Something Based Grading

We changed up our grading structure this year. Our admin wants to move towards standards based grading, so we’re sort of supposed to be transitioning towards it a little bit this year. Sorry for all the qualifiers, but that’s how it actually is.

I’ve read enough blogs on SBG to feel like I have a vague grasp of what it should look like. Choose standards, assess & reassess on those standards, then final grades are based on the scores on those standards. Its definitely a huge change from how I’ve taught and assessed before, but I would be up for the challenge.

Except we have to use Gradebook, and we have to enter grades at least weekly and Gradebook is very much not designed for this sort of thing. Gradebook will give you a max of 9 categories, and those categories are the only way to have any weights to things.

So we have this crazy system where we have nine topics/standards and then all the assignments under that standard are coded under that standard but weighted differently according to their type (so that the whole grade doesn’t come from homework, for example). And if you feel a little fuzzy about what that looks like, my math teacher friend, consider how my freshman feel. Or their parents. Or, actually, me. I’m pretty sure that despite the weighting homework is getting way too much value. Progress reports are nearly unreadeable because the multipliers muck it up.

And about that homework…I do think some kind of practice is really helpful in math class and although I don’t care about how they do it (and have only ever graded homework for completion), they probably care that I give them credit for that. So how do I balance that with not really wanting that credit to count?

I can make some minor changes this semester, but I do get a clean slate 2nd semester. Any ideas to help me out? What are your favorite SBG [lite] resources?

Making an Effort

Oh, hi.

I have so many things I want to say, but its been so long that I’ve said anything at all that I feel like I have to come back with something brilliant. Or at least good. And then I get stuck picking what to talk about and so I say…nothing.

Which is silly. So, hi. I’m teaching Algebra 1 to students a few grade levels below this year, which means I haven’t actually taught any algebra at all to date. I don’t have any residents this year. I got a real classroom. Oh, and I did indeed get married this summer and we bought a house and moved. And my sister moved cross country and I helped. So we’re basically all caught up.


Caili Helsper Photography

My students this year already think they’re bad at math, and one girl in particular tries so hard to give up. She won’t try anything (and by anything, I even mean writing down a practice problem in her notebook–not doing it, just writing it.) Today I told my students they  needed the first section of their grid (just a bunch of rounding problems) filled out for an exit slip. She did nothing. It’s her M.O. To wait. And I guess it’s always worked. And it isn’t with me and it’s making her so mad. So she couldn’t leave. And we talked. And she cried. She’s a cheerleader who really doesn’t want to miss practice, but she went to the first half of practice and she’s here now. I want her to stay, and so I stay too, even though I’ve finally started to get caught up and I finished grading everything I have right now during lunch (don’t worry, I give an Algebra test and collect Stats homework tomorrow).

And, as if this post isn’t lame enough, here’s what I hope to be writing about soon:

  • Our foray into some mess of pseudo-standards-based-grading (Spoiler: It isn’t pretty.)
  • Maybe more fractions
  • Favorite lessons and practice structures

I missed you internet. It’s good to be back.

Fraction Success

Today is the last day of finals. I gave my regular-level Algebra class the final section of their final exam today, a “Choose 3 of 7” component.

Question 2 asked students to “Order the numbers 3/7, 0.75, 1/7 and 3/5 in ascending order, and explain how you arrived at your answer.”

I forgot to remind them that they can’t use decimals. When we spent so much time teaching fractions earlier in the year, we emphasized that our students needed to be able to work with fractions as fractions. That was the only way to get credit and we worked really hard on it. We felt like it worked, but that was ages ago.

The first question I graded was, “I switched them all to decimals to make it easier, then I ordered them.” Oh, NO. I forgot to say something, they’re all going to do it wrong, I can’t give them credit for that.

And then I kept reading.

This was a CHOICE exam. No one HAD to do fractions. And a third of them did (Ok, to be fair, the kid with a 90.03 chose all 7–better safe than sorry I guess.)

