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Archive for January, 2011

Photo by kris krug (kk+ on Flickr).

In my first quarter back in the classroom after two years in another job and after just having my daughter, I felt like this kid kept smacking puck away from the net. (Or may the dearth of hockey in Wyoming is really getting to this Midwestern girl. Ha!)

But I did make some progress on the goals I set.  I have decided to keep the same four goals for the rest of the year, but I have tweaked them a little.  Here is the lowdown:

Assessment – I will be work to develop more effective assessments.

Progress: I did not make as much headway here as I had hoped.  I ended up revamping some of my old tests in the interest of saving time and my sanity after many sleep deprived nights.  In order to improve, I made a plan and began working with one of our Instructional Facilitators to do some backwards design and dig into creating a more effective assessment for my Medieval Era unit.  Then we created PLC teams a little over a week ago, and some common assessments were written by the teams for both my U.S. and World classes.  I was on the U.S. PLC and not really involved in the Medival Era test created for World History. While the World PLC wrote a good test, I was a little bummed I didn’t go through the whole process myself.  However, I don’t feel that my previous work on that unit was for nothing.  I was more interested in the process of writing the test and thinking more about #sbar than the test itself.  And I feel that I was able to do that at least a little.  This last quarter I was able to better define for myself exactly what I want my students to get out of that unit and my Cold War unit in U.S. History.  In both classes I feel that I did well on purpose of this goal, which was to work towards better defining for students what I want them to learn.

RevampI will work to deliberately define for students what they are expected to learn. Since my department is stepping up the PLC work and tackling common unit assessments, I am tweaking this goal to focus on one of the reasons why I created my original assessment goal.  This will also allow me to continue to work towards Standards Based Grading as I continue to define for my students exactly what I want them to be learning.  I will work on providing students study guides outlining the learning expectations at the beginning of each unit (in the past, I’ve provided these guides shortly before the test).  I will then refer to them throughout the unit in an attempt to make more solid connections for students.  I will also explore other ways to clearly define learning outcomes for students.  Any suggestions or information on how you approach this would be appreciated.

Feedback – I will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback.

Progress: I feel that when I gave feedback, I was more informative and specific.  However, I do not feel that I was very timely.  My largest obstacles to overcome in order to meet this goal are efficiency and time.  One type of feedback that I felt was helpful this past quarter was the use of individual grade conferences with my World History students.  I had some good conversations and learned some helpful things from my students.  I would like to continue to experiment with this idea.

RevampI will provide students with more informative, specific and timely feedback. I have decided to keep this goal pretty much in tact, but I will focus more on the timely aspect of things.  I am setting up regular times in my schedule to give feedback and I plan to do so more often.  I have found that if I specifically schedule this, it’s more likely to get done.  I have also decided to try to shift my mindset from that of “grading” to that of “feedback.” When I think of “grading” I think of a task to be done, like filling out needed paperwork for the office.  When I think of “feedback” I actually think of teaching and learning.  I also have a more positive attitude and willingness (even excitement) to get things done.  I will also be trying to give better feedback through our online grading system, Infinite Campus.  With no training on the gradebook portion of the program and no manual (I’ve asked), it’s been a bit challenging for me to use the system.  However, many students, parents, administrators and tutors depend on this form of feedback, so I need to better utilize this tool.

Parental Communication – I will communicate more regularly with parents.

Progress: While I had some good conversations, parent communication pretty much only happened when it needed to.

RevampI will communicate more regularly with parents by calling all of my World History parents at least once this quarter.  I realized that I need to be more specific with this goal.  There are so many things I want to improve, but I know I need to break it up into specific parts in order to be more successful.

Efficiency - I will become more efficient with my planning time, grading, and various other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards.

Progress: I made a lot of headway with this goal.  I have been using every second of my available planning time and lunch.  My after school time could be more efficient, but I’m finding that my energy is so spent by that point that I’m not as efficient with my time.

RevampI will become more efficient with my planning time, feedback, and other responsibilities while maintaining quality standards. Mostly, I need to find a rhythm with how I use the time that I have.  One of the areas I will be focusing on is make-up work.  I have a new system I plan on implementing this semester in which students use their FirstClass accounts to access make-up work on their own.  I am hoping 10 minutes a day updating this will save much more time in the long run.  As mentioned earlier, I am building regular times into my schedule to provide students with feedback.  I am also scheduling regular times with our Instructional Facilitators to work on unit planning.  I am hoping that this will help me to stay on track and ahead of the game, as well as produce better quality lessons.

Do you have any feedback or advice on these goals?  What are your goals for the semester?

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Not long ago, I watched this TED Talk by Conrad Wolfram, creator of WolframAlpha, on the teaching of mathematics.  In this video, Conrad discusses the use of computers in teaching math and how they can be utilized to shift the emphasis from computation to problem solving in the real world.

Shortly after that, I came across Mike Gwaltney’s blog post on Democratizing Knowledge titled “Math is Dead. Long Live Mathematics!” Don’t be shy, you should go there and read it.  But first, think about this…

Math History is Dead. Love Live Mathematics History!

Whenever you hear or see the word “computation” in the TED Talk or in Mike’s post, replace it in your mind with “fact memorization.” Whenever you see or hear “math” or “mathematics,” replace it with “history.” While every substitute doesn’t work perfectly, I think it is worth discussing the parallels.  In history, computers would not be used for computation, but rather to look up historical facts.

Please note that I’m not saying we should throw the memorization of historical facts completely out the window.  I believe there should be a balance between knowing certain facts and being able to do analysis.  After all, things like the Gettysburg Address and the Diary of Anne Frank (or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) make less sense if you don’t understand the facts and the context surrounding them.  Rather, I would like to have a conversation on the idea of how much we should shift the approach to teaching history if, through technology, students have much easier access to the facts than in the past.

So what do you think?  Do you feel it is fair to substitute fact memorization for computation?  Do you feel there is a better substitute in the field of history?  Perhaps this idea parallels another substitution in a different discipline.  What are your thoughts?

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