. I admit I was a bit skeptical about this method and how it wouldn’t be confusing to my students.  But thanks to Jo and  David Griswold who followed up on my tweets, I’ve got a new perspective.  All of this in a time span of probably 20 minutes on a Sunday afternoon!!  Surely you can see why I’m smiling now 🙂

jo-morgan

david

Uncategorized

My first post: My favorite class to teach

I’m finally taking the plunge to do this blogging thing.  I’ve wanted to for a while because I love what I’ve learned off of so many other teacher’s blogs. My biggest concern has always been “Do I have enough time?”  I mean I barely get my day to day things done at school before I need to leave to pick up my daughter, but I know that I need to try and hopefully even if no one else reads this I will feel better by doing it – sort of like journaling -another thing I’ve been meaning to do again 🙂

So e-world, who am I?  Well I guess you can read more about me on the About page but in essence my name is Jenni Clarkin and I am a high school math teacher in Howard County, Maryland.  There aren’t a ton of people who can say that they LOVE what they do so I consider myself to be blessed that I have a job where, even on the bad and trying days, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else!  I’ve been teaching for over 20 years now and my absolute favorite class to teach is AP Statistics which I’ve been teaching is some form or another for over 15 years.

If you are an AP Stats teacher then you know there is just something special about this course which I affectionately call the “redheaded step-child of the math department.” You know there is more “other stuff” than math in it at times and the grading….ah yes… one of the many reasons why I don’t understand how English teachers do it with all the writing we need to read.  I jokingly tell the kids the only reason they don’t have English teachers teaching this course is because they were scared of the math. (Maybe there is some truth in that.) How I ended up with this gem of a course though was probably similar to yours.  You see as a 3rd year math teacher getting anything about Geometry wasn’t really going to happen at the school I first started teaching it.  There was a chain of seniority and I was way on the bottom.  But that year they wanted to run Probability and Statistics and none of the other “senior” teachers wanted it.  What!! Of course I jumped at the chance to teach it.  With only 2 Stats courses required from my Math degree in Education I figured I’d have to teach myself some stuff so I agreed to work on the curriculum that summer for the course to get a leg up.  What I didn’t expect was how MANY hours I would put into prepping a lesson for each day.  There would be nights that I’d spend several hours learning everything and then I’d call my husband, who was my fiance at the time, and say “can you listen to me explain this and see if makes sense?”  Keep in mind this wasn’t even AP Stats – just Prob and Stats. But I was already creating some cool activities to go with the lessons and I saw this different course as something interesting, something that appealed to all students, and of course had TONS of real world applications.  That year our class took a field trip to the local Black & Decker plant where they showed us how they used the statistics we talked about and explained hands on what Six Sigma was.  What an awesome experience for the kids and myself.  I was really loving this course but I was also getting married that summer and moving to the other side of the bay to be with my husband which meant I was going to be starting all over at a new school and handing over all my hard work to another teacher to continue where I left off. Fortunately she was a friend of mine and I knew she would take good care of the course (which in fact she still is this day.)

Newly married, new county, new school, and new schedule but an awesome department chair who gave me the opportunity to start the AP Statistics program at that new school my second year there.  Thank God that I had a year of teaching Prob & Stat because I don’t know how I would have survived otherwise.  I clearly remember attending my first College Board Workshop for AP teachers that first year early in the fall and breathing a HUGE sigh of relief when I found out I WAS doing the right stuff and was actually on pace for where I should have been.  *** So let me take a second here to pause for all of you that don’t teach AP Stats and explain that, at least where I teach, there usually isn’t more than 1 person in any school in our county that teaches this course.  So while others are co-planning with other people who either teach the same course (or at least have at some point) I was the only one who knew what the heck I was dealing with.  If you wanted to talk Stats you needed to find another teacher in the county who’d be willing to talk with you.  Perhaps you’ve felt that isolation before. No one to share the exciting stuff that you’re doing who gets it, and/or having someone to ask for help in your building who actually could.  Also remember “back in the day” while we had e-mail – if you wanted to talk to someone or get ideas you had to call someone and talk to them. *** I will be forever grateful for Frank Aiello for spending time with me that year to help, answer questions, and letting me sit in on his kids AP Review Sessions.  Also I would have died several times if it weren’t for the gurus and other folks on the AP Stats listserve (remember that?) I remember going to a workshop where Chris Olsen was leading and was in awe.  Sort of like going to my first AP Stats Reading where I sat and ate breakfast with the Stats Monkey himself, Jason Molesky, or met the authors of the textbook I used.  Math nerd star struck I guess 🙂

