Supporting Students – Reviewing the Basics

I teach Algebra 2 to students who have just completed a year of Geometry. They do some algebra throughout the year, but are still rusty on many skills when their year with me begins.

This summer I am assigning an optional review on Delta Math for my students. It’s mostly basics with some beginning Algebra 1 topics. I included rounding, basic percents, fraction operations, order of operations, exponents, slope and linear equations, and basic factoring.

I will give my students a pre-assessment in the first week of school so they will know exactly what concepts they still need to work on.  I plan on reteaching the concepts that the majority of the students struggle with.

However, I’m not quite sure of the best way to help students that need more support than this.  I will leave the Delta Math set live so students can continue to practice those topics.  I plan on holding algebra one review sessions during student choice times for students that need, or want, extra support.  But I would like to make sure it is enough, enough time and enough support.  I want to support students who need review, but I am afraid of spending too much class time reviewing basics.  I don’t want students who do not need the review to be bored in my class.

Mattie suggested that I spend some time putting students together that can help each other, and letting them work with each other.  I do like this idea, as it will be more individualized help for students (instead of just me trying to help many students on many different concepts).  Also, often students understand other students better than the teacher.  I could do this in class occasionally or make it during student choice times.  If students volunteered to help others during choice times they could even earn service hours.  But, I haven’t even thought about how to structure this.

I would love ideas.  How do you support students that need extra help with basic skills during an already hectic school day/year?

 

Stickers for Self-Assessment

StickersAfter students complete an assessment in my class, they chose either a green, yellow, or red sticker to put on the front of their paper.  The green sticker indicates that they felt they did well on the assessment.  The yellow sticker indicates that they felt ok.  And, I refer to the red sticker as “SOS!  I need help”.

  • Green = GREAT!
  • Yellow = OK
  • Red = SOS, I need help.

 

 

When I grade the papers, I comment if a student chose a sticker that did not match their score.  For instance, if a student put a yellow sticker on their paper, but did very well, I usually write, “Go Green!”.  They love this.

Go Green Sticker

Study Guide Kit for Math Tests

I teach 6th and 7th graders.  For most of them, 6th grade is the first time they have ever had to study for any test, much less a math test!  To help them along, I created two things for my students, a “How to Study for a Math Test” checklist and a “Math Test Study Guide” foldable.

  1. Laminate the checklist and then have them create a pocket in their graph notebook to keep it in (so they hopefully don’t lose it).
  2. Assign the study guide for homework a couple of days before the test (it becomes a foldable).
  3. Foldable – Have them fold the study guide and glue it into their notebook once they are completely finished filling it out.  They can decorate the cover if they like.
  4. Have in class and work time math help where we use their completed study guides.

This helps me help them!

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For future tests I only have to print out the study guide.


Made for Math Monday – Math Reference Books

I teach middle school, so by the end of the trimester, student’s spiral bound math notebooks are pretty beaten up at best, and downright nasty at worse.  So, at the beginning of each trimester I have students start a brand new notebook for my class.  At the end of the year they each have 3 beaten up, spiral math notebooks.

I did not want my student to just take these notebooks home – as I knew they would probably end up thrown out!  So, I decided to have them use their three notebooks to make make ONE Math Reference Books.

They went through each of their three notebooks and tore out what they felt was the most important pages (keeping the pages in date order).  Then, they compiled these pages to make on concise Math Reference Book.  They used the back cover of two of their old notebooks to make a new front and back cover for the new reference book.  Then, they tied them all together with yarn and decorated the cover.

I had the students make a pocket for the inside of the notebooks as well so they could keep any chapter or study guides we had made.  It was very interesting to see what pages most students decided to keep.  Almost all students selected the pages with foldables on them.  One student ONLY kept pages that were foldables!


I kept their Math Reference Books in my room and will give them back next year to use in class when they have questions or get stuck on review problems.  I will also let struggling students take theirs home when they need more work or remediation.

I am hopeful that this will be a resource that will help jog their memory when they forget a concept or procedure (since it contains notes that they took in their own handwriting).  I would also like for them to see the value of taking good notes through these reference books.  I also like the fact that all of their hard work from the year before is not thrown away and forgotten, but used as we go forward and built upon previous concepts.

ACK – Absences! Or BEST Pre-Spring Break Assignment – Ever

This year I have a plethora of students missing the two days before our spring break week.  This is so difficult for teachers as we do not want to waste two instructional days because a third of your students started their vacay early.  I was especially distressed this year because I wanted to jump into our geometry unit.

