Tag Archives: Science

How the Mathtwitterblogosphere is Helping Me Grow

I found the Mathtwitterblogosphere because my 4th grade teacher found out I was teaching Physics among other things, and referred me to Aaron Titus, a High Point University Physics professor who helps teachers, who referred me to a physics forum somewhere (I forget where at the moment) which was talking about having a “physicstwitterblogosphere” kinda like the “math people” do.  At this point, I said “What, I’m teaching math–I need to look into this!”, and found the above website that Sameer Shah put together.  He was also just starting a New Blogger Initiation, which I promptly joined because of all the good things all the other teachers had to say about blogging.  And I haven’t made a smarter career decision as a teacher.

Because of this group of people, I’ve re-learned to love mathematics and teaching mathematics, I’ve completely changed every single quiz I’ve ever given, I’ve done creative projects with my Precalculus students that I would have never thought of in a million years, I’ve learned how to more effectively use my iPads, I’ve used Standards Based Grading for the first time, I’ve put a giant “Board of Remediation” in the back of my classroom for students to work on skills they need, I’ve revolutionized the way I go over tests and quizzes (I don’t!), I’ve found websites where students can practice their pattern-recognition skills with minimal effort on my part, and I’ve learned how to send all of my students nightly HW reminders via text on their phones anonymously (that was learned via the Global Math Department on Tuesday Nights at 9pm EST–a place where every time I leave, I’ve enjoyed the experience and gotten something that I took back to my class and used very soon afterwards!).

But more than that, this group of people have given me a community that has rekindled my desire to be a really good teacher.  I think that through blogging and participating in this environment I have improved in three main ways:

  1. I am reflecting.  Simply through blogging, I am thinking more about what I’ve taught and how I can improve it.  This is something I did not do my first two years of teaching outside of thinking “what should I teach next?”.  I cannot explain all the little ways that thinking about what you’ve done when you’ve stepped outside of a situation can help you improve doing whatever it is you want to do better.  In my case, it is teaching and while at school, or thinking about what I want to teach next, I cannot reflect and so I cannot grow anywhere near as close as how quickly I’ve grown these past 6 months.  Included in this reflection is thinking about how ideas, such as SBG or Dan Meyer’s 3 Acts, compares and contrasts with my own teaching philosophy, and I have only improved through reading and thinking about these ideas.
  2. I found a place to discover new ideas for lesson plans.  As a teacher, you simply cannot figure out how to teach everything in even a single course (let alone 4 right now) from the ground up.  You must look elsewhere and be good at seeing what someone else has done and adapting it to fit your children, your classroom, your pace/planning guide.  As you can see from above, so many lesson plans that I’ve done this year have come from this group of people.  I will never forget one of the things that Fawn Nguyen said in one of her posts (sorry that I can’t find the exact post at the moment!).  It was basically along the line of “finally, after teaching for 10 (?) years, I’m keeping roughly 60 or 70% of the lessons from the previous year”.  Wow.  And to think that before I got into teaching, I though: “Once you’ve done a lesson the first year, you can tweak it a bit, but it’s still good, right?”  Wrong!  Because of her comment, and seeing so many good lessons out there, I’ve begun to change any and every possible lesson I saw as “boring” for something that engages students and drives curiosity and problem-solving skills over memorizing and drill-and-kill skill training.
  3. I have striven to become a better teacher because I care what these people think of me.  Is this pride?  Sure.  Do I have a bunch of people visiting my blog regularly?  Nope.  Average is probably about 6-10 a day (thank you to each of you!!).  But I have worked more carefully on creating specific quizzes because I knew I wanted to put them up here.  I have taken care to grade with more comments so I could write a careful blog post about the experience.  I have worked and re-worked lesson plans, activities, and worksheets just so that I can put them on this blog and feel proud about what I’ve done.  And if each of these things are done better, and the students get more out of my teaching, then it has been worth it, no matter the motivation.

