Summer Tasks: SBG, New Problems, Code, and Parent Letters

The end of the school year is always a hectic time where just meeting all of your responsibilities -- grading, comments, parent conferences, parent emails, etc. -- means there is little time to spend developing or planning new ideas for the classroom (read: the fun stuff). That's why I always look forward to the summer when I can tackle those big projects that can feel like pipe dreams during the school year.

Last summer I developed a system for moving my students to standards-based grading (SBG). That was a big project that took a lot of time. This summer I have many more smaller projects planned; and, because I am teaching 6th grade again for the first time in 5 years, I have lots of prep work to do. Here is what I will be typing away at in my local coffee shop this summer.

Must Get Done

  1. Be a Good Husband - I just got married!!!! Literally 2 days ago, and my number one priority this summer is to work on being a good husband. Presumably I have been okay so far. She did marry me after all. But any relationship takes work, and I plan to work hard!
  2. Review and Update 5th Grade Standards - As mentioned above, this was my first year using SBG. I need to go through an refine my standards after a year of experience. In particular, I want to rewrite them in language that is more accessible to 5th grade students. This may mean having a "simple" and "detailed" definition of each standard.
  3. Develop 6th Grade Standards - I want to continue using SBG with my 6th graders so I will need to develop standards for that curriculum. I teach at a private school, so I cannot just use the CCSSM since we are not aligned. Moreover, I found it was helpful to break CCSSM standards into smaller chunks for students.

Not a Must, But Exciting

  1. Add SBG Information to Email Signature for Parents - Last year, my students picked up the mechanics of my SBG system quickly, but parents were confused. I used much of my time at Parents' Weekend to summarize the purpose, process, and motivations, but not all parents attend and certainly not all remembered the details. This summer I want to develop a quick (1 page or less) summary of what SBG is and how it works in my classroom. Once developed, I will link to the summary in my email signature, hopefully making it available to parents when they need it.
  2. Read Research on Rational Numbers - After teaching the fifth graders' first unit on rational numbers (fractions, decimals, percents, ratios, and negatives) for the last five years, I finally get to continue exploring these concepts with my students as sixth graders. I picked up a number of great books at NCTM 2015 Boston Conference that I plan to go through. In particular, I am looking for key understandings and strong visual models that I can use with my students. I have some ideas and background knowledge but can definitely use a refresher since I last taught these ideas in 2009/2010 in my second year of teaching.
  3. Create 6th Grade Pencasts - When direct instruction cannot be avoided, I will often make videos (called pencasts) explaining a mathematical concept. Videos allow students to rewatch instruction for review (sometimes with parents) and allows me to avoid wasting class time explaining something, so students can use that time to solve problems. I have a pretty solid set of 5th grade videos, so I want to get a head start on making 6th grade videos. Creating the videos on my own also allows me to emphasize understanding and avoid tricks like keep-change-flip that parents invariably use.
  4. Develop ≥9 Challenge Problems - In past years, teachers at my school have posted "challenge" problems for students to work on -- similar to the Play With Your Math project organized by Joey Kelly and Xi Yu. These challenges have fallen off the radar in the past two years. So much so that one colleague refers to it as the "annual monthly math challenge." As I have gotten more involved in #MTBOS and reading other teacher's blogs, I have been finding many problems that would be perfect for these challenges. So, I hope to put about one problem per month together for next year.
  5. Class Openers - My school does not have bells our travel time between classes. Students just trickle in. This is not an issue for fifth graders who will walk all the way across the building just to be sure that it is okay for them to get a quick sip of water on their way to class. Sixth graders, though, tend to be more social and need some motivation to get to class on time. I want to use a mix of estimation 180 and Always/Sometimes/Never to make mathematically rich openers that make students want to get to class on time.
  6. Investigated CMP3 Videos - My curriculum, Connected Mathematics Project 3 from Michigan State University, includes videos that launch or supplement some of the tasks in their books. I haven't had enough time to check these out. So this summer I am hoping to evaluate them.

Unlikely, But Who Knows

  1. Additional Parent Resources in Email Footer - In addition to my SBG document, I would like to provide an additional resource for parents about how to support their children on homework. In general, my parents are afraid to let their kids leave homework questions unanswered. I want to help my students' parents understand the concept of a growth mindset and promote it in their children.
  2. Plan a Math Coffee - My school runs periodic coffees for parents of different grade levels. I am hoping to take over one of those to do some parent education about math. When parents become educated consumers on what good math education looks like, they push schools and teachers in the right directions.
  3. Plan "Emergency Absence" Lessons - All teachers have those days when they wake up with a fever and just know they are too sick to make it to school. I always feel incredibly guilty on these days. My colleagues are often stuck covering my classes, and the students get a disjointed experience. As I am searching for challenge problems, I am also going to collects tasks that can serve as single-class-period activities that substitute teachers can use on days I am out. Hopefully that will make these days more valuable.
  4. Python program for emailing SBG progress - As I have learned more and more about programming, I am looking for ways that code can automate monotonous tasks and give me more time for lesson planning. A fun programming challenge for me would be to develop a program that could email out weekly-ish updates on students' progress. Essentially, it would pull data from each student's shared grading document (in Google Sheets) and email them a summary.
  5. Python Program for Printing Advisees' Effort Grades - My school gives biweekly effort grades to acknowledge and honor students' effort. It's certainly not a perfect system, but it is wonderful for focusing students' attention on the things they can control (study habits, effort, etc.). We used to print out a set of each student's effort grades, so the advisors could talk to their advisees about them. As we have gone more digital, we stopped printing the grades. I still print them for my advisees, but on busy days I often do not have time to load each document on our cumbersome website and then print them (up to a 15 minute process for 9 students!). I am going to try to write a program that downloads and prints the documents automatically so that I can be more prepared for my advisees.