Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer School Midterm

I'm two mind-blowing weeks into the five weeks of my first summer school teaching experience. I gave the students a Teacher Evaluation as the exit ticket today, and I'm in a more reflective mood myself, so it seems like a good time to jot down some notes.

Things that worked well

Curriculum-wise (huge thanks to Dan Meyer for many of the items on this list):
* Algebra cups
* Graphical fractions (week 2)
* Chewing gum measuring stick
* Origins of the word "Algebra" (modified for ninth-grade reading level from this)
* Get the Math
* Stacking cups
* Russian dolls (inspired by the comments on this post, especially this image)
* Graphing stories
* "Leveling-up" linear functions worksheets (25LevelOne.pdf from Dan's algebra handouts - linked at the bottom of this page)
* Daily warm-ups - the kids really do need to warm up their brains at 8 a.m. Trying to sneak in higher order thinking and group work will not work well at this point in the day.
* Judicious use of the powerpoints from the textbook to define the key concepts and walk through scaffolded examples

* Concept quizzes (once I scaled them to the topics I was really covering and a grading load I could handle)
* Concept checklist

Classroom management / Relationships:
* Remembering that the students have reasons for acting in ways I find challenging, and I'll do better to find out what those root causes are and address them than to just try to force them into acting a different way.
* Asking students their opinion on the class atmosphere and environment and things they like and don't like about the class, incorporating that feedback where possible, explain why not when it's not possible, and being flexible and creative.
* My best example of being flexible and creative: some students want music when doing independent work and some want silence --> you can listen to your mp3 player during that time, as long as no one else is disturbed by it.

Lessons Learned
* Still need to follow up Algebra cups with formal instruction on steps of solving equations

* Don't pay for and pour hours into a new-ish online gradebook system when they just changed their whole infrastructure a few weeks ago, aren't expected to support summer school, and you're their unknowing beta tester

* Find out on Day 1 what the students' self-assessment of their ability on your course material is. If they think they already took and mastered Algebra 1, and that's all you're planning to teach them, give them a version of your final ASAP so you can kick them up to a harder class, send them home for the summer, or show them (and even more critically, their parents) that they do need your class after all.

* If it all possible, solidify the curriculum, schedule, and course resources before the second week of the class. (I did try, it's just that before trying to teach this and working out some of the kinks the first week, it wasn't clear to me what they should be. I got a lot more clarity this week, and I'm feeling good about this now, and like I'll be in a much better place if I do this again next year.)

* Sometimes I really just need to give clear structured notes, and clear, basic opportunities to practice (even though it seems boring to me).

Things to work on
* Helping kids see how to follow up on non-mastery-level concepts
* More efficient planning


  1. How much independent work time do they get on an average day?

  2. It depends on the day -- they always do the warm-up independently, and there's almost always built in "practice" time that can be done individually or with a partner (their choice). And there's often group-work time, which could be considered "independent" or not, depending on your point of view.