Tagged: #PDSmem

Helping with Math Homework (When You Don’t Understand)

Math HomeworkThis post was originally written for and published on the Presbyterian Day School blog.

Generally speaking, my wife and I take a hands-off approach to our kids’ homework. We certainly want our four children to do well in school. We want to encourage and assist them along the way, but Debbie and I also want them to be independent and resourceful so we think it’s good for them to struggle sometimes. Therefore, when it comes to our kids’ homework, we avoid being too helpful and encourage them to figure things out on their own.

For the most part, this approach has served our family well. Our children usually complete their homework independently, and homework rarely results in any familial trauma–but not always. Occasionally, we have homework agony when one of our kids struggles with an assignment they just cannot understand–especially when the endeavor involves math. I’m an English language arts teacher. My wife teaches the visual arts. Neither of us feels particularly proficient when it comes to math.

Here are five things we do to help with math homework (we don’t even understand):

  1. Watch the teacher’s tutorial or read through the student’s notes with our child. Then, we ask our child to explain the lesson in his own words. I’m amazed how often this solves the problem as my child sees or hears something he missed during the initial instruction. Additionally, if my child can teach it to me, he’s most likely going to understand and remember it.
  2. Check out a different video tutorial. Sometimes my child just needs the concept to be explained in a different way than the way his teacher taught it. Fortunately, we live in a time when one can learn just about anything through the internet. Two places we’ve tried for math tutorials are PatrickJMT and Khan Academy. Both provide quality videos on many different math concepts.
  3. Plug the problem into an online computational problem solver. Both Wolfram Alpha and Discovery Education’s WebMath are immensely useful tools. They not only answer problems but also provide explanations so my child can see how the problem is solved and have another explanation of how to approach the question.
  4. Have my child phone a friend. In the wise words of The Beatles: “I get by with a little help from my friends.” Indeed I do and my kids do, too. Everybody needs help sometimes, and it’s important my kids learn how to ask their peers for help. (We’ve been known to ask grandparents, aunts, and uncles, too.) In college, I always made new friends and exchanged phone numbers with other students in my classes. Then, if I missed a class or needed homework help, I had friends I could call.
  5. Have my child email his teacher, ask his question, and move on. I have my child send the email in order to take ownership of his own learning. And believe it or not, I’ve found most teachers to be helpful, reasonable people. While they may not respond to the email immediately, they’ve always taken the time to help my child understand the concept with which he’s struggling. Then, we move on. If my child needs additional help, he’s responsible for talking with his teacher or joining the next help session.

Having made an attempt to do his best, my child can leave for school the next morning with looming questions about last night’s math homework. That’s perfectly okay. As parents, Debbie and I are less concerned that our kids get all the right answers and more concerned that they learn to ask questions, seek help, and find creative solutions when they struggle.

Lennon, John, and Paul McCartney. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles. Capitol Records, 1967. Vinyl recording.

My Professional Development Goal for 2014-2015

Professional Development

Professional Development Goal: Every year each teacher at PDS participates in a yearlong conversation with his/her administrator and colleagues that includes the following components: reading and research, reflection, goal setting, planning, collaboration, implementation and feedback.

As part of this process, each teacher will identify a professional development goal that relates directly to classroom teaching and learning. It should have practical application and impact in the current year, and it should align with the school’s broad institutional goals and/or institutional philosophies about teaching and learning. The goal should be measurable. Teachers who fully achieve their goal will earn $500.

Goal: Work together with the other members of the 6th grade team to transition from our departmental approach to reading, social studies, and English to an interdisciplinary approach to humanities that will merge the essential skills and understandings from the original classes.

Steps to Achieve Goal:  (Please include a list of books/articles/ videos that you plan to read or view during the summer.)

1.    Read the following texts to decide their appropriateness as reading selections for the course:

2.    Meet as a Humanities team 2-3 times this summer to plan for the upcoming school year.

3.    Meet weekly as a team during the 2014-2015 school year to continue developing curriculum, to check our progress, and to make revisions.

4.    Coordinate our plans with the STEM team to ensure seamless implementation and begin considering how reading and writing can be threaded into science and math instruction also.