But I read answers like these, with no reminders about decimals:

I arrived at my answer by looking at the fractions and seeing the amount of shares they needed to accomplish a whole and I took the one fraction who the most shares…

I turned .75 into 75 and put it over 100 it gave 3/4, which is bigger than the other fractions. 1/7 & 3/7 have the same size but different shares and 3/5 is bigger than 1/7 and 3/7

For a topic dating back to October, I am so pleased with these answers. I think we managed to change at least some of our students attitudes towards fractions, and lead them to actual understanding of what they’re doing.

I hope to be able to do even more with this next year. Anyone interested in collaborating? My sister is teaching fractions to adults again this summer….

The Twelve Days of Statistics

A little late about this, but bookmark this one for next year!

Last year, I posted the Twelve Days of Algebra, which I got from ICTM several years ago. But my Stats students were a little hurt when I had to sing them the 12 Days of Algebra in Stats. So we fixed that right up.

My awesome resident took lyrics that some former students had worked on and refined them and now we have:

Behold, happy 10th day of Stats class!

[Lyrics by Miranda De Young, 2013]

Fun with Fractions: Day 2

I’m blogging our fractions work daily–read Day 1

Today kicked off with a quick review of yesterday’s homework. It was pretty simple, just comparing ten pairs of fractions using their fraction strips (no, I had no way to verify and no, I don’t care). Then there were two questions designed for Higher Order Thinking.

…and, close almost kills them. “Which is greater, 4/5 or 8/10? Using your strips, find the two fractions that are most near in value without being equal.” This was definitely a “but, what’s the answer?” moment. The instructions were perfectly clear, you need to fold the strips. But that concept of close really threw them for a loop. Estimation is a scary scary concept for them.

I did a quick overview of number lines, starting to introduce the idea of equal partitions, sequential v proportional reasoning (which number do you place first between 0 and 4? Most of my students place 1.)–but only for a quick couple minutes.

Moving on, we did a couple more comparison problems as a problem to get us warmed up and ready to go, and then they moved into groups and got a set of 10 comparisons. We didn’t want to get rid of context entirely, but we ultimately want them to classify these by type and didn’t want any groups mistakenly using things like, “these were all boys and these were all girls!” or, “these were about food!”

On the document above, they’re organized for teachers; I just made the questions only larger and printed one set per group of four. We gave them scissors to slice up the problems and then they solved these in their groups. I offered up the answers to anyone who was interested to emphasize how little I care about the answers and how much I care about their explanations. Most of the groups were trying really hard, which was awesome. (Side note: it should be missing piece–7/10 and 6/9 is super hard to explain!)

We ended up needing about half an hour to solve them, and then we gave them 10 minutes to sort them into groups of like problems. We brought it back together to generate categories–the students were having great conversations in their groups but were scared to speak up, but we got there eventually. After matching an example to each one, we assigned each group one category to write up for their peers. [This is where I say this was awesome, which I think it will be, but we have a shortened schedule for PSAT testing for sophomores and didn’t finish. Sadness.]

How do you prompt students to answer tough questions without giving them what you want to hear?

I developed this lesson with my team; the file was created by CC.

Highs & Lows

I go back to school officially tomorrow, with the students following on Monday.

Since Thursday its been quite the rollercoaster.

I’ve been assuming for a long time that I would have a room change, so when the new master schedule came out Thursday, I wasn’t at all surprised to see my name next to a different room. It was a good room, the corner on the 2nd floor, currently occupied by a special ed program. The schedule was provisional, of course, but I was pleased. I even decently like the periods I teach.

And then came another email.

There’s been another change. The special ed program isn’t moving (this is a long and torturous story that involves someone with a grudge at the Central Office). So I have another assignment.

In the bookroom.

You know, the room where the extra books are stored, the concrete block one with the industrial metal shelving? The one with the concession window to the hallway where the lunch line is? Yeah. That one.

