Friday, January 18, 2019

Geometry Project: Logo Design + Flipgrid

For the past four years, I have had my geometry students complete a project as part of their semester 1 final exam.  The task is for students to design a logo for a company of their choice.  Students are graded using a rubric that calls for specific features to be embedded within their logo.

The minimum requirements:

  • There must be something that is reflected.  The line of reflection must be identifiable.  
  • There must be something that is rotated.  The angle and center of rotation must be identified.
  • There must be two triangles that are congruent.
  • There must one set of parallel lines.  Intersecting the lines is a transversal.  At least two special angle pairs must be identified.

Students are also scored on neatness, use of color, effort, and their sales pitch.  

In past years, students would explain in writing where the required items were located and what type of company they would pitch their logo to.  

This year, instead of writing their explanations, I had students create a video using Flipgrid.  (Read about our previous trials using Flipgrid and our attempt at climbing the SAMR model for technology integration.Flipgrid was amazing for this task.  Students were asked to demonstrate on the video where each of the required items were found.  Then they were asked to complete a brief sales pitch that would help sell the logo.  I made sure that students were not able to view each other's submissions.  That helped ease the pressure of performing in front of others.

When students wrote their explanations on paper (in past years), I would often find myself trying to make sense of what they were explaining.  Occasionally I would have to ask a student for clarity.  It was often a tedious process. 

This year, the videos were very easy to assess.  I didn't have to search through the logos, looking for things that were not clearly explained.  The monotony of grading 75 projects was absent.

I wish I could post a video or two as an example, but I made it clear to all students that I would be the only person watching their videos.  Instead, I will show a few examples of the logos themselves.  See if you can spot the required elements in their designs.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The (In)Ability to Say "No"

Confession #1:
I love the National Basketball Association (NBA).  Those who know me well know that I love just about anything related to basketball.

Confession #2:
I have a hard time saying "No" to things related to my job and career.  Allow me to elaborate.

As many of you know, teaching is much more than an 8:00 to 4:00 job.  Planning, grading, emailing parents, etc. all require time.  Moreover, keeping up to speed on the latest topics and innovations takes time.  Most evenings [after my four kids are in bed, the dishes are clean, and the laundry is folded] I spend 1-2 hours skimming through blog posts, my Twitter feed, the Desmos Slack, etc., keeping my eyes open for ideas and resources that I can use in my classroom.

Over the past five years, I've added a number of leadership roles at the district and state level to my plate.  I'm humbled and honored to be viewed as a leader in the mathematics education field, and I love serving in leadership roles.  Of course, each of these roles and commitments requires time and energy.  Because time is a finite resource, the time committed to these roles equates to time sacrificed from other areas of life.  For me, that often meant sacrificing time with my family.

Back to the NBA for a minute...

Last week while chauffeuring my kids around, I was listening to an NBA podcast hosted by Zach Lowe.  Zach works for ESPN and is widely known as one of the best NBA writers / analysts in the world.  His guest was his good friend and former boss, Bill Simmons.  As Zach and Bill were wrapping up the podcast, this conversation took place:

BS: How old is your daughter now?
ZL: Almost four.
BS: This is right when your job performance is going to get affected.
ZL: Really?
BS: It's gonna be great.  I can't wait to watch.
ZL: Why?
BS: When they [children] hit four, now all of the sudden you've got recitals. They hit six and they start playing sports a little bit more and now on the weekends you're at a soccer game instead of watching Orlando / Philly.  [FYI - Bill has a 14-year old and an 11-year old.]
ZL: You know what?  At a certain point you have to make an internal resolution where like, "That's good.  That's okay.  If your job performance slips a little bit because you have actual human being things to do, and they involve little children that you helped produce into the world, that's what it should be.  That should happen."
BS: You're preaching to the choir, my friend.

Zach's analysis really struck home with me.  This past year, I've learned to say "No" every now and then.  In the past, I would felt as though I was not doing my best or I was letting people down.  I've now made the internal resolution that Zach was referring to. 