Final Product: Our product will be ongoing observations and conversations with Susan and the team with a culminating discussion at the end of each trimester about the progress.

Note: I submitted this goal to my administrator in May before the end of this past school year. I’m just now getting around to posting it here as I attempt to re-establish my writing practices. Two of my teammates share this goal with me, and we are working on it together. I’m posting this on my blog for my own personal documentation and accountability. I also hope to track my personal progress toward the goal by blogging about it over the course of the 2014-2015 school year.

 

How are you going to be brave?

This song has rolled around in my head for weeks ever since Pernille Ripp shared it on her blog. (You can also view the video here.) It’s my hope that my students will be brave in all they do and say so today we are using this video as a reflective writing prompt. How are you going to be brave in what you do and say? How would you respond?

Diving Into Project-based Learning: Reflections

project-based learningNow that the project is over, I admit diving into project-based learning was beneficial. The students and I learned a lot, and I don’t think I would have taken away as much had I chosen to simply dip my foot in the pool. Not long after we completed our project, my principal asked if it was worthwhile and if I would do it again. My first response was “I don’t know…maybe.” Planning and managing the project was really challenging, and the daily classroom chaos stretched my comfort zone significantly. And yet. . . project-based learning engaged my students. They felt a sense of ownership toward their learning that I hadn’t really seen before. So yes, I’ll be doing it again. In fact, I’ve already submitted my professional goal for next year, and it’s once again focused on project-based learning. (I’ll share more about that later.)

In addition to accomplishing my own professional goals related to PBL, I want to do the following things next year:

  • Partner with another teacher so that I am not the only teacher providing feedback and guidance throughout the project.
  • Have my students identify and define the driving question for our project-based learning.
  • Provide more time and opportunity for presentation, peer feedback, reflection, and revision.
  • Spend some time early in the year teaching my students the social media skills I want them to have. I want to turn them loose with our class Twitter account, their own blogs, and perhaps even a class Pinterest account and let them promote their own work and learning.
  • Be extremely purposeful and thoughtful in identifying the “needs to know” to help guide the students’ research.
  • Identify a person or group that my students can formally present their projects to that will serve as a more authentic audience.

I also had hoped to have several students write guest posts about our dive into project-based learning. Several boys agreed to do it, but unfortunately, the end of the school year and sixth grade graduation prevented them from getting posts together before we parted for summer. Without the guest posts, I decided to offer the next best thing and share some of the comments they made about their work on our Google Feedback Form.

Here’s what the students had to say:

What was the most challenging part of the project? 

“The most challenging part of this project was finding what we were going to do for our project.” – L. L.

“The presentation, I had to restart and do the entire PowerPoint all over.” – J. P.

“To me, the hardest thing was making posters from scratch and not copying off another image from the internet.” – G. B.

“I think the most challenging part was when we kept thinking of different pages or ideas and where we should put them. Also, we had to wait on the other groups to finish their projects.” – W. M.

What are three things you did during this project to help your classmates or your team?

“1) I researched the matter and did what was to be done. 2) I showed others how to do this or that and showed them sites for research about their project. 3) I stayed on task about 90% of the time and used my time wisely.” – T. M.

“1) I tried to come during Flex time to work on the project for my partner. 2) If my partner was struggling, I helped him do his part. 3) I cleaned up the messes that we made while doing our project.” – S. S.

“I edited all the videos. (Insert imaginary bullet in head) I overlooked all the presentations, (wrong things, grammar, spelling, etc.) I also interviewed many people, and set up some more interviews.” – H. D.

“I made all the emails we sent to organizations. I made our presentations. I brought the group together to stop arguing.” – A. G.

What made the biggest impact on your learning during this project? Why?

“Finding out all that I did about homeless people during the research part of this project, and how many homeless people are really out there. It just completely changed how I thought of these people, before that I did not think that there were actually that many homeless people out there, but now I am more than happy to help out as well as overwhelmed by how many people who are out there that are actually homeless.” – A. J.

“It is finding that so many people today are still affected by racism because there are still groups even in America that are still as racist as they had been in the 1800s.” – J. H.

“The research made the biggest impact on my learning during this project because it taught me more about sweatshops and how it affects the people who work for them and their families.” – T. H.