So thank you to anyone who has written a post I’ve read, spoken (or chatted) during the Global Math Dept, tweeted a helpful tweet, commented on my blog, or even just stopped by to read an entry.  Thank you each and every one of you for making me a better teacher.  I still have a long way to go, because I still consider myself a “bad” teacher, i.e. I always see ways to significantly improve my lessons and my teaching style.  However, even that is an improvement over the time I used to teach and think “hey, that lesson went just fine” (when it really didn’t!).

Thank you!


Filed under Teaching

Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Video Response Form

I really want to try flipping my classroom for a while, but the huge obstacle is that not all of my students have internet access at home.  However, my smallest classes have a large enough percentage that I think it will work out: Physics and my advanced Precalculus.  It will be slow at first, and I won’t be creating all of the videos, but I do have an idea that I think will improve student interaction with these videos.

I’ve used Google Docs to create a survey for students to fill out after watching the video.  They first tell me how much of the video they watched and whether they understood it all, and based on that I either make them answer a question that they could only understand from watching the video, or I make them ask a question that they have because they were lost.  I am trying this first on my advanced students and we’ll see how well they interact with the form.

Here’s my website where I will direct students to go for HW.  The form is at the bottom of the page.   If you would like to interact with the form, here is a copy of my form that you can test out for yourself (or copy for yourself) which won’t interfere with my students’ responses on my website.  Here’s what the results look like on Google Spreadsheets:


Ultimately, I think it would be awesome for a whole video series to be “choose your own adventure” to help students out with misconceptions, but that would require a whole community of people dedicated to educating through online video and it would probably need to be supported financially by someone like Bill Gates, and I just don’t see any organizations around like that…

If you have suggestions for ways to improve the form, please let me know.  Thanks!

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching

Crazy Juggling

Just saw this video online and want to use it:

Not sure how yet, but I think I’ll use it when we get to forces in Physics.

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching

Tiered Assessments Take Over

So I’ve been using the tiered assessments more and more these days, and I am really, really liking it.  Perhaps it’s just a taste of what SBG would be if I were to actually try it, but this has been a great “first step”.  In fact, I’m using it so much, that just the other day in Physics, when I gave them a “normal” quiz, I actually felt guilty that I hadn’t properly assessed the students and allowed them to show me what they know!  I felt so guilty that I gave them another quiz, this time based on the tiered assessment idea, and allowed it to replace their first quiz grade!!  Oh, and they all bombed the 1st quiz and aced the 2nd quiz.  Well, they did significantly better, but I’ll bet a large part of that is because I reviewed with the mistakes game on whiteboards, which worked out really well (I gave each group a different question from the first quiz).

Oh, and here are some tiered assessment quizzes for you to peruse and critique!




Filed under Teaching

Participation Points and Retaking Quizzes

So I’ve got an idea concerning my participation points and retaking quizzes.  As long as my quizzes test for understanding, which I think they are starting to thanks to ideas from other bloggers, then I should allow students to retake quizzes as often as they can.  However, as I’ve seen on other teachers’ blogs, I also do not want them to retake time and time again without having at least attempted to understand the material.  This is where the participation points come in: students may “trade” participation points for an opportunity to retake a quiz, as long as they’ve given me one day’s notice.

If you didn’t want to read the long blog post, participation points are a required part of their grade, but they can earn them several different ways–such as watching Khan Academy videos or doing the skills, or commenting on the school website, or doing an advanced “challenge problem”, etc.  So if students can go past 100 points, they can do so by studying for the quiz very specifically, and therefore retake any quiz.  My only concern is that students won’t take advantage of this because they see it as too difficult a task.  One answer to that problem will be to call home and hope their parents can motivate them more than I can…


Filed under Teaching

Tiered Assessment in Physics

So I want to try SBG (Standards Based Grading), but I got interested in it after I already handed out my syllabus for this year.  What can I do?  Well, I came across this cool idea from Steve Grossberg called Tiered Assessments.  As he explains, it’s not better than SBG, just different, but with a similar idea–you are trying to figure out how well each student understands a very specific set of skills.  Steve used Bloom’s taxonomy to create increasingly conceptually difficult questions.