Last year my students made Geometry Booklets.  However, since it was my first year teaching 6th grade, I found that the students knew more about geometry that I had previously thought.  I do not want to skip the first geometry chapter in our textbook in case some students did not learn it as throughly as most (or have forgotten it).  But, I realized last year that I did not need to spend as much time on beginning geometry as I did.

This year, we are still doing the Geometry Booklets.  But this year I am not having them look up and write the definitions for all of the terms in their geometry chapters.  Instead  I typed up all of the terms with definitions.  I will print these out for the students to make their booklets.  Since I still want them to be involved and learn what the definitions are, I am going to have them illustrate each term.  They will find where the term in their booklet is located in their math text book and then illustrate the definition.  They may use the books illustration or they may make up their own using the book as a guideline.

This will make coverage of the basic geometry units go faster this year so that I have time to cover more in depth geometry material.  I still plan on having them write up and illustrate definitions, but only for the more advanced topics that come later in their textbook.

So, where does the “Ack – Absences!” come in?  We made the booklets in class today (Wednesday).  So, all of the students that are missing Thursday and Friday can take their colored pencils, textbook, and geometry booklet with them over spring break to finish the illustrating.  This way absent students will not fall behind AND present students can continue working productively in class.  Win, win!

Here are the Geometry Booklets that I typed up in Word and Pdf format (coming soon).  There are two errors on the circles page for Area and Circumference or a circle.  I will fix them and repost pdf when I return from spring break.  If you need it now, print out the word file and correct it.  So sorry!

Source:  I typed up all of the definitions from the Holt McDougal Mathematics Course 2 boo

Update:  This took the students about 1.5 hours to illustrate.  So, we did it in class and then they finished it for homework.  We played Around the World and Geometry Flyswatter game on Friday.  I let them use their books!  I am going to update the games to incorporate all of the geometry terms in the booklet.  Coming soon!  🙂

Smarties for My Smarties – After School Math Help Incentives

Once a week I offer after school math help for each subject.  After school math help is great because it’s a small group so I can focus on exactly what each student needs.  Students come to after school help if they have been absent and want to catch up (very needed in winter months), If they would like help on the current topic, or if they would like to do their homework with me.

Unfortunately, after an 8 hour school day, no one is very excited about after school math help.  In fact, I think I heard someone say, “Dreading it.”  So, I decided to spice it up a bit for the students (and myself) by adding a bit of after school sweets to after school help.  I figured if they decided to come to after school help, they deserved a little sweet treat!  Each student that comes to after school help gets a roll or smarties and a tootsie roll.  This may not sound like much, but it’s a fun treat at the end of a long day (and the beginning of 45 minutes of math).  The little bit of sugar gives us all just the edge we need to help our brains make it through 45 more minutes of learning.  But, it does more, with the addition of some music, a little candy makes it a lot of fun!  Today my fabulous 6th graders even talked me into a bonus – one single smartie for every question they answered correctly.  I had a blast with them, and they even came up with a cute slogan, “Smarties for Smarties.”

After school help today was FUN, the students were awesome, and I’m really looking forward to spending more Wednesdays with my amazing 6th grade Smarties.

Update:  Today when I came into class this was on the board.  I’m just happy to know that my students enjoyed it too.  🙂

My Students were Published in Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School!

We are so excited!  My students’ answers to a “Solve It!” were published in the November edition of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School.  This is a national publication produced by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  The students collected data about the number of jeans owned by every student in their class.  Working in groups of three or four, they used Google Spreadsheets to compare their class average to the national average and to do further analysis of the data.  They created graphs to visually present their findings.  They also worked collaboratively on a Google word document to write their analysis of the data.  After they came up with conclusions, they created wiki pages to present their findings.  Their wiki pages were creative and beautifully formatted.  They contained uploaded graphs of their data, detailed analyses, and even some pictures they took with their cameras or computers.

We had already covered the unit on averages when the “Solve It!” question came about.  Therefore, I gave few instructions to the students for this project.  I showed them the question in the article and let them work independently in their groups.  I encouraged them to be creative.  They loved this project and they reported that much of their enthusiasm was due to the freedom they were given.

Check out the wiki pages they created  and read the Solve It! Article.

Jeans Solve It Published

I Let Them Grade Their Own Tests – And They Loved It

Well, most of them loved it.  A few did not.  I got this nifty idea from my great peeps on Twitter (thanks @pamLpatterson and @park_star).  I make them do quiz corrections now, but I noticed they don’t do a very good job.  Often, they have a difficult time correcting the problem.  I offer Work Time and after school help to work on quiz corrections, but not everyone takes me up on that or they are the students that need help with the new material that we are covering.

Enter, Grade Your Own Tests day.  I had them take a test like they usually do, but also had them transpose their final answer (with no work show) onto an answer sheet.  After I took everything up, I graded just the answer sheet right or wrong with no partial credit.

