What’s For Homework?

Are you tired of parents bugging you about homework after school hours? If so, hear me out. Imagine about your longest day at work, and you’re finally home to enjoy quality time with your children or family members. Yet some parents are trying to Class Dojo you that their child forgot his/her homework at school. Or better yet, that their child doesn’t know what’s for homework. What should you do? Your students need a copy of the homework right away and you’re not anywhere near a computer to email a copy to them.

Image of a Google Calendar embedded into a Weebly website.

By linking your homework assignments into your Google Calendar, and then embedding your calendar into your Weebly website, parents can have access to homework assignments 24/7.

My solution to this problem is very simple.  First, make sure that all your homework files are all digital copies in your google drive. If not, scan them and put it in your drive right now. Second, make sure that you create a free website.  In my case, I decided to use Weebly and share with my grade level. Next create a Google Calendar and link all the daily homework assignments to it. Within this Google Calendar, you can also add upcoming events and project due dates. Then link the calendar to your online class website.  

From this point on, you can direct the parents to your website to see and download the homework assignments. If parents have their children’s school gmail or any @stocktonusd.org account, they will be able to access the assignments right away. If they only have a regular gmail account, parents will have to request permission and google will send you a notification to your phone to allow the sharing for parents. With only a tap on your phone, homework assignments will be shared, and you can get back quickly to enjoy time with your family.

What Are My Grades?

Most parents and students would like to know what their grades are in my class. As a teacher, I wanted to find a way to share my students’ grade so they know exactly where they stand in class at any given moment throughout the school year. Of course there are many awesome yearly prepaid grading programs out there, but I wanted one that can easily be share with their school gmail. Thus, I decided to go with Google Sheets. Since Google Sheet can be share with students flawlessly.

Image of a gradebook spreadsheetOnce I created this master Google Sheet to keep track of my students’ grades, I ran into a problem. I realize that if I share my master sheet, my students will get to see all their classmates’ grades. So I decided to research online and found a solution.

Image of an individual student's grade spreadsheetAll I needed to do was create a separate Google Sheet for each of my students. I used the formula =importrange(“mastersheet google sheet name”,”A1:A9”) to import those cells to each individual student’s Google Sheet. This way they will only see their grades and not the whole class.

By seeing their grades live, I notice a few benefits among parents, students, and myself. Most students tend to want to turn in their classwork/homework ontime. In addition doing their best on the test as this helps improve their overall grades. Most importantly, I don’t have any parents or students complaining about their grades by the end of each trimester.

3D Rendering

Humans are creative creatures. Whether finding ways to turn branches and leaves into shelter, or turning whale oil into candles, or tweaking electrical signals to be able to transmit voice through a telephone. Innovation is often born of necessity, but it can also be the catalyst which transforms innocent curiosity into great discover and growth. Not all of our students are on grade level, or proficient in every subject, but every student in all of our classes is creative, and we should be using that to teach them deeper level thinking and analytical skills. This is where 3D rendering comes in.

In talking with other teachers it seems likely that at most of our schools there is probably at least one classroom with a 3D printer in it. That allows for rendering to be taken to another level, but is hardly a requirement for students to be able to get something substantial out of it. In fact, we have yet to print anything out all year, but my students regularly render objects for an assortment of tasks.

Fifth grade math we get into three dimensional shapes and learn volume. Students can use place values cubes and other manipulatives, or they can draw out 3D shapes on graph paper. These are good ways to gain a conceptual understanding of shape. Though when you have to attend to precision in rendering a rectangular prism, ensuring sides measure out exactly as they are supposed to, students have to access a level of thinking and analyzing their creation deeper than stacking cubed manipulatives.

Image of a student produced 3D bridge renderingScience brings up a variety of ways we can take advantage of 3D rendering. Classes in many grades have students tackle engineering design challenges, and allowing them to create something much more significant than toothpicks in marshmallows allows these challenges to become more meaningful. You also have the ability to add constraints to their builds. If students need to create a bridge, you can give size requirements/limitations and students need to think more analytically to bring their designs to life while following these outlines.