Fear not -- my plate is still plenty full.  Between serving on the SDCTM board, presenting at conferences, mentoring a student teacher, applying for the PAEMST award, getting ready to begin the NBCT process, serving as a virtual mathematics coach, and participating in a state leadership cohort, I've got plenty to do.

So this blog post goes to all of educators out there who have filled their plates full.  It's okay to say "No" once in a while.  Don't lose sight of the most important things in life.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Giving Students Extra Information

{NOTE: This post will appear in the Winter 2018 edition of Wahpe Woyaka, SDCTM's quarterly newsletter.}

In Dan Meyer’s 2010 Ted Talk “Math Class Needs a Makeover”, Dan suggests that the types of problems typically found in textbooks don’t require students to think critically due to the amount of information given to students in the context of the problem.  Far too often students are given exactly the information needed to solve a problem.  Consequently, students come to believe that all pieces of given information must be used as part of the solution-finding process.
The following example was part of a set of practice problems for a lesson on isosceles triangles found in a certain textbook. 
Students were asked to “find the value of x”.

For those of you who remember the converse of the base angles theorem for isosceles triangles, you can see the problem gives students exactly enough information to solve.  {Set the two expressions equal to one another and solve the resulting two step linear equation.}  One might claim that a student could correctly solve this problem by simply guessing the two expressions are equal to each other without actually understanding the theorem.
I’m not here to say that we should overload students with oodles of useless information in a given problem.  However, by adding one or two additional pieces of information to this same problem, we can deepen the level of thought that needs to be applied by students to solve the problem.
Here is the same problem as above, only I added one piece of given information. 

I invite you to think about the different misconceptions that this new problem could identify versus the previous problem.  {To be clear, the problem is still solved by setting 3x + 13 = 5x +2.}  Two mistakes that my students made because of the change:
·       Set the wrong two expressions equal to each other.  {Ex: 3x + 13 = 2x + 35}
·       Set the sum of the three expressions equal to 180. 
{3x + 13 + 5x + 2 + 4x + 16 = 180}
          Additionally, I had a number of students solve the problem correctly but ask “what are we supposed to do with the 4x + 16”.
          By giving students information that is irrelevant to the problem, we can raise the level of thinking done by students. 
          [Side note: Dan offers a strategy to help students become better at deciding what information is and is not important for a given problem.  I invite you to dig into his 3-ACT tasks for more information.  Here and here as well.]

UPDATE: In my original post, it was brought to my attention that my triangle was not accurate.  I have attempted to fix the error and appreciate the feedback.  Thanks @Teachmathtorr for helping me be a better teacher!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

NCTM - Kansas City Reflection

I thrilled to say that today I achieved a professional goal that I had set for myself back in the summer of 2015.  Today I presented at the NCTM regional conference in Kansas City.

As I sit here tonight, I wanted to take a moment to reflect and record my thoughts much like Jennifer Fairbanks did a few weeks ago.  I found Jennifer’s reflection and tips very helpful when preparing for this conference, so thank you Jennifer.  People helping people…

The realization that I might actually be a quality presenter at an NCTM conference came to last October when I attended the NCTM regional in Orlando.  It was there where I gained the confidence and motivation to take action toward being a presenter.  I attended a couple of sessions put on by Desmos Fellows and saw how powerful their presentations were.  I knew I could present something on Desmos and it would be helpful to whoever attended.  I noticed that Kansas City was hosting a regional conference this year.  Kansas City is a short 6 hour drive from Brookings; I knew I wouldn’t find an NCTM regional conference much closer anytime soon.

When the session proposal window opened, there was a lot of buzz in the Desmos Slack about people planning to attend the three regional conferences this fall.  Fellow Jessica Breur (@BreurBreur) and I agreed to present together and we decided to submit two proposals, with our fingers crossed at least one would be accepted. 

One proposal, “Facilitating Productive Classroom Conversations with Desmos Activities,” was approved.  I shared the news with Jessica and we were excited. 