So why would anyone, given all the limitations and isolation to teach a course, love something so much?  I guess until you teach AP Stats yourself you’ll never understand fully but here is a glimmer into my world.  Imagine you are teaching Algebra 2 let’s say and you get to a concept like complex numbers.  You teach what they are – rocking their world by telling them all of sudden you can take the square root of a negative number. “What! My math teachers lied to me!!” And you teach them how you can use them and they get that and all but then they ask you that age old question- you know it already don’t you?  “When am I ever going to use this in real-life?”  And you want to tell them, but let’s face it you’ve only worked in a school teaching math since you graduated college, unless you count that summer you worked in Ocean City on the boardwalk, but they most definitely did not use them there and you really have no idea.  Now I never make up answers for kids to try to make myself sound smart and you probably don’t either so you stand there dumbfounded because you knew the question was coming but you still don’t have a good answer.  Enter my AP Stats class and that question NEVER comes up.  Why?  Um because we always have a real time answer to that question.  This actually does make this hard to teach this class too because to keep it fresh for you and your students you’re constantly changing what you do.  But one of the things I love about this class is I’m always learning something new about what I teach.  I’m still trying to wrap my mind about this whole boot-strapping idea but I’m excited to know more and learn from people that use it .  The hands on activities we do in class are endless as I’m constantly wanting to incorporate more as I discover a better way to explain something.  I just love it!! And of course when you love something you want everyone else to know why it’s so great right? (I think that is the point of this post.)

Now that I’m “seasoned” in this course I still don’t know everything, nor do I ever believe that I ever will. I still, after 15 years, can’t decide whether I want to start the next unit with Confidence Intervals or Hypothesis Testing as I most recently have been doing.  I want to take the plunge but I’m concerned about the time I have available (a common theme apparently) and I want to hear from others who have done it already.  That brings me to the most recent thing I’ve done to help with the AP Stats community in my area.

I remember those first days/years and how I wish I had someone to talk to and that’s why I worked with my county math peeps to find out who was teaching AP Stats at each school and I reached out to them to provide a sort of support group and sounding board.  I set up times for us to collaborate and meet at county math gatherings, facilitated an e-mail group so others could communicate easily and created a dropbox folder for us to share resources that we found helpful or needed.  This way no one would feel alone.  I wasn’t sure at first if it would be received well or not, but by the end of the year first year teachers of Stats were saying they couldn’t have survived without it and veteran teachers were happy to be able to exchange ideas with others who “got it” and understood what they were going through at a different level.  I’m so happy I stepped out to do that.  My main thought was that it would have been nice if I had something like that and not that I’ve been teaching it so long that I’m an expert and I can tell you what to do.  I think that is why it has been so successful. There are a lot of things that I’m doing in my class now that I would never suggest a newbie try until they’ve got a few years under their belt.  But when they are ready they know they can reach out.  In general I would say that is what the entire global community of AP Stats teachers are like.  I LOVE going to the readings because it’s the best professional development you could ever get for this course and everyone wants to help everyone out and learn what they are doing that is working.  I’m proud to be part of the AP Stats community because I know it’s not like this in other disciplines of math.  And that, dear readers, makes me smile 🙂