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Goal: student portfolios

September 28, 2014

I haven’t seen much talk lately on twitter or in the blogosphere about portfolios. I want to deepen students’ understanding of concepts so I thought I’d steal/modify a portfolio idea that was shared at last week’s math curriculum meeting. If you can help me figure out a way to add more choice while still addressing the concepts, I’d love your input. As it stands right now choice is limited to product, and in a small way–process.

The original idea shared was too open ended for me, “Prove you have mastered the learning objective.” While I’m a free spirit in many ways I think the students need some focus so I came up with specific criteria for both the artifacts and written reflections, along with a rubric for each.

Subtracting Integers Criteria for Success


Submit three artifacts demonstrating conceptual understanding of subtracting integers. Record your thinking using Explain Everything, iMovie, or other format.

  • create visual models. Include the following scenarios:
    • x– y
    • x– y
    • x– (– y)
    • x– (– y)
  • create and solve an equation using a series of five different positive and negative integers on BOTH sides of the equation to make the statement true.
    • Example: –a – (– b) + c – d – (–e) = f + (– g) – (– h)  –  i + (– j)
  • create and solve an original, real-world integer problem where absolute value is applied.

Here’s the artifact rubric. It’s generic so it can be applied to any collection of artifacts. I didn’t include point equivalents or percentages because I want the students to focus on the “feedback”. They’ll be able to resubmit.



Submit a written reflection of your artifacts. Include:

  • an analysis of the artifacts
  • the math practices applied and how you have applied them
  • the modes of representation used
  • proper grammar, spelling, conventions

Here’s the reflection rubric. It’s also generic.


When I’m ready to grade I’ll translate the levels into percent equivalents. For example:

  • Level 4 = 100%
  • Level 3 = 90%
  • Level 2 = 70%
  • Level 1 = 60%
  • Level 0 = 50%

As the portfolios are turned in I’ll share student work and let you know how it goes.

Other bloggers sharing their goals can be found by clicking the link below.

Good, bad, ineffective feedback using Canvas

September 20, 2014

Last week I introduced integers using a James Tanton Math Without Words visual puzzle.  Below are examples of the student feedback I gave. I used our new Canvas LMS system as the work flow, but what’s important is the varying degrees of feedback I found myself giving students.

Since some students don’t bother to read feedback–especially when everyone, including me, is getting used to Canvas, I started class by asking the students to pull up the assignment and read the comments.

The student below read my feedback and asked very politely, “What am I supposed to do?” This is yet another reason why I will never earn National Board Certification.


Had I thought about it ahead of time, my feedback should have read, “If every bump is a hill and every dip is a valley, what remains?” That’s something I did for another student. See last image.

I gave this kid nothing. At best I offer hope and a growth mindset but in terms of informative and constructive feedback, it’s terrible–absolutely terrible.

Here’s another student. I acknowledge he’s made the connection to integers, but…

canvas feedback3

…I should have added this:


For students who clearly made the connection to integers, I should have been prepared to offer feedback that extended their thinking, but I wasn’t.


Here’s another example of awful feedback. I acknowledge the problems are correct, but I offer nothing.

canvas feedback2

I should have extended this student’s thinking. I could have added, “If these were numbers what would they be?”

Finally, here’s some feedback that is potentially helpful.


When I gave the feedback I didn’t have a plan. I just viewed the student work one at a time and made comments. That made my feedback inconsistent and not effective. What I should have done was examine the student work collectively, and prepare feedback based on common misunderstandings and extending student thinking.


Boring bit: vocab makeover

September 7, 2014

This 3-2-1 summary is a bit different. I’ve been focused on one thing, that was talked about by two people, more than 3 days ago.

What I’m talking about is Justin Aion’s recent post and twitter chat with Tracy Zager on vocab. The major takeaway is that a need must be created for a vocab lesson to stick.


Next week I’m starting number properties and I’d be a fool to not apply what I’ve learned from lurking and eavesdropping. Here’s what I have so far. Your help could make it all the better.

Students will be paired and will receive this Number Properties Partner Password game that has been cut in half hotdog style. Partner A begins by reading problem 1. Partner B does what his partner says in the space provided.


Only one student who took the pre-test could provide an example of any of the properties so I know nearly all my students will have difficulty coming up with the terms commutative, associative, etc. Originally my resource card for commutative referred to passenger trains that move people to and from work, but that’s beyond my kids’ vocabulary, so I resorted to hangman as the resource card.


Now it’s Partner B’s turn for round 2. The partners alternate until the game is finished.


The directions also include using precise math vocabulary. My hope is students will use sum, product, the quantity, etc along with identifying the property in their sentences. I may end up saving that for another lesson because the primary focus is on number properties.

After debriefing, and time permitting, I’ll reinforce with a number talk, maybe start small with 16 x 5 and see where that takes us. Then, when doing number talks, I can make connections to the number properties.

This activity is better than the blank page I started from several days ago, but I truly welcome suggestions.

Others blogging about their 3 – 2 – 1 summary can be found by clicking the link below.


Authors who have influenced my practice

August 24, 2014

One of the most contentious areas in middle school is work completion. When I first began teaching I was of the mindset, I need to get kids ready for high school. If their homework is one day late, the max the student could earn would be 80%, two days late: 70%, three days late: 60%; more than three days late: teacher discretion. Retakes–no way, they had their chance; they should have studied. Or when I did allow retakes the maximum grade a student could earn would be 70%.

