Sunday, August 19, 2018

Ten Weeks of Summer: Big Changes (Weeks 9 & 10)

As my summer winds down to a close (my first day of in-service is in about 12 hours), I reflect on the fact that the summer was actually quite relaxing despite all of my travels and getting my daughter packed and off to college. (Sic 'em, Bears!)  I decided that it mostly had to do with the fact that I wasn't going into school once or twice a week to deal with hiring of new faculty, parent meetings, administrator meetings or placement test and summer acceleration test scoring.  In fact, I don't think I realized how much work it was to be department chair until I didn't have to do that work over the summer anymore.

So, what have I done for the past two weeks?

1) I learned how to create podcasts using Audacity.  This required a little bit of work on my part, because I also had to install two different plug-ins to get it uploaded and downloaded in the form I needed.  The Global Math Department had been posting their weekly webinars as podcasts for a while, but that was not happening any longer.  A few people mentioned on twitter that they liked listening to the podcasts. So, I learned how to create them with Audacity thanks to the help of Carl Oliver's very clear directions.

2) I worked on reviewing AB Calculus, because I will be teaching it for the first time this year. Since I had not used Khan Academy's courses before, I decided to give them a try. Most of the videos are well done and there are plenty of exercises for students to do.  However, Sal Khan is not always careful with his use of math language.  For example, he'll say "the slope of the point" when he really means "the slope of the tangent line at the point".  Points can't have slopes. Lines have slopes.  If I use this resource with my students this year, I'll need to be a little cautious and preview any videos I would show my students.

3) Today I watched Julie Reulbach's Twitter Math Camp 2018 talk on Teacher Leaders.  If you don't follow Julie on twitter, you should. She tweets @jreulbach. She gave me some thoughts to ponder as I start a new school year at a new school.  At one point in my career, I thought being a leader meant that I needed to become a full time administrator.  I applied to be Upper School Director at Moravian Academy in the spring of 2017 and I wasn't hired for that position.  However, Julie's talk made me realize that I am a teacher leader and that I lead in so many other ways when she said "Teacher leadership is not a ladder to be climbed.  It is what you do to support another teacher." And I support teachers in so many ways: leading AP Statistics workshops, sharing teaching ideas through talks at conferences, leading a book chat on twitter this summer, visiting classrooms of my colleagues and offering feedback, sharing teaching ideas through blogging, orgainizing hosts for the Global Math Department and posting videos to help teachers and students on my YouTube channel. Whew!  That's a long list.  I was recently asked to serve as a teacher mentor for the National Math and Science Initiative, working specifically with teachers in New York City.  I would visit their classroom twice in one school year, specifically giving feedback for teaching AP Statistics. Yet another opportunity to be a teacher leader.

4) Last, but not least, my husband and I did shopping, shopping and more shopping, as we helped our daughter moved into her dorm.  She is over 1500 miles away from home and we only packed 3 suitcases with her belongings.  This meant two trips to Target, two trips to Bed, Bath and Beyond, a trip to the bookstore and a trip to CVS.  Apparently we didn't get everything.  Tonight I ordered more items for her online!  We hope she will keep some of the items from one year to the next!!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Ten Weeks of Summer: An Alternative Multiple Choice (Week 8)

I finally finished reading the book "Grading Smarter Not Harder".  During the school year, I couldn't garner enough interest from my colleagues to have either a face-to-face or virtual book group.  Then, I was able to lead a twitter chat over the past 5 weeks with each week focusing on a different chapter. This meant that I had to finish the book and really think about how I will implement some of these ideas in my classroom for the coming year.

The last chapter was called "Creativity". At first I thought the chapter would be about the importance of creative projects in the classroom and how to grade the creativity of my students.  Since the author, Myron Dueck, has a history background, I will admit that I had a bias against what he was going to say before even reading this chapter.  Creative projects in math can happen and do have value, but they can potentially take too much instructional time.  Plus, I wasn't comfortable with the subjective nature of grading student's creativity.  I thought the book would give me tips on how to grade creativity and how to judge if one project is more creative than another.  In fact, Myron Dueck did the opposite.  He emphasized that projects should be grounded in learning targets and that it's perfectly fine to not grade creativity at all.  In fact, just a written comment to a student about the unique way they did their project or displaying the more creative projects in class or the hallway is enough to "grade" creativity.  What a relief!  Grading a project that has a creative element based on learning targets, which are made known ahead of time, should be what we assess.

However, the big take away for me from this chapter was being more creative on assesments.  In AP Statistics, students need to be comfortable with multiple choice questions.  In fact, multiple choice questions make up 50% of the AP exam for Statistics.  Multiple choice questions are graded as right or wrong.  A student that has a solid understanding of a concept could potentially narrow down the answer to one of two possibilities.  This student could still get the question wrong, even though he or she knows much more than the student who got it wrong because they had no clue and simply guessed an answer.

What is the solution? Strategy #5: Use the "I Know I Am Close" Multiple-Choice Response Format.  I have done something similar for multiple choice questions in the past.  I called it scratch one, choose one. A student scratches a wrong answer and then chooses the right answer.  One point is earned for scratching a wrong answer and three points are earned for selecting the right answer.  However, the student might still narrow it down to two choices and get it wrong.  In the end, I am not certain what the student was thinking that led to choosing the wrong answer.  I may have a sense of what they are thinking, but I don't know for certain.

Here is an alternative that I will try this year - "I Know I Am Close" Multiple-Choice Response Format.  Here is how the directions are worded (as found on pg. 143 Figure 5.6): "Write the letter that corresponds to the correct answer in the first space provided below.  If you are unsure of your answer, write the letter that represents your second choice in the second blank."  Then, under the spaces for the answers, there are some blank lines for writing an explantion for choosing them both. 

I typically have 8 multiple choice questions on my AP Stat tests and would limit studnets to 4 "I Know I Am Close" questions.  So, why might this better than scratch one, choose one? Myron Dueck listed 7 reasons and here are the ones that resonated with me.

1) Teachers gain insight into their students' answer-selection process.  Although I could probably guess which
questions my students will get wrong,
I still can't tell what they were thinking
by scratching a wrong answer and choosing another answer. This helps me to understand
where I may have fallen short in my teaching
and helps me to re-teach or work with
individual students.
2) Multiple-choice tests become more than just guessing games.This encourages students to think more deeply
about what they know and understand.  It helps
them to think about their thinking - metacognition
is a great tool for all students to develop.
3) The format can guide revision.If I want students to revise their work before a
re-test (and I sometimes do give re-tests), this
format helps them to review what they were
thinking and can help them to see where their
thinking may have been in error.
4) Test anxiety and stress are reduced.I was probably a strange child, but I enjoyed
test days.  I saw tests as a challenge for me to
master and I loved being challenged. Plus, I
often finished early and then I could quietly
read whatever my latest book was for enjoyment.
Until I became a teacher, I had no idea that
students were stressed about tests. Increasing
student confidence and reducing stress will
ultimately help them to not only translate
into higher grades, but increased understanding.
And what teacher doesn't want his or her students
to understand the material on the test better?

I'll be sure to post in the fall after I do this alternative method to multiple-choice on my first AP Statistics test.  Stay tuned.