Hots N Lots Recap

ImageThe dust has truly settled, and I have finished up my 8th school year.   I escaped from NYC, and am ensconced in a cozy room at Exeter, where the Anja S. Greer Conference for Math, Science and Technology.  So far, the experience has been everything I hoped for – a great road trip with a wonderful buddy, in which our stories seamlessly and tangentially flowed from one to the other for 6 hours straight, and a delicious locally sourced dinner at Blue Food Evolution, complete with a waiter who made math puns every time he visited our table. The weather is cool, dry and sunny. Perfect!

But this morning, before my head gets filled with the enrichment this conference will surely provide, I want to talk about the end of term project in my Geometry class – highlights and lessons learned.  I am very proud of what happened in this class, the work many of the students did, and the opportunity it provided for them to demonstrate what they had learned in the three terms of Geometry they took.  What needs to be improved stands out as well, glaringly so (to me).

ImageMost days the class was truly abuzz with math.   The hard planning was finished once the students began working, but each day in class was an aerobic activity for me.  Whatever math these children had learned was not accompanied by independence.    Many of the students needed (demanded) reassurance and guidance and checking every step of the way. I provided them with as many resources besides myself that I could – I had three different textbooks they could use, made the iPads available every few days, and sat them in strategically chosen groups which I hoped would give them the opportunity to support – but not distract – one another. This worked for some but not nearly all. Basketball was discussed frequently across the room, at a volume which made it impossible to ignore. And phones – PHONES! The very bane of my existence during 4th period each day. Class time for me was filled with answering questions, checking in with those who weren’t asking for help, policing, and helping students choose new activities.

After a couple of weeks, I noticed that some students were engaged in creative assignments which permitted them to talk about other things (read NOT math) while working, whereas others required greater focus to complete content-heavy work. The resulting pockets of distraction grew less manageable, and I noticed a drop in the progress students were making in completing their assignments. The groups which were working on straight Regents prep seemed to be making more consistent progress. Keeping my eye on the desired outcome of this whole process – a portfolio of work which substantiated learning and growth over the entire Geometry course, I subdivided the room – one more time – so that the students working on individual assignments were working in rows at the front while the Regents prep groups were moved to the back of the room, where my co-teacher took over their supervision and instruction on the back blackboard. I also asked the Regents prep groups to take a Imagestep back from their work to come up with a list of topics they were all having trouble with so we could specifically target some mini-lessons. Each morning I would prioritize which folders would be checked; giving regular feedback to each student was one of my biggest challenges.Image

At the start of the last week, I asked each student to self-assess their progress. Most of them were honest in their need to be more focused, and many said they needed more help. Getting them to work independently, and with more confidence, needs to be a priority next time around.



I debriefed the project with my collaborator and mentor, in which she focused on the overall success of the project (thank you, Veronica!) while I dissected the problems. The big issues with which I am not satisfied – mostly surrounding quality of work and feedback – are as follows:


Possible Solution

Keeping up with feedback was a huge issue. The students did not receive it often enough.

Have the students select one item of work to be reviewed each day for a check-in; at least one assignment should receive a grade/formal feedback each week. Figure out exactly what logistics will make the process manageable for the teacher in advance.

Quality of work wasn’t satisfactory in too many cases.

Expectation needs to be explicit and specific. Students need to know what level of work is acceptable for final submission. Have students engage in on-going self-reflection after receiving feedback.

How can I move students towards greater independence?

On-going process throughout the term.

How much feedback from teacher is fair in order for students to meet level of expectation?

Again explicit examples of quality work as well as regular check-ins are required, particularly at outset of project.

Copying of work

Have final versions of work collected and removed from folders.

But even with these bumps, I was very proud of how the classroom ran, how everyone was working through the last bell of the last day of school, and how each student had an individualized assignment in which they had significant input. As I graded the final submissions, I was impressed with how much work the students had actually completed, well aware that these were not normally high achieving students with impressive portfolios. And all but three students demonstrated a sufficient level of mastery of the course content to earn a passing grade, a result which was not at all predictable based on their performance in the first two marking periods. A lot of bumps in the road to be sure, but a huge learning process for everyone in the room. And a great way to finish my 23 year of teaching.






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