First of all, let me say that I was sweating it! I seriously thought I’d have a 70% passing rate if I’m being honest. I saw so many weaknesses in my student’s math abilities. They did not come equipped with what they needed to say the least. It had been 3 years since I taught Algebra and I was excited until I finally figured out what a challenge this class would be! So here goes. I’m going to tell you exactly what I did. I’m doing this for y’all but I’m doing this for me as well. I’m starting fresh with a new group and I’m going to follow these steps and try to improve on them.
I would say it was a good three weeks before I got it in gear and realized what I was faced with. One of the first lessons I did was a review and a Pre-Algebra bingo game. After the review, we were ready to play. Well into the game, I kept wondering why no one had “bingoed” (is that even a word?). I kept thinking… any minute there will be a bingo. NO! It never happened and we ran out of time. This stayed in my head and I was baffled. Another clue that things weren’t right is that I had to give some preliminary tests for my district. For several of my students, it took three class periods and one of the kids never finished! I kept noticing that she was trying to get me to help her on just about every problem!
So what did I do?
Step 1: I looked at my student’s testing data from 3rd grade through 8th grade.
Oh my goodness was it an eye-opener. The student that did not finish the district test had never passed a math STAAR test, EVER! Another student failed the 4th grade. Many of the students passed the 8th grade math STAAR but it was on the 3rd try! You may be saying, “What’s the big deal? This is my class every year.” I’ve been there too, at previous schools but I teach at an Early College High School now! I was not expecting this but really at an ECHS, there may be a little more motivation to succeed, but they are not much different from regular high school students.
*This year, I will do the data analysis earlier and I will know so much more! (I’m also not doing the district test that wasted so much time that did not ever get looked at again!)
So now what? I knew that they had learning gaps but I also knew I had to move on in the curriculum.
Step 2: No calculators for as long as I could stand it.
I’m not sure when we finally used calculators but I believe I brought them out after I made sure they could graph without a calculator. I know from the past, kids pick up on calculators fast so some of the things I wanted to show them could wait.
Why no calculators? The students needed practice on integer and rational operations. When we solved equations, it killed me to watch how long it took them to figure out the basic operations but I stuck with my plan. To scaffold before a lesson, I would do bell ringers that led up to the lesson…anything I knew they would struggle with due to the learning gaps. PLEASE, FOR THEIR FUTURE MATH CLASSES, DO NOT TEACH YOUR STUDENTS HOW TO USE N-SOLVE EARLY IN THE YEAR! You know what I’m talking about if you use the TI-Nspire!
Oh by the way, I had one student that would finish everything early because she actually knew what was going on. I started anticipating this and let her move ahead, help others or work on deepening her knowledge. *Looking back, I should have made her work on TSI material which is how I will improve on this type of student this year.
The first 6 weeks made me very nervous. I was trying to stay on pace with the curriculum, so I had to completely skip solving inequalities with keeping in mind, I would have to throw that in at some point! I did put it in right before graphing inequalities. I think I only spent a day on it, so I knew that it would need to be part of my EOC review before the test.
Before the 2nd 6 Weeks started, I studied the Algebra TEKS (objectives). What does the state of Texas expect from these algebra kids? If you have not looked at the TEKS over and over, I suggest you start.
Step 3: Study the Algebra TEKS and past Algebra EOC’s. How do they ask questions? What has been the trend over the past few years? Start adding these questions to your tests and quizzes.
I decided that I would start incorporating questions from past EOC’s on my tests and quizzes. After every test and quiz, I would go back and look at the questions with the students and tell them that these were the questions that last year’s kids had to know. I did this consistently and the kids started becoming interested in this. They felt good when they got the questions correct. I also kept telling them to always aim to score a 70 or better on every test or quiz, even though this is higher than they have to make on the EOC.
In the second six weeks, I started recycling information from the first six weeks. I gave them three practice sheets that were only 1 page long. I always have visions of grandeur and of course wanted to give them a worksheet each week, but if you have taught Algebra I, you know that it’s like pulling teeth to get things turned in, so I tried not to fight it and just do as well as I could. I had one person that never turned in any of them, so their loss! Ok, yes that is what I’d like to think but I did offer tutoring after school and if students needed help, they could come in and I would help them. This student never showed even after parent phone calls.
Did I feel better after the second six weeks? No! I kept begging my principal to double block the students or at least do it the second semester, but he never did. (Yes, we are on a block schedule. I saw these students on Tuesday and Thursday for 1 hour and 25 minutes and then on Friday’s for 35 minutes.)
Here is how the students scored on the 2nd 6 Weeks Test:
Yep. Only one person passed. The one with the 27 is the girl that never turned in a practice sheet. Yes, I only had 15 students in Algebra I, but I was teaching Algebra II and Geometry as well with only one conference period every other day. I had a total of 150 students. My hands were full!
Here’s the deal. I’m a problem solver! I never give up and I will keep trying and fighting for my students and what is right. I did take off more days this year than ever before though because of stress and life. I’m retiring in two years and I have a lot of days built up that I need to use. Does this make me a slacker? No! How did I build up all those days? From being DEDICATED! But now I have a married child in nursing school that lives 2000 miles away that I want to go see as much as possible, so I’m doing it. I also have another college-aged kid that I want to spend as much time with as possible because he is about to move out. I’m going to be an empty nester, so family time is so important! I’m saying this because I don’t want teachers to thing that you need to kill yourself doing your job. You are one person and you can only do so much and that is good enough!
Enough of my tangent! I did not give up on these kids after their poor performance. Technically, I could look at the scores and say, “Hey look at how many scored better than a 40! … that’s about the target score of the EOC”…ugh. I had to do something though about poor test scores, so here’s the next part!
Step 4: Students had to come to two tutoring sessions to make up a test. The first session had to be to go over the missed problems even though I would do this a lot in class. The second session, they took a make-up test that they could only get a 70% as the highest possible grade.
This was my policy from the beginning of the year, but I got too careless with it. I can’t force them to show, but I strongly encouraged them after this second six weeks. Some of the kids were great about coming in and others not so much. I started offering lunch tutoring to give them another opportunity to get help while at school. I let them eat in my class because I had to eat too. I did not offer this every day for my sanity, but only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which was right after that class! Retesting is a pain, but I believe in it. How else will students learn from their mistakes? If they never look at a test and see what they missed, they will not grow and improve. It’s also good for me to see on an individual basis what their weak areas are and to give them one-on-one help. As you can see to the left, I document if they retested by putting a comment by the score.
My concentration during the 3rd six weeks besides retesting was making students talk about the math they were doing. I was doing a study on math discourse, so I was kind of forced to work on it. You would think after 32 years of teaching, that math discourse would be a big part of my teaching. I thought it was until I started this study. Desmos is a great tool for this as well as Flipgrid. In Desmos, there are lessons called Polygraphs. Students have to describe things to play the game and figure out the graph that the other student is thinking of. If you don’t have computer access for your students, you could totally create a similar game. One student picks a graph and the other person can only ask yes/no questions to figure out which graph was selected. You try to figure it out in as few questions as possible but students need to use math vocabulary! Both students have to understand the concept.
Flipgrid is another animal! It is an app or website where the teacher can ask a question and the student has to video their response. Wow, can I just say this showed me again how the students did not know the correct vocabulary or how to really explain what I asked. I used this several times, but the first time was when I asked them to explain how to graph a line that was in standard form. I felt like this deepened their understanding because I let them work alone to figure out what to say. They used a dry erase board to demonstrate as they were explaining. I loved this so much and I know it helped. Solving for y was a major ordeal, and I feel like most of them understand that as well as where the slope and y-intercept are in the equation and how to use them to graph.
I tried the rest of the year to use Desmos, Flipgrid, Quiz-Quiz-Trade, Collaboration Groups, Reflections and as much talk and explaining about the math that I could think of.
Step 5: Math Discourse is a Biggie, Folks! If you don’t do this, START NOW! I’m stupid for not using these things consistently in the past.
This takes us to the end of the first semester. I will continue this post in Part 2. Let all of this sink in for a while. Let the wheels turn. What can you change?
Here’s a breakdown of what I suggest you do so far:
- Look at student data from their past math scores on the EOC and even their previous math classes.
- Don’t use calculators until you can’t stand it anymore or when it becomes really necessary!
- Study the Algebra TEKS and the Algebra EOC’s and start adding these questions to your tests and quizzes, then go over them consistently after the test/quiz.
- Allow the students to retest, but make them review the material first!
- Use Math Discourse as much as possible. Incorporate it daily or at least weekly.
In this post, I have several links to some of my resources. Most are paid products, but I do have one freebie…the 3 Practice Sheets that I used in the 2nd 6 Weeks. Enjoy and let me know if you need any resources that I can provide or create.