A new semester has just begin here at my high school, and one of my classes is a co-taught course we call Prob/Stat. The Prob/Stat course is one we offer to our 9th graders, as a follow up for Algebra 1. It includes concepts in probability and statistics, along with algebraic concepts like systems, polynomial operations, and matrices. The students in this academic class will take the Pennsylvania Keystone Exam in May, a graduation requirement, so this course is quite important for them.
My math department colleague and I, along with both co-teachers, agreed that we did not want this to “feel” like math courses they had taken up until now. We wanted our students to become more reflective in their approach, think about their strengths and weaknesses, and devlelop their own learning paths. We have embraced Standards-Based Grading and a policy of re-dos and retakes to help meet our ideals for this course.
On the first day of the class, I wanted to set the tone that communication and discussion would be valued in my classroom. I asked the students to arrange their desks in a circle, which brought many questioning looks and rolling eyes. But once we established our circle (actually, it was more like an oblong), I passed around small slips to paper to every student. I asked the group to list any factors which had caused them to not perform well in their past math classes. Many students were willing to share their stories: “I don’t do homework”, “Teacher X didn’t like me.”, “I don’t like to ask for help.”…the list was rich. Placing a trash can in the center of the floor, I instructed students to ball up their slips of paper, and toss them into the bucket…they are in the past! I stole this idea from my time at the Siemens STEM Academy, where we started the week by catapulting our educations hold-backs into the chum bucket (it was Shark Week at Discovery Ed). You can read more about the chum bucket activity on the Siemens STEM Institute blog.
Next, I asked the students to write something they could do, moving forward, to improve their math outlook. What an awesome conversation! One student shared her fear of reading problems in math, but a desire to work through it and seek help. Many students confessed their need to complete assignments. Others communciated the need to start self-advocating, asking more questions.
DIVING INTO STANDARDS-BASED GRADING
For many students in my class, this is their first experience with Standards-Based Grading. Before the course began, I took all course concepts and arranged them into 4 anchors, mimicking the anchor language of the PA Keystone Algebra 1 content. Each anchor contains 5-7 standards, written as “I can” statements. The document also contains room for multiple attempts on the same standard. As students complete notes or assignments, I instruct them to write the standard we are working on clearly at the top of the page.
In this course, we start off with the probability sections, so we actually led off with 4.5 “I can find the probability of a simple event”. Probability is a topic which haunts students of all ages, sizes, and ability levels. And while many students did just fine on their first quiz, a number of students struggled. Under normal circumstances, this would cause deep sighs from me, and steamrolling on. But, to be honest: I HAVE NEVER FELT MORE ENERGIZED ABOUT STUDENTS STRUGGLING IN MY CLASS!
All students in the class have their own binder, which houses the Standards Tracker, and all assessments. During the next few class meetings, my co-teacher and I will develop groups for small group instruction to discuss mis-conceptions, and work towards the re-do on their 4.5 quiz. At the same time, we have moved forward into 4.6, multi-stage events. We are striving to set-aside time each Friday to be reflection and redo time, in order to establish regularity with these new grading concepts. I find myself looking forward to students dicussing their needs, and working with them to do better next time. It’s early in the semester, but already things feel different.
Check out some of my earlier blog posts on Redos, Retakes, and Standards-Based Grading: