I decided this year that I should really put some effort into maintaining my portal page so that I can live by example to show that it can be a useful tool for our department. The initial tinkering was really hairy, because our school uses a free portal software that is quite user-unfriendly, but after a bit of emails back and forth with THE portal lady, I've managed to get all five of my classes up and running with a basic title, an announcements section, and a document section. YAY!
I plan to use this extensively this year, especially because of the printing quota situation. (My friend who used to give me her extra printing quota, is no longer working at our school this year, and anyway I feel that it's too early in the year for me to be begging for copies.) I think it would also provide transparency for parents whose children have special learning needs. So, here we go. All lessons go up on the portal upon finishing the planning, and homework will be posted as well, along with additional resources such as mixed IB practice sets, which I will no longer print out for my whole class. I am still offering lunch-time review sessions this year for my Grade 12 IB students, but I will expect those in attendance to have already printed out and completed the packets on their own prior to coming to see me at lunch, so that I can really focus on helping to address their remaining issues instead of just waiting around for them to try problems.
From a department head's perspective (I am just rambling now), the hierarchical organization of the portal pages is important as well, and our department should align with the other departments' organization of their pages, for example. Fortunately, my colleague had already done some planning with regards to this. Right now, my goal is to just focus on my own pages, and once I get mine really up and running, I will be able to do a demo for my colleagues and to serve as their in-house technical go-to person, should they need some help with customizing their pages. (As it is not always so easy to get in touch with portal people at a moment's notice, with them being in the basement of a different building and us being on the top floor of ours.)
Another thing I am trying with my new "low" Grade 9 group this year is a system of modeling how to take notes. I will, for once, produce my own hand-written notes in advance, word for word, so that I know exactly what they should write down. The notes will be in a two-column format and they will cut a thin incision in the piece of paper and fold half of it back, so that they can use it as a flashcard / non-fancy foldable down the road. I am asking all kids in that class to maintain a binder for me, and the notes I ask them to take will have both bulleted key points (for the verbal learners) and diagrams (for the visual learners), along with the foldable portion (for the more drill-focused learners) and of course worksheets to help solidify and apply the concepts. This will not replace my typical scaffolded worksheets and projects, but it is a way of concretely reinforcing base building blocks for the kids who need that extra help with organizing information. If I am introducing a new concept, for example, we can do all the normal exploratory stuff and then come back to the notes as a whole-class wrap-up discussion. In the long run, I think it will be a superb addition to my overall teaching, but I am starting with this class just to try it out. Anyway, I met my group for the first time today and they were great! I gave them a little chat about our hopes for them to catch up on all the algebra concepts (by lessening the amount of "traditional" geometry I will teach to them this year and replacing it with more focused algebra reinforcement), to assuage their anxiety about being in the "low" class. We will see how it goes this year. I know that, as always, it will probably be challenging (as a starting point, many of these Grade 9's cannot plot given coordinates (x, y) after the summer, as I had feared might be the case...), but I hope that this year will go even better than last year's group, and that I will manage to get more of them caught up by the end of the year!!
Also, it looks like I will be teaching integer operations this year. Any good ideas?? I've never done this before, but I want to start with elevator word problems and then work our way to simple addition / subtraction statements. For multiplication and division, should I use a number line model to explain why there are "rules" like (-)(-) = (+)?? Anything you can send me would be super, and if I change parts of it, I'll re-post to give back to the community. :) xoxx
PS. In a recent middle-school PD, I realized that I am an impulsive do-er as a teacher (and more or less in life in general). These little changes I am trying are not very well-thought out, but I tend to go with the first potential thing I am excited about, and then later learn from my mistakes. Are you like this, too??