Teaching modern or digital art can offer other uses. There are a variety of free programs or websites available for use, such as Tinkercad, but many require students to make accounts that have to be verified by a parent, so that needs to be done ahead of time. If you are not sure how you may use it, try one for yourself and explore. Your students may amaze you with what they can create. Last year my students designed the keychains we 3D printed and sold at the school carnival!

 

Making Science Meaningful

Some of the most meaningful learning experiences for me as an educator has involved teaching science. For some time it was a lost or misplaced content area after a district driven by making scores pushed it out. During this void, I was fortunate enough to be a part of engaging professional development. Reflecting on myself as a learner, I loved projects and learning through them.

Image of a student project.

A flow chart created in Google Drawing illustrating the food chain and flow of energy of an endangered species.

My joy for new and enticing PD led me to venture into project based learning (PBL) and trying some STEM courses over at Teachers’ College a few summers ago. It was idealistic that these two active learning pieces would fit nicely over the course of the next four school years. In order to not overwhelm myself, I started with a very loose PBL structure that embedded reading and writing skills within the science learning. It was easy for me to incorporate these content areas because I was also actively utilizing AVID strategies within my routine instructional practices.

Image of a student made insect model

The insect baby made from chenille stems a student created through drafting Punnett squares to uncover the alleles the insect would exhibit.

What eventually became the icing on the cake was infusing art into my teaching of science concepts. I had the pleasure of teaching for two school years at Elmwood Elementary where art is “the thing.” My time and experience in using art in my lessons really changed the dynamic of the “finished product.” I found it easier to include the elements of art in many of the projects and students were enamored by the idea of using art.

Image of a student project.

Students learn about simple machines and build a compound machine that incorporates multiple machines using recycled materials.

Here’s an outline of my instructional process. I build units based on major science concepts using the Next Generation Science Standards. Within those units I incorporate reading, writing, collaboration, communication and technology skills. I backwards map the major ideas to be learned and follow that learning using assessment checkpoints. Most often these checkpoints build on one idea to the next leading up to the final product. All units are built organically and the projects or tasks may have changed from year to year upon reflection.

Creating these interdisciplinary units have been developed over time through constant reflection and an earnest desire to have my students fall in love with science. They may seem overwhelming but I have found it as a way to work smarter by combining necessary skills from other core subjects. Fall in love with the idea of having students learning science with meaningful experiences that will spark their curiosity while practicing skills that will make them better learners in the process.

 

 

 

 

 

Padlet.com as a Homework Alternative

The dreaded homework dilemma.  How much should be assigned to get the right amount of practice?  Will students get it done? How should it be graded and how do students receive feedback?  Developing a homework philosophy can be a tricky endeavor given the severe implications it may have on family time, learning retention, and student morale.

In the book, Ditch That Homework by Matt Miller and Alice Keller, the authors address many of the classic issues students and teachers face when it comes to homework. It also outlines some key strategies and practices that can help make homework more meaningful, empower students, and move away from the inefficient turnaround cycle with minimal academic benefit of traditional worksheet/textbook practice.

Cover art for the book The essential question the authors pose asks educators to evaluate whether assigned homework is given purely to foster compliance and can be classified as busy work, or instead; facilitate collaboration, creativity, and deeper learning.  The book goes on to to discuss various alternatives and resources for those who may fall under the former category of homework ineptitude.

After digesting the material from the book, of which I was more than happy to take a huge helping of, I obtained the nourishment needed to spark an idea of my own using one of the resources mentioned in Ditch That Homework.  The result was an assignment created using Padlet that I hoped would result in a more valuable homework experience.

Through many conversations with my daughter during her advanced high school math homework sessions I realized that she didn’t have many opportunities to problem solve and collaborate with her peers on some of the most complex and rigorous items.  She also didn’t have the chance to practice some kind of retrieval every so often during her studies. In the book, Matt Miller and Alice Keller present powerful evidence that suggests stopping learning often to retrieve information (self-assess, summarize, or create mind maps) dramatically increases mastery of content.  

Screen shot of the homework question.

This is the assignment posted.

So how can educators embed these type of important opportunities into a homework assignment using a simple and free resource such as Padlet?  I started with Google Classroom. This way I could lay out all of the expectations of the homework and provide a link to the Padlet assignment created.

An example of student responses

An example of student responses.

