Sunday, April 24, 2016

Holding Students Accountable For Their Own Learning

Cameras are like students held up by a tripod support system
which includes teachers, parents, and the student themselves!
When I think of students, I think of a camera being held up by a tripod full of support.  Most of the time in education, the teachers are looked at as the sole source of knowledge and input provided to the student.  Many people forget, that the teacher is not the only one involved.  To me, the teacher is one leg of the tripod holding the student (or the camera) up.  We forget that parents and students can also help their child succeed in education.  As a secondary science teacher, I have learned to keep parents in the loop at all times, not just for the bad, but the positive things as well. A short drive by phone call can make all the different in the world for parents, students, and ultimately teachers.  

The most important part of the tripod is always forgotten...the student.   In late elementary school and especially middle and high school, it is crucial for teachers and parents both to hold the student accountable for their own learning!  This gives them a senses of responsibility and can help build up their self esteem if done properly.  As many in the field of education move towards pushing a growth mindset, student accountability can be the first step in the process.  The teacher can model how progress, not the end result should be the ultimate goal for every student.

Right now, DATA, is a big buzz word in education.  As a teacher I was always afraid of DATA.  It made me think of endless hours creating data binders, crunching numbers, and creating spreadsheets to determine what I needed to reteach or spend more time on.  After several years in the classroom I discovered that I was missing one crucial element to the data puzzle...the student.  I learned that I needed to allow the student the opportunity to dissect their own data because ultimately they were the ones being affected, why not have them do all the hard work?  It turns out it wasn't hard work at all and the students actually appreciated having such timely feedback even if it wasn't always positive. 

Sample Student Self Evaluation Sheet
After most assessments in today's secondary classroom, the student only gets back a numerical grade, because teachers rarely have time to go through and discuss the exam and allow students time to reflect on their mistakes.  This time is crucial, because this is where the deep thinking occurs which gives the student an opportunity to relearn the concept and retain it for the future. Once I moved away from paper-pencil testing and moved towards 100% electronic assessments I decided to create "student self evaluations" especially for larger unit exams, midterms, finals, or district assessments.  In this self evaluation form I categorized questions based on concepts or TEKS and students had to determine if they got the answers correct or incorrect and then highlighted or colored in the questions they got right. Some teachers I currently work with started using a color system where red means the student answered the question incorrectly and green means that they got it correct.  This allows students to see a visual of where their learning gaps are.  I also have students reflect on the assessment and choose their top three strengths and top three weaknesses which can be relative for each student. One student's strength may mean they got 3 out of 3 correct while another student may have only gotten 1 or 2 out of 3 correct and still called it a strength.  I would take these self evaluations and create remediation stations the next day in class when the learning was still fresh and student neurons could still make proper connections.  The best part of this technique was that now the student was aware of both their strengths and weaknesses because they chose them!

Sample Student TEK Tracker
Another similar tool I created was the "Student TEK Tracker" which I am currently using with the Chemistry teachers in my district using Tango software.  Every two weeks some of our chemistry teachers give their students a short warm-up or quiz (approximately 5-8 questions) which we call mini-marks or checkpoints about TEKS previously taught.  They always coincide on Thursdays to keep with their "Throwback Thursday" theme.  Students immediately get feedback and get to shade in how they did using the red and green color code.  The following Thursday, teachers have a hands on remediation activity or mini-lab based on the weak TEKS from the previous mini-mark to reinforce the concept even further.  Teachers also create their own TEK trackers for each class or for all of their classes as a whole to see what TEKS or concepts need more attention and which ones need to be assessed again in the near future...Talk about data driven instruction!

Sample Biology TEK tracker that I created to see how all the students in my district were doing and which TEKS where hotspots to ensure teachers remediated before testing in May. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Math Problems in Science

Many science teachers think that they shouldn't have to teach math in science class....that is the math teacher's responsibility.  But guess what...math is a science problem too!  Many of the students understand the science concepts, but get stuck when there is a mathematical equation involved, especially if it involves unknown variables or basic algebra as it does on the 8th grade science assessment.  

I got called in from one of the middle schools I work with and they asked me to work with their special populations of students (special education, ESL, and 504's)  in small groups once a week.  Based on their district assessments, many were getting low mastery on TEKS associated with math equations.  I decided to confront the math issue straight in the face and spent two entire sessions on math in 8th grade science pull-outs.  As I was working with the students I noticed six trends that were holding the students back from getting the correct answers.

1. Using the wrong equation, especially when dealing with force.
2. Not knowing when to divide or multiply when trying to separate an unknown variable.
3. Getting stuck on problems that required two steps.
4. Moving the decimal point for long division problems (since they cannot use calculators on the test).
5. Rounding to the appropriate decimal (in this case to the nearest hundredth).
6. Bubbling appropriately on their griddable responses. 

Students were very good at determining which equation to choose if it had the keyword in the problem (i.e. work, speed, or density) which gave them a clue which equation to use. The problems arose when we needed to find force. They would automatically pull out the force equation but where getting stuck because mass or acceleration wasn't provided. The students did not make the connections that some variables such as force and distance where part of multiple equations.  

So I decided to create a 4 x 4 activity where they could see this visually.  Each student created a flash card with the keyword on one side and the known equation on the back which is also already provided on their reference sheet. Then I gave students a stack of 16 small cards: 14 which were words, in this case, variables from each of the four equations and 4 which were pictures (for the learners who need reinforcement through visuals).  The students needed to lay the variables for each equation and the picture above the matching equation on the flashcard which they had created like so.

4 x 4 Math Equations in 8th Grade Science
Once students could see all variables, they could manipulate them much easier and the algebra was no longer as confusing since we took the numbers out of the equation (no math pun intended)!  Now they could see that if you were using distance or force, there might be two equations to choose from instead of just one.

My next obstacle was getting the students to understand when to divide and when to multiply using the equations and the variables provided in the question.  Many science teachers teach their students about the triangles.  So I reinforced this concept in my science pull-outs by incorporating them into my equation foldables.  Students used construction paper to create these arrow like foldables for each equation (density, force, work, and speed) and inside we created a triangle for each using the slogans our teachers use to remember the order such as "Falcons Must Attack" for the Force, Mass, and Acceleration equation.  You can see inside each foldable below there is a triangle that corresponds with that equation. I also made empty general triangles (shown in green) so we could use the 4 x 4 cards mentioned above and manipulate each variable as needed depending on the equation being used.  This helped the students determine whether they needed to multiply or divide depending on the variables provided in their specific problem.

Reinforcing Math Through Foldables, Triangles, and Griddables
The last few math problems can be solved with lots of practice.  We practice bubbling (as you can see on my griddable scantrons for multiple choice answers here!) time and time again.  All of our problems are griddables!  The students complain....yes, but there is no other way to get them to practice their rounding and their bubbling.  We also practice long division and short tricks such as getting rid of unnecessary zeros or moving the decimal when needed to ensure they are confident with their math skills in order to have success on their science state assessments.  

Take the time to understand why your students are having trouble with math in your science class.  Collaborate with your fellow math teachers and see how they teach their students these concepts.  You can use what they teach and reinforce it in your science class.  It will be a win-win situation for both science and math.  Let's ensure that all of our students are understanding, not only the science, but also the math behind it!