Cogito Ergo Nerd

  • Farica Erwin

On Monday, we start week 5 of pandemic teaching. We are face-to-face for most of our students (and a few remote students). Progress reports will be out next Friday. bananas! My students are all facing forward in rows, 6 feet apart, while I teach from my desk in the back of the room. It is quiet, and exhausting, and sad.

My only advantage is that "I am one with Force (of technology)." I can create digital activities pretty quickly. I have access to a computer, iPad, doc cam, and projector. I am fluent with them all and can transition pretty seamlessly. It is one less stressor for me that I know others may have. But, that has not made my classes any better.

In 20 years of teaching, I have never taught from my desk. I have never taught in rows. My classes focus on collaboration and communication, and I am struggling to bring that into my classes this year. I am exhausted from personally answering every single question from every single student when I have previously built my classes to work together and trust others in the class to help them when needed. When they sit in groups, I can answer one question for four students. Now I repeat myself, for every "challenging" problem, for every student, because they have no discussion with other ideas to build from.

I am sad that my students just seem to be doing an endless stream of digitized worksheets. Alone. Individually. Too quickly. Without the rich discussions, they are missing out on the deep understanding. Digital collaboration tools just do not provide the same level of discussion.

And then, at the end of last week, I FINALLY made an activity that had the kids talking and working together! And I only had to answer half of the amount of questions.

Students have their own, self-made, dry erase board. It is made of a sheet protector and two pieces of white card-stock (for sturdiness). They worked their problems on the dry erase boards.

I partnered students based on who was next to each other 6 feet away. Not really random. BUT, they could hold their dry erase boards up and show each other what they did. And help each other. It was glorious!

I could watch which problems they were working on. And which students got the problems right. And my remote kids were partnered together. I muted myself and listened to them work through my speaker while I listened to the class work. When they asked for help, I could show them how to work the problem through the doc cam. It was ALMOST like a normal class!

...and a tiny, tiny bit of the weight was lifted.

If you would like to play, you can make your own copy of the activity (since you need editing privileges to play). I will also add it to my Digital Activities blog post.

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  • Farica Erwin

Updated: Jan 12

A couple of years ago Sarah Carter, of @mathequalslove fame, created an activity called Question Stacks. She posts many great activities and you should definitely spend time on her blog.

Since then, I have used many from the repository and created some of my own. It is one of my most used practice activities in class. It promotes collaboration, communication, and self-checking.

And then the pandemic...

All work moved to online. We scrambled to teach remotely and I missed doing all of my activities. As we face starting a brand new year virtually, I wanted to take of those activities online.

So, I started digitizing my question stacks and card sorts. You can check out the example of a question stack I posted on Twitter. I use this example as a template. Using the old original question stack documents and my snipping tool, I digitized new ones in minutes. Super excited that it does not take a lot of time!

I also started to digitize my card sorts.

I did not want to post each one individually to Twitter, so I thought I would use my rarely used blog to post all of the files together. Please feel free to use them as-is and post for your students, or make you own copy to edit as you like. I have provided both links.

KEEP CHECKING: I will continue to add as I create them.

*I am trying to work in the order I would use them in my class*

I have tried to credit those who created the original activity. If you find I have digitized your activity without credit, please contact me and I will fix it. Some of the files had no author and a google search came up blank.

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  • Farica Erwin

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

In the beginning of my teaching career, I was devoted to the idea that students needed to do nightly homework because math was a cumulative subject, and material kept building, and students needed to make sure they could do it on their own, and blah, blah, blah... But, I hated checking homework. I assigned only the odd problems, so students could check their own work and I could grade on completion. I still had students not even attempt the assignments, but more often than not, students just did the assignment for the grade. They never checked their answers. I had many students with high homework averages and extremely low quiz & test averages. The reverse was also true. I had students that mastered every test, but never completed a homework assignment. In the latter situation, I had students end up repeating the course because the grade was not high enough. Things needed to change!

My summer of 2017 was spent reading, researching, and stalking Twitter about other people's experiences. Processing my own personal "why homework?" question, I focused on that fact that homework, in my class, was purely extra practice. It was just a piece of the student's own personal math journey. I needed something that accurately reflected that learning. So, I completely revamped my grading policies. I decided to switch to Standards Based Grading AND eliminate the homework grade. Big steps!

I still believe that students need to practice, but more importantly, they need to learn when and how to practice. I no longer assign homework. I provide extra practice, daily. Additionally, I try to use sites like DeltaMath, where the students can have infinite amount of practice with immediate feedback. At the start of the school year, we have many class discussions on who the practice is for (their own personal use - not a teacher check), what should they be practicing (new AND previous material), when is good time to practice (daily when they can, definitely before quizzes and tests), why is there so much practice (so they can practice all the time, any time), and how they determine if they need the practice (low quiz grades or not solidifying understanding in class). Students should only practice enough to understand the material. It should not matter if they needed zero problems, 5 problems, or 20 problems to "get it." And they should not be rewarded nor penalized for needing or wanting that amount of practice.

In the years since I completely dropped the homework requirement, my overall class averages have not changed much. In fact, the class average has improved AND I have less repeaters each year.

I do have to constantly reiterate that just because I do not grade the practice does not mean they do not have to do it. It irks me when parents tell me that their child claims they have no homework, ever. At the beginning of the year, I make it clear to the students what happens when I hear this comment from parents. I proceed to show those parents exactly where to find the plethora of practice material AND explain how they can monitor the completion of the practice. Practice is not optional. The amount of practice needed, is optional.

UPDATE: At the end of the 3rd quarter of the 2019-2020, we moved to emergency remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My class average at the start of remote learning stayed the same as the end: 88.14%. I had no students repeat the course.

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