Friday, August 12, 2016


This will be my final post of the summer before school begins next week. There are a few things that I want to clear up here first.

Table of Contents
1. Disclaimer
2. Blaugust Prompt #12
3. A PD Day: More on the Illinois State Text
4. More on Grading and Pacing
5. A Tentative Testing Schedule
6. Conclusion


I speak for myself only. This blog is not affiliated with any school, district, company, or organization.

Notice that I don't mention the name of my charter school in any post in order to avoid any semblance of conflict of interest. I do mention the LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) in some of my posts, but officially, my sole employer is my charter school, not LAUSD. In any case, this blog is not affiliated with LAUSD.

Blaugust Prompt #12

Since today is August 12th, I will discuss Prompt #12 from the Blaugust list:

12. Something I read/learned this summer that intrigued me…

Earlier, I mentioned The First Days of School, by Harry and Rosemary Wong. Here is a key chapter that I read:

-- Chapter 3: How You Can Be a Happy First-Year Teacher. The Wongs write:

The first day of school or a class -- even the first few minutes -- will make or break a teacher. It is those first few minutes and first few days of school that are the subject of this book.

A PD Day: More on the Illinois State Text

Earlier this week, there was a special training session. I met Dr. Brad Christensen, a STEM specialist from Illinois State -- and he was obviously at our school to discuss the Illinois State text during a Professional Development session.

As I explained earlier on the blog, the Illinois State text is a strong project-based curriculum. During the session, Dr. Christensen demonstrated two math projects that are similar to those that can be found in the text. The first involved using dowel rods and rubber bands to construct as tall a structure as possible. The other was a method of estimating square roots using colored squares.

Back in my Square Root Day post (dated 4/4/16), I mentioned various activities that we can give students in order to learn square roots. This activity would have been perfect for Square Root Day, because it allows students to find rational approximations of irrational square roots. It would have fit in well with some of the activities that I mentioned the first week in April.

Notice that this activity actually directs students to perform a linear interpolation. It's possible to perform this interpolation without using colored squares -- to find the square root of a whole number n, use the formula:

sqrt(n) =approx. floor(sqrt(n)) + (n - floor(sqrt(n))^2) / (2n + 1)

Here floor(sqrt(n)) means the square root of n rounded down to the next whole number, which can be found using inspection or trial and error. We can avoid using the floor function by letting a^2 be the largest perfect square that doesn't exceed n, to obtain:

sqrt(n) =approx. a + (n - a^2) / (2n + 1)

But this demonstrates the whole purpose of the colored squares activity -- those formulas are especially hard to remember! The activity takes a little effort to understand -- but once the students get it, it becomes a nice method for interpolating square roots.

According to Dr. Christensen, it's important when beginning a learning module to have the students just jump in and begin the project. There's no point in having the teacher explain anything to the students first, because there's no reason to believe that the students are even listening -- and so all that time spent explaining is wasted.

This philosophy, of course, is in direct opposition to traditionalism. Traditionalists assume that students will listen to the teacher's explanation just because he or she is the "sage on the stage." That is, they'll listen to the teacher because it's proper to do so, and students do only proper things. I believe that students are less likely to listen to a teacher in middle school than in early elementary school, which is why I agree with traditionalists in the early, but not the middle grades.

Dr. Christensen told us that there is room for traditional lessons within a learning module, especially if some students need them. The important note, though, is that the projects should come first. The projects are the cornerstone of the Illinois State curriculum.

Oh, and by the way, Dr. Christensen showed us the science curriculum. I wasn't sure whether or not it would be divided into Earth Science for sixth graders, Life Science for seventh graders, and Physical Science for eighth graders -- considering that California's "preferred model" for the Next Generation Science Standards is integrated science. Well, the science texts he gave us follow the traditional order of Earth in 6th, Life in 7th, and Physical in 8th. Nevertheless, the texts are definitely NGSS-aligned.

More on Grading and Pacing

Earlier this summer, I wrote that the Illinois State text provides a four-point rubric for us to evaluate the students' projects. Well, we can convert these to letter grades, as follows:

4 = A
3 = B
2 = C
1 = F

You may notice that there is no D grade here. As it turns out, many schools chartered with the LAUSD, including mine, have adopted a no-D policy. The only grades that can appear on a report card are A, B, C, and F.

I've written a little about the no-D grading system earlier on the blog. In particular, I mentioned it back on the last day of the first quarter in 2014 -- second week of October. (I actually reblogged that post at the end of the first quarter in 2015 -- last week of October -- but then I added a discussion of other grading systems that have nothing to what I'm teaching, so I recommend reading the less distracting 2014 post.)