From home the students can click on the link to the Padlet resource itself and access the math performance task posted.  In this medium they have the ability to collaborate and problem solve together. 

An example of student responses

An example of student images submitted as a response.

Students can post their calculations and work by uploading pictures or using the drawing application available in the Padlet post.

Audio and video are also an option to post questions, justification and reasoning, or even demonstrations of solving the problem.  Feedback within the student group can be instantaneous. To extend the discussion even further, take a few minutes in class to debrief the work as a class.  Management of how many groups or different tasks will be assigned may take some planning but overall the students will be the ones doing all the heavy lifting – as it should be.

A student submitted audio file.

A student submitted audio file.

Using Padlet.com as a homework medium allows students to have a discussion around the critical thinking process and receive peer support.  This type of assignment promotes student agency where they are directing their own learning and assessing others. It doesn’t burn them out by practicing numerous problems of which they have already mastered or by just getting more and more frustrated if they don’t know the content.  Just one complex task that is an application of the content standard is sufficient. It won’t take all night to complete but still promotes a deeper understanding of the concept.

This resource is user friendly and has many different styles of templates to follow. Performance tasks for other content areas could work in a similar fashion. Through AVID professional development sessions I have seen Padlet used for Socratic Seminars and other collaborative strategies.  These activities could be modified for homework purposes as well. I recommend exploring the resource specifically for homework purposes and ideas. The possibilities seem only limited to the imagination.

GSuite in the Math Classroom Part II

For the past few years, I have assigned slide presentations and technology based projects as options in semester final projects. In the 18-19 school year I made presentations required since they need to know how to use presentations for not only the SBAC but in college and career.

Each student pair is assigned a topic lesson that is covered on the semester final.  Students are to do a multitude of tasks along with their Google Slides presentation. Students are to create interactive activities using technology such as Kahoot, Quizizz, Quizlet, etc. for the class to do during the couple of weeks right before finals as part of their presentation.  In at least one of the examples that they do on their slideshow, they must use Desmos to create a table, diagram or graph that models the situation.  I created a folder on Google Classroom where their Google Slides will live as they work on them so that other students can look at their work to help them review for the semester final. It becomes an amazing resource for their semester review that they themselves created and can use!

Students were given a couple of months to work on their project. All of my classes had to do this project. At the time of this writing are currently working on semester 2 final projects.  There are some pictures and a video for you to see how the presentations are run. They are definitely engaging and student led. Enjoy!

As I have previously stated in part one, implementing the use of Google Apps and other technology in the math classroom covers at least two topics from the Common Core 8 Mathematical Practice Standards.  Students are engaged by modeling with mathematics and using appropriate tools strategically.

I am a lifelong learner and this year has been quite challenging. Many would say that I am well-versed in technology usage but I disagree. I have much to learn and have enjoyed this journey immensely.  Have a great new school year and I hope to do something innovative this school year!


Below is a gallery of pictures from some of the student presentations.

Some teams of students created an interactive activity using Quizlet. Students also had to create presentations to demonstrate their mastery of concepts.

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In the video below students are participating in a student led interactive activity using Quizlet.

 

Using Games to Make Learning Fun

There are a lot of ways to use technology in an engaging way that’s makes learning fun.  In this blog I’m going to focus on 3 “games” you can use with students. They may be so focused on the game that they don’t realize they’re learning.

Break out EDU logo

In Breakout EDU a group of students work together to solve puzzles, search for clues, open locks, and open the final locked box before time runs out.  The game’s puzzles and problems to solve are built around an academic content or topic. The teacher can create their own or use the many Breakout EDU Games created by other people. The games can be completely digital, use physical locks, or a combination of both.  Some of the games on the Breakout EDU website are free, but they charge an annual fee for full access to all the games. The SUSD curriculum department has purchased some of the physical kits and are working on creating a check-out system. Each kit includes different types of locks, 2 lock boxes, UV light, invisible ink pen, and more.

If you pay the annual fee for full access you can also have your students create digital Breakout EDU Games.  They have tutorials to help you and your students get started and soon you’ll be creating challenging puzzle activities focused on the curriculum.  Student can save their work in a class space that you set up on the website. For more information go to www.breakoutEDU.com.

