# A Task I Love…Sum to One!

Before I start, let me just say that I CANNOT make the #sundayfunday blog deadlines. Like, ever. This is, like, two weeks late. However, better late than never!

Last week, I started my fractions unit with my 6th graders. My students come from all types of elementary school backgrounds, and their skill levels are all over the place. At the beginning of the fractions unit, we do three days of leveled stations, and I work with one group each day.

This year, working with the advanced group in both of my Math 6 classes,  we got stuck on one of my favorite tasks, “Sum to One,” for the entire class period. Like, we never got to the activity I had planned. I had a ball. I got this task from Michael Fenton’s blog a while back and it can be accessed here: http://reasonandwonder.com/sum-to-one/.

We do this as a warm up, and the students reason through, as much as is 6th grade-brain possible, why we have found all the possible solutions. They were pretty quick to recognize that the highest fraction they could make was 1/2, and so that limited how large of a denominator they could make.

After they were sufficiently proud of themselves, we moved on to the next step of the task.

They jumped right in to this, writing solutions all over the white board. We are still new into the school year and the students don’t know each other well. However, they were applauding solutions, correcting one another, and building off the ideas of one another. I was so pumped, but I was trying to play it cool.

When it seemed to come to a lull, I challenged students to come up with solutions with denominators that I randomly threw out (i.e. 5, 10, 12). After we had several solutions up on the whiteboard, I asked them if they could find patterns in the solutions they’d found. This held their interest for about two minutes. In one class period, a student threw out that there had to be a limited number of solutions, so I challenged them to consider both problems (three unit fractions and four unit unit fractions) to see if they could determine the limit on the number of solutions. This intrigued some students, and some students…not so much. I also threw out the challenge of them finding the largest denominator possible that still created a feasible solution. This prompt really hooked all the students in both classes, so this is where we worked up through the end of class.

I did this task last year with some success, but not nearly as much engagement as I had this year. I also realize that I did this with both my “B” group and my “C” group, but my “A” group – the group with the least number of skills mastered – did not get an opportunity to do this task. Guilty as charged. While they may not have gotten as deep as quickly, they should could have engaged with this task and had the opportunity to rise to the challenge. Duly noted for next year’s lesson planning.

Full disclosure, I hate having to teach fractions, so this was definitely a bright spot in my unit!

# My First SBG Assessment!

Welp. I tried it.

I told the students we were going to use Standards Based Grading.

I told the parents we were going to use Standards Based Grading.

And then…we had our first assessment. You guessed it…I used Standards Based Grading.

We are not calling them assessments. We are calling them “twizzes” (shoutout to Jenny) – a mix between a “quiz” and a “test.” I think “twiz” sounds cute, and 6th graders like cute. However, I let that slip during Meet the Teacher night and got a stink eye from one mom…was I wrong to say that? Too late, anyway.

Okay, back to my first SBG twiz.  Was it wonderful? I don’t know. Here are my thoughts so far:

PROS

• I do seriously appreciate the data that I got, and that it was much more specific than what I am used to. I can tell who needs to practice what skill. I can also tell…that I need to do a better job of teaching them what I expect when they translate word problems with integers into equations – YIKES.
• I am adding this bullet point so that it looks like there is more than one pro. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY believe in this system, so this one pro is worth about 10 bullet points.

CONS

• It was not faster to grade, albeit this was the very first time I tried it. I went through all the twizzes and marked them up, noting problems that were incorrect or unclear and giving feedback. Then, I went through them 5 more times, one for each standard being assessed. I had color coded my answer key to make this faster, which was a good idea. I suspect that this will get faster as I get more comfortable with my grading rubric.
• This will  not be fun putting into the gradebook – 5 grades per student for one twiz. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a big deal. It is a con though.
• I am dreading having to justify my grading to students (and maybe parents, but hopefully not).

However, I believe in all the grades I gave. I don’t have this master’s degree and all             this teaching experience for nothing! Nonetheless, the seemingly subjective nature            feels weird to me. This is also something I will get used to.

• I am still working out the kinks. I use a scale of 0-5. Students may only get 4’s and 5’s on the first assessment attempt. Therefore, it’s only worth it to request a reassessment if you get a 2 or below. However, what am I going to do with people who get a 5 when I supply the reassessment? What I mean is, let’s say Jimmy John got a 3 on Standard 1.1a. He won’t ask for a reassessment because he can’t get any higher than a 3 (which still translates to a B in my school’s grading system). However, when this standard shows up in the next twiz or two, can Jimmy John get a 4 or a 5? I think that my rubric implies a no. So does he always stay at a 3? Here is a snip of my rubric – ¿que dice la publica?

Luckily, my department chair is really supportive of us trying things out, so I am not worried. We also have a Mastery-Based Learning study group this year, so I have built-in colleagues to help me think through this throughout the year.

Anyway, we have a professional development day tomorrow, so I’ll be handing the twizzes back to students when they return on Wednesday. Wish me luck!