I know that I've changed my mind several times over the summer. But regarding my pacing plan, I want to use the pacing plan that I mentioned back at the end of the first semester in 2016 -- third week of January. According to this plan, we determine which learning module we should be in by looking at the first digit of the day number of the blog calendar. So Module 1 will begin on Day 10 and end on Day 19.

My testing dates will change a little from what I posted earlier. But I did write that there will be a test the second week of school -- and that isn't going to change. And I have an answer ready for why there will be a test so early in the year -- it is a benchmark test.

You see, the second week of school is Benchmark Testing Week. At this time, all students take diagnostic exams in English and math. There is a Benchmark Testing Week every trimester -- the second and third Benchmark Testing Weeks occur at the midpoint of the respective trimesters. This also explains what I'll be doing the first nine days of school if Module 1 doesn't begin until Day 10 -- opening week activities followed by the first Benchmark Testing Week.

The purpose of Benchmark Testing is to measure growth -- indeed, all teachers have a special Data Wall in order to measure growth. Hey, didn't Fawn Nguyen just say something about growth in her post linked above? Exactly -- Benchmark Testing is all about growth, while the SBAC and NGSS tests are all about proficiency.

Using digit pacing and including the Benchmark Testing Week produces the following calendar:

Opening Week Activities: August 16th-19th
Benchmark Testing Week 1: August 22nd-26th: Benchmark Testing Week 1
Module 1: August 29th-September 13th
Module 2: September 14th-27th
Module 3: September 28th-October 13th
Module 4: October 14th-27th
Module 5: October 28th-November 10th
Module 6: November 14th-December 2nd
Module 7: December 3rd-16th
Module 8: January 9th-20th
Benchmark Testing Week 2: January 23rd-27th
Module 9: January 30th-February 6th
Module 10: February 7th-21st
Module 11: February 22nd-March 7th
Module 12: March 8th-21st
Module 13: March 22nd-April 5th
Module 14: April 6th-28th
Benchmark Testing Week 3: May 1st-5th

A Tentative Testing Schedule

At this point the schedule gets murky as we reach the SBAC and NGSS testing block. My plan is to teach Module 15 during the testing block and count the project as a test, so that students can focus on the SBAC and NGSS tests rather than classroom tests. (Note: I may sneak in a little extra science in the eighth grade, since that grade has a NGSS science test to take.)

This plan applies to all three grades -- sixth, seventh, and eighth. Notice that the Illinois State text is identical in all three grades for the first four modules (Unit 0, Tools for Learning), but the traditional workbook that supplements the text does give different problems in each grade.

My plan is still to rotate among the three grades among a Dren Quiz, Grade-Level Quiz, and test, with eighth grade taking a test first -- except now that first graded test will be the third week. Here is a schedule of tests for the eighth grade -- the grade which I'll be blogging the most about:

1. September 1st
2. September 23rd
3. October 14th
4. November 4th
5. December 2nd
6. January 13th
7. February 10th
8. March 3rd
9. March 24th
10. April 21st
11. May 19th (SBAC week -- may be replaced with a project)

Notice that the tests don't necessarily line up with modules -- again, this schedule is designed to spread out the number of tests I have to grade each weekend. On other other hand, Dr. Christensen told us that Illinois State provides tests to give to the students based on the modules. I may end up giving those tests according to the module schedule even if it means I must grade tests for all three grades at the same time -- the extra time it takes to grade is made up for by the time I save not having to write the tests (and besides, my charter school is tiny, with small class sizes, so it's not as if I have that many tests to grade even if I do all three grades together).

But if I keep the rotation pattern, the final week at the end of the year before grades are due will be a Grade-Level Quiz for eighth graders, a Dren Quiz for seventh graders, and a test for sixth graders. So I'll have to teach Module 16 to 6th and 8th grades so that there's something to assess that week. This is convenient because Module 16 is at the end of a unit in the 6th and 8th grade texts, while Module 15 ends a unit in the 7th grade text.

I know I ought to be finishing the entire text, which goes up to the mid-20's in all three grades. But there are two conflicting philosophies here. On one hand, I want there to be ample time for all the projects -- and I'd much rather do the projects right than fast. On the other hand, there's a certain point we need to reach in each text before the January Benchmark Testing Week -- and unfortunately, no one seems to know exactly what that point is. (Recall that I'm the only middle school math teacher on my campus, so there's literally no one I can ask.)

I want to make sure that I at least introduce every topic that appears on the Benchmark to my students prior to the test -- otherwise they may become disillusioned and blow off the entire test, even the questions that they do understand.  But I don't want to follow the pacing plan above and finish Module 7 just before winter break, find out that the Benchmark Test goes up to Module 12, and then suddenly I'm forced to cover Modules 8-12 over two weeks in January. (Obviously, if this were to happen, I'd skip all the projects and use traditional lessons only for Modules 8-12.)