And there’s a catch.

They haven’t really built it yet. Technically its still the bookroom, and there isn’t furniture, the floor doesn’t match up, no electrical and the wall has to be removed and then that area patched.


We’ll come back to that in a minute, but two weeks ago I found out I have one resident, not two, this year. Her name is Miranda and while she doesn’t have the stats background I was hoping for, she seems ready to learn. She already sat through 4 hours of the Algebra 1 team bouncing all over the place, so that’s a good sign.

And this whole room thing…

“Hmmm….it’ll be fine. We could buy exercise balls. You know, the kind at Target? Those are pretty cheap right? Who needs desks!”

“Oh, and if the kids are bad, we’ll give them detention. They can blow up the balls with a bicycle pump!”

“We’ll just have…classroom jobs. Like, two kids can stand there and hold the chart paper up.”

On an amusing note, my fiance was pressing me to come up with SOMETHING positive, and the only thing I could come up with was that it was close to the copiers. And then at our Mentor meeting on Monday we covered some logistics, including copiers. Apparently they’re moving. Sigh. But its ok, Miranda’s going to get roller blades. That or it’ll be another classroom job. I think I should have her make me a list.

So its a pretty terrible room, and not what I expected and no one is entirely sure if it will even hold 30 desks plus ours. But I have a job, and I think my resident and I are going to have a pretty fun year.

And people have worse locations than a large closet, right? Anyone? Please?

If you’re wondering, this has nothing to do with me. The other choice doesn’t have full walls, which my admin (correctly) assumed would drive me INSANE, and because this was such a late change, they couldn’t put me into a better room. They don’t hate me, it isn’t personal, and they aren’t trying to push me out. Just a really bad situation for me.


The Values on the Unit Circle…

I can’t take credit for this one, but it’s a great idea if you’re still working on the Unit Circle. Our students have been struggling with the idea of the values going back around, so he had a brilliant idea.

In keeping with my Slope Dance tradition, my resident made up this song, to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus”


The Unit Circle Values go round and round,

round and round, round and round.

The Unit Circle Values go round and round, every 360.


And Sine and Cosine repeat and repeat,

repeat and repeat, repeat and repeat.

And Sine and Cosine repeat and repeat, every 2p.


And then we made up dance moves. The first verse is just circling your hand around in front of you. The second verse you go up and down like a sine curve. It’s good times.

Do you make up songs and dances? Do your students like them? Do they make fun of them and then do them to prepare for tests and at school functions like the Dance Marathon? (The girls who won totally slope danced!)

Now That Its Over…

The AP Test was on Friday.

My school also let 8 people go.

One of them was administering the AP Exam.

Cumulatively, this did not go well. Friday afternoon, I was really upset. I had followed up so many times, trying to ensure that my 9 students taking two exams in one day would get fed, that the timing was taken care of, that we were taking steps to minimize disruptions. I was getting, honestly, pretty annoying.

And yet everything I was worried about, happened. They tested in the gym so announcement after announcement echoed over them. Over 100 kids waited for athletics to start after school in the hall outside the gym. And when I asked the person administering the test who was responsible, she shrugged and said “I don’t know.” I was crushed. My students worked SO HARD for this…and I felt like they just didn’t care.

I didn’t wait around the 20 more minutes for them to finish; I was way too upset. A quick group text on the way home and that was it. And then their replies. “It was easy…I’m scared ^-^” from one of my strongest students. “I feel pretty confident about my free responses. I think I can actually pass this test” from one of my weakest (who passed very few of my tests). But overall…they felt good. And so I felt a lot better too.

The questions were posted online today, so I did them and we went over them in class. A couple kids were concerned, but mostly smiles. “YES.” “That’s what I thought it was.” “Yep, I totally did that.” It was really nice to see.

And then we played cards. My students are unfamiliar with a deck of cards. I’ll have to fix that.