The fun part was when I then handed back ONLY their tests with not a mark on them.  They were confused.  I explained that I had already graded their answer sheets but I only graded them right or wrong, with no partial credit.  They were to grade their own tests in order to earn their partial credit.  I gave them each a colored pencil and a copy of the key with all of the solutions worked out and the possible points for each problem.   They had to check each step against the steps on the key.  For each step they missed, they had to write the correct step in colored pencil.  Then, using a few guidelines I created, they had to decide how many points they missed on each question.  (My guidelines were -1 for losing a negative or making an arithmetic error, and +1 for writing the correct equation but missing the answer).    We worked on it for about 15 minutes in class so I could help guide them and answer questions.  They were to finish grading for their homework that night.

Once they turned their graded papers back in I re-graded every one to make sure they gave themselves the correct credit (and to compare it with their original answer sheet to make sure they stayed honest).  I was very impressed that most of my students did an excellent job of grading their own papers.  I  only had to correct a few papers.  A couple of students turned their papers in with just the answers marked wrong and no corrections.  I gave them back and told them they had to earn their partial credit back by showing all of the corrections.

This was actually a lot more work for me as I had to grade their answer sheets, then guide them through grading their own papers, then check their grading.  But, it seemed like a very valuable exercise.  The funny thing was that a few students thought they were saving me work by grading their own paper for me.  I surveyed the students and an overwhelming majority liked it and wanted to grade their own papers again.  The few that did not enjoy this seemed to be the ones that had a difficult time understanding how to give themselves partial credit or still didn’t understand how to do the problem, even with the key.  If I do this again, I will work more closely with those students at first and offer extra help time to work on the corrections individually with me.

We recently took another equation quiz, and overall their equation solving skills dramatically improved so I feel like they learned from this activity.  I would love to do this again, but would like to know if there is a better way (that is less work for me).  So, if you are doing something similar but better – please share!

Here are the students comments from the survey:

What did you like about grading your own test?

  • that you could go back and see your mistakes and know where you need to improve.
  • that I got to see what and where I went wrong
  • that you could go back and see your mistakes and know where you need to improve.
  • That i could go back with the answers, see what i did wrong and see how to actually do it the day after the test/quiz
  • I got to see clear mistakes that i had and wall able to correct them.
  • What i liked about grading my paper is that i got to learn from my mistakes and get better at what i got wrong because if we got the problem wrong when we are correcting it we are supposed write out and explain what we got wrong. That helps.
  • “knowing exactly what i did and seeing my score
  • “I liked it because you can defiantly see your mistakes.
  • i liked it because u could see what u were doing wrong
  • I liked trying to be A Teacher for the first time
  • I like that i kinda fell better if i get a good grade and i grade it myself i do not know why though.
  • I liked grading my own paper because we got to see what we got and how we were supposed to get it if we didn’t get a problem correct.
  • being able to give myself at least some credit
  • I like to see what kinds of things that i messed up on.
  • I liked being able to see what I messed up on. I looked at it more and got a good understanding of what I got wrong.
  • It was easier to see what mistakes I did make and how to correct them. I thought it was a good way to understand the material better – reworking the problems.
  • It was fun because you could really understand what you did wrong and understand what you needed to do to help fix it.
  • I like that you can see your mistakes and understand completely what and why you got a problem incorrect.
  • I liked it because i could redo what i was missing and look over my paper more.
  • I like being able to see what I did wrong. Seeing my own mistakes helps me learn what to do a little better. If I just got everything right whats the point? You wouldn’t learn anything!
  • I liked being able to correct my own mistakes.  Interacting with what you did wrong helps you learn it for the next time.  Usually you just see what was wrong and you go ok but you never really learn how to fix it unless you do it yourself.
  • I liked getting an idea of what you did wrong when grading it and getting an idea what my grade will be ahead of time before the teacher grades it.
What did you NOT like about grading your own test?
  • knowing how many mistakes you got.
  • Having to face my mistakes
  • seeing how many mistakes you made.
  • ???
  • All the mistakes that i had to correct was embarrassing
  • What i did not like is that i felt bad when i got a answer wrong because of a silly mistake that i made.
  • nada
  • It takes some time to finish grading the paper.
  • i didn’t like that it was a little confusing for some people like me to understand how to do it at first
  • I did not like that i had to see my grade  i think i got wait another day and get my real grade.
  • I didn’t like grading my own paper because it was extra work when instead we could’ve been learning.
  • it was hard and very confusing i didnt understand most of what i was supposed to do.  It was easier when you just graded my tests.
  • I don’t like grading my paper because it makes me really nervous.
  • I wasn’t exactly sure how to grade it, and how many points to take off, but I got it eventually.
  • I wasn’t always 100% how to rework them – even with the answer key. I really liked grading my own paper overall.
  • Nothing.
  • I kind of like that moment when you get your paper back with a grade on it; it’s really exciting and sort of scary. Like a rollercoaster, a little? But a math rollercoaster? I don’t know, it’s just fun.
  • I also thought it was a little harder because I had to find exactly where I got it wrong and felt like it was a little hard.
  • What I didn’t like was how it can tempt you to break the honor code by correcting an answer that you got wrong just to boost your grade.
  • The only thing i didn’t like about grading my own paper was that as i went through the problems it was more pressure because i did not want to have one wrong or correct one wrong.
  • I did not like grading my own paper because I’d rather just get the teachers grade. I get a little aggravated when I’m not sure if this is the grade that I will really get when it is graded by the teacher.