In effect I was using grades as a punishment. Equally troublesome was the fact that this system created a tainted report card. I’m supposed to be reporting academic progress not academic progress with two scoops of behavior and a cherry on top. Now I’m not only questioning my overall grading policy I’m starting to rethink how I assess.

There wasn’t a single turning point. It was an evolutionary process. However two author/educators who caused me to reflect are Thomas Guskey and Rick Wormeli.


Several years ago Guskey came to our district and presented a talk, Developing Grading and Reporting Systems for Student Learning.  He discussed the merits of standards based grading and a narrative report card that separates behavior from learning. His book and talk nudged me to reconsider my practice. Over the next five years I continued to contemplate grading and assessment. Guskey’s book led me to Marzano’s Formative Assessment and Standards Based Grading and that is where I am today.

Wormeli has been equally influential. Chapter 8 from his book Fair is Not Always Equal is particularly compelling. Why Do We Grade, and What About Effort, Attendance, and Behavior?

He contends there are six reasons why we grade:

  • To document student and teacher progress
  • To provide feedback to the student and family, and the teacher
  • To inform instructional decisions

  • To motivate students
  • To punish students
  • To sort students

“Notice the dividing line between the top three and bottom three…The bottom three reasons cross a line. When we grade to motivate, punish, or sort students, we do three things–we dilute the grade’s accuracy; we dilute its usefulness; and we use grading to manipulate students, which may or may not be healthy” (p102).

I’m still a work in progress, but I’m getting there.

Click the link below to read other bloggers who are writing about professional development books.


First five days–subject to change, of course

August 16, 2014

Once again I’ve altered my plans from last year. I suspect before school starts on the 25th the plans will have changed again. This year I’ll need to be especially flexible and rethink learning experiences since our 7th grade will be 1:1 iPad.


We have students for 10 fewer minutes each period on the first day of school in order to issue lockers, hand out assignment notebooks and the like.  Because time is limited the kids will complete a brief cooperative group and communication challenge called You Want Me To Do WHAT? (see page 10). Students create a prototype out of miscellaneous supplies, complete a write up, then hand the directions to another group to recreate. This is my first time doing this activity but I’m looking forward to trying it out.


Classroom norms and expectations will be discussed in social studies and reinforced in math. I’ll note what went well yesterday and what didn’t. After the lecture burst, students will share a bit about themselves using an activity I found on A Sea of Math. It’s called Figure Me Out!  The students use the numbers in their life–birth year, house number, etc. and create expressions using rational numbers. I modified the directions a bit to include a criteria for success.


If there’s enough time I’ll have students swap their Figure Me Outs so they can figure out each other! If not we’ll get to it on Wednesday.


Continuing with getting to know you, the students will complete A Create Your Own Graphing Story iMovie. This is something I did last year (minus the video). I show the “How to be Interesting” book trailer, then follow it with a brief presentation on graphing stories that include several examples.



Pre-assessment on integers and wrap up the iMovie.

Students will have a four day weekend so I’ll have time to look over the pre-assessment and hit the ground running on Tuesday.

Use the link below to check out other bloggers who are sharing their first week plans.

Creating confident, competent learners

August 7, 2014

At one point in last night’s #Eduread conversation on “A Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching” the topic turned to choice–with a particular focus on homework problems, tasks, and assessments. After some pondering, I’m now thinking we just scratched the surface when talking about choice.



There’s another type of choice  that Miss Calcul8 pointed out in her intervention post. We’re now below the surface, but that still doesn’t include all the other choices students make throughout the day.

What does choice afford us?

Choice empowers us.

My point is that if we want our students to become confident, competent learners we  must allow them to develop a sense personal power–providing them with the resources, the opportunity, and the capability to influence the circumstances of their own life.

So how do we empower students to believe they can:

  1. do what they set out to do
  2. handle what’s ahead of them
  3. get whatever they need in order to do what they must
  4. feel they are in charge of their life, can make decisions, and solve their own problems

Certainly we can’t do it alone, but we can do our part to help students build a positive mental model of themselves. A model where the student feels he has a mission and purpose, knows where he’s headed, knows how to organize himself, etc.

In the coming weeks I’ll be sharing how I’m applying particular strategies in my classroom as I attempt to create confident, competent learners.



Using diigo to annotate #Eduread article

August 4, 2014

Instead of providing a narrative summary of this week’s #Eduread article, here are my diigo in text annotations on “A Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching.” Sometimes it is more powerful to see what the reader is thinking as she encounters each passage. If you want to add your own annotations, I think all you need to do is get a diigo account to add them.

The only shortcoming I found was on the topic of intrinsic motivation–which turns out to be a major focus of the article.

To that end, we have developed a comprehensive model of culturally responsive teaching: a pedagogy that crosses disciplines and cultures to engage learners while respecting their cultural integrity… The foundation for this approach lies in theories of intrinsic motivation.

The authors claim, “When students can see that what they are learning makes sense and is important, their intrinsic motivation emerges.”  I think that’s a very limited view and argue that motivation has to be sustained.  Had the article been written fifteen years later (2010)  it could have referenced Daniel Pink’s contribution with respect to autonomy, mastery, and sense of purpose. Those three conditions sustain one’s motivation.

What I loved was the definition of engagement.  Typically we associate engagement with fun, or the need to be intellectually challenging. While it can include those elements, engagement is directing energy in the pursuit of a goal.

Let me know if you shared your observations either on diigo or your own blog. I’m interested in what you think.








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