Well, there's nothing I can do about that until I get there.


I usually don't like going back to edit posts (other than my most recent post when I forget to add a link or worksheet), but I'll be going back to edit my July rules posts.

Attention -- Edited Posts:

Here are the posts I edited. Yes, I admit that I change my mind a lot, and it can be annoying to blog readers when I keep changing what I've written. But then again, we as teachers often have to change and adjust to meet our students' needs.

-- First, the list of rules now looks like this:

1. The Teacher Respects You
2. Respect Your Honesty
3. Respect Yourself and Each Other
4. Respect Your Class Equipment

In today's post I explained why the fourth rule now mentions equipment -- as in the equipment that appears in a science classroom. But now I also changed my first rule. Before I can expect my students to show respect, I as a teacher must show them respect. (There was also a story I told in my Rule #4 post that is all about respecting students, so I moved that story to the Rule #1 post.)

-- Second, I quickly finished reading Ron Clark's The Essential 55. Now that I've read it, some of the rules do make sense after all -- and they are all about showing respect. Rule #19 is "When I assign homework, there is to be no moaning or complaining. This will result in a doubled assignment." I'm still not sure whether I would use that or any of his rules in my class, but they do give me something to think about. And no, I won't use his Rule #47, "Do not bring Doritos into the school building."

-- Finally, I've changed my mind about traditionalists. I've decided that the one traditionalist I'll be quoting in my classroom will no longer be Bill. Instead, I will link to and quote Barry Garelick.

Why have I chosen Garelick instead of Bill? And besides, why should I be quoting any traditionalist at all -- shouldn't I be only reading the blogs of actual math teachers?

Well, here's a link to Barry Garelick's blog and one of his recent posts:

I will be starting a teaching assignment in a middle school this August.  A few weeks ago, I met with the woman who will be mentoring me for two years.  (This is part of California’s licensing requirements for new teachers–sort of like being out on parole from ed school.)

So actually, Garelick is a math teacher! And moreover, he's a fellow first-year California middle school math teacher to boot! Recall that the only other active California middle school math blog of which I'm aware belongs to Fawn Nguyen.

But don't expect Garelick to join MTBoS or Blaugust anytime soon. Most MTBoS bloggers like to write about exactly the sort of activities that the traditionalist Garelick despises. I do notice that one frequent commenter on Garelick's site is Dan Meyer, the King of the MTBoS and a strong advocate of activities in the classroom. The two of them often exchange comments about why their respective preferred pedagogy is superior.

As he writes at the above link, Garelick definitely plans to use a traditional pedagogy -- or at least as traditional as he can get away with -- in his classroom. I look forward to reading about his classroom, and especially how he'll convince his middle school students to go along with traditional lessons.

Not only will I be able to quote Garelick himself, but one of his frequent commenters is his fellow traditionalist SteveH, who, like Bill, writes about why students should learn higher math. To Garelick's post with the same date as my post you're reading now, SteveH left this comment:

SteveH says:

No, the real world of getting an engineering degree requires at least a differential equations course. Are those institutions and professors wrong – overruled by educational pedagogues? What would happen to those “engineers” who didn’t get to that level? They would be called technicians and end up with a lower salary. If you’re getting paid engineering wages and not using college-level skills, then you better keep quiet about it. You won’t help those coming up the salary pipeline and you will be setting yourself up to be pushed down or laid off.
One of the first engineering courses that all have to take is statics and dynamics. If you can’t (at least) do calculus, then you will flunk out. You may not end up doing calculus day to day in your job, but you darn well need it for a proper engineering degree and understanding of what you’re learning. You can dumb down an engineering degree, but that would catch up to many in the form of dumbed down salaries. BTW, I can’t imagine hiring and paying engineering wages to those who can’t analyze a technical paper with all of those, you know, squiggly lines, in it.
Other than that, this ends my blogging for the summer. My next post will be on the first day of school, which is Tuesday, August 16th. Remember, my plan is for me to write three blog posts during every week of the school year.

I hope my first year of teaching will be a successful one.


  1. Enjoy your last weekend of summer! Looking forward to seeing your classroom pics and reading about your first day!

  2. I'm not sure whether I'll be posting any classroom pics. I rarely use my cellphone camera. I know that there are actual cameras in the classroom but I haven't used them yet either.

    If I do manage to use a camera before the end of Blaugust, I'll be sure to post my back wall, where I used the files from your site.

    Thanks for reading, Shelli!