Jessica and I have both presented a number of times and various conferences on this topic.  We both had same idea of how the session should run.  I need to give Jessica a lot of credit for taking the lead on the planning and preparation.  We used an older presentation of hers as our starting point and made appropriate adjustments to fit our needs.  On the eve of our presentation, we met after dinner to practice and made final tweaks.

Our presentation was scheduled for 9:45 am this morning.  I arrived at the room plenty early.  Jessica arrived a few minutes later.  Once the session before ours ended, we headed into the room and set up.  Jessica connected her computer to my phone’s hotspot to ensure we had strong WiFi for our presentation.  

Jessica and I had planned to float around the room to introduce ourselves as people started to settle in.  Our goal was to get a feel for the Desmos knowledge and experience in the room in case there was a need to adjust our presentation at all.  We correctly assumed there would be a wide variety of users in attendance.  As the room started to fill, we began to fail at our goal of introducing ourselves to everyone.  Soon every seat in the room was taken and people were being turned away at the door. 

We began our presentation with brief introductions and then jumped right into Marbleslides.  We asked participants to team up with a neighbor and to complete the activity.  We soon found out that the WiFi was going to struggle to support the 90+ users in the room.  Some people started using their phones for hotspots, while others simply tried the activity on their phones.

After about two minutes of floating around the room and seeing a lot of people struggling to get into the activity, we decided to go off script.  Our original plan was for participants to take on the role of a student and complete the activity in pairs.  Instead, I went into the activity as a student and talked them through what the students would be doing in the activity.  I also modeled what a teacher would be seeing on the dashboard and showed off some of the conversations tools.  We were able to answer a few questions from the audience before moving on.

Jessica then led the next piece focused on the Pool Border Problem.  It is such a great activity to use to generate a variety of responses.  Jessica did a superb job of demonstrating how to use Snapshots and modeled so many great teacher moves.

We then had participants play Polygraph: Quadratics for a few minutes.  While walking around the room, I could sense the enjoyment from the participants.  Polygraph is a pretty simple activity to understand and when have a room full of math teachers and ask them to play with math, the results tend to be pretty solid.

Jessica and I had a Card Sort ready to unleash if time allowed for it.  Unfortunately, largely in part thanks to the WiFi issues, we were behind schedule already and decided to bypass the Card Sort activity.

Next on our agenda was to give an overview of the site.  Jessica handled the discussion of how to search for an activity and how to navigate around the teacher site.  I spoke on what it looks like when you go to the activity screen and how to preview an activity and generate a classroom code.  There was a lot of information presented in a short amount of time; I wish we had a bit more time to talk in more detail about those features.

Lastly, we gave participants about 10 minutes to create a Desmos account if they didn’t already have one, browse around the teacher site, and search for an activity they could take back into their classroom.  Some participants headed out the door to their next session (there were some overlapping times for sessions).  We were able to answer a lot of questions on an individual basis. 
Overall, I thought the presentation went very well.  I hope the people who attended were able to take something away from it.  I really hope those who had not heard about the Desmos activities will take a chance and use one in their classroom.  Their students will thank them if they do.

A couple of quick shout outs.  First, thanks to Joel (@joelbezaire), Hedge (@approx_normal), and Annie (@mrsforest) for attending our session and for the positive vibes on Twitter.  Second, shout out to Jessica for being a superb co-presenter.  It was great working with you.   Third, thank you to the administration at Brookings School District for supporting the professional growth of your staff and allowing me professional leave to attend these conferences.  I learn a lot while at these conferences and always bring back something new for my students.

Finally, a shout out to my wife Stephanie and my kids for allowing me to chase my dreams.  I’m no SuperDad, but I know it’s not easy when I leave town for a few days.  I love you all!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

District PD Day: Thoughts and Lingering Questions

Each year, on the first Friday in October, my school district has an all-staff professional development day.  Two years ago, David LaRose led our staff into the realm of PLCs.  After that day, all staff members were assigned to a PLC team.  Each PLC team meets once a month for 75 minutes.

[Last October, Lee Jenkins presented on continuous improvement and something called "L to J".]

