Climbing Back Up the Mountain

Basketball and baseball season completely derailed this little side project.  Here’s to hoping I can get my act together and stay on top of throwing my thoughts into the ring.  A little motivation came from this post.

This line especially:

I know that as educators we never ever can stop learning…

What percentage of teachers actually think this daily? Unfortunately, I’m guessing less than 50%.


Data and Decision Making

My school is about to implement some sort of math facts fluency standards. This is probably a good thing when the majority of my students coming into the year had count up or down on their fingers when they are doing addition and subtraction. Not to mention 5th graders who still add 6 eight times to figure out 6 x 8. Yes, they figure out what 6 x 8 =, but it shouldn’t have to be that heard. At least in my opinion, it shouldn’t be. There is also research that shows when students have to apply brain power to figuring out basic facts, they miss out on higher level concepts.

Just saying that facts fluency should be part of the grade and handing out timed tests that have 150 problems is NOT the way to go about doing this. We need to figure out quite a few things before jumping in blind. Some questions I have in my head are:

  1. What is considered an acceptable percent correct?  80%?  90%?  95%?
  2. How many facts should a student be able to perform in the given time?
  3. How does this lend itself to traditional grades?  Does it at all?
  4. How do you test for fluency?
  5. How often do you test?

Those questions are off the top of my head and I’m sure there are other issues.

My thoughts to the questions:

1.  90% seems right to me.  If a student is doing this from memory and is missing more than 10%, they don’t know the facts.  Right?

2.  This is a tricky question and one which I will get into more below.  I’m pushing for measuring it in facts per minute.  Some teachers prefer the marathon facts quizzes of 200 problems while others prefer a test of 50.  I lean to the side of 50 but have another reason for doing it per minute. (Question 4)

3.  No clue how this can fit into a traditional grading scale.  I’m not even sure it should be included in the grades, but many teachers feel that if it isn’t a grade the parents won’t support it at home.

4.  My class uses That Quiz to practice our facts.  Beautiful and simple set up.  I can control the time, range, process, and the number of problems allowed.  Then, it gives me a percent correct and shows any problems missed.  Last, the kids love it.  Compare this with a pencil and paper with 150 problems on it, which would you choose?  Even better, I don’t have to grade through 2,000 simple facts to see how my students are performing. It tells them and me immediately.

5.  Using That Quiz, I let them test anytime they can.  I don’t have to grade any of them, only record their scores on my spreadsheet.  Test all day, you’ll learn them eventually.

Coming together as a staff to discuss this, we’ll get 25-30 different responses to these questions.  This is where data needs to come into play.  Looking around briefly online, I honestly couldn’t find a lot of information.  I found a few teacher sites where people said students should be able to do 90 problems in 2 minutes or 200 problems in 5 minutes.  Their reasoning always seemed to be “that’s how I’ve always done it”.  In an effort avoid this, I did some quick data collection with my students.

Giving my students two minutes to complete as many problems as they could, I recorded the number of facts correctly answered.  I tested 4 times total, the first two tests were multiplication facts 0-9.  For the last two tests, the students picked their best fact.

_of_facts_correct_in_2_min_And the mean and median of the results:

class_averagesNow, what does this information mean?  My class averaged just short of 50 problems in 2 minutes when testing all facts.  On the strongest fact, our averages rose to just above 70.

*Two interesting results:  One student actually scored higher on the mixed than on best fact.  Nothing big, this student had 4 of the top 6 scores.  The other interesting result was “student m”, had one of the lowest results on the 2nd mixed test (27) and the 5th highest on the best fact test (99).

I would say 70 accurate responses in 2 minutes is very fluent.  So, 35 problems per minute?  Might be a touch too high, but I wouldn’t go much lower.

I don’t know if this says much of anything, but I’m going to continue to track this for the rest of the semester and see what comes out of it.   Finally, hopefully this will help in our discussion on implementing facts testing.

The Presidency…

Today is a historic day. No doubt about it. Many words have been and will be written about this exact day. However, quite a few of those words will be filled with snark and jokes about our former leader, George W. Bush. If this is a time of hope and change, shouldn’t we let our former leader walk away? Maybe it’s just me, but what happened to the respect that was given to our highest office? Did it leave with the stains on the blue dress or was it more recent?

I’m not apologizing for some choices made in the last 8 years, but that man was our leader. He held the toughest job in the world for the last EIGHT years, let him walk away quietly and direct your energy to helping our current leader accomplish his goals.