**Breaking News: Coming soon, over 600 new Breakout EDU Game aligned to curriculum.

Quizizz is an engaging, digital game show format where students can learn while competing against other students and the teacher can check for understanding.  Students get points for answering questions correctly and get more points for answering quickly. Students can compete individually against other students in the class or they can work as a group to answer the questions.  Students use their computer to join a Quizizz game that the teacher has set up. Teachers can use the many pre-made Quizizz games or create one themselves. Quizizz is very similar to Kahoots! but is different in one way.  Students are working at their own pace, so you don’t get the group cheering and talking between each question like you do in Kahoots!

Flippity-LogoFlippity uses Google Sheets to make it easy to create many useful tools such as word search, random name spinner, and flashcards.  Flippity can also be used to create a Jeopardy style game show that you can play with your class. Each Flippity activity or tool has a demo, instructions, and a google sheets template.  To create your own Jeopardy style game show use the template to substitute your own questions and answers. Then follow the instructions to publish the google sheets template, click on the link, and bookmark it for easy access later.

When you click on the question it will show you the correct answer and allow you to award the points if the student or team answered the question correctly.  As your 2 teams continue to answer questions it will keep track of the points for the 2 teams. Play around with it, it is fairly easy to use. 

 

Online Math Resources

I’ve always felt like it was hard to find good math resources online.  Sure, if you want a worksheet, your options are nearly limitless, but when you want a worthwhile, free, standards-based supplement for your curriculum, it’s sometimes hard to find.  I’d like to add a disclaimer before I go on. In the 2019-2020 school year, every SUSD student should receive rigorous tier one instruction that maintains the integrity of our newly adopted curriculum.  Since most of us are new to this material, I believe we should do our best to use what is provided by the publisher. All of the websites I’m including in this post should be considered a teacher resource.  For example, Khan Academy can be used by adults to deepen their understanding. It should not replace instruction.

Recently, someone shared an article with me that I found to be very helpful. In this link are over 60 websites for teaching and learning math.  I’d like to share the ones that are free for teachers and (in my opinion) will be most useful for Stockton Unified School District staff.  I’m also throwing in a few that are not on the list.

My long-time favorite has to be Khan Academy.  With video tutorial content that can be assigned by the teacher to individuals or the entire class that are standards-aligned, this resource works great for a flipped classroom, as an intervention, or for acceleration. Students can access all content (not just what is assigned) at any time, using almost any device. There is even a version for preschoolers now called Khan Academy Kids. Math content goes all the way up through college level courses and can be customized to follow grade level standards or align to PSAT and SAT needs.  Another website that offers something similar is Freckle.  It has a diagnostic and customizes practice to meet student needs.  A third option is Moby Max.  This website has a paid version that provides more features.  Even more sites that deliver something of this type include Math Help and Splash Math.

In the past, I’ve seen how the Chromebooks can become babysitters while kids play on websites like Cool Math Games, Fun Brain, Sheppard Software or Math Game Time. If I’m being honest, even Prodigy Game is more game than it is learning.  That’s not to say that these don’t have a place in the classroom at all.  In my opinion, they should be relegated to rainy day recess activities because they are games.  Another option would be to tell students to play these games for homework. If we assign specific practice that students actually need, they’d get more out of these programs and they’d probably be more likely to do their homework if it involved playing a game instead of completing a worksheet. One website that goes a little bit further than just providing games is Math Playground. In addition to having games, it also has logic puzzles, instructional videos, and a “Story Math” section that models word problems with step-by-step solutions.

If you’re interested in playing math-themed music videos for your students, Flocabulary and Numberock have free songs that kids enjoy.  If you want a neat site for online fluency practice, Xtramath might be what you are looking for.  Many of the websites I’ve listed provide a variety of resources in addition to the pieces I’ve mentioned and I encourage you to click on the links and explore the features to see what might be beneficial.  The next few links provide what I think are great activities to get your students thinking about math in new and different ways. At  Which One Doesn’t Belong, classes can get into some amazing math dialogue about which one doesn’t belong.  KenKen puzzles are what I would call the next level of Sudoku, and require students to use number sense and mathematical operations to solve a puzzle. It doesn’t have the strongest math problems, but Free rice does give students the chance to fight hunger while they practice math facts because it donates rice with every correct answer.