Let’s Get W.I.L.D. – Wiki Independent Learning Day

Yes, apparently I am obsessed with acronyms this summer.  But, when you can make them fun (WILD) and mean something great I just cannot help myself!

I teach 6th and 7th graders.  Middle school is their transition time.  It is when they begin to grow up and become independent learners.  Becoming an independent learner is a corner stone of our school philosophy.  I know that this takes time and can even be difficult at first, especially for students coming fresh out of elementary school.  My goal is for all of my students to move from being dependent upon me for all of their learning, to becoming independent learners.

To help my students achieve independence in their learning, I am going to have designated WILD days this year.  On these days I will have students start on our student created wiki help pages to access websites to work on different concepts.  They can start with concepts in which they are not proficient.  Students that are proficient in most concepts can work ahead so that they will not be bored reviewing concepts they have already mastered.  They will keep an online WILD Log that they create using a Google Doc spreadsheet.  This GDoc will be shared with me so that I can monitor their progress.

I expect that helping students target what they need to work on and finding the best resources will be high maintenance at first.  Eventually however, I would like the students to learn to tailor their own learning.  I want WILD to be interesting and challenging for students of varying ability levels.

Here is what I have for the GDocs WILD Log, but I would love more ideas on how to make the Log (or anything else) better.

FLAG – Fix Learning And Grow

Addressing the needs of students when they struggle haunts me.  I am not only talking about students who may be working below grade, but any student who begins to stumble on a concept.  At times even my best students have trouble on new topics.  Currently, I use a Concepts Checklist, which is an altered version of SBG (Standards Based Grading) to identify this.  However, I would ideally like to give additional support to students when they FIRST begin to have trouble, instead of trying to remediate when they are already behind or completely lost.

I read about using “red flags” in Robyn Jackson’s book “How To Support Struggling Students” while doing a book study with my amazing PLN (Professional Learning Network) of mathematics educators on Twitter.  I immediately loved the idea of the red flag, but was worried about the negative connotation of a student receiving a “red flag”.  I do not want the flag to be seen as a negative, a sign that a student is “not good” at math or “in trouble”.  To give the flag a positive connotation, I decided to come up with a positive acronym for FLAG.  Thanks to @fourkatie via Twitter, Fix Learning And Grow was born.

I do not plan to use FLAGs for purely academic reasons.  I would like to give students a FLAG in any area where they can “Fix and Grow”.  I plan on handing out flags for incomplete or missing homework, recurring misunderstandings in class, sloppy/incomplete notebooks, and excessive absences and tardies if they are having trouble making up the work.

UPDATE:  I originally included disruptive behavior, but after some insightful comments, I rethought that and will NOT be including disruptive behavior in the FLAG system.  I want to FLAG to focus on academics.

As teachers we do not have much time to implement an exhaustive new program.  It must require low maintenance from me in order for it to be long-lasting.  Thus, I am organizing the FLAG program to encourage independent learning.  When I identify a need, I will place a flag on a students paper (or notebook).  I will write the name of the FLAG on the flag.  It is then the students responsibility to address their FLAG.  The student will visit the FLAG page on our Wiki to read about their FLAG and see the steps they need to follow.  The FLAGs are only temporary, and once they have addressed their need, their FLAG can be “waived”.

I think that this will save me time because a FLAG is quick and easy to write and hand out (post-it flags).  I do not have to worry if an issue is serious enough to warrant a “talk” with a student or initiate a parent contact.  I do not have to come up with “fixes” for the problem each time I do talk to a student.  FLAG is a system that is already in place and ready to address many student needs, from the minor to the major.

I am still developing this idea and the overall FLAG system so I would LOVE any thoughts and feedback.  Read more on my FLAG page on the wiki.  Please help me make FLAGs better!