Friday, June 20, 2014

What to do after THE TEST

Here in Virginia, we call our standards tests SOL Tests:. It is supposed to stand for Standards of Learning, but - you know.

Anyway, these SOLs occur at the end of the year, often as close to the very end of the school year as possible. In most schools that I know of, the testing usually ends with just a week or two left in the year. That means that when THE TEST is over, students assume all learning ends. It doesn't help that most teachers fall into this trap as well (we know how burnout goes - and once the kids think you're done it's hard to convince them otherwise). I try my best to do math as long as possible. It's even a great time to fiiiinally get to show some of the cool things math can do. Also, my Algebra students get to do "expedited retakes" if they fail the test within 25 points, so I am often remediating them and have to amuse the other students with something they can work on pretty independently. Here are just some of the activities I've done with my middle school students:

Logic Puzzles - A lot of the students enjoy these puzzles, which they see as "not math." Oh, if only they knew how important logic is, not just in math but in life in general. Ha! Tricked you! The cool thing is my students often come back asking for more puzzles.

Basic Cryptography - I show my students just a couple of basic cyphers. A random letter cypher and then a Key+ cypher (if this has a better name, someone please let me know). They decode my messages, then spend the class writing secret messages to each other. A lot of my students want to go into the military, so they find this particularly interesting.

Transformation Pictures - My pre-algebra students loved doing these and I liked that they challenged themselves with content we studied, even if they didn't realize that. We did a tessellation picture for translations, then for rotations, dilations, and reflections they created their own pictures to transform. They were interested in how some of the pictures overlapped and others didn't. Plus they were able to get super creative with their coloring/designing.

Graph Pictures - We've all done these Graphiti-style pictures where they plot the points, draw the lines, and color the picture. I take it a step farther by having students create their own picture and write their points. Then they rated the pictures Easy, Medium, or Hard and switched points with someone who had the same rating. Differentiation, skills practice and review, "making it fun." A perfect lesson.
The list of points created by one student. This one created a robot I believe. 

Set - This is an awesome game I learned when I was in 8th grade. My students love to play card games - and generally when we have some downtime I allow them to get decks from the closet and play. I love having an open classroom where they have certain drawers and/or cabinets that they know they can go into. It just makes the whole setting more comfortable.

What cool activities do you do with your students?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Math Pledge

I've never really thought about this before. In algebra, there are so many ways to solve problems.

Isn't that supposed to be the beauty of it? Isn't that the focus of new math standards?

It is and it is. So why, then, when I give my kids tests, do they include sections such as Solve each system of equations graphically  and then two problems later Solve each system of equations using substitution and THEN (can you guess it?) Solve each system of equations using elimination ?? Why, why, why?

I just finished teaching my unit on slopes and graphing linear equations. I spent quite a bit of energy emphasizing how COOL it is that they get to CHOOSE their favorite way of approaching a problem. I mean, that is cool, isn't it? Don't give me that look - I get it enough from my students! I used this quote a lot over the last month: If you're a numbers person, do it algebraically! If you're a picture person, do it graphically! Or choose your preference based on how the question is asked - I literally do not care!  And I don't! I want them to be comfortable and use whatever method worked for them. I give my personal preference because they ask - if they give me a graph, I use rise-over-run. If they give me points, I use delta y - over - delta x. We solve equations both ways. We sometimes use both to verify answers. SO MANY OPTIONS!

So I started to look at the test I had prepared. It gave specific directions on how to solve equations. It use to be important to me that my students prove they could use EVERY method. Then I started to question my methods. The purpose is to give students the tools they need to succeed, not to make them masters of everything! Let's be honest, if you are more comfortable watering a plant using a glass of water, would you also go out and get the hose to do the same job? No, we choose the best method.

If I tell my students which method to use, how will they ever learn how to figure out which method is best?

My #mathpledge is to stop giving my students so much direction. I've given them the tools, and if they understand the topic, they will know how to use those tools to choose the best method. Or they will use what they are comfortable with. As long as they get to the answer and understand how they got there, that's all that matters.

What's your #mathpledge?

This topic makes me think about this blog post I also read about making students show their work. I'm still working on that one.