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Exit Sign

Things have slowed down for me this semester. Not teaching four preps helps (now I only have three). Because of this, I have been able to dig in and get a firmer grip on my classes.

Improving how I assess my students has been a goal of mine for a while. I have finally gotten around to using exit slips on a consistent basis. I have always given a formative assessment at the beginning of class, but not usually at the end. For a long time, exit slips were papers that would pile up on my desk. Subconsciously, I didn’t see the value in assessing my students’ understanding at the end of the class. Somewhere, deep down, I knew they were beneficial, I just didn’t embrace it. I wonder which planet I was teaching on.

Now, I must formatively assess at the end of my class. Not because an administrator told me so or that it’s a district-wide policy, but because I need to know what my students learned (or didn’t learn) each day. I must mention John Scammell and his awesome presentation on formative assessment during TMC14. He caused me to reflect on my assessment practices in a deep way. I’ve now fully realized that exit slips immediately affect my approach the following day and every other day. In other words, I now see value in exit slips.

Well. I say all that to share how I now use exit slips. Like most teachers, they usually only take a few minutes for students to complete. After class, I sit at my desk and go through the slips, categorizing students’ work – sorting them into various piles. I don’t actually use them for a grade so I’m not worried about recording scores. My only focus is student understanding.

After I identify common mistakes or other trends that need to be addressed, I must communicate these to my students. Telling them is one thing, showing them is another. But how to do this in a quick, efficient way? I simply use my laptop’s webcam to snap photos of a few exit slips and insert them into a few slides that precedes my lesson. It literally takes a few minutes to prep. Take photo. Paste. That’s it. A couple examples:


Upon showing the work to the class, great discussion usually follows. I ask which error(s) they see and how we can fix them. Its incredibly useful and never runs more than a couple minutes before the lesson. The idea is to show them their mistakes. The whole scene is similar to using Math Mistakes in that we’re examining real student work – but its just their work. (Of course, I remove names so no one is singled out.)

The kids are pretty receptive to seeing their mistakes. And by using the exit slips to direct their learning and analyze their work, my students have never complained about doing the exit slips. They just do them now because they are worthwhile. Sounds like me.



The Quotient ~ 2.9.15

0. The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing. ~Socrates

1. That is probably my favorite quote of all time. It resonates with me so deeply because I’ve realized that every thing I read, write, watch, speak, do, and listen to is but a mere spec on the number line of infinity.

2. Despite confidence in myself and in my abilities in whatever the task at hand is, whether it be teaching complex numbers or overhauling a bottom bracket, inside I always understand that I can be better. There’s always someone or something with knowledge that I don’t have.

3. I have finally begun using exit tickets as they should be used. In other words, I understand their assessment value.

4. I once heard someone say that true innovators and learners engage with people and things that go beyond their area of expertise.

5. Real learners can take a seemingly meaningless or unrelated moment and relate it directly to something that is meaningful to them.

6. Quality over quantity. Always.

7. Being open and willing to accept criticism has taught me that I can be always be better.

8. I’m very excited to begin my (voluntary) intervisitations. I sense an immense amount of growth on the way.

9. Math teachers are always asked to incorporate more reading and writing into their classes. Why aren’t ELA teachers asked to include more mathematics in theirs?

10. If I pray for rain, I better be prepared to deal with the mud too.

11. I need to walk around with small slips of paper (or Post-its) and provide random instant feedback to my students.

12. Video in my classroom. Transparency. Vulnerability. Growth.

13. My standards-based grading has opened up areas of assessment that were simply not available to me before.

14. You have a dream, a goal. Each day, lay down a single brick. Work towards that goal. One at a time, work on perfecting how you lay them. Get better. Eventually you’ll have a great wall. Your goal will be achieved.

15. The wind howls, but the mountain remains still. Stop talking so much. Observe. Listen.

16. Don’t eat the marshmallow.


Art & Desmos

Recently I had my precalculus students complete an art project using Desmos. We were finishing up our unit on conic sections. I paired them up and gave them two class days and the weekend to conjure something good. They didn’t disappoint. Props to Bob Loch who helped provide the structure.

The guidelines were pretty simple:

  • Include at least one of each conic section in your art work
  • Place restrictions on the domain and/or range of at least two of your graphs
  • Solve a system of equations resulting from your graph

The grade was based on the above criteria and how complex their artwork was. I loved this activity because it was so open ended. I usually don’t do a great job allowing my kids to showcase their creative side during class activities. I was impressed with some of the art they managed to create.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with my increased usage of Desmos this school year. It’s an excellent tool. I literally can’t imagine teaching without it.



Takeaways from the smartest kids in the world

I recently finished reading Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley. Takeaways:

0. Finland, Poland, and Korea don’t believe in flooding schools with funds as a way to improve them. Nor do they believe that lowering class sizes or increasing teacher salaries are solutions. These are all essentially stated facts in U.S. schools as a means to improve student performance.

1. We think we have high stakes testing. Oh, please. In Korea a student’s future is entirely dependent upon their performance on one exam that they take once. They are practically guaranteed a high paying career and a superb education if they perform well on it. And if they don’t? Well, their future isn’t that bright. That’s high-stakes.

2. How surreal Korea’s hagwons are. The ministry of education completes sweeps to remove students that are being taught beyond 10pm. Korea cannot seem to keep their students from wanting to learn. I had to reread that chapter. Not surprising, as this is a direct consequence of (1).

3. How lackadaisical is teacher preparation in the U.S.? Almost anyone can become a teacher – with comparatively little effort. Countries like Finland select the top 5% of high schoolers to enroll in teacher education programs and their programs are tough. This inherently maintains a culture of high expectations for their students. If the U.S. had a similar system when I graduated high school, I’m not sure I would have been able to become a teacher.

4. Extracurricular activities are almost shunned upon in the highest achieving countries. Academics are absolute priority. I think about how many of my students would be lost without the varsity basketball team. Does this go back to the educational norms that have been established since grade school?

5. Instead of attending PTA meetings, organizing bake sales, or dropping everything to attend parent-teacher night, parents should put more effort into spending high-quality time with their children. Ask about their school day and what they learned. Discuss social issues and current events. Read to them when they’re young and encourage them to think. Studies show that these things have lasting impacts on our kids and how much success achieve.

6. This book is an absolute must-read for any teacher.


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