Monday, October 5, 2015

Changes to Class Structure

This year, I have made some exciting changes to my classes.

1. I thought long and hard about how I do math journals. Last year, I got raving reviews of the math journal setup from my thoughtful and reflective students, but I didn't think that the way the math journal was run actually benefited the other students. It was a hard sell. They always procrastinated at the end of the term with revising all entries, and thereby it lost its value as a reflective tool throughout the term. Also, many students complained that I was "looking for something very specific" in their revisions, so it was very stressful. This year, I decided that more than accuracy in their math journals in reflecting upon the big ideas, I just want them to engage in the process of reflection. I also decided that the stress of trying to get the most accurate answer was turning some of them off from the process of reflection, which was having the opposite effect of what I was trying to achieve. So, this year I am de-coupling feedback from their grade. The first time they turn in a journal entry, I grade them based on a simple 6-point rubric that looks like this:

So, at that point, they have some score out of 6 that I write down. I hand back their journal with both comments scribbled in the margins and a printed rubric with their score. They are then asked to revise it before I collect their journal again in a few days. (I go over in class the common errors, and I also post a couple of example entries on my wall, to help them with this revision.) The second time that they turn it in, although I still return a 6-point rubric to give them feedback, I don't penalize them for their errors. I give them full credit in my grade book for just engaging in the process of trying to revise their understanding.

I have noticed three things from this: One, that most students get the revisions correct anyhow. Two, they are proactive about revising in order to get the points back. Three, they are turning the journal entries in more or less on time each time, which allows me to dialogue with them about their misconceptions in real time. The journal is serving its purpose!!

2. Last year, I gave short one- or two-problem practice quizzes as we were learning the material, and I would grade them on a green, yellow, red sticker system. My intention was that it would be a low-pressure way to give students early feedback, without affecting their grade. But, I wasn't happy about how the kids with the red stickers would put off meeting with me, because they weren't feeling the urgency until the real, big quizzes rolled around. So, this year I still give practice quizzes, but with a few points attached. On the returned practice quizzes, I would write down a similar problem and ask all kids to show me via doing the similar problems that they now understand their error and the concept. I find that this is more productive towards encouraging improvement and a growth mindset, because in order for kids to practice a growth mindset, they have to actually do some work towards making progress!

Thus far, I like the system a lot better. It's still reasonably low stress, but the expectation is clear that kids need to work on their areas of weakness, in order to make back those lost points.

3. This year, I am working actively on building community in my classes. One thing that I did for the first few weeks was to always assign seats. Everyday, the kids would sit with a new partner. They would take the first couple of minutes of class to ask their partner for a fact that they didn't already know about that person, and they would write it down on their own name tag. This helps me to keep track of whom they have already sat with, and they started collecting lots of facts about lots of peers! I loved it! I have also started randomizing partners now that they have sat with a majority of the class. Each day, they come in and they pick a name randomly from the pile. If it's their own name, then they put it back and pick another. Otherwise, they sit with that person. (If they pick out names of people who already have picked a partner, then they give me those name tags back and pick another.) This is a low stress way of making sure that they rotate partners all the time.

4. I am using Microsoft OneNote for two of my classes! Algebra 2 and Calculus. I kind of love it. I can lesson plan very far in advance, and make modifications in real time as I see fit. The OneNote websites serve as my course webpage, where kids can look up both notes and homework assignments. (For a long time I didn't believe in posting homework assignments, but this year I am doing the opposite after reading Switch, because I want to shift the entire classroom culture towards completing homework as a norm, rather than just something that is done by already-responsible students. Thus far, it seems to be working great!) I also upload video links for the kids who just want to use additional resources. Thus far, I absolutely love it.

You can check them out, too! Please don't modify any of the content though, just look. and are the two links I am using.

That's it for now. Ciao!


  1. Thanks for more great ideas! I will try some out, soon!

  2. Can you share more about your math journals? Or point me to another post? I would love to hear more about what you are doing with them. Thanks!