“Working as a team I could not do it all by myself.” – P. M.

“I used to think that homelessness was just a small portion of the world and just happened in 3rd world countries. But from research, I realize now that it is everywhere.” – H. P.

If you could go back in time and start this project over, what would you do differently?

“I would go back and change the way we formatted the website. I do like our design that we have now though I think the pages could have been in a different order and we could have taken out a few.” – J. M.

“Work more on my research.” – H. U.

“Come up with a better slogan, I don’t think the ones I came up with were my best.” – L. A.

“I would have done more research for Diigo, and I would have learned how to cite my photos before I found a lot of them because I lost 5 photos and a lot of my time because I did not cite them right when I got them.” – W. P.

“I would have spent more time working on my research. I think I could have commented more on other people’s bookmarks.” – R. C.

“I would organize our priorities better and manage time better.” – A. C.

What is something you accomplished during this project that makes you proud?

“This project is going to a fantastic cause. It will truly help the people who are less fortunate.” – A. R.

“I think that I made something that will teach someone else about sweatshops.” – W. S.

“The one thing that I accomplished during this project that made me proud was actually trying to do something other than raising awareness. We found a chance to volunteer that really did make a difference in someone’s life. I have never done that before, so it really makes me proud.” – W. Q.

“Finishing the video made me proud. We had worked so hard to finish filming and find facts and the song we used at the end.” – D. B.

How did you apply what you learned from your research in your project?

“I applied the stuff from Diigo to help with our website design, and I used the facts page to put lots of facts on our page. I also used the quotes, pictures, and much more.” – J. F.

“I applied most of the facts and stats from our research into our infographic to make it as detailed as possible.” – C. F.

“I used my research in my project by making my logo. The cycle in the logo I came up from the research I did. Chronic unemployment is a cycle which is hard to stop, so we want to stop the cycle.” – E. N.

This is the eleventh (and final) post in this series on my “Diving Into Project-based Learning.” If you want to read more about my first experience with PBL, you should read about my professional goalmy research and resourcesthe genesis of the ideaour project brainstormsthe rubric designour need to knowour inquiryour innovationfeedback friends and going public.

Professional Goal: Dive Into Project-based Learning

#PBL project-based learningI love that my school is deeply committed to providing teachers with quality, on-going professional growth and development. Among the many things we do each year at PDS for professional development, teachers create an individual professional development goals directly related to classroom teaching and learning.  Each goal should have practical application and impact in the current year and align with broader institutional goals and philosophies. Having spent a significant amount of time reading and researching about project-based learning, I decided to commit to diving into PBL this year. I can learn a lot from reading, researching, and observing, but I learn best when I dive in and get my feet wet.

The plan I submitted as my goal for this school year is below.

Goal: Incorporate PBL Into 6th Grade Reading

My professional development goal for this year will be to research and incorporate more project based learning into my 6th grade reading class. I have chosen this goal because of my experience at the Martin Institute’s Master Class with John Hunter this past summer and my desire to provide more authentic learning experiences for my students. Incorporating PBL into my classroom instruction will hopefully create opportunities for groups of students to investigate meaningful questions that require them to gather information and think critically.

Steps to Achieve Goal:

In order to accomplish this goal, I will take the following steps:

  1. Read Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age (2007) by Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss.
  2. Read Engaging Readers & Writers with Inquiry: Promoting Deep Understandings in Language Arts and the Content Areas with Guiding Questions (2007) by Jeffrey Wilhelm.
  3. If able to be arranged by school administrators, I will visit New Tech High or some other PBL-focused school to experience project-based learning first-hand.
  4. Connect with other teachers while at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia (Educon) to learn more about how they design and assess project–based learning.
  5. Incorporate an authentic project-based learning experience in to the 2nd trimester curriculum.
  6. Document the learning through photos, pencasts, student reflections, and blog posts.
  7. Blog my reflections and experiences with PBL.

Final Product:

I will know I have accomplished this goal when students can reflect on and communicate their learning through the projects we attempt in our class. Additionally, my blog posts, reflections, and one instructional unit will demonstrate a deeper understanding and more proficient use of project-based learning.