So I took this idea and tried it on a single quiz for my motion unit.  I did not have Bloom’s taxonomy in front of me, and although I’m only 2 years out from education grad school, I don’t remember it that well, but I do remember “creating” being at the top and I think my quiz moves up the taxonomy as you move up in difficulty.  I also did not warn my Physics students that we would have a quiz, so perhaps it wasn’t the best time to ask them “so, did you like this type of assessment better?!?”, but I did like being able to see where each student sat on the spectrum–and it did really create a spectrum!

Here is the quiz on motion maps (not the most precise name, I know…) if you care to use it, whether as a template or copy it verbatim.  Unfortunately, I realized that each question is tackling slightly different skills as well, so although I like the idea, I would probably have to spend more than just 30 minutes on it to really have it match up as well as what Steve and his colleague put together, but it’s a start!

Please let me know what I can do to improve it, or if you have suggestions for future quizzes such as this (call them “Knowledge Demonstration Opportunities”… I know, I know), or if you’re upset with me for even comparing this to SBG at all, please let me know.  I think that this is a good intermediate step for those of us who may not have the tools to go all out on SBG, although I saw that Frank Noschese has a neat way to do this as well.

Edit: I wanted to let you know that I hadn’t yet taught my students how to solve the “A” type of problem, so while it may seem like a plug and chug–these students actually had to create their own way to solve.  And although a low percentage of them got it, nearly all of the students had good strategies and most of the students make very close guesses based on their models! (Oh, I’m trying out modeling for the first time this year in Physics… I’ll be sure to blog more on that later, too!)


Filed under Teaching

Participation Points, Updated

So I decided to write/think about the biggest change from my teaching from last year, and that’s my Participation Points scheme.  So far I would say that it is going really, really well!  The students are buying in to the whole “choice” idea and they are doing this above and beyond the scope of my classroom, which is one of the purposes of this setup.  One drawback, however, is those students who did nothing all week (because it was the first full week of school), and so now they have a 0, which they are going to have to work hard to raise that grade.  If they didn’t work in the first week anyways, it will be unlikely/difficult for them to raise that, but perhaps the big fat 0 will be a motivator and not a hammer to their self-confidence… always a tricky balance.

So I looked at my class averages for this first week, just averaging in those students who turned in their Participation Points grid (where they keep track of and tally up their points).  Remember, these are class averages: 104, 103.75, 77, 74.  So I have two classes where students are getting into the system and doing work outside of class, and two classes with some of the students getting into it and some of them still waiting for the year to start.

A few nice things that worked out: I saved a bunch of the students by creating a “busy work” assignment and offering points for it (which I hate the busy work, but some of the students just want/need that kind of work).  They were also saved by the fact that I offered Choice Cards (cards which are handed out if a student is present and has done their HW all week) during the first half-week and this week, then they had 60 points, if they needed it, to bail them out.  However, starting next week, I’m going to show them how to access the forum on my website and how to e-mail me to get very easy Participation Points, simply by spending a bit of time outside of class on their own initiative.

A few students really went above and beyond and brought in some cool physical examples of “what molecules look like in the three states of matter”, which I’ll be able to use in future classes.

Oh, in case you wanted to know, my website is mrnewmanswebsite.weebly.com, and I use Weebly as a website design program.  The interface is super-easy to use, and it is easy to attach documents, keep up HW (I use it in conjunction with Google Calendar), and keep student blogs and forums running so that students can interact with each other digitally and discuss topics we’ve covered in class.

So if you have any ideas for helping me figure out what to do with the 0’s from the first week, let me know.  I probably have over a dozen once I include those students who didn’t even turn in their tally sheet.  I don’t want “turning it in late” to become a habit all year, but I do want students to feel like they have a chance in my class.  Hopefully students will realize that if they get the maximum 110 points every week for the rest of the 9 weeks, their average will be close to a 100 in this category for this 9 weeks.  I also have something to call home about and discuss with parents what I expect from my students and raise the bar this early in the year.


Filed under Teaching