This section is dedicated to middle and high school math teachers.  I haven’t recently met a single subject math teacher who didn’t already know about Desmos, but if you’re new to the profession, or you somehow missed it, Desmos provides a free online graphing calculator with many features.  In addition, at Teacher Desmos you can find a myriad of activities to use with students.  You’ll want to get comfortable with Desmos if you’re teaching high school math in SUSD next year because it is embedded in many of the Pearson enVision lessons.  A different website that also has a graphing calculator is Geogebra. This site also has 3-D math features and worksheets.  A third reference for high school teachers is Shodor.  This site provides interactive activities for students in grades 3 through undergraduate level.

More resources for teachers can be found at Illuminations.  This is the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics page, and it contains lesson plans, games, activities, and brain teasers from a very reputable source.  The same organization has another site, Figure This, with games, family practice, and challenges in English and Spanish for the middle grades.  Another source for middle grades is PBS Learning Media.  Here, you can find culturally relevant video logs that are added to regularly.  The website Greg Tang Math is helpful because it offers a variety of resources for both student and teacher learning.  Like many other pages, it has games, worksheets, and student lessons, but unlike others, it also provides teacher professional development and center activities (be aware that some are not free).

Finally, one last resource that I have found to be helpful over the years, is Natural Library of Virtual Manipulatives.  Here, you will find virtual manipulatives for just about every math concept from pre-K through twelfth grade.  The site is clearly organized by math strand and by grade. Unfortunately, there may be issues with Java, depending on which device you are using to access the website.  However, if you are able to use these virtual manipulatives with students, they can be very powerful and are a free alternative to purchasing physical manipulatives for your class.  If you’ve read this far, I hope you came across at least one resource that will support student learning.

For Students Who Inspire Us

As educators going through our teacher preparation programs, we are not often given insight into all the “hats” we would eventually wear within the classroom. We speak about going beyond instruction and provide a variety of nurturing roles to engage our students. What sometimes is not discussed is how our students can often inspire and motivate us.

I have been a middle school teacher in this district for the past 14 years. I have worked at numerous schools throughout the district primarily in South Stockton. Throughout my tenure as a teacher, I have always thought of myself as a great motivator and encourager of our students, but it has not always been easy. To state simply, we work with a tough demographic and often times, coming to work and going above and beyond can be draining mentally, emotionally and physically. Even with the student challenges to overcome, we can always find diamonds within, if we are willing to find them.

Image of the class at the beachMy diamonds came to me over 6 years ago. I was going through a very difficult and emotional time in my personal life. I had just given birth to my third child, I was also going through a divorce and it was emotionally wearing me thin. At the time, I was teaching 8th grade and these students had looped with me from 7th grade. I remember how difficult it was for me to get up in front of the class and seamlessly go through my day as if all was well. Honestly, I was depressed and I just did not have the energy to motivate anyone. On most days, crying is all I wanted to do.

So everyday, I would muster the courage to teach the best that I could despite what I felt. Even through my pain, I realized a constant at school; the enthusiasm of my students to be around me. My students came, day in and day out with such momentum to learn.  With them around, everyday was filled with smiles and laughter. They were full of life and it was hard for me not to be lively with them during the day. These students loved and cared for me and they would show it through hugs and words of affirmation. Some of the girls would plan to bring me lunch or yummy snacks. These students had no clue of what I was going through, yet they were issuing me my daily medicine that contributed to my healing. This class by far holds a special place in my heart, they graduated from high school last school year and I was honored to be a guest at their graduations.

Being a teacher can be challenging, but within those challenges we often can reap multiple rewards as well. It is easy to develop a tunnel vision lens around the students who can sometimes suck the life out of us. Choose instead to focus on your diamonds; the students who come in and consistent behave well and work hard. Those students often keep us on our toes and inspire us to be better.  Learning is absolutely reciprocal, and there is much to learn and gain from our students. This class helped me to experience the compound effect of being a great educator when I needed it the most.

As we prepare for a new school year, remember to focus on your students who come with joy to school often times just to see you.