We completed our projects just before spring break. I’ve been working on a series of posts about what we did in class and what the students and I learned from the experience. I’m going to call the series “Diving Into Project-based Learning.” I’m not sure how many total posts will be in the series as I’m still writing and reflecting, but my hope is that I’ll be able to synthesize my ideas and perhaps offer a resource for others wanting to swim the rivers of PBL.

What about you? Do you have any thoughts or ideas about PBL? Any reactions to my goal? I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions as we go through the series.

Running Thoughts: First Week Reflections, Litter, and Planning Ahead

[gigya src=”http://boos.audioboo.fm/swf/fullsize_player.swf” flashvars=”mp3=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F925121-captured-running-thoughts-on-the-first-3-days-trash-on-the-street-and-plans-for-next-week.mp3%3Fsource%3Dwordpress&mp3Author=Philip_Cummings&mp3LinkURL=http%3A%2F%2Faudioboo.fm%2Fboos%2F925121-captured-running-thoughts-on-the-first-3-days-trash-on-the-street-and-plans-for-next-week&mp3Time=08.15am+18+Aug+2012&mp3Title=Captured+Running+Thoughts+on+the+First+3+Days%2C+Trash+on+the+Street%2C+and+Plans+for+Next+Week” width=”400″ height=”160″ allowFullScreen=”true” wmode=”transparent”]

Writing limit: 30 minutes

I ran 8 miles (a new PR) this morning in 1:24. I’ thrilled that I was able to keep at a 10:30 minutes/mile pace, but I must confess the 7th and 8th miles were tough. It felt good to run that far, and I burned enough calories that I think I can eat for two people today. 🙂

First Week Reflections

This past week at school was our first with the students. We had a half day on Wednesday and full days the rest of the week.

Wednesday was mostly a logistical day. I distributed supplies, assigned the lockers, and allowed time for organizing. I had already mailed the boys a get-to-know-you questionnaire that I asked them to bring and we needed a few minutes to collect forms and paperwork. The day started with convocation, then additional homeroom time, and I had to explain some grade-level procedures that are different from fifth grade but that only took a few minutes. We spent most of the homeroom time getting situated. During reading class I wanted the boys collaborate and present on the first day so I had them interview one another then introduce each other to the class. We only had 25 minutes, but the boys amazed me by how quickly some opened up and starting sharing with our class. I was reminded how much each of us desires to be known.

Alice, Julia, and I used the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine on Thursday to have the students inquire into 6th grade reading, the reading classrooms, and the reading teachers. We started by having them come up with a few deep questions they have as we begin the year. What did they want to know? We share and posted them. Then we gave the boys a few minutes to explore the rooms in a way similar to what we did last year. Then, we began the thinking routine. I’m not going to go into too much detail here because Alice and I want to co-write a complete reflection on the day. As the class ended, we asked the boys to think up a headline for the day’s learning to share with us as they left the room.

Yesterday, we began modeling for the boys how to do a 3, 2, 1 Bridge. They are going to have to write a bridge about themselves so we decided we would walk them through the steps of writing a bridge about a person and made ourselves the object of the practice bridge. This is another lesson I want to write about and share more completely so I won’t go into too many details except to say we talked at length about brainstorming, sharing wild ideas, and what makes a good bridge (metaphor or simile). It was fun day with the boys working together to collaborate and to think critically and creatively.

Litter

As I ran this morning, I also noticed the amount of trash along Seed Tick Road. It really annoyed me that people would just toss their garbage out on the street, and I spent at least a mile going through an inner rant that I won’t share the details of here. However, let me say this: PICK UP AFTER YOURSELF! I find it incredibly selfish that people leave their trash for others to clean up.

Planning Ahead

This coming week is a short week in class for my students. On Thursday and Friday we will be at our class breakaway at Victory Ranch. Before we leave, we need to take the STAR reading test, create and share bridges about ourselves, consider what a thoughtful reader looks like, and design our metacognition bookmark. We need to be on our game in order to be ready for small group reading when we return from Victory Ranch.

Did you start school this week? How did it go? I do my best to avoid discussing rules, policies, and procedures during the first few days with my students. Instead, we focus on thinking well and getting to know each other. What do you do to kick off a new school year?