Sunday, April 27, 2014

Using ASSISTments in my Blended Learning Classroom!

"Not only does the teacher need to keep track of where each student is, but he or she also need to help each learner feel valued and connected to the community." 

Four Essential Principles of Blended Learning Katrina Schwartz

The above article posted on Mind/Shift How We Learn had me thinking about the many successful tools I use in my blended math class. If I were to choose one thing I could not teach without, it would be the formative assessment software Five years ago, my classroom only had an overhead projector and two classroom computers, no wireless network and access to two computer labs for a middle school of 800 students. It was then that I learned about ASSISTments. ASSISTments does many of the same things that other formative assessment software does. There are two reasons I still choose ASSISTments. First, I can use their created content by CCSS or create my own content. Second, it is a federally funded free online tool. 
ASSISTments does four things for me and my students. 

1. Track every student every day. I teach a team of 100 students. ASSISTments allows for me to track the progress towards the learning goals of every student, every day. I start my day with a cup of coffee and a review of the data reports responding to and planning around what I can infer from the data. I know who didn't do the work, who did, who is successful, who is struggling and mostly have data to generate a classroom discussion about math.

2. Generate classroom discussions around the learning goals. The data generated by ASSISTments allows for the students to analyze the report (names hidden) and discuss common errors. Each and every student is engaged in this work because they are prompted to think deeply about the learning when analyzing the data. High achieving students are engaged, thinking deeply about the concepts. The lower achieving students are asking specific questions, and figuring out their own errors, learning from this deep thinking. 

3. Students learn to own their own learning progression. Students change their attitude about making mistakes when they gain control over their own learning progress. Students get correctness feedback from ASSISTMents on their homework/classwork. This allows them time to reflect, review notes, check math work, and ask for help from other student or me. They come to class in the morning having a clear view of their level of success with the learning objectives, often prepared with questions or anxious to share what they did wrong. In my math class the learning happens in the struggle and ASSISTments helps my students embrace the struggle. 

4. Differentiate classroom instruction from data reports. My blended classroom is structured around the needs of each students. Differentiated groups are structured around the needs of students and the data generated by their classwork/homework on ASSISTments. The learning objective is posted and there is required work each must accomplish. The high achieving students are able to work at their pace moving ahead to challenge work while lower achieving students are working on the required work with the support of small group teaching. 

Five years later I have a class set of iPads, a Smartboard, two classroom computers, and a wireless network students can access with their own devices. All these tools are just tools. They only become part of a well run blended learning classroom when implemented to best serve the students and teacher. serves me and my students on so many levels. This software allows for deeper learning with more teaching and learning time because of the four points explained here. I use many online programs for different purposes now but is the foundation of my blended classroom. It gives me the time to do the important work, teach my students!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Term 3 - The continual evolution of my classroom....

Things that worked in my sixth grade math class in Term 3:

Using Edmodo, LearnZillion,, class set of iPads, Tiered Instruction Math Class, 3-D Club Printing and no "assigned" homework. First let me tell you that all these sites are the ones that do the work I need. They save me time, provide me with data, give my students support on many levels and so much more. I explore many web sites on a continuous basis always looking for the ones that will serve me and my student best. These are the ones I seem to stick with so I guess they are working. Secondly, my extra class for tiered instruction (extra hour of math each day) for struggling learners has proven to be very successful. Out of 24 students, 20 of them have brought their grade up from failing to at least a C-. These students all still struggle but the extra learning time has proven to increase their confidence and commitment to the struggle. My 3-D club has launched at least five 3-D printer student experts and now many more are interested. This group of students taught themselves 123Design software and successfully printed 3-D models during their own time after school. Lastly, my no "assigned" homework policy was quietly instituted. It took 4 weeks before anyone asked why there was no homework. I decided on this policy because so many were not doing the homework and so I was repeating each day. With this new approach, I start practice work in class and what is not finished is continued the next day. I would set the goals for the end of the week and any class work not completed by end of class Thursday became homework all due on Friday. In a nutshell, the work was set for the week and could be completed in class all week or done for homework if not completed. This motivated many to work hard during class. I found the students that never did homework or were struggling received more assistance and teaching time from me in small group. The students that were high achievers continue to achieve and like completing class work and getting to the challenge work. Much to my surprise, this no "assigned" homework plan was a win-win for everyone. 

Things that didn't work in Term 3:

Finding time to give to my high achievers. I complete and exceed each and every challenge. It is only a small group of students (5-6 per class) but still, I need to meet every one's needs. These students are hungry for learning. In term 4, (after state testing) I will allow these students to explore MEA  to challenge their problem solving skills. I also plan to have the last 10 minutes of each class scheduled for their questions so they can plan for this. 

There is also this small group of students I have been unable to reach. These are the students that make teachers feel sad at the end of the school year. I have tried every resource and tool within my power at every level to help these students without success. For most of these students the problems are beyond learning and the classroom, things that I can't control. I worry about a child that fails at least 50 percent of the content area for the year. Their future academic success does not look hopeful. Sixth grade is the the first step to secondary school so failing at this level sets the path of failure towards future grades. One good note, my district has approved summer school for these failing students. 

Term 4 post state testing is a fun time. This year my team has two STEM projects planned for our 100 students. Check back for my reflection of term 4 in June. 

One last note, I am very excited to have been selected for the 2nd year in a row to the LearnZillion Dream Team 2014! With out a doubt, my 2013 experience was the best professional development of my career! Looking forward to my 2014 work!!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Re-thinking my blended classroom in 2014.....thanks Arne Duncan!

Well my blended classroom is evolving rapidly. I have a full class set of ipad minis since October of 2013 that we use as regular part of daily work in a variety of ways. The ipads have become a valuable everyday tool for learning.  In addition, I was awarded a MakerBot 3-D Printer grant through  This has prompted an after school 3-D Club. We are exploring and learning about 3-D design software together. It is the future for these students.

I am once again re-thinking homework. I have so many students that don't do homework. It doesn't matter what I expect of my students on their own. At least 60 percent of them don't do it. It can be a 3 minute video, practice 5 math problems, copy some notes, or work on a small project. No matter how big or small, there is just no work ethic to complete anything. Which brings me to the next thing that has prompted me to re-think my classroom, Annie Murphy Paul's Brilliant Blog on student accountability.

I agree with Thomas L. Friedman and Arne Duncan…………too many parents and too many kids just don't take education seriously enough and don't want to put in the work needed today to really excel?

As a middle school math teacher, my goal is help each of my students grow and learn to their greatest potential. I teach my students about brain research, successful learning practices, and use technology to meet their learning needs on all levels. Although each of my 100 students is at a different point in the learning progression, it is my job to move them along that continuum of learning standards. It is the planned intentional goal of standards for all students to reach at least a proficient conceptual understanding at their grade level. I challenge all my students to do their best and I provide them with every possible opportunity to succeed. Parents, for the most part, do not support this effort. They complain about the homework, the technology, and the content. They blame me when their children fail. Over the last 5-7 years I have observed a rapid decline in the work ethic parents expect from their children while blaming teachers for their children’s failure. I have many students who come to school every day unprepared for whatever reason. It puzzles me that these failing students have no concern for their lack of progress nor attempt to seek the variety of opportunities I provide to help them succeed. They are not bored or unengaged, they are happy, social and seem to have no understanding of the work ethic it takes to succeed in a competitive world. I have a deep concern for the future of this generation of students and the huge economic gap that will be the result of this mediocre work ethic.

I think Arne Duncan is absolutely correct calling all parents and educators to compel our students to be accountable for their learning.  It is our job to teach our children about work ethics and achievement. It is time for America to expect nothing less than the best from our educators, students and parents. It takes a village to be a great nation.

In light of my view, I have decided I need to find a way to compel my students to work harder but not in a traditional way. The flipped classroom still has the feel of "homework" to my students so I am trying the following things. First, I have not assigned "homework" for a week now. Interestingly, none of my students have asked me why I have broken from a pattern of always expecting something from them at least 4 nights per week. I have posted a list of the weeks lessons online and on the board in school. Each day, the groups sort out (differentiate themselves) by where they are in their learning. Some is by choice, "I need more help with this or that" or "I am ready for the challenge and have completed all required work." I find I am working hard doing a lot of small group teaching but so far it seems more effective. Second, when students fail a test because they didn't do any work, I usually allow the failure but now I call them on it. I point out they have not reached the learning objective so we will have to do more learning and re-test. This took two more classes and some "weekend work." NOTICE, I didn't say "homework." I presented the work after a review as this is something that is now needed for you to learn this and pass the second test. Interesting, there were parents who complained about the weekend practice to help their child pass a second test.......thus part of the problem in America.

The experiment continues so I will have to blog again after thirty days. What I do know is I am doing what Arne Duncan asked, "compelling my students to do more" not by piling on homework but instead teaching the necessary effort it takes to reach a goal. After all, it does take a whole village and we teachers are part of the village. Compel your students rather than assign work and let me know what happens. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Prepare for the Common Core Math Formative Assessments with Skip Fennell

Although formative assessment is a natural part of the process of teaching and learning, Skip Fennell outlines some clarifying thoughts on the topic in this 30 minute webinar hosted by LearnZillion Co-founder, Eric Westendorf. Common Core does not change formative assessment in the classroom but it does change how we should plan and apply it in the classroom. Skip Fennell explains the importance of this especially with regard to "hinge questions." Teachers are encouraged to take the time to read the Common Core Progressions Document which clarify the learning progression to target knowledge of Common Core. The planning of hinge questions as formative assessment becomes a less overwhelming task when designed around these pathways to the end goals of Common Core Math.

Here are some other great teacher learning progression resources for Common Core Mathematics.
The Learn Zillion Insider, 3 Steps to  Understanding Your Common Core Standard
The Mathematics Common Core Toolbox
Kansas Association of Teachers of Mathematics (KATM) Common Core "Flipbooks"
North Carolina State Department of Education "Unpacked Standards"