Monthly Archives: May 2015

“I’ve Never Been More Productive…”

Over the course of the year, I’ve been trying new things and always striving to give students more control over their learning. This semester I gave students a project that was open-ended yet had a clear SBG rubric. The projects are starting to come in and the work is impressive. This school year has been an incredible experience pushing my kids to new heights, giving them choice over their own learning but there has been one goal that that I had yet to achieve…that is until this week.

This week I no longer gave students a day-by-day schedule. I gave my students the videos and concepts I wanted them to learn and told them it must be achieved by May 29. No schedule, no specific timeline and they were to tell me when they were ready to assess. What happened next surprised me. One group of 6th grade boys pulled out their Chromebook, created a detailed calendar when they were all going to watch the videos do the classwork and the anticipated assessment date. They shared it with each other, their parents and myself. I was impressed.

The students were excited to create their own schedule. They wanted to achieve that end goal and they wanted to achieve it quickly. At the end of the class, a student exclaimed,

“I’ve never been more productive in a class period!”

Students came in today on day two and I had more kids farther ahead than I anticipated. Had I planned out the week, the assessment over last week’s material would have been given on Wednesday. Instead, I had half my class tell me today (Tuesday) that they were ready for the assessment. They were working so hard to understand the concepts and they were excited to be working faster. Why had I waited to do this? At the end of the day a student said to me, “Mr. Humphreys I want it to be like this next year.” Indeed it will be.

To extend student choice I asked my students to find a concept in math that they haven’t been taught, research it and make a second semester presentation on it. That was essentially all I told them. The projects are coming in and what I didn’t anticipate was how seamlessly these projects are impacting their everyday math work. Students are using the concepts learned in their project and applying it to their current math.

For example, my 7th graders are currently learning how to solve quadratic equations. In Algebra 1, students are taught that when they are solving equations they might receive “no real solution” as an answer as there is another realm of math that involves imaginary numbers but they don’t learn that concept until Algebra 2. Quite a few kids wanted to know more about imaginary numbers and after researching it, I am getting work and assessments in which students have catapulted their learning by no longer putting “no real solution” but actually solving the quadratic equations with imaginary numbers. They pushed themselves to understand how to delve deeper into the concept.

In addition students are now sharing their results with others and teaching it to their friends so they too can use these future concepts in their current work. By giving my students choice, they cater to their own needs and show a genuine interest in learning. Tonight I received an email back from a student after I had scored his project and he had done a phenomenal job. He replied,

“Thank you Mr. Humphreys.  I enjoyed making it!”

 They are learning and by their own choice, not mine. My students constantly impress me!

It’s all about the learning…

Today I had one of those, “A-ha” moments. I was talking to a colleague about standards-based grading and was thinking about how the grading would look in my math classroom. My colleague told me to look around at my class and said, “You’re already doing standards-based learning.” That’s when it hit me. I had already set the stage to make the conversion into standards-based grading. My class was already implementing standards-based learning and that’s when I had that “A-ha” moment. In order to make the change to standards-based grading, you must allow yourself to embrace standards-based learning. They are different in many ways but lead to the same end result –

Giving students the choice to improve their own learning while they assess themselves.

The focus of my school year was to give my students choice. I wanted them to take control of their learning by making decisions that would impact their own learning while also holding extremely high standards for them. I had already implemented the flipped classroom which was modified throughout the year. They rely on each other to work through problems rather than coming to me first. I love to sit back and watch them work through thoughtful problems while I am the one that asks them questions. Last week, I was on a conference call and was out of my classroom but in the school. My students asked if they could work in the conference room with me. I surely couldn’t pass that up! I watched as they worked diligently with each other. I rarely interrupted them and if I did, it was asking, “why?” or “how?” to give me that deeper understanding.

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At the beginning of the school year, it took a few weeks to train my students on what was expected. They didn’t know how to respond when I told them they had the entire period to work on what they needed to work on to understand the concept they were working on. I was persistent though. That is one characteristic I would tell any teacher – Don’t give up! Keep pushing the kids to work harder and smarter.

Something I did this year that was new for me was how students reviewed for an assessment. For many years, the day before a test, I would give a review assignment to help them study. This year I wondered why I was giving a review assignment since some kids didn’t need help on certain standards and others did. Why would I make one student do 4 problems on concepts they already mastered when they should be practicing other standards? Then it made sense! Let them choose what they should study. Fast forward to earlier this week and this is what I now see…. students who are creating problems for each other on the concepts that they choose to work on and practice. Again, I don’t tell them they have to do this, they just do.

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Once again, why should I be the one that mandates how they should review!? My entire mindset has changed on how I approach my classroom. My classroom is ever changing and still growing. How can I constantly put less emphasis on me and more emphasis on them?

I am so proud of my students that they simply amaze me. I decided to make my first SBG rubric for their second quarter project. Their project is to make a presentation on any math concept they chose that would be from a future course – something they know nothing about. What my students chose to do on their own amazes me. Here are some choices by 6th graders:

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Sixth graders are choosing trig ratios, quadratic equations…concepts that are clearly high school level standards. I am in awe and so proud of them. I am giving them complete control in their design. Here is the rubric they have and what they do with it is completely up to them.

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So after my conversation today, it made me realize that once you really embrace the standards-based learning in your classroom, then standards-based grading should be no big deal. I’m still nervous about it but much less so. Letting my students discover things on their own is the best gift that I can give them.

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