But now…


Things My Children Text Me

Three preps, with one of them taking an AP exam THIS FRIDAY (OMG AH ARE WE READY I THINK SO) have been taking their toll. I don’t have anything inspired for my AP review. I’ve been so frustrated in my Honors classes at their complete inability to learn special right triangles (coupled with the part where I’m pretty sure someone besides me should have taught it to them….Geometry anyone?) and therefore do the unit circle that I want to scream.

So just…meh.

In other news, I got engaged two weeks ago. The Sunday before the ACT, which means I didn’t wear the ring on Monday because I teach all juniors and I had stuff to do. So I told them all on Thursday, and gave them five minutes in each period to ask me questions, and had 17 offers to be my Flower Girl, six of which were from 16 year old boys. Only one person wants to be my ring bearer, and thats a 15 year old girl. Oh, and Lindsey said she’d marry us.

So life has been busy, and I didn’t feel like I had much to share (“How not to teach special right triangles”).

Then I got two texts from students today, and realized there are other great ones I haven’t shared either.

First one student texted me a photo link and asked me if it was where I got engaged. Adorable. (It was, basically.) (I got engaged at my church, which is on Michigan Avenue in Chicago across from the Hancock Center, so it isn’t that odd she would be there.)

Then I got this:


The text is just the middle of a random page. I suspect she’s studying for AP US History. I sort of feel like “the 80’s” is like “the olden days” but I’ll let it go.

Those brought to mind several amusing texts from another student:


I laughed out loud at this one. And then we looked up the actual probabilities online the next day. Apparently there was a big deal in England when this happened to someone, and they published the odds of it happening as (lazy math teacher makes things up here) one in a jillion, but that isn’t true because of course each egg isn’t independent–young hens are more likely to have double yolks and eggs in the same carton come from the same batch and maybe even the same hen.

And another from the same student, sent during Saturday ACT Prep. This question is awesomely bad. It still makes me laugh/roll my eyes.


Really? Poking a badger? With a spoon? Who comes up with this stuff?!?

I hope your life is more interesting than mine right now!





The Twelve Days of Algebra

Just in case you haven’t heard this hit…and so sorry for its late arrival. You should have started last Thursday if you’re on the one verse a day plan!

The Twelve Days of Algebra

On the first day of Algebra my teacher taught to me that math class can be fun.

….variables and that math class can be fun.

….Combining like terms, variables and that math class can be fun.

….Distributing, Combining like terms, variables and that math class can be fun.

….Solving equations, distributing, Combining like terms, variables and that math class can be fun.

….How to find slope, solving equations, distributing, Combining like terms, variables and that math class can be fun.

….Graphing of lines, how to find slope, solving equations, distributing, Combining like terms, variables and that math class can be fun.

….Fitting lines to data, graphing of lines, how to find slope, solving equations, distributing, Combining like terms, variables and that math class can be fun.

….probability, fitting lines to data, graphing of lines, how to find slope, solving equations, distributing, Combining like terms, variables and that math class can be fun.

…. exponential curves, probability, fitting lines to data, graphing of lines, how to find slope, solving equations, distributing, Combining like terms, variables and that math class can be fun.

…. quadratic functions, exponential curves, probability, fitting lines to data, graphing of lines, how to find slope, solving equations, distributing, Combining like terms, variables and that math class can be fun.

….Systems of equations, quadratic functions, exponential curves, probability, fitting lines to data, graphing of lines, how to find slope, solving equations, distributing, Combining like terms, variables and that math class can be fun.

I have a reindeer named Blitzen who sits on my shoulder while I sing, building one additional verse a day. Even the juniors who make fun of it love it secretly…and when my former students see me standing in the hall with Blitzen on my shoulder, a bunch of them ask if I’m singing again and when they can come see me. Of course, I also get offers of help, so I’ll be breaking out my lyric sheet and sharing the love soon.

If you want to make your own, the lyrics above fit perfectly on a half sheet!