For starters, yesterday was the meeting with Dr. Brad Christensen of Illinois State. He told me that one of the STEM projects I'd done was incomplete. I noticed in the Illinois State text that the most recent project, "Learning to Communicate," started out with the oblique and isometric drawings again, but then it started mentioning the mousetrap cars again! Christensen explained that in this case, students were supposed to create their own mousetrap cars (or even mousetrap boats) from scratch, as opposed to using the parts supplied by the company.
But Christensen informed me that it's okay to move on to the next two projects, which he explained should get us through Thanksgiving. Remember that all projects from now on are different for the three grade levels. He told me that the next project for seventh grade is definitely an outdoor activity, and so it won't be a good idea to do the project tomorrow, when rain is in the forecast.
In yesterday's post, I wrote that today is damage control day for the seventh grade class. As it turns out, there was no actual sub -- I guess I should've known that it wasn't really worth it to call in a sub just for two hours. So my support staff member took over the class -- fortunately she was present yesterday (but not today though). Still, just as I feared, the seventh graders come in today with some of them claiming that my support staff member never gave them the homework assignment, which is almost certainly false. But since she's out today, I couldn't confirm my suspicion, and so I delay the seventh grade quiz to tomorrow. As I said, it's just as well, since tomorrow's originally scheduled seventh grade project might be rained out.
I do give the quizzes to sixth and eighth grades today. As it turns out, all of my eighth graders end up passing the quiz on square roots and cube roots, which is wonderful! Since today is the third quiz, I can now drop the lowest quiz score, and so this should help out the students' grades.
Yesterday was a day full of meetings. After my meeting with Christensen, I met with the special ed teacher to discuss a few students and their records, and then it was off to the Common Planning meeting, which was held at the other campus affiliated with our charter school. At this meeting there was one item of major concern to me -- the upcoming Benchmark Tests.
As I mentioned on the blog back in August, the first Benchmark Test was given at the beginning of the school year, and according to a school calendar handed to us at the early PD meetings, the other two Benchmark Tests are supposed to be given in January and May. But suddenly, we're being told that the next test is going to be in November, at the end of the trimester!
In some ways, November is a more logical time to give the Benchmark Test. The January and May dates would be more logical at a semester school, not a trimester school -- almost as if administration couldn't decide whether to use semesters or trimesters when printing the calendar. I just wish that there could have been more clarification at the start of the year so that the tests aren't suddenly being sprung up on us -- especially since these tests count in the trimester grade!
But the huge problem I have is the content of the Benchmark Test. According to the administration, it should be identical to the first Benchmark Test, so that comparisons can be made. I didn't explain the test fully in August, but the eighth grade test, for example, contains all of the standards for the Number System and Expressions and Equations strands. We've already covered all of the Number System standards and started the Expressions and Equations standards, but look at just some of the missing standards:
Use numbers expressed in the form of a single digit times an integer power of 10 to estimate very large or very small quantities, and to express how many times as much one is than the other. For example, estimate the population of the United States as 3 times 10 and the population of the world as 7 times 10 , and determine that the world population is more than 20 times larger.
Graph proportional relationships, interpreting the unit rate as the slope of the graph. Compare two different proportional relationships represented in different ways. For example, compare a distance-time graph to a distance-time equation to determine which of two moving objects has greater speed.
Solve linear equations in one variable.
Analyze and solve pairs of simultaneous linear equations.
Ouch! That's a lot to cover in the short amount of time before the Benchmark Tests! Again, I suppose it's logical that the August and November Benchmarks would be identical, and so perhaps I could have guessed that I should have tried to cover everything in the August Benchmark, but still, I'd have preferred being told explicitly that everything on the first Benchmark should be taught by November.
Illinois State does provide us with a "pacing guide" online. But this pacing guide, for one thing, doesn't assign a date to any of the standards. It's also inconsistent -- the guide has us jumping around both the STEM and traditional texts. I tried just doing all of the projects in the naive order given in the STEM text. I also moved in the naive order in the traditional texts, since the pacing guide doesn't work well until we get past the first four projects (which we just barely finished).
More importantly, the pacing guide doesn't tell us how to prepare the students for the Benchmark tests -- which, as you recall, are also provided by Illinois State! To meet the Benchmarks, it might have been better to follow the traditional text in naive order, since both the Benchmarks and the traditional text simply follow the order given in the Common Core Standards (the Number System early, Statistics and Probability last).
And so now I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I try to cram through all the material before the Benchmark Tests, students will never be able to understand anything. There's basically only two weeks left before the Benchmark -- I can easily spend two weeks on systems of equations alone! But if I don't cram in the material, students will be frustrated when they see things they never learned on a test that counts in their grade. And this seems to undermine the Illinois State philosophy -- students are motivated to learn math in order to complete the projects, not just to pass a test!
Indeed, at the time the Benchmark Test was announced, there were only about ten days of possible learning left before the test. Today I blow one of those days with the quiz, and then tomorrow I'll blow another day with the project. So that's 20% of the days before the test already lost -- and who knows how many days the project will last!
If you remember from August, the seventh grade Benchmark is shorter than those for the either sixth or eighth grade. That's another reason why I didn't mind delaying the seventh grade quiz -- there's less to cover before the Benchmark. But even then, the missing standard is a big one -- the addition and subtraction of integers.
By the way, back in August, I did try to ask the fifth grade teacher about the Benchmarks and pacing, since that's the closest I could get to a fellow math teacher. But even she didn't know exactly what the pacing should be.
I've been told that this Benchmark Test should be included in the grades -- but not specifically what the percentage should be. We know that 40% of the grade is for tests and projects -- and to make it easier, I have 1000 points per trimester. This upcoming project is the fifth, and with 20 points per project, that's 100 points. So the other 300 points are for the actual tests. I've given three tests at 100 points each, but my plan was always to drop the lowest score. I assume that we can't drop the Benchmark Test, so I can just drop the lowest of the three tests already given. Combined with the dropping of the lowest quiz score today, students should see their grades rise.
Meanwhile, let's get into today's song. It is Ghost of a Chance, a Square One TV song. I chose this song for two reasons. First, today is the tenth anniversary of its posting on YouTube. Second, it's basically a parody of Michael Jackson's Thriller, thus making it a Halloween-type song.
Here are the lyrics, courtesy Barry Carter:
Ghost Of A Chance
Lead vocals by Cris Franco and Reg E. Cathey
It's too bad, though, that the subject of this song is probability -- Statistics and Probability is the last strand of the Common Core, so it won't appear on the November Benchmark. Otherwise, this song could have helped them prepare for it.
Expect to hear much about the November Benchmark in my next few posts.