Newton’s Laws and Discovery

Beginning our unit on Newton’s Laws and force this semester, I made a pledge to myself to make sure my students are involved with the unit. I took a quote from the Science Teacher blog’s sidebar:

Science is not about content–the content is ephemeral, it’s the process that matters.

The first step was getting students to gather what they already know about the world and apply it the principles we are covering. First topic was gravity and friction’s role in motion. A lab was set up where the students had a marble, file folder, and tape with the objective of making the marble roll the farthest (no throwing or other outside force allowed, we’ll get to that in simple machines). The lab wasn’t perfect, we completely whiffed on what I was hoping to accomplish. However, we made a new discovery (for us) and the students were more creative than I have seen them all year. A big step in the right direction. Two of the sets are below, guess what we discovered?


Teaching Handwriting?

Being an elementary teacher, the question of whether or not we should teach handwriting occasionally comes up. Actually, it came up this year for our 3rd and 4th grade teachers, as they were handed a new curriculum that required 80 minutes a week to teach handwriting. To me, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Especially when they are teaching cursive and using the old fashioned “Big Red” type of sheets. You know, the ones where the lower case letters MUST hit the dotted line in the middle? But, I also know that I must be able to read a student’s work. So, I’m not complaining.

What got me thinking about this was an article I saw linked at Good. The post was titled “Stop Teaching Handwriting”, so I had to read it. The author is a college professor who is dealing with her 3rd grade son learning handwriting. She makes a lot of great points as to why we no longer need to teach the handwriting. Very few of these would be new arguments, but I still agree with her.

However, what really struck me was the comments. Comments are such a hard thing to judge on a site that seems widely read. The comments were made by people that found the article and I’m going to assume many of these people are parents and a few even claim to be educators. Here are a few and I’d like to know what you think about them.

Another Educated Idiot, evidently she has never had to decypher something important, like a password or e-mail addy that someone wrote like crap.

To even suggest that this skill should no longer be taught simply because you don’t seem to feel it is important speaks volumes. I’m sure he’s quite ready to stop trying.. after all, you are. And to make matters worse you are attempting to justify it. Don’t you think our youth has been dumbed down enough?

What a ridiculous article. Maybe you should purchase laptops and printers for every student so they never have to write anything with a pen or a pencil. Oh yeah, don’t forget to provide paper and ink for the printers.

I thought that one was funny.

If he isn’t taught cursive, what will he do when he has to write a letter?

That one’s pretty funny, too.
That’s all I can take of the comments. If you click to the article and dive in on the comments, good luck!


Live Blog

Just had the idea hit me to live blog our high school basketball games for our school website. Cover It Live works great, why not use it? Now, I wonder if I can work in some pay?

Curriculum, Rabble, Rabble, PLC

I’ve got a 1/2 day math curriculum meeting in the a.m. this week and a 1/2 day “PLC Planning Committee” meeting for the other 1/2 day.  There is no way this goes well.  Luckily (hopefully), I’m the only faculty member that is on both committees.  This should allow for a lot of ideas and discussion to take place, instead of the talk being dominated by just a couple of individuals.

I do not have high hopes for these meetings.  The meetings in the past have been unorganized with no clear objective or focus.  We will most likely discuss testing protocols, which we have done twice this year.  We will mention that we have significant gaps in our curriculum, but will not brainstorm any solutions.  Anyway, that has been how it has been approached in the past, I’ve got an itch to try and force the issue on the curriculum.  It will depend on how brave I am feeling.

Then, we get to the afternoon meeting.  PLC Planning will be a trainwreck.  We have bi-weekly meetings that are called “PLC’s”.  These do not resemble any definition of PLC that I have read.  We have done nothing this year that is focused on data, student achievement, or professional development.  They have been nothing more than faculty meetings covering what each grade level teaches.  When we planned the topics and focus last year, there were quite a few ideas thrown out.  Yet, time was never made for implementation of these ideas.  PLC’s end up being thrown together a day before we meet.  The committee is actually on the same page, we just have to get our administration with us.  We’ll see how that goes.

So, yeah.  Looking forward to a super day of meetings.  Hopefully I’m wrong, maybe we’ll reinvent the wheel tomorrow.

Did I mention this meeting was the day before our last day of the semester?  Outstanding planning on that one.