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Snapshot of First Semester

November 14, 2012

I’ve been AWOL for a while – sorry about that. A lot of this first semester has felt like my first year all over again – a lot of what I used last year wasn’t relevant at all to where my kids are this year – they’re at a much higher skill level than my students last year, and I have more experience about pacing and sequencing than I did last year. This has led to me throwing away a lot of what I did around this time last year and resequencing a lot of what I taught. Anyway – all of this to say: I’m just starting to hit things that I can reuse from last year, which is exciting, and maybe means I can start blogging again.

Additional Self-Reflective Comment: I can feel a change in the way that I acquire and use resources. My first-year teacher self was hungry for ideas and resources and projects and anything for me to try out and see if this is something that belonged in my classroom. As  I started my second year, I could feel myself withdrawing a bit from the blogotwittersphere and some of my peers out of a desire to refine all of the ideas I acquired in my first year. Last year, I tried so many new things – different desk arrangements, homework grading formats, bellwork/exit ticket ideas, group participation structures, etc etc etc – it’s amazing my students left feeling that there was any kind of consistency. I feel like I entered my second year wanting to refine the ideas I decided to keep rather than scour the blogotwittersphere looking for even more new ideas. It’s better to get really good at a few specific things than be mediocre and many different things. Anyway – with that said, maybe I can find my way back to blogging and perusing and conversing.

Some Things I Kept From Last Year

  • I’m still a Bellwork and Exit Ticket focused guy with homework every once in a while and only when I think they should be able to do it without help. I want my homework to send the message “Hey! You should be able to do this easily! If you can’t, you better come in for tutoring!”. Here’s my Bellwork & Exit Ticket template I’ve started using and here’s an example that I used from my unit on parallel lines. My students start and end class with this half-sheet of paper – it’s good for them because it’s consistent and makes clear the expectations, and it’s good for me because it keeps me focused on what the outcome of my lesson should be.
  • My Wall of Remediation is still up, but now all the folders have a Skill # written on them to compliment my SBG implementation (more about that below). It’s still one of my favorite things about my classroom and I still highly recommend having it in the front of the room

One Big New Things: Standards-Based Grading

  • I’m doing SBG. Here’s the manifesto I gave my kids and spent a day talking about (Note: talking about a growth mindset has paid HUGE dividends this year). Also, fill disclosure: I stole a lot of that content from Dan Meyer. Here’s the checklist every student has to keep track of their grades. Here’s the page that’s printed on the back of their checklist. Here’s my ticket for reassessment. Lots of these are stolen from Dan Meyer and Sam Shah. I have posters hanging in the room describing what each of the numbers mean and how it should affect their remediation. Students are still learning to take responsibility for their learning and I’m still learning how to pace reassessments and give feedback.
  • I was already doing a lot of SBG-type things last semester – reassessment, explicitly partitioning concepts and skills, etc. One of the things that really drew me to SBG was how stark the grades become under SBG. Under a traditional grading scale, a student could earn a poor grade on a test and think “Well, that’s close enough. I’ll do better on the next one and it’ll all average out”. SBG doesn’t have any room for this – whenever a student gets a subpar grade, their immediate response is “what can I do to make this up?” (which is why I love my wall of problems). I want grades to motivate remediation, not be a baseline for the minimum amount of work required to earn credit for my class or be eligible for sports. And SBG makes this much more explicit than traditional grading does.
  • I can already feel the difference SBG is making in how I design assessments and how I grade them. I find I assign holistic grades based on the message I’m trying to send the student: “I’m not convinced you know this – come see me” or “You keep making little mistakes – you might get it right next time, but you might not” or “You need tutoring NOW“. It’s also been incredible for data collection on my students – which skills are causing the most issues and which ones have gone by without a hitch.
  • Overall: I’m very happy with SBG – it fits my teaching style and my teaching beliefs. I’m still fine-tuning the smaller details, but that will come with time.

Other Things To Share

  • Here’s an update to the the Drawing Geometric Cities project I did last year. It worked well for getting kids able to visualize and draw shapes, but it was a pain in the butt to grade.
  • Speaking of the project above, here’s an adapted project for my unit on coordinate geometry. The project itself is full of inside jokes about teachers at my school, but you could steal the idea.
  • Over the summer, I decided that I wanted to focus on collecting meaningful problems to incorporate into my curriculum. I’m having an easier time developing computation and procedure problems and I can feel myself becoming better at developing questions/prompts which require a written explanation or argument or those elusive responses which really tell me what my students are thinking. Anyway – here are a collection of problems I really like focused on Parallel Lines: Parallel Line Angle Identification, Parallel Line & Triangle Mazes (inspired by various problems in Discovering Geometry & Patty Paper Geometry), Parallel Lines & Algebra, Parallel Lines & More Complicated Algebra.
  • When I was becoming a teacher, I always thought it was interesting to see how other teachers planned and what their syllabi looked like. Well, I finally have my act together enough to be able to post a pretty-much complete unit plan. When I really have time to collect my thoughts, I try to organize them in this format: Unit Plan – Parallel Lines. For comparison sake, here’s the unit I’m currently teaching and still in the middle of: Unit Plan – Coordinate Geometry.

Closing Things

Hope this was enough to appease the blogging gods for a while. Maybe I’ll find time to elaborate on my SBG experience, or reflect more on how I’ve been planning, or talk about my honors kids who’ve (sorta) been following a Common Core progression. But I think this is good for now.


From → Curriculum

  1. Perfect timing…I’ve been thinking about SBG more and more lately and it was really helpful to hear your thoughts on how it’s going. I especially like the handouts. If/when I start I will be back to steal all of these 🙂

  2. I just started following your blog today… Sorry, I’m a little late to comment, but I think your assessment appointment sheet is genius! I offer re-takes for students that come in for tutoring after school and I love how you make the students accountable for their learning (and remediation).
    Thank you for sharing!
    Cindy (@cgrmath)


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