We're co-hosting a [free] standards-based grading conference

The school I work for has been on a standards-based grading journey for the past few years.  Interest from area schools in visiting our teachers' classroom seems to increase each month.  In addition, several neighboring schools have been making some significant progress in their grading reform practices.  We're teaming up to host a free conference (lunch included!) on April 24, 2013.  The target audience is secondary educators who are currently implementing standards-based grading that would like to learn from fellow practitioners who have worked through early implementation dips.

  • What does standards-based grading look like in social studies?
  • What does standards-based grading look like in a foreign language classroom?
  • How do I convert standards to a letter grade?
  • How does our school/district make this change systematically?
  • How does SBG impact admission into higher education?
  • I am a student experiencing SBG for the first time.  What does it look like?  [panel]
  • How is standards-based grading a gateway to competency-based education?
These are just a few of the questions we hope to answer through the highly personalized day of learning and networking.  We do not plan to live stream the entire conference, however we anticipate a pretty unique bi-product of the day: a website with videos uploaded by session facilitators capturing common problems and solutions.

More details, including a registration link, will be available in late January.  I hope to see many of you in attendance!  

P.S. Shawn will be keynoting - yet another reason to make the trek to Cedar Rapids, IA.  

Walking the Walk: Administrators teaching (take 2)

I was at our high school this afternoon doing some administrative walk throughs when my day changed for the better.

Algebra teacher [half joking]: "Do you want to teach my next class?"
Me: "What is the lesson?"
Algebra teacher: "Factoring trinomials.  It's a challenging class of students."
Me: "I'm up for it."
The Algebra teacher started the class and went through the practice problems from the previous night.  She introduced me and I took over from there.

Before I reflect on this experience, I want to provide a bit of context:

  • Some of these students had siblings who were my former students.
  • The Algebra class I taught was comprised primarily of 9th and 10th grade students who are fulfilling a math graduation requirement.
  • I taught factoring once in my student teaching experience, but never in my own classroom.
I started off by sharing a little bit more about myself: You may see me in the buildings from time to time, often in teachers' classrooms.  I work in the central office, but taught high school math several years ago.  

Next, I shared about the importance of learning math in high school and the community college remedial math course problem.  Looking back, I'm not sure why I did this.  It was one of those spur of the moment decisions that seemed right for the audience.  I used to share this annually with my Geometry classes when the time seemed right.

Next, I asked students to get out of their seats and work with a partner on a few math problems linking previous learning to today's lesson.  "Factor....why doesn't this one factor nicely?"and "FOIL...what is the connection between FOIL and factoring?"  Finally, we discussed (Think, Pair, Share) leading coefficients, FOIL and how to factor trinomials in a slightly different way today when compared to the previous lesson.  It wasn't 3-acts, but with fifteen minutes to prepare, it was the best I had to offer these teens.  

A few take-aways from today's teaching:
  • In my previous "administrator becomes the teacher" experience, I knew some of the students and had previously taught the lesson.  Today confirmed that a blind relationship with the students and content makes teaching even more challenging.
  • Even though I did not have time to check for understanding, I felt like the activities activating students' prior knowledge were meaningful.  Philosophically, I believe math is "applying what you know to a new situation" which entails making connections every day between previous and current learning.  
  • Classroom management can be a challenge without a seating chart.  The teacher provided me with a copy of her seating chart, but in the moment I resorted to pointing at students rather than addressing them by name. A few students tried to test the boundaries with a new guy in the room, so I established myself early with some wait time and "teacher looks."  As it turns out, the student who was asked to leave the room due to his antics was extremely apologetic and claims he is not an issue for the classroom teacher.  
Overall, it was again a positive experience.  Should all administrators teach a lesson from time to time?  I think so.  I did not have an established rapport with many of these students before I stepped in to teach, which may or may not be the experience of a building administrator.  

As I drove back to my office for a meeting, I felt energized.  I missed the opportunity to provide several teachers with walk through feedback, but I grounded myself in a sea (okay, maybe a small drip) of classroom reality.  I look forward to debriefing with this teacher later in the week to see if my instructional strategies were effective through the lens of her and her students.  

Back to the office.  Back to the emails, voice mails and paperwork.  It was all worth it.  

The purpose of K-12 math education is...

Ben asks,

Why did I spend four years in high school, and then several more in college learning math that I’ve long since forgotten? Think back on your high school and college courses. If you were to take the final exam today, how would you do? What does that tell us? What should it tell us?
I responded:
Great questions, Ben. As a former high school math teacher, I’ve thought along the same lines for hours on end. It seems that folks in math education circles can’t all agree on the purpose of K-12 math. Perhaps this is the same in other content areas as well? 
Some math folks assume K-12 should prepare students for what I’ll call the “math careers” that require a working knowledge of advanced math in which symbolic manipulation (a la “Algebra”) is important. Engineers, physicists, mathematicians, and…well, the list is fairly short. We’ll call this the “math careers” rationale. 
Then there are those that trump the “higher education" card. These are the folks that acknowledge slope-intercept form and polynomial division aren’t really valuable tasks, but they’re needed to pass the typical credit bearing college algebra course. That credit bearing course is important for anyone who is pursuing a bachelors’ degree. Ask your local community college instructor and he/she can likely tell you about the remedial math course market. I often told my unmotivated students it was in their best interest to learn math in high school on the public’s dime than it would be to pay for the exact same classes for no credit at college, just so they could eventually take a credit-bearing math course that met graduation requirements. We’ll call this rationale ”delayed meaning.” 
The third camp of folks I encountered were those who thought symbolic manipulation was not needed at all for the masses. “If they want to become a mathematician, they can learn that stuff after high school.” Instead, the purpose of K-12 math should be overly practical. Financial literacy, career and technical measurements and math formulas form the foundation of this mindset. These people think every student should learn about loans, mortgages, how to balance a check book, converting various measurements needed in technical jobs, etc. We’ll call this the “application rationale.” 
A few other folks I knew claimed that math taught students how to think. Completing the square or using Pythagorean’s Theorem to “solve for x” were two ways students could stretch their brains. If a student can stretch his/her brain in math class, it could surely be used in other contexts, too. I call this the “math as a way of thinking” rationale. 
I do not have any solid sources to back up the categories I just described, but instead they come from my own experiences and discourse with other secondary math educators. From my perspective, the current educational system attempts to balance (perhaps not equally) all of these rationales. The state I live in requires financial literacy in its content standards as well as a fairly deep coverage of symbolic manipulation. The result appears to be your question/experience: “Why did I spend four years in high school, and then several more in college learning math that I’ve long since forgotten?” What should this tell us? I think it tells us that we are currently unable to agree on the purpose of math education. Any of this make sense?
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