Monday, October 24, 2016

Coding: The Reduced Video Project (Day 46)

Today is another coding Monday. In the past two weeks, the coding teacher has cancelled the video project due to the unavailability of the cameras. So instead, the students will edit videos created by students from last year to create their own new video on cyberbullies. So at least the students get the experience of working with video -- which is actually the most important part of the lesson, not the acting in front of the camera part.

Meanwhile, seventh graders continue to use Scratch to create a video game. Sixth graders are working on creating an infographic to display data.

So as another non-math day passes, I will devote today's post to other issues. First, today my second Bruin Corps member arrives. She will be in my classroom on Mondays and Fridays. As it turns out, she is a sociology major -- and I should have known that she would be in the social sciences as soon as I saw her schedule. You see, I remember from my own days at UCLA that "North Campus" majors in the humanities and social sciences have classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays while "South Campus" majors in the sciences have classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This is why the bio major is in my room on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Therefore my students will have plenty of help in the classroom almost everyday -- well, at least for the next five months. You see, the sociology major is a senior who's scheduled to graduate one quarter early -- at the end of Winter Quarter rather than Spring Quarter. So I assume that she'll be gone at the end of March.

The other big thing on my mind now is tomorrow's visit by the LAUSD charter offices. All of us teachers have been frantically setting up our classrooms in an effort to impress the visitors. For example, the wall where I post student work is deemed incomplete because some of the tests there are over a month old, and there are no Common Core standards posted right next to the work. For some strange reason, the English teacher is worse off -- she's required to redo the entire bulletin board!

The "Day in the Life" blogger whose monthly posting day is the 24th is Brian Palacios:

Palacios is a New York high school math teacher. He hasn't made his October 24th post yet, but here's a link to one of his posts about tests and homework. I find this post interesting because right now, I'm struggling with the homework as well:

Palacios writes:

  • First off, terminology. Formally known as exams, I now call these summative assessments ‘checkpoints’ to further establish a low-stakes classroom culture. It feels much less formal, but I still reference them as ‘exams’ when in a rush. Plus, my frustration with the [New York State] Regents exams is at an all-time high, so distancing myself and my students from any term that references them is a good thing.
Let's skip down to see what he says about the homework:

  • Homework assignments are two-fold. First, students will have daily assignments from our unit packet that are checked for completion the next day. Second, they will have a DeltaMath assignment that is due at the end of the unit, again, checked for completion.
First of all, this "DeltaMath" sounds like an online curriculum similar to the programs we use at our school (and mentioned in previous posts on this blog, such as IXL). I'm wary of giving an online assignment as homework, since I'm not sure whether everyone has Internet access and I don't want anyone saying "I don't have Internet" as an excuse not to do the homework.

  • Homework is not collected. To check the daily homework, I walk around with my clipboard during the bell ringer [similar to a Warm-Up in my class -- dw]. 
So this is Palacios and his homework policy. Let's compare this to my situation:

-- At the beginning of the year, I was told to get questions out of a workbook. There are five questions per day in the workbook, but these are mixed standards -- for example, questions on Statistics and Probability (not ordinarily addressed at the beginning of the year) appear right in the Week 1 questions. Knowing this, I told the students that they only had to answer some of the questions, such as 1 from Monday's set, 2 from Tuesday's set, and so on.
-- Then about a month into the year, Illinois State sends me an email stating that I should mix in "word walls" throughout the homework. The problem is that it's not obvious what students are supposed to do for these "word walls" -- they first have to wait for me to define the word. Then it's not always obvious what they are supposed to draw for each word. Notice that if this had been a Geometry class, nearly every term has an obvious drawing, But how, for example, are the eighth graders supposed to "draw" a square root?

In some ways, word walls fit well with Monday coding. On Mondays there are usually 20-25 minutes available before or after the coding lesson. I can begin the class with a Warm-Up, and then pass out the word walls. I can tell the students the words and the definitions, and they can draw the actual pictures as homework. But if it's not obvious what the students are supposed to draw, then I have to show them. In the end, I end up doing almost the entire assignment for them -- and they can easily finish the drawings right there in class on Monday for a "homework" assignment that's not due until the following Friday! This is clearly illogical -- especially when the students then go on to fail the quiz or test later that week due to lack of practice!

-- Now last week, after the Illinois State observation, the developers showed me the online portion of their curriculum, and even pointed out the links to the homework problems.

But now this leads to the same problem I mentioned with "DeltaMath" above -- I can't assume that my students all have Internet access to do the homework. Today I give my students a copy of the HW questions from the Illinois State site. But there are only three or four questions per unit -- and many of these are identical to the quiz questions! Indeed, Illinois State often repeats the same questions for the HW, quiz, and even the Student Journal -- especially in the sixth grade texts.

So here's what I'm doing now -- the questions I assign today are due Wednesday, not Friday. Then on Wednesday, I'll assign a Practice Quiz worksheet for HW (and I'll create the questions, not Illinois State) that will be due on Thursday, the day of the quiz. This is in fact the closest I'll get to the traditionalist HW ideal of "individual problem sets." (Notice that the original idea was to assign a HW "packet" on Monday and collect it on Friday. It never occurred to me to do as Palacios does and check the HW "packet" everyday during the Warm-Up!)

Let's see whether this will help improve student performance on the quiz. Indeed, I agree with Palacios wholeheartedly when he writes:

  • Disclaimer: developing a respectable system for homework is a goal of mine this year.

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