This year, my district brought in Jack Baldermann to help provide more clarity and direction for our PLC teams.  Each PLC team has a designated "leader", and the PLC leaders met with Jack on Thursday afternoon to help set the stage for Friday's all-staff training.  I was part of the "leadership" team who met the Jack on Thursday.  

The two days were quite good and there is a lot stewing around in my head right now.  My takeaways:
  • PLC teams need to have NORMS, and not friendly norms that help meetings run efficiently.  Rather, norms that are serious about increasing student achievement.   Norms that call for data analysis and actions taken based on that data.
  • Standards needs need to be unpacked and essential understandings need to be identified.  Essential learning targets need to be written in student-friendly "I can..." language.  [Good news - we have already done that work with L to J.]
  • Assessments need to be aligned to learning targets and we should be tracking achievement data for each student, according to each learning target.

Mr. Baldermann shared an example of what the math department in his school had done that led to large achievement gains.  The math teachers switched to a standards-based grading system.  Hold on a second... they switched to a standards-based learning target based grading system.

I had a bit of an epiphany.  Back in 2013-14, I did my master's degree action research on standards-based grading (SBG).  I implemented a SBG for my algebra 2 classes.  I really liked the idea and concept of SBG, but struggled with two things.  A)  I had aligned my curriculum to the Common Core Standards for Mathematics, and some standards were much more vast than others.  Certain standards were ones that were covered over multiple years and classes; I never felt great about assigning a grade for those standards, knowing that there was more to the standard than what I was assessing.  B) As a high school teacher, I was still required to report an A/B/C/D/F letter grade and percentage for high school graduation and GPA purposes.  I developed a grade conversion system that took each student's standards-based scores and converted them into a percentage grade.  To be expected, the system had its flaws but I knew no other way at the time.

The epiphany was this: I shouldn't use a STANDARDS-based grading system, but rather a LEARNING TARGET-based system.  All of my concerns about (A) above would be removed!

The work ahead will be challenging and time-consuming.  But I am excited to dip my toe back into the "learning target-based" grading system.  I really wish our professional development day was in August, before the start of the school year.  It's challenging to try to implement radical changes on the fly once the school year is underway.  This may take me a while to develop and prepare anyway.  At minimum, we will have a new system in place for next year.

I still need to write a post about the changes we made in our geometry curriculum this year.  Look for that soon! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Seesaw & Flipgrid: Great tools, BUT...

My 17th year of teaching kicked off last week with a few "Back to School" days and our first full day with students on Friday.

With a district-wide push to increase student engagement and student choice, my geometry co-teacher Jarrod and I made some changes in the delivery and assessment of our curriculum.  [Expect a blog post soon highlighting some of the deeper details...]

We also have plans to integrate innovative tech tools with the goal of climbing the SAMR model in order to enhance student learning.  Two of the tech tools we plan to use this year are Seesaw and Flipgrid.

To give students an introduction to these tools, we decided to use the tools to have students introduce themselves.  In the past, as a way to get to know students, we would have students fill out the following paper:

Instead of that, this year we had students complete the following prompts in Seesaw and Flipgrid.

In Seesaw:

In Flipgrid:

We spent today getting students logged into Seesaw and Flipgrid and had them work on completing the two tasks shown above.  Our thoughts: tech integration = high; student engagement = high; student choice = low, but students will have the choice to use these tools throughout the year and need to know how to use them in case they so choose to do so.

While some students completely loved the tasks, Jarrod and I were both quite surprised at how many students were hesitant to complete these two tasks.  We had some students take their selfie of just their eyes and up while others used their descriptive words and text to cover their faces.  Some students asked if they could wait to complete the tasks at home; they wanted to think more about what they were going to say and requested a quieter setting while recording.

In hindsight, we shouldn't have been so surprised at the hesitation from so many students.  After all, we have a large number of freshmen in our classes.  This was just their second day of high school, which can be an overwhelming place.  Yes, we witness many of our students taking selfies and sending them out on Snapchat and posting to Instagram.  A major difference is that when doing that, students are sending only to those who they choose to send to, versus an entire class.