# Let’s get this Party Started Right!

This past week was my first full week with students. Finally, we had regular classes and no special schedules or technology training. I have to admit…it was pretty wonderful. Here are some of my favorites:

• I introduced the students to the great math philosopher, Robert Van Winkle (aka…Vanilla Ice). About a third of them were willing to dance. Another third of them were terrified when I told them that “Anything less that your best is a felony” is strictly enforced in my room. I have a board in my classroom dedicated to the wisdom of Vanilla Ice, and the day I introduce students to this board is one of the best times of the school year.
• Similarly, I told students about my “condition.” I cannot see math when it’s written in pen. Again, about a third of the students were concerned. I heard whispers…”Do you think it’s something she can get surgery to fix?”
• We did the Broken Circles! I stole learned about this activity from Sarah Carter’s blog and did it for the first time last year. I love it. I think it is wonderful watching the student who begins the activity with the complete circle realize that they have to give their pieces away. I did this activity in two class periods. In my E Block, all the groups finish quickly. I also noticed them cheat. My F Block took a little longer, and one group did not finish in the 10 minutes I gave them. I learned last year that the bigger the groups, the better, so this year I had groups of 5 or 6. I have students do a short reflection on this activity in Word and then email it to me as an attachment, all in the name of #techtraining. This one is a keeper!
• I had my students open our OneNote notebooks. It was pretty painful…the internet was acting funny, and the questions were nonstop. However…it could’ve been worse. This group of students is pretty technologically savvy, and pretty chill. The day we open OneNote is a sign for me of how the year might go, and I was left pretty optimistic!
• I played the weekly news recap that Flocabulary releases every Friday – I used it as our warm up. I hear you, friends, who believe that now is the time to discuss all the hateful things going on in the world. If you want to do that, I am really proud of you. I did not. I think I need a relationship first before I start to unpack these heavier topics with my students. Actually, I KNOW I need the relationship, because if an eleven year old says something crazy on day three, I’m going to be super pissed and hold it against them all year. Call me petty. I know it’s wrong, and teachers should be better than this. I also know how I am. I will judge. Therefore, I left it up to Flocabulary. So, the recap talked about people calling for the removal of these Confederate statues. One of my students says (to his peers, not to me) “Wait…people want to remove the statues? Aren’t they history?” Another student replies “My mom said the same thing, but I think they are of people who did bad things like own slaves. I think they should change them to people who everybody can respect.” WHA?!?! You go, little boy. Make me proud! I wonder if he knows who Missy Elliott is?
• I did Talking Points for the first time! It’s also a keeper. I will need to model the process again to reiterate the procedure, but I loved the conversation it provoked! We did this prior to watching a Jo Boaler video about mindset boosting messages. Then the students talked about how they might change some of their answers to questions like “If I feel frustrated by a problem, I should skip it” and “Being good at math means being able to do math quickly.” It was pretty cool – I will be sure to refer back to this discussion throughout the year.

Okay. It’s time for me to go rest up. I am teaching sixth graders who are still adjusting. You never know what your limit is on how many times you can hear your name in one day until you are a teacher and this predicament becomes REAL. I need to be well rested so I can handle them with grace, rather than this:

# 1 Down, 39 to Go!

I. Am. Tired.

The students started this week, and what it week it was! I don’t understand why, but I was not ready. As a severe Type A personality, I do NOT prepare lesson plans the night before. Usually, I have the whole trimester mapped out by the first day, but this year, call me On the Fly Frieda. I have been falling DEAD asleep when I get home, and I don’t even have the energy to get up and tell Nick about my day. I mean…is it still supposed to be like this in year 12?

Part of me feels like the summer was too short. Well, I don’t feel like it was. I know it was. There is also just a lot going on. We had a big trauma at school – one of the upper school students collapsed during sports practice and is still in the hospital. Something weird is going on with my body, and I feel like I don’t have time for that right now. (Side note – I’ll take care of it – don’t worry). One of Nick’s best friends had a swimming accident, broke his neck, and is in pretty serious condition at the hospital. I cannot stop thinking about him. It is devastating for any family to go through that, let alone one I know. Also, I have a soft spot for this man – he kind of reminds me of my little brother, in both mannerisms and physical features.

Regardless of what is going on, life goes on. My classroom goes on. These students deserve the best me that I can be, so I am trying REALLY hard. Also, good things are happening. For the first time, no students had a meltdown during technology training. They were actually pretty skilled and well behaved, which is a good sign. One of my closest friends is also my colleague and team mate, and she is keeping me inspired to keep our Design Thinking kick going. This is my first year as team leader at this school, and my team is really awesome. They are really helpful and supportive, and I am grateful for them. I did prepare some Talking Points for class tomorrow, and I’m going to do it for the first time. I’m pretty excited about it.

The cutest little bundle of a sixth grader has already noticed that I have an awesome curl on one side of my head that wraps around my dangley earrings. I was touched that she noticed that so early, but not surprised. I watch them in everything they do for ten months…it’s only fair to assume that they do the same to me. We learn each other’s habits. We know everyone’s nuances and mannerisms, because that’s what family does. We know each other inside and out. My family just increased by 100. I can do this.

# My First TMC…

Yesterday, I got back home from my very first Twitter Math Camp, and I am entirely too full with gratitude. I feel incredibly lucky to have what I would consider an awesome job, where I am allowed to go to some of the best professional development opportunities available. It would have been much more difficult for me to attend as a public school teacher, because my school probably would not have funded the trip. I’m just saying…I appreciate my job benefits. I will be a better teacher as a result of my attendance at this conference…and subsequent conferences (see what I did there, lottery policy?), and  I do not take this privilege for granted.

Secondly, I feel so blessed to be teaching in this time and space with not only my current colleagues, but also the really wonderful people I met this week! It is incredibly energizing to be around HELLA math teachers who WANT to come learn about math FOR FUN on their OWN TIME, and sometimes with their OWN MONEY. I mean, people were doing math puzzles after the work day ended. At happy hour. At a bar. These were nerds. I found my people.