Next year, we may make a minor change to the tasks.  In Seesaw, we have it set so that a student submission does not get posted to the class journal unless we (as teachers) approve the submission.  We can simply tell students that their submissions will not be posted for all to see, only Jarrod and myself will be able to see them.  I'm not sure if there is a similar option in Flipgrid, but it is something we'll think more about next year.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

L to J -- Year 1 Reflection

I just wrapped up my first semester of implementing a strategy called "L to J".  (Read more about how and why I implemented it here.)  It's now time to reflect back on how well or not-so-well it went.

Feedback from Students:
As part of the "Mr. Kreie Report Card" I ask students to complete (S/O to The Classroom Chef), students were asked the following question and were able to answer anonymously.

Their responses:

Further, I asked students for more open ended feedback.

Some positive quotes from students:
  • "It helped me remember stuff from early in the year and how to do things from first semester."
  • "I think it was good. The fact that we kept reviewing the same problems and slowly learning the math later in the year really helped me. Plus, once we got to our all time best that was really fun."
  • "I think it helped to review the learning targets throughout the year and that it should be used again next year."
  • "I loved it. It was a great improvement in class."
  • "I think that L to J was kinda fun. I found it a little frustrating when we didn't know the answer, but that was kinda the point. I think we should do it next year."

Some not-so-positive quotes from students:
  • "I did not really like L to J.  It got really boring."
  • "It was the biggest waste of time. Get rid of it."

And some helpful feedback from students:

  • "i liked it but i wish it only applied to the semester we were currently in"
  • "It sometimes made me feel stupid because there were somethings that i didnt know that i probable should have. it was good but not my favorite"
  • "L to J was fun but a lot of people cheat and say they get 8's, 9's, and 10's when they really get 2's, 3's and 4's. Peer pressure is a problem."
  • "You should do it again next year but find a new way of choosing questions so we don't repeat the same ones over and over. Maybe you should do it once a month instead of once a week also."

A quick note about the cheating comment:
There were times that students would see the question and be whispering to each other.  I was not very strict during these quizzes because I knew that they are not graded.  I can do better by not allowing students to converse during the quiz.  However, I feel that sometimes valuable learning can take place within those conversations.

Student Achievement:
Many students showed growth as the semester moved along.  Here are a few examples of two student's progress throughout the semester:

Student A

Student B

As you can see, student B scored a 10 the very first week.  It just so happened that in this particular student's class, all ten of the first week's questions were from the first semester.  The second week, however, a number of questions were from the second semester.  This student's scored dropped from a 10 to a 6, largely due to the randomness of the questions.

Class Achievement:
Each of my classes achieved at least one all-time best after setting the baseline during the first week.  The class shown below set only one all time best.  Two factors really influenced the goal of attaining an all-time best each week:
1)  How many students are absent the day of the quiz, and
2) What questions are selected.

Having only one student absent really hurts the chances of achieving an all-time best.  There were some days that I was missing four or five students in a given section (such as week 9 for this class).

Students did show a very strong interest in the overall achievement of the class each week and showed genuine excitement when an all-time best was attained.

The celebrations for all-time bests were a bit challenging for students to think of and agree on.  Students often tried negotiating for rewards -- extra credit, food in class, skipping homework assignments, etc.  I need to do a better job next year of selling the excitement of a celebration.

This reward that one class chose did draw some attention around school for a day...

Final Thoughts:
I did enjoy doing L to J as something new this semester and I plan to do it for the full year next year.  It took about 25 minutes do complete each week, which led to us not covering as many lessons as we have in the past.  {Some weeks we simply didn't have time to fit the quiz in, as evident in the missing weeks on the graphs above.  A few of those missing weeks were due to snow days and shortened weeks for spring break.}

I believe the benefit of the spiral review and "No Permission to Forget" outweigh the cost of skipping a few lessons along the way.  And most importantly, more than 80% of students said they liked doing L to J this year.  I think that's a pretty high success rate.